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Risen Up (or, Of Fallen Children and Mountain Kin)

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“I mean,” says Flowey from behind their head, stem bobbing as they scramble up the fence, “don’t let me stand in the way of any criminal acts. I hardly want to stifle your independence!” The last three words curve up into a slightly mocking imitation of Toriel’s voice. “Just, maybe, when this whole thing inevitably goes horribly wrong – ow!”

Frisk hits the ground on the other side of the fence with a grunt. They clap their hands lightly to catch his attention, then sign in fluid Monster Sign Language: Maybe we shoulda left you at home in the pot. Maybe, I shouldn’t have filled a whole pocket of my backpack with dirt, ya – there’s a small pause in their signing as they search for the word – wimp! In their head, Chara giggles.

“All I’m saying is, I refuse to be held responsible for any part of this. Also: you idiots.”

“Charizard,” murmurs Chara out of Frisk’s mouth, reminding them what they’re actually on this private property for in the first place. Then they add, smugly, “wimp.”

Flowey’s angry, then, but it’s not real anger. Frisk would know. He’s mostly good, he’s – Chara provides the emotion words in their head – amused, mostly, and kind of excited. He doesn’t really hate them, not anymore. Also, he’s a little scared, which Chara thinks is funny. Ah – not scared. Nervous.

Frisk thinks they’re probably a little nervous, too – they do not like people being mad at them, and maybe chasing virtual Pokémon on their phone would be a good enough explanation for breaking and entering, but they kind of doubt it. Especially when according to most of the internet nobody’s actually played this game in like 50 years.

Somehow they left the servers up, though. Meaning there’s no one out there to stop us from taking over the whole operation, Sponge, Chara chimes inside their brain. We’re gonna be the very best, like no one ever was. They laugh at that a little bit, but Frisk’s not sure why. But they agree with Chara – there’s a Charizard up there, so yeah, of course it’s worth it! Bubbles of their own ticklish excitement rise and pop inside them, and their hands flap back and forth in their sleeves.

They pass through the scruffy courtyard, slushing through the leaf piles left over all the way from the fall, gross and slimy with snowmelt. According to the little picture on their phone, Charizard should be somewhere in or by this run-down apartment building, that would look abandoned if Frisk couldn’t feel dim pulses of human emotion from within. They investigate the door to the lobby, dusty and staffed only by a sleepy manager, and the fire escape above, an engaging construct of rusting metal, and their phone screen, showing the Charizard like eight feet away through a solid brick building are you serious.

Alas, the beast evades us still, says Chara, the amusement in their tone hiding disappointment.

Now Frisk is disappointed too, and so, they think, is Flowey, who really kind of wants them to get in trouble. They look around the courtyard, again, and up at the wiggly metal, again, and decide on impulse to find a big chunk of asphalt near the fence, and fling it up at the fire escape so the ladder comes down. They’ve called it stubbornness, they’ve called it stupidity, they’ve called it fixation, they’ve called it determination, but right now what it’s called is oh my god there’s a Charizard up there! Like hell they’re gonna give up now! The asphalt chunk collides very satisfyingly with the thingie whatever holding up the ladder to the first landing, and the ladder comes clanging down until it’s only about three feet from the ground. The manager inside notices, but to her credit, does not move at all.

Frisk grabs the sides of the ladder and pulls themself up. They’ll be able to reach Charizard from the roof, right? Right.

And they get like halfway to the roof before someone inside notices the boots ringing up their fire escape and then they gotta book it aaaaaaaaall the way back down as Flowey swears in their ear.

Which is a new record, Chara says, so they’re proud.

The gunshot realization of the man inside the apartment echoes inside their head, tinged at the edges with anger and fear. It’s loud, too loud, and it’s giving them a headache! As they clamber back over the fence and race away from the scene of the crime, they remember to do what Toriel showed them, after they’d told her (only her, always only her) that weird things their brain does. They take a deep breath, turn their face up to the sun, and let the bright light and the sound of their boots pounding on the sidewalk carry those feelings away.

They’ve always been empa – empathic – empathetic? they always forget which one is the right word – anyway, they, what they do is they feel other people’s emotions. It’s been like that for as long as they can remember, and probably before that. It’s like a current, like a tide, like a tsunami, crashing down on them from every angle, over and under and around and through their own thoughts. Concerts are electrifying. Schools are hell. The Underground was…a little bit of everything, pain and fear and love and joy, all at once. It’s excruciating, and exhilarating, and, exploding, and…it’s, a bunch of words is what it is, words they know they’ve felt before but don’t know how to say.

When they were little, when it got too much, their strategy used to be curling up in a ball and putting their hands over their ears and rocking back and forth hard enough that their head slammed into whatever they were closest too. Which didn’t help, but they couldn’t just not do that, because there was so much inside them they were coming apart at the seams. Mostly, they’re not little anymore, but at the same time they never ever want to step foot near a public school ever again.

The books said that hyperempathy was an autism thing, like how their face stays still and their hands don’t and their tongue sits silent and wet in their mouth. That’s what they decided it was, for the first nine or so years of their life. Oh, sure, they tried to tell people! Of course they did, of course they wanted to know they weren’t alone! But the words just got lost in translation from thought to speech to physical movement, always way too complicated, with too many moving parts. They gave up. They learned to just exist, as whatever their brain had made them.

Only then Chara, who has different autism things, woke up in their brain a year and a half ago. Chara said that most people don’t thirst after loud sights and bright sounds like water, which Frisk had kind of figured out, but that Chara liked because it made their own sensory sensitivities dim down when they passed through Frisk’s brain. Then Chara told them that yeah, having a lot of feelings that mostly belong to other people is an autism thing (if not one they had themself), but also this is kind of verging into literally psychic territory. Like the part where they don’t have to see or comprehend what emotion someone is expressing to experience it alongside them.

That’s where they got the nickname Sponge, anyway. Like, an emotional sponge.

They’re jogging past the park when Chara says phone in their head, which means that the little noise went off and they didn’t notice it. They slow to a stop and pull the phone out of their pocket. It’s a text from Toriel (or, as she’s listed in their phone, “goat mom best mom ]: )”).

goat mom best mom ]: ) :
It is nearly time to leave for the weekly meeting at the embassy. Am I right in assuming you would still like to attend, my children?

“Oh heck,” says Chara aloud, to no one in particular. “Oh, beans.”

“Can we leave the baby swears in 2015 where they belong, for once?” snaps Flowey. “When I was like 8 and physically incapable of swearing?”

“Oh shucks,” says Chara, and curves their face up in a smile.

Frisk doesn’t feel like a smile. They must have gotten distracted by the Charizard thing, that’s why it’s suddenly 20 minutes later than it should be, and they’re not close to home. Their fingers start to twitch, and feel hot and prickly and so does their face – oh no never mind her typing bubbles are popping up again.

goat mom best mom ]: ) :
If you would like, we can pick you up on the way there! I can be there in 15 minutes ]: )

15 minutes. That’s pretty perfect. Frisk and Chara’s anxiety deflates like a balloon, and the heat goes back out of their hands where it belongs. Their thick, grubby fingers smudge out a reply on the screen, and they hardly even have to backspace.

Me :
we’re at the park c:

As they type, Chara’s smile pricks up the corners of their mouth, and they rock back and forth on their toes. The park! 15 minutes by themselves in the park! And nobody else to steal the swings!!

They dump Flowey out of their backpack and he burrows into the ground, probably on his way to Asgore’s garden or wherever else he goes when he roams around the city. At first, pretty much everyone involved (meaning Chara and Frisk) was pretty sure something like this was An Astoundingly Bad Idea. He didn’t exactly have the best moral track record underground, after all, and who knew what kind of mischief he could get into up here unsupervised? They figured out some ground rules, though, and now both of them trust Flowey to behave himself as best he can. Their first ground rule, which Frisk had to ask Chara for help translating into Monster Sign, is:

1) Do not pull any evil shit or I will reset and take your ass straight back to the endless hellhole of boredom and apathy that was your existence before we broke the barrier.

It was smooth sailing after that was established.

(The reason only Frisk and Chara were the only ones ruling in on this decision was because of their second ground rule:

2) Do not tell anyone anything they don’t remember about our time underground or I will reset without hesitation.)

Frisk picks their backpack back up, slinging dirt everywhere, and races over to the swing set. They hurl themself onto the shortest swing, feeling the plastic cut into their stomach and the blood rush to their head as they dangle towards the ground, messy curls trailing on the woodchips below. Then they flip their head up, relishing the sensation of their hair rushing past their ears, and pull themself up and into the Proper Swing Position. Chara, who likes motion stuff like this the most, is already tugging at their legs and asking for control, and Frisk hands it over. They watch their feet kick up in excitement, and do their best to balance the motion with their top half. Soon they’re soaring through the air, hair just longer than they were allowed to have it before flying in their face.

They’re not required to go to embassy meetings, but they like to. Chara doesn’t and always complains a lot and makes fun of the humans, but Chara’s just a backseat driver and Frisk can do what they want. It’s one of the only times they have to interact with humans at all, considering their living with the monsters and homeschooling and everything, and they’re already starting to seem like a strange and distant culture.

Human royalty, they know, don’t live in big apartments at the top of old, scheduled-for-demolition buildings. Tons of their kingdom don’t live right under them, either, and their buildings definitely aren’t held up by hopes and dreams and everything else that held New Home so solidly together for so long. The city let them have the complex more or less for free – or, free by monster standards, who use pure gold coins as pocket change – and in the five or so months they’d been on the surface, they’d all fixed it up and learned to call it home. (Well, technically, it’s called the Delta Complex. That’s because Toriel didn’t let Asgore name it this time.)

The rest of monsterkind spread into the surrounding city, buying places to live where they could and building them where they couldn’t, and now that whole part of town always smells like monster food and feels like exactly where they belong. Some of Frisk’s friends live there – MK, who’s still working on finding a new name that fits their transitioned self, and Shyren, who is like In A Band now (!!!), and that entire village of Temmies who somehow managed to all squish into one tiny apartment. Lots of them, though, live in the Complex, so that’s where Frisk spends most of their time. Most of Frisk’s friends (family?) also work at the embassy as diplomats and representatives of the monster kingdom, but after it became apparent that public school was absolutely not an option for them, everyone except Asgore takes one day off a week to babysit take care of them while they work on their online schooling. (It’s not babysitting, Chara, on account of I’m not a baby. Maybe if they were only watching you!)

Wake up, get dressed, brush their teeth, head over to whoever’s apartment for breakfast. Do their schoolwork sprawled on their stomach in the middle of the floor, or tucked into a beanbag chair that almost swallows them whole, or on a cleared space on Alphys’s desk as she talks about math and anime and helps them out more than she probably should. Then go on a walk (well, usually a race) to the park, or learn how to cook without setting the kitchen on fire, or watch old space documentaries with Sans. No tumult of screaming loud emotions, no inscrutable bullies or classwork that moves too fast or teachers whose disappointment presses down on them like wet concrete. Only their frie – well, okay. Only their family, who isn’t any of those things. Except the loud emotions, which are kind of fun when they’re loud about puzzles or music instead of late assignments and sick anxiety. Frisk is pretty sure they couldn’t be happier.

Friday is Toriel’s day to watch them, so Toriel is the one who is in charge of getting them to the weekly embassy meetings. She always asks whether they want to go, in that sweet caring way of hers, but Frisk always says yes. Soon enough it’s 4:40 pm, right exactly at Leaving Time, and Toriel’s mom-van pulls up in front of the park. Sans, who works at somewhere between 1 and 4 hot dog stands throughout the city, waves at them from the front seat. Alphys is on her laptop in the back, tongue poked out, probably editing the latest video on combining monster and human technology for her Youtube channel. Chara smiles and relinquishes their legs, and Frisk takes a flying leap off the swing. They grab their backpack from where they tossed it against the swing set, brush off the woodchips at Chara’s insistence, and run to jump into the van.

Toriel was worried at first that they would get hurt, or lost, or worse, in the big and new city, and hesitant to let them go out alone, but over time she became more confident in their capabilities. Now they’re allowed to walk pretty much anywhere they like when they finish with school, as long as they take their phone and their backpack. Frisk isn’t worried about forgetting either of these things – they love texting their friend-family, and they never go anywhere without their trusty backpack anyways.

Things that are in Frisk’s trusty backpack:
· Human food (like crunchy granola bars and chocolate for Chara)
· Monster food (like monster candy and cinnamon buns, mostly
· Water bottle
· Portable phone charger
· iPad (because most humans don’t understand Monster Sign)
· 117 g
· $21.53
· Headphones (for when things got too overwhelming for Chara)
· Spare sweater and socks
· Worn dagger (Chara’s comfort item)
· Heart locket (also Chara’s comfort item, Frisk doesn’t like things around their neck)
· Swiss army knife (with a billion little tools)
· Sketchpad
· Probably too many writing utensils
· Binoculars
· Four stim toys
· Waterproof poncho
· Brightly colored band-aids
· Camera
· Kazoo
· Day planner
· Monster education pamphlets
· Dirt
· Not Flowey anymore

They’re unquestionably prepared for any situation.

“Hello there, children!” says Toriel, smiling inside and out, as they plop down in their seat and close the door. “How did your adventure go today?”

Frisk’s hands are busy with the seatbelt, so they let Chara take this one. “Fun,” they say, decisively. “It’s really turning into spring, which feels nice. Also, we almost caught a Charizard, but it got away. So that was disappointing.”

“That’s too bad, kiddo. Maybe next time you’ll have better luck with your Seaking,” grins Sans from the passenger seat. There’s a beat of silence as both kids mentally riffle through over 700 Pokemon names.

Seakings are boring, Frisk replies, at the same time that Chara says “Sans, there’s over 700 Pokemon. You can do better than that.”

“Hey, no Shaymin trying,” he says with a wink. Alphys snorts.

“You don’t even play this game?! I don’t understand?!?” Chara exclaims. Frisk kicks the back of Toriel’s seat and signs Book it, Mom!

She laughs and does, peeling out into the street in a way that leaves Alphys squeaking and clutching her laptop and Chara giggling. It would be dangerous if she wasn’t the only one on the road, and also, maybe even more capable of a driver than Papyrus. Sans turns the radio to the new and only monster-pop station in town, and she starts singing along to songs about dandelions and having a crush on someone three times your size. Sans joins in, then Chara and Alphys, and the music takes hold of the car and doesn’t let it go.

Frisk starts rocking excitedly to the beat, their entire body buzzing and Chara’s words spilling from their throat. They make the sign for louder, and let their hands do it again, LOUDER LOUDER LOUDER, getting lost in the motion, LOUDER!! LOUDER!! LOUDER!!!! and NOTHING is LOUD ENOUGH and the music’s filling the CAR and filling their HEAD and their SOUL and they SQUISH their EYES SHUT so there can be MORE ROOM FOR MUSIC and ROCK AND ROCK AND ROCK AND ROCK AND –

THEY’RE SO HAPPY!!!!!

They’re so HAPPY they don’t notice the car pulling into a parking space outside the mayor’s office, but they notice when the music shuts off. They don’t stop rocking for a while, just to keep the edges of the feeling circulating in their veins, until Toriel opens their door and Chara gives some of their internal smile to her.

She smiles back, and they feel it in the small surge of affection towards them among the greater constant field, a sudden wave in the middle of a serene ocean.

Okay. They think that they’re what Undyne would call psyched up, now.

The embassy is on the 4th floor of the mayor’s office, which is easily the most official building any of them have ever been in. That’s even counting the king’s castle. It’s like this guy is trying or something, Frisk says with mock confusion to Chara, who replies with that’s probably the most accurate assessment of his personality you could hope for.

They’re right, as usual. Of course Frisk wants to take part in their species’ integration with the monsters, like a good mascot junior ambassador actually Chara. Of course they want to know about the current events in both of their communities and how they’re being handled. But as they cross the marbled lobby to the elevators, gazing around at the hugeness that they never tire of, they can’t help but feel a tiny bit not-quite-excited for tonight.

The mayor – Mr. Harris, they’re supposed to call him – he always wants. He wants things to stay the same. He wants things to be easy. He wants people to agree with him. And he doesn’t like it when those things don’t happen. And then sometimes Frisk has to leave before his anger and disgust get too overwhelming for them to bear.

Undyne’s face splits into a grin when the elevator doors open, and she bounds over to pick up her girlfriend in a spinning hug. They do this every time, but it’s still pretty adorable. Papyrus is hot on her heels with a “HELLO HUMANS!!”, bending down to pick Frisk up as they throw their arms around his neck. They hug him tightly, relishing the pressure of his bony arms around them and the coolness of his skull beneath their cheek.

He puts them down so they can continue the tradition of hugging everyone in greeting – Undyne as a sneak attack from behind, Asgore in a flying leap – and once those necessary prefaces have been completed, everyone settles down around the table. It’s 4:58, but they can count on about 15 minutes of time to talk and go over the agenda before Mr. Harris shows up.

Chara ends up in a deep and one-sided conversation with Asgore about how you can actually eat dandelions, probably, that Frisk’s not listening to. They feel shivery tinges of worry from the back of Asgore’s mind and are about to tell Chara to change the subject when the door opens and a wave of shame, mistrust and anger enters the room.

Frisk shudders and clenches their hands in their hair, snapping their jaw closed and tense. Chara opens their eyes wide and stares up at the wave of bad feelings. It’s shaped like a young teenage boy, with pale skin and short brown hair and a suit like Mr. Harris. His tie is yellow, they note detachedly, while Mr. Harris’s is purple. A just soul, not perseverant like the mayor. Frisk rips their eyes from Chara’s grasp and aims them at their hands. They can handle looking at faces when it’s Chara doing the looking, Chara whose default expression is a stare, but with this boy it’s too hard.

“Evening, all,” Mr. Harris says, his displeasure straining against his formal tone. “This is my son, Talley. He’ll be sitting in on our meeting tonight.”

No more explanation. Asgore nods his head, and Toriel smiles. Papyrus offers him a handshake and a “Nice to meet you! I’m Ambassador Papyrus!” but Talley only looks at the hand for a few seconds and sits down. Frisk gets the feeling he doesn’t want to be here. Also, for some reason he thinks Papyrus’s hand will feel slimy?? He’s a skeleton???

Talley sits on the exact opposite side of the table as Frisk and tries not to look scared and stares at his phone. Frisk shuffles through their backpack for five minutes, desperately searching for their tangle stim toy. They find a dead bug at the very bottom, but even the stress of that being there is overshadowed by the stress of Talley Harris.

As the meeting goes on, Talley’s discomfort only gets worse, and so does Frisk’s. They don’t listen to the meeting, and follow along on the agenda, and take part in the discussion. Chara does that, as helpful as they ever are at meetings; which is to say they just get increasingly angrier. It bubbles in their shared stomach and Chara feels it like a rush but Frisk just feels sick. They sit closely huddled into Asgore’s warm and loving side, winding their tangle around their fingers and trying not to hate themself in the wake of the Harrises’ distaste. Mr. Harris is saying something about not knowing anything about how monsters function or who they are, and Undyne makes a snarky remark about that being obvious. There’s a flash of anger from Mr. Harris and Talley’s eyes flick up as his father’s voice rises. Asgore tries to keep the peace, suggesting monster history classes, maybe television spots – but Mr. Harris snaps back impatiently, calling him impractical.

Talley’s chair screeches as he stands up abruptly. “I’m going to go walk around,” he announces into the silence.

It’s like a coat of wet cement has been lifted from Frisk’s chest. They stop hunching over in their chair, glance around the table and trying to see where they are on the agenda. Now that Talley’s gone, they can feel the strong currents of love flowing from every monster around the table to them, and they count their breaths as they let it ground them. They’re safe, he’s gone, they’re loved, and they can breathe again.

While you were gone, the mayor called us all simple again, and implied that Asgore wasn’t fit to rule. He also blamed the widespread human suspicion on our ambassadors, and neglected to mention his publicly terrible stances on the matter, Chara fills them in.

Oh, Frisk replies. Did that really happen?

Well…Not in so little words. But that was the general message.

The meeting ends with nothing resolved and no one satisfied. It’s disappointing, but Frisk is used to it. That’s why these meetings keep having to be a weekly event, after all. The mayor departs, with his strange effect of having the rest of them feeling left in an echo chamber, and they’re alone in the conference room.

As soon as the door swings closed behind him, Undyne perches on the edge of the table and flops back with an extended groan. “Uuuuuuuuuughhhhhh. When’s he gettin’ re-elected or whatever?”

“That isn’t the problem right now,” says Asgore, who hasn’t gotten up. His paws move slowly and the lines around his eyes are deep. He’s tired. “We’ve tried negotiations. We’ve tried publicity, we’ve tried social media – “

The door creaks back open, and Talley Harris peeks through the gap.

Frisk and Chara both think several words they shouldn’t know.

“Have you…seen my dad?” It’s the first time they’ve heard him speak. It’s quiet, and Frisk has to strain to hear it. Not brash and grating like Chara always complains the mayor’s is.

“No…we haven’t, I’m sorry,” replies Toriel, already concerned. Chara squeaks in outrage that that emotion is now in their head, and redoubles their hatred.

“Didn’t he already go home?” asks Undyne.

“He pretty much always gets out of here as fast as he can,” Sans agrees.

“Seriously?!” Talley exclaims, whirling around and pulling out his phone with more force than necessary. His shock and irritation hide a sudden swell of fear, and he quickly turns back so he’s facing the monsters. “Why didn’t his driver notify him? I’m going to get this sorted out right now. Hello, Dad? Yeah. I’m still at the embassy.”

“We’d be pleased to give you a ride home, Talley! It’d be no trouble at all!” Papyrus offers. Talley just glares at him, and another stab of Chara’s anger burns in Frisk’s stomach.

“I mean,” he continues, his voice slightly more restrained, “you left without me. I need someone to come pick me up.”

Asgore collects official documents from where they’ve scattered across the table. Frisk hops up to help, climbing over Undyne, who hasn’t moved.

“What? I was just – “ Talley bites his lip and listens for a long time, anxiety and shame ramping up. “Yeah. Yeah, you’re right. It was my fault. So – “ He listens again, and his anxiety slowly turns into dread. “Dad – no! No, come pick me up before you go home, please! I don’t want to wait here for like an hour!”

Oh noooooo, someone’s gotta sit alone in the dark for a while, Chara smirks. What a terrible fate. I can’t imagine anything worse, can you, Sponge?

Shush, Frisk replies, now listening intently to the half of the conversation they can hear.

Talley’s ashamed again, but this time it’s not at the others but himself. “Of course, this is my fault. I apologize. I shouldn’t have talked back. I’ll see you in an hour.” He hangs up the phone and looks around.

“Ssssooo…” He lets out a shaky breath and runs a hand through his hair. “Is that, uh, ride home…still on the table?”

Frisk feels a stab of panic. No, no, no, they sign without thinking. We have to go home and eat together. You live too far away, it’ll just mess everything up.

“Why is he doing that?” Talley says, openly staring at their hands. Frisk bites down hard to keep Chara from taking their mouth and saying something awful.

“Frisk needs a routine, and that routine includes us all having supper next. We’d love to take you, but we only have two cars between us, and we can’t afford to have half of us deviate that much from the schedule. I really am sorry,” Toriel explains.

“We had no idea you lived so far away!” Papyrus adds. “Otherwise, it would have been no problem!”

“Seriously?! Just because that – that messed-up dumb kid says he wants to go home, you’re suddenly gonna drop everything to tend to his every need?! What’s wrong with all of you?!” Talley explodes.

“Nothing is wrong with us, or them,” Toriel replies soothingly, but Frisk can feel something dark and defensive rising inside her. “I am sure we can find a reasonable solution to this.”

“Would you like to come to dinner with us?” Asgore offers.

There’s a beat of silence. Asgore’s not stupid. He isn’t tone-deaf, either. Frisk can tell the offer is calculated, but heartfelt. In short, exactly an Asgore move. Asgore doesn’t know, but Frisk thinks he can tell, that Talley’s too scared (but not of them) to immediately refuse.

And he’s right. Talley’s breath catches, and he glances at the darkness outside the room. His fear spikes up and then subsides, replaced with resignation and a subtle determination. He’s more scared of staying here, alone, in the dark, than of the monsters his whole species has been conditioned to fear.

He looks Asgore in the eye and squares his shoulders. “Alright. I’ll tell my driver to pick me up at your…uh, place.”

“We live in the Delta Complex, on the southwestern edge of town.” Toriel provides.

“Did you seriously not know that? That’s like, monster 101,” Undyne says.

“W-we just had a, a w-whole m-meeting discussing this, Undyne,” Alphys replies.

Talley ends up in Toriel’s van, with Undyne, Alphys and Frisk. Frisk is in their spot behind the driver’s seat near the window, but Talley is in the front seat instead of Undyne, who is lying with her feet up across the back seats and probably not even wearing her seatbelt. Frisk starts humming, low in their throat, to try and offset some of the wrongness. They watch Alphys’s claws click nervously together, her snout twitching as she glances around with sharp, jerky movements. Talley keeps his body still, but spreads prickly nervousness and discomfort through the whole van.

Nobody is talking. This is weird. It’s too weird and Frisk doesn’t want to draw Talley’s attention but they are DYING in the silence! Finally, when Toriel stops at a red light, they clap and ask her to turn on the radio through the mirror. Usually they’d just have Chara ask, but letting Chara talk around other humans is never ever a good idea.

“Of course, my child!” Toriel reaches for the dial too fast, also relieved to have something else to focus on. She turns the station to a human pop station, the one that Undyne and Alphys have playing all the time in their apartment, and smiles when the chorus of a popular song fills the space.

“YEAH!!! I love this song!!!” yells Undyne, bouncing out of her seat in excitement. “You’re my sweet, baby, you’re so sooooouuurr – “

“You’re bittersweet, baby, every hoouuurrr!” Toriel joins in. Chara grins, and Frisk starts rocking back and forth in their seat.

“My tears are saltyyy, don’t make me cryyyy – “ sings Alphys softly, voice almost lost under Undyne shouting right in her ear. “I don’t waaanna say goodbyyyee – “

Talley fixes her with a stare in the rearview mirror, and she stops, embarrassed.

“Do you know this song, Talley?” Toriel asks, oblivious to Talley’s weird ass staring thing leave her the hell alone human. “My favorite part is coming up!”

Talley doesn’t respond. Frisk is getting a weird amount of emotions from him. He’s confused, and kind of scared, but – he likes this song. And he feels less nervous after that.

Soon enough, they arrive back in what Chara calls the Monster District and Frisk just calls home. They pass by identical, cramped houses painted in bright colors, clusters of shacks in vacant lots, families eating together at rows of picnic tables pushed together. Talley stares out at all of it. Frisk realizes that, he’s rich, he probably lives in a mansion with a huge lawn and rich neighbors. He’s never seen people living like this, pressed so close together but also so happy.

They pull into the largely empty parking lot outside the Delta Complex, just behind the car holding Papyrus, Sans and Asgore, and pile out onto the cracked pavement. Talley follows at the back of the group, looking up at the towering building above and wrapping his arms around himself even though it’s not cold.

The doormonster leaps up and smiles as they pass, pulling their slimy form into something that stands upright more easily. Asgore waves and grins back, and Frisk takes the monster candy they offer them. They hand a piece to Talley too, who sniffs it and watches Frisk shove theirs in their mouth before hesitantly unwrapping his. They take the elevator up to the top floor, split between Toriel’s and Asgore’s twin apartments, and Asgore holds the door for everyone as they file into his place. It’s not as crowded as you’d think, and definitely not as crowded as some of the places Frisk has lived.

Frisk and Chara don’t get to stay in Asgore’s apartment very much – as the king, he has to work full time at the embassy, so he can’t watch them during the week. It’s still one of their favorite places. Houseplants, from tiny succulents to great big ferns, fill every corner and swing gently in pots hung from the ceiling. The bookshelves are stocked with volumes of monster history and gardening guides, and you can always smell the smoky hint of fire magic and sweet pollen of the flowers. Chara’s hatred for Talley fades away, replaced by the contentment they always feel in Asgore’s apartment. It’s the perfect place for both of their special interests, monster culture and gardening, to collide.

Crunched in their favorite corner, reading a monster anthropology textbook and rubbing at the smooth leaf of a fern with one hand, Frisk and Chara pass the time until supper without interacting with anyone. This would be exhausting for Frisk, but Talley is here so everything is exhausting anyway, and Chara desperately needs some unsocial time by now. Being angry at every human ever to exist is tiring, apparently. At one point, Flowey pops up in the pot holding Chara’s fern, sees Talley, and shoots back into the ground in surprise.

Frisk listens as Chara reads, as the chaos around them moves into the kitchen. Everyone helps Asgore with dinner, except for Talley, and Sans of course. They end up on the same couch, not looking at each other. Sans turns on the television. Talley glances up for a second, then goes back to his phone.

Frisk isn’t feeling fear from him anymore. Just a strong, unpleasant sense of confused awkwardness.

The meal (fixed with two portions of human food this time, instead of just one) is far more strained than usual, with even Papyrus and Undyne not yelling or trying to start a food fight. The atmosphere in the apartment is so tense Frisk can feel it prickling their skin. The point of these meals, though, is to talk about the meeting, so maybe now Frisk can learn about what actually happened instead of what Chara told them?

“They don’t know us,” Toriel starts, finally, after a longer period of silence than any of them ever bother with. “We’re here, and that’s all we’ve ever wanted. But it’s not enough, is it?”

“We were so fixated on breaking the barrier…” Asgore sighs, resting his massive head in one paw. “We never thought…about what would come after.”

“People don’t know who we ARE!!” shouts Undyne, slamming her fist on the table and making everyone jump. “And…” Her voice softens into something approaching weakness. “I’m not sure how to show them.”

“What could we possibly be missing?” Papyrus exclaims. “We even have active social media presences!!”

“They don’t need to just know we’re here, they need to know who we are,” Asgore says.

“I’m gonna veto the concept of a meet-and-greet right now,” Sans deadpans.

Chara has a quiet idea in their head, birthed straight from the monster anthropology book. Frisk moves their hands, slowly, bringing it to reality. What about something, like…arty?

“What do you mean by something arty, Frisk?” Toriel asks. She usually never repeats what Frisk says, but they suspect she’s doing it for Talley’s benefit. Who just snorts.

Everyone’s gazes flick to him for a second. “Do go on, dear,” Toriel says to Frisk.

There’s…there’s always music here? With you? And, and since I came here I’ve started humming as a stim a lot more, and people join in. Like – Sans and Papyrus, you’re always humming your songs, do you notice that you do that?

“So what if they do?” Undyne asks, just a little bit protectively. “It’s just their songs.”

Yes!! Exactly!! We don’t have those, and you do, and – They have to stop signing as their brain starts to explode with Chara’s excitement. Your songs – aagh! The last part comes out as a frustrated flap of their hands, and Chara bursts impatiently from their mouth.

“Music is so incredibly embedded in monster culture. You have personal theme songs that everyone hears – in their head but still – if the situation’s important enough to the listener. Your fighting styles are less fights and more a cross between emotional expression and dance. Humans aren’t like that!! I don’t have a song, Frisk doesn’t have a song! You’re storytellers! You’re musicians! That’s what they don’t know, that’s you!” Frisk flaps excitedly, swept away by the rare undiluted joy spilling from their mouth. “So what if – “

“A musical!” Undyne shouts, leaping out of her chair. “We could make a musical about us!”

“Exactly!” Chara beams. Frisk makes finger guns at her for emphasis. “We could, we could talk about how we met each other, and what the underground is really like! And how you’re not evil! And I bet Mettaton would help write it!”

“Hold on,” Talley interrupts. He’s weird again and it’s messing up Frisk’s vibe. (Contemptuous, Chara says, and clicks their mouth shut and curls their toes in anger.) He turns to Toriel and points at them, sneering, “He can actually talk?”

Chara’s face snaps back defensively into their default expression, wide staring eyes and a small blank smile. Everything behind that face just feels pulled taut. Still smiling, they bite out, “Shut the fuck up.”

There’s a beat of silence, then Undyne lets out a howl of laughter loud enough to make the flowerpots tremble. A wave of scandal ripples away from them like they’re a stone dropped in a pond. Toriel is outraged, but mostly at Undyne; Asgore’s mouth hangs open with shock and his hand is over his chest. Alphys dropped her fork and is feeling very very guilty about all those animes she showed them that maybe weren’t originally made for kids. Papyrus has sort of frozen up – bluescreened, Chara giggles, already feeling better – and Sans is just snickering, but very, very quietly.

Talley’s just a maelstrom of confusion, rage, and embarrassment, and that makes Chara feel even better than the unspoken outpouring of support from the monsters around the table. Their relief and amusement override whatever Talley’s feeling, and after all, that was pretty freakin’ awesome so Frisk is pumped too. WE FLIPPED YOUR SCRIPT! WE FLIPPED YOUR TERRIBLE SCRIPT! Frisk screams inside their head. HOW’S IT FEEL TO BE THE EMBARRASSED ONE NOW!! YOU ASSHOLE!!

We probably shouldn’t be this excited about this, Chara giggles, with the air of someone who just got finished laughing so hard they couldn’t breathe.

ASSHOLE’S NEVER GONNA LAUGH AT US AGAIN, Frisk yells back. HOW YOU LIKE THAT!! HOW YOU LIKE THAT!!! AAAAAAHH!!

You’re excitable today.

Talley, whole face red like Hotland lava, stands up and makes for the door. “My dad’s here,” he turns back to say before leaving and slamming the door behind him. That was probably a lie. He’s just awful and doesn’t want to spend any more time with THE LITERAL BEST PEOPLE ON EARTH, GOOD RIDDANCE!! Frisk waves at the closed door, double-handed and almost spiteful. The slam brings after it a wave of relief everyone feels and pretends that they don’t.

“In all seriousness, Chara, please don’t use that word,” Toriel says.

“That was an extenuating circumstance.”

“SO HOW BOUT THAT MUSICAL HUH,” blurts Undyne, who is still slightly afraid of Toriel’s rage. “PRETTY COOL IDEA HUH.”

“Oh my goodness, I can’t WAIT!!” Papyrus kicks his feet and bounces up and down with excitement. “The fame! The fortune! The devious and deadly traps I will recreate in musical form!! I can feel it calling to me already!!”

“I-I can call Mettaton after supper,” Alphys says brightly. “H-he loves writing songs a-and stuff, he’ll – he’ll love to h-help.”

“YEAH!! Just so long as he doesn’t end up stealing the whole spotlight,” Undyne adds. “Cause I need to have at least one dramatic monologue!! Like in anime!!! Is someone writing all this down?!?!”

The answer is no, but quickly turns into yes as the idea gains traction. At one point, Papyrus jumps on the table to improvise a speech as Undyne scribbles it down furiously, and Alphys half-accidentally signs up to be completely in charge of special effects. As soon as Alphys tells him the idea, Mettaton demands video participation, and ends up calling Frisk’s iPad from his studio. He has ideas, of course he does, about costumes and set pieces and “darling little pieces of choreography,” and relays them all at high speed and volume. As evening turns into night, and the plan takes shape around them, Chara marvels at what’s become of their very own idea.

This is a good plan, right, Sponge? they ask, suddenly self-conscious about receiving this much attention.

Oh, yeah, Frisk reassures them, sending as much excitement and pride towards their brainsibling as they can. Everyone thinks so, and everyone’s gonna love it – take it from me, this is going to be absolutely fantastic!!

Chapter Text

“This is going to be absolutely terrible,” says Flowey.

You are just a magnificent party pooper, Frisk signs back.

They’re sitting on their bed, squinting into the morning sunlight pouring through the open window of their bedroom, as Flowey just throws incessantly bad vibes at them. They’d both been too tired to share their idea with Flowey last night, so they had been saving it for this morning. Like a surprise. Like maybe something he would be excited about! Normally they’d hold onto Chara’s leftover excitement from last night, wrap it around them like a blanket, but Chara isn’t a morning person.

Chara is lying on the floor of their brain like a dense wet raincloud, refusing to translate the bursts of Flowey’s emotions into words. Frisk huffs. They just woke up and they don’t deserve to have to deal with this.

“You know what I am, Frisk? You know what I am? I’m realistic,” Flowey snaps. “Apparently, I’m the only realistic one involved in this whole stupid scheme.”

“Last week you were ridiculously disappointed to find out that things break when you drop them off the roof,” Chara mumbles.

“They shouldn’t make milk jugs that fragile. Shut up. But, seriously – you do realize that they hate you, right?”

I wouldn’t go that far, Frisk muses, kicking their dangling feet against the side of the bed.

“Well, they sure don’t like you, anyway. You can’t deny that. You’ve lived with them longer than I have. They’re easily angered, violent, and set in their ways, and they like to hurt what they don’t understand. That’s always meant monsters. Do you really think a musical is going to magically open their eyes, and they’ll admit they were wrong and then we’ll all frolic in the fields of friendship?” Flowey snorts. “Don’t be an idiot. They’ll laugh at it and just keep trying to push us back to where they didn’t have to acknowledge our existence.”

A normal musical, maybe, replies Frisk.

“But they haven’t seen a monster musical. They don’t know music like mo – like we do,” Chara adds.

We can show them, Frisk says, bouncing lightly. We can show them who we are!

“And if we don’t do this, what? What would you suggest? If you have any ideas as to how we can avoid Monster War Reprise 2.0, I’m all ears,” Chara says.

“Honestly, it’d be all the same to me, if I didn’t know you’d just reset if that happened,” Flowey replies flippantly. “I just don’t think you’ve thought this all the way through, at all. Meaning that you haven’t thought about it to any reasonable degree. For one thing: You’re going to ask me to sing, aren’t you?”

We were going to do that, Frisk admits.

“Just think about that for a minute,” he says. They don’t.

“Everyone else wants to participate, Flowey, come oonnnn,” whines Chara.

Peer pressure, peer pressure, peer pressure, Frisk signs. Chara snickers in their head.

“Everyone else is a monster, Chara. Of course they’d be on board with any opportunity to show off their songs. This whole idea is needlessly sentimental, painfully embarrassing, and inevitably pointless. Count me out.”

“You can do imitations, right?” Chara demands. “Bet you can sing.”

“…I can.”

“Picture it, Flowey,” Chara says, sitting up on their knees and spreading their arms wide. “Picture the whole audience surrounding you, eyes locked on your every move. Picture them applauding, on their feet, after you utterly blow them away with your performance!”

Frisk sees where Chara’s coming from and joins in. You’re a performer, Flowey, they sign, drawing on the emotions they had gained from him in their many encounters underground. You love showing off. You love people paying attention to you, and you love people loving you. Even if that means admiration or fear.

They know that last sentence did not make any sense at all, but Flowey seems to get it. He’s freaked out that they’re able to know that so easily, in any case. They’re right, Frisk feels him realize, through his growing sense of dismay. He’s always had a talent for theatrics, and he loves to show it off, even as the world rips apart around him.

“Are you going to sing?” he asks.

That means they won that argument, but it also means that Chara’s whole brain goes cold and tense inside. Frisk shivers. Chara hates being watched, being scrutinized, being put on display. Frisk’s fights with Mettaton were some of the most fun parts of their journey, but Chara had always gone rigid and flat, offering up the same tiny pieces of their script over and over. Frisk thinks it’s the closest they’ve seen them get to full shutdown. And they weren’t even doing anything! They know Chara can sing out of their mouth, they sound really good (if quiet), but in front of anyone? Let alone humans?! Oh no, oh no oh no.

“I don’t see why I should have to,” Chara says carefully. “They don’t even talk.”

Oh, yeah. Oh right. They’re gonna be putting this on in front of humans. Who, by Chara’s request, don’t know that Chara even exists. This is going to be the story of Frisk-Going-Through-The-Underground, not Frisk-And-Brainghost-That-Can-Sing-Going-Through-The-Underground. Frisk probably won’t even have to open their mouth.

Still. Are you sure you’re going to be okay with this, C? Frisk asks them silently.

I never said I was. I don’t know, Frisk. I still think…we still need to do this idea, though. You know we need to do something, and I think this is it, they reply. No matter how hard it ends up being for me. Quiet and almost resigned.

And hey, you’re gonna be surrounded by friends this time! Yeah! A support system!! Frisk bounces on the bed a little bit.

…I guess. The love and support of everyone else will be feeding into Frisk’s emotions, in turn feeding Chara’s own. There’s still a hesitation in their thoughts, though.

We’ll just…try it out, okay. We’ll see how it goes. We don’t have to sing, Frisk reassures them.

Right. Chara curls their toes into the carpet.

“Hey,” says Flowey, extending a curled leaf as if to knock on their skull. Frisk bats it away. “What’s going on in there.”

Basically we evaluated all your arguments and concluded that you’re wrong and also an asshole for bringin’ it up, Frisk signs.

“So there,” Chara adds. “It’s going to be great, and you know it.”

Flowey throws up his leaves in a starburst of exasperation. “Fine! Fine. I’ll do it. On one condition: I get to write all of my songs.”

Okay yeah sure, Frisk signs. Whatever dude. Let’s get up.

They slide out of bed and pad to the kitchen, holding Flowey’s pot securely under one arm. Toriel isn’t out here, but it’s Saturday morning, so…and yep, sure enough, there’s a note lying on the table, in her wide and looping handwriting, saying what it always does when they get up late on Saturday mornings.

Dear Frisk, Chara and Flowey,

I am at the grocery store. I should be back by lunchtime. Please go to one of the others’ apartments for breakfast. I will let you know when I return. ]: )

Love, Toriel.

She stopped signing her notes with Sincerely, Toriel around four months ago, and Frisk feels a rush of affection that could be residual from Toriel or even their own. Even now, almost two years after their old life ended, they still feel something shivery and unreal just seeing that word written out.

“Let’s go to Undyne and Alphys’s today. They have sugared cereal and violent video games,” Chara suggests. Their mouth is already watering at the former, and Flowey is darkly excited for the latter. Frisk lets Chara race out the door and down the flights of emergency stairs, on their toes like always, and slams through the always-unlocked door to Undyne and Alphys’s shared apartment.

“What’s up, NERD!?!??!?!?!” Undyne bounces off the couch and shouts at them, at the volume that she always is at 9:37 in the morning. Sitting beside her are a boy with dark skin and dreadlocks pulled back into a ponytail, wearing the baggy orange hoodie Frisk has learned is his favorite, and a person with a grown-out undercut falling over (his? her? Frisk hasn’t asked yet today) face, with tan skin and a hooked nose, squinting intently at the screen through old-2010s-hipster-style glasses. Sans leans against the couch on the floor in front of them. Crashing sound effects blast from the TV in front of them, and the boy whoops. “YEAH!!” he yells, dreadlocks bouncing as Undyne plops back down beside him. “Rust Cooper, Rainbow Road champion two kay FOREVER!!!”

“What?! That didn’t count!! I got distracted, ya punk!!!” Undyne yells, flinging her arms out and almost clocking Rust in the face. “Sorry dude.”

“S’okay. Cause I WON!!” Triumphant music plays from the TV, and the person with glasses groans loudly. Sans, brow furrowed in concentration, feels a stab of irritation that probably means he fell off again. Frisk puts Flowey on the table beside the couch to fight with the others over controllers, and probably eventually prove to Rust that he’s not actually the Rainbow Road champion two kay forever, and goes in search of breakfast.

“Hey, Frisk,” calls Alphys sleepily from the kitchenette. She’s sitting at the counter with a bowl of cereal and her phone, scrolling through the Undernet. Beside her, a girl with short, curly blond hair and pale skin shovels oatmeal into her mouth.

Hey, Al, signs Frisk, as Chara makes a beeline for the cereal cupboard. Toriel’s out shopping. They reach for the Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs as Chara asks out of their mouth, “What’re they doing here?” It’d be rude if it was coming from anyone else, but for Chara it’s just Chara And Humans They Tolerate.

“Papyrus,” Sans grunts from the other room.

“He’s Cleaning today,” explains the girl at the counter. “Capital C. We got banished.”

Oh. Okay. This is a deviation from routine, there’s a lot more people in this apartment now than there’s any right to be, but it’s not bad. Everyone’s happy, at least, if sleepy and frustrated by Rust being good at video games. Even Chara, though they’re prickling more than usual.

“Also I’m a dude today,” calls Rox helpfully.

Earlier, Frisk thought/said that letting Chara talk in front of humans was never ever a good idea. That’s mostly accurate, and probably always will be, and neither of them have a problem with that. But Chara makes an exception, albeit usually a rude and curt one, for the three humans who through a twist of fate ended up living in the skeletons’ apartment about a month ago.

Rox and Mina, the video game person and the oatmeal girl, are the adopted children of a woman on the city council, a group of politicians who advise the mayor. Frisk and Chara don’t know much about their situation, because Rox prefers to keep it quiet, but they learned the general story from Mina and the skeletons. Rox, sixteen and a patient soul, had protected eight-year-old Mina from the abuse of their domineering mother and often-drunk father as best as possible, for much of both their lives. Rox carefully avoided provoking their parents’ anger or suspicion, instead quietly and slowly chipping away at their own paycheck to make a fund that would let the two of them eventually run away. Rox hadn’t ever considered coming out as genderfluid to anyone but Mina, but when Mina realized she was a trans girl, the integrity in her soul wouldn’t let her stay silent. Their father had snapped and tried to beat her, and Rox when her sibling sprang to protect her, forcing them both to flee.

On the streets they’d met Rust, a fourteen-year-old trans boy who’d had a similar ordeal happen to him. He’d been homeless for four years and on his own for one, his brave soul and strong sense of fairness both breaking up fights and causing them wherever he went. They became quick friends, and a close team.

One night, they’d been on the run from what Mina only refers to as Shady Characters, accidentally crossed into the monster part of town and crashed over one of Sans’s quasi-legal hot dog carts. (The Shady Characters, Mina says, stopped at that invisible border and were never seen again.) After “helping” them clean it up (read: flipping the cart right side up with magic and then mostly just making hot dog puns), Sans finally realized that it was winter and that humans get cold, especially human kids. This was mostly because he had to watch Mina sneeze messily all over his jacket. He’d hesitantly invited them back to the Delta Complex, for unlimited ‘dogs and maybe some warmth, and they’d hesitantly accepted. Mina says that Rox was very very suspicious, but also Sans is probably the least intimidating monster ever because he’s like four foot six, and it wasn’t like they had any better options. It helped that monsters had already gained a reputation in the city for helping those in need, despite the suspicion and mystery still surrounding them. And besides, Rox had a knife.

Of course Papyrus was beyond delighted to meet three new friends – and those that shared his house no less!!! Like a sleepover!!! – and tried to fill them all up with extraordinary quantities of spaghetti, but when Mina kept sneezing Sans and Rox convinced him to switch to canned chicken noodle soup instead. They’d kinda just lived off that, until Toriel met them and immediately intervened, and the three quickly became part of their growing little family.

Which reminds Chara. “Talley Harris was at our meeting last night,” they call, mostly to Rox. “The mayor’s son. Do you know him?”

“UGH,” Rox replies, jerking the controller to the side and colliding with Undyne’s shoulder. “YEAH. He’s a dick of a kid, huh? I remember I used to see him all the time at those fancy events Mom made us go to.”

“He always looked down on us, I think. Cause we weren’t as rich as him, or cause we’re adopted,” Mina adds. “He was a jerk. Rox was good at messing with him, though.”

“Yeah, it’s fun until he goes to tell his dad,” Rox snorts. “Then you just gotta run.”

“I told him to ess-tee-eff-you,” Chara grins.

Rox breaks into delighted cackles and Mina snorts into her oatmeal. Chara feels a spike of satisfaction at their derision, and Frisk kicks the counter to the rhythm of the waves of amusement. Alphys would be blushing, if she wasn’t a lizard. She tries to kind of shrink into her phone instead.

After breakfast they go around the counter into the living room, hopping up to perch on the arm of the couch beside Rox, so they’re not near Flowey’s shrieking self and so they can poke Sans in the head with their foot when he makes puns. They squish on the couch with the rest and continue to be really bad at Rainbow Road for a few mindless hours, until Undyne springs into the air after coming in 3rd place for the 3rd time and declares a need for fresh air. “You nerds hungry after all that gaming?!”

Flowey gloats. “You just want to distract from me winning aga – “

“I KNOW I’M HUNGRY!!” Rust yells.

“Yeah!! There’s a neat café about 10 minutes away that just opened, it serves human and monster food – let’s go check it out! Get out of the house for a bit, into the sunshine! C’mon!!”

“Yeah…nah,” Sans yawns, flopping his head back against the couch to look up at Undyne. “Think I’m good right here. Too much walking.”

“I think I’m good too, Undyne,” Alphys adds. “I want to get this video up today. I’d crack a-a window, I guess, if I wasn’t, uh – wasn’t ectothermic.”

“UGH!! You and your NERD WORDS and PARTY POOPING!” Undyne shouts. “Come on, guys! Let’s ditch these losers!” She hops up on the counter to plant a kiss on Alphys’s nose, then pulls on her boots and races to the door. Frisk grabs Flowey’s pot and dumps it in their backpack, then follows everyone else out.


“You been thinking any more about the musical thing, kid?” Undyne asks, bouncing on her toes as the group of them walk down the sidewalk. “Cause I have!! I’ve been thinking so much my HEAD’S gonna explode!!”

Flowey groans.

“The what thing?” asks Rust.

“It’s dumb,” Flowey says. “Don’t listen.”

“Yeah, you beat me at Rainbow Road five times and then gloated, so now I’m gonna listen even more out of spite,” Rust replies.

“The musical thing!” Undyne shouts over their arguing. “Didn’t Papyrus tell you??”

“Well, he talked about songs happening last night,” Rox says. “And about his acting talent finally being realized. But we didn’t really get any context.”

“Plus he talked so much we couldn’t fit in any questions!” Mina adds. “And Sans didn’t help at all. He just sat there. So we don’t know anything.”

“Oh my god, you guys are going to LOVE it!!” Undyne crows. “Frisk had this AWESOME idea last night!! The problem, apparently, the whole problem is that people don’t really like us cause nobody knows who we are. So Frisk suggested that we put on this MUSICAL to show them!! And then we’ll be famous and no one will want to kill us or deport us again!!”

“Tooooold yooooou,” sings Flowey to Rust.

“Wait, so you’re just gonna like…sing some songs and then be friends with everyone?” Rox scoffs. “Have you seen how humans, like, don’t care about stuff like musicals? At all?? Like I know you guys are monsters and you’re all friends with each other but…”

“Oh my god you don’t UNDERSTAND,” Chara and Undyne both shout at the same time.

They don’t. They don’t. Chara’s anger and enthusiasm overload Frisk’s synapses, so they’re running circles in their brain and their hands are flicking happily at their sides. Chara loves the monsters so much it hurts sometimes, loves to learn about them, to know about them, and most of all to tell someone else about them. There’s more inside Chara that’s monsters than Chara themself. (Frisk is pretty sure their own role as a captive audience is about 70% of the reason they’re even friends.)

And then Mina, wonderful sweet clever Mina, asks the question. “What…don’t we understand?” And then the sluice gates open, and Frisk just gets out of the way.

“Music is one of the most integral pillars of monster society. It’s so incredibly ingrained in who w – they are that it’s hardly mentioned, but everyone instinctively knows it’s there and knows what to do with it. Every monster possesses an audio manifestation of their soul and their inherent magic, their song – as they grow up and as their magic develops, they learn more notes of it, or its key or harmonies or stuff. Most monsters know their full songs by adulthood – “

“Mine’s BADASS,” Undyne bursts out. Frisk signs you know it is at her, and she grins.

“It plays in the heads of them and others at times that seem random, but that we think are associated with intense emotion, which makes sense because it’s essentially the soul working overtime. And because it’s such an important and essential part of the soul, it’s just…everywhere. The royalty has their own songs, each region of the underground has its own song, there’s a really pretty one that stands for all of monsterkind. It sounds a lot like the one for the Ruins, but I like it. Everyone can read music, they teach you in school like it’s a second language, and almost everyone can play an instrument. Through what’s probably an adaptation to this component of the soul, all monsters can sing fairly well too! Composing your own songs is a common hobby, but being really good at it is a rare talent…Mettaton and Napstablook, you don’t know who they are, but they’re really good.”

“No, we know who Mettaton is,” Mina interrupts. “The robot guy, right? Who’s on TV all the time?”

Undyne snorts. “Course you’d know who Mettaton is. You live in a house with Papyrus!”

What’s that supposed to mean? Frisk signs, confused. They don’t think Undyne saw and they’re about to get her attention, but Chara brushes past their confusion with annoyance about being interrupted and distracts them. “Anyway!

“Have you noticed how each monster’s magic patterns are different, but still connected to who they are? Monsters see their magic as an extension of their being, and they consciously shape their attacks with that in mind.”

“I’ve never actually been in like…a fight with a monster?” Rust breaks in.

“But you’ve seen Undyne cook, right? Or Papyrus throw bones at people for making bad puns.”

“Okay, yeah. I get it now.”

“Attacks like that can be art, too. They’re always partially choreographed, partially improvised. There are creative routines of attacks that we call constructs, and they’re kind of like a cross between a dance routine and a moving painting – “

“And monster musicals have a TON of those!!” Undyne interrupts.

“ – monster musicals, yes, they’re usually almost entirely sung, or choreographed, or constructed in some way. Monster musicals are so cool because it’s not just telling a story, it’s showing every aspect of every monster’s soul as it happens.”

“So we’re not just going to be singing for the humans. We’re going to be showing them who we are,” Undyne explains. “The best way we know how.”

“If this doesn’t work,” says Chara solemnly, “nothing will.”

Silence falls and quickly goes awkward.

“Wellllllllll I wouldn’t go that far,” says Undyne. “But it’s a good idea! It’s a REALLY good idea!”

“You convinced me, anyway,” says Rust.

“I want Talley Harris to watch it and realize what an asshole he is,” Rox adds with relish. Chara giggles.

The rest of the walk is spent with Chara infodumping in peace, Frisk controlling their legs so Chara doesn’t run into streetlights and walls and flapping intensely with the force of their brainsibling’s excitement. Flowey is quiet for once, quiet and not pissy. Frisk thinks he likes seeing Chara this animated, as much as he can like things like that.

The café is called Mice and Men, for some reason. Chara informs them that the phrase meant “surface matters” underground, or “things that aren’t any of your business, young monster,” after a tattered copy of a book had fallen through the dump and so mystified monsters that its title fell into common use. That’s a good name for a surface café, then. Surface matters are everyone’s matters now.

They’re shown to a table, where Frisk swings off their backpack and puts it on the seat next to them so Flowey can kind of participate in the conversation. They’re quickly handed menus and complimentary milkshakes, because Frisk got recognized, by a tall bunny waitress who Chara promptly develops a tiny crush on. Frisk teases them mercilessly about it until the food arrives. If they were with anyone else, Frisk knows that they would be asked why they’re giggling and smacking their arms at their face while their hands try to hold onto the table, but the humans think it’s just stimming and Undyne knows what a playfight looks like.

The food arrives, largely synthetic imitation Glamburgers for the humans and some ordinary monster sandwiches for Frisk and Undyne. Flowey’s happy with just his milkshake. Monsters aren’t exactly…good at human food yet. They’re trying their best. It’s a learning curve. Frisk and Chara’s combined sensitivity to taste, though, does not have time for learning curves, so they figure it would be best to go with some famiiar territory for the next few years or so. (Toriel’s the exception. Toriel’s wonderful.)

But the café is a Crowded Place, and like lots of Crowded Places, Frisk can only stay inside it for so long before an emotional overload almost sneak-attacks them. They manage until close to the end of the meal, but then THERE IT IS and they have to go, scrambling over Undyne on their way out the door. The bunny gives them a wave and a burst of fondness as they leave, and Chara does a tiny blush. On a whim, Frisk spins around and gives the bunny finger guns and a wink, then crashes through the door as Chara makes embarrassed snarls in their head.

The air is clearer outside, just like their brain, and they stop to catch their breath. They’re better now, but they don’t really want to go back inside, and become not better again pretty fast. Undyne and the rest will come out when they’re finished. She at least knows how Frisk works (and Frisk still marvels at the sheer understanding there in the place of the feelings they’re used to). Maybe they could go exploring a bit while they wait? There’s a little alley to the side of the café…Frisk peeks down it. No monsters. Maybe some alley cats? Alley cats are good.

Chara controls their feet, because Chara always walks on their toes and they don’t want to scare any kitties. There’s some dumpsters back here. Not a lot else. The brick walls have a bunch of washed-out posters and flyers on them, left over from when humans lived in these buildings, they guess. Lost dog, indie band concert, shady car dealership ad. They hope someone found the dog.

They cross around another dumpster, and then boom there’s a big ass FACE staring at them and they jump and shy away. Harris For Mayor, says the caption at the bottom of the poster.

Chara gently lifts their head so that they’re staring up at the too-large face and too-large uncanny smile. What the hell is this doing in a monster part of town, Sponge?

Dunno. Guess they just haven’t bothered to tear all this stuff down?

Maybe we should do it for them, Chara suggests, mouth already twisting up at the thought of their fingers ripping through the old paper. It’s kind of our civic duty, don’t you think?

Maybe, Frisk agrees. I have another idea, though –

“Yo Frisk!!!” Undyne calls, appearing in the mouth of the alley. “We’re ready to head home when you are!”

“One minute!” Chara calls, already gleeful. “Be there in a minute!”

Frisk pulls out a sharpie.


This is our new mascot, his name is Trash Harris, Frisk signs, then pulls out their phone and shows the lockscreen to their iPad. He likes long walks in the park and hates rain and pigeons with good aim.

“Are you sure that’s a mascot, Frisk?” asks Papyrus, over the sound of Undyne cackling in the background. “It just looks like a poster, that you’ve covered with rude drawings.”

“That’s what it is,” Chara explains. “Our mascot is a poster that we covered with rude drawings.”

“Oh! Oh,” Papyrus says, and laughs. “Well! I for one welcome our new mascot with open arms!”

Frisk is sitting cross legged on the floor of Alphys and Undyne’s living room, schoolwork spread in a panorama on the floor around them as some anime plays in the background. This is supposed to be an Important Video Call about Important Musical Matters, but it’s trying its hardest to go off down random conversational paths about stuff like vandalism as much as it can. Which Frisk wouldn’t mind usually, it’s kind of how their brain works anyway, but Chara does. Plus the embassy lunch break is only an hour long, and the only time Asgore, Toriel, Papyrus and Undyne could all take off at the same time.

“I think it’s a perfect likeness, darling!” Mettaton trills. He’s here too. “You’ve truly captured his essence of complete assh – er, snobbery.”

“A perfect likeness of his soul,” Chara responds, then snickers.

Toriel clears her throat. “Frisk, dear, I hardly want to stifle your sense of creativity. Or, sense of rebellion against authority, I suppose. But, should we perhaps get back to the topic at hand?”

Right. Right, yeah, Frisk replies. They mentally give Chara a little nudge, and they startle slightly.

“So, uh, what I was…what I was originally thinking was to kind of, retell the story of Frisk’s journey through the Underground?” Chara says, suddenly shy. “We could focus on each of you and the impact you had on th – us. And on monsters in general, just kind of…how you are. We could do regional songs.”

“I think that’s a brilliant idea, Chara!” Toriel cries, clapping her paws together and sending a rush of warm contentment through their body. “I’ll bet we could fit in each regional song, as well as the songs of our little family.”

“Ohhhhh, yes! My cousin is a fantastic arranger, they’ll be delighted to help – BLOOKY!!” Mettaton leans back and yells over his shoulder. “BLOOKY, DEAR! WOULD YOU LIKE TO HELP WRITE A MUSICAL!”

“Oh…………….” Frisk can barely hear the reply from the opposite side of Mettaton’s studio. “I mean…….I’m kind of busy right now……….but………I guess………I can do that……….…..”

Mettaton turns back to the camera, beaming. “They’d love to!!”

“We’d have to cut some parts, probably,” Chara says, gaining steam. Frisk starts to rock. “We spent months in the Underground. Also I don’t really think the amalgamates would be interested in making a theatrical debut.”

“Certainly understandable,” Asgore nods. “Perhaps we can all – what was the word Alphys taught me? Perhaps we can all get together and ‘brain storm’ certain events that we feel should certainly have a part.”

“That’s kinda what we’re doing right now, Asgore,” Undyne laughs. “ALSO!! I want a huge kickbutt awesome monologue song!! Where I show everyone the TRUE UNITY and SPIRIT of monsters by throwing GIANT ENERGY SPEARS!!”

Chara shrugs. “As long as you don’t mind it ending with you passing out in Hotland.”

“Huh? Oh, yeah! That was how that went down! Man, that was fun.” Undyne grins and punches Papyrus lightly on the shoulder. “What about you, nerd?”

“Ow.” Papyrus rubs his shoulder. “Well! I can certainly imagine it. The great Papyrus, immortalized through song and construct! I’m already working on a draft for my scene in which I fight the humans!! I’m assuming I’ll play as integral a role as I did in their journey itself, ever since they stepped into the Snowdin wood.”

Yeah, Papyrus, you’ll get to argue about cooking with Undyne and complain about Hotland over the phone as much as you want, Frisk teases.

“YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN!!”

“I suppose it goes without saying that I’ll be writing the script,” Mettaton interjects, pushing his hair out of his face. “Good thing I’ve been recording this whole conversation for posterity!”

“NO,” barks Undyne, pointing fiercely at the camera. “NO. We ALL know what it’ll look like if YOU’RE the only one in charge of it. We can all write words to our OWN songs. Right??”

“Is a single four-hour shot of rose petals cascading on Mettaton’s body really something humans wouldn’t want to see…?” asks Papyrus, genuinely confused.

“Well, I don’t really know. Maybe. But this is the MONSTER musical, not the METTATON musical. Those already exist.”

“Well then, what would you suggest?” Mettaton pouts. “Everyone can write their own lyrics, of course, that’s a marvelous idea. But for the songs that aren’t personal themes? For the regional songs? For the background music? For the aesthetic??”

“I could do it,” Toriel and Asgore suggest at the same time.

There’s a beat of silence. Both of them try not to make eye contact with each other. Frisk shifts with the sudden awkwardness felt by literally every person in the call.

“We both know the Underground very well,” Toriel starts.

“We could help with the set pieces, and the…well, the atmosphere,” Asgore offers vaguely. “If anyone can capture the essence of who monsters are, I feel like it would be us.”

“Right! I’ll give you two a call later and we can talk scripts,” Mettaton says. “Although I must insist, as producer, that I am fully in charge of ALL the scenes I appear in. After all, I know best how to appeal to an audience!”

“You’re the what now?” Undyne asks.

“Don’t worry about it, darling. But we’ve been neglecting a very important factor in this conversation, haven’t we?!” He makes an extravagant gesture towards the camera, a move that would have probably been more effective if he was actually on stage. “The stars of our show! The pivot around which this story revolves! Oh, yes, humans!” Mettaton clasps his hands together and leans forward, smiling widely. “Dramatic monologues? Soliloquies in song form, perhaps? A medley of all the songs of your friends, or, no – “

“I don’t want to sing,” Chara says in a rush.

“Oh.” To his credit, Mettaton is only disappointed for a second. “Of course that’s fine, darling. After all, acting isn’t all about what you say – it’s about your electrifying stage presence!”

“Yeah!! With the right choreography, you can be as eloquent as any monster!!” Papyrus exclaims.

Oh!! Frisk signs, shockwaves of nervousness and excitement ricocheting through them. Like dancing?! They love to dance, love to sway back and forth and spin with their hands out, and jump up and down to the rhythm of their heart. Nobody else really thinks that’s dancing, though, and usually tells them to stop. What kind of dancing are they going to have to do up on a real stage?

You’ll be fine, Chara reassures them. There’s a lot of just jumping around and going where the music takes you.

“Oh, I can’t wait!” Mettaton squeals. “I’ll have to refine my compositions, and of course rewrite my appearances in battle to hold the drama the audience craves…”

“Your parts were pretty dramatic already, Mettaton,” Papyrus says, quietly hoping he’ll take it as a compliment from one bona fide actor to another.

“Yeah,” Undyne adds. “We saw all of them except for the quiz show one. Which Alphys still doesn’t want me to watch, for some reason…?”

“ExACTly!!” Mettaton exclaims, throwing his hands in the air. “You see, darlings, everyone in the entertainment business knows. Normal fights…are simply boring to watch. You must put PIZZAZZ into every attack, CHARACTER into every move! Which brings me to my next idea!” He points dramatically at the camera, again in a move that would have worked better on stage. “Papyrus and Undyne, as holders of two of the most dramatic and gripping songs in the production (after me, of course), you two are the lucky winners of two authentic name-brand MTT (tee em) BATTLE MAKEOVERS!!!”

“Oh, boy!!” Papyrus bounces up and down in his chair. “I can’t believe it! I’ve always wanted an authentic name-brand MTT (tee em) BATTLE MAKEOVER!!”

“Aww, Papyrus! Your battles are always beautiful to ME!” Undyne shouts, giving him a playful noogie. He winces, still smiling. “But you know what?! Bring it, metal man!!”

“Call me tomorrow, darlings, anytime! As long as it’s after noon and before five o’clock,” Mettaton says. “And not between 1:30 and 3. I’m getting my chrome redone.”

“I can’t wait!! I’m so excited I’m going to start work on my song right now!” Papyrus leaps out of his seat.

“Ah…Papyrus. You are going to work on your own job as well, correct?” Asgore questions.

What are you talking about, Asgore? Frisk asks, caught up in the happiness that fizzes and pops inside them. This is our work now! they sign, make a heart shape with their hands, and end the call.

Chapter Text

Oh god Frisk can’t breathe. Oh god they try but then Chara looks up at the TV again and they both just DISSOLVE back into howls of laughter and all the muscles in their arms and legs are dead and they’re on the floor now?? They rolled off the couch?? Their stomach hurts but it’s in a good exhausted exhilarated way and they can’t stop laughing. This is the hardest they’ve ever laughed. Probably ever.

Onscreen the Crazed Sign bashes into Flowey’s character again. And Frisk is curled in on themself in paroxysms of laughter and Chara is just shrieking again.

“I don’t understand the mechanics of this fight at all,” Flowey complains.

His petulant annoyance is only even more hilarious, and Chara subsides into out-of-breath, hiccupy giggles. Frisk’s whole face hurts. They’re not used to moving their head-muscles this way. They wonder if you can get RIPPED only on your FACE and it sets them off again and their amusement sets Chara off too, rolling on the floor as their pseudobrother tries desperately to pretend they’re not there.

“It’s a traffic sign. It’s flat metal! It barely has any points of attack!” Flowey whines. “This should be easy! I have psychic powers and a laser gun!!”

Frisk think of a pun for me I’m too busy dying, Chara gasps in their head. Figuratively.

UH, Frisk replies. That’s usually your, uh, specialty? I can give it a shot, though, uh –

They reach up and tap on Flowey’s pot, sitting on his little gaming stool in front of the TV. Hey, they sign, once the turn ends and he glares over at them. Hey. Maybe you shouldn’t, uh, let yourself get too crazed over this! …………..Get it? Get it get it get it cause it’s a crazed –

“It’s probably just a SIGN that you’re bad at Earthbound!” Chara breaks in, cackling.

“DIE,” Flowey howls, and shoots a scattering of one-point damage pellets into their chest. Frisk rolls away giggling across the floor and pops onto their feet, leaving Flowey grumbling at himself and the game as the sign kills one of his characters. They’re about to scuttle over the back of the couch to hide when Chara’s sense of hearing picks up something from the kitchen.

Listen, they whisper.

Huh?

No, Sponge. Try actually listening.

Oh right. Frisk listens.

They’re right. It’s from the kitchen. It’s Toriel.

“Now the years, have flown by
A child climbs – up – high – “

She’s singing.

“Will they return – from the mountain, or
Will they, surely die…”

She’s singing, and they almost know the tune.

Of course. Napstablook’s drafts of their arrangements – they said they’d send them out sometime this week. This must be – well, it must be something – it’s not her theme, is it like a prologue?

But then she passes a key change through her smooth mellifluous says Chara voice, and Flowey’s forgotten and Chara’s entranced and Frisk curls their fingers and shivers through the sudden otherworldly rush of love that swells in their soul.

They get up and wander around to the kitchen, stopping to lean against the doorway and just…be in the sound. Toriel doesn’t sing much. (Chara says she used to a lot more, so that’s not something Frisk wants to ask her about.)

“The tale, of the Underground,
Tonight, we-e-e sing…”

But Frisk wishes she would.

“A tale of fallen children
And moun-tain ki-ings…”

She turns, and Chara catches their gaze fluidly, holding it up with wide eyes and a small smile that Toriel returns in twofold. She doesn’t stop singing. She just faces them, watching, knowing if they want to come to her they will.

“Sit down, children,
Do not qua-il
Hopes and dreams will sure preva-il…”

She’s singing for them, to them, Frisk can feel it in every invisible wave of her love. Her feet are bare and her sleeves are rolled up and her paws are covered with flour. Her ears are up in a bun and she’s nervousexcited about the pie and she knows her mood is higher because it’s her day to watch them. She’s everything they never thought they deserved.

“If you climb
Along this tra-il,
You will hear the – “

Frisk crosses the kitchen and wraps themself around Toriel’s side, breathing in warmth and cinnamon and honey and home. Toriel jolts a small jolt of surprise, then leans down and picks them up, her smiling breath whispering love in their curls and making them shiver. They wrap their legs around her like a koala and just hug her, just be hugged, just…just be with Toriel. Mom.


eighteen months ago

They hug her. Her fur is soft and her dress is almost scratchy and she’s just a little-lot squishy and there isn’t a rush of anger, there’s not, and they squeeze her tighter and rub their face in her torso. And they don’t want to let go because they did this. They hugged her, and that’s a thing they can do.

“Hello, my child,” they feel her voice rumble in her chest. With it comes a surge of squiggly wiggly good feeling and a paw brushing through their hair, and more rumbles that turn into a gentle question. “Did you need something?”

Oh no, their fingers clench a little bit and their fingertips tingle with heat. Did she forget it was time for their lesson? They don’t know enough words yet to remind her. They pull back, rocking nervously on their toes, and just start signing, waving yes no ruins monsters humans food thirsty hungry at her. They gotta remember to ask her for the real word for monster sign language sometime.

But she gets it. She’s pretty good at that. “It’s time for your lesson, isn’t it?” she smiles, and they sign yes yes yes even though she knows now and they don’t need to. She goes to the bookshelf and takes out the book that reads MONSTER SIGN LANGUAGE PRIMER on the front, then sits down in her poofy puff chair. They scramble up eagerly on her lap and snuggle back in her chest, and she opens the book in front of both of them and turns to the table of contents. “I believe it is time for a new unit, am I right, my child? You’ve gone through the last one in a matter of days, I’m incredibly proud of you!” (And they file that feeling from her into a box in their head labeled “probably pride.”)

She’d come back from the market with the book the day after it was determined that they could read, and now they have signing lessons every day and they absolutely adore them. The best part, the part that’s most exciting about this, is that apparently, not being able to talk is like a Thing for monsters! Like there’s plenty of people who can’t do it, so sign language is actually taught like Spanish was in their last school! And – get this – they’re even better at sign than they were at that!! They can feel the syntax as nerve impulses in their fingers, curving around the nuances of the signs and instinctively learning the mechanics of emphasis and understatement. They’re good at this.

Their eyes scan the table of contents that Toriel’s been jumping around in, reading the Household Objects and Basic Verbs and Thoughts and Feelings headings that they’ve already finished learning. That last category was pretty confusing, but the voice in their head helps them remember a lot of those. It usually only comes out when they ask for it, and they think it knows monster sign, but they want to learn this on their own! They want this to be their experience!

“I wanted you to learn the necessities of how to express yourself and your needs first, my child,” Toriel explains, opening the book to one of the earlier chapters. “But now that you’ve caught onto the language so easily, perhaps we could start with some conversational words.”

The page looks up at them and balefully chants hello goodbye please and thank you. Their good mood feels a little bit like somoene poked it with a stick. They’ve never seen a lot of point in these sorts of words, and the voice in their head hasn’t either. Other people do, though. Like, a lot of point. Maybe here with Toriel it’ll be different? Hopefully?

They’ll try, anyway. Of course they’ll try.

“Hello.” Toriel points to the simplistic drawing of a furry paw performing the action. It’s just curling and extending your fingers, kind of like a normal wave. She performs the motion a few times for them, and they mimic it.

“Goodbye.” Like hello, but instead of curling your fingers you bring them slowly into a loose fist, then flick your wrist like you’re knocking on a door. The flick is pretty stimmy and they repeat just that part a few times.

“Please.” Bringing your hands together quickly so your fingers interlock, but your palms don’t touch and your fingers stay stuck straight out. They’re not super coordinated with fine motor stuff like this, so it takes them a few stumbling tries. They don’t think they’ll be using it much anyway – it’s so hard to remember when you’re supposed to!

“Thank you.” Two fingers tapping their chin and then pointing out, palm up. This one’s easy enough to remember when to say, but the feeling behind it is one of the slipperiest. Gratitude. When you like someone for doing something they did to/for you. Like…oh come on, they should be able to think of an example. They’re better than this. Like the time the lady at the foster home let them eat the whole bag of chocolate chips? Or when their (old) school friend Glow stretched herself over both swings at once to save a spot for them?

Toriel? offers the voice in their head.

And oh. Oh oh oh. That’s it. That’s the answer. That’s the most anyone’s ever done for them, and they’re filled up with something hot and hiccupy and it just keeps coming and the voice in their head says yes, yes, yes, this is gratitude.

Thank you, they mimic Toriel, thank you thank you thank you. For taking me in. For teaching me. For being kind. For not seeing me as a burden. For not forcing me to eat beans or grapes or share a room with someone. For somehow miraculously already having a closet full of sweaters. For not making me wear shoes most of the time. For letting me get up as early as I want. For being soft and large and warm and squishy. For showing me how to make blanket forts and hot chocolate. For letting me fall asleep in your lap in front of the fire. They wish they knew so, so many more words than just over and over thank you thank you thank you.

She’s startled, then loving, tinged at the edges with dragging anxiety. Her arms come around them, squeezing gently, safe and protective. There for them. And they never never never never never want to leave.

She hasn’t taught them the word for leaving yet.

They don’t want to.


It’s evening, after supper, after homework and before bed. The kids are in their room, Frisk and Chara standing in front of Flowey’s pot, and Flowey just grumpily photosynthesizing and not doing anything else. A tinny, pixely arrangement of Flowey’s tune plays on repeat from the portable speaker attached to Frisk’s phone. Frisk and Chara are rocking back and forth to the beat, their instinct in most battles, but Flowey’s ramrod straight and still. And grumpy.

“I don’t have a soul,” he complains, which is kind of a good point actually but Frisk won't let him know it. “I shouldn’t have to sing this. I’m not showing anyone anything; I don’t even know how I still have a song.”

“Or why it’s so bad and boring,” Chara adds. “Your first one was pretty.”

“Exactly! I would have sung to that one!”

Wait, Frisk breaks in. You can have more than one song?? They missed this, somehow.

“Of course you can. We heard his first song at the end of the battle, remember…? When he was giving back the souls?” Chara asks. Flowey nods and is annoyed like this was an obvious thing.

Oh. I didn’t…know that was his. Frisk suddenly feels small and excluded from the club of Siblings Who Know Easy Facts About Monsters.

“There’s no reason you would have. It’s very rare, but it happens occasionally in response to major life changes, like being turned into a flower. I think it happened with Mettaton too – didn’t we hear two different themes in his fights?”

I didn’t hear it clearly enough to be sure they were completely different instead of like a medley, Frisk admits.

“If he did split songs he’s going to show it off in the musical,” Flowey snorts. “If you’re not careful you know he’s just going to turn it into Mettaton The Musical Reprise Part 3.”

Undyne’s probably on top of that, Frisk replies. So…you lost your soul and a bunch of your magic and that’s why your song is little and poopy now?

“That’s the gist of it,” he says.

“If you must phrase it like that,” Chara adds.

The pixely little tune comes to an end in the silence, and Flowey shakes his leaves. “Okay! I’m getting bored. Let’s get this over with.” He starts bobbing side to side in precise time with the beat as the song starts over, singing tunelessly along with the notes. “I – don’t – want – to – sing – to – these – lit – tle – beeps – they – are – bor – ing – and – I – oh there’s the melody. Can you start it over?”

Frisk starts it over, and Flowey clears his nonexistent throat. He’s concentrating now for once when the melody comes in, and looks up at them with a plastered-on smile.

“Hi, my name’s Flow-ey
I’m your new best friend
Welcome Un-der-grouu-uund!
Uhh something something something
Here are some bullets
Now you have to DIE.”

At the last word his face transforms into a twisted grin of fury and his voice drops into a rasp. Chara snickers. “Those were some high-quality lyrics there, bud.”

Flowey doesn’t even dignify the months-old pun with acknowledgement. “Give me a break. I haven’t composed since I had hands.”

The song’s still going. The arrangement Napstablook sent us is like a full minute long, Frisk signs.

“Ugh, really? Do I have to fill all of that up? Fine, I’ll try for a second verse or something.” This time, a loose construct of pellets comes up behind him, following his movements as he bobs.

“I’m gonna kill you
With pel-lets and take
Your soul and end the wo-orld
Down here there’s one rule
Kill, or you’ll be KILLED
I could rhyme that with world.”

Chara snorts. He’s trying, Frisk admonishes them, signing so Flowey can see them defending him.

“Not hard,” Flowey admits. But he’s smiling, almost genuinely this time. He’s having fun and when the song starts over he starts again without prompting.

“Hi, my name’s Flo-wey,
I’m your new best friend,
Welcome Un-der-grouu-uund!
Looks like you’re new, well,
Luc-ky for you, kid
I can show you a-rouuund!
I am out of lyr-ics and al-
-so i-de-as so have some, uh,
Friend-li-ness pel-lets
That’s what I called them?
God, you are so du-umb!
Catch them, you fo-ol
Catch all that you can
Hey, this is kind of fun!”

He launches a barrage of pellets on the last syllable, pulling them away at the last second. Frisk does a dramatic spin like they’ve been hit by a bullet and collapses to the floor, one arm clutching their chest and one outstretched towards Flowey. Chara sticks their tongue out for effect.

And Flowey giggles despite himself. “Down here there’s one rule –
Kill or you’ll be KILLED
A lesson you’ll soon le-arn!
Now I am go-ing
To try and kill you
Toodle-oo, kid-do, DIE!!”

He snarls the last word and throws a single two-point-damage pellet at their head. Frisk flops around on the floor like a dying fish and Chara makes death rattle noises. Oh no, the prophesied humans, the saviors of the Underground, brought low before their journey could begin by a tiny flower! Who could have imagined such a fate befalling them!!

“Okay, get up. We should run through it a few more times before bed,” Flowey says grudgingly. Frisk does, carefully not acknowledging his sudden willingness to actually work with them on this project.

They don’t shy away from celebrating their victory inside their jubilant head, though. He’s coming around, Chara, they think, feeling their own excitement rebound through where Chara’s would belong. He’s coming around!!


four months ago

The sun slinks up and over the quiet woods.

It pours through the carpet of leaves and the dusky browns of trees and rocks, making them shine yellow and red. Like the forest is on fire. But it’s a slow, silent fire, and one that leaves their fingertips cold and the tip of their nose numb. Frisk turns their face up into it and lets the warmth seep through their skin, as they shuffle on homeward through the forest.

Their backpack shifts on their back.

It feels unbalanced, with the moving weight now inside it, and heavy with the dirt they’d filled it with. It’s a squishy surface now against their back instead of flat and hard. It’s something to get used to. Not something bad.

Flowey is another something to get used to.

He’s in the dirt. He’s the reason for the dirt. His head is poking up into the sky, rustling the backpack every time he looks around, petals occasionally brushing against Frisk’s head. He’s feeling – he’s – oh, Chara, help.

Chara isn’t feeling anything. Flowey is…not sure he likes this. He doesn’t know what to think. He doesn’t know what to feel. None of them do, really.

He’s – they think he’s scared. They’re scared too; both of them, Frisk thinks. They were so confident before, when they’d set out last night with a shovel in their backpack and a plan in their brain, but this is the morning and the future and now they’re scared. Not a jumping nervous kind of scared, not a dragging dreading scared, but a flat detached quiet scared. The scared of something big is coming, something big is changing, and I chose it and I welcome it but nothing after this will ever be the same.

They’ve never seen him, Flowey, like this. He’s quiet. He’s still. He’s watching the sun rise and he’s not bored.

This is…good. They think this is good. This is step one and it’s going as well as they could have hoped for. But you can’t stay on step one forever. And things aren’t fixed yet, and they need to be started on.

Frisk takes a deep breath and gives Chara a hard mental nudge.

There’s a long and heavy pause, and then Chara says resolutely, okay.

This time Chara takes a deep breath, and clears their throat. Flowey jumps, fear wiped through by a spike of surprised curiosity. “Hold on. You actually talk?”

“No. They…can’t. Frisk can’t,” Chara says, staring straight ahead as Frisk fumbles and scrambles over rocks and tree roots in the path. “I, uh. It’s. It’s me.”

“…Oh.” He knew they were in there, he’d somehow always known, as much as he’d battled with himself and with them over the knowing. Frisk had told him, when they’d reached the throne room, where they discovered he’d moved in the month or so since the barrier was broken. It was part of what convinced him into going home with them in the first place, that thought of finally getting to speak to his sibling again. Frisk doesn’t think he’d pictured it happening quite this soon.

“I’m…” Chara swallows. They’re not used to this word. “Asriel, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

It’s painful for them to say, but that’s because it’s painful for them to feel. Chara’s determined, as determined as Frisk is, and though it feels different for both of them Frisk can sympathize with the deep wrongness Chara feels in regretting something their determination led them to do. Chara never looks back. Chara never regrets. Chara finds a goal and Chara doesn’t let go of it, they can’t let go of it, it twists and warps them until Chara is nothing but another word for climb the mountain. Or free the monsters. Or reach the barrier. Their determination forms their purpose, and their purpose forms the reason and reasoning for everything they do.

And they’d never been forced to confront what happens to those they leave in their wake, until Asriel had sobbed and screamed and blasted them with light and fury, and they’d held on to each other and watched and saved and saved and SAVEd.

Regret is a new feeling for Chara. But now it’s one of the strongest they’ve ever known.

“I did…I did very bad things, Asriel,” Chara starts, and it’s shaky, but they start. “I pressured you into a plan I thought was more important than both of our lives. I never gave you a choice. I should have always given you a choice, I should have listened to you when you objected and when you tried to help me. It’s my fault that…we did what we did. That I did what we did. I know that now.”

Flowey’s not scared anymore. Frisk doesn’t know what’s going on in his head.

“But,” Chara continues, words slow and carefully considered, “I will try to do better. I am trying to learn to do better, and I want to learn to do better. I still want to be friends with you, Asriel, I still love you, and I should never have done to you what I did. If you don’t want to…try to repair this, somehow, try to be friends and not terrible to each other, that’s okay…but…uh. Do…do you? Would you consider it?”

He’s quiet for a long time. Quiet and still on the inside and out. And Frisk doesn’t know what to tell Chara, much as Chara is mentally bouncing on their toes with the desire to know.

“I guess…yeah,” he says finally. “We can try that.”

There’s nothing more that gets said after that. There isn’t really anything that needs to be, not right here and not right now. The city comes over the rise of the hill, and finally, all three of them are on their way home.


“Human! You are about to face your greatest challenge yet!!” Papyrus bellows, feet planted staunchly and hands on his hips. “You may have made it past the royal guardspeople, but you stand no chance against my superior magical prowess!! Now! Prepare!! To finally face! The great Papyrus!!!”

“That’s definitely not what you said the first time around,” Chara interjects, right before he can pull their soul out into a mock battle. “It was more like you were arguing with yourself. Only it was out loud.”

Papyrus huffs. “Well! That may be true, human. But I ask you, what is more important in battle recreations such as this? Truth to the events of the battle – or truth to its spirit?!”

He’s got a point, Frisk says, shifting their weight back and forth on their feet. Can we just start, though! It doesn’t matter, we’ll fix it later, but I’m exploding right now!! Let’s GO!!

“Nyeheheheh! As you wish, Frisk!” Papyrus beams, and gestures grandly to Mina, who is standing closest to the ancient CD player. “Mina! Hit it!”

He starts bouncing lightly on his toes before the melody even begins, the rhythmic clak-clak-clak-clak of his rattling bones providing a steady underlying tempo. Frisk begins to bounce too, the song and Papyrus’s excitement and their own springing them up and down and up and down and up and down and – now they’re flapping to the beat too, and oh, this is going to be so FUN!!

It’s the first Wednesday since Napstablook sent out the first drafts of the arrangements, so it’s the first day Papyrus and Frisk have had the chance to practice together. That doesn’t mean that they haven’t prepared, of course – Papyrus texted them the minute the arrangement came, all capslock and cheer that made the phone feel like it was vibrating in their hand. They’d texted potential lyrics and general excitement back and forth nearly nonstop since then, and now finally, all their hard work and ridiculous ideas are going to pay off!

The two of them are standing at opposite ends of the living room, the carpet of which has been mostly cleared in preparation (read: everything’s been shoved away to the sides of the room). Rox, Mina and Rust are watching from the kitchen doorway, a safe distance away, and the brothers’ spherical little dog that nobody had the heart to move is lying peacefully asleep on the couch. (Frisk can never remember its name. Tony? Toto?)

“Ready, human?” Papyrus calls, bringing them back to reality. “En guarde!

Attention, human! Now you face Papyrus!
Though the guards failed to stop you
I can do it a-lone!
So be prepared for the ul-ti-mate tussle
As you try to show your mus-cle
In this battle of bones!”

He fires the first wave of bones at them, slow and gentle, and Frisk jumps them easily and keeps moving to the beat. Mina starts clapping along, and Rox and Rust join in, grinning at the spectacle. Unlike Flowey, Papyrus doesn’t sing outside of the chunks of disjointed lyrics the two of them have already created, concentrating instead on making his constructs as intricate and expressive as he can, but occasionally he’ll interject with a verse or two as Frisk leaps and bounds around his increasingly complex attacks.

“You can do anything
If you want it hard enough,
Undyne says that, and she’s tough!
So I em-u-late her style!
And that’s why I’m the
Greatest Royal Guardsman!
Or at least one that’s in training,
Though it’s taking quite a while…”

He ends that verse with a laugh, in appreciation of the irony of his younger self. His constructs are tight and precise, carefully curving around them with a strong and dancelike sense of rhythm. Frisk admires it incredibly. His attacks are so choreographed, so expressive…should they have been planning this much too? As they spin on their toes to dodge an expert crescent of bones that shatters apart on the beat, they can’t help feeling a lil bit embarrassed and underprepared by just kinda jumping around like they are.

Papyrus doesn’t seem to notice, though, and his excitement is contagious enough that they soon don’t care. He breaks into the last verse, voice crescendoing as Frisk bounces and twirls with the force of the music.

“Come on then, human, let’s see if you can keep up
With the great Papyrus in this moment of truth!
It won’t be eas-Y, you’ll have to do AC-TU-AL WORK!
Unlike my lazy-bones brother in his booth –
You’re doing great so far, little human
But since I’m a skele-TON – “

Frisk leaps onto the couch to dodge the attack that comes on TON and accidentally bounces the sleeping Tofu, who SQUEAKS awake! and dashes between their feet in a panic. They stumble over it and slip in their socked feet on the cushions, windmilling their arms as it races away into the kitchen, but the battle against gravity is lost and they fall back and SLAM right through the wall of bones and then onto the floor.

Their soul stings and tingles from the five points it’s lost, like pressure points in their arms and back, and their head thump thumps with the pain of what’s probably not a concussion but might be a goose egg. A not very good sound escapes their mouth, the kind of sound that comes out of them in not very good situations like this.

“Ohmygod!! HUMAN!!” Papyrus bounds across the living room and skids to a stop on his knees beside them, pushing shock and worry high in Frisk’s throat. “Are you alright?! Have you sustained any serious damage? Are you bleeding? Can you hear me? How many fingers am I holding up?!”

He isn’t holding up any fingers. He’s too preoccupied with helping them sit up to notice. Frisk shakes their head and gives him a thumbs up, which Chara accentuates with a shaky smile. I’m okay, Papyrus, they sign, once Papyrus is done clutching their arms in alarm. It wasn’t bad; I’m only at fifteen points. Come on, let’s just keep going!

“Positively NOT! In your injured state? I absolutely forbid it!” He scoops them up in his arms and carries them to the kitchen, the other kids obediently scooching out of his path. “And besides, that confounded canine threw off my groove!”

He sits them right on the table (!!!) and fusses over their injuries, proclaiming that their grand sacrifice won’t be in vain and cursing the villain who brought them low. They giggle at his theatrics, and he gives them a whole bisicle to eat (wow! which they really do not need). Boby squirms out of Mina’s arms where it’s been hiding and trundles over to Papyrus, giving his bare foot a cursory sniff before settling in to gnaw on it without a care in the world.

Papyrus’s anger spikes up, but the weird kind of pseudoanger that means he thinks it’s funny too, and Chara doubles them over with laughing. Rust, who is arguably The Dog’s Favorite, breaks into loud cackles as well. “Oh, you would, you villain,” Papyrus mutters, managing to glare at Rust and the dog at the same time.

Frisk breaks the bicicle in half and tempts Tuba away with it, which Papyrus is more upset about than the actual biting part. “Don’t do that!” he protests, stomping his newly freed foot. “You’ll only encourage its delinquent tendencies!!”

The dog finishes in a matter of seconds (including the stick, cause that’s just a Thing It Does) and trots over to Rust, who bends down to squish its cheeks. “Who’s a good delinquent? Who’s my good delinquent boy?? It’s you! It’s you!” The dog yaps and licks at his face, and he pushes it away to Mina, grinning. “Haha, gross, popsicle tongue. Your turn with him again.”

“Your spoiling of that dog will be the death of me,” Papyrus tuts.

“He’s a sweetheart, Papyrus, give it a rest,” Rox says.

“You haven’t known it long enough to understand the mischief in its soul!” He throws his arms up in a gesture of overdramatic defeat. “Fine! Fine, I can see this argument will go nowhere. Frisk! Are you quite recovered? Are you ready to proceed? Are you full of the vim, vigor and vivacity you’ll need for the NEXT phase of our TRAINING??”

YOU BET I AM, Frisk replies, swinging their feet back and forth as Chara chews on the unicicle stick.

“That’s right!! It is finally time! For!” Papyrus bounces to the cupboard, pulling out a saucepan and a baggie full of about six mismatched kinds of noodles. “Lunch break!!!”


fourteen months ago

“Powerful! Popular! Prestigious!” he shouts, pointed right at them but really talking to the air above their head. “That’s Papyrus!”

They shift their weight in expectation, already anticipating the pixely rhythm that’ll start in their head at any moment. Below them the snowslush crunches, turning squishily to mud and water, and they’re glad once again that they wore their hiking boots up the mountain.

“The newest member…” He pauses, then rushes forward, covering up hesitance with bouncy determination. “Of the royal guard!”

They feel the pulling in their soul, and the music starts up, and the world goes tunnel-vision. There’s nothing now but them and Papyrus, nothing now between them and Papyrus. They shift their grip on the stick and start bouncing on their toes, mimicking his movements to the beat. The first waves of bones pass effortlessly around them, needing just a few steps left right forward to dodge, and they lock their knees and make the sign for mercy as soon as they cease.

He’s not taken aback, not as much, he’s getting used to it. “Then, let’s see how you handle my fabled blue attack!” he responds. His excitement and his bouncing makes them want to flap and bounce on their toes, but there’ll be time for that later in the fight. For now, they keep their feet flat planted on the ground and their knees locked and scrunch their hands at their side as cool blue magic tingles through them – and then it’s over, done, their soul is heavy and singular and their knees are already tensing in preparation to leap.

You’re blue now, says the dry little voice in their head, helpful as it ever is.

First ones are easy – one foot high, two feet, bunny hops and running jumps. Their feet don’t quite thunk the ground to the beat of the song but that’s okay, they’re okay, they’re going. Then the straight-line arcs, which they take at a bound – arms outstretched, leaping up like they’re on the moon, sleeves flying over their hands and bum flying over the tips of the attack. The ones that come at them in cross-patterns, as Papyrus chatters about hedges and popularity and things they only half understand and they jump and fumble and scatter out of their paths, turn after turn after turn.

Their breath catches and shudders ice-cold in and out of them, and their sleeves grow wet and miserable from so many times falling in the snow. Their inventory of snacks dwindles close to nothing, and their hands grow sweaty and their face goes numb as the battle continues. And still the rhythm plays on and still Papyrus is there, steadfast and solid, standing between them and the end.

The barrage of attacks pauses, and they stumble to a stop, bending over and breathing heavily. He’s saying something new, they think, something’s happening up there, but their audio processing isn’t good at the best of times and their own heartbeat is pounding over most of his words. Somethin’ about special stuff. And now he’s yelling.

They stand upright at that and let out a startled cough-laugh, as Papyrus demands at high volume that that dog COME BACK HERE WITH MY SPECIAL ATTACK!!! It inches backwards, Papyrus shouting ineffectually at it all the way, until it’s out of the frame and disappears from sight with the bone.

Papyrus hurls one more spike of overblown annoyance in its direction, then sighs with a gusto that shouldn’t be physically possible for a skeleton. “Oh well,” he says. “I’ll just use a really cool regular attack.”

Papyrus is preparing a regular attack, the voice in their head provides.

They eat their last unicicle, and it only gets them to seventeen. Their knees hurt.

Papyrus sighs again, and they brace themself. “Here’s an absolutely normal attack.”

First come double bones that you gotta hurtle over like you’re doing hurdles. Then the bone columns, the ones you just have to jump straight up to avoid. And then it’s the ones that go up and down that they get distracted just staring at, and then it’s just a blur of white snow and white attacks and those tingly-stingly static spikes like their arm’s asleep. Or foot, or chest, or leg.

It goes for what feels like forever, skidding to the side and freezing in place for half-seconds at a time. Pumping their arms as they jump, letting the exaggerated physics of the blue soul thing fling them high in the air, vaulting over bones on skateboards and bones in dog mouths. One incredible bounce vibrates up their legs and sends them soaring close to the cavern ceiling, flying over an absolute field of bones scattered in hectic almost-patterns below! Papyrus looks so small, staring up at them with his eyes bugging and his mouth wide open, and then he looks bigger and bigger and they land practically right on him but splash into a snowdrift instead. They spring back up, staggering a bit and dusting themself off, stamping to try and get some feeling back into their feet, whirling back around to face the next attack.

But Papyrus isn’t preparing a bone attack. He’s not preparing any attack.

He’s just…saying something, now. Their ears are full of snow and fluff and the pounding of their heart, but some words struggle through, some words that sit in their brain going in circles before it bothers to process them.

“Human! Now’s your chance to accept my – “

Papyrus is sparing you, says the voice in their head. (And they think it feels softer than usual.)

Oh.

He’s – he’s. Oh. OH!

It takes them a while to respond, his words echoing around their brain, like a song stuck in their head they never want out. They flash out mercy like a reflex, and the battle tunnel vision fills back out into the world.

And then despite their aching knees they’re jumping up and down, flapping their wet sleeves like a bird about to take off and squeaking and squealing sounds of joy. They’re flooded with good, with relief exhilaration euphoria pride, the voice gushes, like a baking soda volcano of good things inside them, twirling and pouring through their muscles and brain. And Papyrus is saying things, feeling things, saying things that they can barely comprehend and feel tiny and small, they’ll pay attention later but right now they’re too full to pay attention to anyone but themself cause they’re done and they’re through and they did it.

They DID IT!!

Chapter Text

Frisk hurtles from the downpour into the shelter of the school’s overhang, slamming into the door and pressing themself up against it. Flowey wriggles his head from where it’s squished into the door and shakes his petals, annoyed. Mettaton comes charging right behind them, clutching Alphys to his chest and laughing, smelling like rust and the air after a lightning strike. His manager Liolex trots after them like an exasperated parent. Napstablook, who doesn’t really get wet but still doesn’t like the experience, bobs along under Liolex’s umbrella.

Come on come on let us in!! Frisk signs, shaking their head like a dog and feeling the dampness whip away. Chara tells them to STOP IT STOP IT VERTIGO and they do, leaning their puffy humid cloud of curls against the cool glass of the door. Mettaton sets Alphys down and presses the intercom button with a flourish.

The button crackles and Liolex’s ears twitch, as a bored secretary answers the other end of the line. “May I help you?”

Mettaton shoves his face obnoxiously up all the way into the camera frame. “Good afternoon, darling! We’re here with the monster musical project – the one the king paid your school very handsomely to use your auditorium for rehearsal?? If you’d be a dear and let us in, so we can get this creative process flowing!”

There’s a long pause, and then a click as the door unlocks. Chara thinks it’s funny. Frisk doesn’t see why. It’s just the same effect Mettaton always has on humans.

Mettaton pulls the door open and ushers them in with a deep bow. Frisk clutches their backpack straps tighter, pulling comfort from Flowey’s shifting presence and Chara’s darting train of thought. This is the first time they’ve been in a school since…since. And for the first time, they’re inside one, and they don’t feel completely alone.

The foyer that the door opens in on takes the form of a small, high-ceilinged entryway that smells like wet and faintly like mold. Liolex, a lion monster from Hotland and so not really a fan of wet things, folds up her umbrella and wrinkles her nose. She paws at her mane, which just fluffs up more under her harried touch, and smooths out her floaty blue dress. “I don’t believe it smelled quite like this on our initial tour…”

“Really?” says Mettaton, already striding away from her. “I’m sure I’d agree with you, my dear, if robots could have a sense of smell!”

“I don’t have a nose,” Napstablook provides helpfully.

Smells like wet and mold, Chara grumbles, and Frisk pulls their sweater up over their nose. There. Now it just smells like wet.

Mettaton flings open the doors of the auditorium, splattering Frisk, Alphys, Napstablook and Liolex with droplets of rain. He spins around to face them, catching the doors with a metallic clunk, and beams at the assembled group behind him. “Absolutely the perfect venue, don’t you think?”

Frisk stands behind him and drips wetly. Be nice if we could see what you meant, they sign.

“Yeah, Mettaton, you – you might want to, to turn on t-the lights first,” Alphys adds.

“What?” Mettaton looks back behind him. “Oh. Well. As I always say, lights are but an accessory to the shine of your soul!” He presses a button on his chest and his soul-containing torso lights up like a flashlight, and he spins around again and ushers everyone into the dark auditorium.

“I…neglected to ask where the light switches were during our initial tour,” he admits, as Frisk turns on their phone’s flashlight to help navigate. Napstablook, glowing faintly, trails aimlessly behind Mettaton as he walks down the aisle, and Alphys and Liolex hurry to stay in their light. “Considering how, at that time, the lights were already on.”

Liolex sighs and clicks on her phone flashlight, and Alphys follows suit. The group spreads out to comb the walls for lights, Mettaton and Frisk heading up towards the stage as Alphys and Liolex take the walls by the doors. Napstablook looks around for a second, then just kinda floats up through the balcony floor and disappears.

Frisk scrambles up on the stage, stubbing their toes a bit in the dark, and trots over to where backstage probably is, behind a labyrinth of curtains and through a maze of dusty smells and smelly dust. They shine their light under stacks of chairs and up mysterious stairways. They’ve never been in one of these weird places. It’s not scary, but, it’s kind of sad. It feels like it’s waiting. Like it’s not supposed to be this dark and abandoned. They peer into a little room they found off the side of the stage, between the curtain pulleys, wondering if maybe they’ll find any weird gross props or DEAD BODIES back here.

What they find instead is a panel of light switches. Light switches, Chara observes dryly. Frustratingly logical placement.

Frisk ignores them, panning their light over the mismatched switches. There’s like seven of them, but no labels saying what goes to where. Which leaves only one obvious next course of action.

Hey Chara, they think, putting their phone in their pocket and using both hands to push all the switches up at once. Lighten up!

The auditorium floods with light, from the lights on the ceiling they were trying to turn on, but also all the stage lights and the spotlights and the backstage lights and one really loud fan that sounds like it’s twenty seconds from exploding into pieces. Flowey hisses and scrunches down in the backpack. “Aaaagh! Warn me next time you blind me!”

“Aw, Flowey,” Chara smiles, as they jog back out to center stage. “Lighten up, bud!”

Frisk freezes mid-bow and straightens back up like a stick. Really?? Really!?! Really Chara!!! Chara just giggles, their amusement mixing tingly and blue-green with Frisk’s disbelief. But Frisk will not be distracted. Really!! they repeat, indignant.

You know what they say about imitation and flattery, Chara replies.

No, they don’t. No, I don’t. What do they say?

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, sponge, Chara explains.

Oh. Frisk plops down on the edge of the stage and swings their legs over the edge. Who’s they? They’re dumb and don’t know anything.

They’re distracted by the sound of loud metallic applause from Mettaton, who beams up at them from the aisle in the center of the theater. “Well done, Frisk!” he calls. “Finally, we can get started. How are you doing up there with the sound tech, Blooky?”

“GOOD,” comes Napstablook’s wispy voice, magnified and reverberating through the auditorium. “Oh, no…………..that’s on…………..”

“Wonderful! I’m sure you’ll get the hang of it in no time.” He leaps onto the stage and sits cross-legged next to Frisk, then claps impatiently to Alphys, trying without success to get onto the stage, and Liolex, trying without success to help her. “Come on, beauties! We’ve got at least 131 confirmed invitations on Undernet to this casting call and nowhere near enough time to get ready for them!”

“IF THEY SHOW UP…………..” Napstablook sighs over the loudspeaker, this time accompanied by a screech of feedback that makes Chara yank Frisk’s hands up over their ears.

They knew the potential casting call slash open rehearsal invitation was up when, two weeks ago, Mettaton gave them administrator privileges to the musical’s Undernet page and then texted them like eight times in a row on a school night. Even if he hadn’t bothered to do that, they would have known when MK showed up at their door bright and early the next morning, bouncing and shouting about the NEW MUSICAL ARE YOU PART OF IT FRISK OH MY GOSH I RAN HERE SO FAST I FELL SEVEN TIMES I MIGHT BE BLEEDING BUT THAT DOESN’T MATTER TELL ME ALL ABOUT IT. And even if they hadn’t showed up, Frisk would have known when Shyren sent them a frantic email saying that she really wanted to do this but she wouldn’t have to sing a solo, Frisk, would she, please tell her she doesn’t have to sing a solo. And even if she hadn’t emailed, Frisk would have known through pretty much every single other interaction with a monster they’ve had since then. The last two weeks have been more of a blurry countdown to today, the Official First Meeting About The Musical, than anything else.

Alphys finally pulls herself onto the stage, flopping on her belly before turning around to help Liolex up. She’s probably going to scuttle backstage as soon as people start showing up, as she’s mostly in charge of tech and also people are just very stressful, but right now she swings her feet back and forth and wiggles her toes in the air. Her mood, already at the sort of anxious low-high-low it is before she has to be in public, sunk further at Napstablook’s comment, and her dread droops from Frisk’s shoulders. “D-do you think we’ll even need a microphone system for t-today? I doubt we’re going to f-fill up the whole auditorium or anything…”

“Oh, Alphys, don’t be ridiculous!” Mettaton trills. “I have nothing but the utmost confidence in today’s audience. Why, there’ll be so many monsters, we may even have to tell Liolex to go find the stairs to the balcony! In fact…Liolex, if you’d be a dear – “

“Let’s go exploring,” Flowey mutters in their ear.

He’s right. Frisk scoots to their feet and stretches. The rest of their friendfamily is showing up in like ten minutes, but after that it’s a whole ‘nother twenty minutes until the meeting is supposed to start, which means at least another thirty until it actually does. Forty minutes is too many minutes to sit on a stage. Especially for Flowey, and for anyone within range when he inevitably starts throwing pellets to entertain himself.

They shoulder their backpack and drift away, unnoticed, as Alphys and Mettaton argue about impressive versus practical special effects. They go back to the backstage area, of course, squinting and blinking up happily into the spotlights. So many weird cool things that could still be back here! And only a little time before they have a crew that comes back here and ruins all the surprises.

Weird cool things that could still be back here:
• Spiderwebs
• Spiders
• Graffiti that says bad words
• More bugs
• Old candy that Chara will tell them not to eat
• Scripts for human plays
• Mouse nest(s)
• Wherever curtains go when they go up
• Mold because it’s a public school
• Cool props like old telephones and styrofoam cheese
• Long-lost good luck charms
• Whatever a catwalk is
• DEAD BODIES

What they find after wandering around in the backstage closets and crannies for a while:
• Some of those things

At the top of a flight of stairs and through what Chara thinks is a dressing room, with odd shoes in the corners and the smell of foundation hanging heavily in the air, they find an old metal ladder leading up into the darkness. It only squawks a little when they jump on its lowest rung, and Chara guesses it’s probably about as stable as that fire escape, and so naturally they ascend. At the top is a sprawl of wooden rafters with a narrow metal path extending over them, lined with stage lights and cords. In a burst of excitement, Chara announces that this is probably what a catwalk is, and Frisk races out and leans over the railing.

Oh wow – oh, they can see everything from up here! Oh they can see Undyne showing Alphys something on her phone that she can’t explain cause she’s too busy laughing, and Papyrus trying to scoot closer to Mettaton and not be obvious about it, and Asgore trying to figure out how many tiny auditorium seats he has to take up. And Mettaton was right about the people, at least more right than Alphys, because everyone’s filing in and everyone’s gonna be here and they haven’t even started yet and this is gonna be so great!! Even Flowey’s feeling something close to optimism seeing how many people are here!!

They hop up on the lower bar of the railing and lean out over the crowd, then get down and scoot close to the edge so they can watch easily. They’ve never been scared of heights; in fact, they’ve always gotten a thrill out of being taller than and unseen by anybody else. Like they’re a powerful giant and somehow infinitesimally small at the exact same time. Chara feels the same. Frisk sometimes wonders if there’s a connection between that and the whole mountain thing, but not a lot.

When most of the space is full and Frisk’s phone says they were supposed to start two minutes ago, they head back down the ladder. They run onstage and into a spontaneous and half-joking wall of applause – then spread their arms out and take bow after showy bow, because people like them. Flowey tries to hide behind their head. After the applause dies down, they trot back and plop down on their spot on the stage, now the spot in between Sans and Toriel.

“You’re a skele-brity, kid,” Sans chuckles.

“Ske – oh! Good one, Sans,” Toriel laughs. “Have you been exploring, children?”

There’s no dead bodies back there, Frisk reports by way of explanation.

“Well, I am glad to hear that. It was very kind of you to go and make sure.”

“Cover your ears,” Mettaton calls to everyone on the stage, then turns a dial on his chest all the way up.

“GOOD AFTERNOON, BEAUTIES AND GENTLEBEAUTIES!!”

The sound vibrates and thrums in Frisk’s ribcage, almost as strong as Mettaton’s own excitement, and they feel the swoop in the stomach of everyone in the room. The crowd’s conversations come to an end as they all surge up in raucous cheering. Mettaton laughs, still at that huge and reverberating volume, then makes a crisp cutting-off motion.

The cheers stop almost instantaneously, and Mettaton grins huge. “Well done, everyone! I can see already what fine actors you’ll be!”

“DO A DAB, METTATON!” someone in the crowd yells.

Mettaton frowns. “Absolutely not, I refuse to allow myself to sink to that level – “ Then Flowey groans incredibly loudly and obscures the rest of his sentence.

Huh? Frisk asks Chara.

Monsters are always about a hundred years behind on memes, Chara explains, with an air of weariness.

Once the crowd gets over their disappointment, he turns his volume back to a normal level. “Welcome to the latest, greatest, yet-to-be-titled Official Monster Musical, everyone! First order of business. I know all of you harbor your own dreams of stardom. Unfortunately, as they say, too many stars just spoil the show! You know how it is, darlings. The true backbone of every production is not the actors on the stage, but the people standing behind them – our chorus, our orchestra, and our crew! That’s why I’m excited to announce that those positions for this musical will be not audition-based, but volunteer-based. Do you know what this means, beauties?? That’s right – this is your chance at a once in a lifetime experience of helping to hold an MTT Production (tee em) together!”

The crowd explodes back into cheering. Liolex, seated on Toriel’s other side, nods approvingly. “Now we won’t have to pay them,” she murmurs.

“My lovely associate Dr. Alphys – say hi, Alphys! – will be setting up Undernet pages where you can volunteer for chorus, orchestra, and all areas of the crew. She herself is heading tech and magical effects. My wonderful cousin Napstablook will be directing sound, my lovely manager Liolex will be in charge of props and costumes and my honored and honorary MTT Productions (tee em) employees Undyne and Papyrus of props and set design. If you have any questions, feel free to direct them to these monsters!”

The rest of the meeting revolves around similar technicalities, technicalities that Frisk has already discussed with everyone involved. Boring easy stuff, like how rehearsals are 3 hours on weeknights in the evening, and it’s everyone’s responsibility to memorize their chorus songs on their own but Mettaton will come up with choreography later. He’s thinking they’ll have four choruses, one from each region, and single but very large teams of crew or orchestra. Apparently, musicals take a lot more planning to put on than they seem. Frisk is impressed, and kind of surprised, at all this borderline seriousness coming from someone who is Mettaton.

He’s famous for a reason, Chara admits, if grudgingly.

“I’ll be posting a link to the script in progress, and I’ll have the finale up in a few weeks! Go home, spread the word, sign up!” Mettaton calls as the meeting wraps up. “But wait – before you leave, we have a surprise reward prepared for your patience.” He turns and hops onto the stage, smiling and waving off another wave of cheering, beckoning Frisk up. “Ready, darling? Everyone – please welcome back to the stage, Frisk Dreemurr!”

Frisk scrambles out of their backpack and up onto the stage. Toriel takes it and moves to the side of the auditorium, and Sans gives them a thumbs up and disappears. Everyone else clears the stage, and the lights go down, replaced by twin pink spotlights. They’re already bouncing. It’s been hard, keeping this little project to themselves!

Then they look out there.

Chara seizes up hard and quiet. The auditorium is dark and the spotlights are in their face but they can still see how big the audience looks from here, how many rows upon rows of dim headshapes are watching them, can feel the anticipation and excitement of the room and it’s so very big and fiery. So very big and they are very very small and they can’t dance.

Mettaton crosses the stage and bends down beside them, concern poking through Frisk’s overwhelming anticipation. “I can tell you’ve got stage fright, dear,” he murmurs. “What’s wrong?”

I can’t dance, they sign, because it’s the only way their brain will let them express their sudden pounding realization that that’s not what they’re doing, they’ve just been jumping around, they don’t know what they’re doing and they’re nowhere near anywhere near ready to do dances like a real monster with real songs on a real stage. For real people. They can’t. They’ll disappoint everyone. And everything will go wrong. Can’t dance can’t dance can’t dance.

And then he laughs, Mettaton laughs, but it’s soft and relieved and not really at them at all. “Oh, Frisk,” he sighs, wrapping a noodle arm around their shoulders. “Compositions aren’t choreographed in the human sense of the word. You don’t have to dance like humans do. Monsters don’t dance like humans do, they follow the music instead of following steps. It’s an improvised reaction to the song and the magic around you! And, from what I’ve seen, you are very good at that. You did wonderfully the last time we were onstage together, during my final performance. It’s just naturally how you move.”

Oh. So…wait, they say, trying to force a bunch of feelings out through one tiny tiny outlet called language. So…I can dance?

“You’re a natural,” he smiles. “Now. Ready to do this?”

They don’t smile, because Chara’s still out of commission, but they nod and flick their hands in excited pseudoflaps. Now that the anticipation and excitement are more their own, they can rub them a little bit on Chara, who is definitely still getting used to the whole performing thing but manages a weak burst of encouragement. Mettaton, they offer. They’ll probably only be able to use scripts or echolalia through this fight, but Frisk can feel their support. Despite everything. Determination!

YEAH! Frisk cheers silently, then stands up and steps out into the waiting battle. Mettaton gives them a huge wink, then sends a barrage of bots into the air as the music begins.

“I am the idol everyone craves!
Rise to the top then the world I’ll save!
Smile for the camera – come look sharp!
Take your soul and break your heart!
Drama, romance, bloodshed these tools to the masses I’ll bring…
I’ll cross the barrier, soon my salvation I’ll sing!”

Of course he’s already written almost the whole song, and of course he’s wanted to keep the lyrics a surprise for even them. His movements are as fine and sharp as his words and right on that same edge of ridiculous, kicking his legs high in the air and over their head, back-handsprings over them to the beat and midair splits above his own attacks.

“You must admit, although
I’ve put on a mar-v’lous show!
Now these games must end –
Now good-bye, my friend!
We’ve grown so distant, true
But the first thing I’ll do
When up from the ground I crawl
Is finally claim – it – ALL!”

And right on ALL they press that button that makes their soul and whole self feel like it’s being turned upside down, but just for a second. They aim and fire their little magical nerf gun, and it clashes into Mettaton’s core – he staggers dramatically, then springs back upright and the dance continues. Mettaton moves like a monster who’s earned his fame, but he’s sure to keep the fun in it for Frisk. He whirls Frisk around, mimics their spontaneous choreography, admires with wide eyes their best dramatic poses.

His arms don’t actually blow off when the time comes, but he acts like they do, folding them behind himself in a pose that looks very painful for someone with muscles and bones. The audience oohs and gasps like it’s the real thing, and Frisk fires soul darts in wild arcs above the stage. They leap around as Mettaton fills the stage with increasingly thick clouds of smoke, as he “loses” more and more of his limbs.

“This is the place where fame is everything
Everyone wants to touch, everyone wants to see!
We live in a world where celebrities are kings
We all know what we want, so please give it to me!
I can’t get enough of the sim-ple little things,
And it’s great to remember, since it’s my last show!
The love of my fans is al-most giving me wings
So I’ll fly to the sur-face when it’s time to go-oo-o!”

The song swells to its finale and Mettaton collapses, emitting sparks and smoke like a firework and letting Frisk’s soul drop back to its real redness. They rush over, suddenly worried, followed by Alphys, who appears like an anxious technical phantom from backstage. But he only gives them a huge smile and a wink, before springing upward with his limbs snapping into place and pulling them both towards the front of the stage.

The cheering is deafening, a high-pitched roar in Frisk’s ears and brain that they drink in with relish. They’re buzzing with leftover pent-up energy and happiness and the desire to dance more, dance more, because that’s what it is! And they can’t see when Mettaton makes that gesture again, but he does, and the cheering is gone and leaves only an elated ocean crashing in their ears.

“Thank you, everyone!” he calls, waving, as the house lights come back on. “That’s a wrap for tonight, but I’ll see you again very soon!”


“I believe and have always believed that our city is a strong and unified community,” the mayor’s flat voice says through the TV. “And I certainly understand our citizens’ desires to keep themselves and their rights secure in the face of this so-called monstrous occupation. As you can see, I’ve done everything in my power to preserve the traditional values we hold so dear, only for a borderline socialist and tyrannical society to push itself into our space.”

Frisk, sitting on the carpet in front of the TV, pulls their knees up to their chest. What’s socialist mean?

Not sure, Chara admits.

The reporter nods in response. “Mayor Harris, what kind of danger – “

“I think there’s plenty of danger associated with these monsters,” he interrupts her. “From what intelligence we’ve been able to gain from their isolated community, we know that we certainly wouldn’t want our children interacting with them, for example. Katie, I’m sad to say it, but…there’s a child, a human child, living with some of the nobility of this society, and their influence on him is only too painfully clear. I don’t know how Child Protective Services allows it. They bring him to every so-called ambassador meetings that they demand, and my heart just breaks every time I see him.”

Sparks, real sparks, crackle out of the palms of their hands. They clench their fists, pushing back down their strange, angry magic. One more product of their soul’s hard, overpowering red, one more thing that marks them different. Chara is wordless with cold flat fury.

“The poor boy is obviously severely mentally disabled, or he certainly wouldn’t stand for such treatment. They’ll dress him in skirts, in any garish outfit they like, but I’ve rarely ever seen him with a pair of shoes. I can’t imagine what they’re thinking, allowing a child who obviously needs intensive help run wild…I don’t like to think about what will happen when he grows up.”

“Is this guy serious?” asks Flowey, from his pot beside them.

Frisk remembers overhearing conversations in the caseworkers’ and therapists’ offices, about Mayor Harris slashing the social services budget, stripping schools of their funds. The subsequent constant investigations into their failing of standards they were financially incapable of meeting.

“Doesn’t he know you’re not a boy?” Flowey adds, genuinely confused.

They remember headlines. Mayor Harris endorses conversion therapy treatment citywide. Mayor Harris upholds adoption ban for gay couples. Mayor Harris calls LGBTQ community “a corruption of our city and an immense drain on our resources”.

Chara’s thoughts are slow and icy and white hot. Tiny flames jump and snap from their hands, and they hiss and pull them away from their skirt.

“He…wants them…to be scared of us,” Flowey realizes. “But he’s basing everything on misinformation so he can paint us as badly as possible. He’s fearmongering. Why is he doing that?”

He hates us, Frisk replies, so that their hands can’t do anything else. He hates us, he hates us. He hates everybody. Everybody who’s not rich and white and a man and like him. And. He thinks everyone else should hate us, too.

“What?” asks Flowey, who’s never lived under a corrupt government in his life. “That’s crazy. Why?”

“So he can keep his power,” Chara spits. “And so things can keep being the same. Keep being awful.”

“Rest assured,” the mayor continues, “I’ve been working nonstop for almost six months to take care of this monster invasion. I’ve been doing my best to treat them like any group of outsiders who joins our city – they need to conform to our values and assimilate, or they need to leave. No other way can our city become safe and prosperous once again.”

Crowded dirty school hallways. Broken glass scars on their feet and their knees. Cold orange street lights at 4:27 AM. Waiting, waiting, waiting in the dark for the paperwork to ever go through and for something ever to change.

Safe. And. Prosperous. My. Ass.

“Can he – can he do that?” says Flowey, real fear in his voice.

The fear snakes into Frisk’s soul and they draw in a long breath, seized suddenly by terror. What if he does? What if he makes the monsters leave? Or worse? What if he brings CPS back in, more anxiety and fear and not being told anything, more red tape and cruel loopholes and then they’re whisked back away like this was just another temporary home? They’ve already been through this whole stupid awful thing ONCE, GODDAMMIT –

Undyne walks over and turns off the TV, standing between it and their curled and tense self. “Ready to go?” she asks, carefully slow and soft.

They look up, see her standing there, nod. They reach up and she pulls them to their feet, and if their hands are hot against her scales she doesn’t say anything about it.


The school is only a 20 minute walk away (well, 10, if it’s a run and you’re sitting on Undyne’s shoulders), and they get there just as everyone else is starting to trickle in. Today’s a Waterfall rehearsal day, so the Waterfall chorus is all here, but they don’t have a whole lot of parts so the theater is less crowded than usual. Mettaton is standing on the stage bellowing directions to the crew in the balcony and the cast on the floor, and MK and Papyrus are sitting on the stage poring over a shared script. Frisk almost clonks their head on the doorframe as they sit up tall and wave to everyone, but Undyne ducks and Naruto runs to the front of the auditorium before they can, laughing and skidding to a stop in front of the stage so Frisk can wiggle off her shoulders.

“Yo! Frisk and Undyne!! Hi, guys!” MK squeaks, whipping their tail back and forth and almost falling over with excitement. They’re still perpetually starstruck around all three of them, exhilarated that their three Cool Friends And Role Models are also the same people who SAVED THE UNDERGROUND (in a vague way that they’re not sure of the details about). Frisk thought they were going to explode when they got their official script, which calls for sharing a whole entire SONG with Undyne AND ALSO hanging around PAPYRUS, and that’s still what being around them feels like even a few weeks into the rehearsal process.

Papyrus gets to the sound tech in the balcony first after they start, by flinging himself through the air and BASICALLY CHEATING, so the warmup song that Napstablook pumps over the theater’s speakers is a bouncy synthpop from several decades ago. He’s the only one that knows all the lyrics, but the chorus is repetitive and everyone ends up belting it out at nearly the same volume as him. Frisk stims and dances to the music, but Chara just smiles shyly and keeps their mouth tight shut.

The main Waterfall song they’re working on today is, the song called Waterfall, following Frisk and MK’s journey through the region and the many times Undyne nearly caught them. Frisk sits onstage between Undyne and MK, as MK softly sings the introductory parts of the song, not needing sheet music for a tune they’ve known all their life.

“Ev-‘ry mon-ster wishes they could beeeee…
As great as Undyne, with her po-wer and chaaaarm…
Or maybe that’s just me!
What do you think? Do you think she’s cool? Or should – “

“STOP RIGHT THERE, HUMAN!!” Undyne hollers right before her cue, grabbing Frisk’s shoulder and summoning a spear that she jabs into the air.

“Human? Where?!” MK shouts, whipping their head around dramatically.

“Seven. Seven human souls,” she growls, pounding her chest in a gesture that’s probably from an anime. “And with yours, we can – HEY!! GET BACK HERE!” This is the part where Frisk is supposed to bolt away, so they squiggle out of her grasp and crawl around to hide behind MK. Undyne leaps to her feet and towers over them, fangs bared in a grin. “Quit running and face your death like a MONSTER!”

“Hey, quit messing with my friend!” MK replies, but it dissolves into a giggle as Undyne leans down and pokes them in the nose. “They’re a human,” she exclaims, waving the spear emphatically in the air. “You can’t be friends!”

“Wait – really? I didn’t know that!”

“Yeah, well watch and see what happens to humans who – “

“It doesn’t look like they’re running very far…” MK reads, as she scrabbles around to the other side of them to grab at Frisk.

“Just!! Get out of there, you little brat!!” she howls, as Frisk scoots back to the other side of MK. “If it weren’t for that grass, I’d kick your – Iiiiiiii mean.” She does a double take at the script, then looks up and glares energy spears at Mettaton in the audience. “If it weren’t for that grooty! I’d kick your booty! DON’T ASK ME WHAT A GROOTY IS!”

And if this was real time and not just a musical Undyne would have caught them right there, because they’re suddenly curled up in hysterics at her just now realizing that he put a SWEAR in there. MK looks at the script, confused, then starts cracking up too. “G-gee, Undyne s-sure was – “ they try for their line, but then they’re laughing and Chara’s laughing and the moment is gone.

“DO YOU WANT ME TO SWEAR IN FRONT OF THE QUEEN!!” Undyne yells out at Mettaton, who’s watching her from the audience with a nonplussed expression. “DO YOU WANT ME TO SAY THAT WORD IN FRONT OF THE KIDS!!!”

Frisk claps once, and Undyne looks over. I think we should keep the grooty part in, they suggest, fingers shaking with suppressed amusement. She glares at them and looks pointedly away, but her fingers drum the stage in thought, and she’s considering it oh my god.

“Come on, Mettaton!” Chara cajoles. “Dumb jokes with borderline swears in them are all the rage with the kids these days!”

“If you insist,” he sighs, and pencils a note into his script. “You’d be the experts in that area, I suppose.”

A motion catches the corner of Chara’s eye, and they look up to the back of the theater. Their whole body tenses, and Frisk clenches their fingers with the unease suddenly filling their body.

A short, skinny, sandy-skinned child with bobbed black hair is edging their way through the door. They catch it as it closes so it doesn’t slam shut, then looks around with trepidation Frisk can feel in their eyes. They’re clutching the straps of their backpack, huddled and tense like they’re trying to seem as small as possible, and they sneak quietly into the back row of seats and sit down without a word. School must have just ended. They normally hear the bell, but they normally aren’t hearing Undyne quite that much.

Undyne waves her hand in the air, flashing a fanged grin out at the kid and almost smacking MK in the face. The kid dives for their backpack and doesn’t come back up until she’s distracted again.

This is intriguing. Frisk tilts their head and lets Chara keep staring. The most specific thing they think they’re getting from this kid is fear, but they think the anger that they’re feeling too is mostly Chara’s. And – if it was a monster Chara would be helping with the different words for the different shades of fear right now, but it’s not, so Chara’s more bogging them down with determined hatred than actually helping at all. So Frisk is on their own. They squint at the kid, who is pretending to read a book from their backpack.

Not hate-scared. Shy-scared.

Not a threat, they hum to Chara. And Chara, who trusts their bizarre psychic thing, relaxes a little bit.

But Frisk’s still eaten up with curiosity and kicking their feet and unable to focus until snack break, because this is, uh, weird. Kid’s weird, and the fact that there’s a kid is weird. And also, rehearsal is still weird, and it’s a little distressing that there’s now New Stuff in this Already New Stuff. Chara is not liking being watched, but the kid isn’t actually watching them and is more just hanging out than anything else. It’s weird but! That’s okay! It’s okay it’s okay!

Undyne leads an impromptu Friendship Train back there during break, which only consists of her and Papyrus and Frisk and MK but still makes the kid intimidated. She sits on her knees in the seat two rows in front of them, leaning over the back as Frisk and the others join her with their snacks. “Hey!” she says cheerily, flashing those huge teeth at them again. “Want some snacks? We got cookies!!”

The kid stays quiet for a long time, their gaze switching hesitantly around to each one of them. “Yes, please,” they whisper.

“Cool!” Undyne hands hers over. “I’m Undyne. He’s Papyrus, and this is Frisk and MK.” Frisk waves, and MK wiggles their tail. “Frisk’s sort of the human spokesperson of us monsters, so they're – “

The rest of her sentence is drowned out as a SPIKE of panic and shock crashes through Frisk’s skull, and they flinch hard and almost fall out of their chair. Every one of their fingers is trembling badly, and they feel like they’ve been struck by lightning. If they could see their reflection they’re sure their hair would be standing on end. Or that’s how it feels, anyway.

“ – what’s your name?”

The kid is even more quiet this time, somehow, on the outside, but their emotions are going a mile a minute. Panicshockfearconfusiondisbelieffearfear, Chara rattles off, too shaken to do anything else. Decisiveness. Determination.

“I’m Moss Her,” says the kid, then rubs their palms on their jeans. “Andimnotaboyoragirleither.”

Fearfearfearfearfear. The feeling after you get done with a long cry. The feeling like you’re on the verge of another one at the same time.

“Oh,” says Undyne. “Hey, Moss. That’s totally cool. Welcome to rehearsal!”

“I’m not either!” MK cheers. “I don’t know what I am. Maybe we can be gender friends!”

“Gender is your own experience,” announces Papyrus, pointing a finger in the air like he’s dispensing great wisdom. “Never feel restricted in your explorations!!”

SMILE AT THEM, PLEASE, YOU ASSHOLE, thinks Frisk through gritted, uh, mind-teeth. They’ve been told that when they try to smile it kind of just looks like they’re dying, but Chara’s a NATURAL, and they know it’ll help, and they’re the only ones here with an actual thorough understanding of how much humans are DICKS to people like them. Chara refuses. Frisk takes their fingers and pushes up on the corners of their mouth, aiming themself at Moss and hoping it’ll help.

“Sooooo, what brings you to this corner of the caverns? Uhhh, this, this place.” Underground idioms don’t usually translate well. “Just bored after school? Heard all the shouting? Do you have a homework project about us?” Undyne asks. Moss is uncurling, a little bit, still reeling from what Frisk feels like was the first coming out in their life.

“Uhh, no reason,” they reply, fidgeting with their fingers and shifting in their seat. “Just. Wanted something to do after school, and, I hadn’t sat in the auditorium in a while…”

Frisk narrows their eyes. Moss is mostly not lying. It’s hard to tell under the waves of genuine, pounding relief, but, the little dishonest dragging is there.

Undyne doesn’t push it. “Glad you picked today to stop by, then!”

“Yeah! Consider yourself welcome any time you please!” Papyrus adds.

“Thank you.” Moss smiles shyly. “Do you have…uh, do you have any more…more cookies?”

“Extra cookies is a state of being,” Papyrus replies, then produces a stack of them from his ribcage. Frisk watches the process with interest. Must be weird to have half your whole body be a pocket. That’s where he keeps his stim toys, too. They wish they could store stuff in their lungs, there seems to be a lot of empty space in there...could fit like four tangles probably.

The five of them (five, because Chara’s still being a poophead) pass the rest of the break talking and laughing, and Moss uncurls enough to put their book to the side and lean on their forearms against the back of the chair in front of them. Frisk still can’t feel the ends of their fingers through Moss’s residual disbelief, but the rest of them is warm in a way that isn’t sweaty and feels like a mug of cocoa after a cold rainy day. They get the feeling that, after this rehearsal, they’re going to be seeing Moss again.

And they’re right. As the days pass and the release of the full script draws closer and closer, Moss becomes a fixture at the daily rehearsals. Moss draws closer and closer too, until they’re sitting in the front rows, getting to know the cast and managing to do homework at the same time. They bring their own lunch from home, and have four pairs of sneakers in different colors, and want to adopt every stray they see, and hate raisins. They have a sensitive but strange sense of humor, they’re missing two fingers from a car accident, and their singing voice is quiet and sweet. A running joke about how Toriel is always two seconds away from adopting them springs up, and they embrace their awkwardly well-known status.

They fit into the routine almost like a monster, a routine that finally starts to feel like home for Frisk and Chara. Chara doesn’t talk to them, but will usually say what Frisk wants when they don’t want someone else to have to translate. And Frisk has a human friend.

They don’t know if the musical will work. They don’t know if Chara’s right and if it fails all hope is lost. They don’t know if they’ll be back underground, or dead, or gone, in a year’s time, and they don’t know how much that depends on the musical at all. But they do know that this – this project, this production, everyone coming together to support each other and spread the love inside their souls, and everything that’s grown from it so far – is the best thing that has ever happened to them.

Chapter Text

The auditorium, less and less empty every week (and probably at a new record for fullness today), is a hive of excitement. Monsters overflow the lamentably small theater seats, perching atop the chairs of their friends, hanging from the balcony, scurrying up across the walls. Some helium Hotland monsters bob up by the ceiling near the lights, some tiny Froggits peep out from holes in the mortar. The anticipation gushes high in the air, higher than the catwalk and the roof and almost too too big for the walls to even hold in! Definitely too big for Frisk, who isn’t even going to TRY to sit still as they wait for rehearsal to start.

Today everyone, everyone everyone EVERYONE, is here, so MK and the royal guard and Shyren and Gerson (and, well, not Muffet, because they think she owns the entire city of spiders living here now, and apparently that takes up a lot of her time. They’re not very disappointed that she’s not here, now that they think about it. You go, Muffet!). Even Rox (a girl today), Mina and Rust, who don’t even have PARTS in the play, are here to support-slash-tease their monster friends, and Moss is early because of an early dismissal day and trying to read in their aisle seat next to Undyne. Frisk is on Undyne’s other side, feeling the entire row jostle as Undyne leans forward to talk to Papyrus and Sans in the next row up. Next to them, Rust and Mina flip through Sans’s script, giggling at the fart jokes and puns scribbled in the margins, and Rox slouches with their feet kicked up over the back of the chair in front of them. Alphys flips through her painstakingly highlighted script one more time, while Toriel copies her notes into her own, as Flowey causes trouble from Frisk’s backpack on the floor. Asgore just kind of stands awkwardly up at the front.

Frisk bobs back and forth in their little red-felted seat, knees up to their chest and twitching hands digging tight into their NEW SCRIPT. The atmosphere’s so high and hot and electric, it’s like the first rehearsal, over a month ago now – but not, it’s also not, cause that was anticipation and nervousness and this is anticipation and TRUST and –

“Good afternoon, beauties and gentlebeauties!” Mettaton booms from the stage, beaming into the subsequent cheering before shushing it with a handwave. “If everyone is ready…I believe it’s time for us to begin!”

– oh WOW wow wow they feel like they’re gonna EXPLODE!

Chara’s teeth are fixed hard on the plastic binder holding their NEW SCRIPT, bitemarks already studding its edges. They’re the tightness clenched in Frisk’s joints, the hard ball in their chest like an avocado pit.

Frisk tugs on the binder gently, because they’re about to start, but Chara refuses to let go. You alright, C? Frisk asks, concerned.

I am fine, Chara replies, then edits themself. I would be fine, if not for him.

Right. Yep, uh. They would be fine, or at least finer, and so would Frisk and probably this whole atmosphere, if emotional rotten egg Talley Harris wasn’t sitting in the back of the auditorium. He’d come in pretty recently, a little bit after Moss, only Moss had run down the aisle and swung their backpack under the seat next to Undyne, before sitting on their heels and launching into a story of helping a younger kid escape from a bully today. Talley just came in and sat. Like a malevolent rock. Like a rotten egg. Doesn’t even have the decency to pretend not to be watching at them, with his dumb sneeryness and dumb yellow tie. Does he ever wear anything besides monochrome and yellow? Doesn’t he get bored with that??

“He’s probably part of the debate thing,” Moss had explained when he’d first crept in. “There was supposed to be a big tournament today, but something messed up on our end, and I don’t think they have the buses to take everyone home for a few hours. Now they’re just kind of stranded.” Which sounds about accurate to the public school that Frisk remembers. But still. Doesn't he have friends to hang out with?? What's he even doing here!!

Frisk can feel him being a jerk back there and it’s confusing-borderline-overwhelming in addition to everyone else, so any time they try and get a bigger handle on his specific emotions outside of Putting A Damper On Things they just slide away. Chara’s not helping either, which is expected, and also he’s a JERK, so they give up on it. Besides! There’s so much else to concentrate on! Undyne’s greenfire happiness beside them and Toriel’s quiet confidence and –

“If you’ll turn to page 68 of your scripts, everyone, we can begin with this readthrough!”

AND!!! Frisk yanks the script out of Chara’s mouth, and Chara lets them take it.

Page 68, page 68…that’s right after Mettaton’s fight, right where the first installment of the script left off. Frisk flips through the Hotland parts and the CORE parts to page 68, which is about 4/5 of the way through their NEW SCRIPT, and squiggle down to a settle in their seat. Next to them, Alphys opens her script, and flashes into a small sun of shock and anxiety.

“I-I-I,” she starts, because Mettaton decided it would be a good idea to start the day off with a nice big rhyming monologue for the socially anxious lizard. “I – I’m s-sorry, guys, I, one s-sec – “

Frisk shifts and shivers with her fear as it clenches their skull, wrapped around with only a thin blanket of the others’ wordless reassurance. Undyne reaches a big long arm across Frisk and touches Alphys on the shoulder, giving her a confident, almost fierce smile, and the fear dissipates a little bit. Alphys gives her a shy smile back, then clears her throat. “U-uh, here goes.

I got past the door!
OHMYgod he's on the floor and –
Mettaton are you –
OH thank god, he just ran out of batteries, he should be fine, and –
Oh human! Hi!”

Despite the melancholy of her monologue’s subject matter, Alphys only gains confidence as she goes, speeding up until she’s chattering through the words and screeching to a bitten-off stop when she’s done. Her final line of “You’ll have to kill Asgore” sends a shockwave through the audience, much as they had to know how that mechanism of souls works. Frisk can tell a lot of them hadn’t processed that implication, even now.

Some of them are kind of looking at Frisk with new eyes, now. Rox has flipped her head over the back of her seat and is regarding them with concentration. And Talley. They can feel his eyes, on the back of their head. Staring glaring staring.

But then it’s over as soon as it began, the monsters sweeping back to optimism as they’ve trained themselves to do for centuries. The momentary defensiveness and fear melt away to soft camaraderie, as Toriel prompts the chorus to begin the song they’ll sing as Frisk makes their way through the castle.

“Long ago-o, there was peace
They all lived hap-pi-ly
Cherishi-ing every breath
In many times well spent…”

It doesn’t have a name yet, but oh, it’s beautiful.

“Suddenly, things went wrong
They could not get along
Darker days loomed ahead
Their stomachs filled with dread…”

Anything from ancestral memory to cultural consciousness fills the monsters’ stomachs at that, a soft heavy mass that Chara confirms is, yes, almost dread. The abstract dread of far off people, far off things, quiet and controlled and muted around the edges by song.

“Common sense for-got-ten!
It was friend against friend!
Civil war; ends sadly
Humans showed no mer-cy –“

On the left is a low and growly alto voice, almost ragged, filled with fury and deeply buried sorrow felt in Frisk’s bones and in their eyes. On the right is a tremulous piccolo, a squeaking awkward range that jumps between alto and soprano, thin and reedy but strong in the care it puts into each word. Beyond that is a full, confident mezzosoprano that sounds like safety and the last minutes before sleep, below them a whispering childish tenor praying no one will hear it at all.

“Monsters forced un-der-ground
So our tale be-gins now
Child of the world above
Fell below, was shown love!”

The second melody begins, Chara’s words filled in today by Shyren, with Asriel’s part supplied by young Snowdrake. Who will take those roles and tell the siblings’ story in the final production is still unclear at this stage, but they’re far too important to be left out of even the first version.

Chara reads their lines intently. Flowey mouths his, to only the ground.

No harmony today, no instruments, no conductor. Just the voices of the Underground, all collected together and all singing from the bottoms of their souls. How, Frisk wonders, is incapable of knowing, how could anyone hear this sound, messy and incomplete as it is, and still see the monsters as anything less than what they are? How could this sound, this song, come to anything less than the very culmination of being? Of anything less than human and monsters, united and alike?

“Thanks to our sav-ior, Asgore,
We will be trapped no more!
Humans pay for their mistakes,
When the barrier breaks!

All our tears and all our pain
Will not happen again
Now on hi-igh sits our king,
And we can hear him sing…”

The song fades out into a sigh, larger than the lungs of anyone in the room and felt by everyone. Some smile softly. Some wipe away tears. Some, only some, finish out their parts of the scene.

“Every human who falls down here must die.
With enough souls, we can shatter the barrier forever.
It’s not long now.
King Asgore will let us go.
King Asgore will give us hope.
King Asgore will save us all.
You should be smiling, too.
Aren’t you excited?
Aren’t you happy?

You’re going to be free.”

On the other side of Undyne, Moss lets out a long breath. Rust shifts back and forth, then gazes up at Papyrus to stop himself from turning to stare at Frisk. Mina is on the sad hiccupy edge of tears, and Rox is too but will never admit it. She wraps her arm around Mina’s shoulders and roughly pulls her in.

They aren’t feeling anything at all from Talley Harris.

After the silence of the moment has passed, Sans clears his throat with a humming cough. Everyone, with his name so clearly printed as the holder of the next line, fixes their attentions on him.

Then instead of his line he just goes “Anyone else ready for a break?”

The atmosphere breaks just like that. Papyrus huffs, annoyed, and Sans chuckles as the people around them shake themselves out of their trances. Frisk blinks and wiggles and feels a little bit like they’re coming back into the world.

“Oh, dear…” Toriel murmurs, glancing at the clock hanging above the stage door. “It is past that time, isn’t it? Are you hungry, my children?”

Frisk shrugs. Flowey mutters something edgy like yeah for a SOUL. Chara knocks their foot against his head.

“Break, everyone!” calls Mettaton from the front, clapping his hands together. “Be back here in half an hour.”

Frisk grabs the Tupperware with the mac n’ cheese from last night from their backpack, and goes with Papyrus to find the microwave in the green room. Monster food is good and generally way easier on their sense of taste (which is why they can eat so many kinds), as well as pretty sustaining too, but real-life human food made of plants and stuff is better for them. Which is why Toriel’s been learning to make it, and they don’t know if she’s like a culinary genius or just Extremely Good but it’s way more edible than any other human food they’ve had before. (Also because of this, they’ve never had to try her (in)famous Snail Pie. Frisk thinks that’s an added bonus. Chara does not.)

“Ah!” exclaims Papyrus, peering into the dish as they pry the lid off and stick it in the microwave. “I see you’ve absorbed a wider range of pasta sensibilities alongside myself, eh? Our lessons with the queen have really opened my eyes to the possibilities!” He opens the lid of his container and waves it in the air, and Frisk tries not to smell too hard. “Behold! My newest, greatest creation! I call it…linguine alfredo!!”

“That already exists,” says Chara. “I think in Italy.”

“Well, I don’t know who Italy is, but I am delighted they’ve tried my recipe! Do you know if they love it as much as everyone else surely will?”

“No, no, it doesn’t – “ Chara is about to launch into a pacifying explanation of what Italy is, but the timer starts beeping and so does Frisk’s brain at the same time because they have just realized something INCREDIBLE.

Hey hey hey Chara, they think, grabbing the Tupperware from the microwave. You have to tell him what I realized cause I don’t want to fingerspell all of it, only this time don’t STEAL it.

Oh, says Chara, and they smile. “Papyrus, I have a very important message from Frisk. Pastabilities.”

Then they take to their heels, Chara’s giggles and Papyrus’s wordless cries of dismay pealing out behind them.

They jump off the stage and don’t even drop the mac, then look around for a place they want to sit. They like to visit their other friends during breaks, catch up with MK or do a little jam session with Shyren and Napstablook. People have moved around and formed groups with each other. Toriel and Sans are exchanging puns Chara can almost smell from over here. Asgore, Mettaton and Papyrus are in deep conversation about atmosphere and set design and Papyrus’s linguine alfredo. Undyne and Alphys are –

“If I’m a boy because I look like one then you’re just a STUPID UGLY WASP!!” comes Mina’s shrill voice from the middle of the auditorium, high and full of tiny righteous fury. “Just cause you’re 13 doesn’t mean you KNOW ANYTHING!”

Oh. Undyne and Alphys are supervising “supervising” the humans, who somehow ended up all sitting together.

As for seating possibilities, may I suggest any of the corners? Chara says immediately. Or the balcony? The catwalk? Literally outside the building? But Frisk’s throat is tight and their hands are hot and their blood is fast and they’ve never been someone to just hide and let things blow over. No matter how good of an idea that might really be.

“Listen,” Talley is saying when they arrive, “listen, it’s not MY fault that you never finished third grade biology, but even YOU people have to know that there’s two genders! You’re a boy, or you’re a girl, it’s really not hard to understand! Anyone can tell by looking at you –“

Mina claps her hands over her ears and starts yelling the theme song to some ancient anime Alphys showed her. “FIGHTING EVIL BY MOONLIGHT!! WINNING LOVE BY DAYLIGHT!!”

“ – just because you’re sick enough to wear dresses and delusional enough to think you’re a girl – “

“NEVER RUNNING FROM A REAL FIGHT!!”

“ – psychiatric help not running away from home like idiot CHILDREN – no wonder they won’t take you back! My father would be beyond ashamed to raise someone like you –"

“SHE IS THE ONE! NAMED! SAI! LOR! MOON!!!”

This was a bad idea. This was a bad idea, and Chara agrees, and Frisk turns around and runs back away. Only they can’t go very far, because the auditorium’s only so big, and it has really good acoustics so they have a sinking feeling they’ll be able to hear what’s going on back there anywhere they sit.

So they end up in the second row, behind Sans and Toriel, just kind of sporadically eating their mac and watching and feeling the scene behind them unfold.

Undyne stepped in during Mina’s song, but she’s still deeply uncomfortable around most human kids and just kind of told them both to shut up, but especially you, wasp kid. They’re quiet, for now, but the tension feels like it’s stuck in Frisk’s throat. It’s almost hard to breathe.

Rox sits on her knees, like a big cat watching her prey, observing Talley over the back of her chair. Mina, beside her and still bubbling with painfully suppressed anger, crushes handfuls of chips and shoves them in her mouth with more force than necessary. Rust is on Mina’s other side, hand on her back and holding his words in. Moss, beside Undyne in the row unfortunately shared with Talley Harris, is on the verge of tears. As if, by only his words, he’s established real power over them.

Where’s Flowey? asks Chara suddenly.

He’s the tiny but distinct undercurrent of almost delight in their brain, snaking unseen under the humans’ seats, isn’t he. It was hard to tell it was there at first, under all the layers of the opposite. God damn it. They forgot that they shouldn’t leave him alone. Shit.

Frisk toys with the now uncomfortably hot fork they’ve been clenching in their fist. It feels like it’s calming down a little bit back there, or at least going from a rolling boil to a simmer. And hey. It’s. Finale rehearsal! They’re not going to let this get them down! Nope!! They’re gonna stay determined!! Through the like 10 minutes left of break!!

They scrape their fork around the edges of the Tupperware, then nudge Toriel in the shoulder with it and wave it at her. She startles, not knowing they were behind her, then takes it from them and smiles. “Thank you, my child.”

“Yeah, thanks, combo pack,” Sans echoes. Unfairly proud of himself for making up that nickname.

“You know what my dad’s going to do?”

Frisk stiffens, focusing on the tangle in their hands. They’re not looking back there. They’re. Not.

“He’s going to make sure no monster sets foot in Ebott City ever again.”

He must be talking too quietly for Undyne to hear. It wouldn’t surprise Frisk if she’s a little bit deaf, considering her, uh, everything.

“He says their time invading the city is almost over. He’s going to show them who’s boss. They’re perverted and dangerous and they’re trying to corrupt us, and he’s going to take back our city. He’s gonna make sure no one else ever listens to them like you have – “

CRACK!

Frisk bolts upright in someone else’s shock, staring over the back of their chair to where humans are. Rust is on his feet, fists clenched and towering over Talley, who is backed in shock into his seat and clasping his hands over his face. There’s blood on Talley’s chin and Rust’s knuckles.

“Shut UP!!” Rust snarls, breathing hard. “YOU DON’T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT US, OR THEM, OR WHAT THEY’VE DONE FOR US – “

“Oh my GOD you ATTACKED me!!!” Talley shrills. “What the HELL!!”

Toriel springs up and rushes over to him, green magic already appearing in her paws. “My child, are you alright? Is it broken?” She kneels beside him and reaches out to his face. “Here, let me see it, I can– “

“Get away from me, you ANIMAL!” Talley shouts, scrabbling up and backing away.

By this point the auditorium’s fallen silent, every attention fixed on them. Alphys is trying and failing to hide behind Undyne, who stood up when Talley did and is trying not to act like she's engrossed by the whole situation. Mina looks ready to leap into the fray herself, Rox’s clenched hand on her shoulder the only thing holding her back. Moss is hiding behind their backpack and staring at Talley and Rust with wide, frightened eyes, and Flowey is wound around the back of their chair just radiating glee, like the asshole he is

“My father,” Talley says, and his and Chara’s hatred are hard and sick in Frisk’s chest. “He’ll hear about this. He’ll make you regret this. He’ll make you regret everything you’ve ever done.”

Then Rox leans forward, over the back of her chair. “He’ll hear about what, exactly?” she asks. “About you doing what? Provoking people you think are beneath you for the fun of it? Going out of your way to fraternize with monsters? You tripped into a pole, Talley Harris.” She stands up, tugs Mina along with her, and jerks her head toward the door. “We are going to the crappy fast food place across the street. And you are explicitly not invited.”

“We are?” asks Moss, confused.

“What, you wanna stay in here with him the rest of rehearsal?”

“Mmm.” Moss shoulders their backpack and pick their way awkwardly around Talley to the aisle.

“Come on,” says Rox, and storms out the door, the other nice humans following behind.

After a beat of silence, Chara sighs. Three minutes left of break.

Toriel and Sans’s conversation in front of them turns hushed and worried, and Frisk puts on their music and tries not to feel it too much. Flowey drags himself and their backpack over under the seats, cheering them up just a little bit with the amusement and smugness he’s rubbing off on everything. Talley, who they keep snatching surreptitious glances at even though Chara hates it, found a packet of Kleenexes in his pocket and doesn’t look like he’s going to bleed to death anytime soon.

By the time Mettaton calls them all back into focusing, the situation has mostly blown over, and scraps of the reverent excitement of the castle scene have found their way back into the monsters. Sans mumbles through his judgement monologue, more embarrassed by its seriousness than he’s trying to let on, and then they’re on the part with the king and Frisk can almost hear the birds and smell the faint cinnamon in the air.

Asgore gazes at them steadily as he reads his introductory lines, full of guilt and sorrow he’s managed to more or less push down until today. Frisk meets his eyes, just once, for half a second, then gives him a thumbs up so he knows it’s okay. It’s okay. They hope he understands. They have to remember to give him a hug after this.

“So much blood, so much pain…” he begins, almost too softly to hear. He clears his throat and continues. “I will lose a child again.
Oh, my child, I’m sorry…
Now you face the Mountain King!”

Toriel, anxiety suddenly mounting, cuts him off almost before he finishes. “What a miserable creature, torturing such a poor, innocent youth!” A few monsters snicker at that, caught off guard, but Toriel plows on.

Sans joins in, pausing for the laughter after each joke, then Papyrus, bellowing each word. The conversation plays out until Papyrus’s big line, which he reads with a distinct undertone of glee – “A tiny flower told me.” He stifles a giggle at the end of the line at the shock that sweeps through the auditorium.

“A t-tiny…flower?”

“You IDIOTS!!!!” Flowey howls, shooting into the air and towering above them. His script is wrapped loosely in a vine, and he’s absolutely living. “While you guys were having your cute little pow-wow…I took the HUMAN SOULS!!”

The scene goes on, with everyone stepping in one by one to protect Frisk from Flowey’s terror. They’re all remembering this, as they call encouragements and praise across the room, it’s in the warmth of their voices and the warmth of the love Frisk feels in every word. There’s no music to swell as the song reaches its climax, but their voices work to fill the space, calling and cajoling forth that unearthly feeling of love. It was that love that carried them through what came after, they’re sure, more than Chara’s call to Asriel or their own world-rending magic. And Flowey shouts his line, and Mettaton flicks the lights off for effect, and when everyone stops screeching and they come back on –

The barrier was destroyed, the stage directions say. Asgore reads them aloud in a hushed voice.

Frisk blinks. Chara furrows their brow. That’s – that’s it? They flip through the rest of the script as an anxious impulse. But then it looks like there’s just two more songs, then the end of the play. That is it. That one stage direction was the climax.

“Are you serious?”

Frisk shudders hard at the acid in Talley’s voice. They’d almost forgotten he was back there. Of course now is when he decides to pipe up.

“That’s it? That’s the best you can do?” He laughs, high and incredulous. “That’s what happened? That’s the end? You’re ending it like that?”

You’re ending it like that? Frisk’s mind echoes.

“What is wrong with ending it like that?” Toriel asks, full of steel only Frisk can feel. “It is a perfectly accurate retelling of events.”

Talley sneers. “God. You really are dumb, if you think that ending’s gonna make anyone like you. Where’s the climax? Where’s the part where you resolve the conflict?” He giggle-snorts, and Frisk wants to punch him again. “This is like basic plot structuring. This is what they teach you when you’re eight!”

Where’s the part where you resolve the conflict? Frisk’s brain murmurs.

You have to resolve the conflict.

The confidence and joy of the monsters is thrown off-balance, off-kilter. The world feels a little bit tilted to the side. Some of the monsters are whispering amongst themselves, trickles of doubt and insecurity snaking into their minds. Sans and Toriel both try to resist glancing back at Frisk over their shoulders. Toriel succeeds.

But Frisk barely notices. As Talley continues, so does their mind, and things are falling into place with a dreadful surety.

Talley sighs, aggravated, but also smugly superior. “I can’t believe I’m having to say this. If you don’t get rid of that huge cliffhanger thing, no one is going to go for it!”

No one is going to go for it.

The monsters aren’t excited anymore. This is the first real feedback that they’ve gotten from a human that isn’t Frisk and Chara, and the very first feedback on the ending. Monster stories are often subtler and more ambiguous than human ones. Part of the story is how the audience interprets it. But he’s right. He’s right, because much as this is about monsters, it isn’t for them.

“How did you not catch this?” he scoffs.

How did I not catch this?

“Were you just having too much fun? Are you even taking it seriously? God, you’re naïve.”

I was just having too much fun. I wasn’t even taking it seriously.

Frisk’s legs are pulled up to their chest. They don’t remember curling them there. They bury their face in their knees, as their fingernails scrape at their jeans.

“If you want this to work – if you even think people can like you, freakish as you are – and you’re going to end it like this, then it won’t.”

It won’t work. They can feel his burgeoning confidence, but in their mind it’s nothing but confidence in their own regrets.

“It’ll be a complete disaster if you leave it like this.”

It’ll be a complete disaster if you leave it like this!

Frisk is rocking then, rocking in earnest, the rocking that isn’t a rhythm but a slamming instead. This is their one chance for the monsters to be accepted. This is their one chance and Frisk’s situation living with the monsters is already unstable enough. They can’t go back, they can’t they can’t they can’t they can’t! Outside is, other people, other people and other hands like steel around their wrists, and eyes cutting brown lasers through their soul, and being moved and picked up and put down and babied and scolded and never ever told anything. Being with monsters, being Frisk Dreemurr, Frisk the Angel, Frisk the Savior of the Underground, is the first time they’ve felt like a person. And more than that! It’s been Sans teaching them that little knocking sound stim he makes with his teeth, it’s making a blanket fort with Flowey and Papyrus and all shrieking when it falls on them! Guest starring in Alphys’s videos and showing her human tech, experimenting with flower hybrids with Chara in Asgore’s garden! Having a family!

This is the most they’ve ever loved in their life, and it feels so real that they keep having to convince themself it’s not a dream. They know also, and they know somehow it’s as distinct from the previous thing as it can be, that this is the most they’ve ever been loved.

That’s it. There’s the contradiction. This is the most they have ever been loved, but what will they do to keep it that way?

Chara doesn’t know what to say when they wake panting from nightmares where Toriel screams at them instead of holding them during meltdowns, where they get too excited and burn something down during a cooking lesson and Papyrus’s enthusiasm drops into fury. There’s the leftover fear from everything they’ve been through, of course. Every time they died to that roaring red trident, the cosmic terror that was Flowey’s six-souled form. But their very very worst fear isn’t those or even death himself rearing up in front of them again, threatening to burst the seams of timespace at his whim. It’s leaving. Of course it’s leaving. It’s making the monsters make Frisk leave.

Their hands are wound tight in their hair, row of seats rocking with their soft tump tump tump against its back. Their vocal cords are moving, humming, a low monotonous cry that comes out of them sometimes instead of tears. Their whole body is tense and close and clenched tight around the meltdown trying to come into the open, and their hands are hot and they can smell their own singed hair.

So they won’t.

They don’t realize that they’ve decided until the determination is pushing fire through their veins. Frisk won’t make them leave. Frisk won’t give them any reason to believe that they’re anything but who they are now. They won’t know what really happened after Flowey seized the souls. They won’t ever know what Frisk can really do!

Chara is in their head, they notice for the first time, deep and dark and shocked. Like a sea monster under Frisk’s muffled tempest, watching but not part of it. Not talking. Not moving. Frisk’s hold on their own body is too tight for anyone else to take it. But the part of Frisk that can still not care, the part that isn’t all tempest and fear and guilt and sorrow, doesn’t. They’re determined, again. They’re determined and it’s the first time in a long time they’ve felt this singular and purposeful.

No matter the consequences, the monsters will not know.

They’ve gone from humming to pained squeak-moans, and they’re starting to feel the ache of slamming their back into the seat again and again. They’re exploding inside with this new goal, with their love, and they’re sparking and their hair smells BAD and they clench their fists and wave their hands in the air with enough force to make their wrists ache. Someone’s talking to Talley, up there, out there. The sound is happening. But it isn’t happening as much as what’s in their head, as they will not know they will NOT KNOW!

“ – go ahead as planned, despite some, uh, dissenting opinions – “

“Don’t you have a bus to catch?"

“ – changes nothing. They will still see.”

“Hey Frisk?”

“Personally I don’t understand – “

“Frisk?”

“ – with our production cast, there’s no way – “

“Frisk? Are you okay?”

Chapter Text

six years ago

“So, this is the child the city would like to place with our group home?” The man leans over the desk towards them, and his face is big and round like the moon. “What’s your name, young man?”

“This is West,” Miss Tailor responds crisply. She slides their file across the desk, with her shiny sticky fingernails, and the moon man picks it up. “I think you’ll find all of our papers in order, but let me know if you have any concerns.”

There’s nothing in this office. This office is white walls, with some papers on a corkboard and some photos of people who also have moon faces. There’s nothing here to look at, nothing here for them to do, and they’re not even sure why they’re here, but Miss Tailor’s pricklier than usual and it’s like sandpaper under their skin. Their short stubby fingers are clenching and unclenching with the need to do something! Just, something, anything! They like Miss Tailor’s office better. It has a collection of small knickknacks they can hold, with moving parts and soothing textures, and if they’re good sometimes they can play with them for a while.

Moon man’s desk has some knickknacks, and they’re trying to satisfy themself with just staring at those, sitting hard on that hot growly feeling that doesn’t belong to them. There’s the paperweight that looks like a raindrop and it has a little multicolored fish inside it. There’s a mug with a sun painted on it, and it’s full of pens and pencils and all sorts of things that they don’t know what they are. A desktop organizer full of pins and paperclips and rubber bands, brightly colored and neatly sorted by type. They want to reach out, their hands itch with how they can’t, but they know that all they’ll get is a stinging slap on the hand. If Miss Tailor looked away, they’d go for it! And they’d have something in their hands! Even if it’d mean scraping sandpaper anger through their skin when she looked back around.

But she keeps not looking away, and hot energy keeps crawling through their limbs. They see that their whole midsection is rocking back and forth. It’s probably been doing that for a while. Sometimes they don’t notice these things. They rock harder, almost scooting the chair on the linoleum floor, trying to shake the frustration out from their pores.

Only the moon man notices, then, and so does Miss Tailor. The moon man points at them, curious. “Is he - ?”

“Yes, West is a low-functioning autistic,” Miss Tailor says, with the air of getting something over with quickly. “He has limited body and impulse control, and he’ll never mentally develop past the age of three. I’ve been told that your group home specializes in caring for mentally disabled children. Is that correct?”

They rock even harder at that, stopping their back just short of slamming hard into the chair and making the noise Miss Tailor doesn’t like. Those words are familiar enough, even though no one’s ever bothered to explain the meaning behind them. What they mean to them is that panicked feeling of shame and pity, from the moon man, and Miss Tailor’s constant, grinding, useless frustration! They want to curl up into something smaller than a speck of dust!

“Sit still, West,” Miss Tailor commands. But doesn’t she see why doesn’t she see if they sit still then all of this and all of them will rise up and eat them whole??? Their back bangs into the chair and splashes away some of the bad. They do it again. They must have done something wrong! That’s what it means when they’re in other offices! They let Miss Tailor down again! That must be it! Somehow!!

“Why does he need to be transferred from his previous home, if I may ask?” inquires the moon man. He’s holding their folder really tight. His eyes meet theirs for a second, and they curl up and press their palms to their face. Miss Tailor speaks fuzzily, slowly and gray-black with disappointment, about meltdowns, and lashing out, and whatever “self-injurious tendencies” means. And the moon man, he’s looking at them and they can feel it, he’s looking with new eyes. He’s on edge. He doesn’t say anything but he’s tense, now, he’s awkward. He doesn’t want to be around them anymore!

Maybe Miss Tailor feels it too, or maybe she can just tell, because she presses forward. “With West’s disabilities and rare soul condition, he really cannot function in an ordinary home. Is it possible that this is a place where he could get what he needs?”

The moon man flusters at the directness of the question. “Of course I could talk to my staff and get back to you, but I’m not sure this would be – the most appropriate place for someone like him, especially considering his, er, soul – “

“DAMN IT!” snarls Miss Tailor, pounding on the desk. They flinch hard at the sudden burst of her anger, and swallow as she pulls it hurriedly back. “Sir, with all due respect, we are at the ends of our resources with this child. We need you to accept this case.”

“Oh. I – alright. I…I suppose we can house West here.”

They clench their hands in their hair and pull hard. Miss Tailor’s whiplash relief came too late, her scariness is in their head and it’s their fault and they have to get it out out out out!! She notices, says something loud and grabs their arms and tugs, and her hands are scalding through their sweater and everything is rising up around them and inside them, and they let out a cry and wrench free of her grasp. They stumble off the chair and onto the floor, then, before anyone can stop them, make for the unlocked door!

They crash into the wall outside the office and rebound off down the stairs, too panicked and pounding for anything to register besides stairs means door means out means away! They race across the lobby, battered sneakers pounding heavily on the tile, and almost make it all the way to the door before something clenches hard around their arm and they jerk to a stop.

Miss Tailor’s arms are like clamps picking them up and pinning their arms to their sides, suffocating their chest and muzzling their hands, and they squirm and shriek as she hauls them back upstairs to the moon man. She sits on a bench outside the office and holds them to her chest and she’s on fire, they’re on fire, they’re thrashing their head and kicking their feet and they need to GO GO GO GO GO –

“I’m so sorry,” she’s repeating, probably to moon man, they don’t want to look up and see, “I’m so sorry, he’s not usually like this, I should have seen it coming, I assure you – “

“It’s perfectly alright,” they dimly hear moon man saying. “We’re accustomed to unfortunate situations like this. We certainly don’t hold it against you.”

But they don’t go back in the office.


twenty months ago

They’re being very careful here.

When they’d fallen into this strange world, with the mossy purple walls and the leaves that don’t crinkle like any leaves they’ve walked in before, what surprised them most and still feels most dreamlike is how careful and soft everyone is. The monster named Froggit had accepted their mimed compliment without trouble. They’d cheered up Napstablook on their own. Toriel had led them across the puzzles, their hiking boots striking loud against the pitted metal bridge, and healed their scrapes and scrabbles. She’d welcomed them home like there was nothing strange about it.

So they haven’t made noises, since they fell. Or jumped up and down. Or ran, not once. They keep their hands kind of close to each other and kind of down by their sides, except when they forget. They don’t want to mess this up.

The lights are off in the room when they wake up. Their shoes are on the floor by the bed, too, and the covers are tucked in on top of them like they’re in a nice dense sandwich. There’s a thick, almost-saccharine smell in the air, strong but not overwhelming. Smells sweet. Smells like the bakery by one of the apartments they’d lived in.

They blink a few times, then narrow their eyes and glare around the room for the source of the smell. There’s a slice of pie on the floor, the voice in their head provides. It smells freshly made.

Oh well then in that case! They scuffle out of their cocoon and roll onto the floor, crawling across the carpet until their hand almost lands right in the pie. Settling down cross-legged and gingerly breaking off the end of the piece, they gaze around the room, at the features they can make out. There’s the bed, and they can dimly see layers of checkered quilts on top of it. Some toys, a box of shoes…some drawings hanging on the walls.

The pie is warm and sweet but not too sugary, and melts to custard that doesn’t feel like custard in their mouth. They eat the rest of the piece with their hands, sitting on the floor in the dark. When they lick their fingers the stickiness comes off like it’s dissolving into nothing, and soon their fingers just taste like fingers again.

They wonder if they’re allowed to get up now. They wonder what Toriel’s doing.

Toriel, the voice in their head whisper-repeats. She’s the most dreamlike of all this, and somehow the most solid at the same time. She’d taken their hand, but taken it so gently, letting them choose to put their palm in hers. They could feel every strand of her fur and the leathery smoothness of her paw pads as she’d led them across the spiked bridge. She’d asked them what flavor they preferred, asked as if she expected an answer. She’d glared the Froggit away with such a surge of defensive love that they’d shivered. And…

A room of your own.

She wants them to stay with her. It’s unbelievable.

It’s monsters, the voice in their head chimes, and they startle, because it hasn’t said anything in response to their thoughts before. But it doesn’t seem to intend on stopping, and as it speaks they feel a burbling up of happy, quiet calm that they don’t think is all the way theirs. It’s who monsters are. It’s everyone you’ve met. All the humans on earth aren’t worth a single one of them.

Toriel, at least, they already know that that’s true for. Toriel is like an angel, like a queen, like the mother they’ve never met. What are they, in comparison – a short, grubby child, who moves too much and can’t do so many human things on their own? Who is she, to take them in?

The voice in their head still has an answer, soft but sure. She’s a monster.


three and a half years ago

“C’mon, West, c’mon, you little bastard,” Mr. Chandler growls. He’s holding them securely on his legs, squeezing them to his chest so their arms are pinned, as Mrs. Chandler chops at their hair with the squeaky awful kitchen scissors. He smells like air conditioning but too much air conditioning and awful awful AWFUL COLOGNE and they’re going to throw up or explode they know it they know it they know it! “Almost done, she’s almost done. You hear me, little demon?”

“This wouldn’t be such a problem if you’d only sit still, West,” Mrs. Chandler tuts, re-clenching her fist in their hair, pulling their head up so that it hurts too much to thrash, and needles race stabbing across their scalp and they whine. Their whole body quivers, fingernails cutting deep into the skin of their sweltering palms, with the effort it’s taking them to be as still as they are. Their legs are jerking but only a little. Their arms are forcing hard against Mr. Chandler’s so that he doesn’t crush them beyond death. They’re panting with the effort it’s taking, and every slice the scissors make they can feel like fingernails on the blackboard of their brain. The other three foster kids in the house, Mason and Hope and Jamarr, they’re here too waiting for their turn and they’re low and sour and watching, and thinking the same thing and same words that they always say. Mrs. Chandler chops off a piece of bangs and they flinch and one laughs. It might be a laugh.

“Pity his hair grows so wild,” Mrs. Chandler makes noises that are probably words, “we wouldn’t have to do this as often if he was a girl. Such a strange texture, too – what’d they say he was at the agency? Islander, right? Islander and Asian, or maybe black?” She makes a disapproving click that flicks at their consciousness. “No wonder he’s so troubled. Those people, no idea how to raise children. Always just leaving them as messes for us to clean up.” Mr. Chandler’s grunt of agreement turns into a buzz of self-loathing against their back. They don’t know what she’s saying, their hair is too loud for that, but they can feel it, feel how much she hates them, how much she loves herself for letting them stay here regardless. They want to hate her! They wish they could hate her as much as she hates them!

The torture goes on for what they’re sure is forever. Clippings of hair find their way between their sweater and their skin, scratching and biting. Their teeth are clenched with all the noise longing to spill from them, the screeches and groans that push their pain out into a physical space. Their eyes stay squinted tight shut, cause Mrs. Chandler’s face is right there, and if they open them she’ll be right there, and the thought makes their stomach churn even more! Their hands are burning, their whole arms are burning, their whole insides are burning, burning up like a torch like DYNAMITE – their teeth unclench and they SHRIEK and their hands FLASH through their eyelids and Mr. Chandler’s finally letting them go, almost pushing them away off his lap!

They stagger, eyes blinking open to blurriness, to the giggly faces of Mason and Hope and Jamarr. Their shirt is full of hair and their soul is full of fire and they can’t think and they can’t hold it inside them anymore, it has to get out, they have to – they have to EXPLODE people don’t like it when they explode – and before they know it they’re pulling up their sleeve and clamping their sizzling hand around their forearm.

Whiteblue shock and their throat catches as Mr. Chandler launches at them with a shout, wrenches their hand away from their scarred arm! They recoil and throw their hand full of fire in his face, and his hand isn’t holding them anymore and they run. The door’s open and the screen door’s weak and – and their foot catches on one of Mason’s big tennis shoes and they slam down hard into the carpet. Mrs. Chandler, in front of them now, drags them up, but they shriek and blast out from their hands and she’s not there but they can’t stop!! They’re flailing, whirling their firebrand limbs in the air, a spinning dervish that torches anyone who gets near, and no one does! No one does as they scream at the world and scrub their burning hands over their own skin, on their arms across their wrists on their neck up to pull at their too-short hair! They’re an island of pain and panic and fury, untouchable, inhuman, their soul throbbing hard in their chest and pulsing flame and magic through their body!

They rage and howl until they’re far beyond exhausted, until their body is twisting and wrenching of its own accord and they’re dizzy and lightheaded with the breath that their lungs won’t hold. Their throat is raw and open and there are new singe marks all over their favorite sweater, they can feel the stiff brittleness on their skin. There are new stingings all over their forearms and their face. The bad smell is there. The new bad smell that means they screwed it up. Again. That’s what burned hair smells like.

When their fire finally burns itself out, they feel like they could pass out for a week. They’re sitting on the floor. They might have been lying down, before they sat up, and their head hurts like they’ve been slamming it. They look around, slow, almost scared to. But there’s nothing that’s on fire now. The fire extinguisher’s still on the wall, too.

There’s no one else in the room, but the TV’s still on. Mason and Hope and Jamarr must have left when they lost control. No sign of the Chandlers, either. They’re alone again, and they don’t know if that’s a good thing or not.

They flop back on the floor, arms and legs outstretched like a snow angel. Carpet angel. They’re too drained to do anything else. As the red static clears from their vision, and slower from their ears, they can hear a voice coming from the kitchen around the corner. A moment later, the words shuffle into meaning.

“…earliest you can get here and take him back?” Mr. Chandler is asking. “We can’t take it anymore, lady. That boy’s a danger to us and himself. He’s far too wrong in the soul for us to handle.”

Oh.

They stay lying on the floor. They don’t have enough left in them to react.


thirteen months ago

The atmosphere in Grillby’s is…warm, like they always feel it is, and twinkling. The background chatter of conversation is muted and indistinct, below the unhurried, somewhat discordant strums of Doggo’s guitar. They’re sitting on one of the barstools, plate of fries in front of them, dipping each fry slowly into their puddle of ketchup before raising it to their mouth. (Not how Sans does, drizzled all over the fries in some soggy squiggles, like a HEATHEN, the voice in their head interjects.) They’re good fries. Squishy, but not cloying, and salty but not so salty their eyes water. Definitely worth the stressful coating of grease all over their fingertips.

“You hear what Papyrus did today?” Sans asks, around his mouthful of like 4 fries at once. “I think he was rearranging his puzzles, you know, the one that looks like his face? Only he kinda boxed himself in somehow. And he couldn’t climb over the walls, cause that would be cheating.” He chuckles. “I had to help him out.”

They wonder for a second how that had to work, because there was no way Papyrus would let Sans cheat like that on the puzzle too, then decide not to worry about it. There’s a lot of things about Sans like that. They think that that’s something about him they like. Intriguing, adds the voice in their head, and they hum in amusement.

“Yeah,” responds Sans. “That’s another cool thing about my brother, huh? He likes rules so much he makes his own and actually sticks to them.” He takes another handful of fries and rubs the grease off on his hoodie. They kick their feet absently against the front of the bar, tmp-tmp, tmp-tmp. Grillby is polishing a glass, using the same repetitive motion, over and over. It sends a flickering reflection dancing across the counter, and they watch that for a while. They love how all the concerns and moods seem so gentle and superficial, here. No one comes to Grillby’s with any dark bad emotions pressing hard on their mind.

They go to pick up another fry but aw beans, they got all these fries, but they don’t got any ketchup left! Sans commandeered theirs when they first walked in and it looks pretty empty by now anyway, so they hold onto the counter and streeeeeeetch their way over to steal the bottle between the next two seats down. This one’s nice ‘n heavy, they notice, pulling it over. Maybe it’s not even opened. They unscrew the top, fingers slipping unpleasantly.

Oh, nah, it is. They reach for the cap, and at the moment that the full bottle’s weight is in one slick hand, drop it to the floor.

Ketchup bursts from the top with a momentous SPLOT, covering the floor and the legs of the table and the legs of some dogs and also their legs in an instant. Grillby jumps and drops the glass, luckily not hard enough to break. Lesser Dog yaps in surprise, scattering poker cards, and Doggo’s guitar twangs. The bar’s silent. Everyone’s shock bounces in their skull. There’s ketchup seeping through a hole in their jeans.

“Nnnnnnnnnhhh – “ They let out a hum of panic, hands winding and twisting in their hair. Their knees start to pull up to their chest and they start rocking, hitting their back on the counter, waiting for the shock to turn to anger. The voice in their head is saying something, feeling something, like don’t worry don’t worry making the fire stay out of their hands, but they can’t hear it enough to hold onto it! Sans is kind of holding his hands up to them, waving them around, confused and panicked, mumbling stuff like “oh damn oh damn oh damn.” They can’t stop making that awful cry! They’re losing control, they never had it, they –

“Okay. I’m gonna touch you, alright? Just for a second, I’m just gonna touch your shoulder.” They wouldn’t even have heard the low voice if not for the voice in their head. “I’m sorry. I’ll be quick.” Something lands lightly on their shoulder and their whole body seizes and they tumble off the stool and land on the floor of the skeletons’ living room.

And Sans is gone, they can feel him not there. Their head is hot and full with how much they’re holding in, how hard they’re squishing down on top of what promises to be Really Not Good! They curl up in a ball and bury their face in their knees, moaning softly, pressing their eyelids into their kneecaps. Least the carpet is soft on their butt for rocking back and forth. But now there’s ketchup on their hands too and their thoughts are still zooming fast fast too fast too much.

Sans is back. He doesn’t come back. He’s just back, and he’s murmuring at them again. “I’m, uh, not sure what you need. But, uh, I brought Papyrus’s heavy blanket, uh, if that’s your style, and, uh, my nice headphones. If you, uh, if you want any of that, or anything.” His voice is slow and clear, and they can understand a good part of it, stumbling as it is. “If – if you need anything else, uh, I’ll be here. Or, uh, I can go, too.”

They crack their eyelids open at the phrase heavy blanket, and part of Sans’s words are lost as they lunge for the blanket and dive under it. Their first thought as it settles soothingly over them is Oh My God??? and almost painful relief as they curl up into themself and rub the texture on their face. They wrap the weighted blanket around their shoulders, then put it over their head like a cloak, then just bury their face in their blanketed hands and rock for a while.

Everything grows more linear and manageable with each passing moment, and soon they’re able to poke their head into the open and observe Sans. He’s sitting with his legs crossed in front of them, kind of looking at them, but not really. Calm and patient. Not mad. He’s not mad.

He’s not mad, the voice in their head echoes. You see? Monsters aren’t like humans. Monsters won’t throw you away, no matter what.

He notices them looking and nods, sending a wave of affection their way, somehow able to tell their feelings from their face like no one else can. “We know how to deal with meltdowns in this house.” He shrugs. “No big. You wanna watch reruns on TV until Papyrus gets home?”

Just as I told you, says the voice in their head.

They find that they do.


two and a half years ago

There’s a string on this couch. They see it, in between their knees, poking out of one of the many rips in the old fuzzy cushion. They could pull on it. But they don’t. They keep their palms flat and spread and pressed against their thighs, where they’re supposed to keep them until told otherwise. Mr. Crews’s dirty fingernails dig into the back of their neck and hold them still.

“She’ll be here any minute,” he rumbles, and shakes them a little bit. “Be good. You know what happens when you break the rules.”

Tables hurt to have your face slammed into. So do corners and walls and bookshelves. Their nose still throbs and when they look in the mirror it looks crooked and bruised. Sibling scuffle, he’d laughed it off, last time their caseworker came for a visit. Boys will be boys. (They’re not a boys.)

They wonder, with a surge of anger, what his nose would look like broken – if he’d see the same fireworks they did as they hammered their skull into his face! But they don’t move, instead swallowing it down into nausea. Caged animals don’t move if they’re smart.

They can see the digital watch on his other wrist and it says 4:05. They’re pretty sure the 5 is the worst number they’ve ever seen, that it’s snaking under their skin and fuzzying their whole sense of time and the future into hopeless blurriness. Course she wouldn’t be on time for them, she’s never on time for them! Look at her, with her own life, that belongs to her and no one else! Look at her doing what she wants when she wants and of COURSE the stupid-ass broken-ass wrong-ass kid she’s stuck with isn’t high on her priorities. Why would they be! If they could, they’d be late to every single one of her appointments. How’s THAT for priorities, LADY.

When she finally arrives, when there’s motion past the screen door and she rap-rap-raps on the metal, Mr. Crews finally lets go to let her in. He fixes them with a stare first, a hard stare that they force themself to squint into without blinking, and jerks his head to the side. No. He shouldn’t worry. They know better than to move. The door opens and there’s their caseworker, Mrs. Hills, exchanging greetings with their foster dad, and then she’s looking at them too. Her heels don’t make a noise on the grimy carpet.

Mr. Crews comes back over and grabs their neck again and lifts them up, pulling their right forearm so their hand is stiff like a doll’s in Mrs. Hills’s direction. She kneels down and puts her hand out too, and for a second they use her hope and hope against hope that it’ll work this time, they’ll do what they’re supposed to, and – “Shake her hand, West,” Mr. Crews commands. They force it to clench around hers, as she clenches back, one two three yank it away. Don’t flap it. Put it by your side. The hope is gone. They can’t. They can’t do handshakes, not when they’re not prepared. Too many nerve endings pressing against their own.

“Well done, West!!” Mrs. Hills shrills, her excitement the harsh fluorescence of the lightbulbs in her office. “Can you look at me now???”

They swallow. Mr. Crews’s hand tightens on their neck. Their shoulders are tense. Their breath’s already coming fast. Mrs. Hills’s skirt has a flower pattern on it. They think, if they could just look at that instead, then they might be okay.

“Come on, West,” she coos, and Mr. Crews’s hands are on their jaw forcing their head up. His anger is dark and roiling and sizzles their skin. Their hands start to flap in distress but Mr. Crews mutters “quiet hands, quiet hands” and it’s like the ropes are back on their wrists, lashing their hands to the arms of the chair. Frozen in front of them. Stiff and clenched. They can’t forget that their hands aren’t theirs.

They look Mrs. Hills in the eye.

A screech boils up inside them and they cough, instead, trying to keep the puke and fire and noise on the inside where it belongs. Her eyes are boring craters into theirs, blinding, all-consuming. Their breath catches and doesn’t let go and the pain is incredible, like the inside of a lightning bolt, like the absence of thoughts, they can’t think can’t feel can’t can’t CAN’T CAN’T!!!

Mr. Crews’s hands are off their face and their neck snaps down so all they can see now is the skirt again. Their breath comes falling out of their mouth in the closest thing to a sob they ever make. They’re done. They did it, they’re done. They did it! Their head is light with pride, exhilaration, relief, from an unknown source. They did it. They proved their worth.

“Great job, West!!” Mrs. Hills squeals, clapping her hands together. “You’ve made so much progress with him since he moved here, Mr. Crews!!”

“We’ve got a special bond, me and West,” Mr. Crews replies, and ruffles their hair. On top of everything, it’s almost enough to push them over the edge, but they hold on. “But that’s not all we have ready for you!”

Wait. What? Yeah, that was all. That was what they agreed, that was what they practiced – he can’t expect them to do more after all that oh nonononono! No no no not this without any planning without any warning!!

“Turn around, West,” he coaxes, scooting around so he’s to their side. He finally lets go of their neck. “Show me how you can play patty-cake.”

The BABY GAME??? The GAME FOR BABIES where you SMACK YOUR HANDS??????? The BABY GAME that’s like ELECTRIC SHOCKS where you have to MOVE YOUR HANDS but NOT THAT WAY YOU STUPID KID???? THAT PATTY-CAKE????? They want to scream. The baby game is humiliating enough, painful enough, to do when it’s only them and Mr. Crews and they’re both trying to get their hands to go the way they’re supposed to go. Not here. Not in the living room instead of their room. Not in front of Mrs. Hills. Not now not now not now they’re not ready – THEY’RE NOT READY!!

Their hands are aflap instead, at least, they are for a few precious seconds before Mr. Crews steals their wrists in a hot-iron grip. His face is very large and very there and they push against him, balling their fists so they don’t flash in his face. They have to get away. He has to let go! But he won’t because they messed up and now he’s angry, now Mrs. Hills is angry, and – and you know what?

They’re angry too!!

They howl and jerk themself away, wrists searing. Mrs. Hills makes shushy noises and Mr. Crews is a stormcloud but they’ve never had anything but their emotions and even that’s been hit or miss and now what they have is FURY. It wasn’t theirs, wasn’t strong enough, but now it’s in their head and in their stomach and their soul and that means, that means, that now it IS!

They whirl away, fueling their own fire, pushing their anger outside. They can’t take this, they can’t live like this anymore – they can’t live here with HIM, they CAN’T! THEY CAN’T TAKE IT!! It’s all they’ve know all they’ve deserved but THEY – CAN’T –

They seize a photo of the Crewses and fling it at the wall, glass front shattering and tinkling to the floor. The bookshelves catch their sight, the books full of baby words and pictures they’ve half memorized, and they rip them from the shelves, tearing out the pages before flinging them smoking to the floor. They pour all their anger and hatred into this fiery tornado, pour their whole soul into it, feel themself scream and lash out and slam their entire body into the walls, the floor, knocking chairs to the floor and pictures from the walls. They’re unstoppable they’re a vengeful DEMON and if this is what they can do, if this is how they can control their life, then THAT’S WHAT THEY’RE GONNA DO – THEY’LL RAGE AND RAGE AND RAGE UNTIL THEY’RE LISTENED TO!!

UNTIL THE FIRE LEAVES THEIR HANDS until the energy leaves their bones until they’re panting and moaning and swaying on their feet, but, but…it’s cool. In their head. All the fire…they put it outside them.

They’re not calm. They’re still angry. They always are. But something is new now. Something different. As the crackling of the carpet and the ringing shock of the adults make their way back into their head, they realize. There’s…power.

Then Mrs. Hills springs into action and bundles them out the door, Mr. Crews screaming all the while at them to GET OUT OF MY HOUSE, YOU RED-SOULED DEMON, YOU FREAK!! Mrs. Hills mumbles things about apologies and reparations and opens the door to her car and almost shoves them in it, not giving them time to grab any of their stuff, and they’re still too numb to notice even that. It’s only when they’re driving away, when the Crews house has long since disappeared out the window, that the magnitude of what they’ve done sinks in.

They’d caused that. They’d made the decision to cause that, to leave, and it had happened. They feel an alien thrill. That worked!!!


It’s during lunch that Alphys asks it.

And by then they’ve gone eight days, eight days PERFECTLY FINE ignoring the problem, so now why does she have to – ?!?!?! They just beat her time on this Sonic level, too! They’d thrown their arms in the air with a yell as Sonic crossed into the next level and triumphant music played, and shoved the controller at her as she groooaaaaaaned at them and then laughed and Chara said she wasn’t serious. She’d juggled it in her claws and they’d taken advantage of the momentary break to lean over and shlorp a big forkful of ramen (very mildly seasoned, of course) into their mouth. Then she didn’t even pause the game cause she’s got it memorized or something before asking them, quietly and really fast,

“…Frisk? A-are you…are you al-alright?”

And it’s such a huge mood whiplash Frisk chokes on their ramen. They cough and flail as Alphys pauses the game to hover over them, not sure whether to sort of pat them or what, and a little bit of dribble comes out of their mouth. Chara announces that they’re maybe going to puke because of that.

Frisk straightens back up, wiping their mouth on their sleeve and studiously not looking at Alphys. Cause the dribble? they ask. Or cause of that?

Chara doesn’t answer.

“Undyne’s n-noticed it too,” Alphys babbles on, unstoppable now that she’s pretty sure they’re not dying. “It-it’s just, you don’t, you’re not – hanging out with people a whole lot? You’re mostly just in your r-room with F-Flowey. You’re usually w-way quieter than usual. And-and – you usually don’t let me finish the box of Pocky myself. Or, well, uh. One of you doesn’t.”

Frisk is frozen. Because in the last eight days when they’ve tried to eat they can’t finish, don’t deserve to finish. Because Flowey’s the only one who doesn’t look at them like that, like they love Frisk unconditionally. Because they’d been so sure – they’ve been trying so hard!!! – to mask those emotions, to keep themself to themself, like they haven’t had to do in two years and it’s so hard and it hurts but they were doing it, through that. At least. They thought. But apparently, they failed at that too.

Alphys keeps going, in a rush. “And – and youknowyoushowed m-me h-how the truthisimportantsoifyouever uh. Needsomeonetotalktoor – or anything, I, the least I can d-do is repay the favor, r-right?”

Frisk clenches the carpet and holds onto their emotions like they never have in their life.

Eventually, Alphys sighs and turns away, and she’s not disappointed or anything so they unclench a little bit. “G-guess you don’t want to t-talk. That’s okay. Just. If…if you ever need anything, Frisk, we’re all here for you. Everyone is.” She unpauses the game and begins the level, still talking to them. “You know us. We all know that you’ve been through some tough stuff in your life, and we all love you anyway. That’s n-not going to change anytime soon.”

If those words don’t make their breath catch in their chest…And they’re on the edge, right then and there, the edge of spilling everything. But they rein the impulse in, sit on it until it’s hard and flat and inert. Chara, they murmur instead, slower and softer than their usual thinking voice.

Yes, Frisk?

If I told them. They have to pause after that, take a moment to ground themself. They know who I am and how I was aboveground. But if I told them, the part of the story that they don’t know. That they don’t remember. Would they still love me afterwards?

The reply is very long in coming. They always know when Chara is lying, so Chara knows not to try.

Frisk, they reply, bare and honest. I don’t know.

Chapter Text

Frisk Dreemurr, fierce and happy and reigning champ of LITTLEST KICKASS CHEF IN THE WHOLE DELTA COMPLEX, stirs ferociously as Toriel pours the flour into the mixing bowl scoop by scoop. They let out a yell as the batter thickens and pump their stirring power up to MAX, bashing their wooden spoon on the sides of the bowl and splashing some over the edge. Flowey, in his pot on the counter beside them, stops bugging Papyrus for a second to snarl and curl away. It splatters on his pot anyway and Chara grins at him.

“YEAH!!!” Undyne crows, leaping in the air and pounding her fists on the counter. “That’s the SPIRIT!! Make that dough TREMBLE as it faces the power of your SOUL!!!”

The kitchen hums around them, a cacophony of chaos, flour dust whirling through the air and riotous smells of vanilla and chocolate making their face feel thick. K-pop bounces from Undyne’s phone on the table, courtesy of Alphys’s new obsession (and Chara’s too, but of course no one can ever ever EVER know that!!!), filling up their senses to the very tip top. Chara bounces on their toes to the beat, grin stretching their face in a way that must be infectious, if everyone else’s absent joy is anything to go by. Cut through with the undercurrent, of course, the anticipation they’re all trying to pretend isn’t there, but, but –

“Cake pans at the ready, Captain Undyne SIR!” Papyrus hollers from beside her. He slides the pans across the counter, where they bump into Flowey’s pot with twin clangs. Undyne whirls them out of the Flowey Danger Zone and slams them down on the stove, then pauses to peer into Frisk’s bowl. “Keep stirring, kiddo!!”

But!! It’s cake time!! Cake time is NOW and Chara is singing lyrics they don’t understand and they redouble their stirring. The batter glops into something that sticks to the sides of the bowl, lumpy with chocolate chips and candy and whatever else everyone dumped in when Toriel was distracted. Flowey keeps trying to stick his leaf in the batter, but nothing gets past the Fury of their Spoon! They jab it at his leaf, then his face, then yank it away before he can bite it as Chara grins.

Undyne reaches over Frisk’s shoulder and drags two fingers through the batter, putting them in her mouth before Frisk can go after her with the spoon. “It’s perfect!” she cheers, holding her hands up to fend off Frisk’s smacking spoon attack. “We’re definitely going to have time to finish before – uh, yeah. We’ll get it done!”

“Excuse me, dears.” Toriel scoots them aside to search in the cupboard for a frosting-sized bowl, reaching down to give them a one-armed hug as they lean into her. “I believe Undyne is right! If we get the cake in soon, it should be just about cool and ready to frost when we’re done with the meeting.” But they feel a waver of anger from Undyne, vague and stifled fast but certainly there, that probably means Toriel’s tone of voice wasn’t as chipper as she’d meant it to be. Frisk’s mind leaps to wonder, agitated, if Undyne will stay with them here, for this meeting. Chara tells them to shut up.

The song fades to a close, and a grating voice shouting about SALES and EVERYTHING MUST GO!! blazes through the kitchen. Undyne, coated to the elbows in flour and butter, groans. “Alphy!” she calls into the living room. “Can you come skip this stupid ad for me!!”

Alphys yells something indistinct from the other side of the commercial and scurries into the kitchen. She taps on the screen a few times, then scoots to the counter and grabs a handful of candy as the K-pop bounces delightfully back in. She retreats back to the living room where she’s been taking shelter and hops back on the arm of the couch, tipping the candy into her mouth with one hand. With the other she unlocks her phone and aims it into the kitchen, taking a video of the chaos and zooming in slowly on Undyne’s face as she yells. Alphys giggles and makes it her sixth Undernet update of the afternoon, with the half-serious caption TAKE COVER DELTA COMPLEX!!!

Sans, a formless lump on the couch, blinks one eye socket open and aims it sleepily up at Alphys. “They done yet?” he asks her, like he can’t hear Frisk and Papyrus dance/thumping around in the kitchen, and Chara and Undyne scream/singing Korean at each other, and Toriel laughing at their antics.

“I’m n-not sure,” Alphys replies seriously. “I w-wonder how we could t-tell if they w-were. If there was any possible way, for us to tell, if they were done.”

“Nice,” he replies, and picks himself up off the couch. “Thanks,” he adds over his shoulder, shuffling into the kitchen. A second later, screams of frustration erupt from Papyrus and Undyne, and Sans is back on the couch beside her, holding what looks like an entire gross handful of cake batter, oh my god, Sans, what the – ?!

“’Fraid I missed my chance,” he says, smirking up at Alphys’s horrified face. Then he somehow puts his whole hand in his mouth, or sort of dribbles the batter into where his mouth is, and Alphys is done looking at him or acknowledging his existence for now.

Sans shrugs and settles back into the couch. He can’t really decide if he actually likes cake batter or not; it’s got a weird and kind of slimy texture. But it’s good and so is annoying Papyrus, so that part is the best of both worlds, really. He spaces comfortably back out as he eats, the background cacophony serving as a sort of semi-relaxation tape. Like The Comforting Sounds of Home, Bass Boosted.

Then there’s three short sharp noises that don’t belong in The Comforting Sounds of Home, Bass Boosted. They’re arrhythmic and irritating, and he reluctantly spaces back in. It takes a few seconds for his brain and eyes to refocus and realize that someone’s been knocking on the door for, uh, a while.

Huh. Sans blinks. He glances up at Alphys, who catches his eye in her panicked gaze. She’s frozen but trembling, a statue caught in the little earthquakes that would occasionally rock through Hotland. Oh, yeah, she’s not exactly the kind of person that answers doors. And there’s no way anyone in the kitchen heard, not with the volume his brother’s reached by now. He sighs deeply and gets up again, handful of batter dripping gently, wandering to the front of the apartment and swinging the door open.

“Good afternoon,” says Frisk’s caseworker to the air above his head, after double taking at the noise and before looking down. She’s dressed sensibly in a way that’s almost laughable, plain leather briefcase in her hands like she wasn’t just clutching it and here a full fifteen minutes before she should be. “Ah, good – good afternoon,” she repeats, when she finds where Sans’s face actually is with her eyes.

Sans blinks at her and disappears.

“Oh,” says the caseworker after a moment.

The first indication something’s bad in this apartment is when Frisk feels Toriel’s (wildly accurate) Bee Ess Detector go off, like a prickle at the back of their skull. For a second they can ignore it, leaping around in wild spins and twirls with Papyrus as their dance partner, arms and legs flailing with the joy and loudness around them. They’re carefree for a second, for that second, their world is regimented and easy and self-contained and here and now is laughter and spinning, Papyrus twirling them around and striking exaggerated poses, vanilla and flour and a chunk of spacetime they can call their own. But then Toriel goes “Please come in, Mrs. Hills,” and Chara sort of stops their whole body solid. They wobble on one leg and stumble into Papyrus, arms curling around his spine. The music is still blaring. Undyne is still singing. But beside them Papyrus’s excitement ratchets back into dismay, and he grabs Undyne’s arm and stops her short.

Frisk’s caseworker, Mrs. Hills, still, again and always, stands in the doorway. Neat professional skirt, blond hair shellacked up on top of her head, face painted in a way that hurts even more to look at. They can feel her shock, her discomfort, with the music and monsters and their dance, and despite everything their limbs are heavy with shame.

“Please, come in, sit down,” says Toriel, smiling in a way that always feels slick and panicky. Everyone else shuffles to the edges of the kitchen, except Alphys, who disappears into the living room, and Flowey, who ducked underground when Mrs. Hills came in. She follows Toriel, pulls out a chair from the table, takes a seat. Frisk tenses, and Chara’s anger crackles like splintering ice below them. That’s where Mom sits. Intruder.

They have to go through this agency-mandated ordeal every two weeks, sit through discomfort so thick their skin feels like it’ll come slithering off, but the repetition doesn’t make it any easier. And she’s never been – never – it’s only, they look at the clock on the stove, it’s only 1:47. Frisk curls their toes and rubs their face on their sweater sleeve. Just like that the numbers don’t mean anything, just like that time falls apart. They didn’t even get to put the cake in.

No one’s talking. Toriel moves to stand beside them, squeezing their shoulder once and letting go. Chara grits their teeth. Well, Sponge? they murmur. Let’s get it over with.


five months ago

“People think the water sausage is the same plant as the cattail, but that isn’t quite true. Water sausages, or typha, are more suited to areas near stagnant bodies of water, like ponds or Waterfall’s shallows, while cattails grow along places like streams…” Chara chatters blissfully to Asgore, the only one so far they haven’t told about their latest plant discovery. One hand curls around a damp sleeve and pumps lightly up and down, while the other whishes the handful of cattails water sausages sorry Chara they found by the pond back and forth. “While cattails have no nutritional value, Underground breeds of typha are kind of like certain kinds of bark in that you can boil and use them in tea. They’re also very good for smushing. See?” To demonstrate, Frisk grabs a sausage in both hands and wrings it apart, scattering an explosion of white fluff over Asgore’s new carpet.

Chara’s so absorbed in the one-sided conversation that they don’t remember to tell Frisk when they notice stuff, like the knocking on the open doorframe, or the sudden presence of another person in their field of vision. (Who in their defense is wearing basically the same color as the gross beige walls, so they’re pretty well camouflaged.) So it takes Frisk all the way to the perfume to notice, and they drop the sausage on the floor because with that smell they’re back in the office. The office, the fluorescent lights, the tacky cheer.

“West?” gasps Mrs. Hills, here for the custody discussion appointment they forgot about, shocked beyond belief, half delighted and half hateful in a way that makes them quake. As they rub their hands together and shuffle anxiously to Asgore’s side, she directs her focus to him. Because despite this, despite what she’s witnessed, their miracle incredible wonderful breakthrough beyond belief (which is all sarcasm, Frisk) of course she won’t talk directly to them. She looks to Asgore instead, channels all that splitsecond fear and anger and fierce, toxic pride into the sentence she pushes triumphantly into the air.

“West is speaking now?!”


“Hello, Mrs. Hills,” Chara says in their careful monotone. “Lovely day, isn’t it? And you’re looking as composed as always.” They like to catch her off her guard by talking like a grown-up, see just how sophisticated they can act and just how unsettled Mrs. Hills can get. Frisk is used to this lack of composure, this blend of confusion and shame and borderline anger. They know what to do with it, they have that experience, stamping it out across the kitchen floor and climbing up into Toriel’s sheltering lap. It’s always kind of fun, kind of taunting, kind of powerful when it doesn’t belong to them.

“May I ask what you are doing here so early?” Toriel asks. “You know as well as I do that Frisk needs a highly specific routine, and this disregard for it is…surprising.”

“What, you’re not trying to hide anything, are you?” And then she tries for a laugh.

Frisk’s body flashes cold and their hands flash hot before Chara hisses joke, she’s joking. She is saccharine, jovial. Not serious, not really, not now. They relax a little bit. They don’t think they’ve done anything too weird this visit, so there’s no reason to worry about that – not seriously, not really, not now. And after all, Chara likes to remind them, what kind of villain wouldn’t let a poor, delayed autistic child stay with those who somehow, magically, miraculously, pulled them out of their tragic silence and into the real world?

When Chara shudders and grinds their teeth in disgust, when Frisk rubs frenzied patterns into Toriel’s fur, that’s what they have to think. The performativity of these visits is sick and suffocating, Mrs. Hills’s expectations stagnant remnants of their life before, and the support they can feel from their family in those act-like-a-“human” moments is right and loving, but in a way that feels so, so wrong coming from them at all. That’s what’s holding them and the monsters together. They can feel it in every second Mrs. Hills is in the apartment. They’d be out of here in an instant, shoved back to the system without a parting glance, if only they weren’t doing so well now. So functional. So normal.

Chara thinks the last word as a hollow laugh. Frisk wriggles and tries to space back into the conversation.

“…use of a theatrical production I must say is an…interesting choice of occupational therapies, and I have to admit I’m concerned about just how productive in their socialization it will be,” Mrs. Hills is saying. “I’d be interested in coming to observe sometime, just to make sure it’s up to therapeutic standards. What dates are your rehearsals?”

There’s a few seconds of panicked silence after that loaded hell of a question, but Toriel bounces back soon enough. “Not everything my child does needs to be therapy,” she replies, frustrated and condescending in a delightful way Frisk hopes Mrs. Hills can’t hear. “This musical is a community effort, in part designed by Frisk themself. They are part of this production as their own person, not as a set of symptoms to change.”

GET HER, MOM!!! Frisk cheers in their mind, rocking back into Toriel’s chest and kicking their feet happily. Chara wants to leap from their mouth and join the fray, already spouting half-formed thoughts, but they both know that letting Chara say anything unscripted around Mrs. Hills is a good way to get kicked out of this building. They settle for smiling again, grinning, staring at Mrs. Hills and tilting their head in the way that Flowey says makes them look possessed.

Mrs. Hills doesn’t look at them, despite the scuffley rocking noises they’re making, and makes a note on her clipboard. “Alrighty, then. Have there been any notable changes in demeanor lately? Any significant…tantrums, or instances of disobedience?” She looks at each of them intently as she asks. “Anything…anything at all, even relatively minor incidents?”


five months ago

“Nothing??” Mrs. Hills purses her lips. Her mouth is dark and wide and pulled at the edges, like a fish. Chara isn’t used to it yet, still repulsed and fascinated with it in their weird way. “You’re telling me West hasn’t – not once, never, when he was with you, never atta – uh, never showed harmful or violent tendencies? He never had a destructive meltdown, never screamed or – or ran from you or set fires?”

“No,” Toriel repeats. Frisk can feel her low, rumbling voice as they press closer into her torso. It sounds like a mother lion, warning off a predator, with just enough volume to be feared. Chara thinks, Chara knows, if they looked up they’d see her lips pulled tight around her fangs. “This child – Frisk – has never shown such symptoms.”

She’s lying.


“Nothing out of the ordinary,” Toriel lies politely. “Certainly nothing we haven’t been able to resolve.” Chara says it’s almost verbatim what she said two weeks ago, just before the finale and the Big Shit Rehearsal and they had that meltdown, and actually verbatim what she said last month. They’ve had like eleven meetings, and she’s asked that same stupid question eleven times, and Toriel’s given her the same response. Like some kind of weird, slow adult fight over Frisk, over their deserving to stay with those they love. Frisk sometimes wishes that they’d just get it over with and kick each other’s asses like civilized monsters.

“That’s good to hear…” She checks another box on the clipboard, which Frisk is pretty sure is the most intimidating motion you can ever make. They nudge Chara and ask, Is she disappointed? That Mom’s saying we’re not a problem?

She’s unsettled, Chara explains. (Aw damn. Almost got it.) To her, we’re not people, you understand? And yet we present a good facsimile. (Means a good act, Sponge.)

The rest of the meeting passes like a poop when you can’t drink the weird water in the new foster home, with everyone about as comfortable, but it passes and then it’s out done. It’s done. During one of the many excruciating pauses Papyrus had hopped up and stuck the cake in the oven, unable to take it anymore, and now the smell’s just starting to cover up her hairspray and perfume. As Mrs. Hills shoos herself to the door, flanked all too helpfully by Papyrus and Undyne, Toriel gives Frisk a final hug and they scoot off her lap. Alphys creeps back into the kitchen, smiling hesitantly, and past her they see Sans materialize back on the couch. Flowey reappears, rolls his eyes and scowls at them, and then turns and makes one of his most nauseating faces at Mrs. Hills’s back. Chara snorts, then cackles.

As if drawn by the sound, Mrs. Hills looks back around, into the apartment. “I still think it’s remarkably selfless that you’ve volunteered to look after We – Frisk,” she says to Toriel as an afterthought. “It’s not easy dealing with a child with such a volatile condition.”


five months ago

“It’s not easy dealing with a child with such a volatile condition,” Mrs. Hills warns, and Frisk’s breath catches with fear.

“What do you mean?” Toriel asks, wary.

Mrs. Hills pauses at the door and turns around. Her sudden pity and understanding is sickly sweet in Frisk’s mouth, and they grate their tongue against their top teeth. “Of course,” she says. “You wouldn’t know.”

“Know what?” Toriel asks again, worried too now, but mostly defensive. She’s learned how Mrs. Hills works. Frisk’s soul thuds and burns in their chest. “Of course I am aware of their autism, and I am prepared to accommodate it as well as I can,” she continues. “But monsters like us have no frame of reference for the dynamics of the human soul.”

“Their soul condition, of course,” Mrs. Hills replies, rummaging through her bag. “Its, ah, color. I think I have a pamphlet in here somewhere.”

Red-Souled Children: Fact or Fiction? Chara asks dryly, and Frisk jumps, still not used to them just TALKING OUTTA NOWHERE in their head. The Magicological Study of Patient Red? Demented and Demonic: A Study of Red Souls Through History?

You know?! Frisk squeaks in response, startled as the now-shared memories of the pamphlets bloom into being. You know the, you’ve read the – you’re LIKE ME!!!?!

How do you think I latched onto your soul, Sponge? Chara accompanies the words with a surge of unstated protectiveness, harder and fiercer than the gentle volume of their thoughts conveys. Mrs. Hills finds a two-years-crumpled pamphlet in the bottom of her bag, and Chara absorbs the front before Frisk can think through the first word. Fact or Fiction, they report, trying hard to sound composed. They haven’t changed the literature much since I fell.

“Red souls are an extremely unique magicological variation of the soul, only manifesting in one in 200,000 births,” Mrs. Hills begins, like the monsters can’t even read. “They’re often associated with dangerous, large-scale magical abilities, as well as individual volatility.”

In the world above, Frisk’s red-pounding soul was a beacon, a drumbeat, thud-thudding out a pattern of power. It crawled from their pores and soaked through their irises and staticked up their hair. It poured through their thoughts, twisted their mind in a spiderweb around its core, until they felt like they weren’t anything but snapping flames and unearthly determination.

Humans can have magic in their souls, sure, it’s weird and rare and freaky but they can. For a long time, Frisk tried to pretend the quiet, momentous way they pulled the universe out of place was at least kind of almost on the border of normal, like real magic. Like their classmate’s cousin whose shoelaces never come undone, or the kid one of their foster sisters knew once who could always predict what song was next on the playlist. This is different. The magic isn’t theirs. There can’t be a them without it. Frisk-and-magic, magic-and-Frisk.

“They’ve been associated with demons and evil spirits throughout history, and the stigma persists today through their frightening capabilities and the violence that often results,” she continues. Chara hums and whispers a phrase in their mind, that they only catch the tail end of – ...comes when you call its name.

In the later parts of their stay with Toriel, after they found the history books and Chara found the first part of their voice, they used to lie awake at night and listen as Chara whispered stories through their mind. Fierce stories, determined stories, about how their weirdnesses were vestiges of the old magics, that monsters had kept alive but humans had lost to time. How red souls used to be hailed as angels and spirits, and beings with more soul in them than body, and how Toriel can remember the thrumming red powers of more than one creating the Barrier in the first place. How fitting, then, they’d say, as Frisk wriggled their legs under the covers, that a red soul be the one to fall. And then later, worlds later, how fitting that a red soul be the one to break it.

“Most red souls have a severely shortened life expectancy, and many do not make it to adulthood. The stigma and persecution they face, along with their abilities, unpredictable and poorly controlled, often lead to their deaths. Several great magical disasters through history have been results of red souls, usually children.”

Things Frisk can do, that people know about:
• flash flames from their hands, like a compulsion, explosion, repulsion, of their soul
• skip-dance outside the beats of reality for a few seconds at a time, physical hits knocking them sideways through some dimension, phasing through walls and people in their rush to escape
• run just fast enough for distance to stretch away behind them, way further than it should, a phantom on the horizon almost impossible to catch
• feel everything and everyone around them, like a steep emotional sinkhole

Things Frisk can do, that they don’t:
• hold a goal, a Goal, their constant stubborn constant, not ever able to give up on what they wholeheartedly want, even if the process consumes them and breaks them from the inside out
• watch as the universe peels back and splits apart in ways that it can’t before them, as things array and rearray until their Goal is complete, until it is and was and always will be
• bend an entire, magical reality to their most desperate wills
• SAVE the world
• (and they’re not even done growing.)

“The last account of a red soul in this city was a child born in the early 21st century, but she disappeared and was presumed dead before reaching adolescence,” Mrs. Hills finishes. “I’m sorry, it must be hard learning something like this. It really is a tragic condition. Certainly no one will judge you if you decide it’s too much for you to handle.”

Like we’re not even here, Chara murmurs, detached anger moving like lava underneath their thoughts.

The last red soul? Frisk asks timidly. That was you?

They’re quiet for a moment before answering. I could hear…everything, anyone ever said about me, they admit, by way of response. Every worry, every taunt, every curse. Every mention of my name. Picture it, Frisk. An autistic, red-souled, nonbinary child at the beginning of the century, who can hear every time they’re called a demon or a freak or a burden. I am only surprised I made it as long as I did before climbing the mountain.

“With all respect, Mrs. Hills,” Toriel responds, measured and even, “I believe that a monster would be a better contender for raising a child with strong magical capabilities than even the most well-meaning human. I cannot believe you would stoop to calling my child tragic and dangerous, as they are listening no less, and I can assure you that they are nothing of the sort!” She’s definitely thinking of Chara as she says it. Before they fell down, before they met her, Frisk had no idea that love could be that angry – or that anger could hold that much love.

And much as they love her for that, and much as her love feels like their whole soul is bundled snugly up against all the world’s badness, their fingertips are still making tiny sears against their palms, held tight by their sides. Toriel knows about all their strangenesses, but that just makes it scarier. Toriel knows about all their strangenesses, and they can’t mess this up. They can’t do anything that tips this precarious sense of security, and let everything come crashing down on top of them.


Four days, three rehearsals, and zero-point-eight meltdowns after Mrs. Hills leaves the apartment, and they’re curled up and rocking in their very own chair in the therapist’s office. The big fuzzy one. It’s green and also the best.

It had taken them both a long, long time to agree to this. Lots of quiet talks with Toriel about monster therapy, and with Papyrus and Sans about autistic monster stuff, lots of small steps, lots of panicking in the car. It’s still really scary climbing those stairs to this office themselves. But it’s less scary when Toriel carries them instead. (Chara thinks that’s kind of a metaphor for their life right now. Frisk thinks Chara knows too many nerd words.)

“Toriel tells me that you’ve been acting more withdrawn lately,” says Dr. Blue Mela, they’re supposed to call ver. (Mela uses the rarer ve/ver/vis pronoun set, and it’s been kind of a crash course in monster pronouns from Chara since they first visited ver a few months ago, after custody stuff was settled.) Ve’s not looking at them with vis jeweled eyes, instead just letting them rock in silence, in what's close enough to a comfortable routine they’ve fallen into. “Are rehearsals and school still going well for both of you? Is anything overwhelming or uncomfortable about your routines?”

The couch is green and fuzzy but not grainy-fuzzy, like cheap stuffed animals and troll dolls. It’s like the short scrubbly fake fur on the coat Mrs. Hills had once. Chara likes it more than they do, but they’re running their hands over it anyway, because they’re a nice brainsibling. They never let Chara have their hands, not when it’s the sudden and only way they can talk to the world like a real person. And Chara’s only tried to take them to see if they could once.

You’re supposed to respond to therapists, Chara prompts them, almost automatically.

Oh. Oh yeah. They make the sign for nah with one hand. There, that’s a response.

“I’m glad to hear that,” Mela says. Ve is, but they can still feel vis discomfort dancing at the edges of vis mind, discomfort and sorrow for what ve knows of their past therapy experiences. Which is nice. But in the moment, they never really know what to do with it.

Rehearsals are great! Frisk pulls themself away from the couch long enough to sign. School is fun too! Did you know that sometimes stars explode and turn into black holes? And that Gerson’s old enough to remember when stuff first started falling into the garbage dump? No one has to know that they’re lying. Nothing wrong in Chara-and-Frisk-land, nope, no sirree! No problems here, not if they got anything to say about it! (Which they do, actually.)

“I didn’t know that!” Mela responds, feeling pleased. “What are some other interesting things you’ve learned this week?”

“Mostly things I already know,” Chara replies, all too happy to change the subject, “about Waterfall history and development, and the tunnel connecting Waterfall to the ocean that they’re working on now. Did you know they’re saying it will be ready by the end of the summer?”

“Oh!” Mela gasps with delight. “That’s only five months away, isn’t it? It’s so much sooner than I thought it would be! Is there anyone you’re looking forward to meeting up with when it’s complete?”

Onionsan, signs Frisk.

“No,” says Chara.

Mela laughs. It sounds a little bit like when you rub two marbles together, but not so grating, and with a songlike tone to it. Frisk wiggles and scrubs their hands on the arms of the chair. They love vis laugh.

Neither of them can bring themselves to all the way love Mela yet, not when Mela still equals Therapist and Therapist still equals Bad. But they can love vis laugh, like they love the paintings on vis walls and the basket of stim toys ve always remembers to offer them. They love how ve doesn’t look at them, how ve doesn’t really expect anything from them, not in the cold harsh way that both of them are still used to. They love –

“Toriel also tells me that something Mrs. Hills said at the end of your last meeting upset you,” Mela mentions, changing the subject. “Is that anything that you want to talk about?”

They don’t like this part, so much.

“You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to,” Mela adds, and Frisk realizes they’re rocking even harder now and pushing the heels of their hands into their eyeballs and their stomach is tight tight tight. “You’re not going be punished for anything you say or don’t say here, remember. You can trust me not to hurt you.”

You’re supposed to respond to therapists, they moan dully to Chara, less what they actually mean and more halfhearted echolalia from earlier. But after that they can, almost, kind of, slow down.

Then Mela breaks the silence with, “Was it connected to your life before you entered the Underground? Or the circumstances that surrounded you climbing Mount Ebott?”

Frisk crumples their tangle toy into a ball, rolls it between their hands like a snowball or a wad of paper. No one needs to hear this. They don’t need to remember this. That’s why they did it in the first place. They don’t want to remember. No one needs to know. No one needs to know anything about what they did.

Well, then, says Chara, in an oddly reasonable tone, what did you do?

The memory unspools in their mind like an old, silent movie. They scrabble at it and try to shove it back down in their mind, but it’s going now, it’s going and there’s no going back. Frisk squinches their eyes and body and whole brain tight shut, but Chara. Chara watches. Frisk hasn’t been trying to think of this memory. But now. Now Chara has the same access they do, same front row seating in a theater they can’t leave.

Oh, Chara says. Oh, Frisk.

Sometimes Chara says oh. Sometimes they say it when they learn something, or when something suddenly makes sense in their head, and then they say something like she’s worried, not mad, that’s why she hasn’t stopped hugging you yet. Or you’re disappointed, or that’s what pride feels like, or I know where Papyrus hid the candy. Those ohs are like – encyclopedia entry ohs, the sound of a search engine starting up.

This isn’t like that. Oh, Frisk, they repeat.

You’re supposed to respond to therapists, Frisk mumbles miserably, not even sure what they’re trying to mean by that.


twenty-one months ago

Chk-chk-chk-brrrrpt.

The Simon Says clicker-app on the tablet chirps at them, three clicks and a low buzz that tickles their teeth. It repeats the sequence of colors back again, yellow blue blue green and red and everything. They raise it to their face so the colors flash right in their eyes, and push the green button with their nose. Chk-chk-chk-brrrrpt.

They like machines. Machines don’t get mad at them. They don’t have to feel anything around machines. Even the beaten-up and smudgy tablet that the school makes them use, sticky and blocky and attached to the desk with a stretchy cord, doesn’t want anything from them. Mostly it just wants them to use the super basic pictures app, to say super basic things people want them to say, but it also doesn’t mind when they explore a bit and find a really really nice app for stimming.

Chk-chk-chk-brrrrpt. They sigh contentedly and nudge it again.

They chk-chk-chk-brrrrpt one more time, two more times, few more times, before the aide with the pointy fingernails comes over and pulls it away from their face. They squeak and reflexively tighten their hold, taken by surprise, but let go when they feel the reprimanding curl of bad from her mind. “Eyes up front, West,” she says. “I know, buddy. I’m ready for lunch too, but we’re almost done here.”

They bonk their feet, loud and heavy in their boots, on the floor at the West thing, then again and harder at the lunch thing. Then the aide sits down by their desk and gives their leg a stabbing ice-pick tap, and goes “quiet feet,” and then they don’t bonk anymore. But they’re still not West, not anything, or ever anything, they’d been told they were. Maybe West likes lunch, because the aide seems to think they do. Not-West, meanwhile, really just wants their game back.

They put their hands down to their sides, where the aide can’t see them as much, and squeeze their fists in and out. What’s happening at the front of the class, the eyes-up-front thing, they think is a story of some sort, right? Yeah, the teacher’s got a book. They’re all the way in the back of the class cause they did something too wrong to sit up front, so it’s easier to listen to the hum and rattle of the ancient air conditioning unit than what the book’s about. Easier to feel dyslexic Chip’s dead, desperate boredom, and autistic Sunny’s sick pattering anxiety, and how a frustrated Chess is like two minutes from peeing herself if an aide doesn’t notice her shifting back and forth in her wheelchair, as best as she can with her cerebral palsy. They don’t get it. They really, really don’t. All the weird kids in the whole school in one room, dizzying and intense and miserable, day in and day out, and they’re supposed to not wanna set something on fire every day??

The teacher (finally, unescapably) finishes up her book, standing from her chair and clapping her hands together. She’s saying something, saying some noise, and they don’t realize what it means until the same aide is taking their arm and pulling them out of the chair. Lunchtime. Right, lunchtime.

They can’t keep down the surge of dread that rises in them as they slide out of their chair and clomp out of the room, following the others in a group that the aides try to make into a line but always ends up in some sort of clump. They ended up in the middle, aides flanking the clump on all sides, and it’s almost comfortable – the strong repetitive patterns of the emotions of everyone around them, the way it rises up around them almost like a shield.

The shield dissipates, as it always does, and their stomach and their arms clench up and tight as they get closer to the cafeteria. Sunny, already overwhelmed from the noise, rapidly taps her fingertips together, brain wet and panicky. The school has something called a selective inclusion policy, which means that instead of leaving the classroom zero times per day, they leave it once. They leave it once, and go to where every other kid is at the same time.

As soon as they step in the cafeteria, and the noise and the feelings wash over them, they’re breathing hard. Their hands flick at their sides, too little to help, too much not to be noticed. The joy, the hunger, the fury, the fear – it’s unbearable, the big kid over there grinning as his friends crack up at his joke, the not-funny laughter of the table of girls and the disgust they radiate, the kid sitting by himself with thoughts as sharp and jittery as the knife in his pocket. The everyone the everything, the tumult, the laughter, the current, the ocean closing over their head – not now, not today, no no no no!!!

Before they can stop themself they shove away from the clump. On pounding impulse they race to the nearest table, dive underneath it and curl up, shoving past corduroy and bare skin and cheap tennis shoes. They’re rocking and moaning, yanking at handfuls of hair, burning with shame and panic and the savage delight of the kids at the table. One kicks them. They can’t tell if it’s an accident or not. Then she laughs and someone else does it too and it’s not, it’s not, it’s not!

Faces peer under the table, eyes blown wide and pushing high, shrieking laughter from their mouths. Someone kicks hard and decisively at their shin, and their back, and their side, and the shoutings and feelings come together in a tangle of FREAK AUTISTIC DUMBASS IDIOT SHORTBUS BABY RET –

They’re scrambling, pushing through, out, OUT OUT AWAY AWAY! They bump their head on the bottom of the table and feeling sticky gum pull at their hair. They leave singed handprints on pant legs and shoes as they go, they tumble out and stand up only for a hand, attached to an arm, attached to an aide, to grab them by the wrist. She pulls them, shouts things, and they shout back into her anger and sink their teeth into her hand. Then they’re GONE then they BOLT then the world is stretching out behind them as she chases and the kids laugh and everyone rises up against them like a tide. They charge down the halls, slamming past teachers and ripping posters from the walls, scattering papers from bulletin boards and smacking into janitor carts. They run in a humming daze of people, of fury, of panic, dragging their bones and filling their senses and their body isn’t their own, they can’t stop, they can’t breathe. They run and run and run and run until the screaming emotions fade behind them, until their head clears out the space for a thought, until their feet stumble on uneven ground and they fall to hands and knees on the grass outside.

Body curling up in a ball and starting to rock, squeals and groans forcing themselves out from behind gritted teeth, they roll up their sleeve and their hand closes around their opposite wrist. They feel their hand grow hot and the skin below begin to blister, imprinting a new set of blazing red fingerprints on their not-even-healed wrist. They squeeze tight, as their skin discolors and fat blisters form on their fingers, until finally their mind is back and they wrench their hand away, throbbing and slightly sticky. Their hair smells gross and burny. They spilled someone’s yogurt on their sweater when they dove down and now it’s clinging there gloppily. Their mouth tastes like hand sanitizer and the floor. They’re panting, heavy and halting, snot and spit smeared across their face, before they uncurl and look back up at the school building, looming above.

They’re done.

Now that they’re back inside themself, one thing’s clear and nothing clearer. They’re done. They can’t go back, they won’t go back. Back lies that cafeteria and that aide and those people, those feelings and that routine and West. Something changed when they crashed out that door, and now they can’t stop staring at the building. In a farewell-stare kind of way. Those things are outside of them now. Sure as they’re outside the school. Sure as they know that they pulled the distance behind them as they ran, and no one will be coming after them for a while. Sure as they’re sure, they couldn’t go back inside now if they tried.

They’re not West, they realize with a blaze of fury, in a far more solid way than they’ve already known. They’re more conscious now of their body than they’ve ever been. Their fingernails are dirty and rugged, fingertips either blistered or numb. The old scabs on their forearm are starting to drip, and the wind is colder and wetter on them because their sleeve is still rolled up. Their soul hangs in their chest, pounding loud and slow, too grounded to fit with their hot breath and clenching fists. They lick their dry lips, feel the bumpy coating of chapped skin turn slippery and soft. They bite at the skin with their teeth, ripping and tearing, until blood begins to drip and their tongue recoils from the taste. Their hands are still hot. Their body is still furious. Maybe those are the same thing. They don’t know. But they know that West isn’t them. This is them.

And they are DONE.

There’s a crumple of paper clenched in their unburned fist. They stand up and walk over to the building, ancient and crumbling and with too much wood and insulation in its walls to be safe. They’d flung the door open with enough force that it caught and stayed open, and now they kneel in the doorway, staring at the scattered trail of paper and debris they’d left. Tearing the crumple up into strands, tipping them onto the shiny wooden floor.

They crouch down, slow and trancelike, shove the little pieces of paper into a neat-enough pile. They hold their unburned hand out to the little pile, and light flickers and jumps onto it. The paper catches. They blow.

The fire eats the crumple-pile right up, curling the papers black and cindery. One strip of burning paper leans away from the pile, falls onto the floorboards. The fire snakes onto the corner of a paper towel stamped down with their footprint, devouring through the edges and up the middle, in a way they can’t look away from. As the flames grow and as they start to smell the heat and the smoke, the rest of their trail lights up.

The stuff on the floor goes up first. Then it leaps to the posters on the walls, and they stand, watching as the smiling children and messages about bullying and healthy eating darken and go up in flames. The bulletin boards are flammable too, they learn, as they crack and hiss and start to bubble with melted plastic paint. They stretch their eyes wide, gazing into the hearts of the flames, like the patterns they see on the insides of their eyelids but so much more alive. They see a wooden classroom door begin to sizzle at the bottom, then flame. The heat feels right on their face.

The shriek of the fire alarm cuts through their daze and they leap into the air. Six hundred peals of shock drill through their brain, and they stumble back, falling on their butt and scuttling away. Flames jump out and around the door frames, panicked students stream into the hallways, and a gust of wind blows gritty smoke in their face and they choke. Their eyes are streaming and stinging and they’re shaking so hard, so so hard they’re going to shake apart, the school’s frenzied panic racing them in circles and clawing up the sides of their brain, what did they do, what did they do WHATDIDTHEYDO!!!

Horror and fear seize their legs and instinct clouds their mind and they run, run run run again before students can start pouring out the doors, before the smoke can melt their eyes away, before the flames can bubble and pop in their skin and make their hair a forest fire, run run run run before the aide can find them or anyone can see them or anyone can see West ever ever ever again. They pound unthinking and unseeing over the asphalt, scurry up fences, trip and stumble over rocks and clumps of grass but always stand up, always keep going. They race across busy roads, not hearing the shrieks of horns and brakes, they race through sidewalks and backyards, crashing into people and trees and bushes and dogs. Leaves in their hair, scuffed holes in their jeans, twigs caught on their sweater, scrapes and scratches on their face.

They run, panting and heaving, pushing themself on, until the ground slopes up beneath them, until the grass tangles long and uncut with their boots, seeds and pebbles scratching and rubbing against their socks. They run until the world fades to nothing, and it’s quiet and still like it’s never been, and no one is after them and no one is angry and no one is feeling – and still they run, sweat drenching their sweater and oozing down their face. Tiny muted feelings of simple fear, simple shock, simple wonder, skitter away from them in snakes or bugs or birds. They splash through a creek, stumbling across the algae-slick rocks and muddy shores, and they don’t stop until a root snakes up under their toe and they trip and land very hard on their hands.

As they sit up on their knees, pulling their hands into the air and waving them with the pain, their consciousness crowds the space in their head back out and their vision clears. They look around, huffing at the dim, suddenly-evening sunlight keeping all the details away from their eyes. They’re…uh. They’re on a…hill? In some forest? It’s a big hill. The forest isn’t super big; they can see between the trees. That’s how they know it’s a big hill. What big hill is – oh.

So this is what that dangerous death mountain that they can’t remember its name looks like! They scuttle back and press up against a tree, eyes wide, gaze darting around, looking for ghosts or lions or MONSTERS or some stuff like that, the stuff from storybooks that will EAT YOU LITTLE KID!! EAT YOU RIGHT UP!! SO BE GOOD AND EAT YOUR VEGETABLES LITTLE KID!! (They never ate their vegetables.) But nothing pops out at them, and nothing keeps popping out at them. From here, that dangerous death mountain kind of just looks like…a forest. Boring old trees. Nothing they can feel coming, and they realize now that they’d be able to. They scoot up against the tree and bring their flapping hands close to their face.

Some of the blisters split, stinging with dirt and tiny pebbles, and they wipe their hands agitatedly on their pants. Their shoes are wet and their feet are just two solid blocks of misery, and their hair and skin is salty slick with sweat. They kick off the shoes and peel off the socks and wiggle their dripping toes in the air, waiting grumpily for the misery and the wet to fade.

That’s when their brain processes it, finally, and it hits them like a baseball bat.

They’re alone.

They’re not…they’re feeling…they’re, not feeling, there’s nothing. There’s not anything. They must have scared off all the animals. They don’t know how to feel about that. They don’t know how to feel – they don’t have to feel anything!

There’s nothing to guide them.

They try to think, but it’s hard, when your thoughts echo off the sides of your brain with all the space they have to run around in, and also your feet smell like a gross creek. Each thought has its say once and again, turning itself around and around, letting itself be seen from every angle.

I’m up here.

I’m alone.

I did a bad thing.

...I am a bad thing.

I don’t know how to not be a bad thing.

Bad things…people want bad things to go away.

I went away.

I – am – away.

They curl their toes in the stinging wind.

No one will tell me to come back.

I can choose if I go back.

That one takes a long time to turn over in their head.

…I won’t go back.

Their decision locks into place, the familiar settling feeling that makes the world seem narrowed down to a single, singular path. They won’t go back. It’s a fact now. Not a choice they’ve made, not one they can reverse. It’s how the universe is, and was, and always will be. They won’t go back.

They gather up their shoes and socks and set out in bare feet, forearm dripping and throbbing and palms stinging dully, hobbling over the terrain and whimpering as the stones cut their skin, alone and unwanted, determined never to go back.

They are nine years old.


Control, Chara states, back in the year and the place that they belong. Their careful objectivity lies on top of some strong emotion they refuse to identify for them. You were desperate for control over something, anything, they elaborate instead. So you took it.

Frisk feels sick.

Also, Mela wants you.

They blink, and Chara prods them in the direction of paying attention to their ears. Mela is asking them something. Ve’s been asking it for a while. Eventually, they realize that ve’s saying something like, “may I share this with Toriel?”

Oh god. Oh god oh god oh god oh god, their hands stop their automatic signing and fly to their hair, pulling on great clumps. They’d started to sign, hadn’t they? Because you’re supposed to respond to therapists, right? And they’d just kept going? And told ver all of that?!? Oh god oh no oh god oh no no no no!

“It’s alright,” Mela says evenly. There’s…no trace of judgement or disgust in vis thoughts, and Frisk could be wrong cause they’re kind of panicking, but they’re not usually. “Remember,” ve repeats, “you won’t be punished for anything you do or don’t share here.”

I had no idea, Sponge, Chara murmurs.

D-do you – do you think I should, I can, I –

I’m not making that choice for you. I’m not telling you what I think, Sponge. But I know Toriel. We both know Toriel.

They’re right. They’re right. Frisk carefully untangles their hands from their hair, brings them back to rubbing at the arms of the couch, nods once. Against all odds, through all that panic, they feel like a weight has been lifted from their chest.

“Thank you,” Mela says. “Thank you for sharing this with me, Frisk.”

That wasn’t so bad, was it now? Chara asks.

It was, and Chara knows it. It’s just one of those things Chara says when they don’t know how to comfort them. Frisk doesn’t know why they bother, because they can feel the sentiments behind those phrases just fine.

You only told ver that part of the story, Chara continues. You didn’t screw it up all the way.

Yeah. Yeah, they didn’t. They didn’t, did they! Chara’s smile picks at the edges of their mouth, and they begin to bounce with the sudden tide of relief. They’re okay, they’re still okay. Maybe, just maybe, they can still be okay.

Chapter Text

“This is the place where the fame is ev’rything,
Ev’ryone wants to touch, ev’ryone wants to see!
We live in a world, where celebrities are kings –
And the more people want, the more given-out things!”

Frisk hops up and down to the jazzy arrangement of Mettaton’s first song, peering out to the rehearsal stage from backstage right. They can’t hear the chorus as good from back here, because the chorus is on the floor down there, because there’s no pit in the school and of course there’s no room on the stage anymore! The big, wooden, double-decker set that Asgore and Undyne only finished last week looms above them, unpainted and fresh and just a little bit splintery. They stare up at it as they listen, following its lines and angles and the way the stage light bounces off of it in shadows.

“Ready for your debut on our most AMBITIOUS set in the play?” Mettaton calls behind them, the lights on his front flashing as he talks. Today he’s a box, as the scene calls for, looking very dapper in a red and yellow suit. “If we don’t blow them away with this scene, darling? Well then, who are we to call ourselves actors?!”

“It would still be perfectly reasonable to call ourselves actors,” Chara says, eyes still fixed on the set. “We act, and therefore we are actors.”

“Hyperbole, my dear. But! My question still stands! Are – you – ready??”

HECK YEAH!!!! Frisk replies. Heck yeah heck yeah!! This upcoming scene is one of their favorites, and they’ve been waiting FOREVER to try it out on a real set! A real live set, with stairs and windows and stuff!! (It’s supposed to look like Mettaton’s three Hotland studios, with one stacked on top of the other two, but it still has stairs and windows and stuff.) They flap with excitement, scooting and bouncing in circles like a baby bird trying to fly. The sound of their stomping feet is drowned out by the chorus’s next verse.

“Ev’ryone quiet, it’s a show from Met-ta-ton!
He’s the Underground’s number one-and-rising star!
He is sim-ply, the most incredible machine
That brings a-maz-ing days from our own TV screens!”

“That’s our cue, then!” trills Mettaton, and he zooms sideways out onto the stage. Frisk readies themself as he screeches to a stop behind the desk of his reporting booth, the studio closest to them on stage right, and booms out his lines to the blaze of the spotlights. “Ooohhhh, YES! Welcome, beauties and gentlebeauties! This is Mettaton, reporting live from MTT news! An interesting situation has arisen in eastern Hotland! We now go live to our correspondent in the field –“

And that’s their cue!! Frisk dashes onto the stage and Chara smiles huge, and they wave double-handed to the crowd from behind Mettaton’s desk. It smells like sawdust and magic and hot stage lights. “WEIRD CHILD!!!” he introduces them, gesturing grandly, and they bow. “Smile for the camera, you are on TV!” he sings. “So you might as well look the part…Go out and find me something newsworthy-y-yyy!” They remember to nod at him, jerking their head forward in a way that rocks their whole body. (They’re working with him and Papyrus on acting extra expressively for the play, since they don’t exactly have any lines.)

“In the meantime…I think I’ll share an old family recipe!” The music changes to something boppy, and he and Frisk charge to the stage left studio, stylized to look like a kitchen. They feel some surprised snorts from the audience. The idea here is they’re supposed to be teleporting or something, but it’s way funnier just to run around onstage. “Welcome, beauties…” Mettaton announces, “to COOKING with a KILLER ROBOT!”

He starts bobbing side to side to the beat, and Frisk mimics him, watching to make sure they go the same way he does. “Don’t touch that dial!
Put on a smile!
To-night we make –
A special cake!” He twirls once and sweeps a chef’s hat onto his…uh, onto his head. Frisk wants a chef’s hat. They have a head. Then Mettaton knocks into their side and they realize they accidentally got out of sync, and let Chara take over the bobbing so they can focus on what’s happening.

“Sugar, milk
And precious eggs
Will make our cake!
So use them legs!”

Chara takes it wordlessly and leans up onto their tiptoes, bobbing up and down now as well as side to side. Their discomfort at being onstage is still taut like a tightrope, but they’re working through it, together, they’re working on it, and besides they both like this song a lot. That helps.

“Looks like they're – On the shelf,” sings Mettaton, pointing crisply behind them on shelf. “Won-der-ful! Here's to your health!” They skip over to the shelf and grab whatever dummy prop someone usually remembers to put up there. Today it’s a pumpkin that feels scratchy like styrofoam. They swing it around and bang it on the table with health!

“Oh! Wait a moment, how could I forget?!” Mettaton claps a hand to his head-area with a CLANG. “There’s one ingredient that we haven’t gotten yet!” He pulls out a REAL LIFE GLITTERY PINK (blunted) CHAINSAW from under the counter, and Frisk claps their hands over their mouth and blows their eyes wide in “SHOCK.” Under their hands Chara snickers, and Mettaton flickers half of his screen at them in a wink.
“We merely need a HUMAN SOUL!
Mix-ing in the bowl!” he crows. “Don’t try this at home, kiddos!” He swings the chainsaw over his head and they race away from him, sliding over the counter as the audience gasps and giggles. There’s a few pangs of real alarm, one of them from Toriel which they feel kind of bad about, but HEY HEY HEY THE MUSIC’S GOING AND EVERYTHING’S FUN AND THEY HAVEN’T DIED YET!!

“Luckily, we have a human on hand!
Let’s go back to that report in Hot-la-aa-and!” They race back over to stage right, and Mettaton stops so suddenly Frisk runs into him. “Oh, my, human! Please be calm! You’ve found a BOMB!” (Aw damn it they forgot to grab the bomb prop over there!! They wave their hands like there’s something in them anyway.)

“Or rather, you’ve found a whole bunch of them!” Mettaton cries, gesturing grandly to the remote-control bombs that are supposed to come flying through the air at this point. “You get a bomb, you get a bomb, everyone gets a bomb!!”

The music changes to something DRAMATIC, and Frisk does “SHOCK” again and then leaps off the stage. They race down the aisle in pursuit of the “bombs” zooming around the auditorium, as Mettaton belts his lines from the stage. “OH, look at all these bombs, hanging ev’rywhere! It’s almost as if they were pre-planted…”

Eventually they’re gonna be fancy cool remote-controlled things, but right now they’re just some of Mettaton’s little magic selves. The ones with umbrellas. Frisk plunges through the audience, scrambling over the chairs and stepping on people’s shoulders, too fast to think twice. “Better get rid of them, you don’t want to cause a scare! Meanwhile, I should evacuate this theater…”

They blast over Papyrus and he turns around, and they feel their soul lighten until their toes are dancing across the tops of the chairs. Mini-Mettaton after mini-Mettaton (Mini-ton?) poofs apart at their touch, and they leap and bound through the auditorium in great strides.

“Don’t worry, folks, this is all part of the showww…” One left, one left!! They drop into the aisle and race towards the back and the cluster of humans. Rust jumps up at a Mini-ton, but it soars over his head, while Moss giggles and hides under their book. “You might have gotten some subtle hints beforehand!” The Mini-ton floats back a few rows and disappears behind the head of Talley Harris, reminding them unnecessarily of his existence. (He’s been mysteriously appearing at rehearsals for like two weeks now, which, what THE GODDAMN.) He stares at them in shock before ducking down in his seat so they can jump over him. And bang! it’s done and they twirl and stumble and fall on their butt in the aisle.

“If they go off, only the kid’s gonna blow!” Mettaton finishes, too late. “Call me after my quick change, beauties and gentlebeauties! Goodbyyyyyyyyyyyeeeeeee!!” And he zooms sideways off the stage, the same way that he came in.

Frisk leaps up and dusts themself off at Chara’s insistence. Talley Harris is staring at them and it’s distracting. He’s distracting. He just kind of…keeps showing up? He doesn’t even go here! What’s he doing here!! Does he just not want to go home like they learned Moss does or what!!

At least, he’s not mad, or he’s not trying to be mad, which is WEIRD coming from him. Chara says the words for what he’s feeling are quizzical and anxious. But he’s really trying not to feel anything, Frisk can tell that much themself. And anyway they’d almost stepped on his face, ha ha. They make it back up to the front and climb onto the stage just in time for the tail end of Alphys’s line. She flashes them a shaky thumbs up, and finishes with Mettaton’s next cue line. “Good thing I was there to save you, huh? That could have been a disas – “

“HELLO, BEAUTIES AND GENTLEBEAUTIES!” Mettaton explodes from the top of the set, throwing his arms wide.

“Are you wearing – METTATON NO,” Alphys hisses. It makes a staticky sound in her mic, and she winces and scribbles something in her script.

“METTATON, YES!!” Mettaton thunders, enjoying himself incredibly. “That human! Could it be…my one? True?! Love?!?”

“Oh no, he’s in opera mode!” Alphys cries, fighting back a giggle. “Human, you’ll be okay as long as he doesn’t make for the – “

Mettaton zooms down, and a deafening GONKGONKGONKGONKGONK drowns out the rest of the line as his one wheel crashes down the stairs to center stage. “Stairs…” Alphys repeats, and sighs.

Frisk bounces back and forth, close enough to where they’re supposed to be, wondering if after the play Mettaton will let them have the dress. It looks soft, and if it’s gross-feeling, Toriel can do some sewing magic on it. They probably wouldn’t wear it much, but it’s pretty. And he gave his last one to his now-manager Liolex, so he could definitely get another. It’s pretty. It’s got little shiny bits that reflect in the spotlights…

“OH MY LOOOOVVEE!!” Mettaton’s screechy, horrifying “SINGING VOICE” knocks them right out of their distraction, and Chara makes a bad shrieky noise and makes Frisk cover their ears. “PLEASE RUN AAAWAAAAYYY!!” The audience collectively just LOSES it, howling with laughter at the unexpected EVERYTHING, and even Talley Harris snorts?!? It hurts Chara a little bit, but they’re laughing too, because it really is ridiculously funny. “MONSTER KIIIIIIIINNGG!! FORBIDS YOUR STAAAAAYY!!”

This part is Mettaton’s “performance,” so he knows what he’s doing, posing and moving around the stage. They just kind of walk around as he sings, hands clamped over their ears, squinting cheerfully into the spotlights and trying not to pay attention too hard. Chara desperately wants those earplugs Alphys said she’d get them, when they started doing this scene for real. The singing sounds kind of like what probably happens when you’re dead.

“So sad,” he finishes suddenly, and their arms fall back to their sides. “So sad that you are going to the dungeon. Welp, toodles!” He clicks a button, and a colored tile maze projects on the floor in front of them. Papyrus said that in the real show they’re gonna do a cool thing with them falling through a fake floor and being caught by his magic, and also the maze might be REAL with REAL DANGER and REAL PIRANHAS, but that’s only in development. They can’t wait!

“My poor love!” laughs Mettaton, hovering grandly above them. “I’m so filled with grief, I can’t stop laughing! Good luck, darling!” That’s when they GO!

They leap onto the puzzle floor, skimming the yellows and the blues, flapping as the colors dance in front of them. Chara remembers the rules, and they mostly follow them, hopping and skittering to the beat until they’re all the way through to the end. Which turns out to be a few lines into the next part, because they were so focused they forgot to stop when the music did, but that’s okay!

“You’ll never be able to defeat us…not as long as we work together! Now give up and go home!” Alphys cries, planting her fists on her hips. Frisk mimics her pose, elbows stuck out like a chicken, and Chara gives Mettaton a big defiant grin.

“Oh! Ooh! You’ve defeated me!” Mettaton gasps, with less energy than is professional probably. “How can this be, you were stronger than I thought, et cetera. Whatever.” He drifts off stage right and is gone.

“O-okay, I think we should stop now, because the next scene is really long,” says Alphys. “And also I have a big monologue here.”

“That’s a wrap, then, dears!” cries Mettaton, rolling back onto the stage. “Papyrus, Undyne, would you mind heading up here to talk props? And may I just say, Frisk, that that was a wonderful first take! I certainly had a blast!” Frisk hugs him in response, sticking their face right up against his glowing screen. He smells more like magic than anyone else.

They let go and run over to Alphys, who is going down the stairs off the stage, and jump on her back in a way that almost knocks her over. She squeaks and stumbles but catches herself, and they rub their face on her scales. They’re shiny and smooth and pointed like pinecone scales, and Chara really wants to lick them. (Chara wants to lick most things. Last winter, they licked a frozen streetlight when Flowey dared them to and got the two of them stuck there for like seven minutes. They knew what would happen; they just wanted to lick it.)

It’s not really break yet but it’s tech time and no one’s on the stage so they’re free for a bit. They jump off Alphys’s back and wander down the aisles, scanning the crowd for some friends. Toriel is sitting and talking with the bunny shopkeeper from Snowdin, and Asgore looks like he’s trading knitting tips with some Ruins monsters. Undyne is holding the pumpkin prop over her head as Papyrus jumps on his tiptoes, trying to reach it. Better not go talk to any of them. They’ve all started getting worried about Frisk whenever they’re around, and treating them more carefully. It’s not as fun to play with them anymore. Frisk heads for the human cluster instead, minus artsy Moss who ran up front to help with the props, in the middle of the seats by the aisle.

“Hey!” Flowey springs up from their backpack as they pass it, abandoned by the aisle before they’d headed up to the stage. “What, did you forget about me? Come on! Promise I won’t cause trouble.”

“We can tell when you lie,” Chara smiles, and Frisk picks up the backpack and slings it onto their back. They used to leave it on the stage, but Flowey caused too much trouble there. He’d requested to be put next to the humans instead, who he said were the only ones vaguely interesting around here besides them. And if he’s noticed the creeping badness lurking behind them like everyone else has, he hasn’t said anything about it, so he’s still good to hang out with.

“Fine, fine, fine. Can you at least put me down under the seats so I can sneak up behind Mina? She’s really easy to scare.”

NO!!! Frisk signs, then clambers over the front of a row of seats so they’re sitting between Rox and Mina. Mina has a coloring book and is coloring everything various shades of red. Rox doesn’t acknowledge them outside of a little two-fingered wave, draped over the back of the seat and chatting with Sans about remote-control magic.

“…the controller? Like, do you control it with your brain, or is there some programming that goes into it?”

“Eh, depends on the designer,” Sans shrugs. “It can be all kinds of things. You guys mass-produce everything, so everything works basically the same, right? That’s not how we do it. You’d have to ask Alphys.”

“Really? HEY, ALPHYS!!”

Frisk flinches, and Sans hisses and covers his, uh, ears? Ear parts. Uselessly. “Don’t do that, kid,” he says.

“Sorry. Here she comes.”

“Is that lava?” Flowey asks Mina, his curiosity strangely genuine. “Covering the people, and they’re screaming?” (Oh.)

“It started out like a mountain village, but I decided to make it Pompeii,” Mina answers, scribbling with relish. “You got lava underground?”

“Yeah, a ton. Sometimes people fall in and die. Did a lot of people die at, uh, pomp-ay?”

“Like a million, I dunno.”

“Cool.”

Frisk scoots over and puts their backpack on their seat beside Mina.

“No, y-yeah, I’m gonna do a – a video on them at some point,” Alphys is saying to Rox. “The bomb props. I guess my way of doing it would be pretty straightforward? And pretty, uh, human-influenced. Oh no, I need to be working on them more than I am, I need to have them done in a few weeks…”

“Don’t worry, Al,” Sans says, and does that weird slow wink he does. “I’m sure they’re gonna be the bomb.”

“Repetitive and boring. Three out of ten,” says Chara, and Sans looks at them in surprise. “I’d like to see you come up with a better one, kiddo,” he smirks.

“A-anyway. Sans. And, uh, you guys too, if you want to chime in!” says Alphys. “What do you guys – uh, what do you guys think for the shapes? He p-put together that puzzle by himself. I d-don’t know how to do a prop that looks like an extremely agile glass of water. Like, I could do an actual bomb like that, of course, but, uh.”

“You can use the dog again if you want,” Sans says. “No idea how he got over to Hotland in the first place. You wouldn’t have to worry about remote controlling him, though. Just put some non-burning fire magic on his tail and let him loose, and you’re good to go.”

“Hey, what the hell?” Rox interrupts. “Your dog? Even your dog is a bomb??”

“Yeah, he’s hardy.”

Does it work to put the cup on like a floaty platform and remote control the platform? Or, wait, the water will come out on it, Frisk signs. How waterproof is monster stuff?

“It’s, uh, usually p-pretty waterproof, but, not enough for th-that. I could g-glue a little, like, a little hover p-platform to the bottom of the cup, but the remote-control mechanism would be too big and noticeable…”

Talley Harris clears his throat. Chara jumps so hard they bite their tongue. OWWWOWWOWOWOWWWWOWOW, Frisk whines through the pain, mashing their face uselessly into the seat back until the hurting stops some. It smells like carpet.

“Why wouldn’t you just put the remote control unit…in the cup?” Talley is saying when they look up. He’s…he’s, what is he? This is too weird. He’s not…okay, he’s, uh, he’s scared, maybe, scaredy-shy? Not mad. They know how mad feels, they’re used to that. They don’t want to destroy. He doesn’t either. Maybe? Chara??

Chara tilts their head silently, determined to stare at him no matter what Frisk says. He glances at them and they shiver and Chara grits their teeth, but he goes on. “Simple enough to make it just look like the cup’s full, right? I mean, it seems pretty obvious.”

Alphys blinks and chews on her lip, thinking. Her claws twitch, tinkering with invisible possibilities. “That’s – that’s, huh. Yeah, a-a magic illusion attached to the remote control mechanism, to make the cup look full. Wow.”

Sans does one of his weird laughs of disbelief. “How d’you know that much about monster tech?”

Chara stares even harder at Talley, their face locked into place. You have no right. You have no right to say that and be here. You’re standing in the way of all of our hopes and dreams. You have no right to know that. They’re not going to listen to you, are they? You have no right to be treated like an ally! Their anger is like hot puke in their throat. Frisk keeps swallowing and biting their lips.

“I – I watch your videos,” Talley blurts out. “I want to be, like, an engineer. And – and your stuff isn’t like anything I’ve ever seen – it’s incredible, it’s nothing like what I was expecting. It’s really, uh, really fascinating. You’re, uh. I think you’re really smart, for a monster. You can do stuff even humans can’t do.” He swallows and does something with his mouth that might be a smile, or maybe a grimace. “My dad – he doesn’t know. Please don’t tell him.”

Chara stops dead. Hey what the hell????? Frisk thinks.

That’s why he gets so nervous around Alphys?? Chara thinks back, letting the pieces fall into place. That’s why he was staring at her that one time in the car?? That’s why he hangs out here a bunch?? He’s a fanboy!

TOP SECRET AGENT FANBOY! squeals Frisk triumphantly, starting to bounce. See! He knew monsters were good all along! Right! So he’s not a shithead right!! Right right!

Then Talley looks at them bouncing and his surge of ew-gross-yuck-what makes them sit back down. No, says Chara, no, he’s still bad. I don’t know what you expected. But he’s still bad.

“Well, that’s a curveball,” says Flowey.

“No way,” says Rust, suddenly involved in the conversation. “Really? YOU watch her channel? You’re kidding.”

“It’s engineering!” Talley replies defensively. “It’s just because it’s engineering!”

“Did you buy one of her t-shirts?” Mina asks, coloring book abandoned on her lap.

“Are you serious? I can’t wear that at home. My dad – “

“Y’know your dad is an assface.”

“Shut up. You can’t say that about your mayor,” Talley snaps.

“Dude, do you want like, her autograph or something? Is that why you’re stalking us?” Rust snickers.

Talley opens his mouth and then closes it. His face turns pink, as Frisk’s warms up. He’s embarrassed?

“Oh my god you do,” gasps Rust. Mina cackles, and Rox snorts into her sleeve.

“Oh, I – r-really?” Alphys clicks her claws together and swishes her tail, curled in her seat into a ball of awkwardness. “I, I mean, if you really want – I know I have a pen around here s-somewhere…” She dives into the pockets of her lab coat, searching busily through all the junk Frisk knows she keeps in there. They don’t know what to do with their arms and there’s a stuttery hesitance in their thoughts, which means that Talley’s as confused about this as anyone. “For real?” he asks, for once without the instinctive condescension Chara’s convinced is his default state. “Here, I – I can’t really have it anywhere visible. Uh, do you think – “ He ducks down and rummages through his backpack.

Eventually, Alphys manages to sign the inside back cover of one of his (super-fancyboy) notebooks. Mina goes back to coloring Pompeii and finds that Flowey took the opportunity to make the whole sky scribbly black, and Frisk has to stop her from dumping him out on the floor. In the chaos they almost miss seeing when Rox pulls Rust to the side of the auditorium, and talks to him quietly.

The prop discussion up at the front finishes up, and Moss comes trotting back to their seat. Mina springs up and runs at them, already launching into telling them the whole story. Mettaton calls that he wants to see if they can squeeze in another scene or two before break, so Frisk and Alphys report back up to the stage.

“What scenes do you think need a little extra work today, darlings? The chorus song and the Hotland sequences? Yes, quite right, I think so too.” Mettaton doesn’t even stop to ask the question, rolling past them and over to Papyrus and Undyne, who are busy with dragging out one of the Hotland sets. The studio set, Mettaton’s pride and joy, has been disassembled back into boxes and shoved to the back of backstage. The air smells like sawdust and it tickles and stings in Frisk’s throat, like when it’s snowing and you can’t see the flakes yet but you can tell. A crew monster up on the catwalk slides sheets of red and yellow cellophane in front of the lights.

Frisk sidles over to where Alphys is chattering with Toriel and a half-listening Mettaton about her lines. Her script is open in one hand, and she keeps pushing her glasses up on her nose. “The main Hotland song isn’t super long, and I kind of j-just have a, a lot of space to fill with my phone call lines, you know? I d-don’t – I can’t, uh, keep an audience that long?”

“Do not worry, Alphys,” Toriel says consolingly. “Remember, Papyrus and Undyne also have phone calls in this segment, so you’ll be sharing that space with them. I’m sure you three will do wonderfully!”

“Yes, Alphys dear, you’ll be fine, so long as – oh, no. EXCUSE ME!” Mettaton blasts away from the conversation, almost knocking Frisk over, and screeches up to a pair of crew dragging the giant screen prop from Alphys’s lab across center stage. “Excuse me! Do you, Jynkins, recall being asked for that prop yet? Do you, Miss Snapper?” he scolds them. “We don’t need it yet, darlings! Less independent thought, now! More listening to your director, your star, your idol, ME!”

There’s a sudden BANG and a muffled yelp from Papyrus as the scene hits the floor, and Undyne comes jogging over, shaking sawdust out of her hair. “You need ideas for what to say in the calls, Al?” she asks. Frisk blinks and rubs their scratchy eyes, moving out from right directly under her. “You could do like Undernet stuff, right? I remember you practically liveblogging the whole thing.”

“Oh, you’re right! I could – “ Alphys giggles, suddenly overwhelmed with what Chara only says feels gay. “I c-could say how I’m going to watch your fight with them! On the screen! That’s good, uh, good n-narrative foreshadowing!” She pauses awkwardly. “Because of, uh, how we, how we, uh, g-get together later, right. Uh. Yeah.”

“Haha, yeah! That’d be great!” Undyne laughs.

Frisk shuffles back towards Undyne, wondering if she’ll be un-sawdusty enough for them to hug, and catches a glimpse of themself reflected in Alphys’s screen. Then –

They’re bigger than life in the screen, but they’re still way super shorter than Undyne. They’re washed in shades red and yellow, but the black of the glass makes everything grayish and dull. There’s sawdust. Sawdust flecks drifting in the harsh spotlights above them, around them, covering their shirt, landing like snow in their hair. There’s so much sawdust. And then –


thirteen months ago

Ting. Ting. Ting. They flip the spear around, around and around, in their shaking hands. They can’t breathe. Can’t breathe. Their hands are hot and their feet are numb, and they’re shaking, shaking shaking shaking.

She still is. She still is. She still smells like. Sushi. She still. Stares at them and her mouth is too big. Too bright. Too angry and they are TOO ANGRY – she’s like, she’s not fire, she’s like, what changes the world – she is HER and she is POWER and she is, SHE is – she’s still standing. Standing forever. Standing in their way. Still standing.

They can’t stop now. The bullets bounce harmlessly off of their spear, flipping away and vanishing in slow motion. They can’t stop now. Their arms are trembling. The spear is slippery with their sweat and sometimes their fingers phase through it. Can’t stop now. She’s almost gone. They’re almost done. The notebook’s in their other hand and it’s ripped and battered and there’s ink on their hands. They can’t look right at her. She is falling apart. She hurts their eyes. She hurts everything. She hurts. Stop hurting. Stop hurting!

The voice in their head says silence but says it loud.

“…I won’t…” She’s static. She’s floating. She’s drifting. She’s hurting. Stop hurting. “…give…up…” She’s still talking SHE’S STILL – STOP –

They launch forward and SCREAM, bring the notebook down with both hands, so the sharp edge of the metal spiral carves a shriek into her armor. Some of the armor flakes away into what???? and tumbles onto their hands in silvery bits, and then there’s this shivery echoing SHEEEENNNHH and ringing in their ears, and she’s fuzzy and their eyes are fuzzy she’s she’s she’s –

The music stops.

They stop.

“Ha…Ha…” she rasps. It comes out static. “Alphys…” she rasps. The spear is gone. Their mind is pulling apart. “This is what…I was afraid of…” Their throat hurts.

It hurts. She hurts. It doesn’t stop hurting.

“This is…why…I never told you…” she rasps. Something silvery puffs out of her mouth. They can’t move. Their head is warm and dizzying. They’re full of…something. They’re full.

She’s still. She’s. Still. Hurts. “No…” comes a sound from the static hurting mass, white noise crackles in the shape of a protest. “No! Not yet!” She’s a cloud of fire, she’s a pillar of smoke, she’s a scatter of pixels. She has no face and eyes and mouth and hands. “I won’t die!” They’re panting. “NGAAAAHHHH!!!”

Then she pulls back. She pulls in. Then she…she is. She’s still, she’s still… They can’t move. They can’t look away. She is lumpy and bumpy and gray. She is the skin under a scab and she’s oil on a puddle. She is bulging.

“I WON’T DIE!”

Half of her face drips down her chin.

“I WON’T DIE!”

The sludge of her legs starts to collapse.

“I WON’T DIE!”

Her arm falls off and smears across their shirt and plops onto the ground. It goes squetch.

“I – WON’T – “

They’re afraid.

Then she dissolves, collapses, glossy gray sludge coming down cascading over them, down their shirt, in their hair, grainy in their mouth, their eyes, soaking the little things in their pockets, the plastic bags in their shoes to keep out the wet, trickling down their spine, smearing on their face, on their hands, they try to wipe it away, it smears, they smear, she smears, it’s clinging in their nose, it smells like the end, it smells like like like!! It smells! It’s in their hair their hands in their lungs their eyes the dust the dust the the the the the the no no no no no –

They choke, they shudder, bend over, and throw up onto the ground. Their whole body is shaking and shuddering and the puke goes on their shoes, all over the sludge, all over the ground, and the smell is sweet bad sour in their nose and the dust is in their nose and, and, and, and, they can’t think, they just heave, they heave wave after wave of puking, onto the sand, onto the rocks, onto their hands and knees, after nothing’s coming out but clear yellow stuff that really hurts, their throat hurts, they hurt, there’s puke on their face and their feet and the floor and they’re so, so, so – they’re SO, SO, SO – FURIOUS, and then the screaming takes them over, and their body isn’t theirs, and they’re inside the meltdown’s fury, and their mind goes out to red.


Frisk whimpers.

What were they thinking. They weren’t. They’re never thinking. Now this is – everything is – everything is real and they did this. This is what happens now.

They ran. They ran fast. They ran fast and the distance stretched out and froze behind them. Like it did underground, when they had to run. When no one could catch them. No one can catch them.

They’re crunched in a ball, in a corner now. What corner? Lights. Mirrors. Little kits. Wigs.

Dressing room.

Oh. Dressing room.

There’s dust hanging thick and heavy in the air. (It’s powder.) It floods into their lungs and they whine and clamp their hands over their mouth and nose. Something worried is coming up the stairs. Something worried and loving and curious and, and loud, it’s her.

Panic rises in them like the need for air, air not full of dust and slime and powder. They feel sick and trapped and horrible. The play will still happen. The failure and the hatred will still happen. Everything will still happen. Nothing will stop, even if they stopped it. The world doesn’t stop for them. Not anymore. The play is scheduled for the end of the summer, and summer’s starting really soon.

WHY did I fuck up so bad?!?

She’s at the top of the stairs. She’s coming. Everything’s coming. Everything’s coming soon.

Chapter Text

“I shouldn’t be gone for long, dear. I know that sometimes the meetings with the mayor go over time, but I promise that I will leave as soon as I can.” Toriel pauses, worries, then breathes. Not even angry. “Trust me, if it was any other night, I would be staying home to watch over you, but you know that lately the meetings have gotten too important to miss.”

There’s a spot of something stainy on the underside of the blanket. Frisk scrapes it. It flakes off under their fingernail and falls down in powder. They stop scraping it. She’s going to leave. She’s going to leave them. They want to run to her, to hug her, to force her to hold them and not let go and not leave them here alone. But they can’t move. All they are is trapped and rocking and dark under the blanket.

“I will return before the meal and check up on you again, to see how you are doing. You can decide then whether you are feeling up to eating with everyone else. I trust you will be fine, alone with Flowey?” Toriel asks. Sometimes she leaves them alone. Sometimes it’s fine. But it’s not like this. It’s never been like this. “Remember, if you need anything, you can text any one of us and we will answer. Anything at all, Frisk…”

She means it. She means it so much that their face is hot. There’s a spring loose in the couch, maybe. It makes squeaky squeak noises as they rock back and forth. They bury their head further in their knees and squeeze themself tighter.

“Have you seen my shoes? No, you do not have to answer. I thought I took them off over here…”

Their hands are stinging. Toriel healed them a few minutes ago but in Frisk’s mind they’re still stinging. They can feel their pulse in their palms and it’s fast and light as their breaths. They have one speed of breath and one speed of pulse and it’s not matching their slow rock, back and forth, back and forth. It feels like their lungs are shrinking to pieces.

“Oh, there they are!” Toriel bustles over near the couch, near where they’re by themself and under the blanket. She puts on her shoes and pauses. “Frisk…”

It hurts to be worried about. They can only keep rocking.

“Frisk…” she repeats. There is a lot she wants to say. There is a lot she does not say. She steps closer to them. “May I give you a hug before I leave?”

She is, uh. Hesitant? Chara? Did they get it? (But Chara doesn’t say anything.) Toriel sits down and the couch dips under her, and they’re too scrunched up to stop from rolling into her side. She wraps her arms around them and hugs them to her, holds them tight, squeezing hard enough that the world stops fraying apart at the edges. They can breathe deeper, breathe longer, now like this, and the heat is going out of their hands, and the shake is going out of their limbs.

But then, Toriel sighs and pulls away and stands up, with a taste of guilt and sorrow that Frisk doesn’t understand for a few moments. When it crawls to meaning, they make a tiny noise and curl up tighter. Chara’s spit is acid in their muscles. You failed to reciprocate. You made her think that you didn’t want her touching you. But they want her to hold them, more than anything.

She’d handed them the agenda for tonight’s meeting as they were sitting at the table, and they’d taken it, even though the words didn’t want to mean things and they were exhausted without knowing why. That was when things started going wrong tonight, even though she doesn’t know that. No, no, no no nope. They’d been in their room before she called them down to get ready, and they were staring out the window at the sun, and Chara was quiet, and everything was slow and sticky with dread. No. No that’s not where it started either. Where did it start? Did it start? And now Chara’s not talking to them and they’re on their own, on their own, on THEIR –

Ground themself. They have to ground themself. What do they know? She handed them the agenda and they took it. It was on thick monster paper and the ink was green. It had a staple in the corner; they remember looking at how the kitchen light glinted off it. Then as they looked at it she said – oh, something, it’s all fuzzy and hot. She said, she said – she asked if this is what was on your mind, finishes an expressionless voice in their head, a respite out of nowhere. The meetings. If they were what is stressing you out.

Oh yeah, duhhh. Dumbass baby brain can’t remember shit. She was scared, she was worried. She loved them and she was curious but she was gentle and she wasn’t pushing. That’s the thing that was wrong, that’s the thing that hurt. She was just the same as always, and they couldn’t respond.

And she’d kept talking and they don’t know what about and she’d asked them something, something, and then it was too much too high too hurt for them to be and then their chair slammed the ground and they ripped the agenda into angry, tiny, flaming, shreds and they slammed the chair again, because it felt good, because it was out. Better out than in, Chara said, but didn’t mean exactly that, and then they didn’t talk anymore.

And then she’d decided that the meetings were what was stressing them out. And that. They shouldn’t go to this one. They should. Stay home and. Rest. (They want to rest, so badly. They want to take this blanket and drape it over both of them, because Toriel is so big she’s her own blanket fort, and have her hold them as tight as tight can be, and maybe together chase after sleep. They don’t want to do the meeting, they don’t want to see the mayor, but, but, not this, but anything but not this.)

And now they’re under a stupid blanket and oh no no no please she’s opening the door no no NO TORIEL MOM NO –

They can feel her sorrow, a little bit (or is that just all theirs?) which is something, at least, even if they can’t move or communicate besides rocking rocking rocking and holding the world together. “I’m sorry, my child,” she says from the doorway. “Truly, I am. Forgive me for this…” She’s not lying.

“I love you.” She’s not lying. And the door closes. And she is gone.

The apartment is silent, except for the squeak and scrunch of the couch and their rocking. If Chara were talking, they could tell Frisk how wrong they are, because the apartment isn’t actually silent ever. They would say that the fridge is humming and the ice is clicking as it shifts in the icemaker. They would say that they can hear the hot water running in the pipes and the windows creaking in their frames. Quiet, then, Frisk would say. It’s quiet. Not silent. And Chara would agree, because those words mean two different things. But Chara isn’t talking, and Chara doesn’t say anything.

They don’t know how long it is before they can stop rocking, but that happens, and it happened at all so that’s a step in the right direction, maybe. They hesitantly poke their head out of their shelter – the colors are bright and bluish after hiding with their eyes closed so long – and slip their soft-sock-feet down to the floor.

Flowey bursts out of his living room pot inches from their head, making them jump and scattering clumps of dirt all over them. “That was so COOL!!” he crows, beaming down at them. “How you just – bam! Right up in flames! And you ripped it APART like fhfkkgkfffck – “ He mimics the sound of ripping paper and pretends to tear up one of his leaves. “That made my whole week! Do it again, Frisk! Hahaha!”

Frisk races to their room and slams the door behind them. Then they slam it two more times.

They plug their phone into its speaker with shaky hands, scrolling through their music until they find something fast and blazing. It’s a tactic they learned from Undyne – when you’re mad, or sad, or whatever they are, just pump it up and BLAST IT out of your system. They turn it up loud loud loud, until Chara hisses at them to stop, until there isn’t any room in their head for anything else, and they swing their arms and stomp their feet and dance their feelings out. They didn’t want her to leave, they made her leave, it hurts to be worried about and the burn was getting rid of it and they’re trying to get rid of it and!! She left she LEFT SHE LEFT them, she LEFT them ALONE!!

That’s when Flowey bursts out of his pot by the window and springs his whole head right up next to theirs. They cover their face, stepping away until he backs off. “What’s going on with you, Frisk?” he whines. “Why are you freaking out all the time? You’re not as fun anymore!”

It’s like a switch flips in Frisk’s head. Chara goes from Lowkey Pissed to Scary Pissed, and their room is cold light and hard angles. How dare he, they say. It’s not a question, and the back of their tongue tastes tangy like red.

Aw, man. Aw beans aw shit. The song fades out and they have a few seconds of empty time before the next one comes in, and they use those seconds to plop down on the floor cross-legged. They only want to listen to the damn music. Everything woulda been alright if they could listen to the DAMN music in peace.

“Tell me tell me!!” Flowey hangs upside down from his pot and looks at them “Come on! You’re my best friend, right? So you can tell me anything!”

“You know,” Chara snaps from behind Frisk’s hands. “You saw everything we did.”

“What?” Flowey asks, confused for a second, then snorts in disbelief. “Oh, what, that? Are you kidding? You’re being total babies about it if that’s your whole problem. You’d be surprised how forgiving some of ‘em are.” He laughs, almost relieved. “You’re not the first one to go down this path, dummies!”

Shut up! Stop! Frisk signs haphazardly, fingers shaking and tripping over each other even more than they always do. Shut up shut FUCK FLOWER shut UP STOP! STOP!!

“No, you know what? You know what? This has gone too far. You’re not fun anymore!” Flowey whines. “Where’s the crazy kid who broke and entered and dropped stuff off the roof with me, huh? Where’s the weirdo who was my sibling and who made things interesting for once?! I’m going to put things back to normal, before they were before you turned into a ball of angst. If you’re gonna be so stubborn about this forever, I’m just gonna tell everyone what you did for you.”

Frisk’s breath catches and struggles to come back out. There’s red on their tongue and around the edges of their vision, and their tummy is petrified calcified vilified all the words Chara says for the Underground’s stone walls. Their palms are crackling and tingling with heat, and the thick, scarred skin on their forearms prickles. They lift their hands and carve each word painstakingly from the air.

If you tell, I will reset.

Flowey’s whole body goes rigid. He turns his head around so he’s not looking at them upside down anymore, but all he can do is stare. He’s horrified and blank and all the fighting energy he was brimming with is gone. Frisk doesn’t make empty promises.

Then he shakes himself, and all that energy hurricanes back. He giggles, high and sharp. “What, so you’re gonna just sit on this until you both explode?! That’s great! That’s fantastic! That’s an incredibly emotionally mature and responsible way to deal with that! I’m sure that’ll work out GREAT for you in the long run, you IDIOT!”

SHUT UP!! Frisk signs. They’re starting to rock again and they can tell he’s sarcastic because it HURTS. SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP!! I CAN’T TELL!! WE CAN’T TELL!! I’LL RESET FLOWEY I WILL SHUT UP SHUT UP!!!!

“Chara!” Flowey almost shrieks, his voice metallic and keening. “Chara! Tell them that they’re stupid and selfish and a baby! You’re the smart one! Tell them I’m right! Tell them!!”

“If you tell,” Chara echoes without emotion, “I will reset.”

Flowey stops short. His face wavers in real fear, and he sways on his stem like he’s been punched. “C-chara…”

Frisk scrambles over to their phone and turns the music shakingly up, roaring over his panic. The drums in their ribs and their knees are bigger than the needles in their throat, and their ears feel fuzzy and sore but they don’t hurt enough yet to count. Not enough not enough shut UP!

Stop it, Frisk, Chara hisses under the noise.

No!

“Would you – “ Flowey tries to shout over the music, leaves curled into tight little rolls. “I don’t understand, I can’t understand! Frisk! What is your PROBLEM?! YOU WON! YOU WON!! WHAT DO YOU WANT NOW!!”

“You think it is just a game,” Chara snarls at him before Frisk can respond. “You’ve never taken this seriously, have you? You’ve pretended to care about this for us, for ME, so we’d think you could be something less than despicable. But you never have, you’ve just been – WAITING! WAITING for us to mess up so you could see what happened!”

You don’t know what you’re talking about, Frisk adds in an undercurrent, palms sweaty and shaky, hands jerky enough that they don’t know if Flowey can understand a word they’re signing. You don’t know cause you don’t feel nothing and you CAN’T feel nothing and you won’t NEVER feel nothing! SO STOP! SHUT UP!!

“Are you suggesting that I’m in some way causing this?” Flowey snarls. “If YOU just got over it, just went along and were HAPPY with what you HAVE now that we’re on the surface, this wouldn’t be a problem at all! Do you idiots not understand that LITERALLY everything about this is your fault?!”

“The musical will fall apart like this, Flowey,” Chara says through gritted teeth. “That part is not our fault, not without telling everyone what happened. You know this.”

You want to tell everyone who you are and get into all that? Huh? You ready for all that??? Frisk adds.

“Shut UP!!” Flowey howls back at them. “It’s not FAIR! You’re both being babies!”

“We’re the childish ones?!” Chara shrieks. “You’re the one treating such a matter of life and death like it’s a GAME! I thought that you could change, I thought we could TRUST you!”

You don’t know!! Frisk signs, lungs burning. You don’t know you don’t!! You don’t know how much this matters!! You don’t know how much we have to lose!! Shut up! Leave me ALONE SHUT UP!!

You, says Chara, and Frisk stumbles with the force of their snarl. It was your outburst that caused Toriel to leave us. It was through your actions in the Underground that we landed in this situation at all. You believed your actions would not have consequences. You were wrong. You deserve this.

STOP IT!! Frisk lets out a growl and yanks at their hair, feeling Chara’s tears prick in their eyes. STOP!!!

“’Waaahh waahh wah, look at me, I’m a poor little baby and nobody loves me because I’m too stupid not to overreact to everything!’” Flowey mocks, matching Chara’s voice tone for tone. “God, you’re pathetic! Are you crying now?!”

“You think I’ve got ANYTHING to do with this?” Chara demands.

“You tell me!” Flowey giggles sharply. “You’re the one who – “

Do you see what you’ve done, Frisk?! Chara blares in their head. You’ve turned our only possible ally in this –

SHUT UP!! They sign it too, they don’t know who they mean, they can’t talk and they’re being ripped in three directions at once and their insides are coming apart. SHUT UP!! YOU DON’T KNOW!! YOU DON’T KNOW!!

What don’t we know, Frisk? Chara demands, cold and absolute. Do we know that if you continue in this fashion you will alienate everyone we love? That the musical will fail? That when it does, you will go back to the humans? You realize that, right? And then where will I be, Frisk?

“Even if Frisk doesn’t have the self-preservation needed to LIVE, I at least thought Chara would know not to blow this up! You’re not too dumb to know how precarious your situation is here!” Flowey adds unknowingly. “You know what?! I hope you DO go back to the humans! Then you’ll be out of my way and I can find another favorite human! Maybe someone who isn’t a total complete IDIOT!”

“I WILL DIE BEFORE I ALLOW THAT TO HAPPEN,” Chara howls. “And if Frisk dies with me, if they’re still being so STUPID and AWFUL – SO BE IT!”

Frisk screams and it swallows up the rest of Chara’s word, so they can’t carry on, so they stay on the inside. Fear tunnels out their veins and pounds against their heart, and they have to stop and they can’t stop at once. SO BE IT, SO BE IT, they sign to Flowey. We can’t tell, and you can’t tell! If you tell! I will RESET! You understand!?! You understand!!

“I – yeah, I get it,” snarls Flowey through gritted teeth. “God, how couldn’t I?! You’d wipe out this whole – everything, everything we have, wouldn’t you? Don’t you even – I get it, no, I understand.” He growls, and his tone is betrayal instead of understanding. Frisk can already feel him withering at the edges of their mind, fading back behind the barrier of enemy, taking laughter and light with him and SLAMMING the door.

“Do not tell, Flowey,” Chara bites out. “And we will not.”

“You’re so stupid. You’re both so STUPID!” Flowey wails. Frisk doesn’t know if it’s his own fear that shrills up his voice at the end, or if it’s their own fear that pulls up at their senses. He can’t tell. He can’t. If he does then. Oh god. Chara. Chara Chara Chara if he does –

You deserve this. Their thought cleaves Frisk’s in half. They can only lie in bisected pieces as Chara fills that space. You brought this upon yourself. These are the consequences for your actions. You deserve this.

I – I deserve, you, I, this – Frisk’s thoughts are splinters that stab and bite when they grasp at them. They’re drowning in a roiling melting molten pot, full of what happens when you hurt and scream and kick and fear and cry, and it’s boiling and they’re charring and their seams are coming welded unshut. Flowey is shouting, and Chara is shouting, and Frisk is shouting, and then in their head they go FINE! FINE! FINE!!! and outside their head they SCREAM, and drag the speaker over to them, and hit the volume button one two three four more more more.

Stop, Frisk, says Chara suddenly, panicked and broken off from their fury. Stop stop stop.

Frisk doesn’t have room to say no. Frisk doesn’t have room for saying. Frisk rocks to the beat, crashing into the wall, thudding their head, and the music goes louder, louder, louder, and their shoulders and their neck drift as it swallows more and more of the world.

Flowey shrieks, voice high and scraping, as the volume grows –

“You can’t do this! Are you kidding?! What’s WRONG with you!?”

Frisk turns up the volume more, until their head is humming and thrumming and Flowey can’t shout over it and he flees from his pot and there’s more sound than world and they close their eyes and slam and click the volume more more more. The little muscles in their ears and chest beat their mind away.

Frisk. Too loud. I cannot. Stop. Please. Chara does not have the space to say more, and they pound at their tiny walls, trying to disrupt Frisk’s beat. Frisk rocks and slams and rocks through Chara’s nausea, their panic, their fury, their fear, rocks them on the edge of what’s coming, shakes them.

They’re almost gone. It’s almost gone.

Stop, Frisk. Please. Loud. Stop! The last word dies, and when they drop hard into a real true shutdown, they be quiet after that.

Close their eyes, back and forth, back and forth, tailbone to thighs, wall to the air to the wall again. You deserve it. You deserve it. You deserve it.

They’re alone.

They’re alone.

They’re alone.

They take out their fists and their feet and they dance.

Chapter Text

Frisk lies on their tummy on their bed and tap-slides on the screen of their phone, guiding Jumpyboy carefully through level seven in the Mars part of the Solar Quest. They’ve been stuck on this level for like two days, and they have the first half or so really good, but then there’s the cliff part in the middle where you have to time the double jump just right, and they’re not good at timing things just right, so they keep having to try and try and try again. Their feet kick up in the air and swing absently back and forth, and sometimes they bump up against the giant Blanket Pile that lives at the end of the bed. They tilt and tap the screen as Jumpyboy clears the three big rocks right before the cliff part, tap a bunch to build up momentum, and DOUBLE JUMP!!...and miss the landing pad and fall right off the screen. Damn it! They grunt and start the level over, stabbing roughly at the start button.

Bang and boom and then there’s someone outside at the door, knocking (rocking talking cocking), someone who curls their toes and pulls their legs into their back. Someone who picks at them with their worry and prickles up their hair in static. Could be anyone. How long have they been there? Frisk wonders. Chara’s been really quiet lately, so they could have been knocking for ages. Frisk is on their own for hearing.

They pause the game and pop off the bed, padding to the door and pulling it open.

“Good evening, my child,” says Toriel. She’s holding something, crumply and gray at the edges, something right at Frisk’s eye level, and oh shit. “May I speak with you for a little while? You are not in trouble, I promise.”

Frisk goes and hops back on their bed. The You are not in trouble was nice of her. They ball their fists and lean into her side as she sits on the bed beside them. “My child…” She stops, unsure of what to say, and uncrumples the paper and smooths it out on her knees. Mmmmmmmmmmmmyeah it’s what they thought it was, oh no, oh boy, oh shit, they’re humming now, they’re wishing their tangle wasn’t on the other side of the room. It’s on their desk. They can see it.

“Sans showed me this when I returned home today.” Her badness doesn’t have any sharp edges, and that’s what keeps Frisk from splitting open all over her. They rub their hands on their thighs instead, until their skirt is warm with the friction, and hopefully just the friction. It’s probably just the friction. Toriel is holding a paper, their paper, their notebook paper, with the fringies that Chara likes to tear off still attached. From today – uh, this afternoon, they think. The ending of a k in one of their sentences, not the end of their sentence, just the end of their day, skids off into the margins and careens wildly back, scrabbling all over the paper. Their lines are thick and black, sometimes scribbles and sometimes fierce, concentrated circles, hard enough to leave ragged cuts in the bottoms of their canyons. There’s gray smudge over everything, from when they scrubbed too hard with the eraser, like a dumb idiot baby who doesn’t know how erasers work, pinching and ripping into the paper. Last time they checked the side of their hand was still gray, and last time they checked the eraser was still in two pieces, and last time they checked this paper was still crumpled and shoved under the couch! The hell was Sans doing under the couch!?!

“I am not angry,” says Toriel, sad at their friction and their hums, true and genuine and still bad, bad, bad. “But I would like to seriously talk about this with you, Frisk. This is not the first time you have…had trouble concentrating on your work, is it?”

No yeah but they’ve mostly managed to NOT rip it up and stuff in the past is the thing and it’s been a DISASTER but it got done. They’re no good at telling when it’s noticeable, is the thing, is the thing. They haven’t been able to focus at all, not even under a blanket and with their headphones, where everything’s supposed to work to be one thing at once. The letters just muddle around and the concepts are too frustrating, even the ones they used to love, and curling the edge of the paper between their finger and thumb is more compelling than anything that forces their brain to work.

“What is wrong? I know that something is wrong, my child.” She isn’t angry, but there’s something in her voice, a hardness, a – a determination? Is that it?? She wants to help them, they think, so bad. She wants them to answer her. “I know that we are all stressed over the musical and over the mayor, and that must be very difficult for you, with all of our emotions compounding into yours. I know you must still be adjusting to living with monsters. I understand why all of those things would bother you, Frisk.”

They’re breathing hard again, they’re thinking hard again, they can’t think they can’t breathe and it’s hard it’s hard. Their hands are gray gray gray gray shimmery gray and it’s on her paws and her paws are gray and filmy and her paws are melting up into smoke. They fixate on the curled corner of the schoolwork and shoot at it with their thoughts, runaway and slippery and already too far ahead to look back. I messed up. I messed up. I did this. I messed up. I’m a bad thing I’m bad I’m bad bad bad bad bad bad bad –

“My child? Are – “ no no no no “alright? I c – “ They can’t hear can’t think they’re frozen frozen frozen stiff, stiff with tension, stiff with fear. Her reassurances are waves breaking against their thoughts but the land is still on fire the land is still on fire!

You are overreacting, Chara states simply, but there’s a heavy scoop of malice hanging underneath. Frisk springs up and shouts them down, overwhelmed with guilt and fear and feeling sick to their soul, and flees!

Maybe they pull the world and maybe Toriel doesn’t follow and maybe they’re just fast fast fast, but they race out of the building, slamming through the doors onto the cooling city streets. This part of town never has many cars but Chara still shrieks at them to look both ways, twice, like their rule says, but they ignore that and run on. When they stop and soon they stop and they’re out of running anymore, and also they’re on some woodchips, and wow!!, they’re all the way to the park.

Wow wow wow for real, they think, kicking the woodchips and watching them scatter into the road. They don’t really mean wow, but they’re saying wow to not mean wow, which is how sarcasm is supposed to work. It gives them that deep acidic bite that Chara gets when they’re sarcastic, and that’s what they really mean right now. Something acidic. Something frustrated and not impressed and a little bit angry, still again and always. Beyond that, well…they growl. Chara would have more words for what they mean. But apparently all their brainsibling-translator’s gonna do is keep poking thorns through the soles of their head for the rest of their lives until they DIE.

Frisk scuffs over to the swings. Theirs is the one beside the broken one hanging loose on a single chain, the one with the plastic coating that only covers one of the chains, and it’s the only thing they can think to go to right now. Home is too hard. Anywhere else is too abstract. The swing exists, and they exist when they’re on it, and so does the path it blazes through the atmosphere. Right? Yeah. Best thing they got, right. Yeah. They pull themself up and hop over the seat, feet nice and comfy in the trench in the dirt beneath it.

“WEST WEST WEST WEST WEST!!!!!!!!”

WHAT in the WHOLE SHIT.

Frisk spins around with their nerves jangling and almost trips on the swing but not really and there’s A GIRL racing across the playground at them at full tilt. She screeches to a stop in front of them, like she just remembered to ask before running smack into people, beaming and bubbling and full of powerful, cleansing joy. “WEST!!” she shouts again at their face, and they flinch hard at the name and take a step back.

WHO is this?! Chara demands, defensive and scared like a cat with its hackles up. I don’t – says Frisk, because they don’t, the girl’s still beaming and she, her face, they can’t do faces but the long black hair and the brown skin and the purple overalls? The purple overalls, yeah!, the fabric they hate but she loves! No! I think! they say to Chara, hardly believing it themself. I know her!

“West, it’s me!” The girl whips off her glasses and pushes her hair out of her face, like how her mami would pull it back every day before school. “It’s me it’s me it’s me!!”

GLOW!!!

Frisk explodes with a joyful shriek and LAUNCHES themself! She catches them and squeezes them and bounces on her tiptoes so they can be the same height, and Frisk stumbles and squeezes her back and steps a little bit on her feet, and Glow giggles and they stagger around in the woodchips, clutching each other, seeing who can hug the hardest. One of them loses balance and they topple over, tumbling into a huggy giggly pile, until Glow pops up and Frisk stumbles up and Glow is grinning huge and Frisk’s feet feel like they could leave the ground.

“West!! West West West!! I found you! You’re back!!” Glow squeals, hopping up and down, so excited Frisk can’t help but mimic her. “Did you know there’s a, uh, they found a new – calamar, un calamar, qué es el animal que tiene los tentáculos en el océano – SQUID and it’s called Architeuthis buccanea! It’s a relative of the giant squid, pretty distantly but they’re like cousins and it’s not as big, but it can kill sperm whales too and that’s what it eats! And it lives in the big ocean, so like the beach, if you went to the beach and got a submarine and went out far enough, for like days and days and days, you might find it and eeeeeeee!!” Glow squishes her fists to her mouth and springs from foot to foot.

Who is this girl? Chara repeats, but this time in even less of a snarl than they ever get with humans.


twenty-five months ago

“Myths and sightings of mermaids peaked in the 17th century, y’know, but it was generally thought that that was stuff like dolphins and manatees and giant squids. It wasn’t until the 2039 deep-sea exploration of the Philosopher that we proved the existence of Aphotica gigantus, that’s the common leviathan, and scientists started sort of seeing its genetic similarities all over the place in the oceans! Like it shares certain brain structures with octopi, and…”

They, the two of them, swing on the swings, only them two. When Glow’s legs go up the other one’s legs go back, and when they swoop forward Glow’s voice swoops behind them. She’s Glow-like-them, autistic like them and not, alone like them and not. She’s like them and not like them, only a year younger, and every part of that fits them both together like magnets. The other kids are giving them a wide field of nothing, an empty swing on each side before another kid fills it in the line. The other kids think that the two are weird, but they think that they’re weird from a ways away, and Glow isn’t a ways away and neither are the sun and the sky.

Just the two of them are close, and together, and they know the word for this, for someone you listen to talk for ages and someone you play on the swings with. They’re friends with Glow, school-friends, class-friends, best-friends. They really like that word.

Glow really likes that word too, and she likes it in the same hard and fast and sizzling way she likes the creatures of the ocean and they like not being alone. The liking links them like a beacon of the sun, back and forth, back and forth, together, apart, together again.


Glow, Glow, Glow Ramirez! Frisk squeals silently. BEST HUMAN EVER IN THE WORLD TO EXIST!!!

Truly? Truly someone from your PAST? Chara asks, dry and frustrated.

Frisk brushes them off with the mental equivalent of a BUNCH of sparkly emojis and plops down cross-legged on the ground, pulling Glow with them. They take out their tablet and zoom to the texty talking app with speedy shaky fingers, stab out a message that’s stumbly and disjointed with excitement, and press the big speak button with a flourish.

“Glow glow glow glow glow! Not West! I’m Frisk! Frisk Frisk Frisk! Look listen look I talk now with the tablet!” They pull it back hurriedly and tap the airhorn button a bunch of times for emphasis, causing Glow to double back in giggles and even Chara to smirk.

“Bwahbwahbwahbwahbwaaaah!” Glow honks, cackling, and Frisk goes bwahbwahbwahbwahbwaaahhh, and they BWAHBWAHBWAAAAAHHH back and forth at each other until Glow stops, suddenly serious.

“You’re Frisk?” She nods like they’ve just confirmed a pet theory. “That fits. It fits you better, I think. I didn’t think you were West, really, not in the way they told us you were. I was in class on that day. I saw you run, and then I knew for sure you were not West.”

Frisk seizes the tablet and types out another message, less babyish maybe but no less joyful. “Remember you in the class together! Best part every day. But I couldn’t do it in the cafeteria. I couldn’t – handle it feel it bad bad bad. So I ran.” They shrug, self-conscious.

Glow hums in solidarity. “Why?” she asks plainly.

Frisk’s fingers stop, then type carefully and very slowly. “What do you mean?”

“You said you couldn’t handle it, but none of us could either, but in a different way, right? I think so. And you’re…” Glow huffs and shakes her head, looking for words and unable to find them. “You’re, you’re, you’re.” She flicks her hands, agitated. “You. Strange and you. Magic and stuff. Not West.” She shrugs. “You’re not West, so what are you?”

Well, uh.

Well, she’ll know, she does, she, she knows, there’s no going back from this, no no no. Frisk swallows and clenches their fists. They tilt their chin a tiny bit, eyes fixed on the woodchips, then nod harder. Not looking up, they start to type, faster and sloppier as they go and go and snowball into speed.

“I…I have. I have a thing. I have a magic, I AM a magic, it’s my soul, it’s red, you know, yours is normal, yours is purple, mine is mine is a bomb is a taking is a searching, is what mine is. My soul goes out and searching. My feelings aren’t my feelings, they’re what other people feel. I could feel. Everything. It hurts, it hurts sometimes, it hurts Glow it hurts me it hurts me it hurts me – I feel love and hate and anger and everything is so big so strong too big I am really really little Glow – I am, and it comes out, the sound and fire comes out and sometimes I scream and burn things and hurt things. There is a lot inside of me.” They take a moment to breathe, watching the ends of Glow’s hair move as she tilts her head, wondering if they’ll have to repeat that whole thing again for her. (Whatever the hell it actually was, damn it, you dummy, have you ever been less coherent?!)

“Ssssso,” Glow muses. “So…like that time at recess you jumped off the swings and beat Bebe Springs up for no reason?”


twenty-two months ago

Messed-up kids. Stupid kids. Shortbus kids. Swings kids.

Bebe Springs is last in the kickball line and he’s looking at them on the swings and his head is really really round.

It’s like a basketball. It’s like a balloon and then his ears are if balloons had two little nozzles where the air goes in instead of one. It’s like if you rolled half a sour grapefruit in crumbly sprinkles, and he hates them, and WOW wow wow, he hates them.

Their tummy has too much in it, they think, or maybe too little, or maybe Bebe’s does and that’s why he’s mad. His anger tastes like dry erase board erasers on the back of their tongue. They swing back and forth and they see his head, and then the sky, and then his head again, and then the sky, and he’s looking at them! He’s LOOKING at them with his eyes that are burning and their face that is burning, he’s he’s he’s –

He’s looking at them and Glow doesn’t even notice, she’s chattering, she’s box jellies and a flash in the dark and new warmth on the tip of their nose, and they’re not. They’re wriggling coils of hatred looped in around themself. They’re a mass of sadness and fear wedged at the top of their throat. They’re pulling their hands back and forth, yanking the chains of the swings, stim a little stim a lot stim it out, but the swing jerks wide and they’re out of orbit, skidding against the ground, almost crashing into Glow. She stops her box jellies and says something, they don’t know, the silence jolts like the swing, keep talking I’m okay. They make a little bad noise at her, trying to get the stupid swing back in control, trying to get her to keep talking. The kickball line moves so slowly. Bebe is a nauseating roar in their ears.

Why are they? What are they? What’s wrong with them? Why do they do that? Why don’t they talk? Why don’t they play? Why don’t they die? What do they do? What can they do? Why don’t they die? Questions and hatred and fear and wonder, spilling over themselves into words and back out into concepts. They’re not breathing right anymore. Bebe’s disgust channels itself into his thoughts, forming their thoughts, thoughts that on the best days don’t belong to them, worming through their soul. They could puke. Glow could – dieshecould – no not her not HER NOT THEM NOT – NO!!!

They LAUNCH off the swing and FIRE THEMSELF across the playground, vision tunneled, target locked, burning, burning, burning. Bebe still looks and his face changes and it’s less round and he’s spiky now, he’s scared, they don’t feel like puke, he’s scared and that’s better than hating them and they streak into him like a missile and tackle him to the ground. Their fists hit any part of him they can reach! Ears roaring! Shoulders pumping blood and anger! There’s hands pulling them! Blood on their fingers! Red black face and eyes that don’t look at them anymore! They hit him and hit him and hit him and they’re angry now, they’re angry, and he doesn’t hate them because he’s scared! Be scared! Be scared! BE SCARED!


“Pretty much,” says Frisk through the tablet.

“I don’t like him,” Glow confesses, like it’s a big secret she’s not supposed to have.

“Me neither.”

Glow hums in thought, playing with the ends of her hair. It snakes and whispers between her fingertips, catching the light and shaking it off in frizz. It’s longer than she used to have it, almost down past her shoulders, and it looks a little tangled. She twists it round her knuckles, presses it to her mouth, chews gently. “You’re…the monsters, too, now. Aren’t you?” She takes her hand out of her mouth and looks at their feet, their sweater, their frizzy fuzzy hair. “I keep seeing you, like, on the news and stuff. So I knew you were back, but not back back – you know? You’re the monsters now, right? That’s what you are?”

Ha, says Chara, and it’s clear enough that they don’t mean it in a funny way but Frisk has higher priorities than knowing what they really mean. Cause, uh. They’re not West. But if Frisk is of the monsters, if not-West is of the monsters, then…being not-West isn’t, hasn’t, worked out as well as they hoped it would.

“I want to be,” they start out. “I am WITH the monsters, yeah, I helped free them and that’s where I live and they love me Glow they love me, they want me, but, but. I. I WANT to be the monsters. I WANT that to be what I am now. What Frisk is.

“Frisk doesn’t do…bad stuff,” they continue. “Frisk is…happy and lovey and sweet. I’m learning that I can be those things. And I like being those things…but that’s not all that I am! I wish I was but it’s not it’s not it’s not it’s not!!” They’re stuttering and shaking again. “They don’t deserve me, they’re so good, they’re so good Glow, they’re so GOOD, they LOVE me Glow! They LOVE me! They love more of me than anyone ever has – but – but they don’t – all of me they don’t – they don’t know some of the things I am.”

“The things you are?” Glow echoes. Frisk whines and covers their face, hiding from Glow’s burrowing curiosity. “What things are you?”

“I can’t. They don’t. I can’t tell. It’s bad. It’s really bad. I’m bad. I’m more bad than I thought. You know? I don’t know. I’m more good than I thought, with them. But I’m also so much more bad than I thought…

“They’re not going to love ALL of me, Glow!” Frisk stabs ferociously at the tablet, crunched over it with their head almost touching the ground. “Can’t no can’t cant! Can’t love me can’t love me can’t – deserve it – can’t love all of me Glow. Can’t. Let them. I’m letting them see the all of me. I can’t keep it inside me, I’m STUPID, FAILURE, VIOLENT, EVERYTHING, TOO MUCH, TOO MUCH too much to handle too much…” They trail off, looking upside down at the pattern on their sweater, tablet screen turned up way too bright for the dark space.

Glow doesn’t have anything to say in response to that. Frisk tries to track their breathing, snatch its rhythm back from the wind, but they keep forgetting how the rhythm is supposed to go while they’re in the middle of it and it’s not good. It’s not really good. It doesn’t help of course not it doesn’t help at all how Glow is, wow, she’s, she’s full of things. She’s really, really full of things and not words but…

But the thoughts have a rhythm to them. It’s slow and lovely and it’s what they were looking for. Frisk matches their breathing to it, matches their heart, matches their soul. When they straighten up, Glow is still sitting in front of them.

Chara will absolutely never ever ever tell them what Glow is sending them, giving them. It’s too fierce and too warm and too sweet. Glow reaches out, and she takes Frisk’s hand, and her palm is soft and warm, and she sits with them. The two of them, together.

“That’s what you are,” she says softly after a while.

Huh? Frisk scrabbles for their tablet and hits the ? button a bunch of times, so the voice goes “Question Mark Question Mark Question Mark Question Mark?” in that hilariously dramatic robot voice it has. Glow giggles, and Frisk is suddenly very glad that they still share a sense of humor, and she lets go of their hand.

“You’re something new,” she says.

“I’m something new?”

Glow nods authoritatively. “You’re something that they haven’t seen before, Frisk. They’re not used to you, and you’re not used to you. No one is. You are new, and deep, and heavy, and burning. That’s what I think.”

“That’s what you think.” Frisk plays with a woodchip, turning what Glow said over in their mind. The words aren’t alone, they can feel the deep concepts around them through that blazed connecting trail. New (and fresh, raw, confused). Deep (and unseen, conflicted, fierce). Heavy (and angry, guilty, loving). New, and deep, and heavy, and burning. Well…none of those things are wrong.

“Burning.” There’s some singes on the woodchip that they didn’t notice before. They’re old and cooled, and Frisk doesn’t know where they came from. Might have been them.

“Huh?” says Glow, after a beat.

“School.” Wow this whole confession does not want to come out of them at all.

“There’s a fish tank in the new special ed classroom,” Glow replies, playing with her hair again. “It’s got Ptero – uh, angelfish, and goldfish and a little baby Plecostomus. That’s a suckerfish. And it’s too small for them.”

“I burned the school.”

Glow squeaks, a little bit, and puts her hair in her mouth and sucks on it. “You burned the school?” she says. “Like, magic?”

“Like magic.” They hold up the singey woodchip. “I’m magic. My magic. Fire.”

“Oh wow.” Glow scoots back a little bit and starts gnawing on her fingers. Frisk reaches out a hand, suddenly sad in a peculiar, lonely way, but notices that they’re still holding the woodchip and drops it on the ground. Glow doesn’t move, and they retreat back to their tablet, elbows tucked in close to their chest. “It’s okay. I’m in control of it.” Mostly, they want to add, sometimes, on good days, but they don’t really think Glow would find that as comforting.

Glow blinks, and her gaze drifts to Frisk’s hands. The hair in her mouth makes a rhythmic scuesh scuesh as she chews on it, and Frisk remembers how they could never stand that sound. Glow can stand it, though, thinks it’s comforting and crunchy and under her own control. Frisk can stand it good enough through her.

“Can you show me?” Glow asks, hushed with awe.

Her question catches Frisk off guard, how she knew how she could be either terrified or curious and made the decision before her brain could do it for her. “What – wait, here?”

“Yeah sure!” Glow picks up the singey woodchip and pushes it at their hands until they take it. “Is it like – do you catch stuff on fire or does fire come out of your hands or what?”

“It’s!” Frisk takes the woodchip and squeezes it for a stupid hot second before dropping it on the ground, already bubbling with long-simmered energy. “It’s! It’s…like that. Wait. Wait here here here – “ They spring up and start shoving all the woodchips around them into a pile, clearing the space around them like a moat made of dirt. Glow catches on and leaps to her feet, scooping up handfuls of woodchips and showering them onto the pile, until it gets wide enough and round enough to look like a weird little pyramid. You’re supposed to make a pyramid when you want to start a fire, right? A safe fire, right, a fire that you WANT to start?! It’s been so long, it’s been so long since they could get this out, since they wanted to, since they could burn something they WANTED to they NEEDED to – They tear a crumpled flyer off of the telephone pole, grab some little sticks from under the tree, as Glow pulls dryer lint and paper scraps from her pockets and adds them to the pile. The two of them smudge a deep trench in the dirt around the pile with their fingers, and Frisk takes a deep breath and rolls up their sleeves, and Glow scoots away, and Frisk thinks HARD and they BLAST it, with enough force that it mostly doesn’t even singe their fingers!

The top of the pile catches on fire really nice, but it takes a while to decide whether it wants to spread further. Frisk blows on their hands and rubs them on their pants. Chara has a distinct and hostile thought about the wet wipes in their backpack, but Frisk has discovered that ignoring what Chara says has been pretty good for their health lately.

“I don’t think the wood’s very dry,” says Glow, as the fire sputters.

But she plops on the ground beside them, pulling her knees to her chest and curling her arms around her legs.

Frisk sits down carefully beside her and balances their tablet on their knees. The woodchips are doing more smoking than actually burning, poofing themselves up in the air, getting dangerously close to becoming a Bad Smell. Glow absently holds a hand over her nose, as they watch the little fiery worms squiggle patterns through the wood. A little lick of flame springs up, caught on their flyer and a handful of woodchips, and they stare deeply into it. They can barely feel its warmth, but it’s there anyway. It exists, and they made it, no matter if they can feel it or not. (Plus it’s like 80 outside tonight so it’s not like they’re cold or anything.)

“I missed you a lot lot lot,” Glow blurts out, still staring into the fire. “I don’t know if I told you, so I didn’t really know if you could tell or not, but I really really did. I really do. You’re my friend, you’re my best friend, and…and now I’m by myself on the swings.” She shrugs, clearly searching for words. “You know?”

…Best friend.

Best FRIEND?!?!?!?!

“Come visit,” Frisk taps out, before they can decide if that’s a good idea or not. “We have rehearsals after school! We have a musical! Come visit us! Come see! Come see come see!” For just a second they’re all excitement, eager to show off all their FANCY MOVES and COOL FRIENDS and SWEET TUNES, and the worry is squished back in their mind – Glow talking weird fish with Moss and Undyne, Glow sitting on the stage giggling as Frisk and Papyrus leap and pose, Glow letting Toriel mom them and Asgore make them purple knit crafts!

“The monster musical?!” Glow gasps. “I heard about that! That school’s where they moved us after the old one burned down so I go there now!! The aides keep talking about it! They don’t really like you guys,” she mutters, almost apologetic.

“I don’t like them either!!!!” Frisk announces.

“Yeah!! Me NEITHER!!” Glow shouts, rocking with emotion. “Especially Miss Wellings! She won’t listen when I say the fish tank is too small and she keeps pretending to forget that she told me I could feed them!!”

“Screw! You! Miss! Wellings!” cheers Frisk, who has probably not even met this woman.

“Miss Amina is okay, though. I think it got better since you left. You’re moving soon, though, aren’t you?”

Chara could probably follow that hairpin subject change if they wanted to, but Frisk flies off track immediately. “Moving? Huh?”

“It’s almost the end of the school year! Are they going to let you keep using it through the summer?”

“Oh! No! We’re gonna have a real life THEATER Glow it’s gonna be cool as HELL!!!!” They’ve gone to the modest theater in the middle of downtown a few times, once to watch a play and once to run around a bit while Mettaton and Asgore talked to some humans about usage fees. It’s a hell of a lot bigger than the dinky baby school auditorium, old and fancy with carved wood and wrought iron crawling on it all over the place. The catwalk’s even HIGHER, probably, but they haven’t been allowed backstage yet. Mettaton says it’s HUGE back there! “Come to that too!! I want to show you everyone!!” They punctuate the tablet’s words with a squeak of excitement, that makes Glow look up at them and grin.

“GLOOO-OOOOWWW!” comes a faraway voice, loud and adult and from some direction Frisk can’t pinpoint.

“Here, gimme – you got a phone now?” Glow ignores the distant call and scoots up onto her knees, pulling a phone in a chunky purple case from her front pocket. “Gimme your number! So we can talk for real all the time now! I’m way better at texting than talking. Here’s mine…”

Frisk wakes up their phone and feels a deep, sick jolt in their stomach. 9 unread messages: goat mom best mom ]: ), The Great Papyrus!, bone gremblin, mr dad guy. It’s always Chara’s job to tell them about texts. Especially important ones. Especially ones from people who worry. Chara isn’t doing their job. Why didn’t you tell me?! they demand.

You seemed otherwise occupied. Chara delivers all of the words with the same amount of zero emphasis, full of flatness and cold. With your…human friend.

UGH!! Shut up!!! Frisk imagines slamming a shutter down in front of Chara and maybe on their fingers too. They tap Glow’s number into their contacts (the list always surprises them with how long it is, and how all it ever does is grow) and hold out their own so she can get it down.

“GLOOOOOO-OOOOWWWW!!” It’s louder this time, and Frisk looks around. Glow finishes typing frisk :D and a whole bunch of emojis and jumps to her feet. “I live right around the corner, so I come here a lot in the evenings, when they let me! Maybe – “

“GLORIA DE LA MAÑANA RAMIREZ!”

Glow huffs and claps her hands over her ears. “VENGO MAMIIIIIII!!!” she shrieks in the vague direction of the shout, and wraps Frisk in a tight tight hug. “I gotta go, Frisk. I’ll see you again. I think you should trust your family. I think they’re going to love you no matter what you are.”

“You don’t know,” Frisk responds, when Glow lets go of them and backs up.

“I know that you’re still my friend. I know that you’re new and strange and Frisk now. I know if you love the monsters as much as you do, there’s a reason for that. You see?” She headbutts Frisk affectionately in the shoulder. “I know some things!”

She leaps across the now-glowing coals, waves, and rushes off into the fields of streetlights.

Frisk watches her until she turns the corner and vanishes, then watches the spot her shadow left in the streetlights. They turn back to their phone, scrolling dejectedly through the unread messages list. Worried, confused, funny, heartfelt. They think about stomping out the coals and steeling themself to read through all the texts. They think about turning around, and they think about heading back home.

Chapter Text

The long afternoon sun drips down their bed and sneaks across the floor to warm their toes. Frisk watches those toes, curling and stretching them idly, before crunching them down and pulling them out of the sun. Into the light, out of the light. Warm tips, cold tips. Warm cold. The little things that live in the sunlight dance around in their vision – hairs, and bits of dead skin, they learned, and sometimes little bugs and flecks of dirt. There’s fluff in there too and maybe foodbits. Toriel would call it musty. Chara would call it dusty. Maybe they have that the other way around.

Frisk watches the dance in the sunlight and thinks about calling it what it is. Skinbits. Little flakes of dead skin. That’s gross but it’s accurate.

Do monsters have skinbits? they wonder.

Only then that idea flutters and flops away, slippery with their sudden disinterest. They sigh, just a little bit. Their homework ended up going the same way…

There are worse things to be than lethargic, Chara announces.

…Don’t know what that means, they admit.

Lazy. I mean, at least you are not destroying things. You could be livid, demoniac, lugubrious.

Mmm. Frisk isn’t going to push them to define those any further.

They’ve been…pretty good, they think, at keeping it together in the week-ish since they ripped up their homework and ran out on the streets. Maybe they don’t talk as much. Maybe they stay in their room a lot and stop being proud of their schoolwork. (Maybe they’re even scareder for the times they see Mela, even though they haven’t had an outburst like that one since then.) But they go to rehearsals, and that’s important, and they dance around, and that’s important, and under the lights sometimes it feels like the lights are the only thing that exists. That’s important. They both think that’s important. (They think it in different ways but it’s something to agree on.)

They’re not really sure if today is bad yet. It hasn’t had a lot of chances to be a day at all, where things happen to them and they happen to things. Mostly they tried to happen to homework, which only worked about 33.333333-repeating percent of the way. (They did learn some things about fractions today. Fractions happened to them.) But, but but but – They roll their head down against their shoulder and rub their face into their arm, their sweater sleeve scudding up and pushing their scars into their cheek.

But apparently stupid public schools have musicals, too. Apparently sometimes people who actually go to the school have to actually use their actual auditorium. Sometimes rehearsal gets canceled, just for a day, only just one day, but the kids still come over, because that’s what they do after school. (Which includes Talley now somehow for some reason, because he decided he and Alphys are ??friends now??? and they talk about nerd stuff. Are they friends??? How does Talley even get over here from his rich ass private school???) It’s routine and it’s not routine. And Frisk doesn’t know what to think of it but they don’t think they like it. They’re not supposed to be doing what they are (which is, lying on the floor, in their room with the light off), but what even are they supposed to be doing in the first place.

Alphys left a while ago, they don’t know how long, could be two minutes or a thousand hours but they’re pretty sure it’s not. She knocked on the door and they didn’t get up, and she said where she was going, and they didn’t get up, and then she said it again, and they didn’t get up, and then she left. And at some point they watched the sun move down from the corner of the window to right above the crisscross frame, and blinked the blue spots out of their eyes. It was a while ago.

The door to Toriel’s apartment, which they haven’t exactly left all day, opens and shuts. Footsteps tremble the floor and Frisk flicks their eyes to the corner with the door.

“H-hey, uh.” The footsteps shuffle outside, and Alphys sniffs and clears her throat. “Hey, F-Frisk? I’m back.”


thirteen months ago

“Alphys, Alphys, Alphys.” Mettaton waves his finger back and forth in a way that looks really, really rehearsed. “You aren’t helping our contestant, are you?”

They make a snorty laugh as Alphys shakes her head slowly, her giggly nervousness bouncing them on their toes. They drum their hands on the answer panel with the pull of the song that’s stretching out their soul (one, one-two-three, one-two-three, one-two-three). The stage lights spiral across the floor and up the walls, dizzying and soaring and every beaming color at once.

“Ooooooohhhh!” Mettaton cries, full of malice and glee and something secretive that friends share. “You should have told me.” He flashes half of his screen at the cameras, in what they realize might be a weird kind of wink, and a canned laugh effect erupts from offstage. “I’ll ask a question…you’ll be sure to know the answer to:

“WHO does Dr. Alphys have a crush on?!”

– and they hop a little bit of the energy out and unscrunch, staring at the glowing console. The voice in their head gets impatient at their slow brain again and reads the words for them – Undyne, Asgore, The human, Don’t –

It says Undyne. No.

No.

The breath goes out of them, and they feel like they got slammed in the chest with a rock. And the music isn’t stopping and nothing is stopping and their fingers, their legs, their soul, those are stopping. It's her. It's her, she's back here on the screen, she's up here and drifting through their hands and they killed her, she chased them until they KILLED her! And now Alphys, Alphys who is maybe please MAYBE their new friend, she might have loved her! They thought they got all of this bad bad shaking stuff out when they puked, but they didn't, not really.

I have to know!

It’s the only thing they can think. They can see the shimmering smudged on the buttons. They can see it flashing in the lights. It’s all they see. It’s all they know. The quiz show fades out. The quiz show never happens. It’s them and shimmer and gray and the wet on their shirt and the gross on their pants and they have to know.

A –

They press it and some of her comes off of their hands.

“SEE, Alphys?!” Mettaton cries joyfully.

They feel sick, they’re sick, they were RIGHT she LOVED her and they and THEY no NO NO –

They slam themself into the lasers and they do it again ten five two one more and they’re shaking and shaking and shaking and then they’re on the dark blue sand and the plastic bags are still in their boots and the garbage towers above them and in the corner there’s flowers.


Alphys is back. She’s back outside the door to their room and she’s back. Frisk blinks up at the ceiling and doesn’t move.

When Alphys left she didn’t know what Frisk was doing. She didn’t know where they were. She knew they were in their room and that was it.

“I, uh. I p-picked up the, your frien – the humans, uh, you know that already. I told you that. That’s, uh, that’s where I went.” Everyone talks to them more slowly than ever, more thinking. More careful. That’s just how Alphys talks normally, but they can still tell.

She knocked on the way out to tell them she was leaving. But she isn’t going to knock this time. She just stands outside of their door and talks and they don’t really get up to go see her.

Instead of that they just roll over on top of their tablet. The air fizzes a little bit with the energy of the everyone else piling into their home, just a little bit, it’s alright in here. They shouldn’t be in here. They should be out in the fizz. It tickles their nose and makes them want to sneeze, but in the way where sneezing is a giggle and their nose is their happiness.

Or, uh. It should. But right now it just kinda…hurts.

They stare dully into the staleness of the room, the quiet drifting blue and the shadows that hide from the sun. Alphys makes a tiny sigh, and their heart sinks a little further into the carpet, and then she goes away.

Just kinda hurts.

Without any Chara-help their dumb baby brain doesn’t know how to sort out what the other kids are doing – eating some of the leftover muffins from today, maybe, or showing Alphys that new video game that Flowey really likes – through what they can hear, but tides of enjoyment lap at their brain and the floor vibrates gently every once in a while. Normally it’d be fine. Normally it’d be fun. Normally they’d be like why aren’t you out there and normally they’d be out there.

But now they just kinda want their headphones. When the world wasn’t looking something happened and Frisk ground to a stop, and now they can’t get themself up and going again.

Frisk rolls off the tablet and sits up blearily. Clouds in their head fade in and out, and they blink and clench the carpet. Got up too fast. Once their vision clears they look around the room, where’d they put their backpack, they had it –

Oh. Ohh they had it out in the living room.

Frisk lies back down. Yuck.

Well, they need their headphones. It’s not a want, to need their headphones, not something to decide. It’s how the world is going to be. So they’re gonna have to go out there anyway. They’re gonna have to, they think, or else or else or else or…yeah, else. They can’t move, they don’t want to move, but that’s why they have to. If the clouds in there stay not-moving for much longer, they’re going to fluff up Frisk’s head with mold.

Right, Chara? they ask before they can stop themself. They scrunch up their face before they’re even done having the thought. Why do they keep looking in that direction for reassurance? For anything?

But Chara is – well, they’re not really in a good mood, but Frisk sees that they’re on their side today. Seems like it, they say, still carefully monotone, but the disappointment and dread is with Frisk and not at them. It’s, it’s cama-rad – cama, uh, corre, cooperati - ? Comrade? Whatever. That word’s gonna stay on the edge of their mind forever. Chara’s with them.

I believe it is on your chair at the table, Chara adds, showing their alliance even more.

Frisk heaves themself upright and pads out into the hallway, leaving the door just slightly open behind them. They try to mimic the soft, balanced way Chara walks, perched on their toes and taking little bouncing steps, but their coordination isn’t good enough for that and they end up wincing as they creak across the floor. They’re gonna have to pass by the living room aka The Room Where Everyone Is Yelling And Happy Without Them to get to the kitchen. God damn. God damn. They try to get Chara to take over the sneaky stepping, try to shove their legs in Chara’s direction as literally as they can, but Chara has decided that they’re done helping Frisk for today. There’s something sour underneath their tongue.

So they go sneaky stepping as normal and quiet as they can, sticking close to the walls because Chara taught them how the floor always creaks less there. They don’t have good enough balance for that either, but even though they have to wave their arms around a little bit they don’t quite fall.

They pause in the living room’s doorway, hands wrapped around the doorframe and peering warily into the scene. The humans, Flowey and Alphys all crowd around the couch in front of the TV, where Rust is hunched with intense concentration over a console. His dude, who is holding a shovel and not wearing anything except underwear for some reason, crouches behind a giant chunky rock formation as something with way too many legs searches for him. Very carefully, lip between his teeth, Rust deploys a bomb…raises it above his dude’s head…

…and then he drops it right in front of him and it blows up and he gets exploded into the leggy thing’s line of sight and then it vaporizes his dude dead, shovel and whole butt ass and everything. The audience breaks into hysterical laughter, and Rust smashes his face into the arm of the couch and flings the controller at Flowey. “YOU do it, then!!!!”

Frisk goes snrkkrrk and they don’t mean to but everyone’s laughing so it shouldn’t matter, but then it does matter, because apparently everyone wasn’t laughing enough, because Talley’s head goes up and he sees them and he stops laughing.

Talley doesn’t say anything, to his credit, and he doesn’t hate them, at least not anyway right off the bat. He just kinda looks at them. He does it a lot. He’s been doing it a lot since Rox pulled Rust to the side of the auditorium a few weeks ago, and talked to him quietly. And since Talley’s…well, since he’s started being louder about not wanting to go home. Since he and Alphys have started talking about nerd stuff at rehearsal. Sometimes he and Rust sit together. They’re sitting together now, but in a way that everyone’s sitting together. He nudges Rust in the shoulder and points at them with his head, his head and a hand that doesn’t come all the way out from his side.

Rust’s face bursts into a grin, and he pauses the video game and waves at them. Talley mimics him, a little more hesitant, and then Mina turns around and squeaks and Flowey puts down the controller, and Frisk is like shit, and Chara is like SHIT.

“Wowie! I was wondering if I’d ever see you back in the realm of the mortals!” Flowey chirps, slick and sweet as ice. “You finally got your head screwed on right and decided this is worth your ti – “

Glow appears from around the corner to the kitchen and drops her bicicle to the floor. “FRISK!!!” she screeches, and rockets across the living room to slam into them in a tackle hug. Frisk hugs her back, a little distracted, a little bit stomach-sick with how tight she’s holding on. “Hihihi!! Alphys said you were home but you didn’t want anyone to talk to you, and I missed you but I came out here with everyone else – “

“Flowey says you’re pretty good at this game,” Rust calls over Glow’s ecstatic chatter. “You figure out how to get past the Gigagargan yet? We keep dying.”

“I told Rust he should put on pants but he’s trying to do like a fancy run where you don’t use pants and also my big brother Rafa at home, he has this game too and he got past the Gigagargan but he had pants on. Why did you not want anyone to talk to you?” Glow asks, putting her head on their chest and aiming her face up at them, beaming. “Are you done being in your room now? Are you gonna be out here with us??”

Frisk doesn’t say anything but they pull Glow tighter like a reflex, so there’s more of them that no one in front of her can see. They haven’t got to that part of the game because Flowey’s save file is usually more ahead than theirs and he knows that, why was he saying they’re good, are they good, everyone’s looking at them, they lock their knees and Glow doesn’t let go of them.

“O-oh,” says Alphys, seeing their discomfort, probably the only one who does, cause they’re weird and stupid about it and they can’t say anything or do anything and their knees are locked. “Are you – are you, uh, h-hungry or something, Frisk? What’s up?”

“I had my spot on the arm of the couch but you can have it now if you want!” Glow announces. Her heels are trying to bounce them, bounce with them, like when they were in the park, and it’s her first ever time at Frisk’s stupid house and she likes Moss and Mina, and she said she was nervous, she texted them yesterday and said she was nervous coming to their house even though sometimes she gets to come to rehearsal. She’s happy happy loud they’re out here. She’s happy happy loud they’re just standing out here and they can’t move and everyone is looking at them and they have to let go, they have to LEAVE they have to LEAVE!!

“Do you – d’you n-need something?” Alphys asks, gentle and soft like they’re a scared animal. “Do you want to be out here?”

“We won’t be like…offended, if you, uh, just don’t really wanna be out here. If you just wanna leave,” Rox offers. Flowey snorts and he doesn’t even try to hide it.

There’s fire at that, fire and fury at being treated like a shy feral cat, but also before they know it’s coming a deep, deep longing that sweeps the ground right out from underneath their brain. They flail but squish it down. Squish it down squish it down squish it down. Blink once. Blink one two threefourfive. Their backpack. That’s what they need.

Frisk untangles themself from Glow’s embrace and pushes her away.

Glow sighs a little bit. Crestfallen. That’s one of the only big words Chara taught them that they can ever actually remember. It’s when, just for a second, you’re not a solid being anymore. You thought you would be. You were secure in that. Then something fell, something happened, and your solidity fell out of you with it. And you’re a sad, sad spirit, floating in the air, and you can’t do anything except wait for the solidity to come back.

She goes and sits on the arm of the couch next to Moss and waits for her solidity to come back.

Frisk signs, I need my backpack, even though they know that no one but Flowey or Alphys can understand that. Then they rush through the living room, feeling terrible.

Their backpack sits on their chair at the table, just like Chara remembered, and at least that’s going right. Least there’s a path forward now, a path to their room, back to their quiet. They’re exhausted. Just after that, they’re exhausted. They pick up their backpack from the bottom and squeeze it close to their tummy, then scuttle back across the living room to the hallway. Alphys looks up at them when their foot does the one creak by the corner but she doesn’t get up and she looks back at the TV and tries not to be too sad. Frisk is too tired to feel anything real about her sadness. It just joins the rest of the sticky black lump that lives right in between their lungs. And they can see the little sliver of their room through the crack in the door –

But then the floor creaks behind them and Talley Harris gets up and follows them back into the hallway.

Shit dammit fuck. They stop walking and hold on really tight to their backpack and they watch him out of the corner of their eye as he comes up cautiously beside them. He keeps his feet close together and quiet on the carpet, and the shivery tingles that vibrate from their arms inward catch them by surprise. Scaredy-shame? Nervous? He’s nervous? But there’s something else there too. There’s always something else with him. Stupid complex human being.

“Hey,” he says, looking at his feet, or the carpet. “Uh, I want to – to, uh…”

There is the something else. It’s not bad. It’s coming to them slowly but it’s not bad.

“My dad.” It’s not awkwardness, even though there’s a ton of that. “He’s – Rust and Rox, uh…you guys…everyone’s kinda…kinda making me start to realize some stuff.” He thrusts his hands in his pockets, shifting his weight from foot to foot. “And Rust told me I needed to talk to you about it. My dad’s not – not right.”

Frisk is nonplussed, but Talley takes a breath and continues on. “He said you were a boy and that you were – uh, messed up and broken. He said that you were too spoiled, and someone needed to – to hit you enough, and then you’d stop acting like a freak, and that the monsters were like, encouraging your – your condi – UH, how you were. And he thinks that’s bad. And I thought it was bad and I thought you were spoiled and stupid – “ He rubs his hands dejectedly down his face. “Damn it. I’m sorry. I didn’t need to say all that. I don’t want this to – I don’t want to hurt you with this any more.”

What the hell?

It’s admiration.

“I’m trying to learn,” he says, and they don’t know whose that thickness in their throat is. “I’m trying to learn, because, because I…like it here. More than I – more than I ever thought I could.” He grunts and shakes himself. “Which is dumb, because you’re all still literally the strangest people I’ve ever met. Anyway.

"I know you’re not a boy and I know you’re not messed up. You’re just a – a different kind of human. I mean, I still think it’s weird, it IS still weird, but…not in a way that hurts you, or me, or anyone else. No matter what my dad thinks. Because – cause he’s not always right!”

Talley smiles at them weakly from behind his thinking hands. Frisk’s fingertips feel numb and clenched. “So,” he says, relieved. “I’m…sorry. I’m sorry I was a dick to you. I – “

Then Frisk feels their chin lifting up, and they’re too surprised to stop it, and their eyes pull wide, and a presence moves solidly and heavily in front of their face, and Chara looks up at Talley and smiles at him.

It’s a real big Chara smile, their lips peeling away from their crooked teeth, carving through their chubby cheeks. They curl their lips under themselves, showing their gums, and stretch their face all the way out into wincing. The little muscles by their eyes stay carefully relaxed, and their eyes widen out into gaping holes, and they blink slowly, once, and they smile.

And Frisk YANKS Chara’s mask away but it’s done, it’s wrong, it’s sabotaged. The apology dies in Talley’s throat and he doesn’t look at them again and he skedaddles back to the living room, no more admiration from him no no no. No more of that but shivery fear, yes, fear, shame, yes, all that, all that, everything, crashing down in around over on top of them. Frisk doesn’t know what to do and so what they do is they run to their room and they slam the door and sit down hard against it.

What did you DO?! Frisk cries in their mind, fingernails scraping against their scalp.

I did what was right, Chara responds slowly, confused by their frustration. Did I not? I did what would make him less likely to become close enough to betray us. That way we can stay with the monsters. You have not disagreed with me on matters of morality like this before.

Didn’t you hear him?! Frisk knows that when Chara gets determined their flavor of black-and-white thinking is closer to blue-and-orange, that what’s right means staying and wrong means going, just like in the Underground how forward meant good and stuck meant bad. But that doesn’t mean they’re not PISSED. He was changing! He was changing!!!

You seem awfully sure about that, Chara replies evenly, their composure fading back in. You must remember, Frisk. He is a human. He is a human, and solidly allied with those who we must avoid by all means. You of all people know why we must.

He seemed – he seemed – because what had he seemed?? He’d seemed a lot of things at once, but people can be a lot of things at once, and also be bad, and he’s Talley. He’s a human, he’s him.

If I still had the power of my old, red soul, Frisk, I would bet anything that he whispers abuse of us to no end. Perhaps out there, to the others. Perhaps just at home or school, to people like him, Chara continues, earnest in a way Frisk hasn’t seen them since the Underground. We cannot trust him, Frisk. We have tolerated the humans thus far, but we cannot trust them.

If we trust them too much…Frisk thinks, realizes, (not really, but accepts,) and they hiccup. We go back.

We go back, Chara agrees grimly.

Duh, duh, duh. Stupid. Stupid baby. They can’t let themself do that, can’t let themself forget. Can’t get close to the humans – or they’ll send us back. Can’t tell the monsters what they did – or they’ll send us back. Can’t show everyone their fear, can’t talk about the parts of the musical that don’t work, can’t, can’t, can’t can’t can’t. They went like a whole bizarre year and a half without can’t. A shriveled little part of them misses that.

Frisk shifts down so they’re lying against the door, backpack like a rock on their torso that helps compact all of their badness down, down, down. They put on their headphones and tap their favoritest loudest playlist, even though they don’t feel like dancing and yelling right now. It’s good for drowning stuff out. It’s good for lots of things. They watch through the top strap of their backpack as the sun soaks the sky in deep, sweet orange.

We can’t go back. So the only way out is through.

They can’t go back, but that doesn’t mean that there’s not a way out. They can go forward. They can both go forward. They’ve done it before. They’ve done it again, and again, and again.

So they’ll stay here, and they won’t help the humans, (exceptGlowshe'sGLOWshutupChara), and they’ll pretend that things are normal. They have to pretend. They will pretend that things are normal until they are again. And when everything is normal again, then normal will mean a brand new thing, but it’ll be a brand new thing that they created.

It’s louder now, on the other side of their music, and the floor shakes every now and then with what’s probably a stomping. Maybe everyone else has come home, too.


thirteen months ago

“LISTEN UP, HUMAN!” Undyne yells, and they rock on their heels, bubbling with Papyrus’s leftover smugness. “We’re not just going to be FRIENDS,” she says, and there’s a giggle busting up inside them, “we’re gonna be…BESTIES.”

BESTIES, goes the voice in their head in a snorting little shriek, we’re gonna be BESTIES! With the TRUE HEROINE, the savior of everyone’s HOPES and DREAMS – the one who has a piano in her house and a big ass SWORD in the corner and a fishy lacy thing doily on the table! With her rasping loudness and how she LEAPS in the air to punctuate her words – “it’s the perfect REVENGE!” – and pumps her fist and they leap with her, and, and why don’t they have a seat?

The voice in their head giggles with disbelief, with giddiness. This is weird, it’s so weird, she’s so weird, they scuffle over to the table and sit down. She asks something about being EXCITED and they SLAMSLAMSLAM their hands on the table, and she goes YEAH!!!!!!!!!! and they SLAMSLAM more and she SLAMSLAMS – and then remembers herself. “Would you like a drink? I’ll get some out for you.”

She goes to the cupboard, scuffling around for what looks like an embarrassingly long time before emerging with four containers that don’t look like each other at all. There’s a stack of boxes that the voice in their head perks up at, and a container, and a bottle, and a bowl, and are drinks ever in a bowl?? is she just offering them sugar?? They move to hop down, but –

SLAM!!!

“HEY!!!” bellows Undyne, and they jump and freeze solid to their seat, staring cross-eyed at the massive energy spear that came like THAT CLOSE to spearing them in two. “DON’T GET UP!!!” Her voice squeaks at the end, and they muffle a snort into their sleeve, choked off and a little snotty. “YOU’RE THE GUEST!!!” she keeps yelling, unfazed. “SIT DOWN AND ENJOY YOURSELF!!!!”

Then the voice in their head hums the opening notes of Papyrus’s Date Song, and oh, oh no, oh this is going to be a thing now isn’t it.

The Date Song (is that the real name? but the voice giggles instead of an answer) bounces cheerfully as they reach for the spear, glowing like a neon light and tingling their palm with warmth, to point at the counter. Blatantly correct choice, says the voice in their head at the tea (in a spot-on imitation of Papyrus), and they snicker but move away, just to see what they’ll say with the other items. Hot chocolate. Green cylind –

It’s BLUE! they burst out. Blue as the spear in their hand!

It’s not. It’s green.

Blue!

Dummy.

Dummy!

Moving on. – sugar. Goes in tea –

It IS! they cackle.

Is what? asks the voice in their head, patient as always.

LITERALLY JUST SUGAR!!! they shriek, feeling like how a hyper younger sibling is supposed to feel.

I love this house, goes the voice in their head.

What about the – They point to the bottle.

Soda. Sickly yellow liquid. The voice in their head feels some strong distaste, some trickling prickling stickiness and crackle on their tongue. They can almost smell it from here, now that they try to, lemony and sweet. Just like the –

Just like the lab they’re in the lab. Mettaton blares and who does she like? and a b c d I have to know. Undyne is in front of them and waiting and she’s also in front of them and dying and she’s pouring down on them in sickly gray sludge, she’s all down their front and she’s covering their hands and they’re smudging her off on the answer panel, gleaming stripes, gleaming little drips and spots.

They think about throwing up again and the voice in their head is quiet quiet quiet and Undyne waits waits waits. She blinks at them. She breathes.

She’s blue and red and yellow and she’s in front of them, and, and – smells like sushi, says the voice in their head.

They think about throwing up again. But then they do a big swallow instead and they move the spear to point at the tea.


It’s hot and stuffy in the room, but Frisk just stretches their legs farther on the floor, spreading out like a starfish. It’s against the rules to take off their sweater during the day, because there’s parts of the sizzling and raw that are new underneath it, and that isn’t something that would make anyone happy to talk about.

They lie together on the floor in quiet agreement, or in something close to peace. The music washes away everything but the afternoon sun. Eventually, finally, the loud and wondrous living room tides fade, then fall away, as people begin to head home for the night. Frisk pauses their music. Inside the house, it’s quiet. Inside their headphones, it’s silent.

And Chara is quiet and silent and every one of those words that means the same thing. Frisk doesn’t know what they’re thinking, and Chara doesn’t know what they’re thinking. And Frisk is not quiet or silent.

Do you hate me? Frisk bursts out, unable to hold it in any longer.

Chara stirs, accepts their question, turns it over. They’re still only that odd, tranquil plain, not anger or sadness or fear or, well, anything. Like what Flowey means it’s like, maybe, on his bad days. Or Alphys, or Sans, who all have different kinds of nothings. Chara already knows their answer. They just do not know how much of their answer to say. Frisk holds very very still.

I hate what you did.

That’s how they eventually respond. Frisk doesn’t know whether to be relieved or dismayed, and they don’t have anything else to say back to that. They just – they just, they, they had to know. Always have to know.

A song from the musical – Death by Glamour!! :D – comes up on their playlist. They skip it and turn the volume up.

Chapter Text

sixteen months ago

“Hey,” says the Ice Cap. “Hey, you look distracted. Just wanted to make sure you’re paying attention to the important thing here.”

Their nose is running and it makes their whole face sticky, and it feels stupid and gross but their sleeve is too cold to wipe with. They snort as hard as they can, shifting on their feet, thinking. Stupid Ice Cap’s bothering them for WAY too damn long. They tried ignoring it and then it just got more mad, and they tried complimenting it and then it was slimy slick with pride but only for a second. They can’t steal its hat, they already tried that. They can’t – if they run, if they run then the battle will end, but Ice Cap’s still there. Snotty and slick and pointed, snicker slicker bicker, cold and slimy inside them. Solve your own damn self-esteem problems! (Only then they feel really guilty for thinking that, again.)

“It’s my hat,” says the Ice Cap. “In case you were wondering what to pay attention to.”

They ignored it again. And they complimented it again. And they ignored it and ignored it and stole it and then they complimented it and ignored it and complimented it. And they complimented it and stole it, and then they stole ignored ignored ignored stole, and then they ran away. And then they came back again and here it is again, again, AGAIN!

“Hey, kid – “ Another spike of Ice Cap slips into their stomach, yuck yuck yuck, and they growl under their breath. This isn’t fair. It’s not fair. They can feel all of it and it can see all of them and it just stands there, it just STANDS there, not letting them pass. There’s a way around. There has to be. All the Ice Cap’s embarrassment, the wanting, the needing to belong – it skewers through the top of their throat and their breath catches, full of its longing, its pride, its anger, its fear. Too much, too much, like a tidal wave! Stop! Stop feeling stop – shut up – STOP!

They THROW themself forward, knife first, cracking the chest, sliding into the goo, twisting, pulling out, stabbing again and again, close your eyes through it hold on hold on keep going. The goo turns to dust, and the hard icy casing splinters into glimmering pieces. And the hat goes with it.

And Ice Cap isn’t feeling anything anymore.

And then something hard and strong and powerful, something like when they stood on the mountainside and saw that they could fit the city in their palm, like when they would pull the tiny petals off of clover blossoms one by one, changes. Something that’s striking rocks hard enough to make sparks, that’s Bebe Springs’s triumphant blood on their triumphant hands, turns quietly from one to two.

A shocking, pale calm settles over them. It soothes the ache in their throat, sanding down the spikes of fear still dissolving from their stomach. They don’t feel, but they know, that their toes twitch faster now, their bones ring harder. The muscles wrapped around their skeleton are thicker, finer, and their calluses are hard and strong. They’re not a sad little dumb kid now. Now they’re someone who controls what they want, and not just through screaming meltdowns. Their fingers aren’t cold anymore.

Your LV increased, notes the voice in their head.

There’s a coating of dust on their blade. They wipe it off on the ground, and something small and whining makes them shy away from the save point, so they walk past it and continue on.


CHEST pounding, lungs burning, arms and legs shaking shaking shaking, Frisk sits up in bed. They choke and stutter air in and out, clenching their fists, crunching their knees to their chest. Their skin feels hot and tight, feels like it’ll just crack off their bones at any second, draining and dissolving into snowmelt, and then they’ll just be muscles and nerves and a weak little skeleton before those shiver and fizz away too.

Mom, their reflexes whisper, mother, Toriel, Mom. They always creep to her room after nightmare nights, even though they’ve never had a nightmare night like this before, adrenaline eating up whatever leftover trepidation the dream gave them. They’ll pad up to her dark, still bed, scared for a second to reach out, but she always wakes up. She always wakes up for them and kneels down and holds onto them for as long as they need, no matter if it’s eleven or two or even four thirty at night. Their covers are already kicked off, reflex or fear or something, and soon enough they’re standing with trembling knees by her bed, but now they can’t move.

You would wake her?

Chara is awake, they know, they know Chara’s pretty good at waking up when they are, even if they don’t like to talk right away. But they don’t know if that sentiment, that dread, that just showed up inside them and glued their feet to the floor, is Chara or Frisk or dream-brain or what, or anything, or just the truth of the world as it turns under them. They stare down at their curled toes.

The city in the palm of their hand. Ragged fingernails, caked with blood. Flint-bright sparks. That wasn’t…those times, they weren’t something that happened to them. They definitely weren’t. That was Frisk, Frisk, all Frisk.

Frisk slides to the floor and pulls their knees to their chest, flinching as their feet skid on the carpet with a gross little shweep. They scoot back so that they’re sitting against the bed, with their spine lined up against the hard surface. It wasn’t the dust that scared them, this time. Wasn’t the goop or the fury or how final their knife felt slicing its plastic way through that monster, was it? That’s not what’s shivering in their guts now. It’s the one to two. Fast toes, strong bones. It’s the power.

I trusted you, you know, announces a whole ‘nother person matter-of-factly, which is just fuckin’ greeaaaaaaaaaat (and that’s super sarcastic, by the way, that’s why they put all the a’s in). Welcome to the shitshow! Frisk half-snarls. What the hell do you want!! This is the last thing they need right now, one more voice adding one more layer of freaking out to their whole situation. But the voice ignores them, and keeps talking, and keeps piling shit onto the show. When I woke up inside of you, Frisk, it muses, I knew nothing.

Still don’t, Frisk snaps, even though they both know that’s not true.

Our plan, my and Asriel’s, had failed. It had been my only goal, Chara continues placidly, as if they hadn’t said anything. You know how we are, Frisk. Once my goal was gone, once I had followed my goal until we both had died from it, I meant…nothing. My existence held no purpose anymore, especially not my existence inside the mind of another strange human.

You’re monologuing. Quit monologuing, Frisk bites out, agitated. Somehow their hands ended up in their hair, not clenching yet, just threaded through the curls. You like a dumb mayor who just talks and talks? You a supervillain, huh?

Me? You cannot call me a supervillain, Sponge, Chara murmurs, faintly amused. It was your power that awoke me from my grave. And it was your guidance that taught me our true, joint purpose. I could not have become anything without that.

Frisk sucks in a breath. They’d had a purpose, yeah, and thinking back of COURSE it wasn’t only theirs. Pushing forward and up and on became another word for what they were, a concept that they adopted in place of a name before they found “Frisk.” But the voice in their head, for a super duper extra long time…it didn’t have a name either. And the voice in their head meant pushing forward and up and on too, and they were perfectly aligned in goal and soul. And they were – they were, they WERE, unstoppable.

You taught me that our purpose was to reach the end. But we learned our true purpose later, didn’t we? Together? There’s a tiny, tiny hint of irony in Chara’s voice, sharp like sharp cheese.

Frisk’s fingers clench up and start to dig into their skull. They don’t like where this is going.

We were going to free everyone, you said. You decided. We would break the barrier. We would rescue those who were so kind to us. But…Chara doesn’t laugh here, but they make a tiny, breathy snort that’s sharp in their nose. You’re not very good at it, are you? You killed our family, Frisk, they say frankly. It hits Frisk like a rock to the windpipe, and they choke. They said it. They said it. They never said it before.

Of course I hate what you did, Frisk. The sharpness intensifies, and now Frisk can almost smell it, coppery and Chara. They are my family, much as they are yours. You were the one who first convinced me of that. And you were also the one who convinced me, beyond doubt, of your guilt.

Don’t know why you ever listened to me, Frisk babbles, agitated, scrambling for some way to distract Chara from hashing out exactly everything they've ever done wrong. I’m dumb you know I’m dumb, you can see that now, I was the worst EVER role model you know that you know that –

And you taught me to hate that you had done that. I do not know if I could have manifested that hatred by myself, if I was not watching you destroy them, betray their trust only to effortlessly regain it…but now I see no way I can ever be apart from this.

I’m that contagious? Frisk hiccups out, their head tucked between their legs with their knees pressing hard into their temples.

What? Oh – no. We just share things, is all. In every possible sense of the word.

Things like...feelings. Of course. Of course they were angry. Frisk was angry at Frisk, and if Frisk was angry at Frisk, then Chara, even through their diluted emotions – Chara was furious.

Of course. Our sharing is, after all, how I feel love for anyone in the first place, they respond, seemingly detached, but with a hard, inalienable warmth underneath that is certainly not directed at Frisk.

Love. The right kind of love. The kind of love that they want to be theirs, but the kind of love that still looms scary and incomprehensible above them. Once they’d figured it out, LOVE had made sense – in a dizzying, nauseating way, it was a tool, a tool for taking the world apart in their hands. Slipping the causal chains they’d learned to move under. But oh, no, love. Love was – was a complete lack of those causes and their effects. And without those to hold them down, without the solid knowledge of if I do this then THIS happens in return, then Frisk has nothing to fall back on, no metric for social situations. It feels like they’ve been thrown, spinning and blind, into space.

And…and, uh, well. They don’t know what to do with that. Cause – cause for the first time, they’re not somewhere they know they’re going to want to sabotage eventually. This is where want to stay.

See? THAT’S why lowercase, normal, lovey love is actually scary as shit. If they talk about the LOVE or they don’t, if they scream or throw up or – or burn down the whole theater, they don’t know what will be waiting for them at home after that. Their palms are tickle prickle tingling, like when they fall asleep, but instead of numb they’re hot hot hot.

They have no idea how it works.

Their palms snap and hiss, and they pull them away from their burning scalp, breathing raggedly. Whirls of fire snap out suddenly from their hands, flickering up to the ceiling, casting shadows that dance and tumble even as Frisk gasps and tries to pull them back, and the pattern is hot, the pattern is theirs, the pattern licks and spins round their head – like the room is on fire, like they’re lighting up the whole place, like some fucked up messed up shadow-puppet-kinda-show, like that movie where the shadows were alive, like –

Then something big happens in the bed.

It moves a little bit, and it jostles Frisk’s spine, and it jostles their brain too, enough that the firelight flickers from their startle. Then there’s a gasp, a gasp like bread dough rising and like a swoop in their stomach. They swivel their head around, and there she is there she is, awake. They gaze up at her for a split second, and she gazes down, and their eyes are big and their hands are burning, and their throat is full, and before they can do anything but feel, she slides off the bed and sits down next to them. “Frisk,” she murmurs, not my child, not nothing like that, like they’re too deep and raw and important to use anything besides their name.

She takes their outstretched palms in hers and smooths over their scorching, the soft fur between her paw pads tickling as it kisses healing onto their scabby forearms. They feel her fire magic joining theirs, intertwining, calming, scooting gently away from the walls until there’s only one long, steady flame burning between her hands and theirs. “Asriel’s magic came in terribly chaotically when he was young,” she whispers to them, quietly businesslike. She’s suppressing her sadness, just for Frisk’s benefit, so hard they almost can’t feel it and it almost doesn’t hurt. “I have not had to help a child through this in a long time, but do not worry, Frisk. I am perfectly willing.” She waits until they stop shuddering and until they can match their breathing to hers, which she’s trying to keep deep and long and slow, so hard, and together they bring the flame down to a tiny, manageable, size, and then she clasps her hands over it and it flickers out.

All the muscles in Frisk’s whole body go with it and they collapse forward into her chest, too soft to do anything else, think anything else. They’re just tired. They’re…they’re so tired.

But that must have been what Toriel was waiting for, because that’s when she gathers them up in her arms, hugs them in her lap like they’re the tiniest thing she’s ever found. Their fists clench in the too-soft fabric of her nightgown, almost uncomfortable, but not enough for them to stop, and they press their crinkled-up face into the warmth and softness of her neck. One of her ears twitches against the side of their face.

“Would you like to move to my bed for tonight, Frisk?”

All of their muscles relax when she’s here. They don’t know what it means, but right now it’s dark, and they’re so tired, and they don’t want to think about deserving or not deserving. When they think about that when she’s with them, it feels like she’s inside their head, more than she ever is, right where she belongs but also saddened by what she sees. The Toriel inside their head doesn’t need that.

“Mmh,” they grunt. Then they rub their face against her neck, one time. Up and back down. Nodding.

“Alright.” And she picks them up, and their bare feet leave the ground, and nestled in her embrace they feel fragile and thin as the bones of a little baby chick.

She carries them to her room as they hold tight around her neck, not even letting go when she puts them down, and scoots them under the covers, and cuddles them close and nuzzles her nose ticklishly on their forehead. “I love you, my Frisk,” she whispers, so soft it’s like her heart is breaking.

And Frisk loves her too.

And Frisk doesn’t sleep.


That’s probably the reason, they think, that they can’t even keep their eyes open at rehearsal the next day. They’re inescapably sleepy, quiet and blurry-headed, and even the music and the lights can’t shake them into wakefulness. They’ve been kind of dragging themself through rehearsal today, and now that they’re nice and tucked into a corner of this great big stage with Moss and Rust and Glow, it’s tempting to just curl up on the glossy wooden flooring and see if they can nap.

It’s the kind of sunny day where spring is trying too hard to be the summer, with its own windy heat, when the sun oozes out of the sky and sits right behind your eyeballs in your brain. There’s no windows in the theater, but someone propped open all the doors before Frisk even got here, so the sun and the muggy breeze swish through the theater and catch all the musty dusty dust motes in their light. It’s a good thing they’re still not allowed to take off their sweater around other people, because mostly the breeze is warm, but sometimes it’s cold. And it always gets way too cold inside here way too early, and they’re glad for the extra fabric.

They lean further into Glow’s back, her spinal cord pressing up like so many fairytale peas against theirs. They wanted to share some of their tunes with her, like Chara and Undyne’s K-pop and the Weird Ass ska music that Sans teleported into their playlists or something. But they’re both the kind of people who need both earphones in at once or none at all, and their headphone divider, the thing that plugs into their headphone jack once but then splits into two places to plug actual headphones in, that Chara always says is called the aorta, is officially missing in action.

So Glow is the one discovering the wonders of ska on her own, and Frisk is the one with their arms around their knees, tapping their feet on the floor and watching detachedly as monsters from the regional choirs try to sort themselves into order. The choirs usually practice without Frisk, while Frisk is hiding out because they’re a baby and need extra breaks sometimes, because they just sing and Frisk doesn’t really interact with them. But people like Shyren and Heats Flamesman keep bouncing up and down at them and waving, which is one of the reasons they’re kind of hiding in the first place. Moss doodles on the floor of the stage with a green dry erase marker, making flowers and hearts and a weird, stylized S-thing before smudging them away, as Rust picks at his fingernails.

“Did Talley actually end up in the box with everyone else?” Moss asks precisely, not looking up from their vandalism. “It’s way too loud up there for me.”

“Yeah, I get that, I don’t know why Mina and Rox like yelling all the time so much. And I, uh.” Rust glances away and clears his throat. “Heights.”

“Oh no, I’m so sorry!” Moss gushes. “Don’t you live with the skeletons, though? In their apartment? That must suck, I’m so sorry – “ They look like they’re about to cry, which, wow, says Chara sarcastically in Frisk’s head.

“No, no no no! Windows are fine. It’s just, real life stuff,” Rust says placatingly. Moss looks calmed, and Rust breathes a tiny sigh of crisis averted relief.

Rox and Mina had found the dilapidated staircase up to the box seats their third day in the theater, and the kids have laid claim to it – followed by a growing club of monster children, including MK and Snowdrake, enthralled with the vibrant, glowing souls in their misty white midst. Today, Moss and Glow had started up there with the rest of the humans, but Glow somehow figured out that Frisk was sad and came down to stick with them. The others were still going at the high-volume karaoke that drove Moss away, too, so probably the floor squad will stay on the floor for now. Rust glances up towards the box now, ready to change the subject, swallowing as the memory of the height sends Frisk a strand of dizziness. “Yeah, it looks like he’s up there. It’s kinda weird, huh?”

“What? That he’s, like…here? Still coming?”

“That, yeah. It’s so bizarre to just watch him, y’know? Especially cause I needed to punch him at one point, remember? And sometimes, I still need to, but I was the one who really invited him into this weird little squad in the first place, and sometimes…”

“Is it bad that I’m still like…” Moss’s voice fades out, tugging down at the edges with shame. “Scared of him,” they whisper.

There’s a pause before Rust responds, but when he does it’s clear he’s thought about this before. “No. I don’t think so. Not at all. He’s still scary, and he’s still loud. And he’s trying not to be a dick, I think. But that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t – I don’t know, didn’t he call you a – a bad word for Chinese that I’m not gonna say again, last week? That was messed up. That was so messed up. Me and Rox yelled at him immediately. He’s still going to say horrible things sometimes, or do horrible things, that make me and everyone else want to kick him out. Or – for you, probably like, go hide or something.”

Moss smiles shyly. “Somethin’ like that.”

“But you don’t have to, like…interact with him right now, if you don’t want to,” Rust rushes on, encouraged by their amusement. “I’m the one who’s deciding to try and deal with him, you know? It’s not your responsibility to listen to him say stupid shi – stuff. Cause I know that hurts and it’s rehearsal, and being at rehearsal shouldn’t have to hurt.” Rust smiles gently at the top of Moss’s head.

Moss only hums in acknowledgement, but Frisk’s hands are warm in a way that means that a big weight has been taken off of Moss’s shoulders. But Rust doesn’t feel it, so now Frisk’s hands are warm in a sweaty scratchy awkward way, and Rust keeps talking.

“So – I’m super sorry if, if you thought you had to be, like, nice to him, and teach him how to be a good person and stuff. It’s your own pace, dude. Sorry if I made you feel that. I’m new to this too.” That earns him a pause in Moss’s drawing and a shy smile, and he smiles back and leans back on his hands. “You hear he quit debate, though?”

“Nah, what?” Moss’s reply is big-eyed and earnest, never able to resist caring about another person. But Frisk does definitely not feel like they can care any more right now, so they move their hands over their ears and push back into Glow.

Glow pushes back and starts wordlessly nodding along to the song, her back still planted against Frisk’s but her shoulders bending back and forth, not hard enough to be exactly rocking but enough that Frisk starts up too. Glow is Frisk’s favorite talker (except for maybe Papyrus), with her own overflowing gifts, like how she can have a conversation without Frisk ever needing to speak. But sometimes, it’s nice for none of them to have to talk for a while instead. The big theater makes everyone sound really shrunken and really echoey at the same time, too, like a self-conscious ghost, and Glow said that that’s a weird thing to have to listen to. Toriel says it’s called a coosticks (which they know they’re not spelling right, actually, even without Chara being a grumpyass about it).

Really, though, that’s the only thing that they don’t like about the big theater. And they only don’t like it cause Glow doesn’t – and if they were still just themselves, just Frisk and Chara and Flowey like how it was before, they know that they would be utterly in love with this place. The ceiling swoops up to a peak high above them, waves of carved and polished wood cascading down the walls and gathering in eddies and coils in the corners and around the doors. The scuffled carpet rolling down the aisles, deep and maroon, stands up stiff whenever it’s vacuumed and smells of old dust and wood shavings. The seats might be upholstered with real red velvet, the kind that warms up fast against your body heat so you can curl up there and take a nap, and they can doodle little things with their finger in the fabric.

There’s even little screens in the backs of the seats, and Frisk has NO idea why you would need those, but it all just helps to drive home the fanciness of the place. Not to mention the huge ass MAZE called backstage, which they haven’t even explored all the way yet and that Toriel and Asgore can’t even get to parts of it, and the light fixtures way way above, gleaming like monster candy!

It’d be a great place to be, Chara chimes in, poking at them like a thorn, if being in it didn’t inevitably lead to their world coming to an end.

Doesn’t make any sense to be anti-going-back-to-humans and pro-miserable-me, Frisk snipes back. It's a good argument. You get enough of the second part, you’re gonna get the first.

Not if you know what’s good for us, I won’t, they say, which isn't a real response. Chara’s so darkly satisfied about this whole stupid fucking horrible awful suh-sud-sadistic “punishment” thing, like they can’t do anything else so they might as well just show Frisk how terrible they are over and over, and it’s sick. It makes Frisk feel sick. Yuck. Can they get a new brainmate over here, PLEASE, they think, in the voice Mettaton uses when he’s frustrated with the stagehands.

“Great work today so far, darlings!” Mettaton calls, but not in the frustrated voice, from the director’s chair he found backstage that he’s way too tall for. “I’d like to run the ending once before we finish up! How does that sound?”

Frisk jumps, and they do it hard enough that Glow takes out her earphones and looks around to see if she missed something, but they also do it hard enough that Rust and Moss notice too and they look at them weird. Not like bad-weird, but like, oh poor strange monstery kid doesn’t like doing the ending and we don’t know why. Frisk curls up tighter and puts their chin on their knees, as Glow scoots around so she’s beside them and knocks into their shoulder a bunch of times. “You’re up, right? I never even saw the ending before, dude!! Go go go go go!”

“Give ‘em a second, Glow,” Rust says, getting to his feet. “Everyone crowds up on the stage for the end, though, right? So we should probably move off?”

“I think we could probably fit backstage, now we're in the big theater,” says Moss, capping their marker and scuffing out their drawings. “Glow, you want to, like…go find a dressing room or something to hang out in? I don’t know if Frisk likes you pushing them like that.” They reach helplessly with their hands, like they want to pull Glow away but they know she won’t go for that.

“No, no, no, I wanna see it!” Glow says, grabbing hold of Frisk’s sweater and hauling them upright. Frisk stumbles to their feet and latches onto Glow like a glue stick to a glow worm, so Moss knows that actually she wasn’t bothering them, even though most other humans would be. It’s different for different people. Like, they wouldn’t like Moss pushing them cause their fingernails are scrapey and they smell like peppermint, but Glow does it better, somehow. It’s hard for Glow to bother them, and it’s always weird to be reminded that most of the humans don’t know how kids like them work, like, at all. Plus, it gives them time to stall.

“Do you sing in the ending? I mean, I know you don’t talk, but like does your talking app sing? Can it sing?” Glow bombards them with questions, more out of a desire to talk than an expectation of an answer, but it’s still too many questions, so all Frisk does is hum and shuffle behind Glow in the direction of the front of the stage.

She would not be so adoring if she knew how it really happened, Chara observes.

I know, Frisk thinks, shut UP, and they and Glow finish the long walk to center stage.

Mettaton meets them there, bursting through the ambling crowd with his usual flair, scattering bystanders spectacularly from his path. No one really knows exactly what they’re doing, just that they all need to be up here, because they’ve kind of…avoided doing the ending before now. Like, definitely avoided it. Cause the last time they did the ending Talley said it was shitty and then Frisk had a meltdown and things did not go back uphill from there. But Mettaton’s the director, he’s the ultimate leader of the show, they guess, and he knows that they have to do the ending eventually. So Frisk and everyone have to do what he says.

Eventually they figure stuff out, it’s kind of a blur, and Frisk and Asgore are standing across from each other, and everyone else is hiding behind the back curtains. Asgore has his trident out, its magic thrumming, almost too low for them to hear. He’s full of a heavy sadness, just like last time they did this, and he shifts his weight on his bare paws, fumbling out his lines and hoping to get this scene over with. But then Toriel fires her fireball at him, and all three of them know she has way too much fun doing that, and Asgore clutches his chest and falls dramatically and laughs, and for a second Frisk can wistfully see what it would be like to live with them in love.

Toriel comes to stand behind them, closer than she really needs to be, and they lean back into her. She smiles as she sings, and they can feel it dripping down through the top of their head. This is fine, they think, slowly growing more and more confident in that thought. This is fine, they’re fine. They can do this. It’s just acting, is all. It’s not even acting, really at this point. It’s just standing on the stage with their friendfamily, and that’s a thing that they think they’re pretty good at.

Sans joins the harmony, and then the others, and the melody changes, and it’s Toriel’s soft, clear voice, soaring to the rafters. “Now come, my child, rest with me, ‘neath the branches of the tree…Now I am, the monster queen – “ (“we will make a new home!” sing the others) “I’ll protect them and their dreams…” (“we’re no longer alone!”) and then, coming together into one piece, many notes, one strong, sure melody, the monsters sing their monster song. Fallen child, Frisk thinks along, in all the sweetness and glory of a sunset, our best friend! We’ll be here, until the end…

The song draws to a close not thirty seconds later, the last note of soft piano ending on a chord that feels like coming home. Flowey bursts and cackles into his part, vines springing up from nowhere and looping around the shoulders of the monsters, who all gasp and squeal with horror. He speeds through his monologue, just a LITTLE gloatily Frisk thinks, but they’re kind of spaced out in a weird way that they don’t know how to come back from so they don’t pay a lot of attention. And then he pulls their soul into a REAL LIFE battle, really Flowey?!?! so they notice that.

“What? Not expecting that?” Flowey simpers, as they wrinkle up their nose and scrunch their eyebrows at him as tight as they can. “Dummy. Don’t you know the rule is constant vigilance – not that it’ll do you much use DEAD!” He poinks them with a pellet, and they make a very small rude gesture at him, which he thinks is hysterical. “Ahahaha! I have the souls and now I’m gonna kill you!!” He laughs, stringing ring after ring of pellets into loops around Frisk, before coming abruptly to a stop. He glances around, panicking minutely, then yells at the top of his lungs, “This is a cue line!!” and ducks back behind Frisk.

Then the music starts, and the lights green out to a soft greeny-white. And the violins are gentle and strong, full of hope, and the piano sings its resistance, and now Frisk’s legs are not really moving.

Everyone on their own, rushing up to crowd the stage around them, calling their encouragement and their love – everyone’s been waiting for this, haven’t they, waiting for something like this since the beginning. Since the first finale rehearsal, yeah, since the project was announced, since the world flashed white so many months ago and the Barrier was gone. Frisk’s soul thuds evenly to the beat of the song. That hot, gusty love fills up the inside of their head, as silent dread peels them back away from their skin and down inside their body, drips through their legs in iron streams, weighing their feet to the floor.

It’s incomprehensible – Frisk knows that they’ve been REALLY BAD since the first finale readthrough, they’ve ignored their friends and tore up important stuff and the littlest things set them off screaming, and there’s that love still! There’s that love, of Frisk-the-human at their worst and stupidest! And Frisk almost could have understood just that, and been okay with it – like in their wildest ever dreams, when they were tiny-tiny, before they learned how the human world worked for something like them. But then the love is, incomprehensible, lying over top of the bad things that it can’t go over, like sandpaper grinding against Frisk’s actual soul. Hope and joy and pride and love crash down over them, and Frisk doesn’t know if their eyes are closed and everything is greeny-white and they can’t see.

“Do not be afraid, my child,” says Toriel, “no matter what happens, I will always be there to protect you!”, and her voice flutters on always, and –


eighteen months ago

Their knife slashes a gouge across her chest a hundred damage points wide, in their way, in their way, the dust slides down over their hand, they twist it, pull, again.


“That’s right, human! We know that you can win!” Papyrus shouts, almost hoarsely, “Just do what I would do! Believe in you!”


sixteen months ago

“Alas, poor Papyrus,” he croaks, still standing, still between them and the end, even if they hit him hard enough he’s holding his head in his own hand! Then his body drifts away and his head bounces gently on the ground, “At least I still have my – “ they race up with fury and they punt his skull through the air and it dissolves into dust before it reaches the cold of the river.


“Hey! Human!” Undyne is beaming her biggest, sharpest smile at them, the hottest and spiciest one, the one for jumping around the kitchen and winning screaming contests. “If you got past ME, you can do anything! So don't worry! We're with you, all the way!!”


thirteen months ago

“I! WON’T!! DIE!!!”

They taste their crab apples again, and dark, silty mud.


Come on!, you’ve got this!, murderer!, stay determined!, demon child!, fuckup!, we’re with you!, we love you!, you idiot!, don’t kill me!, our friend!, our Frisk! call the crescendo of voices around them, outside them and inside, blurring together into indistinct noises and bad feelings in their stomach. They can feel the urge to run building up inside them, and they try and smash it back, because they can’t do this AGAIN they did this with the HOMEWORK and the MEETING and the AND THE – but it cannonballs to the surface, too fast to stop, and now their legs are moving, nooowwwwwwww they’re moving! And they bolt, they run, skid in the dust on the stage, pound up a spiral staircase and shinny up a great metal ladder, climbing higher and higher.

Soon their lungs let them breathe again, when they’re done using all that energy for running, and they look around and remember to breathe on their own. It’s safer up here, is the first thing they know, before their brain kicks into processing what they actually see in front of their eyes. Everyone else is faint and far below them. No one to overwhelm them with feeling. They’re okay, it’s fine, they can think, they can –

You’re not safe, actually, says Chara, and Frisk stops walking like six inches before they trip right off the side of the catwalk.

“Frisk?!”

They’d known that there was sound being made, like stomping up the stairs and clanging on the metal grid of the catwalk (a sprawling network of rafters and wires, something they’re sure they would adore if they were appreciating things right now), but it didn’t mean anything like their name until now. They sink to their knees, loosely grasping the grating they’re sitting on. Papyrus, way way way below, gazes up at them, radiates worry, calls their name. They bet he’s the only one loud enough for them to hear, all the way up here.

“Frisk! Please come down! We did not mean to upset you!”

They can’t face this. Who were they kidding? They were worried about the musical failing. And that’ll still happen, numb as it feels right now. But they can’t go back down there and face this, something so world-rending and scary.

Papyrus’s arms are spread, and he’s still calling, pleading to them. “I will catch you – I promise! I will always catch you!”

They clench the grating harder, scared or sick or something, but he’s waiting. Everyone’s waiting for them.

“We will always be here for you, Frisk.”

Wonderful, incomparable Papyrus. Papyrus with the stim toys in his rib cage, the skittering floating feet, how he spends hours setting up puzzles that Frisk will enjoy. Frisk looks down, down, down on him. He just looks like a skull from up here. A skull and some arms, outstretched.

They just want to be in control again.

They just want that freedom back.

They just want the world to make sense.

Frisk closes their eyes.

Up here, far away from anyone else’s emotion, the bright yellow pull of their power is even harder to ignore. They can almost see it, stamped on their eyelids every time they blink. Letters emerge from the staticky mass of not-quite-color they see whenever they close their eyes, floating in front of them, waiting for a choice. Reset?

From far below, Papyrus calls, ringed with a sudden desperation – “Do you trust me?!”

Frisk opens their eyes.

They shake themself, wave down at Papyrus, do their best big grin. He waves back, his relief so strong they can feel it up here. They hop the railing, and he grabs their soul and they float down into his arms. “Come on, come on,” he soothes, almost quiet, as they fall into his embrace. He holds them tight against him, and they wrap their arms around his neck and nuzzle their face deep into his scarf. “Never fear, Frisk. The Great Papyrus has your back.”

Yeah. Yeah, no, they can’t lose this. Scary as it is.

Sadly not never, not never ever ever, not how it would be if the world was perfect and made sense. But right now, they can't lose it, not yet.

Chapter Text

six years ago

“Uh, yeah, is this the main office for the foster system’s social workers? Okay, great! Can I speak to Miss Tailor, please?”

They scrape with their fingernail at the edges of the chips in the paint, around the corner from the kitchen, where Rainie Mom is on the phone. Some of it comes off. Now their fingernail tip is light blue. Plus the dirt under it that didn’t come out because of the bath that didn’t happen really good. So now it’s brown and light blue under there. They’re trying to remember what they did in the bathtub to make Rainie Mom mad. But they’re thinking and thinking and they don’t know what happened.

“Hey, Miss Tailor. It’s Rainie Anderson – West’s foster mom, yeah? I know we don’t have a phone check-in scheduled until later today, but – uh, yeah, we broke his routine a little bit, and I thought I should let you know, he just had a monster meltdown.”

They lean their forehead against the wall, feeling the little squish where their still-wet hair squeezes some water out and it drips down the paint. With their other hand they pull the towel, the really bestest one with the little hood on it, harder around their shoulders. It’s against the rules to be outside the bathroom and be naked at the same time, but they were wet, and they don’t want to stay in the bathroom cause there’s water everywhere which they splashed there, so they put the towel on themself and they just have the towel for now. It only goes down to a little bit past their butt, but it’s bigger on them than it is on the other kids.

Their head keeps pounding, and their throat is all stretched and dry and raw, because of when they were screaming. The purple splotches up and down their arms, stretching round their sides and back, hurt too. It feels like they’re sinking through their skin and into their blood, like why you shouldn’t draw on yourself with markers that much. It was just supposed to be a bath. That’s what Rainie Mom said. Rainie Mom said stuff, they think, like, like why’d their foster sister Concert let them follow her into the creek, cause they fell in a little bit. And we need to get you cleaned up, it’ll be quick and sorry we can have ice cream after.

Only that was before it was bath time, and Rainie Mom wanted them to go in the tub but it was before bath time. It was still afternoon, it was time for playing and coloring and tagging along with the cool older kids, even though those guys are mad at everything all the time. And Rainie Mom kept wanting them to go in the tub. And they really really REALLY couldn’t go in the tub. Everything was red and loud and OUCH, and they remember slamming themself into the bathroom walls and the tub, and biting and hitting when Rainie Mom tried to wash them. Her and also them, teeth marks and bruises on their arms that weren’t there when they fell in the creek, and their jaws hurt and a lot of things hurts.

“Uh, the event itself was pretty short, I guess, and he’s doing way better now,” says Rainie Mom into the phone. They pad out around the corner and into the kitchen, damp feet sticky on the tile. “I got him out of the trigger situation – it was a bath, he fell in the creek and didn’t want me to wash him off – and stayed with him until he tired himself out.”

Rainie Mom looks down at them as they squish over to her and huddle into her side. She puts her hand deep in their hair, in the way they like, where it feels like she’s holding the top of their head to stop it flying off. “But it really freaked me out, miss.” A pause. “Yeah. He was – he hit me when I tried to touch him, and he started beating himself on the walls. I had no idea what to do.”

They put their nose in her tummy. There’s all sorts of feelings up there, in her head, good and bad and both at once. They think the big one is what sad means. But they get stuff wrong a lot so who knows.

“No, really, I don’t think that’ll be necessary – I was just calling you to let you know!” goes Rainie Mom. She feels something louder than the sad before, and their fingers curl into her shirt. “He’s been doing really well here, besides that, really – it was an isolated event!” Her voice goes up and higher, then falls back down, and their fingers unclench. “No, you’re right. I apologize. You know him way better than I do. I’ll see you soon.”

And then this bad bad bad day doesn’t get better and it only gets worse, cause instead of jumping back onto the routine like how they’re supposed to do after meltdowns, Miss Tailor comes to the house the very same day and she takes them away.

They get back in their clothes and they sit on the couch while Miss Tailor and Rainie Mom pace around the living room in front of them, looking back and forth between the two of them like they’re watching Wii Sports 2029 Edition. Are they, like…are they in trouble? They can’t really tell. Probably they are, cause of how loud Miss Tailor and Rainie Mom are both being. And that doesn’t make sense cause it isn’t even their fault, cause Rainie Mom was the one who tried to put them in the bath in the first place. But Miss Tailor and Rainie Mom aren’t yelling about Rainie Mom putting them in the bath, they’re yelling about them, they can tell that much. They rock back and forth and pick at the scab on their knee from falling on the driveway yesterday. Even if it’s just with words they don’t know like custa-dee and applied bee-havyoruh nala-sis.

“He cannot stay here,” Miss Tailor is saying, they realize in fits and starts. “He needs a level of control and supervision that a foster home can’t give him at this point! I don’t like to throw words like institution around lightly, but – “

“He’s just a kid!” Rainie Mom cries, with a rawness that surprises them, like stabbing their palms with their fingernails. “It was only once, and we broke routine, I should have expected it – he’s been doing fine here!”

“I understand that you want to believe the best of your parenting skills,” says Miss Tailor, and she’s being really patient with Rainie Mom here, which Miss Tailor thinks is more than she deserves cause she doesn’t understand the situation. “But West isn’t ‘just a kid’ by any meaning of the phrase. He needs intensive care.”

“It was just a tantrum,” says Rainie Mom, “he’s just a kid,” but it’s softer, like she’s been banging on a wall and she just realized now that it’s not gonna come down. Which, they could have told her that.

It was supposed to just be a normal day, they think, and they swallow really hard, because suddenly their stomach feels even sicker. It was supposed to be normal, and then this popped up out of nowhere and now they kind of want to not be looked at by anyone again, and also die. But now it’s not normal. And it probably won’t ever be normal and normal’s going to mean a WHOLE new THING now, and, and!!!

Why, they want to say as Miss Tailor is handing them their backpack with their clothes and stuff in it, they know the word for why, they can make the iiiiiiii sound if they try hard enough, iiiyiyiyiy. But Miss Tailor won’t say anything to help them cause use your words, please, West, like we’ve been learning in speech therapy, now come on we can get you to a respite house. Come on, West. We have to go – let go of the doorframe West! We have to go!!

“Iiiiiyiyiyiyi,” they whine, just to make a noise, just to mean something. Even if she’s not gonna listen to what they mean, they keep making the sound, as they get in the back seat and then they drive away and watch as the place where they’re supposed to be disappears, so they can know what’s happening with some part of them. They feel like everything is flaking apart at the edges, like they’re going to wake up in their bed and the world is gonna go back to normal.

It doesn’t do that.


four years ago

The nice aide put a stuffie in their hands and then she went away to talk to the principal, and the girl from the playground is sitting across from them and she doesn’t have a stuffie. But they do. He’s a dragon with a snubby little nose and soft, soft wings that stretch when they pull them. His fur is almost too stiff, too dusty, for them to hold, but not quite, so they scrunch him between their hands and watch him fluff back to his normal size.

There isn’t a digital clock in here (the ones with the hands are just confusing), but they know that recess is over by now, probably. After recess is writing, so they should be doing writing now, the alphabet and their name over and over again, like yesterday and like always. But when they hit someone on the playground they have to go to the principal’s. They’ve figured out that much since when they were a baby. When someone is galloping on the playground like a horse, and she gallops into you and runs you over like a horse or a car or the big dog named Rip that lives at the foster house, then if you hit her, she stops touching you, and you go to the principal’s.

The horse girl, Estrella, she looks at them and fidgets with her skirt and she wants their stuffie, too. Only the aide gave them the stuffie and not her. Someone before them chewed off the end of his tail, so now the stuffing’s coming out, like a threadbare, cottony paintbrush. The nice aide comes back out of the principal’s office then, so they pop his tail in their mouth and chew on it.

“C’mon in, guys,” she says. They’re not a guys and Estrella’s not a guys, though. They hold tighter on their stuffie just in case by guys she means him, cause he’s a guys. Only then Estrella hops up and goes in there by herself, and they feel stupid. The nice aide says “Let’s go into the office, West,” so they get up and they do what she says to do.

“Good afternoon, West, Estrella,” says the principal when they’re in there. He says it because he has to. But then Estrella starts crying, like a baby, and all her frustrated terror pours into them, and they start rocking back and forth and making a bad noise.

“West, focus on your stuffie,” murmurs the nice aide. “Focus on him. He’s right here. He’s going to help you with this. So you don’t need to have a meltdown, okay?”

They swallow and make one last bad noise, then do what she tells them, because they’re already exhausted just thinking about a meltdown today. Their dragon’s pink fur is all faded and dim, probably cause he’s old, but on his belly there’s these wonderful stripes of glittering pink, not even touchable by time. It’s like he was holding onto his sparklies just for them. They flip him upside down, tail still clenched between their teeth, so the sparklies are right up next to their eyes. They love him, they’re pretty sure.

“Look up, please, West,” says the nice aide.

They’re trying.

It’s easier to hold tight to their dragon and look at his sparklies than listen to what other people are saying, even though they’re all talking about them, it’s always easy tell when people are talking about them. When someone’s touching you and you don’t want them to touch you, you have to tell them to stop. But when you can’t talk, cause you’re a “first class dumbass” like your foster brother Aspen said, then it’s easier to tell people to stop touching you by hitting them. If you hit hard enough, you get pretty good at making people listen, but then you have to go to the principal’s office and be in trouble. That’s the rule.

“West.” It’s the principal. He’s rumbly and low, and they like the sound of his voice. Once he came to the special ed class and read a story about a lion and a mouse. “Are you paying attention?”

Yeah. They nod, still holding onto the dragon. They know what’s going on. They hit Estrella cause she was touching them, but they got in trouble because they hit her, cause first class dumbass. So now they’re going to get moved again, maybe, or get trapped inside during recess, and it’s gonna go on their Permanent Record. But Estrella stopped touching them. They hit her and she listened to them. So that’s what’s happening, is someone is listening.

Estrella is talking, they can feel her talking more than hear it, and she sounds kind of like a flittery little bird. They pull on the dragon’s neck, holding his tail tight with their teeth, turning their head from side to side, like they’re a puppydog with a chew toy. The back of their neck tingles and twists, sending shuddery nervous sniffles down to their fingers and up through their face. They know that they’re feeling something, they’re feeling a bunch of things, but when you feel things you’re supposed to feel like faces to go with the things. That’s what they learn in Occupational Therapy, with the chart of feelings, that has faces that say “angry” and faces that say “sad” and their face doesn’t say anything, just the rest of their body does, and that doesn’t count as feelings it just counts as bad or good (usually bad).

Like they can feel their breath going real fast, and their brain running in tight little circles, just like Estrella and the aide, and that’s bad. And something heavy and sucking, something that says why and not again and I don’t know what to do sits in their mouth, and it pulls down to their stomach, not like they’ll puke or anything, but like their soul is draining into their guts. That’s from the principal and that’s bad and it’s not like when he read the lion and the mouse story. The top of their throat scratches, rumbly, pulling for a growl, and their face is hot and prickly and their hands are too. They want to clench them into fists, want to punch, hit, shout, that’s from, that’s from everyone. That’s always there. That’s just them, that’s just what people feel around them, what people make them feel. They pull on the dragon so hard that they feel some of his seams rip a little tiny bit, at the base of his tail, and their fingers fly to his butt and they stop pulling cause the nice aide gave them him and she wouldn’t like if they ripped him.

There’s all those things, yeah, but there’s something smaller, something lighter under there, that there wasn’t before, that there usually isn’t. It’s like what they learned about in reading earlier this week. Cause and effect. It feels like don’t-hit-me, I’ll-stop-touching-just-stop-hitting, their lungs shrinking and the top of their stomach jumping up and up. Like when the big kids came and cornered them on the playground, or when Rip started barking and barking and there was no one to hold onto his collar and keep him still. Only this time, they’re on the opposite side.

Then everyone stands up all at the same time, and the aide takes their dragon back, and they make a bad noise and reach for him again but she ignores them. Now that they’re not nose deep in old pink dragon fur, the handle they had on the things happening in their head is melting away. Estrella’s shampoo smells like green apples, only not real green apples, the candy flavor of green apples, which isn’t how real green apples smell at all. And they don’t like that, no no no. But she’s still shivery about them, still jumpy and flinching, even if it’s only a little bit cause they’re around the grown-ups.

They think they like being on this side of that. Cause when they get in trouble bad enough, when they mess up bad enough, then sometimes, it makes people do things that they want.


two and a half years ago

The beginning of who they are starts with chocolate chips.

It starts with three months right after they practically set the entire Crews house on fire, three months that fly by back to back to back. Ms. Hills takes a while to find another place for them to go, with some people called Mr. and Mrs. Watts, but it’s relatively nice when they get there. It’s only them, plus a guy and a lady who are married, and the lady works on computers all day but the guy stays at home and writes books about history, so mostly he’s the one in charge. He’s shorter than Mr. Crews, and also quieter, and also he doesn’t hit them. So it’s basically a better situation in every possible way.

It’s a better situation in every possible way, and that’s where the problems start.

It’s not like they doubt the relative niceness or anything, or think that the new foster parents are just in it for the check, that they’re gonna drop all that fake “caring” business and just give them the normal-kid basics – food, water, shelter, not enough bruises to be noticed. Problem kids like them don’t usually end up with fosters like that. Their new foster parents might snap and start to resent them, might decide out of nowhere that they're too much to be handled, but that’s just what happens with any home eventually so they’re not scareder of it than usual.

It’s not too good to be true. Mr. Watts struggles them into their shoes every morning and they never leave for school on time, and Mrs. Watts tells them to quiet hands and tries to brush their hair with her bristle-rustle-brush. But Mr. Watts also lets them choose the radio station in the car and lets them touch all the buttons without smacking their hand away, which is weird. And when he’s not looking and cooking in the kitchen, and even though they’re supposed to use their words, they can point at the cupboard and Mrs. Watts sneakily slips them a handful of the chocolate chips. It’s just another, better, foster home. Rarer, really rarer, a little bit unbelievable but not all the way– comfortable, which isn’t a word they’re used to, but not perfect. They’re on a tightrope high above everyone’s anger and change, and one day they’re gonna slip and fall and not even know why, but they’ve been on that tightrope since always and forever and they can’t see the end from here. At least for this part of the tightrope they got chocolate chips.

So they keep walking, with their hands spread far out to the sides, and they keep their balance. They go to school at different times every day, and Mr. Watts signs their behavior sheets, and Mrs. Watts moves coins around on the table so that they can learn multiplication. Their clothes come out of their bag and stay hanging up in the closet, smelling more like Trust™ Brand Eco-Friendly Lilac Detergent every week. They sit and try to quiet hands quiet feet every week when Ms. Hills comes to visit, and they feel the good and the bad and the glad and the mad of the Wattses wash over them. It’s not too good to be true, because it is true, but only until they fall off the tightrope and it isn’t anymore.

But then one day, Mrs. Watts is there after they get home from school. And that’s not supposed to happen. And she says “Hold out your hands, West,” and they do, and she pours a big pile of chocolate chips into them. “We want to talk to you about something, West,” she says. And that’s not supposed to happen.

They sit on the couch and they eat their chocolate chips, one at a time, while she and Mr. Watts talk to them about something. A something that is –

“West, we’re going to foster another little boy like you. He’ll stay in your room, but he’s quiet like you are, and he won’t have a whole lot of stuff to spread out. He’s only seven. It’ll be like having your own little brother. How does that sound?”

What.

The rule of the Watts house is that it’s only them and the Wattses. The rule is that they get to pick the radio station and they get the chocolate chips and Mr. Watts pushes them on the swings. You can’t just!! Change!!! A rule like that you can’t!!! Why is this happening to THEM, NOW, what did they DO, what did they DO –

“Hey, West, hey,” says Mr. Watts, rubbing their shoulder, and they flinch and pull away. “It’s going to be fine. You’re gonna be okay. You two are gonna be friends. You’ll see. It’ll be okay.”

“He’s not moving in until Sunday,” Mrs. Watts adds. “We can rearrange your room this week, and you can help us get ready for him.”

What’s he gonna do? Is he gonna cry in the middle of the night? Hide food under the bed until the whole room stinks, scared enough that they want to hide it too? Change the radio to those stations they hate? Take their spots in the kitchen and the dining room and the living room? Throw up on the carpet, so they can’t do anything except hide under their blankets and shudder and gag until the smell goes away, and it never really goes away, it never really does?! This Sunday! Will they have bunkbeds?! What side of the room is theirs now?! He’s going to get his new detergent smell all over their clothes!!

“Calm down, hey, West, look at me,” Mr. Watts is saying, “I know it’s a sudden change,” Mr. Watts who lets them turn the music up loud, who doesn’t get angry when he should, “it’s going to be okay, West,” they can’t look at him, he touches their face and they can’t look at him.

It’s okay. It’s okay. He’s saying it’s okay, he feels how it’s okay and they feel how it’s okay too. He’s okay. Their breath doesn’t know if it wants to go fast or slow. It’s not fair. It’s not fair how the two of them aren’t angry. When no one is angry then there’s nothing in their head, no fuel, no fire, no air to blow, nowhere to land, because there's no way to predict what's coming next when no one is angry. Up is down and left is right, only there’s no earth beneath their feet to ground themself on, no way to tell the difference between any one path. So up is left is down is right is here and back again, is this Sunday is right now. It is okay. They could come down, they know they could. They could take their breath back from the confused place, they could calm down simmer down, and they’d have a baby brother and that would be the end. Mr. Watts is waiting and it could be okay.

But they’re not going to keep spinning anymore.

That last day they were with Mr. Crews, they opened themself up to the fire inside them that wanted to come out, they blasted out with so much force that no one could get in range to even touch them. They remember the fury and the power and how very, very grounded they felt, even in the middle of their hurricane; not pulled down to the ground but pulled in, to their center. Their fury flew out and their feet pulled in, and the only path forward was the one they created.

It’s a matter of time until they do something wrong without knowing what they did, and no one explains, and they get driven away, and the cycle repeats. And the cycle repeats heavier each time, with each new placing knowing more and more about their tendencies, coming towards them with more and more anger and despair in how they feel about this weirdo messed-up kid, until it got to be too much on either end, and there goes the tightrope, flying away above them –

– but they don’t have to fall. Not when they can choose to jump.

So they open up all the channels and vents in their brain, open the way for the fire to come, let the anger and sad and badbadbadbad pulse through them over them under them in them, push. Push, they drive themself forward, they sputter out some fire, Mrs. Watts tries to reach for them and they spring up from the couch, feeding the fire, letting it burn. She pretended to CARE! But NO ONE no one NOBODY!! CAN CARE ABOUT – that’s enough for a BIG burst of flame, sizzling the couch fibers, turning them black and prickly. MY ROOM! MY ROOM! They grab a book from the floor, let the sparkling and heat flow to it through their hand, throw it as HARD as they CAN at – clunk, pain, dismay. Fear? Fear.

They yell themself hoarse, sizzle through the scabs on their forearms and fingertips, splatter themself bruises across their arms and back, and their head hurts hurts hurts hurts, and after it’s done they feel better. Yeah. Better.

Try keeping me now, ASSHOLES!

When they come in, the Wattses are both on their feet, and they have to go to their room for a long time, where they lie on the floor and stare up at the ceiling fan. For a few days after that, everything is normal, normal and quiet and a little bit scared. Just a little bit. Scared-sad – it’s not quite scared and not quite sad, and they don’t know if it’s mostly them or mostly the Wattses, even. There’s a word for that that they forget. But then on Saturday, Ms. Hills comes to the door. She says to get your things together West.

Take your clothes out of the closet. Empty out your backpack. Point to the cupboard one more time, and try to only be a little bit sad when Mrs. Watts shakes her head and looks away. It feels like a dream. They move like a dream – slow, careful, considering. The lights are too light and everything smudges together when they’re not paying attention. Time still moves, from second to second, but there’s nothing in the space in their brain between Ms. Hills at the door and Ms. Hills in the car.

She’s mad at them, frustrated at them cause they BLEW it AGAIN West, we had HOPES for this one REMEMBER, those are her words that she says. That’s so familiar that it’s almost comforting. Somewhere under the heavy blanket of badness (and also the actual heavy blanket, that Ms. Hills let them wear over their shoulders, cause they reached for it and she pitied them) there’s a lonely little hole, a little hole that they don’t really understand. They don’t know if it’s been there since before they jumped or not. But it worked. It worked. They jumped, and they landed – they reached for control and took it.

So that’s why they’re flapping in the back of Ms. Hills’s car, on their way to they don’t know where, but for once with a clear and delicious picture of where they’re coming from. There’s a squirrel on the powerlines, racing like it wants to keep up with them. Their eyes track it as it leaps from the line to a tree to a telephone pole, as it keeps moving, just like them, as it throws itself forward but it doesn’t stay still.


twenty-five months ago

Be good, she said to them, communicate with them, show you mean no harm. And, okay, lady, she showed them a flattering hand sign, so they can do that much. But then she left. She promised I’ll be back, stay here – let me care for you, child, let me celebrate you, I am here – and she wasn’t lying about any of that, and that was almost even scarier than the flower that tried to MURDER them. But she left, anyway.

And so, not knowing what else they could even do, they started off.

Twisting and turning, they follow the path that lays itself out before them, busy with odd-shaped footprints and lavender sand. The walls are individual cobblestones stacked up in rows, gaps filled up with gritty black mortar and moss that leaves their fingertips green. The bricks shine with a faint dampness, from the spray of the streams and the occasional drips down from the ceiling, and the condensation tastes faintly metallic from when they licked the moisture off their hand.

Lots of people want to talk to them down here. They only get a split-second notice, like some computer in the back of their brain booting up, chk-chk-chk-bweep! before their soul pulls out and their vision tunnels in, and there’s a scared thing called a Whimsun in front of them. Or a grouchy thing called a Froggit. Or a slimy thing called a Moldsmal, according to the detached little voice in their head. People in front of them, things in their way. They know what to do with strange, small things, with strange people who gape and chatter and growl to them – they lash out, their stick connecting with smacks and squelches until the little voice in their head says that the people don’t want to fight them anymore. They feel each smack like a smack through their own brain, they feel the grumpiness, fear, the excitement at meeting a new person that mostly, probably isn’t theirs. But – and just like always – what are they supposed to do with that? How can they act except to fight?

There’s one thing they do understand. It’s red-pounding and constant, calling and burning and soothing, twisting all their soul around it like sweet strawberry taffy. They have to get through this. The are going to reach the end. Anything that gets in their way…well, they’re going to get through this place, so anything that gets in their way isn’t going to be in their way forever.

It’s like when they looked up at the school, that long forever ago, when their sweater wasn’t smudged and dirty and their feet were all the way dry in their socks. They looked up at it and they didn’t decide that they weren’t going back. They knew. They knew that the universe didn’t happen in a way that ended in them going back, with a hard, fierce, determined kind of knowing. They knew that it might take teeth and claws and screams and fire, but no matter what tried to drag them back, they were not going. They could. They still could. They were perfectly capable of walking right back into that school, or now, of burrowing themself down in the leaves until Toriel came looking –

But they wouldn’t. It wasn’t how the world turned forward anymore. By now, it isn't how it ever had.

They dodge to the left and gasp in a breath as the tiny magic Froggit-thing flies past their head, almost running them into Migosp’s fluttering sentinel line. Froggit, they can handle, yes, Froggit they know how to make scared. But they can’t just focus on Froggit with Migosp buzzubuzzing by its side, twitching its little pincers, swarming and jittery like flies on roadkill. They ate their last monster candy just a while ago, mostly to spite the stern little voice in their head after they knocked over the bowl, and wow what they’d give not to have been so stupid then.

Six out of twenty. They stab at the Migosp, aiming for its pincer joint but instead scudding off its armored forearm, just a couple points of damage. Six out of twenty, the Froggit wants them to leave, but it doesn’t want it hard enough, not over Migosp’s cackle and static. Six out of twenty, they repeat in their head, as the tiny white Migosp-flies flutter out and flank them. One flies right into their elbow, ow. The Froggit takes a step back and pushes its little white Froggit onto the battlefield. It looks at them and leaps for them and ow SHIT –

crack –

no, inside them, no, so deeply part of them they never knew it before now. Their no, their being, every waver of their howl, every atom of their soul, pounding and rushing inward, collapses in on them, a singularity at a single point, everything they’ve ever known compacted into one infinitely small, infinitely powerful particle of –

no! I want, I want, I want – I want to N O T D I E !

– They wake up.

In the leaves. They wake up.

Playfully crinkling through the leaves… says the voice in their head, when they leap up, frantic for answers, and does it pause a little before it speaks? do its edges curl up like a smile in a sound? ...fills you with determination.

In the next room up, they find, all of the candy is still in the bowl.

They count out the pieces and realize that their scrounged-up handful is back where they got it. No. Never in their pocket in the first place. Their trouble, erased. This time, they only take the one.

This time, they figure, why not, and they sign the compliment to a Froggit. It works, and now they’re like, ???friends???, which is weird and will probably only happen once. But they leave the fight bouncing and skipping instead of dragging their feet, with their hands aflap instead of clenched around the stick like a bat.

This time they take their time and look. They figure out that Whimsun does not want to fight at all and you can spare it right away, and also that Loox literally says just to not pick on it, because wow they are stupid with this kind of thing sometimes. This time they only fall through the leaf maze puzzle twice. It’s not like they’re perfect – Migosp still makes things too hard, and they still have to hit Vegetoid a bunch before it stops wanting them to eat weird stuff, like green carrots and possibly its own head?? But this time, they start over, from the same blank slate, only this time they – do – better.

It’s the first breath of spring through an open window, it’s flurries in November you catch on your tongue, every time a monster laughs or blushes it’s a million billion green stickers on their behavior sheets. No one knows that they’re doing better. No one knows how good they’re dodging consequences, like scorn from the voice in their head or the burn that violence sears behind their eyes. They can’t give this up – you know what? They won’t give this up! If you’ve got infinite chances to do something, then one of those chances is the chance where you can’t screw it up!


twenty-two months ago

They don’t know how this happened but they screwed it up and now they’re going to burn to death or maybe stab themself or stab Toriel or there’s no other options they’re going to die someone’s going to die no no no no no!

Get to the end. Get to the end. Get to the end.

There she is. Between them and the end.

Their grip slips and shifts on their cheap toy knife, the seams in the plastic harsh and biting. The air around them burns hot and dry, steam rising in puffs whenever Toriel’s fireballs hit the walls or the ceiling. Her fireballs. The ones she’d left as a nightlight in their room, the ones that shone outside in the yard when the lights went down for the night.

She steadies her hands and fires again, and they jump back, trying to stay inside the circle of her fiery whirlwind. Before the smoke can clear, they cough through their sleeve and charge into the plumes, gray wisps flowing off of their arms, slashing and feeling the dull, gritty edge of the knife rip through fabric and fur. It makes a really loud, sickening brrrrrrip noise, and the voice in their head flinches hard, but it doesn’t say anything before they whirl away. Toriel’s solid stolid face wavers and she gasps with the pain, her cry catching in Frisk’s throat on the way up. They rub their stinging eyes, the grit on their hands smudging down their face.

It would be one thing if she was like a different person, like this. It would be one thing to say she became someone I didn’t know when she fought, all fire and no forgiveness, not my mother. Not the mother I chose. It might have been easier. They don’t know. But the only person they can see in front of them, with the same familiar, comforting rhythms of despair and hope and love, even from the other side of a battlefield, is Toriel. She hurts for them, even as she hurts them – she longs for them to give up, return to her, put down their knife and bury themself in her arms. She loves them, in the same way she loves them when she wakes them in the morning and she loves them as they bound through her careful piles of leaves, the same unfailing fondness that picks up their smallest parts and holds them tight and pieces them together so they can stand on their own. Please, my child. Please, stay with me. Stay where you are safe, stay where you are cared for. I cannot lose you, my love. Please.

They want anything but this. They want anything except to have to fight her.

But they’re going to get to the end.

They stumble towards her again, slash, dance out of the way of the flames. It smells like meltdowns and cigarette burns and bonfires of dry leaves. She’s in their way. But she won’t be forever. That’s how the universe is, now, and they just have to keep going until it’s true. They just have to hold on, hold on, keep slashing, until she backs down, and they win. It’s just like a fight with a monster who’s too strange, too sad, too confused for them to know how to help (even if they haven’t had one of those in a long, long time now). Just like that. Toriel’s just like any other monster, strange and sad and confused, but just like any other monster they know she’s going to stop fighting and listen to them soon.

Listen to me, they plead with her wordlessly as their knife swings, slashes a broad slice into her side, a hundred damage points of dust cascading over their fingers. She has less than a third of her health left, and she’s beginning to look ragged. Under her fur they can feel the worry lines and dark circles carved into her face. LISTEN to me, they plead, and SWING –

Pow. Everything stops.

She falls, shaking, with the force of their strike.

She falls.

They rush towards her as she speaks but they’re too late, she falls to dust in their hands, and they bury their fingers in the dusty ground and scream. She was THEIRS, they were HERS and they KILLED her, they FUCKING MURDERED HER! What were they THINKING of COURSE they were fucking it up of COURSE!! They can’t leave now! Not when she’s DEAD!! NOT WHEN THEY DID THIS!! They squeeze the dirt in their fists, gasping in and out, keening and shuddering for breath. Their soul hurts with how red it is, how red and whole and pulsing, pulsing with the universe and with everything they’ve ever done. All around them swarm infinite possibilities, infinite timelines, blood and love and things they can’t see and don’t understand, and this is the one they put themself in! They can’t leave now. They have to change it they have to bring her back – they can – !

This time they find the singularity, this time they pull it out of their soul with a diamond-hard fist and squeeze it between their palms. It wriggles and squirms and finally gives, and their eardrums go pop, and they’re elbow deep in bright, bright leaves.

The leaf pile. The one in front of her house. The one they hide from her in, as she playfully searches the whole entire yard, not discovering them until the very last minute. The one they love to sit in, relishing the distant chatter of the marketplace and the dripping of the ceiling, smelling the gently rotting leaves and feeling like anything the future throws at them, they can take.

They stand up on shaky legs, wiping the leaf bits off on their pants. There’s a distant ringing in their ears, and nothing feels real – they see it, but it isn’t there. Everything is the same as they left it. They’ve only taken back maybe half an hour of their life, but it feels like they’re a thousand long years older.

Toriel’s down in the basement, right where she was going when she lifted them off her lap and disappeared wordlessly down the stairs, and they ran outside to save because oh damn it’s goin’ down. They’d finally worked up the courage to ask her, for serious this time instead of their many halfhearted attempts, how to leave the Ruins. And her heart broke as soon as they asked, their signs quick and decisive instead of hesitant and wandering, but they hadn’t been able to hold it back any longer.

Their soul was done being patient, and they’d been driven crazy all week with furious bouts of wanting – fierce curiosity for the other side of the door, restlessness and dead boredom that stimming just wouldn’t help, and even a tiny flicker of hatred for Toriel that they stamped right the HELL out. They couldn’t stay here. All these three months in the Ruins, almost four, and the whole time they always knew that they couldn’t stay here. They race back into the house and pound down the stairs, reaching the end of the long hallway and slamming right into Toriel’s turned back. She spins around and catches them, holds them, with a tiny flicker of hope, but then they back away and point at the door. With a heavy sigh, she refuses to let them past, and everything becomes the same as it was.

They can’t fight. The rule is no fighting. Because they tried that, and it went the worst it could have possibly gone. So they dodge between the columns of flame, desperately signing snips of conversation to her, showing the sign for mercy when they can’t think of any conversation topics. Her end can’t be the only way out of this. They won’t let it be the only way. They spare, and they spare, and they spare, and eventually…eventually, her silences grow longer. When she breaks those silences to speak to them, no attacking in between her words, they hold their breath. The rhythm of the fight has died away, and it’s like time itself is standing still to watch them. And then, she lets them go.

She hugs them close, and they bury their face in her dress and sniff, determined to hold this scent with them forever. Then she sends them off. The door sounds very heavy when it closes behind them.

“Clever,” calls a voice from in front of them. “Veeeeeeeerrry clever.”

It’s Flowey. Again. What a dick. The hell do you want? they sign, but he ignores them and keeps talking. “In this world, it’s kill or be killed. So you were able to play by your own rules!” He giggles. “But don’t act so cocky. I know what you did.”

A shock of fear runs through them at those words. They’ve been experimenting so much with consequences – of course there’s still someone to hate them for it, and of course it’s him. “You murdered her,” he continues gleefully, and they hunch down into their shoulders. “And then you went back, because you regretted it. Ha ha ha ha…” He doesn’t laugh, he actually says ha ha ha ha, which is somehow way worse than his creepy giggle before. “Do you think you are the only one with that power?”

That power?

They haven’t thought of it as a power before. Their soul is just really, really good at not letting them die. It pulls the world apart at the seams and pushes them through the gaps. It’s not a power. It’s a terrifying force of nature, their soul, and they’re just along for the ride.

“The power to reshape the world…”

But.

The time with Toriel. They hadn’t followed their twisting timeline, back to before they died. They hadn’t even died. They’d grabbed it. They’d been the one to bend the universe into the shape it is now.

“Purely by your own determination.”

Flowey’s still talking, but they’re only half listening, as their mind races in circles, spiraling up. They’d looked death, her death, their mistake, head on, and they’d said no. And when they refused that, the world refused with them. She was back, and no one knew what they did, and no one could hate them for what they did if no one knew what they did. The only one who does know can’t exactly hate them any more than he does, and they get the feeling that he hates everybody, so he doesn’t count. They can twist the universe – no. They hold this universe.

It’s like – they’ve been on a tightrope since they knew who they were, but this is pulling that tightrope to the ground. They can walk wherever they want and not worry about a fall, not with infinite chances. They can walk a perfect path, they can walk any perfect path, and no one will know.

No punishment. No consequences. Nothing to stand in their way or challenge their control.

No path, even. They’re the one forging the path now.

Flowey opens his mouth in a grin like he’s going to laugh at them, then stops. “Hey,” he says. “You’ve got kind of a creepy face, kid. Anyone ever tell you that?”

They don’t respond. They just keep going.

Chapter Text

sixteen months ago

It’s really weird, hanging out in the room of someone that you totally kind of murdered.

Papyrus’s eye sockets glitter as he gushes over everything they examine, all weird phrasings and little jokes that make them snicker. There are no skeletons in his closet except for him sometimes! It’s funny cause it’s ridiculous – why would you even put skeletons in a closet in the first place!! He fidgets where he stands, as good at staying still as they are, wiggling his hands and scuffling patterns into the carpet with his boots. Giggly and sweet, open and welcoming like nothing at all.

No. Not nothing at all. Way deep down, underneath the openness, the excitement he’s pumping through their soul, something small and something dark. Dark like hiding, not like hunting – they know he doesn’t mean to hurt them by it – but, but there’s more to Papyrus than he shows. More than he shows and more than they knows! It doesn’t make the good things that swarm to his surface any less warm or genuine, but it’s a quiet sort of knowing, and it’s not something he’s wanting them to see. It’s kind of like they’re walking on ice, like any moment he’ll snap into the great realization of what they did and order them away. But he never realized, and he keeps on not realizing, all the way from the end of their fight up until now.

The first time they came up to him, bandanna knotted around their head and stick ready in their hand, he defeated them immediately and then they woke up in the shed professional human jail. The second time – well, uh. After that second time, they dragged the timeline all the way back to the middle of Snowdin, on account of he was dead, on account of they were dumb and didn’t understand he wanted to be friends! Or! They did, they just didn’t like it! It felt like a thousand million tries, but the voice in their head says was only like four or five, where they fought him, ran past him, made finger guns and signed the Froggit-compliment, punched their fist so hard through his chest it exploded out dusty on the other side.

They were scared of him, is the thing. They think they still might be? And he wasn’t scared of them. So that means all that fear only came from them, which is a little bit new.

He only shows them the best hospitality, or what they guess counts for monster hospitality, which is standing in the middle of the room and letting them go through all his stuff. They run their hands over the silky black pirate flag hanging on the wall, tap each of Papyrus’s dolls action figures on the head, feeling a weird but not unpleasant urge to start laughing. The voice in their head can’t quite believe it either, them being where they are. It’s significantly jumpier about it, though, but not in…not in a bad way?

What’d you do if I actually said how we like-liked him at the start of the battle? they ask, viciously changing the subject, and the voice in their head can’t jump but it definitely does jerk with surprise. You love his puns and dedication and stuff, and you’re all nervous now! they continue gleefully. That’s a crush, right?!

The little voice in their head squawks and gives them a big shove, and they teeter a little bit before regaining their balance. Shut up! it goes. You are the worst possible person to be trapped in the head of.

Yes it is, I was right, yes it is! they chirp, bubbly with happiness at the first real break in the voice’s deadpan grownup-ness. They do really prize its company, nattering away beside them like a friendly ghost. It’s a stroke of huge luck that they don’t have to be alone through all this shit, that it sticks with them even as Toriel doesn’t pick up her phone and Sans abandons them in the total opposite direction of where he said he was going.

It also, carefully – and they don’t like thinking about this, really, but sometimes you gotta – does not feel anything bad or good towards them. It just is there. It’s a neutral presence, aligned with them in whatever they’re gonna do, and that’s comforting in a way they can’t even start to explain. The voice doesn’t rub them any wrong way, doesn’t try and make them talk or put the knife away, or drag them away when they crouch by the path to look at the patterns that glitter in the icicles for half an hour.

Don’t let down your guard, the voice snaps back, and they snap themself back into reality.

You don’t dodge my questions!

Begin the hangouts? bulldozes the voice, right over their thoughts, and they realize that their feet have ended them up right in front of Papyrus. This close they can see the chicken wire holding his costume’s shape, the fancily ragged edges of his scarf. He smells like hot kitchen steam and stretchy new fabric, and his bones rattle and click and grind as he fidgets in place, like a Perpetual Motion Papyrus. He plants his fists on his hips and leans his long, long torso forward, close enough to clunk their foreheads together, and they close their eyes against his bright, bright grin but they lean right back. “Human!” he says, somehow managing a quieter voice than his normal volume, which isn’t a thing they knew he could do. “If you’ve inspected everything to your satisfaction! Do you want to, uh.” He stands up and pulls a small paperback out of his ribcage, thumbing through the pages. “One moment. Do you want to! Hangout! Start!!!”

HELL yeah they do, which they translate into a nod that's so big, it shakes their entire body!

Papyrus grins and they’re pulled into something that feels almost like a battle, but instead of their normal options there’s helpful graphs that say Population and Crime and Egg. He compliments the ribbon in their hair, and they laugh and feel blushy and red, but not nearly so hard as they laugh when he does a Cinderella-twirl right in front of them and reveals his Super Special Cool Dude Hangout Clothes. At one point they say a pun so bad that he pulls his scarf over his face and scoots under his bed, his battle body too big to fit in the gap, so he just clunks against the bedframe again and again. They double over in laughter, a little bit higher than their normal laugh maybe, a little sharper, laughing out the uncertainty at his strangeness that they can’t quite get around. He pulls himself out from under the bed and throws a dust bunny at them, and it lands in their hair and sticks there until they pull it out and roll it between their palms. He always reacts to them in ways they’re not used to, making the both of them light and happy, different even from Toriel.

Toriel wouldn’t mind if they flapped their hands and leaped around the kitchen, but Papyrus would drop everything to do it with them. He can even, they think, tell when they’re scared and how to offset it – any time they worry about how he could definitely kill them, or how they are IN HIS ACTUAL HOUSE, he blindsides them again with a casual display of magic or a weird-ass turn of phrase. The dark thing doesn’t come up from inside, and if the dark thing is their fault at all, he doesn’t hold it against them. Which is a bizarre thing to be feeling with their brain!

He accepts their exclamation declaration of all-consuming (platonic) passion!!!, which is confusing again and a little unsettling, because they think?? it’s supposed to be harder to be friends??? But hey, they learned how Papyrus is almost as helpless as they are at friendship situations, and it’s comforting to bounce off of each other in weird, unexpected, babyish ways like that. And also like how he says they should spread their Friendship Power out, by hanging out with his boss, named Undyne, which is such a bad ass name!! There is no possible way this could go wrong.

(That’s sarcastic, right? asks the voice in their head, but they have never understood the point of lying-not-lying like that. Nothing in this situation could possibly end badly. And they mean that completely!!)

“Well, gotta go!” Papyrus chirps, and clips backwards out of the room without moving his legs.

The door closes behind him, but as they’re still staring at whatever the hell he just pulled, it creaks back open and he pokes his skull back in to catch them totally off guard with one more blindsiding question. “Say,” he says. “Where are you staying these days?” Which isn’t that incredible by itself, only then he continues with, “I ask because my mailbox has been suspiciously empty of late. If you are stealing my mail in an attempt to get closer to the ‘real me,’ you need do so no more! I am accessible for constant communication!”

The only thing they can think to sign is, no. They haven’t…no, they haven’t been stealing his mail?? They never even went by his house until today??????? They’ve been mostly staying at a room in the inn, which the innkeeper lets them have for free-ish cause they’re a kid and also apparently a cute one. One time they fell asleep in a heated guard post and woke up to Greater Dog lying on their face. But they don’t think that’s what Papyrus is asking. Is that what he’s asking????

“Oh, you’re not? Must be the fault of that pernicious pooch, then,” he muses. “However! If you’d like to, as I always say, ‘kiss two birds with one lips,’ you can always begin lodging here! The positions of ‘mail getter’ and ‘rock feeder’ in this house have both been recently vacated, on account of – “ he shoots a glare at the wall bordering his brother’s room – “certain members of the household not fulfilling their duties.”

That’s a whole new thing they have no idea what to say to. A more permanent home for the time being – with the skeletons on top of that!! – would be pretty amazing, but, but they don’t know the words for what’s a per-nish-us pooch, or would that mess up your routines, or what do pet rocks eat. Or, uh. Or even do you ever have things to eat that aren’t spaghetti.

That one’s kind of important. They cross the room and pull him back through the door by his basketball shorts, then try and painstakingly string some letters together, trying not to think about how many words they don’t know. Do you eat food not S – P – U – G – E –

“Oh!” says Papyrus. “Spaghetti?!” Then, to their surprise, he whips off his gloves and performs a fluid, wiggly sign in the air. “That’s spaghetti!” he says. “No wonder you couldn’t respond as enthusiastically to my japes and capers as you must have intended! You must not have a wide enough vocabulary to capture the essence of my energy with your hands alone!!” He plops beside them on the carpet, waggling his fingers back and forth. “I’ve been signing since I was just a baby bones, and I can be considered quite the expert. Would you like me to teach you some certified Friendship Lingo??”

And, of course they would!?! They plop themself onto the floor, hesitantly snuggling up to his bony side, as he twirls and flexes his fingers. “It is paramount to keep all your digits in the finest working order, so that you can speak quickly in case you must get in an argument,” he says, lacing his fingers together and stretching out his arms. They copy his movements, and he gives them a delighted little nudge with his shoulder. “Now! Let’s start with some terms for the basis of all friendship-sponsored hangouts: the Friendship Hud!”

They really need to save, as ASAP as possible. No one so far has bounced off of them as springily as Papyrus, and if the bubbly feelings they’re getting from him weren’t enough to make it clear, they went on an actual Official Friendship Hangout with him, so that MEANS that he likes them. And they like him! And they don’t know if they like him like a crush or what, but they didn’t feel bad when he turned them down, so it’s probably even better than one! They made a friend, they made a whole entire new best friend!!!

They have to save as soon as they can. Right here, now is a good place for them to be – not stationary here, not living here, but going through here. Sometimes it’s shit, sometimes they freeze or kill or eat some random plant on impulse and puke their guts out, but sometimes it’s not. Like now, and – they barely think about thinking it – like how maybe, if they do it good, ahead of them too.


fourteen months ago

If you were to look all the way down towards the cavern’s edge, says the voice, and so they do, leaning out over the rope railing even as the bridge twists and sways under their feet, you will see the docks that connect with the underwater towns of Waterfall. More monsters live there than above water here, and most of the ones that do live on dry ground are amphibious.

How do you even get down there?! they ask, bouncing squishily on the boards of the bridge. Do you guys breathe underwater or something??

Monsters have no need for oxygen. They are sustained by magic, and the water of Waterfall is easily magical enough to suffice.

Oh! Makes as much sense as anything down here.

The voice prickles at them, dully mad, like it doesn’t like that but it’s not gonna do anything about it – resentful. Magical ecology is quite easy to grasp if you apply your full efforts. The natural ecosystem down here is in a delicate balance with the magicology of –

I can’t understand you on account of my sock’s wet.

Not only that, but there’s a hole in one of the plastic bags they got wrapped around their feet, to keep this exact thing from happening. It’s not even their sock, they think before the voice in their head can rush to correct them, it’s Toriel’s, because they left in their original outfit but they took some of Toriel’s socks because they’re fluffy and warm. Only now this one is wet.

There’s a corner where you can rest and wring it out up ahead, says the voice. And it doesn’t say keep going, Undyne might be in the area, this would be a really bad place to fall from if she caught up, because they’re perfectly capable of thinking all of that for themself. They know they could probably feel her coming, a radiating sun’s worth of fury and vicious joy, the clank clanks of her armor ringing in their ears before she even gets into hearing range. That doesn’t mean that there’s not a bit of fear dogging their every sploshy step.

They wring out their sock in the corner as best they can, their shoes squeaking on the wet black stone that makes up the paths through the water. Light from that and the occasional echo flower gleams on the moisture and reflects crystally blue patterns on their boots, like rock candy or like ice. Their brand new dusty tutu bounces as they walk, using their trusty stick to poke at holes in the rocks and watch the bugs that come skittering out. They’re scared, yeah. But they’re very carefully, meanderingly scared. They’re the scared that doesn’t mean anything yet, the scared that means they’re distracted easy by glowing things and spiny little insects. Until they don’t watch where they’re going and walk right into someone hiding in a corner, and the voice in their head goes watch out! and then it very much does mean something.

The Shyren, because that’s what the voice in their head says it’s called, looks kind of like a mermaid and kind of like a snake. She fidgets with her hands (paws? fins?) and looks everywhere that’s not at their face, long strands of tentacle-y hair falling in front of her eyes. And their breath catches in their throat and they grind their dust-tipped stick into the stone, because the last time they saved was a long, long time ago, and what if she’s strong. She’s scared and hopeful and confusing, her thoughts going in at least three directions at once, no easy way in, no easy way back out. Brainghost. You know everything! What do I do here?!

SHYREN – 7 ATK 2 DEF. Tone deaf. She’s too ashamed to sing her deadly song.

Is that all you – hey! The Shyren drifts a bar of music at them, slow-moving but in an unpredictable pattern, and it collides with their shoulder for three points of damage. They stumble a little, windmilling their arms to keep their balance, buying time to find something to try. The tune – only the first two notes, so not really a tune, more like something that could be one – stays floating round in their head, so they let it out as a hum, adding a few trips and tweaks until it’s almost a melody.

Shyren’s head jerks up, her mouth splitting into a jack-o-lantern grin. “Si re, si re si mi,” she murmurs, the same notes they just sang. They clap their hands delightedly, feeling a huge wave of relief. Music! They can do music!!

They hum back and forth with her, her warbling voice doing clever things with the rhythm and the tune, their own parts peppered with squeaks and slides. Monsters, drawn to the music, sidle up beside them, forming a loose and starstruck circle. Suddenly, it’s a concert… the voice trails off, a tiny bit more on edge than it was a minute before.

Shyren glances around with a spike of surprise, her hands twisting around each other in nervousness, but she grins at them and plows ahead with her song. “Si fa si fa si mi re fa!”

They have to try even harder to avoid her swarm of notes this turn, weaving across the field, and even then they grunt as they lose another four points. The crowd is so many electric sizzles in their feet, cheering and clapping for their clumsy dance, and they can’t shy away from getting caught up in it all. They jump up and down through their turn, bowing to the crowd and waving their arms wildly to the beat, and Shyren beams and sings even louder.

They whirl in circles around Shyren, swept up in the music, the smiling, the applause. Turn after turn, monster after monster – Sans is selling tickets made out of toilet paper, giggles the voice in their head, and they jump up and down to catch a glimpse of his skull, waving with both hands. The crowd goes five monsters deep, six, seven. Clothing flies through the air like smoke!!

Beside them (behind them, in front of them, now on the other side of them!!) Shyren’s notes start to crack in the middle, her movements growing stiffer and more robotic. They hum and stim and hum, oblivious to Shyren’s growing trickle of anxiety until it splurts up under their feet like a geyser. They slip and stumble to a stop, trying to be between her and the crowd, with their breaths suddenly too short and their knees a-knock.

They don’t understand. She was having fun, they were having fun – why is all of that washed out from under them now, leaving them flailing in Shyren’s anxiety and stress?! How’d it go downhill so fast –

The constant attention… the voice tries gently to explain, teetering as it is on the verge of panic. The tours…the groupies… They don’t know what the second word means, but they know the voice is talking about fame, using the words it has to show them the feeling it means. It’s all… It struggles a bit for words, then shuts up.

Shyren toots aggressively and they race away from the notes, tripping clumsily into four STUPID damage points before they can right themself. They hop lightly from foot to foot, unable to be still, the crowd still pulsing up through their toes and through all their bones. Their fragile excitement pulls Shyren’s nervousness and the voice’s discomfort into a blender, shredding them up and spitting them out, high and fast and wild and whooping. They just want it to stop, want her to shut up – stop – want her to go away! - and the stick is in their hands, and they whack it hard against her flank. Shyren thinks about her future, the voice in their head solemnly states.

She breaks her song off with a wail, and the crowd’s mood hurtles down into shock. They can see Sans watching them from the back of the cave, his eye sockets dark, before they look away for half a second and he’s gone. Shyren attacks again, firing her note-shaped bullets at them in a pattern they’re not fast enough to dodge. Now everything hurts, their sizzly fingers and Shyren’s cold-grinding panic, the murmurs and shouts of the crowd – everything hurts, and they don’t know what else to do.

She’s still hurting, damn it stupid stupid monster, why is she doing this?! She’s hurting them, stupid anxious Shyren, scared of nothing, scared of everything! They hit her again, and she whines, but in their overwhelmed state of mind her pain only feels right. It’s what she deserves for being so SCARED! For HURTING them, for not STOPPING! She unleashes another barrage, a siren’s panicked war song, and they try to dodge but it just keeps going, on and on and on and on, until their soul can’t take the hits anymore and it shatters, dashed to pieces on the rocky ground.

When they open their eyes they’re in Snowdin.

The inn in front of them. The shop behind. Papyrus passes them and beams, his affection jarring after Shyren’s panic. They remember this – he’s off to the Riverperson, to get real groceries in the capital, because he’s the only one who can figure out how to get his human housemate’s taste issues to work with his and Sans’s. The tree twinkles in the square, the snow around it smashed up by the footprints that they made this morning, them and that monster kid whose name they don’t know.

Not this morning, though. Days ago – weeks, even? They lose count. Only, now, it was this morning that they did it. They lean against the wall of the inn, shaking slightly.

They haven’t saved since weeks ago. That means, whenever they pass a point where they could, they had something behind them to erase. Saving locks the timeline in place, they figured out, sets the effects of whatever they’ve done in stone. So when they see the white-yellow glow, the tiny fallen star, and their determination rears up inside them but they can’t, they’ve killed or hurt or made some mistake – they don’t. They dust off their sweater, squint their eyes and watch the light dance through their eyelashes, keep going. They push forward and forward, healing themself with monster food, getting really really good at dodging. Killing on impulse, killing out of anger, killing because they deserve to feel pain, but always, always going forward. They need to see more and more and more of this fascinating, alien world, learn it, memorize all its possibilities. They want the atoms that make up their body, the traces of iron and sulfur and gold, not to be pulled from the mother they never even met, but the magical ground all around them. Even as it’s a danger to them, and they’re a danger to it.

They can’t let the timeline in this world reflect their mistakes, but they can’t stop moving forward. Calmed down, they riffle through their pockets, finding enough gold for an inventory’s worth of snacks. They shuffle into the warm store and stock up on pastries and bicicles, stop by the skeleton house and grab some extra plastic bags from under the sink, tie the bandana that their tutu will replace more tightly around their forehead, and set back out. Sans watches them as they walk past his booth, lazily cautious, but he doesn’t say anything or make a move to stop them.

Be ready for it this time, the voice in their head admonishes. They’ll try.


thirteen months ago

The black and purple building crouches heavily on their path, wispy white threads anchoring it to the walkway and hanging over the doorway like a curtain. They’ve seen it looming in the distance almost since they’d stepped out into this side of Hotland, looking like if someone had taken a cave and carved it out of the surrounding rock, but now that they’re up close it’s even more unnerving than that. The purple walls gleam like the hard, shiny wings of a bug, and there’s already strands of cobwebs twisting through the air and snagging on their hair and clothes.

They brush the cobwebs off their shirt, grunting and flapping as they stick to their hands, and pull the determination to save up from inside of them. They’ve made it this far without violence, through luck and through a lot lot lot of trying, and they’ll have a blank slate going forward into this.

They fall back onto their butt, chewing on their apron string, super eager to put off going in there as long as they can by using some more time to lollygag. It’s super surreal to even think about getting this far, this many months into their future, super surreal to remember all the weirdo places they’ve crashed – the couch in the skeleton house, a gifted sleeping bag in the corner of Gerson’s little cave, a nest of pillows and blankets made up underneath Alphys’s workbench. It’s been a long day of walking, so their little nest is on their mind more than anything else, just an elevator ride away. Waiting for them, once they get through this.

(If they get through this.)

That’s not a determined way to be thinking! They shake themself, take a deep breath of thick, steamy Hotland air, and race through the cobweb curtains to face Muffet, the Lady Mayor, of the Land of Cake and Spider. (They want to ask the voice in their head if that’s her real title or just something it made up, but before they get the chance, the Lady Mayor purples their soul and wraps them up in a jungle gym’s worth of sticky webs, and suddenly they have more important things to worry about.)

It’s hard – right off the bat, it’s hard. The purple webs are springy enough that they can pull themself hand over hand up and down them, and sticky enough that they don’t really have to worry about losing their balance, but the three attacking lines are hard to get used to, and the spiders skitter too fast and too unpredictable for them to be any good at dodging. They run out of ideas for how to act just about right away (well, any acting that doesn’t involve them giving her even MORE of their hard-earned money), which always leaves them feeling helpless and confused. The spiders clap their little paws to the beat, and the voice in their head talks about baked cobwebs and tea, and they die to the touch of the spiders, and they die falling off of the web, and they die as breakfast for Muffet’s car-sized, toothy pet.

They try not eating any of their snacks until the last minute. They try spending all their money on Muffet’s offers. They learn how to dodge the spiders and the pastries, learn the trick of only giving her their money when she’s about to unleash her pet on them. There’s a point they just can’t get past, a couple turns after “Lunch,” when they’re all out of healing stuff and the spiders dance in a pattern that’s too distracting for them not to look at. They get knocked off the web, or they get ran into by the attacks, and one time they got through it enough to sign a useless mercy but died on the next turn. They shatter either way.

It’s not even close to the end, they mentally whine to they’re not sure who, after dying again and landing on their ass beside the save point for the thousand millionth time. They still got “Dinner” and “Dessert” to get through, don’t they?! And even after that, she’s probably never going to let them go. The only things she wants are their money and their soul, and they’ve given her their money but she can’t take their soul. She’s killed them over and over, and she’s gonna keep doing that, because all she wants is all that they can’t ever give her.

What’ll you do if you meet a relentless killer?

They jump and then still, their hands burning against the searing floor. They don’t know where that thought comes from. It’s not the voice in their head, who doesn’t ask questions or make suggestions. If it’s a memory, they don’t know of what, or who, but this isn’t the first time they’ve had that thought. Usually they don’t want to think about it.

Is Muffet that? Is the Lady Mayor a relentless killer? She’s definitely relentless in going after them. Is she relentless in that she won’t be persuaded otherwise? Or just relentless as in determined, but always less determined than them? She’s in their way. She’s in their way, is the thing, and bigger than them, and stronger than them, and scary.

But they’re going to reach the end. So she isn’t going to be in their way forever. Something’s going to give eventually. Something is going to let them past her. They have no idea what it is – a new pattern of actions, maybe, or somehow impossibly lasting through “Dessert”, but not only does it exist, they’re going to find it.

But she’s relentless. What if…ugh. Hhgh. Rrgh. Yuck. This is why they don’t like thinking about it. What if the only way she’ll let them forward is if she’s dead?

Because – they don’t want this, but they don’t know if there’s another way around this. They’ve never known if everything in this world could be solved, despite trying over and over and over again to find that way. Maybe they’ve just been lucky. Maybe the monsters they’ve encountered have just been weak. Maybe she’ll never ever let them go. Maybe this is the only way through. They’ll get to the end, but maybe the way they get to the end is running into her uselessly until they give up and kill her. Maybe this timeline ends with them known permanently, sickeningly, as a murderer.

Plus! They’re angry!!! They need their damn money! It’s theirs! Who does she think she is, taking it so she murders them a little bit less?! Who the hell told her they like killing spiders, too?! They don’t LIKE spiders but they haven’t smashed even ONE since they fell down here!!

Doesn’t she deserve a little death? After all the death she’s caused them??

They heft their frying pan and stride back into the cavern, avoiding the puddles of spiderweb on the floor through reflex. It’s like every other time they’ve been here and not: they can get through almost to “Breakfast” without taking any damage, the patterns so familiar that they dance behind their eyelids when they blink. But this time the dull, frustrated almost-boredom of the battle cracks when they leap up to attack her with the pan, and something vicious and exhilarated shines through. They’re not strong, even with the heavy pan on their side, so they whittle down her HP a tiny bit every turn. Seventy-six points, fifty-nine, sixty, their blows made more powerful by their own determination. She repeats her lines, malicious and delighted, and that makes it a little easier to hit her – easier to be delighted than scared, easier to be malicious than guilty. She sets her pet on them and they have to scramble up towards the ceiling through a cascade of spiders, but she starts seeming unsure about her words, starts leaking dust.

When one of their hits finally dissolves her, she dies fast and quiet, just like any other monster. And now they’re just standing in a pile of dust and cobwebs. They grip the pan handle even tighter, with white-knuckled fingers, as they feel the tidal wave of EXP sweep through their soul. They gain another LV, then another – two, three, a bunch, enough.

There wasn’t any money for them in the wreckage. They sift their foot through the mess a couple times, just to make sure, before they let out a long, shaking breath and re-tie the strings on their apron. They can’t stay here long. They gotta keep going. They’re about to move on, but then, out of the corner of their eye, they spot a tiny, trickling movement, white against the dark background.

A single spider, small and simple and barely even alive enough for them to feel, scuttles out of the shadows and lays a flower on her dust. A flower.

Something breaks inside them, and then immediately sets itself back together, hard as stone. They can’t leave her like this.

They go back. They erase their success and go back, fiercely determined, in a strange, slippery way that they can’t tell if it’s of their red power or not. They can’t leave that spider like that – can’t leave her like that, the Lady Mayor reduced to a powerless pile of dust, her beloved spider city in chaos. They are going to get through without killing her. Their Goal, as it stands, their calling – get to the end, get through to the end, make it out alive – isn’t any less strong, and they know that they still can’t do anything against it, that it’s still what they unstoppably want above everything else. But it feels – incomplete, somehow. It twines around all of their bones, picking them up, pulling them forward, but something about it is different now. It’s moving with them, now that they’ve erased this progress and come back to try something else, instead of just moving them.

They go back to Gerson and stock up on snacks, draw a Strategic Plan of when to eat them and when to save them on their arm with Gerson’s markers. He’s kind of a little shocked at their burn scars, but he doesn’t say anything, and they’re too determined by now to pay attention to that. They temper their impulsiveness – you have to look before they leap, they keep repeating sternly to themself as they rest between turns, you have to look and THEN you leap, that’s the plan, that’s the new rules here. They have enough money to pay her again before the second-after-“Lunch” turn, the super terrible one that keeps murdering them, and to their total surprise and delight, they make it through.

And then, after that, they make it through the next one. And the next. And they keep making it through. Their hands are sticky and tingling, their feet feel like blisters, and even when they stand still it feels like the spiderweb is bouncing up and down underneath them. They make it through “Dinner” with only a few HP points to spare, so they’re gasping and panting and hanging onto the web, and they groan out loud when Muffet threatens “Dessert” right after – but then a spider with a tiny telegram hurries out onto the battlefield, and, and their soul is beating too hard to understand, but then, but then she’s done.

They’re done.

They made it. They pant harder, but for a different reason, mouth stretched wide and giggles escaping with their breath. The frying pan is on the floor and their hands are soaring through the damp air, whirling, they’re jumping up and down, squeaking, happy. Happy! They DID IT!! They’re THROUGH!!

The relief loosens all their muscles, turns all their bones into jelly. They’re swaying, shaky-kneed, as they wave joyfully to Muffet and shove their way through the cobwebs on the way out. It almost makes them dizzy, how they didn’t realize how much they didn’t want to kill, wanted so badly for there to be another way around – and, and, and they were RIGHT! Something is different. Something is big. The world around them hasn’t changed, but something makes them see the colors feverishly brighter, makes their trembling limbs feel long and proud and strong to their very core. They’re done. They look forward and they decide that they are done.

They’re done reloading. They’re done taking lives. If there was a way around relentless, powerful Muffet, a way around everyone they’ve ever fought, then there has to be a way around everyone. No more killing, no more violence. No more screwing up on purpose, because no one that mattered would ever know, just to see what happens, just to let the urges out.

They know that they’ll still be angry – it’s who they are, furious and impulsive, confusion dropping way too easy into rage. But they’re not going to fight. They’re going to take that rage, channel it into their Goal, spin it around into love. Pure, unstoppable love, the kind where Toriel invites them into her house and calms them after fiery meltdowns, the kind where Sans keeps a friendly eye on them despite knowing whatever the hell he knows. Where Papyrus doesn’t ask why they flinch at weird stuff like couch fuzz and scissors, where Undyne’s still their friend after they burned her whole entire house down.

These people have never deserved their violence. What any monster has done, what they might deserve in the eyes of karma, doesn't matter to them, because it's not what they're getting. They know that now, understand it better than they ever have. These people, above anything else, deserve their hard-won, consuming, defiant love.

They have the power to tear this world to pieces to reach their goal. But they promise themself and that world, right here and right now, that they’ll never ever ever use it.


eleven months ago

The smoke slowly begins to clear, and they cough into their sleeve, eyes watering. Behind the stage lights shining through the clouded air, anticipation dances with pride and excitement and more’n a little bit of malice – all of them, everything, together to a rhythm that sways them back and forth on their toes. Their shoes squeak on the polished tile floor, shiny enough to see their reflection. Or, if the smoke wasn’t there, the reflection of the grand new form that’s about to, in front of the entire, enraptured Underground, totally kick their ass!

There’s a form walking towards them slowly out of the fog, a form with long arms and sharp shoulders and very shapely legs. “Lucky for you,” it continues, rich and metallic, dismissing their flipping the Vulnerable Switch with a wave of its hand, “I’ve been aching to show this off for a long time.”

It laughs, pauses, then laces its hands together and stretches them out. “So,” it murmurs, rolling its head from side to side, stretching out its arms and legs, “I’ll be sure to give you a handsome reward. I’ll make your last living moments…”

Mettaton springs out of the smoke in front of them, flying improbably high in the air, boots pointed gracefully to the ground, landing with a thundering crack on the (unbroken!) floor. Arms outstretched, he soaks in the spotlights, allowing the cameras to observe him from every angle, and then his gaze snaps to theirs with a feral grin. They bend their knees in anticipation, and he runs two steps forward and leaps towards them –

“ABSOLUTELY beautiful!”

The music starts up, pumped through pulsing speakers to the exact beat of the song in their head, and they duck under his leg, calling on the voice in their head for info. Mettaton EX makes his premiere! it cheers without prompting.

Yeah, I know, I know! they internally shout, firing soul darts through a wall of obstacles and freezing solid so the gap protects them from being hit. TELL me about him though, before he murders us?!

METTATON EX – 8 ATK 1 DEF, it babbles out, caught up in the loudness. They remember how it went all frozen up when Mettaton pulled them onto his Cooking Show, and how short and clipped its words were when they were chasing bombs all over the place, and feel a little terrible about yelling at it. His weak point is his heart-shaped core, it finishes robotically, then folds itself into the back of their mind and doesn’t feel like saying anything anymore.

Okay, okay, okay. They shake their head and hammer the “Z” button on their phone, shooting missiles through the swarms of mini Mettatons. Voice in their head’s down for the count. That’s alright. They can deal with that, it’s alright. Their brain isn’t shouting at them to run, run go get out of the light get out of the noise, like it does sometimes when the voice gets like this – and even in the background, they can still hear it, almost drowned out but strong enough to say helpful things like Smells like Mettaton. It doesn’t want to be rigid and useless, doesn’t want to shut down – it still urges them forward, through its freezyness, Mettaton, Mettaton, Smells like Mettaton!

Yeah!! They do a flying leap over one of Mettaton’s attacks and land in a fancy pose, hands on their hips and one leg as far as they can stick it in the air. The ratings chart on the wall spikes, and Mettaton squeals with delight. He swoops forward in a spinning kick over their head, and they drop to the floor and roll out of his range, popping up just in time to shoot through the magic-mini-Mettatons he sends in his wake. Fiery with adrenaline, they whirl to the camera and sign a boastful Can’t touch this! as the spotlights shine into their eyes and Mettaton laughs. “Come on back, beautiful,” he says, waving them over while somehow managing to stay in time with the music. “Ready for a pop quiz? This one’s an essay question!”

And they’ve never been good at essay questions, or even pop quizzes in general, but when Mettaton presents the prompt they snort out loud. A giant keyboard flickers onto the floor in front of them and they flap with joy, because that means they can keep their can’t touch this! promise this turn, stomping on the L – E – G – S with the beat. Cause he’s really happy to have those finally, with how much he’s throwing them in the air and doing weirdo poses with them and everything. Like those big rubbery things that are always dancing outside used car lots! Yeah! He’s one of those!!

That gets a snicker out of the voice in their head, which they embrace with relief, cause that means it’s not completely incommunicado. Mettaton sees their answer and swoons, catching himself on his elbow and raising one of those legs up in a right angle. “That’s right, darling! Legs was the correct answer!” he crows, and the ratings swell, and they can almost feel the roar of the crowd coming up through their feet.

They bounce sideways from foot to foot, pulling their phone’s twirly antenna back and forth, as Mettaton flips himself over into a kneel and leaps back to his feet. They try and give the camera a cheeky wink, but winking is actually super hard, so they just end up blinking at it a couple times. “Your essay really showed everyone your heart, darling!” Mettaton cries, planting his feet and throwing out his arms. “Why don’t I show you mine?” The heart-shaped core on his chest whirls into the air, just like theirs, and the voice in their head pushes them forward. They aim their phone and they bend their knees, and they know just what to do!

The battle races on, the two of them flying across the stage. They cover their head and run through the rain of tiny lightning bolts after Mettaton’s soul, they jump out of the way of bombs that only explode in an X, they hop and twirl and freeze around color-changing disco lights. They die for the first time, and then the second, but they go back, and go back, and go back! Sure, they did a violence, uh, okay, did a bunch of violences all stacked on top of each other – and that was them looking back, but this kid here, this human charging into the limelight, is them going forward, and forward, and forward. They don’t need that control anymore!

They try, they die, they get kicked in the face that one time and also once they get zapped by Mettaton’s entire soul. The food goes out of their inventory quick, almost one a turn because they’re so clumsy sometimes, and then they make it go slow, and that almost gets them farther. They learn the stuff that’s for sale downstairs is way too expensive and a little bit super gross, so they run down to the river and clutch the Riverperson’s cloak as the boat gallops through the Underground in search of food. Full of homemade Cinnabuns and tangy, fresh-brewed Sea Tea, they make it this time until where he starts blowing off his LIMBS (!!!)! Then they’re switching out their apron for a cowboy hat they need to tie onto their fluffy head, then they’re dying cause they didn’t heal and lying on the floor by the save point and thinking about how Mettaton is DUMB and STUPID for a while, then they’re shrieking with glee as his arms fly off, because GOD DAMN it’s so hard to get this far!

“Who needs ARMS…” bellows Mettaton, “…with LEGS like THESE?!?!”

They’ve heard that twice already but they still bellow with laughter, bending the antenna back and forth, like one of those spring thingies on the wall that’s supposed to stop doors and goes SPROOOIOIOIOING when you pull it and let go. They’ve taught themself the action system – how they can touch the monsters watching by Can’t touch this!ing and not getting hurt, how if Mettaton’s grinning really evil then they can turn their heel and make rude gestures at the camera, so when he takes half their health the next turn the ratings skyrocket. As they get used to the pace of the battle, the voice in their head starts remembering what order the turns come in, when to pose and when to boast, and every time they try they get faster and happier and further and louder! Maybe they’re high on adrenaline, adoration, excitement, but they’re sure this is the top of the world, this is heaven, this is home!

And they might be giggly and light and maybe they’ll crash soon and maybe they’re way too psychic for this, but it’s like they can feel every monster watching through the cameras, swoop through their stomachs and explode from their mouths in cheers. They love, consciously and deeply, every monster watching, everyone in the entire Underground – they love the Riverperson, Mettaton – Vulkin, Temmie, Woshua, Shyren – Froggit, Gerson, Papyrus and Undyne and Sans! They LOVE Toriel’s worried caution, they LOVE Alphys’s anxious embarrassment, they LOVE the huge, looming city on the other side of this battle! This is them, strange and glorious, and the path to their goal is open and shining! Nothing here can stand in their way – their path, the path they chose, clear and bright and open, was cleared by their love, and now no one will stand in their way!

Who’s to say, they realize with a surge of joy, spinning over one of Mettaton’s attacks, that when their goal is done they won’t come back? They won’t stay? They’ll be welcomed, they’ll be loved. There’s no tightrope here.

They could never dance this good on a tightrope!

The battle ends with a flash and a bang, a boom from Mettaton’s legs and a whoop from them as he clashes to the ground. The ratings fizz along the top of their head like a mohawk before they realize that oops they just yelled about Mettaton falling On The Floor, and rush over to his side. The atmosphere’s changed in just half a second, from the triumphant finish of the music to the quiet hum of the stage lights.

“Oooh, look at these ratings!!!” Mettaton gushes, his voice distorting every couple seconds, exhausted but delighted. “This is the most viewers I’ve ever had!!! We’ve reached the viewer call-in milestone!” He ushers the lucky mystery caller onto the air, but all the tense excitement melts out of his circuits when a familiar voice answers.

And they only know it’s a familiar voice cause it sounds kind of like the person’s talking into a fan. They’re usually no good with voice recognition or anything, but this is definitely Napstablook, and…and Mettaton definitely knows them. A wave of blue sweeps over them, and they realize, plopping cross-legged on the floor, that he’s sorry.

The electric atmosphere settles down slowly, like a piece of paper drifting from an open window, as more and more monsters call in. They rock slowly back and forth as Mettaton makes his grand un-farewell speech, comforted by the feeling that he’s not in any danger when he powers down – he’s just dramatic, too confident to be worried, probably running down his battery on purpose so that he would have a glorious exit. Which they can respect. When the music finally fades out and Alphys rushes in, mumbling anxiety half to them and half to Mettaton’s unresponding head-torso, they push themself to their feet and brush the chalky stage sawdust off their hands.

Are you okay? they sign to her, but she brushes them off with something about building another one, which they tilt their head at, because she’s lying. You go on ahead, though!, she tells them, so they jump off the stage and run out the door.

There’s only one short CORE-hallway to the city, and then, and then the CITY, and then they’re almost through!! They hop down the corridor on their sore feet and flap their hands, antsy for a save, still coming down from the thrill of the fight. The voice in their head eases slowly out of its shutdown, and they bound around its reassuring presence like a puppy, overjoyed and relieved to have it back. Hey! Hey hey hey!! You saw that right you saw all that! We were on TV and I ate all my snacks and then Alphys came back and also he exploded his limbs off and I did a BUNCH of cool poses like a MODEL and everyone LOVED ME and –

Mettaton, agrees the voice, glowing with pride. Then, softer: Congratulations. Almost home.

“S-sorry about that,” calls Alphys, emerging into the hallway and closing the door behind her. “Let’s just keep going.”

She follows a few steps behind them, and she’s nervous as hell and they don’t really like that cause it’s throwing them off their groove, but she’s one of those people who always is. And that means that even though it’s hard to be around her sometimes, it usually doesn’t mean they really need to be scared. So it doesn’t faze them much. They hop from one foot to other foot, slow going on their terrible balance, waving their arms in the air and catching themself on the walls. The floor is kind of puffy here, like a rubber mat, instead of the tile of the stage, and Alphys talks to them about Asgore and the castle and going home, and she gets more and more and more and more nervous and they hop along on their happy shaky feet, until when they’re almost at the elevator and she stops and says, “Wait!”

They turn back to her, tilting their head, arms stuck out to the sides like a jet plane or maybe Naruto. She mumbles a goodbye, interrupts herself, then just…stops.

Her anxiety pitfalls into a solid dread. “I lied to you.”

Oh, no. They step forward, letting their wings fall back to their sides. Is this maybe about her anxiety stuff again? Is she gonna ask if they don’t like her cause she lied about Mettaton? Or just if they like her at all? She’s just nervous, so it might be that. Cause they do, of course they do! Of course they love her, how could they not!! They spring up closer and try for a hug, but she pushes them away, and that’s when it hits them that something is really, seriously wrong.

“A human soul isn’t…isn’t strong enough to cross the barrier alone,” she begins, and they feel a hard stutter of shock in their chest. They stop hopping and stand still, rocking on their heels, all of her dread seeping into their smallest places. When she continues she looks anywhere but them, and her voice is slow and steady and confident like they’ve never heard. “It takes at least a human soul…and a monster soul,” she says. Not stuttering, not lying, for once, for once strong and smooth. “If you want to go home…” she takes a deep breath and finishes, “you have to take his soul.

“You’ll have to kill Asgore.”

Chapter Text

The space between the curtains is itchy and too warm, and the background for this scene makes a squeakity sound when the monsters wheel it out to the stage. Frisk snarls and yanks their hands over their ears but edges closer anyway, squished between two layers of pulled-back curtain and waiting for their cue. It’s not allowed, that’s what Mettaton said so they can’t do it, to touch the curtains on purpose and wrap themself up, which is what they really want to do with them. But almost nobody can see them when they’re hiding in the middle like this so it’s a good place to be. The background looks out on the entire city of New Home, from a balcony somewhere in the palace, beautifully detailed with rooftop playgrounds and window box gardens and rickety, winding sky bridges.

The painting looks almost as lived-in as the real thing, and it gives Frisk a swoopy sense of vertigo to look up on it. Look back on it. The lights from the catwalk shine down through the thin stage fog, muddying the colors and making its distances look distant. They jerk their eyes over its crannies and nooks, rocking on their heels, pulling themself in.

A Woshua, one of the chorus members, bumps into them from behind. They jump, whirling on it with wide eyes, and it scurries back, water sloshing onto the curtain. “Frisk is ready?” it asks, tilting its head and mincing a few steps closer. “We go soon!”

I’m okay, I’m ready, they sign, and Woshua nods firmly and sits its squat little turtle-self down beside them. “Wosh u hands. Is dirty in here,” it advises. When Frisk doesn’t respond, it flicks a few droplets of water at them. “I wosh u hands then, dirty kid! Come here! Green means clean!!”

Find your others! Frisk snaps, pushing the Woshua’s head away with their foot. Leave me alone!!

The Woshua remembers what it’s actually supposed to be doing right now and huffs, embarrassed. “U clean,” it grumbles ominously before trundling off to find the other two of it.

The storyteller chorus (which is what people are calling the small chorus of monsters who narrates Asriel and Chara’s story during Frisk’s walk through the castle) is a small and somewhat elite group, chosen less because of their voices and more because they take rehearsals kind of serious. They’re the kind of people who volunteer for an extra role and actually show up for it, so their Woshuas are only a little bit distractible, like how their Vulkins are relatively calm and their Moldsmals can memorize repeated lines, which explains why they’re smaller than the regional choruses. But they’re not super great at waiting, and neither is Frisk, which is what they’re doing for the music to start so everyone is fidgety. Snowdrake, who’s going to be playing Chara for this chunk of it, bounces up and down and waves to Frisk from across the stage. Frisk doesn’t wave back and just looks at the ground until Mettaton starts yelling again.

The castle scene starts and Frisk doesn’t remember to move until someone shoves them gently onto the stage, even though by then Asgore’s done doing his opening monologue, plus Snowdrake and the bunny kid from the inn they don’t know are already out there being Chara and Asriel, cause they can’t listen to ANYTHING! They stumble out onto the stage, scooting past Snowdrake and its tinny voice to their spot.

They scuffle across the stage as the song goes on, forcing their feet through their motions. It might be just them, or it might be just everyone, cause opening night is only two weeks away and no one is ready, but it feels like everything is waiting high and tense, waiting on them to do something that they want to do but can’t. Snowdrake and the little inn dude – Mitra, that’s his name, they think – sing their duet behind them, as Frisk follows a meandering path across the stage, pausing when they remember to listen to the chorus. The family scene behind them – they never face each other during this scene, it was a detail that they and Mettaton made up back when this was a good idea – takes up most of the attention, and Frisk feels themself starting to space out as they wander around the stage.

Mitra sings a lyric, and their paths cross as Mitra crosses the barrier, awkwardly pretending to carry the much-bigger-than-him Snowdrake. They’re supposed to pretend not to see each other, but Mitra sneaks them a glance and a shy smile, which Chara twitches into returning. He’s a super good actor, isn’t he? Frisk asks, eager to distract. And he’s kind of cute, right?

Shut up, murmurs Chara.

Okay. All the anger is drained out of Chara, like a sinkhole, like a plug, and whatever the hell stays dripping down their walls is slow and thick and syrupy. It’s Chara dragging Frisk’s feet, always, pointlessly silent and hollow in the back of Frisk’s mind. All that’s left is resignation – you lead us to our ends – and a toxic, slaggy-tongued betrayal. But then the key changes, and they’re almost through.


eleven months ago

The ride to the capital is really long.

You’ll have to kill Asgore.

It’s really long.

And when the doors slide open and they’re in a silent, echoing gray hallway, there’s a thank god oh my god a glittering little save calling from the end and they race on shaky legs, a little bit side to side, cause they can’t trust themself to pay attention all the way to where they’re going. They slam into the wall as they save, catching themself on their hands, with a bomm that echoes out down the corridors and up through their wrists. Help me, tell me, they beg the voice in their head as the timeline ties into a familiar knot behind them, tell me why I’m determined, tell me how to keep going. But for once the voice doesn’t have any words to say.

It’s sorry, it says without saying. It doesn’t know, either. There’s an Oh Big Thing rising up inside it, hiding in what it doesn’t know. Keep going. They can’t stop now.

You’ll have to kill Asgore. You’ll have to – kill –

to go home.

If they stayed in the school, if they let the wolves and mountain lions and other stuff get them. If they fell down a different hole and if they stayed dead. They think that would have been easier, maybe, maybe, but that isn’t what could have happened. So they go. It’s not like there’s anything else that can be done. Their breathing is hard and they go.

On the other side of the hallway, on the other side of a cityscape they’re only just numb enough to pass overhead, waits a house. Simple, unassuming, despite how its appearance sets off a bombshell in their mind. Toriel – she’s – A pile of faded gray leaves outside of its front, instead of the red they remember. She – who?? The pile, softly fuzzy with age, shooshes their feet as they walk through it. Toriel’s house – their house. But it’s not their house.

The voice in their head goes, New Home. The voice in their head doesn’t say anything.

They walk through the mystery-not-mystery house in a daze, making patterns in the dust of neglect on the tables and bookshelves. (It’s not real dust, monster dust, they know what that feels like and it’s so fine it’s almost slimy – this is just dirty dust. There’s still a sticky sorrow clinging to it, feeling closer than it should.) Two Froggits surprise them – A long time ago, a human fell into the Ruins – and soon enough, the story begins.

Their soul is heavy and unstable, they feel it wobbling, as more and more monsters circle around them, murmuring the lines to an ancient, passed-down tale. The floor in the kitchen is tiled like the one at Toriel’s house, and the white fur in the drain looks just as soft. The key is heavy in their fingers. The crumples in the trash are all recipes for pie, written in a lax, looping hand. And they know this means something, even if they can’t stretch their brain to know what, yet. Something big is coming, something big that lies just out of their reach, their comprehension. It’s rushing at them like a train, and they’re not ready. They’re not ready. But here it comes, anyway.

They drift through the house, into the room that looks like theirs, that the voice in their head makes an odd little quip at – if you laid down here, you might not ever get up! – before falling back to silence. They untangle the ribbons around the gifts with dreamlike hands, because no one is there to say no, wondering at the burnished locket and rusty knife that tumble out. Those go in their inventory, like a surge of nausea that they quickly press down, just in case, just in case. They don’t wanna puke on the nice rug so they aren’t gonna think about that stuff. There are flower petals stuck to the wrappings.

Instead, as they take in the twin beds and the two of every toy, their thoughts fall onto the child. The fallen child – the first human, the hopeful heir. They nearly step on one of the Moldsmals in their distraction, but it only wiggles reproachfully, then speaks in a low, sludgy tone – “The King and Queen treated the human child as their own.”

Someone who fell down a mountain that you didn’t fall down by accident, who was taken into this place and this people, just like them. They learn from the monsters’ story, drink it in. What would it be like, to live in peace down here? With a father, a mother, a brother? If they could, they wonder, would they trade it?

Well…maybe they would. Only maybe, though.

The stairs in the entryway lead down into a narrow tunnel, just like Toriel’s. The edges of the staircase are layered in dust, the center disrupted by a single trail of huge, wide footprints, scuffled and worn like their owner has tread down only this path for a long, long time. Their boots leave traces of mud and glitter as they follow them down.

“Then…one day…the human became very ill,” a monster whispers to them, walking beside them for a few steps before falling behind. “The sick human had only one request,” adds another, picking up where the first had left off, and their breath catches, because the monster’s words are slow and heavy, and they know where this is going. They feel – angry, for just a second, at the human, as the scrawny Loox confirms their worstest dread. To have this chance and just lose it like that. They’d never do that, in the first human’s place. They’d never lose their determination enough, for a tragedy like this to happen, even if they got to see some stupid flowers when they were dead. The Ice Cap at the end of the hall hears their rough gasp and barely inclines its head. “Back to the village of the humans,” it says, and god, they don’t want to know how this ends, but they probably already do.

They round one more corner, and the monsters say something about an attack, but they don’t hear it and suddenly they don’t hear anything. Because the walls of the corridor have dropped away, and there unfolding in front of them is a great, rushing city.

The path arches into a high stone bridge, weaving through the tallest buildings, soaring above the biggest single cavern they’ve EVER seen. They race to the stone railing in a rush of awe and lean on their stomach all the way out, hands clutching the scratchy sandstone, feet kicking and hopping back and forth. Knight Knight and Madjick, who think this is kind of funny and cute, still wait a few steps behind with their story – cause they couldn’t forget about the story, oh no, not even in this!! – but don’t tell them to get a move on. They just wait and they watch as they drum their feet on the sandy ground, face and brain and eyeballs stretched wide with awe.

The buildings are topped with shining peaks and fancy swirly thingies their eyes get lost in, built out in rectangles and hexagons and even shapes that look like sculptures. From way up here they can see the whole field of grayish sandstone rooftops, scattered with gardens and clotheslines and playgrounds, cafés and pools and big long tables and what really looks like a classroom full of kids but they can’t be sure. The city reaches to the edges of the cavern on all sides, buildings climbing up into the walls, lights and homes shining out from inside the granite itself. They slap their hands on the railing, mouth wide open, eyes gleaming, drinking it in.

They can see a market, swarming with monsters, more shapes and bright colors than they’d even imagined was possible, checking fruits for freshness, searching racks of clothing for their size. There aren’t any cars or anything on the streets, but the people who walk stop like they’re supposed to at the intersections, and they got – oh!! They let out a delighted little squeak-giggle. They got orange and blue stoplights down there!!

Nobody that they can see looks homeless, or even crazy in a way that makes you homeless eventually (which is the kind of crazy that they are, people said). Tumbles of monster kids play in the streets, but they all look well-fed and reasonably clean, and looking down on those kids a pang of jealousy slips into their stomach. Their eyes drift up to the lighted windows of the many tall buildings, most of which they think are apartments. Most of them don’t have curtains, and they shamelessly drink in so many snapshots of pure domestic monster-ness. Patterned wallpaper, window boxes, fish tanks – there are so many lives, so many people, so open and connected all at once. They come eye to eye with a tortoise monster, obviously staring at them from its own window, and after a skittering of shock it smiles at them and waves. And they tear themself away, but not before they wave back.

Monsters walk past on either side of them, some hurrying, some following their kids or waving to distant windows. This bridge is public, connects to other areas of the city, they guess, but they walk straight forward, placing one foot in front of the other on the seam in the very center. There’s so many people here, along their path, over and under and around them. And through it all, the Astigmatisms, Whimsalots, the Final Froggits – they tell a story of grief so heavy that even the whole kingdom could hardly bear it, a story of everything small that had ever deserved to be loved swept away. It’s not fair. It’s full of awe and beauty. It’s overwhelming. They touch their face and their fingers come away wet.

They don’t…cry. It’s not what they do. They scream, rage, bolt, that’s how their pain has always burst out of them – they don’t cry. But their face is wet, tiny rivers of tears tracking through the leftover glitter on their cheeks, smearing all over their face when they wipe it with their sleeve.

And still, again and always, there’s the story, and the monsters, and the song. Monsters they recognize from the Ruins trail beside them, whispering the next parts of the story, line by line by cooperative line. They wonder how they know this story so well. They wonder how much they’ve told it before.

“It’s not long now,” says a Loox, and their face is so, so wet.

“King Asgore will let us go,” bubbles a Moldsmal, quivering with the closest thing to trust its fungusy mind can muster.

“King Asgore will give us hope,” rasps the Loox, its wide eye staring into them, like it’s giving them its entire soul.

“King Asgore will save us all,” hums a Migosp, and they kind of want to wrench its head off its shell and throw the dust over the balcony.

They don’t do that.

They walk forward, step, step, mind-numbing step. The tears on their face are dripping down their neck and into their sweater and they walk.

“You should be smiling, too,” grins a Pyrope, bouncing along beside them, like it knows what they are but even then can’t contain its joy. They wish they could. All they want to do is grin back at it and take its joy and roll around in it, leap up and down, punch and flap the air. “Aren’t you excited?” chirps a Vulkin, as its twin races circles around it.

Everything about this is so much bigger than they could ever imagine – than anything they’ve ever seen before. The city they came from is much larger than this, they’ve even been in bigger crowds, but this one, when they’re in the middle of it and above and all around it, it feels the biggest. Love and hope and fear and rage. They are the least alone that they have ever been. And it is…wow. It’s, it’s, it’s good.

“Aren’t you happy?” squeaks the Vulkin’s twin, stopping abruptly as the first Vulkin trips backwards over it. And the strange thing is, they are. They can’t not be. Not when this whole city is filling them up from the inside out, not when every single one of these monsters loves and trusts the future ahead of them, with no reservations, with no shame. Their face is wet and they are shaking and they are every place and every monster at once.

A single Froggit hops out of the crowds, down the seam, right towards them. They wipe their face and crouch down in front of it, and it gazes at them for a few silent seconds before it tells them –

“You’re going to be free.”

– how the story ends.


Frisk shakes themself a little bit as the song closes around them. Wowie. That was. Well, it’s always a hella lot to handle, but that was more of the hell part than it usually is. Also the lot.

The scene’s not over and they’re not even close to done, but the back of their neck creepycrawls and shivers ferociously, and also they forgot what they have to do next. And also everyone is looking at them way too close, even if they’re probably not actually, like Toriel says. And either way everything is stupid and this whole musical is stupid and nothing they ever do for it will matter! So they clomp off the stage and over to the props closet, which is really big, and good for hiding in.

Only then as soon as they go in there, all the way over in the robotics section Papyrus glances up and he waves at them. And over there with him is Alphys, and Rust, and TALLEY. He’s sitting on the robotics table and he’s got the extremely agile glass of water prop in his hands! And his sleeves are rolled up and nobody has a problem with how he’s just being here and he’s!! Aueuahrrrhrhrhrhghghghhhh!!!!! They run off into the closet and find a place to squish themself down, in a little hole that’s underneath a desk, between a wall and a big stack of chairs. And no one can see them unless they come behind the desk and look straight down and no one ever does that so here is good. Talley is talking to Alphys about robot stuff and, and there’s cautious happiness, floating off him and Rust and Al and Papyrus in dreamy waves.

God. They might puke. He shuddershivers them. He makes them sick with how much he’s trying. It’s alien and freaky and they don’t like it. And they don’t like him, and maybe they’re scareNO! He can’t DO that to them!

But then Al and Papyrus come over, gently shedding the two humans, who feel happy enough to be left alone, and there’s that shuddering back again. And. And Alphys leans against the wall and pretends not to see them, and Papyrus sits on the desk and dangles his feet on their back, and it feels like they don’t even exist. Cause the two of them are talking, and part of the time Frisk thinks they’re talking to them, only, only why do they do that, cause they’re not good at talking lately at all. (They know why. They don’t know what to do with it, just like all the way back in the beginning.)

Papyrus leans down and he tries to coax them out. He holds out his hand and he tries to radiate hope and love. And they’re pretty sure that nothing exists outside of their tingling fingers. Cause the mayor is doing some bad things, they’re sure, even though they’re not allowed to go to meetings anymore cause they just fuck those up and also everything else they do. Asgore’s too tense. Papyrus is too jumpy. And Talley hasn’t taken back his comment even though he fucking likes it here now, and Mettaton still thinks everything about the musical is genius. And they’re all leading everyone to their ends.

It wasn’t any simpler underground, or anything, hums Chara. It wasn’t. They know that. They know it wasn’t and they have to keep telling themself that. But.

It was easier, they mumble to Chara, shyly, flinchingly. Just. To exist.

Maybe so, says Chara, through their deep and solid sadness. Maybe it was.


eleven months ago

They sign the old Froggit-compliment with slippery hands. It stares at them for a long, solemn moment, then hops away without a word.

Well. They rock back on their heels, sniffing, running what they’ve just heard through their brain again and again like a conveyor belt. They can’t go back now.

They sit on the floor for a little bit and let the crying thing happen to them, even though their hands are cool, even though they’re done with their raging. They make little bad noises and rock back and forth, hands clenched in their hair, because they need just a second just a moment to just be sad about everything. Sad about everything that’s led up to this, and that it is this, and it’s not fair. It’s not fair. They just want to go home. But then they straighten up and wipe their face and keep going.

Down the hall opposite from the elevator (they aren’t good with right and left) they find a tall, gleaming corridor lined with pillars and stained-glass windows. Their stomach jumps a little bit, cause this has gotta be the throne room right? Already?? But they can see all the way down to the end if they squint, and they don’t think there’s any thrones down there. It’s hard to see, anyway, with the hot yellow sunlight (and they never realized how weird it is to feel sunlight now) shining through the windows. It bounces in colors through the windows and turns the gold of the pillars radiant, cutting up the shadows until the only shadows left are the slightly darker golds. They wander through the sunlight, distracted, until the voice in their head pulls them to an abrupt stop, as far above them a bell sounds.

And there’s – Sans.

He’s shrouded in shadows that they swear weren’t there a second ago, but now they look natural as anything, cast down from the pillars. And his mind is slow and soft and cunning like it gets when his eyes go out, like he’s waiting on you for something, even though he won’t do anything but watch and know. He rumbles through what they know has gotta be a monologue, that’s, that’s Sans he doesn’t pull shit like this out of his ass, but that Sans is doing a really good job of placing importance into every word of.

“Now. Now you will be judged,” he murmurs, hard and low. “You will be judged for your every action.”

And they can’t breathe.

They walked past his stand in Waterfall once and his brother’s dust was all down their front, and he looked at them with his pupils all gone, all the way until they were into the next room. And that time when they died to Shyren and skipped back weeks and weeks in their dusty timeline and he looked at them then. And he looked at them in the restaurant and he’s not scared of them, he’s not, and it’s almost worse than if he was, cause if he was then they could be scared too. He just. He knows them. He follows them and he watches them. And he puts hot dogs on their head and annoys Papyrus over the phone and grins at them and winks, and he knows something, and he looks at them, through to the bottom of their soul and out the other side.

“…But you,” he says, and his eyes come back on, and he looks…to them. “You,” he murmurs, like they’re something he doesn’t want to scare, “you never gained any LOVE."

All their breath bursts out of them at once and their head jerks up. He’s smiling. He smiles and he’s, he’s lying, but – no. No, he’s not. He’s really, truly, technically, not.
As he speaks they can feel the tacit forgiveness, the purposeful dissolution of what he knows, pushing that out and replacing it with what is really, finally true. “You refused to hurt anyone. Even when you ran away, you did it with a smile. You never gained LOVE…” He trails off, eyes darting to their hands, white-knuckle clenched and trembling around their pan. “But you gained love. Does that make sense? Maybe not…”

They stumble forward and before they know it their arms are around his weird short neck and their face is buried in his hoodie, right where the hood meets the jacket, and what the hell does it really smell like rancid ketchup they’re going to die here they look right the hell back up and conk their forehead on the bridge of his nose. After a second, he trails off with his monologue, goes “aw hell, kid,” and hugs them back.

They hug him for a long, long time. (Or it feels like a long, long time to their nose.) When they pull back, their face is weirdly wet again, but the important part is that even though their hands are tingling and hot and their head feels stuffed full, there’s a lightness underneath. A confidence. “We’re all counting on you, kid,” says Sans, like he trusts them. Like he understands that it can only be their shoulders that his world is resting on, and he trusts them with it, and they have no idea how to go forward in that.

“Good luck,” he says, and they glance away for just half a second, and the entire room is golden sunlight again.

The actual throne room is down a couple more hallways and past some weird gray ivy, and also after a room that has like seven coffins and one has a red soul on it, Which They Are Not Thinking About Right Now Or Ever If They Want To Keep Walking. They go back up the stairs slower and slower to the throne room, just creeping through the doorway, pausing to close their eyes and listen to the birds before rustling through the flowers with their feet. They don’t want to move towards him, the dazzling figure looming over his garden and humming a sad little song, but it’s not because they’re scared. They are, they just. They don’t want him to have to know that they’re here.

But he turns around anyway, because that’s how this world will happen. And the bottom falls out from under his stance, and they sway on their feet with his dizzying shock. He drops his watering can. And the world doesn’t feel real, but it’s stretching forward ahead of them, and there’s nothing they can do to slide their way out of it.

“I so badly want to say…” He glances to the side, just like Toriel, when she’s feeling something secret, and smiles, a dazed, bitter smile. “’Would you like a cup of tea?’ But. You know how it is…”

They know how it is. It’s time. They both know that it’s time, and he doesn’t know what it’s time for, but they do.

They slide the dagger slowly out of their inventory, with arms like sludgy molten lava, and shove it through one of their belt loops so it hangs heavy by their side. It’s time for them to go home.

“You know what we must do,” he says, numbly, and he goes into the next room. And, numbly, they follow him. They tread patterns on his flowers, they quietly absorb the second throne in the corner. They don’t want to move, but their feet move them anyway. They’re going home, and they’re not ready but their dagger will have to be, because – because – because they’re going home. They’re reaching the end. They want it so deeply, it’s not something that anyone can fight. They follow him all the way to the barrier, numb and shaky, older and wiser and so, so not ready.

“Are you ready?” he asks them, voice gentle and slow. “If you are not, I understand. I am…” he swallows, “not ready either.” He goes on ahead. When they save it’s just called The End, and the voice in their head stays hushed-up quiet.

20 full, golden points. Locket and dagger. Starfaits and Cinnabuns and Sea Tea. Shaking knees and puke up in their throat and they are going home.

They follow, blinking into the light-not-light that the barrier gives off. It’s like standing inside a kaleidoscope, and if everything were different, they know they could stand here and watch it for hours. The king gives a heavy sigh, and they can feel the lead in his limbs, how incredibly heavy the little crown bows his head. He wants anything but to turn around and for them to be there. They want – to go home. “If…If by chance you have any unfinished business…” he murmurs, and his voice hovers right on the edge of a break and they want to go home, “please, do what you must.” Continue or go back, says the voice in their head. Are you ready?

…NO.

No WAY!!!

They whirl on their heel and run, faster than they’ve ever gone before, trampling out through the flowers, thundering through the palace and bursting onto the bridge. The dagger clatters against their side and they grab it on the blade and shove it back out of sight, unequipping it, barely registering the line of blood that splits open on their hand. It’s still – they’re still, there, their constant is, it still holds them. It yanks them towards the palace, itches them to the dagger and the save, wails at them to do it, go home, get through, end it. They know it’s how the world still turns, they know that this is still how this story ends, with them on the other side of that barrier. And they know how they needed it, fixed on it, so it could get them through this bizarre, unexpected world and all the change that came with it. But with Toriel they could ignore it, at least for a little while, they could live like a normal-souled kid. They could run and hide from fate, buying time, scrabbling out hiding places as it came looking.

So they run. And they don’t stop running for almost three months.

When they exploded out onto the street they had no idea where they were going, just out, just gone!! and so they ran all the way until their feet started to complain. That put them in the way far middle of the city, which is where they found the library, which is where they first saw the flyer for something called a “Youth Hostel,” which is apparently a place where a bunch of ramshackle kids can live together at the same time. This one will make you breakfast, they read, but you can leave and stuff so it’s not a group home or anything. It’s for folks who are moving or traveling or just on an adventure, because you can do those things when you’re a kid in New Home, and wow that breakfast looks yummy!

They rip down the flyer when no librarians are looking and follow its doodled map to a big wide house on a rushing street corner. It’s run by a couple of very old tortoise ladies, wrinkled soft and loving. One of them, Priscilla, talks in the exact weird way that Gerson does, like wah ha ha! and everything. She’s got a lot of stories about growing up in the misty days before the war and what the kingdom was like in the years when monsterkind was first establishing itself underground, and humble-brags a lot about her brother, who used to be the King’s right-hand man. Her wife Mildred is wispy and keeps more to herself, but she’s the one that makes the breakfast and takes the too-sweet icing off the pastry when they ask. Both of them look at them sideways out of the corner of their eyes, stop talking when they walk into the room, know a few things, but neither of them say anything. And they let them stay for a couple g and a couple chores a day, and their knitted blankets are soft and warm, and when a stress meltdown happens about routines and what if they kick me out they all sit down around a table and draw out a schedule on a big piece of cardboard.

So they fill their days with helping around the hostel, and getting to know some of the COOLEST other kids they’ve ever met, and most of all exploring the city. They follow their feet and their nose and their sense of curiosity, spend weeks after weeks climbing to the highest playgrounds, trying the weirdest foods (within reason, which ends up meaning not really weird at all), making friends, friends, so many friends! Miry the tortoise who works hard but usually finds time to visit their grandmas on the weekend, the Riverperson and even their weird boat, MK who has family up here and knows all the best hide-and-seek places! Onionsan’s friend Shallowt, who wants them to help write songs for the Red Hot Chibi Peppers! Sweet, hyper Kiilo’an, who’s learning to work at her dragon family’s bakery, and lets them have whatever she burns! So many texts, so many times their phone buzzes in their pocket and the voice in their head nudges at them, so much to do and learn and meet and see! So many friends!

And then – they don’t notice it at first, cause it starts out so quiet, and so natural. But the red rhythm inside them, the constant, calling heartbeat…it begins to stutter. Something second fills in its gaps, the jerking silence between its pulses. Something like, where is home? And, it’s not fair. And, I love these people. It’s been growing in them since all the way in the beginning, hasn’t it? Back to the first time they babbled their love to Toriel, and the voice in their head told them stories also? This is how it grows: with fits and starts, slowly and gracelessly, bigger than the first before they can stop to notice. Bigger than anything.

For the first time they can remember, they change their mind.

The weeks pass and they meet people, they know people, they love people. Some of the market stalls will give you free stuff if you hang around a bunch and ask nicely, which Kiilo’an’s reminding them how to do! And one time they go in the library and find the Monster History section, and the voice in their head flips its SHIT and so they just sit there for like eight days! They inch closer and closer to their brainghost friend, building up inside jokes and playful arguments, they go to school as MK’s show and tell once, they sing and laugh and dance and live. At some point in there, they think they turn 11. And they know: the timeline doesn’t end with them tightrope-crossing over the barrier anymore. It ends with the barrier shattered, the tightrope cut down, and the monsters free, just like the Froggit on the bridge said.

They live until they can’t live anymore.

Because, okay. The thing is, the THING here is, just cause they don’t have to reach the end anymore doesn’t mean that Asgore…stops…existing. They see him a couple times on the street and hide from him behind bushes and stuff. And once when they come back to the hostel Priscilla says they have a package, and there’s a slice of too-buttery butterscotch pie wrapped in wax paper on their bed. They can only eat a couple bites before their tummy tells them it wants to puke, so they hand it off to Miry, and it didn’t even taste bad but it leaves them feeling like they’re full of swallowed dust. There’s still one thing that a whole entire world is waiting on them to do. And, and if they can do something anything so that the monsters get free eventually, they don’t think that they can just sit (okay, run) around and…not do it.

So they go back into the castle. Sans isn’t waiting in the hall, which is good, they think, cause that would just make it harder. They go back, retrace their footsteps, follow their goal. The voice in their head, which absorbed their new goal as wholeheartedly and welcoming as they did, goes quiet again as their footsteps echo in the empty halls. It’s unnerving. It’s hardly ever quiet in their head anymore.

They don’t want to fight, still. They’re shaky and cautious, feet scuffling uncomfortably in the flowers as Asgore turns to face them. This time, he doesn’t drop his watering can. But this is the only way forward, and they know their soul won’t let them give it up – so giving up their soul must not be the way the monsters are freed. They don’t wanna fight. But some weird thing is gonna happen, they know it is, it has to. They gotta trust their soul, is what they jitter-chatter to the brainghost on the way to the barrier room, running their thumb over the dull edge of the dagger in a weird new stim they picked up. Because their soul’s got them this far and nothing else has, and, and they have to do this. They have to do something this important, not because their soul tells them to, or even anyone else, it’s because they can.

And the voice understands. They think it understands. It’s still really stupid quiet which they do not like one bit no thank you, and that makes it a little bit hard to tell. But it’s not pissed at them or anything, and it surrounds them like armor as the battle pulls them in.

A strange light fills the room…twilight is shining through the barrier, it whispers to them. There is strength in their hands and their shaking knees, and they hold the dagger in a grip that feels almost familiar. It seems your journey is finally at an end. It feels almost like it’s smiling, strong and fierce and sad, and their grip tightens on the dagger and they step forward with feet that aren’t all the way theirs. One more time, they ask each other – ready? no, here we go – and then, it’s time.

You are filled with DETERMINATION.


I think we were both pretty stupid back then, says Frisk tentatively. One of those branches that you reach out when you wanna make peace with someone.

Olive branch, Chara corrects automatically. Then: Perhaps we were. Why did we think that to be the end of it? Why would we expect that there would be no consequences for what we concealed? Stupider than now, even.

Maybe they should go back out and get back in there for the ending. Cause rehearsal is still going, even though they’re holed up back here, cause they’re two weeks out and the monsters, at least, need to know their scenes. Maybe they – hey, they bite out to Chara, who’s usually sniping at them at this point in their thinking.

What do you need, Chara replies. Like they’re not even sitting on Frisk’s big ass pile of frustration, like a little BITCH (!!!) who’s not even causing it.

So Frisk takes their own anger and bites down hard, snarls what the heart of this is about, or at least they think, cause they never know for sure. You were here the whole fucking time! You were there with EVERYTHING I did and you never stopped me or NOTHING!! You got no right to be pissed at me now, you know that?! Cause you were RIGHT!! THERE!! And it’s almost YOUR fault much as mine!!

There’s a pause before Chara responds, not even a flicker angrier than they were a minute ago. This is not a fight. You…idiot, they mutter, like they’re explaining something to a small child for the last time. I realized that I – no, that we – could be wrong in our goals, when Asriel showed us it was true. I saw the ways I hurt him, and I knew that I was in the wrong. But you…I have told you, Frisk, but you insist on forgetting, how completely I depended on you underground.

Yeah? So what? So what? You couldn’t even THINK anything on your own? That's what you're sayin'? Someone’s calling for them, which they can tell, because Papyrus looks up and feels a little spike and that’s the only way they can know. Probably that means someone’s calling for them.

Let me finish! I learned that we could be wrong, but I did not understand the full extent that we were until it began to affect those around us. Neither of us are particularly good with consequences, but I do not bear any responsibility for this, Frisk.

Chara sighs. What we did – what I trusted you with, and what you led us to do – is bringing harm to a society that has never deserved harm in its existence. Sans knew something, and he forgave you, but his forgiveness was going forward. Wiping clean the slate, letting go of what he knew, because it didn’t matter to the future. This is different.

What if I just, says Frisk, hands wound tight in their hair. Just. Don’t tell them ever. Sit on it. Keep it. If it’s MINE.

They will learn how it truly happened, or the musical will crash and burn! And who knows if monsterkind will have a chance to recover from that? This is the future of humans and monsters that is waiting to be decided by us. The consequences for your actions are not erasable anymore, and whatever path of action you choose, those consequences will be nothing less than the end of everything.

What is it, Frisk grinds out. That we do now. That you want us to do. To make this better and so you stop hating me. Tell me.

We can do nothing about this, not at this stage, Chara says, deflating. I trusted you, and I still do. Perhaps that was a mistake. But, no matter the mistakes either of us have made, we have no choice but to face this together.

UuuHHGHGHHHHrrrrrrh! Frisk springs up and startles Alphys and Papyrus, shaky and light in a way they can’t explain. Relieved maybe? Chara’s still not helping. But they go back onto backstage, closer to where they’re supposed to be, get as close they can before they hole up again in a corner cause everything out there is way too much. When no one’s looking they pull up their sleeves and start biting up their forearms again. Need to get it out somehow. Heals faster than burning and it’s something Chara likes more than that. There’s not enough space in their head to stop or also think about it too much.

And the couple few seconds before Flowey comes and bothers them, or someone finds them and tries to not make them so burning, is all the time they need. Something small and hot and withered, something that Chara does not like one bit, pokes through their blasted ground. But then someone else sprouts in his Backstage Pot a few yards away from them and it’s blown out of their head, for the moment.

Chapter Text

Flowey explodes out of his Backstage Pot a few yards away, then awkwardly uses his vines to pull himself over to them. “Hey, dummies. You’re not listening to anyone, so I took it upon myself to come get you. You gotta stand in front of Asgore for like a few seconds. That’s not too much for you to handle, is it?”

Okay, thinks Frisk. Then they stand up and kick Flowey’s pot over and they run to the catwalk.

And Flowey gives a shuddering gasp as their foot comes back, and for a second his fear is needles in their hands and scorching down their back. WHY, they grumble to Chara, trying to shake it off, trembling a little with the force of the unexpected.

What? You do not know? They think Chara’s actually genuinely surprised, which, FUCK ‘em.

What don’t I know!! Tell me!!

He is afraid of your re -

I know he doesn’t want me to reset! Why’s he scared NOW though!!!

…He is afraid, Frisk, that you are getting bored. Or frustrated, or discontented. He is afraid he sees himself in you.

That’s stupid. He’s stupid, Frisk snaps, knuckles white around the ladder up to the catwalk. Why aren’t you so angry at him and what he did? Why only at me?

We have had our time for anger, Sponge. Think back. You know why.

Ugh, they do.


eight months ago

“…What are you doing?”

The wind is howling. It stings through their slices and their stabs, cold and needles in their lungs, hurting to breathe. Darkness throbs their vision in and out. They can only kind of see Flowey in front of them, and they can’t see anything else. They’re dizzy, real real dizzy, and also their head hurts. Mercy, they sign again.

“Do you really think I’ve learned anything from this?” he snarls, flinching away. “No.”

When they close their eyes, blood and color wheels around them in a blur. Echoing through their head go the metal sounds and the high-pitched shrieking of the voice, mimicking the little tune they hear when they shatter – do-do-do-do-do-do DO do! – and laughing hysterically. Their mouth is still all thick and gross with their snot and blood and Flowey’s – that thing’s – hot, snarling breath. Their head throbs again, and they sway, swallowing down a surge of nausea, and they sign, Mercy.

“Sparing me won’t change anything,” is what he coughs at them. His crinkly, ragged flower head crackles as he speaks, pulled into a defiant grimace of pain. “Killing me is the only way to end this.”

Idiot, he doesn’t say. There’s no happy endings. Peace doesn’t exist. It doesn’t matter how much you love the world. In the end, people will always be evil, and everybody dies. And when they die, they die alone. You know that, stupid kid. Did you ever believe it was different? Not deep down!

Maybe not. Mercy, they sign again.

“If you let me live, I’ll c-come back,” he growls, doubles over into coughing in the middle of his sentence. “I’ll c-come back,” he wheezes through tattered teeth. “I’ll kill you. I’ll kill everyone! I’ll k-kill everyone you – “ he bends over and practically hacks his lungs out into the ground. Pieces of plant and strings of dust-thick drool ooze from his mouth. “I’ll kill everyone you love!!”

And maybe even right after Mettaton, they would’ve done it. Even as full of love and joy and hope as they were. They would add up every awful thing he’s done, and the cringing, writhing, slavering hatred he’s driven through their brain, and they’d see that he shouldn’t get to live, after all of that. And they’d be right. And then they would kill him.

Mercy.

Mercy. Mercy, mercy, mercy. The same sign, like a lifeline, over and over and over, until he collapses into despair and runs away. They don’t know if this is forgiveness. They don’t know how forgiveness feels. But he deserves not to be killed, and they deserve not to kill.

On the other side of the arch is the inside of their closed eyelids, and an ending to their story.

When Sans calls them, and then then Papyrus, Undyne, everyone, everyone they love, in the quiet space, the quiet place outside their mind, they don’t feel. They don’t feel anything. It’s only them out here. It’s only them, and they’re quiet and alone. And it feels like a knife twisting inside of them, to be so alone, to exist and listen without someone else feeding what they feel. There’s no warm spot under their soul anymore, and the hollowness is a stark, pulling black hole, and their fingers are cold and slow. They hear Papyrus’s joy at his promotion, Undyne’s sorrow at the king’s death. They latch onto those words like they’re drowning, breath coming in shallow gasps, pleading silently for the voices of the people they love to take hold of them again and pull them back where they belong. But all they have room for feeling is the hollow coldness.

There’s nothing to see, nothing to love, nothing to run their fingers through or chase giggling through the caves. They can’t open their eyes. This is the end they were reaching towards. This is what they spared Flowey for, this is what they fought the king for. The souls are gone, and that’s their fault, and so is the monsters’ hope, and that’s their fault too. They can’t open their eyes, and all around them stretch miles and miles and miles of darkness, emptiness, nothing and no one. They’re alone. Their only feelings are their own. They think they’re crying.

Then Sans hangs up, apologizes for a lack of batteries (?!?!) and hangs up, and it all crashes down on them at once and now they’re really crying. Now they can’t open their eyes and they can’t breathe, now bad noises are clawing out of their mouth, as they rock back and forth, clutching their hair and sobbing. They mash their palms into their eyes, scrub them all over their face, smearing tears and snot over their cheeks and mouth, gaping open, wailing with grief. It’s not like how they cried in the castle – that was a crying that happened to them, not a crying that they did. But this is like the part of them that cries and the part of them that grieves came all smashed together for their loss – that’s what this is, this isn’t a victory, this could never be a victory, happy endings don’t exist – and now, and now every bad thing is fountaining out of them, sucking the strength from their muscles and the shudder and gag from their brain. They can’t stop. They can’t start anything else again. This – now, this, now, this is the most alone they’ve ever been, forget the mountain, forget Flowey’s world. And they’re adrift and isolated and they’re shaking and shaking and they can’t stop crying.

But when they do stop, when they get done, that long, long time later when they can finally open up their eyes and think about what comes next, Flowey is there.

There’s no embarrassment for their sobbing as their face settles down, only a steely defiance. He wasn’t here watching them or anything, either. They were by themself before him. And he feels like – something. He feels like them. Like maybe he just got done having a lot of emotions for a long time too.

For a few silent seconds, stretching on into a minute, all he does is look at them. They look at him too. They take each other in, size each other up. Neither one of them is afraid. They are something different to each other now.

“Why…?” Flowey rasps, breaking the silence. He licks his lips, takes a breath before continuing. “Why did you let me go? Don’t you know that being nice…just makes you get hurt?”

They shake their head slowly, eyes wide. No. That’s…no, they can’t just believe that. Not after this.

Flowey scoffs at that. Or maybe he sniffles. “Look at yourself!” he says. “You made all these great friends…but now, you’ll probably never see them again. Not to mention how much they’ve been set back by you. Hurts, doesn’t it…?”

But it’s not a mocking, as his eyes cast down and to the side. It’s like he knows what this feels like for them. Something fragile and enthralled hangs in the air between them. Like, how could they even think of fearing each other, when they both know what they know, went through what they went through. Together. In a weird, weird way, they think that they went through all of that together.

“I don’t get it,” he mumbles, almost too soft to hear.

I – don’t, I don’t get it, they sign to him. I know.

“Right? If you really did everything the right way…why did things still end up like this? Why?” Flowey looks back up at them, almost laughs, smile small and pained. “Is life really that unfair…?” He lets the unspoken it can’t be hang in the air between them. And they think that maybe he does get it. He gets what they were pushing for. He understands why they’d tear down the world to remake it right.

There isn’t space for any contempt left with him anymore. Everything they’ve learned is too big for contempt, for competition. The only thing they can do is understand each other now, more than anyone else, two tiny gods trapped in the lonely stretch that lies fully outside the rules. The two of them are suddenly, quietly allies, desperate allies, facing into the mystery together because to face it alone is worse.

“…Say,” he says. “What if I told you…I knew some way to get you a – well, for the lack of another phrase…a better ending?”

Their breath catches, and something them-not-them jerks their face up towards his. He’s the only one to ever understand them to this deep, earthshaking level, the only one to ask the questions that they ask, know the timeline as something they can touch. Of course they’re not alone. He jumps a little bit as they nod vigorously, then hides a shy smile to the ground. “You’ll have to reload,” he explains, gaining traction quickly as they begin to rock on their toes. He explains his plan, uncurling his petals as he goes, spilling himself to them like that flower from the kids’ book that only opens up at night. He smiles to them. They smile to him. Then they let each other go, with a nod and a quiet “see ya soon,” back into the time that is theirs.

The shining knots in the timeline are easy to follow back to the throne room, back to the last solid point before everything happened at once. They open their eyes, squinting at the pale light making bluey spots pop up everywhere, and poke the silent voice in their head very firmly. Where were you?

There, the voice chides, shaking itself and stretching like it’s waking from a long nap.

They feel a hot rush of affection. Even alone, they’re not ever alone. You’re filled with…? they prompt it, slipping back into their routine of follow-not-following and learn-not-learning.

It is Alphys, remember? it asks gently. Are you ready? Let’s go home.


Like any of that matters now. Fucking whatever!

MK tries to cut them off in front of the ladder – hey, dude, I know we don’t talk as much as we used to the last few months, but I’m kinda, like, worried about you – but Frisk just stares at the ladder until they trails off. Then Frisk pushes past them cause they’re in their way and climbs. And they don’t look at the floor and see all the dirt and stuff that they scattered there, and they don’t think about cleaning it up, or all the steps in cleaning it up, or how Chara’s not going to help with all the steps in cleaning it up, or how everyone down there will look at them like why did you do that. They don’t think about any of that stuff because they’re going up high.

“Aw, darn,” goes MK, quietly to the floor.

Up on the catwalks is easier. It’s always easier, usually. It is because nobody comes up here, cause nearly no one can catch them when they run. They pull themself up onto the platform, flinching only a little bit as their hands slide over the railings’ scabby black paint, and tread mindlessly in circles until they end up in a corner behind the sound booth. Napstablook’s anxiety, dragging at them about this composition and this errant note, seeps through the walls, but it’s not like they got anywhere more right and more comfortable to go up here.

They wonder how long it’ll be before someone comes up for them. Cause people know to give them space because if people chase right after them then they’ve started screaming a lot sometimes, like, no, you’re not even allowed to sit next to me no more, even if you want to, or even though it used to work. It just feels – wrong. They don’t have any way to explain it besides wrong, like any time with the monsters isn’t supposed to stretch out for as long as it is. Like the split second before a match head strikes, or the staticky time between the lightning and the thunder.

It is lonely at the top, says Chara. Ha ha ha. Frisk doesn’t get it, cause yeah they’re at the top of the theater, and yeah they’re lonely too, but that much isn’t enough for a joke. Chara doesn’t explain it.

There’s something munched into their corner, digging into their butt, that they didn’t see at first but are definitely noticing now. They scrabble around behind them and pull out the “present” bomb prop, a little squished from where it got sat on, wrappings crinkly and ripped. Alphys and Talley worked real hard on these last week, they remember, and now one’s up here. Probably from a hide and seek game, or Mettaton bringing it up to talk to Napstablook. Their fingers drift across it, idly pulling out chunks of its cardboard and poking them through the gaps in the catwalk floor’s metal grating. They can see the whole everything from up here. They can see the humans and the monsters and Mom and Flowey and everything. (And no one can see them.) They squish up the bow and shove it down through the grating.

Talley they can see near the corner of the stage, in his yellow waspy-bright polo. He’s sitting by Rust in a circle of monster kids and cackling at a joke that MK made, because of course that’s where they ended up. The humans are splitting apart more, less of a unit now and more of a real chunk of the crew – Mina thinks the skeletons are hysterical and just follows them around, Rox drifts and is part of a bunch of little projects around the set, Rust and Talley are like Official Friends now. Moss and Glow stick together, usually, especially when Frisk isn’t out there, which is most of the time now. (Frisk gets why. And it’s not even Moss’s fault that Frisk’s not down there to be friends with Glow. But it still feels a little lot like claws in their stomach.)

This is what it should be like, they think angrily, ripping a big piece of cardboard off and flinging it away. It lands flat on the grating and doesn’t fall through the gaps, like now it’s kind of making fun of them. Should be them down there, inside the right-feeling, so right-feeling and sugary it’s rotten. Everyone’s all light and happy in each other, so one, and it’s wonderful. It’s the most daring-to-hope dream that they fought for. And not in spite of that, but because, it’s just wrong. Because the giddiness, the whoops, the strains of music and flashes of joy, don’t know that they’re headed for a fall.

Frisk’s eyes flicker closed and they pull their knees up to their chest, wrapping their arms around their legs and digging their fingers into their shins. Nothing looks out of place, nothing looks wrong, nothing looks like the end of the world. But all of it flips some switch in their mind, and they want to puke, like they’re looking at a crushed-up leg or a welty melty face. Everything makes them so angry and sick and they want to scream, and scream, and not stop screaming, until, until, until…

They scrunch up further in the corner. Can this just be done yet? They wanna go home.


eight months ago

The room with the barrier is tiny and crowded and there’s so many, so many everyone, all here for them, chatter and light, and they’re going to burst! One two three four five six – it becomes echolalia, count one two three, one two three four, five SIX people here who love you! They snicker at Toriel’s awful pun, shout a wordless greeting to Undyne as loud as she shouts to them, cheer when Mettaton almost makes Undyne and Alphys FINALLY kiss. This is home. They made it home!!

It’s way too good to be true, they think dizzily, leaning on the voice in their head, who giggles and holds them up. This isn’t something they ever could have imagined, nowhere in their dumb little brain – which is, which is, the voice in their head won’t let them forget, it’s dumb but also it’s their brave little brain, fierce little brain, loving and determined little brain, and it’s theirs. Toriel laughs at Papyrus’s joke and they feel his Pun Tolerance Meter for her go up, Undyne tries to noogie Alphys and scrapes her hand on her scales, it’s good and right and perfect. It’s way too good, way too good for them to deserve it – but this is what they’ve been learning! It’s not too good to be true, because it is true!

“My child, it seems that you must stay here for a while,” Toriel smiles down at them, the my child sending an echoing rush of warmth through their chest. Mychild, mychild, mychild. Their soul still pulls at them, free them free them save them all, but…that’ll happen. They can trust their soul to that. Right now, right here, they are happy. “But looking at all the great friends you have made…” She glances around, beaming, full of glowing, buoyant pride. And they are too. “I think you will be happy here.” She opens her arms, and they rush to her, bury their face in her dress, and that’s the only answer that any of them need.

They did it. They made it through, they got to the end. They made it home.

And everything would be fine, and everything would be perfect, if Papyrus didn’t seriously just say that –

“A tiny flower helped me.”

All their happy pops and deflates fast, like their own shiny balloon, shot with a BB gun. No. No no no no no! Don’t you fucking dare!

“A t-tiny…” squeaks Alphys, gulping, “a, a…f-flower?”

“You – IDIOTS!” shrieks Flowey, exploding out of the ground, and he wraps them up in his vines, he drives the thorns into their brain, they snarl at him, knees locked but feeling like the floor’s still falling out from under them. After all that, you liar, you – Don’t you DARE! Don’t you FUCKING DARE! They sign out their anger with trembling fingers, itching for something, not a knife, just a way to stop this. After everything. After everything!! And he LAUGHS at them! He breaks off his monologue and LAUGHS, he –

“It’s all your fault.” His face is like a skull, a scarecrow, one of those smiles made by cutting up your cheeks. “You get that, right? It’s all because you MADE THEM love you.” Their breath catches, it’s all your fault, whose else could it be, and his smile only grows. “All the time you spent listening to them…encouraging them…caring about them…without that, they wouldn’t have come here.” He tilts his head, winks, sticks his tongue out like an emoji. Your fault, your fault. Without you –

– no, wait.

This is BULLSHIT!! they shriek with their hands, scraping their nails on their palms, leaving hard crescents. It’s not MY fault! It’s not ANYONE’S but YOURS! You’re wrong! You’re only trying to make me feel bad, and you’re WRONG!!! And I’ll SHOW you that!!

He flinches back for a second, only a second, but then his arrogance crashes back and he snickers. “Listen. If you DO defeat me…I’ll let them go. I’ll let you have your ending,” he simpers. “But that’s not going to happen. And if you’re so sure of yourself…well, then this is going to be terribly interesting!”

He pounds their soul with pellet after pellet, seven points seven points five points until they’re battered on the floor, curled up, helplessly protecting their head, when there’s a flare of love from Toriel, and the laughter stops. They look up, not knowing what to hope, and, and oh.

“Do not be afraid…my child…” Toriel breathes, with the last of her fiery strength. “No matter what happens…we will always be there to protect you!” Like it’s a promise she can keep. And then, and then…it just keeps going. More and more and more and more. Everyone they’ve touched, everyone they’ve ever known!

Everyone is here. Everyone leaps together in defending them, everyone came for them. All here, all for them, all lined up perfectly together, one two three, four five six, one two three! Papyrus who makes them stim toys, Sans who understands their face, Toriel who chose them like they chose her! Four five six! Undyne who yells you think THAT’S loud and then busts out their eardrums, Alphys who cries at every season finale, Asgore who never wanted anything but peace. They lend them their strength, their protection, and the tiny room fills, and they can feel the throngs of monsters pressing in from the outside, into the throne room, into the city. Shyren sings her melody, Kiilo’an shouts through cupped, flour-covered hands, Gerson and Priscilla stand together in identical determined stances!

And it’s not too good to be true. Because it is. They’re the kind of person who can have this, because they do. They can have this love, community, family, everything, because that’s what they’re getting right now. They don’t need desperate flaming control when Toriel will let them wear only sweaters, or Sans will leave the diner when they’re overwhelmed. The voices compound, and their hope only grows, swelling, full, overflowing, unearthly, unbelievable, immense – their hands are flapping, hard enough to hurt their wrists, faster faster faster! There’s people here to help keep their balance whenever they need! Cause they are done with falling!

“You…” sputters Flowey, upset, overwhelmed, “y-you…” and they only catch it a split second before it happens, but then it happens, silence and a swoop and a chk-chk-chk, and there’s the BB gunshot again.

“I can’t believe,” Flowey laughs, in the split second before their soul pulls out into a battle, “you’re all…so…STUPID.”

They can only watch, frozen and thrumming, as he whirls the world away, until it’s only them and a little tiny boy, who, who calls them Chara, but also he knows them. He knows them, and, and he’s – he’s A s r i e l D r e e m u r r.

It’s the end, says the voice in their head incredulously, and laughs.

It’s the end, they think, fists balled and staring down Asriel Dreemurr’s massive form. And YOU need to give. Them. Back!!

The Barrier fizzes and sparks into every color of the rainbow, the only horizon in the world, above and below, colors on their eyes. They leap back from Asriel’s chaos of falling stars, roll through the spaces in between, drink in the colors and the light. Music pounds through them like their own heartbeat, like magic, like DETERMINATION!! and the voice in their head shakes itself and reacts, swarming around all of their bones. It’s the end. He’s readying CHAOS SABER, so be ready. It’s the end!

He gloats at them, does an anime pose and shakes his head, which the voice thinks is really funny. He brags about who he is, the absolute GOD of HYPERDEATH!! and slams them with stars and rainbows, and they spring up, they keep going. Asriel lunges for them, stabs through their soul, comes out the other side blood-covered – but they scream out, NO!!!!, and they refuse, plain and simple, they take their soul into their own hands and they REFUSE to die!

They’re filled with a fury, as they dodge and hope and dream, senses full up to the top top top! Every fiber of their muscles sings, every nerve in their brain crackles like sparklers, and they’re snarling and laughing and screaming in one sound. Their fury keeps them going, gives them bones that don’t break and an endless jet-fuel bonfire supply. They know they wouldn’t be able to do this if they weren’t so angry, so viciously committed to hacking out their own path. But they’re not fighting against him, this they know – their hopes and dreams are more true than his power, the end of this isn’t defeat, it’s victory! They’re fighting for everyone he’s holding over their head, everything they’ve done – HE doesn’t matter, what matters is what they’re saving!

They roll and skitter between the lasers of “CHAOS BUSTER”, light on their feet, flapping and squeaking and growling when they’re hit. “SHOCKER BREAKER” charges down on them, a glory of light they can’t tear their eyes from, even as it blasts shreds out of their soul. The voice in their head shrieks and laughs, calls out attack names, and they’re flying on top of the world, on waves of rage and joy. This is the most important thing they’ve ever done, this is their refusal of what the world said they would be! Of any useless thing anyone’s ever said they were, any human or monster who stood in their way! Everything that should have worked, should have crushed them and beat them and won, but didn’t! They die, REFUSE, die, REFUSE – Asriel’s shock at it wears off quick, and he puffs up in excitement, leaps into this new facet of the battle like a dance or like a game. They trade dodges and rainbows, screams and fury, Last Dream melting-sweet on their tongue!

And they’re refusing this now, dancing fast and strong through the colors, tearing the will of a god apart to make their own path! Outside the rules! Outside rules even being a thing! He threatens, he laughs, he does weird things that look like glitches in reality. “Isn’t that DELICIOUS?!” he cries, pulse-pounding sure of himself, and they are too. They don’t need to win, because they’re not going to lose. “Your determination – the power that let you get this far! It’s gonna be your DOWNFALL!”

And he sends “SHOCKER BREAKER II” down on them like a wave, and they stand up and they shriek back, NO!!!, when he says he’ll destroy this world, take it all back to before, because HOW – DARE – HE! This is THEIR world! Their home, their family, their timeline, that THEY’VE created and THEY’VE chosen! And how DARE he think he can threaten it!! Because it’s THEIRS!!!

There is no one here to save them but me, and I will! I will! I FUCKING will!!

Finally, the voice in their head calls HYPER GONER!, and they plant their feet and hold onto their hopes – but then there’s a sickly shudder of triumph and pride and the colors fly out from under them like a bathtub drain, and they’re falling, falling, falling into a void, can’t see, can’t hear, for what feels like forever. They land like they wake up from a falling dream – falling and then not, without any change in surroundings, arms and legs heavy and foreign, and oh god, oh god.

Oh god. They’re so tiny.

All of them wasn’t enough, wasn’t even close!

Oh no. Oh no oh no oh no – they can’t MOVE they can’t – he looms in the gloom, his glooming looming, suspended in freezing space-not-space, time-not-time like his six-souled form! His smile is wide and fanged, and his power and pride are toxic, corroding, sizzling all their anger down to nothing. Because all of that wasn’t enough. They’re so tiny. They’re so tiny, they know, as he laughs at them, and it shakes all of their bones. They’re so tiny. They can’t move.

“I can feel it,” Asriel hisses, huge and powerful, scissors through their timeline and brilliant eyes through their soul. “Every time you die…your grip on this world slips away. Every time you die, they forget you a little more!”

They can’t move. Can’t sign. They can’t feel their fingers. It’s so cold.

Their refusal, their red power, their determination, none of it made a difference. They struggle, leaking and squeaking bad noise after bad bad noise. Can’t move their arms, can barely move their soul. They weren’t angry enough. Weren’t determined enough. All of that was tiny compared to what he really is. They’re so tiny.

It’s so cold. He’s so bright. It’s the most they can do to move their soul out of the way of his attacks. And they barely even manage that. Torn ragged in a second. It’s so cold. If the voice in their head had breath it would be breathless. The whole world is ending. It can’t say anything else. They’re pinned like a bug in a display, flattened like the roadkill that stayed outside the foster home for days. Help me. Help me.

You tried to move your body. Nothing happened. They want to die here.

You reached for your save. Nothing happened. They’re going to die here. They just wish – they don’t want anything, nothing at all, they just wish that they got to say bye to everyone that they love.

The voice in their head makes a hesitant little noise like a gasp or a swallow, and then says something else, as everything fades out to black. Maybe, it suggests, shyly, letter by letter by letter. Realization unfolds inside of it, unfolds into them, like those puzzles made of so many tiny polygons. Tessellating into all of their corners. Maybe. With what little power you have…

You can save something else.

And they do. They pull the voice with them and leap back into blazing, into music and light, save save save save save!!!! They plunge through Asriel’s soul, following the steel-strong tendrils of love, one! Two! They throw themself at Toriel’s wispy presence, and she hugs them like you’d hug a crying stranger, like she doesn’t even know them but she cares for them either way! Asgore looks through them as they stare his nine feet down, Toriel gasps and covers her grin at their sign of mercy! Three! Four! Alphys uses what look like Mettaton’s attacks, and the voice in their head gushes over the design, and she hurtles back to herself about ten seconds into their yelling about anime! Undyne catches their fist in her big hand, grins big and twirls them around, clashing their spears together like a playground stickfight!

Five! Six! Almost home! They sign one of their arsenal of sign-puns, the one Sans only told them when they’d lived in Snowdin for three weeks, the one he called Dee Ell Cee – they jump and spin, Papyrus’s favorite stims, and yell with laughter when he does them back, they hush away Sans’s why even try? and self-doubt! Because sometimes you win and that’s all that counts! Because we are here, right now!

They come down from their soaring with a bounce and a flap, out of breath and exhilarated, the voice in their head hoarse from shouting along at top volume. Every cell from the curls of their hair to the tips of their toenails fills up to bursting with love, pure love, rainbow-flashing save-the-world love. They could move mountains, they could change the course of rivers! It’s like they’re the one with all the souls inside them, not Asriel, not even in his wildest dreams – they’re the one that can feel the pulsing inside them, so fast and so vast it’s more like a singular, singing hum. And the voice in their head is right there beside them, until it isn’t anymore.

There’s someone else…whispers the voice. Resonating in the soul. Stronger and stronger. Can you feel it? Someone else needs to be saved.

But. They got everyone out, didn’t they? Everyone they could, everyone who their love had touched enough to pull out of the nothing? Who??

And the voice says, let me show you.

“Asriel,” calls a voice from somewhere behind their teeth, under their tongue. Scratchy and soft, never before used, moving around foreign syllables like whoever’s piloting knows them by heart. “Asriel.”


“It sounds like it came from over here…

“Oh! You’ve…fallen down, haven’t you? Are you okay?

“Here, get up…

“…Chara, huh? That’s a nice name.

“My name is…”

Asriel.

My brother. My best friend.

I love you so much.


It’s you, they realize, speak it out again to the voice like that’ll make it even more real. It’s you.

It’s me, it agrees, with a hint of a smile in its tone. My name is Chara. It’s me. Now, come on. I cannot do this without you.

They reach out, the two of them this time, together. They reach out, call out, with their voice and their soul. “STOP it!” he screams, squirming and shuddering away from them, “get AWAY from me!” He blasts their soul with caustic, feverish rainbows, and they stand their ground with arms outstretched. He bellows hatred at them, threatens to rip them to shreds, wipe every trace of them off the earth, but they don’t flinch away. They reach out, strong with love, grab him with sharp fingernails and stumpy, sweaty fingers, and save him.

His attacks are slow and slowing, rainbow crashes to trickles to drops. He begs and pleads with them, babbling to them but also Chara, all of them, none of them, and they wonder if there’s really a difference right now. He’s not ready, he sobs, he’s not ready to say goodbye to someone like them again! Not them! Not someone who understands him so completely, who loves him in a way no one can!

“So please – just STOP doing this!” he screams, as vast and alone as the roar of planets in their orbits, as they wipe the tears from their face and ball their fists and brace themselves one last time, “and just LET ME WIN!!”

His last, strobing blast burns through their eyelids in a second, whips through them like razor-cold wind. They hold on, Chara’s tiny, fragile essence planted firmly in front of them, until their every nerve is on fire, their soul is in shreds, their body is ash and dust and they’re barely alive, and they still reach out. “STOP IT NOW!!” he howls. “CHARA!! STOP IT!! JUST!! LET!! ME!! WIIIIIIIIIINNNNN!!!”

No.

No. I love you too much to let you win. We love you too much.

The burning ends. Asriel’s image swims in front of them. “Chara…” he whispers, weak and exhausted. “I’m so alone, Chara…”

They understand him. More than anything else, anyone else, they understand him, who he is, why he is, how. Why he waited for them. The feverish hope that he put in them, to be Chara all along. They understand what he wants, what he believes, in the way he understands himself.

“I’m so afraid, Chara…”

And in that moment, they love him. They love him like Chara loves him. Like Toriel and Asgore must, like the entire kingdom of monsters has never stopped.

Come to me, Asriel. Reach out. Try again. Come back to me.

“I’m…s-so…”

He breaks. They catch him.

“I’m so sorry,” he sniffles.

“I always was a crybaby, huh, Chara?” He wipes his nose, looks up at them with beautiful, clear red eyes and a small, sad smile. “I know,” he continues. “You’re not…you’re not really Chara, are you? Chara’s been gone for a…long time.”

Chara falls silent, and they’re left alone in the echo. They poke at Chara, go ??? ????? at them, cause they don’t understand stuff a lot, but they’ve learned that they can ask people for help. But Chara doesn’t say anything, and then Asriel distracts them with another question – “what…IS your name?”

Oh and they know the answer to this one!! They sign it out, letter by letter, the little hook of the F, the swoop of the S and the short staccato of the K. They first picked it out all the way back in New Home, but they never knew how theirs it was until now. It doesn’t mean something important, or anything. It doesn’t have to. It just – feels right, and sometimes that’s all you need.

“Frisk,” Asriel hiccups, and smiles for real this time. “That’s…a nice name.”

Yeah, they nod. Something someone takes their face and gently curls it into a smile. Yeah. I like it, they sign.

He asks if they forgive him, like they can do anything else. Like after what they’ve both done and know each other to do, they could just choose to turn their back on him. Chara tells them to cover their eyes when the barrier breaks, but they leave them wide open, dizzy in the swirl of souls around them. There’s a sudden loud CRACK down the center of everything, and they can’t tear their eyes away.

The barrier was destroyed, says Chara wonderingly, into the lingering silence.

They rush to hug him when Chara asks. He stumbles a little, knocked off-balance, and makes a hiccupy giggle into their shoulder. His face is warm and soft and wet against their neck, and he smells like magic, and flowers, and cinnamon and butterscotch and home. He snuffles and trembles as he holds them tight, as they squish their head between his cheek and shoulder, rubbing their face up and down his feathery fur. “Take care of mom and dad for me,” he whispers wetly into their ear, before letting out one last, shaking breath and stepping back. “Goodbye, Frisk.”

They watch him leave, fading into the nothing that the barrier left, until they can’t watch him anymore.

Mom and Dad. They can do that.


It’s not fair. It’s not fair, understanding that much and now not understanding nothing! Not even being this understood! They rip the prop up with their hands and their teeth, shredding it to pieces, faster and hotter and faster. That destruction feels way too good in their hands, the resistance and then the tearing, the skrip, skrrrip noises as the cardboard gives way and the tiny circuits pop free. Soon they’re covered in a pile of soft brown shavings and faintly sparking wires, dropping through the grating, dripping to the floor. They watch the shower from between their feet, feeling very dark and quiet, like a little angry storm cloud that spits out fire.

The last scrap of the “present” bomb flares to life in their hands, and they throw it away. It drifts down through the grating, flame licking through until it’s just a cinder, and then it’s burning itself out before it even hits the floor. They just want this to be over. They just want the musical to end. No one understands, no one ever can, that this musical can’t see the light of day! Belongs in the shadows! Under the mountain! Scribbled over by timelines! Lost in the void of what never never happened!

It’s not anything big that pushes the hot, withered thing back into their brain, lets it slide down in front of their eyes, slice through what keeps them anchored. It comes slowly, taking its time before catching, but when it does catch it spreads real fast. They’re breathing hard now, fast and hot, breaths bouncing back as steamy droplets onto their hair and face. Their hands are hot hot hot and so is their head and everything is hot hot hot! And finally the impulse shocks through them and takes hold, no space to think, none to act, to do anything but – and they’re here, and their hands are hot, and they can’t let this go on. This needs to end now!

They spring up and they’re on the run, on the go, on the burn!

Chapter Text

Feet racing, head pounding, soul BURNING! they go, they let out the biggest blast they ever have, burst in smoke and fireworks, compulsion, expulsion, repulsion, blasting, casting, lasting! Lasting beyond the heavy-cracking heat of the peeling paint of the ropes on the pulleys, the thick awful sourness of air scorching their throat! No thoughts of this will fix things, after this we will be safe – they’re not dumb enough for that, not dumb enough for thinking, nothing in their head but blasting, blasting, everything is ending and it doesn’t matter! As long as I’m the one who ends it, it doesn’t MATTER! Orange leaps from their soul to the rafters, yellow flicks sparkles over their head! Red sinks down through foundations and underneath their shoes! There’s no thinking, no feeling, just their hands, just their taking, just their control! This fire is theirs!

Wh – You!! No!! screeches Chara. What do you think you are DOING!! But! Ignoring what Chara says has been pretty good for their health lately!! They rocket around a corner, exploding from their hands and feet and soul and face, hair whipping in the smoky updraft. Stop it!! shrieks Chara, STOP it! You can’t take this from the monsters! They’ll take us away!! We’ll go to the humans!! Do you hear me!?!? Stop!! You aren’t thinking! Listen to me!! Stop it now! STOP!!!!

But Frisk doesn’t listen! And they’re not the one that’s stupid! Chara’s the one who RUINED everything, not stopping Frisk, and HATING them and not making sense why they did! Being stupid and confusing and mixed up and stupid! Frisk grabs a handful of cords attached to one of the lights and yanks it up, sparking and fizzing, spraying fire at the delicate machinery. It’s not Frisk’s fault, for trying to understand, and not being good at it!! Not Frisk’s fault Chara won’t fucking help them!!

The lights froth sparks and cough billows of smoke, air thick and stinging to breathe, and Frisk’s eyes water as they tear away from the scene. There’s not much stuff that’s flammable up here, but the theater’s old so the blaze spreads fast, leaping faster than they can see and touch and hear and feel up the walls and through the ceiling. Orange, orange and spreading, hot wind on their face and their dry skin, sweat down their back in their sweater – SHRIEK!! of a fire alarm!!

Frisk claps their hands over their ears and screams!! back, in time with the alarm’s cries, covering them up and over with their own noise. Awareness and fear, surprise, brightness, loudness, crash over them like a tide from below. Far enough down there that no one saw, no one noticed yet, no one that had came up the ladder fast enough to stop them or anything, but close enough that when everyone feels something that big at once it’s all that Frisk can feel. Chara’s spiraling higher and higher into panic and the fire’s spreading and smoking and hot, and they’re coughing and streaming but they keep running, driven to speed by the speeding stampede below – one fast crashing mass, one in a direction away from Frisk!

A rope burns through and sends a flaming sandbag down on the seats, and it explodes and catches the velvet in its blazing, as monsters cry out and scramble away. Fire by itself doesn’t hurt monsters much unless there’s intent behind it, but it’s hurting them now, stabbing Frisk in the brain, and somewhere in their panicked nonsense of a mind starts an echoing chorus: theyknowtheyknowtheyknowtheyknow! The catwalk above the stage shakes underneath them with the force of their feet, of the falling – they stumble against the railing, gasp and bolt away because the metal is hot. Lights break free and crash sparking to the stage, the flames jump to the suspended props and squirm across the hanging backdrops, eating through the snow and the cityscape and the beautiful surface. Frisk turns their burning towards those, hard, so they won’t have to see – won’t have to swoop their stomach, won’t have to think!

The fire crashes and cascades in places they didn’t set it, the boxes, the rafters and the roof – the walls, the curlies of wood they thought were so pretty, all smothered up in flames. The curtains caught on fire down on the stage but now they’re eating up towards the rafters, flapping and billowing, lashing out sparks in every direction. Their soles are sticky and stuck, squishing melted footprints on the grating when they run. Everything they see is orange and bright, exploding and loud and alone, crackling across the seats way below, eating down the walls. The whole catwalks are one whirling inferno, with them and their crackly hair and burned-smooth hands at the very center, and sometimes, sometimes the fire runs out of them, but this time it doesn’t!! This is the fullest they’ve ever been, worse than every meltdown with Toriel, more screaming than Mr. Crews, more determined than every vicious tantrum they ever pushed out! Bright-burning jets shoot away from their hands in every direction, wood and plastic catch on fire from their closeness! The fire keeps coming, feeding itself and blazing, all the fire they’ve ever had!

And they don’t make no move to get away from it, no, don’t even try. This is them even though they’re not really fireproof, their singeing hair and blistering skin are them, it hurts and that’s them too, their arms hot and hurting and their soul hurts and the fire hurts and so does the theater, that’s them, that’s them alone and all together! It drives them into a corner and the wood of the walls catches fire when they’re close, so they scuttle away, desperate, instinctual, can’t go anywhere, burnt rubber and hair in their nose, searing their airways closed. Chara whips their head back and forth, panic, fear, shaking like a diseased animal, but there’s only them, only fire, only the inferno in every direction, left to right to straight ahead and there’s, no, yes, there’s Toriel.

Toriel walking through the fire to them.

She’s hushing out their magic, calming it into a tunnel around her, stepping the flames out so they don’t even singe her paws and her robe. And she doesn’t even look at them til she’s just not very far away, which Frisk knows is good, cause they can’t stop staring at her, at the fire around her – bending away so bright and hot, burning itself on their eyeballs, wheel of light, and at the center – she reaches for them, slower than slow and they can’t look away, she grabs them around the middle and lifts their feet off the ground. So much rougher than she always is. Angry! Time snaps back into motion and Frisk wriggles in clamp-tight arms, spasms their legs, kicking for shins and kneecaps that aren't really bone. They scream and writhe and fight, let me go PUT ME BACK, but they can’t get loose and their arms are flailing and punching and she doesn’t let go. She just keeps holding them, too tightly, not tight enough, running cooling paws over their hair before it bursts into flames, murmuring things but they’re so far beyond language.

They can’t remember the struggle out, just that it was a journey, in the fire and then outside the fire, and someone short is stepping away from their flailing but Toriel’s steadfast hold is like a drain for their bad things, leaking everything out, so so slowly so so soft. And maybe she turned them around or something, cause now it’s their arms tight around her neck. Their face hiding in their smelly crackled sleeve, and things hurt less, and their skin can stretch and they can actually breathe. So she must have healed them in there somewhere. Probably.

It’s even louder out here, and more confusing. Voices they know and sirens and humans. Clatter together into a roar that hurts and makes them want to hit something, go away, stop it, stop thinking. Stop! But they’re all the way drained. So all they can do is go limp in Toriel’s arms, hands over their ears, hiding in her smoke-smelly fur. She rubs their back, adjusts them, and kisses the top of their head. Then they make their breathing go loud, so it’s the only thing they can hear for a while.

There’s lots. Of people there’s still lots of them. And noise and yelling and a lot of humans are yelling and they don’t know what they’re saying. They feel the crack when Asgore stops holding the fire back from the doors. So everyone’s out. And no one’s dead because they would know. They don’t wanna think about how they would know. They don’t wanna think about it.

But Toriel moved them somewhere. Frisk felt her moving because they felt themself bobbing a little bit. And it got quieter. And. Easier. They think she moved them somewhere with less people. With more of the monsters. But she’s still holding them. They still don’t hear or see or anything. They just. They just wait.

People mill and chatter around them. Shaken, confused. Talking. Lots of talking is happening. Some people come close to them. Most of them leave soon and that makes them glad. Some stay there and sit on the ground by Toriel, and that’s people they know. Papyrus covers their head with his scarf. They don’t know what they would do if someone touched them.

Know.

Chara only does one-words now. They’re close to gone. Shut off. Too much. Locked down. Full under Frisk’s nothing. They know.

But it’s okay because Frisk doesn’t do words now at all. They just kind of. Let the knowledge go through them. Yeah. The monsters know the fire was them. Like, who else could set a fire from the catwalks that hurts the monsters. They put it together.

“I think,” Toriel’s going, fading in and out of what they can understand, “I think the most important thing at, at this point, would be t-to remove Frisk from the situation. Do you – “ Asgore mumbles something low and gravelly in response. Ha ha. All they need to put aside their differences is Frisk to fuck up. They almost catch Papyrus offering to “restore diplomatic prosperity!!” here, if they want to leave, and Asgore saying some vague thing about responsibility and you both clearly need this break. Toriel nods, they feel her nodding, and her feet start to move again.

“Excuse me?!” demands a bright-cutting new voice. Clean and sharp! in urgency, striding over to the monsters. In a whole ass posse of theater staff people. Frisk cringes into Toriel’s shoulder, feels her wilt a little under their gaze. “Where are you going?” the voice demands. “That was the red – uh, your child with the soul condition, wasn’t it? What happened??”

Tummy lurch. Terror under bright-cutting spikes. Of the monsters. Of them. This is your fault. And, lower – smaller, further away – monsters. Scared too everyone’s. Everyone is scared this is your fault.

“An accident,” Toriel replies evenly, head tilted like she’s staring them down. Scaredangrysad.

“We so deeply apologize,” Asgore murmurs, not missing a beat. “Of course we will pay for all damage and repair costs. We never imagined – “

“But it was the red. Wasn’t it.” Frisk crunches their arms up tight around their head and wants to die. “Listen, we know that you – you guys have been through a lot, but if they’re not safe to be around, you have a duty to – “

Toriel tightens her hold around them. Angry. So angry. Sweeps over the wrongness of her lie. “It was an accident. Frisk is not at fault.” They shudder and don’t know why. Angry.

“Wait. Are you telling me that you are suspecting Frisk?” Papyrus asks, weirdly. Sideways with his brain. Lying but lying so hard he’s telling the truth. “Why on earth would you suspect them first? You have met them! You know they would never hurt a fly, or any other small, buzzing creature! Or any creature at all, for that matter! Surely you understand that this is ridiculous!”

“Papyrus is right,” Asgore adds. Voice growing stronger. Almost angry too. “I understand that we are all shaken, but please refrain from pointing fingers this soon after the incident. I believe the firemen have nearly finished, and that everyone has escaped safely. Surely you all would like to go home to your families to recover?”

Fading.

But the staff people mostly leave after that. And Frisk doesn’t feel them as much. Or just things as much. Still angry.

Not us, realizes Chara in a rush.

??

Not us, they struggle out. The. Anger. Not us.

Don’t. Know who but. Not us.

That’s good. (They think that to make themself feel that. But it doesn’t really work.)

They just sorta. Drift in and out of, like…like knowing what’s going on after that. They keep being held by mom. Flowey pops up from their backpack once, only he’s not him because he’s as scared and worried as everyone else is. But then he leaves before people see him. People come and leave and go. Mostly come. Mom and some other people have a quick and harried conference after the staff people leave, about stuff like, is anyone missing. Are the human kids okay.

“Everyone’s safe, yeah, they got out with the rest of the monsters,” Undyne murmurs into the circle. “I think Moss is having an, an anxiety attack or s-something though, Alphys is calming them down over there and – I’m n-no good with that, I – Rox, Rust, are you guys okay? Where’s Mina and – “

“Over there with Flowey and MK’s family. They’re alright. But they’re real freaked out,” says Rox. “What happened? Is Frisk okay?”

“Are you guys okay?” Rust asks. “You look – you look exhausted. You’re still technically, like, their foster parents, right? I was in the, uh, in the system for a little bit when I was a kid, I know they have these respite homes where if the parents needed a break – “

Chara spasms, buries their teeth in Toriel’s shoulder, and screams long and loud into the fabric. Toriel jumps and gasps and angry and her paw comes up under their chin. “My child – please – “ and Chara lets go but they are still making bad bad noises no I can’t leave can’t leave don’t leave me!

“Something like that right now is not a good idea,” says Papyrus, scooting into the conversation (before Toriel can start yelling (angry)). “Leaving Frisk alone, with other humans, now of all times? Rust, I know that you are trying to help. And I appreciate that! But sometimes, like now, your help is…” He swallows and trails off. They can feel Toriel glaring and hot above their head. “Not helpful. We…cannot do that.”

Toriel’s broad chest rises, holds for a few seconds, then exhales beneath Frisk. Fire drains out. Worry drains in. “Where is Glow?” she asks quietly.

“Glow?” Undyne jerks in panic, looking around, then relaxes. “Over there, with Alphys and Moss and Asgore. She…” They know what she’s going to say Glow is. Heavy and sobbing and guilty and afraid. “She doesn’t look good.”

“Ohhh, my poor child,” Toriel says. “I am so sorry,” she whispers, face turned in to Frisk’s hair. Half them and half everyone.

“You cannot blame yourself, your majesty,” murmurs Papyrus. Serious. Not like him. Their fault.

“I know,” she replies, bracingly. “I know.” She shifts them again, straightens up, tall and broad like a queen needs to be. “Let us…if everyone is alright, let us go home, for the evening.”

So they do. And Frisk doesn’t think they drive. Cause if they drive then Toriel keeps holding them which is against the rules for driving and Chara doesn’t want to think about that and so they don’t think about if they drive or not. Frisk’s tired. There’s sleepytired and also tired where nothing makes sense and everything hurts in a way you don’t understand, and they’re kind of both. So they don’t really know if they drive or not or how they go home just that it happens pretty fast.

And now everyone is home. Together-home and Toriel is sitting down and she’s sitting them down on their bed in their room where they sleep. But it isn’t bedtime and they don’t want to sleep.

“I do not want to pressure you, Frisk,” she whispers. Deadly serious. Not at all angry – only so incredibly afraid. “Chara. Both of you, all of you. Papyrus has taken the human children home, so it is only your closest monster friends who have stayed. We need to know what is wrong. You know that we all care about you, children, we all love you so desperately.”

She cups their face and their neck stiffens up and they don’t look up. She takes her hand down. “But you need to tell us the reason for all of this,” she says all firm and solid. Don’t argue with momma, momma knows best for you, momma wants best. “I am sorry, children. I want nothing more than to wait until you trust us enough to tell us on your own. But I cannot let you do that. Not anymore.”

Not anymore. Not.

The first flash of anger twitches their fingers, clenches her arms. But Toriel only takes that as a good sign. Serious and scared and not at all angry. “Tell me, my child,” she begs. “Please. Because I love you. Because I want to do anything I can to help you. You do not deserve to carry your burdens alone."

Everything’s racing wrong up and down their skin, overloading, overwhelmed. Like when there’s too-too many people and all of them are feeling things and you can’t turn the feeling things off. Like when it was too bright and too loud and too much for Chara like in supermarkets that just stretch away in the distance and big parties and loud music. All their skin is eyes and ears and goosebumpy sick and everything is touching and everything is hard. They can feel everything everyone every direction is on their skin and in their brain and hurts and they can’t. Think they can’t – don’t – they need, to, they need to hide, hide hide run, end this, end this, back to what makes sense, they –

“Frisk, Chara, please,” Toriel whispers. “Just – we do not have to tell everyone. You do not have to tell me the whole story. But, please, we need to start. What is so wrong with the musical, that you would purposefully set a fire instead of participate? And why have you not come to us with it first? Why do you feel unable to trust us? Children, I need to know the answer to this.”

She’s lying. She doesn’t know she’s lying but she’s lying. She’s saying she needs to know and they need to tell. But Frisk could just not tell her and then no one will do anything to them anyway. People will be mad maybe but nothing will change and no one will do anything to them. So they don’t actually need to say anything. They could go forward. They could refuse and be secret and stunted and hard inside. They know this. They know more than she knows what she’s saying. They know it really hard and maybe it’s love and maybe it’s something else but they know.

Frisk uncurls and their hands are hot and shaky and they look at Toriel’s paws and Toriel’s dress and they smell fire smoke and nothing makes any sense. This is a choosing. They only know that this is their choosing. Okay.

Okay.

Okay okay okay okay okay OKAY OKAY!!

What are – goes Chara but Frisk shouts them down and they’re shut down and gone! This is them. This is what the monsters deserve to know, if they’re going to be so determined to know them. This is what Frisk deserves to know and never didn’t. They need to push and control and take everything they were given and shatter it on the ground! This is the end that’s always been coming for them! I’ll SHOW you what you’ve been defending!!

Frisk shoves out of Toriel’s lap and slams open the bedroom door, eyes squinty-slitted against any too-bright light. Blue fizzle-clouds and startle clear out, and they chase that startle, storming into the living room. Where everyone is. Everyone! Everyone, one two three, four five six! They clap loud and hard, one two three, four five six, and now everyone’s eyes are on them, and now everyone is waiting. For them.

“H-hey, dude,” Flowey quivers, popping up in his living room pot behind them. Seven, they guess. Scared stupid seven! “Are you, uh – “ They clap again and he shuts up. He keeps gravitating to them, scared, desperate, please don’t. Like him being close can stop them doing anything impulsive. Like anything could! Like anything ever could!

I killed you all and you don’t fucking know!

That’s what they sign first.

And that’s what stops all the thinking in the room. And everyone is looking at them. And everyone is feeling. And they don’t know what to feel. And Frisk is feeling like puking, but also, they are choosing to puke.

I stabbed you all the way through with a plastic knife! You threatened me so I hunted you down to see if I could! I hit you until my hand came out the other side! I choked on your dust and threw it up all over the ground! I pushed you off the dump when you hurt too much! I wasn’t ready but you were in my way!

It’s not poetic. Can’t do that. They’re blunt and unstoppable, shaking, soaring on fumes and updrafts, so high above anger. Nothing makes sense. Everything matters. The story unspools from there, fierce and choppy – they can’t stop, they pepper in every gross detail they never want to remember – your soul wiggled like a living thing before it broke, your dust tastes like rotten fish and clings to the roof of my mouth! They spit out their cycles of try and try and try again, go back, try again – this time, get halfway through before you die, this time make her pay before you’re gone. The shiny feeling when their LV went up and the shivering of ignoring save points, how weak their limbs always felt after they were sent back before a kill, and how much for a half second they hated it. I killed you and hated you and I went back and made you love me again! I stole your home and made it mine and filled it with dust! And then I lied and let you think I was good! I let you LOVE me!

Fire crackles and sputters between their hands, but they swat out the sparks, smash them between their palms. Their whole body is filled with buzzing tension, ready to blow, ready to never go back. You can’t make me happy! You CAN’T make me NORMAL! You TRIED! You TRIED to love me! And then I KILLED YOU!

They sign and sign, grunt away questions, break off and flash burning at anyone who gets close. They wrap up in their anger, the feeling of breaking, spilling, flowing, rupturing, dying, giving up. Showing, screaming, shoving, unstoppable things, impossible things. You can’t choose me so blindly. Take it, if you’re so loving! Take every part of me! Take my sharpness and bitterness! And how I like to hurt people sometimes! And I like being able to! And it scares me when people aren’t scared of me! Take my dirtiness and violence and my sadism and my power! Take my TRUTH!!

They tell the whole story. They tell it in rambly chunks and with words like piece of shit and pissed myself and they don’t leave nothing out. They tell all the bad things that ever happened, and all the bad things they ever did to anyone, and they don’t look back anymore. They can’t stop. They won’t stop. They don’t stop.

Chapter Text

I think that I understand, says Chara, finally.

Oh! Frisk shoots back, pointy-staccato. Their fingernails dig hard into their palms. So! You do! You think you do huh!

They’re rocking back and forth quiet, knees up to their chest, quiet quiet creak, up against their bed and behind their room’s closed-tight door. Like a while, not a long while, since they told everything, since they told and then they stopped telling cause there wasn’t nothing else to tell. So they zoomed fast to their room and no one stopped them and no one. Tried no one tried they wanted to but they didn’t try.

I did not think you would take it this far, Chara continues, numb and gentle, trying to be bedrock. I did not think you would let things chase down this path as long as they have, not without taking us back and resetting. You cannot, can you?

What? They totally can. It’s pulling at them and it hurts and if Chara wasn’t talking that’s what they’d be fighting about right now forever.

No. You can. But you will not. Chara floats them a twinge of – affection. You need to know what they will say. How they react. And even then, you will not set them back as far as a reset would, because you love them. You do truly love them, don’t you? More than I thought you even could.

Course I love them cause we share a brain and you can tell I love them!! You first class DUMBASS!! Frisk snarls. Does Chara think that they’re helping?! Cause Frisk just barely got calmed down from wanting to burn their arms up but if Chara’s gonna bust in yelling at them again –

No. No, Sponge. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I understand why you told them. And…listen to me. I am sorry for how awful I have been to you. I did not understand, even though I should have been able to. I was not trying to understand.

Really, really, really, duh, Frisk shudders out, calming, calm, taking Chara’s bedrock hand, sliding down to a bedrock bed. Chara is done and Chara is here. And panicking again is so, so tiring when it’s all you’re doing today. They want to be mad at them, kind of, but…being mad is hard. Will they – they still, will they still l-love us? Now?

I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t. But I am sorry too. I made things so much harder for you. And I don’t want to do that anymore, after everything you just said to them. Everything you felt.

You stupid dumb idiot! Frisk pulls on their hair, rocking harder, anger sputtering from their fingertips. Why the fuck couldn’t you tell that earlier. Why are you choosing NOW to make friends, huh??

Because I am realizing that I helped lead us to this point, Frisk, Chara says firmly. And if you would listen to me, you would realize that it is because now I am sorry. And I want to help you anyway, in return for how I have hurt.

We can’t be angry anymore, is what they don’t say. You can’t be punished forever. You can’t be punished worse than what’s already happened. It has to end sometime. It will end now.

And that means kindness for yourself too, Frisk, they don’t say, hanging in the silence between them. You have punished yourself enough.

But those things don’t need to be spoken. Don’t – please, don’t leave me, Frisk whispers, hardly even a thought.

Just as long as you do not leave me.

You – you understand, babbles Frisk, unstoppable as ever, bulldozing, stampeding. You understand why I hate what I did and you understand what I did, and, and I need you, I need you to not be mad at me, anymore, cause, cause you know me and you understand me and it doesn’t even matter if you hate me or not because of it, just, it just matters, it just matters that you understand.

Yeah. Okay, says Chara. I mean. I am still angry with you, Frisk, truth be told. And I hate what you did, and I hate that I understand you as much as I do, and what you were angry enough to do.

Can I say same? goes Frisk shakily. Cause because. You. Fucker.

That is fair. We are both at fault here, and we both have reason for our anger. But – Sponge, please. I cannot forgive you, not yet. But I missed you. And I will protect you.

O – h – ohhkayhhhhhh – Frisk crumples into themself, hugs their arms tight tight around their chest, throws themself around Chara and holds tight and doesn’t let go. They feel the moment when Chara relaxes, the embrace just as crushing as a physical one, but not near as painful. Frisk’s arms tense and their fingers clench and they’re rocking again, but slower now, closest thing to a hug the two of them can get. And Chara is being squeezed, and Chara is squeezing back, and Chara is covering their burnings with gentle, slow presence, and Chara is melting into them.

We both just want to stay here. We both want things to be okay and for us to survive, they muse, muffled in Frisk’s consciousness.

Goal and soul, goal and soul, Frisk mumbles back.

Goal and soul, Sponge. They wait a few moments, just exist in the same space together, breathe the same air through the same lungs. Where do you think Flowey is? they ask finally, when they’ve come untwined a little bit, pulled back into themselves and sat up.

Uh, goes Frisk. Weird. Uh, hm, he was really freaked out – out there with them? He’s out there, maybe?

I would have thought he would come to shout at us for telling, Chara says grimly.

Bet he’s scared though, Frisk pokes out, gaining more confidence in it as they go. Scared of what he’ll find if he comes in here, or, like, what he thinks he’ll make us do. He doesn’t want this no more than we do.

Oh. You can…are you sure that you can feel that? All the way over here?

Well – no. Not really actually. But, like…I’m right, aren’t I?

It makes sense.

They moved up next to their closed door without consciously going there. The big shock out there isn’t like…it isn’t resolving. It’s still flashing around in their brain, so they can’t stay still, racing up their toes and down from their hair. Everyone’s spiky, in an everyone that’s never spiky, not all the way. And they’re not calming down and if anything they’re getting scareder, or maybe that’s just Frisk, either way it’s just, it’s not good. Frisk puts their hand on the door like that will do literally anything at all.

No one’s coming to the other side. No one’s come making any move to talk to them after that. Some of them want to, but no one is coming. No one knows what to do. No one isn’t scared.

Frisk misses them. Everyone who’s scared of them out there, they miss them so much.

Here, they shove their hearing parts at Chara, in a bigger truce than they want to admit. Tell me what it is they’re saying. Chara takes them without a word, and they both just sit tight quiet and listen.

“It’s – yeah, I know, it’s s-scary,” Alphys mutters, shaken too bad to pretend to be calm. “And I, uh. It’s important that we acknowledge that. That’s what m-my therapist says – says about, uh, some of my stuff.” Chara barely catches the end because it’s fast and bitten off. And it isn’t a surprise to Frisk. No one’s stopped being afraid since the fire.

“I just – “ Undyne makes a sharp, wordless noise of frustration. “I don’t! I don’t understand, why would they do anything like this?! We trust them! They’re Frisk!!” Her voice cracks on the last word.

“Perhaps it is better to ask what drove them to,” says Toriel evenly. But her voice. It trembles. “And – and w-what, what any of us, could possibly have done, to prevent it.”

“How can we – “ Asgore gulps, and Toriel feels suddenly glarey at him. “I – I do not want to have to ask this. I love them as much as any of you do, and we all know what they have done for us and our kingdom. But they are more dangerous than even we knew. So much of what they said they did seemed unprovoked. Can we – how can we – how can we know we are safe?”

Frisk's breath hitches. And Toriel doesn’t have an answer for that.

“Truly, I never expected this level of destruction from them! Not by someone who so heartily enjoyed my japes and company!” pipes up Papyrus. “Even though it was always obvious how powerful they were.”

There’s a beat of silence. “What?” goes Undyne quietly.

“Ah. I mean. I too, just like everyone else, did not know, how they were always just a teeny tiny bit…very, uh, very determined. I did not know that either, until someone else who was not me, said it just now,” Papyrus clarifies. Frisk wrinkles their nose.

“They showed up on our reports as an anomaly before we knew them as Frisk,” Sans continues. “Massive. Timelines stopping and starting all over the place. Fragmenting, jumping left and right, rocking the continuum to its foundations. But in the end, uh. Wasn’t anything we could have done to stop it. So we just…stayed put, kept an eye on them. They weren’t trying to hurt anyone. Not in the end.”

Silence again while everyone lets that sink in. Toriel starts saying something, then stops for a couple seconds, then starts again. “I just…I cannot believe they would do all of that. To their family. Who we thought they loved. I know that they have been through so much, but…” Toriel takes a deep, sniffling breath, clears her throat to let it out. “I can hardly believe it of them. Such a fearsome, empty child. Thinking of it...it scares me.”

“It’s scary,” murmurs Alphys.

“And they did hurt people, even if no one can remember them doing it,” Undyne rumbles. “Not to mention the theater. We have to acknowledge that. This needs to change. They’re not something that we know enough to be safe around. And I’d like to hope, but honestly, I think they won’t ever be.”

The phone rings loud in the silence. Frisk jumps, bumps their shoulder against the door on accident. A couple tense attentions spike towards them, but mostly they follow Toriel, who leaps up for the phone like she’s all too eager to answer. “Hello?” she asks, sweet and businesslike. “Ohh, Mrs. Hills! Hello there!”

No. Not you. Not now.

“Oh, my, that is wonderful news!” Toriel gushes at the LADY on the other end. “And certainly a fitting time for it to come. Yes, of course! As soon as possible. This afternoon?”

Everyone’s just waiting. Waiting waiting waiting.

“Alright, thank you! I will see you soon, Mrs. Hills.” Toriel smiles so relieved they can feel it in their cheeks. Toriel hangs up the phone.

Frisk blinks. All the feeling’s gone out of their fingers.

And Chara laughs.

It starts like rain on tin, like exploding corn kernels, poppoppoppoppoppophahahahahahahaha, and expands into huge hiccupy sobbing laughter, bubbles of it bursting from their chest and expelling into the air, loud loud loud crack crack crack over everything there is to hear, to feel, it’s so funny it’s so funny Frisk, we thought! We thought! Short and fast like cricker-cracker-crackle and the fire and pulse in their ears and ahahahahaha! Two sounds to the world, two shapes in their throat, they can’t hear anything else, there’s nothing else to hear – laughing, laughing, let’s go let’s go let’s go!

And – and the best part, the funniest part, they realize as they sweep their backpack off the floor, is that it’s not like they can even go back! They can’t reset after this, not when everyone knows they can do it and they’ll all look at them that hard! And that’s – ahaha, that’s so funny it hurts! It hurts them to think about! They have to go! They pick up their phone, think for a half second, fling it at the wall, double themself over laughing! There’s nowhere for them to go! And nothing they can do but go!

Chara peters out eventually but they’re still driven high and terrified, dancing over knifepoints, shoving trembly feet in their boots. They swing their backpack over their shoulders (it was always kind of a running-away backpack, they realize), they open the window, and then they do what they’re really not allowed to do, which is open the screen also. The fire escape’s like a foot and a half away. If they can’t make that they’re a total baby.

And they won’t miss it now anyway. Frisk steps up onto the windowsill and braces themself, singey sweater catching and unraveling on the frame. Their hands are shaking and red pulls at their vision, and they want to throw up, throw the puke down all twenty stories and watch it splatter. They hand the balance to Chara, who is better at this, and they take it silently – determined, determined, determined, never go back never never look back. The curtains wave and shudder in the wind, bellowing out into the open air. They leap over to the fire escape, catch the bar of the railing really hard on their tummy, scramble themself up and over and then get the FUCK outta there.

Their boots clang loud on the staircase, but they’re going too fast to quiet down, and they have to stomp a little bit, they have to or they’re going to explode! Around and around and down and down, and three flights later Chara starts laughing again, and five flights later they’re crying too, and still laughing, and twenty flights spits them out in the alley behind the building and they race away! Cause that’s all they can do!

Cause that’s all they can ever do! Keep moving! Run! Don’t look back! Never stop too long! Never care! Never love! Hands hot, soul cornered, cry if you need to, don’t look back!!

Chapter Text

And they’re tired, and they’re still so tired, so they wish they could say that they run forever and ever and ever, but soon enough they run out of fuel and then they’re just running like a normal person. And then even that is making their legs weak and shaky, and their vision all dizzy, and sharp pains shoot ice picks through their sides. And they remember they can’t run forever. So they stumble, finally, and Chara goes !! – Go no go – and they sit down on the sidewalk real hard. And they don’t recognize the sidewalk and everything smells like factories and cigarette smoke.

Go. Up. Get up, Chara forces out. Their tears stopped coming a while ago and now there’s only dry and sticky tracks on Frisk’s face. Every word is a struggle, shoved out from their panic-tough shell, fading in and out of not here at all, hovering before shutdown. Go keep. Going. Run. Don’t – get up, don’t stop.

I – no, I, Chara – I want, Frisk struggles to explain, they don’t even know what, how alone and small and crushed they are, I w-w – we don’t have anywhere I just, I just want to go HOOOOOMMEEEE!! they howl in their mind, rocking back on their butt and throwing their face up to the sky.

No get up. We need. Think. Think where next. Chara’s pushing them, pulling them, and it’s all sinking in now and they’re lead and heavy, Chara’s punching them with panicked little fists, they can’t go home. Can’t go home, says Chara. Let’s go!

Cut it all and run, run, run, that’s what they’re saying, stamping over Frisk’s stupid little emotional self. Stop with the sadness. Stop with the crying. Don’t let it matter. Don’t look back. They are behind. Run ahead. Frisk flops forward and buries their head in their knees, even though their neck twinges with the whiplash. Don’t…I’m so, says Frisk. They got about as many words as Chara. And how do they still have this much? So sorry scared. Done. Done don’t want to run.

Come. Come. They will look. We will be caught. Think. Think. Where to go? Chara’s rhythm is soothing and Frisk latches onto it, counts it out to their heart, starting to think about options, remember how options are a thing to exist. Find a human? they ask.

Chara twitches. Who. Go to who.

Uhh, only – don’t know where Glow lives. Anyone. Nothing. No humans. Never mind. They shrink down, then bubble back up. You think they’re looking yet, they say instead. You think she got there yet.

Oh. No idea. Time – Chara glances up at the sun, winces, and looks back down. Summer-afternoon-slow. No phone no time.

They gonna send her after us, Frisk jitters unstoppably.

Stop panicking.

They gonna! They gonna and she gonna put us in a, in a white room and the walls are padded, and, in a place where you have to stay and no one is happy –

Institution.

I don’t CARE there’s words for it!! They growl and twist their fingers in their hair.

Chara halts them in their tracks. Slow yourself. Slow down. Other ideas?

Uh. They try to and they realize they’re rocking hard a lot and slow down a little bit. Their butt hurts. What if we like. Run off back to the forest on the mountain. Eat berries and shit? And be wild like a little coyote?

Chara bristles at that. Those woods? No berries. Only poison.

Frisk springs up, jitter-flutter energy, wringing their hands over and over and walking again, just to move, and also because their tailbone hurts. Pick a direction and walk, and look at the plants in the sidewalk and step on them over the cracks. Ebott got a lot of cliffs we never tried, they mumble.

Not work. We both know.

Can’t even do that right! Frisk snorts.

Chara brushes away their frustration, bringing them back to focus. You could probably live in like a Walmart, they muse. Like as your house. For a while.

What?

Food. Air conditioning. They shrug, a rehearsed movement, up and down once. Hide in the ceiling. Used to daydream that.

And usually Frisk would tease them or lead them on a tangent or get into a fight about what the hell kind of Walmart can you go in the ceiling but this isn’t a usually. They don’t have the energy for a usually and they don’t have the energy to pretend Chara is serious. And Chara stops pretending they’re serious, too, after a bit.

They pass a worn-down gas station. Old greasy diesel in the air, instead of corn, and a dude who stares at them from through the window. This isn’t the way to Walmart. Isn’t the way to Ebott either. But they keep going, lapsed into silence, until the gravelly dirt beside the sidewalk ahead puffs up like a molehill and Flowey pops out into the open.

“Hey,” he says, shaking litter off his petals.

They stop moving. He looks at them with his face all un-screwed-up, all gentle, all cautious. Like after his battle, like he’s a thing that can understand them. He tilts his head, smiles, tries for hopeful. “We should talk, huh?”

NO!! Frisk turns heel and runs, Chara babbling in terror, he can’t take us back he WON’T, but Flowey snakes a vine up around their ankle and they trip. “Heyyyyy,” he whines, tugging gently, but holding FIRM as they squirm and pull away. “You gonna listen to me, dummy? It’s important.”

“NO!!” Chara screams, and Frisk twists around and launches themself at him, covering him, crushing him – but his startled vines shoot out on instinct and grab them first, throw them away. “Come on!” he shouts, high and scared. “I’m serious, Chara!”

They roll when they hit the ground and spring back up, light on the balls of their feet, glaring him down. Their hands are hot and spraying sparks out on their pants, and there’s knives in their brain and shooting through their veins, fast and fearful as lightning. Red circles hazy around Flowey in their vision, darting in towards him and pulling back, bubbling and black-burning strong with hatred for his dumb puny self. He doesn’t understand them. He never cared about them. He never could.

“That’s way better,” says Flowey shrilly, leaves up like that could ever hold them off. Their fists clench and their palms swelter and sting. They’ll DIE before he takes them back, they will, SOMEONE will! “Just calm down! Toriel just – “

Frisk flinches hard at the mention of her name and a shared scream tears out of their throat. They leap onto him and wrestle him to the ground, punching and kicking and biting. He tries to grab their arms and yell things but he won’t take them back! Chara babbles and boils as they attack his body with their burning burning hands, crying kill him! Kill him! Don’t go back! Don’t go BACK! They rip off petals, sear sticky handprints into his face – he twists under them but they’re on top, hitting him, hitting him, tearing his face, twisting and blackening, tearing him apart – we won’t go back, we WON’T!

With what feels like the last of his strength finally finally let us GO LET US GO he throws them off of him, crying and shuddering, oozing red from the hole that’s the whole side of his face. “Stop! Ss-thtop!” he gasps out, his mouth torn sideways. He burrows down and pops up on the other side of the sidewalk, too far away, and they jump after him but he yells something out – you idiots! sssthe’s tryin’ to

– and they stop short. Their knees hit the sidewalk real hard, shockwaves traveling up their back.

“What – did – you say?” asks Chara tonelessly.

“Tryin’ to ado’ you,” the remnants of Flowey grumble. “Yeah-ha, stu’id. Tha’ll ged your attentions.”

He breaks off into coughing, and they have to look away. He’s doing…real bad. They almost did it. They already feel so gross.

(And that’s Frisk, feeling on autopilot.)

(Because nothing else is going.)

(Nothing else is noticing or being noticed. Only silence. Only uncomprehending echoes.)

She…

“Se’s been tryin’ si’ce like way be’ore this whole mess started,” Flowey’s saying, somehow still talking, despite everything, holding on. “Star’ed like a, a pipe ‘ream, on’y got realer when you star’ed goin’ downhill. And of courss she woul’n’ pu’ that stress on you too! ‘S who she is.”

Who she is. And she’s the kind of person who –

MOMMA!!!

Does monster food work on you? they blurt out, from their wicked, sinning hands. They got some in their backpack. They have to help him. Somehow. Some way. They have to.

“Huh?” he breaks off. “Oh, wha’, this? Nah, no’ really. Bu’ the flower kin’a regenerates.” He looks back up at them, and his face twists minutely into realization. “Don’ worry - doesn’ really hur’ or anything. Need a soul f’r that.”

And that means that all this pain is theirs.

Frisk rocks back and sits down on their butt very hard.

She’s trying to adopt you, you idiots. That’s what he said, that’s what he said, and he wasn’t lying, and he was like it, like it was obvious for them to know. Like it’s believable and easy and the way the world goes forward, like it was and is and always will be. Frisk leans forward and buries their face in their hands. Chara starts them making a little hiccupy sound, half giggle, half sob. She…they…

They can go home.

They rock back and forth for a little bit, sniffling. Sniffling on top of the world, lighter than air. No thought or doubt or fear. Chara holds them close, and they hold Chara like the world is turning underneath them. They hold each other and rock and sit in the quiet feeling, sit in the not saying anything, processing everything until they’re all done.

“You comin’?” asks Flowey.

Huh?

“Home.” He breaks a half-smile. “Are you gonna come home?”

“Y-yes,” says Chara unsteadily, as Frisk signs it out. Yes. Yes. They pause, glancing around, and Chara wilts under a wave of embarrassment. Only…

“Only what?”

We’re…we got lost. Don’t know where home is.

Flowey snorts with surprise. “Haha, stu’id. C’mon. I know this part a’town. I’ve been aroun’ the whole city! Jus’ put me in your backpack, woul’ya? So I don’ hafta go through the dirt.”

So they tangle their fingers through his feathery roots and lift him up into their backpack, patting the pocket full with greasy, scraped-up dirt. And Flowey sets them in the right direction, which is exactly the opposite direction of the way they were going, which they guess makes sense, and they set off to backtrack all their steps.

“Why did you come after us?” Chara asks later, when they’ve been walking for a while, and Frisk is remembering how fast they get out of breath when they do that without any magic.

“…You know,” says Flowey quietly. “I didn’ want you to. You know. Take us ‘ack to the start.”

Frisk squints their eyes and claps at him. Why did you come, they repeat, cause that wasn’t really an answer.

“…I thought you woul’ reset. I thought I coul’ stop you.”

There it is. Cause that’s not the truth, not all the way.

You think we would have? Because he knows they know he couldn’t stop them.

Flowey shifts uncomfortably in their backpack. “Uh, yeah? I was pre’y freaked out.”

He’s still freaked out but he doesn’t want them to see that. Which is stupid cause of course they can. Not gonna, they sign, in a way that they try to make comforting. He just snorts and doesn’t reply, and they fall into a half-comfortable silence.

And Flowey still doesn’t believe them, and the truth isn’t all out between them, but they’re light and strong and they’re on the way home.

The sun is just dipping down below the highest skyscrapers, falling over everything in orange-yellow-orange. Parts of them inside are getting sweaty and hot, but the gentle wind blows cool on their face and hands. Flowey said it’d be a long walk home, he doesn’t know how long, he travels fast underground, and nothing’s even looking familiar yet – and that’s saying something, cause they know about most stuff in a half-hour radius. How far did they even run?? Is that the kind of question they can answer? Their armpits are sweaty.

Chara whines at the scratchy, shifting against the sweater’s hot confines. Frisk tells them to shut the hell up, the long sleeves stay on! But Chara doesn’t shut the hell up and there’s a brief and panicked scuffle, that Chara wins by blurting out “Hey Flowey will you freak out if you see some messed-up arms?”

Flowey eyes the back of their head for a bit, caught off guard. “Prob’ly not?”

“Alright,” says Chara victoriously.

So Frisk pulls their arms back into their sleeves and tugs their sweater up over their black tank top underneath, letting their backpack thump to the ground while they wrestle the sweater off and tie it around their waist. The bandages around their wrists unwind as the sweater brushes over them, and Frisk tugs on them a little bit before remembering not to do that. They haven’t changed them for a while, and the curling, unsticky ends flutter free where the adhesive wore off.

Frisk tugs the ones that are falling off and won’t stay on until they tear free, then stuffs those in a trash can by the side of the road. Some of their bandages didn’t come off, a couple zigzag zees and stripes, because they’re stuck sticky to the blistery skin underneath and will hurt to pull on. But there’s enough of them out in the open now for the wind to sting on their scabs, enough for anyone who wants to see them to see. The air hurts like ice and they feel more exposed than they ever wanted, but they’re not hot anymore, and Chara’s relieved. Flowey’s breath catches and his weight shifts behind their head to get a better look, but he doesn’t say anything. Only scoots up a little closer to their face, his wounds already sealing up in the corner of their eye.

“So…you really won’t?” he asks later, after another while of silent walking. “For sure, for sure?”

No, says Frisk. “Don’t think we could,” adds Chara.

“Wait, no,” Flowey says with a spike of panic. “But you still have the timeline, right?”

“Yes, we do,” says Chara mildly.

But think about where we are, Flowey, Frisk takes over. If you had done everything we did and come out the other side. If you were the one who still had the power, right now. Could you do it? To us? To everyone?

Flowey makes a noise that Chara says is supposed to be doubtful, but he doesn’t reply. Frisk thinks he gets it more than he wants to think about.

Does that mean we’re friends again? they ask.

“Well, whatever the hell we ever were,” he grunts. “But…yeah. I mean, I was scared of you, ‘cause you both are scary – “

No we're not! We don’t want you to be scared of us! protests Frisk.

“Lemme finish, would you?! I know that. I was getting to that,” Flowey grumps. “But you’re actually acting like you don’t want to be scary, and that’s making this a whole lot easier to believe.”

Not actually believable. Just easier to believe. Frisk wiggles, bounces a little bit on their toes, which jostles Flowey and makes him squeak. And no sorry Frisk either, no it’ll be okay. They huff, start to say something, but bite it back. They just wanna – they’re gonna be jittery now, they just wanna know for sure.

He does not have anything he knows for sure, Chara chastises them.

But they get more shaky and shaken as they get back into familiar territory, passing by the park on the other side of the street, back into monster territory. Monsters pause in their yards or come out on their porches to watch, monsters who know what happened and didn’t, waving at them or looking away. Some of their friends. At least all of those ones wave.

“Flowey,” Chara suddenly chirps, half a distraction. “Are you bored?”

Flowey starts, then giggles in relief. “Pshh, around you guys?” he scoffs, like he can’t believe Chara would even need to ask that. “With everything else, too? No way.”

Frisk swoops their backpack around and squeezes it tight, hugs him as much as they can, just hugs him in the middle of the sidewalk for a while. Flowey experimentally wraps a couple vines around their shoulders and hugs back, wonderfully strong and heavy. He might not forgive them but he’s still coming back around, coming back home, tick by tick by tick. It feels good and right, and nothing that’s wrong right now feels the kind of wrong that lasts forever.

Past them go the corner store, the café Mice and Men, shabby and messy and lived-in houses. Molded, crushed up acorns in the cracks of the sidewalks, scattered secondhand toys, gardens growing chaos from the ground – Kiilo’an’s place, Gerson’s, Grillby’s, Shyren. Their stomach starts to churn again as they come into sight of the Delta Complex, suddenly, uselessly nervous. Chara’s all unnerved by this and tries to sort of pick them up and set them back down steady, but they don’t know what they’re doing and Frisk only feels a little bit comforted.

“Asgore’ll probably be waiting in front of the building, because he volunteered to stay in case you came back, but I think everyone else is still out looking,” Flowey says softly, in a way that is maybe supposed to be reassuring. “I was the one who went the farthest out. I guess that’s why I was the one who found you.”

Frisk sneaks into the back corner of the parking lot through the alley, where Asgore is pacing, tearing his hair and mumbling to himself as he walks along the scuffed parking lines. He feels absolutely broken. He’s about to erupt, it feels like, cause he can’t do more – but what if they come back and no one is home, what if no one is waiting. What if. Helpless and sorry and scared.

He turns again and sees them, half hidden in the alley, and they freeze. He drops his hands, face disbelieving and slack, and then they do a tiny, jerky wave, and then he’s running.

“Chara – Flowey – Frisk – “ He drops to his knees in front of them, still towering over their head, staring at them like they’re too good to be true, like they’ll be scared off with a word. He reaches out but stops himself short, holds himself back – so they throw themself on him, wrapping around him, squeezing until their feet leave the ground. He clutches them tight, warm and tender, and they wrap their legs around his giant chest as he holds them up. He presses his shaking muzzle on top of their head and they burrow into his beard, and his chest hitches and shudders below their cheek. He’s crying in earnest when he lets them go, sore and loose and free.

“What happened to you? To F-Flowey? I – I am, I am so – “ he sobs, trying to keep it down but soaking their tank top anyway with his fat, glimmering tears. “I am so s-sorry that you – that with us, you, my children – I am so happy, so happy that you came home – “ He bursts into tears. “I n-need to t-tell the – tell, tell everyone,” he gasps, fumbling for his phone with shaking hands. “I need to. You are home, you are safe, you are home – “

They stay wrapped up around him as he texts the group chat with shaking paws, a long and slow message, with a lot of backspacing and wiping off the keyboard. “Why did y-you run, my child?” he asks as he texts, Chara feeding his mumbling voice into words in Frisk’s head. “Alright. Everyone is on their way. They know you are safe. Flowey – was it you who found them? What happened, child?”

So they tell him what they thought they heard. They can feel the moment the penny drops, when Mrs. Hills, come to our house becomes Mrs. Hills, come take this child away, and he gasps but doesn’t say anything else. He just listens, horrified in his solemn way. Their eyes keep darting around cause he’s staring at them so so intense.

“No,” he reassures them when they’re finished. “No, my child. We meant nothing like that. Never like that. Some of the paperwork went through that we never thought would go through, is all – Mrs. Hills was on her way over, before everything happened with you. Do not worry yourself about it.” He cups their face with his huge hand, and they don’t turn up to look at him but they bury their face in his palm, hugging it close. “We would never abandon you, my good child. Never, never, never. That is a promise.”

“Mrs. Hills?” asks Chara, muffled by Asgore’s hand. When Chara breathes in they almost taste the wisps of dirt, of soap, of pollen, from his hand being so near to their face.

“Toriel called her again and cancelled the meeting. She will not be coming tonight,” Asgore rumbles firmly. “Tomorrow, perhaps. But only when you are ready. In the meantime, may I…” He gestures to their arms, awkward, dismayed but eager to do what he can. They nod, and he heals their fresh burnings without a word, leaving only their own thick layer of scar.

They sit back from him, turning their arms over, remembering what it’s like for that not to hurt. The day is ending. Soon everyone will be back home.

“Feeling better?” Flowey murmurs from behind them. His head is already growing back in. So they sign, I think so.

Alphys gets back first. Puffing, out of breath, jogging the jog where you’re exhausted but you’re desperate not to slow down. Flowey mumbles something about quit squirming and scooches down in the dirt, but Frisk takes off at a run. They race to meet her, bouncing and spinning with enthusiasm that they fired up just for her, and her pained front breaks into a smile when they throw their arms around her. “G-guess I’m not the only one with s-secrets, huh?” she asks when they let go.

“Looks like no,” Chara grins.

“Ah, hehe. Yeah.” She rubs the back of her head, which delights Chara, because there’s no way she didn’t pick that up from anime, and looks down. “Hey, l-listen,” she murmurs, and Frisk tells Chara to shut up.

“I…maybe this’ll sound…weird, or unexpected, coming from me,” she starts, with a little self-deprecating giggle. “But…now I, I kind of understand why you’re so fervent about helping me, I think? You, and Undyne, a-and everyone, if you guys feel like this about me, how we all feel about you. Because…it’s you, Frisk,” she says. “It’s just…we’re choosing this. We’re choosing you. Not out of – of pity, or fear, or anything. It’s you that we love. Hard as, uh, hard as I know that is to believe sometimes.”

She waves her hands around a little bit and awkwardly puts them on Frisk’s shoulders, but they wiggle out from under them and just squiggle forward into another hug. “O-okay,” she says, hugging back – she had a hard twitch of notice when she saw their arms for the first time, but she’s feeling careful not to mention it. “You can’t blame – you, you c-can’t blame yourself f-for not knowing that,” she whispers intensely. “It’s not allowed. Not for me, n-not for you.”

“…Okay,” Chara chokes out, as soon as their words come back, and they let her go.

Undyne charges in at a run, full tilt full volume full smile, laughing their name and scooping them off the ground, making their ribs crackle and pop with her hug. She’s disheveled and kind of smelly, like she’s been poking through dumpsters and under bridges, and she squeezes so hard that eventually they have to flop their arms around at her face to get her to stop from MURDERING them.

“Oh, sorry, sorry – “ she laughs, and drops them right on the ground. They stumble and fall on their butt, and she squats in front of them, giggling. “Where’d you even GO?! Toriel was freaking out! We all were, you weirdos!!” She messes up their hair with firm-scratching hands, like petting a big dog, and they lean themself forward and squish her in a hug again.

She kneels and hugs them back, real gentle and slow this time, by Undyne standards at least. “I’m just – god, kiddo,” she says, almost subdued. “You scared us. And I guess we scared you too, huh?”

Mm hm. Frisk nods mutely into her shoulder. Yeah, that’s a thing you could say about what happened back there.

“I’m sorry, Frisk. Both of you. We were…we were reacting to it, in the moment. We were all freaked out. Doesn’t mean what we were saying was true. You shouldn’t have had to hear it.”

Something about her saying that warms Chara up from the inside, and Frisk flocks to their campfire. Shouldn’t have had to hear that. Shouldn’t have had to worry, cause it was us who would handle it. And you didn’t have to know, because it didn’t mean the end.

Undyne grabs their shoulders and shoves them back, holding them firmly at arm’s length. “Hey! That reminds me!” she says, remembering to keep her eyes away. “So like, if you killed us a bunch of times – does that mean that we killed you too, or what?”

Frisk freezes up at that. Chara finds their voice eventually and giggles out, “A bunch. You most of all.”

Undyne’s face falls, and she shakes her head like a dog trying to get water out of its ears. “Oh, my god. I mean. It makes sense, like, I didn’t want to think it did but it does…but you kept coming back, huh?” Then she’s crushing them again, in another hug, tight to her chest. “I’m so glad you came back,” she whispers, or as much as Undyne can ever whisper. “I’m so sorry I hurt you. And I’m so glad you made me see sense. Thank you.”

Touched, Frisk pats her gently on the shoulder. Chara chokes on a giggle, then smothers a wave of new tears in her hair.

“Aw, man,” she says eventually, kind of uncomfy from all the feeling things. She pushes them back and holds them at arm’s length again, snaps her grin back into place. “I take back every time I called you a weenie!” she laughs. “You’re the toughest damn kid I ever met!!” Frisk giggle-snorts, and Undyne swoops them up to her shoulders to watch for the others.

Papyrus comes back next, from all the way across the top of a building, scrambling down the side like a spider and launching himself the last twenty feet. “Hey, Papyrus!” Undyne calls, unworried, and he waves back and leaps a solid six feet through the air. He bounds to them in great buoyant steps, so lit up he’s like an open flame, only to screech to a stop in front of them.

They fling themself from Undyne’s shoulders and into his arms, and he catches them, of course he catches them! His hug is tumble and joyful and rough, spinning them around and around and careening sideways sideways back and forth. He whirls them in circles and throws them in the air, and they fly, laughing, until he catches them – he throws them again, soaring higher and higher, wind in their hair and the street laid out before them, and he holds them tighter every time they come down.

“Silly Frisk!” he says loudly, and joyfully, and tenderly, once they come all the way back down and wrap their legs around his spine. “You were scared of us, being scared of you?! Isn’t that right??”

“S’th’n like that,” Chara mumbles. They don’t know what they’re gonna do if he tries to be serious too.

“But we are all scary! Look at us! Look at me!” Frisk wants to look up, but Chara can 100% tell he’s doing that thing where he turns his head into a photorealistic human skull and that’s freaky. He laughs and hugs them tight, snuggling his weird bony face into their hair. “You are scary. That is true. But we can still love you if you are scary,” he repeats, a little quieter. “We are all scary. So we are pretty good at that! And! It feels like, in some matter of speaking…you are done with being feared. Is that right? – Humans!! Are you alright??”

The answer to what Chara’s gonna do if he tries to be serious too is crying again. Frisk nods for them, their whole face scrunched up, trembling.

“That is okay. I am glad,” Papyrus says softly. “I am glad we do not have to be afraid of you. And I am glad you both are trying to know that.”

They cry a little bit, and drip all gross on his scarf, and try not to feel too bad about it. And he holds them the whole time, because, because it’s okay. They’re not not-scary. They maybe won’t ever be not-scary, that might not even be possible for who they are. But it’s okay. It’s okay to be scary, and it’s okay to be done with people being scared, too.

Once all that gets out of the way and Papyrus’s scarf is very gross and bad, they squeeze him one more time before releasing their legs and letting him plop them down on the ground. “I saw neither bone nor buns of my laggardly brother as I was out and about, though I doubt even he would fall asleep somewhere at a time as important as this,” he grouses, scanning the skyline. “You did not happen to see him on your travels, did you? Although I suppose if you had you may have returned sooner.”

“No, you are right,” says Chara, around Frisk chewing anxiously on their fingers. “But perhaps he stopped for a break. I do not think he has the guts for long searches out in the human city.”

“You are probably correct,” Papyrus replies absently, and he only FREEZES and swivels to stare at them after a solid few seconds. “OH my god??” he squawks, as Chara’s face breaks and they collapse into giggles. “Really? The guts?? REALLY?? I take it back! Your horrific taste in puns is the most terrifying thing I have ever beheld!!!”

“Ahehehe, sorry,” Chara laughs, not sorry at all.

When Sans shows up he does it with absolutely no fanfare in the middle of the parking lot, just standing on the cracked asphalt in a parking spot that Frisk knows was empty the last time they blinked. He looks around hazily, then sees Frisk and does a sort of whole-body spasm that throws him a couple inches in the air. “What the – “ he manages, eyelights blown out and clutching his chest like a little old lady, but Frisk races over and throws their arms around him before he can finish, and he hugs them back like it’s the only possible choice.

“Uh, hey, hi, kiddo? When did this happen, huh?” he chuckles uneasily as they try to hold their breath against his stupid Sans-smell. “My, uh, my phone died, I was just comin’ back to check in,” he explains to an amused Asgore over his shoulder. “Kid practically killed me.”

“And this would not be such a problem if you did your HP exercises like the therapist says to do, Sans,” Papyrus nags.

“Eh. You know I’m too much of a lazy-bones for that.” He snickers again and that is the last straw and Chara’s the one who pulls them back, even though Frisk is the one who was about to die of ketchup smell. His eyelights drift down to the side, and Frisk grabs his hand and twirls the stubby finger bones. “Scared us, kid,” he murmurs, and he’s carefully and consciously talking to both of them when he says it.

Didn’t scare anyone as much as you, scaredy, Frisk drops his hand to sign, and he takes it back and hands them a tangle from his pocket instead.

“Yeah, that much is fair,” he admits. “But…hey, kid. Missed you. We’re…we’re never gonna understand you all the way, are we? We’re just not gonna be able to do that.”

Frisk inclines their head. None of all the rest of their muscles will move, and to the depths of their soul they both of them don’t know if that’s true.

“You don’t gotta answer,” Sans reassures them. “Doesn’t matter, anyway. Cause what matters is the parts you choose to keep. You get that?”

“Yeh,” mumbles Chara, for both of them. They got an answer for that.

Their little group is all kinds of convening by now, all together but ringed wide around the parking lot, talking and hugging and basking in relief. Frisk rocks back and forth on their feet, gaze darting down the alleys and across the streets like a mad thing, and Chara distantly notes that they shouldn’t be nervous.

But…her.

Her.

They can’t not be nervous. Their tummy squiggles and turns, and they flap their arms to try and shake some of it out. They’re full of energy, bouncing off their heels, shakystealing their fingertips.

Where is she?

They want to go back to everyone else. They want to be home safe. But – but – but – until she – until she –

"My child!"

There she is.

Bursting out from the street that spits out towards the embassy, running, stumbling, sweaty, feverish – disbelieving, overjoyed, her eyes widening impossibly as they catch her gaze. She stops and leans a hand against a building for a miniscule minute, breathing hard, and they take off towards her and she heaves herself upright again –

– her bare, dusty feet crunching on the gravel –

– ears flying back, squinting against the hot summer wind –

– and they crash into her and she crashes into them and she grabs them and clutches them to her chest, bursts into tears, shelters their head in her neck, holds them tight and trembling, and they mash their face into her dress so hard they’re melded into one person, fallen to their knees, holding each other up, momma, momma, momma! She sobs incoherent sorrow, incoherent love, snips and snatches of my sweet child and our angel and so proud of you and my love, sobbing and sobbing, pawing over their hair, their back, their face, like to make sure they’re still all there – “come back to me,” she mumbles through her tears, hot and gusty breaths in their ear, “come back to me, come back to me.” They cry into her shoulder, they let her hold them tight, for what feels like so many hours, so long they’re warm and safe and loved. Momma, momma, momma, I came back, we’re coming back. We choose you, we trust you, we love you – we’ll keep you safe, we’ll hide from the storm under your shelter – we’ll run with you and sing with you and cry with you, momma, you chose us, you forgive us, you love us.

When Toriel’s great, heaving sobs have died down, and Chara’s cried out all their tears they didn’t even think they had left, and Frisk’s throat is raw and red with vast, muffled howls, Chara pries their sticky face up from her shoulder and gasps in a breath. Their hair is plastered to their face with tears and snot, tangled down their cheeks and in their mouth. “Why,” Chara breathes, “why, why, momma. We killed you, momma. We ran from you, we, momma we burned you, we hurt you – why – why – “

“Shh, shh, shh,” she hushes them back, paws smoothing through their hair. “We never – I, I never m-made you understand,” she says with a shuddering, “you have – it is – it is you, my children. How could I have done anything but forgive you? I love you. Nothing will change that.”

Frisk crunches their fingers in the fabric of her dress and makes tiny, twitching motions for love you, love you. Chara lets out an exhausted giggle, mouth pulled wide and shapeless, more letting out breath than letting out laughter.

>“We do not want you ever not to be home, children. We never want you to believe you do not belong with us. And we should have made sure you knew that,” Toriel says, with an air of finishing. With this being the end of those thoughts. “I was – a-afraid. We were all afraid. But we love you, I love you, we are your home and your family – of course we forgive you. I had never thought to do anything else.”

They don’t stop their hugging her until they’re too sweaty and itchy and weird, and even then they hug her some more, until their arms are cramped up and they’re thirsty and their head hurts, so she lets them go. She brushes their hair from their forehead, cups their face, not wanting to stop touching them, until they shake those off too and she pulls back. They flap their wrists back and forth, flashing her their forearms before they can stop themself. She makes an aborted move like she wants to grab them, but she stops herself, covering her mouth with her hands instead. Frisk takes her horror and Chara shoots her a smile, careful and open and light, and she smiles slowly back to them in relief and puts her paws down.

Frisk flaps harder, rocking too now, flicking their arms from their elbows to their fingers, happy as the rhythm of the world. It races down their legs too, into their feet and their toes, springs them up around and bounces in circles and circles. Their arms fly out from their sides and they almost whack into Papyrus and Undyne, and then they do accidentally whack into Alphys, who was too short for them to watch out for – she jumps back with a giggle and they slam to a stop, wheeling and dizzy, the sun flying up above.

“Y-you, uh.” She makes to grab for Frisk’s arms and steady them but she freezes midair, so they grab her instead, soft and cool and smooth. “Oh! You doing – b-better, then?” she squeaks.

They nod so big it rocks them all the way down, they smile big and sweet. Outside of them is nothing but everyone, ringed around and ringing with love, a tight, unscattered puzzle with the pieces pulled close together like they belong. The sun is beautiful, setting as slowly as it should and shining as it goes, and they came back, all of them came back home.

Flowey pops up behind their head with a great rustle and a shower of dirt, already feeling almost whole again. “Hate to break up the touching moment,” he interjects, only he’s not. “Only I’m not. But you’re a human, and you know this stuff. You see that tree over there, right?” He points a vine past their head, to one of the little trees growing in the carved-out squares in the sidewalk. “What’s wrong with it? I’ve been…looking at it the whole time, and I still don’t know.”

Chara double takes, and laughs, and it feels bright and carefree. The sun is shining, birds are singing, and the leaves are starting to turn. And the monsters have never seen anything like it before.

Frisk races over wordlessly when Chara prods them, jumps up and grabs a crinklecrunch leaf from the lowest-most branch. They hand it back to Flowey as Chara rattles off a quick explanation of why leaves even do that and grab a handful of others to crash up in their hands. No one’s making no moves to leave, not to go home and go away, all woven in tight with each other and laughing and relieved. Undyne is hooting at a meme that Alphys showed her and Papyrus on her phone, Asgore and Toriel are talking very quietly to each other and smiling. The sun slants down and turns the parking lot enchanted, softly golden, suspended and unchanged.

So they sneak up behind Sans and shove some leaves down his jacket, they climb up Toriel’s shoulders to rub their face on her ears. They joke and talk and cry, with everyone around them, late into the evening, no one wanting or needing to move. Sans demonstrates his weird talent for noises foley, Frisk learns what foley even is. Asgore finds a tiny flower poking up through the pavement and cries so hard Frisk has to hug him very tightly. Toriel follows them around, agitatedly picking bits of leaf out of their hair and sweater, and Frisk lets her touch them with her scatterlight touches even when it’s hard. They’re just starting to get hungry, unwilling to say anything, when Sans mentions something about supper and he and Papyrus leave and come back, quick-fast, with paper bags full of Mice and Men sandwiches.

The evening stretches out longer and longer and Frisk spirals into the happy-sappy daze of overtired, racing around shouting one second, plopped into silent contemplation on the edge of the sidewalk the next. There’s not no toys or playgrounds or swings or parks or trees they can climb or jungle gyms or anything, but they can climb Papyrus all the way to his shoulders if he stays still for a little bit, and Chara and Toriel show them little snips of old royalty construct songs that they can leap and spin through the air. Flowey tries to catch them with a vine a couple times and pull them down to something big he has to say, but at this point they’re waaaayy too loopy for that, so mostly they just giggle at him and try to tie his vines in knots or chew on them. He bats them away, snappish but only a little bit. Finally he pops up when they’re hanging off the picnic table with their head on the ground and their tank top fallen up to show their belly button, and they tilt their head to his upside-down face and blow a raspberry to get his attention. He looks over, eyes darting like a starting, and he has to say something big – but instead he just sighs, “never mind, it can wait,” and smiles at them like a big brother would.

Chara laughs a lot tonight, free and easy, like a letting-go of breath. The squirrels chase each other up and down the trees and they laugh at that, and a big loud truck roars by and Asgore wrinkles his nose and they laugh at that too, from safe under Frisk’s hands on their ears. And Frisk makes them laugh when they jump HIGH in the air and stumble on the way down, when they spin in place and think half-formed, giggly thoughts – you think, you think boss monsters FART?? Cause remember, some of the dogs in Snowdin – what if on the STAGE – and Chara only laughs, shrill and loose, and says what is WITH you, Sponge?! And the answer to that is, what ISN’T with them?!

And they race back and forth in the family that’s theirs, happy and flappy and spinny and grinny, on the top of their world until they can’t spin anymore. It hits them like that time they ran right into a glass storefront, full speed and then stop, and they’re swaying exhausted on their feet. All the tired they were holding back with fear, rushing back and knocking them down. Didn’t come with any warning or nothing like that, so they go tug on Toriel’s sleeve, but it’s still a few minutes of their head down on the picnic table while everyone’s cleaning up and heading back. At one point they feel a quick tighten around their ankle, a new almost-hug that Flowey’s decided he can give, but then he’s gone too, probably upstairs to wait.

And it’s even still light out, they can see the sunset through the gaps in the pillow of their arms, but they vaguely feel Toriel picking them up and carrying them to the elevator. She carries them over to a bed with softer sheets than theirs, and they sink into it like a deadweight. She eases their shoes off their feet, peeling off their stinky socks, and unties the sweater from their waist, humming softly as she goes. It’s dark, and slow, and quiet, and the sheets smell like delicious summer nights, so Frisk turns their face into the pillow and closes their eyes. They only have to wait a few minutes or hours until she comes to sleep herself, tugging the covers out from under their heavy body and curling her warm self around them.

“I am so proud of you,” she whispers, breath just barely stirring their hair. “I am so proud of you both. And I am so, so glad you came home.”

I am so glad for you, she does not say. And I will not ever abandon you, she does not have the energy to whisper to their still form. I love you, she cannot say with more than her embrace.

She doesn’t need to. It’s the most solid thing Frisk and Chara have known in years, and years, and years.

Chapter Text

“Are you sure?” is what Flowey is asking. “Are you sure?”, is this a good idea, Chara, really?

Chara is only a little bit awake, but they decided this last night before they fell asleep, so yes they are awake enough to know. Chara yawns, and Frisk taps their pencil on the notepad and scrunches their toes. “I am sure,” says Chara. “I will sing. The humans will not know it is me.”

“I mean…” Flowey trails off, trying hard not to show his glowing delight – but Frisk feeds it through to Chara anyway, and they echo his unconscious little smile. “If you’re sure, then of course you can have verses in – uh, this one.”

Hopes and Dreams, prompts Frisk, which is what they named this song all by themself and Flowey is not allowed to forget it.

“Hopes and dreams. Whatever,” says Flowey. “What kind of verses are you thinking? We only have a few minutes left.”

He’s right, Frisk realizes, but they hadn’t thought that far. Time is slow in this new, glowing space. There’s soft and sparkling music in the air, the first drafts of the three songs they sketched out last week for Mettaton, and the clock reads half-past-late. Momma’s gonna come and get them for breakfast now, any second minute soon, because that’s when breakfast is, and that’s how they do.

There are some things that Frisk and Chara do differently now. They started doing them differently after they came home.

Frisk used to get up with the sun, before some bad stuff happened, before they came home. They’d wake up and then they’d be up, that was that, no go back to sleep little kid, no nothing like slow back down. So they’d pop up and pull Chara with them and poke their way outwards, upwards, light into the day, while they were still the only light in the world. But then some bad stuff happened. Today the warm autumn sun splashes down over Frisk’s floor, falls crystalline and blazing over scattered notebook paper, pencil marks glinting. It creeps up and over their thick-socked toes, worms its warming through the fibers, and they shift their position to get more all up in that.

Before the bad stuff happened, when they stayed in here until breakfast it meant a bad day. But now they came home, with Flowey, and Chara, and now their new routine is huddling under their blankets, letting the sunlight fall down on their papers and plans, scrabbling with Flowey over the good sharpie and improvising squeaking lyrics for what no one knows they did. It doesn’t mean a bad day. It means Flowey and Chara and every freaky thing they did together, and it means where they belong.

“Okay,” replies Chara, considering, “o-kay. Later in the song. Before – no, after we start saving people. Maybe I’ll – call their names? Call your name? Or, something like that?”

But then Momma knocks on the door and Frisk tramples over to answer her before Flowey can respond. Momma!! they squeak to Chara, because this moment never gets less exciting, and throw their arms around her as soon as the door opens.

She gives a small, surprised little half-laugh and tousles her paw through their hair, rough and grounding. “Good morning, my children,” she says, moving her hand back to cup their head but taking it away when Frisk shakes it off. “You have been so occupied in here, for so much of the morning lately! May I ask what has been taking so much of your time?”

And there’s something different about how she asks it today, some tremor – worry, says Chara, because - ? they don’t know. But it’s just worry, light, regulatory worry, worry to keep balance – checking-in worry, says Chara, tracing the patterns and shadows for Frisk to see. Top secret things! they sign. Top secret! Don’t worry! But Chara smiles and scrunches their eyes as they sign it, and they sway a little bit from foot to foot, and the motion and the looseness make Momma relax. “Musical things?” she asks. She doesn’t need to worry about them alone in their room when it’s musical things they’re doing, not when she knows that they’re working on the new songs.

Yes?? No!! Top SECRET!! Frisk flaps up in her face, but she knows that’s a yes, and she moves just slightly so they can fly past her and to the breakfast table. Flowey appears in his pot on the table, where he sits whenever he wants to eat with them, which is apparently now.

“Do not forget that we have the discussion about the timeline of the musical with everyone this morning, dears, and a visit to Mela after that,” Momma says, spooning organic applesauce onto their plate far away from the toast and jam. “I must admit, I worry about whether this is truly a wise course of action…Are you quite sure you will be able to handle such a conversation today, even if it is only with those you are close with? I do not want you to burn out again so soon. I want anything but that.”

Burn out. That’s what happened before they came home. Not a long time ago, but not a short time ago either. “No,” chirps Chara decisively, taking over before Frisk can sort through all the feelings sludge they need to for answering that question. “It is different now. We mostly burned out because we were scared, and angry, I think? But this is not scary or angry. It is exciting! We are good with exciting!”

“That is true,” Toriel hums appreciatively. “And this is something like your official first construct, is it not? Chara, surely you – “

“Not really our first construct, but our first public one!” Chara blurts, joyful electricity skizzing up their spine. Frisk puts their spoon down and flaps excitedly as Chara’s energy spills over and fills them up. “The public part is more important. The first construct created entirely by the monster child – that is us – and performed for their community and family? Asriel and I had some ideas for one, and you and Dad taught us the basics, but this is what really counts as our introduction into artistic monster society. Right?” They’re right and they know they’re right, they don’t have to look to Momma for her approving nod, just squeeze their eyes shut and rock and wait to simmer down.

Once they finally finish up they head back into their room today, because there’s still a lot !!! to do before the meeting later today. They established way back when all of this was new, back when Flowey had just put all the pieces together and told them the important thing he’d been holding back until they came home for real: there was something like four songs’ worth of stuff that only they remembered.

And if they’re showing this as big and grand as it really happened, then half of those songs need to be Flowey telling the parts of his story he’s kept out of the light. So now they’ve got: Your Best NIGHTMARE!!!, Hopes and Dreams, The really sadshit one all scrawled across the tops of pages in their notebooks. And before today – well, for the NIGHTMARE!!! one definitely, but not for the others anymore – those were all on Flowey to sing, on him to use his acting skills for GOOD instead of evil. Bring their story to life. But now – now, Frisk isn’t a singer, but what they are kind of good at is the rhythm and music parts, and this admission from Chara opens up so many new possibilities.

“I said I would,” says Chara firmly, breaking Frisk out of their wiggly excitement. “Now you have to. The whole thing."

“What? I – “ Flowey’s face falls, and he grumbles wordlessly.

Aw, says Frisk, for him.

Why’re you aw-ing? You KNOW he needs to do this as much as we do! Chara snaps.

They’re right. There’s NO way this will work without telling everyone who Flowey really is, and it’s not like he’s really excited to tell anyone. His first suggestion was that he not tell anyone, including his parents, until the first rehearsal of the song and see how many heart attacks he could cause at once, but Frisk put the Smack Down on that plan. We even talked about this before, Flowey! they whine. We gotta tell the WHOLE story! That means you too, dumbass!

“Oh, wow, thanks for teaming up on me,” Flowey snarks. “Come ON. You think I don’t know that? I’m obviously going do it at some point. I just don’t want to do it like you did.”

“That is fair,” says Chara, after a pause. Frisk has a feeling that is probably the feeling of blushing.

“Just let me do it at my own pace,” says Flowey, quieter.

Chara’d told the Dreemurrs on their own, with their own voice, by that point still scratching and rough. But they’d shied away when Papyrus asked what was up, they hadn’t even smiled back at Undyne – and Frisk was bubbling with excitement over their Brand New Brainsibling being out in the open!! They couldn’t just STAY QUIET!!! They are not good at that!!! So their hands had skittered around the subject until blurting it out, in front of everything, no takebacks. And after everyone stopped being really shocked and after Chara started talking to Frisk again they think it was for the greater good, probably. But Chara says it wasn’t. Chara’s right a lot of the time.

“Don’t worry. I’ll sit on their hands,” Chara promises him with a grin.

Frisk gasps, but they only have a couple seconds to get worked up over that before Toriel pokes her head in through the door. “Are you almost ready to go, dears? We agreed to leave in fifteen minutes or so…”

Fifteen minutes!! And they aren’t even – their hair is all fuzzy, their mouth tastes like sleep, ooohhhh they almost screwed it up!! Frisk leaps to their feet and charges to the bathroom, speedrunning their getting-ready routine so fast they ALMOST choke on the toothbrush. Toriel grabs Flowey, who’s a little pissy at being forgotten in the chaos, but they make it to Mettaton’s apartment exactly twelve minutes later. Chara is proud of them for that because sometimes it’s A Struggle, and both of them forget to knock but the door’s always unlocked so they can go right in anyway.

“Hel-LOOOOOOO, DARLINGS!” crows Mettaton as soon as they open the door, vaulting over the couch to them and kneeling in front of them for a hug. He only hugs back for a second, tight and distracted, before springing up and prancing back to the kitchen. His arms wave through the air as he goes, all chattering in one direction after the other at once, and his voice goes a little high and sharp at the ends.

What’s with him? asks Frisk as they trail behind, pausing to hug or touch or squeeze the hand of the rest of their closest family. Chara takes a sec to watch, head all gentle-tilted to the side, before giving a wondering little almost-laugh. He is all on edge. Alphys told him, didn’t she?

Did she? Frisk takes their head back from Chara and shakes it, feeling unsettled. Didn’t we like. Not tell her to do that.

Yes, but we did not tell her not to. And besides, the alternative would be going over all of it again…

Yeah okay. Frisk doesn’t know if they feel betrayed by that, but they think they know they’re relieved.

“I’ve been THINKING, ohoho, don’t be too surprised, I’ve been thinking already on how we could expand the musical to fit these little revelations,” Mettaton starts. “Just imagine, your little friend Flowey takes the souls – the lights come up as he laughs, and it’s intermission!! What a darling subversion of – “

“I don’t. Wanna do all of this,” blurts Alphys from her spot at the table, a little bit like a shaken soda exploding. “I mean!” she squeaks, as Mettaton breaks off and everyone turns their attention on her. “I – I mean,” she continues, shrinking a little bit, “I, uh, I don’t – I talked to the amalgamates and their f-families, and – maybe if we just, uh – I m-mean, I’ll do, I’ll still do the musical, of course, cause, cause we’ve been planning it for so long – UH, th-the amalgamates said – I d-don’t – “

“You don’t want everyone to know you’re responsible for terrible mistakes of nature,” Flowey drawls. “And the mistakes of nature don’t want people to know that either.”

“I, uh – “ Alphys shrinks more somehow, her tail curling up like a chameleon’s. Frisk hits Flowey in the stem.

“So you want to just focus on how you did experiments on me, a flower? Just an innocent flower, with your horribly experimental experiments?” Flowey snickers.

“W-wait,” says Alphys, over Undyne audibly prickling and moving to stand up. “That’s. That’s ac-actually kind of helpful.”

“What?”

“I c-can still talk about, uh, what I did in my lab downstairs. Right? I kind of n-need to. Only, only I won’t talk about – about the amalgamates. I’ll just, uh, talk about you.”

Flowey sticks his tongue out and winks. “Helpful as always. That’s me! Your friendly neighborhood flower power!”

(But then he sneaks a glance at Frisk and Chara, see, I’m being helpful like we agreed. We’re telling all our stories, and that means me too.)

“What I don’t get,” Undyne breaks in, “is how – ugh, I’m not a STORY PERSON. Hey! Don’t roll your eyes at me!” She glares Mettaton down, completely distracted. “I don’t need words when I’m beating the CRAP out of bad guys, right?! Just shut up and let me say stuff badly!!!” She shakes her head and Frisk jiggles with dispelled energy. “So. What I. Don’t. Get. Is. We all know now, you kind of explained it to us, how you were in control of the timeline or something. Going back.”

“Resetting. Reloading,” blurts Chara. All our stories.

“Huh?” Undyne breaks off again. “Uh, yeah, that. But – how’re we gonna show the audience that? And, like – “ Her voice drops to something careful and slight. “How much of that are we gonna even show?”

DON’T wanna say how we murdered people, Frisk signs immediately.

“No murder. Murder is not ideal,” Chara agrees. “Other than that, however, we were thinking we would mostly stick with our established timeline? With some additions at the end. It is…different, with you all, but we do not need every human out there knowing everything we have done. They would never understand.”

“That is fair enough,” says Toriel, in a tone that invites no further argument from over-excited robotic scriptwriters. “We will not do anything here that you are not comfortable with, children.”

Flowey snorts. Chara catches some of his bitter – when were we ever comfortable with anything we’re telling you – but lets it fade away.

Good point though – how we gonna uhm make them see? How freaky bad it was, Frisk pipes up.

“Thanks for the compliment,” Flowey giggles.

Shut up, little man. This bastard like, broke reality… they try to explain, before trailing off and waving their hands in frustration.

“Language, dear…” Toriel tuts.

“Considering the subject matter, I am surprised you care this much,” Asgore murmurs under his breath from the other side of the table. Frisk flinches, please don’t have a fight, not here not now, and Asgore sees them and he dials it back. Toriel pointedly does not notice what he said.

“But Frisk, what was all of it if not a sort of show, huh?” Flowey chirps. “Isn’t that all it is, when you can shout cut whenever you want? Start a scene over, try it again? Screw the audience! They’re not the ones in charge here. They never mattered. So long as I could watch you from the nosebleeds.”

“Okay,” says Chara without missing a beat. “So we’re reworking that into the monologue after we leave the Ruins.”

Flowey splutters, “Cool Guy” façade totally shattered. Frisk has forgotten what a metaphor is. I think that was a compliment, Chara hisses. That is what he gets for trying to out-edgy the two of us, anyway.

But he’s got a good point though. If anyone should explain it, it should be him – he’s only the most dramatic little bastard man this side of the mountain, and also the only one here who is going to talk about it like it’s something he knows. Frisk raps on Mettaton’s leg and signs did you write that down?

“I can remember it. Don’t write it down,” says Flowey defensively.

No you can’t, says Frisk. Mettaton writes it down, bouncing his leg and grinning softly to himself.

“Whatever. So if we don’t talk about it in the actual show, cause you don’t want to let humans know what actually happened, then how are we going to deal with…” Flowey giggles, unable to keep down the latent pride. “My performance. My starring role.”

“You abused it,” Chara bites back. “You did not perform anything. You ripped the world apart, is what you did, and there was not anyone but us to know it. We can have you say in the beginning of the story that Frisk has the power to reload, and then not touch it again until you come back into the scene. If we explain that you regained that power after you absorbed the souls, it should make sense.” They look around, to Momma and Mettaton and everyone, suddenly self-conscious. “Right? That should make sense?”

Asgore has gone very very still, very quiet and careful and cold. “The…souls?” he whispers.

And that’s actually why everyone’s staring at them now, isn’t it, Chara, not cause they’re confused but cause they didn’t know that part. They didn’t know Flowey even did anything after he absorbed the souls, not to mention how he did it twice.

“Yes. This was the…first time we tried to go home.” Chara takes a deep breath, as Frisk feeds them words that might make sense. “We…fought you. And…we won, and then…”

Frisk gives up on explaining. Flowey is suddenly very interested in his roots. “You died,” he finishes quietly. “You died, and I took the souls, and I almost became god.”

But then we went back, Frisk struggles to articulate. We went BACK!! We – we beat Flowey, and all the souls flew away, and then, and then…well, we wanted to go back. But we couldn’t. They explain what happened to the three of them after the fight, how they spared and spared Flowey until they were alone, how they were alone, as everyone listens to them and no one says anything at all.

Because Frisk doesn’t really remember the phone call, just that it made them cry a lot, but Chara does. It’s practically word for word, the monotone explanation that Chara pours out, how Papyrus is now captain of the Royal Guard, how the queen came back and is now ruling over the Underground. How wherever you are, Undyne hopes it’s better than here. And how they weren’t anywhere.

And how Asgore was dead, Frisk thinks, as Chara talks and doesn’t look over at him. And how tense and heavy their whole family is now. It’s not nice to think about how that was their friends, all the way through, them on the other end of that phone call reacting to their King’s very real death.

“Then…” Chara whispers, into the silence, into the waiting, “Flowey asked us if we wanted to try it again.”

All attention immediately goes to him, and he ducks. “I didn’t have the timeline anymore,” he clarifies. “I don’t know where the souls went after they mutinied on me. I just…Frisk didn’t seem like they remembered how to use it. They were pretty messed up! Sorry,” he says, as Frisk smacks at him. “I’m right.”

“So we did it again,” says Chara, until Frisk is done trying to whack Flowey. “We went back and we talked to Alphys, and you know the story from there.”

“That is not the rest of the story,” Momma murmurs, sounding exhausted, but at least not like she’s tiptoeing around them. “There is still what happened after Flowey stole the souls for…for the second time, I suppose it would be.”

Chara and Flowey both go uncomfortably quiet. They haven’t really rehearsed this part. We just kicked his ass again, signs Frisk helplessly. We’re working on a song for it.

“It was a very close fight!” Flowey adds.

Not really.

“You called for help multiple times!”

Yeah but it wasn’t scary.

“But you were afraid for your life!”

Chara glares at him. “Do you want to do this? Right here? Right now?” They don’t give Flowey a chance to respond before turning to Mettaton. “We’re working on a few of the songs for the things that only we remember. Can we send them to you early?”

They’ll probably suck, Frisk adds helpfully.

“Of course, darlings! Whenever you’re ready!” Mettaton replies, still scribbling.

After a couple more clarifying questions, Chara announces that it’s time for lunch, so the meeting is officially over. They and Momma head back up to their apartment, Flowey snug under Momma’s arm, Frisk pounding up the stairwell to see if they can beat her to the top. They actually do!!!, but they usually do, because the elevator’s really slow, but they’re still hot and breathing hard as they sit down to bolt their brief lunch before going to Mela. “I do apologize for such a busy day, children,” Momma says as she cleans up the table and moves for them to put their plate in the sink. Frisk shrugs. (It’s alright because it means they’re getting out of homeschooling today, ha ha ha.)

“You really are so terribly brave,” Momma adds, more softly, once they turn around.

Chara stutters over their thoughts and then goes blushy and quiet. For what? Frisk asks, confused.

Her breath catches at Frisk’s question. “All of it. All of you,” she says. “I am still so amazed you are all here and all you.”

“Uh,” says Chara. “Let’s go?”

So Frisk figures that they need to express affection for them both, and hugs Momma until she giggles and says they’re going to squeeze her to death. But she doesn’t mean it.


There’s a pair of shoes talking to them and Frisk can’t stop staring at how shiny they are. They’re nice and dark purple, like a beetle shell, and Frisk can see the fluorescent lightbulb reflecting off their toes. What the shoes are saying to them is, “and then?” And then? And then?

And then I went back and he was still in the garden, and he didn’t drop his watering can, not this time, is what they would be saying, except Mela can’t read sign upside down. And also they’re upside down on Mela’s couch. It’s the green one, the fuzzy one. The one that Chara likes. They’re upside down and their head is hurting a little bit from all the blood running to it, but this way they can just keep looking at the shoes, and not at Mela. That’s easiest. Shoes don’t look at you back, and you can look at the shoes and just not think very hard about the words Chara is saying.

“We…followed him to…the Barrier,” are the words that Chara is saying, slow and deliberate. “He…I asked Frisk if they were ready. They were not ready. But we went together.”

“Do you think you were ready?”

It’s the second time they’ve been here since the bad things happened, and the second time since they told Flowey very sternly that he was coming with them and he, quietly, unexpectedly, didn’t fight it. He agreed. He felt like they were all one whole piece, and he was part of that whole, and he had to come along for it to mean anything at all. Which was, uh, a curveball. But a curveball they could catch.

“No,” says Chara decisively. “But he was.” They gesture vaguely at Flowey, who lets out a breath.

“Alright,” says Mela. Frisk can feel the unsteadiness of vis hands as ve scratches across vis notebook, the calm, careful way ve’s regulating vis feelings. Mela knew what ve was signing up for, agreeing to counsel the angels of all monsterkind, but Frisk can tell that since they came back home ve’s been even more out of their depth than usual.

But ve’s pushing past it. Vis own trepidation doesn’t matter as much as helping the three of them get better. That makes it easier to feel. “Ready for what?” ve asks quietly.

Flowey wilts down a little bit, as Chara bites Frisk’s tongue. Mela knows that Chara is here, but not who Flowey is, just that he’s very very wrapped up in all of this and also pretty screwed up too. He killed Asgore! Frisk bursts out.

“We killed Asgore,” Chara corrects. Mela stirs. “We needed to go home,” Chara continues, sort of sitting on Frisk’s mental hands, cause they just wanna blurt everything out but Chara said we have to go slow and Flowey said, he said if you tell Mela who I am I’m not gonna forgive you ever, “and we thought that was the only way to do it. This…was not a want. You must understand this. This was Frisk’s soul, pulling the world forward. The only way it would have ended was with fighting. There was no malice.”

“And I am proud of you for that,” says Mela. “It feels like you worked very, very hard to be able to get to that point, where you truly didn’t want to hurt anyone.”

“Uh,” says Chara, and feels all hot and adrift. “I mean. That was not…work, was it? The…the getting back to, to not wanting to hurt? People are not supposed to want to hurt…”

“Was it hard?” asks Mela.

Yeah. That sign at least Mela can read upside down.

“But did you decide to keep going, keep trying, even though it was hard?”

Yeah.

“Then it was hard work. And I can be proud of you for pushing through,” ve smiles.

Frisk makes a weird noise. It’s kind of like hhhhr.

“We fought him and we fought him. He wanted us to kill him,” says Chara, voice robotic and monotone, taken directly from the words Frisk is feeding to them. They loved Asgore, always, and they want to say this in as little words as possible, because even remembering it puts them right on the edge of a shutdown. Frisk takes the burden of forcing words through their frozen brain, Chara’s speech getting more disjointed with their influence – “he wanted us to kill him he did he did we didn’t want to we didn’t want to go home” – until Chara gasps and squeezes their face shut, cheeks pulling up into a tight, painful grimace, and Frisk shudders and squishes their hands to their face. They don’t know whose this is, this sudden, this panic, this, this don’t look at me, don’t look at me, don’t think about me don’t fear me don’t pity me – I’m a killer, I’m a killer, I’m a killer, don’t look at me I’m sorry – but it crashes over them, crawls in bad noises, thumps their head against the couch, get it out get it out stop stop stop!

“Chara,” Mela is saying, “Frisk,” ve’s saying, “are you okay?”, and “whoa whoa whoa,” Flowey’s saying, don’t look at me, “hey slow down, hey you’re okay.” They don’t want to remember this to someone like Mela, someone they can’t trust not to pity them, fear them – someone who SHOULD pity them – fear them – who should, who should get out – ve can’t know, no one can know, no one but Chara and Flowey can know –

“ – breathe with me, just breathe, I’ll count and you join in when you can,” is what Mela is saying, as Chara wraps tight tendrils around their panic and holds them close, “two, three, four – one, two, three, four, five – “

Six, seven. Okay, let go. One, two, three… Chara’s brainvoice is gentle and soft, and Frisk scrunches up their face in their hands against it. Chara pulls at them, gently exasperated, gently patient. Come on, Sponge, we decided this would come out. We decided we’d be okay. We decided we knew this was something we could come back from, after our family reacted so kindly.

And Flowey’s there too, in a new thing he does, wrapping his vines around their shoulders and squeezing just on the right side of too tight. Quiet and solid and caring. I know, I know, I’m here and you don’t have to worry about what I think. What you feel and fear is the same as me. You’re not alone. Despite everything, you’re not alone.

“Hrrrrrrrhh,” says Frisk again. It’s not so much a bad noise this time. And Chara takes their noise and folds it, gently, into thinking. Mela’s not feeling that. You feel? Ve’s not afraid of you. Out of vis depth, yes. Nervous, yes. But it is possible for people like Mela not to be afraid.

“If you’re worried about what I’m thinking, please don’t be,” Mela adds, hushed and intense, unknowingly echoing Chara’s sentiments. “We have talked about this before, when we started out, and I have also talked with Toriel about it. My comfort zone is not the important thing here. What’s important is that I am choosing freely to listen to you, when you can keep going.”

You see? Chara soothes. You see? Ve will not hurt you with vis fear. Ve is for talking to. All your fear is from yourself. What is it that Mela is feeling?

I…I. It feels like shitty spaghetti in their head still, all tangled up together in panic and fear, but Chara helps them trace the careful lines out and away. Flowey’s worry, frustration, Frisk’s terror, shame, their own concern, steadiness. Mela’s calm, vis shock, vis hope and pride, down to the trembling of vis hands over vis notepad.

“I am here for all of you, Frisk,” Mela says softly. “I have never been objective, and I have never had all of the answers. But I am determined to get all of us through this in one piece. And I am confident that if you all work with me, we can.”

“What ve said,” says Flowey, still wrapped around them. “You, uh. You want me to…take over for a while?”

Frisk jerks up and almost falls off the couch, letting out a squeak of confusion, like !?!?!?!?!!!!?!?!. Because Flowey never talks about this stuff in here!! He never!!! But now Flowey only rolls his eyes at them. “No, no, it’s okay. You just listen,” he says, and sneaks them a secret wink. “Besides. You haven’t heard it from me yet, either!”

That’s…Frisk guesses he’s right. They heave themself right side up into the chair and tuck their toes into the edge of the cushion, curled up and safe.

“They spared him…at the end of the battle,” Flowey starts, looking at his pot, choosing every word carefully and just radiating anxiety. “I…I was, it was me, waiting, with the souls. I watched them fight.”

But he’s talking. He’s talking for them, because they didn’t want to talk anymore. This is all three of them together, all three of them holding tight to each other and getting better.

It’s so bizarre, so fragile, so ethereal says Chara, that this is starting to feel familiar.


“So much blood. So much pain…I will lose a child again.”

This is not good. This is not a good song. This isn’t good.

“Oh, dear child…I’m sorry…” He’s sorry, he’s so sorry, he’s so heavy over their soul, stark and dark in the light of the trident. “Now you face the Mountain King.”

And, hands trembling, he swings. It only takes them a couple steps to go out of the way. One two safe. In the end, they’re supposed to be signing mercy at him every try. Up until the knife comes out, marked in the music with their little pencil scratch. But they can’t do that yet.

The music goes on, and the chorus begins. It’s not magnificent. It’s not pretty. It’s hard – hard, and awful. Asgore moves the trident like a reflex, like a river. Careful and slow. Ghosting over Frisk’s head before they can even duck. They catch it on the next swing and shake it, glaring into his timid gaze. You have to – come ON!

The song’s only a day old. The song’s only a day old, and it isn’t Mettaton’s, it’s his, him and Chara and Frisk. But there can’t be a delay. The musical must go on. A tiny, scatterbrained group of humans was brave enough today to charge on Papyrus and Undyne outside the embassy. And it didn’t work, and no one was hurt, and they must have known they couldn’t make it, not really – but, but they did it, and it was scary, and it’s going to keep happening.

Until they tell their story.

All of them.

“Alright,” says Asgore, taking a step back. “You are right, child. You are showing great bravery, despite how hard this must be. But I am the one who is holding up our progress. I must find that same bravery. It is just a construct…is it not?”

“Of course,” Chara says. The construct is old and intricate, a pattern Chara created, playing with him in the garden one day. It faded into tradition before Chara and Asgore picked it up again, somber and regal and beautiful, really beautiful. Really beautiful.

“Then I apologize. Let us begin again.”

Frisk nods and picks up their trusty worn dagger from the arm of the couch. Asgore’s eyes gleam pinpricks in the light of the trident, and he sighs deeply, shifting into a fighting stance.

“This will be – the LAST soul we need. I will NOT – accept your mercy!” He thrusts the trident on NOT and it stabs through the place that Frisk just was, and they’re dodging away and coming back like how the construct is written. Asgore fights in patterns that are Asriel’s and Chara’s, Dreemurr family heirlooms, falling together like snowflakes and fanning out like dancing flame. And Frisk’s knife is out too, scramble and scattershot as the music thunders on, easily-dodged swipes with careful non-intent behind them. It’s exhilarating and energetic and Frisk’s stomach wants to swoop with the drums and whoop with the melody, but – but, but.

Asgore took it the worst, easy. Learning that there wasn’t always a peaceful ending. That he killed another child, was killed at their hands (even if he technically wasn’t, that’s still what it feels like) – he hurts, and it hurts. And he looks at them with sadder eyes now, and he is quieter around them, and it makes them edgy and tense and sad inside.

Telling everyone, and coming home, did…a lot of things. A lot of things got better. But it also did this: Asgore’s fierce, desperate joy in them, the half-delirious delight that they had both been spared from this confrontation, fell down into this.

“Farewell, fallen child! For tonight – “ They dodge, and he swings, and the magic is hot on their face, inside and aching and out.

There’s a price for everything, you know. Everything’s got consequences.

“The monsters have WON!”

They mimic one final thrust as the music drops away.

He falls, he falls, and they let their knife clunk on the carpet as they rush to hug him. He’s shaking, just like them, now, his huge hands wide enough to span their whole back. “I am sorry,” he chokes out, so painfully sorry. “I failed you, dear children. I thought you and I had escaped this scar.”

But we didn’t. Frisk feels hot and sweaty with guilt inside, arms wrapped around the neck of the man they helped turn to dust. No one escapes it. No one escapes.

“But…now, we must both live with this.” His breath stutters in his chest, and they clench their arms harder, sorry, sorry, sorry so sorry. None of us wanted to hurt.

They steel themself. They have to steel themselves. So Frisk stands up, and picks up the knife, and shoves it through their belt loop holster thing Undyne made for them where it belongs. Let’s go, let’s go, they twitter to Chara, agitated and uncomfortable, at Asgore’s still-still-still from in front of them.

“Let’s go,” Chara echoes, and holds out their hand. “Into the light, Mr. Dad Guy.” Their voice curls with a smile, and they take his hand before he can take theirs.

“Is it that time already? Who would have believed, that such an activity would consume time so quickly,” Asgore ponders, pulling himself up with a fraction of his strength.

Into the sunshine, Frisk thinks, and then lets go of Asgore so they can say it too. Let’s go. We gotta keep going. We gotta look forward.

“Yes. I expect… you are rather done with looking back.” Asgore smiles down at them. “Are you ready to go out?”

“Ready to go out!” Chara cheers in response, and Frisk grabs Asgore’s big paw and swings it back and forth.

Because First Long Moon is tonight, and the crops in the windowboxes and old Underground fields are happy and nourished on everyone’s joy. It’s one of those “hey everyone let’s get down now” types of holidays, not the sad ones that clog up the last half of the monster year, and free to the public, human or monster!! The celebration outside is just starting, and, and it means humans will be there (!!!!), so they’ll get to see Glow again who got a new suckerfish yesterday, and MK who they are finding out together what kinds of leaves they can eat! They take Asgore’s paw and tug him to the door, super ready to leave all this depressing shit behind them like they’re used to. Everyone’s been working on PR for the revised musical - they gotta be the junior ambassador for real tonight!

Asgore stops them and retrieves their phone from the wall speaker. Their playlist kept going, stupidly, only they had this song on repeat, so now it’s like halfway through the sad stuff again and they gotta press the pause real fast. Asgore winces. “We are not going to include…this…in the, ah, Pee Arr for the musical we will be doing tonight, are we?”

Chara twitches violently. No no no no! says Frisk. No we are just doing some vague stuff. Like, musical is doing some changes, but we are back in business baby!! Cause they are!! Cause the musical’s back on and that’s what they are!!

“Oh, that is a relief,” Asgore sighs. “I suspect you are not ready for the humans to know the full story just yet either, are you.”

“No no no no no,” Chara repeats, and they go out clutching tightly around Asgore’s fingers. (They’re still fighting over this always, but if Chara gets their way, the humans won’t ever learn that there’s two kids in this frizzy little body.)

The doors open up and they shuffle out, into the click and glare of a couple photographers, as Glow runs up to them and pushes a picture of Snorky in their face. People knew they’d be here, of course, the mysterious heir in snatches of interview through the gaps in their family and the snarls in their flower. But Frisk enjoys it, anyway. The reporters all go away full and happy, and Glow shows them all 74 new pictures of her blurry aquarium, and MK tries to eat grass. And it’s good, and it’s, they don’t know if it’s worth it, because of how Asgore looks at them sometimes and the pangs of sorrow they feel from all the way across the courtyard – the sickish curiosity from the reporters, the frazzle and courage from Toriel over there oh my god is that Ms Hills what the fuck oh no no no oh my god – the, the conversations Momma has to have, with, with the social work people, a lot. So.

There’s so much work in it, now, with turning everything upside down. And they didn’t see that coming at all. Which is probably because they’re stupid, but Chara says that’s not true. And Chara also says, it’ll be okay, you can feel that more than I can. And Frisk says to Chara, this is how you go into the light.

Chapter Text

“I don’t want to do this,” Flowey says quietly.

They’re sitting on the floor in the living room, today, and Frisk’s hands are carding through the dense, fluffy carpet. Frisk reaches up, digging their fingers between the thick strands to the floor, and drags down through it with a woolly scraping noise. Whhhrrrrrrr. Momma’s sitting on the couch behind them, with Sans beside her and Papyrus perched on the arm. Mettaton came in a little bit earlier, immediately throwing himself into the armchair and kicking his legs up, in a pose that Frisk thinks is deliberately relaxed. So that means they’re just waiting for Undyne and Alphys, now. Whhhhrrrrrrrrrr.

Frisk picks their hands back up. I know.

“What a shame,” Chara snips.

“No, Frisk, I’m serious,” Flowey says, a little too loud. Papyrus glances over, cautious. “I don’t want to do this anymore. I changed my mind.”

But it’s what Mela asked us, Frisk signs slowly. We agreed. Remember? We all said.

“Yeah, well!” He giggles, sharp and high-pitched. “That was a mistake. You can’t make me do this. I’m out of here.”

Frisk picks their hand back up and wraps it firmly around the base of his stem. Flowey twitches at the touch and stares at it, feeling like spoiled milk.

“You know, I could grow thorns. I could just stab right through your hand,” he says.

“Yes, you could,” Chara agrees.

The door to the apartment opens and Undyne and Alphys file in quietly, Undyne leading Alphys by the hand, both of them somber and tense in a way that makes Frisk’s skin feel like it’s trying to pull off. Alphys avoids eye contact as she hops up to sit on the couch, as much as Flowey stares at her, sort of dazed and vacant. Undyne glares at him.

“This doesn’t feel real,” he whispers to Frisk and Chara, ignoring Undyne.

“I know,” says Chara.

Flowey takes a deep breath that he doesn’t need. Frisk thinks about taking their hand off his stem, but Chara says not to, just in case. Just in case. This is what they agreed. “Um…Hi, everyone,” he starts. “I…I have to…I didn’t want to talk about this, but I have to, apparently, for the musical. So. You’re all going to listen, and not scream or anything, because that’s…just boring. Okay?”

And everyone already knew that this was going to be something, but that doesn’t help, it doesn’t help things at all. Frisk’s fingers go tense.

“Just do it,” Chara hisses.

“Yes. Okay.” Flowey shakes himself, shakes off his nervousness, and blurts it out. “I’m – Asriel. I was Asriel.”

The shockwave rocks Frisk back on their butt, sends shivers through their hands, seizes up their core, and they pull their knees to their chest and rock back against the couch. Papyrus’s hand spasms, and Sans twitches hard. Undyne gasps so loud it’s almost a growl, Alphys moans and curls her head down. Frisk and Chara knew it would be bad, they were ready for it to be bad, but not this much. There’s bad noises wanting to come out of them, bad noises like what, no, he couldn’t be, he couldn’t be, how, it’s not possible. Alphys is the spiniest, shuddering cliffs of ice, over a deep dark hole with no coming back. Momma wants them to be lying. Asgore is crying already. Flowey doesn’t look at any of them and he really, really wants to go.

And Frisks taps their rigid fingers against his stem. Flowey nods back at them, then continues like he didn’t even notice, feeling uncomfortable and very very shifty. “When I…died. My – we think, us three, we think that my essence or something stayed in the flowers, where my…dust fell. Where I died. And when Alphys – “ Alphys flinches hard, curling into Undyne’s side, and Frisk’s hand jerks against Flowey’s stem – “when she injected the flowers with determination, trying to make a vessel, I woke up.”

“It may be like how Frisk’s determination woke me when they fell,” Chara interjects. Flowey nods, surprised but grateful. “Exactly,” he says.

Frisk takes their fingers away, and Flowey glances back at them. They rest their hand against his stem instead, stroking it with the backs of their fingers. He doesn’t react, but they feel the spark of gratitude in him, and he keeps going. Like they agreed.

He talks about how he had the timeline before Frisk did, how he did a bunch of the same stuff but in different ways, how he tried to care but that part of him was rock-hard, shriveled, closed off. Not like Frisk, who cared too much and didn’t stop. Flowey talks about how he stopped caring without ever meaning to, and then he couldn’t go back. He bites out how everyone tried, Mom and Dad and everyone, over and over, believe me you did, almost defensively. When he says he doesn’t really know how old he is, he giggles, tries to turn it into a joke. But he’s the only one laughing.

“And then?” Chara murmurs, reaching back and using Mela’s words. Flowey grunts and starts again. He skims through how he killed Asgore after Frisk knocked him down, the fight afterwards, how Frisk wouldn’t let him die. His petals stick straight out to his sides, like the fur of a feral cat. Don’t touch me, don’t pity me. Don’t you dare.

“My plan had failed. But in the end, it didn’t matter. Everyone knows, after all, it would take the soul of nearly every monster just to equal the power of a single human soul.” Flowey’s grin curls up, but he’s been holding it for so long, it feels more like a grimace. “So I didn’t need Frisko here’s soul in the first place! I just needed to get all of you united as one.” His smile goes solid, teeth bared. “Not like I hadn’t tried before. But…this time you all actually came together. For them. And then…you were mine.”

His bravado lasts right through the end of that snarl but flakes away into sadness, sadness and fear and the sort of deeply vulnerable twitchiness Frisk always feels the first time they show someone their arms. He used the power of the souls to turn back into Asriel, only like, neon anime Asriel, Frisk continues, getting a little smirk out of Chara. Annnnnnnnnd uh, we fought, and he wanted to reset the timeline, but I didn’t, so I won. Annnnnd then. He cried and it was really sad. They fold their hands and press them down into the carpet.

“We are working on a song for it,” says Chara, studiously ignoring everyone’s horror.

And then he broke the barrier and went back to being a flower and that’s how we know him, Frisk finishes awkwardly. We’re working on a song for it. To make it make sense.

Silence meets them.

“Can I go now?” says Flowey. When Frisk touches his leaves they’re shaking.

“No,” says Chara. They clear their throat. “Then a few months later we – “

“I’m so sorry,” Momma gasps.

Flowey makes a dismayed little noise and jerks his head upright. “What.”

She’s crying, and Frisk feels it, awful and heavy, tears dripping down her face. “I – I hit you. In the Ruins. I’m so sorry. I never would have if I knew who you were! I never wanted to hurt you!”

“Well I was kind of trying to k – “ Flowey begins uncomfortably, but Momma breaks over him, with a great, heaving sob. “I’m so sorry,” she weeps. “My son. My sweet son. My Asriel.”

Flowey’s teeth click together. Asgore slides down to the floor to kneel in front of them. “May I…hug you? My son? Asriel?” he asks. The name pounds hesitant and wondering in his voice.

“No,” Flowey panics. Asgore’s face falls, and he draws back like Flowey hit him.

You can hug me, offers Frisk, so he does.

Asgore barely gets his arms around them before Momma leans over them too, clutching Frisk’s body tightly to her chest, shuddering and breaking. Frisk wiggles their arms out of her grasp and hugs back, one arm around her, one around Asgore, no arms to stop the tears that are finally worming down their face. Flowey watches, from a distance, stem curled like he’s ready to flee, like he’s expecting one of them to make a grab for him. All around them, everyone watches, still and frozen, as Toriel hugs her children, and Asgore hugs his children, and Frisk hugs them back, and Chara cries for all of them. Pretty fucked up family reunion.

Flowey drags his pot over eventually, grabbing onto Frisk’s leg and using it to pull himself across the floor. Not for hugging, just for nearness. And he makes it, too, he lasts for like a minute of Momma and Asgore both looking at him and feeling all soggy and shattered, before he goes “okay, I can’t do this” and disappears.

The second he leaves, a wave of even harsher heartbreak crests over Frisk, you lost him again, you just got him back, you lost him again. Chara makes a gasping, sobbing noise, as Asgore tightens his hold around them and Momma bursts into fresh tears.

“What happened?” Papyrus yelps.

“Yeah, is he – is he alright? Are you alright?” Undyne asks.

Frisk waggles out of Momma and Asgore’s grasp. “He’s hiding,” says Chara. We’ll go talk to him, Frisk adds.

He’s in his pot in their room, turned away from the door, which is a relief because if he hadn’t been there than Frisk really doesn’t know where he would have gone. Chara creeps them into the room on their toes, and Frisk closes the door softly behind them.

“If they expect me to be Asriel.” Flowey says, without turning around. “I will not recover.”

Frisk twists a hand into their hair, tugging absently. “I know,” says Chara. “I know it will be hard.”

Flowey turns around, eyes feverish and wide. “I won’t be able to handle it. I will not. I can’t.”

You won’t have to. We’ll explain things, Frisk cuts in. We’ll do it together. It’ll be hard, but we can do it. We can because we will.

“I know.” Flowey exhales, a long, trembling sound. “I…I know.”

Let’s go back out?

“Not yet,” Flowey says. “Just wait for me, for a minute. We can go back out. Just not yet.”


A couple weeks later, when it’s starting to be thinking about really-really-really fall, all the big public schools open up again. Mina and Rox and Rust ended up at the local monster school, for now, the one that set up inside what used to be the abandoned little mall. Talley’s big fancy school is real close to the big fancy downtown theater, so he can just walk. But Moss, who’s starting into their first weeks of high school, and Glow, who’s still got a couple more years, don’t have the parents or siblings to get them all the way across the city every day. So now it’s something Frisk and their siblings do with Momma!

Glow’s mami and papi set it up all official with the school even, because they’re working a lot and this way Glow doesn’t have to ride the stinky short bus home. “NEW BIG SONG DAY!!!!!!!!” Frisk fires off as soon as Glow heaves open the door, sentence already locked and loaded in. Momma has a little twinge of oh yeah, and her great big beaming goes kind of stiff. But she shakes it off. “Good afternoon, Glow!”

“NEW BIG SONG DAY????” Glow yells as she throws herself into the seat, and Chara nods, with that bright shy smile that they save just for her.

“You’re not going to believe it,” snickers Flowey from the backpack.

Momma sure isn’t, Chara adds.

Moss always comes walking fast out of their great big high school, head down, until they see the van and break into a half-run. They slide eagerly into the thirteen-year-olds-ONLY front seat with a great big grin on their face, dumping their backpack on the floor even as they talk. “Hi, Ms. Toriel! You guys, oh my gosh!! So the theater teacher is already looking for people to do stuff for this semester’s show, and, and they said I could help with props and stuff!!” They giggle, bouncing up and down in their seat. “I’m gonna be a Theater Kid!!”

“But,” says Chara, in a little bit of an awkward attempt to be social. “But, uh. You’re a kid, and you’re in theater.”

“Capital T, capital K, I think,” says Moss. “It’s like, a whole thing?”

“But – but, wait,” says Glow, suddenly nervous. “You’re not going to – leave, right? And go do school theater things?”

“Are you kidding? Showtime’s in 23 days! I need to help with props!!” Moss bounces. “Undyne says I’m dependable!” They pause awkwardly, seatbelt in hands. “Are you…are you okay, Ms. Toriel?”

“Hm?” Momma startles a little and looks over to Moss. “Of course I am, dear! Congratulations!”

“You were…kind of spacing out. Are you sure?” Moss asks, leaning forward on their knuckles. Frisk feels a little weird they didn’t notice – they know she doesn’t like rehearsal today, none of their family does, but that isn’t it.

“No, I am fine. I assure you! There is just a certain amount of stress associated with the musical being back on.” Well, that’s the truth.

“Oh oh oh!” Glow says, waving her hand in the air. “Like the, like the petition, right? My mami told me about that.”

“The what,” says Chara.

“No, no, not like that. That is not anything to worry about,” Momma says hurriedly.

“The petition! It’s like online. It says like if they get a bunch of signatures then the mayor has to, uh, has to like do something about you guys.”

“Glow!” Moss hisses. “Don’t – stop it! You’ll just scare them!”

“But it’s still got a lot of signatures left to go, and the deadline’s like right after the play,” Glow finishes. She finally sees Moss, twisted all the way around the back of their chair to glare at her, and her face falls. “Uh. Is that not…was that bad to say?”

Momma shakes her head and sighs, but Frisk doesn’t know if it’s at Glow or not.

Frisk’s hands feel hot. Momma worries.

When they finally get to the theater and Momma’s worry is too hard for them to handle, Frisk slams open the van door and rockets over to the entrance so fast no one can keep up. And they go so fast that they don’t even notice when Moss and Glow drop behind, staring frozen up at the ceiling at –

“WWHHHHAAAAAATTTT?!!!?!?!?!”

Oh, yeah. Oh, shit.

Suspended above them is a massive TV screen, held in place by ropes artfully painted to look like vines, nestled in close amidst a nest of plant matter. Curling in with the plants are glistening worms, gleaming chains, and powdery-dry links of bones, so busy and visibly that Frisk could look at it forever if it wasn’t what it is. It looks kind of nothing like how Flowey really looked. But Frisk’s mind doesn’t like thinking about how he really looked at all, so probably that’s just fine with them. Momma scoots Glow aside and trots determinedly down the aisle, up to the front with everyone else. Frisk can feel their grumbly mumbles from back here, their nervy-osity, their fear. Mettaton sent out the set design for Flowey’s great big six-souled form a couple weeks ago, under strict confidentiality rules, but monsters aren’t great at keeping secrets.

“New song,” repeats Chara distantly, fluttering their fingers as the excitement drains out of them. Stress picks at the corners of their mouth, pinching it into the beginnings of a taut smile. Trickles of anxiety tentacle up to them, snatches they can feel-hear now – not good things. Why are we restructuring now? With the humans so angry? What if it’s not enough? What if this is all we do?

Frisk grabs their head and shakes it, and then grabs their hair and shakes that too. They charge up to the front of the theater where Mettaton is perched on the stage, one leg kicked over the other and swinging slightly. Moss is already up at his side, losing their mind in a very loud-and-Undyne way over the Flowey prop, as Mettaton laughs. Glow, who stayed a little more behind, follows Frisk a couple seconds afterwards and scrambles up on the stage.

“We’ve been working on this classified little beauty almost nonstop the last two weeks – I’m surprised word hasn’t gotten out more!” Mettaton explains to an enthralled Moss, and laughs. “You’re telling me not even Undyne let it slip to you? Darling, we could have used your eye for visuals, let me tell you!”

“HEY!” a voice hollers from the catwalk, and Frisk looks up to see Undyne dumping her armful of cables into a staggering Rust’s arms and leaning way too far over the railing. They can feel Rust’s groan from here. “Are you dunking on me?!?! At least I didn’t want to cover it with neon lights that were made of glitter!!!”

“Neon lights can’t even do that. Also, hey, guys. I’m a dude right now,” Rox calls, before taking some of the cables from Rust and patting him on the back. “Don’t look down.”

“Maybe they can’t in your boring little world, where humans don’t even eat sequins,” Mettaton huffs.

“I ate some sequins once,” says Mina, poking her head over the railing.

Rox’s head jerks over. “When??” he yelps.

“Like twenty minutes ago.”

“Oh, she’ll be fine. Let’s get back to the subject, mmm?” Mettaton sniffs. “You, the stars of the show! Are you all ready for your big debut?!”

“Maybe…that is a word…you could use,” Chara says hesitantly. Frisk glances behind them in their backpack, but Flowey’s gone, and they realize that they haven’t felt him back there since before they even got to the theater. They feel a hardcore prickle of uhhh somethin’.

“Wonderful!” Mettaton trills. “Talley and Alphys have been finishing up some finishing touches in the sound booth with Napstablook, and then we’ll be nearly ready for take one. Glow, would you be a dear and get the King and Queen’s attentions?”

Glow doesn’t say anything, and when Frisk looks over she’s rocking back and forth on her feet. “Uh, yeah, yeah I will,” she says haltingly, like she’s struggling over some internal obstacle. “Just, uh…what. What is it?”

Frisk blinks, and Chara rocks up on their tiptoes as the puzzle pieces of today all reorient themselves.

“Yeah, I’ve been curious ever since we got here,” Moss adds, bouncing excitedly. “We knew you were working on the restructuring, but this is – this is huge!! When do we get to find out??”

We…told the humans, Chara says slowly. About. About the restructuring and what actually happened. We did. Didn’t we.

No!!! Frisk panics. We didn’t!! I thought everyone else was going to!!!! I thought they were in charge!!

Are you kidding?! Chara hisses. How much would that have pissed us off??

Ack! I know!! Frisk bats at Chara’s brainvoice uselessly. I know that now but I just thought that we –

We told everyone else but we never told them! How did we miss that!! Chara cackles.

Moss raises their hand like they’re in a class. “Hey, are you, like…good…?”

Fine okay! Frisk signs, as Chara makes what’s supposed to be a reassuring calm noise but is actually just kind of squeaking. Will be fine!

“They’ll be fine, darling, that’s what this means,” interjects Mettaton smoothly. “Er, have we, perhaps, forgotten an integral group of people to let in on your full story? Am I right in assuming that’s what happened?”

Chara nods, a rueful smile sneaking onto their face, and Frisk takes that and settles them down. It’s just a new full disclosure. They did this before. And besides…

Go get the humans? they sign. Mettaton translates, beaming with encouragement.

Besides, Frisk thinks as Moss and Glow run off, and gives Chara a nudge in the brainstem. Chara shoves them affectionately back. Be-sides. These are people that they like!

Okay. This is gonna have to be fast, and short, because Flowey’s nowhere around to be found. But that’s fine. They can do this. They knock their knuckles on the stage as Moss climbs down from the catwalk, followed more slowly by Rox and Rust. Glow tugs Mina out from the green room, talking about sharks and waving wildly with her hands. Talley makes his own way down from the sound booth, hesitant hands in the pockets of his jeans. He lifts himself onto the stage and sits right close to Rust, who sticks his tongue out at him.

Okay. Okay, okay. Everyone’s here, now. Frisk takes a deep breath.

At this point, what’s the easiest is that Frisk signs. So Frisk signs, and Mettaton translates, and he’s not even trying to play around and that’s good. So Chara doesn’t talk, even though they could, maybe, by now, but not about this. Not about their killings and dyings, because no one besides their family gets that - but what they need to know, about the timelines and Flowey and Asriel and all that. So Frisk signs because it comes faster, comes easier, than the tablet, lets them ramble and flap and not worry about what their words sound like in words.

They sound like you’ll have to kill Asgore, like Flowey’s furious bottle-rocket joy. Crying, and calling out for help in the darkness, and not being alone. The hazy wonder of sharp, careful patience, first, and then bravery’s magma-slow current, building strong hot stone in their chest. Integrity snuck up on them like a dance partner, demanding they match its steps and clapping when they did. Perseverance, grabbing their hand and not letting go, breaking them like a cold shower from the chatter of hate. The kindness of a sweet, minty sanctuary, the tart yellow candor of justice. Not standing alone – not being alone, not in this, not ever, not even in this. Yelling and counting and humming and squeaking, watching and it hurts and it shines and not not not covering your eyes –

And feeling like, and feeling like –

Chara looks around the circle they’ve formed themselves. Chara shifts Frisk out of the front seat and looks around, and sees everyone how Frisk sees, and sees everyone how Chara sees.

Talley, ducking his head into Rust’s shoulder like a puzzle piece coming home, convictions of justice gentle and hopeful like his father’s never were. Moss, big eyes and tense hands, filling the stage with doodles and kindness, quietly making friends with every monster who needed them. Glow pulls her hair out of her mouth and twists it around her finger until her fingertip swells, Glow the only human who persevered in loving them, unstoppably, colorfully, deafeningly as they needed. Excitable, angry Mina, always growing and learning and fighting, so much shameless integrity that even Flowey admires her. Rust, his arm slung around Talley’s shoulder, taking him on and taking on the world, brave enough to be soft in a way that Frisk wishes they understood. And Rox, Rox who pulls them patiently and quietly all together, Rox who harshly explains anything about any of the humans that isn’t understood, Rox who Frisk knows is too old for sixteen.

Frisk’s hands stutter to a stop, all run out of things to say. They see everyone, too, how Chara sees –

And they are getting an idea, they think, both of them.

Orange, yellow, green, cyan, blue, purple…

“Do you guys want to sing?”

Moss and Talley both make great big double takes, and right, this is almost the first-and-only time Chara’s talked in front of them, isn’t it? (That they haven't been swearing at Talley.) Because Talley sort of jumps, and Moss goes even bigger-eyed. “The six souls that the monsters had gathered to break the barrier,” Chara plows on. “They were here for this. We were just going to cast them as monsters, but – but you are all here. Would you like to take their places? Join in the song?”

“Well, uh,” says Rox, vaguely panicked. “What, what song are we, what song is this?”

“Yeah, do we even know this stuff??” asks Glow after a second. She put her noise-canceling headphones on the second Mettaton got up here, so everything she feels is kind of hazy.

“Hm,” says Chara. “Can you sight-sing?”

“Can we what?” Moss yelps.

“Absolutely not,” says Rust.

“Yes you can. You know the tune.” (Will they? Frisk asks. It is only Your Best Friend, Chara replies. They had better.) “We have the lyrics.” Frisk pulls their script out of their backpack and whacks it on the stage for emphasis.

“No we don’t?? Where??” Mina squeaks. “I don’t know what that word means,” Talley adds.

“HEY!!” bellows a voice from above, stopping all their chattering short.

Flickering on the screen, impossibly magnified, is Flowey’s grotesque, grinning face. “I don’t know what you’ve been up to. But for the last HOUR or so…” He laughs, the sound booming around the theater, and the whole contraption shivers. “Let’s just say I’VE been figuring this thing out.” He giggles, giddy. “It’s so BIG!! I can MOVE parts of it!! This is AMAZING!!!”

A pillar of vines thunders from the ceiling down in front of them, impaling the seat next to Frisk with hundreds of wicked red thorns. Flowey’s head pokes out from the bottom. “So?” he beams. “Whaddya think??”

Frisk makes some rough, excited noise that sounds kind of like YO. But something else is on their mind more. What’s up with everyone being nervousy nervous all of a sudden? Like, with the humans and the mayor? What’s that about?

“That? You mean, how the mayor’s probably going to try and get us soon?” Flowey says.

Yeah! No one told me that??

Flowey sucks in air through his teeth. “Far as I can tell it’s like…we’re in a race, now. Everyone’s in a hurry to get the musical as good as possible, because if we don’t do it before the petition’s deadline…well.” He does a weird sort of shrug. “I don’t think they want you to know about it, but to be honest I’m not sure how you haven’t figured it out.”

I thought everyone was just stressing out about the restructuring…

“Yeah, that too. Ready to go?” he asks agitatedly, not waiting for an answer before he slips away and flickers back up on the screen. “What are you waiting for? Aren’t you going to see if you can TAKE ME ON?!”

Frisk glances over to Momma, who closes her eyes with resignation, and Mettaton, who gives them a cheery thumbs up. They look back up at Flowey and give him their biggest grin – but he’s already laughing and warping the screen, with a voice that sounds just like the Froggit from the capital’s, and Frisk digs their hands into his vines and scrambles for a foothold. They want to hang on, is what Flowey said to them about this, last night when they were planning.

“Cover your ears, darlings,” Mettaton smiles, hopping up and throwing his arms wide.

“Beauties and gentlebeauties, enemies and friends, monsters and humans and anything in between!” he booms, and a theater full of wondering heads snap from the ceiling to him. “May we present! Innnnn cooperation with their majesties the Queen and King, the various ambassadorial staff, and especially their dear little highness the Junior Ambassador! It’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for, it’s the answer to all your questions, it’s drama, love, and bloodshed! It’s!! Our premier number in the Full Disclosure bonus package: Your! Best! Nightmare!!!” He bows, flourishing his hands around unnecessarily, and shoos the humans off the stage. “All yours, children,” he whispers to them glibly, as Frisk tries not to stumble too bad with how painfully everyone he mentioned is just dreading this. “Knock ‘em dead!”

“You can count on it,” Flowey smirks, and Frisk is in the air.

“Hush now, little one,” he singsongs, in the Froggit’s calm storyteller voice. “I have a story for you. A story of men and monsters. Long ago, two races ruled over Earth…humans and monsters.” He drops back into his normal voice, scraping through the theater like microphone feedback. “One day…they all disappeared without a trace!” Gasps and panic shoot through the audience, as Flowey flips some switch up there and six projected human souls light up to rotate around his face.

Flowey starts his gloating monologue, the one he did from back when this was real, recalled word-for-word by Chara two weeks ago. About him thanking them for kicking Asgore’s ass, and how he stole the souls and was gonna be a god, and all that nasty stuff. Frisk wraps their hands tighter in Flowey’s vines and tries not to let their feet dangle.

The thing about this song, about the whole restructuring thing, is that whenever any of Frisk’s family thinks about it too hard they get guilty. Deep and shamey, like, we don’t want anybody else to have to know about this. Which Chara and Flowey don’t understand, and mostly they’re just annoyed by it, but Frisk thinks it means that their family is sorry. They don’t want people to know that they couldn’t have done anything else. And they don’t want this to have happened to Frisk, at all.

Only it did, is the thing, and then Flowey drops them.

He’s way too into this, Frisk thinks for a second, as Chara shrieks and a massive Flowey-paw shoots out and catches them. He cackles at their shout and then cackles louder at the gasps and whimpers from below, almost angry with it, how much more this is him than the Asriel anyone expects. He grins down at them, and his eyes dart around the room, defiant and scared and ready.

“While you had your pow-wow! I was feeling so proud!” he screeches – “finding the means to an end, while you’re making your FRIENDS!!” Frisk stumbles but catches themself, already ready and going, grabbing onto his massive plant-arms and climbing up the thorns until he blasts them off and dumps them on the floor. They dust themself off and run, ducking between the seats, as his vines and his song crash like waves behind them.

“Now their souls are mine, too,
And it's all thanks to you!” He’s really good at this – hardly embarrassed at all, no first-run jitters! – snarling and laughing, swarming behind Frisk’s back, firing off perfectly timed constructs in flashes and shudders and arcs. A jet of fire corkscrews by, whistling like a rocket, and they just barely get out of the way of a semi-solid fly trap before it chomps down on their head. “Cause you took up HIS time, gave me room for MY crime!!”

Frisk sticks their tongue out at Flowey and yelps as his vines pound after them, kicking one away and sinking their teeth into one before realizing that was a Bad Idea. They didn’t really end up with a plot for this construct, no – it’s mostly them running around, running away, being scared and all that, fighting back too but mostly because that’s more fun to watch. But this was the way hardest composition to design, all the pre-created constructs artist-made and crammed into the puppet like firework shells, ready for Flowey to set them off with just a pellet and fire them at will. He’s got flames and flies and vines and rats and, and thorns and everything, and it would be terrifying if it wasn’t light, if they weren’t together, if this letting-go didn’t feel so good!!

Frisk squiggles underneath a seat, only Flowey wraps a vine around their ankle, pulls them out into the air. It’d be too much to say they feel safe like this, upside down and sideways and Chara shouting to close their eyes, but in some weird way they do feel secure. Flowey’s seething with mania and delight, and they are too, take it, take it, this is us! This is me! They wrap their legs around his vines, he smacks away their parries, he chatters through his verses, “snuck right up to the king!
Then slaughtered him, CACKLING!
There’s no more time to cry!
Toodle-oo, kiddo! DIE!”

Finally he passes too close over the stage, where they’re supposed to be for this anyway, and they scrabble down to front and center. The stage lights flicker into blue as the first soul-section starts, and Flowey pretends not to notice how his bullets turn to knives, as Frisk ducks delicately and hesitantly between them. They don’t have healing constructs set up for here yet, because they’re more fiddly and difficult than normal magic, but Frisk’s good at this, and Chara says they’re good at this and they’re only at seventeen, holy shit!!!

The blue light fades and Frisk gets a couple seconds of breath, legs shaking and smile wide, before Flowey leaps back into combat and they do too.

“Whyareyoustill FIGHTING?!
Don’tyouknowI’ve WON?!
Come back any TIME then!!
We’ve only just BEGUN!!” he crows, panting with exhilaration, punching holes in the stage and snapping arms off the seats as Frisk pounds down through the audience. They grab one of his thorns and it breaks off as he yanks away, and they brandish it like a sword, falling back as they wave it around in great swooping arcs. Go go go go go go!! Chara cheers, and on his next pass Frisk drives the thorn into Flowey’s arm and holds on as he pulls them high in the air.

“I can’t feel anything!
NO sense of empathy!” he screeches, shaking them gently, the thorn falling loose but his vines come up to grab them, “so yell at me!
Wasteyourtime!
FALLBEFOREMYENTROPY!!”

Flowey fires off the soul sections with expert timing, each time pretending he doesn’t see, each time giving Frisk a beat to catch their breath before he kicks their ass again. He laughs and gibbers, rips them high in the air and catches them just before they hit the ground, writhes and squeals whenever they tear some part of him open. But he also grabs them a snack when they’re down to only eight, their hurried crunching (no eating on stage!!!) covered over by his cracking, slavering voice.

“I tried to WARN you
Just a glance, and I knew!
You'd be my chance! To change the game!
You and me, WE ARE THE SAME!”

He’s breaking the set in his excitement, pieces of the puppet stretching too far and swinging out from gaping holes, jets of fire setting petals and stems ablaze, so Chara laughs at him, and Flowey snarls at that, and Frisk does that too, Frisk rips off pieces of him to hide behind, blasts him full in the face until his screen goes warpy. Chara cheers and Frisk pumps their arms and Flowey redoubles his attacks, forcing his voice forward, swelling up up up –

“Your DETERMINATION!
Meeting my damnation –
The power to reset all
Stolen by your STUPID FALL!

“That's okay! was kinda tired
All that DEATH, so uninspired!
At least you’re AMUSING
Even though you’re LOSING!!

“What’s the matter?” he coos, dumping them down on the stage in front of the humans, which is where they’re supposed to be for The Finale. “Did you fall dooooown?? No, no…” He pokes them in the chest with a vine, and they stumble backwards dramatically, losing their balance for real in the last second and falling flat on their ass. “Don’t get up!”

He doesn’t pick them up for the last verse, and they don’t try to set him on fire so much, mostly because Chara remembered that it’s against the rules to do that and is now freaking out. It’s getting un-fun, almost, and Frisk’s all sweaty all over and their chest is heaving, when Flowey suddenly swoops them up and cocoons them head to foot in vines.

“Time for celebration
Of my DETERMINATION!” he finishes joyfully, vines squirming like so many snakes around them, “Ending this oration with your extermination!” They wiggle hard, panicked for a second at the loss of their arms, breath coming fast and bad noises starting, but he loosens his hold immediately so they can pull their arms out and dangle them in front. “I’ll be filled with such joy when everything’s destroyed!” he crows, and looks at them with heart, and reassurance, and excitement, and love, “Don’t worry kiddo!” he shrieks, and here they go, the lights turn rainbow and here they go, “this’ll only hurt the first MILLION times!!”

Flowey screams with laughter and drops them the couple feet to the stage, and they land on their feet in a kickass superhero landing. They bounce back up and spin around, waving their arms and yelling wordlessly as the humans startle up from around the script. Come on!! Come on!!!! they try to shriek without shrieking, jumping in place as multicolored lights strobe down from above.

Rox gets it first, takes Frisk’s jumping and shouting as a cue which it is. He grabs Rust by the arm and starts out – “hear our refrain as we sing again, we’ll write a new sym-pho-nee!!” The other humans leap in and sing along, reading right from the script, and Chara finds themself joining even now, fire forgotten! “Lost in the silence,
used in his violence,
we’ll keep you company!”

“NOOOO!!” Flowey shrieks, heavy with catharsis. “You can’t DO that! You’re supposed to obey ME!” He plays his part wonderfully, voice cracking and squeaking in all the scared places, and his magic floods through the lights and like a heartbeat up through Frisk’s toes! “STOP IT!! STOP ITTT!!!” he wails, as Talley pushes the humans up to the microphone hanging above, as Frisk jumps on their toes and points up at it, gesturing wildly with the dagger they forgot they drew – as everyone’s voices ring out all staticky and pure, as the stage flashes orange and green and blue and yellow beneath them!

“He lost his waaaaay long aaa-goooo!” sing Moss and Glow, just like in the script like green-and-purple are supposed to, as Flowey lights them up with their spotlights in colors. “We’ll punish him, even sooo!” call Rox and Mina in return, flooded with blue.

“What – is – THIS?
You broke from my HOLD?!
IMPOSSIBLE!
I’ll take back CONTROL!” Flowey booms, lines of multicolored sparks racing through his stems, white magic flashed in front of stage lights to make it green, yellow, purple, everything. “I’m your GOD – your KING! You can’t do ANYTHING – ANYMOOOORE - “

“Fight with determination!” Rust crows.

And it’s stumbling and shitty and Moss misses lines and Mina sings in the wrong places, and they’re all tripping on each other and no one knows what to do, but it’s wonderful and loud and trying and together! Panic and fear seeps out and away, down through their dancing feet as they spring around their friends, riptiding through their family and tsunaming out the door! This isn’t scaredness – this isn’t the humans or what they’ll do, or loneliness or terror or anger! As Flowey laughs and bears down on them, and as they rear up and fight back, bounce his missiles back on him, it’s not! It’s music, it’s fun, it’s everyone!!

“Flowey
Stop this madness!
If you don't, you'll end up
falling down!” Mina and Glow mumble, over, as everyone else backs them up –
“You've had your fun
but now we're the ones
who hold the DETERMINATION!
We've got the pow-er
now, little flow-er
Thanks to this human!”

Talley shoots fingerguns at a projectile and Flowey yelps and pulls it away, and he grins and blows on his finger before turning to Rust like did you see me do that!! Moss found the frying pan prop from the Mettaton medley lying around and waves it wildly through the air, chasing jets of flame away from Rox and Glow! Mina darts under Moss’s arm and karate chops a vine away from Rust with a HYEAH! Glow shrieks the words, giggling and happy under her headphones and scrunched-shut eyes, flailing enthusiastically as Moss and Mina duck out of her way. And Frisk in the middle, Frisk jumping back and forth and up and around, smacking Flowey’s attacks away, shouting, leaping, roaring for joy! They’re the snarl of electric guitars, the sharp rainbow of quartz, cutting and beautiful and un-un-un-forgettable! Take it! they call again, controlled, communal, joyful, take it, take it! Take all of me, it’s all of me, take it all of you at once! Take it so you can make it yours too!

“Ai-ming!” Talley sings, as Mina races up and elbows him aside. “Ow – ah! At your weak spot!” She joins in the last chorus, not really singing but she sure is loud. “They won’t miss! Three – two – one! Time is UP!!”

Rox breaks off to grin at that, and Moss nudges them in the ribs, and they cough and jump back in with everyone else. “It's up to you now,
determined human,
you've got the final blow!
Unleash your power
on that flower
Three! Two! One! Let’s GO!!”

And when the music crests Frisk stomps their planted feet and jabs their pointer finger up at Flowey, all their energy in one streaming streamline, and he HOOOWWWLLSSS and shudders and pieces of him fall on the stage and the lights flash to a glow. He disappears from the screen overhead, which stops shaking and falling apart the second he does, and pops up in his ordinary little pot on the side of the stage.

“Well?” he asks, shaking off his petals. “What did you guys think?”

Frisk blinks at him, panting heavily and probably needing some healing soon, as Chara grins like a maniac. Silence rings through the auditorium.

Then Mina shrieks “YEAAAAHHH!” and jumps into Rox’s arms, and Talley laughs, startled, and then an explosion of cheers and shouting almost knocks Frisk over!

Frisk leaps in the air and screams, charging forward and shaking Flowey’s pot back and forth as he grins. The sheer happygladsnappy – the sheer euphoria, Chara says, is like spicy fizzy water up their nose, pop-pop-pop rocks exploding in their mouth, almost hurts, almost too much, just almost – it’s a whole LOT of this excitement for just a first run. Frisk shakes their head and rubs their nose roughly with the back of their hand. Why, how come? Is this different??

Do you feel that, underneath? asks Chara, scrunching their eyes closed and making Frisk rub them. The little current of hysteria. The –

The wow, what-the-fuck-was-that-Frisk, Frisk finishes, catching on quick now Chara’s pointed it out. Hidin’ it under the cheering. They sniff deeply and hack into their arm a little bit, trying not to let Chara think too hard of what if this changes them. They’re all done with that. C’mon c’mon I wanna hug Glow!!!!

Flowey clears his throat (???? Or something) from his pot once everyone’s done yelling, after Glow shouted YOU’RE BADASS!!! at Frisk and Chara smiled at her for real and Frisk had to jump up and down some more. “So, are you all going to stick around?” he asks, kind of shyly, once the humans are all looking at him again.

“Are you kidding?!” Rox whoops.

“Yeah, we just need to learn the song!” Moss says.

“We can practice together!!” Talley jumps in excitedly.

Mina laughs. “Like that time we brought the dog and –“

“And he ate a whole page the of lighting cues so we just had to improvise for that whole rehearsal, yeah!” Rust finishes.

“Um, if you guys are wanting to, what if we did, what if we did a bunch of new light cues for the song!!” Glow suggests. “And they could, they could be like, like all sorts of different pretty colors at different times for all of our individual parts??”

“Different colored spots!” Flowey gasps.

“Different colored spots!!” Glow says, pointing at him vigorously.

“Different! Colored! Spots!!!” says Frisk with their tablet, like thirty whole seconds after the conversation’s moved on. Chara keeps dancing them from foot to foot, energetic and smiley, comfy enough to mouth different colored spots colored spotlights colored without even Frisk asking them to.

They spot Momma, sitting right there in the front and center row, and Chara bounces them up and down, and Frisk waves with both hands. She waves back, after a second, and then after another second she matches Chara’s smile with a blinding one of her own. The relief both of them feel is immeasurable.

“Alright, all of you! That was fantastic! Utterly unsurpassable! Consider yourselves all invited into the exclusive Undernet cast group!!” Mettaton crows, striding out from backstage, feeling very composed for someone who was definitely cowering a little bit like ten minutes ago. “But – we’ve still no time to waste! The orchestra needs extra time to rehearse Core and Snowy, really lock those songs in perfectly, and then we’ve simply got to talk maintenance and er, repair, of this magnificent thing.” He throws his hand towards the ceiling, spins on his heels, and crouches down in front of Frisk. “That means you all need to get off the stage, darlings.”

Oh! goes Frisk, who forgot a little bit that this isn’t the only song that exists. Okay.

“Thank you all! Now that everyone’s attention is up here, we have a new rehearsal schedule I’d like to go over with our official technical coordinator, the Lady Toriel. These dates are coming up fast, and it’s extremely important that EVERYONE be there, so just be responsible cast and crew members and pay attention, mmm? Now, this first date here…”

“What’s Undernet?” Talley asks, sitting down on the edge of the stage and scooting off.

“Don’t worry about it. We’ll set one up for you guys,” says Rust, grabbing his hand for balance.

Chara doesn’t listen, and Frisk just stays where they are, dangling their legs off the stage and swinging them a little bit. Three weeks to go!

Only three weeks to go!!

Chapter Text

Then one week gone and it’s two weeks out, only two weeks, two weeks left to go – the make-or-break, the here-we-go! and the sawdust and dirt and stuff on the stage gets under Frisk’s fingernails and Chara tells them to pick at it, pick it out with the dagger. Cause she’s supposed to be here and her paperwork.

No one’s telling them to get off the stage today. Not today. Even as crew bustles around them, setting up the wiggly cool screens that look a little like the Barrier. Not right now at the when-will-she-be-here, the just-sign-some-human-papers-miss-Toriel, the make-it-official-real-and-finally. Almost-almost-almost-done. And yeah they know there’s no real reason for nervous, and so does everybody probably, or most people.

But that does not mean that the nervousness will go away, Chara says.

She’s coming. She’s supposed to be here and she’s not here, Frisk explains miserably to Chara, again. You gotta have everyone there for the papers signing. All that’s gonna happen is she’s gonna show up with some papers and Momma and them are gonna sign them and then it’ll be done, and it won’t be up in the air anymore. They’ll be home. They’ll legally be Frisk of the Lady Toriel, heir to the Monster Throne – and to the humans they’ll be Frisk last-name Dreemurr. Momma’s child. Forever.

But Mrs. Hills and her human paperwork are late. They’re not here. And they’re supposed to be here and nobody can start rehearsal without them. And it is already very stressful.

Off to the side of the stage, Flowey springs from his pot. “I’m back,” he calls, and Frisk scoots over to him and clings like a magnet.

“That was fast,” says Chara, glad of the distraction. “What did you two talk about?”

“Uh, yeah. Just…nothin’. Stuff. But I think it helped,” Flowey says. Frisk scrunches up their face at him, and he rolls his eyes. “I wasn’t awful to her! Swear I wasn’t.”

Flowey’s been having extremely long conversations with people lately. Sometimes he does it by himself, and sometimes Frisk and Chara come. This one was him over there talking quietly and seriously to Alphys, which also means talking quietly and seriously to Undyne, right now. Undyne always kind of glares at him when he’s over there, but she never says anything. And Alphys feels like she needs Undyne to hold her up.

That whole group, the Alphys-Undyne-Asgore club, Frisk’s noticed they’ve been sticking real close together since when Flowey told. Leaning on each other. And Alphys, especially, has been trying to just pretend it’s fine, and hide that she feels really freaked out by everything that Flowey said. Like, really freaked out.

But Frisk is psychic, is the thing, which she forgot. And she needs to be on the same page as Flowey, is the other thing. Flowey said in therapy that he was done with not talking about things. That means he has to figure out how he feels, even for hard conversations, so the air can be clear as clear for the musical.

“I’m not really even angry at her, I don’t think,” Flowey continues from his earlier thought.

Yeah you’re just kind of That Way to everyone, Frisk adds.

“Shh. She didn’t do anything wrong in…creating me,” Flowey continues, reflectively. “She tried something new, and made a mistake, and no one could have predicted its outcomes. And there’s nothing we can do about it now.”

“If you think about it, it is like she helped to free us. In a way,” says Chara.

She sure doesn’t see it like that… Frisk says.

“Oh, I know,” says Flowey.

“And you will talk to Mom and Dad about everything you need to, before the play,” prompts Chara.

Flowey sucks air in through his teeth which he suddenly has. “Yeah…but it’s in with everything else that has to happen before then, and I’ll try,” he smirks, “but I’m gonna be kind of busy…”

No, you WILL, signs Frisk warningly.

“Okay, yeah, I will,” Flowey laughs, then his smile fades. “Just…come with me?”

“Of course.”

Momma’s taken it remarkably in stride, like she’s had some vague hunch confirmed, which Frisk doesn’t know what to feel about. She’s much more tender and fragile to Flowey than she’s ever been before, more consciously gentle and sad. But she can see how all of them are happier and lighter and looser, in a way, since that time a week ago. She’s doing pretty good at not treating them very much different. And Frisk thinks that’s what they need.

Asgore is…a different story. He just sort of avoids them now. He’s hard for Frisk to get at – he feels, uh, betrayed, and bad about feeling betrayed – like there’s this secret new language that all his kids share that he can’t ever understand. Flowey has to talk to him some more. Probably we do too, says Chara, and that's a good point.

Only then, only then the time on Frisk’s iPad clicks over to the hour, and now Mrs. Hills is fifteen minutes late. Frisk jumps off the stage and sticks their arms out and runs over to Momma sitting by the aisle, who squeezes them and pulls them into her lap, exasperated but excited more than anything else. “One would think it would not be too much to ask for her to be on time,” she mumbles under her breath. “Don’t you think? She knows how important this is. And we agreed to let her stay for the rest of rehearsal, so it is not like we can begin without her…”

“Always a paragon of respect, is Mrs. Hills,” Chara replies. Frisk rocks and headbutts Momma in the chest and she beams and wraps them up tight tight tight. “Oh, I am so happy, my sweet children!”

And Frisk knows, oh boy, do they know! Not only her, but everyone else – they only went to Momma, running over, for obvious reasons probably. But Undyne and some humans are sitting just a few rows back perched on the backs of the chairs, and Alphys and Sans are laughing high and nervous at something on Sans’s phone, and the atmosphere’s been like bubbles under their skin all day. Like everyone’s waiting, and not trying to seem like they’re waiting. But they are! And now they’re done!! “Buzz buzz,” says Chara, which means they felt Momma’s phone get a text from where it’s in her pocket. “You got a text,” they have to add after that, because only Frisk knows that part.

“Oh! Let me see…” Momma lets go of them and fumbles through her pockets, and Frisk shakes out their arms and hands and shakey shake shakes. Momma gasps with delight and Chara cranes their neck over, trying to see the screen of her phone. She tilts it towards them with a little giggle:

Mrs. Hills:
Am here. Let me in..

Just like an old person… Chara smirks, but Frisk’s way too fuzzy fuzzy to laugh at that now. They spring off of Momma’s lap and stand on the back of the seat, squeaking and making good noises and waving their arms around. “Papyrus!” Momma calls back over the rows of seats, where Rust and Talley watch Papyrus fiddle anxiously with a section of cable. “Would you mind terribly going to let our guest in?”

“Our – Oh!” Papyrus springs upright, clasping his hands to his cheeks like an old-timey cartoon character. He scuffles his feet excitedly, drifting a few inches into the air before remembering himself and thumping down. “Our guest is here, Lady Toriel?!”

“It would seem that way,” Momma smiles, and Papyrus gives her a big salute and hightails it out.

Frisk hears a whoop and Undyne vaults over the row of chairs, Moss under one arm and Glow under the other. “She’s here?” she yelps, dumping her charges into the seats, and Glow turns around and bounces on her knees while Moss tries to fix their hair a little bit.

“Yes, she is here. Do tell everyone who’d like to know, would you?” Momma asks, laughing nervously.

“NOT a problem. Not at all!” Undyne hoots, and points over to the door in what Chara says is called a JoJo pose. And there’s already a swarm of folks over there, cause everyone knew this was happening, and everyone who didn’t knows now because word goes fast and this goes faster. Mettaton stands on his tiptoes to peek over everyone’s heads, as Napstablook peers over the balcony railing. Their cousin Mew Mew, resplendent and frilly in her great new Body She Stole From Alphys, perches beside them, dangling her feet and cackling. Glow and MK flank Mrs. Hills in the doorway, Glow pulling on her arm and bouncing back and forth. As she passes over the doorway, into the theater, into their space and time and life, her eyes stretch wide and white. She almost stops right there upon seeing all of everything, but Papyrus shows her in, and she doesn’t know what else to do, so she follows.

Oh, my god, Chara says lowly, half amusement and half awe. She’s…

FLABBERGASTRIC!!! Frisk squeals, flapping with delight. They dance themself over as Momma gets up to say hi, arms whooshing and twirling, Chara bleeding through their face and lifting them on their tiptoes. Mrs. Hills stands just like a fish, a fish with lipstick and beige and power, all frozen in the aisle, all frozen even as Momma says pleasantries at her and shakes her hand. Someone left the warm-up jams on, so there’s iridescent pop playing over the speakers, and Frisk itches to wiggle to the beat. The theater is full of laughter, and love, and music that fills Frisk up to the top top top, and now she’s got here even more people are coming and grinning at them and climbing on each other to get a view. They see Kiilo’an shoot them finger guns as a sibling wobbles and waves on her shoulders, and Rust and Talley holding onto each other as they try to balance on the backs of the chairs. And they grin and flap and SCREECH it out, they take Mrs. Hills’s staring staring and spin around and around, crashing with their backside into Momma and burying their face in her dress and making little good noises as their hands flail out by their sides. It’s about to happen, it’s about to happen, nothing can stop this now IT’S ABOUT TO HAPPEN!!!

“Alright, Miss Toriel, here’s your paperwork, and for you…” Mrs. Hills holds out a sheaf of paper, and they grab it and plunk down on the floor, right in front of everyone’s wondering gazes. They don’t have a pen they need a pen. “Need a pen need a pen,” Chara tells Flowey in his pot they dragged over here, and he nods and disappears.

“This will finalize it legally, but you’ll still be subject to monthly follow-ups for the next two years,” Mrs. Hills informs them. “Just to make sure everything is in order, especially because this is the first inter-species adoption and all.” Monsters, who are way used to being all crammed together, crowd and jostle around her, as the music swells into triumph, and for the first time in forever, so many eyes on them aren’t a bad thing. And first Frisk has to sign it with their old baby name, from when they were little and dumb, but then they get to sign with their real name and then they’ll be all done with that old one. They’ll be like a butterfly, a swan, a Transformer – all complex and alien and unexpected and free.

Mrs. Hills’s mouth draws in to a tiny line, shivery discomfort squeezysqueezing Frisk’s fingers and making Chara’s exhale a giggle. It’s not even anger – all of that’s gone, or most of it, or she just can’t hold onto it anymore. It’s just pure, genuine, confusion.

She’s not prepared to see something like them this loved, Frisk realizes, as Flowey reappears and throws a pen at their head. It hits their shoulder and clacks onto the floor, and they pick it up and jab at him a little before drawing a long squiggle down their hand. She just…she doesn’t have the framework for it. That’s not what happens to kids like them. It’s too good to be true. Except, only, it’s not too good to be true, and Frisk wishes for a second that they could teach that to her. It’s not too good to be true. It is true. Frisk is home.

“Well…last chance to change your mind,” says Mrs. Hills, and then she smiles, and Frisk says it was a joke, and Chara stops wanting to kill her so much with a knife.

Momma doesn’t even react. “Are you ready?” she smiles, pen poised, because she’s a mom and always has one of those ready. Frisk nods with their whole body, and Chara smiles and grins and giggles and beams, and the music swells and breaks and they all sign the papers at the same time!

Undyne and Glow erupt into spontaneous cheers, and the rest of the monsters follow as Frisk and Chara stumble up and throw themselves into Momma’s waiting arms. She picks them up, laughing, leaning back so their feet soar high in the air, and they kick back and forth and laugh open-mouthed into her neck. Maybe this is the happiest they’ve ever been.

LOOK at her, Chara marvels when Momma puts them down, still stretched and grinning, look how WRONG she is! Frisk hoots back and hops around in her face, kicking up and down and throwing their arms out, like booyeah!, like suck it lady! like who do you think you are!!! Watch this! Watch this!! Watch ME!!!

“You are not funny!!” Chara shouts, and buoyed by that, Frisk spins on their heel and charges back onto the stage.

“Oh wait – Frisk – “ Momma calls, but Frisk spreads out their hands wide and waves over at Mettaton, waves at the monsters down in the pit, waves at Flowey and jumps up and down. Are you ready?! Are you ready?! they yell with their hands. Let’s show her how wrong she really is!!!

Flowey whoops, startling Mrs. Hills, and disappears into the dirt to explode out of his pot on the edge of backstage. His Hopes-‘n’-Dreams puppet isn’t all the way ready yet, and neither is his Really Sadshit one, even though they’re both way smaller than his Big Bastard Form – that form was already a lot to ask, guesses Frisk, and Mettaton’s team of artists and stuff needs to take a break. But that’s okay!! But that’s okay because, because them and him and Papyrus and Alphys and Momma and Talley and Asgore and a bunch of other people, they’ve got all the attacks that Flowey needs! They’ve got the stars and the blasters and HYPERGONER and some human pie-ro-teck pyrotechnics too! So really – so really, if Flowey can reach all those attacks and set them off, then there’s nothing at all in the way of letting this loose!

“If you are sure…alright, then!” Momma smiles, with a twinge of nervousness. She gathers up all the adoption papers into a neat stack, with an unconscious air of protecting them. “Mrs. Hills, I believe you asked a few months ago if you could come and see Frisk’s progress in the musical – their, ah, occupational therapy, as you referred to it? Well…”

“BUCKLE UP!” Chara yells, and presses their knuckles to their mouth and stomps their boots on the floor.

Mettaton practically skips out to the front of the stage, once everybody’s up and ready for Don’t Give Up, which might be Chara’s favorite song since they all stopped having breakdowns in the middle of it. He gives a quick rundown – the song’s going to proceed as usual, so they’ll need everyone to shout their encouragement like before, just like in their old script. (They’re still working out of that one, for the time being, until all their new stuff can get consolidated.) And they start up Don’t Give Up, and Chara hides so their tears don’t start coming out of Frisk’s face, as everyone stands around them, and it's so different from the last time they were here.

“Do not be afraid, my child,” Momma smiles, full of hope and strength and she said my child, “no matter what happens, I will always be there to protect you!” And she said my child and she meant it.

“That’s right, human! We know that you can win!” Papyrus shouts, eager and earnest, hitting so different after what he knows they can do. “Just do what I would do! Believe in you!”

“Hey! Human!” Undyne beams her beam, the sparring-in-the-kitchen beam, the I-can-take-your-anger beam, and it says, it’s okay. “If you got past ME, you can do anything! So don't worry! We're with you, all the way!!”

You can do it! You will do it! You have done it, because THAT’S WHAT YOU DO!! It’s incomprehensible. It’s magnificent. It’s as overwhelming as it was those couple months ago. It’s like closing your eyes and leaning backwards. It’s like screaming into something that can hear you. It feels right, right, right.

Frisk’s feet move on their own, so now they’re spinning, now they’re spinning in circles and violins and laughter and hope. They jump as they spin, flinging their body through the air, stumbling on the comedown but popping back up. Then suddenly, they think Flowey might have hit the breaker, because there’s a big CRACKLE! of sparks and all the lights on the stage go out.

And, Frisk stops spinning, and shit. There it is. In the background, behind the ranks of monsters. There he is. A great white puppet model with Flowey somewhere inside, crisscrossed with glitter and glamor and magic to make him glow and leave imprints in your eyes when he moves, as he moves, to the center of the stage, Frisk and Chara and Flowey's pride and joy.

He’s eight foot at least, beaut resplendent and also just beautiful in his robes, his wings arching high above his curling horns. His fangs curve down over his jaws, like Momma’s when she’s mad, and his eyes are red-gold and gleaming in their own light. Something in his glow (it’s actually super-concentrated essence of the glowing mushrooms in Waterfall, Chara reminds them, but nobody has to know that) is like a sun, or a singularity – the beginning and the end. Impossible to look at straight on. There. He. God. Damn. Is.

He lifts his head. Opens his eyes. Steps into the spotlight, tall and glorious.

“Finally,” he says, and Flowey sounds like so many Asriels talking over each other at once. It’s stunning. He smiles and winks at them, spreads his wings out over his head, does a few side-to-side stretches. Like Chara, Frisk, we’re going to do this. “I was so tired…of being a flower.”

That’s when it hits for the rest of the monsters. Frisk staggers. They wish they had the time for this now, to process now, but –

“Don’t you know me?” Flowey asks, bringing up his hands, still moving gingerly in the brand-new puppet. “It’s me! Your best friend…”

He’s a little nervous this time.

“Asriel Dreemurr.”

Frisk stomps their feet steady and solid, puts their hands up like they’re ready to run, and they’re light as light as the stage lights flood into life. “Now, hold on!!” Flowey bellows, throwing his head back, his chest up, a predator, a king, as Frisk counts the beats until his glowing. “To the dreams! You created, for a happy life!
It’s alllllright –
All the things
We sought fooooor
So long will all be worth this fight!” He fires off the first construct.

The neon detonation launches Frisk forward, stage lights stars blazing, jumping up to him and flying their arms through his colors! Magic kaleidoscopes across the mirrors in the wings, the careful panes of glass set up backstage, lights in every color strobing across their field. They got their OWN constructs here, for blocking and hoping and dreaming, and they do the HOPE one which is like a prayer and green magic floods up through their soles!

“I will not destroy this world – I control time!
Chara, you’ll be mine!
Your progress, your memories will be reset,
We’ll do it all OVER!
CHARA! You won’t forget!” Flowey howls, and oh god, if he was way super into Your Best Nightmare that was NOTHING. He uses all the constructs at his fingertips as natural and giddy as he did in the fight for real, shattering stars down around them as chaos sabers swoosh from his hands. A beam of rainbow slams into Frisk and takes them down to fourteen, and they stumble already, but one quick DREAM and a twinge of regret from Flowey later they’re back in the game!

“The best part? I know you’ll do it!
Then you’ll lose to me again!
Lose again, over and over
That’s what you’ll do for your best friend!”

Frisk does a sick roll and shoves Chara in the brain and Chara goes SHIT and giggles real loud. It’s almost time – they planned this, they planned this, Frisk dodges them under a beam of bright blue and Chara breathes in through their mouth –

“Cause you want your HAPPY ENDING!
All because you LOVE YOUR FRIENDS!
You’re filled with determination,
CHARA – “

“THAT IS NOT MY NAME!!” Chara screams.

Flowey’s Asriel-head spares them a huge fangy grin, as delight rips through the theater like a geyser in the desert. Frisk signs the line along with Chara, because after all they are Frisk too and Chara is the one who no one knows exists, then claps their hands and spins in the air. CHARA!! Chara Chara Chara!!!!!! they cheer. You did it!! YOU SANG!!!!

I sang! I sang! Didn’t I!! Chara echoes, starstruck and loopy. I did it!! Oh my god, oh my god over there –

And Glow stood up and CHEERED when Chara sung their line, and MK gasped and Asgore burst into applause, and Momma is having to wipe her face but the one Chara’s pointing them at now is Mrs. Hills. Occupational therapy huh?? Chara shrieks over her bug-eyes and drop-jaw, as Flowey bursts into his next couple lines. How effective is that!! HUH?!?

But Flowey sees their distraction and hurls a fireball their way, and Chara only just barely dances them out of it, as he laughs at them and clicks his tongue. “I’ve messed around with you for far too long
Let’s purge this time again!
Come with me, Chara,
Come with your best friend – “

“That is not my name!” Chara yells.

“STOP trying to live!
STOP all the dodging!
STOP standing in my waa-aaay!” Flowey begs, voice blown out and hoarse already.
“PLEASE let me win, for ONCE in your LIFE – “

“Chara is not my name!”

“Rrgh,” Flowey growls, quitting his dancing and planting his feet into something more frustrated. “You think you are something special?
You’re just a kid playing pretend!
Don’t get cocky, little Chara,
Soon enough you’ll MEET YOUR END!”

“You think you are some-thing special
You’re just a kid play-ing pretend!” Chara singsongs back, as Frisk signs underneath them, punctuated carefully along with the beat. “Don’t get cocky, now, Asriel! Soon enough you’ll meet your ennn-nnd!”

They can feel the theater rioting along with them, pounding along to the beat, and almost more exciting than that they feel Mrs. Hills, in the front, blindsided. Chara sticks their tongue out and smirks, so Frisk stands them up straight, tall and proud and blinding. Then Chara leaps them in a spin through the air and Frisk lets out a whoop, because she’s sitting with her hand over her chest, and it looks like her brain’s stopped working, and it feels like how Frisk felt when they didn’t know anything. You’re wrong, you’re wrong, you’re WRONG ABOUT US!!

“But I’ve been holding back on you ‘til now –
Let’s see if you can survive THIS!” Flowey snarls, right on time but catching them off guard anyway. He snaps and all the lights go out, and Frisk jumps and falls over on their butt. He’s standing over them, glowing from inside still, glowing how Chara thinks a black hole would. “DIIEEEEE –
For meeeeee….”

“Don’t you UNDERSTAND, Chara?!” Flowey demands, glooming looming over them, for the first time doing something with his face that Chara says could be raging. “I am the GOD of HYPERDEATH! It’s kill or be killed, and EVERYONE will die by my hand! Why are you still HERE?! Why are you still trying to STOP ME, Chara?!”

Frisk’s hands push up off the stage and dust themselves on their legs, as Chara steadies their feet out under them. “My NAME – “ sings Chara, beaming and breathless and feeling like a wave just ready to crash, "is FRISK!”

Frisk grabs the microphone clipped on their sweater and pulls it away, clenching it in front of their mouth as Chara closes their eyes and belts out their lines. “In! My! Heart! There’s something STRONG! That will keep me moving on! In my hopes, proof that my happy days will never be gone!!”

Through their closed eyes they see the lights flick back on, one by one by one, on their family all standing at the ready. The music hits some long instrumental break and their eyes snap open, one by one by one, hugging joking laughing punching nerding pleading! They shout Chara-things and Frisk-things as one, angry and belonging and so full of love, as Flowey blasts over them and they dodge out of his way! And he fails to hit them, and they make it all the way through, and everyone’s standing with them again!

“Here we are! Here we stand! Fight together again!” everyone shouts, all with vague levels of memorization, Undyne and Papyrus shouting loud as Alphys and Asgore bend over the script book. “Our hopes and dreee-ams will not faa-il
We will find our happy end!
We’ve come far! Here we are! To reach what we idealize
It has been tough, but we won’t give up, for
A new day is on the rise…”

Momma’s voice fades out last, and with her fade the lights, down to a solemn glowstick glow. “Asriel, please do not quail. You have walked a lonesome trail,” Chara sings softly, Frisk taking the hand not full of microphone and holding it out. They step little steps forward to the beat of the music, approaching him, and he instinctively steps it back as they do. It’s not something they planned, but they’re so synched anyway that their feet move at the exact same time. “Peace and love will sure prevail. Help me end this sorry tale?”

“Deep inside I feel a fire, burns within me ever higher,” Flowey responds, still in that soft voice, sounding strange and echoing in the wake of all his shouting. “Knowing I will soon prevail – knowing I can end this tale!” He snarls the tale and jumps forward with renewed energy, but Chara is ready for him, urging Frisk forward so he runs right into their hugging arms. They laugh and bury their face in his stomach until he pushes them off, catching them by the forearms and swinging them around.

“In every dream there is a chance,
We grabbed at it at our first glance!” Chara and Asriel sing together, Frisk throwing their arms out in the pauses between their signs. “Life plays the song, we make the dance, it’s been like this forever!” Flowey stops trying to hit them so much, and Frisk stops putting so much effort into dodging, because now that they’re back together it’s more of a dance, a dance with their brother instead of against him!

Flowey exhausts his constructs early, so soon enough he’s left with only pellets, firing themselves off in half-conscious patterns as he chases them around the stage. Frisk cheers and whirls as they run, grabbing his hand and pulling him into spins, as they dance together under the rainbow lights with unrestrained excitement. Their family cheers them on from the edges of backstage, where they scooted after being rescued, and Mrs. Hills sits shocked and still and doesn’t think anything. THIS !!! Frisk can’t stop feeling, is how they belong, THIS IS how they BELONG!!

“Time to open up our eyes
Time to see who we really are,
I won’t give up the chance to save you
And we know we can go far!”

And she’s WRONG!! She’s WRONG!!! She understands, finally, forever, how she’s WRONG about them!

“I heard the tales they told to me,
This happy ending cannot be!
Let’s go together, we shall see –
Together for eternity!”

And that’s the last of the lyrics that they had written, and plus they don’t really want to go into The Sadshit One so they didn’t write a transition, so that’s how this song ends!

The music ends and they’re taking bow after royal bow, ears ringing in the explosion of noise. Flowey winds his real flower head around their shoulders from somewhere inside the puppet, whose hand they are holding, as Chara grins so hard their face hurts. The cheering is more hesitant this time than before, less hysterical, though there’s still a good dose of that old what-the-fuck-was-that. They can see Talley and Glow jumping up and down in excitement in the back, even as behind them, Asgore’s hand is over his mouth and Momma is wanting to hold them very tightly. They feel like the future. Frisk bounds down off the stage and into the crowd.

“Hey wait up!” Flowey yells after them, reaching over beside the stage to throw their backpack at them. It hits them in the arm.

I can’t catch shit, Frisk says, once they got the backpack on their back and Flowey’s come out of his dirt pocket.

“Whatever,” Flowey says. There’s a beat of hesitation, and he headbutts them with affection. “I’m – glad you’re my siblings,” he says, awkwardly. “And my best friends.”

Once they make it actually all the way down this time there’s people they gotta talk to, bounce up to and yell and how was that??? How was it???? and flap and make good happy noises to. “That! Was! Amazing!!” Mettaton gushes when they get up to him and all up in his space, wagging and wiggling kind of like a puppy. “Your coordination has progressed by leaps and bounds, my dears! If you’ll pardon the pun.”

STOP!!! Frisk yells, shoving the sign forward so hard they wrench their arm. Mettaton giggles, and Frisk turns over to Alphys, director of the construct effects. Those were INCREDIBLE!!! You like – ah, you – They wave their hands around a little, clearing the air, but flapping with excitement too. You like put all the things together! And you put them together like a puzzle and it worked!!

“Those were some technically brilliant constructs, especially working within the constraints of the puppet,” Chara adds, beaming. “Have you done constructs for the stage before?? These were so big!!”

“Uhh, well, I uh, I did design most of Mettaton’s early attacks,” Alphys mumbles, uncomfortable being put on the spot but also glowing with a soft, vindicated pride. “S-so, I guess, I guess in a way I have – but, but you kind of – ran out of them? Pretty early? I wasn’t – wasn’t sure that I made enough.”

“That was my fault!” Flowey says cheerfully.

Momma bustles over from where she was talking to Glow, all beaming and proud with Glow trailing awe behind her. She holds out her arms and Frisk leaps into them, kneading their fists for Chara through her soft, thick fur. She swoops them up and spins them around, holding them tight as Flowey giggles, and sets them back on the floor. “Oh, you were all wonderful!! All three of you!!” she exclaims. “Chara, your speaking, and your singing – that must have been one of the bravest things I have ever seen done! And Asr – Flowey, Flowey, my dear, your control over the puppet and its constructs was phenomenal! Frisk, you’ve only been becoming more skilled and joyful every day, and I can see it when you dance! I am so proud of all of you.”

“Hwwhhheeeeeeee,” keens Frisk under their breath, as Chara smiles irresistibly and mashes their face in their sleeves. Flowey makes a breathy half-laugh sound, curling around their shoulders and tucking his face away.

“Excuse me? Miss Toriel?” comes a voice , and Frisk was so stuck in their happy that they forgot about her even now. Chara jerks their head up and Frisk claps their hands over their mouth. Chara won’t want her to see their smile, not here, not when it’s a real one. She picks her way over, making excuses to shove through, feeling like a great big blustery beacon of I know I don’t belong here. She’s not going to want to come back.

“Well, all – all seems to be, er, in order here. Despite your unorthodox methods, I can’t…can’t deny that you’ve made, uh, undeniable progress.”

“Really,” Momma says. She feels very done with being polite. “And what progress would that be.”

“Well, you, you know…” Mrs. Hills flails her hands for a bit, which Frisk feels suddenly vengefully angry for, after she’d spent all her time telling Frisk to cut that sort of shit out. “The…the speaking, the following directions, the…community engagement…”

“Mm,” says Momma. Her mouth pulls back a little bit. “The signs of emotional health, are most of what you are seeing.”

“I – oh, I…I suppose…?” Mrs. Hills trails off, like she’s never even considered it that way. “Well. You can’t get that with most occupational therapy. And definitely not this fast – you really seem to have done the impossible.”

There is a very long, pregnant pause.

“Get out of our theater,” says Momma evenly.

“I – excuse – “ Mrs. Hills flusters again. Frisk shivers, taking their hands from their mouth and grabbing Momma’s dress.

“We will be in contact as necessary,” Momma continues, careful and clipped. “But your presence is not welcome here. You need to leave. You need to leave my child’s life. Now.”

Chara growls at her like a Warriors Cat. Or also, like a boss monster.

Mrs. Hills opens her mouth, and then she closes it again. She blinks at them a bunch. Frisk is “smiling” at her. And they “smile” at her as she turns, and walks away. The theater door doesn’t make any huge thud behind her, but Frisk can feel its finality.

“Thank goodness that is over with, my dears,” Momma says, and claps her hands together. “Now! Let us turn to happier matters, shall we? Where has Flowey gone? I wanted to discuss constructs with him, perhaps.”

Flowey sticks his face up out of their backpack, startling Momma. “Oh, I was here. I was just hiding,” he says.

“Valid to hide from her,” Chara says.

They reunite with Alphys and Mettaton, who are still feeling a little awkward but don’t-worry-mostly-happy, and talk about timing and healing constructs and Flowey maybe not firing off all his attacks within like the first minute, until Undyne appears from behind them and drapes her arms around Momma and Alphys’s shoulders. Alphys stutters and breaks off, going very blushy and still, but Undyne doesn’t seem to notice.

“So,” she grunts, feeling tired like a lead balloon. “You all know how we’re all gonna be gone from the embassy next week for tech?”

“Uhh. Yeah?” Flowey says. This, to Frisk, does not Bode Well.

“Yeah. Well.” Undyne pulls out her phone with a heavy sigh, unlocking it to show a news headline selected and blown up. “Mayor Trash Harris just…acted on that petition. He’s introduced something he’s calling the Ebott Greatness Restoration bill. If he passes it it’ll legally kick us off city property, which’ll push us all the way back to the forests around the mountain.” Undyne sighs, rubbing a hand over her face, pulling back the skin around her fangs as her exhale turns into a growl. “And he’s probably going to try and get it ratified while we’re busy here and can’t defend ourselves.”

Oh shit. Oh no, oh no no no no no!

“Oh, oh goodness,” Momma is saying, tremblingly, as Undyne snarls a reply. Frisk can already feel Chara’s grip on their words going blurry as the world pulses in and out. No no no – no no, not now, not NOW! Not now, with only two weeks to go!

Only two weeks to go!!!