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Behind Closed Doors

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Attempt 1

No matter what they had tried, it had never been enough. Frisk had been killed by and befriended everyone so many times, and it never made a difference. In the end, they would always die. In the end, they'd always be sent right back to the beginning, and people that they had come to hope for as friends would be right back to attempting to kill them.

That kind of thing did damage that wasn't easily undone. So now... now they had to at least try this. Because desperation made people do terrible things.

They tightened their lifeline grip on the knife, and stepped forward until his eyes went dark, until he laughed without humor and their soul floated freely in front of their chest.

"it's a beautiful day outside." he sounded almost conversational, almost cheerful. "birds are singing, flowers are blooming..." they snuck a glance toward the almost sickly golden light flowing down through the stained glass windows.

"on days like these, kids like you... S h o u l d   b e   b u r n i n g   i n   h e l l ."

A so-called Gaster Blast - decimated entire physical form with pure attack energy. Soul shattered last. Woke up with a numbness throughout the body that makes it hard for precision.

Note to self, first attack is a doozy.

 

Attempt 6

Unpleasant news flash. The bastard dodges.

Karmic Retribution - initial wounds didn't hurt much, but began to spread like poison until every atom of the body was rebelling. Heart stopped from the strain. Woke up with a faint, persistent ache in the chest.

He can't possibly dodge forever.

 

Attempt 27

Every goal had a motivation. Every crime had a motive.

Was it bad that they were starting to wonder which word better described this?

Slammed bodily against the ceiling - lost consciousness, woke up after reset. Assumed concussion or shattered skull - woke up with a terrible headache.

Frisk has gotten a lot... quieter.

 

Attempt 52

Once upon a time, they knew, this place had been new to them and had filled them with... comfort. Hope. Serenity. The feeling of home . Now...

Golden light cascading down at an angle through stained glass. Long, intimidating shadows cast by pillars and people. The rough handle of a knife in their hand. Flowers blooming. Birdsong. Misery and frustration and spite.

They weren't sure when it had just become 'going through the motions'.

First (and last) choice of accepting 'Mercy'. Woke up with a... lingering... sense of betrayal.

Makes no sense. Sans is Frisk's friend. Not mine. None of them are mine.

 

Attempt 173... or, perhaps 174

The knife was definitely getting heavier against their hand with every attempt. The faint blistering across their palm where the cracked and Dust-coated leather rested was starting to get exponentially worse. It burned like hellfire, like retribution.

The air smelled like buttercups. It always did. It always left faint nausea in the back of their throat, and the echoing taste of something that this body had never eaten. Biting and acrid, with the numbing feeling of satin on the tongue.

They knew exactly which tile on the golden floor that he was watching, exactly which one he would begin his attack on, once they crossed it.

They still stepped forward across it.

Gravitationally pulled downward with increasing force - ribs cracked, died of asphyxiation before they could fully shatter. Woke up with difficulty in getting a full breath.

Gotta give him credit, he's creative.

 

Attempt 430... ish.

In the beginning, when they first borrowed control, when they first suggested this mad concept, it had felt almost overwhelmingly addicting - the confused jumble of sensory signals, the way the flowers felt against their skin, the way the light burned against their eyelids and the way the air chilled their throat. Frisk had been close underneath the surface, Chara had willed their own soul around the smaller, more battered one like a blanket, I'll do this, it won't be on you, you won't have to do it, and they'd promised, then and there, that it would only ever be temporary.

One run through. Just once, to the surface again. Then it would all go back to the way it was, they'd start over, they would be content with whatever life down here subjected them to. They would have at least had the chance to say goodbye .

The distant promise of sunlight against their skin had been the only thing that seemed worth this madness, at the time.

Flung against walls and impaled while dazed. Woke up with singular points throughout body that would flare up with agonizing, debilitating pain.

It's... becoming difficult to ignore how hopeless this seems. Why are we continuing this mad venture? Killing everyone, over and over and over again, when…

No. I have to… I can’t give up.

 

Attempt 700... something.

"you just don't know when to quit, do you?" Sans' voice and endless, bitter grin had come to the point that it never failed to grate on their nerves. "you'll never give up, even if there's, uh... absolutely no benefit to persevering whatsoever. no matter what, you'll just keep going. not out of any desire for good or evil... but just because you think you can. and because you can ... you have to ."

They'd had a sarcastic reply on their tongue for that sentence once. Now, they just caught their breath and tried to ignore the whispering voice of despair in the back of their mind, and tried to ignore their own thought of Oh, I'm well aware that I don't have to do this.

I don't even want to do this anymore.

They didn't hold the knife like a lifeline anymore. It hung loosely between their fingers whenever they paused for breath, only pulled against the now-permanent blister when they clenched their hand to swing it.

"well." they had long since noticed that Sans' grin never reached his eyes. "both of us have things we have to do, i guess."

Doesn't matter. Inevitable. Tired. Pointless.

Frisk...?  Are you even still there...?

...this isn't worth it ...

why are we... still... doing this...?

 

Attempt…

Chapter Text

There was only one place in the Underground where the Barrier was thin enough that the sunlight wasn’t twisted, didn’t have a golden glow to it that stained everything around it. It was the only place where one could see the true blue of the sky. It was nothing but a sliver of clear baby blue, or dimming azure, or softened midnight navy -- one would never see the brilliance of a sunset, or the blinding glow of the sun itself, or the soft radiance of the moon or the transient burning of the stars. Only blue.

The only other place in the Underground that saw any sort of outside light was the Capitol, but there the light was twisted through the yellow-white glow of the Barrier, and further gold-shifted by stained glass that cast the long rays across equally golden tiling.

And it was strange, the way that they had equally come to resent the soft, true blue of that sliver of sky and the sharp, contrasting light that spilled across the hallway in visible shafts of gold. They’d seen both shades more than enough times to become intimately familiar with them, and equally familiar with the bitter twist in their system at their sight.

They weren’t sure how many times they had stood here, anymore. Bathed in the golden glow on one side, seeing the way that their shadow stretched endlessly along the floor in the opposite direction - the shadows cast by the pillars around them, the way that the light seemed to pull away from them in long, menacing sweeps of darkness. The burning, persistent pins-and-needles numbness against their hand, the way that blood was dripping freely down their fingers to stain the floor by their feet. And there, twenty feet in front of them - an equally gold-bathed Sans, his left side drenched in shadows and his eye sockets somehow even darker .

They were standing just before the point when he would initiate the battle, just before the point of no return. They felt hollow. Burned out. Empty.

"still here, huh?" Sans, in the end, seemed to always be willing to keep the maddening conversation going. They didn't know why he felt the need to do so, they knew his spiel by heart, and they never responded to him anymore anyway. What was he hoping to accomplish? That he could drive them mad with repetition? Too late. Madness was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome, after all.

"Still here."

It took them a moment to realize that the wispy, unaccountably emotionally exhausted voice was their own. Their fingers twitched, barely pulling the knife from slipping out of their hands. It clung to their fingertips like an anchor threatening to drown them under an uncaring sea.

"heh." They almost couldn't believe their eyes - he seemed legitimately surprised that they had answered. "credit where credit is due, then. you're awful persistent. how many times have we even done this?"

Their jaw tightened, just for an instant, almost like an absolutely pitiful attempt at an empty, meaningless smile.

"...I've lost count." they whispered, an admission. "Somewhere over a thousand."

"heh. wow. you're really some kinda freak, aren'tcha? or some kinda masochist."

"Neither." the word was sluggish on their tongue. “Just stubborn.”

“see, doesn’t make sense to me why you’d be so stubborn about somethin’ like this if you weren’t a real monster, the nightmare kind.” he shrugs, but the glint in his eyes is harsh, damning. “why keep trying?”

They glanced to their left, toward the twisted sunlight falling through the windows. They doubted he really even cared what their reasoning was. It didn’t matter; he was going to do what he felt like he had to, and they had to do what they had said they would. “...gave my word to see it through.” they murmured, a low-lying ache in their soul as Frisk’s presence stirred, wearily, barely holding consciousness for a moment before slipping away again. “I made a promise.”

And it might be their last chance, the way things are proceeding.

“to who?”

“Does it matter?” they returned their gaze to his. “You have those you’ll fight for, I have mine.”

“then this little diversion is pointless, huh?” he lets out one more humorless chuckle. “look, kid, you can turn and go any time. but if you’re gonna step forward anyway, then just do it so we can get this over with.”

They twitched, a full-body shiver that ran up and down their spine, and glanced downward at their feet. For a few seconds, they tried to find the willingness, the spite that had been keeping them going thus far. All that returned was an empty feeling. Their feet wouldn’t move. Their toes were right on the line -- all it would take would be one step, just one, and it would be out of their hands.

The seconds dragged on. For those frail instants, the air seemed to grow chilly, seemed to buzz with the preparation of magic. The knife dangled by their fingertips, and burned against their skin.

And still, they dragged. The magic in the air solidified into a sense of wary tension. They could feel his gaze locked onto them.

“losin’ your nerve?” the words carry more than a hint of guarded disbelief.

“...it’s been gone for a while.” they flexed their toes within Frisk’s battered up sneakers. Maybe if they swayed, their weight would carry them over the line. Maybe if they stretched their toes forward it would cross it. Maybe they could piss him off enough that he would change his ‘rule’ and they’d have a reason to be angry about this entire thing again. Anger was a good motivator. Anger defied rationality.

“clearly not far enough.”

They looked up at him again, maintaining their silence for a few long seconds, studying his expression. It was guarded. He was off-balanced by their unusual behavior.

“...I mustn’t go back.” they mused, tiredly, turning their head upward toward the ceiling, breaking eye contact again. They still see him visibly startle in their peripherals, at their words. “Giving up at this point… after everything… can’t possibly be an option.”

“and why not? more’n a thousand deaths not enough of an indicator that i’m pretty damn good at my job?”

They let out a small, humorless puff of air. “That’s all I’m good for, now. To keep going. To refuse to let it be over.” they pulled their lips back, baring their teeth in a mockery of a smile, though they kept it turned upward toward the ceiling. “ ‘Not out of any desire for good or evil, but because I can, and because I can, I have to.’ ” again, they saw him react out of the corner of their eyes. “All I’ve got is forward drive. I… don’t know if I can let myself go back.”

“you’re at a dead end, kid. i’m gonna keep making sure of that until eternity is done if i have to.” his voice held a warning note.

“But there’s gotta be something past you. Another ending. One last chance at something different.” They felt the fingers of their free hand twitch, felt themself almost mechanically raise that hand to the center of their chest, where their soul always appeared. “If… if being trapped down here really is inevitable, then…”

...then I can’t help you. The last bit of the thought was directed toward Frisk, who stirred faintly again, but didn’t respond. Chara pressed their fingers against their breastbone, swallowing.

“...then?” Sans asked, almost sounding bored. “trailing off in the middle of a conversation is awfully rude, you know.”

“...doesn’t matter.” They shook their head. “It’s not something you need to know.”

“...well then, can you at least answer me somethin’?” He reaches up with his off hand, his right hand, to scratch at the line beside one of his eye sockets, managing to look as bored and at ease as his tone of voice. “what made you change? i got notes that say you shouldn’t’ve become this kinda monster.”

They let out one puff of air, almost like a bitter laugh, and felt their borrowed mouth curl into an expression that didn’t feel entirely right . It stretched almost painfully across the sallow cheeks, the thin, half-starved features that felt so foreign and so familiar. Frisk had never smiled like this. Frisk’s smiles were small, rare things. Quiet. Precious. Full of emotion. Not snide and indulgent. Not empty.  “Check your notes again, then, comedian. You’re obviously not observant enough.”

If he can’t even take note that I speak when you never did… or if he can’t notice that I’m left handed, and you’re right… or the eyes, come to think of it, yours are brown and mine are amber…

Well. If he doesn’t care to notice these sorts of things, then there’s no point in pointing them out.

Let him build up his fantasy world and ignore what’s truly happening.

They twisted the knife in their left hand again, almost letting it drop before twitching it back up against the blistered, split skin across their palm. Sans’ eyes flickered toward the movement, that much they could see -- they could see, across the distance, the way that his fixed smile took on an almost sickly shadow.

“I will grant you this, though. It was never meant to stay, in the end.” they added, more to hide their own sharp inhale at the searing pain across their palm than out of any desire to actually reassure him. “If I ever got past you. This was just to test a theory for an entirely different problem at the end of the road.” A theory that they didn’t want to, but had to pretty much admit was pretty thoroughly debunked. It didn’t matter whether or not they could beat Flowey after killing everyone else if they couldn’t get to him in the first place. “Even if it was possible to get out… it wouldn’t have been left like this.”

“now, why do i find that hard to believe?” his tone, much to their surprise, took on a warning tone of irritation.

“Because you don’t know what’s actually happening.” They pulled one shoulder up in a shrug. “But it’s fine. I don’t need you to believe me. Your judgement is apt, but your observations are skewed.” they pulled their mouth into that tired mockery of a grin again.

“and how, pray tell, are my observations skewed, kid?”

They were tired. So, so tired. It was the only good logical reason they were even considering talking to him like this. And as much as they didn’t want to admit it, they knew when they were beaten. They knew when it wouldn’t be enough, and even when it tasted like ashes on their borrowed taste buds, they knew when it wasn’t worth it to keep fighting.

And they knew they couldn’t keep putting Frisk’s body through this kind of strain. Their soul was a little better, but the constant resets were still taking their own toll.

“What’s my name , Sans?” It was the first time in ages, countless timelines, that they’d used his actual name. Using his name was a Frisk privilege, not a Chara one. But this was to prove a point.

They knew his name. But he’d never asked them theirs. Either of theirs.

The damn nuisance had considered himself a friend to Frisk once, and Frisk had considered him a friend in return, but he’d never once asked the simple question. It was always ‘kid’ or ‘bud’ or ‘bucko’.

They could see the moment of startlement and realization that stilled his features, locking his grin in place for a few blissfully precious seconds, and they knew that they had struck a nerve. It was almost like he hadn’t even thought of it himself, but in that moment, he realized. No. He didn’t know their name.

“Kind of hard to say your observation skills are on point... when you’ve missed an absurd amount of details, comedian. ” They mused, lifting their empty right hand to look at the bitten down, torn up fingernails, attempting to look nonchalant despite the fact that said hand was trembling in the air. Frisk was a nail biter. It was a terrible habit.

“...alright.” he allows, swaying slightly on his feet and his smile finally loosening a tiny bit, though it was still noticeably tight. “i’ll grant you that. too little too late to ask now?”

“I’d say.” they dropped their hand, looking up to meet his gaze. “Not that it matters. Won’t be here long enough for you to remember or need it.”

The words felt heavy on their tongue, and tasted like poison, like buttercups. It ached to even say them. To acknowledge. To admit.

“humor me.” he said, with a dry sense of sarcasm.

They lifted the knife in their hands, peering down at it, uncurling their fingers to let the air brush against the dark slash of burned and peeling skin underneath it. It looked like their palm was being eaten away in a dark line across the length of it. Their entire hand had gone numb at some point -- probably damaged the nerves along the course of this insanity.

“There's no point.” they murmured. “Not anymore.”

The knife felt like an obscenely heavy weight, despite being the same weight it had always been. They'd been holding onto it for so long that it really felt less like they were holding it, and more like it was holding onto them. Like an anchor,  threatening to pull them underwater. Threatening to drown them, if they didn't let it go.

“well,” he hummed, shrugging his shoulders with a practiced sense of unfettered ease, “guess i’ll leave it up to you, next time, then. if your excuse is that you won't be here long enough, then i can only assume that means this little diversion is drawing to a close.”

They closed their eyes for a moment, taking a deep breath, teetering on the edge of oblivion and so, so terrified of what they knew had to come next. There was no forward. There was no end to this road to hell, for as long as they pursued it. They didn't want to, but they had to go back. And there was only one way to go back.

The knife tipped and fell from their palm. It clattered to the floor, where they kicked it away with a skid and it settled several feet away from them. Exhaustion washed over them all at once, like a vast weight had just been removed from their soul. They'd done it. It was out of their hands now,  literally.

They took the final, necessary step forward, crossing the line they knew he was watching, weaponless.

Sans, 20 feet ahead of them, stiffened in a visible flinch.

They exhaled, spreading their arms in a sad mockery of an offered Sparing pose.

The silence stretched for a moment.

“...what’re you playing at, kid?” he finally asked, tone guarded, and they could make out the slight furrow of his brow bones. The way his eyes flickered toward where the knife had wound up on the floor behind them. The way his hands flexed in his hoodie pockets.

They remained still, holding their arms out, exposing their chest. “I’d rather not slowly bleed out in agonizing pain, so I’m making myself an easier target. I would have thought it obvious.”

“not what i meant and you know it.”

They pulled Frisk’s lips into another weak, twisted mockery of a smile, but couldn’t hold it. It felt like everything that made them who they were was leaking out of them, bit by bit. Their smile fell away again.

“I know it’s been ages since I’ve done this,” they said, softly, “But I’m picking Mercy.” It was still echoing in their head, the sense of unfathomable betrayal, the regret curdling in their gut and going rotten within seconds of that particular reset taking hold. The last time they had picked Mercy - the only other time they had picked Mercy -- he’d… well.

That Reset had been by far the most unpleasant, but it had definitely been the quickest.

They lifted their arms a bit higher, taking another step forward, toward him. And then another, diminishing the space a foot at a time. “I know it can’t be painless.” they continued, “But try to hit something vital, so it goes fast, if you have any shred of legitimate mercy left in you.”

They stopped about halfway across the distance that usually instigated the encounter, and stayed there as the silence stretched, yet again, into discomfort.

“why not just reset?” he finally asked.

“What do you think this is?” they lifted their arms a bit more, gesturing expansively at the entire situation, their stance in the center of the hallway, the knife laying harmlessly several feet behind them, their unmoving form. His expression tightened, and they let out a faint sigh in faux irritation. “I can’t reset without dying, comedian.” they said, with a sarcastic sense of patience in their tone. “Never have been able to.”

The eyelights in his eyes disappeared, and his rictus grin froze in place. They wondered, briefly, if he had maybe never realized. If he was mentally going over each of the hundreds, thousands of resets they’d already gone through -- even before coming to this Hallway with a knife in their hand. If he regretted being the cause of any of them. They highly doubted that last point, but they were too tired to even scoff about it.

Honestly, at this point…

they just

wanted

to sleep.

“Look… both of us are tired of this. So, do me a favor, and do what you've been doing, and get this over with.” They added, dropping their gaze to the floor. “You probably won't believe me when I say this, but you won't see me back here again.”

There was another heavy moment of silence, before they heard him heave a heavy breath. Glancing up through Frisk’s matted, tangled bangs, they saw him raise a hand to pinch and rub at the bone at the peak of his nose cavity.

“...swear.”

“Hm?” they blinked, momentarily caught off guard.

swear that you’re not gonna keep doing this.” There was a note of exhausted exasperation and just the barest note of a plea in in his voice, something that they never thought they’d hear, especially not from him. “swear that you actually mean it, kid. give your word.

“I swear.”

The words came without any hesitation. They didn’t need to consult with Frisk, to try waking up their too-quiet host, to know exactly what Frisk would say. If this was truly the end of things -- and it was, Chara knew when a cause was lost -- then why hold back on sealing the deal with a promise?

“I don’t expect you to believe me, but I do mean it.” They ducked their head again. “You won’t see me again.”

It’s gonna be hell. They thought, mostly to themself, feeling the slightest stir of Frisk’s consciousness and the barest hint of sleepy, exhausted gratitude. Being there. Seeing her. Staying.

Frisk sent back a wordless feeling of persistence, of enduring, tinged with the barest hint of Determination. Chara instinctively raised a hand to press against the center of their chest, biting down mercilessly on a whimper. Even without words, they could feel the unshaken and pure faith that Frisk was still placing in them. The same faith that they had started this madness with. The faith that said, above all else, I trust you.

You can do this .

Across the impasse, Sans had dropped his hand from his face again, watching them ruthlessly regain control over themself after the momentary falter. He didn’t say anything, but they could feel the weight of his gaze, the judgement inherent in it. They pulled a cold burst of air through their nostrils and squared their shoulders, holding their head high for one last time.

“Do it.” they said, “Before I get the chance to second guess myself.”

“well then,” he hummed, before his left hand twitched upward in a quick jerk, and

--gkk--

bones burst upward from the too-pristine tiles beneath their feet. Intense pain burst into being throughout their system. The world started to go gray at the corners of their vision, and they felt themself sigh out the remaining air in their lungs, as he faded in and out of focus in front of them and blood rushed to fill the place where the air had once been. “guess i won’t be seeing you on the other side, then.”

“Guess not.” they mouthed, barely able to push any sound into it, pulling their mouth into a weak, pointless grin. If nothing else, they would go out smiling. If nothing else, they’d still pretend.


Continue?

➤ Reset

Chapter Text

They awoke with tears already streaming down their cheeks, gasping for breath and curled into a tight ball amidst the buttercups. For a moment, they gagged on the scent of the flowers -- the way that the pollen stuck to the back of their throat, the way the petals brushed against their cheeks. They curled closer to themself and bit down on a violent sob.

For better or for worse, they were back in the Ruins again. They were back to that damned bed of buttercups, with every ache and pain from the last reset pulsing beneath their skin. It hurt to breathe too deeply. It hurt to move their legs. They still couldn’t feel their left hand.

And to add to the damnation, the surging feeling of betrayal was still curdling in their gut, making them want to throw up.

They wheezed for breath, for control, and eventually managed to lever themselves up on their elbows. What was done was done, and the timeline had started up again, which meant they had to get up. As little as they wanted to, they couldn’t just lay there all day, Toriel never reached this room on her rounds, and she wouldn’t come this far out into the Ruins without hearing their initial fight with Flowey.

Distaste joined the bilious betrayal feeling. They really weren’t looking forward to dealing with Flowey.

They pushed to their knees, whimpering softly to themself as every muscle and bone protested the movement, and then to their feet. They swayed faintly as they stood, but regained equilibrium.

The first stumbling steps were always the worst on any new reset, while old injuries tried to insist they still existed and the echoes of all of the progress lost were bouncing around in their head. There was a certain level of distance and detachment that came with each EXP, a kind of uncaring that only came with LV. Being jettisoned back to the beginning was disorienting for all of the echoes and for the intense return of emotions. Frisk felt things with a depthlessness that Chara envied; their own emotions were more akin to fire slowly burning them from within until they exploded outward.

Still, Chara ruthlessly got control back over themself. The timeline was fresh, and they would need to have themself ingratiated with Toriel before they could rest, and that meant they had to endure the... unpleasantry that came with the start of every new timeline.

They stepped into the next room, doing their best to keep their expression neutral and failing miserably. Flowey sent a sneer their way, in response.

“Well, well, well, look who’s back here again.” he bounced slightly in place, “That last run was pitiful, I hope you realize that. You’ve lasted ages longer against the smiley trashbag before.”

“Good to see you too, weed,” they bit out under their breath, curling their hands into fists as best as they could. It worried them that their left hand was still numb and partially unresponsive. Usually things like that minor wound would dissipate within a few minutes.

The flower’s face split in a halfway-demonic grin, his eyes splitting vertically for a moment. It would have been terrifying if it had been the first time they had ever seen him make this face, but at this point it was practically as familiar as a lover’s caress or a sibling’s punch to the arm. “Do you want to die?”

Likewise, the threat barely phased them anymore. They had grown too used to this, to the endless game of deaths and resets.

“Every moment of every day.” Chara replied without missing a beat. It was pointless, being afraid of the inevitable. Being afraid of death was like being afraid of breathing at this point. Lackluster,  redundant, and functionally useless.

Sans had proven that a thousand times over.

They knew, now, that there was no way out, so why fight it?

They let their borrowed mouth curl into that familiar, empty, scary face grin. It still felt wrong on Frisk’s face. “Do you want to die this time, perhaps? I do believe it's long past your turn.”

There was a pause. Flowey’s demonic grin fell back into his somewhat amused, somewhat annoyed pencil drawn smirk. “I knew it was you,” he said, beginning to cheerfully bounce from side to side again. “Took you long enough to finally let it show. Let’s just cut to the chase, then, shall we~?”

All at once, the air was full of familiar, malicious sparks of magic, surrounding them on all sides. Chara wrapped their borrowed arms around their waist in a pose that Frisk fell into often, a movement that made them a smaller target, an automatic response to danger. It was a good, familiar muscle-reaction to latch onto. They needed to make a good impression on Toriel with this.

“In this world~” he sing-songed, as familiar as a recitation of a script, “It’s k i l l o r b e k i l l e d.

3, 2… They thought, not moving, and right on schedule the fireball came from the other room, knocking right into the back of Flowey’s six-petalled head. The sparks of magic dissipated from around them, and they let themself flinch, let themself drown for another moment in the terror and the feeling of betrayal that was still simmering low in their gut, let themself feel small and hurt and afraid . It was easy. Just as easy as feeling nothing at all.

“You poor thing--” Toriel’s voice came, next, and they looked up with their eyes artfully widened, cringing away from her as she approached. “What a terrible creature, to try and harm a child.”

They knew, conceptually, that it wasn’t normal to manipulate others like this without remorse. Frisk had shown concern the first time they did it. It wasn’t right, but Chara had long since known that there was something that wasn’t entirely right about them.

The only aspect about it that bothered them was that it bothered Frisk, to be honest. They tried not to do it often. But Frisk wasn’t awake, they could barely feel the other soul’s presence drifting deep and low within their shared soul, so honestly, if it got the job done, then who really gave a shit? Not them.

They opened their mouth, maybe to babble out something along the lines of an overwhelmed thank you for saving them, something to really sell it-- but the words stopped in their throat as they met her gaze. All at once, their stomach was tied in painful knots, and it felt like a vice was crushing the air out of their chest.

Now I see who I was protecting by keeping you here. Not you... But them!

Her face, split in agony, in betrayal. The guilty whisper of mother dying on their tongue.

They’d never wanted to admit it to themself. It had…

...hurt…

…it had always hurt ...

...having to choose between the family they had found

and the only soul that mattered now.

It had hurt so much.

They had hurt so much.

It’s gonna be hell. They remembered thinking. Being there. Seeing her. Staying.

They had-- severely-- underestimated just how bad it was going to be.

They flinched, curling in on themself, their breathing stuttering. Her encroaching hand stopped a foot away from them, hovering in the air indecisively close. This was always the part of the timeline where she checked them over for being hurt, where she took their hand and led them along, and-- and they--

“W… why are you looking at me like that, child? It’s like you’ve seen a ghost…” her voice faltered a moment, and they curled tighter. They couldn’t speak. They could barely breathe.

After a second, though, she shook herself out of her surprise. “I… regardless,” she managed, and they snuck a glance up at her through Frisk’s tattered, tangled bangs. “You are… safe now, if you’re willing to believe that. You look exhausted, young one, and hurt. You may stay with me at my home, for the time being, if you’d like.” she extended her hand toward them, but didn't encroach into their personal space.

Somehow, that hurt even more. An irrational part of them wanted her to pull them into her arms, even when they knew they wouldn't be able to handle that right now. They didn't deserve it, but…

God, there was a part of them that missed feeling like they belonged somewhere. Anywhere.

Still, this would at least get things moving along. They could afford to stop when they were safe in her home, when they could collapse and rest and not wake up until they felt human again. Maybe Frisk would wake up, if they had the chance to rest for long enough. Maybe Chara wouldn’t have to do this at all, and they could both just… stay. And Frisk could be in control, and everything would be okay.

They reached up and took her hand, staying quiet as she led them through the first several rooms of the Ruins. There was a twisted sort of comfort in the familiarity of everything, the same stones with the same cracks and the same small monsters wandering around. They pulled closer to Toriel almost without thinking about it whenever any of the other monsters drew too near for comfort.

Let them all believe that Chara was afraid of them, if they stayed away then there would be no chances for them to get hurt .

Inevitably, though, the long hallway came, and Toriel let go of their hand -- and a brief moment of panic passed through their system, but was ruthlessly squashed down --

They kept their head held high and their shoulders straight as they walked. Still, they slowed to a stop about halfway down the hallway.

“We’ll finish our conversation later, weed .” They muttered without turning around. The faint echoey giggle from behind them was all the answer they needed.

Faintly, they heard the ground between the stones shift as Flowey retreated back under the earth again, and they felt their borrowed mouth twist into a distasteful snarl. It took a moment to get their features back in some semblance of Frisk’s familiar tired-eyed neutrality -- there was something extremely wrong about Frisk’s features taking on Chara’s more intense emotional bullshit, and the longer that Chara was in control, the more apparent it felt.

They let out a deep breath, mentally dipping back into the quiet place in the back of their mind to where Frisk had retreated, checking in on the other soul’s state. No response, not even a stir. At least Frisk was used to their fluctuating emotions at this point, they could tell when something actually counted as an emotional emergency.

There was a faint, soothing warmth radiating from Frisk’s soul, even in sleep, and the confirmation that they were still there did more to soothe Chara’s turbulent heart than anything else ever had.

They continued down the hallway, plotting out their method of approach for this. They couldn’t exactly wait for Toriel to come back and get them, they’d tried that a few times and the little white pup always made it a mission to make a nuisance of himself and keep her from coming back for them.

They were just sort of going to have to make their way through the Ruins, that much was for sure, but…

A shudder raced down their spine, and they looked down at their trembling hands. They weren’t sure if they would be able to fight down the initial instinct that had been bred up from over a thousand timelines of attempted genocide. Would they be able to stop themself from attacking? Could they hate themself even more if they couldn't stop the instinct, if they ruined everything for Frisk?

“One fight at a time.” they muttered, trying to chase away the cold feeling in their heart. “Just... do what Frisk would do. Just gotta get to Toriel’s house, and that’s that. I can do that.” They would just, just pretend like they hadn’t noticed the quiver in their own borrowed voice.

It was going to be a long afternoon, that much was certain.


This was hell . This had to be hell. It wasn’t even fair, they were trying , really they were, but it still felt like there was a cage slowly closing in around their heart and fairly soon they were going to suffocate on their own breath. They were getting twitchy. They could handle the switch puzzles in the Ruins with ease but talking to, or interacting with, any monster at all so far had proven to just be-- just--

They weren’t ashamed to admit that they were huddling alone in one of the fall-down rooms, curled up in a corner surrounded by dried leaves and just trying to get their breathing back under control. The longer they were wandering around out here, the more monsters they saw. The more monsters they saw, the more certain they became that there was really only one monster down here at all.

And they were it.

Because it took a special kind of monster to have to fight down the urge to swing at everything that came too close.

They had trained themself into being a nightmare in a child’s body, and now they had to live the nightmare.

Come on. They thought to themself, pushing their hands through Frisk’s matted, tangled curls and pulling until the pain grounded them. This is pathetic. This is stupid. A thousand timelines of unflinching onward push without slowing down for anyone or anything and now I’m panicking? It's been a while but this is hardly our first pacifism attempt. Why is this so hard ?

There had already been at least four encounters where they had flinched and very nearly swung at their assailants, only catching themself by a hair’s breadth of self control and making good use of the option to run away. They'd seen a few of the monsters of the ruins murmuring with each other as they walked, watching them with something like pity from a distance when they thought the human monster didn't notice.

They tightened their fingers on the hairs tangled between them and struggled to get their breathing to slow down. Sans had been right,  this was all a terrible farce at this point, they couldn't be human anymore, they could barely keep up the pretense .

“Um… are you… okay...?”

They let out a soft yelp as their head snapped upward, eyes wide, and caught sight of Napstablook floating near them, just out of the edges of their personal space bubble. Just far enough away that they could bite down on the urge to swing again. The ghost looked uncertain, and his head was tilted to one side as he studied them. It took an embarrassing amount of time for their heart to slow again.

“I…” they wheezed, before hesitating and trailing off a bit helplessly. They couldn't answer Yes, I'm fine honestly, and had the feeling that it would be obviously a lie if they even tried. Napstablook settled down a bit nearer, looking just as hesitant.

“Sometimes…” he started, haltingly and a bit trembly himself, “Sometimes,  when I'm… not feeling okay…” he hesitated just a tiny bit more, before pushing out the rest, “I, um. I like to… to lay down and just, let myself feel like garbage. Sometimes… it helps, just a little...”

They blinked up at him, and he shrunk in on himself a tiny bit, before hesitantly starting to explain again, “It's just… when you're not going to be okay anyway… sometimes it helps the… the feeling, pass faster, to just… let it run its course.”

“It does…?” Chara bit their lip, thinking  about it. They could vaguely remember Frisk stopping in at Napstablook’s home in Waterfall in timelines past and could remember laying down on the floor beside him and just being for a bit, with every good feeling and every bad feeling that was included in that state. It had been a sort of nice experience afterward.

“I can… keep you company, if you want to try.” Napstablook offered, “I… come here a lot, so… if you ever just want to lay down and feel like garbage… you can come find me, if-- if you want.”

They hesitated a few seconds more,  before forcing themself to just take a breath and go for it. “...yeah, okay.”

They eased themselves down into a prone position in the pile of dry leaves, closing their eyes and just trying to focus on their breathing. The outward sense of the other soul near them settled likewise, sinking down closer to the floor and burning low and soft, just… a presence, in their awareness.

The leaves didn't spark the same intense trigger that the buttercups did. The texture was different. The smell was different. They crinkled and crumbled underneath Frisk’s waiflike form, and smelled like dry breezes and autumn. It was strange how soothing the difference was.

Then they exhaled,  and let their self control go.

They weren't sure how long they stayed like that. They weren't sure how long they let the feeling of self loathing and guilt and betrayal just,  wash through their system and drag them under. Their eyes stayed closed as they let the negative feelings crest over them like a wave, but eventually it did slowly ease down through their system again, their heartbeat settling, their breathing evening out. Napstablook hadn’t moved in the entire time they were there, and hadn't made a sound. He was still staring upward toward the ceiling when they finally opened their eyes and looked over at him.

“Thank you.” It came out softly,  before they could second guess the unusual instinctual urge to show gratitude. “It did help.”

“That's good.” Napstablook didn't turn toward them, but he did smile a bit.

“I might--" they paused a second before pushing onwards with the thought, even though... “I might take you up on your offer, of… coming to find you, sometimes.”

This was unlike them. They had never been one to seek out others for something as mundane as simply their company . They had barely ever even allowed Asriel to do so, and Azzy had been the closest thing to family that they would accept.

The only person in their memory that they had been content simply being with had been Frisk, and that was… well, partly by necessity and partly simply because it was Frisk. Frisk was special in that sense.

“I think I'd like that.” Napstablook admitted, finally turning toward them. “It's surprisingly nice to have company.”

Surprising is right. Chara thought.

But still, they found themself smiling.


They were drained,  but almost pleasantly so, by the time they finally skirted into the hallway that comprised Toriel’s ‘front yard’. They had bumped into several of the other small monsters that called the Ruins their home on the rest of the way here, but it seemed like the initial jittery stress and panic had finally abated. It was a whole lot easier to take things one encounter at a time, now.

They had stopped outside on the ledge that leaned over the rest of the massive city that once housed the entire population of the monster race, for a brief moment. Just long enough to catch their breath, and to take in the expansive sight below them. Once upon a time, those streets down there were full of bustling monsters and the chaos of daily life…

“It’s so empty, now.” they murmured, more to themself than anything else as they considered the deathly-quiet city below. “It’s nothing like when I first fell.” A weak grin formed on their face, “Gosh, I wish you could’ve seen that, Frisk.”

They didn’t expect an answer, but it was still kind of disheartening that Frisk barely even stirred. Still, they tucked their chin into one palm and looked down as far over the ledge as they could.

“There's the big market square, down there,” They continued, even though Frisk wasn’t awake to hear them. “It was always full of monsters bartering goods. We used to drop water balloons off of this ledge, to see if we could hit folks down there-- erm, never if we saw any fire elementals, but, you know. Just for fun. I think you would’ve enjoyed that. Azzy never figured out that he should duck down after we dropped one.”

They leaned a little bit farther, humming. “Farther up than I remember, though. Almost… almost reminds me of when I fell in the first place.” They let out one brief, unamused puff of air, resettling their feet on solid ground again and tugging idly on one loose lock of Frisk’s hair. “But, that’s a story that’s best left entirely buried. And I’m procrastinating now,  so I guess I should just get to it. There’s pie and a bed waiting for us, after all… and who knows? After a few days, maybe it won’t even matter anymore.”

They lifted a hand to press gently against their sternum, feeling the soft and lethargic pulse of their flagged determination, and willed themself to be enough until Frisk was healed.

Chapter Text

The start of each new Reset always felt like the punchline to the universe’s worst joke.

There were always… leftovers, in a sense. Things that stayed with a person, even when nothing else did. Scattered left over emotions from whatever moral route the kid decided to do; the constant sense of deja vu and the nihilism of ‘ i’m really doing this again ’ from the moment he woke up again at the beginning of each reset; and, when he was lucky, concrete things that he could call up as memories in the first several minutes, before they slipped away and the timeline reasserted itself that no, those things haven’t happened.

He had gotten into the habit (though, could one call it a habit if it technically only ever happened once in every timeline?) of immediately going to the lab when he knew he had woken up from a reset. He had a limited amount of time -- he’d learned that a while back, when the weed had had the power to mess with the timeline, well before the kid had fallen -- before the memories dissipated entirely. And he’d learned long ago to take meticulous, and very quick , notes.

It wasn’t until his pen stilled that he finally let himself look at the deluge of thought that he had scribbled down. There wasn’t time in the beginning of the resets to think, not before the timeline reasserted itself, he simply had to write everything he could.

He scanned the lines with a drained sort of detachment, breathing out a heavy breath as he flipped to the page in his notes that was just an endless scribble of tally marks. He added one more to the list-- one day, maybe he would actually count them, but for now all he needed to know was that there were way too many.

Then, Sans flipped back to the latest page in his scribbled scrawl of notes and read through them again, trying to make the words sink in and make sense.

geno route.

proceeded ‘normally’ until judgement, stood at distance and did not initiate.

This, he had underlined several times. It had been notable enough that it seemed important. The kid hadn’t stepped forward with the intent to fight when they reached him, they’d just… stood there. He’d gone on to scribble further:

uncertain what incited them to stop. unexpectedly responded to conversational prompt. objectives still uncertain, but conversation provided some insight:

- they apparently promised someone to ‘see it through’, would not specify to whom.

- ‘you have those you’ll fight for, i have mine.’

- ‘just to test a theory for an entirely different problem at the end of the road.’ also notably did not elaborate on this. possibly referring to asgore?

- ‘check your notes again, you’re obviously not observant enough’

- ‘judgement is apt but observations are skewed.’

He’d scribbled an arrow going up to these two lines, with an extra note: (they agree with judgement falling against them, but for different reasons than those i’ve observed?)

- they dropped the knife before initiating. intended immediate surrender? apparently cannot reset without dying. (?!) could be misinformation why would they want to die otherwise? possibly sincere. check notes on known reset occasions to see if correlation follows through.

- ‘won’t see me again’, gave their word. don’t know to trust yet, or what they intended by that comment.

-used ‘mercy’ option to initiate reset.

what is their name?

He had stopped at that point, and was left staring at the last line with an intensity as though he could pry the information right out of the scrawled letters. It took him a good several minutes of flipping back through the pages to scan all of the information he had accumulated over who-even-knew-anymore-how-many Resets. He had behavioral observations, comparisons of conversations as close to word for word as he could get, shorthand notes on some of his own signed conversations with the kid, EXP and LV monitoring notes mid-timeline, tracking the variables and trying to figure out the triggers that made them do… anything , really…

Stars, he had notes in here from as early on as when the kid first took over the resets, about how he didn’t want to get his hopes up but this malnourished and skinny little twerp really did seem like a cause worth rooting for. But nothing as simple as a name.

Why had it never occurred to him to get that piece of information?

What other information could he have missed?

He pressed his boney knuckles into his nasal ridge, pushing his right eye socket into the back of his hand as though trying to push the headache starting to pound outward from his skull right between his eyes right the hell back into it. It was still unforgivably early for him to actually feel awake right now, only about eight  AM, and he hated the fact that he always woke from each reset with an intense surge of temporal rejection. It left him with the worst migraines.

Now, though, now he had to act accordingly. He had done his first step, he’d made his notes, his observations. Now he had to do the rest of the ‘just reset’ list of tasks.

Check on Papyrus. Go talk to the lady behind the door in the woods. Reassure himself that everyone was back, now, and then don’t give any indication about the resets, and especially not about the still possible upcoming genocide.

Review notes, compare and contrast known information, keep an eye socket on the kid.

‘Get the kid’s name’ had just been added to that list, and bumped up as high as he thought he could spare it. So had ‘hard liquor drink asap’. That task had jumped to first priority.


 

The camera just outside of the door in the woods had been rerouted from Alphys’ array pretty much as soon as the kid had first fallen, or at least within a couple of Resets. Once it had become clear that the kid was in control of them, at the very least. Sans had felt briefly bad about it, at first, but then had reasoned that he hadn’t actually stopped Alph from observing or even damaged the camera, he’d just added his own intercept so he’d have the indicator of when the kid exited into Snowdin Woods himself. He added it every reset now, shortly after his observations. It was too useful to let pass.

He irregularly checked back on that interception of footage, keeping an eye on the door as he did his best to pretend that absolutely nothing was wrong. Paps’ morning exuberance wasn’t the best thing for the ‘just reset’ headache, but he wasn’t going to take out his frustrations on Papyrus for anything, even to ask him to tone it down.

He snuck glances at it while he sipped a cup of bitter coffee. He checked it while Paps bustled about at the stove. He hid his phone in his lap and watched the camera footage while pretending to eat.

It stayed closed. He was dragged to his station, he set his phone to wake him if the camera detected movement, he tried to catch up on the lost sleep from the rough awakening that morning. He woke hours later to no alarm and Papyrus loudly demanding to know why he was slacking off again.

Couldn’t explain to Paps that the human couldn’t come from anywhere but that door. That he had a system to be aware when they came through.

So he simply shrugged, still slumped over himself and yawning into his jacket sleeves, and diverted the conversation. “sorry, paps. guess i was just bone tired.” It was still comforting whenever Papyrus lost his temper over one of his dumb puns. Paps was still the same. At least some things still made sense.

Another yawn snuck its way out of him as Papyrus stormed off again, and he accessed the camera system on his phone again and frowned down at the screen. Still nothing. The door was still shut, the snow was entirely undisturbed… it was almost three P.M., it had been almost seven hours since the Reset.

It wasn’t unheard of for the kid to stay behind the door for a day or two, of course -- in a lot of the earlier timelines they’d done it quite often. But it hadn’t happened in a while (figuratively, in terms of how many timelines it had been since they’d done so). Sans was just… leery, now. He had too many notes and too many tally marks on the kid’s Bad Time tracker, and he had to be ready to intercept them if they were about to come barrelling out with dust scattered across their skin and LV burying itself into their SOUL. There was a part of him that just wanted to get that initial unpleasantness over with so he would know what the inclination was this time.

It really didn’t help that he didn’t even have a reference for what they looked like until they came out from the door… Well, besides his notes, but ‘smaller than expected, skin and bones, kinda fragile looking, extremely fast and good at dodging, always looks tired’ didn’t really help much. It really just made him think of a smaller version of himself, if he was being stupidly honest.

Which, honestly? He could kind of get why his initial notes on the kid would have found them endearing. That was the worst part.

He sighed as he stared down at the program, holding his head up in the palm of his bony hand and considering what he would do with the rest of his day. He could probably get away with sneaking off to Grillby’s at this rate…

Or, hell, maybe he’d be real wild and go back to sleep again. That was a thought.

He was stopped from following through on that thought process, though, when the picture on the screen shifted and his phone let out a faint little blip at the movement recognition. He was immediately more awake, a fierce surge of something bilious with unease rising in his throat.

But it wasn’t the kid. He forced himself to let out a breath again as he realized it was Napstablook, phasing through the doorway with a slightly distracted look on his face. It took him a bit by surprise -- he knew that Blook had a habit of finding out of the way places to visit and hide out in, but he usually stayed mostly translucent and invisible whenever he wasn’t at home. It was unusual to actually see the ghost anywhere outside of Waterfall.

And the most surprising thing was that Blook remained visible as he floated down the path -- Sans could see him from his sentry station, now, and lifted a hand in acknowledgement to wave as the ghost crossed the bridge.

“heya, blook.” he had his face schooled into a less obviously relieved grin as he carefully tapped out of the camera program on his phone. “different seein’ ya all the way out here in snowdin woods.”

“Oh--” Napstablook blinked, his cheeks going a bit fainter and more translucent in clear embarrassment, “Um… hello, Sans. I- I come out here, quite often, actually. It’s… quite a bit, erm, quieter, in the Ruins... you know? N-Not that, loudness and, and talking to people are… bad things, necessarily...”

The Ruins. That was right, that was what lay behind the doors, of course. The old location of the former, abandoned capitol. Sans shrugged as he filed that reminder into the back of his skull, crossing his arms and leaning over his station again, supporting himself on his elbows. “ey, to each their own, i wasn’t tryin’ to say you couldn’t be out here or anythin’ like that. just that it’s, erm…” he paused, humming, “how do i put this politely… tibia honest, blook, it’s surprising to see you. semi-corporeally, i mean. you’re usually pretty, eh, keen to not be seen.”

Napstablook tilted his head, looking surprised, before he gave a tentative little smile, chuckling awkwardly, “Oh, I… hah, I suppose.” it was surprisingly open for the usually reclusive ghost. “I guess… today’s just been… going well…! I think I might have, hah, made a friend.” He blushed a bit again, “A-Ah, or, maybe not ‘friend’, friend m-might be, erm… too strong of a word… but… someone nice. Who… who I think I actually helped, some. They... we-weren’t doing too okay, wh-when I found them, but didn’t tell me to go away. They seemed m, maybe a little skeptical but were r-really quite polite! Th-They even asked if-- if it would be okay to come find me, again, sometimes, so…”

Sans let out a brief chuckle, raising a brow bone in intrigued delight. This was a variation he hadn’t seen yet, in the resets, and he would be lying if he tried to say he wasn’t interested in seeing where it went. “that’s pretty cool, blook. guess i might get to look forward to seein’ more of ya around these parts, huh?”

“O-Oh.” Napstablook let out one more breathy chuckle, going a bit more translucent in surprise and nerves. “I-I suppose. Probably, um, more just… coming and going, though, if-- if that’s okay.”

“whatever rattles your bones, i’m easy.” Sans shrugged. “stop by my station if you get the chance, yeah? i feel like i should talk to you more.”

“I’ll-- I’ll do my best.” Napstablook laughed again, before he faded out slowly, “See you… Sans…”

And Sans hummed, glancing back down the road toward the door to the Ruins. Napstablook had made a friend, huh?

Hell, maybe it was the human. They did always start out in the Ruins, and according to his notes they usually left on the first day of each reset, but they still hadn’t emerged. Maybe they had run into Napstablook since they were still in there. Or maybe Napstablook had run into them. It was… gently promising, if he had, since he managed to get away again without being dusted.

They weren’t doing too okay, when I found them, Napstablook had said. They even asked if it would be okay to come find me again, sometimes.

Sans wasn’t thrilled at the thought that the kid would be given more opportunities to, er… fail, when it came to ‘playing nice’. But he was also a little selfishly curious, too -- how would things progress differently, now? What would different influences do to the kid’s choices?

And, now that he thought about it, Blook had said ‘sometimes’. Meaning that the ghost was at least under the impression that the kid was probably gonna behave at least more than once.

Didn’t do much to ease Sans’ unease, to be blunt; the kid was reportedly hard to read, in his notes. But still -- perhaps he’d let this proceed. If there was one thing he’d learned this morning it was that his notes were… fallible, at the very least.

He had the feeling that this reset was going to be-- an experience.

Chapter Text

There were a few things that Chara had honestly expected when they agreed to reset this time.

They had known that resetting would bring its own sort of pain -- resets always did, after all; old wounds didn't like letting themselves be forgotten, and wounds from fighting Sans were even more unwilling to fade -- and that interacting with Toriel was going to be a particularly bitter poison to swallow down, though they had underestimated just how bitter.

They had known that seeing Flowey would be irritating at best and downright infuriating at worst, but they would have to endure his presence of they were going to stay any amount of time in the Ruins.

They had suspected that it would be a challenge to break the habit of swinging first, asking questions later. They had still nonetheless been certain that so long as they made it safely to Toriel’s home, they would be more or less safe.

It had been relatively easy to pretend that they were okay, once they had gotten in the doorway to Toriel’s home. They’d followed her throughout the house for her little ‘tour’, and had sat with her for dinner with enough self control to eat without wanting to flinch at everything that she said, and had even managed to keep everything down in their stomach when the violent nausea burst forth every time they looked at her for too long.

They were pretty sure she had some idea that something was wrong, but she gave them their space and didn’t push. It was both a blessing and a curse; on the one hand, they wanted everything to be okay and absolutely normal again… but on the other, they could still barely trust themself to maintain control of their emotional state whenever she was too close.

They wanted to bury themself into her arms and let her soothe away the jittery wrongness in their heart.

They wanted to run as far away from her as they possibly could so they wouldn’t have a single chance to hurt her ever again.

In a sense, they had expected all of this-- at least in concept.

What they hadn’t expected, and really probably ought to have, were the nightmares.

It had been a quiet night; quieter than they were used to. Toriel had let them hole up in their new room and had let them be. They'd collapsed on the bed and had stared up at the ceiling with a faint dizzy feeling tugging at the back of their mind, and for a moment they had felt relieved. Almost nauseatingly so. They’d let out a breath that verged on a laugh and brought their hands up to cover their face, feeling the way that Frisk’s features gave no give, no squish, no excess over the bone.

They'd made it. They'd gotten to this point, they were safe now.

Their left hand was still numb and didn't want to close all the way, but they were safe .

They had stayed there for several minutes, just pressing Frisk’s long,  thin, dexterous fingers into the dips where their cheekbones dropped away into their eye sockets, and letting the tension eke out of their bones an inch at a time. It really wasn't much of a surprise when the exhaustion finally hit in full -- over a thousand timelines of refusing to let themself stop had kind of equated to not much of a chance to rest, and now that they had gotten to what they perceived as safety…

They were asleep before they even realized how tired they were.


 

I… wait. They blinked, looking around, feeling panic starting in their soul. What? No. No! Why am I here again?

The golden drenched hallway stretched out in front of them, lined with limestone columns trailing with creeping vines and flowers reaching toward the sunset light, and faint specks of grass poking up between the tiles of the floor. The heavy weight on their soul made them glance down, reflexively, and they felt intensely cold to realize that they had the knife in their left hand again, burning with dust and cutting into their skin.

No.

The weight on their Soul, it had to be LV-- it was a distinctive feeling, adding a sort of sluggishness to the bubbling panic, a slowing to the broil. It was hard to feel anything at all with enough LV. But that just made it so much worse when they were clinging to whatever emotions they could still feel, when they were panicking because this was wrong, so wrong.

No, I-- I reset-- I shouldn’t be here again, I can’t-- Frisk can’t--

They looked upward again, scanning the length of the hallway with an intensity that bordered on paranoia. It took them only a moment to sight the comedian lingering about halfway down the hallway, leaning back against one of the pillars with his hands in his hoodie pockets, not looking their way. He looked tired.

This can’t be real.

It was almost as though as soon as they thought that, the terrible truth of it all started crashing down on them. They were still standing there, looking forward at Sans, knowing what came next -- what always came next -- and refusing.

But Frisk… or, at least, Frisk’s body … stepped forward without their willing it to.

This story is not over yet. A voice whispered all around them. It was soft, almost crooning, and chilled them from the inside out. It was thrumming with something that felt almost familiar, and full of careless malice, and a faint thrill that felt almost like glee. They struggled against the movement, feeling adrenaline and panic mixing underneath the heaviness of LV, but the eighth fallen child didn’t falter in their steps, didn’t seem to notice that Chara was refusing, that whatever was pressing them forward wasn’t them.

No, no, not again--!

They were approaching the line. The one that the battle always started on. The one that invariably led to horrible, painful deaths, and nothing else. Sans had lifted his head, turning one eye toward them, his rictus grin already locked into place.

There is no turning back.

The whispering was the loudest thing in their head, stoking the fire of their panic and the vile, sour taste of disgust in the back of their throat, even while it laid trapped beneath the weight of the LV. They stepped forward to the line, and felt their face stretch into a smile that was neither Frisk’s soft, precious and rare grin, nor their snide ‘scary face’ smile. It felt like it was more teeth than smile. It felt like there was more smile than could fit on a human face. It felt like it just kept stretching, and stretching, their cheeks screaming with pain as the smile grew wider, and wider, and wider still.

No matter how long you dawdle, this is the only end that awaits you.

And then they launched forward, over the line, and brought the knife up to swing. The movements were practiced, crisp, swing after swing, dodging attacks, ducking under Gaster blasts, getting just a little bit closer with the knife each time. There was no mercy. There was no emotion. The weight of the LV on their soul was nearly crushing, it was almost suffocating them as it was, and they knew all at once that if they succeeded -- if they killed Sans, if they reached LV 20 -- there would be no room left in their soul for anything that wasn’t LV.

No one can choose who they are, in this world.

The knife blade gleamed in the dying sunlight, as they brought it down into Sans’ skull.


 

“Nngh!” they gasped, jolting up into a sitting position, feeling Frisk’s heartbeat hammering in sympathy with their skittering, terrified soul. They brought a hand to their borrowed chest, swallowing heavily and panting for breath, their eyes flickering around the room reflexively. Soft down sheets were laid out over them, a pillow had half deflated under where their head had lain, and it looked like they had nearly strangled a stuffed animal before they had finally managed to tear themself out of the nightmare.

Because that was what it had to be, wasn’t it? A nightmare?

They were in the Ruins. They were in Toriel’s home. They had Reset. No one was dead yet. No one had to be.

Frisk’s soul fluttered faintly against their own, seeming to express concern for the still fluctuating shiver in their own. The soft brushes of the quiet, persistent calming aura that Frisk seemed to exude helped them more than they knew how to process.

Are you okay? They thought, directing it inwards. And if there was a little wildness tinging the words with something like desperation, like begging to know, then so be it.

The warmth that Frisk’s soul pushed outward was mixed with a sort of exhaustion that they hated, because it was too familiar to them, but they pressed their hand more firmly against their breastbone and tried to take it to heart. Frisk was still drained, still tired, but they were giving the best form of an affirmative they could manage at the moment. They were still around, and that was all that mattered.

Good. They thought, feeling the tension finally release from their system. Their soul ached a bit with each pulse, and their hand was stinging --

They pulled their hand back, looking down at the angry black burned gash across the length of their palm, the reddened skin where their fingers had clenched the knife once upon a timeline. Then toward the darkened room around them, and the evident passage of time.

They felt…

Something. It wasn’t a good feeling.

The wound hadn’t dissipated, with the Reset. Had it been doing that each time? A scar that grew every time they picked up the knife? A wound that burned deeper with every speck of dust that was imbued into it?

Had they been so fixated on what they felt like they had to do that they had never noticed?

They swallowed, heavily, and swung their legs off of the bed again, kicking the sheet away from them and walking barefoot over to the wardrobe, where they knew a backpack with some of their oldest, meager supplies was stored.

(It barely processed that Toriel must have come in, found them asleep, and put them to bed. There were more important things to worry about right now.)

They pulled the wardrobe open with Frisk’s right hand, borrowing some of Frisk’s muscle memory over their own instinct to use their eviscerated left hand, and dug into the backpack for a roll of clean white bandaging. They had to bite down on a hiss of pain as they wrapped it around their hand -- firm enough to stay, loose enough to not restrict movement. They tied it off with their teeth.

Then, they grabbed their shoes, and padded out of the door to their room, staying as quiet as they possibly could. They turned away from the staircase, stepping instead out of Toriel’s house entirely, only pulling their shoes on once they were outside.

Frisk had drifted back down again, probably still awake, but not strong enough to do anything with it, though they could still feel a faint inquisitivity radiating from their quieter host.

I just need to get some air. Chara thought, before pausing as they reached the pathway to the ledge. After a few seconds of hesitation, they turned toward it. Frisk’s soul fluttered again, brief, alarmed. I’m not. Chara insisted, in response to the implication, though they sped up their steps purposefully until they reached the ledge.

They walked straight to the toy knife, and picked it up. Frisk gave another short start of something like disapproval, but it was cut off as soon as Chara had moved to the edge, looked over it briefly to be sure that there was no one down below, and pitched the toy knife as hard as they could off of the side. They threw their entire body into the swing.

The faint clatter of it hitting the ground below came a full three seconds later. Chara let out a breath that they hadn’t been aware they had been holding, as soon as it was irretrievably gone.

There was a moment of poignant silence, before Chara finally let themself lean over the banister of the ledge, exhaling deeply again and closing their eyes. Frisk burned gently against their soul, soft and persistent and present . It was the closest that they could get to both of them standing, shoulder pressed against shoulder, taking comfort in the sheer fact they they were both there .

“I know.” Chara murmured to the wordless question that Frisk posed. “I probably didn't need to throw it off entirely. Could've probably brought it to Toriel. But…” they opened their eyes again, staring down at their wrapped hand for a moment. “It couldn't wait.”

And I didn’t want to risk it.

There wasn’t really any good way to explain what had prompted this. Frisk didn’t seem to be privy to the contents of the nightmare, alerting them to the fact that it had originated in the battered, deadened portion of their shared soul that belonged to Chara and Chara alone. And if Frisk didn’t know about it, then Chara didn’t know how to even approach explaining it.

Better, then, to just let it pass. And hope it didn’t happen again.

…hah… it had been a long time since Chara had hoped about anything.

But then again… it had been a long time since they had been afraid of anything, too.


 

It took an age, standing out at the ledge and trying not to think about anything, before they finally felt Frisk drift back down again. Frisk’s general worry over their well being still surprised Chara, sometimes, but in times like this it was both a blessing and a curse. They appreciated the fact that Frisk was so conscientious of them and the fact that they were shaken up, but a part of them had already decided to move forward from the nightmare onto the next task on the agenda-- an overdue conversation of which they really didn’t want Frisk to be aware.

It wouldn't be something they could take back, if Frisk found out about the true extent of their ‘connection’ with Flowey. About their biggest fuck up. It had taken them a couple hundred resets to even tell the eighth child their name , once upon a time, and even now they barely used it. Frisk called them “Char-Bear”, they called Frisk “Friskers”, and it wasn’t really talked about.

They’d also been so careful about hiding their involvement from Flowey, too, never acknowledging his probes for their presence before this timeline, refusing to let Frisk respond with anything but confusion whenever he called them ‘Chara’. They hadn’t wanted him to know they were there and had made sure Frisk was aware of that. Frisk didn’t question why . They just accepted. It was one of the reasons that Chara adored them and would do whatever they had to for the younger soul.

But now, Frisk was asleep again, and they had something that needed to get done while Frisk was asleep, and a nightmare that they no longer wanted to think about.

“Alright, Flowey, you can come out now,” they said, softly, into the darkness around them. Just as expected, they heard the shifting of the earth behind them, and the sound of dirt moving the stones underfoot.

“About time.” Flowey grumbled.

So sorry.” They snarked back, finally turning around and leaning back against the ledge, letting their back slide against it as they sat down. “Had to wait until we could do this in private.”

“Don’t see why,” he tilted his head, his mouth splitting into a grin again, a sad mockery of the same scary-face they’d always used. “Worried that I’ll say something that’ll taint your little possessee’s perception of you?”

Chara let out a breath, tired beyond all recognition and not sure they had the patience to deal with Azzy’s newfound twisted sort of teasing on top of the other clusterfuck of emotions they were already dealing with tonight. “They already know I’m trash. Which means they know me better than you ever did.” They muttered back. It didn’t carry the heat they wanted it to. “I’m doing it to keep your little game a secret, Az.”

Don’t call me that.” he snarled. “My name is Flowey now.”

“Sure.” they huffed out a sound that could technically be considered a laugh, if a laugh were also a sneer. “Point is, Azzy,” they continued, ignoring his faint growl, “I’m keeping them from finding out about you for your sake, and for their sake, not mine. You want your little game of endless deaths and resets to keep going, and they don’t need to have that knowledge dashing their hopes of getting out of here at some point. So yes, I’m keeping them from learning certain things.”

They let the smile fall away again, finally, meeting his gaze with the sort of vicious relentlessness that they had always had, even if it had been dulled and deadened by so many roadblocks, weakened by having one soul they genuinely cared about protecting and hadn't been able to protect as of late.

“And right now, I want to make a few things extremely clear between us.” Their voice was softer now, but with venom instead of exhaustion lacing their tongue. “I’m calling a pause. At least for this one timeline. Unless you want your game to end prematurely with a soul that is so far gone that it can’t be used any longer, you won’t harass us while we’re in the Ruins. It falls to me to let it heal, for now, and I will not have you ruining it. And it shouldn’t need to be said what I’ll be willing to do if you test my lack of patience .” They flexed their fingers in the hem of Frisk’s frayed sweater, hoping that their argument would pass as wanting to keep the game going, wanting Frisk’s soul for their own, and not as the genuine care for Frisk that it really was.

They didn’t want to run the risk of Flowey killing them in the Ruins simply because they weren’t progressing. Frisk needed the break away from resets. That was the entire point. That was the only reason they had agreed to stay . They couldn’t let anything interfere with that.

But if Flowey thought that they were going soft…

(It was a maddeningly fine line to tread.)

The faint, echoey laugh that Flowey gave sent chills down their spine, before he gave a faint smirk their way, bouncing from side to side.

“Message received, loud and clear. ” he sneered. “I’ll stick to the script. No more danger in the Ruins from me for your little puppet.” He stuck out his tongue, winking, “We’ll chat again soon. You probably ought to get back before Toriel realizes you’ve run off.”

And with another bounce, and another faint giggle, he pulled back down into the dirt, leaving them alone again. They brought up a hand to massage at the tension headache forming behind their eyes. It took a moment longer than it probably should have to heave themself up to trudge back ‘home’ for the night.

It was going to be a long, long night.

Chapter Text

Two PM at Grillby’s had the kind of atmosphere that seemed to set everyone inside of it at ease. The air was warm and smelled faintly and pleasantly of woodsmoke, and the company was almost always worth interacting with, whenever you needed a distraction. There was a reason that Sans preferred to come to Grillby’s when he needed to unwind, after all.

He pushed himself up to his usual barstool, tipping a quick salute to Grillby himself as the flame elemental placed a plate of fries and a bottle of ketchup in front of him without needing to be prompted. He didn’t acknowledge the kindness outright, just scooping up a fry and chomping on it while Grillby moved down the bar again.

He tugged out his notebook, dislodging a pen from the fringe of his jacket and flipping the notebook open to the latest page, ducking down over it and gripping at the back of his skull in quiet, heavy discomfort as he started scribbling in it.

30 hours post-reset.

still nothing.

no signs of distortion in the time stream so far.

no signs that the kid’s gonna leave the ruins. they might actually be keeping their promise this time through.

no signs of

A hand pressed gently against his shoulder and he jerked, his own hand swinging over to cover the chicken-scratch scrawlings as he turned his gaze up toward the hand, and then the arm, and then the face of the monster who had come to check on him.

It was Sidney, the far more outgoing bunny regular of Grillby’s fine establishment, who he knew had bounced between flirty and friendly for as long as he could remember. He’d not really reciprocated, and had definitely grown less receptive as the resets went on, but she’d settled more firmly in the ‘friendly’ camp rather than feeling sour about it, which made her a good soul in his book.

“Sansy?” she asked, only a tiny bit loose in the vowels -- she was barely even tipsy, this early in the afternoon. “Are you doin’ okay?”

“what makes ya ask?” Sans replied, trying for nonchalant deflection. Sidney, as he really ought to have expected of her, crossed her arms and gave him a look that told him his attempt hadn’t worked.

“You look like you’re tryin’ to pull your own skull off your spine.” she leaned forward to poke at his forehead, “So don’t pull the ‘nothin’ is wrong’ crap, at least not with me, okay? If you don’t wanna talk about it, then just say so.”

He peered up at her, blinking, considering her stance and the way she was leaning forward with her hands on her hips, frowning slightly downward at him. Sidney was one of those monsters that had, according to his notes, been essentially a non-entity. She stuck to her script without needing much prompting, and barely interacted with the kid outside of brief conversations in Grillby’s. It was honestly kind of easy to overlook her, as of late -- his attention had to be squarely focused elsewhere.

“i appreciate the concern,” he started, forcing himself to stay polite despite the intense urge to snap back ‘well then i don’t’. “but it’s really nothin’ that big or worrisome. nothin’ i can’t figure out myself, at any rate.”

Stars knew he was going to figure this out himself. If he didn’t, then no one would.

Sidney huffed, before shrugging and looking a mite bit irritated, “Suit yourself, Sansy.” she announced, before walking back over to her booth.

Sans, for his part, scratched in irritation at the inner corner of his eye socket and hunched back over his notes. He had a lot to think about from earlier today.

no signs of visible malice seen in the ruins yet. at least,  according to tori. 


It had been a slow morning on the other side of the door. Chara had managed to get to the armchair by the fire, hoping to warm up from the chill of the outer parts of the Ruins, before the tension in their bones finally snapped away and everything became so much heavier. The thought of walking all the way back to their assigned room had been more exhausting than they deemed worth it, so they had instead curled up in the armchair and wrapped the patchwork quilt from atop it around their slight form, and was gone until morning.

At least, until Toriel shook them awake, looking frazzled. They blinked their eyes open blearily, seeing her gently pulling her hand back and twisting a bit of the fabric of her nightgown between her furry fingers.

“Child…” she sounded a bit out of breath, “why are you sleeping out here?”

“Mmn.” Chara yawned, stretching their shoulders as best as they could without actually leaving the general position they were in, curled up under the heavy quilt. “Came to sit by the fire…” they mumbled as the yawn ended, blinking owlishly up at her. “I must have fallen asleep out here.”

“What had you out of bed? I-If I may ask, of course.” Toriel quickly appends, “I wasn’t expecting to poke my head into your room and see you already up at this hour, and it gave me a bit of a scare…”

“...why?” Chara asked, tilting their head slightly. They had a feeling they knew why, honestly. Toriel having gone to bed the night before secure in the thought that they were in their bed and at least staying the night, waking up to find them gone…? She probably thought they made a run for it. It would be an interesting experiment to try in a future timeline, perhaps. Unfortunately, their intention for this timeline rested securely in the lay low in the Ruins sector, so they wouldn’t have the chance to see how that played out.

But, this was still an interesting potential line of questioning to ‘learn’ about the route out into the rest of the Underground, if it worked. They weren’t about to pass that up.

“I…” Toriel trailed off, fidgeting with her hands, before her shoulders straightened and Chara figured they weren’t going to actually get the answer they were hoping for. “Regardless,” she said, deflecting, “I’m glad to find you unharmed, young one.”

Chara sat up straighter, stretching until their spine popped, and decided to press the line of questioning anyway. If nothing else, it would be a step out of the way for if ( when ) Frisk took control again. A reasoning why they’d want to leave, or at least an excuse for their knowing where it was. And honestly, even if it instigated the usual fight with her, a part of them also wondered if it was possible to get through the fight with her without necessitating their leaving the Ruins.

They’d staggered through the lesser fights on the edge of a panic attack, after all. If they could incite one big important panic attack inducing fight and get through it to completely ‘clear’ the requirements that seemed to always predicate exiting the Ruins, and not have to worry about it happening again, then that would be a worthwhile thing to go for, yeah?

“Where did you think I was, mom?” they ask, strategically letting the last word slip off their tongue like an afterthought, before letting their shoulders stiffen and a hand snap up to press over their mouth. The affectionate had fallen off of their tongue with the familiarity and the ease of a thousand, thousand timelines before, even without taking into account Chara’s own instinct. Frisk had used it freely, even if the first time had been an accident.

Likewise, the act of flinching, of acting like they hadn’t meant to let it drop, the act of twisting their behavior just so, was as familiar to them as breathing. Toriel’s expression tightened with indecision for a few precious seconds, and Chara added the cherry on top.

“I--I mean… ma’am.”

They purposefully made their delivery a bit lame, almost ridiculous with how hollow it landed. Toriel bit at her lips, before hesitantly clearing her throat again.

“Would… would it make you happy…? To call me… ‘mother’?”

Checkmate , they thought blithely, making their eyes big and hesitant and adding in a few nervous flickers away, like they couldn’t keep eye contact. Better to keep quiet, at this point, they thought.

Toriel took a deep breath, before smiling, soft and warm and welcoming, and slowly reached forward to run her clawed fingers through their bedhead.

“Hah…” she murmured, “And here I was worried that perhaps you’d tried to leave…”

“I… don’t even know how to leave.” Chara mentioned, hesitantly. “The tunnels all throughout the Ruins yesterday seemed to just wrap back in on themselves… I don’t want to risk getting lost in them.”

(That was a lie. As if they could get lost. As if the Ruins weren’t home . As if they didn’t already know where the exit was, and why.)

“Oh, no, child,” Toriel helped them fold up the quilt and put it back up on the top of the armchair, “The exit out into the rest of the underground isn’t somewhere in the rest of the Ruins. I had simply worried that you might have wandered down and out.”

“Down and out…” they repeated, like rolling the words over their tongue. “So… the stairs?”

Toriel hesitated before nodding. “The… doors down into the rest of the Underground lay below my home, yes. I would prefer you stay away from them.” She helped Chara stand, and held them steady when Frisk’s feet proved to still be asleep from where they had been tucked underneath the rest of their weight. “But this is hardly a conversation to be having so early in the morning, child. Would you like something to eat?”


 

Frisk stirred around noon, sleepily swimming up from the depths of their own mind in a faint but familiar rush of comfort and warmth. It soothed away the faint jittery feeling of being constantly on guard that was bubbling low in Chara’s gut, and they took the chance when Toriel’s back was turned to duck down over a book that they didn’t particularly care about. They could feign intense interest over a pointless book that they’d read hundreds of times already for long enough to focus on Frisk for a while.

They turned their thoughts inward,  carefully curling their consciousness around the quieter, faded soul within the body, like a hug. Frisk sent back a soft, but depthless feeling of trust and affection which made the muscles of their shared body seem to thrum with such a perfect balance that Chara had to sigh softly over the book.

Gone for the moment was the cockeyed sense of being irredeemably broken. Frisk knew them more intimately than anyone ever had, knew how the pieces of what used to be Chara’s deadened soul were cracked and jagged, barely holding itself together, razor sharp and rough to the touch like sandpaper made of shattered glass. And despite everything,  despite the sharp pain of Chara’s own brokenness, and the fiery explosions of their temper, and the cold, chilling detachment of their manipulative nature… Frisk was still Frisk. Frisk endured the pains that Chara subjected them to, intentionally or not. Frisk knew where the pieces dug in to Chara, and where they sometimes stabbed outward instead, to hurt anything that got close.

Chara was careful, now, with their own brokenness. The jagged pieces softened at the edges where Frisk’s soul touched, wary of causing more harm than had already been done. It didn't matter to them that they were a mess of broken pieces until it came to those broken pieces hurting Frisk. And somehow, over time, the frayed edges of their own soul had softened, mixed with the edges of Frisk's so much younger one, into a feeling of neither Frisk or Chara but you-and-me-together .

After a moment of both of them simply being , Frisk offered a faint sense of general question and Chara spread a carefully edited pick of their recent memories out for them to peruse as they had the energy to, in order to get them caught up on what had happened thus far in the timeline. Frisk lingered, surprisingly enough, on the same tentative thought for a different path to take that Chara had. Chara quietly impressed the feeling of next time on them, wordlessly promising that they could try a mad-cap sneaking dash through the underground to see how far they could get without getting caught. It probably wouldn’t pan out, but it would be an interesting experiment nonetheless.

Frisk trailed their metaphorical fingers along the rises and falls of Chara’s emotional state since the nightmare, lingering for a moment or so on the idle manipulation but not reacting to it overtly. Chara maintained their own calm facade, shifting the body around and flipping the page over in the book, though their attention was everywhere but.

They heard Toriel busying herself in the hallway and heard the sound of her padded feet shuffling around the small house. They heard when she poked her head into the living room area and felt her looking them over where they were 'focused' on the book between their elbows. They heard her humming softly, in pleased recognition, before padding back into the room before the hallway--

Hm.

Frisk gave a soft feeling of inquisition, and Chara pushed up by the elbows, rolling over to peer behind them into the other room. Toriel’s footsteps had softened again with distance, but they were pretty reasonably sure she hadn’t gone back into the hallway, they’d be able to see her… and they hadn’t heard the front door open...

Which meant she must have gone downstairs.

They closed the book and pushed to their knees, carefully toeing off their shoes to minimize the amount of noise they would make, and padded carefully out of the living room into the entryway. No signs of Toriel. They leaned out over the edge of the staircase and saw the backs of her feet disappearing down the hallway below, and felt a brief moment of panic.

What if she was going to shut off the passageway before they could try to leave? They had thought it might be a possibility that they’d have to do the fight, but so soon ? They'd not even pressured her into telling them!

They hurried down the stairs as quickly as they could manage without causing any noise, the ground chilling under their feet as they padded down the hallway after her.  They stayed a few dozen feet back, keeping her in their sights but sticking close to the shadowy walls and biting down on shivers.

She was walking fast. Not the steady, quick-paced stride filled with morbid determination, but a gentler sort of stride that still seemed faster than the other. Chara was hard pressed to keep up, through one door -- down to number two -- all the way to the third door at the end.

The chill in the floor was seeping through their socks and working its way up their legs, which were already quivering. They kept their breathing soft, but could see the faint wisps of condensation starting at their lips -- the chill from Snowdin Woods seeped decently far into this hallway, as it turned out.

They stopped at the doorway to the final room, the second door overall in the long pair of hallways that lead down underneath the rest of the abandoned Former Home. Toriel didn’t usually come this far, and some of the instinctive panic was dulled by that -- she usually stopped at the first door when she was going to destroy the passage. Frisk was burning low with unspoken curiosity, urging Chara to stay a moment to find out what she was doing despite the spreading chill in their body.

Toriel was… taking a seat at the doorway. Her back was to the door out into the woods and she looked relaxed, and not at all bothered by the chill (though, Chara mused, she was also covered in thick, coarse white fur; she was properly insulated).

Chara pressed their own back to the chilly stone and eased down into a seated position themself, carefully tucked around the doorway and out of sight, their legs wrapped up close to their torso. They held their breath as they heard Toriel stop shifting to get comfortable, and then heard the unmistakable double rap of knuckles against stone.

“Knock knock.” Toriel called, a note of mirth in her voice.

And Chara felt cold.

Colder than even the chill air could account for.

When they heard the voice that answered.

"heh… you're later than usual. who's there?"