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Just One Year

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Choosing to save a civilization of strangers is a big decision for a child at the cusp of their teen years. Making that choice when the majority of those whose fate you hold attack you on sight is even more so. It’s frightening, offering friendship when the sins of the ancient past, told in legends hardly remembered, are heaped upon your innocent shoulders.

One year after the fights and the flirting, Frisk smiled from up in her bedroom at her family and friends gathering at the house she lived in with Toriel for a party to celebrate the anniversary of the day the Angel of the Underground fell into their lives. Everyone was there: Papyrus and Sans, Alphys and Undyne, Mettaton and Napstablook, even Toriel and Asgore had managed to put aside their differences long enough to celebrate with their adopted child. Grillby and his wife Nina, a cyan colored flame, the favorite aunt and uncle of the neighborhood children, came with their daughter Fuku and Fuku’s best, skateboard-loving friend, Paige.

Only one person who Frisk wanted to see was missing. With a heavy heart, she thought of all the ways she had tried to coax Flowey, coax Asriel, to leave the underground to experience life on the surface. Nothing worked: there was still a hole in her heart; a sad phantom floating impatiently nearby. He stared out the bedroom window at the arriving guests but his mind was clearly far away. Seeing Chara in such a state was upsetting. Unable to talk to anyone besides Frisk; not alive, but apparently not really a ghost either, Chara was nearly consumed by the gloom he kept.

“Are you going to be alright?” Frisk turned soulful brown eyes up towards the other.

“What are you asking me for?” Chara’s reddish amber eyes refused to make contact. “I might as well not be here, but I can’t leave.”

It was true, nothing they tried had enabled Chara to move on. No amount of finding peace, reliving memories, confessing to their parents about what had actually made him sick, nothing they had tried helped. They stopped after many attempts, Chara growing more forlorn with every inch Frisk grew and way her body changed. They had looked almost identical when they first met, apart from Chara's paler skin, lighter hair, and eyes. Now all they could see was how different they were, with Chara still in his green and yellow striped sweater with his boyish face while Frisk had begun to show some of the signs of childhood giving way to youth.

“I’m sorry,” Frisk wrung her hands, resisting the urge to again drive home his ethereal state by swiping through his form with a well-meant pat. “If there was a way to make him see you, I’d live the rest of my life in the ruins so you could be together.”

Chara scoffed, finally turning his translucent face towards her. He fixed Frisk with a critical grimace. “It’s a good thing he can’t then. You’d ruin your entire life just to make two miserable idiots slightly less miserable. You’re almost as big of a baby as he is.”

“You helped me get through the Underground by reading signs and teaching me how to check stats. Even when I refused to do things your way. Does that make you a baby too?” Frisk crossed her arms, sticking out her lower lip in a pout.

“Probably,” Chara replied with a shrug. “If I had been a greater problem, you might have done something entertaining while you attempted to figure things out for yourself. It’s not like mom knew humans stopped teaching the ancient writing symbols used in the Underground.”

“It’s weird when you think about it.” Frisk, not for the first time, turned her mind over some of the oddities of her adventure. “Plenty of books fell into the underground over the years and I know she hadn’t been locked in the ruins for that long.”

“Frisk! My child, it’s time to come down,” Toriel called from the bottom of the stairs.

“Coming mom!” Frisk turned to head towards the door sitting opposite of the window in her light blue room. “I can’t believe a year already passed. It feels like I was just wandering around the underground yesterday.”

“That’s because everyone stayed in the exact same town and have no sense of privacy,” Chara quipped.

Frisk ignored the complaint, rushing towards the stairs.

Once in the entryway by the front door, Frisk was greeted by all of her friends. A solid fifteen minutes of hellos, hugs, and redirected fight challenges passed before the din of life settled. The crowd moved out towards the fenced in backyard Frisk had spent most of the morning getting ready.

“hey champ,” Sans said once he and Frisk were the only ones still inside. “gotta hand it to you, a whole year on the surface has been a wild experience for these lazy bones.”

“I told you there wouldn’t be anything to worry about.” Frisk beamed up at the older skeleton brother, leading the way to the kitchen.

“yeah, looks like you were right, kid,” Sans admitted. He shrugged his shoulders in the brand-new blue coat he had bought just for the party. “guess it’s time to say sorry for doubting you.”

“Nah.” Frisk brushed off the idea while playfully shoulder bumping the other. “Some days I didn’t think I’d make it through myself. Mom says doubting things is normal, especially when you’ve never done them before.”

Sans’ usual lazy smile dropped; his eye lights went dark. It only lasted a second, but Frisk caught it. Despite his normal poker face, sometimes Sans couldn’t help but display the pain and anger he felt. In a way, it was transparent to Frisk when compared to a face covered in fur or scales.

“Dad also says you don’t doubt things unless you know they can happen,” Frisk added. “So the fact we doubted it would work meant we both knew it was possible in the first place.”

Sans’ smile returned with a genuine warmth; he wrapped an arm around Frisk, pulling her into a side hug.

“you’re really something else, you know? I could almost forget you were a kid if you weren’t so short.”

“I’m still growing!” Frisk glared up indignantly.

Sans laughed as he walked out the back door to where he could smell Grillby’s burgers sizzling on the charcoal grill. “sure kid, but that doesn’t help you now.”

“Hah, he’s got you there,” Chara teased.

“You’re not helping!” Frisk said, though she was pleased to see her soul companion enjoying their friends in his own way.

“FRISK! JUST IN TIME! I HAVE SET UP MY LATEST PUZZLE AND WOULD SO GREATLY APPRECIATE YOUR ASSISTANCE IN TESTING IT OUT!” Papyrus called.

Forgetting her petty squabble with Sans (who was already three puns deep into a joke war with Toriel by the looks on Grillby and Nina’s faces) Frisk rushed over to test whatever contraption the younger skeleton brother had concocted this time. The sun was shining. The flowers were blooming. Birds filled the windy air with a melody of life and happiness. Nothing could have better exemplified their perfect happy ending.

#

It all happened so quickly. It felt like the beginning of a headache melding into the sensation of falling into darkness. Frisk groaned, picking herself up. The silence was deafening. No laughter, no games, no talking, not even a friendly inquiry into her well-being. She opened her eyes. Dread wracked her body with an icy chill when she saw she rested in a patch of golden flowers in a dark cavern with only the light shining from a hole in the air above her to illuminate the blackness.

“No.” Her voice was quiet, shaking.

She looked around her, her eyes resting on an equally stunned Chara.

“NO!” she shouted it this time. Scrambling to her feet, the young girl felt herself start to hyperventilate. “No, no, no! I didn’t do this! I didn’t ask for this! What happened?”

There was no answer.

“This isn’t funny!” Tears stung Frisk’s eyes; rolling down her cheeks. “Bring them back! Take us back! I didn’t do this! Mom! Sans! Anyone!”

But nobody came.

Frisk sank onto her knees, sobbing. Somehow, despite all her good intentions, she was back where she started. She had never activated a full reset: she had only ever needed to do the occasional quick respawn after falling to a particularly difficult future friend. Yet she knew, she could feel, all of her connections with her friends and family fall away no matter how tightly she tried to hold onto them.

“Did you do this?” she asked, her voice flat. She refused to look at who she was accusing.

“You’ve always been in control. I couldn’t have; even if I wanted to. And I already told you going back to the underground would be a waste of your life. Not even I’m that cruel.”

“Do you think, by leaving him alone, Flowey finally gained enough determination to regain control?”

Chara shook his head. “I doubt it. Even when you were feeling peaceful, you never stopped being determined to make each day the best for everyone. Asriel couldn’t come close to matching that.”

Frisk sighed, burying her head in her hand. “Then what happened?”

“How should I know? I didn’t wake up until you came and resonated with whatever was left of me. I’ve never been in charge of resets before.”

Frisk wiped her face on her new lavender sweater with baby blue stripes, the only indication of the timeline she had just emerged from, while rising to her feet. “Well, there’s only one other person alive who has.”

Frisk traversed the dark corridor and through the door into the room where she knew the flower waited.

“Howdy! I’m Flowey! Flowey the flower!”

It was surreal, hearing those lines so long after she had originally heard them. What made it worse was the sense of déjà vu as she watched him smile the trickster smile he wore whenever he thought he was about to pull something over on someone. The battle box opened.

“See that heart? That is your soul, the very culmination of your being!” Flowey said in his chipper deception voice.

“I know.” Frisk’s voice carried listlessly.

Flowey stopped for a moment, taken aback. “What did you say?”

“I said, ‘I know,’” Frisk snapped. “I know that’s my soul, I know your ‘friendliness pellets’ are actually bullets, and I know you're trying to kill me to take my soul. We’ve done this before!”

Flowey’s look of shock was quickly replaced by a wicked grin. “Oh, so you’re having fun with your game. Did you get board after killing everyone and decide to start over?”

“I’VE NEVER KILLED ANYONE AND HAVE NO INTENTION TO!” Frisk shouted at the flower. “And I never reset! I wasn’t going to! We were happy on the surface! It had been a year!”

Flowey shrank from the rant, genuinely afraid of Frisk’s outburst. “Golly, I get it. You don’t have to scream at me.”

“I’m sorry,” Frisk lowered her voice, crossing her arms over her chest. “I’m just, frustrated. I don’t know why this happened. Did a reset ever happen automatically for you?”

“Not that I can think of.” Flowey appeared to consider the possibility. “Then again, I’ve rarely made it more than a few months without getting bored or frustrated.”

“Do you think…” Frisk was cut off by a ball of fire entering the area, clipping Flowey, causing him to scream and run away.

Neither of them had realized they were still in an active battle box. Toriel, however, did notice, quickly assuming the worst of the flower confronting a young teen.

“What a terrible creature, torturing such a poor, innocent youth,” the goat monster said softly yet sternly.

The color drained from Frisk’s face when she saw her mother dressed once again in her royal robes instead of the yellow sundress she had bought specifically for their celebration.

“Ah, do not be afraid, my child.” Toriel spoke soothingly, mistaking the look of dread. “I am Toriel, caretaker of the ruins.”

No words could escape Frisk’s throat. Her desire to scream, to call out for time to fix itself, to beg her mother to remember what had been, all collided in a knot that silenced the girl.

“I pass through this place every day to see if anyone has fallen down,” Toriel continued, unperturbed by Frisk’s silence. “You are the first human to come here in a long time. Come! I will guide you through the catacombs. This way.”

Toriel took Frisk’s hand and began to lead her away.

No! This is so wrong! It’s exactly the same but it’s so wrong!

Frisk followed the familiar face turned stranger, her free hand twitching and her teeth biting at her lip.

“Of course it’s all the same.” Chara reminded Frisk he didn’t need her to speak aloud to hear her. “You’re doing everything the same. They’re stuck in a time loop. You’re the only one who’s able to change.”

Frisk didn’t dare touch the save spot in the red leaf room. Coming to the double staircase, she went up the left side, opposite the half Toriel took. This seemed to not concern the goat monster.

“Not like that, stupid.” Chara almost laughed.

Toriel began her spiel about the finer points of puzzle operation while Chara floated closer to Frisk’s ear.

“You need to do something drastic,” the phantom whispered.

“No!” Frisk hissed. She glanced at her mother, checking to see if Toriel had heard.

Luckily, she didn’t notice, merely telling Frisk to follow the instructions on the wall to figure out the next puzzle.

“Hey, if you want to figure this out, you can’t just do what you did before,” Chara insisted.

“I know what you’re talking about; I’m not killing anyone.” Frisk shambled towards each switch on the wall.

“So what, you’re going to do it all again, exactly the same, and then what? Have it all reset after a year again?”

“Shut up,” Frisk said under her breath while Toriel congratulated her, ushering her forward. “Something will change. A whole year has passed. Even if they forgot it, something about everyone should have changed.”

Chara growled in frustration, and became silent. Frisk set her jaw, powering forward. She seemed reinvigorated by her own declaration. The invisible child resigned himself to waiting; she was impossible to speak to in this state.

Frisk faced the dummy and talked through the encounter, this time telling the dummy it was short and scrawny. Just as the first time, Toriel gave the same chuckle after the match. Frisk’s frustration grew to the point of punching the dummy and knocking it over.

“Oh my.” Toriel frowned at the display of violence. “The dummies are for talking, not for fighting.”

The upset in her mother’s voice crushed the teen. She quickly righted the downed mannequin, apologizing both to it and Toriel.

“It’s alright, you’ll improve.” Toriel gently pat Frisk’s head.

Walking over the seemingly pointless coloring on the floor, Frisk remembered the upcoming spiked pathway puzzle and held her breath. She clearly looked older this time. Surely, Toriel would be comfortable letting a budding high schooler handle the floor spike maze on her own.

A look of despair crept across her face when the older woman decided it was too dangerous for her precious child.

“What did I tell you, Frisk? The only way to make things happen differently is to do things differently.”

Toriel left Frisk and ran down the long room to hide behind the lone pillar at the end.  Frisk realized for the first time Toriel clearly had no idea this or last time how old she was.

She probably still sees Sans as a child. She’s a boss monster like Asgore. The only one who comes close is Gerson.

“She doesn’t remember you younger, so she won’t treat you older.”

“I know, but…”

“But nothing, Frisk,” Chara snapped. “Something happened to take control away from you. Maybe it was you losing your determination after all, because you’re really acting like a wet blanket right now.”

“Not wanting to kill monsters isn’t boring.” Frisk glared at him.

“You can bring them back!” Chara exclaimed, his voice between an exasperated whine and a booming declaration. “It’s not like I’m asking you to obliterate them and return to the surface without them! But if you didn’t lose determination, then something else had to happen. Maybe, like with you and Asriel, someone came into the picture and took the power away from you long enough to reset the world. Maybe someone else decided they weren’t done with us yet.”

“And what would you have me do about it?” Frisk asked bitterly.

“You know what I want. Reset to the fall again to make sure you still can. Then, do something drastically different to change what happens and lure this other loser out.”

Frisk growled in frustration. “And I’m just supposed to be fine with this?”

“Think about dad,” Chara said, causing Frisk to stop in her tracks. “Sometimes, in order to help good people, sacrifices need to be made. He understood and gave up what remained of his family to try to help everyone. I understood and gave up my own life trying to help. Neither of us had the power to reset; but you do. You can tear this world apart until you find the problem, bring everyone back, and fix the true issue. You’re telling me you won’t even do this much after what everyone else has done? Because you’re uncomfortable with it?”

Frisk’s eyes grew wide. Her jaw went slack in utter shock.

“Greetings, my child.” Toriel rushed out from behind the pillar. “Do not worry, I did not leave you. I was merely behind this pillar the whole time.” It was apparent the kindly monster had misinterpreted Frisk’s reaction. “Thank you for trusting me. However, there was an important reason for this exercise…to test your independence.”

Toriel handed Frisk a cell phone, telling her to stay put while she ran ahead to accomplish a few tasks. The sound of padded footfalls disappeared up the dim purple tunnels; Frisk stood motionless.

She shook; her breathing grew ragged. Chara’s words ran through her mind.

If dad could do it, if I could do it, you can do it.

Tears began to fall: Frisk dropped her face, her knuckles white. She clenched the phone in her hand.

“Okay. For everyone’s sake, I’ll do it.”

Chapter Text

“Golly, did you get bored and decide to reset already?” Flowey asked as Frisk reentered his room at the start of the ruins. “Did you decide to kill everyone after all?”

“Shut up!” Frisk spat through clenched teeth. “I’ve decided I have to do something drastic to see why the world reset on its own.”

“Call it what you want, it won’t change what you’re doing.” Flowey gave a vile, toothy grin.

The icy feeling of dread filled Frisk’s stomach once more as those words sunk in.

“Don’t listen to him,” Chara said, floating near Frisk’s left ear. “He’s just trying to psych you out. He can’t feel like us, remember? He doesn’t understand how important this is.”

A tentative resolve returned to Frisk’s fluttering heart and she bent over to pick up the long stick laying on the ground in front of her.

Flowey laughed. “So, you’re actually going through with it?”

Frisk refused to answer and quickly walked away to begin her nightmare.

#

If it had been odd to see and hear Toriel’s instructions and tests after a year, it was uncanny to see it all unfold once again after not even an hour.

She didn’t even react all that differently when I destroyed the dummy instead of just knocking it over.

Cellphone in hand, Frisk watched her mother walk away once more, disappearing into the darkness. This time, Frisk pressed on. Three steps into the next room, a battle box opened as a Moldsmal squelched out of a corner.

“Good, this one will be easy,” Chara said, a confident smile on his face. “It’s barely even alive.”

“Don’t say that.” Frisk clenched her stick and prepared an attack. “They can still respond to what’s around them.”

Frisk took a deep breath and swung her weapon hard at the jiggling opponent. In a splat, the Moldsmal fell apart before shifting into dust. The battle box’s frame flickered and a ring of light closed in on Frisk’s soul, raising her EXP before dissipating. Frisk put a hand to her mouth and shuttered.

“Hey, come on, you can’t break down over a Moldsmal.” Chara crossed his arms over his chest and rolled his eyes. “Keep going.”

Begrudgingly, Frisk heeded his advice and even saved at the glowing star floating over the red pile of leaves.

*19 remain*

“Isn’t there a bowl of monster candy to the north?” Chara asked as Frisk turned south to continue on her path. “You should go up and get a few healing items.”

Frisk turned and did as instructed, taking four before the bowl tipped over and spilled the rest onto the floor.

“Wow, are your hands shaking that bad?”

“The bowl was off balance.” Frisk pulled her hands to her chest to steady them.

In the next room, Frisk’s phone rang, causing her to jump. She answered, tears welling as she heard the gentle voice she loved. Frisk muttered cinnamon when asked what she preferred, not caring even if she hadn’t known why the question was being asked.

“You know, it’s strange,” Toriel said after receiving her answer. “When I first saw you, I felt… like I was seeing an old friend for the first time.”

Did she say that before? Frisk wondered as she hung up the call.

“Yeah, she’s talking about how you remind her of me, remember? You’re just searching for excuses.”

“Am not.” Frisk pocketed the phone and marched on.

Frisk stalked through the ruins, dreading every shadow she saw or flutter she heard as she silently begged every Whimsum and Froggit she passed to flee. By her fifth kill in the basement of the broken floor room, the reluctant slayer could not hold back any longer and vomited what she had taste-tested before the party above the sound of Chara’s goading.

“Gross, did you have to?” the callous boy asked. “We’re going to bring them back, it’s not a big deal.”

“It is so!” Frisk screamed, tears streaming down her face. “Just because we’re going to fix it, doesn’t make it any less horrible! Stop acting like this isn’t supposed to affect me!”

“Fine! Drive yourself crazy for no reason!” Chara said, leaning back as he floated just above her. “As long as you don’t quit like a big baby, why should I care if you’re miserable?”

“Tsk. As if you’re even saying it because you care. I know you’re just trying to wind me up.”

“Wow, when did you become such a pessimist?” Chara asked looking away.

“Golly, I don’t know, maybe when my family evaporated and forced me to go through the hardest part of my life again, but worse!” Frisk declared as she stormed away from her mess and back up to try the failed puzzle once more.

#

Past the three rocks room and the save point near the cheese *13 remain* Frisk stopped dead as she saw Napstablook lying on the ground ahead.

Run away! I’m not ready, I forgot I met him here first.

Frisk cried as much as the shy ghost as hit after hit saw his HP lowering. Her gut turned and she retched, but nothing remained to come out.

“umm…” Napstablook spoke up just as Frisk righted herself from the painful spasm. “you do know you can’t kill ghosts, right? we’re sort of incorporeal and all. I was just lowering my hp because I didn’t want to be rude. sorry… I just made this more awkward… pretend you beat me… ooooooo”

Frisk dropped to her knees as her friend disappeared. “I forgot. I actually forgot. I’m so glad.”

“Why, so he can watch?” Chara said, causing Frisk to fall silent as she felt her wave of relief shrivel up and fall away. “Well, at least it’s just him so we don’t have to worry about making someone normal depressed. He’ll probably just wait it out with his headphones on.”

“Just, stop talking,” Frisk said hoarsely as she got to her feet.

Her knees were sore from the impact with the ground and still weak from the emotions she clung to like her guilt. Despite this, Frisk continued on. On past the spider bake sale where she stocked up on goods, on past the silent and empty hallway where helpful tutorial Froggits once stood, and down the lower left cracked corner to collect the faded ribbon at Chara’s pestering.

Her crying had become infrequent sniffling by the time she walked onto the balcony overlooking the rundown original capital city of the Underground, long since abandoned. Frisk stared out over the dilapidated buildings before picking up the discarded plastic knife and throwing aside the dusty stick.

*DETERMINATION*

More like termination, Frisk thought as she moved away from the save spot.

She shot a deathly glare at the tittering form floating beside her.

“Aw, come on,” Chara said with a coy smile. “Even Sans wouldn’t have been able to resist laughing at that.”

Frisk opened her mouth before quickly shutting it and moving on.

Toriel met them once again, apologizing and appearing blissfully unaware of the evidence of sin littering Frisk’s sweater and shoes. The kindly queen seemed much more concerned about the deep circles under the teen’s eye, ushering her to bed. Frisk sat and waited silently for the impulse, the drive to move, telling her it was time to carry on.

The sensation came after the slice of pie, smelling just as perfect as it ever had, was slid into the room. The notes of sweet butterscotch tempered by the heat of cinnamon called invitingly, familiarly.

“Aren’t you going to take it?” Chara asked.

“No,” Frisk said as she stopped with her hand on the door. “I’m not touching mom’s pie until I’ve fixed this.”

“But…”

“I’m not bending on this one, Chara!” Frisk shouted, silencing the brash child immediately.

Frisk ground her teeth, trying to compose herself before opening the door. She finally turned the knob and swung it open, walking out and towards her point of no return.

Frisk followed the arms that held her tightly after nightmares down the stairs. Despite the warning, she followed the lips that kissed her head goodnight down the long hall. Against the pleading, she rounded the corner where the hands that had protected her stood blocking the way forward, demanding proof that Frisk could survive the Underground.

“You look like you’ve seen a ghost…” Toriel commented as the battle box opened and she watched the blood drain from Frisk’s face. “Do you know something that I do not?”

Frisk stared at the floor.

“No…” Toriel decided. “That’s impossible.”

“Ego much?” Chara said with a grin as Frisk swung the plastic knife.

There was a loud crack as Toriel was split open. Frisk’s eyes grew wide in disbelief.

She’s a boss monster like dad, isn’t she?

“Y… you… really hate me that much?” The look of pain and betrayal immediately returned the knowledge of how a monster’s defense truly works. “Now I see who I was protecting by keeping you here. Not you… But them!” With her dying breath, a manic grin crossed the ancient monster’s face as she fell to her knee. “ha… ha…”

The laugh cut short as Toriel’s body dissolved into dust, leaving only her soul. In one final defiant act of protection for her people, what remained of the well-loved and missed matron shattered her boss soul into pieces before this loathed creature could hope to absorb it.

Frisk began to tremble and she fell once more onto the ground, violently retching until her sides and back burned between the screaming sobs passing from her lips.

Reset.

Her entire body turned towards the idea.

RESET!

She couldn’t do this.

RESET, RESET, RESET!

“Don’t you even dare!” Chara screamed, stopping Frisk just as the prickling sensation she was starting to know so well began to well up. “Are you that stupid? If you reset now, then what was the point?”

Frisk turned her constricted pupils towards the noise that tormented her.

“You’re going to see mom again, she’s going to be alright,” Chara continued. “You’re going to have to look at her with this memory one way or the other. Are you really going to do it while knowing you gave up before you make it mean something?”

Frisk’s breathing was still labored and she internally cursed Chara for this, for making sense. Slowly, agonizingly, she returned to her feet and wiped the tears and snot off her face onto the least dusty part of her sleeve. One foot and then the other, Frisk stepped down the long, gradually lightening hall like an alien being piloting an unfamiliar vessel.

“You’re not really human, are you?” Flowey gloated as he confronted the silent and distressed teen immediately before the exit. “No. You’re empty inside. Just like me. In fact… you’re Chara, right?”

Frisk started at the suggestion. Never once through her previous run did Flowey notice, or suggest, that Chara might be hanging around. Chara seemed equally surprised, and perhaps a bit eager, desperate even, as he floated near the flower containing his long-lost brother.

“Asriel?”

“I thought you were Frisk at first. Maybe it was, she spoke differently than you do. But now, it’s you!” Flowey looked straight through the specter and at Frisk’s body.

Chara wilted and hunched over, gliding back beside Frisk and looking away.

“We’re still inseparable, after all these years…” Flowey sounded nostalgic and almost loving before his voice turned gleefully dark again. “Listen. I have a plan to become all powerful. Even more powerful than you and your stolen soul.”

“It’s not stolen, I’m just stuck here,” Chara said.

“Let’s destroy everything in this wretched world,” Flowey said. “Everyone, everything in these worthless memories… Let’s turn ‘em all to dust.”

“Worthless?” Chara asked.

Is that what he thought before? Frisk wondered. Even after taking on his final form and helping to free everyone? Is that why he wanted to stay alone?

“That’s a wonderful idea!”

Chapter Text

The door to the ruins crunched heavily as Frisk pushed it open over a small heap of snow and ice. The cold wind bit through her thin, summery sweater. Frisk looked out over the smooth, white, compressed snow path as she released the door, vaguely recalling the video camera in the bushes right next to the door.

Frisk cast her red, watery eyes in a forlorn look towards the hidden lens. I wonder if the dust looks like snow.

BANG!

Frisk jumped and turned back as the door swung itself closed. Her heart leapt and raced at the broken silence.

“Gee, Frisk, are you going to run away from your shadow next?” Chara asked.

“Shut up,” Frisk spat back. “I didn’t think it would close without anyone inside.”

“It’s not like we’re going back anyway.”

“I know that.” Frisk crossed her arms over her chest and started to trudge away.

It wasn’t until Frisk saw the stick laying across the road that she remembered who she was about to meet. A part of Frisk wished that snap of the branch was a quick end instead: after all, that would be the end of things if Sans would just kill her here without giving her the opportunity to press further on. No such luck, as it would turn out. Just a familiar start to a greeting as she approached the poorly blocked bridge.

“human.”

Frisk couldn’t tell if she was imagining the tired upset in his voice, but didn't doubt that it was there. She had memories of just how dark and defeated the skeleton had been under his joking facade. Not wanting to hear that pinched tone press out the words ‘new friend’, roughly half a day past when he had expressed his trust so warmly, Frisk turned around and shook his hand preemptively. She didn’t so much a flinch when the well-worn hand prank went off.

“heheh… the old whoopee cushion in the hand trick,” Sans said. “It’s ALWAYS funny.”

Nothing is funny right now. I failed you.

“That’s, uh. Your cue to laugh,” Sans prompted. “Or, uh, to emote at all…?”

“Don’t blow it this early,” Chara said, whiffing through Frisk’s head as he ineffectively swatted at it.

“Haha,” Frisk said, her voice dead and hollow. “Yeah.”

“gee, lady, you really know how to pick ‘em, huh…?” Sans muttered under his breath.

Frisk could hear the near inaudible mumble with her strained senses and felt shame weigh on her heart as she fought breaking down on the spot.

“OK, that’s fine. everyone’s got their own sense of humor. I’m sans, sans the skeleton.”

The familiar lines as Sans ushered her through the bars on the bridge and forward to his sentry station washed over her as she waited for the arrival of her next victim. So distracted was she that when Sans attempted to prompt her to hide behind his convenient lamp, she missed her cue.

“Uh, ok, I guess you don’t have to.” The unexpected line by the comedian snapped her back to attention in time to crack further at Papyrus’s grand entrance.

“SANS! IS THAT A HUMAN?” the younger brother asked.

“yep,” Sans replied more direct that Frisk had ever heard him before.

“Ooh, now we get to see what he does when he finds out early,” Chara said, gleeful for this new development.

Frisk held her breath, hoping that this wouldn’t be the moment that ended the skeleton brothers in this dreaded timeline.

“GUESS THAT’S SETTLED,” Papyrus said before turning and leaving.

“What?” The annoyance in Chara’s voice was palpable. Under any other circumstance, Frisk would have burst out laughing.

“well,” San’s voice killed the hint of a smile that had threatened to spread across her face. “I’ll be straight-forward with you. my brother’d really like to see a human… so, y’know, it’d really help me out if you kept pretending to be one.”

The disapproving growl was unmistakable this time, and any doubt over whether Sans could tell what she was covered in flew from Frisk’s mind.

“I told you not to act so suspiciously,” Chara scolded as Sans left the area. “Now he’s onto us.”

“Why does it matter?” Frisk asked. Her voice was hoarse with the gathering tears from Sans’s dark disapproval. “It’s not like you’re going to let me pass Snowdin without taking them out.”

“Do you really think he can fight?” Chara asked. “He’ll probably be like that cry baby ghost and ditch with Papyrus as soon as he figures out you’re for real.”

“I hope so.”

Frisk found the save spot *16 remain* and item chest that were just up ahead. Frisk decided to save her spider treats for later, finding the discarded tough glove in the dimension box in the process.

“This thing has higher stats, right?” Frisk asked.

“Yep, two extra attack,” Chara said.

Frisk traded it for her plastic knife and slipped the worn pink glove onto her right hand.

“I wish there was a way that I could see my stats other than at a save point,” Frisk said.

“Humans aren’t normally able to without some kind of tool,” Chara said. “I can only do it because I’m dead. Maybe once things are normal again, Alphys can make something.”

“When this is over, I’m never fighting again,” Frisk declared.

#

Snowdrake sprang onto the scene, cornering Frisk with attacks between terrible snow jokes that hardly made sense. He was quick to cut down. Unfortunately, others were not as easily overcome.

“I can’t believe Jerry had so much HP,” Frisk grumbled as she approached Doggo’s sentry station.

“I can’t believe he kept talking the whole time,” Chara said as he floated alongside.

The blind, treat addicted Doggo was simple enough to overcome, even if Sans wasn’t there to teach her about blue stop signs, and several more opponents crumbled at her strike as Frisk approached the electric maze set up by Papyrus.

“Don’t waste time,” Chara said when Frisk initially stopped to listen to the speech of the royal guard hopeful. “You’re just going to make this harder.”

Knowing he was right, Frisk begrudgingly stepped out onto the puzzle, causing Papyrus to scold her in frustration before addressing his brother.

“Really though, that human, do I know that person???”

Frisk’s heart jumped at that, even as the brothers disappeared up the path. Does that mean, he remembers?

“No way,” Chara said. “He’s probably just comparing you to someone else.”

“I’m the only human down here,” Frisk said aloud, growing panicked and defensive.

“I know that. I mean he’s probably making a joke at Sans’ expense.” His lack of hesitation sold his conviction. “Or Undyne. Neither of them like doing puzzles, remember?”

“I guess,” Frisk said, her hope and confusion drowning under the pain and apathy that grew inside of her. “Just forget it.”

Frisk stepped over the Word Search, and plodded on to fight the Dogi couple. Seeing the pain on Dogaressa’s face as Dogamy fell was enough to cause another fit of sobs and retching as the battle concluded and the spoils of death filled her soul with an unwanted and unfamiliar power.

Papyrus seemed rather pleased with the fact that the cross and circle puzzles were impossible to skip, though Frisk wondered how neither he nor Sans could have the foresight to try turning on the puzzle square grid before she arrived.

“Don’t complain,” Chara said as the thought crossed her mind. “They would have had enough time to get a real maze working if they had done that.”

“Yeah, that’s the idea,” Frisk said as she pressed on.

“You want this to take longer?”

“I want something to stop me.”

“Not possible,” Chara declared. “Do you think dad tortured himself by begging to be killed every time he had to make a move in war or a hard decision to break the barrier?”

Frisk felt a different pang at that, one she couldn’t quite name. “No.”

“Then stop being a baby and grow up,” Chara said. “Let’s go.”

Snarling at her soul companion, Frisk nonetheless continued, taking out lesser dog before activating the next save spot. *6 remain*

Frisk slid carefully across the ice in her soaking-wet fabric sneakers to complete the next puzzle as her toes, fingers, and nose all began to losing feeling in the icy environment. It didn’t help when she was pelted with snow after sliding down the long path behind a row of dense trees.

Strangely, Sans was standing in his normal spot in this area.

Watching me, Frisk concluded as she rushed past him to be out of sight before a nearby Gyftrot had the chance to challenge her.

After passing the incredibly tiny dog station, Greater Dog became the last enemy felled by Frisk’s hand in the forest before arriving at the gauntlet of deadly terror.

“Get ready,” Chara said. “He probably won’t feel like he needs to hold back this time.”

“WHAT’S THE POINT?” Papyrus asked instead, crushed by Frisks refusal to play along with him.

“sorry” Frisk whispered as the brothers turned to go after lodging their complaint.

Sans turned back to look at her.

“Don’t apologize!” Chara instructed.

When Frisk cast her dulled eyes downwards and did not speak further, Sans set his tired face towards Snowdin and disappeared from sight.

Chapter Text

Sans was doing much more than watching, as Frisk and Chara soon learned. Snowdin stood empty when they arrived, completely abandoned. The shop had only a matching left glove to the one Frisk already wore, a manly bandana she used to tie her dusty brown bangs back away from her wind-burnt beige face, and a handful of cinnamon bunnies and bicycles. Frisk shoved the cold treats into the dimensional box next to the save star.

*DETERMINATION*

She passed the empty inn, walked through the abandoned square, and noted that even Grillby’s bar was cold and silent. Frisk looked around the desolate scene of the empty lounge with her puffy eyes; it seemed barely warmer than the snow outside. After a moment of waiting, she sank down to her knees on the solid wood flooring.

“Come on, Frisk,” Chara said with a sigh as he floated down in front of her. “Don’t start crying again. We can do this.”

“I’m not crying,” Frisk said as she moved into a sit. “I have to do something about my feet.”

Frisk pulled off the cute canvas sneakers that were no longer white and peeled back the muddy, soaked socks. She winced as pain like fiery needles shot up her legs and lower back. She let out a small groan while Chara wriggled in front of her with an uncomfortable expression.

“When I heard stories of people’s feet going numb, I thought that meant they couldn’t feel anything,” Frisk said as a few pained tears escaped as she slid away from the sopping mess. “It hurts so bad.”

“You did this before,” Chara said. “You even spent more time in the snow, technically, because you stood around and played games. Why does it suddenly hurt?”

“The shoes,” Frisk said as she turned around back onto her knees. She lifted her feet up so they wouldn’t drag on the ground as she began to crawl towards the bar. “Last time I had those thick shoes, they even had a waterproof spray on them.”

“You said you were at an orphanage, right? They could afford really good things?”

Frisk scooched around the bar and started to search behind the counter.

“They weren’t so much nice as they were meant to last,” Frisk said as she pulled open boxes and drawers. “Like, they could only afford a pair every six months at the most so if you were still growing, they would be kinda big and the strongest they could afford. I guess having a mom with some spending money made me think more about how cute they looked as opposed to how well they would hold up in an emergency.”

Frisk found what she had been searching for, pulling a stack of clean white towels tumbling down on her from the middle of the bar behind a black drape. She moved back into a sitting position, grunting as her feet bumped the floor, and began to vigorously scrub at her painful feet to get them dry.

“Well, to be fair, you had no way of knowing in late May that you were going to be tromping through the snow again.” Chara winced as he watched bits of bright red foot skin peel away as Frisk growled and continued her attempts to draw blood and warmth back into her nearly frozen digits. “You’re losing health doing that.”

Frisk grunted through grit teeth in response, continuing to scrub until her dried feet began to crack and bleed. She stopped to eat a pilfered cinnamon bunny which helped to push her HP back up and stemmed the flow of fresh blood. Her legs screamed at her all the way to her knees and thunderbolts of pain zipped up and down her spine whenever she attempted to move. Eventually, she gave up and flopped back to lay on the floor until her feet were warm enough to stand.

#

“Feeling better?” Chara asked an hour later as Frisk rolled up with a handful of towels in her hand.

“Good enough,” Frisk replied. She hobbled over to her abandoned socks and shoes, wringing and patting them as dry as she could manage. She crinkled her nose as she forced the still damp footwear back on. It’s better than nothing.

Taking a deep breath, Frisk forced herself back out into the cold.

“Who’s that?”

Frisk looked where Chara had indicated and noticed she had apparently missed a villager who had not escaped with the others.

“Oh no.” The quiet plea left the troubled girl’s lips when she noticed who it was.

Not going to do it, nope. Frisk turned to leave.

“Yo!” Monster Kid had already spotted her and was trotting over to greet her with a rambunctious grin on his yellow face. “You’re a kid too, right?”

“Still not going to?” Chara asked as Frisk silently listened to the eager child.

Nope. He’s just a kid. Whoever can kiss my butt if they don’t come out for not engaging a kid. I’m not killing anyone who doesn’t open a prompt with me first.

“Yo, everyone ran away and hid somewhere. Man, adults can be so dumb sometimes, haha… Don’t they know we’ve got Undyne to protect us?!” MK declared. A confident spark lit up his eyes as he thumped his tail against the ground, recounting every inflated story he had heard of his idol.

“Yeah, too bad Undyne’s still clunking around Waterfall despite all her guards being dead,” Chara said. “Or else you might not seem like a stupid fanboy.”

He’s just an innocent kid with no one to look after him. Plus, Papyrus isn’t dead yet, Frisk scolded her partner as she nodded at MK’s ramblings.

“Papyrus isn’t in the royal guard yet,” Chara said. “Unless she emergency enlisted him after the dogs fell.”

That’s right, I forgot about that... I’m glad she isn’t here yet, though. I died six times to her when she was just trying to do her job. Now that I actually killed people, she’s probably going to be a whole lot tougher.

Breaking away from MK, Frisk continued back on her way, desperately ignoring the pained feeling as the numbing in her feet started to return.

“I almost forgot they had a two-story house,” Frisk said as she looked up at Sans and Papyrus’s house with its twinkling Christmas lights. “They must have been going crazy in that apartment on the surface, even if it did have two rooms.”

“It’s not like they were in it half the time,” Chara reasoned. “Sans still practically lived on that bar stool at Grillby’s new place and Pap was always running around being helpful or taking long night drives.”

“I guess that’s true. You know, I never did figure out what Sans was hiding in his room that made the weird glowing light seep out.”

“Oh, don’t worry,” a high and familiar voice said. “Once this is all over, you can reset and live happily ever after with them in their ignorance.”

Frisk shot the golden flower a look of utter malice and disdain.

“Golly, what’s that look for?” Flowey asked, smiling sweetly. “That’s what this is all about, right? Worrying you’ll never spend time with them again? I’m just helping you remember you’ll be able to see them again once you’re finished turning them to dust.

Flowey laughed maniacally until Frisk angrily kicked a pile of snow at him, causing him to run away. She immediately regretted her action as she felt snow work its way down into her left shoe. Any semblance of cautious peace gone, Frisk turned and marched towards the exit to Snowdin and one of the worst encounters she knew she faced.

“HALT, HUMAN!”

Frisk did not stop.

“HEY, QUIT MOVING WHILE I’M TALKING TO YOU! I, THE GREAT PAPYRUS, HAVE A FEW THINGS TO SAY.”

Frisk did pause this time, waiting for whatever righteous indignation Papyrus would lay before her.

“FIRST, YOU’RE A FREAKING WEIRDO!”

Chara gave a derisive snort.

“NOT ONLY DO YOU NOT LIKE PUZZLES, BUT THE WAY YOU SHAMBLE ABOUT FROM PLACE TO PLACE… THE WAY YOUR HANDS ARE ALWAYS COVERED IN DUSTY POWDER.”

Frisk fought the urge to wipe her hands on her equally dust covered sweater as she wilted under the acknowledgement of something that even Toriel had ignored.

“IT FEELS... LIKE YOUR LIFE IS GOING DOWN A DANGEROUS PATH.”

There was a momentary pause where Frisk figured Papyrus wanted her to answer, yet she waited for his judgement instead. She stood expecting to hear the same pronouncement her mother had uttered with her dying breath.

“HOWEVER! I, PAPYRUS, SEE GREAT POTENTIAL WITHIN YOU!” Frisk’s heart stopped. “EVERYONE CAN BE A GREAT PERSON IF THEY TRY. AND ME, I HARDLY HAVE TO TRY AT ALL!!!”

He’s just an innocent kid. Frisk’s eyes began to water and her knees began to quake as her friend laughed with nervous confidence.

“That’s enough waiting,” Chara snapped at the sign of weakness.

“HEY, QUIT MOVING!” Frisk stopped after taking a few steps forward. “THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT I AM TALKING ABOUT! HUMAN! I THINK YOU ARE IN NEED OF GUIDANCE!”

You have no idea, Papy. Frisk clenched her fists and prepared for the box to open.

“SOMEONE NEEDS TO KEEP YOU ON THE STRAIGHT AND NARROW! BUT WORRY NOT! FOR I, PAPYRUS… WILL GLADLY BE YOUR FRIEND AND TUTOR!”

There was a small flare of anger at that line that moved through Frisk’s soul. I come with innocence and open arms and you try to capture me for the ‘greater good’; but now that I have to do this, you’re going to be my friend without me having to initiate it?

“I WILL TURN YOUR LIFE RIGHT AROUND!!!”

I guess that’s just the price for doing this.

“I SEE YOU ARE APPROACHING. ARE YOU OFFERING A HUG OF ACCEPTANCE? WOWIE!! MY LESSONS ARE ALREADY WORKING!! I, PAPYRUS, WELCOME YOU WITH OPEN ARMS!”

Screwing her eyes shut, Frisk rushed forward and pummeled the smiling skeleton in his fake fabric chest plate, grimacing at the crack of magic bones as she made contact with him. The force of the hit knocked his head off his shoulders and into his hands as he melancholically accepted her actions. He spoke encouraging words as first his body, then his head crumbled to dust on the snow.

Frisk took a shuttering breath and pressed a trembling hand to her mouth as her EXP rose and pushed her LV higher.

“Are you going to barf again?”

Frisk shook her head. “I know I ate those bunnies, but it still feels like my gut is empty. It's kinda messed up but, I actually was just thinking, could he take his head off this whole time? Like I didn’t even punch his neck, and it popped off and he kept talking.”

“Ha! You’ll have to ask him and Sans later,” Chara said. “That will be the best prank ever next Halloween.”

Frisk almost laughed as well, but a cold gust of wind blew through her, pushing her forward to the entrance of Waterfall instead.

Chapter Text

*18 remain*

Waterfall was, at the very least, much warmer than Snowdin. Frisk was grateful as her limbs evened out in temperature, even as she tried to shake wistful recollections of taking a shortcut with Sans to Grillby’s bar for a rest and meal from her mind. After waving to MK, who unfortunately had decided to enter the moist area in search of his hero, she pressed forward in the musty environment on feet that stung like stepping on shards of glass.

“It’s weird how Alphys has cameras all over the place,” Chara said as they checked along the wooden bridges that crossed in front of one of the many flows of water in the region.

“Did she not have them back when you were alive?” Frisk asked after dispatching an agitated Moldsmal.

“I don’t remember hearing about her then. I met her when you did.”

“Who was the royal scientist, then?”

Chara paused to think. “I don’t remember. I know we had one, but I probably only ever saw them a few times. Which is weird because even if they were busy, mom and dad always invited all of their staff members to these huge dinners to talk and keep people’s spirits up.”

“Maybe they were a shy person?” Frisk suggested as she neared a mass of tall grass.

With a twitch, she stopped talking and rushed into the thicket.

“What’s the rush?” Chara asked.

This is where Undyne was supposed to meet Papy, Frisk thought as she heard the clanging of metal armor on the stone ledge above.

Frisk held her breath as Undyne stood and waited for her skeleton apprentice to show himself. When he failed to arrive, the captain of the guard peered down into the tall grass right where Frisk stood.

To her horror, Frisk heard rustling nearby and felt certain she would be quickly learning just how Undyne treated a real threat to the Underground. However, despite having a spear drawn and ready, the aquatic guardian reluctantly stepped back and rushed forward along the path.

There was no way she didn’t see me, Frisk thought as she gasped air back into her aching lungs. I’m way too big and brightly dressed to miss.

The rustling that had initially given away her position followed Frisk out of the grass, revealing that MK had been close the entire time.

“Wow, this kid really has a death wish,” Chara said dryly as the armless child gushed about the appearance of his hero.

He just doesn’t get it, Frisk thought as she slowly turned to continue on once the child finished his praise.

*16 remain*

“You’re slacking,” Chara scolded as Frisk passed the room that held the lily pad puzzle.

“It’s not my fault that everyone has evacuated,” Frisk said aloud, finally feeling it safe again. “Undyne isn’t going to leave anyone behind if she can help it.”

Undyne’s good intentions did not seem to reach all monsters, unfortunately. A few flexing Aarons, confident in their muscle’s prowess, a well-meaning Woshua seeing a dirty girl in stripes, and a few more Moldsmals who clearly didn’t understand the call to evacuate, all fell to Frisk’s hand as she passed echo flowers and glittering star-like stones.

“I remember these,” Frisk commented as she and Chara reached the first set of plaques dedicated to detailing the story of the war between monsters and humans. “It’s weird, being able to read them myself this time.”

Frisk placed a hand on one of the frames and began to read over the well-known story.

“What, do you think I read them to you wrong last time?” Chara quipped, lowering himself upside down in front of Frisk’s face.

“No,” Frisk said, not responding to his game. “I’ve heard it from others too. I just, wanted to take a moment to think is all.”

“You’re just stalling because your feet hurt.”

“Defensive much?”

“More like tired of excuses.”

Frisk rolled her eyes and slowly moved on to the next plaque. She dealt with the groans and the whining from her younger soul companion as she meandered along.

“Did Mom and Dad tell you about the war while you were alive?” Frisk asked.

Chara sighed and crossed his arms in front of his chest. “I think they wanted to wait until I was older, but had to sooner because some of the court members kept bringing it up.”

“Did they say anything different about it, since they had lived through it?” Frisk asked.

“Not really. They just tried to sugar coat it by adding in that they knew not all humans were involved and stuff like that. It was kind of weird to think that they would let me stay with them, even knowing they had seen that.”

“Mom and Dad wouldn’t hold a grudge against a child like that,” Frisk said.

“I know.”

A moment of silence passed between them before Frisk spoke again.

“Maybe it was too early for it to happen,” she started, picking through her words with care. “But, did they ever mention which of them was going to give Asriel his Boss trait?”

“No,” Chara answered shortly, turning away from the other.

The trickle of water flowing around them coupled with the stale scent of abandoned mold spore sites became all-consuming as the two passed angry and hurt emotions back and forth along their link to one another.

“Sorry,” Frisk said at last. “I shouldn’t have asked that.”

She turned and resolved to keep going.

“They talked about having a second monster baby a lot,” Chara said quietly after a few steps. “I didn’t get it then, thinking I didn’t count because they kept saying ‘second kid.’ I learned they couldn’t pass their boss trait onto me when you spoke to Gerson about it. I still would have been upset, knowing I was going to have to leave Asriel behind but, maybe it would have made me feel less like…”

He trailed off. Frisk continued to walk without speaking, leaving the air open for him to continue his train of thought. He chose not to and soon, he wouldn’t have the time.

Metal clunking from behind alerted Frisk to what was about to happen as she stepped onto the wooden bridge.

“I hate this part,” she hissed as Undyne’s blue spears began to target her as she ran across the planks.

“You could always, you know, face her?” Chara suggested.

“Not until I’ve hit my count limit,” Frisk said. “I want to be as high a level as possible to deal with her.”

Frisk made it off of the bridge and back into the grass once again, pushing in deeper than before as she remembered suddenly who might be in here with her. Sure enough, Undyne followed and caught hold of a wayward MK who was still eagerly following the trail, somehow missing every dusting confrontation Frisk managed to enter.

This will be the end of that, at least. Frisk allowed a small wave of relief to wash over her.

Inexplicably, Undyne released her grip on the child and turned to walk away, leaving the two of them alone.

Undyne, that is not what responsible adults do! Frisk’s heart dropped into her stomach.

“I can’t believe she left him here.” Chara looked more annoyed than amused at this point. “There’s no way she mistook you for him.”

That’s what I’m saying! Frisk thought as she watched MK trip as he raced onwards. There’s a murder on the loose in Waterfall and she just let him be? I don’t get it!

Questions on how the captain of the guard was handling an emergency in the Underground still swirled in her mind as she saved near the crystallized cheese.

*3 remain*

By the time she had located the ballet shoes, Frisk was so deep in her rant that she completely ignored the fleeting thought that told her she had missed the tutu.

“But like, neither Sans nor Undyne could have told dad yet,” Frisk said as she peeled her still moist shoes and socks off of her blistered and raw-rubbed feet. She didn’t place the other footwear on right away, letting the air dry out her aching limbs. “There’s no way dad wouldn’t come looking for someone who is out slaughtering his entire people.”

Frisk flopped wearily back on the hard ground and stared at the ceiling.

“You sure are whining about a lot of things that would make this harder,” Chara said as he floated above her.

“It should be harder!” Frisk said. “What if I couldn’t reset? These monsters would all be permanently dead! And why? Because Sans was too lazy to warn more than Snowdin? Because Undyne decided she really was some kind of hero and didn’t tell dad that his entire front dog squad was dead?”

“It’s a good thing we can reset then, isn’t it? Almost like this isn’t a problem you should be worried about.”

“I’m not worried about it,” Frisk grumbled. “I’m just upset because of the implications. Like with Undyne leaving Kid behind: it wasn’t too big of a deal last time because I didn’t hurt anyone and she probably knew it. Now she knows that I’ve killed people, including Papy, and she just left an armless ten-year-old alone when she knew I was nearby? And it’s just that and the way people are going out of their way to get in the way of someone who all the lore hanging on the walls calls terrible, dangerous, deadly, and much stronger than monsters. Like, I don’t get it.”

“It’d been years since anyone had seen a human before I got here,” Chara said. “Monsters tend to live longer than humans, even if they aren’t boss monsters. A lot longer. But even when I first fell, only a handful of veterans other than mom and dad were around. Now I’m pretty sure it’s just Gerson. They just don’t know what they’re doing and Asriel always resets his games.”

Frisk sat up with a groan as she felt sleep creep towards her after almost 48 hours of walking and fighting. She fumbled with the ballet slippers that were just a bit too tight. “That doesn’t excuse it. All these lives gone because no one listens in history, apparently.”

“Not gone, waiting,” Chara said.

If she thinks about it too much, she’ll break down again.

Frisk jumped as the words filtered around her mind. Had she imagined it? Turning to Chara, who looked grumpy and impatient, she didn’t hear or see anything else. Up until then, she had always had to ask him what was on his mind as his thoughts had been too quiet to hear. As nothing else filtered through except the expected emotional cues, Frisk decided she must have invented the phrase for him and shrugged it off.

Shyren was the next to fall to Frisk’s kicking strikes before her manager ran off into the caves. Past the abnormally dense… corpse? statue?... not even Chara knew for sure, Frisk entered the rainy hallway and sighed as she saw MK up in the distance.

Maybe if I don’t take an umbrella, he won’t follow me?

The plan didn’t work, with MK much more eager to chat with his new friend than worried about getting wet. They traversed the raised walkway, spying the castle and the rest of New Home in the distance past the faint glow of Hotland, before MK once again assisted Frisk up and over the ledge that was still just a bit too high for her to climb over.

“Sans was right, you are short,” Chara teased as they entered the nearly pitch-black area above the dump.

“Shut up,” Frisk said. “If you were an actual body, you wouldn’t be able to make it either.”

Chara stuck out his tongue. “I wouldn’t have to because I know the other way around.”

Undyne’s spears cut off any remark Frisk was going to make. Running once more, she dodged the blue attacks as they started to appear around her.

Shoot, the ledge, she thought, panting heavily. Looks like this might be it.

Frisk turned towards the hidden face of her rowdy friend, tensing in anticipation of the stabbing strike that she would need to dodge. A resounding crack broke her concentration and she had just enough time to see a spear plunged into the support of the bridge as she fell backwards towards the dump.

Chapter Text

“Ow.” Frisk sat up in the bed of golden flowers at the bottom of the waterfall in the far corner of the dump. “Seriously?”

Frisk groaned and fell back onto the patch. “This is exactly what I’m talking about. She had an open shot.”

Chara didn’t have a reply this time, staring over at the piles of material in the dump instead.

“What, run out of complaints about my complaining?” Frisk asked as she stared up at the translucent boy.

“No.” Chara seemed lost in thought.

Frisk shook off her concern and slowly got to her feet. “You know, I’ve always wondered why the golden flowers were here. I mean, they’re in the castle because that’s where Asriel fell after he came back in, and they’re in the ruins because mom took them there when she left. But I never understood how they wound up here.”

“This is where I entered,” Chara said before falling silent once more.

“Didn’t you fall into the ruins too?” Frisk asked, tilting her head and furrowing her brow.

Chara shook his head slowly. “No, Asriel and I made that up because he wasn’t allowed to go into the dump by himself. Too many sharp things.”

Frisk snorted. “Seriously?”

“Yeah. Maybe part of why he was such a crybaby was because mom was so worried all the time.” The recollection was somber but said in a fond manner with a hint of a smile. "We had Riverperson take us to Snowdin and snuck into the ruins before Mom and Dad came to get him for dinner."

“So what, you were picking flowers and fell into the river and were flushed into the mountain?” Frisk asked. “That must have sucked for anyone left behind.”

“There was no one left behind,” Chara said. “We’re like that in common, right? Children who come up the mountain don’t come up because things are going well for them, that’s what they say.”

In a rare instance, Chara sank down towards the ground, coming to rest in a slumped sit on the ground next to the flower patch. He reached a tentative hand out towards one the of blossoms and flinched as his fingers ineffectually phased through them without so much as causing them to sway.

“Mine caught a really bad strain of the flu that I seemed to be immune to,” Frisk said after sitting back down. “What about yours?”

“House fire. There was a really bad storm, the power lines had all been downed and we were freezing. They had set up the gas stove to run, even made sure there was circulation. Things were fine until something happened to one of the pipes. They never figured out what it was, but the gas line exploded.”

“Did you get burnt?”

“No. I just… didn’t feel like it was fair that I had survived? I don’t know.”

“So, you decided to…”

“I was just going to get flowers, but I didn’t really try to avoid the river,” Chara cut her off. “I thought I was dead for probably three days after Asriel found me.”

Frisk didn’t have a response. Chara didn’t have anything more to say. After running her fingers through her dusty and matted hair behind the manly bandanna she still wore, Frisk stood up once more and started to make her way forward into the dump.

“I’m sorry, it sounds like you didn’t have anyone come into your life like I did,” Frisk said to not leave the air hanging on that dark note.

Chara didn’t move. “If you had someone come for you then; how did you end up here?”

“Probably how I wound up getting to this point,” Frisk said with a dry smirk.

Continuing on, Frisk took on the Mad Dummy, who somehow in the mix of death decided he was exceptionally pleased with his body and fused with it. Because of course he did.

*Determination*

“What do you think that means?” Frisk asked Chara as she stood next to the glowing star.

“Did you suddenly forget what determination is?” Chara replied.

“Yeah, definitely.” Frisk rolled her eyes. “I mean what is the deal with the star telling us how many monsters we need to kill. If we kill more or less, will something different happen? Who came up with the limit?”

“I don’t know. Maybe it keeps track of how many monsters fail to evacuate?”

“What about MK?”

“How should I know? I keep telling you, I’ve never done this before!” Chara exclaimed. “Whenever we figure out who ruined things by causing the reset, you can ask them if they know.”

“Alright, calm down,” Frisk said. “This was your idea, so I thought you’d know more. Don’t get bratty now.”

#

Frisk didn’t bother heading up to where Undyne and the ghosts’ houses were, instead heading farther down the dark Waterfall pathways to see what goods Gerson had left behind. To the surprise of both humans, the war veteran was still stationed at his post.

“I can’t say I expected you of all monsters to stand your ground,” Frisk said when she recovered from her shock. “I don’t suppose you’ll sell me some crab apples?”

“Sure,” the ancient tortoise said. “Just don’t expect a discount.”

“If I was going to steal it, I wouldn’t have asked.”

“Try it, kiddo! I know you can’t here.” Gerson’s features were pinched, angry.

“What makes you so sure?” Frisk asked, somewhat incredulous about the way the old man was handling the situation.

“I know the rules of the game. I wouldn’t have survived this long if I hadn’t,” was the grim reply.

Frisk took a bite of one of the purchased crab apples. “I don’t know where you learned the rule about shops being safe, but you’re wrong. I’m done in this area, though, so I’m not going to bother messing with you. Just wait until it’s over.”

The look Gerson gave as he uttered, “Good riddance,” might have been enough to shave off a chunk of HP if Frisk hadn’t been in the process of healing. She easily ignored it, leaving him in his delusions as she settled with the fact that no one would go out of their way to stop her.

“Should I go to Temmie Village?” Frisk asked as she entered the dark glow path.

“Why? Do you think her five-minute business degree is going to teach her how to explode you with dog residue?”

“I guess you’re right. I was just trying to see if they were aware enough to run or if they are still just milling around with a hardboiled egg,” Frisk replied as she squelched over the more solid parts of the soggy glow grass.

“Probably everyone left but Bob,” Chara said.

“Really? I would have thought Bob would be the only one to evacuate.”

The question wasn’t pressing enough to divert their path and it wasn’t long before they heard a familiar clanking.

Frisk turned towards the sound; face caught in the soft blue glow coming off of Undyne’s spear. She readied herself to face the coming onslaught at last when a familiar rustle stopped Undyne in her tracks once again.

MK blocked the way, blissfully ignorant to the trouble he was causing. Undyne snatched the child up and pointed at Frisk.

“Stay there. This is your only chance at redemption,” the captain said before she started to drag the boy off.

She’s too soft. I would have let him see so he learned.

Frisk flinched, looking up to Chara to see if he had heard and would point out what had just passed through her mind. Her soul companion didn’t so much as twitch, which Frisk was ashamed to say she was relieved by as she shook the strange thought from her head.

“You’re not waiting?” Chara asked as Frisk turned to leave. “I thought you were eager to get it over with.”

“I am, but I’m not looking to sit around with my thoughts,” Frisk said. “It’s why I’ve gotten no sleep since the start of this, even knowing I could get away with it.”

The fireflies still floated around the upper path, glowing in the night-like darkness as Frisk meandered past still more memorial plaques. She stopped and read once more about the angel of the Underground who would come to empty the caves beneath the mountain.

“Looks like I get to be the angel of death and mercy after all,” Frisk whispered as tears she had long since thought gone managed to roll down her cheeks.

“It’s been a while since you cried,” Chara commented, causing Frisk to wipe her face. “And here I thought you’d finally grown up. At least you stopped throwing up.”

“There’s nothing to throw up,” Frisk said as she started walking again. “No matter how much I eat, it might as well be nothing. I forgot how hollow monster food is.”

Frisk approached the thin ledge near the end of Waterfall and began to walk across. Timid steps behind her sent her stomach dropping once more, confirming there was nothing to throw up even as she desperately wanted to.

MK approached and, despite the warning he admits Undyne gave to him, he still opened an ill-advised battle box.

I wish I hadn’t said I would deal with him if he opened a fight. Frisk thought as she readied her stance. He’s in the way.

In a flash of metal, Undyne took the full force of the attack as she shoved Kid out of the way of his mistake. Unable to block at the same time, her body wracked with the impact and, as her face fell exposed, the pain of encroaching death passed over her features.

As MK ran off, it was hard to tell who of the remaining three were more surprised as Undyne’s body began to shimmer and warp as she called out the names of her closest companions near the end. With one more cry, a flash went out from her very soul and she solidified into a dripping form as determination filled her.

“Wow, I guess I should have given her more credit,” Chara said as the true hero began to soliloquize. “I actually thought she was about to go down.”

“Right now, everyone in the world… I can feel their hearts beating as one,” Undyne said. “We all have ONE goal. To defeat YOU. Human, no, whatever you are, for the sake of the world… I, Undyne, will strike you down!”

About time, Frisk thought as she readied her shoes.

It wasn’t a surprise that she had to reset a few times. By the tenth time, Frisk didn’t so much as flinch as she swiped at MK and felt the impact of her ballet shoes with the metal armor of the hero who would give her life for a child. She no longer stood in awe as the flash of determination melted a soul mark onto the warrior’s armor and the heat of rage converted the shoulder pads of her uniform into spikes.

There was no need for an eleventh attempt: Undyne the Undying finally fell to a well-timed strike that her soul could not deflect.

“Damn it… So even that power… wasn’t enough?” the hero’s shoulders heaved as she fell to her knees as the melting became too much. “Heh… heheheh… If you… If you think I’m gonna give up hope, you’re wrong. ‘Cause I’ve… got my friends behind me.”

Frisk listened as the still grinning face of Undyne began to warp into a lopsided mess as she pushed on to deliver her dying words. “Alphys told me that she would watch me fight you… and if anything went wrong, she would…evacuate everyone. By now she’s called Asgore and told him to absorb the six human souls. And with that power, this world will live on!”

“You’re right, but for the wrong reason,” Frisk said to the murky puddle that sank into the dirt. “Everyone will live on, though.”

Frisk nodded in respect and started on her way once more, determination a bitter mixed taste in her soul.

“Hey, Chara.”

“What now?”

“Do you think Dad with six souls will be harder to beat than Asriel?”

Chapter Text

 *40 remain*

“So much for Dr. Alphys evacuating everyone,” Frisk said as the save point in front of the laboratory told her the number she had to aim for. “Not that I’m surprised at this point.”

What was a surprise, at least in part, was that the northern pathway was blocked off by vibrating electricity. This ushered Frisk directly into the laboratory that was noticeably devoid of nerdy yellow scientists. Mettaton did make an appearance to deliver an ultimatum before running off and, after raiding the good doctor’s ramen supply to replenish some of what was lost fighting the captain, Frisk moved on.

Volcinors and Tsunderplanes fell along the path lined with conveyor belts and steaming vent pipes. Frisk went out of her way to collect the frying pan weapon before pulling the tight ballet shoes off of her feet and replacing them with her original footwear, finally dry from the heat around her.

“Why are you following the rules about equipment when you’re killing and stealing?” Chara asked as Frisk rested her throbbing feet.

“Clearly, you don’t remember what it feels like to walk around with shoes that are too small,” Frisk replied. “I’m pretty sure they’re going to fall off if I have those on for any longer."

#

Hotland’s royal guards fell as they attempted to avenge the death of Undyne. The event seemed to be well known for how little attention the residents paid to evacuating. Through the yellow and teal kitchen stage, and past the long hall with a distant view of the core, Frisk saved *20 remain* before taking the R1 elevator up to the spider bake sale.

“It’s weird not having to spend time on all of the puzzles up here,” Frisk commented.

“That’s because Alphys turned them on last time, remember?” Chara said. “It would be pretty stupid to have locked the way forward if people were evacuating.”

“I was starting to think that’s why I was seeing so many monsters.”

Muffet’s lair was as dark and sticky as ever as Frisk trudged through the webbing. As the forceful sales woman began to monologue about stopping the invader, a thought came to Frisk’s mind. Why do we always let them dictate the battle?

In response, Frisk sliced through the goth spider as soon as the battle box opened, leaving no time to react. One of Muffet’s tiny spider relatives placed a flower near the dust pile before scurrying off.

“How cute,” Frisk commented as she gave a cold chuckle.

“You’re really starting to get it,” Chara commented, causing Frisk to snap silent once more as she pressed on.

Frisk felled more monsters as she approached MTT Resort. She rummaged through Bratty and Catty’s supplies for the revolver and cowboy hat, sliding the defensive wear on over her manly bandana.

“Happy now?” she asked as she headed into the resort. “I’m a thief, murderer, and a dirty rule breaking wearer of two pieces of armor.”

“I’m surprised you even picked it up considering how much you seem to want to die,” Chara replied.

*Determination*

Frisk took a moment to shuffle her inventory at the nearby dimension box before heading into the fast food restaurant off the lobby. Burgerpants stood slouching against the counter as if the world wasn’t collapsing around him.

“I would have thought murder emergencies would have be outside of your job description,” Frisk said as she bought a steak and two heroes.

“You’d think so, but unfortunately, I’m out of vacation days,” the world-weary cat replied. “And my boss hasn’t taken a fall yet.”

Frisk gave a barking laugh. “Well, that won’t take too much longer.”

As she left the hotel and walked into the core, Frisk couldn’t help but wonder if something was wrong with her.

When did ‘something I have to do’ become ‘something I can laugh at?’ Am I just tired?

The elevator to the top of the core was unlocked and fully activated without having to shuffle around the winding halls looking for switches to press. As her feet ached, Frisk again felt a pang of doubt for her sanity as she found herself relieved for the convenience she would have once felt enraged at.

Maybe what Chara has been saying is rubbing off on me. Why should we want to be stopped when we need to do this? My thoughts sound more and more like him as I go.

Frisk walked out into the room where the robot waited.

“You’re a threat to monsters and humans. I can’t be without an audience… plus, there’s someone I want to protect.”

As Mettaton Neo fell to a single strike, Frisk couldn’t help but wonder if it would have been wiser for him to remain in his original rectangle form. Not that it would have mattered since I already know how to change him over.

“Come on, we’re almost there,” Chara encouraged as the silence of Frisk’s pause stretched on.

“I’m really messed up.” She gave a wiry and borderline deranged chuckle. “And don’t try to tell me I’m not. It’s not normal to treat this like a game, even if I’m going to reset. Even if I have to do this. Something is wrong with me.”

Chara took time to plan his next words as Frisk fought with warring trains of thought condemning and condoning her actions.

“What about sweaty the cat?” he said. “He was laughing and joking too. No way Mettaton would have been pissed if he evacuated. He even laughed when you said you were getting ready to take him on! You’re just... becoming like that because you’re tired like him and Sans. I mean, it's been three days now?”

Frisk grumbled, slouching as she folded her arms over her chest.

“Keep going, Frisk,” Chara pleaded. “I’d give you a hug if I had a form. We’re almost done with this and when we win against whoever decided this was a good idea, it will be worth it.”

Frisk sighed, giving up trying to fix her thoughts, and started to stomp forward. She kept her arms crossed over her chest and her shoulders hunched as she saw her 19 LV rating and her HP of 92. She continued on to the copy of the ruins house that Asgore presumably still used, disappointed he wasn’t inside to confront her. She was also disappointed that the air was still so calm despite everything. Comparing the way it had felt when Flowey had absorbed the six souls, Frisk couldn’t help but think that Alphys had never passed along the message she was supposed to.

“Howdy, Chara!” Flowey’s greeting cut through the silence. “You finally made it home. Remember when we used to play here?”

Yes, we remember.

Frisk found a key in the kitchen as she progressed silently while Flowey monologued behind her.

“I remember when I first woke up here, in the garden. I was so scared. I couldn’t feel my arms or my legs…”

I’m sorry, Asriel, crybaby.

Ducking into the boys' old room, Frisk pulled the heart locket out of a storage gift on the floor. She couldn’t help the grin that crossed her lips as the charm began to quiver and beat in time with her own soul.

Finally, we have it back. She slipped it over her head and took the real knife out of the box beside it.

“I explained what happened to him. Then he held me, Chara,” Flowey continued. “He held me with tears in his eyes, saying ‘There, there. Everything is going to be alright. He was so… emotional. But for some reason… I didn’t feel anything at all.”

Are you surprised? You’re a flower. You’re hurt. You failed. You were numb.

Frisk retrieved the key from Asgore’s dresser and headed back towards the staircase that lead down to the basement.

“It became too much for me. I ran away from home. Eventually, I reached the Ruins. Inside I found her, Chara. I thought of all people, she could make me feel whole again… She failed.”

Did you even think about us? Did you try to grieve?

“I decided… It wasn’t worth living anymore. Not in a world without love. Not in a world without you. So… I decided to follow in your footsteps.”

White hot rage colored Frisk’s eyes red.

That wasn’t the plan, why didn’t you stick to our plan? That wasn’t what we wanted for you!

“But as I left this mortal coil… I started to feel apprehensive. If you don’t have a soul, what happens when you?”

I thought you couldn’t feel? You’re numb. You’re stupid! How can you live without a soul? You just gave up too soon, crybaby.

“As long as I was determined to live, I could go back! Amazing, isn’t it, Chara?”

We already know all of this, Asriel.

“Their companionship was amusing… for a while. As time repeated, people proved themselves predictable.”

We know that too. We’ve done this as well, we told you so. Stop telling us.

“It all started because I was curious.”

Frisk stopped in her tracks.

“Curious about what happened if I killed them. I don’t like this, I told myself. I’m just doing this because I HAVE to know what happens. Ha ha ha… What an excuse!”

Shut up.

“You of all people must know how liberating it is to act this way. At least we’re better than those sickos that stand around and WATCH it happen…”

Shut up!

“I’ve done everything this world has to offer. I’ve read every book. I’ve burned every book. I’ve won every game. I’ve lost every game. I’ve appeased everyone. I’ve killed everyone. Sets of numbers… Lines of dialogue… I’ve seen them all. But you… YOU’RE different. I never could predict YOU, Chara.”

Flowey’s eyes shone as he moved in front of the human and looked up at them. Listless eyes breathed fury back down at him, but the little golden flower didn’t seem to notice, or perhaps he didn’t care. Frisk stepped over and started moving once again.

“Chara… your determination. Somehow, it’s even greater than mine!” Flowey declared.

We know, we’ll always be greater, crybaby, why did you do it?

“She must have taken you when she left and decided to give you a proper burial, rather than… hanging out in the basement forever.”

Mom. Call her mom. She cared.

“What made you wake up? Did you hear me calling you?”

We are so close. We mixed together. We tried to help. If you did this, we won’t forgive you.

“I’m so tired of this, Chara. I’m tired of all these people. I’m tired of all these places.”

We’re tired of you. I tried to get you out but you wouldn’t leave. You had your chance but weren’t strong enough. We’re not going to stop because of you. This was your idea. I’m not the crybaby. We’re going to end this.

“Seeing you here changed my mind,” Flowey became more morose after laying his plans out as Frisk’s mind warred and her soul and the necklace began to beat faster and faster. “Chara… I think if you’re around, just living in the surface world doesn’t seem so bad.”

I wasn’t good enough? I was always there. We can’t give up now.

“You’re still the only one that understands me. You won’t give me any worthless pity!”

You’re right. Not until we finish this.

“Creatures like us… Wouldn’t hesitate to kill each other if we got in each other’s way. So that’s…” Flowey wilted as his own words finally made it into his head. He began to quake as he turned to look up once again at the human lumbering towards him. “Hey… Chara… No hard feelings about back then, right?”

Frisk neither spoke nor stopped, chasing Flowey off.

Crybaby. Why reassure what will be reset? He hates me, not you. He hates us like the others.

Surprisingly, Flowey made one final appearance. “I…I’ve changed my mind about all this. This isn’t a good idea anymore.”

This isn’t your choice.

After the final dimension box and save spot, Frisk entered the warm final hall, gold tinted orange and red in the fading light that filtered in from the stained-glass windows between the massive pillars.

This is it. Only the king remains.

Chapter Text

Despite everything, he was still standing at the end of the hall.

Short, yet still towering over Frisk as he slouched, lazily dressed in his old jacket and slippers, yet burning with intent as he waited for her approach.

Sans? Seriously? Unexpected. Interesting. As if his sleepy face has lifted as much as a finger to fight all his life. He didn’t the first run.

“do you want to have a bad time?” Sans asked as Frisk ignored his pleas for her to stop and leave.

You should have said that before Snowdin. You think we can do that now? He’s serious. He’s weak.

The battle box opened and Sans stood with a hand in his pocket and a strained smile on his face.

“it’s a beautiful day outside. birds are singing, flowers are blooming: on days like these, kids like you, should be burning in hell.”

5 seconds. That was all it took as a tsunami of bones flew at Frisk like nothing she had ever experienced before.

*Continue?*

The shock of the attack and death was like an icy bucket of water thrown on her face. Frisk felt a cool wave of clarity as the blinding rage and intrusive thoughts were whisked away. She laughed until she cried, clutching the still-beating necklace around her neck.

“What the hell?” Chara asked. His disbelief over what had just transpired was matched only by the shock of seeing Frisk unravel beside him.

Frisk dried her dirty face and looked towards the other who was oddly standing instead of floating once again.

“What?” she asked, still chuckling. “The fact that Sans could have given Omega Flowey a run for his money or the realization that our minds were starting to fuse?”

“I told you I was here for you,” Chara said. “We grew stronger and I didn’t want to leave you alone. Then I got angry.”

“We were both angry at that little brat,” Frisk said as she started towards the fight once again. “Sans put us back in the game anyway.”

“let’s just get to the point,” the skeleton said when Frisk reached him.

What? The statement was almost enough to make Frisk fall in the first wave of the attack once more, though she rallied just long enough to burn in a blaster's fire.

*Continue?*

“Did you hear that? It was different!” Frisk asked as she returned to her save.

“Yeah, it was.” Chara seemed just as confused. “It’s like he remembered killing you the first time and didn’t want to go on his big rant again.”

“Does that mean…” Frisk hesitated as she peaked out into the hall. “If I had said something earlier, if I had made it out of the ruins before I decided to kill, would he have remembered and had an idea on how to help?”

“No, I don’t think…”

“you have the face of someone who’s just died twice,” Sans said with a grin.

Oh, I really messed up.

*Continue?*

“Alright, so he remembers,” Chara said as they approached the fight once more. “That doesn’t mean he remembers outside of just this one timeline. He didn’t seem to know us back in the woods.”

“We were covered in dust,” Frisk said under her breath right before dying to a Gaster Blaster attack.

*Continue?*

“But the normal thing to do if you recognize someone is to ask them what they think they’re on about by killing.”

“Maybe you have a point.”

*Continue?*

“Of course I do,” Chara said. “Plus, you’ll waste everything we worked for if you give up and start crying now.”

“Yeah…” Frisk couldn’t find the strength to protest or even doubt more than she already had.

*Continue?*

“Okay, new question, what is going on with my health? I swear you said he only had one attack so how am I dying so fast?” Frisk asked after her sixth death.

“That’s a good question, I’ll watch your stats more closely this time,” Chara said.

“Shouldn’t you have already been doing that?” Frisk couldn’t care less at this point if Sans heard her talking to the companion only she could see.

“We were kind of having a conversation.” Chara readied himself overhead as the battle began. “I didn’t really have the time.”

*Continue?*

“Well?”

“It’s weird, the easiest way I can describe it is poison.”

“Poison?”

“Yeah, whenever you’re hit, you lose one HP, but you have a big area of your health turned to pink. That pink area keeps ticking down even after you get away from the attack. It moves faster if his bones are touching you,” Chara explained with his brow furrowed. “You healed that one time, and that stopped the pink.”

“I can’t keep healing, I can only hold so many sandwiches,” Frisk said.

“I know. I’m going to have to keep an eye on you and tell you when to heal. If you’re below half or the pink dips below half will be the best times. And also, you might want to stop running into everything.”

“Tch, tell me something I don’t know.”

Their teamwork helped them advance much farther, but it wasn’t long before Frisk fell to a missed jump.

*Continue?*

Determination to keep going, to land a hit on the one monster who seemed to understand how to act in his own defense, to complete this utter nightmare, cut through Frisk’s apprehension.

Each reset left her with a fresh feeling as the void allowed her to rest in a timeless bubble even as it felt like she mashed the continue option as fast as she could. This advantage was tapered by Sans’ penchant for talking, his words weighing heavily on her mind and crawling beneath her skin.

“our reports showed a massive anomaly in the timespace continuum. timelines jumping left and right, stopping and starting…”

Our?

*Continue?*

“until suddenly, everything ends.”

Ends? You mean as it did when the world reset? I reset because the world ended?

“hehehe, that’s your fault, isn’t it?”

“No!”

*Continue?*

“you can’t understand how this feels, knowing that one day, without any warning… it’s all going to be reset.”

I know how it feels. I didn’t want this to happen. Has this happened more than once? Does he mean Flowey’s resets?

*Continue?*

“look, i gave up trying to go back a long time ago,” Sans said with a shrug.

“Go back where? The surface? Or do you mean to before the resets?” Frisk finally voiced her concerns aloud.  

Sans didn’t seem interested in answering her directly, or perhaps he couldn’t hear her as she leapt over towering bones as blue gravity pulled on her. “and getting to the surface doesn’t really appeal anymore, either.”

“That wasn’t my fault!”

A blaster strike vaporized Frisk skin and sent her back to the void once more.

*Continue?*

“cause even if we do…” Sans’ eyelights went dark, “we’ll just end up right back here, without any memory of it. right?”

“Which is it Sans, do you remember or not?”

“to be blunt, it makes it kind of hard to give it my all.”

“Don’t you dare say you’re taking it easy on me, smiley trashbag!”

“or is that just a poor excuse for being lazy? hell if i know.”

*Continue?*

“all I know is… seeing what comes next…I can’t afford not to care anymore.”

“What’s next? The end? What end? I don’t understand what you’re talking about, I’ve only done this once!”

*Continue?*

“ugh… that being said…” Sans began to sweat. “you. uh, really like swinging that thing around, huh?”

Frisk and Chara both snorted at the line. Sans, it seemed, was still up for the occasional joke.

“listen, friendship, it’s really great right? let’s quit fighting.”

“Sans is sparing you?” Chara said, looking concerned.

Really? Frisk fought to catch her breath and was similarly confused.

“Heal, he’s going to do something,” Chara said.

Frisk ate her last Legendary Hero and shuttered as her HP returned to its max.

Sans stood by once more, arms open like his brother’s had been.

“Really?” Frisk repeated aloud. “You’re really going to spare me?”

“Sure,” the smiling skeleton said. “Come’ere kid.”

“Don’t you dare!” Chara said. “It’s clearly a trap.”

“Yeah.” Frisk turned back to sans who was doing a poor job of not looking curious after she spoke to the air above her head. “Sorry, Sans, Chara’s right. It’s probably a trick, and I’ve come too far to give up now.”

“welp, it was worth a shot,” Sans gave a weary shrug. “guess you like doing things the hard way.”

“You’re not really listening to me, are you?”

*Continue?*

“What the hell?” It was the first time Frisk felt the need to regroup at the save spot in a long while. “Did you see that?”

“Yeah, I did,” Chara said, a bewildered look on his face.

“He just, went completely off the rails after I turned down his spare,” Frisk said.

“I guess he was holding back after all?”

“What’s he saying about time and space when he can warp the world so easily?” Frisk’s frown grew as a troubling thought crossed her mind. “There’s no way, right? He couldn’t have…”

“No.” Chara cut Frisk off. “He’s strong, time warping strong, and I get it, he clearly remembers the resets, but he’s not determined. If he’s been dragged around by Flowey so much it’s traumatized him, then clearly he can’t reset himself.”

“He seemed so happy at the party,” Frisk’s mental weariness began to overpower the physical refresh of her respawning. “He’s never going to believe me, even after this is done and fixed.”

“Then he was never your friend to begin with,” Chara said.

“Don’t say that.”

Frisk powered through past all of Sans’ explanations once more, turning down his spare once again.

*Continue?*

“sounds strange, but before all this i was secretly hoping we could be friends.”

Frisk stopped again, even as Sans’ attacks spun eagerly nearby.

“i always thought the anomaly was doing this cause they were unhappy.”

“I’m definitely unhappy. I think Flowey was depressed and just acting out.”

“and when they got what they wanted, they’d stop all this.”

“What I want is to know who actually did the reset when everything was fine on the surface and I’m telling myself it’s not you, and it can’t be Flowey and what anomaly are you even talking about Sans?”

*Continue?*

“and all they needed was, i dunno, some good food, some bad laughs, some nice friends.”

“Sans, I know you can remember what I’m saying between turns, you stubborn ass.”

“but that’s ridiculous, right? yeah, you’re the type of person who won’t EVER be happy.”

“Wrong again!”

“you’ll keep consuming timelines, over and over. until… well… hey take it from me kid. someday you gotta learn when to QUIT. and that day’s today!”

*Continue?*

“Alright, you know what, call me crazy, but I’m going to do the thing.”

“Seriously? You’re going to waste time surrendering? What are you going to do if it’s a trap? Heck, what are you going to do if it’s not a trap?”

“Who cares?” Frisk asked loudly as she started down the hall once more. “I’ve already died like 50 times, what’s a couple more?”

“50 is a funny way of saying 18,” Chara commented.

“50, 18, what’s the difference at this point?” Frisk asked as she neared Sans. “It’s like how Undyne killed me nine times instead of the six times she did when I was just trying to help everyone. Who cares how many times I’m torn asunder by bones and spears and tridents and whatever hell those face laser things are?”

“You know he can hear you right?” Chara asked.

“So? He could hear me all the other times to, but has never once let what I say impact the match in any way. What anomaly is he talking about? Does he know Flowey and I are two different entities? Does he know what is causing the automatic resets? For all I know, I’ve gone so far off the deep end, I’m not even talking anymore. I’m could just be standing her mind vibeing with you and getting more and more frustrated as he refuses to answer!”

“listen, friendship is really great, right? let’s stop fighting.”

“Sure thing, Sans, let’s try it your way.” Frisk put her knife in her back pocket carefully and held up her hands to prove her sincerity. “Okay, Sans, let’s try it your easy way. Spare me and let’s talk.”

Frisk started to close the gap to surrender and end the match. Screaming pain ripped through her body and Sans gave her a sad smile.

“sorry kiddo. if we’re really friends, you won’t come back.”

*Continue?*

“I’m going to kill him,” Frisk said.

“What did you think was going to happen?”

“I don’t know? Words? Talking me out of what I’ve been doing? Anything that a big brainy science guy with readings and shit?!”

“Woah, Frisk, language,” Chara said sarcastically.

“I don’t give a damn about my language. Just like this ass doesn’t give a damn about me! And I’m done, I give up, I was trying to let him help me. But honestly, he apparently gave up hearing in order to fight me like how he gave up noticing how many times I died setting him and the others free last time. Remember MTT resort? Yeah, it’s been a year but I still remember how he claimed he was doing a good job protecting me. Then I just thought it was because he didn’t know what resets were. Now I know he does and he would have felt the shift every time I died. Did you want me to stay dead then too, Sans?”

Frisk jumped and screamed and did everything she could to keep herself pressing onwards.

“So now, I’m going to kill you. Don’t worry, I’ll bring you back. Once I figure out what went wrong, I’ll bring you back and maybe then you’ll actually turn your sense back on! After all the times I died on the way to the king, as hard as I fought for you and the others, all the sleep overs and campouts and stargazing parties over the last year, and you thought so little of me that you assumed the worst before you even asked? But if you won’t talk to me, if you’re going to stab me in the back after I tried so hard, then I don’t have a choice anymore.”

The room spun around, or perhaps it was Frisk who was spinning? It was impossible to tell for certain other than Sans came in and out of view as narrow passages of bones flew at the determined and hurt teen. In the end, Sans grabbed ahold of Frisk and began to beat her around the hall, on the pillars, ceiling, walls, and floor. Frisk’s HP continued to drop until only one remained, but she refused to release that last drop again.

Sans grew more and more weary until at last he set Frisk down on the ground, panting.

“alright, that’s it, time for my special attack. are you ready? here goes nothing.”

And he stood there. And they waited.

“yep. that’s right. it’s literally nothing. and it’s not going to be anything, either. hehehe… you get it? i know i can’t beat you. one of your turns, you’re just gonna kill me. so, i’ve decided it’s never going to be your turn. ever. i’m just gonna keep having MY turn until you give up.”

“If I wasn’t so utterly enraged with you, I’d find that humorous, Sans,” Frisk said as she slumped wearily.

“even if it means we have to stand here until the end of time, capiche?”

Frisk sighed. “How do we fix this now, Chara?”

“I don’t know, I’ve never heard of someone doing this before!”

They continued to stand by as Sans lectured Frisk on her intentions being about being ‘able’ instead of trying to do good or evil. How her ‘type’ were too determined to stop even when there was nothing to gain. How she should just quit and do anything else.

It built ire and resentment to levels she didn’t think possible. Even Chara began to squirm uncomfortably as he felt the waves of indignation boil over in Frisk’s soul.

An hour passed. Maybe two, it was hard to tell with no watch or clock. But eventually, Sans’ eyes began to droop and close, falling asleep as he stood across from her.

“This is the only chance we’re going to get,” Chara said.

“I know,” Frisk replied. She clutched the drumming heart pendant. “Do it.”

Outside of the normal constraints, Chara could override the normal magic rules that prevented an opponent from attacking on their opponent’s turn. Sans seemed to notice they could do this, despite never acknowledging the boy’s presence, and every time they had tried to enact it in the stillness, he had somehow blocked it.

But no more.

Frisk swung the knife at the skeleton who snapped awake with a snide remark before Frisk swung again, tearing an abnormal red bleeding line through him.

The euphoria of it being over overwhelmed Frisk. She barely heard Sans’ final words.

“i’m goin to grillby’s. pap do you want anything?”

As if to avoid letting her seem him die, Sans walked off and teleported away.

“Where did he go?” Chara asked.

“Who cares? I’m level 20 now, so he’s dead,” Frisk said. “Let’s keep going."

Chapter Text

Weariness and pain were all Frisk could feel as she exited the judgement hall and lumbered towards the throne room door. Her feet, her eyes, her back, her soul, all cried out at her for what she had done and was still getting ready to do. The anger she had felt before had melted away as the bright room was left behind and the dim white halls of the castle were all that remained.

White like mom, white like snow, white like skeletons, white like dust…

“Hey sis.” Chara floated down in front of Frisk’s face, obscuring her vision. “You’ve done good! We’re almost finished and we’ll have our answer. Then we’ll put everything back to normal and take a long nap. Right?”

Frisk didn’t respond.

“I know you’re tired, and funnily enough, I think I am too. But I feel like we really learned a lot about team work back there.”

Frisk kept moving forward.

“Most importantly, I think I figured out something cool about that pendant. So, I’m going to do you a huge favor and help you with Dad, okay?”

“I don’t need help, this is my burden,” Frisk said gruffly. “Also, you’re blocking me so I can’t see where I’m going.”

“Whoops, sorry partner.” Chara said, leaning to the side. “It’s been awhile since I had to worry about that.”

Frisk saved just before the throne room door and entered without another sound. A myriad of golden flowers stretched out before them, just like before, and the king was still waiting among them. It was a second later that Frisk noticed movement behind the king as Flowey dipped down into the earth below.

Crybaby.

Neither knew where the spark had arisen from, perhaps from them both, but they decided that it was not worth their time.

“What kind of monster are you? Sorry, I cannot tell,” King Asgore asked pleasantly.

Can he really not see? We’re so caked in dust that he can’t tell what we are.

In a flash, the battle box opened of its own accord, with Asgore gently speaking words inaudible above the drumming of the soul and locket. As the world slowed, and Frisk felt a hand on her wrist, she thought back on her journey and wondered if this was the first time she had opened a box.

The thought was discarded as soon as it arose as Frisk’s arm moved of its own accord and sliced through the King. It was then that she noticed for a third time, Chara was tied to the earth. His hand was somehow solid on her wrist. A tremor went through her as she realized he was not just more visible, but that he had attained the ability to touch and be touched as well.

The wild grin on his face was almost enough to make her scream, but in an instant, it was gone: replaced at first by confusion, then rage, as those little Happiness Pellets encircled the dying king and took that last bit of life away. They also shattered his boss soul, robbing them of the ability to become that fusion once again.

“See, I never betrayed you!” Flowey said with a strained smile.

In the way. You can’t he’s your brother, his face.

“Please, don’t kill me,” Flowey begged.

There is no choice.

“Chara, I think we’ve done enough,” Frisk said as she felt her arm raised once more and dreaded the loss of control.

Have to eliminate all the possibilities.

“Chara, he’s your most important person.” Flowey looked confused through his fear as he heard the debate unfold.

It’s okay Frisk. We’re all sharing the load, like good siblings. You dealt with Mom, Flowey took care of Dad, and now I’ll be rid of my dearest brother!

The Golden Flower screamed as the blade hit over and over and over again. Chara laughed maniacally as the form of his brother lay in a pulpy mess on the ground.

“THAT’S ENOUGH!” Frisk shouted. “He’s dead. Just grab the souls and let’s do this.”

“Whatever you say, partner,” Chara said, his eyes and mouth glowing as determination filled his limited form.

It was strange, how Frisk could sense the souls in their pods hidden just behind the throne and under a panel. She couldn’t believe it was in such an obvious place; proving that, in the majority of cases, Flowey tried a bit too hard to think of where they might be hidden.

Chara floated over and crashed the vials, bringing the six other souls over towards them. The terrified and confused level one spirits fluttered in his orbit as Frisk joined him.

Frisk felt a pull on her own soul and it moved to encase the pendant she still wore. Fear filled her as well, as Chara began to laugh once more, the drive of the moment causing the void he called forth to seep from his sockets and gaping maw as it swallowed up reality. After the darkness consumed them, the child attached to her seemed to settle in the calm of nothingness. Frisk, however, did her best to stay alert as she waited for the arrival of whoever had destroyed all she had worked for.

The world was red, and nobody came.

The world was light blue, and still she waited even as whispers from the distance pervaded her senses.

The world was orange, and Frisk began to think on the truth.

The world was blue, and Frisk’s soul was weighted with the reality of her actions.

The world was purple, and despite the mounting emptiness, Frisk held on.

The world was green, and the whispers reminded her of what had been and what could be again.

The world was yellow, and Frisk knew what had to be done.

The world shone red once again, and it was time.

“Let’s undo it now, Chara,” Frisk said to the boy linked to her.

“Really? I don’t know if it’s been that long, and we haven’t even seen anyone come,” Chara replied.

“The souls are tired and I’m ready to leave,” Frisk said. “If we don’t go now, we may not be able to. Besides, I think I know what needs to be done.”

“Oh really?” Chara said coyly. “What if I don’t?”

“You will,” Frisk said.

“What if I say the only way you can make me is to promise to hand over your body the next time we reach the surface?” Chara asked. “After all, it was kind of fun being able to…”

“I’m not leaving the Underground again until I know it will be for the last time.” Frisk cut off the sassy remarks of the other. “And the only way that’s going to happen, is with you in your own body and with Asriel as he ought to be.”

“We already decided the crybaby couldn’t out determination you, didn’t we?” Chara asked.

“We did,” Frisk confirmed. “But now I know that pain is much more powerful than determination. It can change who you are, it can trap you in its clutches so you can hardly move, it can create a hollowness inside that prevents you from feeling anything at all.

“Asriel is in pain, Chara, and you are too. And pain will keep leading us back to this point until we overcome it. He left his ideals of genocide behind for you. He got his hope back when he thought it was you. I missed a happy ending, and it took me giving everyone a bad time to figure that out.

“But it’s time to reset. I have to fix it again and we can’t do that here. And I can’t stand the thought of having so many execution points any longer. So please reset so I can look everyone in the eye while we figure this out.”

“And Azzy said I was unpredictable…” Chara said with a smirk as he called the souls back to him and filled the world with a blinding light.

Chapter Text

Frisk groaned as she fought against the sudden increase of gravity on her form as she adjusted to being outside of the weightless floating of the void. She rubbed her eyes as the bright glow of the sun above shone down on the flower patch below, blinding her after the faint glow of the souls and distant flecks of light had been her only illumination for she didn’t know how long. Her body ached and trembled in the cool air, feeling tight and empty after being sustained on soul energy for all that time. She felt oddly alone now that her connections to the other six souls were gone, though there was still a vibrant presence that pulsed gently near her.

Blinking her eyes open, Frisk spotted Chara standing in front of her. Frisk didn’t know what she found more surprising: the way he still seemed solid compared to how he had been before their dark quest, or the awkward shuffling he did as he contemplated something.

“Wh…” Frisk attempted to speak but her mouth, parched from disuse, stuttered and the air in her dry-closed throat scratched and stuck sending her into a coughing fit after the first syllable. After regaining her composure and pressing her tongue to the roof of her mouth in an attempt to wet in, she tried again. “What’s wrong?”

Chara seemed to grow in resolve once the question was asked, and replied, “Do you want the bad news or the weird news first?”

“What are you talking about, Chara?” The serenity which enveloped her in the void drained away with every moment that passed.

“Okay, weird first,” Chara decided. “Look down at yourself.”

Frisk gave an inquisitive look at the boy who seemed so much smaller than she remembered before looking down at herself. She was on her knees in the patch of golden flowers. The first thing noticed was the glistening heart pendant around her neck that still thumped quietly along with her own heartbeat. The second thing she noticed was why her chest felt so tight and her midriff so cold. Her dirty and dingy sweater, hardly the lavender and baby blue tints it had been when she first put it on, was pulled taught against her upper body.

Frisk stumbled to her feet in alarm at the discovery, finding that her hips, though thin and bony, were still pressing uncomfortably against the edges of her shorts. The once white socks that were her only foot covering were also stretched with a few of her long, unkempt toe nails peeking out.

Frisk felt confused, her body was a mess and so much bigger than it had been the last time she checked. Rather taller, as her hip and collar bones were easily spotted under her skin. Even her chest seemed almost unchanged compared with everything else.

The reality of being kept alive without food sunk into her as her stomach started to churn. “How long were we in there?”

“Longer than one or even two years.” Chara really seemed like a child when compared to the suddenly gangly form of Frisk.

Frisk continued to look at herself, attempting to process how she could look so different.

“Wait.” She stared Chara in the eye, her voice shaking. “You said this was the weird news. What’s the bad news?”

“I mean, it’s related.” Chara’s resolve began to slip. “We probably should have seen it coming with the fact that you kept your new outfit after the reset.”

Frisk slowly sank back to the ground and her heart began to pound as she realized what he meant. She called fourth her soul and stared at the bright pulsing red.

“What is my LV?” The whisper was almost inaudible.

“It’s still twenty,” Chara said, avoiding the piercing gaze she flicked up at him.

Frisk was too dry to cry, too stunned to do anything other than slump forward as her mind swirled with questions and barely contained panic.

Why? Everyone forgot me after the last reset, things went back to how they had been before. Sans’ new outfit, all the new puzzles Papyrus had learned, even the scar Undyne got when she and Papyrus were training. So why…

“Hey, um…” For once, Chara seemed absolutely lost on what to say.

“Everyone came back, right?” Frisk asked as she stared through the floor in front of her.

“Yeah, they definitely did,” Chara said.

“Are you sure? What if something else went wrong?”

“I don’t think…” Chara’s voice cut off as Frisk shakily rose once more and raced forward towards the next part of the ruins.

Stumbling and flailing on unfamiliar limbs, Frisk crashed into the chamber where Flowey first appeared. Panting as she struggled onwards, Frisk came to a stand-still in the dark. Her stomach began to lurch as the dim room seemed as still as the empty streets of evacuated Snowdin.

“Howdy!” The greeting was a euphoric relief. “I’m Flowey the Flower! And you… You are… You’re kind of a mess, aren’t you?” The golden flower seemed at a loss for words as he stared up at the disheveled human. “And if I’m honest, you kinda smell. And I don’t even have a nose.”

“I’m so relieved.” Frisk ignored the harsh quips as she sunk to the ground, too weak to remain upright for long. “You’re all back, you’re okay.”

“Have you done this before or something?” Flowey asked.

“I… I’m Frisk, does that ring any bells?”

“Hmmm… No, can’t say it does,” Flowey said. “Should it?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Frisk said. “I don’t look the same anymore, even once I get cleaned up. I did such horrible things, and you’re all alive again. I’m so relieved, but I don’t understand, why didn’t I reset too?”

“Wait, you killed everyone and did a reset?!” It was impossible tell if Flowey was alarmed to be learning of a death he couldn’t remember or confused by her question. “And you still have you LV and EXP? I don’t get it; I always go back to zero when I reset.”

“Heh heh… hehehe…”

“Come on, don’t do that.” Chara folded his arms across his chest and attempted to look reproachful. It only succeeded in making his discomfort more obvious.

“HAhaHAhaHAH!”

“You’re kinda freaking me out here,” Flowey said as he lurched away from the doubled over human as her long and heavily knotted brown hair fell forward as she leaned into her hysterical laughter.

“Hahah… Of course,” Frisk said, staring at the ground with wide eyes as her body took chills. “I undid it all, but it’s my burden, my guilt. It won’t go away.”

“Uh, I just said that it’s not supposed to stay,” Flowey said, preparing to check for himself to see if she was telling the truth.

“And you know what this means?” Frisk looked up with a wild and pained grin at Chara. “Even if he’s back, even if his brother is back, even if he only has short-term recall, he’ll know! Sans will know the second he checks my status. Will it be out by the bridge? Will he start to grow fond of me again and be struck by my betrayal in the final hall? Oh, will he kill me again?”

Frisk started laughing again before her delirium snapped its shape and she wailed instead.

“Oh golly… You seem like you need your space. So…” Flowey vanished into the ground and did not resurface.

“Coward!” Chara cried as he felt a pang of jealously at the shell of his brother for being so free.

Frisk gradually fell silent and looked into the darkness of the ceiling overhead. “It’s good, right? It’s my punishment. I should have known there was no real way for me to escape.”

“Oh my.” The concerned voice of Toriel caused Frisk to lull her head forward. “You poor child, you look like you’ve been lost for a long while.”

Frisk’s throat closed, the image of Toriel’s betrayed visage flashed through her mind as she started at the gentle matron standing over her.

“Is it okay if I carry you?” Toriel asked.

Frisk continued to be speechless and motionless, gaping as reality warred within her mind.

Frustrated, Chara reached out with his maintained strength and grabbed onto the tangled nest of hair at the nape of Frisk’s neck, where Toriel couldn’t notice it lift and bunch, and pushed her head back and forth in a nod.

“Thank you for trusting me, my child,” Toriel said as she bent over and hoisted the thin human into her arms. “Ah, you are so… I’m sorry for whatever hardships you had to face until now. Do not fret, however, it will be better soon.”

Frisk remained silent as she was carried over buttons and through doors. Her head spun as she fought to hold it upright.

Toriel stopped suddenly and Frisk gave a huff when she noted they were in the spike path puzzle room once again.

And here we are again. I’ll be helped past this point like a helpless child.

“My child,” Toriel said softly. “This is the room with the largest quantity of clean water in the whole of the ruins. It may be a bit cold, but you seem most dry. Would you like something to drink?”

Frisk managed to nod on her own this time, causing her once mother to pull a clean mug from her inventory and kneel down near the start of the spikes to draw a glass for her. Shakily, the mug was accepted and Frisk gulped the liquid down, even as the icy coolness shocked her system.

“Easy,” Toriel prompted, pulling the glass away from Frisk’s face as she began to pant from holding her breath to drink. “It will not run away.”

Another two glasses and the hidden queen decided it was enough for the time being and rose to her feet, carrying on towards her home. Along the way she stopped at the spider bake sale to purchase a spider donut for the starving girl.

As she ate, Frisk’s entire body shook in primal relief, turning the water she drank into a few staggering tears. The crunch of the real spiders, that had so bothered her the very first time she had tried one of the treats, seemed like a solid relief as they filled her stomach.

The food gone; Frisk leaned back with a sigh as exhaustion hung over her head. Fighting to stay awake, Frisk began to force her mind to dwell on the situation she found herself in.

This is different too. Nothing like this ever happened the first time. Is it because there was no fight with Flowey? Is it because I’m such a mess? No, maybe it’s another form of punishment: driving home that if I had just said something different, if I had held out longer before giving in, it would have been just as effective at changing things as MURDERING EVERYONE!

Despite her best efforts, Frisk was nearly asleep by the time she was carried into the warm ruins of Home. Her mind hardly comprehended Toriel taking her into a never before seen bathroom and drawing warm water into the tub. She hoped the slumping starts of her head sufficed for responses as she vaguely heard Toriel asking questions and another voice make complaints. It didn’t even bother her as the tight clothing was pulled off and she was dipped into the full bath.

Clean and dressed in a spare robe, Frisk found herself being lowered into a clean, warm bed and covered.

After the sleepless run of death and a sleepless stay in the void (perhaps, it was impossible to recall) Frisk drifted into a deep and dreamless sleep: unable to be roused by even the most insistent voice from beyond.

Chapter Text

Frisk’s eyes fluttered open, stirring her consciousness to leaden limbs and static numbness. She fought to push herself up from the bed with a groan.

“You’ve been asleep for twelve hours,” Chara said when he noticed her stirring. “Mom came in to check on you three times already.”

“Sorry.” She managed to sit up, rubbing at her eyes with sluggish arms.

“It’s not like it’s my problem, I can’t sleep.”

“You don’t have a body; can you even get tired?” Frisk swung her legs off of the side of the bed.

“No, that’s why it’s not my problem. But you being hungry from the smell of pie does get passed along to me, so how about you get up and eat it.”

Frisk stared over at the slice of pie on the floor next to the door to the small bedroom. She frowned at it as she remained seated on the edge of the bed.

“What now? You said you wouldn’t eat it until everyone was back and you saw; everyone is back now!”

“Yeah but, I’m still…” Frisk placed a hand over the heart locket.

“Yeah, but are you going to try to go the rest of your life without eating Mom’s food? You know that would hurt her almost as much as her knowing what happened,” Chara said. “Just eat it.”

Frisk silently contemplated her options for a minute more before shoving off of the bed. She swayed; still sleeping limbs fought to keep her upright. Chara, quickly adjusting to his ability to affect Frisk physically, floated over and steadied her.

“Thanks.” Frisk turned and walked shakily towards the pie.

“Don’t mention it.”

Bending down, Frisk picked up the slice of butterscotch cinnamon pie. The sweetness of the butterscotch and heat of the cinnamon wafted into her nose, causing her to drool with anticipation and want.

Should I really? she wondered as she took a faltering nibble of the pastry.

As soon as the sugary treat crossed her lips, all hesitation was tossed aside as a crashing wave of need overtook her system. Frisk scarfed down the slice ravenously, stopping only once to cough when a bead of flavor tricked into her wind pipe after a mistimed inhale.

“Easy…” Chara said. “You didn’t save at all before now so try not to die.”

“My child? Are you awake?” Toriel pushed open the door as she asked, her panic at the choking sound overwriting any concern for privacy.

Frisk stood shaking with crumbs and filling smudged on her face as she licked the plate clean.

“Oh, you must be starving, come I will make you something more.” Toriel reached out and put a hand around Frisk’s shoulders, leading her out of the room.

After another slice of pie accompanied by two quail eggs and a block of cheese, Frisk aided Toriel with the dishes and was led into the sitting room by the fire place. Sitting on a pillow in front of Toriel’s chair, Frisk allowed the kind goat access to her nails and hair.

“Now, I don’t wish to put undue pressure on you, my child, but I would love to know what your name is.” Toriel kept her eyes trained on the hands in front of her as she clipped and filed the long and twisting fingernails.

“Frisk.”

“Frisk? That’s a beautiful name,” Toriel said with a warm smile.

“Thanks.”

The talking fell off quickly and silence reigned, apart from Toriel asking Frisk for her toenails and eventually for her to turn around so she could start brushing.

“Falling down in the ruins must have been so jarring for you,” Toriel prompted after a few strokes through the mass of tangled hair. “Though, it seems as if you were on the mountain alone for the longest time. Would you mind telling me why you were wandering for so long?”

Frisk sat silent and Toriel patiently waited. The idea of right then telling Toriel what happened, why she was dirty and worn and stained, crossed her mind in a flash of heat in her sides and ice on her spine. A particularly bad pull of the brush shook the notion from her mind and the lost child instead chose to tell a truth she had never mentioned to her mother before.

“I…My parents died of a really bad fever,” Frisk began, causing Toriel to pause in her brushing. “I…I wasn’t expecting it. We just thought it was a cold. I didn’t even get sick. Then one day, mom couldn’t wake up and her skin was like fire to the touch and everything was wet. Dad was sweating too but he could still sit up. We called the hospital, but less than a day later, they were dead.”

“I’m so sorry, Frisk. That is a horrible thing to experience.” Toriel began to gently brush once more as the tale continued.

“Yeah.” Frisk sniffed and wiped her face on her right sleeve. “But what was worse was how I had to stay in isolation for two weeks, so I never got to say goodbye. I didn’t have it, I was immune to it, but they had to make sure it didn’t spread.”

Toriel tilted Frisk’s head back with a concerned look. “That is a tragedy, but certainly you did not immediately run to the mountain?”

“No, of course not.” Frisk leaned her head down once Toriel released the gentle hold. “I was taken to the Orphanage of Hope run by the Sisters of Hope in the neighboring town to my home city. My parents put it in their will for me to go there instead of the other one in our city. I was there for a while. The sisters were really nice. Even Sister Gertrude, though some of the kids thought she was mean and scary.”

Frisk gave a wet chuckle as she recalled the elderly and wheelchair bound nun halting a fight between three teenage boys the other sisters were struggling to control with nothing more than a wave of her cane and a simple, “You boys cut that out! You have until I get over there. I’m 89, no politician or whiner is going to keep me from caning your rears if you’re still at it!” No one dared to push back against her, and subsequently a single caning had never taken place.

“She would tell us stories,” Frisk said. “Not just from the Bible and the Saints, but the local history of the town, the convent, the fields, and the mountain. She would tell us it was the convent’s long-standing duty to guard the mountain until the owners returned. I didn’t really understand what she meant, but I was always excited to hear her stories even when they ended with warnings that those who went up the mountain never came back.”

If Frisk had been facing the old matron, she would have seen the curious look on her face. Toriel held her tongue, even as the questions in her mind begged to be spoken, allowing Frisk to keep on as she continued with her hair.

“I loved it there,” Frisk admitted. “But there was a problem. The orphanage wasn’t doing so well. The city one had better funding and advertisement. In the small town, everyone was either a nun, married with kids of their own, or a child still themselves. It meant only a few adults came by every month to even look at us.”

“Did you have no luck?”

“No, just the opposite,” Frisk said. “It seemed like everyone who stopped by asked to see me and talk to me. They looked at the others too, sure, but I kept getting their attention. But I was already 12, and it seemed like a waste for me to go to a home when there were some little kids there, and even a few older than me, who had never gotten to have a home at all.”

“That doesn’t mean you don’t deserve a home,” Toriel said, the concern evident in her voice.

“I know, but I guess… I felt like they deserved it more? Especially since I was so good at cleaning and helping people. I felt I could make it on my own. I would help with chores around town with some of the older kids when we didn’t have school. The nuns let us work with the farmers and shop keepers to gain experience as long as we checked in at every meal and were home by sundown,” Frisk explained. “One day, I overheard some farmers talking about the mountain and mentioning the treasure that some legends say is up on its peak. That was what gave me the idea. I knew it was dangerous, but I felt like if I did it, I would prove myself capable and help the sisters all in one go!”

“My dear child.” Toriel pulled Frisk into an embrace from behind. “I am so sorry you felt the need to take on that burden.”

The tears that had been trickling out were now freely flowing as Frisk turned and buried her face into one of the supporting arms around her.

“The worst part is how I sometimes wonder if the sisters think of me,” Frisk said through low weeping. “I wonder if they miss me and if they spent long hours looking for me. I wonder if they think I’m dead and have buried me in their hearts.”

“Shh,” Toriel said, beginning to gently rock Frisk back and forth. “Hush now, little one, it will be alright. I know they both love and miss you, and I am sure, as their name implies, they are holding onto hope for you. Because you are worth it, dearest Frisk, to them and to me. I love you, my child.”

Frisk attempted a weak smile up at the other. I don’t deserve this.

“Will you stay here with me and allow me to be your mother? I am not exactly able to leave to reach the others.”

If she knew she wouldn’t offer.

“Sure,” Frisk nodded. “Thank you, Lady Toriel.”

“Please, my child, call me mom.”

Chapter Text

“Frisk, my child, would you be a dear and go fetch some snails for dinner?” Toriel asked.

Frisk looked up from the book she was reading by the fireplace and smiled at her mother. “Of course.”

Frisk stood and walked over to take small basket that Toriel offered. Her mother gently pushed her long brown bangs back from her face and behind her ear with a gentle paw.

“I am so happy you have been with me all this time, my child,” Toriel said as she cupped her daughter’s face. “I feel so blessed to have you.”

Frisk continued to smile, even as her eyes betrayed a small spark of pain.

“I am also relieved that you have not attempted to leave,” Toriel continued. “I’m afraid those outside are growing bolder in their pursuit of a human.”

Frisk’s smiled dropped and she raised an eyebrow. “Are they?”

Toriel’s face fell and Frisk could tell she regretted saying as much. “Yes. I do like the young sentry who comes to trade jokes with me from time to time, but lately he has been asking almost every time about a human falling into the ruins. I’ve played him off, but it worries me.”

It was only a matter of time.

“Well, you’ve told me it’s dangerous, so I don’t think it would be good to go near the exit anyway,” Frisk said.

“Thank you for trusting me.” Toriel’s smile returned and she pulled Frisk into a warm embrace. “I know this life of seclusion isn’t easy, but it is for your benefit in the end.”

After bidding farewell, Frisk picked her way through the dim halls of the ruins in her bare feet to where the best snails were to be found. She had been dubious to try the green tinted pie Toriel served her, but was surprised to find it tasted much better than she had imagined. Perhaps it was the savory garlic and butter sauce, or maybe it was how filling it was compared to some of the other things Frisk had at her disposal. Butterscotch and cinnamon were great, especially as a pie, but they always left the thin girl wanting afterwards.

Bending down by the edge of a pile of red leaves near a small rivulet that trickled across the dilapidated hall, Frisk began to quietly poke and prod at the cover, searching for the slow-moving creatures that matched the specific qualities her mother had engrained in her. Not too small, not with any signs of illness, and certainly not any that looked like they were caring for another.

A bright yellow flash in the corner of her eye alerted Frisk to a newly arrived presence.

“Hello, Flowey.” Frisk was calm as the golden flower eyed her quizzically. “Will you stop by and have dinner with mom and I?”

“What gives?” Flowey asked, ignoring the question posed to him. “You’ve been here for three months already and you still look like you could cry at any moment. Not only that, but you refuse to make any progress.”

“If you could hear me, I’d tell you I’ve already tried getting through to her.” Chara sat down in a flop next to his brother. His movement caused a slight rustle of the top layer of leaves that sent a waft of the wet, mulching under layer into the air.

Flowey looked at the affected area, puzzled to not see any cause for the movement. “Was that… Chara?”

“Yes,” Frisk said. “He’s trying to tell you he’s bored of me too.”

“That’s not what I said!”

“Well, I’m not bored, so much as confused,” Flowey said. “You know you can’t reset your age, but you keep wasting time. What are you looking to gain in all of this?”

“I’m not looking to gain anything.” Frisk snatched up the snails that had emerged due to Chara’s disturbance. “I just, can’t face Sans like this. I can’t face Pap or Undyne or Mettaton. Mom doesn’t mind, but they will care when they see.”

“You heard mom, though, Sans is getting impatient. You’re going to have to deal with him sooner or later,” Chara said.

“Why could you tell me then?” Flowey asked. “You even told me the part about Chara being attached to you.”

“Because, you’ve done stuff like this before,” Frisk replied with a small shrug. “Plus, I wanted you to know that part of him was still around, that there was some hope.”

Chara shifted in his spot and raised his knee so he could rest his elbow against it to prop his head on his hand. Picking up one of the bright leaves, he twirled it around idly in his fingers.

Flowey looked at the dancing blast of red for a moment before diving down and popping up directly under Frisk’s face. “I had hope at first, when you said that you had come to the conclusion that our true happy ending meant reuniting the two of us somehow. It was weird, I had sworn I couldn’t feel anything apart from boredom and exhaustion, but you proved that I was actually… missing something other than a soul. I’m still not cured or anything stupid like that, but it’s kind of a buzz kill watching you sit around instead of doing what you promised.”

Frisk’s sedate features lowered further into a frown as she was confronted by the accusation. “I’m sorry. I just… they’re going to be so mad at me.”

“Tell them it was my fault!” Chara said for not the first time. “I made you do it, I put the idea in your head. I’ll prove that I’m here and they’ll believe you.”

“I can’t do that, Chara,” Frisk said, pinching the bridge of her nose in frustration. “I can’t lie on top of everything else.”

“You can’t stay here and mope for forever either!” Chara’s voice began to rise. “The only way you’ll get over this is if you do it!”

“That’s easy for you to say, it’s not like you…” Frisk started to shout, staring at her phantom brother.

“Hey both of you knock it off!” Flowey commanded situating himself between Frisk and the floating leaf. “Fighting is not going to help and I can’t believe I’m the one saying that.”

Frisk looked down, a few tears falling from her eyes. Her basket was full already and she robotically began to rise to her feet.

“Hang on, Frisk.” Flowey grabbed onto her leg with his vines. “Listen, Sans can’t cross into Home through that door unless it’s opened. The door can only be opened by a member of the royal family. Not even someone like Undyne can get it open. That’s why I started hiding in here. That’s why mom started hiding in here.”

“That’s why I’m still here,” Frisk added.

Flowey rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I get that, but it’s not a good idea. I’ve trapped people in small places like this before and it tends to make them go… off.”

“What about the Froggits or Mom?” Frisk asked.

“Froggits are small monsters with not a lot going on upstairs,” Flowey said. “As for mom, you think she didn’t notice the dust? That she doesn’t see your LOVE? She will do whatever it takes to hold onto you. Talking to the smiley trash bag helps a bit too but... she’s not the same as she was before. Though, it’s obviously not so bad yet that she can’t go back.”

“That actually makes sense,” Chara said. “It answers a lot of questions.”

“I don’t…” Frisk started to protest once more.

“Listen, I’m not done yet,” Flowey interrupted, digging his thorns into Frisk’s leg just slightly as she started to pull away. “Sans can’t get in here, so after dinner, when mom’s asleep, you go to the door and I’ll bring him here. That way you don’t have to look him in the eye and he can’t check you right away. Then, after you know what he has on his mind, you can decide what to do.”

Time inched forward as Frisk turned the idea over in her mind. Dread festered in her stomach at the thought of hearing Sans utter condemnation at her once again.

Chara rose to his feet and walked over to her. Looking up at the much taller girl he crossed his arms stubbornly over his chest and gave her a hard look. Frisk stared at him and looked over to the sad and dull eyes of Flowey. Another, different, pang of guilt pierced her heart.

“I’ve been selfish, haven’t I?” she asked quietly. “I didn’t only shun my future, but yours as well… Alright, I’ll do it.”

“Good. I’ll come eat with you and mom and when mom heads off to sleep, I’ll duck out to get him,” Flowey said, a smile crossing his face.

Frisk didn’t say much for the remainder of the evening. Toriel was accustomed to these long periods of silence and filled the air with her own voice to dispel the pall of quiet. After cleaning up the dinner mess and laying down to appear asleep when her mother checked, Frisk waited for Flowey to give the all clear to enact their plan.

#

This is a terrible idea. She padded across the increasingly lighter and colder stone floor. Flowey might be lying to me because he’s bored. He might be plotting something…”

“Stop freaking out,” Chara said. “You’re making excuses to avoid this.”

Frisk didn’t deny, as she couldn’t say it wasn’t the truth. The closer she drew to the door, the more her heart pounded and her soul trembled.

*Knock Knock*

The loud raps made Frisk jump nearly out of her skin as they crashed through the comparative emptiness of the corridor. She stood, merely ten feet from the door, frozen in place until it sounded once more.

*Knock Knock*

Swallowing down the lump of her heart in her throat, Frisk stepped up to the door across the nearly icy floor and took a shuttering breath, mind whirling as she attempted to pinpoint what to say.

“Who’s there?”

“canoe.”

Frisk leaned her head against the door and began to slide down to the ground. “Canoe who?”

“canoe help me understand what’s going on?”

Sans’ voice was tired, sad, quiet. Frisk wiped her face on her sleeve as the familiar sound washed over her even as she felt her nails dig into her palm in disgust at putting that pain back in his tone.

“What part? I don’t know all of it myself,” Frisk said fighting to keep her voice clear.

“how’s about we start at the beginning,” Sans said. “why did you reset? on that day no less?”

“I didn’t,” Frisk said, panic creeping into her voice. “Sans, I’ve done some messed up things since then but please, you have to believe this at the very least, I did not do that!”

The sobs couldn’t be contained as that painful, twisted day played before her mind and as every harsh emotion she assumed Sans had felt from the moment she learned he could remember.

“alright, kid, i believe ya.” Sans’ voice carried a feeling of discomfort through the door.

“What?” Frisk was certain she heard wrong.

“been wondering why for a long time now. it didn’t make sense: i never pegged you for the type to play the long con on some old bag of bones.”

Frisk’s breathing began to slow as she slumped heavily against the cold stone door.

“right, so that’s one thing out of the way, partly,” Sans said. “the next thing is why you did what came AFTER. course, maybe that ain’t so much a mystery, faced with a reset you’d likely be frustrated. plus, you never did find out what happened so it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to think…”

“NO!” I knew he was still mad at me. “Sans no, I didn’t, please that wasn’t the reason, I… I’m sorry.”

“Hey, calm down,” Chara said, grabbing onto Frisk hands as she started to hyperventilate. “We’re not going to get through this if you keep breaking down.”

“Hey trash bag, what the hell did I tell you about her being a freaking wreck?” Flowey could be heard on the other side of the door.

“alright, you’re right,” Sans said quickly. “i’m sorry too, frisk, that was a loaded question. we’ll… step away from that for now.”

It took Frisk nearly ten minutes to steady her breathing as first Chara, then Flowey attempted to get her to calm down.

“why won’t you let me in there you troublesome weed?” Sans asked, causing Frisk to shutter as the dark notes of aggression played through his voice.

“Tch, because, that’s not what we agreed to,” Flowey said, ducking back out to the other side of the door.

Silence fell between the two groups for a moment longer before Sans continued. “can you at least tell me what’s been going on the past three months?”

Frisk thought of how best to answer him. “I wasn’t ready. After everything… After learning you might remember, I… I couldn’t.”

“yeah, okay.”

After another pause Frisk spoke up. “Can I ask you a question?”

“s’only fair.”

“Why didn’t you answer me during our fight?” Frisk said. “No matter what I said, you ignored me. Not when I tried to ask questions on what you were saying, not when I tried explaining, not when I stood five feet away airing my frustrations to a dead kid attached to my soul. Nothing made you acknowledge me. What changed since then?”

“this may come as a shock to you, but grownups get mad too. especially grownups who just lost their little brother for the umpteenth time and had a dust covered kid screaming profanities at the air around her charging at them. maybe if you had started asking questions around snowdin…”

“I would have if you had asked me about the reset at the bridge,” Frisk said. “That’s one of the reasons I got so angry during our fight. At first, I assumed no one remembered me at all, but when you proved you did, I was so mad that you hadn’t said something sooner.”

“that doesn’t make much sense from where i’m sitting kid,” Sans said. “i wish you’d come down to grillby’s with me and talk this out. or let me see ya face to face so i can get the whole story.”

“I know but…”

“look, i know i can put my foot in my mouth, all the time.” Sans cut Frisk off. “but haven’t i at least proven that i can get through this without causing a fight?”

“Yeah,” Frisk answered quietly. “That’s not the problem. I… I don’t reset with the rest of you.”

She rushed the last part of her sentence.

“could you run that by me again?” Sans asked.

With a heavy sigh, Frisk repeated. “I don’t reset with everyone else. I don’t know why, Flowey says it’s odd, but I keep growing and changing. My injuries are healed by whatever power lets me reset, but that’s about it.”

“what, you got teen acne?” Sans snorted out.

“I wish that’s what I was talking about Sans,” Frisk said dryly. “I’d take a body full of pimples for the rest of my life if I could.”

Frisk started to worry that she’d have to say it outright until Sans spoke up once more.

“you still have 20 LV?” Sans sounded as disbelieving as Flowey had.

“Yeah.”

“frisk… that…” Sans seemed at a loss of words. “that explains you hiding away at least. but, if that’s your last holdout, i’d prefer to talk in a warmer environment with less of an audience.”

“Chara and Flowey already know everything,” Frisk said. “Also, I don’t have shoes.”

“heh, that i can fix,” Sans said. “snow problem, if your little weed brother will kindly stop pullin my leg.”

 “You weren’t supposed to tell her that, you idiot dump!” Flowey hissed.

“heh, whoops, musta slipped my mind,” Sans said.

Frisk could hear his jacket rustle as he shrugged.

“oh well, sooner or later she’d figure out you pulled the wool over her eyes. it’d be best if it happens now and not when i push the door open in a few minutes.”

Chapter Text

The door to the ruins opened with the scratching sound of stone grinding across snow. Sans stood in the open doorway; sockets wide as he took in the changes to Frisk’s appearance with an old pair of tennis shoes in his hand.

“frisk, kid, am i missing something?” Sans asked as his eye lights traced over her older, mournful face and followed her waist-length hair down her taller and thinner form. “don’t know much about humans, but i do know they don’t grow that fast.”

“I know, it’s part of what happened after I... passed you,” Frisk said as she fidgeted with the skirt of her dress.

In an attempt to prevent monsters from questioning her, Frisk had taken off the apron that held the royal insignia. She looked like a violet clad novitiate, soon with old red sneakers and socks that were far too big.

“so, there was more that happened after i bit the dust?” Sans asked as they started to trudge through the snow.

“Yeah, it wasn’t too much in the way of fighting,” Frisk said, keeping her eyes pointed down at the path. “The king didn’t even recognize me as a human and wouldn’t fight me. But we did something else right afterwards that won’t make sense until I tell you the whole thing.”

“got it.”

As an artificially generated wind blew in the dead of night, the two fell silent and walked without speaking. Past all the familiar dog stations, the unset traps, the long lines of trees as they carried on with only the crunch of their feet creating twin tracks in the road for sound. Frisk was grateful that even Chara knew how to read the atmosphere and kept himself from a string of commentary.

The buildings of Snowdin rose up in the distance when a loud blare of a mewing ringtone cut through the stillness.

“hey, al, what’s up?” Sans asked after grappling with his pocket to pull out his cellphone. “what? i can’t understand when you mutter that much… yeah, i know… no, that would be a bad idea… give me a minute and i’ll come deal with it…bye.”

Sans looked annoyed as he hung up the phone and rubbed his temples.

“Is everything okay?” Frisk asked.

“If not, it isn’t my fault,” Flowey said, catching up to them.

“it’s fine,” Sans said with a shrug. “just gotta pop down there and set a few things straight. you head into grillby’s and have him put a burger on for me and whatever you want. he probably won’t ask but if he does, tell him you’re with me and i’ll pick up the cost.”

Frisk agreed and watched as Sans took a quick shortcut away. With him gone, Frisk began to pick through the quiet late-night streets.

“You know,” Frisk said quietly to her two remaining companions. “I’m pretty sure most monsters don’t actually know what a human looks like.”

“Well duh,” Flowey said. “There have only been eight fall down here ever and six of those never lasted more than a few days.”

“You’d think they would take the time to teach them with books or something,” Frisk said. “It was so frustrating when everyone kept running into me like I was just some random monster.”

“I know, you said that every five we took out back then,” Chara commented. “Are you still angry about it?”

“I haven’t felt anything apart from guilt and sorrow since we left the void,” Frisk said as she pushed open the door to Grillby’s bar. “The idea still bothers me, though.”

The warmth and life in the building seeped into Frisk as she stepped into the familiar front room. Flowey entered as well, popping in and out of minute and well-memorized cracks in the wooden floor.

Frisk scanned the bar, noticing that most of the patrons had either left or were nearly asleep at their seats. She made eye contact with the quiet and stoic Grillby who had a puzzled look on his face as she began to cross over to the bar.

Well, he recognizes a human when he sees one. Seeing one who looks more like an adult is probably even more concerning.

Frisk picked the obvious whoopie cushion off the seat next to Sans’ claimed spot, relocating the device onto his stool. Flowey and Chara both chuckled and perched themselves on the broken jukebox in the corner. Turning to Grillby, Frisk placed her order.

“I’ll have the fries, please, and Sans said he wants a burger,” she said. Taking a handful of g out of her pocket, Frisk placed a pile of 200 g on the counter. “He said he’d take care of it, but I’ve caused him too much trouble lately, so I’m going to pay this time instead.”

Grillby looked at the coins Frisk had gained from peaceful mock battles with the other residents of the ruins and from Toriel always wanting to be sure she could buy the entirety of the spider bake sale, if she so chose. As he continued to stand there and stare from the pile of coins and up to her, Frisk began to worry she had done something wrong.

“That’s a bit more than what I charge for a burger and fries,” Grillby said at last, his warm crackling voice stirring deep memories. “If this was the Glamburger, then you might be under paying, but here we don’t have to keep up with the glitter and metal charges.”

“Ha! Burn!” Chara laughed.

“Oh, sorry. I’ve never actually learned the prices, since Sans normally takes care of it,” Frisk said, genuinely surprised to hear Grillby speak while he was working the bar. “You can hold onto the rest to put towards Sans’ tab though, since I hear that can get rather large.”

Frisk gave a small smile at her generous offer. It quickly fell away as she watched Grillby’s nearly indistinguishable eyes grow wide and the flames on his head stutter in shock. He slammed his hands on to the bar and leaned forward, causing Frisk to jump and pull away.

“You!” Grillby exclaimed, peering into her very soul.

Frisk was left speechless and the boys rushed over; Flowey wrapping himself around Frisk’s leg and pulling out of the ground and Chara standing on top of the bar.

“Um…” Frisk tried to ask what he meant but couldn’t find the words.

“Frisk,” Grillby said with a pain in his now husky voice as he reached out and wrapped his hands around her. Pulling her close, Grillby repeated himself. “Frisk, it’s you.”

The blood drained from her face when she heard him say those word. “What? How did you know?”

“I’ll explain when Sans gets here,” the fire monster said.

Grillby pulled away from the embrace and Frisk saw the steaming rivulets of tears tracing down his face and evaporating before they could fall away. He wore as sad smile as well, even as Frisk sat there with shock and terror written on her face. Quickly patting her on the head, Grillby turned and disappeared into the kitchen.

“Wait, I don’t remember Grillby ever remembering,” Flowey said as he climbed onto Frisk’s shoulder. “Then again, I didn’t interact with him very often.”

“I’m surprised too,” Chara said as he sat down on the bar and swung his legs over the side. “I wonder who else remembers?”

Frisk continued to stare as she played this through her mind. Sans remembers, Grillby remembers… come to think of it, Papyrus hinted that he might almost remember…

A huff left Frisk’s nose as her smile cracked at her lips again. Alphys called Sans, maybe because she recognized me. What if Undyne knew who I was the whole time too? What if…

“Uh, Frisk, you’re kind of creeping me out right now,” Flowey said, leaning in front of her face.

Frisk hadn’t realized that she had started laughing, and found herself unable to stop. Even as she heard the sleepy-eyed guard dogs turn to face her, she couldn’t stop as her laughs evolved from a slow chuckle to manic howls that made her sides sore and sent tears streaming down her face.

“What’s wrong now?” Chara asked.

“That would be my luck,” Frisk said, forcing words out between her sobbing laughter. “I’ve spent three months trying to prepare myself to face Sans, thinking only he would remember why I’m covered in sin. Thinking the others would just see a troubled stranger. But no, now everyone is going to know, they’ll all remember and I…”

Frisk felt the warm arms of Grillby wrap her in a hug from behind and pull her way from where she had collapsed on the bar while talking to a flower and the air. Tears ran down both her face and the one she stared up into.

“How much do you hate me?” she asked as he peered behind his thin-rimmed glasses and deep into his eyes.

“I want to know why, I want to know what happened, and I want to hear you say it never will again,” Grillby said. “But I never have hated you for it, and I don’t think that you could make me.”

“But!”

“Hush,” he would not allow protest. “We will talk about it all when you don’t have to repeat yourself. But I know you, I remember you, and you would not have done this for nothing, even if you were wrong to do it.”

The door to the bar swung open and Frisk heard a chorus of drunk hellos to Sans as he entered.

“what’s up?” Sans was too tired to hide the concern on his face.

“She’s a bit overwhelmed,” Grillby said. “Now that you’re here, help her into a booth and I’ll get what we’ll need.”

“sure, no problem,” Sans said.

Grillby pulled back from Frisk, patted her once more on the head, then headed back out the fire exit.

“you okay?” Sans asked.

Frisk sniffed and wiped her face on her sleeve. “No, I honestly don’t think I am.”

“do we need to put this off?”

“Tibia honest, Sans, if we do, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do this.”

Sans gave a small chuckle and grabbed one of Frisk’s hands to lead her over to an empty booth. “alright then, kiddo. let’s get it over with.”

Chapter Text

Frisk settled into the top booth with her back facing the door. Chara mimicked her position, blocking her into the spot. Flowey eased himself off of Frisk and snaked his was into the cracks of the nearby wall while Sans sat across from her.

“You know, I thought you would have meant Alphys or Papyrus when you were talking about others knowing about the anomalies. I never would have thought Grillby,” Frisk said as they both struggled to start the conversation.

“Grillby and I go way back. and Alphys has helped a lot, though she doesn’t normally remember her contributions. Paps has his own way of helping with problems I didn’t even realize I had half the time. there’s a few others too, but you don’t really know most of them personally,” Sans answered.

Frisk nodded and began to search for another question to ask when Grillby arrived at the table. He had a serving tray with him and quickly deposited not only the burger and fries, but also a drink for Sans and a large hot chocolate for Frisk.

She smiled faintly as she remembered their winter on the surface, forgetting the time while running around playing with young human and monster children. Several times night would fall in a rush and whichever adult lived closest would scoop them into the warmth of their house as the temperatures plunged with the sun until parents could find and collect them. Grillby and Nina had always made hot chocolate for them when it was their home the children took shelter in.

A faint blue glow caught Frisk’s attention and when she turned to examine, she noted that Nina had emerged from the kitchen to take over the counter as Grillby slid into the booth and stuck a dark purple candle on the table. Lighting the tip caused an aura to envelop them, blocking the noise of the drunk patrons and shielding them from prying eyes and ears. It was similar to what Sans had done when he had warned her about Flowey on her first venture: though undoubtedly easier to maintain for an extended period of time.

“Let’s start at the beginning,” Grillby said, taking the helm of the conversation. “What happened on the day of the party?”

“I don’t entirely know.” Frisk lowered her eyes and poked at the warm fries as her stomach churned. “I wish I did. The last thing I remember was running over to see what Papyrus’ new puzzle was. Then it felt like I was tripping and woke back up in the ruins.”

Frisk was nervous: despite Sans’ earlier acceptance, she still felt like the truth sounded hollow.

“So, something or someone else, perhaps, caused the reset?” Grillby asked.

Frisk nodded. “That’s what we figured.”

“can we stop there for a second?” Sans asked. “you keep saying ‘we’ and apparently that’s not just you and the flower. because i didn’t see him anywhere during our fight and you were sure as hell talkin to someone.”

“Right, I should explain that.” Frisk cast a side glance at Chara and noticed that both monsters turned to where she was looking. “When I first fell into the Underground, something about our souls awakened Chara’s consciousness. Since then, he’s been attached to me as something of a soul companion.”

Grillby’s flames flickered with surprise. “By Chara, do you mean Prince Chara?”

“Hey, someone remembers me,” Chara said with a smile.

“Yes, and he’s happy you know who he is,” Frisk said.

“Of course, we were young but it wasn’t so long ago that his tragedy took place,” Grillby replied.

“but why is it that we can’t see him?” Sans asked. “if there was enough of his soul to bring him back after the fusion with Asriel, even if you had to prompt it somehow, why can’t we see him too?”

“I don’t know, and neither does he,” Frisk said with a shrug. “We tried plenty of different things on the surface to help. Remember the Ouija board incident? And my two-month obsession with spirit photography?”

A look of realization crossed Sans' face. “trying to prove he was real.”

Frisk nodded and finally took a bite of one of her fries. “I never talked about him to anyone because I didn’t want mom and dad to hear if they wouldn’t be able to see him. It seemed… wrong, somehow.”

“and there’s no way he could have been the one to cause the reset?” Sans asked, staring at the invisible boy on the bench.

“Sans, what did I tell you at slinging around accusations?” Grillby gently flicked the skeleton on the side of the head, causing him to look down and away.

“It’s okay,” Frisk said. “I asked him the same thing. I even asked him and Flowey if there was anyway Flowey could have gotten control away from me. We decided it was unlikely, and now that I think again, even if Flowey had been able to, using my save spot would be really weird.”

“I’ll say,” Flowey reminded the others of his presence. “Plus, I didn’t even know what was going on when the reset happened. Frisk had to tell me one had even taken place.”

“It sounds as if Chara doesn’t have enough energy to move of his own accord,” Grillby said, not letting the conversation stray too far off topic.

“Well, he didn't,” Frisk said.

“that changed?” Sans closed his right eye and fixed Frisk with a single pin point of light from the eye she had learned to fear.

“It didn’t happen until right up at the end,” Frisk said. “I think it was when I picked up the locket.” Frisk reached for the steadily beating heart hanging from a golden chain. “It didn’t happen the first time, but apparently with my LV, it was able to give him… I don’t know but he can manipulate the physical world to a degree now.”

Chara leaned over and pushed the hot chocolate towards Frisk. Grillby and Sans both jumped at the sight.

“he’s been upgraded from tagalong to poltergeist?” Sans asked, visibly uncomfortable.

Frisk nodded.

“That’s definitely a clue to something,” Grillby said. “But let’s go back to that day again. How did you get from the reset to what happened next?”

“This is your last chance to get off free,” Chara said, poking Frisk in the side.

“I was upset when it first happened, and we couldn’t figure it out,” Frisk said, ignoring Chara. “I was going through the ruins and nothing was different. Everything was the same and I just couldn’t understand. I tried to change things up, but nothing small helped. We talked for a while and eventually, I gave in to what Chara suggested and agreed to try and find who had interfered by making… a big change.”

The admission hung in the air while the adults across from her processed what she had said. Frisk for her part had fallen into the numb state that overtook her when she thought too long about what happened. She automatically chewed through her fries with a passive and disinterested face as she waited to be asked another question.

“Frisk,” Grillby said her name softly and touched her hand gently to bring her attention back to the present. “Why did you think you needed to fix what had happened alone? Why didn’t you tell one of us?”

“I know now that I should have made it out to Snowdin forest before I gave up,” Frisk said. “But nothing mom did was different and even though I knew Sans had some weird understanding of what was going on, I didn’t put together that he could remember resets until the Judgement Hall. He had even seemed to say directly he couldn’t remember during my first run when he acted like I had made the whole trip without dying at all. In the end, it didn’t really seem like there was anyone who could help. Plus, I was the one who freed the monsters, the last soul needed, and the one who was praised as the angel of the Underground. It just seemed like my responsibility to find out what happened and fix it.”

Frisk looked over to Sans and drew in a sharp breath when she saw his hollow sockets and vanished grin.

“Hey, take it easy,” Chara said as he heard her thoughts whirl and her heart begin to pound as her stupor was frightened away and panic returned.

“I’m really sorry,” Frisk said as she pulled her hand back and looked down. “I know it was stupid. I shouldn’t have done it; but I was scared and I was angry. I wanted to go home but home was gone again. I wanted it to last this time, I always planned to bring everyone back. I cried; I threw up until there was nothing left… But then I started… I just got angrier. I was mad because of how easy it was. I was mad at myself for doing it, for all the pain. And sometimes… I laughed? Sometimes something was so unexpected that I didn’t understand how else to react. And sometimes, I got bored. It was a chore that I had to do and when I ran out of anger, I was just memorizing jumps and colors and waiting for the opportunity to break through their defenses. I… I…”

“frisk.” Sans’ voice caused her to go silent, covering her face. “frisk, i’m sorry.”

“It… It’s my fault.” In the back of her mind, Frisk wondered if she would ever be able to act normally in a conversation again.

“i get what you said before,” Sans said. “why you were mad i didn’t say anything at the bridge. and you’re right, i should have. hell, i should have gone straight into the ruins and asked you what was going on when the reset happened.”

“That’s more than a child should have to face,” Grillby added. “It’s not a surprise you wouldn’t be able to process all of it at the time. It also makes sense that you would be mad because of feeling like it was your job.”

Frisk shook her head, still covering most of her face. “That wasn’t even why I was mad. It was that no one did what they needed to to stop me. No one seemed to know how to act. Why didn’t Undyne tell the king once I entered Waterfall? She chased me all over the place, but left it to Alphys to alert him after she watched her die? No one told the king. When I got there, Flowey was the first one to tell him that something was wrong. He was so calm with his people dead around him. I just… What would have happened if I couldn’t have brought them all back?”

“that’s… actually a pretty big problem,” Sans admitted. “I guess I’ve become so accustomed to the resets that I just, stepped back and let it happen. Like I always do with the anomaly, just watch what was happening, knowing it would all be undone.”

“Yeah, that sounds great and all, but it doesn’t make much sense,” Flowey cut in. “I’ve caused hundreds of resets, and not once did you interfere with me like you did Frisk. You observed, put things in my way, but never once, even when I messed with Papyrus’s head, did you fight. If you were just going to let it happen, why did you fight?”

“because, i realized i had fucked up,” Sans said. “i was tired and fed up with just letting things happen and honestly, it hurt a lot more when the anomaly switched hands to someone i cared about, no offense but it’s been a long time since we got to know each other. but that was my fault too because i never gave her a reason to trust me.”

“I’ve always trusted you Sans,” Frisk said. “I just didn’t know you knew anything about it.”

Sans shrugged. “is there really a difference? like you said, there are numerous deaths on my skull from the first run due to me just letting you learn your way around because i figured out early on that you had the power of the resets. and don’t try to say that you weren’t angry about it, i know you are and you should be.”

“If I wasn’t looking for a reason to push my guilt onto other people, I wouldn’t have been upset even if I had learned later,” Frisk said. “It was still so much fun the first time and I liked fixing things even if I had to try again. That’s why I still wanted to be friends. Why I loved everyone. Why, when I finally passed Sans, when Flowey and Chara helped push me through dad and then Flowey to make sure that there was no one left to get in the way, we waited for someone to come. We took the souls and erased everything and waited in the void. I don’t know how long we were there, but by the looks of things, it was longer than the one year I was planning on staying.”

Grillby sighed and rubbed his forehead. “There are so many ways this didn’t have to happen. All the research, all the key phrases to help us remember, all the ways we could have given you the information if we had only known that it was possible to end up in such a situation. But that’s the issue. Sans wanted you to find your way through without having to hold your hand. And neither of us would have wanted to put so much information on your head, giving you that same sense of dread when we never would have expected you to carry that burden. But that is the very thing that made you try to carry it.”

“I just wish it could have actually given me something more,” Frisk said. “The only thing I put together was that Flowey and Chara need each other and that maybe, there’s a way to bring Chara back, if not Asriel too. And, well, I guess hoping to reset my guilt with everyone else was a bit stupid of me.”

“it’s still a lot more information than we had before,” Sans said. “and since it seems like we’re going to need that again to make this stick, it’s not a waste. everything about Chara, the fact that something can reset aside from you, the fact that if anything else happens we’re screwed unless i stop being a lazy bonehead, all more pieces of the puzzle.”

“I was going to say everyone’s response time was pretty bad,” Frisk said. “I wouldn’t really say a scientist and sentry had all the blame. It seems more like Undyne’s job.”

“the thing is, i’m not actually a sentry,” Sans said. “i’m actually the head judge of the entire underground. the sentry thing is a cover position to keep pap happy and also to make it not look like i have money coming out of thin air. it’s entirely my job. technically that's why I ever even tried to care about the anomaly, solving it is my job too.”

“I supposed I dropped the ball as well,” Grillby said, reaching for the untouched, tepid chocolate drink. “I may be the designated survivor out of the minor judges, but I should have at least informed the king that I was survival evacuating.”

Grillby slid the reheated beverage back to Frisk who was taking in this new information. She accepted it and warmed her jittery hands on it.

“Can you two hurry up and spell it out for her? Chara and I have both tried but it was still almost impossible to set this up,” Flowey said, impatient as silence crept over the group again.

“That’s not the only thing,” Chara said which earned him a strict shove and glare from Frisk.

“Spell what out?” Grillby asked.

“i think i know,” Sans said. “you’ve been hiding because of all the death that happened. and not all the deaths that happened to you, but the ones that you caused. undyne didn’t have the power to reset. mettaton, the king, muffet, the average monster on the street; all of them wanted you dead for their own selfish purposes and you are willing to love them and risk everything for them. but you’ve been tearing yourself apart for what you did for them, and you were going to fix it in the end.”

Grillby caught on and added, “It doesn’t fully erase what you decided to do. But neither does our taking for granted that you would reset remove our guilt. It may take time for things to return to a healthy normal, but we are all more than willing to forgive you if you forgive us.”

Frisk sat and thought about it all. Their words, her actions, what she had been trying to do, and what she still had promised to achieve.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever be the same as I was,” Frisk said. “And I forgive you all, but I can’t believe that you really mean it for me. I wish I felt relieved, or better. I made promises, though, to Chara and Asriel. I made promises to all of my friends and I can’t really imagine it, but I think I would hate myself even more if I didn’t try to keep them.”

“Frisk.” Grillby sounded utterly heartbroken, but Sans cut him off.

“it’s not easy,” he said. “i got years of hating myself under my belt. if you can try, even if it’s just for one person, i think you have what it takes to get past the darkness. there's more than one someone who believes in you, after all.”

“And you?” Frisk asked.

“i want him to have his car back,” Sans said, flashing his familiar grin. “the bed won’t hold his interest for much longer anyways.”

Frisk smiled, a flood of memories racing back over the years of empty darkness as she finally took a sip from the warm drink. “Let’s try then.”

Chapter Text

Frisk woke up around lunch in the spare bedroom of Grillby and Nina’s above the bar home. Her body felt like it was melded into the mattress beneath her as she hazily processed where memory ended and reality began. Recalling the previous night, she was surprised how vivid the shock of finding a water shower in a home of sentient fire and the suspicion that arose at finding old toy cars, stuffed bunnies, and books that seemed a bit too adult for the average child staged around the spare room still seemed to her. Knowing the best way to find answers was by heading forward, she pushed her thoughts to the back of her mind and pressed herself out of bed to face the day ahead.

“About time,” Chara quipped with a fraction of his former sass. “I was starting to worry you were going to start stalling again.”

Frisk rolled her eyes as she pulled on the worn, gifted, black boots that sat next to the bed. “I’m going to bring back your body just so I can make you run a 36-hour marathon without food and then whine when you sleep in.”

Frisk stood and straightened the outfit Nina had given her to wear: a soft, solid dark-green sweater with extra long sleeves that allowed for most of her hand to be hidden away from questioning eyes, and a simple and thick pair of black pants that she had tucked away in her boots to avoid dragging them on the ground. Nina had also taken the time to help fix the uneven cut that Frisk had given herself before sending her off to bed.

“The good news is I won’t get cold this time,” Frisk said, grinning at Chara as she left the room.

“You’re going to hate Hotland.”

“At this point, I’d rather be hot than frost bitten.” Frisk made her way down to the kitchen where Nina and Grillby were working together to handle the lunch rush.

They both greeted Frisk with smiles and swift hugs before telling her to take a seat at the small family table to the side of the open room. With a nod, Frisk did as she was told and settled in to wait and watch them work.

Burgers and fries seemed to be some of the most popular choices, but she spotted other dishes fly off of the grill as well. Chicken strips, parfaits, and even a dish that looked like seared fish with vegetables were prepared before Grillby swept them up and left to pass them out to his patrons.

I’ve never seen any non-monster animals in the underground before. I wonder where they get the meat from.

Frisk was brought back to the present by the clack of a glass parfait dish being set on the table in front of her.

“Thank you, Aunt… I mean Mrs…”

“You can still call me Aunt Nina.” The kindly woman put a hand on Frisk’s head and smiled. “And it would make Grillby’s year if you started calling him Uncle again.”

Frisk met the smile with one of her own before a fleeting thought drug her down from the joy of the moment. “I don’t really deserve to act like it didn’t happen. I know you’ve all said you’ve forgiven me, but…”

Nina lifted Frisk’s face up and looked deeply into her eyes. “Our forgiveness is only half of the issue. You still need to forgive yourself, and that’s not a switch that can be flipped and forgotten. Like a child who learned to fear a dog from an attack will have to have many positive interactions to feel safe around them again, so too will you need to remind yourself that you are forgiven, loved, and making the changes needed to better yourself. And if your Uncle and I weren’t going to stand by your side through that struggle, we’d be a terrible family.”

“Thank you.”

“Of course, now eat up! You’ll need your strength to deal with all the puzzles ahead.”

Frisk followed her advice and, not thirty minutes later, she stood to prepare herself to go.

“What are you waiting for?” Chara asked as Frisk started to draw on the power to reset before stopping herself.

“I don’t know. I guess I just feel that I should say goodbye?”

“it’s not like we’re not going to see each other soon, but i appreciate the thought,” Sans said as he placed a hand on her shoulder that was almost level with his.

Frisk jumped at the sudden arrival, spinning around with her heart thundering in her ears.

“oops, did i scare ya?”

“I don’t know, did I look scared?” Frisk asked, attempting to regain her composure.

“nah, you look ready to go, though.” His grin was back to the tentative and tired one he had worn when they first met. The pain of the past months seemed to have melted away, at least for the moment.

“Yeah.” Frisk cast her eyes down when she realized she was staring. “I’m still nervous after all this time about doing it the right way.”

Sans shrugged. “hey, it’s like the old saying: you never forget how to ride a bike, even if you’ve been putting it in front of your horse.”

Frisk snorted. “What?”

“Where did you hear that?” Chara looked genuinely offended.

“is that not how it goes?” The skeleton’s grin never faltered.

“In what crazy universe does that unholy amalgamation of words make any kind of sense?” Chara flapped his arms aggressively as he ranted.

Frisk began to chuckle.

“glad you still find me humorous after all this time.”

“Oh my gosh, no, I forgot how many puns he made,” Chara said with exasperation which only many Frisk giggle harder.

“didn’t think i hit your funny bone that hard, kid.” Sans was interrupted by a sharp tug on his jacket that pulled his hood over his face.

Frisk fought her laughter as she said, “Chara doesn’t like that you mixed your phrases up.”

Sans seemed thrown for a moment with such a large display of Chara’s poltergeist abilities, though he recovered quickly. “what can i say? puns are like the holes in by bro’s traps: idiom.”

“Did you just use idiom in place of I dig them? That’s it, Frisk, you need to reset now before I test the limits of my grabbing ability.”

Frisk’s laughter finally settled and she wiped the happy tears from her eyes. “Thanks, Sans, I get what you mean.”

“good, cause now i’m not sure i do.” Sans pushed his hood back away from his face.

Chara groaned and covered his face and Frisk gave one last laugh before she sighed and readied herself in earnest.

“I’ll see you on the other side,” Frisk said.

“i’ll be waiting.”

Energy tingled through her as she let the void encroach on her once more. Deliberately, and without anger or guilt, she let the world slip away and wind back to that bright starting moment in the dark and crumbling room. She used that still instant to take in the darkness and those far-off points of light as some of her time in the void pricked at her memory. A presence, or many presences, caught her attention before the moment passed and she stood in the light of the flower garden once more.

“What?” Chara prodded Frisk as she continued to stare with a puzzled expression.

“Nothing. I just thought I felt someone else. But I was probably just remembering the other souls in the void.”

“If you’re sure.” Chara gave Frisk a hard look.

“I am. The void just feels like that, remember?”

“Not really.”

“Well, you’ll just have to take my word on it then.”

Frisk walked into the next room and watched Flowey pop up once more.

“So, are you ready?” he asked.

“You remembered this time?”

“Yeah, probably because it wasn’t a total reset,” Flowey said. “Or something, I don’t know.”

“Aren’t you the expert on resets?” Frisk asked.

“Only if I’m in control. None of the other humans could use the reset once they died. That’s why they’re in jars and you’re still walking around.”

“That’s odd. I know their souls are different attributes, but that shouldn’t mean they don’t have determination.” Frisk crossed her arms over her chest.

“Maybe they just didn’t have enough to overcome what Dr. Alphys gave me,” Flowey offered. “That’s all I can think of.”

“Hello? Is someone there?” The gentle and questioning voice of Toriel broke into their conversation and caused Flowey to duck underground to avoid confrontation.

Toriel entered the room and seemed surprised to find a human, just as before.

“Hello,” Frisk said with an unsure wave. “I’m Frisk.”

“Frisk? That’s a lovely name for such a brave child,” Toriel said, smiling. “Most children who fall down here are quite shocked to see a monster for the first time.”

“I don’t know why, you’re a very nice seeming monster,” Frisk replied.

“Why, thank you, my child.” Toriel looked pleased as she raised a hand to her face and gave a soft chuck. “Come with me, I will guide you through the catacombs. They can be quite tricky to navigate if you’re not used to them.”

Frisk and Toriel chatted casually as they went, stopping only momentarily upon reaching the spike puzzle room.

“Ah, this puzzle.” Toriel looked as apprehensive as she always had when they arrived to that point.

Frisk, determined to make a positive change, shot past and stopped right before the starting tile. “I know this one, it’s the floor path from the other room, right?”

Toriel looked surprised. “Why yes. Have you seen something like this before?”

“Yes.” Frisk nodded. “I normally have help, but I think I can do it myself. May I try?”

Toriel looked pensive still, though she eventually relented. “Alright, you seem eager to try and I’ll respect your independence.”

Frisk smiled brightly and reached a hand out to her mother. “Let’s go together!”

They crossed without incident and Toriel seem both relieved and pleased. She handed Frisk the old cellphone and explained that she would need to make a few stops before dinner, even remembering to ask both about cinnamon and butterscotch before leaving.

“Do be careful if you decide to go through the rooms,” Toriel said as she left. “Most of the local monsters have never seen a human before and tend to worry when they encounter something new.”

Encouraged by the newness of the experience, Frisk rushed forward towards the spider bake sale with an excitement she had almost forgotten.

Chapter Text

“I’ll admit... I was a bit nervous, meeting a human... but you turned out to be a nice one. Thanks... Maybe we’ll see each other again... Bye.” Napstablook faded from view with a small smile warming his normally somber features.

“It’s strange, how differently people treat me this time around,” Frisk commented as she continued on. “I wonder if it’s because I’m not in stripes anymore?”

“Maybe.” Chara shrugged. “You’re acting different, too.”

“Am I?” A distant look came to Frisk’s eyes and she slowed her pace as she searched her memories. “It’s been so long since I’ve done it the right way that I can’t really tell. I thought I was doing it the same because I remembered all the puzzles.”

“Nope, definitely different.”

Frisk dismissed the idea and started walking with purpose again. “The real test is how Mom is going to act when I tell her I need to go on this time.”

She thought about it the rest of the way to Home. Her automatic stroll didn’t require much attention, and by the time she saw Toriel again, Frisk knew how she would handle the situation.

As the pie cooled, Frisk chattered idly with Toriel about snails and children and family. They both ate a slice for dinner, laughing pleasantly, as hours ticked away.

The notion to move of pricked at Frisk’s mind well after they had finished eating, causing her to quickly finish helping with the dishes as she summoned the courage in preparation for the coming confrontation.

“I want to thank you for your hospitality, Mom,” Frisk said.

“Of course, dear, I am pleased to help.” Toriel’s voice was strained and she refused to look Frisk in the eye even with only this simple phrase uttered.

“I don’t want to seem ungrateful or uncaring, but I really need to move forward.”

“My child, it is dangerous to go out there. Asgore will kill you and take your soul in an attempt to break the barrier. Stay with me and be safe from harm.”

Taking large white paws into her hands, Frisk gazed into Toriel’s eyes with a look that carried her determination. “I would love to stay with you, more than anything, but there are things that I have to do.”

“What could be more important than your life?” Toriel returned a searching gaze of her own.

“Worse than death is the thought of dying with regret,” Frisk said. “I’ve made grave mistakes before you found me in the ruins today. Some of them were made while running away from others. I can’t run anymore. And I can’t hide. Even if it costs me everything, I have to try to do something about what I’ve done.”

They continued to look deeply into the eyes and souls of each other as the weight of Frisk words sank in. Toriel’s features began hard, impassive, harsh; as moments passed, her look softened, her eyes filled with tears, until she cast her gaze down at the floor.

“Very well, my child. Though it will pain me to see you go, I cannot deny both that there is regret in choosing inaction, and that it becomes harder to leave that regret behind as time melds you into distraction. If this is what you mean to do, I will show you to the exit that can lead you home, or to your doom.”

Frisk hugged Toriel when they arrived at the basement door, preparing to move on after their silent march down the lightening halls.

“I hope you won’t think ill of me,” Toriel said as Frisk placed a hand on the door. “But I will ask that once you walk through that door, do not return.”

Frisk paused, recalling the stinging pain that had filled her heart when she heard those words the first time; the aching aloneness when she had called after a string of deaths to receive no answer, and the relief at seeing her mother once more in the hall at the end of the long journey. “I can’t make any promises. I have the feeling we’ll see each other again.”

Frisk smiled as she noted the way Toriel’s eyes widened as she pushed the door open and stepped out into the frigid air of the frozen forest. Frisk waved one last time as the door swung itself shut, and Toriel, this time, waved back.

“things turning out good so far?”

Frisk spun around to see Sans, who had definitely not been there a moment before, and smiled at him too. “As well as can be expected, maybe better.”

Sans smiled too, round and smooth without the pained pinch to his sockets. “good. so, you wanna play with paps this time, or just cut to the chase?”

“And miss the puzzles? Never!”

Frisk detailed the changes she had managed to enact to Sans as they made their way through the snow. He nodded as she spoke and always seemed to be looking directly at her whenever Frisk glanced in his direction. Chara was able to confirm, without prompting, that the skeleton seemed to be watching her more closely than the path they were on.

“here he comes,” Sans noted as they both heard firm and purposeful footfalls nearing them. “i’d say to duck behind the lamp, but it’s not quite as conveniently shaped as before.”

The small lamp failed to reach Frisk’s waist and she was nearly overwhelmed by this sign of just how much she had changed. A flash of red in the distance snapped her out of the thought and she rushed forward, ducking behind Sans’ sentry station.

“SANS! YOU AREN’T LAZING ABOUT ARE YOU?” Papyrus asked as he arrived at the wooden structure.

“who me?” Sans asked, pressing a boney hand to his chest.

“NO, SOME OTHER SKELETON WHO IS SUPPOSED TO BE ON GUARD IN THIS STATION YET LOOKS SUSPICIOUSLY LIKE HE JUST RETURNED FROM GOOFING OFF.” Papyrus narrowed his eye sockets at his brother as he spoke.

“well, at least it ain’t me, right? i don’t goof off, only take breaks.”

“THE NUMBER OF BREAKS YOU TAKE EASILY COUNTS AS GOOFING OFF, LAZY BONES!” Papyrus stared down at his brother. “BUT THAT ISN’T THE MOST PRESSING ISSUE. WHAT WAS IT, JUST NOW, THAT I SAW HERE WITH YOU: A HUMAN?”

“nah, bro, i think it’s just a lamp.”

Papyrus stomped his foot. “LAMPS DON’T MOVE SANS! IT WAS MUCH TALLER AS WELL! I THINK IT WENT THIS WAY.”

Papyrus turned and headed towards the sentry station. Frisk didn’t move.

“Seriously?” Chara crossed his arms over his chest and raised his eyebrow as he watched Frisk remain crouched next to the booth with her breath held.

“YOU THERE, TINY PERSON, ARE YOU A HUMAN?”

Frisk turned and stood up, her face like a child who was caught sneaking candy. “I am a human. The name is Frisk.”

“I SEE. WELL, FRISK HUMAN, AS A PROSPECTIVE OF THE ROYAL GUARD, I, PAPYRUS, PLAN ON CAPTURING YOU! PROCEED WITH CAUTION AS YOU WILL ENCOUNTER THE GREATEST TRAPS YOU’VE EVER SEEN! COME ON, SANS! NYHEHEH!”

“sure thing, bro.”

Frisk watched as Papyrus ran off eagerly with Sans following at a walk behind him.

“Why did you even hide?” Chara asked. “It’s not like he’s stupid, and he was way too close for him not to see you.”

“I know he’s not stupid, but it’s part of the game,” Frisk said. She started after the brothers. “Papyrus was so upset when I wouldn’t play along, so I wanted to sell it this time.”

The snow crunched under Frisk’s heavy boots as she continued forward and passed Papyrus’ station.

“Why did you stop now?”

“It’s made out of cardboard.” Frisk’s eyebrows pinched over the smirk she wore.

“I pointed that out the first time. What’s your point?”

“I’m not quite ready to make an assumption yet,” Frisk said as she started on her way again. “It’s just something I didn’t really think about after I saw it, I guess.”

“HUMAN! ARE YOUR READY FOR YOUR FIRST PUZZLE?”

“I sure am, Papyrus!” Frisk took the last few steps to the edge of the electricity maze eagerly.

“GOOD! THEN PLEASE EXAMINE THE GROUND TO YOUR LEFT!”

Doing as she was told, Frisk’s eyes widened when she spotted a smooth white sphere on the ground below.

“BEFORE YOU IS AN ELECTRIC MAZE! THAT ORB MUST ACCOMPANY YOU ACROSS TO THIS SIDE. THERE IS ONLY ONE SOLUTION, AND, IF YOU STEP OFF THE CORRECT PATH, YOU SHALL BE SHOCKED BY THE OUTCOME! NYEHEH!”

“good one, bro.”

“Ha! Sans got you!” Chara laughed as Frisk picked up the sphere and shot a look at the blue-clad skeleton.

Undeterred, though wishing she had picked up the stick at the start, she took an experimental step forward at around where she thought the correct path started.

*BZZT!*

Frisk jumped back ask two of her HP drained away from the contact.

“THAT IS NOT THE CORRECT PATH!”

“Thanks, Pap, didn’t notice,” Frisk said under her breath as Chara laughed.

Three more times Frisk was zapped before she finally made it forward along the path, and six more times the buzzer rang before she managed to get to the end.

“You would have died if you did that on your first attempt,” Chara remarked over Papyrus’s congratulations.

“Then it’s good Sans was making sure his brother didn’t kill me, at least.” Frisk replied as she followed after the brothers.

There were small signs that Sans had kept his promise of putting in more effort during this run between the fights with the dog sentries. The XO board was in a faint simile of Papyrus’s face, there was an oversized ring and rope puzzle in place of the crossword (which lit up the younger brother’s face in a way that Frisk couldn’t remember seeing), and the multi square bridge was glowing in true chaotic glory by the time Frisk arrived.

“YOUR DETERMINATION AND LOVE FOR PUZZLES IS ADMIRABLE, FRISK!” Papyrus beamed down at her as she stood panting after emerging from the last tile. “IT IS TOO BAD THAT IT HAS JUST COME TO MY ATTENTION THAT MY FINAL PUZZLE IS COMPLETELY UNUSABLE! BUT FEAR NOT! THE GREAT PAPYRUS WILL RUN AHEAD AND PREPARE TO FACE YOU IN A DUEL, AS SURELY YOU ARE TOO GREAT AN EXPERT AT PUZZLES FOR ANYTHING BUT THE BEST! NYEHEHEH!

Frisk leaned on Sans’ shoulder as his brother disappeared from sight. “You even fixed the pattern puzzle?”

“i always wanted to see one of those completed.” Sans shrugged with the shoulder that didn’t have a head resting on it. “and if i thought you had made him happy playing along with everything broken, i guess he’s ecstatic now that things worked.”

“I think he’s happiest that you’re playing along,” Frisk said, pushing off of his shoulder and stretching. “But now my HP is halved and I’m starving!”

“i just so happen to know a place that’s good at fixing both those things.”

Chapter Text

“See you later, Uncle Grillby!” Frisk smiled and waved as she left the warm, homely bar and grill.

Sans had run ahead, claiming he needed to do something, which left Frisk and Chara alone to move forward towards their impending fight with Papyrus.

“Excuse me, miss?”

Frisk stopped, surprised by who was addressing her.

“I’ve never seen you round here before, are you from Waterfall?” Monster Kid looked up at her with the same energetic smile as always.

“I’m from farther than Waterfall, actually,” Frisk replied, an ache spreading like tongues of flame over her arms. The thought of no longer being a kid with MK, separated from someone she had spent hours playing with, was almost enough to destroy her mood.

“You must have passed Undyne, right? Do you know her?” MK bounced as he spoke, wobbling and swaying as he fought gravity.

“No, I don’t think I’ve met her yet. Is she a nice person?” Knowing that MK is still as innocent as ever fills you with determination.

“Nice? She’s only the coolest monster in the whole underground!” MK declared. “She fights bad guys and keeps everyone safe! And if a human gets down here, she’ll take them to the king for us! Doesn’t that sound like the best?”

“It’s pretty cool.” Frisk tried to hold in a laugh. “You know, you sound a lot like this cool guy, Papyrus, that I met here in Snowdin.”

“Papyrus? He’s that tall skeleton, right?” MK tilted his head, recalling the face.

“Yep! He’s super good at puzzles, and I hear he trains with Undyne to prepare for the royal guard. Have you talked to him?”

“No. I always though he and his brother were kind of weird. None of the adults can even remember where they came from. But, if Undyne thinks he’s cool, he must be!”

Frisk watched as a MK mentally connected a string of dots into a plan.

“Well, I’m getting ready to face him in a sparring match, but later, you should see how cool he is.”

Monster Kid agreed eagerly, darting off (only tripping once) while claiming he needed to get something first.

“Trying to set Papyrus up for a play date?” Chara asked as Frisk started towards the skeleton brother’s house.

“That, and I want MK to branch out. He got along with Papyrus so well after Undyne gave him the seal of approval.”

“FRISK HUMAN! I SEE YOU HAVE ARRIVED TO PARTAKE IN OUR DUEL! ARE YOU PREPARED TO BE BESTED?” Papyrus pointed at Frisk with a grand flourish in the perpetual fog that loomed between Snowdin and the warmer entrance to Waterfall.

Frisk mimicked the movement. “I’m prepared to try my best!”

“NYEHEH! VERY GOOD! THEN LET US BEGIN!”

It wasn’t a surprise to Frisk to learn Papyrus had been holding back when she was in stripes. Perhaps her more forward approach also effected how much more energy he put into his attacks.

It’s still so easy after facing Sans. Frisk dodged a rapid succession of bone missiles.

“Everyone is easy after Sans,” Chara said.

“Has anyone told you how amazing you are at fighting, Papyrus?” Frisk chose compliment once again on her turn, giggling as Papyrus set about flustering and fumbling over the praise.

“Why don’t you flirt with him?” Chara asked. “That was a major part of winning, wasn’t it?”

I’m too old to flirt. When I was little it was an easy joke, but now it might seem serious and I don’t want to put that kind of pressure on him. It took great pains for Frisk to keep her conversation with Chara in her mind as she wove through massive bone pillars with a blue weight on her soul.

“How do you plan to end this, then?”

As if on cue, Papyrus spoke; a faint blush and an enormous grin plastered across his face. “HUMAN! YOU HAVE BESTED ALL OF MY ATTACKS. CLEARLY, WE ARE AN EQUAL MATCH! SPARING, PUZZLES, AND A KEEN EYE FOR WHAT IS GREAT AND COOL IN LIFE: IT IS AS IF WE WERE MEANT TO FIND EACH OTHER!” A sudden recollection caused his grin to taper off. “THOUGH, I KNOW UNDYNE WOULD EXPECT ME TO DELIVER YOU TO HER… SHE WON’T TELL ME WHY, THOUGH AFTER TALKING WITH SANS BEFORE YOU ARRIVED, I THINK THERE IS A CHANCE IT ISN’T SOMETHING YOU WOULD FIND PLEASANT.”

Frisk’s eyes stung and her heart throbbed with a jolt of sympathetic pain as she looked at the frown on his face; his eye lights turned down and away.

“NO MATTER.” As if a switched had been flipped, Papyrus righted himself and his smile returned. “AS I SAID, YOU HAVE BESTED ME, AND, AS A STUDENT OF MERCY, I CANNOT, IN GOOD CONSCIENCE, PUSH THIS ANY FURTHER WHEN YOU HAVE DONE NO HARM TO ANYONE. THEREFORE, I WILL SPARE YOU, FRISK.”

The pain of jeopardizing his life’s dream was stamped on Papyrus’s face even as he smiled. Frisk ran to him, a few tears escaping, and flung her arms around his neck.

“Thank you. You’re a great friend, Papyrus.” Frisk fought to keep the waver out of her voice.

After a moment’s hesitation, Papyrus hugged back. “OF COURSE, THE GREAT PAPYRUS ALWAYS STRIVES TO BE THE BEST.”

“Humble as always, aren’t you Papyrus?” The sharp, high voice of Flowey cut into the tender moment.

“AH! YES, OF COURSE!” Papyrus’s grin was back to its full glory as he set Frisk back on the ground and stooped closer to the small plant. “I WAS JUST MAKING A NEW FRIEND. FRISK, HAVE YOU MET FLOWERY BY CHANCE?”

“It’s Flowey!” He sounded more exasperated than angry. “And yes, we’ve met.”

“BRILLIANT! THIS IS A CAUSE FOR CELEBRATION ALMOST AS BIG AS SANS DOING HIS JOB THIS MORNING! WE SHOULD HAVE A FRIEND PARTY AT MY PLACE!”

“Sure, right now?” Frisk asked.

“YES!” Papyrus posed before another thought crossed his mind. “ER, ACTUALLY, COULD YOU GIVE ME A FEW MINUTES? I JUST THOUGHT OF SOMETHING.”

He didn’t wait for a proper reply before bounding the few yards back towards the house he shared with his older brother.

“Never a dull moment with him,” Chara said, his eyes hooded and a small smirk on his face as he landed in the snow next to Flowey.

“Nope,” Frisk responded before also turning to the new arrival. “What have you been up to since the ruins?”

“I didn’t like the idea of being the lazy one of this run, so I decided I’d put my past runs to good use and make a few things happen,” Flowey explained. “By the time you get to New Home, I think dad will be ready to listen to why we shouldn’t open the barrier right away.”

“Are you explaining what happened to him?” Frisk kept her smile even, even as her eyes lost some of their glisten.

“No, I’ll leave that to you.” Flowey waved one of his leaves and grimaced. “I’ve been taking a different angle, from when the fifth human was here.”

“The fifth human?” Frisk thought over the souls, trying to remember which one that was.

“Yeah, I did their run differently because of how board I was with getting my resets taken away. But even then…”

“THANK YOU BOTH FOR WAITING! I, PAPYRUS, AM NOW READY TO WELCOME YOU INTO MY HOME!” Papyrus ran up dressed in his date outfit: what appeared to be red micky mouse shorts (complete with the white buttons despite a lack of suspenders, a shirt with basketball shoulder pads (that was clearly meant to be worn by someone closer to the rabbits of Snowdin’s height) emblazoned with the title of “Cool Dude”, and a backwards baseball cap.

A sideways glace placed a pause on their conversation with the promise to pick it up again. Following their host, it was a matter of minutes before they were inside Papyrus’s bedroom.

“Does it hurt for you to be out of the ground like this?” Frisk asked as she place Flowey on the computer desk in the corner of the room.

“It takes a few hours for it to be noticeable. Hey, Papyrus, do you have any games on this thing?” Flowey stretched out his roots to wake the computer.

“GAMES?” He thought about it. “I DON’T TYPICALLY PLAY COMPUTER GAMES. THEY ARE NERDY THINGS, AS UNDYNE PUTS IT. AND I’M WORRIED ANYTHING THAT INVOLVES THAT MUCH SITTING MIGHT LEAD TO LAZINESS. HOWEVER, SOME OLD ACQUAINTANCES FROM NEW HOME WERE TRYING TO GET ME TO PLAY ONE WHEN I WAS YOUNGER. IT WAS CALLED PUZZLES AND HUMANS, I BELIEVE.”

Flowey clicked around on the computer until he found it. “That’s the one based on that table top game, right? Have you even tried it? I heard the online one is filled with great puzzles.”

The thought of two of his friends disagreeing on how cool something was clearly bothered Papyrus. “I DID AT FIRST. I THINK IT WAS FUN. BUT IT HAS BEEN SO LONG SINCE I’VE SEEN KEAHI AND AZAR IN PERSON THAT I FELT… WRONG ABOUT IT? NOT TO MENTION ALL THE TIME I’VE SPENT TRAINING WITH UNDYNE AND PREPARING TRAPS IN THE FOREST.”

“Keahi and Azar…” Flowey crinkled his brow. “You mean those crazy fire twins? You know them?”

Papyrus began to fidget and dropped eye contact. “UM… YES, OR RATHER, I DID? AS MENTIONED, I HAVE NOT SPOKEN TO THEM MUCH ASIDE FROM ON THE UNDERNET.”

“Fire twins? Like Uncle Grillby or more like Heat Flamesman?” Frisk asked. She bounced on the balls of her feet at the mention of monsters she had yet to meet even as she wracked her brain for a way to pull Papyrus out of the funk he was falling into.

“THEY ARE GRILLBY’S SIBLINGS, IF I REMEMBER CORRECTLY. THEY HAD DIFFERENT COLORING TO THEIR FLAMES, THOUGH.”

“They’re blue and gold.” Flowey confirmed the memory as he loaded up the game. “I’m surprised you haven’t stayed in touch, they run around almost as much as you do.”

Papyrus didn’t have an immediate answer and instead folded his arms over his chest.

“Papyrus.” Frisk placed a gentle hand on his arm. “It’s okay if you don’t get along with them like you used to. Mom says that people change when they get older, and sometimes they grow apart. You don’t have to feel bad about it.”

“THANK YOU. YOU ARE VERY KIND, FRISK. I WISH IT HAD BEEN LIKE THAT, BUT… I JUST, STOPPED TALKING TO THEM OVER TIME. NOT ONLY WAS I TRAINING AND MAKING PUZZLES, BUT SANS HAD STARTED TO GET WORSE; HE WAS ALWAYS POURING OVER THOSE BOOKS AND FROWNING. I KNEW I WAS BEING RUDE…”

“Wow! I thought you said you never played this,” Flowey interrupted once the game loaded, grinning from petal to petal. “Your character is a super high level, and you’ve got a ton of cool gear!”

Papyrus’s crossed the room, his frown less sorrowful and more confused. “THAT CANNOT BE CORRECT, I WAS ONLY A LEVEL TEN.”

Three faces gathered around the computer, staring at a 16-bit, level 55 Paladin dressed in epic armor. There were two other members displayed as belonging to a guild with him who were similar in level.

Flowey clicked on a red message indicator, causing a note to pop up.

“Hey Papy! We know things have been crazy down there in Snowdin lately. Grillby says you’ve been training hard to make it into the guard. We’ve been busy too, training with our cousins to keep the family business going and pulling rotations on the outskirts to help keep the Underground working. Maybe, once you’re in, we’ll be able to meet up if Undyne drags you around on patrol. In the meantime, if you ever have time to play, drop us a message on Undernet! We’ll even keep your Paladin up to level with us with guildshare! Hope to talk to you soon!”

Frisk’s heart swelled and fluttered at the heartfelt message. Turning to Papyrus, his quavering eye sockets held a similar feeling.

“They are really consistent,” Flowey commented, not noticing or ignoring the wellspring of emotion behind him. “There has to be over 100 messages in here. Hey! What are you doing?”

Frisk picked Flowey up by the stem with one hand before turning and hugging Papyrus. “Flowey and I need to finish the conversation we were having earlier, okay? I’ll come visit again once we sort out the thing that came up.”

Papyrus nodded, still staring at the computer screen even as he wrapped his arms around Frisk. “THAT SOUNDS IMPORTANT. I ALSO HAVE SOMETHING THAT I NEED TO ATTEND TO.”

“Great! Maybe next time, we can cook something together.” Frisk hurried herself out the door, receiving only a wave from Papyrus as a response.

Chapter Text

Frisk stepped out of the Skeletons’ house and into the cold, Flowey struggling as he remained clutched in her hands.

“Hey, what gives?” Flowey scowled up at her when he determined he couldn't escape. “Why did we have to leave right now? I can just tell you what’s going on later.”

“It’s not about that,” Frisk said. “Whatever is going on between Papyrus and the twins struck a nerve. He looked upset and I think he needs some space.”

The door to the house opened behind them.

“Oh, Sans, I didn’t know you were home." Frisk turned towards him just as she was preparing to replant Flowey.

“yeah, I’ve got some down time. did something go wrong? I've never seen you and Paps call it quits so early.”

“Well, Flowey asked about video games and that brought up Keahi and Azar,” Frisk explained. “Are they old friends of his?”

“heh, he hasn’t brought them up in years. not since he started training with Undyne at least. it’s a shame too, they got along great with him. even when I suggested heading to new home, he’d blow it off.”

Frisk frowned. “I hope we didn’t bring up something painful. He looked really sad.”

“he’ll be fine.” Sans’ smile didn’t falter, reassuring Frisk. “he overthinks things sometimes, but he always comes back around. he is the great Papyrus, after all.”

Frisk nodded, shoving her worry aside. Papyrus is an adult and knows how to handle himself better than me.

“Is he really, though?” Chara’s question caught her off guard. “He plays guard in a costume and a cardboard box while complaining Sans is lazy.”

“He’s training. That’s not doing nothing.” Frisk noticed too late she had slipped up in her inner monologue.

“is the phantom brat giving you trouble?” Sans’ gaze sharpened.

“No,” Frisk said. “But settle something for us: how old is Papyrus? He’s an adult right?”

“course he is.” Sans relaxed as he confirmed their question. “he’s 22 and I’m 28. and you’re right, he is still training to be in the guard, even if he’s hit the roadblock of being too nice for Undyne’s liking.”

“See?” Frisk smiled up at Chara. “I was right. And Flowey, we shouldn’t put off anything having to do with the timeline. If you figured something out, we need to know.”

“I’m not holding out information, it’s not that big of a deal.” Flowey rolled his eyes. “I already said I’d tell you.”

“well, why don’t you all come back in and we’ll talk on the couch. it’d be a shame if either of you froze your roots off.”

They all agreed, despite Flowey needing a bit of encouragement, and settled down to talk about his plan.

“Alright. You know the fifth human to fall down, not counting Chara?”

“yeah, she made it to hotlands and hung out with Al for a couple of months. that was a weird run.” Sans kept a lazy expression, though a hint of blue in his left eye made all three of his guests shiver.

“Because I was bored and annoyed at having my resets taken, and because she was the first one to be completely merciful, I decided to try some things,” Flowey explained. “I helped her get past everyone major: the dogs, you skeletons, Undyne, things were going great. I also wanted to see if I could change how dad interacted with them once they reached the throne room. There was only one problem.”

“What’s that?” Frisk asked when Flowey hesitated.

“I think she was sick. That’s why she wound up stopping at Alphys’ place in Hotland for so long. Nothing we could do with magic helped. Actually, I think healing magic made it worse.”

“how’s that?” Sans’ brow furrowed. “even if it doesn’t fix things like colds, I can’t see it making something worse.”

Frisk wracked her brain for an answer, even as a doubt circled around Sans not knowing about this already, especially when they both agreed the human was her for a long time.

“Well, how does healing magic work?” she asked. “Does it reverse damage, or make you heal faster?”

“it accelerates the healing process by reforming damaged tissue with magical energy.”

“That may be the problem. I don’t know much about it, but one of the sisters at the orphanage had cancer. They said that cancer is when your cells grow wrong. If you accelerated that, it would have just made more bad cells, right?”

“Golly, Alphys did make it worse.” Flowey’s eye spots widened and a wave of guilt played over his features. “Oops.”

“why don’t I remember any of that happening." Sans nudged Flowey's stalk. "I can only remember hearing about that human, which makes sense if you snuck her past but Al wouldn’t have not asked me for help. and what does this have to do with what you’re doing now?”

“It was just after that accident in Hotlands. I didn’t not reset on purpose, I just couldn’t,” Flowey said. “That’s also why you were sidelined.”

Sans grimaced and ran his fingers along the left side of his face. “right, I guess that does explain it. but what about my other question?”

“Weren’t you paying attention?” Flowey waved his leaves in annoyance. “I was trying to get her to the King alive and to get him not to interfere. Without getting a hold of mom like I did for Frisk. I learned a way to open him up to the idea and don’t have to worry about Frisk turning up dead.”

“That will be useful.” Frisk smiled.

“if he carries through.” The blue was fully gone from Sans’ sockets as he leaned back on the couch.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Flowey frowned at the skeleton.

“hey, how many years have you been messing around like this? seven? I’m just a bit wary, alright?”

“You’re not like that with Frisk.” Flowey crossed his leaves and leaned back, a pout on his face.

“I haven’t heard you tearfully apologize for what you’ve done,” Sans said, shrugging. “but I’m not as into the idea of plucking and decimating your petals one by one like I was before we started all this.”

Flowey flinched as Sans’ voice dipped to a gravely growl before Frisk elbowed him in the ribs.

“sorry, kiddo,” Sans said. He gave her a sheepish grin which quickly turned pained when he saw the terror hiding under Frisk’s attempt at an annoyed smirk. “sorry. let’s change the subject. what are you planning to do to shake things up with Undyne?”

Frisk ran a hand through her hair and sighed. “I don’t know? With everyone else, just being an adult and putting in a greater effort into what they like has helped. I think she’s going to be put off by the idea of me being an adult and less likely to let me off over a glass of water like she did before.”

Sans began to mull over the situation as well. “at the very least, I’ll interfere for real when you pass my station.”

Frisk scratched at her arms as an itch ran over her scars. “I’d prefer to leave that a last resort. I don’t think Undyne will be happy if you step on top of her.”

“What about MK?” Chara asked. “Undyne won’t attack when you’re with him, and if you have him in your hands, maybe she’ll see you’re not so bad.”

“That could work, but I was kind of hoping MK would stay here this time so he’s not in danger again.”

“There’s not going to be danger this time. Even if she does start something, she won’t do it with him around.”

“got an idea?” Sans watched as Frisk’s frown continued to grow.

“Maybe…”

The sound of Papyrus’s bedroom door clicking open turned the group’s attention upstairs. They let their conversation drop as he made his way down towards them.

“HUMAN, I’M GLAD YOU ARE STILL HERE.” Papyrus had a smile on his face and energy in his eye lights. “I NEED TO ATTEND MY LESSONS WITH UNDYNE TODAY, AND WISH TO TAKE YOU ALONG. THOUGH I KNOW SHE WILL WANT TO CAPTURE YOU, PERHAPS WE CAN PUT IN EFFORT TO MAKE HER MORE OPEN TO NOT DOING THAT.”

“You’d help me with that?” Frisk’s own smile returned.

“OF COURSE, FOR I, THE GREAT PAPYRUS, AM STRIVING TO BE THE BEST OF FRIENDS! THEREFORE, I CANNOT SIT IDLY BY AND PERMIT MY TWO GOOD FRIENDS GET INTO A FIGHT!”

“hey, thanks, Paps. we were just wondering how do deal with your fish friend. with you involved, she won’t have time to suspect anything fishy going on.”

“SANS, THAT WAS AWFUL.”

“I know.”

“Do you have to be there soon?”

“YES, AND SHE HATES WHEN I’M LATE. WE SHOULD PROBABLY GET GOING SOON. ARE YOU GOING TO RETURN TO YOUR POST SOMETIME TODAY BROTHER?”

“sure, bro, after my break.”

Papyrus narrowed his eyes. “SANS, YOU’RE ALWAYS ON BREAK. ONE OF THESE DAYS, YOU REALLY NEED TO PUT SOME BACKBONE INTO YOUR JOB.”

“good one, bro. I’ll think about it.”

Frisk followed Papyrus to the door of their house, bidding farewell to Sans and carrying Flowey.

“OH, AND SANS, WOULD YOU PLEASE PICK UP YOUR SOCK? IT’S AN EMBARRASS…” Papyrus swung the door open as he admonished his older brother, pausing when he heard a grunt and a thud.

“Oh, MK!” Frisk exclaimed as she crouched down, resisting the urge to help him back up. “Are you alright?”

“Yeah. Thanks, miss Frisk,” the armless yellow lizard said. He grinned up at them. “I was coming to talk to Papyrus.”

“ME?” Papyrus looked down with wide eyes before regaining his normal pride. “I MEAN, OF COURSE YOU DID. WHAT MAY I, THE GREAT PAPYRUS, HELP YOU WITH?”

MK began his eager bounce. “I heard you train with Undyne and that’s super cool. I was wondering if you could help me train so that I can meet her someday.”

Chara burst out laughing at the bewildered and excited face that Papyrus pulled at the request. Frisk fought to hold her own chuckles as a blush and admiration spread across his face as he struck his most flourishing pose.

“I WOULD BE HAPPY TO ASSIST YOU! HOWEVER, I AM ON MY WAY TO REPORT AND TRAIN WITH UNDYNE AS WE SPEAK.” A look of panic started to take over as MK’s features drooped. “FEAR NOT! I AM SURE THAT, AS I AM ALREADY BRINGING MY FRIEND FRISK HERE TO MEET HER, UNDYNE WILL ALSO BE OPEN TO MEETING YOU, AT LEAST THIS ONCE.”

“Undyne is going to kill him,” Chara gasped between peals of laughter.

He helped us solve our problem, though. Frisk didn’t trust herself to speak without breaking down. We can always rely on the Great Papyrus.

Chapter Text

“FRISK! THIS IS, WITHOUT A DOUBT, THE BEST PASTA WE HAVE MADE IN ALL OF OUR TRAINING SESSIONS!”

“It is.” Undyne crossed her arms across her chest and stared at her plate with a clear look of annoyance.

“I didn’t realize training for the guard was so tasty!” MK smiled, sauce coating his face.

“OF COURSE! TO BE A TRUE MEMBER OF THE ROYAL GUARD, ONE MUST BE VERSED IN A WIDE VARIETY OF TALENTS! SOMETHING UNDYNE, AND I, THE GREAT PAPYRUS, EXCEL AT! NYEHEHEH!” Papyrus’s cape fluttered in the non-existent wind of Undyne’s home.

“I guess I have a lot to learn. Thanks for letting me train with you today!”

Undyne sighed and leaned on the table. “Sure, I love playing teacher to every up and coming punk.”

“I wonder if there’s anyone else who can relate?” Frisk asked, giving Undyne a sideways glance.

“I don’t know how he put up with me.” Undyne smiled.

“WELL, IT IS GETTING LATE. I DON’T THINK MK SHOULD STAY OUT FOR MUCH LONGER. AS I ESCORTED HIM HERE, IT IS ONLY CORRECT FOR ME TO TAKE HIM HOME.” Papyrus produced a handkerchief and wiped the sauce off of MK’s face.

“Uh huh.” Undyne nodded.

“FRISK, WILL YOU COME BACK TO SPEND THE NIGHT?”

“I’m going to help clean up first.”

“VERY GOOD.”

“Bye Miss Undyne. Bye Miss Frisk.”

All of Undyne’s windows survived Papyrus’ exit. Left alone, the girls began to pick up the dishes, carrying them to the sink.

“That goober is going to be the death of me,” Undyne grumbled.

“He is pretty great.”

Undyne snorted. “Great, but not cut out to be in the guard.”

“Well, how often do humans fall down here? That’s the only issue, right? It’s not like he would ever have to ‘take care’ of monsters as a member of the guard.”

“Dealing with humans is the guard’s entire purpose right now.” Undyne passed the cleaned dishes to Frisk who stood ready with a towel. “No matter how strong he is, if he can’t do what needs to be done against humans, I can’t put him in the guard.”

“Even though I’m the last one you need? What is going to happen when you leave?”

“How much do you know?” Undyne looked at her critically. “Did Sans give you the rundown?”

“You could say that.”

“Sounds like something Sans would say, the cryptic nerd.”

Frisk laughed. “Sorry. It’s a long story.”

“Yeah, yeah. Supposedly, the king is thinking about restarting the war when we get to the surface.”

“No offense, but that won’t work any better than it did the first time.”

Undyne scowled. “Well, they didn’t have me the first time.”

“Of course not. And the humans didn’t have guns.”

“So they have artificial bullet patterns, so what?” Undyne let the water drain from sink after handing over the final pot.

“If I beat you in combat, will you believe it’s a bad idea? I’m not a soldier, and I won’t use more than a spear.”

Undyne grinned. “If you wanted to fight, you could have just asked.”

The battle box opened and in no time, Frisk’s soul was green and she was batting off a barrage of spears with the one she had been given.

“You’re decent, I’ll admit it,” Undyne said after a handful of turns. “But I still don’t plan to lose.”

“No one has to lose.”

“If I don’t win, monsters lose.”

“I don’t have to be dead to break the barrier. Which is good, because I’m too determined to stay dead for long.”

“You say that like you’ve died before.” Undyne unleashed a barrage of spears nearly equal to her undying might.

“I have.” Frisk blocked each one with learned accuracy. “How do you think I got so good at this?”

Undyne stopped cold. “What?”

“I was thinking about what you said; about me sounding like Sans. Nothing good happened when Sans played like he didn’t know what was going on, and I figure it wouldn’t be any better for me to do the same.” Frisk lowered her spear, her breathing only marginally elevated to Undyne’s pants.

“You’re saying, you’ve died before. Here, in the underground.”

“You’ve killed me at least fifteen times total, I think. Just not this time around.”

The spear Undyne held in her hands clattered on the floor as she stared at her, brows furrowed and mouth agape. “Are you telling me humans have some way to just, stop being dead?” Her voice switched from bewilderment to rage. “Then what about the other six? Why did they stay dead? Or the prince?”

“It’s not normal for a human to be able to come back to life. Something is happening inside the barrier allowing it. It also allows for time to be reset, changing everything back to how it was before it happened. That came back to haunt us before. We were out, then suddenly, everything reset. This time, once I convince dad not to fight the humans, I’m going to keep the barrier closed until we understand what’s going on.”

“That doesn’t answer my question.”

“Right." Frisk dropped her spear on the ground, despite the green magic that still held her in place. "The reason the other six couldn’t do it was because they didn’t have as much determination as me. You have to be able to cross a certain threshold to do it. As for Chara,” Frisk paused and looked towards her companion who nodded, “he was a little boy who was told monster kind needed him to die so they could go free. His determination let him do it for them.”

Undyne fell to her knees and the battle box faded. Her facial fins drooped, she stared blankly ahead.

“Humans will do something like that?”

“Humans will do a lot of things if they think it’s the right thing to do. Especially children. Or crazy teens who are desperate for answers after their happy ending was taken away.” Frisk sat on the floor in front of Undyne and took her scarred hand into her own. “Or crazy teens who feel guilty about what they did in their desperation.”

“What does that mean?” Undyne shot Frisk a questioning look.

“Do you really want to do this?” Chara tugged on Frisk’s hair as her heart faltered.

I never said I would never use a short reset again. Frisk took a deep breath and pushed back her sleeves, revealing tallies of scars on her forearms and the number 219 etched into the back of her left hand. “When you learn you can die and come back after, and that you can turn the world back no matter what, it doesn’t seem like the craziest idea to kill your friends to see what you were missing. To find what took everyone’s happy ending away.”

“You’re saying not only did I, and others, kill you but that you killed us too? And now it’s all back to normal?” Undyne’s eye didn’t leave the scars.

“That’s the easiest way to put it.”

Silence fell between them. Undyne continued to stare are the scars, processing what she had been told.

“More importantly, you killed 219 of us by yourself?”

“109 twice. Then Sans once.”

“Why did you only kill Sans once?”

Frisk chuckled. “Sans doesn’t fight until the last possible moment. I didn’t pass him the second time because I was trying to burn off my guilt in the rays of his blasters.”

Undyne lifted her eyes. “Sans can do the blasters too?”

Frisk's eyebrows raised. “Not to throw Papy under the bus, but even though he fought more seriously this time, I’ve never seen him use the blasters. I thought it was a Sans only thing.”

Undyne growled in frustration. “Those skeletons drive me crazy. You do too. But, if some kid fighting to learn a secret can wipe out so many of us, then I guess you’re right: we won’t stand a chance fighting on the surface. We haven’t had any advancements in tech aside from the chatter box.”

“Aw, not a fan of Papyrus’s favorite sexy rectangle?” Frisk grinned and wiggled her eyebrows.

“Pfft, Sans threw a fit the first time he said that.”

“Now I want to see Sans throwing a fit about the soiling of his pure and perfect little brother.”

The girls shared a laugh, tension draining from the room around them.

“Alright. You win after all.” Undyne stood from the ground and offered Frisk a hand up. “If you need me to, I’ll try talking to the King about what we should do instead of war. If I’m being honest, those dogs couldn’t fight their way out of a paper bag.”

“I can’t argue with you there.”

“Then you’d better get to Papyrus’s house to sleep. I don’t want him to be calling me all night to see where you are.” Undyne gave Frisk a rough side hug, lifting her light frame off the floor.

“Are you saying he won’t be calling at all hours either way?”

Undyne sighed. “I need to get him some chamomile tea or something because that nerd needs to calm down every once in a while.”

Undyne and Frisk circled around talk of Papyrus and the quirks of their other friends before Frisk finally waved goodbye with a tiny hint to think about talking to the cute scientist just up the way. She laughed as the Guard Captain blushed as Frisk rushed out the door.

“Hey, this isn’t the way to Papyrus’ house,” Chara commented as Frisk turned up the second north pathway after leaving.

“I’m a bit too worked up to sleep,” Frisk replied. “I want to talk to Blookie first.”

“Why did you decide to go through that if you knew it would make you upset?”

Frisk’s smile fell and she ran a hand through her hair. “It just seems like the right thing to do. I don’t think I can call myself their friend if I keep lying to everyone. And I don’t want things to wind up like with Sans.”

Frisk knocked on the door of the blue drooping house and pushed her way inside.

“Oh… hi Frisk,” Napstablook said. “I wasn’t expecting you this late.”

“Sorry, is this a bad time?”

“No… I’m usually up… I didn’t mean to sound angry... I’d offer you something to eat but… I only have ghost food.” He waved the ghost sandwich he held in his hand apologetically.

“No problem, I have a nice cream I bought earlier.” Frisk pulled the treat from her inventory.

“Oh… That’s good... Was there anything you wanted to talk about?”

The question caught Frisk off guard. The sad ghost rarely spoke much on her visits, and especially never opened the air to questions. Attributing the change to their earlier encounter, she found a question she had been sitting on.

“I have been wondering something for a while now. Humans use the word ghost to refer to human souls in a state after death. Does that mean you were once a human or some other monster? And if so, how long does it take to become a ghost? Are there multiple steps?”

Napstablook set down his sandwich and flew closer to Frisk. “Uh… I know I talk about not bothering a lot, but… bothering is a good thing to do, even when you don’t feel up to it. Things will get better, after a while.”

Frisk stared at him with a puzzled expression, her nice cream bar hanging out of her mouth. Suddenly, a light went off in her mind. “Oh, no, sorry, I didn’t mean me. I’m not planning anything. I was talking about Chara.”

“The Prince?” Napstablook leaned his head to the side, relief evident even as his confusion mounted.

“Yes. You know how he died; well, when I first entered the underground, he woke up and attached to me. Not his body, but just an invisible part of him. I was wondering if it was the first step in becoming a ghost.”

“Oh… ok… I get it now... But, unfortunately, no… if he was going to become a ghost, it would have happened right away… Um… something else must be happening if he’s still there… Sorry… I don’t know for sure.” Napstablook drifted away, giving Frisk space.

“That’s fine, I was just curious. It’s not a big deal if you don’t know.” Frisk did an excellent job of keeping the disappointment from her voice. “I’m the one who should be apologizing, I know I’m not making much sense.”

“It’s fine… I understand… There is one thing that… maybe is the cause.”

“Really?” Frisk looked at the small ghost who seemed to be debating if he should continue speaking.

“Yes… If he is still here… Maybe he wasn’t supposed to die…”

“What does that mean?” Chara demanded.

“Not supposed to die?” Frisk gently prompted even as Chara’s irate energy spilled into her.

“Determined humans… they normally do become ghosts… Perhaps… somewhere in everything that has happened… his determination decided he wasn’t going to die after all… Sorry… I can’t explain it better than that.”

“You didn’t explain it at all!”

Calm down, it’s just another piece of the puzzle.

“Does that mean you were determined too, Blookie?”

The blue ghost blushed faintly. “Oh… well… I wanted to be a musician… we both did…” His features fell.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you think about… whatever happened,” Frisk said.

“It’s alright. He was always more likely to make it big. I’m glad he’s getting his break.”

Not what I thought we were talking about but okay. “He probably needs help, with everyone putting their eyes on him. When you’re busy, you tend to lose track of time.”

“You’re right." The certainty in his voice was startling. "You’re trying to fix everything, aren’t you?”

Frisk shrugged. “I might as well. I’ve done some pretty messed up things.”

“Well… there’s only one good thing to do… when you feel like garbage.”

A few button presses later and a synthetic symphony eased over them all, lulling them into the realm of sounds and colors as they drifted off to sleep.

Chapter Text

The transition from the dark, cool moisture of Waterfall to the bright heat of Hotland was never an easy one. The thick green sweater selected to protect her against the frigid temperature of Snowdin now stifled Frisk as she approached Sans’ sentry station on her way towards the Lab.

“heya, kiddo, you ain’t lookin so hot. or maybe you’re lookin too hot,” Sans said with a grin as Frisk leaned on the stall.

“How do you have a jacket on and not overheat?” Frisk asked, with a pout to her tone.

“I’m a skeleton, heat can’t get under my skin.”

Frisk whipped her head around, checking for potential eaves droppers. “That didn’t keep you from sweating in the judgement hall.”

“heh, you’re right. guess you're the one bringing the heat.”

A snort of air escaped from Frisk. “Well, apparently you bring the cool because I’m not nearly as bad as before. Do you have an air conditioner hiding somewhere in here?”

“nah, that would cost an arm and a leg to power without any doors. but, tell you what, I’ll give you a little something I’m testing out to see if it helps.”

Frisk’s eyes lit up. “An invention? I’d love to help.”

“thanks, Frisk. here.” Sans produced a sack the length of his forearm from his inventory. “this is a prototype portable space distorter. eventually, I want to put it to good use on a bigger project, but for now, I want to start small.”

Frisk took the black bag, turning it over in her hands. The longer she stared at the fabric, the more colors she could see, as if she was starting into an ever-deepening space.

“hey, you okay?” Sans reached out, taking hold of Frisks trembling hands.

She looked up with a gasp. “Yeah… Sorry. It... reminds me of my time in void. Of floating there. For a second, I thought…”

Her voice trailed off and her gaze faded away. The voices, hints of whispers skirting intelligible; she could have sworn she had once known what they said. Everything had seemed so clear, so complete.

“Frisk.” Sans’ smile turned to a frown.

She jolted once more as she was drug into the present. “Sorry! I can do it, I promise. I don’t know what’s come over me.”

Sans let out a sigh. “do you need to talk about it?”

She looked deep in thought.

“I wouldn’t know what to say.” Frisk rocked on her feet. “Anyway, how does this work?”

Sans stared at Frisk who kept her eyes down and away. “geeze, kid, you’re getting as bad as me. don’t over do it.”

Frisk took a deep breath and smiled. She lifted her head and looked up. “I won’t. It’s been nice so far. I feel like I’m really getting to know everyone this time.”

Sans look softened. “you’re getting more involved, too.”

She nodded. “I’m trying, especially since we can’t leave right away.”

“hey, what’s another year in the underground after everything? worst case scenario, only a few of us will actually remember it taking any longer.”

It was a far cry from the attitude she had known. The fearful worry of yet another reset seemed gone, or maybe hidden.

One step at a time.

“You’re right, so, the thing?” Frisk held the bag up.

“heh, here, let me demonstrate.” Sans leaned out of his stall and reached up.

“How long has there been snow on the roof of this thing?” Frisk asked as Sans scooped some of the frozen substance off.

“why wouldn’t there be? It’s in snowdin.”

“I thought he was going to cut the cryptic crap,” Chara said.

Frisk shushed him. “Sans, we’re in Hotland. You’re not making sense.”

Sans stuffed the snowball he had formed into the void-like sleeve and handed it back to Frisk. “ya know, my old man was pretty into science in his day too. I’m lucky to have his work to bounce off of with my own ideas. he spent years working on the core for monster kind to have reliable electricity. he also spent a good deal of time working on questions of time and space.”

The snow felt as cold in her hands as it did falling off the trees of Snowdin forest. It crunched as she pressed on the bag and no matter how much she held it, there was no sign of melting.

“So, you’re saying the stand is still in Snowdin, but it’s also here?” Frisk furrowed her brow as she wrapped her mind around the idea.

“what can I say? the best place to sell ‘dogs is everywhere.” Sans shrugged. “also, between us, it’s easier to keep an eye on everything if you’re no more than a few feet away at any given time.”

“And nobody questions this? Not even Papyrus? Or Undyne?”

“funny thing is, if you don’t make a big fuss about it, most people won’t take the time to notice it’s all that strange.”

Frisk tilted her head to the side. Is it really that simple?

“You didn’t notice until now, right?” Chara said.

You’re right. Of course, I couldn’t really see the roof the first time and was... busy the others.

“I’d ask how it works, but I don’t think I’d understand the answer.”

“you already guessed most of it,” Sans shrugged and relaxed into a lean on the counter. “by opening a hole in time and space, you can access the void. our family has a special knack for it with our magic.”

“Your shortcuts.”

“exactly. my old man wanted to find a way to spread the benefit to the underground. he got as far as making two vaults outside of space time, and a nifty box. I used the information to anchor my station across the underground. now, I used it to craft this sleeve to make the idea portable.”

“Why a bag?”

“it’s the first step. there’s a bigger end goal, but I don’t want to promise anything too soon.”

Frisk drapped the snow sack around the back of her neck. “Okay, I guess I can wait. So, I just make sure it doesn’t melt?”

“bingo. also, maybe peek inside every once in a while. who knows, could be useful.”

Frisk raised her hand in a salute. “Right, I’ll keep my eyes peeled and my neck cold!”

“heh, knew I could count on you, kiddo.” Sans ruffled Frisk’s hair. “now you’d better get going. Al’s going to worry if you take too long to get to her.”

“I mean, it’s not like she could add more bombs to MTT’s show,” Frisk said with a laugh.

“I don’t know, last I heard, a pretty explosive letter was heading her direction.”

“Now I’m even more excited. See you, Sans!”

“Later, Frisk.”

Chapter Text

The door to the lab opened to Frisk as she approached, still cooled by the sack of unmelting snow around her neck. She smiled when she noticed a blushing, flustering Alphys re-reading a letter.

“Oh! Human! I-I didn’t realize you made it… made it all th-the way here.” Alphys jumped and flushed deeper upon realizing she was not alone. “Um… I-I’m Doctor Alphys, the royal scientist. Undyne me-mentioned you’d be coming. Sans did too.”

“It’s nice to meet you Dr. Alphys. I hope they said good things,” Frisk said, smiling at the shy yellow monster.

“Of course, they b-both said not to worry. And Sans… Sans mentioned we are going to be doing a lot of work soon. About the timeline theories… It’s been s-so long, I was surprised.”

“Then, has he told you about what is going on with the timeline?” Frisk asked.

Alphys’ eyes widened at the question. “N-no, not yet. He mentioned y-you would have… have something to do with it, but he h-hasn’t told me what we’re s-supposed to be figuring out. Th-that’s not to say I’m a stranger to the idea that the timeline can be reset, b-but I thought it was just a theory.”

Frisk nodded, casting an eye over the camera screens that tracked her. “Well, it turns out it’s true. The timeline can reset. And, unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to need our help to do it.”

“S-so, you’ve reset the timeline before?”

“Yes, a few times. Mostly when I died. A few times when I made mistakes of my own. I’m not the first one, either; Flowey could do it before I arrived.”

Alphys went pale. “F-Fl-Flowey?”

“Don’t worry, most of his damage was undone at one point or another,” Frisk said. “Also, he’s gotten bored of being a pain and wants us to end the loop, if we can.”

Alphys walked over to her desk and dug out a pen and a pad of paper. “The loop? Is-Is that what you mean by it… by it restarting on its own?”

“Right. It did that once, that we know of. Flowey says he’s never run into it before, but didn’t even realize the reset had happened until I told him. I’m more inclined to believe Sans, but he and Uncle Grillby said they forget sometimes too.”

“W-wait, you’re saying Sans and the bartender Grillby c-can remember these re-resets?”

“Oops, you didn’t know that part yet…” Frisk placed a hand over her mouth and the thought of resetting to just before she entered the lab arrived reflexively. Deciding against it, she instead shrugged and continued. “Yeah, I don’t know all about it, but they can. They didn’t mention it to me until we realized the problem wasn’t going to be easy to fix.”

Alphys scrawled down every word Frisk said; adding notes, questions, and observations in the margins. Frisk was overwhelmed when she looked at all the details added, what the doctor had managed to extrapolate on her own.

“So, the pr-problem easily stated is?”

“I befriended everyone, we broke the barrier, and then, after a year, everything reset and sent us back to the start. I haven’t been able to get whoever caused it to come out and admit they did it. I did learn that Flowey isn’t responsible, and if it’s a person they don’t come out even in dire circumstances.”

“W-what kind of dire circumstances?” Alphys shot an inquisitive glance Frisk’s direction.

“You’re just going to keep backing yourself into this corner, aren’t you?” Chara swung his legs as he sat down on the camera’s control panel.

Unintentionally, he hit a button which caused the screen to flip to the feed for Mettaton’s live show. That was the only warning they had to the impatient robot bursting through the wall.

“Hello and welcome to the MTT Gameshow!”

A neon signboard and spinning globes of colored lights lowered from the ceiling to hail Mettaton’s grand, drywall crushing entrance. Frisk grinned. Alphys panicked.

“M-mettaton! W-we talked about this,” the doctor hissed, beads of sweat forming on her brow.

“I can tell this is going to be a killer show!” Mettaton held his microphone towards the audio output of his square body.

“Mettaton!”

“Today, we have for your viewing pleasure this lovely lady!” Ignoring Alphys’ pleas, he unleashed a cascade of confetti onto Frisk from a bucket held by a miniature doppelganger in the ceiling. “In this dance of fate with a killer robot, do you have what it takes to survive?”

The battle box opened and Frisk stood ready and determined in the light of the cameras. She looked at Alphys, an annoyed concern on the doctor’s face. Giving a thumbs up, Frisk hoped Alphys would quickly realize she had done this before.

“Alright! Let’s get started, shall we?” Mettaton produced quiz show cards from an unseen pocket in his body. “What’s the prize for answering correctly?”

Frisk quickly selected D—more questions, before Alphys had a chance to help.

“What’s the king’s full name?”

“Asgore Dreemurr.”

“It’s like you’ve done this before! Let’s step it up a bit, shall we?”

Frisk could have sworn that the uppermost left panel of Mettaton’s screens caught the same mischievous glint he had whenever he learned a new viral trend on the surface.

“What kind of monster can turn an inanimate object into their own body?”

Frisk checked the different options. Ah, I don’t want to get shocked, but I want to answer goat. “B—Ghosts.”

“Oh, you are smart. This should be easy,” Mettaton said. “Two snails, Rocky and Pearl, are taking part in a race. Rocky can move at three inches per minute, with a recovery time of two minutes, and is able to eat a head of lettuce in fifteen minutes. Pearl, on the other hand, can move at four inches per minute with a recovery time of three minutes, and is able to inhale her lettuce in thirteen and a half minutes. If they are racing towards a head of lettuce over a distance of three yards and must consume their lettuce entirely to win the race, how long will it take for the winner to finish?”

Frisk’s eyes flicked towards Alphys who looked completely taken aback by the break in script. So taken aback, she didn’t think to hold up a hint at the answer.

“D?” Frisk braced for the buzzer.

“Wonderful! I’m astounded folks!” Mettaton hardly waited for her to sigh in relief before he jumped into the next question. “How many species of snails roam the paths of the ruins?”

“4!” Frisk never would have thought her time spent moping with Toriel would come in handy. She also wouldn’t have guessed her actions would have carried this far.

“Let’s play a memory game! Can you recognize this monster?”

Mettaton, surprisingly, wasn’t an option to answer. Frisk looked over the options she had and the swirling symbol the robot projected onto the wall behind him.

“It’s Shyren, right?”

“That’s correct! The magnificent singer Shyren it is! Now for a classic: Would you smooch a ghost?”

Frisk smiled and flashed a thumbs up in a dramatic pose. “Heck yeah!”

“The only answer!” Mettaton declared as Alphys rolled her eyes. “Tell me, how many letters in the word snail?”

The rapid repeat of the letter ‘l’ made Frisk chuckle. “C!”

“Very good! You’re some kind of prodigy at this, aren’t you? It’s time to pull out the big guns.” The glint returned. “In the dating simulation video game “Mew Mew Kissy Cutie” what is Mew Mew’s favorite food?”

“Oh! Oh! I know this one!” Alphys fell into the trap just as easily this time around.

“Snail Ice cream!” Frisk declared over the fanning ramblings, milliseconds before Alphys was able to make the same declaration.

Hearing Frisk snapped Alphys back to reality, clamping a claw over her mouth as the robot began to chide her.

“Since the human guessed the answer first, I guess I can’t consider it cheating,” he said, playful lilt in his voice. “But, since I now know you two are such good friends, I think I’ll ask a question all about the Underground’s lead scientist!”

“The answer is Undyne!” Frisk shouted before the question could be asked.

“Oh~! The human really does know you!” Mettaton’s body turned towards Alphys, a crude set of eyes crossing his screens to wink at her as she blushed. “And she knows the Underground with a perfect score! Until next time folks, I’m your star Mettaton, the killer show robot! Stay tuned for more intrigue, and maybe a little bloodshed. Take care, darlings!”

Mettaton launched into the air, disappearing out a hole in the roof that Frisk had never taken the time to look up and notice.

“Well,” Alphys groaned as she attempted to regain her composure. “That was… something. Heh. I uh… guess you might want an explanation.”

Frisk threw an arm around her shoulder. “I told you, I’ve done this before.”

“Oh… right.” Alphys adjusted her glasses, wasted worry draining off her features.

“He did change his questions, though. So that was fun.”

“For you, maybe.” Alphys glared at where Mettaton had exited. She then gasped, a pained look crossing her face before she looked down at the floor. “Um… I guess that means you also kn-know why he originally did the show?”

“Alphys, I’ve done a lot of messed up things between here and there. I can’t even pretend to be mad at you for wanting to play my hero.”

“Thanks.” A strained smile crossed her face. “It r-really is silly, though; me trying to be a hero.”

“Come on.” Frisk tugged on Alphys’ shoulder. “Let’s crash on the bed cube and talk about why that’s not something you should be worried about.”

Overcome by curiosity and the distinct feeling of inevitability, Alphys allowed herself to be led away upstairs—notebook in hand.

Chapter Text

Frisk skipped merrily along the path forward, her updated phone sporting a well-worn trashcan charm.

“I can’t believe you went into that much detail.” Chara eyed Frisk disprovingly, arms crossed over his chest. “Was all that really necessary?”

“Hey, I wanted her to know that she shouldn’t beat herself up over her mistakes. What better way than to tell her what I did and all the intrusive thoughts that happened along the way?”

Frisk headed north towards the locked doors. Alphys had offered to allow her to pass without having to take the upper path, though it quickly became apparent the doors would be locked until someone manually solved their puzzles.

“Wait, you told Alphys what happened?” Flowey popped into the path way in front of Frisk, a frown creasing his petals.

“Yeah? I’ve pretty much been telling everyone.” Frisk crouched to be on level with the flower. “Aren’t you at risk of bursting into flames here?”

“No. But that’s not what’s important,” Flowey said, casting a glance towards the lab. “Look, you were a kid and didn’t really play around much, but you should be careful with what you say to Alphys. She… Well she um…”

Flowey scratched at his petals with a leaf, seemingly loathe to say the word on the tip of his tongue.

“Just, oh golly, she doesn’t take upset very well, okay?” The golden flower peered up at Frisk, searching her face for any sign of comprehension in the confusion. “Make sure you message her for a while, and if you don’t get an answer back, maybe run to see what’s going on. And don’t save until she gets in contact with Sans or someone.”

The gears ground in Frisk’s mind as the odd command gummed the works and dulled her thinking.

“Uh, alright? I didn’t see anything wrong, but she normally posts on Undernet a lot. I’ll keep an eye on her posts and reply.”

“Yeah, do that.” Flowey seemed satisfied, though still on edge. “Look, I was just checking in to say Dad’s coming around. He figured out that you’re here, and is waiting for you to arrive. Did Sans say anything about a plan?”

Frisk pulled the sleeve of snow off of her neck. “He made this void pocket thing. It’s really cool. Also, he’s been in contact with Alphys but hasn’t let any details slip.”

“Impressive.” Flowey’s face betrayed a hint of jealousy. “Well, I’ve got some more stuff to do. Bye.”

The little flower ducked down into the ground once more and sped off. Frisk shrugged and continued on her path.

“You didn’t notice anything weird about Dr. Alphys, did you?” Frisk asked Chara.

“Nothing she hasn’t done before. She did look kind of relieved and seemed happy to get back to talking with Sans.”

Frisk shoved the idea aside after posting a hello message on the Undernet, satisfied that Alphys was among the first responders to the message.

*

It was odd, matching heights with Fuku and Paige who she had once looked up to.

“Ugh, why did you unlock the door? Now we don’t have an excuse to skip class,” Paige mumbled.

“I didn’t know there was school in the summer,” Frisk said, grinning.

Paige pulled a phone from her pocket and checked the date. “Fuku, not cool. Why did you let me put on this scratchy uniform during break?”

Fuku laughed, light and rustling. “You seemed so certain we were running late this morning that I couldn’t resist seeing how long it would take you to remember.”

The purple skateboard-loving monster shot a pouting look at her friend.

“A fan of pranks?” Frisk asked.

“Of course, I’ve only learned from the best,” Fuku said proudly. “My aunt and uncle are teaching me all the tricks.”

“Girl, you say that about everything,” Paige declared. “How much do you expect me to believe your aunts and uncles do?”

Fuku made a show of shrugging. “Well, I have fourteen of them, not including spouses. The area of expertise can be pretty large when you take that into consideration.”

“Wait, Uncle Grillby has fourteen brothers and sisters?” Frisk had always known the number was high, judging by the faint memories of a plethora of multi-colored fire monsters who visited the trio on the surface, but she wouldn’t have guessed such a large number.

“Yes, there’s never a quiet moment at Grandma and Grandfather’s house,” Fuku confirmed. “Some of them are barely older than me.”

“I’m not even concerned about that, is your grandma alright?” Paige had a look of horror etched onto her features.

Fuku laughed. “She’s fine, don’t overthink it. The two sets of twins and the triplets made it all go by faster.”

Paige seemed less than convinced, but Fuku pushed the matter aside by suggesting the three head to the vents for skate practice. Frisk was excited, merrily diverting her path to follow the cool teens.

*

“Okay, so I know you’re probably not going to die instantly if you fall in, but Paige is an octopus of some kind and I don’t think those fair so well in lava,” Frisk mentioned as Paige made another gut-wrenching flip over the open lava gaps between the vents.

“She’ll be fine,” Fuku reassured. “The vents always push you far enough, the worst that can happen is she loses another board.”

“Hey! New girl! You’re up to try!” Paige called out as she jumped over one final time, perfectly flipping her board before landing and coasting to the others.

“How attached are you to that board?” Frisk asked.

“You know it’s still going to hurt, even if you can reset, right?” Chara asked.

“I’ve got eight at home, it’s no big deal.”

Paige rolled the board to Frisk who nervously stepped on. She lined herself up with the first vent, heart pounding and stomach clenching as she watched the rising heat ripple the air over the gaps.

I’ve got this.

Frisk kicked off, speeding up before crouching over the board. In an arid burst, the vent kicked to life and vaulted her over the gap. The landing was hard, causing Frisk to tip and land on the small platform. Her tailbone screamed at the impact, causing the rest of her spine to recoil from the shock.

“You ok?” Paige called over the gap.

“Yeah!” Frisk forced herself to her feet, retrieving the board. “Just wasn’t expecting the landing. I’m going to try again.”

Seven jumps later and Frisk managed to stick the landing to a round of applause. She grinned and coasted, sweat covered and sore, back to where the others stood.

“Not bad, for your first time,” Paige said, accepting her board. “You look beat, though.”

“You’re really determined,” Fuku commented, offering a healing touch over the areas likely bruised even under the thick clothing.

“That’s me,” Frisk said through panting breaths. “Determined for better or worse.”

Falling to the ground to rest, Frisk instinctively rolled the sleeves of her sweatshirt up. There was a pause around two sharp intakes of breath before the conversation continued.

“This is maybe a weird question but; you’re a human, right?” Paige asked as she sank to the ground as well.

“Yep.” Frisk held the thin dimensional sleeve to her face, desperate to cool it.

Another pause. Frisk felt arms wrapped around her from behind, surprised how tepid Fuku felt in the sweltering air.

“Little cousin, I know you’ve probably heard all sorts of bad things since you’ve been down here, but don’t let it get to you. Okay? We’re here for you, and my family is good about finding ways to skirt danger. So, hang in there.”

The gunk in her mind turned to ash and fell away in the heat as Frisk’s very soul ached.

“Thanks, cousin. You’re just like your parents, you know that?”

“I can only try,” Fuku said.

Her green light cast a glow on Frisk’s face before the human moved to stand.

“I hate to kill the mood and run, but I have a phone call to make,” Frisk said. “Plus, Mettaton gets cranky when you make him wait for is big debuts.”

“That crazy cube? You’re going to be on his show?” Paige narrowed her eyes as she rose to her feet.

“Hey, Tonton isn’t so bad once you cut through the persona. You should check out the show, it’s going to be the greatest one yet.” Frisk smiled, pulling her phone out of her pocket and opening the contact list.

“If you’re going to star, it’ll be worth checking out,” Fuku said.

“Thanks. And don’t worry, we’ll get up to the surface eventually, it’s going to take some time, though.”

“No rush, I’m sure it’ll be there whenever we make it.” Fuku waved as Frisk crossed the vents to continue on her way.

Frisk waved to both girls while hitting send on her phone. She anxiously waited out the rings until a familiar voice picked up.

“Hey, Dr. Alphys, I know I just left, but I’ve been thinking about some of the things I said…”

Chapter Text

“And with that, our guest has expertly crafted a divine ghost cake; passing this part of her test. That’s all for Cooking with a Killer Robot, beauties and gentlebeauties! Tune in next time for another dazzling challenge.”

Mettaton waved to the cameras before the set lights went dim. Frisk was curious, he normally left the set immediately after each portion of the show; now, the robot wheeled towards her in the low light.

“Darling, I have something I need to confess,” Mettaton said.

“I already know about Dr. Alphys’ original plan; it doesn’t bother me,” Frisk said.

“No, no, I figured she would have told you that after the quiz show. It’s well… before I spoke to my friends and family and realized you were a friend, I may have made an arrangement that I can’t really undo.”

Even without his humanoid face, Mettaton managed to look apologetic. Frisk was silent for a moment, prodding her memories for what the super star could mean.

“Oh! You’re talking about the Muffet thing. Don’t worry; I stopped by Temmie village with enough dog residues to send Temmie to college and to pay off Muffet at her bakery.”

“Wow… you’re taking this rather well?”

Frisk shrugged. “I’ve done some messed up stuff myself. I don’t know if Napstablook or Alphys has told you, but this isn’t my first time doing all of this.”

“I’m going to guess you knew Blookie was in touch because of prior experience?”

“Yep, your impossible math question used to be about trains, not snails. It’s funny; things have changed so much I can usually tell what’s happening by how different it is.”

“I… Oh! What on earth?” Mettaton’s attention turned to the ectoplasmic ghost cake that had started to quiver on the counter next to them.

“What are you doing?” Frisk asked Chara.

“Darling, I’m not doing anything that’s why I’m confused,” Mettaton replied.

“I’m seeing if I can eat it. I can’t really get ahold of it, though,” Chara continued to grab at the tall cake, causing it to move but never yield it’s delicate goodness.

Frisk chuckled. “Sorry, I was talking to Chara. He’s not quite a ghost but he’s still here. He was experimenting with—don’t put your mouth on it, that’s gross.”

“I wanted to taste it! I miss being able to eat.” He sat back; arms crossed in front of his chest while pouting.

“The dead prince? Is he attached to you?” Mettaton asked.

“Yeah, ever since I fell down here. He was buried under where I landed. Blookie said determined souls normally become ghosts, so he’s not really sure what’s going on.”

Mettaton stood still, thinking.

“Has anything changed since you first encountered him?” the robot finally asked.

“He couldn’t touch things until I gained 19 LV. Also, when we first attached, he could hear my thoughts, but I could only hear him if he spoke out loud. I don’t know when it started, but gradually I could hear his thoughts and, by the time I hit 19, we were… almost the same.”

Frisk shocked herself with the sudden realization, turning the event over in her mind for the first time in depth since it had happened.

“We both were mad at Flowey, and I could feel his anger and he could feel mine and in a matter of moments our feelings fed off of each other until we were nothing but anger and hatred.” Frisk’s gaze grew distant and her voice began to shake. “Our thoughts took turns being together and a call and answer. We only snapped out of it once Sans killed us the first time. From then on, it never got like that again.”

“Hm. Well, try not to get too worked up with him again; that sort of thing can cause you both to do something regrettable. I might have a book somewhere at my old house about it, but I can’t for the life of me remember where my house key wound up.”

“Bratty and Catty have it in their trash store behind the Resort. I can pick it up once I get there.”

“How did they get it?” Mettaton’s voice lowered angrily.

“I think they found it in the trash, it may have fallen at some point,” Frisk said. “Hey, I was wondering, do you want to debut your new form for the next segment or do you want to save it for the final dance battle?”

“You ought to know it has to be at the very end, darling. And don’t worry about the key, I’ll have it dealt with before you get there.”

“Alright, I’ll see you at the next stop.”

Frisk awkwardly hugged the rectangular robot before saying her goodbyes and heading back out into the heat of Hotland.

*

“One hotdog, please,” Frisk grinned at Sans as she leant on his next stall anchor point.

“sure, no problem.” Sans had a pained look in his eye before reaching for one of his water sausages. “say, you still hot?”

“Not too much, the sleeve is still cold.”

Frisk noticed his sour demeanor as she reached for the 'dog. It was then her eyes lit on her arms, still exposed from rolling up her sleeves to skate. She stuffed the snack in her mouth and pulled the sleeves down, covering the tally mark scars.

“Sorry, I guess I forgot to roll them down. I’m surprised Mettaton didn’t say something.”

Sans shrugged, fake smile back on his face. “most monsters wouldn’t. they usually don’t pry.”

Their conversation fell off; the chatter from the other patrons to the hotdog stand the only noise in the stifling air.

“so, I’ve noticed things have really changed this time around,” Sans spoke up when the silence became unbearable. “I’m impressed.”

“Thanks.” Frisk flashed a smile. “It’s funny, half the time I don’t even think I’m doing something that will make a difference. I just try to do it how I did the first time until I inevitably find myself letting on I’ve done this before, and once that happens I can’t help but bring up everything.”

“Al mentioned you had brought it up; in quite a lot of detail.”

“I may have gotten carried away with her. Chara and Flowey both said I went too far,” Frisk said. “I know she gets upset about people finding out about the amalgamates and when she realized I remembered, I felt like I needed to let her know why it wasn’t as big of a deal as she thinks.”

Frisk’s head rested on her hands, a neutral expression on her face as she traced the lines of Sans’ jacket to avoid making eye contact. A boney hand on her head was enough to encourage her to lift her eyes.

“I know talking about it can help, and I’m all for you going through this in your own way. at the same time, try not to overdo it, kiddo.”

Frisk found herself captivated by Sans’ deep, pleading gaze.

“I never meant to,” she said, looking down with heated cheeks. “It keeps coming up and I feel wrong trying to hide it, especially if they get upset about what they might have done.”

“alright, Frisk.” Sans ruffled her hair fondly and pulled back his hand. “just remember, we all care about you, no matter what happened.”

“Thanks, Sans.” Frisk smiled up at him as she pushed herself up from where she had been leaning. “Oh, Mettaton said he’s going to look for a book in his house to help explain what’s going on with Chara’s current condition.”

“nice, that’s one of the things I have no experience in. I can pick it up when I do my next set there.”

Frisk had begun to move on, but now slammed her hands harshly on the counter, causing Sans to jump.

“Okay, I almost forgot but I’ve finally got it all together: why do you baby Papyrus so much?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Sans’ eye lights looked down and away from his accuser.

“Sans, you have five booths set up on the main stretch of the underground, or one anchored in five spots, you have the telescope spot in Waterfall, even if that’s a joke you perform at MTT Resort, and have your special secret job that requires you to beat the tar out of rule breakers. While I get training or schooling is a big deal, Undyne has no current plans to actually employ him and he’s not even a sentry. He calls you lazy when you’re one of the hardest working monsters in the Underground.”

Sans blushed and he scratched the back of his skull bashfully. “geeze, kid, I’m hardly the hardest working. that’s more the king, or Grillby, or heck, the crazy robot who rarely isn’t in front of the camera.”

“Sans.” Frisk reached into the frigid booth and took his face in her hands. “Don’t downplay what you do. And don’t you over do it either with all the research added on.”

“forget about it; I’ve spent years building up the energy I need. plus, I have plenty of help.”

Sans wrapped his arms around her and pulled Frisk into a tight embrace. Frisk buried her face in his jacket, smiling as his hold returned to how she remembered it that fateful day before all the trouble started.

“now,” Sans gently let her down back into the warmth outside his booth, “you’d better get going. I’ll need your help along the way.”

Frisk nodded, still beaming. “See you soon! Don’t forget to watch the ‘news’.”

Chapter Text

“Dr. Alphys, I’m fine.” Frisk rolled her eyes as she held the phone to her ear. “None of the bombs were even close to going off… Yes, we can still watch anime later… Don’t worry, Mettaton and I have this all sorted out.”

Frisk approached the resort as the phone call ended. She had ejected the book Mettaton had promised from her inventory and approached Sans after sorting out her outfit; ensuring there were no obvious signs of damage from her trip through Mettaton’s version of the maze puzzle.

For his part, Sans was leaning to the left of the resort’s entrance, dressed (for him at least) formally with a proper set of shoes, long pants, and a haphazardly fastened collared shirt under a wrinkled lab coat.

“Aren’t you looking sharp tonight,” Frisk said. “What’s the occasion?”

Sans shrugged. “as much as I love being lazy, lab safety ain’t no laughing matter.”

“Have you been hanging out with Alphys all afternoon? Or are you talking about a different lab?”

“let’s just say you’ve only gotten about half the number of texts you could have,” he said with a mischievous grin.

“You know, most of the changes have been really obvious; they make sense based on the actions I’ve taken. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why she’s so panicked about the villain game with Mettaton.”

Frisk rested her head against the book absently as she puzzled over it for not the first time. Her mood soured further when the familiar voice started to prod.

“I might have an idea as…”

“Chara thinks it’s because I traumatized her with my story; now she wants to make sure I don’t get so mad I try doing it again.”

Sans’ look darkened, an automatic reply seeming to jump to his lips before fading away just as quickly. He took a deep breath, forced his glower to subside, and answered.

“actually, it ain’t as serious. turns out, when you have deep and meaningful chats with monsters, they tend to remember you’re a person and not the setup for their hero story. Al’s beating herself up for the whole set up now instead of next week like last time. she’ll be fine; probably forget all about it in a fishy embrace.”

Sans winked, Frisk giggled, and Chara dropped the issue.

“Is there anything else I can do to help her relax?” Frisk asked as they entered the lobby of the resort.

“nah, just keep doing what your doing. she’s feeling better than she has in months. still working on how to handle the big goop-ball reveal, but hey, one step at a time.”

To her surprise, Sans ushered Frisk into the fancy dining hall to a table with a meal already laid out.

“called ahead,” Sans explained when she questioned the spread. “MTT is willing to pull strings for his favorites and I thought you might appreciate a meal around here without the craft supplies.”

“Thank you.” Frisk beamed as she sat down, placing the aged book onto the table. “Oh, I almost forgot,” she pulled the pocket dimension sleeve out of her inventory, “I’ve been keeping an eye on this. It’s so cold I couldn’t really keep it on in the less lava filled parts of Hotland.”

Sans took the item and looked it over; eyeing its seams and checking for any glitches or imperfections before reaching in and drawing out the snow. Embedded in the frozen water crystals was a small roll of paper.

“Was that in there before you gave it to me?” Frisk asked, eyeing the paper suspiciously. “I swear, I never opened it or added anything.”

“didn’t put it in there before,” Sans said calmly, picking the note out. “might have put it in there to remind myself of something later, though.”

Sans read the paper, a flash of alarm crossing and disappearing faster than most could tell. He slipped both the paper and the snow back into the pouch before shaking it firmly, causing it to go flat.

“That bad?” Frisk asked, pausing in her exploration of the several dishes in front of her.

“just not the time to worry about it,” Sans replied. “it’s still in there, but it won’t pass by the opening again for a while.”

“I thought it was a tiny space. How far in does it go?” Frisk asked.

“so far I didn’t want to risk someone falling in,” Sans said. “you should still hold onto it; just in case you need to store something.”

“Alright.” Frisk accepted it back.

“is that the book Metta mentioned?” Sans quickly changed the subject.

“Yes, I don’t understand much of it.” Frisk slid the small tome across the table. “It’s old and I can’t recognize the words.”

Flipping the book open, Sans quickly guessed the reason.

“this is Latin. last I checked, you only new a few words of that.”

“Oh. No wonder only one in ten words looked familiar.”

Sans chuckled. “it’s impressive you could recognize that many, even knowing two languages taking parts from it.”

As their dinner progressed, Sans’ eye lights continued to flick back and forth as he read through the pages of the book at an impressive speed. By the time they stood to leave, he had finished nearly a third of the volume.

“Any chance you’ll give me a hint at what you’ve been working on?” Frisk asked as she prepared to work her way through the core to her final fight with Mettaton.

“it’s not a big secret,” he replied. “right now, I’m scouring through all of our available information to see if I can pinpoint what’s going on. Al and I think we found a crucial piece of the puzzle. by the time you have the king’s okay to run free, we should have a starting point to plan our next move.”

“You mean you think you know how it reset by itself? How? It wasn’t something I did, was it?”

“hey, easy, kiddo.” Sans wrapped an arm around her shoulder. “no use crying over cosmic hiccups. we’ll get this sorted so don’t worry until you have to.”

Frisk leaned into the side hug and worked to will the tingling excitement out of her system.

“You sounded like you’d never guess it back in the great hall,” Frisk said. “How is it you suddenly know what to do?”

“simple; I didn’t have the information you provided before. knowing about the automatic reset, your time in the void, the effects on you personally; it’s all new data I had no way of getting before. so don’t beat yourself up about the mistakes made along the way. that’s like, half of science.”

Frisk turned and fully embraced her friend before emotionally thanking him. They parted with smiles and heads held high, ready for both challenges rearing up ahead of them.

*

A phone call from someone other than Alphys (who had helpfully set her own ringtone in Frisk’s phone while upgrading it) while walking through the maze-like halls of the core was surprising. Seeing Papyrus’ name flash on the screen was just as curious as the lanky younger skeleton didn’t tend to call unless he was trying to prevent two of his friends from fighting.

“FRISK! I HOPE YOU AREN’T TOO BUSY ON YOUR WAY THROUGH METTATON’S TRAIPSES AND TRAPS. I’VE NOTICED SOME THINGS AND I WANTED TO GET YOUR OPINION ON THEM.”

“Sure, Papyrus, how can I help?”

“IT’S ABOUT SANS.” His voice was cautious optimism mixed with concern. “HE’S ALWAYS BEEN TERRIBLE ABOUT STAYING AT HIS STATION, BUT TODAY HE’S PRACTICALLY IGNORING IT. NOT ONLY THAT, HE HASN’T BEEN ANY OF THE USUAL PLACES. I CHECKED GRILLBY’S, THE PATH THROUGH SNOWDIN FOREST, AND ALL OF HIS NORMAL NAPPING PLACES IN WATERFALL. HE ISN’T IN ANYWHERE AND I’M AFRAID HE MAY BE WORN DOWN FROM THE PAST FEW DAYS. NOT ONLY WAS HE EXTREMELY HELPFUL AT PUZZLES ON THE DAY YOU ARRIVED, BUT YESTERDAY HE SOLD MORE HOTDOGS THAN HE EVER HAS BEFORE.”

“Have you texted him?” she asked.

“I HAVE, AND HE SAYS HE’S FINE. I JUST… HIS BEHAVIOR IS SO ODD THAT I’M CONSERED. ALSO, SANS IS QUITE GOOD ABOUT SAYING HE’S FINE EVEN WHEN HE IS NOT.”

“Yeah, I guess seeing him up and running around is a bit jarring. It’s weird he hasn’t been updating you. Things are busy, but he really is okay. He’s been at the lab in Hotland working with Dr. Alphys.”

“…YOU MEAN HE WAS ACTUALLY TELLING THE TRUTH?” The sorrowful undertones of Papyrus’ voice were squashed beneath the joyful cry of brotherly delight. “HE HASN’T DONE SERIOUS SCIENCE IN YEARS, ONLY HELPING EVERY ONCE IN A WHILE. I THOUGHT HE WAS JOKING. I WONDER IF THAT’S WHERE THE MONEY ACTUALLY CAME FROM.”

“I don’t think so,” Frisk said, relieved Sans was being upfront with his brother after all. “There were a ton of customers at the Hotland spot yesterday.”

“THE HOTLAND SPOT?”

Crap! The dread sprang up before Frisk could even wonder why she would worry about Papyrus learning the truth.

“Yeah, that was where I bought a hot dog from him yesterday, and a hotcat for the road.” Frisk picked haltingly over the sentence. “It was far busier than his stand got in Snowdin or Waterfall.”

“I SEE.”

A measure of dead air passed before Frisk was prevented from speaking up by a continuation.

“THERE’S A LOT HE HASN’T TOLD ME. ALL THIS TIME, I FIGURED IT WAS THE CASE… YOU’VE BEEN INVOLVED IN IT TOO, HAVEN’T YOU?”

The accusation cut like a knife. “I never meant to keep secrets. But you’re right, I wasn’t as forthcoming with you as I have been with most of our other friends. I’m sorry.”

“I AM NOT ANGRY; I ONLY WISH I COULD BE OF HELP TO EVERYONE. BUT, PERHAPS, THERE IS A REASON I SHOULDN’T BE INVOLVED.”

“Papyrus, you do help, more than you know.” Frisk leaned against the wall, placing a hand to her face to cover the feeling of shame. “I can’t speak for Sans, because he’s only just starting to open up on a barely beneath the surface level to me, but, as for me, I didn’t want to talk about those memories until Undyne and I were dealing with our feelings. Since then, I can’t stop talking about what’s happened. I promise, once I talk to the king, I’ll make time to tell you everything that’s happened. Okay?”

“IF IT WOULD CAUSE YOU TO BE IN PAIN, I AM ALRIGHT WITH NOT KNOWING.”

“Knowing that you feel left out hurts more than reliving some bad memories we’re working so hard to fix. But you might have to do something drastic with Sans. March down to the lab and just start asking questions.”

“I JUST MIGHT DO THAT. I’VE HEARD THAT DR. ALPHYS’ DIET IS WORSE THAN SANS' AND I CAN’T LET HIM GET AWAY WITH THAT FOR TOO LONG.”

Frisk smiled. “See? You’re always on top of making sure he’s okay.”

Somehow, Frisk could hear him beaming across the line. “THANK YOU, FRISK. YOU HAVE BEEN VERY HELPFUL IN SORTING OUT MY THOUGHTS.”

“You’re welcome, Papyrus. I promise not to hide things anymore, so call me whenever you need.”

“OF COURSE. I—OH! SANS JUST RETURNED HOME! I SHALL SPEAK WITH YOU SOON.”

The call abruptly ended and Frisk closed her phone. She stared at the device and thought over all the pieces in their brotherly puzzle.

“You’d think he’d have gone through Hotland at least once, no matter how much he hates it,” Chara commented.

“Why? He doesn’t know the booth is in more than one place. He’d always seem to be in the same place in Snowdin every time.”

Frisk pushed off the wall and started down the hall once more.

“That makes me wonder what it looks like on the inside,” she added as the door to the battle stage loomed.

Chapter Text

“WELCOME HOME, BROTHER!”

Sans found himself swept up in a loving embrace, quite literally as his feet left the floor. He smiled and buried his face in the crook of Papyrus’ neck, melting into the warm reassurance that they were still safe together. The younger skeleton squeezed him tight before placing him back on the ground with a serious expression on his face.

“SANS, I NEED TO APOLOGIZE,” Papyrus said, hands firmly gripping Sans’ shoulders.

The calm, lazy smile on Sans face quirked into one of worry and alarm. “apologize for what, pap?”

He took a deep inhale. “EARLIER TODAY YOU TOLD ME YOU WERE AT THE ROYAL LAB IN HOTLAND ASSISTING ALPHYS WITH AN IMPORTANT PROJECT. UNFORTUNATELY, I, THE GREAT PAPYRUS, WAS NOT SO GREAT A BROTHER AS I FOUND IT HARD TO BELIEVE YOU.”

His face drooped, eyelights directed down at the floor as he pulled himself upright and rubbed at the back of his skull. He sighed as his gloved hand came away covered in assorted cosmetic creams.

“IT IS NOT THAT I DO NOT FIND YOU TRUSTWORTHY… IT IS ONLY… WELL, YOU HAVE NEVER MADE A HABIT OF TELLING ME WHEN SOMETHING WAS WRONG. IT HAS BEEN SO LONG SINCE YOU HAVE GONE TO THE LAB, I WAS AFRAID THAT, PERHAPS, SOMETHING WAS WRONG.”

Sans’ soul panged with guilt wracking every bone in his body along the threads of magic holding him together. The words, alongside the morose and dejected face of his sunshine brother, cut to the point of physical strain.

“pap, i’m so sorry,” Sans muttered, barely audible. “i never meant to make you worry. how did you find out?”

“AFTER MUCH THOUGHT, I CONTACTED FRISK. I GET THE FEELING MY FIRST MEETING WITH HER A FEW DAYS AGO WAS, IN FACT, NOT MY FIRST TIME MEETING HER. ALSO, SHE SEEMS TO KNOW YOU QUITE WELL. SHE WAS ABLE TO CONFIRM THAT YOU WERE AT THE LAB TODAY WHEN I RELAYED MY CONCERN.”

“good, I’m glad. though, she didn’t know until about an hour ago, which means you’ve been worrying most of the day.”

Sans sighed, looking up with shimmering eyes at his brother who had removed the soiled glove and wrung it in his hands.

“YES, I SUPPOSE I HAVE BEEN WORRIED FOR QUITE SOME TIME,” Papyrus admitted, he squinted his eyes as he continued. “THE GREATEST WORRY BEING THAT I AM DON’T SEEM TO BE QUALIFIED TO TRULY ASSIST YOU.”

Sans’ brow furrowed. “what do you mean?” what did she tell him?

Papyrus didn’t speak for a moment, mulling over how to say what he wanted to convey.

“THE GR… UH… I MEAN THAT OVER THE YEARS THINGS HAVE SEEMED… UNBALANCED? YOU HAVE PROVIDED EVERYTHING SINCE THE FATHER I CAN NOT REMEMBER DISSAPPEARED, AND YET, I CANNOT EVEN BE THERE ENOUGH FOR YOU TO HELP WITH EVERYTHING THAT WEIGHS ON YOU.”

“papyrus…”

“I DO NOT MEAN TO SOUND AS IF I AM BLAMING YOU, THAT IS THE LEAST OF MY INTERESTS. AFTER ALL, I HAVE OTHER PROOFS OF MY SHORTCOMINGS, THOUGH I AM AT AN UTTER LOSS ON HOW TO IMPROVE. NO AMOUNT OF TRAINING SEEMS TO ASSURE UNDYNE OF MY DEPENDABILITY, AND MY ACTIONS IN REGARDS TO PAST FRIENDSHIPS OF MINE AND CURRENT FRIENDSHIPS OF YOURS HAS BEEN… LESS THAN MAGNIFICENT.”

Sans’ heart pounded, tears escaped his sockets as he grabbed Papyrus’ ungloved hand and pulled him closer.

“papyrus, where is this coming from? is it something i said? did i forget something important?”

Countless other questions fought to be free, yet jammed behind a choke. Sans internally cursed himself for crying, clenching his sockets shut and shaking his head to rid himself of the tears and to unclog the flow of words.

“PLEASE DON’T CRY.” Papyrus grabbed Sans’ skull with his free hand, steadying him and pressing their foreheads together as his own tears escaped. “YOU HAVE NEVER SAID ANYTHING WRONG; YOU HAVE ALWAYS SHOWERED ME WITH LOVE AND SUPPORT AND CHEESY AND SARCASTIC PUNS.”

Slowly, Sans breathed in, squeezing Papyrus’ hand and feeling the erratic and sorrowful pulse in the air, the bright and strong soul of his brother, until words managed to break free.

“then why are you sad? i’ve tried so hard… i never wanted you to have to feel that way about yourself. so why? how did it come to this?”

The answer didn’t come right away. Instead, Papyrus pulled back and led Sans to the green couch at the center of their living room, sitting down and drawing his brother onto his lap. Too tired to protest and too lazy to be embarrassed, Sans didn’t resist as Papyrus held him close while stretching out on the couch.

“I SAID I DIDN’T BLAME YOU. HOW COULD I? YOU HAVE ALWAYS SUPPORTED ME, EVEN IF WHAT I WANTED WAS NOT IMMEDIATELY BENEFICIAL.”

Sans sat up and fixed him with a stare that was equal parts angry and hurt. “who the hell told you you aren’t helpful?”

“NO ONE. BUT, I’M NOT SO STUPID AS TO THINK FOOD IS FREE, TO THINK THIS HOUSE SO MUCH GRANDER THAN MOST HERE IN TOWN COST NOTHING, TO NOT KNOW OF THE CORE FEE OR THE TAXES THAT PAY THE GUARD. YET YOU SUPPORT MY DREAMS OF BEING IN THE GUARD, EVEN THOUGH I KEEP BEING DENIED. SOMETIMES, I WONDER WHY YOU DON’T TELL ME TO CHOOSE SOMETHING ELSE.”

“pap, you don’t have to worry about money, it’s never been something we’ve needed to worry about. and you’ll get into the guard one of these days. undyne will see that a soldier doesn’t have to be heartless to be strong. it’s the softness that you have that helped her and frisk get along, don’t forget that.”

Sans soul sank when his words caused a sour and pained expression to cross Papyrus’ face. The torrent began to rise again.

“YOU ALWAYS, ALWAYS SING MY PRAISES; AND AGAIN, I FEEL I NEED TO APOLOGIZE FOR THE TIMES THAT I CANNOT BELIEVE YOU. EVERYTHING YOU SAY IS A COMFORT, A CONFIDENCE BOOST, A REASSURANCE. AND YET, WHAT YOU DO NOT SAY, WHAT OTHERS DO NOT SAY, IS ALL THAT I CAN HEAR.”

Papyrus trailed off under shuttering breaths delivering disguised sobs into the air between them. Sans’ mouth opened, words springing forward, when long boney fingers silenced him.

“SNF… IT IS WHEN UNDYNE WON’T TELL ME THAT MY MERCIFUL NATURE IS TOO SOFT THAT I KNOW SHE DOESN’T SEE ME IMPROVING. IT IS WHEN THE DOGS WON’T TALK TO ME ABOUT THEIR DUTIES THAT I KNOW THEY DON’T SEE ME EVER BEING ONE OF THEM. AND… I’M SORRY BUT… WHEN YOU WON’T TELL ME WHAT IS ON YOUR MIND, WHY YOU ABANDONED SCIENCE, WHY YOU ARE ALWAYS SO TIRED, WHAT HAUNTS YOUR NIGHTMARES, NOT EVEN THAT YOUR HOTDOG STAND SPANS THE LENGTH OF THE UNDERGROUND, I… I CAN’T HELP BUT FEEL AS THOUGH SOMETHING IS WRONG. THAT NO MATTER HOW MUCH I TRY, I’M NOT ENOUGH TO HELP YOU.”

The younger brother lost himself to tears at that point; his guilt and shame pouring out over his admissions. All Sans could do was wrap his arms around the other, burying his face in the crook of his neck, as his own flood of emotion escaped. Papyrus leaned his head against Sans’, snaking his arms around and digging his fingers into the fabric of the lab coat as he clung.

Time ticked on, minutes passed, and sobs gave way to numb silence and still holding.

“everything you do helps me.”

“SANS”

Pushing himself up, it was Sans’ turn to place his digits gently against tear-stained teeth as he continued.

“this ain’t some empty lip service. your smile is the brightest thing in my life most days. your insistence that everyone can be a good person if they try not only reminds me to keep my act together, but to hold on to that one shimmering hope that things will get better. the way you keep trying, even when things don’t go your way, is the example i force myself to live by when all i want to do is give up.”

Papyrus groaned, his head lolling back to escape the silencing gesture.

“BUT WHY DO YOU WANT TO GIVE UP? WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO MAKE YOU FEEL THIS WAY THAT YOU WON’T TELL ME? IS IT MISSING OUR FATHER? IS IT BECAUSE OF THE BURDEN OF EARNING FOR THE BOTH OF US? IS IT THE NIGHTMARES? IS IT ALL THE TIMES I CAME TO YOU WITH A WORRY YOU COULD NOT SOLVE? SANS, I’M SCARED. I’M TERRIFIED THAT YOU ARE GOING TO GIVE UP ONE OF THESE DAYS BECAUSE ALL I CAN DO TO HELP IS SMILE. IF THAT’S ALL THAT KEEPS YOU HERE WITH ME, HOW LONG UNTIL I’M NOT ENOUGH?”

Sans went slack-jawed as Papyrus’s voice rose to a panicked shriek.

how long has he known? all this time…

“heh…heheheh…”

A manic smile cracked across San’s face a he cackled, causing a look of fear in his brother.

“heh, all this time, i thought i was being the strong big brother. but of course you would notice. of course you would worry. i’m sorry papyrus. most of all, i’m sorry you felt like you had to wait until you thought i was about t’dust to tell me. i love you.”

“I LOVE YOU TOO, SANS. I THOUGHT KEEPING MY PIECE WOULD KEEP THE BURDEN OFF OF YOU WHILE YOU WORKED WITH WHATEVER WAS BOTHERING YOU.”

“is that why you haven’t been talking about your nightmares lately?” Sans asked while wiping his face on his sleeve.

Papyrus turned his head away, not saying a word about the unsanitary action.

“pap?”

“WELL, IT IS HARD TO HAVE NIGHTMARES IF YOU ONLY SLEEP FOR A FEW HOURS AT A TIME. I FIGURED YOU WOULDN’T WANT A GROWN UP TO KEEP BOTHERING YOU IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT. SLEEPING LESS IS THE ONLY WAY I’VE BEEN ABLE TO FIND THAT WORKS AT GETTING RID OF THEM.”

“bro…” Sans took a deep breath. “you need your sleep. i know i can’t make the nightmares go away, but i’ve always felt like when you came to me… it was… i really am an idiot.”

“DON’T SAY THAT.”

Sans waved his hands dramatically. “i literally just summed up the entire problem in one sentence. here i’ve been keeping everything from you and then i’ve got the nerve to say you coming to me is what makes me feel like i’m a good brother. i taught you the thing that’s made me miserable in life trying to keep you from getting miserable, all while making you think i was bottling everything up inside ready to burst.”

Papyrus looked thoughtful for a moment. “YES, I SUPPOSE THAT IS WHAT HAPPENED. THOUGH, TO BE FAIR, I’VE ALWAYS THOUGHT YOU WERE TALKING TO SOMEONE, JUST NOT ME.”

“really?”

“WAS I WRONG? I AM QUITE CERTAIN I’VE SEEN YOU TALKING TO GRILLBY ABOUT MORE THAN JUST FOOD. NOT THAT THERE IS ANYTHING WRONG WITH THAT, HE’S BEEN YOUR FRIEND FOR AS FAR BACK AS I CAN REMEMBER, EVEN IN THE FUZZY MEMORIES FROM BEFORE MOVING TO SNOWDIN.”

does that mean… “pap, do you think i care more for grillby than you?”

Sans fought to keep his face as neutral as possible, still a panicked pleading leeched out.

“NOT PARTICULARLY. THOUGH, I WOULD BE LYING IF I SAID GREECE WAS THE ONLY THING THAT UPSETS ME ABOUT YOU GOING TO THAT BAR ALL THE TIME. AS I SAID, I’VE BEEN LESS THAN CURTIOUS IN MY THOUGHTS ABOUT YOUR FRIENDSHIPS, AND I’M SORRY.”

Sans wanted to apologize again. Yet the words seemed hollow.

“grillby is my best friend and has been for years. in a way, he’s like another brother, not that he needs any more of those with all the siblings he already has. that doesn’t mean he ever has, or ever could, take your place. he’s always been helpful and caring, i don’t know if you remember, but we lived with him, nina, and fuku for almost a year when we first moved out here. this place seemed so cold and lonely. he cares about you too, but we both thought you wanted some space.”

Papyrus surprised Sans by giving a dark chuckle. “QUITE THE OPPOSITE, ACTUALLY. IT’S SO QUIET OUT HERE, SO LONELY. I DIDN’T REALLY HAVE ANY FRIENDS HERE BEFORE I MET UNDYNE. AND I WAS A TERRIBLE FRIEND TO THE ONES I HAD BEFORE.”

“what are you talking about? you and the twins got along great. you were always smiling and getting into mischief. i thought you were keeping in touch online.”

“INITIALLY, I WAS. AFTER A FEW MONTHS, THINGS STARTED TO CHANGE. EVEN WHEN I MESSAGED THEM, THEY STARTED TO SEEM… NOT REAL? LIKE WORDS ON A PAGE AND NOT THE SAME PEOPLE. THEN, WHEN I MET UNDYNE, SHE SEEMED TO HAVE A LOW OPPINION ABOUT ADULTS, AND ESPECIALLY ROYAL GUARDS, PLAYING THE SORTS OF GAMES WE PLAYED ONLINE. SHE SEEMED SO MUCH MORE REAL, AND I WANTED SO MUCH TO HAVE HER APPROVAL, I JUST STOPPED PLAYING. EVEN WHEN I THOUGHT ABOUT TALKING TO THEM AGAIN… WHY WOULD THEY WANT SOMEONE SO FAR AWAY THAT LEFT THEM WITHOUT A WORD?”

“i should have taken you on trips to the capital to meet them,” Sans said.

“I DON’T KNOW, MAYBE THAT WOULD HAVE HELPED. MAYBE I STILL SHOULD? I… FLOWEY LOADED UP THE GAME WHEN HE AND FRISK VISITED. THE TWINS HAVE BEEN SENDING ME MESSAGES AT LEAST ONCE A MONTH SINCE I STOPPED PLAYING. THE LAST ONE WAS SENT RIGHT BEFORE FRISK ARRIVED. I DON’T KNOW WHY, AND I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO. I’M NOT THE SAME AS I WAS THEN; WHAT IF THEY DON’T LIKE ME ANY MORE THAN THE PEOPLE AROUND TOWN DO?”

“the twins aren’t the towns folk: who don’t dislike you, they just don’t like change and you’re different than them in all the right ways. i can guarantee you that they will like you just as much as they did before, and when i go to the capital on business tomorrow, i’m taking you with me. but first, you know what we’re gonna do?”

“WHAT?”

Sans rolled off of his brother, a smile on his tired features, and stood with hands on his hips.

“we’re gonna march upstairs, clean all the gunk off your skull and wherever else you stuck it, get into old pajamas, and lay on the couch eating star parfaits and spider donuts wrapped in a blanket watching the rerun of frisk’s final battle with your favorite rectangle. then, after we both get a much-needed night’s sleep, i’ll explain all the crazy nonsense that’s been happening. how does that sound?”

Papyrus smiled. Not the wide, grand smile of a skeleton trying his best, but a soft, relieved, warm smile of a brother who felt heard and understood and loved.

“IT SOUNDS PERFECT. I’M SO HAPPY, SANS.”

As Papyrus sat up and leaned forward into his brother’s chest, the dread words sprang instinctually, unbidden, from deep in the depths of a comic’s heart.

“are you now? i thought you were papyrus?”

“UGGGGGHHHH NOOOOOOOHOHO.”

The whine was lost among soft, chuckling laughter before Papyrus stood, sweeping his brother into his arms again.

“woah, hey now.”

“YOU ARE CORRECT, I AM PAPYRUS. AND YOU ARE SANS, MY BROTHER WHO SOMEHOW MANAGED TO WALK AROUND ALL DAY WITH HIS BUTTONS MISMATCHED. I’LL BE DARNED IF I’M GOING TO HAVE TO START DRESSING YOU TOO.”

“but how can you be darned if you’re papyrus?”

Papyrus took the steps two at a time. “THE SAME WAY YOU’RE GOING TO BE CLOTHED AND WET IF YOU DON’T STOP MAKING CORNEY JOKES BEFORE I MAKE IT TO THE BATHROOM.”

“heheh, alright, you win bro.”

Chapter Text

The door zipped silently up, opening into a still blackness that Frisk stepped into. Not a sound could be heard apart from her boots clunking across the floor as she walked onto the stage. With a static buzz, a spotlight popped on, pinning her to the spot.

Fog rose in a billowing cloud spreading over the stage and mechanical whirring filled the air as Mettaton, in all his sexy rectangle glory, was lifted onto the stage. A second spotlight shone on him, or rather three pointed to highlight his every angle.

“Human, darling, you’ve come quite the long way so far,” he said, microphone in hand as he postured. “No doubt your winning over the brilliant Dr. Alphys was the cause. But!” Mettaton swept his hand in a grand flourish, pointing at Frisk. “No longer! You see, in anticipation of her aid, I took the liberty to lock this very arena for our final match.”

The sound of metal locks clicking closed reverberated off the walls around them.

Without so much as a flinch, Frisk took a step, widening her stance, and, with one hand on her hip, pointed in the same exaggerated motion towards Mettaton.

“That’s where you’re mistaken!” she declared. “We figured you would try something like this, so we snuck the doctor in behind you!”

His pointed finger now pulled to his chest as he beeped in alarm, Mettaton spun about dramatically, looking for a surprise attack. The switch on his back exposed, Frisk dashed across the stage, tracked expertly by the overhead lights, and threw the switch before falling back.

“Oh yeah!” Mettaton’s voice, airy and silky, carried his approval as his form morphed into Mettaton EX. “Eager to get to the big reveal, darling?”

Frisk smiled, trying to maintain her composure for the camera as she posed. “Alphys told me about the switch, and planned to expose it now to even the playing field for our final act. Now the audience will decide our fates.”

“Now darling~ I can agree to letting the audience decide our fate, but give the good doctor some credit,” he posed, jutting out his hip and highlighting his face as his eyes glinted in a smarmy grin, “she really made one KILLER robot.”

The side lights of the arena came on, illuminating a packed audience who let out raucous cheers. Frisk colored as she bit her lip, doing everything in her power to stay on script as fangirlish giggles rose in her throat.

Swallowing her giddiness, Frisk executed a perfect heel turn, raising her arms in a shrug and closing one eye while smugly looking down her nose.

“Well, I’m DROP DEAD gorgeous myself.” Frisk pulled out her phone, the yellow soul app opened and ready. “So don’t get too cocky~”

From the pink heart in his abdomen, a small spark of lightning zapped from Mettaton, etching the side of Frisk’s face. The audience cheered as a violence boost sent the ratings edging to new heights.

“The same goes for you darling.”

With the ratings already edging over 4,000, Mettaton sprang forward, spinning wildly as he kicked out at Frisk. A series of yellow blasts ended the attack.

“Is that all you’ve got? I can do this all day!” Frisk boasted.

“Well, try this on for size!”

A row of white squares with black circles in the center flew at Frisk. She quickly fired at them with her phone laser, breaking each one down for a huge spike in ratings as she carried through on her bragging.

“My turn.” Frisk pulled the stick that she most certainly did not walk all the way back to Snowdin, the only spot on the main thoroughfare with trees, to get. “HYA!” She threw the item across the stage, whirling madly as it zeroed in on its target.

With a graceful pirouette, Mettaton spun forward and met the object, catching it in his teeth before clapping his hands as he waggled his eyebrows into the camera as the crowd erupted in cheers.

“OH MY GOSH!” Papyrus shouted at the screen, parfait spoon hanging from his mouth. “SANS, DID YOU SEE THAT?”

“sure did, bro.” Sans replied. “looks like everyone’s getting on the mettaton fan wagon.”

“WELL, I THOUGHT HE WAS SEXY WHEN HE WAS STILL A RECTANGLE.”

Sans quickly learned that magic skeletons could, somehow, choke as he coughed and sputtered as a laugh sent donut crumbs flying.

“So, you want to dance darling?” Mettaton asked, pointing up in the air dramatically as a disco ball descended from the ceiling.

White lasers rained down on the stage in a spiral around Frisk, causing her to duck and dive fluidly around the beams. Raising her phone high in an open space, she posed and shot the ball, turning the beams blue as she held herself like as statue as the attack breezed harmlessly over her.

The disco ball raised and Mettaton produced his notecards and microphone. “Pop quiz: What is the greatest part of yours truly?”

“No contest; I have to pick those legs.”

The sharp rating hike proved the audience agreed.

“Good answer,” Mettaton crooned.

“Sure, since you need me to validate your looks,” Frisk said as she turned on her heel and took a few steps away.

“Facts are their own validation,” Mettaton declared as he called forth his army of rectangular doppelgangers.

Frisk jumped around, dodging and shooting down each one, save for the vary last attack, letting it hit her as she dropped on one knee with a pained tsk. The crowd cheered her comeuppance.

With a sigh, Frisk pulled a Star Parfait from her inventory and quickly ate it.

“I hope that helped, because here’s a return of your good friend: bombs!”

Mettaton threw several circular explosives into the air. Frisk shot each one, dodging the cross-shaped path of the blasts.

Coming to a rest, she pulled a manly bandana from her inventory, tying it fashionably around her neck. “It’s getting serious!”

“Seriously stylish.”

The complement sent the ratings skyrocketing to nearly 8,000, the cheers of the audience were deafening. Frisk dodged another round of kicks, flew around more boxes and bombs, all while bragging and boasting each turn.  

It wasn’t long before the ratings had soared past not just 10,000 but 12,000, sending the audience to the edge of their seats without the need for breaking any limbs off either contestant.

“This is it, beauties and gentlebeauties, your time to shine! Has our lovey guest earned the right to move on? Choose your answer quickly while I take a random call from a fan to celebrate this momentous occasion!”

Frisk caught her breath as a familiar voice came over the line, soft but more energetic than she had ever heard him.

“Hey Mettaton… This has been one of your greatest series… I… I hope you don’t mind… I voted to let Frisk move on… It was nice to visit the other day… And I wanted… to say thanks for showing me around. I hope that… maybe soon, you’ll have time to come visit the snail farm… Stripes misses you… But um… you probably need to announce the results now… see you, cousin…”

“My astonishing cousin, Blooky, everyone: the greatest source of spook tunes in the entire Underground and beyond.” There was no hiding the wave of sentimental emotion that washed over the malleable features of Mettaton’s face. “And the results are in! With an astonishing vote of three to one, Frisk will be moving on!”

Frisk smiled brightly, twirling on her toes as she alternated bowing and waving to the audience and cameras.

“There you have it, folks; our darling will be off to New Home before you know it. Thank you so much for watching, and be sure to tune in next time to see what’s next. Ta-ta!”

Mettaton wrapped an arm around Frisk as they gave one final wave before the lights and cameras cut out and the stage lowered them away from the roaring crowds.

Alphys was waiting for them at the bottom, smiling a relieved smile as the saga drew to a close.

“Th-that was p-pretty amazing you two,” she said. “How did… did your body hold up this time, M-Mettaton?”

“Just fabulously, darling.” Mettaton flexed his still-intact arms. “You made the perfect alterations after Frisk let you know the problem.”

“G-good.” Alphys looked pleased. “S-so, what are your plans for King Asgore?” She nervously adjusted her glasses, some of her good mood falling away.

Frisk shrugged. “I’m just going to wing it. Flowey says he's been talking to him, and I know what you’re thinking, but he’s just as eager for this to turn out well so he can see something different. Even if dad won’t listen because of his sense of duty, I’ve sparred him to a stand still before, and know Flowey won’t kill him when we get to that point this time.”

“Just a, tiny question,” Mettaton inserted. “How many times did he have the chance to kill the king while you were here?”

“Two, unless you count the lost soul thing. Then it’s three,” Frisk replied.

“W-well, if you’re s-sure that’s all that needs to be done, I’ll a-accept that,” Alphys said, scratching absently at her snout. “I-I’m a bit busy helping Sans compile our old reset d-data. It’s… It’s quite a bit to g-go through.”

“I can imagine, there’s cameras everywhere,” Frisk said.

“Yes, and n-not just the camera footage,” the doctor explained, “b-but time-space measurements, magic fluctuation, soul energy… w-we even have data on the barrier breaking point now. Not to mention e-everything you told S-Sans and Grillby about your time in the void and the automatic reset.”

“I’m glad I’ve been able to help in some way,” Frisk said. “But I had a question too: I know you don’t personally remember most of these things; is it jarring when Sans barges in and starts working on it with you?”

“Um… m-maybe a little?” Alphys replied, rubbing her claws together. “I-it gets… strangely easy as I go through the motions. A-and everything makes… makes sense as I go over it. The Grillby thing usually throws me for a loop, th-though. B-but maybe it shouldn’t, considering his f-family… Um… actually, I should let… let him t-tell you about that.”

Frisk puffed her cheeks in a pout, “He keeps saying ‘later, later’. He’s gone from the unassuming uncle to having almost as many secrets as Sans and Papyrus and it’s driving me nuts.”

“Now, now, there’s no rush, Frisk darling.” Mettaton pulled her close in a side hug one again. “We’re taking our time, this time, remember?”

“Yeah,” Frisk said, noncommittally. “Still, I should probably make the push to see dad before someone else tries anything.”

“A-actually,  I found your old health charts, a-and I was wondering if you’d l-let me take your measurements again. I kn-know there’s only a year to compare it too, b-but it might help us see any additional affects of the v-void other than the growth and weight loss.”

Frisk readily agreed to be guided towards Alphys’ waiting medical equipment. She waved goodbye to Mettaton, eager to make good on his promise to a cousin, and settled in for the battery of tests.

“so, what’d ya think of that bro?” Sans asked as the re-run of the match ended.

“I’M SO PROUD OF FRISK FOR HER EXCELLENCE IN THE PERFORMING ARTS,” Papyrus replied, a casual arm thrown over his brother as they splayed out on the couch. “I JUST HOPE METTATON DOESN’T STOP SHOWING THE OLD RERUNS, THEY WERE GREAT SHOWS.”

“heh, i’m sure he’ll keep playing them. egomaniac or not, he’s smarter than thinkin only one show will keep his audience happy.”

“YES, I SUPPOSE YOU’RE RIGHT.” Papyrus laid his head down, showing no signs of wanting to move.

“hey, if you’re still worried tomorrow, you can bug him about it when we inevitably run into him.”

“NYOHOHO…” Papyrus buried his face in his brother’s skull as he let out a whine.

“what’s th’matter paps, i thought you’d enjoy meeting him?”

“BUT IT MEANS I HAVE TO RETURN TO THAT BLASTED HOTLAND AFTER ALL,” was the muffled reply.

“heheh, ah common, paps, i believe in you. even undyne ventures in for business, and the heat really gets under her skin.”

“WHY DO YOU INSIST ON MAKING THIS WORSE?” Papyrus asked as a snorting laugh escaped.

“i can feel you smiling.”

“I AM AND… THANKS SANS.”

“no problem, bro.”

Chapter Text

Flowey greeted Frisk at the entrance to New Home, a radiant yellow pip against the stark whiteness of the quartzite stones. The castle was as silent as it had been when no one was left to come tell her the story of the kingdom, a fact that sent an unsure shiver down Frisk’s spine.

“Hey, Flowey,” she greeted, trying to keep the nervous doubt out of her voice. “Are you here by yourself?”

“Yeah, I figured you didn’t need to hear about our family tragedy from strangers again, so I sent them on their way,” he replied, pulling himself out of the ground and climbing up to her shoulder.

Frisk nodded, unsure if she agreed or not, and the three silently entered the desolate abode.

“Chara, if you fell down into the dump in Waterfall, does that mean you never lived back in Home?” Frisk asked as she peered into the room with two small beds.

“Nope, I only ever lived here,” Chara confirmed as Frisk opened the closed but empty boxes the knife and heart locket once resided in.

“So, it was just you, Flowey? As Asriel, I mean.”

“No, I never lived in Home, either.”

“What? Then who used that room? There’s shoes and toys and everything.” Frisk raised an eyebrow at Flowey.

“Did those look like they all belonged to the same kid?” he asked, a hint of sarcasm in his voice. “Those were from the orphans they helped after the war.”

“Oh, okay. I guess I can’t say it surprises me that they would adopt children. I am a little surprised they waited so long to have kids of their own.”

“Well, when you can’t die until you have kids, there isn’t really a rush to do it,” Flowey explained. “It makes sense if you think about it: They just got out of a war, they were trying to expand and build to make room for their people in these new caves they were trapped in, not to mention how hard it was to farm and circulate air and control the weather of the caves before the core was invented.”

“When you put it that way, I’m surprised they had time to take care of orphans.”

Flowey rolled his eyes, a small grin on his features. “Heh, you’re telling me. They were always busy when I was alive, probably why Chara and I had a bit too much free time on our hands. I can’t imagine how busy it was before.”

Frisk retrieved the key from Asgore’s dresser and turned to head down the basement stairs.

“But…”

Frisk jumped as Flowey began to speak again, shattering the silence.

“I’m sure it was still good. You know, having them as parents. No matter how busy they were, they always made time to spend with us and to tell us we were loved so… I’m sure they did that with the others.”

“I don’t see why they wouldn’t,” Frisk said.

“Right. I don’t know why I think about it now, after everything that’s happened. Sort of like how I didn’t think about what it meant for them to have me until after I had died and ruined it.”

“If anyone ruined anything, it was me,” Chara said.

“Both of you stop moping. Mistakes happen and we can’t find a way to fix it if you’re just going to keep whining about what happened,” Frisk said.

“I am NOT moping,” Flowey protested. “I’m just saying that it was a big step for them to have me at all. They knew one of them was going to lose their boss attribute if they had me, and grow old and die. Having me meant they were ready to move on and leave the underground to a new generation. Probably so whenever monsters were freed, there would be no one stained by war left to return to the surface.”

“Chara said they would talk about having a second kid sometimes.”

“They did, that way they could go together. I guess they gave that up after we died.”

“Mom does seem kinda scared about losing another child,” Frisk said, “which, I can understand.”

Frisk hesitated as the glowing golden light of the Judgement hall leaked out into the hallway in front of her.

“Um… how long does it take for the boss soul to transfer?” she asked, coming to a standstill in the doorway.

“I don’t know, why?” Flowey asked.

“Don’t stall now after all this time,” Chara grumbled.

“I’m just curious, if we find a way to undo your deaths, will mom or dad wind up dead by the end of it?”

“Nah, I wouldn’t worry about that,” Flowey replied. “I’m sure it hasn’t been that long.”

Frisk nodded. “Right.”

Dust motes floated through the rays of light that filtered out from the hall. Questions swirled through Frisk’s mind at a mile a minute.

How does the light get into the hall? Does it open out onto the mountain, only blocked by the barrier? No, someone in town would have spotted that. Is there a shaft that lets in the light? But it’s always bright. Maybe it’s artificial.

A squeak of alarm left her lips as Frisk felt herself yanked hard by the wrist into the doorway.

“Chara! What was that for?”

“I said to quit stalling. Everyone has to visit places with bad memories today, so let’s go.”

Chara’s face was creased and pinched. Despite him lacking a body, Frisk was certain she saw tears forming. As he stood on the golden tiles, hands still tightly wrapped around her arm, lips pursed in a scowl, he looked nothing like the demanding force he tried to portray and everything like a scared child who was sorely missing his home.

“Right, sorry Chara,” Frisk said, entering the room at last.

The orange and gold tiles and pillars bathed her in a ghastly familiar glow as she stepped sternly down the way. Her stomach flopped and whined as she spotted that white and blue silhouette, dressed in properly fastened lab attire, standing at the end of the hall.

It’s just Sans, and we’re okay this time. They made eye contact as Frisk’s knees quaked. We made up, I apologized, it’s o…

“y’did good, frisk.”

The words solidly soothed her soul, allowing Frisk to relax into the bony arms that had rushed to meet her.

“I don’t know why this was hard, I’m sor….”

“don’t apologize. it was a chore for me to come down here too. but,” Sans’ pulled her back from his chest, smiling as they looked into each other’s eyes, “i figured it was time we made some better memories in here.”

Frisk nodded, a shaky exhale through up-turned lips carrying the remainder of her jittering nerves away. “Thanks, Sans.”

“don’t mention it, just doin’ my job. gotta keep up my end of the bargain, after all.”

“Heh, right, I guess this is in your job description, isn’t it? Speaking of, I haven’t gotten any more calls from Papyrus, were you able to calm him down about your sudden disappearances?”

“yeah, we had a nice long chat.” Sans’s eye lights seemed to sparkle at the recollection. “i actually wanted to ask what all you told him about everything that’s happened?”

“Nothing.” Frisk’s eyebrow quirked at the question. “I told him I’d tell him my story as soon as I finished talking to dad. The only thing I said that he didn’t seem to know was that you had a hot dog stand in Hotland too.”

“he does have a bubble of ignorance when it comes to hotland, i’ll say that.”

“That’s because going to Hotland makes his nightmares worse on top of all the stupid puzzles,” Flowey said.

“you, uh, seem to know a lot about my bro,” Sans said, his humor draining away as he looked over towards the flower with the faintest hint of blue in his eye.

“Hey, I learned most of it when I was trying to play nice, don’t give me that look, bone-bag,” Flowey shot back, his eyes and fangs going black and ominous to return the threatening glare.

“Easy, you two,” Frisk said, placing a hand on Flowey’s head to block each of their sight from the other. “Did he say something strange that made you think I told him more?”

Begrudgingly resuming the conversation, Sans shrugged. “it’s more what he’s not sayin? i know pap can be pretty easy goin and trusting but he doesn’t seem to be all that bent out of shape about learnin’ about deaths and timelines an’ all the other things you’d normally expect people to freak out over.”

“Maybe he just needs some time to get use to it?” Frisk suggested.

“that could be it.” Sans rubbed the back of his skull with one hand. “oh, hey, hate to bug you, but i left something back at my place. it’s important for the research i want to present later today but there’s no way i can get pap to go back for it and expect him to make it back to the lab.”

“No problem,” Frisk took an offered key from Sans. “Is it on your dresser or…?”

“nah, it’s actually in that small hidden room off the house,” Sans explained. “but the key to that room is in my dresser drawer.”

“Ooh! New secrets!” Frisk said, eyes lighting up. “I’ll be back soon!”

“i’ll be at al’s place,” Sans replied.

Frisk threw her arms around him, wrapping him in a hug before turning around and rushing out of the Judgment hall and towards River person’s nearest dock.

Chapter Text

“Wow… I didn’t have high expectations going into this and I’m still blown away,” Chara said as the three entered Sans’ perpetually locked bedroom.

There was no apparent cause of the odd lighting phenomenon that had piqued their intrest, yet that was the furthest thing from their minds.

“Why is the treadmill turned on?” Frisk asked, walking over to the low humming device.

“More like what’s Sans doing with a treadmill in the first place,” Flowey commented, snagging a note that appeared to be from Undyne which hung on the side.

“You’re both joking, right?” Chara asked. “THAT’S what caught your eye?”

“What do you mean?”

Frisk followed Chara’s emphatic gesturing over to the right corner by the door.

“What the?” Flowey’s jaw dropped.

“NO! Poor doggy!” Frisk cried, running towards the trash tornado that spun Annoying Dog about alongside uneaten spaghetti, a book, and a multitude of papers. “Come here, puppy.”

Twice she missed, knocking into various items and sending them spiraling into the dog.

“Sorry!” she cried as the dog huffed in aggravation.

Annoying Dog sat up and launched himself out of the cyclone, off of Frisk’s head, and out the door.

Chara laughed at her baffled expression. “Heh, guess he’s done that before.”

“Okay, let’s just get the key and get out of here,” Frisk said, poorly hiding a pout.

“What? Why the rush? Let’s see what he’s got hidden in that massive pile of junk on his bed,” Flowey said as Frisk power walked towards the dresser.

“Have you seriously never been in here?” Frisk asked as she pulled open the top drawer of the dresser. “How many trombones does one skeleton need?”

There were at least two, though only one was complete, and the number of pieces suggested there might be more. Frisk dug around, moving pants, socks and a few stained shirts until she found, hidden beneath the brass and disorder, a silver key.

“Okay, let’s go to the secret room now,” Frisk said, not bothering to close the upended drawer.

“I haven’t seen you this frustrated over something so stupid since the dog stole the artifact,” Chara commented.

“I had to teach myself to play the piano from scratch! I deserved to hold it, even if it was just a ball.”

Compared to the room, the hidden basement laboratory was pristine: four drawers, a single sheet of blueprints, and something large covered by a sheet.

“Check the thing, check the thing, check the thing!” Flowey pointed eagerly at the hidden contraption in the corner while pulling on a strand of Frisk’s hair.

“Calm down,” Frisk scolded as she approached the item at a trot.

Pulling back the cloth revealed a broken rectangular device, covered with buttons and switches and a large screen. The item had connectors along its right side that could attach to something, though nothing was nearby to connect to. Dents riddled the hull as well.

“Looks like it's broke,” Frisk said.

“Hmm… What is it, though?” Flowey asked.

“No clue,” Frisk said. “Let’s check the blueprints.”

“That’s not going to help,” Chara said, crouching over the item. “It’s written in that symbol language from the true lab.”

“Flowey, didn’t you say you knew something about these symbols?”

“Huh? Oh! That font. It’s all over the true lab, in books, on signs. Sans won’t tell me about it, but I know he knows something.”

“How?” Frisk asked.

“Because, if you haven’t noticed, skeletons have a thing with fonts. I got Papyrus to tell me that much, at least. He also says that skeletons can see the words you speak, meaning even if you whisper, they could still hear you from across the room.”

“Well, there goes the theory that Sans couldn’t hear me during that fight,” Frisk said.

“I thought that went out the window when he said he was ignoring you because he was mad,” Chara said.

“Yeah, but he never really said how much of it he caught.”

Frisk tried to pull open the right two drawers only to discover they were locked and neither of the keys worked. The other two draws slid open with ease.

“This must be Sans’ old keycard for the lab,” Frisk said, pulling a smudged id from the drawer.

“Look closer,” Flowey said, peering with a serious expression at the item. “It lists the height of the owner at over seven feet. That’s closer to Papyrus’ height, but the age is more than twice his.”

“Maybe it’s a relative? Or someone Sans used to work with? I wonder why it’s destroyed...” Frisk said.

“Stuff breaks? Does it have to have a reason?” Chara asked. “What else is there?”

“There’s a photo album. This picture looks damaged too, but not as badly,” Frisk said.

“I don’t recognize any of these monsters…” Flowey said, his eyes widening and scowl deepening. “I’ve seen everyone, I’ve been everywhere… I should have seen them somewhere…”

“Oh! That one, the one right behind Sans, that droopy bird. I think I’ve seen him before,” Frisk said.

“Huh? Where?”

“Do you remember, Chara? He was near the L2 elevator in Hotland.”

“Yeah, that’s right, but… he was all grey. And only mentioned something about someone before disappearing,” he replied.

“He did mention someone. I think his name was Gaster?”

A chill came over the room, like eyes staring at them from all directions.

“Um… maybe we should wait and talk to the smiley trash bag about it and just get what he needed,” Flowey said, pulling deeper into the collar of Frisk’s shirt.

“Don’t be a baby, Azzy.”

“You can’t even say that without pulling on my sleeve,” Frisk said.

She began to move the other papers around until she found a notebook that seemed to have detailed information that Frisk didn’t even try to understand. But, true to Flowey’s theory, there were those strange symbols right next to Sans’ own handwriting, though they looked a bit rounder and messier than the ones on the blueprints. There even seemed to be some encouraging messages from Papyrus written in the margins.

“That must be it, now let’s go,” Flowey said.

“Yeah, alright,” Frisk replied.

She tucked the book under her arm as she put the photo album back in the drawer and closed it. Taking the notebook from under her arm, Frisk fumbled with it for a moment, which sent something falling to the floor.

“No way.”

Picking up the picture that had fallen, Frisk examined it closely to ensure it really was what she though she saw. It was a snapshot of all of them, from back on the surface. She remembered taking it a month after they had left the underground. Mount Ebbot rose in the background and the sun shone overhead.

“Alright, he’s still keeping secrets,” Chara said.

“We knew that,” Flowey said. “I just didn’t think it would be something like this.”

“Wait, I actually know this one,” Frisk said. She placed the picture on the table next to blueprints and produced the void sleeve from her inventory. “You see this? It leads to a compartment outside of time and space. Sans’ stand is like that too, it’s in all of those places at once. The basement must be another one of those areas. But when did he come down here to put it in the drawer?”

“It could have been anytime,” Chara said.

“Yeah, if that’s true, then it was probably sometime right after the picture was taken. You said Sans didn’t believe you until that last day, so he would have had a reason to bring it down, just in case,” Flowey said.

“I guess you’re right," Frisk said, her voice falling. "This isn’t anywhere near the end, is it?”

That faraway look, so common in the lonely and quite hours, crossed Frisk’s face. Her dulled eyes drooped, exhaustion creased her features, and she couldn’t even frown as her expression flattened into near despair.

“Hey, don’t make that face,” Chara said. “If Sans thinks we can do it now, after all the other times, then there’s no doubt, right?”

“Come on, Frisk, it only looks bad because we haven’t been trying to work with it up to this point. Don’t lose hope just as everyone is getting on track,” Flowey said, flashing his Asriel face at her.

*Your brothers looking past their own issues to encourage you, fills you with determination.

“Thanks guys. It just caught up with me for a minute. Let’s head back to the lab.”

Her look was still tired, yet the pain had melted to the background. She forced a smile and headed out the door, ready to keep moving forward.

Chapter Text

“Okay: Sans has his book, the amalgamate issue is being dealt with and Sans won’t tell me what is going on with those pictures until he’s finished outlining his proposal or whatever so let’s talk to dad and figure the rest out from there,” Frisk recounted her mental checklist as she approached the door to the throne room.

“You sound like you’re solving a puzzle,” Chara said.

“It feels like it now that everything has changed so much,” she admitted. “Which is nice because it’s downright unsettling when they say the same thing over and over.”

“I’d go with boring,” Flowey said.

“Hey, didn’t you say before that it starts to hurt if you’re not in the ground for a long time?” Frisk asked. “You’ve been up there on my shoulder for a few hours now.”

“It’s fine. Dad has a pot of fertilizer soil waiting for me. It’s soft and much better than the slate and shale and limestone.”

“Well you’re going in it right away when we get in there.”

Frisk took a deep breath and crossed the threshold into the throne room. The warm yellow room was still cooled by the lush green vines along the ground and walls, yet even here differences flourished.

A dark oaken table with a lavender table cloth and vase of the finest of the room’s golden flowers was set with tea for four, with a flower pot taking one of the spots on a boosted seat. And, perhaps more shockingly, it wasn’t only Asgore waiting for them.

“Ah, my child, I was beginning to worry,” Queen Toriel said, rising from her seat and moving to embrace Frisk.

Frisk hugged her warmly back. “Sorry for the trouble, Sans needed me to run back to Snowdin for something important and then I got dragged into a discussion he was having with Dr. Alphys. Flowey didn’t tell me you would be here too.”

“Because I didn’t know,” Flowey said. “She came her on her own this time.”

“This time?” Toriel questioned, eyeing the flower suspiciously.

“It’s a long story,” Frisk said.

“Well then, I suppose we should get settled in and start.”

Toriel turned and ushered Frisk towards a small round table which Asgore, king of the Underground, stood beside. His gaze was warm but somber, whether from fighting warring resolves or from a less than cheerful conversation with his separated wife was unclear.

Setting Flowey in the pot, Frisk ignored her own seat and approached him instead. She wanted to hug him as well, but held back; instead looking deep into his eyes.

“Thank you for agreeing to meet with me without fighting. I know it seems like a lot to ask, being so close to the end, but I promise to explain.”

Asgore placed a large paw on her shoulder. “It is never a burden to listen, though you may later find me undeserving of your efforts.”

Frisk leaned her cheek against his hand. “Eh, I’ll let you decide if that’s the case again once I’ve told you what I’ve been up to.”

They took their seats and Frisk began her tale. Starting that very first day she woke up in the Underground after her treasure hunting misadventure, through every death that felled her, all the major events of their time on the surface, rolling up her sleeves to bear the marks of her sins after the reset she never asked for, her time in the void, and all the changes she had made to get back to this room where they sat. Flowey commented on trends from his own runs and Chara gave Frisk extra details to repeat that had slipped her mind and, by the end, they had painted a vibrant picture of all that had happened.

Silence passed over the group as the tale drew to a close. The aged pair mulled over all the information. The queen held her hand to her chest, casting pained and questioning glances between the unassuming girl and the mischievous flower who was claiming to be her lost son. The king rose to his feet, walking around and lowering himself to one knee by the human’s side.

“Can you forgive me for placing that burden on you?” he asked.

“Can you forgive me for carving a swath of destruction through the people you care so much about?”

He pulled her into a tight embrace. “You are an exemplary child… young woman, and I a cruel fool ruled by anger and despair after losing what I loved the most through my own fault.”

“We both made bad decisions while trying to do what we thought was best. After everything that’s happened, I think the best thing we can do is move on so we can fix it,” Frisk said.

“I’m afraid there might not be a way for me to fix my mistakes in the same way as you,” Asgore said. “But I am willing to solve whatever issues I can so my people can be free of this cycle that holds them back; even if I can not undo the atrocities that stole so many from this world, including my sons.”

“Ugh!” Chara landed on the table and began to pluck petals from the flowers in the vase.

Instead of relaying the thoughts and emotions she felt crossing from the small boy to her, Frisk waited to see what he would do to make his own feelings known.

“This is all a great deal to take in,” Toriel said, her features still pressed. “The murders, the resets, the unimaginably… unethical experimenting that Alphys has been up to; I’m afraid many things may need to change in the near future.”

“Dr. Alphys is a great royal scientist,” Frisk said. “And we’re probably going to need all hands on deck in the coming days.”

“Now Frisk,” Toriel said in that motherly way of explaining to a child. “I know you’ve made friends with her but don’t you think it is a bit iniquitous to allow someone who has played so loosely with people’s lives to remain in power?”

“I get why you’re upset, but she was practicing in good faith,” Frisk said. “They had fallen and, according to her and Sans, that meant they were in the process of dying in a way no one has found the cure for yet. It didn’t turn out so well, and she got scared and hid what happened, but after seeing how dust could be encouraged back to a living state with a host, something she also did on accident, it makes sense to try keeping them from dusting in the first place.”

“Not to mention you’ve been hiding in a cave for the past however many years.”

“Flowey!” Frisk exclaimed.

“What? I know for a fact you’ve gotten mad about it too,” he said defensively. “That was always one of my pet peeves; you say you want the humans to live but you stay in the ruins instead of walking them to the castle or trying to overthrow Asgore or literally anything besides trying to guilt trip them into staying locked up with you. Plus, when you do get out you want to start barking orders like you never left and weren’t completely unavailable to help come up with better options.”

Toriel’s face widened in shock.

“Take it easy, Mr. Delete-the-world-forever-because-I’m-bored,” Frisk said.

Flowey stuck out his tongue at her.

“Please, let's not fight,” Asgore said, rising to his feet. “Asriel, or Flowey if you still prefer, I can understand your frustrations; however, you should not fault your mother for not stopping my mistakes as they are mine, and mine alone. As for Alphys, we can review her actions after we have taken the steps necessary to complete this project. Is that agreeable for everyone?”

Frisk and Flowey nodded, as did Toriel after she was called out of her shock.

“Very good. Then I suggest we contact Sans to see if he is ready to…”

Asgore stopped short as his eyes came to rest on the table. The others looked as well, finding a message in petals written around the plucked clean bouquet.

“Wasn’t your fault My idea Court members said”

Chara had run out of petals before he could finish his message and instead sat waiting for them to take notice of his work.

“Chara, my boy,” Asgore said. “You really are here.”

“Yeah,” the boy replied, knowing it went unheard.

“What do you mean, what did the court members say? And which ones?” Toriel asked, tears forming.

“I don’t really remember which ones,” Flowey said. “They didn’t say it to his face or anything, we mostly just overheard them while playing. Some would whine about Chara living with us. They said it wasn’t fair of an ageless king and queen to act like everyone else had the same amount of time on their hands. It was definitely more than once we heard them say Chara would be more useful when he died. I tried telling him not to listen, and said that I wanted to stay with him. His solution was the whole me absorbing his soul thing. Then I messed that up by not having the guts to kill six more humans to break the barrier.”

“I suppose you’d object if I were to fire them as well?” Toriel asked dryly.

“Pfft, if I knew who they were they’d be dust at the start of every reset,” Flowey said darkly. “I’d probably have a hundred more dedicated to learning all the ways I could tear them apart.”

His sharp evil look took over his features as he spoke, grinning violently as the thought crossed his mind. The moment passed and Flowey gave out a grunt of protest as a heavy hand landed firmly but tenderly on his head.

“Now son, what did I tell you about making such declarations?” Asgore said.

“To not,” Flowey growled.

“And why is that?”

“Because the words we say become the deeds we do.”

“Very good. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a handful of calls to make in order to prepare the underground for any steps that need to be taken in the pursuit of ending the cycle.” Asgore raised his hand and started to move towards one of the side rooms of the castle that Frisk had never bothered to explore. “I also need to contact that robot to spread a good story for why we won’t be opening the barrier right away.”

“I’m sure he’ll be able to sell whatever you come up with,” Frisk said. “I just hope I can still be of help with whatever comes next.”

“Why wouldn’t you, dear?” Toriel asked, rising to begin clearing away their mess as she had previously volunteered to do.

“It sounds like a lot of science and I haven’t even made it past the eighth grade,” Frisk admitted as she helped.

“What?” Toriel was finding many new things to be concerned about on this day.

“Okay, I know that sounds bad, but I probably wouldn’t be able to understand anyway because it’s all crazy advanced.”

“You haven’t done any schooling since the seventh grade?” Toriel pressed.

“Well, there were those three months in the ruins.”

“Frisk!”

***

“Beauties and Gentle beauties, thank you for tuning in for this special announcement from the capital. Our King, Asgore, and our precious human star, Frisk, have come to a peaceable agreement to open the barrier! Over the next few days, the ancient files from the initial sealing will be gone over and the process of activating the unsealing will begin. The King asks for your patience in this time as there are many steps that must be taken to complete the process. A conservative early estimate puts a time frame of no more than a year, so hold on to hope and please respect all those who will be working to complete the process.”

Chapter Text

“GREETINGS, FRISK AND FLOWEY!” Papyrus said with a smile and wave as they entered the laboratory in Hotland. “OH! AND GREETINGS TO THE INVISIBLE HUMAN THAT SANS SAID IS WITH YOU. I HOPE YOU ARE ALL DOING WELL AND PREPARED FOR THE PRESENTATION!”

Frisk giggled as she watched a flush overcome Chara.

“We’re very ready, Papyrus,” Frisk said, hugging the tall skeleton. “And Chara says thank you for remembering him.”

Papyrus beamed. “NYEHEHEH! OF COURSE! I, THE GREAT PAPYRUS, DEDICATED TO BECOMING THE TRUE EMBODIMENT OF GOOD FRIENDSHIP, CANNOT FORGET TO ENGAGE IN COMMUNICATION, EVEN IF THE FRIEND CANNOT COMMUNICATE BACK.”

“Come on, nerds, let’s get this over with already,” Undyne called from across the lab.

She was sitting on an old grey couch in her casual attire, her armor dumped to the side where it was easily accessible in an emergency. Alphys sat next to her, trying to hide the pain in her expression behind a weak smile. For that matter, Frisk quickly realized Undyne didn’t look particularly happy either and with the darting glares occasionally sent over towards Toriel, in a chair on the far end of the semi-circle of seats arranged around the large computer monitor, it was easy to guess what had happened.

Asgore had a seat next to the couch to Undyne’s right, and a second couch to Alphys’ left held Grillby and Sans.

“well, looks like its time to get this show on the road,” Sans said pushing to his feet and heading towards the computer.

Alphys reluctantly followed leaving space for Papyrus next to Undyne and Frisk next to Grillby.

“i hope everyone’s ready because let me tell you, putting this all together was time consuming,” Sans began. “if it weren’t for all the resets, i might have been done sooner. then again, without resets we wouldn’t have a problem to solve.”

Using a remote, he pulled an image up on the large screen behind him. It contained two large bars, one covered in graphics of yellow flowers, hearts, and red x’s; and the other with a countless, and gradually thickening, series of tallies.

There was silence for a moment before Sans nodded to Alphys who jumped and gave a small cry before continuing.

“Th-these lines r-represent the past ten years,” she began. “On the t-top graph, you can s-see major events that have happened in the Underground, a-and the b-bottom one is… is the number of resets that have occurred in th-that period. N-not that you can t-tell, but… each one is n-numbered in order as best our d-data can determine.”

“Now I know why Sans was at the end of his rope when I got here,” Frisk said, nudging Flowey in his pot on the ground with her toe.

“Golly, that’s a lot more than I thought.” He couldn’t hide the impressed tone of his voice. “So, which ones are Frisk’s?”

“frisk’s year isn’t on this chart, because it’s the control,” Sans explained. “outside of her arrival and that week or so she spent in the underground, it’s completely sans anomalies.”

“R-right… that’s w-why we were able t-to use it to decide what was g-going on,” Alphys said. “B-because, until she let th-the timeline reset automatically, we d-didn’t know w-we were leaving out… leaving out some data.”

“Forgive me if I’m being preemptive, but what was it you were overlooking?” Asgore asked.

“these red x’s,” Sans explained. “we knew something was happening with the kids and the flower, but when we tried to impose the year time limit, we realized something else was disturbing the field.”

“W-without taking these events into consideration, i-it seemed like more than a year w-was passing b-between anchor points.”

“and before you ask, anchor points are what we’re callin’ those spots on the top graph. they’re the moments when the primary DT holder changed, preventin’ resets from going back beyond that point.”

Alphys nodded, adjusting her glasses as they slid down her face. “Yes, a-and we were almost st-stumped again because initially, F-Flowey went past those spots in the timeline b-before resetting. The red x’s can b-be explained by the fact that S-Sans and Grillby were still w-working on projects between resets, a-allowing for… for them to establish new events that then p-prevented the timeline going backwards.”

“what we noticed, though, is that there is overlap where the humans punch into the timeline, too. you can’t really explain that away with the same method. so, put a pin in that cause we’re gonna come back later.”

“So, whenever something happens with determination, the year starts over, but what started all this mess in the first place?” Undyne asked.

Sans nodded. “that’s what we just managed to figure out. and, surprisingly, it ain’t the weed’s fault.”

“Sans,” Toriel said harshly.

“sorry, tori, gotta get out of the habit of that, i suppose,” Sans said, smiling apologetically.

The apology seemed to satisfy her and she settled back into her seat.

“anyway, this all started because of a fellow by the name of dr. w. d. gaster.”

Frisk flinched as the sensation of being watched returned. She moved towards Grillby and his warmth instinctively as the chill ran through the air. He wrapped an arm around her and smiled reassuringly.

“Dr. Gaster?” Asgore asked. “I’m afraid that name isn’t familiar.”

Sans’s face fell before he plastered his smile back on once more. “course not. far as i’ve been able to figure, grillbz and i are the only ones on this plane of existence who can.”

“How is that?” Toriel asked.

“best i can gather is that we were outside of space and time when the accident happened,” Sans said. “on that day, the day gaster fell into the core, i had tried to take one of my shortcuts there because i was worried. i was supposed to give my dissertation that day, he was supposed to be there. he was working on the core, but i knew something had to be wrong because he wasn’t even answering his phone.”

Sans got caught up, unable to speak. His eye lights were dim and pointed at the floor. Papyrus stood and crossed to him in a few steps, pulling his brother into a hug.

“An earthquake struck and Sans attempted to teleport to check on his father,” Grillby said. “I tried to stop him, I was afraid he would get hurt by the scaffolding, but instead was dragged along. As it would turn out, those seconds in the void between time and space were all it took for the fatal moment to occur. We arrived to collapsed scaffolding and within minutes realized that something more severe than being crushed had occurred.”

There was a moment of silence before Sans tapped Papyrus on the back and sat back.

“ARE YOU SURE YOU’RE ALRIGHT?” Papyrus studied the sad face before him with care.

“i can make it through, thanks bro,” Sans said, his smile somber but loving.

Papyrus nodded and returned to his spot.

“Wait, so this Gaster guy is your dad? And you don’t remember him at all Papyrus?” Undyne asked.

“I’M AFRAID NOT. HONESTLY, I DON’T RECALL MUCH FROM BEFORE I WAS TWELVE. UNLESS YOU COUNT THE NIGHTMARES, BUT THEY DON’T TEND TO MAKE MUCH SENSE.”

Sans wiped at his skull with his lab coat sleeve and took a deep breath before getting them back on track with the original conversation.

“the important thing about that day actually wasn’t the accident, at least as far as this timeline mess is concerned. that’s thanks to another invention that he had been working on over in the true lab.”

“The DT extractor?” Frisk asked.

“yep. when chara fell into the underground and was adopted by the kind and queen, a lot of new ideas opened up. gaster hadn’t been alive during the war, so he had never studied a human soul before. as the royal scientist, he was also acting physician which gave him plenty of opportunity to map out the kid’s soul. when he compared it to the texts, he became focused on DETERMINATION.”

A wave of fear washed over Frisk, who quickly realized it wasn’t her own. Chara sank to the couch from where he had been perched on the back and slunk into her side.

“the idea was to find a way to use this trait to open the barrier without having to wait for more humans or lose any life in the process. he thought if he could give monsters a boost in determination, it might allow them to cross or even destroy the barrier. but he only got to turn on the machine once, fifteen minutes before falling into the core and being shattered and forgotten.”

Another pause filled the room as the others waited to see if he had anything more to add.

“W-we don’t know, un-unfortunately, if it was the machine turning on, th-the core incident itself, o-or a combination of the two that was the first point,” Alphys said. “They h-happened so close together it… it could be either option.”

“Hmm,” Flowey scowled. “You have the accident in the spring before Chara and I died. But if that’s the case, why couldn’t Chara undo his death after we fell to the humans?”

“good question,” Sans said. “all i’ve got is guesses. it was less than three months later, which makes it seem like it should have closed the loop. after all, him dying and passing on the DT to you should have switched over control and allowed for resets. not only did that never happen, but it doesn’t factor in to the year theory at all. that’s what makes me lean in to the idea that the core being open and leaking energy freely into the underground had something to do with it. we finished the core in the fall, and the next point on our anchor map is when al discovered the true lab and turned on the extractor for the first time.”

“And that’s… that’s our one-year point,” Alphys said. “Th-the first human arrived that winter after I t-turned it on, I u-used the soul in the DT e-extractor i-in the fall a-after explaining the th-theory on determination I found t-to his m-majesty, then the next sp-spring, I made fl-flowey t-trying to experiment. From th-there we have a mix of f-falling humans and failed DT experiments, including… including the um… amalgamates… until w-we made it to Frisk’s arrival.”  

The group sat, letting the information sink in. Almost everyone in the room eyed Toriel, who decided to remain demure and let the second most contested topic of the day slide by untouched. Instead she posed a question.

“How might we stop this cycle? Surely, we won’t be stuck in this same year for forever?”

“that’s another thing we haven’t fully figured out yet,” Sans said. “but, i think i’m on the right track.”

All eyes returned towards Sans who had at some point hoisted himself onto the computer’s control panel while they had been looking away. His dangling feet swung as he pulled the tome Frisk had gotten from Mettaton from his inventory.

“remember what i told you to put a pin in?” he asked.

“That the humans arriving into the Underground happened during periods of time that had initially be passed during Asriel’s control of the timeline?” Asgore suggested.

“bingo. there’s only one real way to explain how that could happen.” He paused for effect. “these resets are only taking place here in the underground.”

“But we were on the surface!” Frisk exclaimed. “I know you remember that, too.”

Sans nodded. “i do, which is why it was hard for me to come to this conclusion. there are still more pieces to puzzle out, but at the very least that year is the only time a surface area was affected by the resets. it’s the only way to properly explain how those kids fell in here. if the surface was resetting too, they never would have made it to the mountain, or at least would need a long period of rest. the third, fourth, and fifth human all fell during intense bouts of resetting. not to mention, there are a lot of determined humans out there apart from frisk and chara: that’s a statistical fact. if more than the underground was involved, flowey never would have had any power.”

“So, the year is also a bubble?” Frisk asked. “Does that mean when I was floating in the void, only the Underground was gone?”

“yep! oh, and before i forget again…” Sans pulled a confetti popper from his pocket and pulled it. “happy seven missed birthdays, kiddo.”

“SEVEN?” Frisk cried.

“Y-yes. N-not only d-does that m-make the most sense w-with how you d-described it, comparing your measurements f-from the um… other d-day to how you w-were before, you are definitely in the twenty-year r-range. Heh, it’s uh… lucky skeletons develop s-similarly inside and outside a h-human.”

Frisk sat back against the couch. “I spent seven years floating in nothingness with seven dead people and no food. How did I live?”

“that’s another on the research later list,” Sans said. “it’s been a week? can’t get it all at once.”

Frisk flopped over dramatically, a stunned expression on her face. Grillby pet her hair sympathetically.

“You need some time to do some kid stuff,” he said.

“She a-also needs to eat,” Alphys said. “The s-souls apparently kept you alive, s-somehow, but you are s-severely underweight. And um… you might have m-more periods of l-losing health t-to hunger if you… if you’re not careful.”

“Is there any way to break this bubble?” Asgore pressed, the lives of his people weighing on his mind. “What does it entail for us going forward?”

Everyone settled down and turned to the two scientists to listen to what they had to say.

“WE CAN RESET IT, RIGHT? BACK TO THE BEGINNING, I MEAN.”

All eyes turned to Papyrus who wilted under their gazes.

“Not a bad idea, Pap, but didn’t they say we can’t go backwards over the anchors?”

“YES, WELL, I WAS THINKING THAT, IF IT WAS A BUBBLE, WE COULD, PERHAPS, GO AROUND?”

Sans was back in the spotlight. “i’ve thought about it, to be sure. and theoretically, with enough power and the right tools, we could punch through the anchors and back to the beginning, as that’s the only place the underground is still attached to reality. the problem is we would need ALL the components involved in the resets.”

“By all, you mean your father too?” Toriel asked.

“not just him,” Sans said. “there were five others in the lab that day who either fell in or were caught up in whatever time/space rupture happened. but they aren’t here anymore.”

Frisk pulled out the picture she had taken from the basement and looked at it. Sure enough, there were five other monsters besides Sans and the erased space that must have been Gaster.

“It’s raining somewhere else.”

Frisk looked up as Flowey spoke.

“what’s that?” Sans asked.

“Frisk! You said you saw that bird in Hotland for a few minutes, right?” Flowey asked.

“Yes, why?”

“Because, I just remembered, I saw one of them too. It was in waterfall and it was forever ago. It was the one that look like Monster Kid. One of the humans tried talking to her and she talked about the world carrying on as if you never existed. Then she asked why the human had an umbrella when it wasn’t raining. But it was raining! At least where we were.”

“But she was somewhere that was dry,” Frisk said.

“That means they still exist out there, right?” Undyne asked.

“i guess, but I’ve exhausted the ways i can think of to reach them,” Sans admitted.

“WE NEED TO GO SIDEWAYS,” Papyrus said. “THAT SEEMS TO BE THE SOLUTION.”

“A different dimension,” Flowey confirmed. “Where they never disappeared in the first place.”

“Is th-that even possible?” Alphys asked.

Sans thought for a moment before his grin widened. “it just might be.”

Chapter Text

“A different dimension? I’m afraid I don’t follow,” Toriel said as Sans called up a program on the computer and began to enter information.

“think about it this way,” Sans explained without looking up from his calculations, “every time a decision is made by any person or by fate or whatever, the possibility for multiple different outcomes opens up. we make our choices and deal with the consequences. normally, that’s it, that’s how life goes. you mess up, you live with it. however, when the bubble containing this one-year cycle was formed, shearing us from the rest of reality, the ability to undo those choices became accessible when enough DT is present. theoretically, it may be possible to access similar bubbles of reality, ones where different decisions were made by the monsters or humans or fates within; hopefully leading us to find who we need in order to go back and prevent the severance from happening in the first place.”

Sans hit enter and watched the computer run the data he had input. A handful of red numbers blinked angrily at him, yet they didn’t dim the almost energetic smile plastered across his face.

Alphys read over the input and reached around to offer a suggestion, causing a few of the errors to correct. “I-it’s going to take time… and be r-risky all around. W-with endless possibilities, w-we could jump straight in-into something worse than a-anything we’ve encountered before.”

“we’ll have to take every precaution we can,” Sans agreed. “if we run the reset data, we can map out what the overall magic, energy, chaos, and determination readings were for good and bad periods and use that to select timelines that hopefully don’t have a little terrorizer running around.”

“Wait, if these monsters don’t exist anymore, how are you going to know which places to look?” Undyne asked.

“Trial and e-error,” Alphys said with a nervous shrug. “W-we can try m-making a visual scope as well, b-but w-without an energy signature to… to follow, we w-won’t be able to tell exactly w-who is there.”

“That sounds needlessly dangerous,” Toriel said, frowning.

“It sounds like our only chance,” Asgore said, earning him a glare. “And, I am finished putting things on the heads of others, it would be best for me to go.”

Undyne growled. “No way! The Underground depends on you! You can’t just leave us! I’m the Captain of the Guard, I should go!”

“I don’t think either of you can go,” Frisk said, culling the rising argument. “Unless you were to absorb one of the souls, that is. But none of them are primarily determination so I can’t say you’d be able to make it with just that.”

The room grew quite apart from the hum of electronics.

Toriel looked pained. “You can’t mean…”

“It’s not that big of a deal,” Frisk said, smiling. “I want everyone to go free, I want to stop the reset, I want everyone to have their second chance.”

Asgore placed a hand on her shoulder, turning her to face him, and looked solemnly into her eyes. “You have sacrificed so much of your life already. You’ve lost seven years that we can’t be sure you’ll ever get back. I thank you for your bravery and admire your staunch love for your friends, but I cannot ask you to continue to throw your life away to solve our problems.

Frisk gave a small chuckle. “You don’t have to ask me. I’m an adult and I want to make this choice. I’ve learned a lot about how my choices can affect those around me, for better or for worse. Also, I keep aging no matter what happens. If we have another automatic reset, I’m just going to get older and we’re just going to have to start over again. If I’m going to be growing anyway, I might as well have a few adventures along the way.”

Asgore’s face lit in a sad smile as he pulled her into an embrace. “If that is what you wish, then I will do what I can to support you. Someone younger than this old goat might be better for the job anyway.”

“I ALSO ASSUME IT WOULD BE EASIER TO GET AROUND UNDETECTED IF A COPY OF THE KING WASN’T ENTERING INTO THE OTHER TIMELINES.” Papyrus suggested.

“you’re not wrong about that, bro. i still don’t know the specifics though, so don’t everyone let this get under your skin, OK?”

“Hey, ask him what would happen to this timeline if you left,” Chara said. “To our resets and to the year cycle.”

“He probably doesn’t know that yet,” Frisk said. “Let’s just wait.”

“wait for what?” Sans turned from his work to cast a questioning glace at Frisk.

“Oh, Chara wants to know how the year cycle and resets will be affected by all of this,” she admitted.

Sans smile fell for a second, his gaze distant as he thought over the possibilities. “it’ll depend on how we manage to make the jumps from timeline to timeline. either the year will continue and resets will be unavailable while you’re too far to activate them, or flowey will become the holder until you get back and push the timeline forward. i’ll have to look into that.”

“It’s not like I’m going to destroy everything, I’m bored of that, remember? This is the most excitement I’ve had in forever, and I want to see what’s going to happen next,” Flowey said.

Sans looked at him with a wry expression. “i wish you had the track record to make that an easily believable statement.”

“Same to you, you cryptic trash bag. Don’t forget your own issues haven’t exactly saved any lives.” Flowey grinned maliciously at the other.

“Asriel, Sans, both of you stop this,” Toriel said. “This isn’t helping our situation at all.”

Flowey wilted back into his pot. “Golly, alright. No need to shout.” He reached out a vine and picked up the forgotten tome that Sans had dropped on the floor. “Also, what’s up with this? You acted like it was important before Papyrus’s big eureka moment.”

Sans took the book back from the flower. “oh, right, this was part of one of my less provable theories. at one point, frisk asked mettaton and napstablook about chara’s state of bein’. since he’s dead but here, shouldn’t he be a ghost? the answer, according to this, is that if he was truly dead, then yes, he should be a ghost. but he’s not. he’s not possessing her, he doesn’t register in the way a weak or forming ghost would; if fact, he doesn’t register properly at all, mostly just glitches and static. there’s only one chapter in this book that mentions what might be goin’ on and, at the risk of gettin’ people’s hopes up, i don’t think he and asriel are really dead.”

A chorus of gasps erupted before everyone began asking heated questions at once.

Sans gave a labored exhale as a bead of sweat at the sudden pressing of everyone into his space rolled down his skull. “alright, hey, take it easy. i can explain. i hinted at it earlier: the moment the loop was made is the last moment we were attached to reality. that would mean, possibly, that anything that has happened since hasn’t really happened, or at the very least has happened so fluidly that it can easily be undone. meaning, not only would they both be fine when we do this, but so will the other human children. it would explain why he’s not a ghost, it would add a new layer onto how flowey formed, but it doesn’t explain why frisk keeps gettin’ older so it still needs some further research.”

“Th-that’s a big assumption to m-make,” Alphys said.

“don’t i know it,” Sans replied. “but it’s science so we get to call them hypotheses.”

Grillby, who had kept to the background for most of the conversation, finally stepped forward. “Will your last project be of any help to you here?”

“you mean the thing in the basement? maybe for parts, but that’s it. i was going at it all wrong when i made that disaster. i’ll probably need to order some materials from the family market, too.”

Grillby cracked a smile, blinding white splitting the orange and yellow of his face. “Yes, let me know whatever you need. In the meantime, I think I know a way we can further mitigate the risk of this operation.”

“How’s that?” Frisk asked.

“It starts with you meeting the rest of my family.”

Chapter Text

Frisk was buzzing with energy as River Person dropped her and her four traveling companions off at a port she had never been to. New Home, the bustling capital city, opened up in a never-before-seen angle. The towering white stone buildings vaulted over her head as she bounced on the balls of her feet, waiting for the others to lead the way.

Grillby and Nina made their way to the front of the line, guiding them through the winding roads of the dense city. Sans and Papyrus followed behind, one with his face buried in a notebook and list, the other hiding growing nerves behind his smile.

“You look great in that outfit, Papyrus,” Frisk said, turning around and walking backwards to address her rattled friend.

“THANK YOU, FRISK,” he replied, his face a picture of uncertainty. “IT IS RATHER DIFFICULT TO ADJUST TO. HOWEVER, YOUR GENUINE COMPLIMENTS ARE REASSURING.”

The slim skeleton was dressed in a borrowed outfit. He had made the decision to forego his battle body, a bout of nerves having overtaken him that morning about reuniting with old friends in a costume, and it was soon discovered that he had, quite recently, outgrown every pair of pants and dress shirt he owned. In a town primarily home to smaller monsters, Frisk reasoned much of his clothes might not have fit properly to begin with.

For this reason, Papyrus was dressed in a pair of Grillby’s slacks and button-down shirts. They only rose an inch off his ankles, a fact hidden by his red boots, and as he had rolled the sleeves to his elbows it was impossible to tell they were also too short. The edge of the shirt still flapped as he moved, as his spine was a bit too long for it to reach his hips to be tucked away.

“don’t sweat it, bro. we can hit a store before we leave after lunch, okay?” Sans said, trying to reassure him without looking up from his work.

Papyrus guided his distracted brother around a loose brick on their path. “YES, I THINK I WOULD LIKE SOMETHING A LITTLE LESS, SQUARE.”

“Here we are, home sweet home,” Grillby said.

Frisk turned forward and looked up with marveling eyes at the structure ahead. The building rose at least seven stories high, though the asymmetrical window placement on the upper floors made it hard to be certain. Long panes seemed to divide some of the stories in half, at least from the outside. While the top floors were white to maintain the consistent skyline of the city, the bottom floor, apparently a bar similar to the one Grillby ran back in Snowdin, was walled with dark wood paneling that stood out with a solid, inviting aura. The sign over the door read “Cináed’s Hearth”.

“This is your parent’s bar?” Frisk asked once she had sufficiently taken in the scene.

Grillby nodded. “And upstairs is the house.”

“The whole thing?” Frisk’s eyes grew wide.

“Well, I am one of thirteen children,” he said with a grin. “And I’m actually a rarity as far as moving out on my own goes. Most of them travel for work and find it much easier to crash at home than getting their own place. Especially if they have children.”

“how many are home?” Sans asked, finally looking up from his work.

“Did I forget to mention?” Grillby said with a grin. “It’s a rare day where everyone managed to be home.”

“OH DEAR, THIS SEEMS LIKE THE WORST SORT OF TIME TO BARGE IN,” Papyrus said, fidgeting with the hem of his shirt with his red gloves.

“they’re already expecting us, paps,” Sans said, grabbing onto his brother’s arm. “we used to come over all the time, do you remember?”

Papyrus’ face screwed tight as he shuffled through the foggy realm of his memories. “I THINK? IT DOES LOOK FAMILIAR AND I DO REMEMBER PLAYING INSIDE WITH THE TWINS SOMEPLACE OTHER THAN SCHOOL.”

Sans was quick to squash a gloomy look under an encouraging smile. “i’m sure it’ll come to you once we get into the house proper.”

Behind the counter, waiting with a stern expression in the dim light of the closed bar, was a dark mahogany fire monster. He was a hair taller than Grillby, and wore a stern expression as he peered out from small, round, bridge-pinch glasses. His outfit was a long tailed mulberry suit, the shirt underneath his jacket appearing a blush hue in the dim light of his flame’s glow. The air about him was tense and commanding, but there was an undeniable sense of safety as well: there was no doubt this monster could protect anyone he had the mind to.

“Good afternoon, father,” Grillby said as he led the way between pristine tables towards the bar. “How have you been?”

“Better now that everything has settled down,” the older flame said in deep, crackling voice. “I trust you are doing fine as well?”

“I am,” Grillby replied, extending his hand in a shake over the bar counter. “Especially now that everyone is home.”

“Yes,” Cináed agreed. “It is nice that you two decided to turn up for once.”

This last line was directed past Grillby’s shoulders and directly at a sheepish Sans and a mortified Papyrus.

“right, sorry about that. time got away from me,” Sans said with his lazy grin.

“That’s hardly an excuse.” Cináed looked over the rims of his glasses. “With all the orders you put in, we should have seen you a handful of times since you boys moved away. You both look overdue for it.”

Frisk worried her lip as the exchange took place. The fire family patriarch seemed unbelievably harsh when compared to his son. Stiff and stilted and unmoving as he stared with that firm expression as Papyrus attempted his normal blustering spiel.

“YES, WELL, SANS CAN BE A BIT OF A LAZY BONES AND WOULD MUCH PREFER DELIVERY OVER HEADING OUT. ALTHOUGH, IT IS ALSO TRUE THAT HE HAS BEEN EXCEPTIONALLY BUSY AS WELL; NOW ESPECIALLY WITH THE NEWEST PROJECT HE IS WORKING ON. AND, I, MYSELF, OF COURSE, HAVE ALSO BEEN QUITE THROUGHLY OCCUPIED; TRAINING ALMOST DAILY WITH UNDYNE IN AN ATTEPT TO JOIN THE ROYAL GUARD. SO, AS YOU CAN SEE, TIME CAN BE A FICKLE AND… ELUSIVE… CONCEPT THAT IS NOT ALWAYS POSSIBLE TO WORK AROUND… THOUGH I AM QUITE CERTAIN THOUGHTS HAVE BEEN GIVEN TO THE NOTION. EVEN IF WE DID NOT EVER MAKE IT AS FAR. WHICH IS TO SAY… WE ARE ABSOLUTELY SORRY FOR NEGLECTING TO FIND THE TIME TO VIST.”

When his bravado faded, Cináed nodded and raised his head. “You’re both forgiven, but it would please everyone here if you didn’t forget us again.”

Is that even fair considering Papyrus seems to have genuinely forgotten? Frisk wondered before jumping as those piercing eyes snapped to her face.

“And this is the young troublemaker?” he asked.

“Yes, this is our niece Frisk,” Grillby replied, placing hand on her shoulder.

“It’s nice to meet you, sir,” Frisk said, forcing a smile as she reached out to shake his hand; utterly determined to show no fear or hesitation.

The older flame took her hand, clasping it firmly but gently. After a moment of staring, his rocky gaze crumbled away to reveal an apologetic half smile.

“Fiammetta is going to be fussing over you for your entire stay with such a thin frame.”

“That’s a good thing,” Nina spoke up. “She’s under doctor’s orders to fight against the loss.”

“A difficult task for a human trapped in the Underground, to be certain,” Cináed commented as he walked around the bar to stand next to his guests. “But you can rest assured the attempt will be made.”

He gave his daughter-in-law a side hug. “I do hope you’ll forgive me postponing a proper greeting until I had reprimanded my troublesome boys.”

Nina gave a light and melodious laugh, raising a demure hand to her mouth. “It’s no trouble at all, father. I was only here two weeks ago to help Fuku get settled in for her summer training. It hardly feels like I’ve been gone long enough for a greeting anyhow.”

As a few more lines of casual, playful banter passed between the group, Frisk pondered if she had miss-pegged the elder gentleman who soon waved them into the back room of the establishment and up the tight spiral staircase into his home.

All idle contemplation left her mind as Frisk stepped into the hybrid kitchen and sitting room that took up the entire second floor of the home. The air was radiant with an enveloping warmth as a bustle of twelve siblings, five spouses, fourteen grandchildren, and seven friends and cousins; all in a myriad of colors like a tangled string of Christmas lights, milled about the space; laughing, talking, playing, and helping their orchid matriarch put the final touches on the noon meal.

“You’re finally here!” Fuku’s voice cut above the din as she rushed forward to embrace her parents. “It took you long enough.”

“Sorry, Kiwi, we had a bit of a wardrobe emergency this morning,” Grillby said as he gathered his daughter up in a tight embrace, spinning her around once before depositing her giggling self back onto to floor.

Fuku blushed and pretended to pout at the old nickname before giving up and welcoming the skeleton brothers and Frisk with hugs as well.

“I’m so happy to see you again,” she said as pulled back from her hug with Frisk.

“Does this mean the rest of your journey went well?” Paige asked, emerging from the sea of fire to join them.

“It did!” Frisk replied. “There are a few bruised relationships, but I think everyone is trying to move forward.”

“I’m sure they’ll work it out,” Fuku said. “And there’s only so much that outside help can do in cases like that.”

“You’re right,” Frisk admitted.

“So, no use worrying about it,” Paige said. “But if you’re going to be here for a while, you might want to start trying to memorize names because it takes forever!”

“I don’t know how I’m going to manage, but I’ll try,” Frisk said with a grin. “But how did you know I was staying?”

“Grandfather let us know after dad called,” Fuku explained. “Paige is taking part in the training too; her dad is a close friend of uncle Conleth. He’s the juniper flame over there in the corner talking to his twin, Pyrrhus, the red current flame.”

“PLEASE tell me they were born on Christmas… or gyftmas,” Frisk said.

Fuku laughed. “They were! That’s the best part!”

“If we’re all training, does that mean there’s more to the family business than just cooking?” Frisk asked after their laughter died down.

“Snrk, a little,” Fuku replied, far less adept at secret keeping than her father. “But right now, we’re just going to be working on getting our combat under control. Fire elementals have very strong magic; we can hurt others if we aren’t careful.”

A twinge of doubt hit Frisk’s heart, despite knowing that would be a part of the answer. Her mind raced with thoughts of all the ways such a thing could go wrong, before she was grounded by a pair of hands.

“Don’t worry, there’s always adults around and it’s definitely safe,” Fuku said gently. “Come on, I’ll introduce you to aunt Rhea first. She’s the second oldest and takes care of most of the training.”

Frisk allowed herself to be led away towards the cluster of billowing flames near the stove.

Chapter Text

Papyrus stood next to the head of the stairs they had emerged from, taking in the bright and colorful scene. He watched Frisk run off with Fuku and Paige towards the kitchen in the far-left corner, noticed Sans get swept into a cluster of handshakes with a calm smile, and panicked as no names were forthcoming when he looked at the countless faces around him.

Warmth seeped into his bones and beckoned him in, but the haze over his mind, the nameless faces, the colors he was looking for being absent; told him to turn and run from this place he didn’t belong. The opposing forces caused an ache in his soul on top of the guilt laid on his mind already from being lectured by a face he couldn’t remember the second he had come through the door.

Papyrus’ eye lights shot up when he heard loud thumps crossing the ceiling above; utterly flummoxed at the idea of yet more faces being added to the crowd, and wondering if it would be acceptable to excuse himself outside already.

He was still debating when the decision was made for him: two colors grounding him in place. Down the stairs vaulted a pair of bicolored twins; dark navy blue like the night sky with a brilliant golden core that sent glittering wisps through like stars. Keahi and Azar, their names fresh in his mind after finding their messages, bounded towards him and clamped onto his arms on each side, grinning up at him with a genuine warmth that pushed back against the fog.

“Bon! You’ve gotten so big!” Keahi said, the nickname still seeming right off her lips after all these years.

“We were so excited to get your message! We missed you!” Azar added.

“How have you been?” Keahi asked.

“You’ve been busy, we’d imagine. What are you up to?”

“UM… YES, OF COURSE, THE GREAT PAPYRUS HAS BEEN WELL AND BUSY,” he replied, digging deep after his normal vibrato. “MY PRIMARY TIME-OCCUPIER HAS BEEN TRAINING FOR THE ROYAL GUARD WITH UNDYNE WHICH IS…” Papyrus squinted as he thought of the coolest way to mention he was no closer to convincing Undyne to let him join then he was when they first met. “GOING.”

 “The royal guard? That suits a helpful go-getter like you,” Keahi said.

“Protecting the innocent and dispensing justice; it fits everything I remember,” Azar agreed.

Papyrus blushed at the praise and the confidence he was only accustomed to hearing from his brother. “THANK YOU, I THOUGHT SO TOO. THOUGH, IT IS NOT AS EASY AS I ONCE SUSPECTED.”

“Aw, don’t worry, if she’s training you, Undyne must see something in you,” Keahi said.

“Give it time. She’ll come around, especially if she ever needs a good trap or puzzle. Have you had time to keep up with those?”

“YES, ACTUALLY. I MAINTAIN AN EXTENSIVE TRAIL OF THEM THROUGH SNOWDIN FOREST BETWEEN THE RUINS AND TOWN. I WAS EVEN ABLE TO USE THEM WHEN FRISK ARRIVED. AND THOUGH SHE BESTED EVERY ONE, AND TURNED OUT TO BE A FRIEND I COULD NOT BEAR TO CAPTURE FOR THE KING’S PLAN, I KNOW THEY ARE SOME OF THE BEST AND MOST EXTENSIVE IN THE UNDERGROUND!”

Keahi giggled, leaning back and pulling ever so slightly on Papyrus’ left arm. “It’s great that you have the time to keep up with them, we know Undyne isn’t the biggest fan of puzzles.”

“HAVE YOU MET HER?”

“She comes by the northern boundary where we work on patrol every so often,” Azar explained with a mischievous grin. “She had it out for the both of us when we caught her in our sticky net trap.”

“The look on her face made the reset effort worth it.”

Papyrus felt his soul quaver and his lip downturn. “I SEE. SHE HAS ALWAYS PREFERED BATTLES TO PUZZLES, THOUGH I KNOW SHE HAS MADE THE EFFORT TO CONSTRUCT AT LEAST ONE PUZZLE IN WATERFALL. THUS, I NEVER PEGGED HER AS COMPLETELY DESPISING PUZZLES.”

“She probably doesn’t mind them if she doesn’t get caught in them,” Keahi said.

“But I think the best parts of traps and japes are figuring out how to best the ones that trip you up,” Azar commented. “And documenting all your successes and failures. Want to get out of the crowd and come look at our photo log until the food’s ready? We have all our best ones catalogued.”

Papyrus looked from one bright, smiling face to the next, then back up at the noisy environment around him. It wasn’t as clamorous and foreign as it has seemed before, and the added warmth radiating up his arms was enough to override the uncertain chill that made him consider fleeing. With a nod, Papyrus finally allowed himself to be drawn into the sea of flame and hidden memories.

At nearly seven and a half feet tall, the lanky skeleton wasn’t surprised to have to duck around doorframes and under steps that even the tall fire monsters, only about a foot shorter, glided beneath with ease. He was, however, surprised that it seemed like each room was its own floor, as if each one was attached independently based on need instead of uniformity.

There was a tall room with four beds built into and up one wall across from a nearly floor to ceiling window that cut through two stories, a room with a double bed and a tiny window and a secret exit out to a balcony that appeared nestled below the floor, one that seemed vaulted over the rest of them only accessible by free floating steps jutting out from the wall, and others that Papyrus couldn’t keep track of for worrying about how strange it was that every door was wide open.

The loft room, settled opposite the stairs that lead out to the roof exit, belonged to the twins. Inside the walls were covered in puzzle plans, trap charts, fandom drawings, at least two conspiracy boards, and packed bookshelves. An old CRT tv and 16-bit gaming systems were nestled against the far wall on a single shelf riser just below the one standard sized window. Instead of a bed, a futon covered with pillows, blankets, and bean chairs took up the center of the room.

“Here we are!” Azar said with a flourish of his hand. “Welcome back, Bon.”

“It’s not how you remember, exactly, but if you look around, you’ll see things laying around from the good old days,” Keahi said. “We hardly throw anything out.”

Papyrus slowly tracked across every photo and drawing as he followed towards the shelf with the album they were after. “I ALSO TEND TO HOLD ONTO THINGS FOR EXTENDED AMOUNTS OF TIME, THOUGH I TEND TO USE BOXES IN MY CLOSET. THE WALLS ARE ALSO A GOOD PLACE. BETTER THAN MY BROTHER’S TRASH TORNADO.”

“Ember made a whole trash tornado? In his room?” Azar asked.

“HMM, YES, IT WAS HIS SOLUTION TO ME CONTSANTLY TELLING HIM TO PICK UP HIS FLOOR,” Papyrus said, still looking over the pictures absently.

Both of the twins laughed.

“That sounds like him,” Keahi said.

“He was always good at finding loopholes.”

“EVEN IF IT MEANS EXPENDING THREE TIMES THE ENERGY THAN JUST DOING WHAT WAS ASKED IN THE FIRST PLACE.”

A wrinkled, hand drawn picture caught Papyrus’ eye. He could have missed it, it was covered almost completely by the pictures around it, but something about the juvenile lines stood out among the more practiced pieces. As the twins continued to laugh at Sans’ bad habits and thumb through albums to select their best projects to showcase, he pushed aside the overlapping papers to expose the drawing with three young figures.

It was the twins in yellow and blue striped sweaters holding hands with a smiling skeleton who had a red flame logo on the front of his red and yellow striped sweater. Keahi, Azar, and Papyrus were written across the top of the page in three sloppy child handwritings. Beneath the Papyrus drawing it said ‘bonefire’ in blue lower-case crayon that was vigorously scratched out with an orange ‘BONFIRE’ written beneath.

“Aw, you found the picture you drew back when we first met!” Keahi said. “I knew we still had it somewhere.”

“I DREW IT?” Papyrus questioned. “IT DOES LOOK LIKE THE OTHER OLD DRAWINGS AT HOME.”

“Yep, you drew it on the day we figured out your nickname,” Keahi confirmed. “You wanted a fire name like everyone else.”

Papyrus hummed acknowledgement as he continued to study every line and color on the piece.

“Hey, I found the one with Undyne,” Azar said.

Papyrus turned his attention to the photograph, a snapshot of a shouting Undyne upside down in a net made from spider silk. He gave a small smile, though felt a bit of a sinking feeling in his soul.

“SHE LOOKS QUITE JAPED AND THROUGHLY ANGRY. IT IS A HUMOROUS SIGHT, THOUGH A SHAME THAT SHE DOES NOT GET ALONG WITH THE TWO OF YOU.”

“It’s not like she hates us or anything,” Keahi said, pushing lightly into Papyrus’ side.

“Yeah, we got along just fine after we let her down and explained that the trap was to catch wild animals that fell through the barrier before they fell down the northern cliff,” Azar said. “Could you imagine if annoying someone once meant they didn’t like you?”

“We’d be the most hated twins in the Underground,” they said in unison before breaking out into a round of laughter.

Papyrus was astounded by their lax attitude towards the opinions of others, and perhaps the tiniest tinge jealous.

“Oh, hey, you’ll like this one,” Keahi said, pointing to another picture. “It’s a trial gauntlet of doom!”

“It took us a month to figure out the solution!”

“YOU BUILT IT BUT DIDN’T KNOW THE SOLUTION?”

“We both worked on different parts,” Azar explained.

“By the time we were finished, all the solutions were different because of where they sections met.”

“NYEHEHEH, I SUPPOSE THAT IS THE EASIEST WAY TO JAPE YOURSELF.”

“Food’s ready!”

The cry carried through the entire house. Azar slammed the book back on the shelf.

“Come on, we don’t want to be late.” Keahi grabbed Papyrus’ hand and lead the way back to the door.

“We can come back up after and play some video games.”

Sans was ecstatic when Papyrus asked to stay after lunch. He was even happier to make his way upstairs just before dinner to find his brother, gloves off and teeth grit, going head to head against Azar in perhaps the most intense game of Kirby Golf the Underground had ever seen. Keahi was sitting between them, throwing support at each of them in turn.

“IT MISSED BY TWO CENTIMETERS!” Papyrus complained. “IF THE PINK TERROR HAS JUST SNEEZED IT WOULD HAVE GONE IN!”

“havin’ fun, bro?” Sans asked, leaning on his brother’s shoulders.

“YES. IS IT TIME TO GO?” Papyrus asked, looking up with a disappointed look on his face.

“it’s actually time for dinner. fiammetta asked us to stay. but you do have to train with undyne tomorrow and you wanted to pick out some clothes that fit before we head back to snowdin. the shops aren’t open all night; you know.”

“HMM, YOU’RE RIGHT.”

“We can have a rematch another day,” Azar said.

“And play some other games,” Keahi added.

“I WOULD ENJOY THAT,” Papyrus said with a smile.

He found himself hugged tightly and couldn’t help the swell of giddiness that escaped in small chuckles. With the promise to return far sooner this time, the skeleton brothers left with smiles carrying on the brightness of the strange fire house.

Chapter Text

Early morning the day after the Fire family reunion saw Frisk standing in Hotland with Fuku, Paige, and the youngest of Cináed’s children: the triplets Ash, Blaze, and Lux. Frisk had traded out her green sweater for a plain blue t-shirt and stood waiting with her arms behind her back. Rhea approached them with equipment in her hands.

“I trust you’re all ready to begin?” she said, letting the tools clatter to the ground.

The six confirmed and she began her explanation.

“Since Frisk is new here, and this is all three of the girls' first year, I’ll take it from the top,” the amber flame said. “Magic is something that can be used both for good and for bad, for peace or for war. The underground isn’t perfect, and neither is the surface. Though we hope you’ll never need to fight, it’s smarter to train now and make sure you have complete control than to risk you needing it later and leaving an inferno or whimper in your wake.”

Flames danced from Rhea’s finger tips and launched long vaulting poles at each of her pupils.

“Your first task is something of a right of passage. One that, after two years, the boys still haven’t managed to pull off.”

The triplets stuck their tongues out at their older sister.

“Don’t be discouraged if you can’t, but we’ll give it a week to see if you can pull this off.” Rhea next picked up the bag she had dropped on the ground and passed out a long measure of rope and pair of oversized pliers with rubber pads on the inside of the clamps to each. “These three tools are all you’ll need aside from luck and wit. Your task: to find a lava hound.”

Frisk slowly raised her hand.

“A lava hound is a dog, the size of a small house, that lives in lava. It has many interesting properties, which is why, once you’ve found it, you’re expected to leash it and pull one of its fangs. Don’t worry, it doesn’t hurt much and will regrow.”

“Okay, thanks,” Frisk said, placing her arms behind her back again.

“A few final things before I turn you loose: you two!” she pointed at Frisk and Paige. “Drink plenty of water. All of you make sure to eat your fruit at lunch. Be back at the bar by five for dinner and we’ll try again tomorrow if you haven’t got it. Lastly: not even fire elementals are immune to lava. Your core will crack within a minute and your insides will leak and it’ll be just as painful as it would be for anyone else. Be careful of yourself, each other, and your surroundings.”

They all agreed with uneasy confidence as Rhea walked away.

“So, how do you normally do this?” Frisk asked the three boys.

“Well, we just kinda poke around? We haven’t had much luck no matter how much we disturb the lava,” Ash, a licorice colored flame, said.

“She didn’t do a very good job explaining it,” the honey yellow Lux declared. “They may be big but they can teleport like Sans and be as smooth as the lava.”

“Maybe, if we spread out, we’ll have enough people to flush it out this time?” cherry red Blaze said. “If we agitate several pools at once, it’ll have less room to hide.”

“I don’t know if we should trust their word, they’ve been trying for two years with no success,” Paige said.

“Hey, I’d like to see you do any better!” Blaze said, flaring at the criticism. “The lava under this mountain runs deep into the earth’s core, it could be anywhere!”

“C’mon now, let’s not fight,” Fuku said, positioning herself between her best friend and her uncle. “Maybe we can try it their way once, and if it doesn’t show today, we’ll plot a new plan tonight.”

Ash pulled on Blaze’s arm, creating more space between the quarreling pair.

“Fine,” Paige said. “But I’m not going to lose! This year, we’re going to get it.”

“Don’t talk such a big game before you’ve even seen one,” Blaze shot back.

“Has anyone seen one?” Frisk asked.

“What?” Lux looked at her questioningly. “What do you mean?”

“Sorry, I’m not questioning if they’re real, but Blaze said they travel to the earth’s core. Has anyone seen one, for certain, within the past ten years?” Frisk elaborated.

“Yeah, Logan and the twins found one about six years ago,” Ash said. “Why?”

“Um… it’s something to do with the time/space science thing Sans is working on,” Frisk said. “I don’t know how much I can go around telling people right now… So, we just start stirring the lava to annoy it?”

“That’s the plan,” Blaze said. “But you’re sure you don’t have more to add?”

“Nope! If it’s been seen within the past ten years, it can’t be affected by what I’m thinking of,” Frisk said. “No worries.”

“Then let’s get today over with,” Paige said. “My fronds are curling already.”

“Pfft, you say that every time we come here to skate,” Fuku said.

The group worked through to lunch, dipping their poles into the sulfuric substance and turning up the dangerous sludge. Frisk and Paige both had a heat rash by the time they retreated to Waterfall to eat.

“Are you sure you’ll be fine here?” Frisk asked as they sat down in a patch of short grass.

“It’s fine,” Fuku replied. “It’s not raining and the ground isn’t wet. We’ve come through before.”

“Can I just take the time to restate how stupid all of this is?” Paige asked as she rubbed gingerly at her sore skin. “I look like baked calamari, Frisk looks like she’s about to burst into flames, there are literally so many rooms and lava pools that this thing could be hopping along to the next part before we even finish the one we’re on…”

“Didn’t we already settle this? Why are you still complaining?” Blaze asked.

“I have to admit, I’m more on Paige’s side seeing how damaged she and Frisk are after all that time near the heat,” Fuku said, her tone apologetic. “It’s not as bad, but it’s taking a toll on the rest of us too.”

“Come on, we only have three rooms left!” Lux pled. “The two by the entrance and the one way over by the core.”

“How close to the core?” Frisk asked. “Isn’t it dangerous to get too close to the generators?”

“It’s not that risky,” Blaze scoffed. “We’ve done it before without issue. It’s not like the generators will crack open or anything.”

Frisk looked up at Chara with pleading eyes. What do you think?

“I think they’re desperate to prove their idea wasn’t stupid,” Chara said. “And if anything goes wrong, we can reset back a few minutes and get Sans to come tell them they can’t be near the core. I’d also say we can try checking if you want. Just summon your soul energy like you’re going to open a battle box and I’ll be able to look around for anything hiding in the lava.”

Frisk shuddered at the idea.

“Don’t get all worried. We’ll only open a box if we find it so it can’t get away. That should force it to come up,” Chara said as her dark impulse traveled to him.

If you think it will help… Hopefully we find it before we make it to the core.

“Are you alright, Frisk?” Fuku asked, placing a gentle hand on the other’s upper arm. “You’re spacing out.”

“Oh yeah!” Frisk pulled away from Chara and back to the group around her. “Just thinking. If you’ve done it before, we should be fine as long as we’re careful, but let’s save that for last.”

“Well, yeah, it’s all the way back by MTT Resort,” Ash said. “It would be silly to track all that way then come back again.”

If she hadn’t already been as red as her skin could get, the others might have noticed Frisk flush. “Oh yeah, I guess you’re right. Sorry.”

They continued their meal in relative silence, letting the moist air wick away some of the cruel heat that had settled into them. As they were finishing, Fuku began to prod each member in turn with simple, inane questions, nothing that would draw suspicion. It was another half hour before Blaze caught on that she was stalling for time, though with tempers and skins both eased, he found he couldn’t complain about it. Still, he drove the group to get back on track, after they had collected all their trash, and they headed back into the arid environment once again.

Frisk took a quick drink from the water cooler as the others continued to stir the lava far below.

Are you ready? she asked Chara.

“Yep. Just get over to the edge so I have a better vantage.”

Frisk nodded and returned to the edge of the small platform. She looked down at the swirling yellow and white glow beneath her, excessively hot from their oxidizing stirring, and took half a step back. With a deep breath and closed eyes, she summoned her soul, causing the others to turn and stare at her as the energy pulsed out.

“Hey, Frisk,” Fuku said. “What are you-”

“I found it!” Chara shouted and Frisk echoed.

The room tinted dim as the battle box locked, sending the beast, hidden deeper than their poles could hope to agitate, towards them as it latched onto the creator of its imprisonment.

“What do you mean, you found it?” Blaze asked as he and the others rushed to her side. “Where?”

“It’s coming,” Frisk said. “I pulsed out my energy to check the area. I found it down there and it’s coming up to the surface now.”

“Are you in a battle with it?!” Lux asked.

“Technically, but I’ll just spare it once we get the fang.”

“Oh, I don’t think that’s such a good plan,” Ash said. “Everybody get ba-”

It was too late to flee as the beast emerged, scattering streams of white-hot lava as it left the trench. It caked onto both bridges, catching them on fire and leaving the six youths stranded on the center platform.

“Reset!” Chara called out about the shrieks of the others as the hardly-smaller-than-the-skeleton-brother’s-house dog loomed over top of them, dripping the blazing substance down on them from above.

“I can’t! I haven’t saved since before yesterday!”

“What do you mean? I told you to!”

“We haven’t passed a star since then!”

“Who are you talking to?” Paige asked. “Watch out!”

A child sized dollop of lava fell down on them from above. It impacted with the floor where Frisk had just been, spattering out flecks of molten rock that hit everyone, cutting into their health with a gradient damage.

“Paige!” Frisk cried out as the purple girl took a knee in pain.

Ignoring her own scalding flesh, Frisk raised her pole and stabbed up at the canine, right between the ribs. The beast let out a roaring yelp and jumped off the platform, fleeing the battle and leaving the team stranded.

The second the beast was gone; three cellphones came out to call Rhea and tell her what had happened. Fuku fell on Paige, billowing healing magic as her friend groaned as her arm and leg burned where she took the brunt of the lava when she pushed Frisk out of the way.

The world had grown quiet as the smell of burning flesh, pained cries, and panicked screams washed together in memory that overloaded every sense, every outlet. Two hearts beat, casting out wave after wave of red might, fighting against something both there and far away.

Darkness in soft, clean fabric blocked out the world and the screams stopped as static carried them from the heat. The pain still lingered, numbed under silence and a stare that couldn’t be drawn back.

Sans set Frisk down on the couch, limp and distant. The other adults scrambled to heal them, questioning what had happened and how such a standard test had gone so wrong.

“can you hear me, frisk?” Sans asked, gently pulsing his own magic into her burns, healing and pulling out the remains of the scalding substance. “what happened?”

Frisk didn’t answer, still lost somewhere else, until a faint stole away her consciousness, leaving the others to try to explained what had happened.

Chapter Text

Frisk’s head pounded as consciousness roused her senses. Her thoughts came in muddled and pained as she attempted to remember who and where she was.

“so that’s who she was talking to and what she meant by a save star.”

She heard Sans’ voice, low and tired, and reached out towards it. Her eyes cracked open in the dim room lit only by the three figures around the couch she lay on that Sans spoke to. Cináed looked stern and thoughtful. Fiammetta was far more concerned. Rhea seemed exhausted and uncertain.

“as for why things turned out the way they did, i can’t say,” the skeleton concluded.

The way things turned out… Frisk searched through her mind until she had managed to untangle the throbbing mass of memories.

“Paige!” She sat up on the couch, sore muscles screaming as she looked wildly around.

The adults jumped at the cry and sudden movement. Sans grabbed onto her shoulders as she began to thrash, attempting to get her feet under herself as panic took hold.

“hey, easy, easy kiddo,” he said, pushing her back onto the couch. “she’s fine, everyone’s fine.”

Frisk bucked a few more times against his grip before going limp against the cushions. Shaky, shallow breaths came far too quick as a series of shivers overtook her. The thoughts that had overwhelmed before her ramped up again.

“c’mon frisk, it’s okay.” Sans lifted her up an into a hug as he sat next to her feet on the sofa. “deep breaths. what has you all wound up?”

“sorry,” she choked out. “sorry, sorry, sorry”

“shh… it’s okay.” Sans rubbed her back with gentle circles. “it’s alright. everyone is safe. but we can’t fit all the pieces together, frisk. can you tell us what you remember?”

The slow ministrations, the familiar tone, and the trusted presence calmed away the wide-eyed panic until her breaths had evened and the buzz had left her drained and slumped into his chest as her only support. A presence, quivering and tight, was curled sharply into her side which she only then noticed.

She began recounting the day, though it had taken until halfway through her retelling of lunch for her to actually start talking. “Th-the boys said one of the places to look would be around the core. Didn’t think we should but… Chara suggested using a soul check. I can’t do it so I don’t always think about it. Found it and Chara latched on with a battle box. We didn’t know it would go straight into attacking.

“The bridges burned, I didn’t save since before the party and Papyrus had such a good time and I didn’t want to ruin anything. We were yelling and missed the lava falling. Paige pushed us away. We hit it with our pole in the ribs. Then we couldn’t hear anymore. We were there and here and we tried to fight it and…”

Frisk mirrored the sob the welled from Chara. Sans wrapped both arms around her as she wept.

“you were where and here?” Sans asked once her tears slowed. “if the dog was gone, who were you tryin’ to fight?”

Frisk drew a raspy inhale. “Our… Chara’s parents died in a housefire. The smell was the same, the burning flesh; the screams and panic were just like that time. And we were so certain we dusted someone again. That it was our fault again. Just like mom and dad, like Asriel… It was my fault all over again. And I couldn’t do anything to stop it. I wanted to help but I made it worse.”

The room quieted as the confession came to an end. Sans eyes were dark before reigniting in soft white pinpricks and glancing down at who he held in his arms.

It was Frisk’s body but the way she sat, the pinch to the nose, the aura emanating out; Sans couldn’t say if he was imagining the childlike image and very different presence.

“frisk?”

No response.

“…chara?”

Eyes, red as blood in a paled and almost bloodless looking face aside from a faint trace of a permanent blush across the cheeks, turned up towards him. Sans fought against the instinct that welled up, stifling his magic before it had the chance to manifest in the blue and yellow eye light he knew both feared.

The face looking back at him twisted, wordless but expressing confusion at the fear they saw cross the skeleton’s face.

Sans cracked a smile. “sorry, bucko, guess all this talk has managed to rattle my bones. heheh.”

Chara gave a half puff of air and stuck out his borrowed tongue.

“yeah, that was pretty bad.” Sans began rubbing soothing circles once again, eliciting a sigh and surprised series of blinks. “listen, kiddo, i don’t know what happened before you came down here, but i know it wasn’t your fault. accidents happen, especially with fire. i know you’ve seen undyne’s house go up in smoke more than once. it ain’t easy, and it hurts, but it ain’t your fault.”

“But I bring death where ever I go. Even Frisk changed because of me.”

“death is just part a life kid; you can’t get away from it. pap’s and my mom died right after he was born, but it wasn’t his fault. i didn’t make it to the core before the accident, but my old man going wasn’t my fault. though, i get it; it was a lot easier for me to say paps wasn’t to blame than to give myself the same treatment. you two are that way too.”

“She should blame me; it was my idea. I didn’t even think it was that big of a deal. She would have turned back if I hadn’t egged her on. I just thought it was a game to see if we could change how it ended,” Chara said, avoiding eye contact.

“did you mean for them to stay dead?” Sans asked.

“No. I like monsters. And I knew Frisk would be sad if they never came back. But even if I knew it wouldn’t find us any answers, I still would have wanted to try.”

“do you still feel that way? would you want her to do it again?”

“No way! Not after the second run. I tried pulling her back some cause even I thought it was too much.”

Sans ruffled his fingers through his hair. “right then, i believe you. and just like frisk, i forgive you.”

Chara was quiet for a time. The others had pulled away to give them space and the room seemed almost devoid of light.

“Do I have to give it back now?”

Sans couldn’t help a small, half laugh. “i think frisk might want her body back. but don’t worry, the more i learn, the more positive i am we’ll get yours.”

Chara nodded and pressed closer into Sans’ chest, practically climbing inside his blue jacket.

“hey, while you’re here, how did you manage to take over anyway?”

Chara shrugged. “Never done it before. We’ve been us a few times, but it’s never been me.”

“can you think of anything you did differently or something you were trying to do?” Sans pressed.

“… I just wanted a hug,” Chara replied.

A pain cut through Sans’ soul at the words. Just a hug, something so simple that any child deserved. How long had he been without them? So hug him he did, pulling him close and holding him, a few blue tears escaping and falling onto the hair he planted a small, brotherly kiss into.

Chara was the one to pull back. He wiped away a few last tears of his own. “Thanks. Just… don’t tell Asriel I cried, ok?”

Sans smiled and ruffled his hair once more. “it’s a promise.”

Chara grinned, mischievous and happy, before the body he had been in swayed and threatened to fall over.

Sans steadied her with his blue magic, noticing the color had returned to her cheeks and her eyes, when opened, were more brown than red once again.

“you okay, frisk?”

She nodded. “I can feel his emotions, and he can feel mine. Now that he feels better, I feel more like myself again.”

“glad ta hear it. just warn me before you two do that again.”

Frisk smiled. “Yeah, sorry. And sorry about what happened. I should have been smarter and saved before heading out to play with lava. I guess that whole thing was a bust.”

“Not necessarily,” Rhea re-approached her. “I said you’d have all week.”

“We nearly died! Does anyone want to do that again?” Frisk asked, almost laughing at the suggestion.

“In fighting, and in life, brushes with death happen. You learn from your mistakes and you try again,” Cináed said. “After proving the boys' method absolutely useless, Paige is quite ready to get back out there and do better. She is not the type to let something like this stop her. She’s broken the same leg four times trying to learn a single trick on her board, which she frequently jumps over lava pits. I believe it’s safe to say she is the kind who throws caution in the wind for her goals. And her budding rivalry with Blaze has her goal set on a fang.”

Frisk gave the smallest of laughs as she remembered their interactions throughout the day. She then thought on what was said and cast a questioning glace at Sans.

“no one’s gonna force you to do it,” he said. “but think about where you’re headed before you make your decision.”

“Right. I made a promise and should do all I can to get ready.” Her mind set itself once again. “And now I know battle boxes are not a good idea.”

“Well, more like doing it on a small ledge was the wrong choice,” Fiammetta said as she approached with a heaping plate of food. “It wasn’t attacking, it just didn’t have any room.”

Frisk accepted the meal and nodded. “I don’t think that area’s even going to be accessible for a while. I hope I didn’t mess things up too much.”

“don’t worry about it, we already deployed replacement bridges. now they’re made of metal with realistic heat proof paint that looks like wood,” Sans said.

“Did Papyrus paint them?” Frisk asked.

“well, he did have the most qualifications. he’s also starting a petition to have the vents and conveyors bypassed by more of his work for those who don’t like them at all.”

“Finally taking a stand?”

“he wants to come visit the twins and thinks taking the river person’s boat every time is lazy.”

Frisk laughed. “Papyrus never disappoints.”

“that’s my bro, coolest monster in the underground.”

Chapter Text

Paige picked up a rock and hurled it angrily at one of the pools in Waterfall. It clunked down into the depths and she grumbled wordlessly as she picked up another.

The others in the group were equally frustrated. They had worked themselves into a hype the day after the accident and spent the day researching their foe, resolving to catch it. Five days, numerous attempts and half as many sightings later, they had nothing to show for their work.

“Ugh! I didn’t put in all this effort just to lose!” Paige groaned, drop kicking the rock into the water. “If we don’t have it by dinner, they won’t let us keep looking until next summer.”

“Not as easy as you thought, is it?” Blaze found time to gloat around his own moping.

“Don’t feel vindicated over failing a third time,” Paige snapped.

“Come on, don’t fight.” Fuku, nice as she was, couldn’t keep the annoyance out of her voice at their continued bickering. “If we’re going to do this, we need to work together.”

“What is the point?” Lux asked. “Seriously, what haven’t we tried yet?”

“Hey, if Keahi and Azar could pull it off so can we,” Ash said.

“You say that like they don’t have peak chaos energy at their disposal.” Lux crossed his arms sullenly.

Frisk was lying on her back, listening as she watched the stones on the low ceiling above glitter in the minute light of the underground cave system. The different attempts they had made buzzed around in her mind.

“Don’t be a baby,” Paige said. “There’s nothing those two can do we can’t manage.”

“Then what do you suggest we try next?” Lux asked.

Frisk rolled up to a sit and turned to face the others. “Maybe we can recount what we’ve learned so far and see if we missed a weakness?”

“It’s worth a try,” Fuku said.

“Okay, the first thing we know is it’s stupid apart from running away,” Blaze said.

“Are you even taking this seriously?” Paige asked.

“It also likes the deeper pools of lava and is big,” Lux added.

“It jumps around through space which makes getting ahold of it difficult,” Ash said.

“Oh, and it doesn’t like treats.” Fuku flashed brighter for an instant as she recalled. “It must not eat normal food or wood.”

“That’s a lot of don’ts and no clear way forward,” Paige said, plopping herself onto the grass in a huff.

“Well, we know that even a few drops of water sprinkled onto the lava makes it come up to the surface,” Frisk said. “And that the ropes are designed to be escape proof.”

“Yeah but it’s gone faster than we can rope it, even if we get it to come out higher than just its snout,” Blaze said.

“Ideally, we would make a retracting collar of sorts that we could spring tight the second it was out,” Ash commented.

“But he won’t come out even for water if he sees the ropes.” Lux picked up his length of cord and began to fiddle with it.

“If we were able to make the collar and hide it, we could spring it on the second it came up, right?” Fuku asked.

“It won’t come out far enough unless it teleports behind us,” Blaze reminded her. “Unless you lock it in a battle and I don’t think we want to make that mistake again.”

“No thanks.” Frisk grimaced and received a solid pat on the back from Paige who was next to her.

“If we got a water gun and shot it in it’s face do you think it would come out?” Paige asked.

Blaze scoffed. “In a battle stance, maybe.”

Frisk pursed her lips. I’ve dealt with lots of dogs and this is literally the hardest one. Treats didn’t work, it won’t come out for pets and our efforts to pet the heat over it doesn’t appease it like it would Greater Dog. What else?

“You could try rolling around to get it’s scent,” Chara teased, floating down and leaning against her back. “That’s how you handled the love pups.”

Frisk snorted at the suggestion.

“An idea?” Fuku asked.

“I’m just thinking over my past dog taming exploits with Chara,” Frisk said. “Rolling in the dirt to smell like a puppy won’t work and the only other thing we haven’t tried is…”

Frisk started, wondering if it could be that easy.

“Is what?” Lux asked.

“Come on.” Frisk jumped to her feet. “This might just be dumb enough to work.”

Within fifteen minutes they had spotted, but not challenged, the beast and prepared the ropes into the snare like Ash had suggested.

“Mind cluing us in on what you’re planning?” Blaze asked.

“I’m going to get it to jump out. Hopefully.” Frisk stood back with her vault pole in one hand, a water bottle in the other, and her pliers primed and ready on her hip. “Duck down and be ready to trap it when it comes up.”

The hotheaded elemental didn’t particularly like the answer, but didn’t need much prodding to do what he was told.

“Is everyone ready to do this and feel really stupid if it works?” Frisk asked once everyone was in position.

“Go for it!” Lux said alongside a chorus of assent.

With a deep breath and a stomach full of butterflies, Frisk raised the bottle overhead and sent a cascade of water onto the sizeable stretch of lava near one of the widest banks in Hotland. There were no conveyers, bridges, or vents nearby either to distract them or trip them up, only a few harmless bumps and ridges.

The droplets hit the surface, steaming and forming a few dark spots where they managed to connect.

“Come on, pupper!” Frisk bounced on the balls of her feet with her pole now in both hands as she waited.

As it did every time, the lava hound responded to liquid, irately rising to reheat the tainted material back to its molten state.

“Hey Lava Guy!” Frisk shouted when she saw it. She switched the pole to her right hand. “FETCH!”

Turning on her heel she threw the pole, arcing it like a spear across the room. The others almost laughed at the ridiculous attempt which might have cost them the catch. They held it together and when, with a bound that was graciously less messy than the first time, it left the pool they snagged their ropes taunt.

“No! Too soon!” Ash called as the ropes closed around the canine’s snout instead of continuing to the neck.

It shook its head and Frisk didn’t waste any time running forward and jumping on its muzzle as the others cried out, being jerked by the ropes they held. Hanging by her left hand, Frisk pulled the pliers off her belt and worked to line them up with the largest fang, the only one sticking out with its jaw clenched.

The hound snapped it’s head up, all but Blaze and Paige losing their grip on the ropes. Frisk felt her left hand slip, her body weightless for an instant before gravity began to work again. Determination was pumping through her veins like blood, steadying her enough in that second for her to find the other handle of her pliers and squeeze. Physics did the rest of the work as Frisk’s light body still out weighted the force needed to break the fang free of the gums.

The ropes fell away and the hound was gone before Frisk hit the stone below. The others raced to her side, cheering and hollering at their success as the tooth was held aloft.

“I can’t believe that worked!” Paige said.

“That’s why I didn’t say what it was. I didn’t think anyone would take me seriously.” Frisk panted and blinked furiously, her face scrunching and flexing.

“I probably wouldn’t have,” Blaze admitted.

“Well, the good news is we finally did it,” Ash said.

“You say that like there’s bad news,” Lux teased, pushing his brother.

“Well…”

“Oh my gosh, Frisk are you hurt?” Fuku asked.

A quick glance spotted a jutting rock near her head that was redder than it should have been.

“Everything looks fuzzy and my head hurts a little.”

“How much is a little?” Paige asked.

Ash stopped her as she reached to offer a hand up. “Can you move your legs?”

Frisk sat up over the protests of the others who moved to support her.

“Your head is bleeding.” Fuku started pulsing healing energy into the spot.

“You don’t say?” Frisk smiled.

“This is not the time for jokes, your brain is in there.” Lux scowled at her.

“You’re very good at human anatomy,” Frisk commented.

“Paige get her legs let’s take her to the lab, it’s closer than home,” Blaze said.

“I can walk.”

“No, you can’t.”

Dr. Alphys looked carefully over her instruments as Frisk groaned, face down on the blue couch Sans had insisted on keeping in the lab. The pain of falling two stories, slowed only by a jerking tear in her arms, had begun to catch up with her. Her head felt like it was repeatedly peeling itself apart like an infinitely cracking coconut and her ears rang while her vision focused and unfocused. A bag of ice was pressed onto the back of her head by Paige, the only one who could safely hold it aside from the doctor.

“W-well, she definitely has a mild concussion. Um… I-I think it might t-take an exp-perienced healer to take care of it. T-the thing is you can’t rush or… or you might m-make it worse.”

Frisk groaned. “I don’t understand, I’ve fallen like that before and it never hurt this bad.”

“You normally die right after,” Chara said.

Frisk cracked an eye open against the light and tried to focus her sight on her floating soul companion. The fact that Chara was at her foot and what she took for him was a glare from where Lux and Fuku overlapped in her vision would have hit home just how hurt she was if anyone knew it was happening.

“You’re right,” Frisk said, letting her eye slip shut. “Okay, help me outside to the intersection with the boat dock.”

“What? Why? Don’t move!” Paige pushed down on the ice, trapping Frisk in place as she pushed with trembling limbs at the couch cushions.

“It’s fine…” Frisk whiffed an arm behind her in an attempt to free herself. “We won’t lose the fang. Alphys help.”

“I-I don’t like where th-this is going, Frisk,” Alphys said, looking wide eyes and small pupils at the squirming girl. “W-what are you planning?”

“Just take me to the star. It’s just outside. I’ll save and roll off the ledge. When I reload, it’ll be better.”

Even the computers in the room seemed to go silent.

“F-frisk, I don’t think th-that’s a good idea,” Alphys finally said, pushing up her glasses as they slid down the nervous sweat on her beak.

“Don’t worry, none of you will remember and I’ll be back and fine before Sans gets here.”

“N-not to argue b-but the fact th-that we’re t-talking about it now means… means we’ll remember.” The scientist explained. “And o-once you’re better, I think w-we need to talk about why that is a… really bad idea.”

“It hurts Alphys.”

“I know and I-I’m sorry but I can’t let you. It’s n-not good for you.”

Frisk whined. “Sssaaansss”

“I’ll t-tell Sans, if you want, but he’ll s-say the same thing, I’m sure,” Alphys said, bringing out her phone. “P-probably.”

Frisk groaned, tears escaping as she buried her face into the cushions. The others stood around staring at each other, trying to wordlessly decide if she had meant what they thought as Alphys made her call.

The doctor did her best to work on the injury as she waited for Sans to arrive. A crack in the skull was something he would be better equipped to deal with, after all.

When he arrived, he placated the worried stares of the group. “she’s just in a lot of pain. human bodies are made of different stuff, after all.”

Monsters are made of magic and dust and pain is more an emotion that something real and physical. Pain medicine wasn’t something they needed aside from a hug or a cup of something strong from the bar.

“i’m just gonna move her down to the dark and away from the noise. why don’t you give these kids the core safety spiel since I heard they think it’s a good idea to hop around out there.”

When she checked an hour later, Frisk was laying in a bed asleep, Sans hunched over the bed and sleeping as well. Alphys sighed, grateful it was over, before she scanned to see how much progress Sans had made. It was impressive, only some mild bruising seemed to remain, it was almost as if she had only bumped her head. Sans work still managed to surprise her, even after all this time.

Chapter Text

“You know you’re not supposed to kill yourselves while doing this training,” Rhea said as she entered the laboratory. “The first one I get, accidents happen, but how did you wind up at death’s door twice?”

“W-well, this was one of t-the reasons we though Frisk should… should participate in these exercises,” Alphys said, coming around to the door from her computer desk. “She um… She has b-become reliant on the reset phenomenon.”

“And that makes her an above average risk taker?”

“Y-yes, actually, since she usually… usually j-just resets if she dies, there is no r-reason for her to fear death. Statistically s-speaking, no self-preservation instinct w-will lead to m-more risk-taking behavior. As will depression in… in some cases.”

Rhea placed a hand over her mouth, eyes knit. “I’m guessing she won’t have this ability when she leaves the timeline.”

“Not just th-that, the original h-holder of the t-timeline will lose their reset ability until… until she leaves. And… well, with this behavior b-being formed w-while young…”

“It’s engraved into her memory,” Rhea concluded.

“Correct,” Alphys said. “S-sans should be explaining n-now the consequences. A-also I wouldn’t let h-her use a reset t-to fix her h-head injury. I hope she w-won’t be too upset later.”

“She’ll be fine. It’s going to take big things like this to hammer in the message. She won’t get the opportunity to make the same mistakes from now on; our practice dummies are guaranteed ghost proof so she won’t have anyone to attack back for a while.”

“Th-that’s good. I’m th-thinking the others will have s-something to say to her t-too. They m-might not buy th-that it was j-just the pain t-talking.”

Rhea nodded. “It’s what family’s for. But, since we did have a success, does it meet your needs?”

“I KNEW we were getting it for them!” Blaze shouted down from the second level as he eavesdropped on the conversation.

“E-exceeds it, actually,” Alphys replied. “I m-made an adjustment f-for the added size b-but the signal c-comes in much better than an-anticipated.”

Alphys led the way back towards the desk and a new wall of screens to the right of the initial set up. Each of the nine panels displayed images of familiar faces in familiar places with subtle differences highlighted.

“Each o-one of these should b-be its own universe,” Alphys said. “We can o-only observe for… for now but… s-soon we’ll be able to create th-the transport.”

“And those will have the people we need to make the reset machine?”

“don’t know yet,” Sans said, emerging from the elevator to the true lab with Frisk at his heel. “those are just test locations that should be close to us. actually, it’s more likely they DON’T have who we’re looking for. as we work to figure out the portal opening, we’re also trying to figure out a way to check for how safe and how different each one is.”

“R-right, since w-we have n-no way to… to scan for the m-monsters we n-need,” Alphys said. “It p-probably won’t be as… as cut and dry as w-we would like.”

“Sounds like there’s still plenty to figure out,” Rhea commented. “Which means we have plenty of time to get you to lose your death happy habits.”

Frisk wilted, arms crossed over her chest and tucked away as much as possible and eyes averted. “Sorry,” she said softly. “I got carried away again.”

“don’t sweat it kiddo, just keep working on it,” Sans said, giving her a pat on the shoulder. “and remember what i told you.”

Frisk nodded, smiling weakly.

“Come on, it’s time to go!” Rhea called up the stairs.

Five pairs of feet clamored down the steps while Frisk gave side hug to both Sans and Alphys, apologizing for her actions to the later.

The others greeted her, eagerly confirming her safety before following out of the lab.

After dinner and several lectures, Frisk sat down on the oversized bed in the oddly below the floor bedroom. The green sweater was back on, as was typically the case whenever she was out of the direct heat of Hotland, even in the warmth of summer that still permeated New Home.

“Does your head still hurt?” Fuku asked nearing where Frisk sat. “I can try pulling away some of the pain at least.”

“It’s not so bad,” Frisk said. “I’ve just got a lot on my mind.”

“You mean like what you said while your head was broken?” Paige asked from the far end of the bed near the wall where she lay on her side with her head propped on her palm.

“I never realized how much I relied on death. I’ve been so terrified about it with everyone else, but when it comes to me, I just… sort of expect it to happen. I’m afraid that I’m going to fail everyone because of that.”

Frisk wrung her hands, eyes fixed on an indiscernible point in the distance. Fuku sat next to her and wrapped an arm around her shoulder.

“What’s it like to die?” Paige asked, catching the others off guard.

“Paige! Don’t make her think about it,” Fuku scolded.

Frisk raised a hand to halt her, pulling her legs up and turning in so she could see both. “It’s okay. I don’t mind. I don’t know if it’s what most people experience, or if it’s what it’s like if you die for real, but when I reach that point, it’s like the world just… falls away. Everything is replaced by the void. Pain is muted, physically and emotionally, and you’re just there in the darkness… surrounded by eternity. I can usually hear a voice, calling out and telling me not to give up. Sometimes they’re my memories. Other times, they’re Chara’s.”

“Do you like being there?” Paige asked.

“Not really,” Frisk said, scratching the back of her head before folding in on herself. “I think I got my fix of that place after seven years. Just thinking about that emptiness for too long sends a chill down my spine.”

“So you were alone that whole time?” Fuku asked, unable to contain her curiosity.

“No, besides Chara and the other six souls, I could feel and even hear others somewhere in the darkness.”

Frisk’s voice trailed off. When she didn’t resume, Paige prompted her again.

“What did they say?”

Frisk took a sharp, startled breath. “I don’t remember? I know that, for a time, I thought I knew. I understood everything. But once I was back, once the world was back, it just vanished like a dream. Sometimes I think…”

Frisk frowned, digging her nails into her sleeves and rubbing her arms together roughly before she was stopped by two pairs of hands.

“Sorry. Sometimes, I wonder if they were other Frisks like me, who had made the same mistakes. Other times I think about Gaster and his followers and wonder if it was them trying to reach out. Then, when I think about what we’re planning to do, I wonder if… maybe… by bringing those people back if we’ll just be replacing them with others who won’t be able to exist anymore.”

“What do you mean?” Fuku asked as she rubbed gently at clenched fingers in an attempt to unfurl them.

“Like, Monster Kid is ten. He was born just before all this started happening. I guess he’d be safe but, anyone younger might never get the chance to be born.”

“I don’t think so,” Paige said. “If anything, the fact that they exist now guarantees they’ll still exist later. But once you change things, maybe even more will exist.”

“What makes you think that?” Frisk asked.

“Well, take Sans or Mr. Grillby. They’ve spent all this time working overtime trying to figure this out. Maybe without the distraction, they’ll be able to focus more on family and have some more kids.”

The possibility sent an unknown feeling through Frisk’s gut.

“I don’t know about all that but I do think that life finds a way,” Fuku said. “Just the crazy things you’ve been involved in with the princes Chara and Asriel should be a testament to that.”

“Maybe you’re right…” Frisk admitted.

“Hey, and we’re all over ten anyway so we don’t have to worry about not meeting up after,” Paige said before yawning.

“We should try to rest,” Fuku said as her friend began to slump. “We have a full day of training tomorrow.”

“You’re right.” Frisk rubbed at sore and tired eyes before crawling up to the middle of the bed and burying herself in the covers.

“Um… Frisk?” Fuku asked as she settled in as well.

“Hm?” Frisk asked in the green glow of the room.

“If they bother you so much, do you want to try wrapping your arms tomorrow? It might be easier not to think about them, and cooler than a sweater.”

“Sure.”

Silence settled across the room until a whistling snore erupted from Paige. Frisk smiled, having grown accustomed to the noise. It was a small comfort, like the mild soreness on the back of her skull, that she was alive. The solidity and warmth surrounding her helped edge the concern from her mind long enough to drift off into a deep and dreamless

CLANG CLANG CLANG!

Frisk jumped in bed, air filling her lungs painfully as she flailed among a mass of equally displeased limbs and voices.

“What the–” Paige was cut off.

“Rise and shine!” Azar shouted, a pair of pots in his hands.

“It’s time to learn!” Keahi added, armed in a similar fashion.

Frisk blinked and flicked her eyes about to her groaninging bunkmates as she struggled to reel in the thrumming beats of her heart.

From down the hall, or perhaps below it, they could hear Rhea. “I said wake them up, not give them a heart attack!”

“And they are up!” Azar called back with a wide, bright yellow grin. “We’ll do the boys next!”

“We heard you from here! What is wrong with you two?” Blaze shouted.

“You know, they’ve been asking for years, still no answer,” Keahi said with a shrug.

Frisk snorted. “If you two teach Papyrus to do that, Sans’ going to be so upset.”

“Motivation!” Azar teased.

After shooing the pair from the room, the girls pulled themselves together for the day and headed down to breakfast. Frisk nudged the cotton wrappings on her arm, adjusting to them but agreeing that she felt both cooler and less aware of her scars.  

The boys followed soon after, taking swings at the twins on their way down the steps.

“No sparring indoors,” Fiammetta said. “And you two clean those pots before you put them back where you found them.”

“Yes, mom,” came the unanimous reply even as lines of rage and unspoken challenges passed between them.

The morning resettled until the group of six marched after Rhea to begin their day’s training.

“Why do we have to keep going in Hotland?” Paige asked as they skipped over vents to their destination.

“Because it has the widest open spaces on the main road,” Rhea said.

“And? I’m sure there’s a park or something in the capital somewhere that is wide enough.”

“Maybe if you have enough control not to destroy the surrounding houses. But until you’ve had time to practice, we’re not going to take that risk.”

A sinking feeling in her gut told Frisk she was being referred to indirectly.

“Now, today’s lesson is magic use,” Rhea announced. “We’re going to take the time to ensure everyone has their basic arrays down pat, which will be review for most of you.”

“Um…” Frisk didn’t want to interrupt. I can’t even read stats. Humans can’t do magic like monsters.

“Don’t worry, Frisk, I didn’t forget you.” Rhea held out her hand. “Take these.”

Frisk took the four stones that were dropped into her palm. Red, blue, white, and yellowish brown: they pulsed and quivered in her grip, sending odd tingling sensations through her.

“These are magic element stones. There is a fifth type, but healing is for another day. For now, I want you to spend the day practicing with these and finding one that you are most comfortable with. It will take some time to get used to.”

“Okay,” Frisk turned each one of the small, oblong stones over, feeling each one call out.

“Line up near the dummies, don’t worry they’re empty, and take some time to warm up. We’ll move on once everyone is ready.”

Chapter Text

Thin, weak, trembling; a miniscule tongue of fire fizzled out against the wood of the practice dummy with a paltry one hit of damage. Frisk slumped forward, panting disproportionately hard for the result she had achieved. She grumbled with frustration: after a week, she still couldn’t do more than crudely manifest whatever she worked to summon.

“I just don’t get it,” she grumbled to Chara as the others all practiced larger and more intricate moves. “I thought the way fire and earth felt meant they would be easier, but somehow it’s just as bad.”

When holding the stones in her hand and pulsing minute bursts of red soul energy through them, the fire and earth stones had reacted by rattling with excitement. Yet try as she might, Frisk couldn’t seem to make either manifest.

“It may be a bit harder for you at first,” Rhea had said when she first aired the complaint. “If your soul is connected to another, it will only extend the time needed to learn how to properly control your energies. Don’t worry too much, you’ll get it.”

“Don’t try to blame me again, I’m pulled back as far as I can,” Chara said in the present as he thought he felt the beginnings of such a sentiment forming.

“I know,” Frisk replied with a sigh. “I’m not trying to blame you. I’m just frustrated. There is no reason this should be so hard.”

“Well, I’m not the one saying it,” Chara said. “But yeah, why are you having such a hard time?”

“If I knew I wouldn’t be struggling, now would I?”

“Maybe? Knowing the problem and having the solution aren’t really the same thing.”

“But if I had the question I’d know where to start looking,” Frisk said. “I’m just falling farther behind while Sans plows ahead. He’s going to be ready before too much longer and I’ll just be wasting time.”

“Aw, don’t say that, you’ll get it.”

Frisk jumped and turned around, startled by the sudden arrival of Keahi and Azar.

“Whoops, did we spook you?” Keahi asked, with an apologetic grin.

“Just a little.” Frisk laughed as her heartrate fought to slow. “Sorry you had to walk up on me complaining.”

Azar waved it off. “Don’t apologize, we totally get your frustration.”

“We’re actually here to help!” Keahi posed by bringing up her fists and staggering her stance.

“Really?” Frisk was both curious and doubtful.

“Yep,” Azar confirmed. “You see, due to your situation, you’re facing having to do something advanced just to get started learning magic.”

Frisk tilted her head. “How’s that?”

“Well, normally there aren’t two souls to deal with at the same time,” Keahi said. “At least not at first.”

“Having two souls attached is more like using a unity attack than just a normal attack. You have to balance both souls well enough to get an attack off at all.”

Frisk pressed her face into her hand.

“Well, we know what we were doing wrong now,” Chara said.

“When you say ‘balance’ what exactly do you mean?” Frisk asked.

“I think you said something like it has happened before,” Keahi said, recalling what she had directly and indirectly heard of their story. “Maybe even stronger than what we’ve managed to pull off.”

“It’s a kind of soul resonance,” Azar explained. “It’s a uniting of hearts and wills to complete a single task.”

A multitude of thoughts crossed Frisk’s mind, none of them particularly pleasant.

“We’ve never really done that on purpose before,” she said, advertising that as her largest hang-up.

“Yes, but have you ever tried before?” Azar asked, pointing a finger with his other hand on his hip.

“It’s not the first thing on our to do list, we never saw it as a necessity,” Frisk replied, avoiding eye contact. “And Rhea didn’t really say it. Maybe she just assumed we already knew.”

“Not all of our siblings have put in the effort to use joint attacks like we have,” Keahi explained. “So, they might not think of it, even in a situation like this.”

“Also, aside from us, only Grillby has done extensive work with element stones. And he used them for something completely different.”

Azar produced a fire element stone that was half the size of the one Frisk had. The edges were smooth from repeated use since their childhood.

“Why do they need that if they can use magic?” Chara asked and Frisk passed along.

“It let us focus on how we could merge our soul energy without also having to work to build an attack back when we first started,” Azar said. “Watch.”

Azar held out his hand with the stone in his palm. Keahi reached her hand out and hovered it over his. The faint, uncolored hue of their soul magic mingled together causing the red crystal to glow vibrantly. A ball of red fire, much different than their normal navy and golden flames, formed and with a unified shift they flung it forward at the dummy, engulfing it in a blaze.

Frisk flicked her eyes back and forth during the entire demonstration. From their hands, to their attack, to the way she could faintly see their inverted white souls deep in the dark light of their chests. Her head felt fuzzy as she took in that final detail, something she was in no way expecting to see. She blinked a few times and the sight was gone, as was the feeling, and she attempted to write the entire thing off.

“What do you think?” Keahi asked, drawing the wandering mind back to attention.

“Impressive but…” We’ve never had a positive experience linking like that. “I’m not sure I know how to do it still…”

Frisk felt guilty the second a wave of hurt flowed into her from Chara. Was it wrong to fear what neither of them could help? Something they were both equally guilty and innocent of?

 “You won’t get it straight away, we said it was difficult,” Azar teased. “We’ll walk you through how to practice and you can work from there.”

“Right,” Frisk attempted to speak with her typical enthusiasm.

“Okay, so step one,” Azar said. “Call out your soul.”

Frisk complied, tinting the hot region further red with the vibrant glow from her soul and the necklace that still slowly pulsed along with her own rhythm. She held her face neutral as every eye turned towards her and as the twins directly peered at the twenty-nine LOVE.

“Good. Have you ever found where Chara’s soul is attached to yours?” Azar asked.

Frisk flinched and knit her brow. “What do you mean?”

“Another way to put it is; have you seen his soul yet?” Keahi clarified.

“I thought his phantom that only I can see was his soul.” Frisk looked up at Chara who looked just as confused.

“Nope. That’s a soul manifestation. It’s why no one else can see him but you. See if you can find where his soul actually is.”

Frisk looked at the locket first, reaching down and inspecting it.

“I don’t think it’ll be there; you haven’t had it the whole time,” Chara said, turning his attention to her soul instead.

“Well, it’s not normal for necklaces to beat, so I thought it was worth a shot.” Frisk continued to look at the pendant, watching the movement of the stone. “Besides, just because it wasn’t there the whole time, doesn’t mean it can’t be in there now. It was with you when you died and when your fusion with Asriel fell apart. I think it makes plenty of sense.”

“Then how did I link up with you before then?”

“I don’t know. We’re in some crazy reality partitioned off from the rest of space time which is the only reason any of this can happen at all!” Frisk took a deep breath as she felt her temper flare up like the stifling heat around her. “Look, just do the thing where you pull on my soul like you did when you activated the void or when you took over during our melt down.”

Chara continued to look thoroughly unconvinced, and perhaps the slightest bit apprehensive, but he complied. Closing his eyes to concentrate, he went through the motions normally performed under dire emotional circumstances.

Frisk shuddered as she felt the tug, the feeling of lost control. Steeling herself, she stoically avoided fighting back as her soul began to inch towards the locket.

She held off gloating and did not stop him as her soul began to touch the necklace. It was slower than it ever had been before, making the sensation of his soul snaking out tendrils of energy to latch onto her amplified.

Frisk continued to bide, even sending out the occasional pulse of encouragement when it felt as if Chara was struggling. She was grateful he was distracted; it made her plan all the easier to formulate and execute.

As they grew close enough for his thoughts and emotions to blend with her own, Frisk snapped into action, pulling back while holding tightly onto the link between them. Chara screamed as his soul was pulled out of the stone and into the open, small and fluttering as it nestled onto the side of Frisk’s.

“Put it back!” His voice was frantic, pleading as he started to undo his hold.

“Just give it a minute,” Frisk commanded, her soul pouring out energy as she fought to keep him from fleeing. “Stay close to mine, it’s fine.”

“It isn’t!” Chara insisted, panic mounting. “It’s too much, too big, I can’t…”

Growing silent, he focused on fighting away.

“There he is,” Keahi said, smiling at the miniscule deep red soul dwarfed by Frisk’s. “He’s fluttering so much.”

The elemental reached out a hand and hovered it gently over Chara’s soul letting green healing flames flow into it. She watched as the dark burgundy lightened to deep crimson and the erratic movements calmed to steady beats.

Frisk, similarly soothed by the nourishing warmth that seemed like a cool balm in the desolate heat of Hotland, watched the disease melt away into begrudging peace on Chara’s features. Still united, though less than needed for any kind of control, the gentle security was able to pass from one back to the other, amplifying as each internalized and relinquished the sensations.

Both loosened their grip as the feeling grew until they were both floating on their own save for the single tie that had bound them since the beginning of their journey together.

“Much better,” Keahi declared when they had settled to her liking.

Azar nodded. “Good. Now, when you’re ready, I want you to try mimicking what Keahi and I did. Let you soul energy flow into the stone and expel it.”

Frisk’s soul settled back in her chest as she held out her hand with the fire stone in her palm. As she had done before, she let the energy flow out into the stone. Chara mirrored the action, causing his soul to float over to the stone along with his projection. He held out his hand over Frisk’s and his soul began to glow, moving his own energy into the mix.

It was small but solid, leaping out and hitting the dummy square on, igniting it in a burst built by united efforts.