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The World, Upside Down

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            Something soft and light landed on Frisk’s face, waking them. Blinking sleep from their eyes, they tried to lift their arm to grab whatever touched their face and could only yelp. “Ah-! Son of a…”

            Why do I feel like I got slammed by a semi truck? Groaning, they forced themselves to sit up—whatever was on their face fell harmlessly into their lap. After a moment to gather their wits, Frisk opened their eyes and glanced down. Caught in the folds of their jeans was a small, perfectly shaped golden flower. I know this flower—it’s one of those golden flowers, their brain supplied them after a moment as it skipped through memories until landing on one of the gardening lessons Asgore had taught them. I haven’t seen one of these in years. I thought they only grew on Mount Ebott. Frisk twirled the flower’s stem between their gloved fingers for a moment, trying to figure out why it had fallen onto their face before they gave up and looked around.

            Ah.

            Well then. Looking up explained why their body ached so bad—soaring high above their heads was a long cavern of jagged rocks, the drop off so deep it was a wonder their bones hadn’t been smashed to pieces. Frisk paused and frowned up at it before nervously looking back down, paying closer attention to their surroundings. Their stomach dropped at the sight of the bed of yellow flowers below them.

            Well. Fuck.

 

 

 

            Sixteen years ago, a small child climbed up a mountain. Mt Ebott was a place of stories—that the ground itself was cursed so that all that walked upon it died, that it was the home of ghosts and venturing up it meant you were either spirited away or that you were killed by one of their tricks. For reasons only Frisk knew, they’d climbed up the mountain that no one returned from only to show up again a day later, leading a race of monsters to the surface and into normal human life.

            The transition hadn’t been easy—being an ambassador between humans and monsters hadn’t just been a joke of a title after all—but things mostly sorted themselves out.

            For sixteen years, Frisk had kept a solemn oath, a promise that they would never, under any circumstances except for literally world ending ramifications, reset. And for sixteen years, they’d kept that vow, sticking it out through life’s curveballs and little troubles.

            And now, here they were, sitting in a small patch of familiar golden flowers, in a cavern deep in a mountain with enough pain in their body to be reasonably sure that they’d fallen. Just as they had sixteen years before.

            Don’t panic! They thought between gasps. God, they hadn’t hyperventilated in years. You can’t just accidentally reset—no, that’s not how it works! Besides, you’re not eight again are you? So, it can’t be a reset. They were still in the clothes they’d been wearing earlier—the tank top, the jeans, the hiking boots, the sweatshirt tied around their waist, even the gloves they had tugged on as they climbed out of the car they’d rented that morning. Their hair was still tied up in a short ponytail at the base of their skull.

            But then again, they hadn’t reset since they were eight years old their traitor brain reminded them. What if they had reset, but got to keep their current body from when they had reset?

            Oh god, what if I did reset? What do I do—what do I say to-?

            Wait. Stop it. Breathe.

            They forced themselves to take deep breaths, counting in their head until their breathing started to slow.

            Now then. What was I doing before this happened? Did I get hurt? Could I have died and reset? If I could just-

            Wait.

            The mountain—they had been mountain climbing. Not Mt Ebott, but they could clearly remember the trip up the mountain. They’d left early that morning, wanting to reach the summit before nightfall since they only had the weekend off. They could remember the cries of birds and bugs, of the wind rushing through the trees, and the feeling of the sun beating down on them as they left the trees into—

            The clearing.

            They froze. Yes, that was right. They’d stepped out into the clearing and that’s when things had gotten weird. Oh, it’d been ordinary enough at first—just a small gap where some trees had been cleared, leaving stumps perfect for perching on to take a break. Frisk hadn’t planned to take a break, but the hike had been thirsty work. They’d just stowed their water bottle back into their bag when they heard it. The soft, distant voice of a child crying on the wind. In a moment, all they could think was that some kid had gotten separated from their family and was now wandering around lost in the woods. Without a second thought, they turned, ready to rush into the woods to find the lost child, but they stopped dead in their tracks.

            The voice might have been a child’s, but it was a monster who stood on the other side of the clearing. The memory was vague; hiding in the shadows of the trees made the monster look like a shade as well. But then it had held out its hand to them, some desperate question on its face. They’d walked over, reached for it, and then—a tug, a pull, and

            Falling. The monster pulled me back to Mount Ebott? Relief, rather than anger, washed over them; they would have flopped backward onto the flowers again if their back hadn’t immediately protested. I didn’t reset, that’s the important thing—but that monster, they looked like they wanted help, didn’t they? Maybe they’re down here, waiting for me to find them and help them. They frowned; they’d thought they’d helped all monsters escape the mountain, but maybe they’d been wrong. This poor monster must have been suffering alone, while everyone else left. While not all the monsters had left the Underground at once, only a small handful had hesitated, staying to safely shut down the Core before they too left to join the rest of monster kind on the surface.

            Alright then. So, this monster probably has something to do with why I’m here—and might need help. Well, Frisk, you certainly aren’t doing anyone any good sitting around while there’s work to be done. They smiled—it was easy to imagine that it was Papyrus trying to encourage them. With a groan and a sigh, Frisk looked around again and brightened at the sight of their backpack lying next to them. Another point in the theory that this wasn’t a reset—they’d never gotten to take their things with them during a big reset like this. To be fair, they’d only done one complete reset and that…

            Well, never mind that. Maybe I have something in the bag for aches. They dragged the bag over and began to root through it. Luckily, there was a bag of candies that Toriel had made for them that they had planned to eat after they climbed the mountain. But, seeing as that wasn’t going to happen, they might as well use the candies to heal up. Digging out a few, they popped the sweets into their mouth, humming in appreciation for the taste as well the gentle warmth that radiated out, easing the pain in their body until it was nothing more than a faint memory.

            Thanks, Mom. You always pull through for me in the end, even now. Smiling with renewed energy, they tucked the bag of sweets into a front pocket of their pants, stood up, and climbed out of the patch of flowers. Dusting themselves off, they shouldered their backpack. Frisk took a step forward, but then paused and looked back. After a moment, they slipped the bag back off their shoulder and knelt, clasping their hands before them. Sorry for never visiting, Chara. I hope your rest is a peaceful one.

            “I missed you,” they whispered, gazing at the flowers one last time before grabbing their bag and straightening. “See you around, Chara.”

            With one last smile, they turned and walked out of the chamber.

            For all their days, Frisk was fairly certain that they would be able to walk through the Ruins blindfolded and never miss a step. But stepping out of the chamber gave them pause. Well shit, I guess things have changed since I was here last.

            The next chamber had once been nothing but a small room where they’d met a certain charming but soulless prince turned flower. Now it was filled with fallen debris of rocks and mysterious pillars that Frisk knew couldn’t have been in the room originally. Where the hell did all this junk come from? Is someone trying to seal up the entrance to the Underground?

            They flinched at the sound of faint, muffled crying, like a child trying to hide their sobs. Isn’t that a familiar sound, Frisk thought as a chill shot down their spine and their heart ached. Determined to find the source and comfort them, Frisk ducked below one of the stacked columns and looked around.

            There, in the thick shadows, beneath more debris, Frisk could see movement. Had someone been trapped in a cave-in? Gritting their teeth, Frisk crawled on their hands and knees, sliding into the small gap. “Hey, you okay, little guy?”

            A startled gasp and more movement—the figure was even smaller than they’d expected. It must be a monster then. “Wh-what? Wh-who are you? Where did you come from?”

            “My name’s Frisk. I was in the room back there and thought I heard something, so I came to check.” A thought sparked in their mind. “Was it you I heard calling for help before? Were you the monster I spotted on the mountain?”

            “What? I… no, no—this is a trick!” the figure screeched. “You can’t trick me!”

            That voice. Frowning, Frisk reached into their pocket and dug out their phone; they paused seeing that there was no reception, which was odd but not as odd as everything else going on, but shrugged and turned on the flashlight function. The tiny crevice beneath the rubble lit up in the harsh white light of the phone, causing the figure to flinch and cover their face with a squeak. Looking at them, Frisk nearly dropped their phone. “Flowey? I—what happened to you?”

            Frisk hadn’t seen Flowey once in the sixteen years since they left Mt Ebott, respecting his wishes to be left alone without telling anyone else about him—they’d often wondered what had happened to the monster prince. Now, looking at him, Frisk could tell the years hadn’t been kind to the soulless flower—his petals were torn and ragged, his stem bent and thin, his face dirty. Frisk hadn’t seen him in such a sorry state since the six souls had nearly torn him apart during their escape from him in their first successful run of the Underground. Still, even then, there had been a gleam of cold fury and pride—even when he’d cried, it’d been out of frustration. This time, his tears only highlighted the pure panic in his eyes. His whole body shuddered as he tried to look intimidating.

            “Flowey?” Frisk tried again, voice gentle. “Flowey, what happened? Who did this to you?”

            Flowey flinched and leaned away as they reached for him. “S-stay back!”

            This is all so bizarre, they thought, allowing themselves just the tiniest portion of agitation as they reached closer to Flowey. “Flowey, stop that—it’s me. You know I’d never-”

            Before they could finish, Flowey screwed his eyes shut and screamed. “I said leave me alone!”

            The world crackled as magic surrounded them. Before them, Frisk felt their soul materializing into a shining red heart. Around them, a whirling ring of seed shaped bullets circled them, closing tighter around their soul with every revolution.

            Frisk yelped in surprise—they hadn’t been in an actual battle in years, let alone one with Flowey. With their low LV, Flowey could shred their soul without a second thought. “Ah! Flowey, what the hell?!”

            “You can’t trick me! I—I won’t let you kill me!” he cried.

            Frisk froze, trying to figure out what they could do to talk to him, but gazing down at him, they realized that it wouldn’t be necessary.

            The closer the bullets inched toward their soul, the more the flower shook and his voice grew more distressed. Finally, as the bullets spun in a loop just wider than Frisk’s shoulders, Flowey cried out and the bullets vanished.

            Cautiously, Frisk glanced around, waiting for a new trick, but the flower only sobbed wretchedly before them.

            “I can’t!” he wailed, tears running down his face. “I just can’t! I-if this world is kill or be killed, t-then I would just rather be killed.” He lifted his face and sobbed. “J-just kill me already! I’m just a stupid, pathetic excuse for a monster anyway. I don’t care anymore—it doesn’t matter.” He choked. “It doesn’t matter…”

            Frisk waited for a long moment, but Flowey didn’t attack again. He seemed too focused on sobbing his heart out. Slowly, carefully, Frisk reached out again and touched one the damaged petals—they frowned when they realized it looked like something had taken a bite out of the flower. Flowey flinched beneath their fingers; murmuring gentle nonsense sounds, Frisk reached into their pocket and pulled out the bag of monster sweets.

            Flowey glanced up at the sound of them rustling the bag of sweets, eyes widening as they pulled one out and held it before his mouth.

            “Here,” they offered softly, holding it patiently. “It’s just monster candy. You look like you could use some.”

            For a moment, he gazed up at them with uncertain eyes. Then his shakes began anew. “I-it’s poisoned, isn’t it?”

            Frisk frowned at him and then made a point to pop the candy into their mouth in clear view, sucking on it purposefully before swallowing it. He gazed up at them in confusion as they dug another one out and held it to him again.

            This time, he gazed down it, trembling as he looked torn. At last, he lunged forward and nearly bit their fingers as he grabbed it with his mouth. He barely bothered to savor it before swallowing; instantly, his eyes widened as his battered form glowed with renewed health.

            Smiling down at him, Frisk dug out another and offered that as well.

            Cautiously, Flowey took it again—this time even his more superficial wounds healed, leaving only the large gap in his petal. It must have been an old wound for the candy not to heal it.

            “Want another?” Frisk asked, offering him the bag.

            He eyed it momentarily before glancing up, his face awash with confusion. “Why?”

            “Why what?”

            “Why are you being so nice to me?”

            In spite of themselves, Frisk had to smile as they tucked the bag back into their pocket. “Well, why shouldn’t I be? You just seemed scared because you were hurt and cornered. I wouldn’t hold that sort thing against anyone. Sorry that I scared you.”

            He still frowned at them, cocking his head to the side as his eyes narrowed. “In this place, anyone else would have killed me.”

            They glanced up at him sharply. “…how grim. Why so certain that everyone’s out to get you?”

            He tensed up. “I don’t think anyone’s out to get me. I’m not crazy! But, the monsters around here—they’re just as violent and bloodthirsty as the rest of them.” He slumped. “There’s just… less of them here to find me.”

            Frisk paused, trying to parse what that meant. What was Flowey’s game here? He was so different than they remembered him—well, as a flower at least. His true form with his true emotions, however—that didn’t sound too far off. He himself had admitted to being a crybaby after all. And he still didn’t recognize them—had he somehow forgotten them? That didn’t explain the presence of murderous monsters in the Underground, unless some bad seeds had decided to go back to Mt Ebott to cause trouble far from the watchful eyes of surface dwellers. Still, it wasn’t like Flowey wouldn’t have been able to fight back. This Flowey was so timid and scared. Furthermore, he didn’t seem to recognize them at all.

            Maybe this wasn’t the Flowey they remembered. Had they reset then? A botched reset maybe, done unconsciously? But then, could someone even botch a reset?

            This was going nowhere fast—they needed to find Sans or Alphys, anyone who understood the concept of or knew about resets. At least they could point Frisk in the right direction. So, that meant they were probably going to have to go through the Underground again—but first, they needed to get around the roadblock of the collapsed room.

            “Flowey, I’m sorry that some of the monsters have been treating you cruelly. I’ll see what I can do about them, but first, I gotta get out of here. Is there a way for me to get through here?”

            He blinked up at her for a long moment before finally speaking. “No—this took a lot of effort to make.”

            “You made this? Why would-” Was he trying to protect Chara’s resting place from anyone trying to disturb it?

            “Why? Why wouldn’t I? It’s the only way to stay safe.” He frowned and glanced away, face dark. “After all, it’s not like she ever visits past here anymore.”

            Frisk’s heart lurched. “She? Who’s this she?”

            Flowey never got a chance to answer. On the far side of the rubble, something exploded. Rocks rumbled and the debris above them began to buckle. With a yelp, Frisk reached down and dug their fingers into the ground below Flowey. With a single, hard yank, they pulled Flowey out—thankfully, he seemed to have realized the danger and pulled his own roots loose from the soil so that they weren’t yanked off when Frisk pulled him out. Frisk shimmied out as fast as they could, then overbalanced, and flopped onto their back, rolling out of the small space that was quickly flattened as the pile of debris fell into itself.

            “You okay?” Frisk whispered, sitting up.

            “Okay? Okay!” he hissed shrilly. “What the hell was that?”

            Frisk glanced around and was relieved to spot their cell phone, still in one piece. Grabbing it, Frisk thought for a moment about putting Flowey down to let him put his roots down, but then there came another explosion—dust rose and the rubble shifted again. Quickly, Frisk shoved their phone into a pocket and grabbed their backpack before standing. No sooner had they straightened than the whole thing exploded once more time; this time the dust particles flash burned as well, creating a giant fireball that sent Frisk scrambling backwards.

            “We’re dead,” Flowey squeaked. “Oh, oh—put me down! I-I maybe I can get away before she-”

            Another fireball shot into the room—Frisk darted to the right and let it sail harmlessly past them. Flowey squealed again and squirmed out of their hand to shimmy up their arm and onto their back, clinging to the straps of the shirt they wore.

            Frisk spared him one short look before turning to see who was tossing fireballs so carelessly. In the dim shadows and smoke, a silhouetted figure advanced forward. Bracing themselves, Frisk waited for the figure to reveal themselves, but when they did Frisk nearly fell backwards.

            “Mom?” they whispered, baffled.

            The figure looked like their mother—how many goat shaped Boss monsters were there left besides Toriel and Asgore anyway?—but only if their mother had gone through a goth inspired mid-life crisis and then hadn’t slept in a month. Gone were the stately purple robes or the simpler clothes they’d seen her wearing just days before. Now Toriel was decked out in black and red. Her eyes were sunk into her face and there were heavy bags below them. She looked like she’d soon as bite you as kiss you; sooner at that.

            *It appears you are not in Kansas anymore, Toto.

            Frisk jumped at the sound of a voice they had not heard in sixteen years. Chara?

            There was a shift in the back of their mind, like a ghost fluttering in the shadows. However, nothing came forward and Frisk told themselves to pay attention to the current problem.

            “Well, well,” Toriel’s doppelganger spoke, taking another step in, flames still wreathing their hands. “I thought I’d heard the weed talking around here again, but I didn’t expect it to be talking to a human. What a… interesting find.”

            Flowey moaned and slumped behind their shoulder. “We’re dead. So dead.”

            Frisk tried to keep their frown steady, hoping their lip didn’t tremble as they spoke. “What’s going on here?”

            “Oh, I’m sorry. What a terrible creature I am, attacking such a weak, foolish human without so much as a how-do-you-do. Forgive me,” Toriel began, her smirk sickeningly sweet before bowing mockingly. “Greetings, human. I am Toriel, keeper of the Ruins that you are now trespassing in.”

            This must be what Alice felt like after she fell down the rabbit hole, Frisk thought wildly, trying to keep their face straight while Flowey trembled behind them. Whatever’s up, she doesn’t recognize me, like Flowey. Maybe I should play along for now until I can figure out what’s going on with someone who isn’t going to fry me.  “I see. My apologies, Toriel. I seemed to have gotten a little off the path. I’d be more than happy to get out of your fur, if you’d be so kind as to show me the way to the exit.”

            Toriel’s eyes narrowed. “Well, at least your manners aren’t lacking.”

            Frisk couldn’t help a tiny smile. “What can I say? My mother raised me right.”

            For a moment, Frisk thought they saw something flicker behind Toriel’s eyes—not recognition, per se, but something like déjà vu. Whatever it was though, it faded fast, leaving something coldly unamused in its place. “It’s too bad that your mother didn’t teach you that there are consequences that come with breaking certain rules.” She grimaced as the flames around her hands grew brighter and bigger; her sarcasm vanished as her mouth twisted, like she’d tasted something bitter. “You should have never come to this mountain.”

            Frisk held up their hands placatingly and crouched as if to kneel down submissively. In reality, it was only to brace themselves. Just as well because Toriel didn’t waste any more time chatting; the moment Frisk moved, they were surrounded by her magical aura and the fight displays popped up. This Toriel has no interest in tossing a weak leveled fireball at me and I doubt she’s going to stop at just one wave.

            Well, I didn’t survive ten years worth of training not to recognize a hopeless fight when I see one. Without a word, they chose to Flee.

            Toriel gasped in outraged shock as Frisk ducked past a fiery blast and shot out past her, ducking into the other room. Without waiting for a moment, Frisk took off running. In the next room, the shadows of the Ruins loomed above them, but it was not the same visage that Frisk remembered—somehow, the Ruins seemed, well, more ruined. The shadows they cast were darker, the spires crumbling, the bricks falling down. The leaves that littered the ground were ground into tiny specks, as if someone had spitefully crushed every single one. Rather than wonder on it, Frisk darted up the stairs to the left, noting that the ones on the right were falling apart. Ducking into the next room, Frisk was relieved one moment to see the door on the far side was already open, but then felt an uneasy pang when they realized the reason for that was that someone had smashed the puzzle buttons. Judging from the char marks around them, Frisk had a pretty good guess who it was that broke it. The angry shriek that came from the room behind them only seemed to drive the point home.

            In the next room, they nearly slipped as they turned right hard, catching themselves with one hand before they raced onward, jumping over the dry ditches and crumbling bridges. The puzzle was again broken, although the spikes were protruding slightly from the ground so Frisk had to hop over them.

            Frisk skidded to a halt as they entered the next room. Flowey banged against their shoulder at the abrupt stop and squawked half out of surprise. “Y-you idiot! What are you doing? Don’t stop here! Keep moving!”

            “But that’s-”

            The Dummy that had stood, patient as a sentry, in the Ruins was nothing more than a charred husk on the ground. Physical attacks meant nothing to a ghost monster, but magical ones could hurt them—had the ghost been destroyed in one of Toriel’s attacks? Or had it fled its body to find some safer form? Frisk hoped it was the latter. Reluctantly, Frisk turned and hurried into the next room while they heard Toriel’s blast strike something in the room behind them.

            Scrambling through the next room, Frisk ground to a halt at the bridge of spikes. “Shit.” What path is this puzzle again? Toriel led me through it without any help the first time, so it’s not like I needed to remember it. Which way?

 “Hurry it up! She’ll be coming through here any second now!”

Sure enough, Frisk could hear the sounds of running coming closer. Frisk stared at the bridge for a moment and made a decision. Ducking to the side, Frisk slid down into the ditch—half dried out, the water went up to their waist. There, under the bridge, was plenty of room to hide. As quietly as they could manage, they slipped under the bridge, ducking down until the water went halfway up their chest. It made for an uncomfortable fit, especially with their soaked socks and boots, but any complaint went out of their head the moment they heard Toriel rushing through the puzzle above them. They waited for a lengthy moment as Toriel ran ahead into the next room.

Long minutes stretched on as the sounds of Toriel’s charge faded in the distance. Finally, Frisk crawled out from under the bridge and back out of the ditch. Cautiously, Frisk pressed their foot against each spike to test and see if it would retract before they made any final step. It was slow going as even the correct spikes were reluctant to move but they managed to pick their way to the other side.

            “Well, that was an adventure,” Frisk sighed, untucking their shirt from their pants to try and wring it out. After a moment, they yanked off the sweatshirt to wring that out as well. Their socks made disgusting squelching noises, but Frisk didn’t dare wander around these ruins barefoot. They had to hope they could find somewhere safe and then they could maybe root around through their bag, see if they’d packed an extra pair of socks. Until then, they were just going to have to deal.

            Flowey scoffed. “An adventure? You really are crazy. What on earth made you think you could pull that off?”

            “I’m a fast runner. Besides, it worked. Don’t know what you’re complaining about. We’re both alive, and that’s the important part.”

            The flower rolled his eyes at them. “Look, I’m grateful that you didn’t get us killed and all, but I’d appreciate if you just put me down and then let me go on my way—before you really do get me killed.”

            “Flowey, wait. Do you… really not remember me?” Frisk bit their lip; Flowey had always remembered every reset, even when Sans could only guess, but Flowey knew. If this Flowey really didn’t remember them…

            “Am I supposed to?” he sighed, exasperated.

            “Well—look, just talk with me while I walk and I’ll try and explain… our predicament.”

            “Fine, just… just start walking.”

            Frisk obeyed, entering the next room—the room was one of the long halls, thankfully empty, its traps disabled. Were all the traps in the Ruins disabled? Frisk didn’t doubt Toriel was the cause of at least a few of them, but why would she destroy all of them? Was she so foul tempered?

            “You’re supposed to be explaining,” Flowey reminded them, voice dry.

            “Sorry, thinking—where to begin. Okay, look, I’ll be blunt. This isn’t my first time in the Underground.”

            Flowey shifted, sidling closer to their head. “Well, that’s not so crazy. You’ve been acting all familiar since you first spotted me. So, this isn’t your first run of the Underground.”

            “No, it isn’t. Or, at least, it’s not the first time I’ve been through an Underground—but this place… it’s very different from the place I was before.”

            Flowey straightened and nearly shoved his face into theirs, startling them so they almost tripped. “What do you mean, different?”

            Frisk frowned, tilting their head away. “Well, for one, the Ruins were a lot better kept than this.”

            Flowey sighed and pulled his head back. “Yeah, they’ve seen better days. It used to be that monsters took care of the Ruins. But now with Toriel running around, blasting everything in sight with fireballs, the place is falling apart.”

            “That’s another thing. The Toriel I knew back there would never just randomly attack anyone. She was kind and… motherly.”

            Flowey fell silent and remained so.

            “She tried to protect the human children who fell into the Underground.” Frisk paused as a thought came to mind. “Not that I’d ever heard of any human adults falling down, now that I think about it.”

            “Probably because adults are smart enough to stay away—well, most adults,” he added.

            They had to smile at the thick sarcasm in his voice, but it faded fast. “I’ll be honest with you. I have no idea how I got here. I woke up here, but before that, I’d been climbing a mountain in a whole ‘nother country.”

            “…really?”

            Frisk nodded with a frown. “Yeah. I only remember seeing someone standing in the shadows, looking like they were wanting help. I walked over to them to try and help them. Next thing I know, I woke up here.”

            Flowey was quiet for a moment before he began to abruptly sigh. “Crazy. Definitely crazy.”

            “Whatever, it’s what happened.” Frisk paused and then went on. “In that other Underground, there’d been a Flowey there too.”

            Flowey was quiet; when he spoke, he tried his hardest to sound disinterested. “Oh? And what was he like?”

            “Well, when he saw me, he’d tried to trick me and then kill me. He definitely believed in ‘kill or be killed’ too.”

            Flowey shuddered. “He’d fit in here. Better than I do,” he added under his breath.

            They paused—they’d come to the end of the room. Rather than go on, Frisk leaned against the wall. Better to stop in this empty place than keep going, perhaps walking right into another monster or Toriel herself. “Do you really not remember me—nothing at all’s familiar?”

            “No,” he answered firmly. “I’d remember you… but, then, it’s not like I’m actually like your Flowey at all either, right?”

            Frisk sighed. “No. Definitely not.”

            Flowey idly tapped a root against their backpack for a moment before speaking again. “Back in that other Underground… what was it like there?”

            “What do you mean?”

            “What were the monsters like—was it ‘kill or be killed’ there too?”

            Frisk blinked at them. “Well, no, not really—most monsters just seemed to prefer to play around than fight. Fights with them were more because they were trying to get you to do something, like, um, listen to their jokes. Or hum a tune with them.” Frisk sighed. “Even the really serious fights, when it was supposed to be to the death… those monsters, they didn’t really want to fight to the death. They just… couldn’t see a better solution.”

            Flowey was very still and quiet for long enough that Frisk thought he might never reply. Finally, though, he did speak. “This world… used to be like that too. Monsters used fights more like a way for communicating than actual duels. It was just… another way to talk, you know?”

            Frisk smiled to themselves. “Yeah. I know.”

            “But then… something happened. Something bad.”

            Frisk glanced back at them, expression thoughtful. Where was he going with this? “Yeah?”

            He nodded, face serious before he glanced up at them. “The King and Queen of this world, they used to look after everyone down here, but then something awful happened. Their children died.”

            Alarmed, Frisk turned to glance at him full on—they’d gone through the entire Underground back then before some monsters finally told the sad tale of their monarchs, and yet here was Flowey, blabbing the secret right off the bat. They felt Chara flinch in the back of their mind—or they thought they did, they still weren't entirely sure they'd just imagined the voice. Frisk decided to ignore them for now; they had bigger problems. “That happened back there too.”

            Flowey grimaced and looked away. “Yeah, well, after they died, the king… he’s the one that started all this. After his children died, he was the one to declare that it was ‘kill or be killed’. Since then, monsters were encouraged to fight and attack each other.”

            They nearly tripped over their own feet as they whipped their head around to gape at him. “What?”

            “He said it would ‘toughen them up’. Make it harder for humans to kill monsters that way, make it so they could put up more of a fight.” Flowey wilted. “Nowadays, monsters pick fights all the time. Survival of the fittest and all that junk. This… this world… it’s all wrong.

            Frisk glanced at the floor and tried to wrap their mind around the idea that Asgore—sweet, dorky, gentle, and clumsy Asgore, who had read them stories and taught them everything he could about gardening—had gone down such a dark and cruel route. Even when he had six children put to death, he’d done it all for his people, to restore their hopes and dreams. He abhorred violence among his people and with humans—the idea that he would approve of monsters hurting each other… Frisk could barely grasp it. Asgore was kind, but he had darkness in him—but hadn’t they changed his mind once? Maybe they could do it again.

            It wasn’t like they had a better shot than it anyway—unless they could find Sans or Alphys and see if they could think of something, Frisk’s best hope was escaping the Underground the old fashioned way. And then there was that mysterious monster from the mountain—maybe if they could find that monster, maybe they might be able to explain what was going on.

            “Right then,” Frisk murmured as they straightened away from the wall. “So, Asgore’s the one who made this… law.”

            “Uh, yeah?” Flowey answered, sounding baffled by their tone.

            Frisk took a steadying breath. “Okay. So, he’s the one I gotta see if I want to fix this mess.”

            “What!” Flowey’s voice seemed to jump a whole octave higher—quite a feat, and a painful one for the both of them. “Weren’t you listening to anything I said? I tell you that this guy is the source of all these troubles and you’re first thought is ‘oh, I think I’ll go have a nice chat and cup of tea with him’?”

            Frisk smiled slyly. “I could actually go for a cup of tea, now that you mention it.”

            Flowey gaped up at them for a moment before frowning. “I honestly can’t tell if you’re joking or just crazy, but either way, put me down. I don’t want any part of whatever it is you’re planning.”

            “Fair enough. You’ve been more than helpful at explaining things.” Carefully, they reached over their shoulder and offered him their hand. Once he wrapped his roots around their palm and fingers, they lowered him to the ground. He slid off their hand and buried his roots into the ground instantly. With one last smile, Frisk straightened. “Thanks for everything, Flowey. Be seeing you.”

            He opened his mouth, but then paused. It took him a long moment, but he finally spoke. “Maybe you are crazy, but take care of yourself, Frisk. Toriel might be the scariest monster in the Ruins, and I really doubt you’ll get past her, but if you do, I’m warning you that there’s many more monsters just like her on the other side, so… so look after yourself.”

            Frisk nodded, still smiling. “I will. You take care, too.” They saluted him casually and turned to leave, but stopped at the long sigh behind them.

            “Wait.”

            Frisk glanced back; Flowey was half drooped to the floor, watching them with an odd look on his face. “Yes? You need something before I clear out of here?”

            “I… I can’t let you go on your own. You won’t know how to get through the rest of the traps and I owe you my life.”

            They started to open their mouth to ask what he meant, but then they remembered Toriel’s first attack, where they dove and scooped Flowey right out the ground. Maybe he’d been too startled to think of retreating downward to escape, maybe this Flowey couldn’t do that trick—or maybe he just wanted an excuse to come with them. Frisk smiled; no matter which it was, what did it matter? “It’d be nice to have a friendly face around. Thanks, Flowey.” They walked back to him and knelt down, offering him their hand again.

            Flowey carefully freed his roots from the ground and wrapped them around their fingers. “Yeah, well, it’s not like I can stick around here for much longer—Toriel’s gonna try even harder to kill me now that she thinks we’re working together.”

            “We kind of are,” Frisk teased, picking him up and letting him climb onto their backpack. “But let’s worry about all that stuff later. Let’s get going.”

Chapter Text

            “Well, that’s a little disconcerting,” Frisk muttered as they stepped into the next room. There were three piles of burning leaves crackling away, leaving the room clogged with smoke. This set off a swarm of Whimsuns flying wildly through the air as they choked on the smoke or flew too close to the fires and had to flap away, yelping. To the left of them, two Whimsuns flew into each other and crashed to the ground, screaming and hurling insults as they wrestled around.

            “Wow, I haven’t so many monsters in one spot in the Ruins in ages,” Flowey muttered.

            “Smoke might have scared them out of hiding?” Frisk suggested, frowning as one slammed into a wall.

            “Idiots,” Flowey grumbled. “Don’t worry about them—they’re fools and cowards and they’re easy to dodge.”

            Frisk frowned at the scene around them, but said nothing as they carefully sidestepped and ducked out of the way whenever a monster got too close. One Whimsun, however, wheeled through the air and nearly smacked into Frisk.

            “Watch where you’re going!” the little monster screamed, revealing rows of sharpened teeth that Frisk sure as hell didn’t remember seeing in any other Whimsun’s mouth. Too late to back out now, though—the world went black and white and Frisk’s soul appeared before them. Whimsun chattered angrily, rubbing a singed wing as it glared up at them.

            Watching the monster baby the wing, Frisk tried to smile and reached into their pocket. “Hey, I think I have something that can help you there. Do you want some-?”

            Flowey gasped behind their shoulder. “Are you an idiot? Don’t offer your enemy medicine!”

            “You can’t trick me!”Whimsun snapped and began to attack.

            With a sigh, Frisk dodged and weaved through its attack. When it was done, they pulled out the bag and offered it a monster candy from inside. “Are you sure you don’t want one? It’ll help you out.”

            This time it paused, eyeing the bag with suspicion and longing as it rubbed its wing again. It mustered a weak growl and sent another attack, this one more pitiful than the last. One last time, Frisk offered it the bag wordlessly; this time its chin trembled for a moment before it reached out and snatched a candy before shoving it into its mouth. It moaned at the taste and then gasped as its health was restored. Gazing up at them with wide eyes, it fluttered in place. “Y-you… you really were trying to help me?”

            Frisk smiled. “Of course. Do you feel better?”

            Whimsun scowled and fluttered further back. “You—why would you do such a thing?”

            “Really? Does everyone have to have an ulterior motive around here? Fine, if you really need a reason, let’s say…” They paused and shrugged. “Let’s say you were in my way.”

            The monster boggled at them. “In your… th-that… who on earth would treat their enemy such a way? I—I don’t understand!” It cried and fluttered away, too confused to linger.

            Frisk watched it go with an amused look on their face. “Well, that went well.”

            “I cannot believe that worked,” Flowey muttered. “Oh god, now they’re all staring at us.”

            True enough, the swarm of Whimsun were all watching, every one of their faces full of shock or confusion. As Frisk’s gaze fell on them, they scrambled away, ducking out of sight behind debris or out of the room entirely.

            “Tough crowd,” Frisk murmured.

            “Ugh, let’s us get out of here. Down that way.”

            Obeying, Frisk walked out of the room, keenly aware of the many sets of eyes following them on the way out. The next room seemed simple enough, with no clear puzzle or trap in sight.

            “The middle of the floor is weak in here,” Flowey told them. “If you step on it, you’ll end up downstairs.” He shot them a serious look. “You don’t want to end up down there.”

            Frisk raised an eyebrow. “Why’s that?”

            “There’s nothing down there but an oubliette with spikes.”

            Frisk considered the floor with a healthier level of respect. “Duly noted. I’ll just have to jump it.”

            “Just try not to fall through the floor.”

            After a running jump, Frisk cleared it without a second thought. Walking into the next room, there was another pause. Toriel had destroyed this puzzle too—the rock, for one, was stuck fast because the floor underneath had melted a long time ago, trapping the rock in place. Beyond it, the barrier of spikes were scorched and broken, some even pulled out of their tracks. Frisk picked their way through them and carried on.

            The next room’s trap was also alarmingly solved—the floor was missing except for the walkway. Rather than pause to wonder about it, Frisk just moved on. Their shoulders slumped to see that someone had solved the next room’s puzzle as well through violence.

            Before they could enter the next room, a Froggit ambushed them. Lunging at them, it sent a wave of fly shaped bullets before Frisk even knew what was happening.

            Oh, what the hell is this—I get ambushed before I can even take a turn now? These monsters just don’t know how to play fair, they thought, exasperated. Now, what worked on Froggit before? Complimenting them? Well, let’s trying killing them with kindness. Once they got a chance at their turn, they flashed Froggit a winning smile. “That’s quite the attack you got there. Do you work out?”

            Rather than flatter the monster, it only flinched backward, confusion in every line of its body. Shaking the confusion off, it croaked angrily and fired another wave.

            Well, that didn’t work. Time to change tactics. Dodging all the bullets landed them directly in front of the Froggit who was horrified to see them so close. Landing in a crouch, Frisk shot Froggit a more unsettling smile. “Hey, when a person compliments you, you should thank them or compliment them back. Otherwise, the situation could turn unpleasant.”

            The Froggit promptly began to cower before them, trembling as it tried to back away. “Y-you,” it began as it bumped into the broken spikes, leaving them nowhere else to go. “You have… nice… hair?”

            Frisk paused—had an opponent ever actually complimented them back? Still, I’ll take it as a good sign. Time to spare! They gave him a small smile and took a step back. “Why, thank you! If only everyone was so polite. Now, if you don’t mind, I have places to be. Why don’t we just forget this whole thing and be on our way?”

            The Froggit eagerly nodded and then scampered away. Watching it flee, Flowey only shook his head. “Don’t get cocky cause you managed to spare a couple fools. Sooner or later, you won’t be able to escape the ‘kill or be killed’ way of this world.”

            “You’re just a little ball of sunshine, aren’tcha, Flowey?” Frisked asked as they shook their head and danced around the broken spikes.

            The next room was thankfully empty—Frisk took a moment to stop and dig out a dry pair of socks from their bag, tossing their wet ones into a side pocket nonchalantly. While their boots were still damp, they dried out fast enough that putting them back on was only unpleasant rather than blister threatening. Cheerful for their change in their more comfortable footwear, Frisk marched into the next room with high spirits.

            For a moment, Frisk almost mistook the room for being empty. The only thing that seemed to be in the room was a pile of dead leaves in the middle of the floor. However, as they stepped closer, they spotted the faint outline of something vaguely ghost shaped. Frisk brightened. Napstablook! Oh goodness, I forgot, this is where I met them, wasn’t it? God, that was so long ago. Well, time to meet another old friend.

            Without a word, Frisk reached out and nudged the ghost with a toe. All they heard was Flowey’s startled gasp, but before Frisk could glance back at him to figure out what his problem was, the shadow on the leaves went pitch black and whipped around to face them.

            "DID YOU JUST TRY TO MOVE ME, ASSHOLE? I’m not in the mood!” the ghost shrieked, making Frisk yelp in surprise. They started to take a step back, but too late—the world went monochromatic again as the ghost floated upward.

            “Holy shit,” Frisk muttered. Where was the sweet but painfully shy monster they’d known? Alright, it was dumb of me to expect them to be the same as my Napstablook, but what the hell, man! They look like they’d take my head off in a second. Shit, here they come.

            The ghost howled, their screams ricocheting off Frisk’s soul, throttling it. Frisk managed a gasp, but barely kept themselves on their feet. Glancing down, they saw that the ghost had already drained their HP a quarter of the way down.

            Well, this is going swimmingly. I gotta get him to calm down quick. Let’s try to *Apologize. Selecting the Act, they cleared their throat and put on their most pleasant smile. “I’m sorry! I had no idea you were there.”

            This did nothing to satisfy the ghost. They roared again, their attack shaving more HP off. “Do I look like some idiot to you? I’ll kill you!”

            An eighth of their HP disappeared; Frisk grimaced. Uh, maybe *Flirt? “Hey, now, how could I ever mistake a dashing ghost like you for some idiot? Obviously, you’re-”

            Napstablook interrupted them with a scream, the attack pummeling them on all sides. “Buzz off, you little twerp!”

            Now they only had half their health left, sending Frisk staggering. Shit, shit, shit! Okay, they have no interest in ‘I’m sorry’s or flirting. That leaves threats—ugh, but how’d that help me? They're a ghost so the only kind of attacks that work on them are-

            The two combatants froze. Just a few rooms ahead of them, there was a familiar roar of frustration and the sounds of something else bursting into flames. Toriel must have realized that she missed Frisk and had doubled back.

            “You… you’re the one that got her in such a fit,” Napstablook hissed, their outline distorting like a shudder.

            Frisk blinked as an idea popped into their head. “Well… it was something like that. She’s the type who’d get steamed if anyone—monster or otherwise—were to show up in her Ruins, no?” They smirked as Napstablook froze. Bingo—they're afraid of her. “Look, how about we call this whole thing off—after all, I don’t think either of us want to get fried by her fire magic, do we?”

            For a long moment, Napstablook only glared at them. They looked determined to attack, but then Toriel screamed again. They abruptly vanished, the world’s colors returning a moment later.

            Before Frisk could sigh in relief though, Toriel’s angry cries snapped them back to attention. Scrambling forward, they ducked into the little alcove at the end of the room. Inside there was only spider webs, but each were empty and a faint burnt odor lingered in the room. Frisk frowned but went silent as they heard someone step into the room beyond. Biting their lip, they waited in agony until the footsteps went on, back the way Frisk had come. Perhaps Toriel had checked this room earlier on her first time through, but Frisk had obviously lucked out now.

            “C’mon,” Flowey whispered. “We don’t have long—she’ll be back in no time and she might check in here when she does.”

            “No kidding,” Frisk grumbled, reaching into their pocket to get out their candy as they ducked back out into the other room; the rate they were going, they’d be out of candy in no time, but there was little they could do about that. The only other healing item they had on hand was too precious to use for such a little hurt. They sucked on their candy, sighing in relief as their health returned. They slid into the hall to the north of the room they had just fought in and nearly stumbled to a stop.

            The long hall was empty, but that was for the best—there were new fires, no doubt caused by Toriel moments earlier, but what really gave them pause was the things lying next to the fires. Piles of ashy dust were scattered across the floor. The truth hit Frisk—the fires from before hadn’t been a mistake. Toriel had been hitting monsters the entire time, leaving behind smoke and dust in each room. They shuddered. Oh god, does that mean that she might have hit a swarm of Whimsuns back at that first room? How many monsters has she killed just now while looking for me?

            “Frisk!” Flowey hissed. “We have got to go!”

            Licking suddenly dry lips, Frisk nearly croaked their words. “Y-yeah. Let’s go.”

            They jogged forward in silence, trying to save their energy and not wanting to linger around each grim attack site. With each room they went through, Frisk bit their lip harder and tried not shudder. What was wrong with world? What happened to their sweet, kind mother? A mother who might have made mistakes—they shuddered at a lingering memory turned nightmare of fire—but such maliciousness just simply wasn’t in their mother’s character. I really am in some awful nightmare world, aren’t I? Oh god, if Toriel is like this, then what’s the world like outside the Ruins?

            They kept walking onward until they at last reached the old, barren tree that stood outside Toriel’s house. It was odd, seeing that old familiar sight in this upside-down world, but looking at it filled Frisk with their old sense of determination again.

            “This is Toriel’s house,” Flowey whispered. Frisk considered telling him that they knew, but decided against it. “We’re going to have to get through here and head out through the basement. Down there is a door that leads out of the Ruins. Just go straight ahead, okay?”

            Frisk frowned. “I’m going to look around first.”

            “Are you—ugh, why do I even ask anymore? Of course, you’re crazy. You’re going to get the two of us killed.”

            “No, I won’t.” They took a deep breath. “Look, I just—if I can find out more about this world, then it’ll be all the more likely I’ll be able to help clear up this mess. Just… just trust me on this.”

            “You really are going to get us killed… just… just do want you like.”

            “Have a little faith, Flowey. That’s all I ask.” Squaring their shoulders, they walked in. Stepping in, they were a little surprised to find how clean the foyer was, but it looked barren in comparison to the one from Frisk’s youth. There was no furniture, no flowers in the hall. Frowning, Frisk poked their head into the living room—again, the only furniture in the room was an old rocking recliner. There were no bookcases or table. Stepping back out, they paused and then hurried to the other side of the house.

            First up, the fallen children’s room; taking a deep breath, they opened the door and cautiously peeked in. To their surprise, the room was nearly identical to the one they remembered. A comfy looking bed, piles of toys, a box filled with different sized shoes—aside from being a little dusty, the room was much the same as they remembered it. Baffled, they stepped out of the room and shut the door. Taking a steadying breath, they walked over to Toriel’s room.

            The room was dark and spartanly furnished. A bed that had seen little use stood in one corner, an old desk sitting at the end. There, on the desk, were some old books. Only one of them was free from dust. Cautiously, Frisk closed the door behind them—rather than turn the light on, Frisk used their phone’s flashlight to guide them to the desk.

            It was a little journal—flipping it open, they realized it was a diary. Reluctantly, they flipped to the front and peeked at the first entry.

            My children are dead. That fool of a king dares to sully their memory by his new edict, but I will not allow him. I’ve taken Chara and buried them here where they will be among the flowers they loved.

            Frisk nearly tossed the diary down then and there. Taking a deep breath, they read on, trying to skim past the more private thoughts.

            *You feel like a disgusting voyeur. But you need to know what caused the once kind queen to go down this path.

            Frisk paused, but there was no time. Skipping through the next few pages that consisted mostly of half remembered jokes, they find a new entry.

            A small child fell into the Ruins today. A tall, sweet boy by the name of Michael. I found him being cornered by some Moldsmals. He tried to act tough and brave, but after I frightened them away, he cried into my arms. When I told him he could stay with me, he hesitated but agreed once I told him that he could have all the pie he wanted there. He’s a silly thing, but already our home is warmer for him being there. For the first time in a long time, I feel closer to whole.

            Frisk’s heart hurt. Guiltily, they skimmed past the next few entries, but stopped at a particularly tearstained page.

            Michael insisted I tell him how to escape from the Ruins. Despite my concerns, I let him convince me that he would be fine out there. That it was time for him to go home. I know that he’d never be happy here for long, but I already miss him dearly.

            I pray that Asgore has seen the foolishness of his ways and will let poor Michael past the barrier. He isn’t meant for this gloomy place.

            Skipping ahead, Frisk’s heart thudded dully at a short entry.

            I overheard a Migosp say that Asgore had a new human soul. I pray that this stupid creature was only lying.

            Pausing, Frisk closed their eyes and flipped forward into the diary. Skimming hard, they learned more names of the other humans and of their personalities—the confident ballerina, the persistently curious bookworm, the wild but driven cowboy wannabe, the kind chef in training, and finally the gentle jokester. Over time, the entries between the arrival of each human grew grimmer. By the time the last child arrived, Toriel believed every monster in the Ruins was actively seeking to murder her newfound children. The last child, a shy but patient little girl of four, didn’t seem to have any of intention of ever leaving their foster mother’s side. Frisk only frowned as they skimmed through nearly two months worth of entries where Toriel actually seemed to brighten a little.

            Abruptly, the happiness vanished.

            A pack of monsters kidnapped my child. I’ve searched all throughout the Ruins—now I’ve learned that rumors have spread throughout the rest of the Underground that Asgore will have a new soul.

            That makes six souls.

            He shall not have another. Monsters do not deserve to walk out of here and into the sunshine anymore. I will never allow them to harm another child, so help me.

            As for the monsters here in the Ruins, I shall make them pay for what they have done to my poor child. No one shall escape me.

            There were more pages, but they left Frisk’s heart hurting and their stomach clenching—they were filled with dark wishes and grim tallies of monsters Toriel had killed inside the Ruins. Always, the persistent belief that monsters didn’t deserve the surface cropped up, as if Toriel was becoming a fanatic to her own thoughts. Monsters were murders and thieves, but more so, they were a threat to humans. Toriel held contempt for human adults, but she didn’t hold the unholy rage for them that she held for monsters.

            Finally, Frisk came to the last entry, one from the day before. A rather short entry, barely four sentences long.

            Tomorrow will be the anniversary of Chara’s arrival in the Underground. I haven’t been out to tend to their flowers lately, but I plan to go there tomorrow. Rubble has been blocking the way—I don’t know who put it there, but I’ve been leaving it in place for awhile in hopes that it would keep monsters away from Chara, to make sure they aren’t disturbed. I’ll decide tomorrow if I want to bake a pie for the occasion or not.

            Flowey snorted over their shoulder—Frisk was sure he meant it to be a scornful sound, but it sounded more like a wet sniff than anything. “So, she does remember Chara. That’s a surprise.”

            Frisk shot him a sharp glance, shutting the diary with a snap. “She’s done all this in the memory of her children. Don’t be unkind.” Somewhere in the depths of their skull, something stirred. Whatever it was though, it vanished after a moment and Frisk forgot to care.

            The flower shifted, but one look at his pout showed it wasn’t because he felt scolded.

            Rather than start a fight, Frisk dropped the diary back on the desk and turned off the light on their cell phone. “Well, I’ve learned all I think I’ll need. Let’s get out of here.”

            “Finally,” Flowey sighed, perking up again. “We need to get going before she comes back.”

            Quietly, Frisk slipped out of the room and hurried back to the foyer. Grabbing the handrail as they started down the stairs, Frisk nearly slipped at the now familiar sound of an explosion outside. Frisk head snapped upward, but they hesitated for a second before they scrambled down the stairs, pausing only once their head was safely out of view. Pressing their back to the wall, the human and flower listened in panicked silence as the front door slammed open.

            Above them, Toriel was breathing hard, although Frisk wasn’t sure if it was from excursion or from sheer anger. They waited as she stood in the foyer, but at last she moved off to the left, into the living room. Was she still searching for them, or had she perhaps finally given up? There was no time to investigate. The moment her breathing faded, Frisk slowly inched their way down the rest of the stairs. Once they were safely on the lower floor, they crept down the corridor.

            Because there was no door to the basement, Frisk didn’t dare bolt down the long hall. Fighting instincts, Frisk kept their pace as brisk and silent as possible.

            All for nothing though—halfway down the hall, just after they turned the corner, something big and heavy pounded down the stairs behind them. Whatever clue she’d found, Toriel knew where they were or at least had a good guess where to check.

            “Run,” Flowey gasped and Frisk obeyed.

            Abandoning stealth for speed, Frisk hurtled down the hall, not caring a wit if Toriel heard them—which she must have because now Frisk could hear her thundering after them. Still, Frisk wasn’t a short eight year old anymore, but at twenty four had been graced with long legs that ate up the distance.

            There was the door, waiting patiently to be opened. Frisk would have smiled in relief if a fireball hadn’t shot straight over their right shoulder to explode against the wall. Yelping, Frisk weaved to the side to avoid the shower of embers. They were off balance, but before they could correct themselves, another fireball fell past, aimed at where their head had just been. They tripped, falling forward, but put their hands down in time to catch themselves. Pushing themselves up, they launched themselves forward. They bobbed and weaved down the corridor until an explosion of fire by their feet made them jump into the small room in front of the door. Perhaps Toriel had grown tired at aiming for their top half and was trying to cut them down at the feet, but another blast slammed into their back and knocked them down.

            Flowey shrieked in fear as Frisk’s backpack caught aflame. Using his roots like tentacles, he skittered over their shoulder and clung to their shirt by its straps.

            Gritting their teeth, Frisk yanked the backpack off and tried to roll it against the ground to extinguish the flames. While they did snuff the flames out, they winced when they realized that the bag was unsalvageable. All they could hope for was that some of the things inside had survived.

            Soft padding paused behind them, freezing them in place before Frisk slowly turned.

            *The Caretaker has caught up with you. There is no escape from her.

           Frisk's throat tightened, but they dared not tear their attention away from the Boss Monster.

            Toriel scowled down at them, flames still wreathing her fingers. “I have to admit. You were one of the most frustrating humans I’ve come across in my entire life.”

            Frisk paused before smiling thinly back. “Well, that’s not that surprising. I’m told I often leave a strong impression.”

            Toriel snorted.

            Time for a gamble. “So, I’m only one of the more frustrating humans you’ve ever met? So, there’s been others just as bad as me? Michael, perhaps? He sounded pretty willful.”

            It was Toriel’s turn to freeze, pupils shrinking to pinpoints. “What did you say?”

            "What are you doing?” Flowey hissed, trembling.

            Gently, Frisk reached up and cupped him in their hand—if Toriel attacked, they could throw him to the side, let him escape during the chaos. “Had a little free time, you know. I decided to see if there was anything of interest. Found a diary.”

            The fires around Toriel’s hands burned brighter. “You—you dare-!”

            “Toriel, I know that you used to help the human children that fell down here. You protected and cared for them in this world when no one else would,” they said, trying to keep their voice gentle and a tad pleading. “You loved them. But more than that, you hate other monsters. So why attack me now? I have no wish to harm you. Wouldn’t I have done so before now? All I want is to leave.”

            Toriel frowned, shifting her weight from one leg to another, the fire never dimming. “I helped human children. You, on the other hand, are not a child.”

            “Fair enough, but I still have no issue with you. Why not let me go?”

            Toriel paused, considering them. “Do you honestly think that I’m going to let you walk out of here—here where a human is probably safest?” Her eyes darkened at her own words. “Even this place isn’t safe for humans. If you read my diary, you know what has happened to every child that has fallen down.”

            “I do. I know about the six souls.”

            “Then you know that with your own, Asgore would have seven souls.”

            “Enough to free monsters,” Frisk nodded grimly, more to just prove that they had indeed read the diary. “But that’s only if they got a hold of my soul.” They set their jaw and faced her head on. “And I have no intention of letting them have it.”

            For a long stilted minute, Toriel looked at them, examining them from head to toe. It felt like a test, like the battle that Frisk had had with their own mother long ago. Finally, Toriel spoke, her tone slow, almost begrudging. “You have managed to survive the monsters here in the Ruins. But that’s no grand accomplishment—I’ve weeded out the monsters here, but out there, there’ll be many more monsters, not like the weak cowards around here. No matter how many you fell here, the monsters out there will not be as easily taken down.”

            She thinks I’ve been murdering monsters along the way here, Frisk thought and tried not to shudder.

            *Still, this could work to your advantage. You decide to play along.

            “Maybe. But then, I did outrun you. And you are no weakling.”

            Toriel looked unimpressed. “Flattery will not sway me.” Still, she fell silent, thoughtful. After a long moment, the fires that flickered around her hands died. “Still, the idea is not without merit. A human on the warpath—a fully grown human at that—throughout the Underground could carve a path to Asgore that would leave you strong enough to strike him down. You could, in fact, finally break us free of this cycle of death.”

            Flowey shivered in Frisk’s hand; absently, Frisk rubbed a circle against one of his leaves before realizing that Toriel might see it as a weakness and stopped. Still, Frisk could clearly remember the prophecy of the Delta Rune ringing in their memories. Toriel intended to make them the Angel of Death, to purge the Underground in the name of her fallen children.

            Taking Frisk’s silence as agreement, Toriel’s face softened for a moment; for that brief instant, Frisk thought they could see their mother peering out of the broken eyes of the monster before them. “I have only one condition. After you kill Asgore, before you pass through the barrier, release the souls of my children. Let them finally be at peace.”

            In the quiet silence that followed, as Frisk nodded their agreement, a thoughtful voice spoke in the back of their mind.

            *In spite of everything, Toriel is still a mother to the last.

            “I will,” Frisk spoke, their voice sounding like breaking glasses, intrusive and unwanted to their own ears.

            Toriel, however, only nodded. “Then go. Go, and bring justice to this forsaken land.”

            With a polite and precise bow, Frisk turned, grabbing their ruined bag before hurrying out the door, before Toriel changed her mind. Once on the other side, Frisk shut it and tried to hold back a sigh. Digging their phone out of their pocket, the examined the bag. It really was ruined—there was a giant hole in the front. Inside, half the contents were scorched—Frisk’s damp socks had helped save a special bottle of monster medicine to Frisk’s relief, but all the food they packed was ruined. So had some of their hiking equipment and maps. All that was left besides the medicine was a half empty pack of cigarettes, a lighter, a spare pair of gloves, and some useless odds and ends. Casting aside the bag and the more useless items, Frisk slipped the what they could into their pockets, even if it left them uncomfortably full.

            “Frisk,” Flowey whispered after a moment—there was silence on the other side of the door, but neither were entirely certain that Toriel had left just yet. “Frisk, are you really going to kill Asgore?”

            “No,” they answered bluntly, as they straightened. “I’d never harm another soul, even if it kills me.”

            “Don’t speak like that,” Flowey scolded, but his voice had no bite to it. Instead, he only looked up at them, questioning. “You said that you’d save the human souls.”

            “I don’t have to kill Asgore to do that,” they murmured, walking away from the door, to the other door at the other end of the room. “I will get through the Underground. I am going to face him. But I’m going to talk him. I’m going to do my best to make him call off this ‘kill or be killed’ nonsense. And then I will free the human souls—hopefully after they help me break the barrier.”

            “How can they help?”

            Frisk paused to shrug and smile down at him. “Dunno. I’ll figure that out when I get there.”

            Flowey was quiet for a moment. “…I knew you were crazy.”

            “Yeah, yeah. But I’m also honest. I didn’t tell Toriel I’d kill Asgore, only that I’d not be killed by him and that I would free the human souls. And I am. If I remember this right, it’s a long walk ahead of us, so I have plenty of time to think about it.” They paused and glanced down at him. “Unless you want me to drop you off somewhere. You don’t have to come with me if you don’t want.”

            Flowey frowned and glanced away. “I… I do think you’re crazy. But then, you got past the Ruins and Toriel and you didn’t kill anyone. You seem to know more than you possibly could about weird things, so maybe you really did come from another world.” He paused, looking back up at them. “I doubt you can do it, going through this place without compromising those morals of yours even once. But… but on the off chance that maybe… maybe you could cause things to change around here…” Finally, he smiled just a little. “Well, that’d be something I’d be interested in seeing.”

            Frisk smirked back at him. “Well then, bud, stick with me and I’ll show things you’ve never seen before.”

            “Like what?”

            Carefully, they offered him their shoulder. He crawled onto it, wrapping his roots around the straps of their tank top. Once he was secure, they smiled. “I’m going to show you a world of mercy.” He laughed a little, shaking his head, but they only huffed a laugh back at him. “Just you wait, Flowey, you’ll see.”

            They turned to the door and reached for the handle, thinking to themselves as they wrapped their fingers around it. You too, Chara. I’m sure that even this world is one worth saving. I’ll show it to you.

            *…

            *You open the door. But what is waiting for you on the other side? A world of murderous monsters or one that can be redeemed?

            *Either way. Knowing you have a long journey ahead and only a single ally at your side, you take your first step forward, filled with determination.

Chapter Text

            The shock of cold air that rushed in as Frisk opened the door sent goose bumps up their arms. Flowey shivered and huddled closer.

            “Whoops,” Frisk murmured, quickly wedging their foot into the door to keep it open. “I forgot how cold this part is. Gimme a second.”

            “Wha-?” Flowey began but fell silent when he saw Frisk untying the sweatshirt wrapped around their waist.

            Quickly, Frisk slipped into the sweatshirt, zipping it up. It was old, faded and worn in places, but it’d do until they got out of Snowdin. Rolling their shoulders so it would settle better, they let the door swing shut behind them as they stepped out into the snow. “You want to stay in my hood and keep warm, or should I leave it down for you?”

            Flowey considered it before sighing. “Leave it down. You don’t want to obscure your side vision around here.”

            “You got it, boss.” Shoving their hands deep into the sweatshirt’s pockets, they started down the snowy path. For a moment, Frisk tried to recall this part of their journey from over a decade before—the memory was a little hazy, tinged with unpleasantness, so it didn’t come easy. Vaguely, they remembered that Alphys should have cameras about, but in this strange new version of the world, Alphys might have better things to do than spy through cameras.

            Trying to think back, Frisk paused as they stepped on something that crunched under their boot. Pausing, they glanced down and frowned. It was woodchips—or rather, wood splinters. Someone had smashed a fallen branch into pieces in the middle of the path, no small task seeing the width of the parts of the log that had survived. This was different—they remembered the log breaking, but that’d been after they stepped over it when it was still whole. They clearly remembered how unsettling it’d been to hear a crack and then turn around to see it pulverized.

            “Weird,” Frisk muttered, stepping over the mess.

            “Everything about this place is weird,” Flowey grumbled. “Just forget that and listen. You have to be careful around here. Unlike the Ruins, this place is crawling with sentries on the lookout for humans.” He shuddered. “There’s one pair you have to look out for—these pair of skeletons.”

            Frisk’s heart squeezed in their chest like a vice clamped onto it. Taking a steadying breath, they tried to keep their mind focused on Flowey’s words but it wanted to wander. Sans and Papyrus. What would they be like in this distorted world? Sweet, hopeful Papyrus would be a godsend right now, but what if he was different here?

            And then there was Sans.

            “Are… are you okay?”

            Frisk glanced back down at Flowey. “Huh? Something wrong?”

            “It’s just… for a second there you looked really…” he shifted about warily, like he was worried they might try to hit him. “Really weird.

            Frisk blinked and tried to send him their most comforting smile. “Sorry, it’s just… well, just an unpleasant thought. You were talking though?”

            Flowey considered them a moment before sighing. “Well, anyway, the bridge is just ahead. Be on the lookout for the sentries, okay? And remember, whatever you do, don’t shake his hand.

            Rather than admit they had no idea who he meant, Frisk resigned themselves to just not shaking anyone’s hand and nodded. “Uh, right.” Facing forward again, Frisk could see the bridge clearly now—they’d been so caught up in their thoughts, they hadn’t even paid it the slightest bit of attention, but now it was staring them damningly in the face. “Hey, maybe I should put my hood up—if no one looks me in the face, then maybe-”

            “Hey, human.”

            Frisk froze; Flowey squeaked his distress and ducked against their neck.

            “Hey, I know you heard me. What’s a matter, didn’t anyone teach you any manners?” There was a loud, pointed step, the snow crunching behind them; Frisk’s stomach clenched up in knots. “Don’t you know the proper way to greet someone is turn to around and shake their hand?”

            Oh, hell, that’s what Flowey meant. Slowly, Frisk turned. When their eyes found the speaker, Frisk paused.

            The monster was, but more importantly, was also not Sans, or at least not the one they’d known for years. Their Sans had always been a lazy dresser, had an easy smile and jovial air. This one looked ready to shank Frisk even though he held his hand out like an offering. Rather than Sans’ blue sweatshirt, stained undershirt, soccer shorts, and slippers, this Sans looked like he actually cared about what he wore. He had a warm looking black coat with a hood trimmed with fur. Under it, he wore a red sweater and black jeans, a black and red striped scarf—he even had on actual sneakers, although Frisk was distantly amused by the fact that he hadn’t bothered to tie his laces. Instead of a casual smile, this Sans smirked up at them, a gold canine flashing in the dim light. His eyes were odd too—instead of a pair of tiny white pupils floating in the shadows of his eye sockets, a glowing red iris shone only in his left eye. Even his voice was different—gravelly, like he’d yelled himself hoarse one too many times.

            Unexpectedly, for all his bizarre differences and generally unfriendly aura, Frisk found their stomach unclenching. They even managed a smile as they turned completely to face him. “I’m so sorry. I let surprise get the better of me. Now, please, let me beg your pardon again if I don’t shake your hand. You see, my hands are both absolutely freezing.” They shrugged with a friendly smile. “But maybe some other time?”

            The strange Sans looked at them for a long, silent moment before flicking his hand away. There, in the palm of the hand he had offered them, was a simple looking joy buzzer. “Oh, well. As long as you’re begging.”

            Frisk bit back a giggle—did he think he was going to intimidate them that way? Frisk had a long list of embarrassing moments against them in their world and emotional blackmail wouldn’t work against them there—this amateur didn’t stand a chance. “Oh, I am. I’d get down on my knees for you, but you see, then my pants will get wet and that kind of defeats the purpose of staying warm.”

            The skeleton snorted at them, looking genuinely amused. “Probably, but it’s a shame I won’t get to see the image of you kneeling before me. I’m sure it’d be very… entertaining.”

            Frisk paused, actually surprised. Oh, he can’t be doing what I think he’s doing. He cannot be flirting back. This world really is bizarre. “Maybe later.”

            He sneered. Without a word, he used his thumb to flick against the side of the joy buzzer. Frisk nearly bit their tongue as arcs of blue lightning flashed out of the toy, throwing wild shadows across the grinning skull before them. “That’s if there’ll be a later.”

            Well, shit, that would have probably fried me. Quickly, they fixed their smile back onto their lips and forced their body to relax back into the easy posture from before, years worth of diplomatic training kicking in. “Well, you’re quite the prankster, aren’t you?”

            His grin was all wicked amusement. “I do love to leave my audience in shock.”

            In spite of themselves, they giggled. “I’m sure they find your jokes electrifying.”

            “You’re really crazy,” Flowey grumbled behind their ear.

            The skeleton seemed to share the flower’s bemusement; he slipped off his joy buzzer as he put his hand in his pocket, shifting his weight from one leg to the other. He was watching them, examining them. At last, he spoke. “You don’t spook easy, do you?”

            They dipped their head in a semblance of gratitude. “Steady nerves are required in my line of work.”

            “And what is your line of work?”

            “Bureaucracy, I’m afraid—rubbing elbows, negotiating. That sort of thing. First one to flinch there gets a lot worse than a punch in the arm.”

            “I’ll bet,” he drawled, not buying any of Frisk’s spiel for a second. It almost made Frisk smile—they never could get anything past Sans. Still, what he said next made them pause. “You know, you look like this isn’t the first time you’ve done this before.”

            It took all Frisk’s control not to shift about at that one. “Met a handsome stranger in a snowy wood before?”

            The compliment actually seemed to through him off for a moment. He blinked at them before clearing his throat. “I meant more like walking into a monster invested world like you owed the damn place. But yeah, if that strikes your fancy, meeting handsome devils in forests works too.”

            He knows. Frisk tried to keep their face neutral as they fought to find their voice. “You think I’ve been here before?”

            He narrowed his eyes at them, but didn’t answer.

            Frisk tilted their head, trying to look innocent. “But I think I would remember meeting you before. Don’t you?”

            “Maybe. Or maybe you might have met someone like me.”

            Well.

            Fuck.

            Shock and worry fought in their mind, but still they found themselves smiling. “Well, one could hardly blame for making a habit of it if I did. Who doesn’t like rendezvousing with handsome strangers?”

            “Tch,” he muttered, shifting his weight again. “I don’t know if I like just being another little meeting in a wood somewhere, babe. Maybe I should just put an end to your little trysts.”

            They were pushing their luck, but he hadn’t pulled them into an actual battle yet. Dare they push on? Putting their hand against their chest, they wore an inviting smile on their lips. “Oh, shall you keep me away from all the other hopeful suitors in the world? Why, how very forward—but at the same time,” they let their smile morph into something sweeter. “Well, I have to admit, it would be hard to refuse.”

            His rictus grin twitched—Frisk waited, searching his face for anger, but at last he finally chuckled. “Babe, I get the feeling that you like leaving strings of broken hearts wherever you go.”

            Frisk actually pouted at that. They’d never intentionally done that before, but it was hard to ignore the truth. They scratched their neck and mumbled. “I just like having a little fun. I try to make sure they have fun too.”

            “Ha! Please don’t tell me you ever try to justify it with some ‘better to have loved and lost than never loved at all’ bullshit.”

            Frisk looked away. “Lost love is nothing to joke about.”

            He paused again and they could have cringed at themselves—now the mood was awkward. So much for trying to salvage the situation. They glanced up at him, trying to resolve themselves for a fight that they were in no way prepared for, but stopped at the look in his eye. The look he wore was pained and something like regretful. “You… you really aren’t the right Frisk at all.”

            Frisk froze. “I didn’t tell you my name.”

            The two looked at each other, tense and wary. Before either could speak, a harsh voice, like a caw of a crow, shattered the silence of the wood.

            “SANS! SANS, WHERE ARE YOU?”

            Startled, Frisk glanced over their shoulder once before looking back to Sans. He blinked up at them, and then shocked them utterly.

            “Run,” he whispered.

            Confused, Frisk did a double take; even he seemed to jolt out of his astonishment at his own voice. But there was no time—before Frisk could run or either of them could speak, the voice was already behind Frisk.

            “Sans,” it hissed, as if the name was bitter in its mouth. “I’m surprised. Have you actually done your job for once?”

            Part of them begged them not to look—whatever, whoever it was, it could not be, mustn’t be who they thought it was—but still, Frisk’s head turned again, glancing over their shoulder. Looking back, Frisk’s heart nearly skipped a beat.

            Honestly, the whole thing would be hilarious if it wasn’t so terrifying. Like Sans, it was Papyrus but so not Papyrus that Frisk’s perception of reality seemed to break a little around him. He wasn’t just taller—which, in retrospect, this Sans was also taller, although he still didn’t go past Frisk’s shoulders—but his face was different as well. The eye sockets were wider and a tad more symmetrical in size—Papyrus’ right eye had always been a little wonky. But where Papyrus always seemed to have to have a friendly or excited grin on his face, this Papyrus’s jagged teeth were fixed in a sneer. His skull had a crack extending upwards from his right eye; red irises glowed in the sockets, much like Sans’. His clothes were strange—a black uniform of some sort, but shredded about the middle and a tattered red bandana around his neck. Frisk couldn’t tell if it was supposed to look fashionable or if he’d just ripped it in some fight. Because this Papyrus certainly seemed like a fighter, especially with that glare in his eyes.

            “Uh, h-hey, boss! Look what dropped into our lap. A human! I, uh, I was just, you know—keeping them busy so you could come, uh, capture them.”

            Boss? Frisk frowned for a moment at Sans before glancing back to Papyrus. Were these two not brothers in this world? The animosity in the air between them might have been a little more excusable then.

            “Were you? I’m pleasantly surprised. Usually your lazy bones are out somewhere napping or sneaking off to go to that disgusting bar. But it looks like you’re not slacking off.” He spared the other skeleton a nasty look. “Although I hope for your sake that you weren’t lying about keeping them here for me. If you were thinking of taking credit all for yourself…” His left eye dimmed and his right eye began to glow like a bright coal in his eye socket. “Then you’d be in for a world of trouble.”

            Before them, Sans had gone deathly still, his eye flickering between Frisk and Papyrus. What was he thinking? They didn’t think for a second that he’d actually been trying to sell them out to this twisted version of Papyrus, but at the same time, Papyrus’s arrival had stolen all his confident air and left him a panicked sounding mess.

            Whatever was going on, it seemed to please Papyrus. He smirked as he straightened to his full height, towering over Frisk. “Whether my brother was slacking or not, it doesn’t change anything for you, human. Right now, you should do the wise thing and just surrender, or you’ll face the wrath of the Infernal Papyrus.”

            For the life of Frisk, for all the long sessions of training and talking to stuffy government people, they could not help the snort that escaped them. Before them, Sans twitched so hard his bones rattled for a second. Papyrus stiffened.

            “What? Does my name amuse you, human? Something you’d like to say to me?”

            Fuck it, I don’t think I could talk my way out of this one anyway. If I’m going to do this, I might as well go hard. “What are you, a thirteen year old edge lord trying to sound all grim and dark? Also, you have a shitty attitude. He’s your brother, for god’s sake. What hell bug crawled up your tailbone and died?”

            For a brief moment, he seemed so stunned, Frisk thought that maybe he’d blown a fuse and was just going to stare catatonic into the air above their head for awhile. Then, Sans made a noise—probably just a muffled gasp, but even to Frisk’s ears, it sounded like a smothered laugh. While a part of them was glad that he wasn’t still freaking out about Papyrus, the sound seem to break the spell on Papyrus.

            “YOU-!” Papyrus shrieked, but instead of speaking again, he summoned an arc of red bones above their head, poised to slam downward at any moment. A wild, furious light glinted in his eyes, but before he could attack, Frisk gasped and pointed behind him.

            “Look! A rock!”

            Half to their surprise, he actually turned around and looked. They didn’t question it though—the Papyrus of their world had always been easily distracted in a fight anyway. This one apparently wasn’t that different in that regard. As he looked, Frisk bolted past him, so that as he turned back around, Frisk escaped once again out of his line of sight. They heard a scream of outrage as they ducked through the bars of the bridge. Wood splintered behind them and a few red spectral bones flew past their head, aiming to block them from the path.

            “Quick, into the trees!” Flowey yelped as more bones flew through the air, one of them smashing into what was once a conveniently shaped lamp. Rather than head directly into the tree line, Frisk ran to the side, ducking behind the sentry station for cover. Above their head, wood splintered as bones cleanly punctured the sides. Papyrus let out an outraged scream, but Frisk had no time to either wonder or enjoy it. Instead, they ran hell bent for leather into the trees.

            Rather than run parallel to the clear walking path, Frisk ducked around trees and hopped over logs heading north until they nearly slid off a cliff. With a yelp as their boots fought to catch a grip on the slick ground, they started to head back south. The entire time, the woods crackled behind them with the sounds of wood splintering and trees falling.

            “There! Get back on the trail, before you kill yourself by falling into a hole,” Flowey shouted, pointing a leaf towards the light that was brightening through the trees.

            At last, they skidded out onto the path, catching themselves with one hand wrapped around a tree trunk to stop themselves. Clutching the tree, they gasped for breath. “I-is he… still following… us?”

            “Papyrus never gives up so easily,” Flowey sighed. “Especially when it comes to people who sass him. What the hell were you thinking?!”

            “Eh… ah… well, to be honest,” they licked their dry lips and shrugged. “I was just kinda… annoyed and figured that there wasn’t really… a chance for me to talk him around. So I said to hell with it and decided to try this way instead. It worked. Mostly.”

            “Mostly!” he scoffed. “Now you got one of the most driven, persistent monsters in the entire Underground after us, and you think pissing him off mostly worked the way you wanted it to.”

            “Something to that effect, yeah.”

            “God, you’re going to get us both killed,” he groaned, putting his face into his leaves.

            “Well,” they grunted as they straightened. “I can put you down on the ground, if you want. You can still try to get away. Hell, I can probably lead him away from you, no sweat.”

            Flowey sighed. “No… no. I made my decision. Time to stick to it.”

            Frisk smiled and started to thank the flower, but they could hear distant crashing in the trees moving steadily closer. Papyrus was catching up.

            Flowey made a noise like he was clearing his throat. “Time to get moving. Listen, this little detour might have gotten you past some difficult traps, but I should warn you, Papyrus has got more traps set up ahead, and you need to be careful.”

            Frowning, Frisk started to jog forward. “Traps? What happened to his puzzles?” Monsters loved puzzles on the whole—sure there were some who weren’t so keen on them, but they were a minority. Half the trouble the Frisk had to deal with as an ambassador came from monsters accidentally annoying humans with their overcomplicated puzzles they insisted on setting up in weird places.

            Flowey shot Frisk a baffled look. “Monsters don’t do puzzles anymore. They spend all their time just trying to stay alive. The only puzzles you ever see down here are either old and broken or ones for people’s houses—and even those are super old. Nowadays, there are just death traps.”

            “That… just doesn’t sound right,” they grumbled.

            “Yeah, well, that’s how it is. Speaking of death traps, you got one coming up.”

            Frisk’s chin went up as they scanned the ground before them. There didn’t seem to be any trap there—just a wide swath of untouched snow. But if Flowey said that there was a trap, they’d believe him—he had no reason to lie to them. “Okay, where is it? And how do I get through it?”

            “It’s under the snow. He’s put mines underground.”

            “Mines?” Jesus Christ, they thought, eyeing the snow suspiciously as they ground to a sudden halt. “He has mines?” Of course, the Papyrus of their world also had some unusual ideas for traps, but he’d known Alphys who’d hooked with up with some of it. Was this Papyrus a friend of this Alphys?

            “Yeah, but thankfully not a lot. I heard him grumbling about costs one day. He only has enough to cover a patch of about six feet wide both ways, but trust me, you don’t want to hit any of them.”

            “I believe you,” they murmured, eyeing the snow again. “Six feet, huh? And where does this patch start?”

            “You see that tree there, the one with the big crack in the trunk that kinda looks like a half circle?”

            Frisk paused to consider the tree. “Looks more like half a heart to me.”

            “Whatever. That’s where it starts. It’s a straight line across.”

            “Right—six feet. Straight across. Can we go around it?”

            Flowey shook his head, his petals tickling the bottom of Frisk’s earlobe. “He’s hidden spikes on the outsides of the patch.”

            “Damn.”

            “Usually I go under the trap,” Flowey hummed thoughtfully. “Put me down—I’ll find a safe path for you to hop across. Then you can-”

            Behind them, there was a loud crash as something came barreling out of the trees. Frisk’s eyes met Flowey’s wide ones and in that moment decided. They turned on their heel and headed back the way they came, walking several feet with their long stride.

            “W-what are you doing?!”

            When they had god back a little ways, Frisk turned again and began to crouch. “Brace yourself, Flowey. I’m going to jump it.”

            “ARE YOU—oh, why do I even ask anymore?” he groaned.

            Frisk grinned. “Hang on tight cause—here—we—go!” Kicking off hard against the snow, they sprinted forward with all they had. Keeping an eye out for the tree marking the start of the minefield, when they got close, they leapt into the air. For one moment, they were weightless, like they were about to take off into flight. All too soon, they came crashing back down to earth, their feet slipping as they tried to land. With a thump, they smacked bottom first into the snow, which would have been more painful if they hadn’t had the cushion of snow to land on. They grinned recklessly, but when they glanced over their shoulder, they spotted a familiar black blur heading towards them fast. With a startled grunt, they tried to pick themselves up in a hurry. As they stood up, their foot caught a stone, tossing it into the snow in back of them as they started to move.

            The world exploded behind them.

            The force of the blast knocked Frisk off their feet and everything went black. The next thing Frisk knew, they were face first in the snow. Their back felt hot and Frisk’s first panicked thought was to roll around in case they’d caught fire. They flipped onto their back before they remembered Flowey. Sitting up, they looked over their shoulder. “Flowey! You alright?”

            The flower reeled back out of their hood, bobbing and weaving drunkenly, like a snake being charmed, before shaking his head. “Blurgh, that sucked. What happened?”

            “I think I accidentally sent off the mines, but I dunno.”

            He shot them a glare. “You don’t know?!”

            “To be honest, I think I blacked out for a moment—look, never mind. Are you okay though?”

            He frowned thoughtfully for a moment. “I… think so?”

            Relief flooded Frisk and their smile showed it. “Thank goodness.”

            He stared before shaking his head slightly. “Look, we gotta go. Papyrus-”

            Behind them, there was an outraged yell. Glancing backwards, Papyrus was just outside the clearing where the trap was, looking down at the mess they made of his trap. Without another word, Frisk picked themselves and began another dash down the trail—with luck, Papyrus would be held up trying to get around the trap to buy them more time.

            “Flowey, which way?” they asked, ducking around a bend in the path.

            “Keep heading forward!” he shouted, hunching back down against their shoulder as they nearly skidded, their feet losing purchase on the snow. “When you get to the abandoned sentry station up ahead, then you’ll have to watch out for more traps.”

            Abandoned? Frisk’s brow furrowed, but they didn’t dare waste their breath asking questions, not with a murderous skeleton bearing down on them.

            Sure enough, up ahead they spotted a sentry station, looking ramshackle and dusty. Just beyond it, the ground looked strangely lumpy.

            “There’s spikes buried under the snow,” Flowey explained as they grew near.

            “Under the lumps?”

            “No. The lumps are there because Papyrus just left the dirt from the holes he made lying around, so now they’re covered,” he said, leaning his head forward. “I’ll tell you where to go. You just try not to screw up!”

            “Got it, boss.”

            Listening to Flowey, Frisk managed to weave and jump over the traps although there had been a close call when they stepped too close to an edge of one and their foot had started to slide into the pit. Thankfully, Papyrus’s own trap slowed him down yet again. While he had to pick his way through the maze of pits and spikes, Frisk started running again.

            “Please tell me there’s no more traps up ahead,” they shouted over their shoulder to Flowey.

            “Some, but you’ve passed most of them! But you have to watch out for the other sentries now—there’s a pack of four dogs for sentries around here and you have to be careful with all of them.”

            Four? Whose missing? Before they could ask, they had to focus on not skidding off the cliffside. They had cleared the thickest parts of the woods that surrounded this end of the cavern, but now it was time for their descent into the Underground proper.

            They ran for as long as they could, but eventually they had to slow down or risk dropping from exhaustion. Slowing to a brisk jog, they took their time looking out for traps and sentries. Sure enough, Frisk had to pause and hide from both Greater and Lesser Dog; watching them, they couldn’t help but shudder. Rather than look like the adorable dogs they’d meet long ago, these two looked nearly rabid and snarled at everything.

            Papyrus eventually caught up as they hid from Greater Dog; it was hard to hear over the wind, but Papyrus snapped a demand for a report. Greater Dog growled, but somehow seemed to give Papyrus a report.

            “And that’s it? You haven’t seen anything out of the ordinary?” he asked loudly. “No trespassers?”

            Greater Dog snarled and Papyrus quickly summoned some red bones to hover around him. After a tense standoff, Greater Dog huffed but shuffled away. Papyrus glared after him before waving away the bones. Turning on his heel, he stalked back the way he came.

            Frisk watched him walk past for a moment before slinking out of their hiding spot and creeping down the path again.

            “That was close,” they muttered as they hurried into the next area. To their relief, Greater Dog had already moved on and was nowhere in sight. Looking around the area though, Frisk had to pause. “Flowey, am I still loopy from that explosion, or is there a plate of spaghetti in the middle of the path?”

            “Oh, I'd say loopy only covers about half of it, but yeah, there’s really a plate of spaghetti there.” He paused and then gave their jaw a warning prod with a leaf. “Don’t even think of trying it.”

            “Insensitive name calling aside, I’m not dumb enough to eat a random plate of food off the ground, thanks,” they shot back before frowning down at the plate. Papyrus in their world had left it as perhaps his most harmless trap; what reasoning did this world’s Papyrus have to do so too? “Is… is it poisoned?”

            “Well, judging by the dead mice around it, I’d think so.”

            Indeed, there were at least four dead mice around the plate, one of them even still clutching a noodle in its forepaws. Shaking their head, Frisk delicately stepped around the food and its victims and continued on their way.

            They kept their brisk pace up until they nearly walked straight into Lesser Dog’s line of sight again. Carefully, they tried to dodge around him, and at first it looked like they would make a clean getaway. But, they’d gone no further than a few yards and ran directly into the married Dogi pair. Like the other dog guards, they snarled and looked raggedy, but there was no avoiding them.

            “Damn,” Frisk muttered, bracing themselves for another fight.

            Before their soul got pulled into a fight, however, a rain of red bones slammed into the ground between them, nearly knocking Frisk off their feet in fright.

            “Oh, no,” Flowey whimpered, ducking against their shoulder as Frisk turned to look back.

            Papyrus had caught up with them; he still had his hand outstretched, glowing with red magic, like his eye. He glared at the Dogi. “This one’s mine. Clear out, or you’ll end up like Doggo.”

            “Bastard,” Dogamy growled, but Dogaressa grabbed his arm and whispered something to him. The pair of dog monsters looked at Papyrus and growled, but they slunk away.

            What on earth happened to Doggo to scare them all so bad? Did Papyrus have something to do with it? They thought idly as they turned back to look at Papyrus. And just how much should I be worried here?

            As the dogs slipped away, Papyrus let his arm drop before glancing down at Frisk with a glare and a smirk. “You honestly thought you got away from me, didn’t you?” He scoffed. “You managed to slip past Greater and Lesser Dog, but you let those two idiots catch you? I was hoping you’d at least get us away from these fools so I could capture you in peace, but I see that was too much to hope for.”

            Well damn. Either he’s lying to bluff me, or I’m not nearly as sneaky as I hoped I was. Frisk took a moment to consider their options before holding their hands up in a friendly, placating manner. “You know, I agree with you—I’m disappointed in me too. I can see now that I’ve let you down, I’ve let myself down, and really, I might as well just start over from scratch. So, how about-”

            Without another word, Frisk felt a tug on their soul. They shut their eyes in frustration, knowing that the world went black and white around them. Goddamnit.

            “Face me, human,” Papyrus growled, eye sockets glowing a fiery red as a thicket of bone hovered directly behind him. “I’m tired of your cowardly attitude. Now, fight!”

            “We’re gonna die,” Flowey whispered. “We’re gonna die and then only thing that makes this slightly better than letting Toriel kill us is that at least we aren’t going to burn to death first. No, he’s just going to impale us to death!”

            “Don’t know what you’re so worried about,” Frisked hissed back as their fight menu options appeared before them. “You’re a tiny target—he’ll probably miss you mostly.”

            “He only needs to hit me once, moron.” He shuddered and hunkered down, deeper into Frisk’s sweatshirt. “Any bright ideas before he kills us?”

            Frisk considered their ACT options before glancing up at Papyrus. Jokes, flirting, none of these seemed to be any safer than trying to tango with a honey badger. But, as they looked back at their options, an idea ignited in their head. They reached for the options.

            “Mercy? Are you crazy?” Flowey gasped as Frisk tapped the menu. “He’s not going to let you spare him!”

            Frisk, however, smiled at what they saw. “I didn’t really think he would. That’s why I’m not going to try.”

            “What? You’re actually going to-” he paused and then straightened. “Oh, you are not-!”

            “Of course I am,” Frisk answered before tapping the option. For a moment, Frisk only tensed, silent as Papyrus frowned, who was slightly confused with the hold up. Then, without a word of warning Frisk bolted to the side, startling Papyrus so much that he stood rooted to the spot as they shot off through the trees. “I feel no shame!”

            Ducking between branches and hurtling over fallen branches, the human raced through the trees as Papyrus howled furiously behind them. “Again? Get back here, you coward!”

            "You did it—I don’t believe it!” Flowey laughed, half in disbelief. “Oh, good god, how did you even know that would work twice?”

            “Oh,” Frisk panted. “I just—well, honestly, that was luck and chance.” They yelped as a branch caught their clothes, but rather than pause to untangle themselves, they only winced as their sweatshirt loudly ripped. “We just need to get far enough away that he’ll give up.”

            They could practically hear Flowey rolling his eyes at them. “Papyrus? Give up? Are you-”

            A roar split the air behind them along with the sound of wood cracking and dull thuds of heavy things falling. Frisk felt a cold sweat break over their body.

            “Oh, great—now he’s even more mad. Can’t you go any faster than this?”

            “Excuse me, I only have two legs and I’m tired as is,” Frisk huffed as they ducked around another tree. “I can only go so—ack!” The tree they’d just ducked around exploded behind them, sending splinters everywhere, including falling into their hair.

            “Oh, crap,” Flowey breathed. “Frisk, time to go faster.”

            “Oh, no shit!” they yelped as they slipped on a patch of ice, hidden beneath the snow. Frisk found themselves rolling down a hill, hitting half a dozen thorny bushes on the way down while they tried not to let themselves land directly onto Flowey. Halfway down the slope, they managed to roll themselves onto their side and quickly scrambled to their feet. A bone sliced through the air like an arrow as it whizzed past their head.

            Dead ahead of them, the trees thinned out. Frisk ran out of them, but then squeaked in terror when they realized that the trees only thinned out because there was a steep cliff on the other side. Windmilling their arms in circles, they caught themselves in time before they overbalanced straight off the ledge. Looking around, they saw there was a narrow, precarious path that would have been a challenge even with their hiking gear, but it was the only path to take now. Carefully, they did their best to pick their way through, but something behind crashed through the underbrush.

            Turning, Frisk’s stomach dropped to see Papyrus explode out of the trees, his eyes already trained on them. However, in the next moment, he set his foot down to stop himself and that’s when it seemed he found a patch of ice. For a moment, Frisk’s eyes could only widen as Papyrus began to tilt over. Unlike Frisk though, there was no occupied hill to slow his descent—all he had was a long drop of him.

            For a moment, a nasty thought shot through Frisk’s mind. Well, that problem just solved itself. But, before the thought was even finished, Frisk’s body was already moving on its own. Before they could make a word of warning—which, really, Flowey deserved that much because he was still riding on their back—Frisk lunged forward, surging after the skeleton as he slipped over the edge. They could see the lights in Papyrus’s eye sockets widen for an instant as one hand caught his while their free hand reached up to catch the lip of the ledge. And then, like the snap of a guitar string pulled taunt, Frisk’s arms were nearly wrenched out of their sockets as gravity and Papyrus’s added weight stretched their arms to their limit.

            It took all Frisk’s control not to scream out, but their arms held. For a moment, all three were silent as they waited to see what would give first. The moment passed however and they didn’t plunge into the drop below.

            “Holy shit!” Flowey shouted for all three of them. Frisk huffed a laugh, but Flowey only whacked them across the back of their head with a leaf. “You suicidal lunatic! You nearly got us all killed. You—you whack job!”

            “But I didn’t,” Frisk chuckled breathlessly. They glanced around and sighed in relief as they spotted plenty of hand and footholds. Wedging their feet into some holds, they took a moment to swing Papyrus up to some nearby holds, despite the painful protestations coming from their shoulders. Once he managed to rest his feet and catch a hold with his free hand, Frisk let go. He scrambled up just fine, but they needed a moment to gather their strength. Shoulders screaming, Frisk finally flopped up onto the ledge and let themselves have a pained groan.

            “Frisk? You okay?” Flowey asked, softly.

            “Yeah,” they answered after a moment, bracing their hands against the ground. They managed to get their legs under them but they couldn’t find their strength to climb out of a kneeling position. Ah, shit. My arms are toast—now what? Maybe if I can get to my candy, then…

            “Frisk? Do you need, um… Frisk?” Flowey began, his voice low and worried.

            Frisk turned their head to reassure him, but before they could open their mouth, the world went dark and their soul appeared. Above them, Papyrus glared down at them. Flowey squeaked in surprise, but Frisk saw what the skeleton was looking at.

            *HP: 11/30. Less than half. Easy pickings, especially for a murderous skeleton. Who challenged you to a duel to the death less than ten minutes ago.

            Oh fuck—get up, get up, get up-! But their shoulders only wanted to buckle. Glancing back up, they saw Papyrus, his arm up raised as a pair of long bones was summoned into existence above his head. Shit—if I can at least roll onto my back, then maybe Flowey’ll be-

            Flowey gasped and two somethings slammed into Frisk’s back at once—they gasped as well. Not from pain however—instead of the intense pain they’d expected from two bones stabbing them in the back, the what-ever-they-were that had violently struck them left only a soft warmth pooling into their shoulders. Opening their eyes, they caught just a flash of a green light before the attack disappeared. Glancing downward, they checked their HP again.

            *HP: 30/30.

            *Papyrus has… healed you?

            This Papyrus knows healing attacks, they thought, their mind adrift in wondering warmth. Maybe he isn’t so unlike the Papyrus I know after all.

            Still, they tried to keep their face more neutrally happy as they faced him. “Ah, thank you for that-”

            “You’re at full health?” he asked abruptly.

            “Yeah, I’m-”

            Without another word, he cut them off by punching them dead in the face. Frisk only got out a smothered yelp before the skeleton leaned back again. Resisting the urge to whimper in pain or clutch at their smarting face, Frisk glanced down again.

            *HP: 17/30. Welp. Still higher than before at least?

            “If anyone asks,” Papyrus hissed, “you escaped me through underhanded tactics and trickery, you got that?”

            Frisk stared up at him for a moment before finally speaking. “Oh… kay?”

            “Good.” He paused, as if waiting or trying to think of something else to say. At last, he nodded to himself and stalked away, back into the trees.

            Frisk listened until the sound of his boots crunching through the snow disappeared into the distance. Once the forest was still, Frisk sighed and reached into their pocket to pull out the sack of monster candies.

            “God, that was close,” Flowey sighed as he finally poked his head back over their shoulder. “Are you okay?”

            “I’m fine,” they mumbled as they popped a monster candy into their mouth. Instantly, their health bar filled back out and their face stopped hurting. Sighing in relief, Frisk offered the sack to the flower. “Want one?”

            Grumbling, Flowey reached in with his leaf and took one before tossing it into his mouth. “I’m usually against wasting recovery items but I deserve this after the shit show you put us through. What on earth were you thinking?”

            “Well, mostly I was just trying not to get the two of us killed,” they replied as they tucked the sack back into their pocket and stood up, brushing the snow from their pants. “Okay, that’s enough ‘fun’ for me, I think. Let’s get the hell out of here and into town before anyone else tries to attack us, huh?”

            “If it gets us out of this cold, then whatever,” Flowey mumbling, shivering as he tucked himself back into their sweatshirt’s hood.

            Frisk smiled, patting the flower lightly. “Just think of it—we can sleep in an inn soon. A nice, warm inn, with a real bed.”

            Flowey snorted. “Yeah, real nice.”

            “Don’t be such a pessimist, Flowey. Stay determined.”

            “Oh, I’m determined alright—determined that this place is gonna suck.”

            Frisk had to laugh as they began their long walk back out of the woods. “Well, with an attitude like that, what else can you expect?”

Chapter Text

            Frisk walked steadfastly down and forward, their tongue lead in their mouth—the silence of the forest oppressed the two of them, so neither spoke as they neared the town. Snow and gravel crunched under Frisk’s feet, the only sound aside from the distant wind blowing through the trees. Had the forest been so quiet when they had been a child walking through the Underground, or was that another quirk of this world?

            Problem was that it was so silent, they didn’t even realize they had wandered into Snowdin proper until they spotted a sign outside the inn. Frisk paused and did a double take before straining their eyes to see through the darkness.

            “How did—did we walk past all the direction signs?” they asked.

            Flowey, who had been hunkered down deep in their hood for warmth, poked his head out and looked around. “Eh, someone probably knocked them down again. Some of the local kids do that to be brats.” He straightened and chirped. “Does this mean we can finally get somewhere warm? You said we could stay at the inn.”

            Frisk laughed a little in spite of themselves. “Uh, yeah, I did, and yeah, we will. I was just—how on earth did I not realize we were already here? And why is it so dark around here?”

            “Eh, there’s a curfew. Something about discouraging hooligans, I dunno—can we go get a room now?”

            “Heh, eager are we?” they teased as they picked their way through the shadows to find the dimly lit door.

            “Hey, unlike you, I don’t make my own body heat. I need to get warmer, thanks.”

            For a moment, Frisk feared the door would be locked, but when their hand finally found the knob, it turned easily. Stumbling inside, Frisk frowned at the dim lighting and empty front desk. Walking forward, they found that the lobby was empty, but from behind the corner, they saw a young rabbit peek out of the doorway in back before scowling and vanishing once more. There was no way to summon service, but after a long minute, the innkeeper walked out. She looked tired and the glare she shot Frisk was far from hospitable, but she didn’t threaten Frisk, which already made her one of the friendliest people they’d met thus far.

            “Hi, could I get a room for the night?”

            The innkeeper shot them an unimpressed look as she glanced over her record books. There wasn’t much to see in it—business must not be so great in a world where every monster seemed minutes away from shanking each other—but she made a show of checking the book. “How many beds?” she said at last, her voice husky.

            “Just one will do. Any size is fine.”

            The rabbit grunted before looking up at them. “Three hundred gold.”

            Frisk stared for a moment, going stock still to resist the urge to choke on their own tongue. “Come again?”

            “Three hundred gold.”

            Frisk blinked and began to rapidly count back from one hundred to resist the urge to start shouting. “Um, is there perhaps a… another room—one with maybe just a twin sized bed? I, uh, I don’t need anything fancy.”

            The innkeeper’s gaze stayed flat and immobile. “That is rate for a twin sized bed.”

            Frisk bit their lip. I could literally buy a mattress and box springs for less than that. What the hell kind of bullshit is this?

            Flowey prodded the back of their neck hard. “Pay them—you’re not going to get a better price.”

            Frisk shoved their hands into their pockets so no one would see them ball their hands into fists. This is the most goddamn ridiculous thing I’ve done yet, and I’ve stayed in hostels that had vermin infestations. There were fewer things more disconcerting than waking up to find a mouse had cuddled up against your face during the night—and yet, with a price like that, they’d seriously consider taking the mouse problem again. Finally, they at last pulled out the hard earned gold they’d scoured around for and slid it across the countertop.

            The innkeeper snatched it away and scribbled something down in her book—Frisk raised a brow to see her writing a pseudonym down without their asking. Perhaps a custom of this world was trying to make sure no one could track you by checking guestbooks? “You can take 2B for tonight. The sheets are clean—don’t you dare put your filthy boots on them.” She all but chucked the keys to the room at them. “And don’t be making a lot of noise, or I’ll toss you out. No refunds.”

            Catching the key, Frisk waited until she turned her back before they scowled at her and marched away.

            In the dim light of the hallway, it was a pain to see which room was which. They had to use their phone to check the plaque outside each room before they found 2B. Unlocking the door, they quickly stepped inside. They moved to lock the door but paused to see that there were three different sets of locks on the door. After some thought, they locked all of them; once they were finally secure, they sighed in relief and flipped on the lamp by the bedside.

            “We made it,” Flowey moaned, escaping their hood. “I can’t believe we actually made it!”

            “Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Frisk murmured, taking off their coat and tossing it at the chair next to the bed. They frowned down as they looked at the bed—despite their hopes, they saw that it really was only a twin-sized bed. Taking the covers off, they found that at least the mattress looked sound and firm, not lumpy.

            “You don’t get it—you’ve actually managed to get through to Snowdin without dying once! You… didn’t die, have you?”

            Frisk had to chuckle as they reached up to pluck him off their shoulder, offering him a spot on the bedside table. “No, I haven’t.”

            “That is amazing! You don’t get it, Frisk. You don’t know how many times I got killed—uh, nearly got killed,” he added, shiftily. Frisk considered telling him that they were aware that he’d also been able to save and reset, but decided that it was a conversation for a more awake Frisk to deal with. “I’ve been trying to survive around here for ages, and yet here you are, like it’s a breeze. And you’ve done it while getting dragged into how many fights? Without killing a single monster?”

            “Well, I’ve had good practice,” they admitted, sinking down onto the mattress. They frowned; definitely not worth three hundred gold pieces. “Oh, do you want some water before I crash for awhile?”

            “I’m fine.” He paused, delicately balancing on the web of his roots. “Just… how much practice have you had fighting monsters?”

            Frisk blinked up at him, one boot still in hand from where they had yanked it off. They let the boot drop to the floor as they considered their answer. “Well, to be fair, fighting monsters before was different than here. Monsters hit a lot harder around here. But, uh, it took a few tries to get through the Underground, back when I was a kid. After that, a friend of mine decided I needed combat practice. I’m not sure where she got the idea that I needed warrior training, but damn if it didn’t come in handy, so I guess she was right. I trained under her for about a decade—got a little lax for a year or two there, but then she, uh, decided that I needed to buckle down again. Been doing pretty good since then.”

            Flowey stared at them. “Combat training? Wait, so you’ve been training for how long exactly?”

            “Um… god, a decade and change? Twelve, thirteen years? Something like that.”

            “What kind of training was this?”

            Frisk chuckled and reached for their other boot. “Mostly running and evading. I’m really more of a lover than a fighter, Flowey, if you couldn’t tell yet.”

            Flowey snorted. “That’d explain all the flirting back there. Which, I can’t believe you stood there and flirted with that smiling, stab happy skeleton back there! Especially after he nearly fried you with that joy buzzer.”

            “Eh, you’d be surprised how far a little flirting can get you. Tends to throw people off track when they threaten you and then you can butter them up from there to win them over. Flirting came in surprisingly handy for my job, I’ll have you know.”

            “You’re yanking on my roots.”

            Frisk shot him an amused look before finally dropping the other boot to the floor. “I promise you, I’m not. Besides, it worked, didn’t it?” They yawned loudly, jaw popping, and then frowned down at their gloves before deciding to leave them on—even in the warmth of the room, the chill still lingered in their hands.

            “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but yeah, I guess it did.” He grimaced. “Ugh, I’d hate to think that all this time I could have gotten out of so much trouble by flirting. Ew, you know what, I think I’d rather die and deal with all that than flirt with some of the monsters around here—your murderous skeleton included.”

            “Okay, Judgey McJudgerson, supposed attraction or not to murderous skeletons, I need to go to sleep now.” Kicking their feet off the ground, they swung their legs up off the floor before pausing to glance over at him again. “Um, before I get comfy, is there anything I can do for you? Look for a flower pot, perhaps?”

            He scowled. “Don’t even think of putting me in one of those deathtraps. At least like this, I could drag myself out of here and to the ground just fine, thank you.”

            “I take it that means you don’t need anything then?”

            “I’ll live.”

            “If you’re sure,” they chirped and wiggled under the covers. “Goodnight, Flowey.”

            The flower was silent for a moment as he let himself flop against the tabletop. They reached up and switched off the lamp beside the bed. The room plunged into darkness—Snowdin was silent as a tomb and nearly as dark. With the lights off, they said a silent prayer that Flowey didn’t have night vision and yanked off their shirt before also pulling off the binder they’d been wearing under it. It smelled strongly of sweat, but there was no sink to wash it in, so they set it aside, frowning at the idea of how much it was probably going to reek by the time they got out of the Underground. Well, I’ve dealt with a lot worse than smelly binders, they thought, idly running their fingers against the dimple in the side. They shrugged their shirt back on and flopped back against the bed. Laying there in the pitch black of the room, Frisk cleared their throat.

            “Hey, Flowey—thanks, by the way. It, uh, it might look easy, but really, you saved my life more than a couple times today. I’m really glad you’re here.”

            Flowey stayed quiet for so long, Frisk gave up on expecting an answer. And yet, one finally came anyway. “We aren’t friends, you know. I’m just helping you because I don’t want to see anyone else die.”

            Frisk’s lips twitched and they closed their eyes. “Thanks all the same, Flowey.”

            In the quiet dark, Flowey sighed. “Goodnight, Frisk.”

 

 

 

            Hours passed, but it was hard to tell when night ended and morning began in the Underground. It was the faint sounds of movement below that woke Frisk. Sitting up, they rubbed sleep from their eyes and stretched. Their phone said it was two in afternoon, but they had no idea if time even ran at the same rate in this world as it did in their home. Still, it sounded about right, so Frisk didn’t fuss before turning to look around.

            Flowey was still asleep, but he’d moved from the end table to being curled up against their side. Frisk smiled down at him before gently prodding him. “Hey there, sunshine. How we feeling this today?”

            Flowey groaned, but crawled into their hand as soon as they offered him their open palm. “Surprisingly alive, all things considered. About eight o’clock this morning, the innkeeper came into this room while you were asleep.”

            Frisk froze, a chill going up their spine—that wasn’t just creepy for a monster innkeeper, they’d be weirded out if a human one entered their room as they were sleeping then too. How on earth did she get past the locks? Magic maybe? She was the owner. For a moment, they imagined they heard their mother’s voice suggest maybe she has a skeleton key.

            Eh, that was kind of a lame pun, especially for mom. “What the hell was she doing in here?”

            “I dunno—I thought she was going to kill us for being late to check out, but then she only checked the thermostat before leaving again.” He sighed. “I was terrified for a moment there.”

            Well, shit, she could have killed me in a heartbeat and there’d be nothing I could have done. How the hell am I going to get through this place when I can’t even sleep in an inn without having to worry about monsters getting into my room? Shaking their head, Frisk decided to ignore their own fright by teasing Flowey. “Oh, so is that why you’re in my bed? You mean it wasn’t my endearing charm and dashing good looks having finally won you over?”

            Flowey shot them a flat look as he gripped their shirt with his roots again. “Surprisingly, no. Now, come on—the sooner we get out of Snowdin the better.”

            Better to get out of here before Papyrus changes his mind and decides that he’d rather turn me in than let me live, Frisk added mentally as they fished their boots out of the floor and dragged them over. “Hey, boss, mind closing your eyes for a minute? I’ll let you know when you can open them.”

            Flowey frowned at them. “Why?”

            “Cause I need to get dressed and I’d appreciate a little privacy.”

            Flowey sighed, but he dropped his face back down into the mattress. “I don’t know what else you need to put on. Do you have a change of clothes somewhere?”

            “Something like that,” they chirped as they yanked their shirt off and pulled their binder back on. It smelled, but less so than before and it was dry. They fixed it in place, and then put their shirt back on. “Okay, you can look now.”

            He glanced back up at them and frowned. “You’re still wearing the same clothes?”

            They laughed. “Not exactly. You want some water before we leave?”

            He considered it and nodded. “Yeah, might as well.”

            After getting ready and getting the two of them water, Frisk left the room and handed their key in to the innkeeper before quickly shuffling out of the inn. They kept their hood up today to try and hide their face, but all the same, the moment a monster heard their approach, they scattered and fled. Frisk would have been annoyed if the fact was that monsters did that for every new person that crossed their path—it would have been funny to watch monsters scramble away from each other like scared emu if it wasn’t so sad.

            With a sigh, Frisk glanced to the shop outside the inn. “Should we stop in there, see if we can get some cheap supplies?”

            “Don’t bother,” Flowey huffed. “This entire place is overpriced.”

            Frisk rolled their eyes. Of course it was. It’d be too convenient otherwise. They considered stopping into Grillby’s, half to see how changed it was, but the guards tended to hang out in there and they didn’t want to try to push their luck that much. Walking through Snowdin, they frowned at the states of the homes and buildings around them—the buildings were smaller, reinforced by traps and thick walls, and cramped looking, like turtles pulling into the shells. There were very few windows in any of the buildings and they got the feeling that the only reason there were windows at all was a precaution from things like house fires.

            When they walked past Sans and Papyrus’s home, they nearly walked past it without a second. Then they did a double take and scrambled backward. It was definitely in the same spot as the house in the other world, but it was only a shadow of that house. Gone was the cheery twinkling lights and decorations, the warm glow coming from the front windows. There was no balcony, nor even the same wooden siding—instead it was severe cinderblocks, neatly stacked and unpainted. The only thing similar besides the location and general shape was the two mailboxes out front, although in this world they were both neat and empty—Sans had always been too lazy to actually get his mail, but maybe this Papyrus made Sans do it. It fit the image of tall skeleton, even if he was kinder than originally expected. I wonder where he learned healing moves—even my Papyrus doesn’t know how to do that. I should tell him about it. It’d probably tickle him to death to know that there’s a Papyrus out there who knew such a ‘cool’ technique.

            There were no lights on inside the house, but Frisk wasn’t sure that meant that neither skeleton was home or that neither liked to leave lights on. It left the house looking sullen and mistrustful. But what if it was lit up? Would I really want to go in and talk to them? Their lips thinned out to a flat line as they rolled the question over in their mind. Yes, they decided after a moment, I would—maybe I could find out what made them like they are, see how similar they are to my friends.

            “You… you really aren’t the right Frisk at all.”

            They frowned again. That and figure out just what Sans seems to know. What was that supposed to mean anyway?

            “Frisk?” Flowey asked, shaking them from their thoughts. “You okay?”

            “Fine. I’m fine,” they answered, turning away from the house. “Just lost in thought. C’mon, let’s get out of here and head somewhere warmer.”

            “Fine by me,” he chirped back.

            Glancing back one last time at the house, Frisk started walking again. Leaving Snowdin behind, they followed the familiar river and curiously noted that there were still chunks of ice floating down the river. Maybe that meant that the Core, of all places, would still be the same. It was a funny thought.

            A small cloud of fog crawled up from the bank of the river, obscuring Frisk’s vision, but there was no Papyrus waiting for them on the other side. They weren’t sure how they were supposed to feel about that. Instead, they kept walking.

            Warmth crept over them almost before they knew what was happening. One moment they shivered in the damp chill, the next they were unzipping their sweatshirt to wrap it around their waist. Around them, snow melted fast, creating waterfalls that vanished down into ponds or the ever swift rivers.

            “Welcome to Waterfall,” Flowey said, nearly cheerful.

            Frisk smiled at him. “I take it that you like this place better than Snowdin.”

            “Not really,” he said in the same tone as before. “It’s actually easier to hide in Snowdin, as long as I stay under the snow. And the guards aren’t so bad, if you know their schedules so you can avoid them. No, in Waterfall, there’s only one guard and she’s enough to offset any bonus Waterfall has. It just has much better weather.”

            Frisk sighed. “You can be a real downer sometimes, bud.”

            “Yeah, well, them’s the breaks. Life sucks, then you die or something.”

            “Maybe. But not today.”

            “Well,” he conceded. “Not if we can help it.”

            Frisk laughed at that. “Better. We might actually make an optimist out of you yet.”

            “Doubt it. Now keep walking. The less time we waste around here, the better chance we have of staying unnoticed.”

            “Whatever you say, boss.”

            Walking forward, they turned the corner and Frisk almost tripped over their own feet. There was a familiar, surprisingly shabby looking sentry station on one side of the path. Inside, Sans sat, looking haggard and like he was nursing a headache. No one lingered by his station, surprisingly—in their world, monsters always used to hang out near his stations, usually talking to him or trying out whatever new food item he was trying to hustle. Now he was alone and Frisk could only stare at him.

            “Oh no,” Flowey squeaked, ducking behind their shoulder. “Just try to avoid him and don’t do anything dumb.”

            Frisk shot him a look and started walking forward—straight towards the station. “I’ve got questions for him.”

            “Frisk, no.”

            “You mean Frisk, yes.”

            Sans hadn’t noticed them yet, so they politely knocked against the side post of the station. He started then groaned, closing his eyes again as he rubbed his skull before finally opening one eye. His eye landed on them at last and he went very still.

            “Afternoon,” they said, politely keeping their voice soft out consideration for his head troubles.

            That seemed to snap him out of it; he let his hand fall to the countertop of the station with a dull thud. “You’re still alive?”

            Frisk couldn’t help, but snort. “Thought you could get rid of me so easily?”

            “My brother chased you through the woods. Papyrus never lets anyone off the hook unless for a damn good reason. And I know he’s not dead, cause he made a god awful racket this morning when he got up.”

            “Well, you’re right. I definitely didn’t kill your brother.”

            Sans kept staring. “And yet, you’re still here. I was sure you were dead.”

            “You know, with a vote of confidence like that, you could really overwhelm a person,” they shot back, sending him a flat look as they leaned their hip against the station’s front.

            He chuckled then winced, reaching up to grab his head again. “Ow.”

            “You okay?”

            “Yeah, I’m… fine. Just a little hungover.”

            Frisk raised a brow. “Skeletons can get hangovers?”

            “Well, if it’s monster liquor they’re drinking, yeah,” he drawled, slouching against the counter of the station as he cradled his head.

            “What were you doing that prompted you to drink until you got a hangover?”

            “Oh, just a regular night on the town.” He scratched his jaw idly with his free hand; the gesture was unsettlingly familiar. If he was anything like the Sans they’d known, it meant he was lying and badly at that. Still, they thought better at trying to press him on it. “Speaking of Snowdin, how’d you like your stay there?”

            Frisk kept their shrug noncommittal. “Surprisingly quiet, all things considered. No one said a word to me the entire time.”

            “Yeah, that sounds about right. Snowdin’s full of gun-shy assholes. They’re not the type to welcome outsiders, especially ones that don’t look like any other monster they’ve ever seen.”

            “Should I be insulted that they didn’t enjoy my good looks?” Frisk chirped.

            “No, no. It’s just the fate of the naturally beautiful people to be unappreciated, babe,” he quipped, gesturing to his own haggard face.

            Rather than be annoyed by his sarcasm or the shot he took at himself, Frisk made a show of tittering. “You think I’m beautiful?”

            “I think you’re damn lucky, that’s what I think.”

            They considered him. “Why’s that?”

            “You’re alive. How did you manage that?”

            “Again, I’m really feeling the support here.” They shrugged. “Did Papyrus not tell you what happened?”

            He glanced away for a moment. “That asshole never tells me anything. Well, nothing actually useful.”

            Frisk considered him for a moment. So, the interaction between the two brothers probably wasn’t some sort of fluke brought on by their appearance in the Underground. Papyrus was nasty to everyone, including Sans. The thought broke their heart and they found they couldn’t look at Sans for a moment as the idea rolled around their brain. Sans and Papyrus—they were a pair, brothers and best of friends. The idea that there was another world out there—or really, right here—where that statement wasn’t true made their stomach churn. “We had ourselves a little chase, mostly. He ran after me, I got through some of his traps. He almost caught me, but I ran off and then he nearly fell off a cliff.”

            Sans’s head jerked up. Was that concern in his face or something else? “What?”

            “There was some ice hidden under the snow. He stepped on it and started to tilt right off the cliff in front of me. So, I grabbed him.”

            Sans was staring again, but this time he narrowed his eyes at them. “You saved my brother?”

            “Well, I wasn’t going to let him fall off a cliff, if that’s what you’re wondering.”

            Sans scoffed. “I would have.”

            “Sans! He’s your brother,” Frisk snapped before they could catch themselves. “You shouldn’t say things like that.”

            “Screw that. I’ll say whatever I want about him. I’m nothing but a headache to him and he’s nothing but a pain in my ass. I am the one who has to deal with him the most.” He glanced at them sidelong. “I’ve had to put up with that asshole for years.”

            Frisk straightened from where they were leaning and took a few steps closer to him before putting a hand against the counter to brace themselves. “He can’t have always been such a hassle for you. Can he?”

            The lights in Sans’ eye sockets dimmed for a moment. “Eh. He wasn’t so bad as a kid. Actually, he’d been a cute little bugger as a baby. Bout the time he turned five though, that’s when it all went downhill.”

            Frisk’s frown deepened. “What happened?”

            Sans shrugged and gestured carelessly to the scenery around them. “What do you think? This shitty place happened. Life happened. It chewed him up and spat out a jerk, just like it does everything around here. It’s no joke when people say ‘it’s kill or be killed’. Everyone’s always fighting around here.”

            “I’m not fighting,” Frisk offered. “Why, we aren’t fighting at all right now.”

            He shot them a sidelong look. “Give it time.”

            “That’s a cheerful attitude to carry in life.”

            “I don’t want to hear any such bullshit from anyone with-” he paused and squinted at them. Frisk raised a brow, but the skeleton remained quiet for a long time until his face slackened. To their surprise, his jaw fell slightly open.

            Whoa. I thought his mouth was fused shut like Sans back home. That is… so weird looking. To distract themselves from their surprise, they cleared their throat pointedly. “You, uh, you okay there, Sans?”

            He blinked at them. “Your LOVE is still at one?”

            Now it was their turn to blink owlishly. “My—well, uh, yeah. Why wouldn’t it be?”

            “You… haven’t killed anyone?”

            They shot him a flat look. “If I didn’t kill Papyrus who chased me almost all the way to Snowdin, what makes you think I killed anyone else? I know it’s all ‘kill or be killed’ around here, but I’d much rather ‘live and let live’.”

            He braced a hand against his forehead. “You are… really just… absurd.”

            Flowey huffed a laugh and whispered against the back of their neck. “I can’t believe I’m agreeing with this psycho, but he’s right about you.”

            Ignoring the jab, Frisk just smiled and shrugged. “I usually get ‘something real special’, but I guess absurd is more to the point. Still doesn’t say I’m wrong though. You were wrong about me—don’t you think that means there’s at least a slim chance that your attitude about this is wrong too?”

            He snorted. “Look, my attitude’s kept me not dead all these years, so I’d say it’s working out pretty well for me, thanks.”

            Frisk tilted their head to the side. “Even with Papyrus?”

            He paused, his smile looking deader than ever. “Papyrus doesn’t bother to fight me. He knows he’d kill me in an instant if he wanted.” He looked away. “We both know that.”

            Frisk allowed a moment of thoughtful silence before speaking again. “But if you’re brother is really such an asshole, then why not kill you?”

            “Because I’m still useful. Once a day comes along that I’m not… Well, I don’t need to see the future to know how that’ll all go down.”

            “You’re so sure he hates you,” Frisk rested their free hand against their hip. “But trust me, no ‘headache’ is so useful as to justify keeping them around for years on end.”

            Sans shifted on his stool, the shadows moving across his skull quickly as he went. It was only a moment, but the movement betrayed that they’d managed to annoy him. “And just who are you, some therapist?”

            Time for damage control. “Me? Oh, I’m just stranger in a strange land, that sort of thing. Although, I’m told I’m beautiful, so maybe I should say a beautiful stranger.” They winked at him as playfully as they could manage.

            To their surprise, he chuckled. “Egotist.”

            “Just repeating what I’d heard,” they replied, bowing their head demurely.

            “Right.” He shook his head at them. “You must have saved Paps’ life—you’re too damn mouthy to have gotten into his good graces any other way. He’d rather have killed you in a heartbeat than put up with you.”

            “Are you mad that I didn’t let Papyrus fall?”

            He put his head in his hands. “It wouldn’t have killed him. He’s too stubborn to let a little fall kill him.”

            “That’s… a lot of faith to put into a person and their abilities, isn’t it?”

            “I told you,” he growled, pulling his head back out of his hands. “He’s just too stubborn to die.”

            Rather than try to prod him again, they reached into their pocket and offered him their bag of monster candies, noting their disappointment with the fact that the bag was considerably lighter than it had been yesterday morning. They would need to find someone selling health restoring items soon. “Here. For your headache.”

            He gave the bag an unimpressed look before turning his gaze up to them. “Do you honestly think I’m going to accept candy from a stranger?”

            In spite of themselves, they had to smile. “Do we count as strangers at this point?”

            “Well, we aren’t friends. Put it away.”

            “Suit yourself.”

            “Shouldn’t you be running along now, anyways?” he drawled as they tucked the bag back into their pockets. “The king’s waiting for you.”

            “So quick to get me gone, huh? C’mon, I thought you knew how to relax.” They grinned at him. “Know any good jokes?”

            Sans turned his head towards them, his smile malicious and mischievous at the same time. “Okay, babe, I got a one for you. What’s the difference between a turkey and a mother-in-law?”

            “What?” Flowey asked, staring at the skeleton from behind the safety of Frisk’s shoulder.

            Shrugging, Frisk turned to him. “I dunno. Tell me.”

            “Nothing. They’re both at their best when they’re cold on the table.”

            Frisk paused for a moment, gazing at him silently for a moment while Flowey gagged. Finally, they spoke. “What’s worse than a pile of dead babies?”

            Sans froze while Flowey gasped loudly. “Uh, what?”

            They looked at him with a deadly serious expression. “The live one at the bottom that has to eat its way to the top.”

            “Frisk!” Flowey shouted.

            “What’s worse than that?”

            Sans leaned in, entranced. “What?”

            “It going back for seconds.”

            “Oh my god! Frisk, that’s horrible!” Flowey cried.

            Sans looked like Frisk had given him an early Christmas present. “A man is in a serious accident and wakes up in a hospital. He shouts ‘doctor, help! I can’t feel my legs!’ The doctor says ‘I know. I amputated your arms’.”

            The human’s lips twitched, but they barely kept their face poker straight. “A man and a young child walk into the woods. The kid says ‘gee, mister, it’s sure scary in here.’ So, the man says ‘if you’re scared, think of how I feel. I have to walk out of here alone’.”

            Flowey made a strangled noise of disgust.

            Sans, on the other hand, sat on his stool, staring up at them until his shoulders started to shake. Seeing the motion, Frisk’s own shoulders shook and they had to bite their lip. Finally, it was the skeleton who broke first and began to howl with laughter. The moment he laughed, Frisk lost their control and began to laugh as well, grabbing the station for support.

            “You think you know a person,” Flowey grumbled as Frisk finally caught their breath.

            They opened their mouth to respond, but then their attention was drawn back to Sans who was groaning and clutching his head again, even as he chuckled. “You okay?”

            “Laughing may not have been the best idea with my headache,” he admitted. “Ugh, I’m just going to lay my head down now.”

            Frisk chuckled then paused, glancing at him again. Without thinking, they reached out to him. Before their hand got anywhere close, a ring of bones hovered around them while Sans tilted his head up, fixing his angry red eye on them.

            “What do you think you’re doing?”

            Quietly, Frisk pointed at his hood. “There’s something in your hood. I was just going to get it for you.”

            “Oh, really?” he drawled, but glanced to where they were pointing. He froze as he caught sight of the offending object, indeed lodged into the fur of his hood. Silently, he reached up and plucked a yellow flower petal from it. After a moment of consideration, he flicked it away to land on the ground before the sentry station. The ring of bones vanished as he shifted reluctantly away from them. “Uh. Thanks.”

            Cautiously, Frisk settled back to where they’d been leaning against the station before. “Yeah.” The mood was thoroughly awkward now and it was partially their fault. Clearing their throat, they glanced pointedly at the petal. “Been doing a little gardening?”

            He snorted. “No. I just keep finding the damn things everywhere. It like someone stuffed them in all my pockets or some shit.”

            “Mm,” they murmured noncommittally. “Maybe a prank?”

            “Shitty ass prank if you ask me.” He grumbled and shifted on his stool. “You know what, my headache’s not going to get any better in this damp. I’m heading to Hotland.”

            They weren’t sure why he felt the need to announce this to them, but it felt surprisingly promising. They stepped back from his station with a nod. “Alright. Hope your head feels better soon.”

            He waved them off. “I’ll live.”

            “I hope so. See you around, Sans.”

            He glanced up at them and nodded after a pause. “Yeah. See you.”

            Without looking back, they waved over their shoulder to him as they left the area, the talk leaving them with a renewed sense of determination.

            “What with was all that junk?” Flowey asked, waspishly as soon as they walked out of earshot, the waterfall drowning out all noise.

            Frisk frowned at the coursing river—the waters were moving faster here than they had back in their own world, which seemed like a strange deviance, but who were they to decide what was normal for their situation? “Be more specific, please. Jeez, those rocks sure are moving fast. Think they’ll knock me down if I get hit?”

            “Probably. And I’m talking all that—that—you know! The awful jokes, trying to talk him around to his brother, the flirting—good god, the flirting! What, do you have something for skeletons?”

            They barked a laugh before they could help themselves. Covering their mouth, they hoped that the rushing water had covered the noise up. “Uh, no. I… look, it’s complicated. I have a thing for… people. Certain personalities. I like them whether they’re humans or monsters.” They paused and then grinned. “Which, I suppose, would cover skeletons.”

            “Ugh.”

            “Although, monsters around here are tad… stabby, if you catch my drift.” With a sigh, they reached down and pulled off their shoes, then their socks. Tucking their socks into their boots, they tied the strings together and rolled up their pant legs as high as they would go. “Watch out, I need to put my boots around my neck. I don’t want to walk around with wet feet again all day if I can help it.”

            Flowey shifted for them, but still grumbled as they looped their shoelaces over their neck. “Well, at least you’re not crazy enough to date a murderous monster. Although, that does sum up pretty much every monster here. Doesn’t leave many to date.”

            “You know, you’re always talking about crazy this, crazy that, like it’s a bad thing.”

            “It is.”

            They paused at the edge of the water to frown back at him, all levity gone from their face. “Mental illness doesn’t make someone a bad person. Human or not. It’s not like they can help it.”

            Flowey frowned and shifted uncomfortably. “What does it matter if they can’t help it? They’re still dangerous.”

            “Mentally ill people aren’t dangerous,” Frisk sighed, putting one foot in the water. “At least not inherently. People under stress can be though, and they’ll try to protect themselves.”

            “I’ll remember that the next time one of them tries to kill me.”

            Frisk nearly stopped walking in the middle of the water to face him properly, but a swiftly moving group of rocks surging down the river made them scramble across to the other side. As they climbed out, they took a moment to catch their breath before glancing at him. “Alright, be a jerk. That’s your choice, but I’m not impressed with you.”

            He groaned, tossing his head back like a child. “Ugh, fiiiiine. What can I say, o master?”

            Frisk bit their lip to keep from snapping at him. I gotta start remembering that no matter helpful he is or how much comfort his being here brings me, Flowey’s still soulless AND he’s still just a kid mentally. I’m probably expecting too much of him already. Getting ahead of myself. Taking a deep breath, they distracted themselves by checking their legs and feet for any cuts or bruises they may not have felt in the chilly water. “How about ‘nonsensical’? A place can be nonsensical, but it can’t be mentally ill.”

            Flowey made a sound like he was sighing through his nose, which was quite the trick since he didn’t even have a nose. “Fine. Then this place, these monsters, you—it’s all nonsense!” He paused, mulling the words over. “Eh, I guess it does fit. A little.”

            In spite of themselves, Frisk had to smile as they straightened from their examination. “See? It isn’t so bad.”

            “Yeah, well, don’t think I’m going to go bending over backwards to protect your feelings. We aren’t friends.”

            “Yes, you said that before.”

            “Fine.”

            Frisk’s lips twitched. “You said that before too.”

            “UGH.”

            “And you said that-”

            “I know what I said!”

            Frisk laughed and started walking forward. “Okay, okay. I’ll stop.”

            “You better.”

            Grinning, they glanced up to see his stern look and had to fight not to laugh out right. Smothering a chuckle, they tried to focus on not stepping on any sharp rocks.

            The ground changed to soft, forgiving sand as they walked on, turning muddy as they neared a river. Looking around at the scenery brought up old nostalgic feelings. This area of Waterfall seemed pleasant enough. They’d always liked Waterfall—despite the damp, it was never too hot or cold, and had some of their favorite vistas in the entire Underground. They were running their hand through the tall sea grass that rose up to their chest when movement across the river made them duck.

            “What are you-?” Flowey began.

            Frisk hushed him. “Someone’s on the other side of the river.”

            “Did they see you?”

            Squinting between the stalks of sea grass and through the dim light, Frisk frowned. “I don’t think so. Best to be quiet though.”

            They sat silently in the grass, waiting until a figure emerged from the shadows. Frisk nearly bit their tongue at the odd, but still familiar looking armor clad person on the far shore. Undyne, Captain of the Royal Guard, surveyed the river, turning their head to gaze down along the banks until another figure walked up as well.

            “Papyrus,” Flowey murmured into their ear. Frisk nodded and listened.

            Sitting there, memories resurfaced—the conversation, or rather Papyrus’s half of the conversation as his voice was the one carrying over the sound of the water, wasn’t that different from the one they heard in their youth. Undyne was definitely looking for a human and Papyrus was promising to help. He made no attempt to talk her out of looking either, leaving Frisk to wonder if he’d regretted his decision to let them go yesterday. Finally, they wrapped up the conversation and left, walking back into the shadows together.

            Only once they were completely sure the two monsters were gone, Frisk stood, gazing out over the water to where they’d been standing.

            “This isn’t good,” Flowey murmured and shivered.

            Without a thought, Frisk’s hand reached up to stroke his petals gently. “No. It isn’t. We’re going to need to be extra careful from now on.” They shot him a pleading smile. “Which means we should probably keep as quiet as possible.”

            Flowey nodded.

            Patting his petals one last time, Frisk turned and walked out of the patch of sea grass. They kept their silence for awhile, Frisk quietly solving the bridge seed puzzles with little effort. Once their feet began to dry, they dusted off the bottoms of their soles and put their boots back on, resigning themselves to the fact that they were just going to have to take them off again later.

            The only thing to give them pause was the Wish Room. The beautiful sparkling stones in the ceiling thrilled them for a moment, so they stopped to admire them—while the stones couldn’t hold a candle to the stars, they were still lovely. Walking forward, however, prompted the echo flowers to speak. Frisk shuddered at the voices that came from a thick knot of flowers.

            “Oh, please, send another human soul to us soon! I can’t wait to get out of here!”

            “I hope another human falls in soon. Then I can take their soul and escape the barrier. Damn the rest of you, I’ll be free all on my own.”

            “I only want to get away from here. Once we kill the humans, we’ll all be free on the other side.”

            “If we escape and kill the humans, we’ll be safe won’t we? I hope we escape soon!”

            “Damn cowards, all of you. The next human that falls down here, I’m ripping their soul out of their body and then I’ll steal Asgore’s souls too. Then no one can stop me. Both worlds will be mine then.”

            “People around here seriously need a better hobby,” Flowey grumbled.

            Frisk nodded with a pained face as they winced while another series of flowers began to speak, repeating a conversation where a young child wished that their old sister would die so they wouldn’t have to obey her anymore and then a much older voice offering to kill her for them.

            “You know,” Flowey began as Frisk hurried away from the distressing record of the conversation, heading north to the next room. “I think you should put your sweatshirt back on and put your hood up. Undyne’s the worst monster here. She’s the one we have to worry about for now.”

            “Sounds like a plan,” Frisk murmured, eagerly undoing the knot at the waist and slipping the garment back on. They flipped the hood up as they entered the historical record room; Flowey crawled out of their hood to keep an eye out.

            They finally ran into another monster after they walked out onto the docks. Woshua darted out of the cattails, but threatening to rub their muddy boots on him sent him scampering back away.

            “Lame idiot,” Flowey muttered.

            “Maybe, but it only helps us,” Frisk shot back as they stepped onto a raft that sent them across the waters.

            Shadows in the next room made the hairs stand up on the back of Frisk’s neck. There were columns lining the backs of the river north of them, but Frisk could see nothing in the shadows. Walking down the bridge wound all of Frisk’s nerves up until they were ready to jump out of their skin and bolt, but nothing happened. No figures emerged from the shadows, no spears came flying through the air to cut them down. Leaving the bridges and walking into another patch of sea grass seemed more of a letdown than a relief. Frisk glanced at Flowey and saw that he looked just as nervous as they did; reaching up, they tried to pat his head reassuringly, but it only made him jump and snarl at them. Smiling apologetically, Frisk started walking again.

            They cautiously moved through Waterfall. Aside from a few encounters, Waterfall was surprisingly peaceful. Finally, as they walked along the glowing still waters Frisk had to speak. “You know, aside from that one time back there, I haven’t heard so much as a peep from our, uh, friend in the armor.”

            Flowey grimaced, suspiciously eyeing an echo flower as they passed; it repeated a grim snarl from a monster in its death throes, so Frisk walked faster. “I noticed. I can’t tell if that means they’re up to something or not.”

            Frisk considered it. “Neither very big on planning?”

            “No—well, Papyrus likes to make plans from what I can tell, but he doesn’t always follow through on them. Undyne… well, she’s persistent but not very… um, patient. That’s what’s weird. If she really wanted to attack you, she probably would have done it by now. So, unless Undyne is really pulling out the stops, it’d be more likely that she’d have attacked by now.”

            “Weird,” Frisk said, more in agreement than anything else. “So, now we have a mystery on our hands. At least it’ll probably solve itself in due time.”

            Flowey sighed. “Probably. Try to be on guard. We have no idea when they’ll show up, but trust me, when they do, it’ll be bad.”

            Frisk mulled over the flower’s words as they walked into the next room. They weren’t honestly sure what Papyrus’s plan was—maybe he did regret saving them or maybe he was trying to keep Undyne away from them. They honestly didn’t have enough information to make a guess.

            Undyne though, that was the bigger problem. Even in their world, she’d been awfully stab happy. What kind of terrifying she-beast would she be in this world? What would they do if she refused to accept mercy or let them go?

            One thing was sure. Frisk was pretty damn certain that once they did meet, they were due one very bad time.

Chapter Text

            Frisk took no more than three steps into the next room before something slammed into their stomach. Despite getting the wind knocked out of them, they reflexively grabbed whatever it was that hit them and held it there. Coughing, they tried to catch their breath as they straightened.

            “Frisk! You okay?” Flowey asked, craning his head around to see what had hit them. “Huh? What the-?”

            Gazing down at the thing in their arms, Frisk raised their eyebrows when they recognized the fish shaped monster. Shyren shivered, burrowing her face uncomfortably into Frisk’s chest. She didn’t seem like she was trying to attack—if anything, she looked like a baby trying to hide from something in their mother’s arms. Confused, Frisk patted the top of monster’s body—would that be her back or just the back of her head? Oh well, that wasn’t important.

            “Hey, you! What do you think you’re doing?” Flowey snapped, leaning down to yell at Shyren. “This isn’t a cuddle party! Get lost.”

            The sound of movement before them made Frisk jerk their head up. Looking up, they saw Shyren’s agent looking strange and vaguely slug-like as ever, waving their arms at them all. Had Shyren’s agent been attacking her? What on earth were they trying to do? They kept making a strange gesture that Frisk eventually realized look like a fist pump into the air. Confused, Frisk’s brows knit together, but it was at that moment that Shyren bit their arm.

            Frisk’s body seized up in shock. She bit me! She actually bit me! I can’t believe she actually—wait.

            *Your body is frozen. Seems that Shyren’s bite causes paralysis.

            You are not as helpful as you think you are, kiddo.

            Shyren’s agent began to bounce in place excitedly, their mucus flying off at its movements. Where the mucus splattered the ground, the slime would hiss and the ground became pitted.

            *Acid. These two monsters make quite the team.

            Flowey, at least, seemed to realize what was going on as the agent monster began to slither forward. “Hey!” he finally snapped. “I said get lost!” Frisk felt something moving against their shoulders—two vines shot out from behind their neck and wrapped themselves around Shyren. The small monster squeaked in surprise, but she could only squirm as Flowey yanked her from Frisk’s frozen arms and chucked her away.

            She smacked against her agent and then screamed as the acidic mucus began to burn her. Yelping, she fled. The agent monster shook an appendage at them before following their friend.

            Flowey sighed. “What a pair of assholes.” He paused and frowned up at Frisk. “Frisk? You okay?”

            Frisk could only groan, their jaw clenched shut. Feeling was slowly coming back into their fingers, but their body was still locked up.

            “Uh, don’t panic. I forgot at first but, uh, Shyren’s paralysis bite, it wears off pretty fast. Aside from that, are you okay?”

            Terrifying full body paralysis aside, nothing hurt aside from the slight ache where Shyren had bit them. “Mmhmm,” Frisk managed.

            “Oh, well, that’s good,” Flowey murmured, deceptively positive. Then he began to glare. Using one of his roots, he smacked them across the cheek; it didn’t hurt at all, but they got his message of annoyance loud and clear. “What the hell were you thinking?! How many times do I have to say ‘it’s kill or be killed’ in this stupid world before you stop trying to befriend everyone you meet?”

            Glaring at him, they fought to move their jaw. “One,” they managed.

            Flowey frowned at them. “What?”

            “More.”

            Flowey’s eyes narrowed. “Wait.”

            “Time,” they finished. If they could smirk, they would have, if only to be a further pain in his nonexistent ass.

            Making a sound of disgust, Flowey turned his head away from them and folded his leaves before him, like he was crossing his arms. “God, I don’t know why I even bother. An idiot like you, it’s a miracle you haven’t died yet.”

            Rather than fight the paralysis more to tease him, Frisk decided to focus on trying to get their limbs to obey them. Slowly, feeling crept up their arms until they could at least bend their arms enough to let them drop to their sides. It took nearly three whole minutes, but finally they could move freely. Their tongue still felt clumsy in their mouth, but at least they could move again. Rubbing their jaw, Frisk made a few halting noises before they glanced up at the flower, who was still pouting on their shoulder. “F-f-Flowey?”

            “What?” he snapped waspishly, refusing to turn around to look at them.

            In spite of his anger, they had to smile. “Th-thanks, F-Flowey.”

            He paused, turning to glare at them. “You’d be dead without me, you know.”

            They only smiled brighter. “I kn-know. Owe—owe you one.”

            Sighing, he let the leaves drop back down and let himself lean against their neck for a brief moment. “Sometimes, you are absolutely exhausting to be around.”

            “Yeah. Sorry.”

            Shaking his head, he straightened. “If you’re feeling better, we should go. Who knows how long those two will stay gone, but we’re sitting ducks if we stay here much longer.”

            “F-fair enough.” The rolled their shoulders, trying to work the stiffness out. Giving it up for a lost cause, they instead shifted about on their legs, kicking the air a little to work some feeling into them. They even did a few squats before they felt sure their legs were mostly awake. Once they were satisfied, they headed east.

            The familiar sound of rain distracted them for a moment. Walking into the next area, Frisk smiled a little at the scenery.

            “Oh, sweet, there’s still umbrellas here,” Frisk exclaimed as they hurried over to the umbrella stand and yanked out a burgundy colored one. They were even more delighted to see that no mischievous monster had poked holes in the fabric to ruin it.

            “Why wouldn’t there be umbrellas?” Flowey asked as they put the umbrella over their heads.

            “To be honest, I kinda thought that someone would have probably stolen them all as a prank or something,” they admitted. “This seems like that sort of place.”

            Flowey considered it. “Well, I guess so. Hmm.”

            “Let’s get going then—we still have a lot of walking ahead of us.” Without waiting for a reply, they stepped into the rain. They paused, listening to the comforting patter of the water against the umbrella before going forward. Strolling past puddles, listening to the downpour, Frisk found themselves smiling at the serenity it granted them—even in this violent world, nature still soothed a weary soul.

            That peace broke abruptly with the sounds of something flopping around and loudly whining. Glancing around, Frisk searched for the source of the noise before stopping mid-step. “You have got to be kidding me.”

            There, rolling back and forth on the wet ground like a pig in mud, the Monster Kid loudly cried. “Hey, hey! You there—help me out! I don’t have arms, so I can’t get up!”

            “It’s a trap,” Flowey hissed.

            Frisk glanced back at him with a frown and a raised eyebrow. “Uh, yeah, I can see that.”

            Flowey gaped. “Really?”

            I should probably feel insulted by that. Then again, I was the dumbass who got paralyzed about five minutes ago by a fish. I’ll keep my mouth shut. Without another word, Frisk went back to strolling along.

            They didn’t get far before Monster Kid shouted after them. “Hey, hold it, you asshole! Where do you think you’re going?”

            Frisk glanced over their shoulder to see Monster Kid easily roll onto his front and then pick himself up before scrambling over to them. “What?”

            “What? What! You asshole—you see an armless kid rolling around on the ground and you just leave them there?”

            Frisk gave him a dry look. “I doubt you’d get to be as old as you are without being able to get your legs under you.”

            The monster frowned up at them for a moment. “You put a lot of faith in something you don’t know anything about.”

            “Maybe,” Frisk shrugged. “But either way, there was no need for me to help you.”

            “You’re a cold hearted bastard,” the child said finally before grinning wildly. “I like it! It’s awesome.”

            In spite of Flowey groaning over their shoulder, Frisk had to smile. “And you’re a mischievous little shit to try and pull that over on someone—what do you do? Wait ‘til someone gets close and then whip around and bite them when they try to help?”

            “Hell yeah!” he laughed. “It’s so easy to do! And they’re faces are always priceless.”

            Frisk chuckled before they could stop themselves. “I’m sure they are.”

            “Hey, are you heading deeper into Waterfall? Can I come with? I don’t have any arms, so I can’t carry an umbrella myself.”

            Frisk barked a laugh. “You’re already soaked through from all that rolling around in the mud.”

            “So?” Monster Kid drawled. “I don’t want to get rained on.”

            “Fine,” Frisk answered, still chuckling. “Far be it from me to not help a kid out, even if a little rain would at least wash the mud off you.”

            He beamed. “Thank you,” he chirped before immediately jumping into a rain puddle.

            Flowey growled in annoyance, but Frisk only jumped back before the splash could hit them. Chuckling, they started walking forward again. “You’re going to have to try harder than that, kid.”

            “Is that a challenge? I’ll do it.”

            “I’m sure you will. Don’t let me leave you behind now.”

            “Huh? Oh, sure,” he said as he jogged forward. They had hardly walked together four paces before he apparently decided that silence was boring and began to chatter. “So, are you out here to see Undyne too?”

            Frisk and Flowey shared a look before the human glanced back down at their new companion. “The Captain of the Royal Guard?”

            “Pfft!” he snorted; they could hear the implied Amateurs just dripping off the sound. “You mean Captain of the Overlord’s Enforcers.”

            Flowey shuddered on their shoulder, but Frisk managed to keep their face neutral. “My mistake. But yeah, something like that. I heard she hangs around here. Is that true?”

            Rather than harp on trying to figure out what they meant by ‘something like that’, his face lit up as talked. “All of Waterfall is Undyne’s jurisdiction. She doesn’t even need anyone else to help her scout the area. Unlike those stupid dogs and skeletons in Snowdin,” he added, grumbling under his breath. “Still though, she’s wicked strong. No one can beat her!”

            Arching a brow, Frisk tried to squelch the urge to defend the skeletons although they had no idea why they felt the urge in the first place. Sans might have been fun to talk to and there was definitely more than met the eye with Papyrus, but it wasn’t like either skeleton seemed to like them much. “Admire her, do you?”

            He shot them an incredulous look. “Admire her?”

            “You know, like her. Think she’s cool.”

            He snorted. “Like her? No way, she’s an utter bitch!” He grinned. “I just like the way she kicks ass and make people cry.”

            Jesus Christ, this child, they thought while Flowey shuddered against their neck as he huddled silently against it. “Uh, then why come all this way to see her then?”

            “Didn’t you hear? There’s a human in the Underground! The Innkeeper said they stayed at the Inn last night. Now they’re supposed to be in Waterfall.” He was practically skipping as they turned the corner. “This is my last chance to get to see Undyne kill a human up close and personal. After this, we’ll all be free from the barrier.”

            “Oh?” They managed to keep their tone even. I have never thought of a child needing Jesus before, but damned if I don’t now.

            “Yep!” Suddenly, he dropped down and swiped at them with his tail. Effortlessly, they hopped over his tail as if they were jumping rope. He popped up with a laugh.

            “You little scamp.” They tried to sound scolding, but instead they couldn’t stop giggling.

            “That’s me. You’re fast. I usually get most people with that one. They don’t think I can move that quick.”

            “Very tricky,” they agreed, nodding. “But I’ve been trained to watch out for sneak attacks. You’ll have to try something else. So then, you what, you want to watch Undyne at work?”

            “Yeah,” he sighed going back to ambling along with them under the umbrella. He paused and hurried ahead as they came up to the passage that overlooked the rest of Waterfall. The king’s castle rose in the distance; it’d been a grand sight in their childhood, a breathtaking vista that had caught them off guard the first time through. This castle wasn’t all too dissimilar, being big and grand, but the roofs looked as if they were stained with blood, rather than painted red. They shuddered and dismissed the thought. Still, it was a hell of a view. They paused next to the monster for a moment to appreciate it until Monster Kid abruptly went back to walking, leaving them to follow behind him. “When we get out of here, the king’s going to start the war back up. I’m planning to sign up to fight.”

            “Little young to sign up immediately, aren’t you?” they asked, still stealing glances at the castle as they walked along the pass.

            “Well, sign up for training then.” He grimaced. “Or, I dunno, something.”

            “So eager. Do you not need your parents’ approval to sign up?” Honestly, it wouldn’t shock them if he said yes—as creepy as the idea was, child soldiers didn’t sound out of the realm of possibility in this place.

            He paused and squared his shoulders, puffing his chest importantly. “No, I don’t! I don’t need them for anything.” He smirked. “Not anymore.”

            “Oh? Emancipated already?”

            “Emanci… what?”

            Frisk resisted a smile. “Free to do as you please.”

            “Oh! Well then, yeah, I am! My parents always said that as long as I lived under their roof that I had to do whatever they said. Well, I’m no longer under their roof anymore.” He cockily tossed his head. “I don’t need them anymore.” He glared. “Them or my stupid sister. She’s a bitch too.”

            Runaway, they thought, fingers tightening around the handle of the umbrella. For a moment, they stopped seeing the monster before them and saw another child altogether—hair disheveled, clothes old and dirty, nursing a grudge that left no one safe. Frisk closed their eyes and tried to remember to breathe. It’s okay, Frisk. We aren’t that kid anymore—we’re grown up. We’re safe. We know how to control our anger now. It’s okay. You’re okay.

            Once they had themselves in check, they opened their eyes to find the monster staring at them. The forced themselves to smile. “That sounds like quite the big change to make. How’s it working out of you so far?”

            This seemed to please him and he was all too happy to return to walking without a question as to what made them fall quiet. “Great! I mean, I left just this morning, but I’m already making great time for the Capitol. We’ll be in Hotland in just another hour or two and then we just gotta get through Hotland. It’ll be a snap.”

            Their lips twitched—that saying sounded a little odd coming from a monster that didn’t even have fingers to snap, but they doubted that such a little thing ever got to him. “Have you been taking good care of yourself? Have you eaten in awhile?”

            He paused, looking back at them. “Uh, you offering? Cause, um, I could go for something, if you got anything.”

            Flowey muttered something that sounded an awful lot like “did no one teach this idiot that you shouldn’t take candy from a stranger?” while Frisk dug out their bag of monster candies.

            “Sweet! Toss me one, dude!”

            Lips twitching, Frisk pulled one candy out and tossed the candy high enough into the air that he could easily snatch it up in his mouth. He chewed and then beamed, looking more energetic.

            “Awesome! Where’d you get those?”

            “My mom made them for me,” Frisk answered with a shrug, putting the bag back.

            He raised a brow. “Seriously? I thought you were a grownup.”

            They grinned. “I am. My mom’s just really cool.”

            He snorted. “That’s not cool—even my mom does that. Uh, did that.”

            “Did that?”

            He shifted about, nearly stepping back into the rain as they entered a new passage. “Well, it’s not like I live there anymore, so she can’t make them for me now.”

            “I see.” They glanced forward—they could see the umbrella stand just ahead.

            “That doesn’t make her cool though!” he suddenly shouted. His cheeks burned as they glanced to him. “She’s still a nag and so overdramatic and she’s always bossing me around. Just because she makes me food sometimes, that doesn’t make her cool.”

            “That’s fair,” Frisk replied, tone perfectly bland. “My mother does lots of other things besides cooking that make her cool.”

            “Like?”

            Frisk considered their answer and took a risk on a manipulative one. “Well, if someone were trying to attack me, I know without a doubt that she would step in to protect me.”

            “Ugh, that doesn’t make her-” he paused, voice going quiet as he spoke. “Um… well, maybe… a little?”

            “And, I know the rest of my family would do the same for me as well.”

            His nervous shifting became flat out squirming. “Whatever.”

            Bingo. How much do you want to bet this kid comes from a fairly decent house—well, decent for this world at least.

            *Sounds likely.

            Frisk’s lips twitched as their heart warmed. I forgot how nice it could be to talk to you.

            While the Monster Kid fell quiet, Frisk reached up and closed the umbrella. They shook the rain off of it and slipped it into the umbrella stand. “Well, whether your family was cool or not, it’s not like you don’t have time to consider your situation,” they offered calmly. “We aren’t to New Home yet.”

            He scowled. “I don’t have to think of anything!”

            “That’s for sure,” Flowey grumbled.

            Frisk kept their smile neutral. “Well then, I’m sure that this will be a very peaceful walk then. Shall we continue?” They gestured onward, past a little bridge and onward. Wait, a little bridge? But that’s not right… now the layout of the Underground is changing? We shouldn’t be anywhere near this point. And yet… what does this mean? Well, forward was the only way to find out. They let the monster stalk forward, following after him at a careful pace.

            It was as he crossed the bridge it happened; part of them had thought for sure they had to be wrong, but even in this strange world, sometimes the notes would line up into a familiar chord. His foot slipped.

            Frisk was a little amused to hear, despite all his grumblings, that Flowey gasped in shock as the monster started to slip. Without a word, Frisk reached out and grabbed the child by the back of his shirt. Heaving him upward, they got him settled on his feet before he even knew what was happening. Thank god, I was right to let him go first—I wouldn’t have been able to catch him if I went first.

            For a moment, he swayed on the spot before turning to look back at them with wide eyes. “Did you… catch me?”

            They smiled and shrugged. “You have to be careful on these bridges—they can be treacherous. Shall we move forward a bit? Get off it, you know?”

            He stared for a second before scrambling forward, like he expected the bridge to spitefully dump him over the edge anyway.

            Frisk followed at a more sedate pace but spared him a kind smile as they walked forward. A ledge blocked their path, but where it’d been a pain in their youth, they could easily haul themselves up it now. Still, they turned back to Monster Kid. “Want a hand up? I can get up on my own.”

            He considered the ledge before nodding slowly. Cupping their hands, Frisk bent and let him put a foot into their hands before hefting him up over the ledge. Once he was up, Frisk hopped to catch the edge and then hauled themselves up.

            “Phew,” they sighed, trying to catch their breath. “You know, we’re getting in a pretty decent walk today, wouldn’t you say?” When the only thing he did was nod unsurely, Frisk tried to keep up the cheerful face. “Well, no need for us to be wasting time, right?” They straightened and started walking. “Don’t let me lose you now.”

            He followed a half step behind them as they walked forward. The cavern opened up as they got further in, revealing the multiple layers of bridges. Frisk paused, trying to remember what it was that set alarm bells ringing as they looked at the bridges. Had Undyne attacked them here? Probably—their memories were a little muddled from all the panic they’d been in as they tried to escape Undyne. Still, was Undyne here now—should they try to send the Monster Kid away if she was waiting to strike? He was so willful—how would they even manage that?

            Reluctantly, they stepped out onto the bridge, letting the monster sidle past them as they walked. All too soon, the light dimmed and they found themselves walking in the lengthening shadows. Still, they continued onward for a ways.

            It was Flowey who noticed first—Frisk had been so busy looking around for signs of an ambush, they never thought to look down. When a red circle formed directly below Monster Kid, he hissed Frisk’s name and pointed. The monster walked past it safely, but Frisk drew up short just in time to avoid being shish kabobbed by a spear. Frisk bit back a yelp as the magic spear shot up past their head.

            “Huh? What’s-?” Monster Kid began. His eyes widened at the sight of the spear. They both looked down again to see another red magic circle forming below him.

            “Run!” Frisk yelled, shoving him. Monster Kid took a few steps back, but all of them could only watch as the spear shot up, straight into the middle of Frisk’s palm. Freezing, Frisk watched the fabric of the glove rip as the spear protruded, but fear flooded their brain so fast that they couldn’t react. The moment the spear vanished, they started running, not even thinking to check their hand. They grabbed the monster by his shirt and began to physically haul him along. “I said run!”

            He finally seemed to wake up. Together, the two ran head long down the bridge, weaving around spears as they rose up.

            “Death to the human and their collaborators!” shouted a voice before more spears shot up.

            Frisk nearly tripped over their feet. It IS Undyne. And she’s after both of us—shit, I gotta get away from this kid, or she’ll kill us both. Clearing their throat, Frisk pointed up at the nearest fork in the bridges. “You go north, I’m heading south! She’ll chase after me. You get out of here while she’s distracted!”

            He shot them a baffled look. “But what about-?”

            “Just run!”

            Rather than argue, he actually listened and headed north as they darted south. They focused on running and watching out for more spears. The seemingly random patterns and timing of the attacks kept Frisk on their toes. The only comfort they had to hold onto was the hope that this meant that Undyne had let Monster Kid go in favor of chasing after them instead.

            Eventually, the bridge stopped branching and the path began to narrow. Still, Frisk ran on, even when their chest started to ache from all the running they were doing—their binder was comfy and loose enough for some light exercise, but now it was starting to constrict their breathing. Shit, if I get out of this, I’m going to have to ditch it for awhile. Frisk grimaced, dodging another spear. IF I get out of this…

            Spears shot up behind them in a tight knit wave; Frisk nearly tripped as they lunged forward to escape. The shock of adrenaline made them smile, but a wall of red bones forced them to skid to a stop.

            The bones had smashed completely through the wood. It groaned like a sick patient; Frisk froze, not even daring to take a step back when Undyne’s spears vanished behind them. Shit, what do I do? they thought.

            Behind them, it was strangely silent for a moment. Then, they flinched at the pair of footsteps behind them. Reluctantly, they turned to look back. On the right, Papyrus watched them without a trace of either sympathy or recognition. So, they thought glumly, he must have regretted letting me go yesterday. Time to finish the job.

            It took a surprising amount of determination to turn their gaze to the figure on the left. And yet, after all the running and the panic, they didn’t know whether to be pleasantly surprised or disappointed. While the too wide, near manic grin on Undyne’s face was unnerving, it wasn’t anything Frisk hadn’t seen on their own Undyne back home. Her hair was pulled back from her face in a severe ponytail, she had the same plain black eye patch. The only difference was the strange cracked heart—or was it supposed to be a human soul?—on the front of their armor, taking up the majority of her breastplate. She swaggered forward, helmet under one arm, idly twirling her spear with her free hand.

            “Finally!” she snapped, advancing forward. Flowey cowered behind their shoulder, half tucked into the back of Frisk’s shirt for cover. Frisk instinctually leaned away but froze as the wooden boards groaned beneath their feet. The sound only seemed to make Undyne happier. “So this is the human that’s been causing all the commotion since yesterday? Bah!” She spat off the side of the bridge. “You’re shorter than I expected.”

            Five foot five is a perfectly normal height for a human, thank you very much, you oversized guppy.

            “Well, Papyrus, now’s the time to make up for yesterday,” she began, pointing almost too casually with her spear at Frisk. “Go on, I’ll let you smack ‘em around for a bit—I can’t let you take credit, mind you, but god knows you probably need to let off some steam.”

            Papyrus’s face was unreadable as he straightened. “Gracious of you,” he said evenly.

            Well, I guess that answers that question, they thought with a painful thud of their heart. The groaning of the boards filled their ears as they leaned still farther back.

            When Papyrus took a single step forward, Frisk took one backwards instinctually. However, they barely had set their foot down when their eyes widened. The sounds of cracking shattered the silence and suddenly there was no floor beneath their feet anymore. As Frisk started to list backwards, they caught sight of the two monsters before them—Undyne’s face slid from smugness to shock slowly, her mouth falling slightly open. Papyrus’s expression, on the other hand, never changed—for a single sliver of a second, hope entered Frisk’s mind. Did he plan-?

            And then the more prioritized portion of Frisk’s mind took over. As they started to fall backwards into open air, Frisk reached over their shoulder and grabbed Flowey by his head. Perhaps by instinct, he released his death grip on their shirt. Which was good because Frisk immediately wrenched him forward and hurled him up to the bridge. Just before they smacked into the churning current below, Frisk allowed themselves a brief flash of satisfaction as Flowey reached out and safely caught himself by grabbing the bridge. At least he’ll be safer up there. Their eyes met and then Frisk slammed into the water.

            There was no time to think; the water swallowed them up in a heartbeat, dragging them down before Frisk could get a breath into their stunned lungs. They flailed wildly, but the undertow was too strong and they couldn’t reach the surface. For a moment, they weren’t twenty four years old anymore—now they were seven and Marty, that asshole, had their head underwater, holding it down there despite their struggles, and where was their foster parents? Where were the adults, couldn’t anyone see that they were drowning, couldn’t anyone see that they couldn’t breathe-

            Can’t breathe got to breathe lungs hurt so much just need to breathe-

            They opened their mouth and water rushed in.

 

 

 

            It took everything Flowey had to not start screaming; he knew that if he did start, then he would never stop. One moment, Frisk had grabbed him and the next they had tossed him upward, like a rag doll. He’d caught the planks of the bridge with his vines, but when he’d looked down, he’d only had a moment to look at Frisk before they vanished under the water.

            Flowey had neither lied nor been entirely truthful when it came to the extent of his emotions—it was true they weren’t friends, but that was because he could never care for Frisk at all in his state. All the same, he’d wanted to try something besides running away for a change. He was just so tired of death. And Frisk had been so surprisingly kind in this awful world, he’d decided that they could be the thing he’d try differently—to safely navigate them to the surface. Maybe that would fill the hole where his heart should be.

            But then, Frisk was so much more than what he planned. They’d been kind, yes, but they’d also been funny, weird, playful, but oddly dark as well—Frisk walked in a strange twilight between kindness and casual indifference. But never, even at their most acerbic or unamused, had they ever tried to harm Flowey or any other monster. Somehow, they’d always found another way or at least lucked into it. Watching them progress, to succeed, allowed something sharp and painful to unfurl in the place that had once held his feelings. Hope was a strange thing, aching and wonderful, and one of the few things he could still feel since it wasn’t really an emotion. Hope, like fear, was a primal tool to keep him alive. Before Frisk showed up, his hope had started to fail and he’d been ready to accept being killed. Frisk, however, had started to change that. ‘Live and let live’ didn’t sound so stupid when it came out of their mouth. In fact, it almost sounded believable.

             And now, now they’d vanished without a trace into the water. He gasped and then froze at the sound of his own voice. Above him, someone stepped up to the edge; terrified, he looked up, straight into the eye sockets of Papyrus. For a moment, the skeleton and the flower shared a look, Flowey doing his best to not tremble violently under his gaze. Then Undyne ran forward and Papyrus shifted his foot until it stuck out far enough to block the sight of Flowey hanging on below.

            “What happened?” Undyne snapped, pausing as the planks groaned under her.

            “The bridge was weaker than I thought,” Papyrus grunted. “It cracked under the human’s weight.”

            “Goddamnit,” she huffed, shouldering her spear. “I told those useless idiots that the bridges weren’t up to code. Well, shit, come on. It’ll probably end up in the dump at this rate—you head along that way, I’ll check down here along the banks of the river. We can meet in the middle and see what we find.”

            Papyrus nodded and let her go first. As she vanished, Papyrus moved his foot to find Flowey still hidden there. Without a word, he extended his foot to the flower. Silently, Flowey wrapped his roots around the ankle of the skeleton’s boot and let Papyrus pull him up.

            “I don’t know if Frisk can swim,” he murmured without prompting when Papyrus sat his foot back down on the bridge.

            Papyrus scowled. “Damn. Hang on.”

            If Flowey were braver, he’d tell the skeleton to go take a long walk off the short bridge before them. But he didn’t have a death wish, so he gripped Papyrus’s leg the best he could and held on as the monster leapt from the bridge, down to the banks of the river easily. He didn’t linger there, where Undyne was searching, instead taking off at a dead run down the river, his long legs eating up the distance swiftly. The skeleton watched the water constantly which meant he nearly slipped and cracked his skull open multiple times, but it neither slowed nor forced his eyes away from the water for more than a second.

            At last, Flowey gasped when they saw a glimpse of familiar blue under the water sliding over the edge of a waterfall. “There! I saw them—they just went over that waterfall!”

            Not bothering to reply, Papyrus leapt over the side of the cliff the water poured over. Too late, Flowey realized that Papyrus meant to jump into the water as well. Rather than argue, Flowey let go and resigned himself to the painful smack he got as he flopped onto the rocks while Papyrus disappeared under the water. Grumbling, Flowey got his roots under him and pulled himself up. Looking around, he leaned forward to search the water. Tapping the ground with growing urgency, he began to count the seconds to distract himself.

            Eight one thousand, nine one thousand—where was Papyrus with Frisk? Ten one thousand, eleven one thousand—was it really so hard to spot them down there? Twelve one thousand, thirteen

            Papyrus exploded out of the water, Frisk under one arm, spraying water everywhere as he dropped the limp form onto the gravel of the shore.

            “Frisk!” Flowey gasped, but kept himself rooted to his spot—whatever Frisk may or may not be inspiring in him, it wasn’t worth getting smashed or stabbed by a bone. “Are they okay?”

            The skeleton grunted and flipped Frisk over, arranging them to free up their airway. Flowey shuddered at the pale gray hue their skin was, at the floppy way they moved, like a marionette with its strings snipped. Papyrus moved to put his hands over their chest to compress—something he’d picked up from the few tv dramas that aired down there, not that Flowey knew that—but hesitated. He frowned and braced his hands over their heart, or at least the area he guessed their heart to be in. Slowly, he started to apply pressure, but there he saw no reaction he growled and shoved down all at once. Something cracked ominously in their chest, but water gurgled up and gushed out their parted lips. When Papyrus yanked his hands away, red shining fragments slammed together over Frisk’s chest to form the heart-shaped soul that always reminded Flowey of Chara’s. He watched in baffled silence as it glowed with life for a moment before slipping into Frisk’s chest. That is… what’s their soul doing? he wondered, but then Frisk coughed weakly for a second and then bolted upright, hacking and spitting out water. Whatever was going on, it could wait until the skeleton left because holy shit that idiot is actually alive. Papyrus whacked them between the shoulder blades during the worst part of their fit, but slowly, Frisk got their breathing under control.

            “What… what the hell happened?” they wheezed, eyes watering. They tried to wipe at their tears, but their hands were just as wet as their face.

            “You fell off the bridge and then nearly drowned like a clod,” Papyrus informed them, eyes narrowed.

             Frisk started and turned to look at him. “Papyrus? What…?”

            Changing his mouth to look like he was gritting his teeth, Flowey grabbed a rock with a vine and hurled it at them. It bounced off their shoulder, making them yelp. “What the hell happened? That’s what I’d like to know! You tossed me in the middle of the air! Do I look like I can fly to you?”

            Hiccupping, Frisk rubbed their shoulder and tried to smile at him. “Well, you don’t look like you can swim either.” They shivered and rubbed their arms. They glanced up at the river before them—it was calmer here, but they could vaguely remember the strong pull of the undertow before their world went dark. Frisk shivered for an entirely different reason than cold. “I… I actually landed in the water?”

            “I’d say that it was better than landing on solid ground from that high up, but after that little sinking like a rock stunt, I’m not so sure,” Flowey snapped.

            In spite of themselves, Frisk couldn’t help the full body shudder at the thought. “I’d taken the broken skull over water any day.”

            Flowey groaned in disgust.

            Papyrus looked none too amused as well. Growling, he slammed his fist down against the ground next to him, cracking a large stone and making Frisk jump as chips of the rock skittered towards them. “I’ll be sure to keep that in mind the next time I have to save your life, you idiot! Ungrateful little shit.”

            Frisk froze, staring at him. “You were… trying to save me?”

            The skeleton glared, but joined them in sitting down as well, propping his arms on his bent knees. “Don’t misunderstand me, human. I’m not doing this out of some misguided notion of ‘the goodness of my heart’. That’s not the reason at all!”

            Frisk resisted the urge to look at Flowey, to silently ask ‘do you hear this nonsense?’, and instead remained patient.

            Papyrus didn’t last long under that waiting stare. He fidgeted, crossed his arms in front of his chest, folded his legs only to immediately beginning bounce one knee up and down, all the while pointedly looking away. Slowly, fidgeting gave way to twitching until at last Papyrus’s shoulders shook. Finally, he snapped with a growl, rounding on them as he shouted. “I just hated owing you one, okay?!”

            Leaning away, Frisk frowned. “What? Owed me for what?”

            “Don’t patronize me, human! I’m well aware that I couldn’t only repay you by just pretending I didn’t see you in Snowdin.”

            Rather than correct him, Frisk kept their mouth shut.

            *You feel bad for not telling him that you had assumed exactly that.

            *How manipulative of you.

            Don’t sass me over this. It’s keeping us alive.

            *Noted.

            “But at the same time,” he began, turning away and looking at his curled fingers like he very much wanted to throttle something. Flowey saw the motion and sidled back out of reach. “At the same time, I know I need to turn you over to the king!” He growled and frustration and turned back to Frisk. “Do you see? Do you see my problem?”

            “It, uh… sounds like quite the dilemma.”

            “It is! So I thought, ‘I know. Undyne’s going to know they’re coming to Waterfall at anytime. As soon as she catches them, she’ll kill them and take their soul to Asgore.’ But! But if I pretended to help her, I could keep her away from you, at least until you left Waterfall.”

            “That’s very thoughtful of you,” Frisk offered.

            “I know! I happen to be a very considerate soul, not that anyone notices.”

            A smile tugged at the corners of Frisk’s mouth. Well, he’s certainly humble like my Papyrus. “Now, that is a shame.”

            “Exactly!” He slammed his fist into his hand, grinning wildly. “And then, after I helped you, my conscience would be clear and then I could capture and take you to Asgore! My plan was fool proof. We would be freed, I’d get rewarded by being let into the Royal Guard-” Hadn’t the Monster Kid said that it was the Overlord’s Enforcers? Why was Papyrus calling it that? “I could get us out of that shithole in Snowdin and into a place with actual security! Hell, maybe Sans would finally get off his ass and do something productive for once.”

            The smile vanished from Frisk’s face. So called humility aside, he sure could learn a lesson on sweetness from my Papyrus. “I, um, see.”

            Papyrus paused, his own smile sliding off his face as he let his arms rest against his knees so he could prop his jaw into his hands. “But then we caught back up to you. Then I got the brilliant idea—entirely on the fly, mind you—to just break the bridge under you so you could get away that way. But no. You sank like a rock and I nearly drowned you.” He sighed.

            Looking at him, Frisk was tempted to pat his shoulder in sympathy. “Yeah, uh, sorry about that. Me and water, we don’t mix that well.” They kindly decided not to inform him that they might have died anyway just by banging their head off a rock in the river. Actually, how did I avoid that? My health bar’s still full. I must be one lucky bastard to avoid every rock in there. Well, not that it kept me from nearly drowning anyway.

            “I noticed,” he replied dryly before sighing. “And yet… and yet, I’m glad anyway.”

            Frisk paused and shared a look with Flowey before glancing back to the skeleton. “And why’s that?”

            “I… I’m glad despite the fact that this still means I still owe you. That I… still can’t turn you over yet.”

            Neither Frisk nor Flowey hardly dared to breathe. Well, it’s a good thing I didn’t say anything before about him not owing me for saving him. “Is that a fact?”

            “Yes, it is,” he insisted, voice rising as he glared over at them.

            They raised their hands placatingly. “I see. Well, please understand, I’m very grateful. You, ah, must be really… something else to bear such a burden so well.”

            He nearly preened. “That I am.” He paused again and sighed. “I’m very strong. I have to be strong. In this world, if you’re not strong, then you’re either dead or due to be dead at anytime. Not that you’d know that if you listen to Sans. Pah.”

            Frisk cocked their head to the side. “How’s that? According to Sans, he seems to think that it’s a ‘kill or be killed’ world.”

            “Oh, that fool knows how the world works—he’s just too much of a lazy moron to do anything unless I make him! If I let him, he’d waste his life away in that stupid bar or nap all day out in the open. I swear, he doesn’t have an ounce of self preservation left in him.”

            Remembering the arc of bones that he’d quickly summoned when they’d gotten too close to him, Frisk considered telling him that he had his brother pegged wrongly. But, maybe that wasn’t the point he was trying to make here. “So then, you’re… trying to protect him?”

            He glared at them silently for a long moment before at last looking away. “If I didn’t, who would?” he asked waspishly.

            In spite of nearly drowning, in spite of being constantly under threat of being murdered, Frisk felt their shoulders loosen and their smile came easily to their mouth. “You’re a good brother.” Or, at least, better than they originally thought—they didn’t think he’d appreciate that though.

            Surprised, Papyrus lifted his head to glance sharply at them. But their honest smile betrayed no manipulation, no devious scheme, so he slowly relaxed. “Hmph. You tell him that next time you see him.”

            “I will.”

            To their surprise, he chuckled. “Heh. He won’t believe you. He just doesn’t care.” He glanced at them. “Not like you do. You care about this world, don’t you?”

            Was this a trap? It was a certainly odd question, but it wasn’t like they could tell him that the truth was this world was only a darker reflection of their own. That they knew a far kinder one than this—one that this world could be more like, if Frisk was correct in their thinking. Even in this world, that tried constantly to insist that it was “kill or be killed”, Frisk had met far more monsters that were all too happy to escape or talk than flat out resist their sparing. That, however, would only prompt a lot of questions Frisk wasn’t sure they were ready to answer, lest Papyrus be the one accusing them of being crazy. “I have a lot of hope for this world and its possible future,” they said finally. “It’s not as grim as I worried it might be. It’s no walk in the park, but I haven’t killed anyone yet and no one’s killed me or Flowey. I’d call that a good sign.”

            Papyrus frowned thoughtfully. “I’d noticed. While I was trying to keep Undyne distracted, we nearly ran into you a few times anyways. I didn’t linger—I had to keep her away—but I saw you. Trying to talk to them, trying to evade, but never fighting back. I thought you were just an idiot at first.” Frisk wasn’t sure if he was trying to insult or flatter them; probably neither, considering the way he was staring off into space before his eyes snapped back to their face. “But you’re not a coward or a fool. You just have your own way of doing things. An incredibly backwards way that can only make life more difficult for you, but one that seems to be working for you nonetheless.”

            They resisted the urge to chuckle. “Well, that’s awful…” They hesitated to use the word ‘kind’ on the off chance it would only annoy him. “Thoughtful of you to say.”

            He nodded. “Yes, I know. I have a keen sense of observation. But, more than that, I notice that… that monsters you met didn’t try to use their natural advantage to your inadequacies.”

            Frisk’s smile twitched. “My… inadequacies?”

            “Yes. Your hesitance to attack monsters.”

            “Ah… that.”

            “I mean, your obvious weakness should have incensed any sane monster into killing you right then and there! With that power, we’d all be free. All they had to do is kill you and we’d all be on the surface in no time.”

            Frisk frowned. “Or they’d take my soul for themselves. Escape on their own.”

            Papyrus turned to glare at them. “And leave the rest of us down here to wait?”

            Had the idea that a monster would selfishly keep the soul to themselves not occurred to him? Either he was very dim, very trusting, or just didn’t listen to other monsters or their words left behind in the echo flowers. “Mm, that wouldn’t be… very generous of them.”

            He snorted. “Of course it wouldn’t be. Besides, Undyne would kill anyone that tried to take a human soul for their own and would rip it right out of them.”

            *You think that when he puts it like that it sounds more likely.

            “And yet, either way, no one’s gotten close to killing you. They’ve all let you get past them one way or another. For some of these monsters, you’re the last chance they might see in their lifetime. But here you are.”

            “Yep. And still mostly whole.”

            He nodded. “You’re… you’re making monsters act differently now. I’ve seen it already. Back in Snowdin, the innkeeper said you’d stayed there the night without causing any trouble. In Waterfall, whenever a monster admitted to seeing you, they’d said that you’d been sparing monsters. It’s having weird effect on monsters, the weak, cowardly ones. They’re hoping that you keep going, but not so you’d get caught. It was because they were hoping that maybe you’d go all the way to Asgore with no bloodshed. That they’d all be safe for now and then free soon.”

            Frisk paused, brightening. “They think I can free them?”

            “Well, once Asgore kills you and takes your soul, yeah.”

            Frisk wilted. “Oh. That, uh. That sounds about right, I guess.”

            *You feel demoralized. What a failure you are.

            Okay, kid, time to pack in the sass. Let’s try and keep it positive around here, okay?

            He narrowed his eyes at them. “Do you think it would be different if you got to Asgore? Do you think you could get past him with or without killing him?”

            Frisk frowned. “I would never kill him.” There’d been some close calls in their first battle, but they’d tried their hardest back then to spare him. “And… and I don’t know what will happen when I get to him. But I do know I’m not going to back down and surrender when it comes to either not killing or not giving up. I’m going to get out of here and… and I’ll do what I can to see the barrier comes down when I do.”

            They waited as he gazed at them. Would he question them on how they planned to do that? The unfortunate truth to that would be that they had no idea. But, they’d seen miracles happen before—they just needed to find out how to do it again.

            At last, he smirked. Without warning, he reached out and slapped their back, shaving off some of their HP in his enthusiasm. “Ha! At least you got the right spirit. Alright, fine, I’d like to see you actually try and talk to Asgore. The Overlord, you know… well, he makes Undyne look like a fluffy teddy bear.” He paused and frowned sternly at them. “Not that I’d know how fluffy or soft a teddy is.”

            In spite of themselves, Frisk had to smile. “No, surely you wouldn’t.”

            He nodded. “Anyway. Asgore hasn’t hesitated to kill a human yet, but then, I don’t think he’s ever met anyone like you.” He turned away and pointed to the east. “Listen, just keep heading that way. If you do, you’ll make it to the palace eventually. There’s a lot of obstacles in your way, like Undyne and, well, you’ll see. But if you’re as determined as I think you are, I think you’re bound to show us all something really interesting. You understand me?”

            “Yes.” They nodded confidently, smiling at him. “Trust me, Papyrus, I’ll do my best not to disappoint.”

            “See to it you don’t.” He stood and dusted off the back of his legs before resting his hands at his belt. “You have a cell phone?”

            “Uh, yeah?” They paused and pulled out their phone, then sighed in relief when it turned on. Alphys had waterproofed it for them ages ago, but they’d been careful and never had a reason to test that protection out until now.

            “I’m going to give you my number. Call me if you have an emergency. I won’t come to save you,” he said with a shrug. “But I might be able to help out.”

            Frisk chuckled. “I take what help I can.”

            “Yes,” he said, glancing at Flowey. “I noticed. You’ve been helping the human?”

            The flower, who’d been quiet as he could be, squeaked and pulled himself half into the ground as he cowered. “Y-yeah?”

            He stared down at Flowey for a long moment before finally nodding. “Well, good to see you’re making use of yourself at last.” Flowey rose up, half in confusion, but Papyrus had already turned back to Frisk—still, Flowey wondered if maybe the skeleton had trying to praise him or not. “Look after each other.”

            “We will,” Frisk promised with a smile. “Thanks for everything, Papyrus.”

            He nodded. “I’ll tell Undyne that I think you’ve already gotten away. If you’re lucky, she’ll head into Hotland. Wait long enough and she’ll head back this way. Try to sneak past her then.”

            “Got it. Hopefully the next time you see us, it’ll be on the surface.”

            He shot them a look as he turned away. “We’ll get to the surface, one way or another. I hope for your sake that your plan works.”

            “Me too. See you later, Papyrus.”

            “Stay alive, human. At least you’re doing better than all the other times.” With a wave over his shoulder, he set off heading north, back the way he came.

            “Wait, Papyrus, what-”

            It was too late though; he was already sprinting away. The two of them watched him go. Once he finally vanished out of sight, Flowey nearly flopped onto the ground with a sigh of relief. “Oh god, I thought for sure he was going to kill you soon as he saw you.”

            Frisk turned to face him with a smile. “Aw, were you worried about me? Thanks, buddy.”

            Flowey lifted his head up to glare at them. “I am not your friend. Even if you weren’t—weren’t nonsensical, you and I still wouldn’t be friends.”

            “Grumpy.”

            “You’re darn right I’m grumpy! What were you thinking? I thought you were dead!” he snapped, rising up to his full, unimpressive height.

            Frisk lifted their chin to stare at him down their nose. “To be fair, Papyrus is the one that dropped me in the drink. Trust me, if I had my way, I’d never get anywhere near water for the rest of my life.”

            “Ugh, so you really can’t swim?”

            Frisk shuddered. “No. I can’t. I, well, let’s say I had a bad… time when I was little. Really soured me to the whole water thing. So, no reason to know how to swim.”

            “You’ve been in water before,” he said, glaring at them sidelong.

            “Water that didn’t go past my neck. Anything past that doesn’t end pretty.”

            Flowey shook his head and sighed. “You really are hopeless.”

            Rather than argue, Frisk glanced back to the north, where Papyrus had gone. “So, what do you think he meant by ‘all the other times’? And what’s with you and him? Did he just give you a lift out of the goodness of his heart? Did you sneak a ride?”

            Flowey winced and shifted nervously. “I have no idea what he meant by that, but as for the other stuff… no. He, uh, he knew I was there. When you tossed me up to the bridge, he saw me there and… and he hid me from Undyne.”

            Frisk gaped at him. “He protected you?”

            “I—I don’t know about that. But he didn’t let Undyne see me.”

            Instead of arguing semantics, Frisk tried to focus on the bigger picture. “Okay, but why?”

            Flowey tried to shrug nonchalantly, but it looked more like a twitch. “Probably to interrogate me later.”

            Frisk narrowed their eyes at him. “Interrogate? Not, you know, exterminate? Flowey, just how do you know Papyrus?”

            For a moment, Flowey didn’t speak. Instead, he fidgeted with a rock, rolling it around with one of his leaves. It was, amusingly enough, a lot like how Papyrus had fidgeted under their gaze. “I… I know what you’re thinking, but I wasn’t lying to you before. Back… back before you came, I used to alternate between the Ruins and Snowdin a lot, since they’re usually the two safest areas of the Underground. Less monsters around. But, um, in Snowdin, one time Papyrus spotted me. I thought for sure he was going to kill me, but he just… just kinda looked at me for a second before walking away. I was beneath his notice, I guess.” He shrugged. “But each time it happened, I was sure he would kill me, but he never did. Mostly he just ignored me, but once or twice he’d asked if I’d seen anything. Sometimes I had, so I would tell him. Sometimes he’d catch one of the guards or his brother trying to kill me and he’d make a big ruckus about them wasting their time.”

            He paused and frowned up at Frisk. “Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t lying to you about him being dangerous or that we were secretly friends. It’s just, for some weird reason, he thinks I’m useful.”

            “Relax, I’m not mad,” Frisk laughed. “Still, you could have told me. Why not tell me sooner?”

            “Cause you kept insisting on not killing anything. Papyrus might have spared me out of some misplaced pity or idea that I’m useful, but he was absolutely not going to spare you.”

            “But he did,” Frisk chirped.

            “Yeah, yeah. Somehow, you managed to worm your way into his good graces.” He shook his head wonderingly at them. “I… I don’t know how, but you keep doing that.”

            “Doing what?”

            “Somehow convincing others not to kill you.” He glanced away. “You know… each time you do it, it just seems more… well, like this world really could change. Like maybe it can really change from ‘kill or be killed’ into something… something kinder.” He paused and looked up at Frisk. Then he groaned; Frisk was beaming at him, sheer pride written into every inch of their face. “Oh, oh no. Don’t look at me like that. Your way is still stupid, and backwards, and—and a pain in my stem.”

            “But?”

            He paused before finally relaxing. “But it… it’d be nice if it really could work.”

            “It can work,” they promised, reaching out to stroke one of his petals. When he looked up at them, Frisk smiled. “Just stick with me, Flowey. I’ll show you.”

            He gazed up at them for a long moment, before finally sighing. “Alright, alright. Show me whatever you like. But later. God, looking after you is exhausting.”

            Frisk laughed heartily. “Sorry for being so troublesome.”

            “You should be,” he grumbled, starting to slump.

            Poor thing. I actually managed to wear out a flower, they thought in amusement as Flowey began to nod off. “Sweet dreams, buddy. We could both use the rest.”

            Flowey mumbled something that might have been ‘goodnight’ but it was so muddled that Frisk couldn’t be entirely sure what it was. Still, they watched as he wilted, his petals closing up around his face like he was an ordinary day blooming flower. Resisting the urge to pat his head gently, like Toriel had patted their head when they were still a child, they turned their attention away from Flowey.

            There is something up with those two skeletons. First Sans knows I’m not the right Frisk, then Papyrus mentions something about ‘all the other times’, like I’ve been making multiple tries to get through the Underground. What does it—bleh, I’m starting to get a headache. Better to stop while I’m ahead. This world really does make no sense.

            They gazed out at the gently running river, a shudder running up their spine as they watched some flotsam bob up and down in the current before being sucked under the waves, washed away out of sight.

            That was almost me for a second there. If it weren’t for Papyrus… If it weren’t for the skeleton, Undyne might have very well had gotten her wish for killing them. Frisk did nearly drown; the thought made their stomach flip. Trying to change tracts, Frisk glanced away from the water and down to their lap. Ugh, I’m all wet again. Well, these clothes aren’t going to give me any warmth for now. Best to take ‘em off and let them air dry.

            Quickly, they checked to make sure Flowey was asleep before they yanked off their binder again. They set it aside with the sad thought that they’d probably wouldn’t be able to wear it tomorrow—if they ran into Undyne, they couldn’t let themselves be hindered by it. Not to mention, Hotland was just around the corner and it would become unbearable there. They also yanked off their boots and socks, and after a moment of thinking, pulled their pants off too. Their boxer briefs were enough like swimwear that they wouldn’t be too self-conscious at least.

             As they finished, they looked down and paused before lifting their left hand.

            They’d seen Undyne’s spear pierce their hand back there on the bridge. They couldn’t have imagined that. Carefully, they reached out and probed their palm. Something felt terribly off—stomach sinking, Frisk slowly pulled off their glove.

            The sounds of the burbling river drowned out a single, sharp gasp. Flowey never even peeled back a petal to check on them.

            For a long, stilted moment, Frisk was dead silent as they thought. Then they turned and scrambled through their pockets for the little sewing kit with thread and needle they salvaged back in the Ruins. With the practiced efficiency of someone who had to learn to sew out of sheer survival, Frisk fixed their glove and shoved it back on. Once they had their glove back on, they sat there, trying to slow their breath as they teetered near hyperventilating. Slowly, their breath steadied. After some time, they sighed and flopped back into a patch of flowers. Closing their eyes, they ran a thumb across their palm and shuddered.

            Exhausted, that was how sleep finally claimed them. Still, even in their exhaustion, that didn’t stop them from shivering as a chill crept up their body. Their teeth were chattering when a soft, heavy warmth dropped onto them. Slowly, they stopped shivering and curled deeper into the warmth.

            Seeing Frisk trying to burrow into the warmth, Sans tucked his coat over their toes that had still been peeking out from under it. Sitting down next to them, Sans observed them for a moment before reaching down to pluck one of the golden flowers they laid on. He twisted the stem around in his fingers, watching the head idly twirl before glancing back to Frisk. In their sleep, they started to smile.

            At last, he tossed the flower away and dug his phone out of his pocket. Looking at it, he fiddled with something on it, glancing at it and then to Frisk several times before finally putting it away.

            “Just what the hell are you, human?” he murmured. He paused as they sneezed in their sleep, but then they quickly settled back down again. “Are you even human?”

            Shaking his head, he grunted and glanced out at the river, trying to figure out the puzzle that lay breathing steady and deep besides him.

Chapter Text

            Frisk dreamed of a field of yellow flowers. At first, the flowers were only as tall as their ankles, but as far as their eye could see, it was nothing but a sea of yellow. The sun beat down upon them, relentless, searing—they needed to find shade or they’d be burnt to a crisp. They tried to move, but their feet caught on the stems and leaves of the blossoms, the roots tangling around their ankles. They didn’t feel dirt or mud beneath their bare toes, just mores plants. Gritting their teeth, they tried to force their way through the plants, but their legs only seemed to sink deeper each time they fought their way forward.

            They barely got three feet before they realized that the plants were now tangled up around their knees. They had to reach down and yank on the plants like handholds to keep moving, but then the plants were up around their thighs and they’re practically wading through them.

            That old familiar feel of drowning kicked in as the plants crept up their hips, up to their belly. They could feel their chest fail to expand as far as it had the breath before, again and again until they could only manage a few shallow breaths. Frisk’s eyes rolled in their head as they searched for something—anything—to grab onto. That was when their throat began to tickle. They coughed, but it persisted until suddenly they felt bile burning their throat. They opened their mouth, but only a gush of golden flowers fell from their lips. Frisk tried to cry out, but they choked on their vomit of buttercups. They’re coming from inside me—the buttercups are inside me already.

            With a gasp, Frisk sat up. The world spun at the abrupt change in position, but thankfully settled down fast. Looking around, Frisk remembered where they were. Taking a breath, Frisk shoved their sweaty bangs out of their face and shivered.

            *You wake from your horrible nightmare only to find yourself in another.

            “It’s not that bad,”  they muttered, sighing. “Well, I mean, I’ve probably had worse.”

            *You do not believe your own lie.

            “Okay, kiddo, no more sass unless I get a cup of coffee, okay?”

            They waited a moment, but there was no response. Well, at least I’m not getting heckled first thing after I woke up. They glanced around and found Flowey still asleep. Getting up, they groaned and stretched, joints crackling. As surprisingly comfortable as sleeping in a bed of flowers was, it didn’t stop Frisk from feeling sore all over later. Maybe the flowers had prompted their horrible dream? It made as much sense as anything else did. They grabbed their pants and checked their pockets before sighing. The monster candy had been soaked through and ruined during their dip in the water. There was nothing that could be done except wash out the bag and keep it in hopes that they’d soon find new restorative items.  Their cigarettes were ruined too, but the lighter at least worked fine. Reluctantly, they tossed the ruined pack into the water—they didn’t like to litter, but well, it was a literal dump. Most of the rest of their stuff was okay, not that there was much to have.

            They pulled their clothes on, hesitating for a moment as they looked at their binder before storing that too into a pocket. I wish I could get my dimensional box on my phone to work. I’ll have to talk to Alphys about it when I get home. It hadn’t worked since they woken up in the Ruins, but maybe it just had something to do with the fact that they weren’t in the right world in the first place. Whatever, that was something for Alphys or Sans to ponder over after they got back home.

            Sitting down next to Flowey, they gave him a nudge before pulling their socks and boots on. They were just going to have to deal with wet feet today—they weren’t going to chance cutting their foot open on some trash as they waded through the dump. “Wakey, wakey, bud. I think we’ve lingered here long enough.”

            The flower yawned as his petals unfurled, like he was stretching his limbs. He shook his head a few times before blinking sleep from his eyes. “What time is it?”

            Frisk paused to check their phone. “Hmm. About three hours since we were on those bridges? We had ourselves quite a nap.”

            Flowey straightened bolt upright. “Are you kidding me? Frisk! What if we missed our chance to get past Undyne?”

            “Well, we will just have to cross that bridge when we come to it,” they shrugged before turning back to him with a sly grin. “Although considering my luck with bridges lately, we should probably be careful about it.”

            The poor flower twitched as he glared at them, like he was actually disgusted. “Seriously? You almost died a few hours ago and now you’re cracking jokes about it?”

            They beamed at him. “What better way to get over trauma than to make light of it?”

            “Frisk!”

            “Ease up, buttercup.” They gave their laces a hearty pull before tying them into a bow. Satisfied that it would hold up, they climbed up to their feet and crouched down to offer Flowey their hand. “Look, qué será, será, okay? We’ll deal with it as it happens.”

            He grimaced, but climbed up into their hand. “Don’t you think that’s a little too casual?”

            “Possibly,” they conceded as they lifted him up and then offered him the shirt strap he’d been clinging to for the last two days. “But, again, there’s not a lot I can do about it besides keep going forward. Speaking of, let’s get moving.”

            With a sigh, he nodded.

            They marched to the water. It rose up to their ankles, but thankfully the water spread out so much here that it wasn’t any deeper than that. Frisk shuddered as they remembered their dream, but kept their chin up.

            *Pushing on, despite your fears, fills you with determination.

            Thanks for the update, kiddo, they thought wryly as they weaved around a heaping pile of trash. They paused to let a cardboard box float past them before moving on.

            “Uh, before we go much farther, I think there’s something I should tell you about,” Flowey said as they walked further into the piles of trash.

            “What’s up?” They paused at a familiar cooler, but peeking inside revealed nothing but a funky odor. Disappointed, they shut it and kept moving.

            “Yesterday, when Papyrus pulled you from the water, your soul… did something weird.”

            Frisk stopped dead in the water to look up at him. “What?”

            He frowned and shifted about. “It… when Papyrus pulled you out, he started pushing on your chest. CPR, I think.”

            “Fair enough.” Funny, their chest hadn’t hurt once they regained consciousness.

            “You know how your soul usually pops out whole from your chest during a fight?”

            Frisk nodded; it’d been incredibly disconcerting at first, but they’d gotten over it pretty quickly.

            “Well, instead of popping out of you and floating up, it was already out—but it was, like, broken into pieces and it quickly came back together. When it did, you started breathing again. Do you know what it could mean?”

            It took everything they had not to let their body shiver from head to toe. As a matter of fact, it did sound familiar, but it would be pretty awkward to admit how they knew—during their final battle with Asriel, their soul had refused to die by re-fusing each time it shattered. Distantly, they noted that each time they had nearly died and refused, their health had returned as well. Well, that explains why nothing hurt. Still, had been a one time thing, or at least, they assumed it had been. They’d been damn careful in the time since then to not get killed, lest they risk a reset.

            Well. This was weird, but not unpleasant news. Nonsensical—they’d never been more determined in their life than during that fight, if they were honest with themselves—but then, this world often seemed to be. So, either it was pure luck, or they might have accidentally stumbled into a strange sort of immortality. That in and of itself was kinda terrifying, but it would work for them for now. They could worry about it later. Or, maybe it really was just a fluke—they hoped so.

            “I… think it means death might have a little harder time claiming me than most.”

            Flowey grimaced. “What does that mean?”

            “Well, I’d guess it means my soul re-fused. I, uh, can only take your word for what you saw, but when my determination is high enough, my soul will refuse to shatter. So, I can, on the rare occasion, be really hard to kill off.”

            “…are you pulling my roots?”

            “No. Look, take my word for it. It’s probably a good thing.”

            He looked suspicious, but didn’t argue. “Well, you better not try to use this as a reason to get sloppy and take even more risks.”

            They had to chuckle. “Look, Flowey, I have no more urge than you to test it out. Hell, it may have just been dumb luck, and in that case, I really shouldn’t try it out. Now, let’s get back to moving, alright?”

            “Fine by me,” he said, his voice loud. They chuckled as they started wading through the dump again, walking around piles of junk. “This place weirds me out. There’s too much junk and it’s all so strange. I mean, look at that dummy! That stupid thing is creepy.”

            Shaking their head, Frisk walked past the dummy but frowned. Wait, a dummy? Why did that sound-?

            Behind them, they heard a growl. Freezing, they turned back just in time to see the dummy’s lopsided head start to twist about. Once it turned about, a pair of furious looking eyes opened. Flowey mumbled a shocked curse, but the dummy vanished under the water.

            Knowing what was coming, Frisk wheeled around in time to see the dummy pop out of the water. “YOU FOOL!” it roared. “I’m not any old dummy—I’m a ghost that lives in this dummy!”

            “Oh my god,” Flowey murmured, ducking behind their shoulder. “I know you don’t like the word, but that thing looks even crazier than Toriel.”

            Frisk shot him a look, but they didn’t want to argue right then. There were more important things to worry about.

            Not that Chara seemed to get that note.

            *Why anyone would want to live in a dummy is beyond you.

            Well, admittedly, that’s true, but I try not to judge people over it, Chara.

            *The point stands.

            “A ghost that lives in a dummy isn’t creepy or stupid! Plenty of ghost chose to live like this. Many of my cousins chose corporal forms.” The dummy paused and glared at Frisk. “Wait, you are—you’re a human!”

            Instinctually, Frisk took a step back, but they knew it was useless already—it was hard enough wading through the water logged trash, running in it would be impossible. “So what if I am?”

            “A-a human! Here, in the Underground?” It paused and cackled for a moment. “This, this is perfect! I can hand you over to the Overlord—I will be justly rewarded. I will be given a new, glorious body. I will fight by the Overlord’s side! I will live out the rest of my days, beautiful, pampered, admired! My cousins will live like princes, my cousins-” Abruptly he stopped. “My cousin… I had a cousin who lived in a dummy in the Ruins…”

            “Oh shit,” Flowey muttered, hiding even lower down Frisk’s shoulder.

            “Someone—someone came and attacked my cousin in the Ruins.” The dummy scowled at them. “Was it you? Did you try to murder my cousin?”

            “No, of course not! The caretaker of the Ruins, she—I’m human anyway, I couldn’t hurt a ghost-”

            “SILENCE!” It’s body began to burn red with rage. “Despicable. Despicable! DESPICABLE! You, you awful bastard! You try to murder my family, hurt their neighbors, and then lie to my face! You—you! I have never been madder in my entire life!”

            “Oh, hell,” Frisk mumbled, trying to crouch down into a defensive position. The dummy was shaking before them, bobbing back in forth as it growled and roared in rage. Whether they were prepared for it or not, it looked like it was going to come down to a fight. “Flowey, I might have to toss you to shore if things look bad.”

            “Don’t you dare toss me again!” he hissed.

            It roared louder. “Horrible creature! Oooh! If I had hands, I’d strangle you. If I had teeth, I’d bite you. Oh, if I had—guuuooo! I’ll kill you, I swear! I’ll kill you, I’ll kill you, I’LL KILL-”

            Frisk could only stare in horror as the dummy suddenly began to burn in a bright white light. Soon, the form vanished in the light that began to burn as bright as the sun. Frisk had to turn their head away as the light overwhelmed their sight.

            Then, as suddenly as it happened, the light vanished. Spots danced in their vision, but when they turned around, the dummy was still floating before them. The anger had vanished from its face and now it bobbed around with a stunned look. Slowly, a smiled spread across its face. “This… this is-! Eureka. Eureka! EUREKA! Human, human, look! Haha, I don’t believe it! Look at me, human. Do you see? All that anger you gave me, it finally did it! My soul has fused with this body! I’m finally completely corporeal!”

            Frisk and Flowey paused before sharing a long look of utter confusion. “Con… congratulations?” they offered.

            The dummy burst out laughing and began to sway through the air. “Oh, human, how wonderful it feels! My lifelong dream realized and it’s all thanks to you, human! Even if you are an unforgivable jerk and your pet’s an idiot, I can’t thank you enough. I’ll skip destroying you for today.”

            “Hey, I’m no one’s pet,” Flowey grumbled, finally lifting his head up over Frisk’s shoulder, although he was ready to duck back behind them at the first sign of trouble. “At least don’t insult me while you thanks us, you jerk.”

            “Hush, Flowey,” they murmured, straightening. “Well wishes to you, uh, dummy, on your new body. Thanks for, uh, not killing me?”

            The dummy started to cackle, not mean spiritedly but excitedly, spinning through the air in its glee. It didn’t seem to care one iota how loud it was being.

            Which explains why another ghost came barreling down the path, screaming. “Will you just shut up already?!” Napstablook howled. When they looked around, however, they paused to stare confusedly at their cousin and then Frisk who helplessly waved at them. “You again?”

            “Blookie!” The Glad Dummy cheered, twirling about as they flew closer. “Look at me, cousin, look! I’m really corporeal now! The human got me so mad, I fused. Oh, isn’t it wonderful. Wonderful? WONDERFUL?!” They laughed again. “Oh, I’m so gotta go show this off—wait until everyone sees me! Later, cousin.” With one last laugh and a twirl, the dummy flew away, leaving only a very confused trio.

            Napstablook watched their cousin go, looking utterly baffled before turning to look at Frisk again. “Uh… thanks? I think? For them, at least? Uh, whatever, I—I’m going back home. Later.”

            Frisk watched as the ghost vanished before turning their head to look at Flowey. “Do you know what’s going on? Because I’m still kinda confused here.”

            “Nonsensical,” Flowey said sagely after he corralled his wits back into place. “This place is completely nonsensical.”

            Well, he wasn’t wrong. “Good to hear that you’re making some good use out of that word.”

            “Yeah, yeah, whatever. Now, let’s get out of here quick before either one of them change their mind and try to come back.”

            Nodding, Frisk waded their way out of the water and headed north. They paused at the crossroads, looking around. Heading west would only send them back the way they came. East was the way to Hotland. North, however, would lead them to Undyne’s house if they went one way, or to the snail farm if they tried another. Frisk considered their options and headed north anyway, mostly out of curiosity.

            What they found, needless to say, surprised them. On one hand, Napstablook’s house was surprisingly the same. On the other hand, the neighboring house was a charred husk.

            “Whoa,” Flowey muttered, craning his head over their shoulder to get a better look. “This wasn’t like this last time I was here.”

            “I thought you didn’t come to Waterfall often?” Frisk asked numbly as they walked forward to get a better look at the wreckage. It really was a lost cause—the floors were black and warped, the foundation visible through the hole in the middle of the floor. They frowned at the walls. What was on there? They walked to the side to get a better look.

            “Not if I could help it. Still, this place is usually quiet—no one usually visits around here, so it’s easier to hide.” He shuddered. “The only thing is, Undyne’s house is just around the corner. So let’s not linger here, if you get what I mean?”

            Frisk dug their phone out of their pocket and used it as a flashlight. “Okay, okay, just give me a second. I just want to see what this says… oh.”

            GOOD RIDDANCE YOU FREAK

            LOSER

            WHO NEEDS IDIOTS LIKE YOU

            There was graffiti spray painted all over the inside of the building. Curses and insults scrawled up and down the walls, onto the floor, and whatever little furniture remained. Stepping back, Frisk grimaced, knowing in their gut who’d defaced the shell of a house. “Napstablook has some real anger issues.”

            “Oh, now  you see that?” Flowey drawled.

            Frisk took a step back, looking over to Napstablook’s house. Without its neighbor there beside it, it felt oddly lonely. Sorry, Blookie. This world’s version of you has too many problems for me to help with in one day. Maybe, after all this is over, someone else will be able to help them. As for me, I got a schedule to keep. Nodding reluctantly, Frisk turned and came back they way they came before heading west.

            “Oh, hey!” Flowey said, perking up. “Go north here! The old turtle might be a snob, but at least he doesn’t overcharge.”

            Frisk blinked up at him. “Really? Thank god. I’m all out of candy.”

            “Just, uh, don’t be rude to him. He still knows how to throw that hammer and he’s got good accuracy,” he added before shuddering.

            Frisk ducked their head through the doorway and smiled at the familiar scenery of the shop. They’d popped into Gerson’s shop a few times during their own trips through the Underground. They’d loved the way the pretty crystals in the walls sparkled and threw rainbows of light from the lamps next to Gerson. The old turtle himself was leaning back in a chair, his feet propped up on the counter. He still wore his archeologist outfit and hat—the brim was missing a chunk. When he looked up, they were unnerved to see that the missing chunk lined up with the missing eye under the brim. “Customers, eh? Well, come in. I got some junk for sale. Just don’t try anything funny, human. Yeah, I know what you are.”

            Frisk raised their eyebrows as they stepped in. “You know what I am and yet you let me in anyway? How kind of you.”

            He scoffed. “Hardly. Your reputation precedes you, human. You got monsters all up in a tizzy.” He shook his head. “A human sparing monsters. You must be as crazy as me.”

            Flowey poked their cheek with a leaf. “Told you.”

            “Ha ha. Well then, can I see the, uh, wares then?”

            Gerson gestured to a box of stuff next to him. “Knock yourself out.”

            They knelt and dug through the items. To their confusion, all that was in there was healing items—they distinctly remember some items from the fallen humans being in there during their own runs. Where were they now? Had they been lost when the human had died, tossed aside into Waterfall’s waters? Or had someone come through and bought them? If they had, then why? Shrugging, Frisk counted their money and decided to buy some sea teas—the crab apples healed more, but the small bottles of sea tea wouldn’t take up too much room in their pockets. While they were digging around, their face lit up as they discovered a half crushed pack of cigarettes. They pulled it out and examined it—the plastic around it looked fine and intact. Feeling it with their fingers, they knew a few of the sticks had been ruined, but there had to be at least a few good ones left.

            They held it up to the turtle. “How much for the smokes?”

            Gerson eyed it lazily before shrugging. “15 gold. That’s my only offer.”

            “Fair enough. I’ll take it and these sea teas.”

            Gerson held his hand out; obediently, they dropped their money into his palm. Once he nodded, they began to stuff their items into their pockets wherever they found space. Watching them put their items away, Gerson chuckled and leaned further back into his seat. “Funny that I get less trouble out of humans than I do any monster patrons.”

            They glanced up at him. “Get many humans passing through here?”

            “Occasionally. They don’t always drop in and they don’t always make it this far, but when they do, they seem all too happy to get out of my way without much prompting.”

            Flowey poked them in the back of their head. “Frisk, let’s get going.”

            Frowning, Frisk nodded to Gerson. “Thanks for the stuff, sir.”

            The old turtle waved them away. “Pfft. That’s the first time I’ve been thanked in awhile. Humans. Bah. Git going now, go on.”

            Frisk left and started heading east again. Moving through the dark rooms with light up mushrooms, glowing crystals, and more waterfalls, they encountered a few monsters along the way, including an Aaron who they scared off by making spooky noises at him. Frisk only paused once to consider the hidden path to Temmie Village.

            “Should we go visit the Tems? They might have some cheap items.”

            “Uh, no.”

            “Oh, come on. Don’t Temmies like humans?”

            “Yeah, they like humans alright—they like to eat them.” Flowey scoffed. “Once the Overlord’s Enforcers had to come out here to get a human who’d gotten lost in the dark rooms and got caught by the Tems. They had to slaughter half the village, and even then, all that they managed to recover was the soul.”

            Horrified, Frisk hurried through the maze and the one after that. They paused at the dark room, flinching when they stepped into the ankle deep water at first. They wandered to the far side of the room and noticed, with no small amount of dread, an echo flower. Walking over to, they waited by its side for it to talk to them.

            “Yo!”

            Frisk blinked. That wasn’t what they were expecting.

            “U-um. Yo?”

            *The sound is coming from behind you.

            Oh. Um. I knew that. Turning around, they brightened when they saw Monster Kid behind them. “Hey, it’s you! You’re alright, too?”

            The child blushed. “Y-yeah, I’m alright. I, uh, I was too fast for them to get me!”

            Frisk grinned. “I see. That’s fantastic. I was worried about you.”

            “What, me?” He blinked up at them before grinning back. “Nah, no way. I was totally too slick for them. But uh, you’re the one they were chasing.” He paused, frowning. “Are-are you okay?”

            They resisted the urge to giggle in delight. “Did I worry you? Sorry. I got lucky though, so I’m fine.”

            “Lucky? You’re so much better than lucky!” he nearly shouted, bouncing closer to them. When he looked up at them, his eyes were shining. “You were so cool! You ran so fast and-and you never even cried when you got stabbed-” Frisk clenched their hand. “You actually got away from Undyne! That’s, like, the most badass thing ever!”

            Frisk found themselves smiling softly. “You’re sweet. I’m not nearly as cool as you think I am—but you’re kind to think so.”

            “No way, you totally are! Even if you’re…” He paused and shifted uncomfortably.

            Frisk had a feeling they knew what he was about to say.

            “Even if… hey… Are—are you really? A human?” he asked, gazing up at them. He looked like he was torn between fear and hope—but fearful or hopeful of what? They had no idea what he wanted them to say, but looking at him, they decided to try the truth.

            They nodded their head. “I am. Sorry for not telling you earlier.”

            “O-oh, um. It’s okay! It’s just, um,” he paused and scuffed his claws against the ground. “I’m such a turd. I said all that stuff about watching Undyne kill the last human and, um. Yeah.” 

            “Well, it’s not like you’re the first of your kind to say as much to my face,” they said, reaching out to pat the top of his head. “And most of those monsters said it cheerfully, knowing exactly what I was! Don’t worry, I won’t hold it against you.”

            He blinked up at them, mouth agape. “R-really?”

            “Hun, I’ve heard a lot worse things said about me before. I’ll live.”

            He looked up at them silently for a moment. Then he beamed up at them. “Wow, you’re so cool! You’re nice and you’re fast and smart! You’re soooo much better than Undyne—she nearly speared me to death! Which, admittedly, would be kind of an awesome way to go, but you’re so much cooler than she ever was!”

            Frisk blinked before scratching the back of their head. Lord, they hadn’t had flattery laid on this thick since that time the French ambassador’s daughter got a massive crush on them and tried her best to woo Frisk. Of course, they’d been about four years older than the girl and hardly spoke a word of French. It took two hours to convince her that they weren’t ready for a relationship, let alone one with a thirteen year old although they worded it kinder than that, and they’d had to put up with Alphys giggling at them the whole night. God, they were almost dead certain she still had the fanfics she wrote about them saved on her computer somewhere, just waiting to be brought out to tease them.

            Flowey didn’t seem too amused either. He grunted in disgust and prodded the back of their head with a leaf. “Frisk, send him away—we can’t stop moving now.”

            He had a point. Frisk cleared their throat. “You know, you really are sweet.” He paused and fidgeted in delight; they took it as their cue to press on. “And I’m really am glad to see you’re alright. But Undyne, you know, she’s still looking for me. I don’t think it’s safe for you to be seen talking to me.”

            He drooped, tail curling around his feet as he nodded. “Yeah, I—I figured. I just, I just wanted to tell you though, how cool I think you are.” He paused and brightened. “Hey, if you’re ever in Snowdin again, you should totally come to our school! Everyone will totally think you’re the best. I’ll be the most envied kid in school once they hear that I met you!”

            They smiled softly. “So, you’re planning to go back home?”

            “Heh, yeah.” He shrugged and looked away. “I figured that Undyne will probably try to spear me if she sees me again, so I’d better wait for awhile before trying to sign up for the Overlord’s troops. That and I’m getting kind of hungry. My mom’s probably got dinner waiting for me at home.”

            “Sounds good. Get home safe, okay?”

            He nodded and smiled at them. “Okay. See you later, human.”

            “The name’s Frisk,” they laughed.

            “Frisk then! See ya!” he shouted over his shoulder. They waved goodbye as he ran off—he didn’t get far before he planted his face in the ground. A moment later, though, and he was up and running off into the shadows.

            They watched him leave with a fond smile, shaking their head.

            “Thank god,” Flowey groaned, resting his leaves on their shoulder like he’d climbed up there. “Maybe now we can get around without having to worry about Undyne hearing you two yapping all the time.”

            Frisk chuckled and patted his head. “Aw, don’t be such a grump. He’s just a kid.”

            “A dumb kid,” he huffed. “Come on, let’s get going already.”

            “Okay, okay, no need to be mean,” they said as they looked around for the proper passage. They brightened when they saw the path that they had missed in the shadows. They hurried past the echo flowers and their grim conversations, resisting the urge to clap their hands to their ears to block it out, but afraid that if they did they might miss something important.

            They moved so quickly to escape the haunting words, that they nearly tripped hurrying out of the corridor. Catching themselves, they straightened and froze.

            “Wow,” Flowey breathed after a moment. “This, uh. This is new.”

            It was another corridor, but it hardly matched the surroundings at all. If Frisk was perfectly frank, it looked like it belonged to the western side of Waterfall—not nearly all the way to the east. Hadn’t the bridge where Monster Kid had first fallen been here? And yet, it was nothing more than a plain corridor. Suspicious, Frisk walked further into the corridor, pausing at the only landmark in the corridor.

            The grey door stood out sharply, looking as out of place as a Great Dane in a line of Pomeranians. It was placed perfectly in the middle of the wall, like it had grown out of it, like it had always been there.

            Staring at it made Frisk’s head hurt, as if they were looking into the sun. They gazed at it from the corner of their eye and still it hurt. Unbidden, their hand reached for the knob.

            “Frisk,” Flowey murmured into their ear. “I don’t think this is a good idea.”

            In their gut, they agreed. And yet, their hand kept moving. Slowly, it neared the knob; their stomach flipped with anticipation. Once their hand touched the knob, their palm throbbed and Frisk drew it back with a hiss.

            “Frisk! You okay?”

            Biting their lip, Frisk rubbed the palm of their hand, they thumb tracing the stitch they sewed in hours before. The spell the door had cast on them was over now, at least, and they found themselves repulsed by it. “Let’s get out of here,” they whispered, taking a cautious step to the side.

            “Don’t need to tell me twice.”

            Turning, they hurried forward and didn’t dare look back until they found themselves at the edge of another bridge. Pausing, they thought about glancing over their shoulder but stopped themselves at the last moment. Whatever devils lay behind them, they could stay there—Frisk wouldn’t invite them forward. Lifting their chin, they took a deep breath and continued eastward.

            Walking forward, however, they found themselves abruptly walking out of the depths of Waterfall and out into a path surrounded by open air on both sides. The path wound off to into another cave in the middle of a craggy hill. Frisk frowned as the wind howled and tossed their hair around while Flowey ducked behind their shoulder to get out of the brunt of the wind.

            This… feels familiar. And then, a memory fell into place, ending with them glancing up to seeing Undyne glaring down at them from the top of the mound. Frisk shuddered.

            *You know you are walking into a trap.

            Well, forewarned is forearmed, right? At least they didn’t see any bloodthirsty human hunting Captain of the Overlord’s Enforcers up at the peak. Squaring their shoulders, they started walking forward. “Flowey, on the off chance that Undyne does show up and try to murder me in the next few seconds, would you like me to put you down on the ground? We could meet up in Hotland later.”

            He craned his head around so he could send them a disgruntled, nervous look straight into their eyes. “What the hell kind of question is that?”

            “A possibly pertinent one?” They were nearing the bend in the path and no sign of Undyne yet. Maybe they were being paranoid?

            Flowey rolled his eyes and started to slink back around their shoulder. “Yeah, well, you’re being really cocky. What makes you think that if Undyne did start to chase us—FRISK! Duck!”

            Without a second thought, Frisk crouched as low as they could manage. A blood red magic spear slammed into the ground before them after nearly slicing through Frisk’s head. Watching in mute horror as the spear fizzled out of existence, Frisk gulped and then turned to look over their shoulder.

            Undyne stepped out of the shadows of the exit they’d just stepped out of—she must have been waiting in the shadows as they walked past her. Again, she had her helmet off and it appeared she’d left it someplace. She grinned at them and laughed. “You have quick reflexes, human. Good! Then this should be fun.”

            Frisk straightened from their crouch, never taking their eyes off her. After a long moment of silence, Frisk considered their options and took off at a dead run for the cave entrance.

            A volley of red spears, blocked the path; Frisk nearly flopped onto their back, trying to stop themselves from running into them. Their soul appeared before them and they heard the loud thump of Undyne landing behind them. Tossing themselves to the side, they barely missed the spear she’d flung at their back.

            Staggering in a circle around her, they backed down the path, hoping to get more room to move. Undyne only laughed at them, her one eye tracking their clumsy movements. “Are you really going to be dancing around me this whole fight, human? Alright, little coward, let’s see how long you can last doing that!”

            “Frisk,” Flowey whispered against their shoulder. “You can’t keep running away.”

             Frowning, Frisk fell into a defensive crouch and watched as Undyne summoned another wave of spears. Gazing at them, they nodded to themselves. “Alright then. So I won’t run away.”

            *Your enemy stands before you. Facing your opponent head on fills you with determination.

            “Oh? Finally standing your ground? Brave, but dumb. Here, human, catch!” She pointed in their direction; the spears shot to them.

            Ducking to the side, Frisk reached out and snatched a spear out of the air. Instantly, their heart turned green; they let the momentum of the spear whirl them around into a circle, rather than fight it. When they wheeled around back forward, they had the spear securely in their grasp and pointed at Undyne.

            For a moment, Undyne actually looked surprised. Then she tossed her head back and howled with laughter. “Oh, the human can fight, can they?” When she had herself under control, Undyne gazed at them with an easy confidence. “Okay, human, I’ll give you credit. First, you have the gall to actually try to get through the Underground without killing anyone, flaunting our most fundamental law. Then you try to break up your little party with that little shit kid and made me give up my prey! And now, now you have the audacity to point my own spear at me! Even though you’re a coward trying to practice some goody-two-shoes shtick, at least you’re not completely pathetic. Okay, human, you want to die like a real opponent?” She summoned more spears, all pointed dead at Frisk. “Then let’s see you move.”

            “I hope you know what you’re doing,” Flowey mumbled before ducking into the back of their shirt.

            “You’ve got this,” whispered the voice of an old memory. Cold hands corrected their grip on the energy spear and nudged their feet apart. “The first step in winning any fight is facing your opponent dead on. Show me your war face, Frisk.”

            Frisk gritted their teeth and tightened their grip on the spear, feeling the magic shift like running water beneath ice. If they focused on that feeling, it was almost like practice back when they were young. Even this strange version of Undyne could pass for their old friend if they ignored the killing intent in their aura and focused on that wild grin. “I’ve got this.”

            Undyne only grinned wider. “Then show me. Die!”

            The first wave was child’s play—high strike, low, twist to the side to deflect a low strike, turn back in time to catch another high strike. As the wave ended, Frisk knew she was only trying to feel them out. It was what their Undyne always did first whenever they’d gone sometime between training. So, either she was more interested in having a fun bout, or she was playing with Frisk. They hoped it was the former.

            Another wave sent them twirling—eight spears this time, high front strike, low strike on the left, mid strike back on the right, high then low from the back, swing around to the front for another high strike, then two mid strikes from either side that came so fast that Frisk nearly missed blocking them in time. The green magic pinned them in place, but its unusual side effect meant that they weren’t dizzy at least. Still, with the wave over, they had a chance to talk. “Hey, don’t you think this is going to get boring fast if we just do this all day? Maybe we could-”

            “Oh, bored already? Then take this!”

            Frisk grimaced—that wasn’t what they’d been going for.

            Twelve strikes, including two feints that almost Frisk speared through the back. As they turned to stop the second to last spear, Flowey screamed at them. “Frisk, behind you!”

            Frisk barely got turned around in time to see a black spear ripple through the shadows, only the faint gleam of magic giving it away in time for them to block it. As the spear vanished, negated by the other spear, Frisk turned to glare at Undyne. “That was hardly sporting.”

            Undyne only smirked. “That’s funny—do you think I give all my prey ‘sporting chances’? Do you give your meals time to run away? Cause that’s all you are in the long run, human. Once I’m done with you here, I’m going to rip that soul out of you and take it to the Overlord. Then he’s going to finally break the barrier. That’s all there is to it. Humans—as if any of you deserve the chance!” She lifted her arm, palm up. A ring of spears surrounded Frisk, not coming from just four angles but at least twelve.

            Frisk’s heart hammered in their chest—this wasn’t a technique their Undyne used often. The first time she had, she nearly stabbed Frisk through the head. Asgore had caught them that time and tried to firmly lecture the fish warrior on safety, ending with the threat that if he caught her trying it that he’d tell Toriel on her. But that didn’t mean she never used it again, nor did she forget to show Frisk the best way to block it—they’d just had to get sneakier about where they practiced. Shifting her hands down near the end of the shaft, she waited until the first spear started to move. There, at the eight o’clock position, that spear moved forward, followed swiftly by the one at the nine o’clock position and then the one at the ten. Gritting their teeth, Frisk spun around and lifted their spear—their spear smacked against the first spear, causing it to shatter, and then followed the arc of their swing, smacking into the next spear and the one after that until Frisk had completed the circle, smashing each spear as they turned. The spear in their hand flickered and hairline cracks formed along its length; it would not survive another hit.

            They forced themselves to turn back to face Undyne and tried not to pant in front of her. “You know, I’m starting to think you don’t like me very much.” When she started to laugh, Frisk took their chance and hurled the spear back at Undyne. It was too weak to do more than take a sliver of HP if it did hit, but that was not their intention—it sailed through the air true, but Undyne only frowned as she swatted it and it shattered.

            More importantly, the moment Frisk let go of the spear, their soul turned red again; while she was distracted with the incoming flying missile, Frisk darted past her and dashed through the cave entrance.

            Undyne roared angrily behind them; Flowey laughed as they slipped into the shadows. “Yeah! In your face!”

            Frisk might have smiled, but the heavy footfalls behind them kept them racing as fast at they could. Gotta get to Hotland! She won’t fall for that trick again! Maybe if they got to Hotland, she’d overheat from the exertion. The problem was getting her all the way to Hotland without her catching up with them. Considering she was probably being weighed down nearly as much in her armor as their Undyne had been, it was a helpful handicap. The problem was, one, it sure didn’t seem to be slowing her down, and two, they had no idea if she was perhaps faster than their Undyne.

            That said, she sure was about as pissed as their Undyne was. “Human, get back here and face me!”

            A bright red laser shot through the shadows behind them, dancing wildly around them. Stalactites fell from the ceiling, dropping down on the ground around and to the river below. Frisk yelped as one landed perilously close to them. Glancing over their shoulder, they saw the laser was actually coming out of Undyne’s eye socket. She’d yanked her eye patch off to reveal not an empty socket, but some sort of device imbedded into her skull. Oh, my Undyne would love that.

            *You watch as she shoots laser beams out of her eye socket.

            *You are both easily impressed and distracted.

            Flowey seemed just as surprised as they were. “She shoots laser beams out of her face?”

            Undyne cackled. “A special gift from the Royal Scientist! Now why don’t you just stand still and feel how powerful it is for yourself.”

            “Fuck that shit,” Frisk muttered and ran faster. Their Undyne probably would have told them to “watch their fucking mouth” if she heard them say that.

            Up ahead of them, they saw the marquee sign welcoming them to Hotland. Frisk shot past it and escaped out of the cave. Looking ahead, they glanced to the side and saw Sans at his station, gazing at them, red eye huge in the socket. Wishing they had breath enough to shout for help, they only risked a single wave as they shot past him. One of Undyne’s spears nearly shattered the right side post of his station.

            “I’ll kill you later, Sans!” Undyne roared as she also ran past him.

            Frisk frowned—she sure didn’t sound winded. Taking a glance over their shoulder revealed that she looked perfectly fine as well. Even when they ran past the water cooler, she looked as fresh as she had at the start of the fight.

            Caught up in their worried musing, they almost missed their phone start to ring. Without a second thought, they answered it. “Hello?”

            Flowey screamed. “Are you joking?”

            Undyne wasn’t amused either. “You little fucking shit! HOW DARE YOU pick up a call while I’m fighting you! GET BACK HERE!” She sent a wave of spears so densely packed that Frisk nearly slipped off the edge of the path trying to evade it.

             “HUMAN!” Papyrus’s voice shouted in their ear. “I just got a text from Sans saying you were being chased by Undyne.”

            “Uh, yeah, that’s about right.” They hopped to avoid another spear aimed low. Up ahead, they could see the roof of Alphys’ lab. Something told them that they weren’t going to receive any help if they tried ducking in there now. “Look, I can’t keep talking, Undyne’s gonna-”

            “Did you think that because she’s a fish that Undyne wouldn’t be able to handle fighting in Hotland? Well, you used to be right! However, the Royal Scientist made her a climate controlled suit of armor! So, no matter where you go, Undyne will always be in top form to fight you.”

            “Ah, christ on cracker.

            *That puts a damper on your plans.

            “Listen to me, human! There is no running from Undyne. If you want to defeat her, then there is only way. You must turn and fight her.”

            “I don’t want to hurt her,” Frisk gasped, weaving to the side to avoid another spear. The lab was looming ahead of them now; Frisk made a snap decision and headed south at the crossroads.

            “Oh, please, you couldn’t if you tried,” he scoffed. “But that doesn’t matter. If you can fight her to a standstill, she might be impressed enough by you to not kill you immediately.”

            Frisk nearly tripped avoiding the laser as it swung dangerously close to them. “You think I can talk her around?”

            “Of course not! Just dump her in the river there ahead of you.” They didn’t bother to ask how he knew they were running up to the river where the Ferryperson usually waited. Lord only knew how many times their own Papyrus pulled that trick. “It won’t kill her, but it’s very hard to swim in armor, you know. While she’s busy, you can run and find a place to hide like the coward you are!”

            Frisk’s eye twitched. “Thanks a lot, Papyrus.”

            “No need to mention it, human! Now, stop being a baby bones and face her!” With that, he hung up on them.

            Standing before the water’s edge, Frisk snatched the nearest spear out of the air and used it to ward off the other spears. Their soul glowed green before them again. When Undyne saw that they were standing their ground, she skid to a halt.

            “Finally! Cowards like you sure can run fast, huh?” she hissed, barely out of breath.

            Frisk didn’t even try to hide how their own chest was heaving as they stuffed their phone into their pocket and gripped the spear. “My training instructor was very strict when it came to leg days.”

            Undyne sneered at them. “Smart person. Too bad their wisdom didn’t wear off on you.”

            Leave it to Undyne to accidently compliment her own training regime; Frisk bit their lip to keep from smiling. “Yeah, that’s what she said. A lot.”

            “What a pity for her, then, to have you for a student.” She raised her hand and summoned another ring of spears.

            The attack came from the five o’clock position and went clockwise again; Frisk whirled around, smacking as many as they could, but the last slipped through and slashed their arm, knocking off five HP. Frisk grimaced and stood their ground, pointing the spear back at Undyne again. Maybe they needed to try something different. “So, you’d call me a bad student. What kind of student would you want to train?”

            Undyne paused, hand jerking to the side so that the spears she’d started to summon flew wide. She scowled while Frisk stayed in their spot. “What the hell kind of question is that?”

            “A curious one? If you’re really going to kill me and take my soul, then at least indulge me first.” C’mon, haven’t you seen enough anime at this point to know a good chance to monologue when you see one? Their Undyne sure loved her chances to monologue.

            Shaking her head, she summoned sixteen spears and sent them flying in waves. While Frisk tried to avoid getting impaled, she turned their tactic around on them and began to talk as the spears flew through the air, distracting them so they missed two of the spears and wound up at half their health. “If I had a student it wouldn’t be no wimpy, ‘give-peace-a-chance’ drivel spouting moron like you.”

            Panting hard, Frisk considered their options and instead reached into their pockets and yanked out one of their sea tea bottles. They wrestled the cap off with one hand and downed the bottle in a deep draught, healing themselves almost to full health and sending a tingling feeling through their whole body. They tossed the bottle to the side, away from their feet. It’d be embarrassing as all get out if they accidently killed themselves by tripping over their own trash.

            Rolling their shoulders, they fixed their grip on the spear. “That’s not a real answer and you know it.”

            Undyne snorted and formed another wave, but this time she looked thoughtful—the look did nothing to ease their worry. “Tell you what. You stop acting like a little bitch, maybe then I’ll talk to you. Until then shut up!”

            At the jerking motion she made with her hand, another ring of spears, eight in all, four aiming down from high and four aiming up from low, appeared around them and then shot forward.

            Frisk’s first thought was simple math—they could easily block four spears at once from the front and take the rest to their back. As long as they could tank the attack, they could try and heal again. If they took the attack straight to their soul, however, they’d be dead in an instant.

            The second thought nearly made their heart stop. They could, in fact, tank the hits—but Flowey, still clinging to the back of their shirt, could not. And there was no resetting for him anymore with them in this world. They couldn’t duck either as he’d still get hit from the spears aiming down at them.

            Without another thought, Frisk removed their left hand from the spear and whirled the spear around behind their body, getting it up and level just in time to block their back and Flowey from those spears. At the same time, the four spears in front slammed into their soul.

            It cracked and shattered into pieces.

            *But it refused.

            The pieces slammed back together and Frisk fell to their knees. The spear they’d been holding crumbled, but Frisk was more concerned about controlling their racing heart.

            “Frisk! Frisk, oh my god, are you alright?!”

            *It appears you have enough determination to truly refuse death.

            *You decide to worry about what this means later.

            “Frisk!”

            Closing their eyes, Frisk marshaled their courage and forced themselves to stand. “I’m fine, Flowey.” When they opened their eyes, they felt hot. “We’re not done here.”

            Undyne looked at their face, but whatever she saw there gave her pause. After a moment, she tossed her head back and laughed. “Well, I guess there is something more to you after all.” Reaching up into the air, she summoned another spear into her hand. Casually, she tossed the spear at Frisk, not aiming to impale them, but a casual toss that Frisk caught easily. Warily, Frisk adjusted their grip on it, their blood still singing from the sea tea. “Alphys told me that you humans are able to pull out some real interesting tricks. Things that seem impossible, like miracles.”

            Frisk wondered what she was getting at. “I do believe in miracles.”

            Undyne smirked and summoned another wave of spears, this time all aiming at their front. “Show me.”

            Bracing themselves, Frisk obeyed. Wave after wave of spears, round after round, they did their best to protect themselves and Flowey from Undyne’s onslaught. There were some close calls, Frisk used up all their healing items—but then holes started appearing in Undyne’s defenses. At first, Frisk ignored them, assuming they were traps. But as the fight dragged on, Frisk took a risk and struck back—twisting about, they swung the butt of spear against Undyne’s side. The armor rung but it barely took off any of Undyne’s health—still, for a moment, the fish seemed honestly rattled. Then she narrowed her eyes at them.

            Undyne attacked again, but this time, there was another hole in her defense.

            Frisk studied her. She’s baiting me—for what though? Frowning, Frisk ignored it. “Undyne, we don’t have to keep doing this-”

            The fish growled and attacked again, relentless. A round later, there was another hole in her defense.

            What is she up to? Frisk decided to play along.

            A new pattern emerged—Undyne would leave a hole in her defense, Frisk would attack it but never do serious damage. Undyne would renew her attacks savagely, but then another weakness in her defense would appear. Each time, Frisk noted with dread, the weakness was aiming for more vital spots.

            Is she trying to get me to kill her?

            *Or rather. Is she trying to make you a killer?

            Frisk shuddered and refused to take the shots.

            Round after round passed; Frisk was starting to feel jumpy and twitchy from all the sea tea in their body, like they were buzzed off energy drinks. I don’t even like energy drinks, they thought fuzzily. Shaking their head, they leveled their spear at her. “Undyne, this is getting ridiculous.”

            “What’s a matter, human?” Undyne asked, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. Had her voice sounded so raspy before? They weren’t sure, but they hadn’t thought so. “Don’t you want to have one of those epic battles that go on for days on end, stretching on until we go down in the history books for this duel?”

            Frisk grimaced; that definitely sounded like something their Undyne would say and definitely because of some anime Alphys had shown her. “If it’s all the same, I have to eat some time. God, is this what you and Papyrus do together for fun? Fight each other?”

            Undyne blinked at them. “What? Yeah, mostly.”

            God give me strength, these monsters are going to put me into the grave one way or another. I took a three hour nap and I’m already back to being tired. “So you… train together?”

            “Train together? Nah, I have to train my subordinates. Papyrus I just fight for fun. That bonehead could teach a thing or two to those idiots I have to whip into shape.”

            Remembering how eager to attack the Canine Unit had been, Frisk wondered just what she was whipping them into shape to do. Still, she had Undyne talking—she didn’t dare let up now. “Are you two friends then?”

            Undyne snorted, but suddenly seemed to have trouble meeting Frisk’s eyes. “I’d trust that skeleton as far as I can throw him.”

            Frisk raised an eyebrow. “He’s a skeleton and you’re you. Doesn’t that mean you’d be able to throw him pretty far?”

            She laughed, as if delighted by the mental image. “Hell yeah, I could! I could toss him from one end of the Underground to the other if I wanted.”

            “So… that means you actually trust him quite a lot then.”

            She blinked, scowled, and then summoned another wave of spears. “More fighting now.”

            After a brutal sixteen spear assault, Frisk tried their luck again. “So, how do you and Papyrus know each other?”

            “Seriously? Are you really—oh, fine. He tried out for the Enforcers, alright?” She summoned another wave of spears.

            Panicked, Frisk talked fast. “O-oh, hey that reminds me! Why does he call it the Royal Guard if it’s really the Overlord’s Enforcers? And why not let him if he is your friend?”

            “He is not my—augh, you little shit! Fine, you want to talk?” she waved her hand and all the spears disappeared, including the one in Frisk’s hands. “Fine. He calls it that because that’s what he thinks it is. He thinks it’s such an honor, that is so much better than being a sentry. That we’re protectors and defenders of our people. And that’s exactly why I won’t let him in yet!”

            Frisk frowned, baffled but hopeful. “If it’s not what you do, then what do you do?”

            “Terrorize people mostly,” Flowey muttered behind their shoulder just as Undyne said the same thing before them.

            “We carry out the Overlord’s will,” Undyne answered, her eager, brash energy ebbing fast as her eye gazed distantly at the river behind them. “We do as he says—arrest a dissenter here, relocate someone there. Execute someone if we must. And because of what we do, people turn a blind eye to our members’… antics.” She growled the word out between gritted teeth. “No one outside the Enforcers can stop the members. Only by working on the inside has any progress been done.”

            Frisk shifted, both brows going up. “Progress? Did you join… to make them clean up their act?”

            “Clean up their act? I’d be happy if they’d just stop murdering each other.”

            Frisk fought the urge to blanch. “Oh.”

            “Oh is right. Tell me, human, how long do you think either of those skeletons would last if I let Papyrus in? Maybe a week? The moment Sans opens his big mouth, the only thing keeping him alive would be Papyrus. And that overeager idiot can’t be everywhere to save his brother’s backside.”

            “So, you’re worried about both of them? Or just for anyone who might end up as collateral from the Enforcers?”

            Undyne stared at them for a moment before she began to laugh—not raucously, like before, but more of a restrained mirth. “Look at you, trying to get me to tell you all this useful shit, like you’re going to use it against me—or worse, like you’re trying to befriend me.” She paused again and shook her head. “I’m not your friend, human, and I never will be. I don’t know how you got on Papyrus’s good side, but it won’t work for me.”

            Anxiety slammed Frisk in the gut. Oh god, what if she turns on Papyrus—what if she suspects that he-? No, get it together, Frisk.  They cleared their throat. “Why do you think I’m on Papyrus’s good side? He was trying to help you capture me, wasn’t he?”

            She glowered at them. “Don’t take me for a fool, human. I know that idiot,” she paused, frowning thoughtfully. “Which is how I know he’s never going to cut it in an organization like the Enforcers—not as it is now. There’s still too much work to be done. Look, you want to befriend someone? To help them? Go bother him. Convince him to give up on this Royal Guard shit.”

            Frisk sighed. “I can’t do that. He… he’s got too much riding on this, I think. It’s how he thinks he can get a brighter future.”

            Undyne grunted. “He would.” She shook her head and ran a hand over her hair, an old gesture that Frisk recognized, one that meant she was irritated and impotent to do anything about it. “So. Then he’s just going to have to wait until I can finish reforming those idiots. I’ll just have to keep him distracted for now.” She paused and frowned thoughtfully at Frisk. “Which maybe you can help with. Tell you what, human—I think I might have an actual use for you. Keep distracting that idiot for a while. Then maybe I’ll just forget we ever had this little talk.”

            “I… think I could manage that.” Their soul, however, didn’t disappear—Undyne wasn’t done with them yet, apparently.

            The warrior regarded them for a long minute before shaking her head. “You really are a strange creature, human. You befriend Papyrus, you try and even befriend me. You talk like you give a shit about monsters. You, you even saved one, back there on the bridge. I just don’t understand you.” At last, something like satisfaction touched her eye. “You’re changing things around here. Maybe you can even change Asgore some.”

            Finally, the powerful tug on Frisk’s soul let up—Undyne was sparing them. Quick to act, Frisk returned the favor and dropped out of their defensive posture.

            “Now get the fuck out my sight,” Undyne said, as she turned around. “Go to Snowdin. Go to Hotland. I don’t care.” She paused and glanced back over her shoulder. “But if you do go to Hotland, you’ll definitely find yourself having one bad time. Got it?”

            Frisk nodded, too unsure to risk offending Undyne before she was gone.

            “And pick up your goddamn litter before you leave. This isn’t the dump.” Turning her head back, Undyne left them.

            Once she was gone, Frisk sank to the ground and sighed in relief. “Oh my god.”

            “Holy crap,” Flowey murmured, rising out of his hiding to look where Undyne had left. “You… you actually survived a fight with Undyne. I… I don’t think anyone other than Asgore could have managed that nowadays.” He reached idly for the hair that hung next to him and began to tug on it, like he was ringing a bell. “Holy crap, Frisk! You actually went toe to toe with Undyne and lived! You didn’t die once.” He stopped yanking on their hair to look wonderingly forward. “Maybe miracles do happen.”

            Frisk didn’t know whether to laugh or sigh in irritation. “Thanks, bud. Appreciate that.”

            “You know what I mean,” he insisted. He stared up at them as they calmed themselves down. “Are you ready then? To go to Hotland?”

            Taking one last big breath to steady themselves, Frisk forced their body to stand and lifted their chin. “Yeah. Let’s get going.” They took a few steps forward before pausing and looking back. “Uh, but first, I think I better clean up that trash.”

Chapter Text

            *A lab towers before you. The dark shadow engulfs the path.

            I can see that, thanks, Frisk thought, biting their lip as they resisted a giggle. Saving had taken the edge off and left them refreshed, but the crossroads before the lab was still obscured by the lab’s shadows and it left a foreboding air about the path. Frisk certainly didn’t remember it looking this gloomy, but then every part of the Underground was different from what they remembered.

            Flowey shuddered, ducking down behind their neck. “I… I don’t suppose you’d mind trying the elevator?”

            Frisk glanced back at him, surprised. What had gotten under his petals? “Do you think it’ll be working?”

            Flowey paused then slumped. “No… knowing her, she’s probably cut the power off already.”

            Smiling gently, Frisk twitched their shoulder to get his attention. “It’s still worth a shot. Let’s go check.”

            They headed north, but sure enough, the button wouldn’t even light up when they pressed it to call the elevator. After a few long moments, they both agreed that it was a no go. Resigned, they walked back and headed towards the lab. Frisk hesitated outside the door, unsure if it would even open, but to their surprise, it slid open without a hitch.

            Inside, the lab was pitch black. Frowning, Frisk got out their phone to use it as a flashlight. The light revealed piles of trash lining the walls of the lab’s entrance—that was disconcerting. Alphys could be a bit of a slob when she procrastinated, but she was usually quite careful to make sure the floor stayed clear. More distressing, the trash was bits of shredded lab reports, broken test tubes, and syringes—it all looked incredibly unsafe. Carefully, Frisk picked their way through the mess.

            They were so busy trying not to step on something breakable, they almost missed the flash of red out of the corner of their eye. They paused and looked more carefully at the wall—hidden by the piles of trash, some kind of machine was attached to wall. It had a tiny red dot of light coming out of it. When Frisk glanced at the other wall directly across from it, Frisk could see another red dot. Stomach sinking, Frisk dug their toe into the nearest pile of trash and kicked the junk between the two red dots.

            They were half blinded as something exploded, knocking them back a few steps. Flowey yelped and Frisk cursed as dots danced before them.

            “Frisk! Are you okay?” Flowey asked, craning his head around to get a look at their face.

            Eyes watering, Frisk forced themselves to nod. “I’m fine. It was just kind of bright and startling.”

            Deep in the lab, something giggled, echoing strangely.

            Flowey shuddered and went back to hiding. “S-sorry, Frisk. I, I don’t know where any of her traps or puzzles are in here.”

            “Shh, it’s fine,” they murmured, rubbing a tear away as their sight finally cleared. “We’ll be okay. Just trust me, alright?”

            “Okay. Just… be careful.”

            “I’ll try,” they answered before walking forward again. It was slow going as they had to keep stopping to check for more traps, but eventually they walked in front of the computer monitor. The giant screen turned on, showing them on the display. The camera angle was from the back corner, but Frisk didn’t bother to go check for a camera. Instead, they ignored it and kept walking forward. It was impossible to make out much in the dark, but Alphys’s desk was shockingly filthy, even more crowded than it had ever been back in their old world. Frisk lifted one of the papers on the desk and peeked at it—there was terrible chicken scratch, barely visible in the light of the monitor, scrawled all over it along with some disturbingly realistic diagrams of the insides of monsters. Unnerved, Frisk dropped the paper and took a step back.

            “Interesting,” said a voice. Frisk jumped—the voice had moved, but they’d heard no movement. It was Alphys for sure; even if it sounded a little off, it was most certainly the scientist. Was she speaking through a speaker system? “Very interesting. I admit, I hadn’t ex-expected you to make it this far. Hrm, I haven’t showered, I-I’m barely dressed… you really are a bother, did you know that? Human?”

            Frisk looked around as the voice kept changing which direction it was coming from. Finally, a door open and a figure stepped out into the gloom of the lab. As the figure stepped out, two lights turned on, one directly above Frisk and one above Alphys.

            Looking at the scientist, Frisk resisted the urge to shudder. Alphys didn’t look all that different from the monster they’d always known and that was the problem. She wore a white lab coat and glasses, but the cuffs of the coat were frayed as if she’d been picking them apart and her glasses were nearly opaque. She wore a red and black shirt under her coat, along with a long black skirt. She could have been like their own Alphys—she even had her small, tentative smile on her lips but with none of its usual sweet, nervous charm. Now it looked more like she was fighting a grimace.

            “Hiya,” she chirped, shifting back and forth so fast that she looked like she was swaying to some inaudible song. “I’m Doctor Alphys, the Overlord’s Royal Scientist. D-did you like my little trap there by the door?”

            Frisk forced themselves to smile cheerfully. “Yeah, it, uh, you could say it really lit up my world for a second there.”

            Alphys grunted, disappointed. “It was supposed to blow your legs off. But you noticed it too soon.”

            Frisk grimaced, but quickly pushed that expression back off their face. “Mm, sorry to disappoint.”

            “I d-doubt that. You’ve done nothing but do those things since you started.” She gestured to the screen behind them. “I’ve been observing you ever since you walked out of the Ruins.”

            Well, that wasn’t anything they hadn’t already suspected. “Oh? And what have you thought so far?”

            Alphys grimaced and froze her frenetic movements as she flinched away. “You… you spit in the face of every law we here hold dear. Well, maybe not hold dear, b-but obey at least. You flaunt your abilities, your charms, your good hair all to subvert everyone’s attempts to capture you thus far.”

            “You think I have good hair?” Frisk said, reaching up to study a lock with their most charming smile.

            The doctor did not seem amused. “Your fights, your friendships, everything—I’ve seen it all.” She shook her head. “You’ve been nothing but trouble and you’re trying to drag everyone down with you. B-but, that ends now. Don’t think I’m just going to let you out of here.” She lifted her chin, a deranged shadow sliding over her face as she stared. “You’ve really fallen into my trap now. I always wanted a live human to experiment on—I’m not letting you get away now.”

            Frisk took a cautious step back, frowning at her. They and Alphys had never fought before—what kind of techniques would they have to fight against? Or was this all a trick? Was she trying to set up another ruse, like she had back in their proper world?

            Alphys looked like business at least. She raised her hand and things began to beep and whir in the shadows of the lab. She was starting to grin now, although the smile didn’t reach towards her twitching eyes. Then, abruptly, the smile fell off Alphys’ face; from the corner of their eye Frisk saw a familiar yellow blur duck down behind their shoulder.

            Alphys began to glare. “You! I was right—I saw you on the monitor, but I wasn’t sure. I hoped I was wrong. And now, you dare show your face around here?”

            Flowey’s body shook hard against their back, like he was caught in a tempest.

            “You useless weed, you absolute failure. I should have tossed you onto the compost heap.”

            *She… appears to know Flowey?

            *… you are not surprised by this.

            *You are hiding something from me.

            Not now, Chara. Frisk cleared their throat. “Hey,” they interrupted, their tone cold. “Why don’t you pick on someone more your size?”

            “Frisk, no,” Flowey whimpered.

            Alphys glared. “That can be arranged.”

            Frisk fell into a defensive posture, but froze. Something in the wall made a loud clunking noise, like metal whacking against metal. Frisk glanced at it and began to sweat—something that Alphys also started to do, to Frisk’s confusion. There was a second loud bang.

            Alphys was gazing at the wall in a sort of horrified fascination. “O-oh n-n-no no, not now…”

            A third and fourth bang followed by four more in quick succession. Frisk’s jaw tightened and braced themselves for what was coming.

            Another blinding flash of white and a loud crash; at least this time Frisk turned their head away in time to keep from getting a face full of light, unlike Alphys who began to loudly and clumsily curse.

            “Oh yes, you mean.” A flat, robotic voice announced. Suddenly, all the lab lights turned on, revealing the hideous mess around them and the new monster. Alphys screamed and tried to scramble back into the shadows like a startled cockroach, but there was nowhere left to hide under the blaring lights.

            Mettaton looked like Frisk had suspected he might—just familiar enough to make their stomach lurch at how different he was. His square shaped form wasn’t too different but his screen was cracked, a few buttons and dials missing from his front, but most bizarrely at all was that he had a second pair of arms waving around him. In one of his four hands, he held a microphone that he began to speak into as he rolled further into the floor, displacing trash without a single glance.

            “Welcome, nasties and gentle-nasties,” he crowed into his microphone, “to today’s interview! Mettaton here with the latest news update. Just this morning, word got to us here at Channel MTT that an exciting new person has decided to grace us here in our cozy little hellhole in the Underground. Yes, folks, that’s right—a human has foolishly dropped into our midst! As everyone knows, Overlord Asgore, our generous and benevolent sovereign,” he added, sounding shockingly snide for being completely monotone, “already has six human souls that he got after butchering children. With this soul here, we will finally have the seventh soul necessary to break the barrier and free us monsters.”

            He paused, turning to stare at Frisk. Frisk cautiously dropped their stance and straightened before raising a hand to wave. “Greetings.”

            In a long moment where Frisk swore they could hear his components and gears whirring loudly inside him, he turned back to face the camera, wherever it was. “Interestingly, the human is not a child! Which leaves one to wonder what kind of idiot wanders up a forbidden mountain and falls in. Let us interview our strange new guest and see if we can find out more about them.”

            To Frisk’s amusement he rolled straight through the trash, loudly pushing it aside as he moved towards them.

            Once he was close enough, he lifted his microphone again. “Hello, human! I hope you can understand my speech.”

            The microphone was shoved into their face; Flowey ducked down with a hiss but Frisk kept their amusement to a small twitch of their lips. “Yes, I understand you just fine.”

            “Fantastic! If necessary, I would have used any one of my nine million language packs to communicate with them, but seeing that our human guest understands English that makes our lives much simpler. Tell me, human, what brings you to our little corner of hell?”

            He flipped the microphone into their face again, nearly smacking them in nose. Frisk didn’t blink at it. “I heard that there was a fabulous robot star down here and had to see for myself.” They smirked and winked at him. “Although the rumors hardly do you justice.”

            Whatever reaction they were expecting, they didn’t get one. “Sarcasm. I see that humans have faithfully been curating the old styles of humor. But never mind that! On to the questions. Human, if I may, do you have a name that we can call you by?”

            “Frisk,” they answered as the microphone swung uncomfortably near their left eye. It took a lot not to reach up and swat his hand away.

            “Frisk?” he repeated. “Frisk. Friiiiiisk-kuh. Frisk the human.”

            “Frisk Prado,” they added after a moment, choosing to use their childhood name, rather than their current one of Frisk Dreemurr. That would just raise far too many questions, although the confusion might be hilarious—and useful, but more likely just troublesome if monsters just assumed they were lying to be a little shit.

            “Frisk Prado. Mm, no, I think we’ll stick to Frisk the human. So, Frisk the human! Where you heading to?”

            “New Home.”

            Flowey poked his head up just enough to glare at them questioningly. Frisk ignored him.

            “The capital? Whatever for, human?”

            “I’m told that I—or rather, my soul—has been long awaited by your king. I thought it’d only be polite to pay him a visit.”

            “What are you doing?” Flowey hissed while Mettaton gasped, a strange flat noise, like a half-deflated balloon popping.

            “On your way to meet the Overlord? Are you suicidal, human—or maybe just homicidal?”

            Frisk gave the robot a long look before leaning in towards the mike. Well, I should probably give the audience what they want. “I’ll guess he’ll just have to find out on his own, won’t he?”

            Mettaton yanked his microphone, clasping it with two of his four hands, letting the other two shake in a jazz hands pose. “Intriguing news from the Lab here in Hotland, folks! The human has declared their intention to meet our esteemed leader. Now that he knows they’re on their way, what will happen next? Stay tuned here on Channel MTT for more updates. Remember, folks, we here at MTT News bring you exactly what you want. Real drama, real action, real bloodshed!”

            His top left hand snapped its fingers and the lights abruptly dimmed again. The moment it was down, Alphys popped back out of the shadows.

            “Mettaton!” she screamed. Frisk distantly noticed that there was a syringe sticking out of her tail, not that she seemed to notice.

            *You do not feel like alerting her to this.

            Damn straight I don’t. Who the hell leaves needles lying around anyway?

            Mettaton, for his part, didn’t seem to hear her at all. Instead, he wheeled back around to face Frisk. “Do humans really know about me above ground?”

            Frisk considered their answer. “Well, no, but I thought your audience would appreciate it if they thought your reach was that far. I do think you’re quite impressive though.”

            He didn’t seem bothered by the lie at all. “Really?”

            “Yeah. What human doesn’t love a lively, multifunctional robot?”

            He clapped his hands together. “Humans really love robots?!”

            “METTATON!” Alphys shrieked.

            The robot grunted and turned back to her. “What do you want?”

            “What the hell do you think you’re doing here, barging into my lab, interrupting me in the middle of—of-”

            “Of what? Confronting the human?” He huffed. “As if you would actually work up the nerve to do anything. We both know that’s not your ‘style’ at all. No, you’d rather have your little toys do the dirty work.”

            The doctor flinched and began to shake with rage. “You—you hunk of junk! Look what you’ve done. Are you trying to make me look like a fool?”

            “Pfft. Please. You don’t need my help for that.”

            Frisk raised their eyebrows. Damn, looks like he raring to air out their dirty laundry. What on earth happened between these two in this world?

            “I should have scrapped you ages ago,” Alphys reaching for something in her pockets. What she yanked out looked like a pistol, but only for a moment—the moment she had it fully out and pointed at them, the thing unfolded until it looked like a tiny hand cannon. “If you think I’m going to let you ruin this-”

            “Uh-buh-buh!” Mettaton tutted, shaking one index finger at her while one hand rested against his box and the other two rubbed the forefingers together in the ‘shame on you’ gesture. “I don’t think your boss will appreciate you murdering his little human guest here instead of handing them over.”

            Alphys looked ready to have an aneurysm. “You useless-! Fine. Mettaton, grab the human-”

            “Oh, look at that, time for me to get going to my next show bye!” As suddenly as he came, Mettaton shot back into his hole and vanished the way he came. For a moment, the three of them stared at the hole, dumbfounded.

            *Now would be the time to run.

            Frisk blinked at the condescending tone, but their feet obeyed without question. Alphys only had time to scowl and start to turn when she realized Frisk was already racing towards her. The scientist managed to raise the gun, but too late—Frisk grabbed the doctor’s shoulders and used her body to vault over her. Something smashed under their boots as they landed and Alphys gun went off with an explosion that left a hole in the roof.

            “Why are all these assholes putting holes IN MY HOME TODAY?” she shrieked as Frisk ran for the door.

            They didn’t linger to point out to her that she was the one to put that particular hole in her home; instead, they ran to the lab’s back door. The keypad next to the door flashed yellow, meaning it was locked. Maybe that was why Alphys wasn’t running after them—she expected them to be stopped by the door. Unfortunately for her, their Undyne had shown them an old trick to bypass such locks: kick the shit out of them. Hopping up, Frisk smashed their booted heel into the keypad and stumbled back. The door opened with a hiss, the crack between panels just wide enough to squeeze through. While Alphys cursed them and tried to scramble after them, Frisk ducked out the door and ran on.

            The moving tracks on the floor went much faster than they had back in their world—Frisk was almost launched into the shadowy pit below. Quick reflexes saved them though and they hurried away.

            *Successfully escaping Alphys and your own lies fills you with determination.

            Frisk winced. Now Chara was mad at them. Great. But how to explain everything? Aside from a few stray thoughts and mutual planning, Chara wasn’t privy to Frisk’s memories unless Frisk volunteered it to them, just as they couldn’t pick through Chara’s thoughts. They’d never pried back on their first runs through the Underground as a child and Chara had never tried to invade their thoughts either. But, Frisk had been a child back then with less secrets to keep. Their Chara had found out at the exact same time as they did who Flowey was, although in retrospect, perhaps Chara had figured out sooner than they had. This time though, they knew but Chara was still in the dark. Perhaps, however, it was time to start revealing what they knew. But how would Flowey feel about that?

            Flowey startled them from their thoughts by loudly breathing a sigh of relief as the lab vanished from sight when they crossed the bridge. “Thank god, I thought she was going to… uh,” he paused and fidgeted as they slowed to an easier to maintain jog. “You… you’re probably wondering what… what she was talking about. Back there.”

            Frisk kept their face forward. “A little. But it seemed like something private between the two of you, so I wasn’t going to ask.” Mostly because they already had a pretty good idea what was going on. Was he stressed out at all, or did his soulless state mean he just felt unsure how to proceed?

            “Oh,” he murmured, voice soft.

            Frisk glanced back at him and tried to smile kindly. “We all have our secrets, bud. You don’t have to tell me yours unless you want to, and even then, only when you’re ready.” That goes for you, too, Chara. I’m not going to make you tell me about anything unless you’re ready, but some secrets aren’t mine to tell. Not unless it becomes vital, okay?

            *…

            *Understood.

            Thanks.

            Flowey was quiet for a moment before sighing again and resting his head against the side of their neck. “Thank you.”

            “No problem, kiddo.”

            He groaned at them, leaning away from them so he could smack the side of their neck. “I’m not a little kid!”

            Frisk started to speak to tease him, but a Vulkin jumped out in front of them. Their soul popped out of their body and they sighed. I don’t have time for this.

            The Vulkin shimmied in front of them with a grimace on their face. “Prepare yourself. My magma will roast you alive!”

            Frisk took a wary step back, but Flowey poked them in the back of their head. “No, don’t. This guy’s an idiot, you’re going to want to stay in close.” Frisk obeyed, stepping forward hesitatingly.

            The Vulkin shook and then shot out green blobs of lava. “Face your doom, human! HAha!”

            *… it seems that Vulkin thinks green attacks are damaging ones.

            *Vulkin… tries its best.

            Frisk stood still and let the attacks hit them. The bullets harmlessly vanished and the Vulkin stared at them expectantly. Holding their hands up in the air, Frisk pretended to wince and cry. “Ah, oh god, it burns! Uh, good job.”

            The Vulkin danced. “Aha, my attack worked splendidly! I can’t wait to tell everyone else about this!”

            “Oh, why wait?” Frisk began before remembering to groan and clutch their arms in pain. “I mean, oh, it hurts so much! Everyone’s going to be so impressed by your battle prowess—you should hurry, now, before I die, so everyone can watch me perish.”

            The Vulkin hopped in place, lava spilling out from their top and flying everywhere. “You’re right! Oh, oh, stay there! I’ll be right back!”

            “Go, go!” Frisk called after them. They hunched over, watching as Vulkin ran ahead, using the vents to get to the next room. Once it was out of sight, Frisk chuckled and started to stand before pausing again.

            Their soul was still out before them. Oh, man, it couldn’t be…

            Closing their eyes, Frisk turned and looked up.

            A sleek, black stealth plane hovered in the air behind them, a pair of raggedy ribbons tied to its cockpit. “You complimented that hussy.”

            Frisk tried to resist a horrified grimace and took a step back. “Uh, Tsunderplane, I-”

            “It’s YANDERPLANE!” it screamed.

            Frisk winced. “Uh, right. That makes a lot of sense. Now, uh, Yanderplane, why don’t we, um, have a little talk about-”

            Yanderplane roared its engines at them. “You, you didn’t even notice I was here the whole time! After everything I’ve done for you, why don’t you just love me back?!” Before Frisk could speak, missiles appeared below its wings. “Die!”

            Rather than argue, Frisk bolted and raced for the vents. The plane monster followed them, dropping bombs in their wake. Frisk hurried for the next room, mournfully acknowledging the fact that they just probably weren’t going to get a hold of the burnt pan, which was a shame since Frisk still didn’t have anything useful to use for a weapon. Not that they wanted to hurt monsters, but sometimes they had some real nice benefits.

            Interestingly, the door to the next area was already open as Frisk scrambled into the next room. They ran for the vent to launch them forward. To their left, however, they heard a strange sound. Glancing over, they saw a whole crowd of monsters staring at them.

            Vulkin was in front of the crowd—Frisk realized that the little monster had actually found whoever it was they were searching for to show off their dead body. When the little volcano spotted them they gasped and began to jump on the spot. “Yanderplane is stealing my kill! Look, she’s trying to heal the human!”

            “Get her!” someone shouted.

            Yanderplane heard them and turned to them as well. “You!” she screamed at Vulkin. “You’re the hussy who’s trying to steal the human from me! I’ll kill you, I’ll kill you, I’ll-”

            “Time to go,” Frisk muttered and raced for the open door as the monsters began to fight each other.

            The door slammed shut behind them, sealing them into the darkness. Sighing, Frisk shook out their body before straightening. “Well, at least they’re going to be busy for awhile.” They frowned. “I hope they don’t hurt each other.”

            “If they do, then it’s their own fault,” Flowey said evenly. “Now, c’mon. The sooner we get out of Hotland, the sooner you can get out of the Underground.”

            “Yeah… hey, it’s kinda dark in here, isn’t it?” they asked, squinting as they walked forward.

            *You have a bad feeling about this room.

            “It is dark,” came a familiar voice. “Here, let me help you with that.”

            Frisk threw up their arms in time to shield their eyes from being blinded by all the lights that came on.

            “Again?” Flowey grumbled. “That trick is getting real old.”

            “O-oh, it should be, but it isn’t. Funny, though,” Alphys began. On their left, a massive viewing screen turned on, showing the scientist’s face. She frowned thoughtfully at them. “You know what else should be old, but isn’t? You.”

            Flowey flinched and ducked down behind their shoulder again.

            Glaring, Frisk raised their hand to block her view of him as they turned to face the screen. “What are you up to, Alphys?”

            Alphys sneered at them. “That would be Doctor Alphys to you, you little insect. I see that I can add rudeness and bad manners to your list of faults, like manipulation.”

            Frisk frowned and tilted their head to the side, letting their hair fall in face, over their right eye. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

            The doctor scoffed. “Don’t play dumb with me as if you didn’t just literally escape a fight by siccing monsters on each other.” Frisk winced, but Alphys went on. “And that’s not all I’ve seen. You’ve been turning respectable, law abiding monsters into—into fools like you! Even the sentries, Sans and his brother. You even-” she paused, voice tight and began to fidget with the cuff of her sleeve, yanking more threads loose. “I watched your fight with Undyne. You—how dare you! You don’t know what you’re doing. You don’t know how hard it is when she already-!”

            Frisk stiffened. “What’s wrong with Undyne?”

            “NOTHING! Nothing is wrong with her!” Alphys shrieked. “It’s you, you’re the problem!” There was a long pause as Alphys panted and fidgeted with her arm more.

            Frisk glanced down at her sleeve, distracted. Alphys was tugging at the threads of her cuff, yanking it apart string by string. There was a wad of threads already in the palm of her hand and she was quickly adding more to it—strange, but not nearly as alarming as the fact that the threads were spotted pink and each new one grew darker. Each time Alphys pulled a string, her claws would drag against her scales—they must have been sharper in this world, because the flesh was irritated and starting to weep blood. “Alphys, your arm.”

            Startled, Alphys’ hand twitched and her claw dug in deeper. For a moment, Frisk wondered if Alphys had done it on purpose, but from the way she hissed in pain and quickly dropped her hand, Frisk assumed it must have been an accident.

            Alphys glared down at them. “Now look what you made me do.” She breathed out heavily through her nose, nostrils flaring. “But never mind that. Now-”

            “Are you sure? It looked like it hurt.”

            Alphys’ right eye began to twitch. “It’s. Fine.” Her shoulders shook. “D-don’t think I don’t see what you’re doing. I’m not going to be one of your new pals,” she drawled, loosening her shoulders back up. “I’m through with your nonsense. Now.” To Frisk’s horror, the wall on either side of the screen opened up tall, thin panels that slid to the side to allow row after row of machine gun barrels to protrude. “Die.”

            Frisk didn’t even have time to flinch. The barrels started to whirl and there was a bright muzzle flash as the first bullets left guns.

            Frisk felt it before they heard it; something smacked into them, knocking them clear off their feet. It was wide and large. Their body bounced off it and slapped against the ground while the thing went crashing on. Above them, the guns fired into the opposite wall and bullets rained down for a good minute until they finally stopped. Frisk winced and tried to take stock of the damage done to them.

            *HP: 4/30. You would be better off if the guns had just shot you.

            Groaning, Frisk forced themselves to sit up. “Flowey…?”

            “I’m fine, but oww. You landed on me,” he moaned.

            Frisk sighed. That’s why it was better to get hit by—wait, what did hit me? Glancing behind them, they saw a bent and bullet ridden metal door lying on the ground. A door? Where the hell did that-?

            “Freeze, everyone! This is police!”

            Frisk paused and slowly turned back around. Sure enough, there was a whole group of uniformed people in police blue in the doorway, guns pointing in every direction. Are… are you kidding me? This messed up, violent world actually has a police force?

            *What?

            “What.” Even Flowey sounded baffled.

            “Well, boys, looks like we’ve found ourselves a crime in progress,” Mettaton announced before he shoved his way through the crowded door, pushing some of his fellows to the ground. He had a belt with a holstered gun strapped to his frame and a spiffy police hat on his top. “Doctor Alphys, up to your old tricks again. Well, looks like it’s back to the drawing board, doc, because I believe we’ve all eaten enough apples to keep you away for the rest of our lives.” He slipped on a pair of comically large sunglasses over his metal frame. Somewhere, a speaker played a triumphant fanfare.

            Flowey frowned. “That wasn’t even funny.”

            “Hush,” Frisk murmured back. “Maybe it’ll keep them both distracted.”

            “Mettaton, get the hell out of my way!” Alphys screamed, glaring at him in disbelief. “Where did you even come from?”

            “Tch, as if you could ever hide your schemes from us—the MTTPD!” he shouted, striking a pose. Frisk was amused to see that the other officers scrambled to join him in the pose behind him. “With the MTTPD on the case, your little experiments are getting cancelled.”

            Alphys blanched. “Oh, god, this is one of your stupid shows, isn’t it? Oh, god, I’m on tv?!”

            Mettaton made finger guns at her. “Smile for the camera, bitch.”

            The screen went dark and the panels closed up. Frisk’s shoulders slumped—somehow, Mettaton had actually scared the scientist off.

            The robot waited only for a moment before shrugging. “Or rather, we were just doing dress rehearsal. Oh well, the scene needed work anyway. Speaking of work, who the hell wrote this dialogue? It’s absolute trash!”

            Without a moment’s hesitation, all of the uniformed actors turned and pointed to the dim looking Aaron who promptly blanched. “Boss, wait! Y-you said you just wanted some dummy dialogue for now b-because you were just going to dub it over in post.” He winked at the end, looking more like a compulsive twitch than flirtation.

            Mettaton shook in anger for a moment before relaxing. He rolled over and put a friendly arm around the monster’s shoulders. The other actors backed away, clearly nervous. “Aaron, sweetie, I know what I said, so I’m not mad at you. But if you ever trick me into saying such awful dialogue again I will cut off your head and leave it in one of your loved ones’s bed. Got it?”

            Aaron whimpered and nodded.

            “Good. Now, goodness, rehearsal’s really run over!” he said, tossing his arms in the air. “We’re going to be late for filming As The Skull Gently Bleeds! Hurry, everyone, we gotta get back to the studio.”

            Without another word, the actors bolted, leaving only the robot to wave goodbye to Frisk. “Sorry for not staying to chat, dear, but stardom waits for no one. Toodles!”

            Frisk watched him leave before slowly and achingly picking themselves off the ground. “Well, that was… sure a thing that happened.”

            “Did it really though?” Flowey asked, popping back out. “Cause I’m not sure it did.”

            Frisk grimaced. “It, uh, does sort of feel like a fever dream. Ah, Christ, that hurt. C’mon, let’s get out of here before she comes back.”

            “Please.”

            Frisk limped their way out of the room—studio?—but paused at the sight just outside the door. In the distance, they could see the Core, rising up out of the magma of the land.

            *The ominous structure looms in the distance, waiting for you. The sight fills you with determination.

            Frisk sighed, feeling refreshed, but stopped to offer Flowey the last of their sea teas. “So much for these things,” Frisk murmured after he was done then chucked the bottle off the side of the path. It melted long before it was near the ground, unprotected from the spells that kept the path only warm and safe.

            “Sorry,” Flowey said, leaning against their shoulder. “I used up the last of the healing items, didn’t I?”

            “Don’t worry about it. It’s not like either of us planned to run into her again so soon. I’m sure we’ll find some place selling stuff soon enough.” They poked the part of his blossom that looked like his left cheek. “No worries.”

            “Don’t get cocky,” he shot back, leaning away from their touch.

            Shaking their head in amusement, they walked forward until they reached an elevator. Stepping in, they rode upward to the next level.

            Outside the elevator, the path was empty. Frisk frowned; hadn’t Hotland been an unusually full place when they’d gone through it? Where was everyone here? Turning, they walked westward. They didn’t get far when they spotted the snowy roof of Sans’ sentry station. Without bidding them, Frisk’s feet eagerly picked up the pace and carried them forward.

            Despite no one else being around, at least Sans was inside his station. He looked up at them, almost like he’d been waiting for them as they walked over. “Well, look who’s not dead yet.”

            “That’s me,” they answered brightly. “So, I take it you got away before Undyne caught you?”

            “There was no way I was sticking around when that lunatic goes on the warpath. I got my ass here to Hotland. She might have that climate controlled suit now, but she never goes this far into Hotland unless it’s dire. And despite my charming personality, she doesn’t consider little old me important enough to chase after.”

            “I guess she just doesn’t know how to appreciate a good thing when she sees it,” Frisk quipped. “Speaking of appreciating a good thing, thanks for getting a hold of your brother for me while Undyne was chasing me. He called me right in the middle of me running around.”

            Sans snorted. “I’m sure Undyne loved that.”

            “She tried to toss a couple spears through me,” Frisk shrugged.

            “And yet, here you are.”

            Frisk smiled. “Here I am. So, what are you doing here? You work as a sentry here too?” They never really did figure out what part of the Underground Sans was supposed to be an actual sentry in. He just seemed to appear wherever he wanted.

            “Eh, I’m on break now.” Without another word, he reached into one of his coat’s pockets and pulled out his pack of cigarettes. He pulled out a stick with his teeth and promptly lit it.

            Frisk watched in amusement as he took a long drag and then sighed, almost contentedly. They remembered their own pack in their pocket and dug it out. “Mind if I join you?”

            He raised a brow. “You smoke?”

            “Just on occasion. And considering what I’ve been through lately, I think I deserve it.”

            He chuckled and waved dismissively at them. “Knock yourself out.”

            Without bothering to ask for his permission, they perched on the counter of his station and busied themselves with getting out a cigarette and lighting it, ignoring his tense air that vanished as quickly as it appeared. Once they had it lit, they turned back to him. “Hey, so where is everyone around here? I thought Hotland had more people in it.”

            Sans snorted. “Oh, there’s plenty of monsters around. They just don’t like hanging out around here.”

            Frisk’s grin twitched, turning as they pulled one leg up onto the counter with them. “You scaring people off?”

            “Mine and Papyrus’s reputations do precede us,” he grumbled, glaring out of the station. “That pain in my ass loves that.”

            Frisk blinked. “Your guys’ reputations? How so?”

            He shot them a flat look as he took a drag on his smoke. Ominously, the smoke didn’t just come out of his mouth and nose, but out of his eye sockets as well. Considering it hadn’t done that before, they assumed he was doing it on purpose. “He’s so eager to get in the Royal Guard and so happy to ruin any shot I have at a social life, he goes out of his way to make my life hell. The only place I can drink at anymore is Grillby’s only because no one, not even my idiot brother, goes toe to toe with Grillby and gets out unscathed. Not that it helps me any, because that dude’s an asshole.”

            Grimacing, Frisk turned some more and let their left leg drop into the station, leaving them to straddle the counter before they pulled their right up as well so they were turned to face Sans properly. “That sucks.”

            “Also, I’m told often that I’m a nasty son of a bitch. That might have something to do with it.”

            Frisk smiled. “I don’t think that.”

            He snorted. “That’s because you’re fucking crazy.”

            “Maybe. But I can’t be the only person you talk to, can I?”

            Sans paused, glancing at them a long time. While he stared, Frisk enjoyed their cigarette and tried to be casual by turning some more so both of their legs were properly in the station. They felt a little safer out of the immediate visibility of the path. “There’s a voice, you know, on the other side of the door. The one that leads to the Ruins of Home.”

            Frisk paused to look at him. “I’m aware.”

            “Are you now?” He asked, voice sly as he glanced at them sidelong.

            “Well, kind of hard to not run into the caretaker of the Ruins while trying to escape from there. I gave it a good try though.”

            “I’m sure,” he shot back before falling quiet.

            Frisk nudged him with an elbow. “So, she’s your friend then?” They smiled a tad wistfully before taking a drag from the cigarette. How oddly nostalgic to think that this topsy-turvy world still had a Sans and Toriel friendship in it. They paused, smile vanishing into a frown as old memories swiftly besieged them. Friendship. Right.

            Sans, however, didn’t seem to notice their distraction as he snorted and puffed on his smoke. “No. That crazy old bitch hates everyone—she just puts up with me because she doesn’t bother trying to open the door to kill me. And because I bring her news about what’s going on this side of the door.”

            Well, so much for that. Poor Sans.

            Something must have showed on their face because he narrowed his eyes into a glare. “And what’s that look for? What, poor little Sansy, he don’t have no friends? What use do I have for that shit?”

            Frisk paused, playing it off as them tapping the ash off the end of the cigarette. “Is the concept of friends so weird in this world?”

            Sans huffed and looked away. “Isn’t that obvious?”

            Frisk considered it. “Papyrus and Undyne seem like friends.”

            The skeleton huffed a laugh. “Undyne’s a psycho like him. They’re made for each other—what’s that look now?”

            Frisk’s brain tried to keep itself from breaking. “Wait, they’re like… together?”

            Now Sans looked like his brain was breaking as well. “Ugh, god, no! That’d be so—ugh.”

            Well, at least they weren’t alone in their dismay; grinning a little, they nudged his shoulder with an elbow. “Oh, come on, imagine the babies they could have—they’d be the loudest kids on the planet.”

            Sans shuddered. “Stop, please. God, the thought of those two together, let alone reproducing… That’s Grade A nightmare fuel there, champ.” He paused, listening to them smother a chuckle before glancing away and taking another drag on his cigarette. “Sides, I’m pretty sure Undyne has something going on with the mad scientist around here. I’m sure you’ve met her by now.”

            “Alphys?” Frisk sighed. Their cigarette was used up; they tossed it out and examined the pack. Annoyingly, the pack was worse off than they feared—they only had one more cigarette in there. Grumbling, they took it out and lit it. “Yeah, we have.”

            “Real charmer, huh?” He grinned at their grimace. “Been having fun with her traps, have you?”

            “Something like that.”

            He snorted again and paused. “But yeah, besides that, Papyrus has his own,” he paused and tensed up. When they raised a brow at him, he began to sweat profusely, which just never made any sort of logical sense to them but looked real funny at the moment. “Uh, never mind.”

            “What? Papyrus has his own-?” They began before pausing; delight quickly swept over their face. “Wait, Papyrus has someone he likes too?” Had the Papyrus in their world liked anyone? It was so hard to be sure—they’d thought so once or twice, but nothing came of it and it hardly seemed to matter at all to the skeleton, so Frisk never paid it much mind. But was this Papyrus different in that way too? The whole thing sounded downright adorable.

            Sans looked genuinely nervous. “Shit. D-don’t, don’t tell him I said that. Fuck, he’d kill me for sure.”

            “And here I thought you said you two never talk.”

            “Don’t.”

            Frisk frowned. “What’s so wrong with it? Who am I going to tell anyway? Flowey, you’re not going to tell anyone either, right?”

            “I haven’t paid attention to a single word you’ve said!” he insisted in an overly loud voice. “And even if I did, it’s not like I’m going to be chatting with anyone about it!”

            “Better not,” Sans growled, taking a drag on his cigarette only to notice that he’d used it up. Frustrated, he flicked the dogend off to the side of his sentry post and dug out another one to smoke. He tried to get his lighter to catch, but it stubbornly refused—rather than let him grow more frustrated, Frisk grabbed his chin and tugged his face to meet theirs. He blinked up at them as they leaned in and pressed their cigarette to the unlit end of his. After a moment of tense silence where they could feel his magic swirling around them, just waiting to form into sharpened bones to spear them through, he breathed in, finally letting the cigarette light. He leaned back, pulling the smoke away from his mouth to salute them awkwardly—they nodded in turn. The two of them were quiet for a long moment as they took their time with their smokes. Finally, he made a noise like he was clearing his throat. “Anyway, we’ve gotten way off topic.”

            “Okay. What were we talking about originally?”

            “The caretaker of the Ruins.”

            Frisk glanced away. “She has a name.”

            “Does she?” he murmured, his voice sarcastic. “I’ll take your word for it.”

            “Toriel. Her name is Toriel.”

            Sans paused before shrugging. “Doesn’t matter. Like I said, we’re not friends. We only talk every now and then. Exchange information.”

            “Is that all?” Frisk murmured, raising their eyebrows playfully.

            “What’s a matter, babe? Jealous?”

            Frisk allowed a small smile to tug the corners of their mouth up. “You caught me. The thought of not having you to myself drives me wild.”

            “Ugh,” Flowey groaned behind their shoulder. Frisk ignored them.

            Sans chuckled. “Good to know that if worse comes to worse, I got a fall back suitor.”

            Resisting the urge to laugh, Frisk batted their eyelashes at him. “I’d wait forever for you.”

            Sans glanced away. “Anyways.” He paused to grin at Frisk’s laugh.

            “Alright, how did you two meet anyway? What were you doing there in the first place?”

            He shrugged. “Hiding from Papyrus so I could finally take a nap. He doesn’t like running all over to look for me, so if I head deep enough into the woods, he’ll leave me be for a few hours. Well, one day, I go out there to take a nap. I put my back against the door since you can usually feel warmer air behind it, but that day, when I sat down and pressed my back to it, someone called out. They must have heard me jostle the door as I sat. Anyway, no sooner do I sit down when someone shouts ‘is someone out there?’

            “Well, it was a hell of a shock for me—I didn’t actually think monsters lived in the Ruins anymore, aside from a few spiders and Whimsuns. So, just as I’m trying to get up and run off, the person on the other side slams against the door, making me slip and whack the back of my skull off the door as I slipped.”

            “Oww,” Frisk murmured, resisting the urge to rub the back of their head.

            Sans snorted. “Oww indeed. So, before I can get up, they shout at me again. Well, now I’m mad, so I get up and snap back at them. But then, the voice, it… changes.” He paused, amusement draining from his face. “It sounded like… like she was crying on the other side. So, I decided to hear her out. Turns out, she was trying to find out if Overlord Asgore had gotten another human soul.”

            Frisk fought the urge to shiver. “Had he?”

            “Well, yeah, but I wouldn’t know that for another three hours. They announced that shit on the television that night. The Underground celebrated for two days after that. But right then, at that moment, I’d only heard rumors that a couple monsters had found a human and dragged them through Snowdin to take to Asgore. So, I told her that much.”

            The memory of Toriel’s diary, of her heartbroken entry on the sixth child, sprang to mind. “Poor Toriel. She must have been devastated.”

            “She sounded like she was dying on the other side of the door,” he said bluntly. “I had no idea what was going on. Before I could ask what was going on, I heard the sounds of someone running away.” He paused, taking a long drag on his cigarette. “I gotta admit, I was kinda curious to figure out what the hell her problem was, so, I’d go by the door in the woods every couple days and see if she ever came back. I couldn’t go too often, or Papyrus would know where I nap.”

            “God forbid you do your job,” Flowey muttered, but was smart enough to keep his voice quiet enough that only Frisk heard it. They twitched their shoulder and hoped that it was enough of a warning to keep his mouth shut.

            Sans continued his story, which Frisk hoped meant he hadn’t heard the flower. “Eventually, one day I do finally hear movement from behind the door and I hear that woman-”

            “Toriel.”

            “-speaking to me again,” he went on like they hadn’t interrupted. So, maybe he was just ignoring the two of them on purpose now. Frisk wasn’t sure how they felt about that. “She asks me the same question from before—did Asgore get another soul? So, I said yeah. And then shit just got weird. She gets all bitter and starts bitching about Asgore. And not like the usual shit that people mutter their breath cause they don’t have death wishes. I mean, full on bitching him out, calling him shit that would get you killed in a blink of an eye if you got caught.”

            “And what did you do?” Frisk asked, idly eyeing their cigarette as if they were only measuring how many puffs they could get out of it rather than feeling their heart die a little for Toriel with every word. As if she didn’t have a damn good reason to be upset.

            “I listened.”

            Frisk shot him a look. “That was… sweet of you.”

            “Not really. I just thought it was kind of hilarious.”

            Frisk closed their eyes and resisted the urge to snort. “Of course you did.”

            “Don’t give me that tone. I can tell you’re kind of amused too.”

            “I’m not amused that she was hurt. I’m more amused by what a little shit you are.”

            “I’m probably older than you, babe.”

            Frisk nearly let that go before they paused. “Oh, I don’t know about that—how old are you?”

            Sans paused himself for a second before shrugging. “Who knows.”

            “Uh, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say you do.”

            “Maybe. But on the off chance that you are older than me, well, I’m not going to acknowledge you for it.”

            Frisk’s lips twitched upwards. “I’m twenty four.”

            He glanced at her. “What month were you born?”

            “Early October.”

            “Ha! Older than you,” he announced smugly.

            Frisk narrowed their eyes but didn’t fight the smile playing on their lips. “That’s okay. I always did have a thing for older men.” They took a puff off their cigarette before flicking the dogend out of the sentry station, smiling idly to themselves as Sans choked on his smoke. “Okay, old man, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t a little shit.”

            Face still red, he waved them off. “Details. Anyway, where were we?”

            “You were listening to Toriel complain about Asgore.”

            “Oh no, this was not just simple complaints. I thought I might have accidentally wandered into a regicide plan. She was pissed. And, you know, I kind of admired that. Hell, I even egged her on a little, just to see how far she’d go in planning this shit out. Let me tell you, that woman is detail oriented like you wouldn’t believe. But, eventually, I had to leave and she started going hoarse. I excused myself and left her to come up with more crazy plans.

            “I came back again. She asked some more questions, I answered them. Then I listened to her plot Asgore’s demise. That shit was comedy gold. Eventually, it became a sort of routine—every few days, I’d go out to the door and listen for her. Sometimes she’d show up, we’d talk, that whole shit. Other times she wouldn’t and I’d get a nice nap in.”

            “So, you are friends.”

            He gave them a flat look and then noticed they’d used up their cigarette. Without a word, he offered them his; with a grateful smile, they took it from him, silently saluting him before taking a drag and handing it back. “You know what, if you’re so hung up on that, fine. Yeah, she’s my friend. Happy?”

            “Delighted.” The smoke curled out of their lips. “It’s good that at least you two have each other.”

            “Feh. I’d rather have an incurable disease than a friend like her, but whatever.” He listened to them chuckle before taking a drag off the cigarette. “Although, the way I understand it, I’d assume you two make closer friends than she and I.”

            Frisk glanced at him sidelong. “Why would you say that?”

            He smirked. “Because you’re the one she entrusted her hopes and dreams to, didn’t she?”

            Frisk turned their head to stare at him dead on. “What do you mean?”

            “I mean about Asgore. Toriel wasn’t going to let any humans through before now. She even told me that I should kill any human that showed up on this side of the door on the off chance that a human did make it through the Ruins.”

            “So, why didn’t you kill me when I showed up?”

            He looked at them slyly. “Well, like I said. It’s not like we’re friends. I have no reason to do what she says. At any rate, if a human got through to the other side of the door, then that could only mean that you’d either killed her or that she was trusting you to take care of Asgore. And judging from your stats, it’s a safe bet that the bitch is probably still running around in the Ruins. So then. The old lady’s sent you off to kill Overlord Asgore. That just leaves the last question—are you going to do it?”

            Frisk grimaced and glanced away but paused when he offered them another chance at his cigarette. Taking their time, they took the smoke from his hand and took another drag, letting the acrid smoke roll around in their mouth before handing the cigarette back. They breathed the smoke out like a dragon, the smoke billowing out of their lips in a steady stream. Only once it was completely gone did they turn back to Sans. “Would it bother you if I did?”

            The lower rims of his eye sockets scrunched upwards, his grin widening like a demented version of the Cheshire Cat illustrations in their copy of Alice in Wonderland that they read as a child, long before they traveled to Mt. Ebott. “It’s adorable, the way you seem to think I’m some sort of decent person who’d care if you killed that asshole.”

            Frisk frowned. “That’s not an answer.”

            “So it isn’t,” he replied airily, puffing away on the cigarette. “Kill him, don’t kill him, I’ll leave that up to you. Right now, I’m more interested in seeing how it all plays out.”

            “Plays out?”

            “Oh, you know,” he chuckled, glancing at them sidelong. “Because of you, Mettaton’s shows finally stopped sucking. That’s been a pleasant change of pace.”

            Frisk frowned; had he blatantly changed the topic, or was he going somewhere with this? “What’s wrong with Mettaton’s shows?”

            “They’re stupid as all hell, that’s what. And he’s just an annoying piece of shit at that.”

            “If his show bothers you so much, why watch it?”

            Sans snorted. “If I had my way, I wouldn’t have to. But,” he sighed, “I always end up having to. If I don’t get my ass home before Mettaton’s show starts, Papyrus will lock me out. I won’t get let back in until the next morning unless I want to try and sneak in, and let me tell you, that’s not as easy as you might think.”

            Wait, does that mean Papyrus makes him watch with him, or does he not have anything better to do? Or is that how they actually spend their time together? Frisk cocked their head to the side, but before they could puzzle out what he meant, Sans flicked the remains of his smoke outside the sentry station.

            “Well, my break is over. I need to get heading back to Snowdin,” he announced, getting up and appearing on the other side of the counter. He was in no hurry to leave though, and instead only leaned his hip against the counter of the station to face them.

            Reluctantly, Frisk picked up their legs and swung them back around to the other side of the counter. “I should get going too, I guess. Thanks for the smokes, Sans. You’re, uh,” they paused, amused by their train of thought had been going. “You’re a real pal.”

            He stared at a moment before snorting. “I get the sinking suspicion that if I linger here much longer, you’re going to set me up with a whole mess of friends.”

            They grinned. “Maybe. Or maybe I’ll keep you all to myself. Who knows?”

            He was quiet for a moment before turning and saluting them nonchalantly over his shoulder. “Whatever. See you around, Frisk.”

            “See you soon, Sans.” Frisk turned to walk away, hands tucked deep into their pockets only to turn back around. “Oh, hey, wait! Do you know where I can get some healing items? Mine got all used up.”

            He considered them for a moment before he dug around in his pocket. Without a word, he tossed something to them; they caught it and glanced at it.

            *A half-full pack of Monster Cigarettes. Magical, non-cancer inducing coffin nails. Restores 15 HP per stick—five remain in the pack.

            Are you for real? Nice. Frisk blinked. “Shit, Sans, you’re sure you want to give me this?”

            “Whatever. Just get out of my sight before I change my mind.”

            Frisk paused and smiled up at him. “Careful, Sans. I might start to think you’re actually a sweet person.”

            “Just fucking go.”

            They laughed. “Love you too, buddy. Thanks!”

            Sans waited until the sound of their footsteps trailed away into silence before he glanced back over his shoulder. He looked down the path where Frisk had gone—they were already turning the corner, heading deeper into Hotland. As they vanished around the corner, he shook his head, his smile a little soft before he too vanished from the path only to reappear in a dark lab. He glared at the trash under his feet, kicking it out of his way.

            A telltale click of multiple guns cocking made him pause. “Chill out, Alphys. It’s Sans.”

            The lights came on as Alphys stepped out of the backroom, scoffing at him. “Finally! What were you talking about for so long?”

            He shrugged, trying not to tense up as she walked over. He didn’t relax even when she turned to sit at her computer. “Mostly just shooting the shit, trying to buy enough time. Did you get the readings or not?”

            “I got something alright,” she muttered, bringing up a few different programs. “Here, this is the standard procedures readings—body heat, pulse rate, breathing. Completely normal.”

            “They’re a cool customer, alright.” Hardly even an uptick when they’d grabbed him by the jaw. They had to have noticed his magic hesitating around them as he debated killing them for the invasion, but they sure didn’t show it. “But what about the mental and magical readings?”

            “That’s where things get interesting. Brain waves were normal until just before you two separated—see, it spikes here. It was about the time you tossed—what did you toss?”

            “Pack of cigs. There’s a tracking spell on it, so until they toss it away, I’ll be able to know exactly where they are. On the off chance they go off the beaten path again.”

            Alphys made a disgruntled noise deep in her throat. “Should have just poisoned them.”

            He shot her a nasty glare. “Don’t tell me how to do my job when you can’t even do your own properly.”

            The air between them instantly went tense. Sans was aware of the sound of machines turning towards him, clicking off their safety locks, waiting for her signal to fire. He had his own magic swirling around his fingers, but then she turned and looked back at the screen, the tension easing as the weapons went back to idling. He let his magic go, but kept a thread at the ready, just in case she tried to change her mind.

            “When you tossed them the pack, there’s a sudden spike in mental activity right here in their brain.” She tapped the screen.

            He glared at the readouts. “That’s one of the bits that deal with communication.”

            “Yes, but it’s the one that deals with understanding and forming coherent conversations, not this part here, that makes speech physically possible. Whatever they were talking to, it’s literally in their mind. More importantly,” she said, switching over to another program. This one was more familiar—instead of an anatomical readout for humans, this one was a magical readout for monsters. Looked like Alphys had actually taken his advice and went for a full battery of tests instead of just the basic ones. “Here. When you line up the readouts to sync up, you see that they have a spike in magical data as well.”

            “So, it’s not just in their mind.” He murmured, the light of the computer throwing ghastly shadows across his grin.  “They’re talking to someone else.”

            “That’s not all. Alright, here’s this human,” she said as she pulled the file to the side to open up another in the program. “And here’s some data taken from one of the other humans that fell down.”

            Sans’ hand twitched. He stuffed his hands quickly into his coat pockets and examined the timestamp on the data readouts. “The little cowboy wannabe who got all the way to Hotland before Undyne got him. I remember that little shit.” Pure luck at the time meant that Papyrus had just barely missed the human. How the kid snuck past Undyne was beyond him, but Papyrus had been furious for months afterwards.

            Alphys grunted; it’d been a close call for Undyne too. Thankfully, the little punk ran out of bullets and couldn’t keep up with Undyne. It had raised her spirits for a little while. Alphys remembered that time fondly at least. “Anyway, look at his data and then look at this human’s.”

            He did and narrowed his eyes. “There’s no output at all for the boy, for the most part.”

            “Exactly. This current human though, they have a steady output at all times and I’ll bet that they’ve been getting sudden jumps that match up to their brain waves spiking.”

            He leaned away. “So, are they not a human? Are they some strange new kind of monster?” That would be fascinating, speaking from a cultural if not scientific standpoint—a new breed of monsters could help revitalize hope in the dwindling population. Still, it meant nothing to him nowadays. Let someone else throw a parade. He’d take the time to nap in peace.

            “No, I don’t think so. Here, look at this.” She fiddled with the program, bringing up new files and messing with the time stamps until all the files showed the same thing—a steady output of nothing, except for Frisk, and then a massive jump that jumped clear off the scale only to abruptly stop and begin again. Sans froze; he recognized those readouts. “This is from, uh, the former royal scientist’s records,” she mumbled. It was, perhaps, the kindest her voice had ever been around him. It made him want to snarl. “Every single one of the humans match up. There’s nothing magically going on with them until some catalyst draws out a huge surge of magic. When you compare them to the charts with the timespace anomalies, you can start to line them up.

            “This human, uh-” She paused, looking like she’d lost track.

            Sans resisted a sigh. “Frisk.”

            Alphys grimaced. “Frisk, yes. This human shows similar output, it’s just that they always have a low level magical output with large spikes.”

            He rolled his red eye in her direction. “And do their spikes match up with any anomalies in the timespace continuum?”

            Alphys paused, bringing up another program. After a moment, they waited as it loaded.

            Then he had to bite back a sigh of relief. There were no signs of any anomalies in the recent span of time for the last two days since starting on their little journey. Whatever had been messing around with time, it wasn’t Frisk. The thought was oddly endearing.

            “I thought so,” Alphys murmured. She closed the program and opened another.

            This one was a video program and Sans instantly froze as he saw the familiar figures of Frisk and Undyne, squaring off with each other. The scientist skipped forward in the fight until she reached a particular point where Undyne stood poised to strike with eight spears pointing at the human from multiple directions. Alphys fiddled with her other program for a moment until she reached a particular point in the data with another magical spike.

            “Here, watch.”

            He did, watching in silence as Frisk made the baffling choice to let the spears attack their soul while guarding their back. It’s the goddamn flower. They were protecting that little- He held himself stiff as the spears struck their soul.

            It shattered.

            And then it slammed back into a single whole. Sans blinked.

            “What the hell is that shit?”

            “Here, look,” Alphys said, pointing back to the data readout. She zoomed way out and he saw, finally, what she’d been hiding at first—the spike in magic wasn’t like the one where they’d been talking to someone in their mind, nor was it even comparable to the spikes on the other human’s charts. Those spikes were like molehills compared to the massive peak on Frisk’s data. Worse though, he realized that it wasn’t the only spike on their chart. “I think this is our answer. Frisk hasn’t caused any trouble in the timespace continuum because, somehow, they have magic enough to keep their soul from dying.”

            Unbidden, his hand flew up to clutch the side of his skull. “But it’s not magic that can refuse death, it’s determin-” he paused and nearly smacked himself. Of course, that’s what it was—hadn’t he once explained to Alphys that they’d recalibrated the magic scans to recognize Determination as a type of magic? It was how they’d first been able to study it in the first place. Maybe Papyrus was right—maybe his laziness really was making him dull. “If determination is what Frisk’s been putting out all this time,” and that did make sense, now that he thought about it—Frisk was an odd, stubborn creature and heightened Determination fit their soul type especially well, “then why was there a spike in their magic when they were communicating with that other entity?”

            Alphys sighed. “I dunno. Probably it has to due to the fact that the test is only calibrated in a general sense. I’ll have to tweak it again to search for multiple magics in a person at once. Maybe they’re using determination AND magic alternately. So, the question is, are they using magic or determination constantly, and when do they switch between them, if at all.” She drummed her claws against the desk, lost in thought. “I’ll have to set up some more tests, see if I can get them to produce more data like this.”

            Sans glanced at her. “Do they and I need to have another chat?”

            Alphys waved him off. “No, no. I’ll do it myself. I’ll whip something up.” She paused, brightening. “Or maybe I can just kill them outright. All our problems solved.”

            Sans glared but glanced away to the computer again. “Any sign of the being that had been causing the anomalies before Frisk arrived?”

            “No. Whatever it was, it’s vanished.”

            Sans came as close to a frown as his static mouth would allow. “I’d like to know what happened to it.”

            “Who cares? Studying it never produced anything useful. This Frisk, on the other hand… they could be useful.”Alphys shrugged. “If nothing, then we can at least get the soul out of them.”

            “…yeah. Well, I’ve done my job. I’m out of here.” He paused before teleporting. “By the way, you have a syringe in your tail.”

            She squawked in annoyance and reached out to check her tail. Sure enough, it was stuck firmly in there. She yanked her tail closer and worked the syringe out. “Good riddance,” Alphys muttered as he teleported away. The skeleton gave her the creeps, even if he was useful now and then. At least they had similar goals. Still, he’d given her a thorny problem. What could she do with the human to produce results?

            After a long moment of silence, Alphys smiled.

            “Maybe, Mettaton, I might have finally found a use for you after all.”

Chapter Text

            After some puzzles involving tricky timing when pushing buttons for lasers while having more lasers shot at them, trying to jump around steam vents when the steam would randomly become nearly boiling hot and scorching their legs, Frisk and Flowey kept heading deeper into Hotland. Trying situations for sure, but nothing Frisk couldn’t handle.

            This situation on the other hand?

            This was goddamn awkward.

            They hadn’t meant to make the second guard cry. When they had run into the two guards, they’d only gone out on a limb and tried to pry a little into the status of their relationship, hoping maybe they could get on the two’s good sides by hooking them up again. When they tried though, the first guard—Enforcer, whatever—had loudly proclaimed ‘no homo’.

            Which didn’t please the second guard who’d immediately wilted. Turns out, he at least thought it was ‘totally homo’.

            The guards’ words. Not Frisk’s.

            They watched in abject confusion as the two began to yell at each other, well, more the first guard yelling as the second one wasn’t much of a talker, climaxing when the second guard started crying about the fact that apparently the first guard wouldn’t let him tell his own parents that they’d moved in together. Frisk wasn’t sure if it was supposed to be a platonic roommates sort of thing or if the second guard thought it was supposed to be them taking the next step, but guard number two sure seemed hurt by it.

            Now guard number one was torn between trying to kill Frisk and trying to console his partner who had sat down on the ground to have a good cry.

            Sharing an apartment in this world is some intensely serious business, I guess, Frisk thought idly. They frowned at Chara’s giggles but didn’t pry. Instead, they cleared their throat. “I, uh, can see that you two have a lot to work out. I’ll just leave you two it and be on my way.”

            The first guard turned to glare at them. “Don’t you dare try to runaway! This is totally all your fault!” He moved to swipe at Frisk with his sword, but the second guard began to cry louder.

            “What’s the point of moving into together… if I can’t even tell people about it?” he hiccupped.

            The first guard baulked. “What, bro, that’s not—I mean, of course we’re going to tell people soon, it’s just-”

            There was a long pause; the second guard started to sniffle again.

            This is getting ridiculous. Frisk reluctantly started talking again. “It’s just what? What’s so important that you can’t even announce you’ve moved in together?” Why they needed to announce it was beyond Frisk, but they didn’t feel like mentioning that part.

             “You shut up! You—you don’t even understand, like, why we monster do what we do, human!”

            Well, he did have a point there.

            The second guard put his face in his hands. “You’re ashamed of me. Aren’t you?”

            “What, no! Bro, it’s just—we can’t, like, announce anything until, until we get better security!”

            Frisk blinked. “Security?”

            “For the apartment. I—we can’t just announce that stuff unless we can protect each other, bro.” He seemed to forget Frisk was there finally. Frisk slowly began to edge backwards.

            The second guard wasn’t having it. He stood up and began to walk off. “I’m done.”

            The first guard gaped after him before looking at Frisk. Then he looked back to his partner again before turning to Frisk. “I hope you’re proud of yourself. Bro! Dude, wait for me, I can explain-!”

            Frisk watched the two leave and wonder what they’d done in their life to end up in such a strange set of circumstances.

            *Where is folly bred? In the heart, or in the head?

            “Thank god, they’re gone,” Flowey sighed. “Those two were just obnoxious. Well, come on. We’d better get out of here before they come back.”

            Shaking their head, Frisk turned and walked swiftly down the path, following down the twisting path until they saw another darkened path. Frisk paused and sighed. “Buckle up, Flowey. I think I know where this will be going.”

            Flowey groaned and ducked down into Frisk’s shirt.

            Resigned, Frisk walked forward, letting the darkness swallow them a third time. They paused, waiting for something to happen, but nothing did. They took a few cautious steps forward, then paused. Reaching out with their foot, they felt the ground a step ahead of them. There was a weird, two part dip—one shallow dip, and one deeper. Frowning, they picked their foot up and dragged the two of their boot across the ground a step behind them and felt another identical dip.

            *You are already in the middle of the trap.

            *Smooth.

            …okay, yeah, I got nothing. This is just embarrassing.

            At least Alphys took mercy on them in the next moment and finally did something. Not only did the lights come up, but so did the trap. Before Frisk could flinch at the light, something came up and loudly snapped in the air before them before dropping back down again. Frisk yelped, but froze in place as something behind them shot up and snapped there too. In another second, the thing before them shot up again. This time, Frisk saw that it looked like a giant pair of shears, slicing through the air as they snapped shut, opened, then descended again. Looking down the path, there was at least eleven more shears doing the exact same thing and then one behind them as well. They weren’t in sync but they had no set pattern from what they could tell.

            Frisk watched this for a full minute, dumbfounded, before found their voice. “This is utter bullshit.”

            “No kidding,” Flowey murmured, but it was lost to the racket the shears were making.

            “How is that for a trap, human?” Alphys sneered. There was no screen this time, but she’d rigged the area up with speakers, or at least commandeered an existing speaker system. “Here’s a hint for you: those blades don’t have a set pattern, but I guarantee that you’re going to screw up sooner or later. Hopefully sooner.”

            They ignored Alphys for a moment to study the shears directly ahead of them. Counting, they figured that she’d been right about the no set pattern thing, but the shears did take at least three seconds on their own to come back up—which, even they had to admit, was pretty impressive considering their size. The problem was trying to guess when the damn things would pop back up. Deciding to take a risk, Frisk waited until the moment after the shears went back down and then hopped forward, quickly shuffling backwards when they jumped a little too far forward.

            Still, they felt briefly accomplished. Then they looked down the line and realized they had ten more to go. Great.

            *Could be worse.

            *Could be eleven more to go.

            You know, buddy, that’s the most optimistic thing I’ve probably heard out of you yet.

            “Feeling accomplished? Congratulations, you made it past two shears, one by pure luck. Let’s see you do the rest,” Alphys laughed. “Or just give up and hand yourself over. That’d save us both time.”

            “Fuck off,” they muttered and set about memorizing the next sheer’s pattern.

            They got lucky two more times and just barely got clear in time. The third jump was when their luck ran out. For a moment, it looked perfectly fine as they escaped the swing of shears. Then their knee gave out under without warning and they began to pitch forward. Already they knew it was too late and let themselves pitch forward farther, just to make sure Flowey wouldn’t get caught in the swing. They were bent over at the waist when the blades came up and snapped cleanly through Frisk’s waist. Frisk’s soul shattered.

            *But it refused.

            And Frisk stumbled forward as the blades opened, pulling themselves short of being chopped up again. Frisk froze in place, detachedly trying to decide how bad that death ranked compared against all their other ones, entirely missing Flowey’s frantic cries and Alphys’ mocking laughter. I’m going to be having nightmares about this for weeks. Frisk shook themselves back in time to hear Alphys’ taunt.

            “Got you that time, and you’re only just half way. Tell me, human, how many more times do you think you’ll fail before your friend dies too?”

            Taking a deep breath, Frisk glanced over their shoulder to see Flowey’s waiting face.

            “Frisk? Are—are you okay?”

            “Well. I’ve been better. You okay back there?”

            He shuddered. “That was a little close, but yeah, I’m fine.”

            “Oh, that’s good.” They glanced forward, frowning at the snapping shears. “I, um, don’t suppose I could convince you to try and find a way around?”

            “I think that’d be a really bad idea for me.”

            “Well then. This is a whole lot of bullshit.” They paused, waiting for the blades before them to snap shut again, but there was nothing. Finally, after nearly a whole minute, the shears popped up and then snapped shut. Then they stayed like that until after another thirty seconds passed and then it slowly opened. Frisk frowned and shoved their arm in between the blades. Not leaving it in for a full second, they yanked their arm back in time to avoid it get cut off. “Oh, now that’s fucking ridiculous!”

            Alphys cackled, but her reply was lost as a new voice shouted out.

            “No, human! Mi amor, no!”

            Baffled, Frisk looked around the shut shears and down the path to see a monster they only vaguely recognized, standing at the end of the line of traps, just shy of the last trap, which, they faintly noted, hadn’t moved in awhile. Glancing to the side, Frisk spotted a monster flying and trying to juggle a camera at the same time. So, Mettaton had come to rescue them again.

             *Once is a fluke. Twice, a coincidence. Three times is a pattern.

            No kidding. What is that robot up to and what did I do to earn his goodwill to make sure I don’t screw up and waste it?

            Still, no need to look a gift horse in the mouth. So, the last two times Mettaton had stepped in, it’d been under the guise of making some kind of show. Judging by the dialogue the actor just tossed at them, it sounded like they were filming a telenovela. Well, they thought they had enough vague memories of their mother watching some telenovelas when they were a kid. They could take a crack at that acting. Maybe. Their Mettaton had put them through his acting class once, not that he would have let Frisk say no if they’d wanted to. The class was a nightmare jumble of improv lessons, bootcamp, some Shakespearian monologues, and a five mile trek through the woods that Frisk still wasn’t sure what it had been for. Still, they’d picked up a few tricks from the class and an immunity to beestings.

            *This will be interesting.

            Hush. They cleared their throat and shouted to be heard over the snapping sheers. “¡Oh, dios mio, estás aqui! ¡Sálvame!”

            There was a moment of silence as the actor and Flowey (and probably Alphys too) stared at them, dumbfounded. Even Mettaton and some more crewmembers popped out of hiding to stare at them.

            *I don’t think it was that bad.

            Thank you, buddy. Their cheeks felt hot as they coughed and tried again. “Oh, thank god, you’re here! Quick, save me!”

            That seemed to shake the actor lose of his stupor. He took a step forward.

            And that was the moment the shear finally moved. Frisk closed their eyes and jerked their hand upward, but judging from Flowey’s gasp, they didn’t manage to cover his face in time. When they opened their eyes, a small cloud of dust was drifting down from the now clasped blades and on the other side of them was a thump and a yell. “OH GOD, MY LEG!” They saw the actor rolling around on the ground, clutching his stump of a leg.

            *That was… unfortunate.

            God, this world is fucked up. Ah, hell, say something, dummy. Dumbfounded, Frisk said the first thing that came into their mind. “Looks like he doesn’t have a leg to stand on anymore.”

            Flowey rounded on them. “Frisk!”

             Frisk frowned at themselves. “Sorry, I panicked.”

            “Ugh.”

            Mettaton huffed and hurried out of his hiding spot. “GO TO COMMERCIAL! Dammit, Alphys, I still needed him to finish up some more scenes for my crime drama!”

            The scientist coughed. “Uh, oops.” Without another word, the shears abruptly stopped in whatever position they’d been in and there was a distinct sound of the speakers cutting out.

            “Oh, really, now what’ll I do? Someone, pick him up and get him something restorative before we lose the rest of him. Hell, someone get the writers on the line, I need a scene to work with fast! I’ll improv it if I have to.” Mettaton sighed in aggravation as someone ran towards him with a phone. The crewmember handed it to him; he snatched it away and then shoved them. They nearly wobbled off the ledge, but caught themselves at the last moment and followed after him dutifully. At the last moment, however, Mettaton paused and looked back to Frisk. “Wait, what did you say a moment ago?”

            “I… panicked?”

            “Before that.”

            “Oh.” Embarrassed, Frisk cleared their throat and spoke again. “I said, ‘looks like he doesn’t have a leg to stand on’.”

            Mettaton looked at them, thoughtfully tapping the side of his box with one hand as he thought. “You know what, I can work with that! Mind if I use it?”

            Frisk blinked and shrugged. “Go ahead. I, uh, got bigger things to worry about right now.”

            “Oh?”

            “Well, I’m going to have to climb around these things, so…”

            “Oh, the scissor blades? Hold on, darling, I can take care of those.” Primly, he raised one of his hands and snapped his fingers. The shears all swung open and vanished down into the ground. Frisk stared down in disbelief while he spoke. “This set is from our obstacle course in our last murder pageant. We still need to remodel it for this year.”

            “Murder pag—no,” Frisk cut themselves off, shaking their head. “No, never mind. I don’t want to know.”

            “Suit yourself,” Mettaton said cheerfully before leaving with his entourage. “And someone, grab that idiot and drag him with us! He can still sit for close-ups today.”

            “Sorry about your leg, sir!” they shouted after the group. Trap disabled and crowd gone, Frisk and Flowey both heaved a sigh of relief. “This day just keeps getting stranger and stranger,” the human said as they hurried across the path—just because Alphys seemed to be gone, they wouldn’t put it past her to show back up and start the scissors back up just to be a dick.

            “No kidding. I never thought I’d miss Waterfall, but at least Undyne didn’t show up constantly,” Flowey huffed. “I can’t wait until we get out of here.”

            “Me neither. God, I’m going to have to see a therapist after all this.”

            “Don’t be a baby. Just get us out of here, fast.”

            They ran a hand over their face, took a breath, and then hurried out the area and started heading north. In the distance, they noted that the Core was closer now. They paused to admire the sight for just a moment before turning to walk to the elevator.

            “Hey, Frisk? Speaking of getting out of here, can I ask you a question?”

            Frisk glanced back to Flowey; the flower was hunched up, like he was nervous. Nervous of what though? “Yeah, sure. What’s up, bud?”

            Flowey grimaced and was quiet for a moment before he looked up at them. “So… what will you do? When you get back home, I mean. Back to wherever it is you came from?”

            Frisk blinked at looked at Flowey. “What, like, the first thing I do?” They mulled the thought over as Flowey nodded. Gravel crunched under their feet, providing a steady sound to think over. Horror and the firmly established need to see a therapist after this aside, there was a more pressing issue they could think of. “Hmm. Well, I’d say… I’d probably get something to eat. Maybe a cheeseburger—that sounds good.”

            “Frisk!” Flowey gasped, his light voice trilling at the end—they didn’t think it was intentional, but it was adorable. “What about your family? Shouldn’t you go see your family first before—before dropping into some fast food place?”

            “Well, to be honest, I’m kinda hungry right now, so… Like, all I’ve had to eat lately is healing items and those things only take the edge off hunger for so long.”

            “Frisk!”

            “Heh, oh, alright, Flowey, calm down—I’m only joking. Of course, I’ll go see my family again.” Frisk paused, a memory piercing through their mind.

            Suddenly, they weren’t twenty-four, but eighteen again, and they were watching one of their dearest friends turn his back and walk away.

            Frisk’s playful mood vanished. “Eventually.”

            “Frisk,” Flowey groaned. He sighed in exasperation while Frisk chuckled to themselves. “Don’t you think they’re worried about you? Your parents, your friends—won’t they be scared to death for you?”

            Frisk’s smile turned wistful. “Oh, they probably haven’t noticed I’m gone yet.”

            He scoffed. “You’ve been here two days already—how can they not have noticed by now?”

            “You could say I’m something like a cat. I come and go as I please. Besides, I told them I was going mountain climbing, so they’ll probably just think my phone can’t get any service. When I get out of here, I’ll give them a call—while I’m getting a burger.”

            “You’re unbelievable.”

            Frisk glanced over at him before smirking. “You think that’s bad? One time I took off for a whole year and forgot to take my cell phone with me.”

            “Frisk!”

            Frisk laughed and paused outside of the elevator before pressing the call button. “Oh, chill out! It was no big deal.”

            “You disappeared for a whole year and it was no big deal? You—you’re pulling my petals here.” He paused, frowning. “What did your parents say?”

            Frisk rolled their eyes behind their closed lids. “Oh, that’s different. They were pretty steamed, but it wasn’t like I hadn’t tried to let them know I was okay every now and then. They knew I wasn’t dead.” Well, that wasn’t entirely true. They’d sent them messages in a roundabout way—when someone recognized them and asked for a selfie, they’d asked the person to add a message to Toriel and Asgore saying that they were fine in whatever city they’d been in at the time. They’d never tried to get online to see what Toriel had said to those messages, but she sure let them have it when they got access to another phone. At the end, they ran into Asgore in New York when he’d been there attending some conference. They bribed a receptionist in his hotel’s lobby to send him a note and he’d come down right away to greet them. That’d been fun—they even let him talk them into coming home with him on his plane. They’d shared the Welcome Home party and been happily crushed in Toriel’s hug. Actually, now that they thought about it, everyone had been a bit fussy. It’d been fun and annoying all at once. They knew the truth though; after awhile, things would just go back to how they were before they’d left. Family and friends would go back to their lives, and Frisk would go back to their own.

            It was almost as bad as a reset that way.

            Frisk frowned; thinking about it, it sounded a lot worse in retrospect. Am I a flake? Well, if they were, that was probably something in the blood, as their grandfather used to say. Ugh. How annoying. I’ll think about that later, after I get out of here. At least this time was an accident.

            “Whatever.” He was quiet for a moment before prodding their right cheek with one of his leaves. “What do you think they’ll say about all this?”

            They barked a laugh. “Oh, they probably won’t believe a word I say about it.” A memory needled them—that was one of the things they did often, wasn’t it? Except for Papyrus. The thought of the skeleton made Frisk brighten. “But not Papyrus. He’s probably going to love hearing about this.”

            “Wow. Your Papyrus must be super different from this world’s Papyrus.”

            Frisk smiled fondly, comparing the memories of both skeletons side by side. “Well, yes and no. My Papyrus isn’t nearly so gruff, but this one… he’s not such a bad guy.”

            Flowey snorted his disbelief.

            “Oh, hush. Even you have to admit, he’s not so bad.”

            “maybe.”

            Finally, the elevator arrived and they quickly stepped in. The trip took little time at least and they immediately stepped back out on the next level up. It was a little cooler up here to Frisk’s relief. Turning, they headed eastward. “What about you?” they asked, glancing around. “What will you do if we can get the barrier down?”

            He huffed. “Let’s worry about getting you to New Home first, okay?”

            Ignoring his brush off, they frowned as they noticed something unexpected. Muffet stood behind a table, food piled up to sell on either side. A morose looking monster was vomiting, loudly, over the side of the path. With a grimace, Frisk avoided the monster and the awful retching noises it made, but that only meant they walked closer to Muffet.

            “Hello, dearie,” the saleswoman chirped. Frisk glanced over at the spider monster and was a little unnerved to see that unlike so many other monsters Muffet looked, well, not that far off than what they remembered her looking like in their own world. What that meant, they had no idea, but it was frankly weird. “Can I interest you in some of our excellent snacks? We’re having a bake sale and its all for a good cause.”

            Cautiously, Frisk turned to her. “Oh? What’s the cause?” They certainly didn’t remember seeing any spiders back in the Ruins—they had just assumed Toriel had killed them as well.

            Muffet’s grin was all teeth. “My wallet.”

            “Ah,” Frisk murmured with a sage nod. “A worthy cause indeed.”

            “Indeed,” Muffet nodded. “Hmm, you know, you got the face of a cheap, whiny little bitch, like that monster over there. He couldn’t handle one of my Spider Donuts. Tell me, do you think you could do better?”

            Frisk raised an eyebrow. “Are you offering me a free donut?”

            Muffet tittered, but the look in her eyes was calculating. “Oh, hohoho, no! I was thinking more the lines of a free sample. Here,” she began holding up a squirming spider between one of her hands’ index and thumb. “If you eat this, right now, I won’t charge you the toll price.”

            “Toll price? There isn’t even a toll here,” Flowey grumbled. “Frisk, you… you aren’t going to do it… are you?”

            “What’s the toll price?”

            Muffet’s eyes glinted in mischievous delight. “Nine hundred gold.”

            Flowey hissed in annoyance.

            Frisk ignored him and considered the spider and thought. The first time they went through the Underground, they hadn’t thought to buy anything from the spider bake sale back in the Ruins. That came back to bite them in the ass later—but now, they didn’t even have a chance to buy anything for cheap before now. And if Muffet was just going to be lying in wait for them later…

            Frisk swiped the spider from Muffet’s hand, carefully crushing the spider’s head first with their teeth—better to kill it fast and avoid getting bitten by it. They chewed it up and swallowed it fast.

            “FRISK!” Flowey shrieked in horror.

            “Calm down,” Frisk murmured, frowning as they used their tongue to get at the stuff that had gotten stuck to their teeth. A familiar warmth filled their stomach. “It was just a magical construct. You can’t put real spiders in monster food. It’d separate out later when food gets absorbed.”

            Muffet blinked all five of her eyes at them. “How did you know that? That’s a family secret!”

            Frisk shrugged. Truthfully, their Muffet had just told them on an idle afternoon—more interestingly was when she had told them, which was on a weeklong hunting trip where Frisk got roped into helping catch a truffle sniffing spider beast that had escaped Muffet and set about terrorizing the locals. That’d been fun and scary all at once—it also left them permanently unafraid of spiders. It was hard to get squeamish about eating spiders after being forced to dine on them for a whole week or after waking up to a colony of three hundred spiders having crawled into their sleeping bag for warmth during the night. Still, that wasn’t a suitable answer. Better to go for the lie. “Read it in a book once.”

            Muffet frowned, but didn’t argue. Instead, she considered Frisk a moment before chuckling and shaking her head. “I see what I heard was wrong about you, human. Everything I’d heard before now as that you were a wimp and a coward. But I’ve never had anyone actually shotgun one of my spiders before. Heh, you’re alright, human.”

            “Thanks, I think.”

            Giggling, Muffet waved them off. “Get out of my sights, human. I’ll tell my relatives to leave you be, too. Adieu.”

            Sweet, they thought, giving the monster a short bow before they scuttled away, eager to leave before she changed her mind.

            As soon as they were out of earshot, Flowey groaned and smacked the side of their neck with a leaf. “I cannot believe you.”

            “What? It wasn’t a real spider.” They walked up to a vent and hopped on it to ride the gust of steam. “It wasn’t anything more than a golem or homunculus, really.”

            “How could you have possibly known for sure if it was real or not?” He groused. “You barely even looked at the thing before you shoved it in your mouth.”

            “Because actual spiders, for one, would have fought less in her grip. Spiders think getting eaten by each other is an honor.” They were launched into the air repeatedly. If this wasn’t so uncomfortably hot, it’d be really fun.

            “How would you know that?”

            “Because-”

            “I mean in this world! How would you know that it was true for this world?”

            The considered it as they came to the end of their ride at the platform. “Well, honestly, it kinda fits this world anyway, and Muffet really doesn’t seem that different in either world. I decided it was worth the risk.”

            “Really? That’s…” He paused, frowning. “Isn’t that an odd thing not to be different?”

            “With Muffet? I honestly have no idea.”

            Flowey shook his head as Frisk squeezed themselves through the open door that usually locked off this area from the next. The giant gouge in the door that warped the metal left the door permanently stuck open; Frisk wondered what had hit it once upon a time to break it so bad, but decided to assume that it only meant that they shouldn’t linger too long around there.

            After a relatively short walk through the rest of Hotland, Frisk paused and stared up in confusion at the giant building before them. The building was an ugly gunmetal gray with hardly any windows. It looked like a giant had just dropped a box there and left it. Where was the glitzy MTT Restort? There was no lights, no signs, just a building. I guess Mettaton isn’t as big of a deal in this world and hasn’t had a chance to take this place over and remake it in his image. Huh. I actually kind of miss all that kitsch stuff.

            Before walking into the building, they checked the side alley in hopes of finding some back alley deals. No dice—it looked like there might have been a stand there once, but it’d been smashed in and covered in trash. A shame, since they still didn’t have any sort of weapon to aid them. With a sigh, they went back and headed into the building.

            Stepping in, Frisk paused again, breath caught as they looked around. It was a slum, no way around it. The walls were bare and streaked in filth and scratches, deep dents in the walls. There was a long scrape on the floor in front of the doors that led off to the eastern wing of the building; Frisk shuddered and tried not to think about what might have gotten dragged off down there. To the left, they could see a diner full of exhausted patrons, nursing coffees and alcohol alike as they stared into nothingness with dead eyes. Except, they noted with amused good humor, the pair of guards who were sitting quite chummily in the back corner, eating ice cream. Good to see those two made up at least.

            Shaking their head, Frisk started to walk forward when Flowey murmured their name quietly. Looking at him, they saw he was pointing up and glanced to see what he was getting at.

            A hundred different sets of eyes stared down at them from the large empty space that took up the heart of the building. Monsters of all types and sizes gazed down at them with openly hungry eyes. Their gazes were patient, but knowing. Parents held their children out to see Frisk better and the old leaned half over the side of the railings to squint at them.

            It was easy to guess why they were staring. The human who refused to obey the law, who wouldn’t hurt others. The Last Soul, the soul that would break the barrier and free them all.

            *Suddenly, you know how animals in zoos feel.

            Frisk shuddered, but tried to keep their chin up. “Let’s get out of here,” they murmured to Flowey before striding forward. Still, they could feel the eyes following them as they walked straight past a rundown convenience store and hurried out the back door. Stepping out was a breath of fresh air, but the sight of the Core so close took them aback. From the outside, it looked the same, but what was it like on the inside? They realized that they’d been rubbing their hands together nervously, worrying the stitch in the palm of the glove until they thought they could feel an uncomfortable warmth in their palms. They forced themselves to stop.

            “Flowey? What’s it like in here?” Frisk tried hopefully.

            “Um, sorry. I never come here—there’s no ground for me to move around in inside the Core, so I haven’t come here in, uh… In ages.”

            Frisk frowned. “Flowey, if you can’t escape in there then…” They paused and sighed. Reaching up, they carefully grabbed him and pulled him forward. He clung to their shirt for a moment, but let go reluctantly and let them lift him up to stare each other in the face.

            “What are you doing?” he asked, face already suspicious.

            “I think I should go in there by myself.”

            Flowey bristled. “What?! Frisk, no—you, you selfish—after all I’ve done for you, you’re just going to ditch me now?”

            “No, Flowey, that’s not it at all.” Trying not to chuckle at the childish ire in his face, they pressed their forehead to his uppermost petals. “I’m incredibly grateful for you. I’m not sure how far I could have gotten without you. Hell, maybe I’d just be a pile of ash in the Ruins or a bunch of pieces in Papyrus’s traps. But please, please understand. If something bad—something permanently bad were to happen to me in there, what would happen to you? I’m not saying this is goodbye. I just want you to meet me on the other side. We can continue from there.”

            Flowey hesitated, shifting his roots around his fingers, like he was planning to knot his roots around them. When he spoke, his voice was sullen. “You don’t know what it’s going to be like in there.”

            “But neither do you.” They frowned as he wilted. “It’ll be okay, Flowey. I promise, as soon as I get out of here, we’ll finish together.”

            He was quiet for a minute, frowning as he tried to think of an argument to change their mind, but failed. Finally, he sighed. “Why on earth I’m going to trust an idiot like you to do this on your own is beyond me… but okay. But you better not waste time in there, befriending people trying to kill you again, alright?”

            Frisk laughed. “But I like making friends.”

            “Frisk!”

            “Heh, I’ll do my best.” They pressed a goodbye kiss to his petals and pulled back in time to see his amusingly disgruntled expression.

            “Stop that. And—and don’t take too long, okay?”

            “I’ll hurry. See you on the other side, Flowey.”

            “See you.”

            Frisk put him down in the barren flowerbed to the left of the door. He grumbled about the polluted soil but vanished down into the ground after a moment. When he vanished, Frisk’s mirth went with him. Frowning, Frisk straightened and turned to look up at the Core. After a moment, they took a breath. “Well, maybe Alphys won’t try to dick us over again, right?”

            *Do not try to fool yourself.

            “Yeah, you’re right. Okay. Let’s do this.” Squaring their shoulders, they walked across the bridge and entered the Core.

            The Core, surprisingly enough, was damn near identical to the one they had walked through as a child. The floors were clean and an elevator waited for them in the lobby, but it wouldn’t work when they tried it. Heading left, they found an empty hallway that went nowhere. They walked back out of it and headed to the other side to see where that doorway went, but as they walked across the lobby, they heard loud noises of turning gears and the clacks of metal on metal. Frowning, they hurried to the door and looked in.

            It was the exact same hallway as had been on the other side.

            Oh, you have got to be kidding me.

            Frisk took a step back out of the room. The sound happened again. Again, they stepped through the door and found that the room was now an entirely different place—now it was a walkway looking out over dark shadows.

            The Core was a place made of interchangeable rooms, but they’d never seen it in action before. Their first time through, Alphys had been thrown when Mettaton had rearranged everything. Right now, they’d bet good money that this Alphys was watching them and was dicking them around by actively changing each room as they entered and exited.

            Frisk put their face in their hands and groaned.

            *This is going to take a long time.

 

 

 

            Stepping through his shortcut, Sans appeared around the corner of his and Papyrus’s house. It was safer to appear back here—more than once, some of the assholes from the K9 Unit had lied in wait by the front door. Back here, he could at least peek around the corner and check for them. He did so and noted that at least they weren’t in their old hiding spots. Cautiously, he hurried around to the door and tried the knob.

            It jiggled in his hand. Locked.

            “Fuck,” he grumbled and dug out his phone. He checked the time first and allowed himself a moment of vindication to note that he still had five whole minutes before Papyrus was supposed to do lock up. He got into his contacts and hit Papyrus’s number on it.

            His brother picked up on the second ring. “You’re late.”

            “No, I’m not,” he spat back. “I still got five minutes. Open the door.”

            “You are late. I sent you a text warning you I’d be locking up early. Mettaton has a special on tonight with him meeting the human. I’m not missing it for you,” his brother huffed. “You know what happens when you’re late.”

            Patience at an end, he let his forehead thump against the door. “I didn’t get a text saying that.” Or, maybe he had, and he’d just hadn’t bother to read it. If he was lucky, maybe Papyrus would open the door to check the phone himself and maybe Sans could slip in then.

            “Then the phone failed you, and by extension that the phone is your property and your responsibility, therefore you failed. Go sleep in the woods. You love doing that so often.” His tone sounded sullen. Worse, Sans could hear him faintly through the door, which meant he was probably just sitting on the couch next to the damn door.

            Sans lifted his head up just to let it smack against the wall. “Boss, come on, I don’t take naps out there.”

            “DO NOT TRY TO LIE TO ME, SANS!” his brother roared.

            Sans winced and decided to try a different tactic. “Bro, come on, please? It’s cold out here.”

            “Sans, DO NOT—it’s not even—you can’t even feel the cold!”

            Whoops. Now he was exasperated. Still, maybe he would open the door to drag him in and smack him around in the house. It’d be an improvement.

            He started to speak but a low, craggy chuckle from behind him startled him into silence. Dread filling him, he glanced over his shoulder to see shapes moving the shadows. “Boss, I got company out there.”

            There was a moment of hesitation on Papyrus’ end of the line. “So what. Probably more of those idiots you drink with at that disgusting, greasy-”

            Something growled in the shadows.

            Fuck. “Boss, I think it’s the dogs.”

            There was a series of crunching in the snow. The growls grew closer. “Hey…” Dogamy growled, still in the shadows. “It’s the little one.”

            “Remember him, Greater Dog?” Dogeressa murmured, somewhere off to the left. “He’s the reason Doggo’s gone.”

            A deep rumble; what he’d thought was just a snow bank shifted and moved closer. That made it at least three to one, probably four to one since Lesser Dog was mute now after he’d gotten his throat slashed by a Gyftrot.

            Too many, too dark—they’d chew and crack his bones open before he could finally turn to dust. He might dust one or two, but on his own, he was doomed. “Pap, please-”

            A series of red bones materialized into the air and shot into the darkness. The dogs yelped in surprise and the door flew open behind Sans. A hand grabbed him by his hood and yanked him inside. As he went sprawling onto the floor, Papyrus shouted into the night. “Do you honestly think I’d allow you to get anywhere my home, even in the dark?! Get lost!” He tossed another series of bones into the shadows. Something yelped, startled, but not hurt and the shadows scrambled away into the night.

            After a moment, Papyrus slammed the door and began to lock up. He paused for a long moment before turning and shooting Sans a look. He then turned and walked over to the couch. “Get off the floor and hurry up. The show’s starting.”

            Rattled, Sans took a moment to collect his thoughts before he pulled himself off the floor. He shuffled into the kitchen and grabbed himself a bottle of mustard to settle his nerves before he came back to the couch.

            The couch was big and raggedy—he forgot who found it first or where it came from, but it served its job well. Despite Papyrus’ near obsession with trying to clean it, it was spotted with stains. He decided to be extra careful not to spill any mustard tonight—from the way Papyrus glared at the bottled with distinct disdain, Sans had a feeling that it would earn him a lot more than a scolding if he spilled tonight. He turned his gaze to the tv in hopes of distracting himself from the tension in the room.

            The show on the television captured his interest in a moment as he realized he was watching a preview montage of what would be on later in the show. It ended on a clip of the human standing in the middle of a trap, a path of giant scissors swinging up and closed in multiple places. On the far end of the trap, some idiot stepped right into the way of a pair of scissors that quickly cut through his leg.

            Huh. Maybe Mettaton’s show will actually be interesting tonight.

            It cut to a side view of the human’s face. Their eyes were wide and they grimaced in surprise. Then, they opened their mouth. “Looks like he doesn’t have a leg to stand on anymore.”

            Before he could stop himself, Sans chuckled. “Nice.”

            Papyrus shifted on the other end of the couch; Sans froze and glanced at him, but his brother only seemed to be shifting to get more comfortable. He even seemed to be smiling, just a tad, at the tasteless joke.

            Huh. His brother was already out of his foul mood. And it looked like the show tonight was actually going to be entertaining.

            Maybe tonight was turning itself around for once.

            Then the screen went dark; Sans resisted the urge to sigh as Papyrus tensed up in outrage. However, before the taller skeleton could start ranting, the broadcast came back, but on an entirely new scene. On the screen, Frisk and Mettaton stared at each other in a dark room.

            “And now, fellow viewers, t-time for a real show.”

            Sans froze. That was Alphys’ voice. Frisk and Mettaton looked just as surprised and were looking around. Then Mettaton froze and one of his four arms started to reach behind his back and Sans could see every line in Frisk’s body go tense. “Mettaton…?” they called, voice soft since they were far from the microphone.

            The hand halted for only a moment before it continued towards the monster’s back. “Frisk, run,” the robot managed.

            And then the screen filled with white light.

Chapter Text

            Frisk paused, took a deep breath, and looked out a doorway. Outside, the area was still in the process of swinging into place. Except, from the speed it was going, it didn’t look like Alphys had any intention of letting it stop there. More important than that, however, was a familiar looking bridge—the exact one they’d been waiting for to literally bridge the gap. But it wasn’t stopping, so that meant only one thing. Frisk only had a moment to prepare, and then they leapt out and managed to flop onto the bridge. Sensing someone on it, the bridge’s safety measures locked it into place and stopped it in its tracks. Frisk took a deep sigh of relief.

            *Finally catching the right area to escape fills you with determination.

            “Goddamn right it does,” Frisk grumbled before they sat up. They took the moment to catch their breath and appreciate that they’d gotten as far as they had. It’d taken them a full hour to get around the Core as Alphys swapped the rooms in every configuration except for the actually helpful rooms. They had to trick her by stepping back into a room and then quickly trying to catch her moving the right room or passage into place. It’d been slow going and Flowey was probably downright furious with them on the other side, but at least this part of the journey was done.

            They dusted themselves off and took great delight in every step forward until they reached the end of the bridge. At the end of the walkway, the elevator was still shut off, but they were more interested in the door next to it. They paused, bracing themselves. Would Mettaton be in there, waiting for them again? Would he drop his friendly demeanor, or would this world be different? Either way, they weren’t looking forward to a fight. Saying a prayer to whatever kindly spirits might be listening, Frisk stepped in.

            It was dim in the next room, but through the shadows they could see a familiar shape. Mettaton was waiting for them; they didn’t have to fake their friendly smile but they did have to remind themselves not to tense up. “Hello again.”

            “Hello, darling. I’m glad to see you got through—Alphys has been making a real mess of the rooms around here. I had to fly just to reach here.”

            They laughed. “Lucky. I had to jump into the room and catch a bridge before it swung by.”

            “Poor dear,” he sighed. “I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with her. Alphys can be a real bitch when she wants to be. Trust me, I know exactly how you feel.”

            Well, that just proves the animosity wasn’t faked at least. Frisk frowned. “What did she do to you? If you don’t mind me asking.”

            Like they thought, he eagerly snapped up the chance to talk, much like their own Mettaton would have. “Look at what she’s done to me! I wasn’t always like this, I’ll have you know. I was just a simple Waterfall monster. I had big dreams.” He paused, thoughtfully wringing one set of hands together until he started to speak again. “Stupid dreams, but big nonetheless. I wanted to see humans, to meet them. To become one even. That might sound silly to you, but it’s what I wanted.”

            “No, it doesn’t sound silly to me,” they replied kind and gently. “I, um. You could say I wasn’t exactly born into a body that suited me either.” They paused, remembering the angst that had besieged them during those terrible years they were in the foster system, their dysmorphia compounding everything and making it so much worse. It’d gotten better once they came to live with Toriel, who hadn’t questioned their wishes, but they could still remember that painful period in their adolescence when their body started growing in disagreeable ways. Hell, they were just waiting for the moment they could put their binder back on, sweaty and smelly as it would be, but better than nothing. “I didn’t go as far as you did to change yourself, so I obviously didn’t have it like you did, but I promise you, I do at least have an inkling.”

            He seemed to gaze at them, his clasped hands shaking before he forced his hands apart. “You’re sweet. Maybe if I’d met someone like you, instead of—well. I obviously didn’t. Instead, I met Alphys. She seemed like such a stroke of luck at the time. We met at the dump, digging around, looking for interesting human relics. She didn’t even try to kill me, but that was probably because she wasn’t armed with anything useful. We talked and it looked like maybe we could get along. We shared some movies. She only tried to kill me twice, which put her head and shoulders above some people I knew.” He paused to glare sourly up at the ceiling. “But then, I stupidly told her that I’d like to look like a human. Ugh, it must have been like a golden opportunity for her. She told me she could make me a robot body like a human. She even drew up blue prints and designs for me to pick through. I was so excited. I was willing to stake everything on that chance.

            “And then I came in to try her design and saw the body—this body. I don’t know how I let her talk me into trying this body out, but once I was in, she sprung her trap and I was stuck.”

            “You can’t get out of it?”

            “No, it’s something she built into the damn thing. I can kinda shift my body away, but my soul is stuck in place, so there’s no going far, I’m afraid. And there’s no one I can turn to help me now. The only person who knows what she did is Alphys and you can guess just how helpful she’d like to be.

            “All I have left is my career. I always wanted to be on tv and when I refused to be her murder machine, she decided I should be a propaganda machine instead. I played nice with her and the state media for a bit, but my patience ran thin. They had me making awful dreck. Just the most boring nonsense ever. I’ve been trying to needle them a little and spice it up, but honestly it’s so tiring. I thought I was going to just fall down out of bored and disgust.

            “And then you came along.”

            Uncertain, Frisk nodded. “I did. And then you started to help me.”

            He straightened. “Yes.” He sounded quite pleased.

            “Why?”

            They might have well as given him his cue. “Because you’re a human! A real live human. Oh, god, I’ve always wanted to meet a human, just once, but you… You’re so much better than anything I’d ever hoped for.”

            Frisk paused. What exactly does that mean? “How so?”

            “Well, for one, you’re not dead.

            Well. They hadn’t expected that answer. “…Thanks?”

            He waved them off. “No, you don’t get it! Your soul, it’s the last one. With it, monsters will escape the Underground and then they will murder every last human they find. And that’s the last thing I want to happen.”

            Considering it, that jived with what they knew about their own Mettaton—a lovely, charismatic but at the same time completely self-interested monster. But his ego had always been endearing. More than that, though, their Mettaton had also wanted to keep humanity safe. Even if they couldn’t trust his sincerity fully, they thought that maybe they could trust his self interest.

            “Alright. You want to protect humans. But how can I help you? What will helping me get you? Beside the protecting humans part.”

            For a moment, he was silent. Then he tossed his arms into the air, like he was physically tossing his caution away. “I want you to take me with you!”

            Frisk blinked. “Okay.”

            Mettaton paused. “O-okay?”

            “Sure. I could always use more allies.” They shrugged, but kept their eyes trained on him. “Just tell me one thing first. Tell me why I should trust you’re not just going to help me right until we get to the barrier and then stab me in the back. Why should I trust you in getting beyond the barrier?”

            He took a moment before answering. “Look, I know about what you’ve been telling people. That you can get the barrier down, that you can get monsters out. But that’s a terrible idea! If that happens, humans die. It won’t be a repeat of the war from all those years ago. Monsters are—they spilled blood, all of them, even…” he trailed off, voice soft. “Look. I know you’re trying to help, but you’re going to get humanity killed. But, but if I went with you, if we crossed the barrier together we can warn humans about us monsters. I’ll be proof that you can use to prove it!”

            “That’s a fair point, I’ll give you.” Frisk nodded; Mettaton brightened visibly. “As in, I believe that you’d like to help humanity. But, Mettaton, can you tell me that it would be enough? To just be a messenger? Then what would you do?”

            He considered them for a long moment before answering. “Look, I’ll be honest with you. If maybe some human scientists could figure out how to reverse whatever it was that Alphys did to me, that’d be great. I’d—I’d give up being a celebrity to get out of this awful contraption. But, and this is important and I know that reason is selfish and that’s why I didn’t lead with it, but I swear, if I can at least warn humanity I’d be fine with not getting out.” He flinched at his own words but then straightened, like he was really trying to commit to them. “I’d be okay, if I could at least live among them. Anything’s better than here.”

            Frisk tried to stay aloof and cautious, but their heart softened. “Oh, Mettaton. I told you. Even if you can’t get out of that body, humans love robots. I’m sure you’d be a big star out there too.”

            “I… I know you said that, but… oh, who cares! Robot body or not, I’ll rock any world! So, please, Frisk, take me with you—don’t leave me down here to wait until we rise up to kill humanity.”

            Frisk held up a hand to silence him, but smiled to show they weren’t going to be cruel. “Well, with a pitch like that, how can I refuse? C’mon. We got a king to go meet.”

            For a shining moment, Mettaton seemed to radiate joy like warmth. He clasped his hands, like he was praying, like he wanted to clap them.

            And then the room came alive with static from every corner before settling into a stable tone. “J-just what do you think you’re d-doing?”

            Mettaton flinched at Alphys’ voice; Frisk glared upward and prayed that whatever mischief the scientist was up to that it was too far behind them to do any real damage.

            “Evening, doc,” Frisk said, eyes still glancing around in hopes of finding a hidden camera. “Here I thought I might have lost you for a second there.”

            She snorted. “There’s nowhere I wouldn’t be able to find you.”

            “She’s lying,” Mettaton snapped, sounding petulant. “She can’t see into the Ruins for one, and there’s plenty of other places too.”

            “Feisty t-today,” Alphys sneered. “Keep your idiocy to yourself for a change, before you land yourself in worse trouble. You’ve gone and really done it this time, you t-tin can. Did you honestly think I wouldn’t find out about you plotting against the Overlord? Against everything we monsters have been t-trying to do?”

            “Screw that! I never liked that stupid plan to begin with, why would I-” Before he could go on, his body seized and electricity swarmed over his body, arcs of light sparking as Alphys shocked him.

            “Mettaton!” Frisk gasped, wanting to run to him, but knowing they’d only get shocked if they tried. “Alphys, stop it!”

            Alphys chuckled and the attack stopped. The robot slumped over, body still sparking in places. “Y-you think you’re such hot shit because you’re, what, a ‘celebrity’? That being a ‘star’ puts you above everyone else? Well, let me tell you right now, you’re just as a-awful the rest of us.

            “Tell me, Mettaton, when were you going to tell the human about what they need to cross the barrier? When were you going to tell them that they’ll need a monster and a human soul to pass? Or were you ever? Were you just going to wait until their back was turned so you could r-rip their soul out and merge it with your own so you could escape too?”

            “N-no,” Mettaton moaned, his voice crackling—the shock had nearly fried his ability to speak normally. “I… I’d never-!”

            “You would,” Alphys huffed. “You’re a coward and an ungrateful fool. I made you a body and you spit in my face. They offer to let you tag along, and you would have stolen their soul for your own, wouldn’t you?”

            “No!”

            “Hmph. Still think you’re above it all, huh? Well, Mettaton, I’m a r-reasonable monster. Why don’t we let someone else judge how ‘good’ of a person you are, huh? And who better to judge than your own audience?”

            “That’s enough,” Frisk said, putting their hands on their hips. “Alphys, back off and leave Mettaton alone. It’s me you want, isn’t it?”

            “You know, human,” Alphys began, voice thoughtful. “You’re right. You are the one I want. But I don’t see why I can’t capture you and t-teach this idiot a lesson in obedience at the same time.”

            “Alphys!” Mettaton shrieked.

            For a moment, the line went dead. Frisk and Mettaton warily looked around, waiting for whatever trap she had planned to spring. Then the line came back on, along with some lights, shining blindingly onto them.

            “And now, fellow viewers, t-time for a real show.”

            They both jumped, but looking around revealed nothing. Then, from the corner of their eye, Frisk saw Mettaton freeze before one of his hands began to reach for his back. “Mettaton…?” they tried nervously, body tensing.

            Mettaton only managed to halt his hand for a moment before it continued on. “Frisk, run,” he whimpered in agony.

            Then, the sound of a switch flipping and the world went white.

            Frisk threw their hands up in time to avoid being entirely blinded, but they still had to blink away spots. Thankfully, the lights had dimmed after the flash, but even now in the dimmer light, Frisk could still see the horror before them.

            He was worse than they expected. His face looked mostly similar to the Mettaton they’d known, except he had two eyes on the left side of his face and a single huge one on the right that was all black except for a golden crosshair for an iris. His hair was pushed back from his face, revealing a ghastly grin that went nearly ear to ear. The four arms weren’t exactly a surprise, although one on each side had been replaced with plasma cannons, but the four spiderlike legs were. Each leg bent backwards, making him shift his weight side-to-side, moving from one peg leg to the other, like a horrifying crab scuttling about. None of the legs were attached, and his torso floated eerily above them.

            This was no beautiful star standing before them, bold and shining. This was a nightmare.

            “Let me introduce the human and our audience, to my upgrade for our dear celebrity’s body.  I call it Mettaton Neo.”

            Frisk licked their lips and took a breath. “Mettaton?”

            That mismatched face looked upon them and began to tremble. “Don’t look at me.”

            Feeling their heart break, they took a step forward. “Mettaton, wait, it’ll—Mettaton, please, this won’t change-”

            Alphys coughed pointedly. “How about we show the nice folks at home some of your new t-tricks, Mettaton? Let’s have some fun.”

            Mettaton jerked to the side, eyes wide and rolling as he searched for something. When the two arms with the arm cannons rose and began to glow, something whirring around loudly inside of them and making the light flicker, his gaze snapped forward. “Frisk, run!”

            Frisk barely had time to dive out of the way, but then they had to keep scrambling forward as Mettaton dragged his arms around, the beam following them as they raced to keep ahead of it. Finally, the beam shut off, but Frisk had no time to celebrate. Next, his chest place swung open in the middle; his normal arms reached into the cavity and began to hurl bomb after bomb from a seemingly bottomless magazine.

            Frisk managed to scurry away, but the blasts nearly deafened their right ear.

            “FRISK, HURRY. YOU GOT TO DESTROY THIS BOD-!” His mouth clamped shut; deep within his body, Frisk shuddered to hear his true voice trapped within, screaming.

            “That’s enough out of you,” Alphys snapped.

            Frisk shivered. “I… I can’t just hurt you.”

            “Didn’t think so,” Alphys laughed. “Just give up, human. Look at Mettaton. He already h-has.”

            The robot’s eyes began to weep before them.

            “I mean, what else are you going to do, huh?”

            Frisk paused, face grim. They reached into their pants pocket and pulled out their phone. For a moment, they could nearly hear the confusion in the silence as Frisk opened up the options on their phone.

            There, tucked away in the folder Frisk kept all those ancient apps that they’d quietly decided were too useful to delete, they found an app Alphys had put onto their first phone nearly two decades ago. Every time they got a new phone, they always took it to her to add this app back on.

            Despite all that, I never thought I’d do this again.

            “What on earth are you doing?” Alphys finally demanded. “This is a fi-”

            Frisk pushed the button, shocking her into silence as the phone pulsed in time with something inside Mettaton. Frisk’s soul, which had been glowing bright, shining red, slowly inverted. Then it went from red to yellow.

            There was a moment of shocked silence.

            “What the s-s-shit is that?” Alphys finally demanded.

            Frisk glared. “This? It’s a robot fighting spell I know.”

            “WHAT?”

            Frisk lifted their hand, curling their fingers except for the index and thumb, making a finger gun gesture, and pointed it where the soul curved together, the tip on the other end pointing at Mettaton. Closing one eye, Frisk slammed their thumb down against the rest of their hand. “Bang,” they murmured. A fast series of bullets shoot out of the tip of their soul; before Mettaton or Alphys had time to react, the bullets smacked into one of Mettaton’s front legs. The leg buckled for a moment, making him scramble to correct himself.

            “You—w-w-what the hell—where did you g-get that?”

            They smiled wryly. “Just a little present from the best scientist I know.” They paused and grimaced. “Flowey will be pissed if he finds out that I could do that this entire time and didn’t do it only to make sure I didn’t hurt anyone.”

           

 

 

            Somewhere in the heart of New Home, a solitary golden flower sat in front of the glowing display of televisions in a storefront. Gritting his teeth, Flowey watched as Frisk weaponized their soul.

            “You’re goddamn right I’m pissed! FRISK, you IDIOT!”

 

 

 

            “Eh, maybe I’ll get lucky and he won’t find out,” they muttered. They grinned again. “Now then, doc, what were you saying?”

            Alphys growled at them. “Just fucking die!”

            Mettaton’s cannons went up, wiping the smirk off Frisk’s face. “Oh shit,” they mumbled and raced to get out of the way. The beam chased them around the room again, but this time, Alphys cut off the blast abruptly. Mettaton lurched his upper body forward and his large, bulbous eye began to glow. It fired laser bolt shaped bullets in quick succession, making Frisk run again.

            Finally, Frisk got a chance. Raising their hand and soul again, they fired some bullets at the same leg as before. It buckled again and only just managed to catch itself at the last moment.

            One more time ought to do it, they thought with satisfaction.

             As if to spite them, Mettaton’s soul—an odd, stitched together soul that left Frisk wondering if this was some odd cosmetic thing Alphys had done, or if there was some deeper meaning to the change—began to glow in the clear abdomen area. Tiny arcs of electricity raced over it, Frisk’s only warning before a massive laser beam fired out of Mettaton’s chest.

            HOLY SHIT. Rather than dodge to the side, Frisk just dropped to the ground, wincing as their chin banged off the ground and the heat from the blast made their back burn. That was some anime bullshit if I ever saw some. Damnit, Alphys. The attack ended; Frisk wasted no time and fired off some shots from where they lay.

            As they hoped, the leg shattered and clunked to the ground. Frisk allowed themselves a moment to grin, but it quickly ended as the legs just rotated around to settle even distances apart. All they’d done was make him into a tripod. “Ugh, really?”

            Turning him into a three-legged monster certainly didn’t seem to bother Alphys; without a word, she sent him charging straight Frisk.

            Frisk hissed in shock, but couldn’t get up in time to escape. One of Metttaton’s arms grabbed them by the arm and hurled them across the room. They slammed into the floor, rolling from the force of impact until they hit the wall.

            *HP: 18/30. Now would be the time to consider healing.

            Picking themselves up, Frisk reached into their pocket and found the pack of cigarettes. Mettaton’s arm cannons started to glow and whir again, so Frisk darted off, having to pull out a cigarette with their teeth as they ran for dear life. They got it lit and took a deep drag—instantly, the flame ate up the paper and it vanished into green light, slipping past their lips as they still sucked in air. Their wounds healed in an instant.

            Heh. Nice.

 

 

 

            “Nice,” Sans chuckled, watching the human heal using one of the cigarettes he’d given them. He hadn’t actually expected them to use it—hell, he mostly thought they’d just chuck them away at the first convenient area—but there they were, using it. It made him feel… helpful.

            Papyrus wasn’t so impressed. “God, they smoke too? And who on earth sold them healing cigarettes? I thought they only sold those things in New Home.”

            Sans froze before quickly raising the bottle of mustard to his mouth. “Yeah, that’s weird,” he mumbled before he parted his teeth and shot the mustard directly into his jaw.

            His brother scoffed. “Disgusting.”

 

 

 

            *HP maxed out. If they didn’t leave you smelling like an ashtray, they might have been worth it.

            Not now, kiddo, I’m trying not to die here. They made a run for it as Mettaton began to fire more magic shots from his eye. They didn’t get far before they realized he was changing his pattern. Just as he finished his shots, he raised both his arms up so fast, already charged while they’d been too busy running to pay attention, and fired.

            There was no time to dodge and too little room to duck. Twisting to the side to flatten themselves out, they raised their arms up to get them out of their way and braced themselves. The two blast penned them in on either side, but Alphys must have misjudged the distance because they didn’t overlap, just singed their clothes.

            When they attacked, Frisk grinned giddily. Holy fuck, I almost died. Again! Faintly, they were aware that the lack of sleep might have been getting to them as they turned and pointed at Mettaton. “HAH!” they shouted eloquently. “Missed!”

            For a moment, they thought they heard an equally hysterical giggle come from deep in Mettaton’s body, but then the chest cavity opened again and the two normal hands plunged into it again. Instead of yanking out more bombs, the hands yanked out a pair of chainsaws. They started up remotely and roared to life.

            *Had to open your big mouth. Didn’t you.

            Shit. They bolted.

            Mettaton surged forward in a direct line, swinging the chainsaws through the air. He reached the wall, but instead of turning around or stopping, he hopped up and bounced off of it before launching himself at Frisk again.

            This time, they weren’t so lucky.

            The first swing missed taking off their head, but the second bit deep into their back as they turned to run. Pain erupted from their back, but their lower half went numb as the chainsaw chewed into their spine. They became blissfully ignorant of what the machine did to their back before it died. Frisk’s soul wobbled and shattered.

            In New Home, Flowey screamed out Frisk’s name as he helplessly watched them die. In Snowdin, the two skeleton brothers held their breaths.

            Then the pieces slammed back together.

            *But it refused.

            Frisk gasped at their new life while across the Underground, monsters did so as well. Even Papyrus’s jaw dropped and Sans’ bottle nearly slipped from his fingers. Seeing the soul refuse to die on a recording was one thing, but seeing it live was just as startling. In New Home, Flowey sighed in relief.

            Frisk staggered forward, but whipped around to face Mettaton. Without a word, Frisk raised their booted foot and stomped with all their might onto the nearest of Mettaton’s legs. The material—plastic? Cheap metal?—cracked and the leg wobbled dangerously. Frisk gritted their teeth and raised their foot again, but they heard their own thoughts screaming at them.

            No! No, we do not kill. We do not strike in anger! We’re better than that now—we cannot let him down! You might actually hurt Mettaton if you’re not careful.

            Frisk gasped and staggered backwards, off balance while Mettaton legs tried to correct themselves. Shaking themselves, Frisk raised their hand and soul and fired again. This time, the leg shattered and Mettaton nearly hit the floor as his legs tried to rearranged themselves again.

            On the speakers, Alphys was stuttering too hard to curse properly—distantly, Frisk wondered if she was actually cursing on the air or if anyone was hearing the filth coming out of the speakers from the tv set. From what they could make out, she was having trouble with some sort of controls.

            Taking a risk and saying a quick prayer, they spoke to Mettaton. “Mettaton, if you can hear me, fight her! Don’t let her take your dreams away. Remember? We’re going to go—all of us, together. We’re going to get out of here, and when we do, you’re going to be a great star.” They took a breath and kept going. “But that won’t happen if you don’t fight her now.”

            Something in Mettaton’s face flickered. The twitch made hope burn bright in their heart. So much so, they didn’t notice Mettaton’s right arm cannon beginning to glow.

            Haltingly, the arm started to come up, the cannon shining brighter and whirring louder as he raised it. Frisk stared, rooted to their spot, afraid to move, to show that fear and weakness if it meant it might shake him out of his own fight.

            “No one…” hissed a voice deep in Mettaton’s core. Slowly, the elbow of the arm began to bend, away from them. “Keeps me…” The cannon now pointed directly down—straight at the right leg. “From what. I. WANT.”

            The cannon fired. There was an explosion and Frisk was caught in it; their body flew backwards and smacked off the ground, their head bouncing painfully off the ground. Their world was spinning and Frisk’s stomach wanted to heave. Aw fuck, do I have a concussion?

            *It would appear so. HP: 8/30.

            Beyond them, there was a startled, happy laugh. Despite the agony it caused, Frisk turned their head enough to glance up at Mettaton. His right leg and cannon were gone, his left leg having collapsed, unable to support the weight alone. He used the rest of his arms to sit himself up, but he hardly seemed bothered at all. “I—I did it! Frisk, look, look at me! Do you see?”

            Frisk managed a wobbly smile. “Greeaaaaat.”

            Mettaton cocked his head to the side. “Frisk? Are you alright, darling?”

            “I’m fiiiine.” They winced. “Just, um. I think I hit my head? Kinda hard. Now everything’s all… diiiizzy.”

            “Is… is there anything I can do for you?”

            “Mmmno. Just… gimme a minute. I… just need to collect myself.”

            “If you say so,” he replied. He fell silent, but only for a moment. Then he began to giggle, escalating quickly into full-blown wild laughter. “Yes! Do you see this, Alphys? You can’t control me anymore. You can’t do anything to me anymore and now—now I’m going to get out of this hellhole and you can’t stop me.”

            Please stop taunting the unstable scientist lizard. Frisk thought as they clenched their eyes shut and tried to will the room to stop spinning. They knew they needed to get to their cigarettes but the ordeal was too daunting right now.

            Frisk’s stomach clenched as the speaker system turned on again.

            “Y-you think you’ve shut me out and won, have you? You ungrateful little shit, I made that body. You’d be nothing without my invention. Nothing but a meek, whining little coward still hiding in Waterfall, still getting bullied by your family. You think you’re such t-tough shit? Well, Mettaton, how about this—your numbers are at an all time high right now. I think almost everyone in the Underground must be watching. So, how about we open up these c-caller lines and let you speak to your adoring audience?”

            Frisk frowned. What was she up to? Their head hurt too much to open their eyes, so they resigned themselves to going in blind for a bit.

            “C-caller, you’re on the air.”

            “Oh… I am? Good. Mettaton, can you hear me?”

            “I… yes! Yes, I can hear you.” Mettaton’s voice wavered before picking up and slapping a cheery tone on the words. “Congratulations on being my first caller on the show. How—how are you enjoying the show tonight?”

            “It fucking sucks.”

            Wait, Frisk thought, heart skipping a beat. I know that voice.

            “Is this your last show?” Napstablook asked, tone flat. “Thank god. You’re so annoying. I’m just sad I didn’t get to see the human kill you on live tv. That was lame. But hey, you can fix that can’t you?”

            “W-what?” Mettaton’s voice was small and terrifyingly meek. Frisk forced themselves to look up at him; the poor robot looked so scared and alone, like a lost child.

            “You should kill yourself now. That’d be a good ending. You sick, ugly freak.”

            “W-wait, Bl-!”

            Dial tone.

            “He hung up,” Mettaton whispered, voice as broken as his body.

            “Oh, don’t worry,” Alphys cut in. “We have plenty more people just waiting to talk to you. Next caller.”

            *You need to do something.

            I know, but what? God their head hurt—they must have a concussion because the pain only got worse. Despite the motion sickness it gave them, they forced themselves to root around through their pockets, searching for those cigarettes.

            Another caller came on the line. “Hey, Mettaton! You should do it—do us all a favor and kill yourself, you piece of trash!” Click.

            Another. “God, you’re so annoying! I can’t wait until you’re gone.” Click.

            Another. “Yeah, do it already!”

            Another. “Just get on with it!”

            *Frisk. HURRY.

            I’m trying! Finally, they found the pack of cigarettes. They yanked it out and brought it up to their face, having to pause as they dry heaved.

            “Are you really going to kill yourself? Awesome! Do it!”

            “Finally, I won’t to have to see you or your stupid face on my tv anymore. Kill yourself already!”

            “Do it!”

            “Just die!”

            “You see, Mettaton?” Alphys’ voice came back. “You’re n-nothing to those people. You think just because you make a few tv shows or movies, that everyone’s going to fall head over heels for you? Don’t be s-stupid. They don’t want you. They don’t need you. All you are is a h-h-headache.” She paused, and there was a faint click of something shutting off. It wasn’t the speakers—maybe the microphones? “B-but you don’t have to be that way, Mettaton. Just do your job this one t-time. C-capture the human. We can forget this whole thing happened. We’ll just tell Overlord Asgore that your wires got crossed, that I can f-fix you. If you do it now, while everyone’s watching, they’ll forgive you too. You’ll be the hero that got us all to freedom. Isn’t that what you really wanted? To be everyone’s h-hero?”

            “Hero,” Mettaton murmured. Frisk caught their breath and managed to look at him again. He was sitting, wilting towards the floor, his face hidden behind the curtain of his bangs. “I… just wanted to be loved by somebody… I thought… I thought…”

            “Mettaton, just do this and all will be forgiven. Capture the human, take their soul to Asgore. Be a hero, Mettaton. You can do this, can’t you?”

            Frisk frowned and got one of the cigarettes into their mouth before realizing they couldn’t remember where their lighter was. Cursing, they fumbled with their pockets again, idly sucking on the back end between their lips. At the movement, the cigarette spontaneously lit and then turned into green magic that flowed into their lips. Self-lighting cigarettes? Handy.

            *HP: 23/30. Now. Get. UP.

            Shakily, they sat up, but Mettaton began to speak again. “Heh. I-it’s funny, but… I thought that… that yeah, I must be annoying some people but…” His voice broke and he grimaced. “I thought that maybe… there must be at least one person in this stupid place that… Ha. I… I really am an idiot.”

            Frisk’s stomach dropped. “Mettaton, no. Don’t, don’t say that.”

            “Mettaton, do as I say. Capture the human.”

            To Frisk’s horror, Mettaton began to make a sound that might have been a laugh or might have been a sob. “I… I really am an idiot. A waste of space. Even if I got out of here, I’d still only be a freak show, trapped in this hideous body. They were right about me.”

            Frisk picked themselves up but had to braced themselves as a dizzy spell made their head spin. “Oh, Jesus—M-Mettaton… wait. Just… just-”

            “I… I should just disappear.” Mettaton lifted one of his hands and started to reach up, to one of the buttons on his chest.

            “Mettaton!” Alphys gasped. “W-what are you—don’t! D-don’t touch that!”

            *STOP HIM.

            Across the Underground, people tuning in held their breaths, watching in intense interest to see what would happen next. Even Sans had stopped sucking down on his mustard to watch. Besides him, however, his brother jumped to his feet. Sans watched in muted surprise as Papyrus hurried towards the stairs. He paused outside his door to turn and point at him. “Stay. Put.”

            Sans held up his hands silently and turned back to the tv to watch.

            Frisk ran forward, but the world started to tilt again, knocking them off balance. Frisk had to put one hand down on the ground to catch themselves, but they shot forward anyway and slammed Mettaton backwards, hands scrambling for his. “DON’T YOU DARE,” they nearly roared, yanking his hands away.

            Above them, the lights that’d come on when Alphys started filming abruptly shut off, leaving them to gape at each other in the near dark.

            Mettaton tried to frown at them, but his lips trembled too hard to show any sort of strictness. “Let me go.”

            “Look, whatever you’re planning, don’t.”

            Mettaton shifted, but only put a token effort into trying to pull his arms away. “Didn’t you hear them? They want me to do it! I’d be doing them a favor. I-I could finally give them the show they really wanted to see…”

            “Fuck those guys,” Frisk retorted. “Who gives a shit what they think? Mettaton, don’t you remember? We’re getting out of here, together. You’re going to go be a star with the humans now. You can’t—you can’t let those assholes make you forget what you really wanted.”

            He sobbed a laugh. “You don’t understand anything! Don’t you see? It won’t matter if I get out of here. No human’s going to look at me and see anything but… but a hideous monster. Alphys is right. I’m just everyone’s headache. I’m no one’s hero.”

            Frustrated, Frisk let go of his hands and instead grabbed his face, startling him. “Who gives a shit if you’re a hero to them?” they snapped. “You said yourself that this is place is stupid and awful. The only way for you to be a hero to them is to be that awful too.” They paused, feeling his body trembling below their grasp. “To be their hero, you’d have to change a lot more about yourself than just your body. But would that really make you happy? You’d have to give up humans and your dreams. Why be a hero to any of those people? You can be something better.”

            He blinked up at them. “Something better?”

            They nodded. “If being kind is against the law, then fuck that law. Break the rules. If protecting humans is awful, then be the most wicked thing you can be. If be being a hero means killing others, then become the villain instead.”

            “The villain?” he murmured, eyes wide.

            They had to smile. “Yeah… what else would be more fitting? You know what they say, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. You don’t have to listen to those people anymore. Just keep your head up and you’ll make it. Don’t give up. Stay determined, Mettaton, and you’ll be fine.”

            He looked at them for a long time before his face softened into a sad smile. “You’re sweet. And kind.” His smile faded. “But you don’t understand.”

            Oh god, what can I say to get through to him? They thought desperately. Before they could open their mouth though, their phone began to ring. Annoyed, Frisk tried to ignore it, but Mettaton only sighed softly and glanced away.

            “You should answer that.”

            At a loss, Frisk reached into their pocket and grabbed their phone, fairly sure that he wouldn’t try anything as they were still practically laying on top of him. “Hello?”

            “HUMAN!” Papyrus shouted on the other end. Frisk hissed and yanked the phone away; Mettaton glanced down at them, bemused. “Human, what’s going on? The broadcast cut off!” Oh. Well, that explained why the calls had stopped coming in and the lights died. “Is Mettaton alright? Is he still there with you?”

            Frisk blinked. “Uh. Yeah, he’s still here.” Mettaton blinked curiously at them.

            “Oh—oh. Can I talk to him?”

            Frisk frowned. “You’re not going to start saying shit like everyone else, are you?”

            “What? No! Just—just put him on the line, human!”

            Bemused, but desperate enough to try it, Frisk pulled the phone away and put it on speaker. “Okay, go.”

            “M… Mettaton, are you there?”

            Mettaton gave the phone a wary look. “Yes, I am. Can I… help you?”

            “You’re not going away are you?”

            Mettaton and Frisk shared a confused look. “I’m sorry?”

             “You’re not really leaving the Underground are you? Or dying or—whatever. Anyway, you can’t leave!”

            Mettaton sat up to stare at the phone. “Why not?”

            “You… well, you’re the literally the only interesting person to watch. If you go, I might as well just sell the tv. You’re my favorite actor, so you can’t just leave! There’s no one who stands out half as much as you do.”

            Aw, what a sweet thing to say. Why that’s-

            Wait. What was it that Sans said? They had to stop to hunt through their memories of their recent chat, but they quickly remembered.

            “But yeah, besides that, Papyrus has his own- Uh, never mind.”

            “What? Papyrus has his own-? Wait, Papyrus has someone he likes too?”

            *Wait.

            Frisk’s jaw hung open as they stared at their phone. It couldn’t be—could it? Papyrus continued to jabber away, eventually starting to list, in detail, all his favorite scenes and shows he’d loved from Mettaton. Mettaton couldn’t stop staring at the phone like it was about to change into some strange creature and scuttle away.

            *Are you joking?

            Oh my god. The edge lord cutie pie has a crush on Mettaton. Oh, god, that’s adorable. Did my Papyrus have a crush on Mettaton? He called him sexy once, but then it turned out he didn’t even know what that really meant. Oh wow, this is special.

            Frisk glanced up at the robot’s face and perked up. Mettaton was gazing at the phone with wide eyes, one hand pressed gently to his mouth, like he was trying to hold something back. Smiling, Frisk reached out and squeezed his shoulder. “You see, Mettaton? You already have a fan. You can’t just give up now.”

            Mettaton looked up at them, smiled, and helplessly shrugged his shoulders. “I guess… well, I can’t disappoint a fan.”

            Frisk grinned.

            “Does this mean you’re not leaving?” Papyrus asked, his gruff voice so cheerful that he almost sounded like their own Papyrus for a second.

            Still, Mettaton chuckled. “Darling, they’d have to drag me from the stage before I give up on my dreams.”

            “Good! I, um, I look forward to seeing more of your shows then! Good luck, Mettaton!”

            “Thank you, darling. Goodbye.” The moment that Frisk turned their phone off, he reached up to swipe at his eyes. “Oh god, is my mascara running?” He smiled wobbly. “I look like a mess, don’t I?”

            “No, no,” Frisk began, before frowning down at his lower half. “Um. Well, I’m mean kinda? But your make-up is immaculate.”

            “Oh? That’s-” Mettaton began, floundered, and then had to laugh. “That’s great, I guess.”

            Frisk tried to smile but it faded as they looked down at his lower half. “What are we going to do? Do… do you have some spare legs around? Uh, replacements at least?”

            Mettaton’s laugh turned bitter. “Me? You think she actually let me have spare parts on the off chance I try to do something like run off? I was hoping that maybe some humans would be able to help redesign me. No, the only one who can fix me is-” He stopped, face frozen. “…oh dear.”

            “What? What’s wrong?”

            “I… my batteries,” he mumbled, his eyes already drooping shut. “During the fight and after… I wasn’t paying attention. They’re empty.” He looked up at them, wide eyed and panicked. “D-don’t leave me behind. Please, don’t go ahead and leave me alone. I—I want to go with you. To the surface, I… I want…” Abruptly, he went silent and slumped over.

            Frisk yelped and caught him before he slammed into ground. With a sigh, they rested him backwards and sat back. Now what could they do? It’d be heartless to just abandon him there, but they wouldn’t be able to haul him through the capital as deadweight and certainly wouldn’t be able to fight off Asgore with him. They fidgeted, struggling to think of something.

            Like an answer, something slammed against the door in the back of the room, making Frisk jump. They turned just in time to see Alphys nearly fall into the room.

            “Mettaton! Mettaton, you fool, don’t you-” She paused staring at Frisk and his lifeless form. “I-is he? Did he p-p-press the button?”

            Frowning, they leaned forward, putting their body between her and him. “No. He decided not to.”

            To their surprise, she actually sighed and sagged in relief. “So, his batteries just ran out?”

            Frisk frowned. “They did.”

            Shaking her head, Alphys ran a hand over her face. “Easily fixed.” She paused and then squared her shoulders before reaching into a pocket of her lab coat to pull out her hand cannon again. “A-alright, human. Back away from him and-and I’ll let you go.”

            Frisk stood, ignoring their queasy stomach to take a stand before her. “He told me that he wanted to go on with me. I don’t think he’d appreciate me abandoning him just to wake up to you again.”

            Alphys glared back at them, but the hand holding the cannon began to shake. “What does it matter to you what he wants? You just want to leave here. You don’t care what happens to the rest of us. You want to go? Fine, go. Go and meet Asgore. When he rips your soul, no matter how strange it is, out of your body, then Mettaton will go free, as will the rest of us.”

            Frisk raised their chin to glare down their nose at her. “I’m not letting you take him, not if he’s going to be your puppet again. No, he can come with me. I’ll get him out of here if it’s the last thing I do.”

            The scientist had to steady her gun by grabbing the handle with her other hand, but her arms never stopped shaking. Was it nerves, fear, or was she just not used to holding a weapon? How much LOVE did she have? Could she just be trying to bluff them? “Y-you think it’s going to be that easy? You’re going to, what, kill Asgore to take his soul and let Mettaton take one of the human ones so he can get through the barrier too? F-fat chance. Asgore’s going to kill you.” She paused and for a moment, her hands finally steadied. “I’m not going to let you drag Mettaton into that bloodbath.”

            Wait, is she… is she really worried about Mettaton? Is she trying to protect him? Frisk could only stare at her, baffled. Did she really care about him, or was she just worried she was going to lose a powerful pawn?

            “Leave him to me. I can fix him. I can t-tell the Overlord that this whole thing was just an accident. I’ll tell him that it w-was just a bug in the code. I-I’ll convince him!”

            Frisk frowned, gazing at her sidelong. “Fix him how? Rewrite his code to try and make him a human killing machine? To make him more obedient?”

            Alphys glared, but her hands were shaking again. “What does it matter to you?! He’s going to get himself k-killed at this rate—an-and you! You, you’re just encouraging all this. You come here, and then you stir everyone up. At first, we were all so happy, so relieved because that meant we finally had the last soul. We were all going to be free. Undyne even started showing improvements and-” she paused, flinching at her own words before hurrying on. “But then you start going on about bringing down the barrier yourself. Ignoring the Law of ‘kill or be killed’ and encouraging others to do the same. That sort of idiocy gets people dead. Now you got the fools and the weaklings h-hopeful that maybe you can free them. That you can make it all b-better. What do you think is going to happen when you escape without freeing us, after you kill Asgore and l-leave us here? You’re going to ruin what little hope monsters have left!”

            Huh.  She really believed that they were just going to abandon everyone like that. Frisk couldn’t even find any sort of ire in them—it wasn’t like she knew them at all, she had no idea how sincere Frisk was. They must look like the worst kind of interloper. Still. “Why are you so sure I’m going to leave everyone behind? I thought you said Asgore is going to kill me.”

            Alphys flinched so hard, she nearly dropped her weapon. “H-h-he will! As-Asgore’s powerful. He’ll d-defeat you, even with your bizarre soul.”

            Frisk frowned, resisting the urge to subconsciously lift their hand to their chest. Their soul was bizarre? What did that mean? Maybe it was a trick, a distraction. Shaking their head, they spoke. “He won’t. But I’m not going to kill him, Alphys. And I’m not going to leave you guys behind. Even if most of you are violent and bloodthirsty and really—nonsensical,” they muttered softly before speaking up again. “No one deserves to be trapped down here. Not even you.” They paused and shrugged. “Even if you have tried to kill me multiple times. This place, it’s still just a prison in the end.”

            Alphys’s breath was harsh and her arms shook. “S-stop it! Y-you’re not going to b-brainwash me, not like everyone else.”

            Goddamnit, I’m too tired and my head hurts too much for this. I gotta go. Frustrated, they waved at her. “You know what, you want to be stubborn? Fine. But I am not leaving Mettaton with you.” They turned and crouched to pick him up. “He said not to leave him behind, and I’m not going to. Especially not with you.” 

            “W-wait!” Alphys yelped; there was a clatter. When Frisk glanced back, they saw she’d dropped her gun. She looked down, horrified for a moment, but then she looked back to Mettaton and then at their face. “You can’t take him—I need to fix him. If I don’t get him fixed soon, his system might start to crash and his soul could be lost.”

            Frisk frowned. Was she lying? They never learned the literal mechanics of Mettaton’s body, but could he really be lost if they didn’t get him help right then? “That seems awful convenient, Alphys.”

            “It’s Doctor Alphys, and it’s not convenient at all! If you take him out of here, you’re going to let him die before you can find anyone to fix him in time.” She balled her coat into her hands. “I’m not going to let you kill him to suit your own ego.”

            Frisk laughed like a sharp caw of a crow. “That’s rich coming from you.”

            Alphys growled and tossed her hands into the air. “I don’t have time for this! Just let me take him back to my lab before he gets worse already!”

            What if she’s not lying? What if I really do get him killed trying to drag him out of here? I don’t even have the strength to do this on my own. But, if Alphys tries to do something to him, I can’t just let her take him alone. Frisk frowned. There was only one solution they could think of. “Alright.”

            Alphys blinked. “A-alright?”

            Frisk nodded, stepping to the side. “Alright. You can take him back to your lab.”

            The scientist stared at them, like she was waiting for the other shoe to drop.

            Frisk obliged and turned to scoop Mettaton up. “I’m coming with you.”

            “W-what?! Absolutely not!”

            “And I’m not leaving you alone with him, where you can do whatever you want to his brains. No, I’m coming too, and I’m keeping an eye on you.” Mettaton’s body was heavy as hell, but they managed to lift him into their arms and then slung his form over their shoulder. His arms hanging over the back almost overbalanced them, but they managed to keep themselves on their feet. They turned to Alphys. “Let’s go.”

            Alphys gaped at them, hands grabbing desperately at nothing, but at last she just growled in frustration. “I don’t have time for this! You want to come? F-fine.” She scooped up her gun and pointed it at them. “But I’ve got my eye on you, h-human.”

            “Whatever.” It wasn’t like she was the first one to point a weapon at them today anyways. They stalked forward; reluctantly, she took a few steps back to let them out of the room. Frisk was surprised to see a trolley besides the door. When Frisk looked to Alphys, she gestured to the trolley.

            “Put him on that and let’s get moving. Go forward, then get in the elevator. It’ll take us to the Lab.”

            Frisk tried not to look relieved as they slipped his heavy weight off their shoulder and onto the trolley. They took a moment to arrange him more comfortably before they walked around and began to push the trolley forward. Alphys pushed the button to open the doors, but before Frisk could walk in, they spotted something in the middle of the elevator.

            “Frisk!” Flowey shouted, balancing awkwardly on his roots in the middle of the elevator. “I heard the elevator and I thought it was you but then—wait, what’s with Mettaton?” Then he spotted Alphys and gasped. “You!”

            “You,” Alphys hissed back and started to raise her gun.

            Frisk reached out and smacked it back down. “Don’t you dare,” they growled before they carefully pushed the trolley in. Once they were inside, they reached down and picked Flowey up. “Flowey, are you okay?”

            He stared at them as they offered him his old position back on their shirt. “Am I okay? You—you idiot!” He snapped forward and grabbed the hank of hair that framed that side of their face with his mouth and began to yank. Frisk yelped but didn’t pull away as he gave their hair another yank. He finally spat out their hair to keep yelling at them. “First you take forever to get through the Core, then I see you’ve managed to get into a fight with that idiot,” he said, gesturing to Mettaton. “And now I find you wheeling around one of your enemies with another of your enemies!” Poor thing, he sounded so exasperated. “Just what the hell is going on?”

            “It’s a long story,” Frisk sighed, rubbing at their scalp even though it didn’t actually hurt, as Alphys hesitantly slipped into the elevator. She took out a key and accessed the control panel to reveal a secret panel, one with two extra buttons, both labeled Lab. She pressed the first.

            Flowey shook his head. “I can’t keep my eyes off you for a second, can I?”

            The trip in the elevator wasn’t very long, but it was excruciatingly awkward. Frisk was all too happy to step out into the murky shadows of the Lab. They waited as Alphys weaved her way through the trash and then gestured them towards a panel in the wall. Pressing a hidden button, the wall opened up to reveal a short passage. Walking through it revealed Alphys’ working shop and living area. It was significantly cleaner in here—you could actually see the floor for one, even if the desk was full of junk like dirty ramen bowls and energy drinks. Alphys knocked this all aside and gestured for Frisk to put Mettaton on there.

            Flowey actually helped Frisk to lift Mettaton, grunting as his vines wrapped around the robot and pulled him up. Once they had him securely up there, they stepped back and watched as Alphys rushed forward. Quickly, she started plugging wires into hidden ports in his body and booted her computer up. After a few moments, she sighed. “There he is.”

            Curious, Frisk glanced at her computer—there were numerous graphs and readouts, some doing nothing while others gave out steady readings. “So, is he okay?”

            “He’s fine,” she grumbled, shaking her head. “Or, at least he will be.” She rapped her knuckles against his forehead. “S-stupid idiot. Are you trying to get yourself killed?”

            Frisk sighed, and shoved their hair out of their face. God, this day just felt like it was getting longer and longer. “Honestly, I wouldn’t blame him if he did. Why would he want to come back here to you, if you were only going to hurt him again? Why come crawling back at all? Better to die on your own terms than continue on like he was.”

            “So he should have killed himself over pride?” Alphys snapped.

            Damn. She has a point. Just to be contrary, Frisk shrugged. “When people don’t have much, like, oh, body autonomy? At least they have pride.” They paused, gaze going soft as they looked at the robot. “I’ve stared down some ledges of my own. The fall doesn’t look so scary when the road behind you has been so long.”

            Alphys twitched and looked away. Had she ever looked down over the ledge before? Their Alphys had—she would have understood.

            Frowning up at Frisk, Flowey’s face was troubled before he shook his head and turned back to the doctor. “Why do you care?” Flowey asked. “I thought he was nothing but trouble.”

            Alphys turned to glare at him; he slunk down but kept glaring over Frisk’s shoulder. At last, Alphys looked away. “He’s a pain in my ass, but… but I didn’t want him to d-die.” She paused, and for a moment, Frisk could read sincere pain and exhaustion in her face. “He just… doesn’t understand what it takes to live in this world. He’s only going to get himself killed.”

            Frisk frowned and started to open their mouth, but then they heard an odd noise. Something moved behind them and began to pant, loud, wet, and coming from something huge. Their soul popped out of their chest. Before them, Alphys froze, eyes wide. Slowly, Frisk glanced behind them, stomach clenching.

            A massive open hole gazed at them from the white furry face before them, oozing a sticky drool. Blinking, Frisk glanced down to see the familiar shapes of dogs beneath the giant’s belly. Endogeny looked identical to the one in their own world. Flowey spotted the amalgamate and gasped, his body trembling violently.

            Frisk only smiled and turned cautiously slow. “Hello, big guy. Hey.”

            Endogeny paused and began to cautiously wag his tail.

            “Frisk, what are you doing?” Flowey hissed, slinking down.

            “Shh. It’s fine. Hey there, buddy. Who’s a good amalgamate? Huh? Is it you?”

            Endogeny perked up, his tail flapping around like a flag in a hurricane.

            Frisk laughed and clapped their hands before them. “It is you! You’re the good amalgamate!”

            Endogeny hopped in place, excited, rattling the whole laboratory as it did so. Mettaton shifted on the table and Alphys nearly slipped off her chair.

            “Yeah, what a good amalgamate. Now, who wants a belly rub?”

            Endogeny reared up just to flop down and kneel before them, like an oversized puppy. Which, essentially, it was.

            “Yeah, it’s you! Now, c’mere and let me rub your belly. Come on!”

            Happily, the amalgamate surged forward, nearly knocking them over as it flipped onto its back and presented its belly. Frisk grinned as they bent and quickly began to rub its stomach, trying not to shudder at weird, almost gelatinous consistency of its body. As they rubbed, it seemed to fall asleep before quickly perking back up. Frisk laughed and kept scratching.

            Behind them, something rattled, catching Endogeny’s attention instantly. Turning, Frisk saw Alphys had produced a box of dog treats from somewhere—probably from her mess of a desk. Quickly, Alphys pulled out a handful of treats, waved them in the air so Endogeny could see them, and then quickly hurled them to the side. Without a moment’s hesitation, Endogeny flipped over and slid across the ground like a goopy blob before quickly smacking its face hole down onto the nearest treat.

            “What the shit is that?” Flowey squeaked from his hiding spot.

            “Endogeny is an amalgamate,” Alphys began, voice cautious. When Frisk glanced at her, they saw her staring openly at them. “How did you know that Endogeny is an amalgamate?”

            Frisk stared back calmly. “Endogeny isn’t the first amalgamate I’ve met before.”

            “Are you kidding me?” Flowey mumbled, still gaping. “I still don’t know what that is.”

            “Amalgamates are monsters that were pumped full of determination,” Frisk answered, still not breaking eye contact with Alphys. “It was to keep them from falling down. But it backfired and instead of saving them, it made them all melt together.”

            “Determination?”

            Frisk almost frowned—how did Flowey not know this? But then, maybe their Flowey had talked to Alphys some during one of his many resets. Maybe this Flowey just hadn’t had the chance or opportunity yet to try. “The will to live. It’s the stuff that makes human souls persist after death. It gives us the power to rewrite time by saving and resetting.”

            Flowey gaped up at them like they’d handed him the greatest secret of life. “…determination… the power to reset…”

            Alphys breathed hard. “How did you know that?”

            Frisk considered their options. “I know because I was told it a long time ago, by the person who created the amalgamates.”

            Alphys flinched, her eyes huge. “Are… are you from the future? Do you have the power to reset time and space?”

            Sighing, Frisk turned to face her dead on. “I did not reset. I don’t know how I got here, but… but I’m not from here.”

            “Obviously.”

            “No, I mean, I’m not from this world. I—I don’t know how to explain it, but this world is nothing like the one I knew.” Inside, they could feel something breaking, some hesitance, as the words eagerly spilled from their mouth. “The world I knew was kinder and more hopeful. This one is filled with violence.” They sighed. “Even the monsters here are different from the ones I knew before.”

            “Did,” Alphys began, voice shaking. “Did you meet another Alphys before?”

            Frisk gazed at her, trying to decide if she was going to believe them or not. They decided to risk it. “Yes. She and I… we were friends.” They paused, smiling. “We used to hang out, watch her shows together. She, uh, she could really talk your ear off if you gave her the chance when it came to her love of anime.”

            Alphys squeaked. “How did—nobody knows I like anime. I didn’t even tell Undyne that yet!”

            Frisk blinked. “What, really? How on earth did you hide that from her?”

            Alphys flustered. “I’m not hiding it from her, I—I’m just busy, okay?” She paused and put her head in her hands. “Oh god, you’re really from another world. Ugh, that makes so much sense—the reason why your data was so unlike the others, your power.” She paused glancing up at them between her fingers. “You… you’ve seen something like this world before. Do you know what’s going to happen?

            “Not exactly. This world’s too different for me to be sure. But I think it has the same potential.” They paused themselves before deciding to ask her something that had been bothering them for ages. “Alphys, in that world, you created the amalgamates trying to save monsters from falling down. Why have you done so in this world?”

            Alphys flinched, but she didn’t immediately answer. Instead, she looked down, pushing her glasses down so she could rub at her eyelids. “T-the problem began ages ago. After Asgore announced the ‘kill or be killed’ edict, monsters slowly started to build up LOVE—their, uh, their level of violence.” Rather than interrupt the scientist, Frisk decided not to announce they already knew what LV was. “At first, monsters hesitated to attack to kill unless thoroughly provoked, but the older the monster got and the more they fought, the higher their LOVE grew. With more EXP, a monster could survive longer, could protect their own better.” She frowned. “The longer they lived. But, the longer they lived, the more they fought, that also meant that they saw more friends and family fall. LV went up, but hope… hope went down.”

            An old memory of Sans’ low HP floated through Frisk brain before they could quash it. They could feel Chara’s curiosity at the edges of their mind, like they were trying to peer through the curtains, but it was too far from sight. Frisk forced themselves to change tracks, but that only led to them wondering if this world’s Sans also had awful HP.

            Alphys sighed, rubbing her snout like she had a headache. “Monsters began to fall down, slipping into comas and dying.  Our population rates went down as monsters kept dying but less children were born and that only meant more hope was lost. All together, there’s less than three hundred monsters left in the Underground to date.”

            Frisk’s throat closed up and they felt Flowey shuddered against the side of their neck.

            The amalgamate snuffled wetly at Alphys side, seeking more treats. The scientist only gently shoved it away, so it wandered off to search elsewhere.

            “So,” Alphys began again, reaching for her tools. She got to work on Mettaton’s chassis as she talked, working on getting it open. “Asgore ordered me to look into… solutions to the hope problem. I don’t know w-what he was hoping I would find. I… I thought at the time that my best solution would be work with the near dead. People c-complain less when it’s the near dead and not actual dust. Dust seems too blasphemous, I suppose, but the near dead? Just a-another mouth to feed that can’t defend itself.” She pried into Mettaton’s circuits, pulling chips and examining them before either stuffing them back or tossing aside the fried ones. “I had a theory about determination. If monsters without hope fell down, maybe more determination would help. And it did, at first. Then they melted together and became, well, that.” She gestured at Endogeny.

            “I see,” Frisk murmured, trying to sound thoughtful. At least the dogs looked almost normal—well, normal for Endogeny. It made it easier if they thought of it as just a bunch of dogs hiding in one big costume. The amalgamate saw them paying attention and walked over. Without a second though, Frisk reached out and offered it their hand. It paused but began to wag its tail after it gave their hand a good sniff. Frisk patted its head; it promptly flopped onto the floor so they could rub its tummy again.  “So, it had some unexpected effects. How did you react?”

            “Mortified, honestly,” Alphys grumbled; when Frisk glanced at her, they noticed she was glaring at their reflections in one of the bits of warped casing. Alphys tossed it aside. “I had just been about to a-announce to Asgore my breakthrough. I would have gotten a raise,” she sighed.

            Frisk grimaced. “A raise?” That’s what she was worried about?

            “I-I could do a l-lot of things with a raise!” Alphys snapped defensively. “I could fund research for my p-private projects, I could build more new weapons for Undyne, and-and the amalgamates need to eat. With extra money, I could—I could…”

            What is she dancing around? Frisk frowned solemnly. “…you could help Undyne?”

            Alphys’ flinch spoke more than their fierce anger in her face, but it fit the fear behind Alphys’ eyes. Frisk could see the retort on her face—(“Nothing is wrong with her!”)—but then it died abruptly as something else crept into the scientist’s face. Frisk prayed that it was hope. “U-Undyne is… Without a doubt, Undyne is the strongest monster next to Asgore, no matter what anyone else might boast. She’s the fastest, the strongest, she’s the Captain of the Enforcers… the longest lived too.” Alphys grimaced and went back to tinkering with Mettaton’s body. “She puts up with a lot from those bozos, trying to keep them from killing each other or the rest of our dwindling population. F-fucking Asgore has us killing each other off left and right, don’t know what he’d thought would happen…”

            It was the first time they heard say a word against her king. The human let Alphys grumble for a bit before clearing their throat loudly.

            Alphys jumped, shooting them a nervous look before pausing and going back to work again. “S-she does what she can, but she has a lot on her plate. There’s lots of fighting… lots of killing.” Alphys paused. “Lots of ways to lose hope.”

            Frisk’s heart lurched into their throat, choking them for a moment. “Undyne… she’s not…?”

            Alphys shot them a dirty look. “She is not falling down,” she snapped, voice full of venom. Her shoulders heaved with her strained breathing, but she settled back down and went back to work. “She… she is in danger though. Undyne has always had an unusually high concentration of determination in a monster, which means she could melt easier, like the amalgamates. But, with low hope, that means she has to be even more determined. Add the stress from her job. That all means that she’s… she’s v-very…” She paused, taking a deep breath and bracing herself. “Susceptible. She can fight that off,” Alphys went on, pride touching her voice for a moment before softening again. “But it hurts. So her hope suffers. Which means that she has to be more determined, which just makes everything worse.” She paused and began to dig through her box of circuit boards and wires. “I built her that new armor, the weapons for a reason, you know. Not just because the armor’s climate controlled—or that it’s rigged with sensors to warn her if she’s letting her hope get too low. Not just because the laser eye is cool.

            “She… she gets excited when I make her stuff. Like a kid on their birthday. It’s when her hope jumps the most.” She fiddled with a circuit between her claws. “She says ‘this is great, Al, no one will try something with me now’. Because, they do, they always do, but the new stuff, it’ll keep them away for a few weeks. …she’s the only one who ever thanked me for making them something.”

            Frisk could see something genuine and soft in Alphys’ face; she might have even forgotten Frisk was there. It made Frisk hesitate to speak for a moment. “Alphys, when did the first amalgamate happen?”

            Alphys froze and looked at them. “Um. Two… three months ago?”

            “And when was the most recent one created?”

            At first, Alphys didn’t answer. Instead, she glared thoughtfully at Frisk until she tensed, realization dawning in her eyes. “Two weeks ago. How did…?”

            “You said you have to worry about having enough money to feed the amalgamates. That means long term planning on your part, also that you probably know how much you need to keep feeding them from past experience and it’s a lot more than you are equipped to handle now.”

            “…you really are a sly one.”

            Frisk shrugged and tried a kind smile. “Reading people, picking up details—it’s part of my job.” They paused at Endogeny began to whine at them due to their lack of petting. Frisk quickly began to correct the oversight. “Alphys, why are you hiding the amalgamates from Asgore?”

            Alphys flinched. “I—I’m not hiding them from anyone! I… I,” she paused, face burning before she finally got the courage to speak. “I’m protecting them, okay?! I c-can’t turn them over to Asgore!”

            Frisk kept their outward reaction to an owlish blink, but inside their heart sang. There’s still some kernel of goodness left in you yet. Oh, Al, you had me worried. Still, they kept their face calm. “Why not though? You’ve created new life out of the dying, a special breed of unkillable soldiers. Wouldn’t that just be perfect for Asgore?”

            “They. Are not. SOLDIERS!” The circuit board snapped between her fingers.

            Frisk paused as Endogeny flailed and righted itself, gazing up at Alphys and trembling.

            It took Alphys a moment, but she caught her breath and slumped back into her chair; once she appeared calmed, Endogeny cautiously waved its tail before laying back down. “They’re not soldiers,” Alphys sighed. “They’re… they’re like babies. All they really want is food and affection. I… I did try once, to see if how they would react in battle.” She shook her head. “They don’t try to cause damage unless they’re very hungry, and even then you can tell they’re not trying that hard to hurt you. And they don’t take orders for s-shit. You couldn’t take them into battle. If I told Asgore about them, it’d still only be an embarrassment.”

            “So, why did you keep making them?”

            Alphys finally met their gaze and was quiet for a very long time. “I… I’ve been doing experiments. At first, I tried to extract the determination back out of them. I… I thought that maybe… but it didn’t matter.” She slumped. “I can’t get it back out of them. Then I decided to see what the limitations of the injections were. Turns out, you can revive fallen down monsters but it takes a tiny dosage. But there’s always side effects.” She paused, thoughtful. “The last one, they’re a funny one. That one has no will at all to fight, but they like looking after others. I’ve fallen asleep down there a few times and whenever I do, I wake up to a blanket tucked around me. I checked the security cameras, so I know who it was.”

            “Alphys. Why are you still making them?”

            “B-because I was hoping I could find a cure for Undyne.” She glanced down at the broken circuit board, grimaced, and then tossed it down to join the rest of the garbage on her desk. “And… and this way the monsters haven’t really died. I can’t save them, but at least they aren’t gone.”

            “How do you know they’re happy like this though?”

            Alphys shot Endogeny a flat look as the amalgamate rolled on their back and began to wiggle for Frisk to pet their tummy. “That one looks pretty damn content.”

            Unbidden Frisk had to smile; they hid it as they turned to rub their belly. “That’s cause it’s a good little monster, yes it is!”

            Endogeny happily oozed liquid out of the hole in its face. Flowey made a tiny noise of disgust.

            Alphys gave a ghost of a chuckle at the antics of the amalgamate. “There’s no p-protecting them if I let anyone else know about them. Asgore will try to control them, then he’ll kill me once he realizes he can’t. Th-then Undyne will…” she paused, shutting her eyes in pain. Her breath hitched in her chest. When Frisk looked up at her, she could see that Alphys’ eyes were wide with panic. “Undyne will…!”

            Frisk hesitated only a moment before reaching out to press their fingertips against Alphys’ knee. The monster jerked, staring at the fingers for a moment before looking up into Frisk’s eyes. As kindly as they could manage, Frisk smiled. “Undyne’s hope will give out.”

            Alphys shut her eyes and nodded.

            Patting Alphys’ knee, Frisk waited until the scientist would look at them again. “Alphys, how much longer do you think Undyne can last without you making a breakthrough?” The panic in Alphys’ eye was answer enough. Frisk stood. “Look, there’s only way I can think that will help—raise her spirits. And the quickest way to do that is if I talk to Asgore and convince him to repeal the edict.”

            Alphys looked at them like a bird had just popped out of their mouth. Although, considering some of the amalgamates and their abilities, that might not have been that strange of a sight to her. “How?”

            “Leave that to me. But I will do it. I’m going to change his mind about it. And then I’m going to break the barrier. That should put some pep in everyone’s step, I think.”

            “B-but… how on earth are you-? Oh, why am I bothering?” she shook her head, pressing one hand to her cheek as she stared up at them. “You’ve been doing i-impossible things this entire time. Why should this be any different?”

            Frisk grinned. “Miracles do happen. I’ve seen ‘em.”

            Alphys paused, studying them. “How do you know?”

            Time to put the cards on the table and make the bet. “Because I’ve seen the barrier break before. I’ve seen monsters walk free.”

            Flowey twitched hard and lifted himself out of their shirt, but it was Alphys that was looking thunderstruck.

            “A-ah… are you sure you didn’t come from the future? D-did you reset and come back here?”

            Frisk shook their head. “I didn’t reset. And I’m definitely not from this world’s future. But I have faith that this one can still reach a happy end. This world still has some goodness left in it.” They paused, glancing back to see Flowey’s wide eyes staring back at them; they smiled down at him. “Yeah. Still good.”

            Slowly, the flower gave them the tiniest smile back.

            Alphys breathed deep and slow, staring up at them with wide eyes. Finally, she spoke. “Take the elevator and go back the way we came. Go back to capital and do not linger. Head east. You’ll find Asgore’s castle. Just… just go. Prove to me that you can make this miracle happen.” She jerked her head in Mettaton’s direction. “I’ll stay here. Get him fixed. Show him your m-miracle too.”

            Frisk smiled, their chest tight. “Will do.” They paused before smiling again, sheepishly. “But um, first. Do you know where I could rent a room for the night? I’m exhausted.”

            “Frisk,” Flowey groaned. “Are you kidding me?”

            “Hey, I’ve been running myself ragged, I’ve barely ate all day, and I had to fight a robot. I need to at least get a nap in.”

            “Take the elevator downstairs,” Alphys said. “There’s a bunch of beds down there. Stay to the room with the beds and you’ll be fine. The tall man won’t let the others harm you, but you should be fine anyway. I already fed them.”

            Was this a good idea? Hell, I’m too tired to think of anything better. “Thanks, Alphys.”

            “FRISK,” Flowey shouted into their ear, making them wince. “SERIOUSLY?”

            “Uh, yeah. C’mon, Endogeny! Let’s go downstairs and have a nap.” They paused and glanced back at the doctor. “Oh, and Alphys? While you’re fixing up Mettaton, you might want to rethink his design. Maybe a little less Silent Hill and a little more… eh, Mew Mew Kissy Cutie.”

            Alphys’ jaw dropped. Frisk turned and gestured to Endogeny before they began to walk away again. The amalgamate happily followed after them. Alphys watched them go, slowly shaking her head before turning back to work on Mettaton’s body. After a long moment, she jumped again as a voice broke the silence.

            “Looks like you’re having a busy day for visitors, Alphys,” Sans said idly.

            Alphys whipped around to glare at him. “Sans! How long have you been there? Were—were you spying on me?”

            “Easy there. Just dropped in to see what new data you got,” he answered, still staring at where Frisk had left the room. He blinked and turned to face her. “You look like shit.”

            Alphys tensed, painfully aware that none of the defenses in her room were activated and to do so would be super obvious to Sans. “I’ve had a rough day. What’s your excuse?”

            “Feisty,” he quipped before nodding at Mettaton. “So, is he dead?”

            Alphys bristled and rolled her chair around to block his view of the robot. “He’ll be fine. Just some b-bad connections.”

            “Oh? Is that what happened?” he drawled, walking closer. “Made for a hell of a show tonight.”

            “What the h-hell do you want, Sans?”

            His forehead shifted, making it look like he was raising invisible eyebrows at her. “I wanted to see what data you managed to collect from the fight.” He didn’t add that he’d gone through hell trying to sneak past the wards that covered his home. After all that trouble earlier, he was going to have find a way to sneak back in again. At least whatever Papyrus had done in his room, it’d left him happy and cackling. He wouldn’t notice Sans was missing for awhile yet.

            Alphys froze before turning back to her computer. She brought up the footage feed and several diagnostic programs. After some fiddling, she got the readouts to sync up and began to play them all. Sans walked over to watch over her shoulder as the fight progressed, glancing at the data all the while.

            “Well, one thing’s for sure. It’s not determination that they’re radiating all the time. It’s magic.” Alphys frowned and checked another data program. Whatever she found there, it gave her pause. “But it’s not coming from their soul.”

            His static grin twitched as he leaned in closer, cursing his vision but not wanting to correct it around Alphys. “It’s coming from their… body? Are they some kind of strange monster then?”

            “No, that doesn’t make any sense. If they were, they would have melted a long time ago from all that determination.”

            He paused. “A spell then? Has someone cursed them?”

            Alphys tapped her claws against her desk. “Too beneficial to be a curse. Some kind of aiding spell then.” She paused and moved faster through the footage and readouts. “But there something faintly magical going on here and here—they were talking to someone again. But that magic, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that it’s a human thing.”

            “Does the magic on their body match the signature from when they talk to the other being?”

            Alphys compared the two and sat back, expression neutral. “It’s not. So, whoever… t-tried to help them? Whoever spelled their body, it’s not the person they’re talking to. Oh, look!”

            Sans looked at the footage and flinched when he saw that chainsaw bite deep into Frisk’s back. He glanced away before he could see that agonized expression on their face again. “What about it?”

            “Here, look. It’s when they’re soul re-fuses.”

            Rather than look at the footage, he looked off to the side. There was a familiar graph, showing their determination. Alphys was right; the determination wasn’t showing up beforehand, but when their soul re-fused, the spike jumped to the top of the map. He bet Frisk easily had the highest recordings of determination of any human they’d ever studied, perhaps even before the war. “Well, it’s not outside magic that heals them. That’s coming from them alone.”

            “Or maybe not,” Alphys muttered, flipping to another program. Sans watched testily as she fiddled with the program. At last, she sat back. “No. It is. This is just… b-bizarre though.”

            “What?” he nearly snapped.

            She glanced up at him, eyes wide behind her glasses. “I think I know who—or at least what they’re talking to.” She tapped her screen. “They’ve got another soul piggy backing off theirs.”

            He stared for a moment. “…what?”

            “I think Frisk’s p-possessed. Probably by another human.” She pointed at her screen again. “Look. It’s faint, but there’s a s-second source here.”

            Sans rocked back on his feet. “They absorbed another human soul? But humans-”

            “Can’t absorb another human soul, no. But I don’t think they a-absorbed it. I think the other human was already dead. Soul possession is rare among human souls, but even we have records of human ghosts latching on to other humans in an attempt to take over that body. It never works, not really, not like a human and monster soul absorption. The two souls conflict too much. So, whoever they’re t-talking to, it’s probably another human and one that was dead before it latched onto Frisk.”

            Sans paused, glancing back to the graphs. “Is that where they’re getting all that determination from? Is the second soul lending them some?”

            Alphys frowned and started flipping through the data again. After some time, she gave up. “I… d-don’t think so? I mean, logically it would make sense, but despite the fact the soul has definitely latched on to them, the souls are too far out of alignment to feed each other, even if their soul color does match. In fact, the other soul doesn’t seem to have much or maybe even a-any determination of its own. It’s probably been dead for awhile.”

            “So, what, Frisk just naturally has the power to resurrect themselves if they die?” He paused, frowning at the graph. “Why on earth does reviving themselves require more determination than resetting time itself?”

            Alphys grunted. “I don’t know, you’re the q-quantum physics major. I specialized in soul magic and robotics.”

            This was all starting to seem a little too wild for him. If this was a book, he’d sit it down for a while to go do something else. Probably nap. He needed to change the subject; he glanced at Alphys. “Speaking of soul magic, wasn’t that your spell they used during that fight to turn their soul yellow and attack?”

            “Ugh,” Alphys grumbled, smacking a hand to her face. “Oh, s-s-shit. I was going to ask where the hell they got that spell.” She paused. Maybe this was just another sign that the human was telling the truth—maybe they really were from another world, one in which that Alphys had given them the app that she’d been developing for months in secret. She hadn’t even shown it to Asgore yet. She looked to Sans. “Do you still believe that nonsense about other worlds, other t-timelines?”

            Sans cocked his head to the side, sending shadows looming over his face, his red eye burning bright in the socket. “What’s that to you?”

            She grimaced. “Well, um. Y-you might have been more right than you know?”

            Sans blinked slowly. “Tell me.”

 

 

 

            Across the Underground, talk and gossip went late into the night. Everyone had seen the fight on television, and everyone had an opinion. First came the scorn—what a loser Mettaton was, what a weakling the human was, but at least they’d put on a good show. Hopefully, that was the end of Mettaton’s career, but then a few admitted that they’d tune in again, just to see what would happen if the robot did return.

            After that though, the conversations grew quiet. It’d been a hell of a show, but what had happened at the end? Had the human rushed forward to kill Mettaton, gain his EXP before he offed himself? Or had they run forward to try and save him? No, that couldn’t have been it.

            Could it?

            The talk turned into whispers, spoken only in the soft silence in dark corners, behind hands. What if the human had saved him? What if the human really was on their way to Asgore?

            What if they broke the barrier?

            What if they all got to go free with this human leading them to the surface?

            What if they were the angel of the prophecy?

            The Underground went quiet near daybreak, silently waiting to see what would come of it. Either Asgore would reap their soul and transform into a god or this human would somehow find a way to save them all.

            The monsters waited on the human, for the first time allowing hope into their midst, eager to see where it would lead them. After all, they had nothing to lose.

Chapter Text

            Frisk shifted in their sleep and frowned as the sheets twisted up around their legs, pinning them in place. Stuck in an uncomfortable position, Frisk swam up from unconsciousness to find themselves in a bed in the True Lab. Above them, Snowdrake’s mother sighed, gently tugging at their sheets, freeing Frisk without a word. When she’d freed Frisk, they smiled up at her. “Thank you. I feel better now.”

            “Wakey,” she cooed, drooping sadly. How often had she woke her son up like this in days gone by?

            Sitting up, they reached up and patted her crest. “I’m awake now. Thanks.”

            She nodded and slunk off, leaving behind a gooey trail that vanished after a few moments.

            Poor thing, Frisk thought, watching her leave. Somehow, she seemed even sadder here. Was Alphys treating them right? Sure, she hadn’t wanted to turn them into soldiers, but did her good intentions extend so far past feeding and hiding them? Maybe they would talk to Alphys before they left, convince her to turn them over to their families. Or maybe she would refuse until she knew for sure that Frisk could change Asgore’s mind.

            Shaking their head, they glanced around. The True Lab was as dark and damp as they remembered. They could hear water dripping somewhere in the depths of the lab. This place had terrified them as a child; how they managed to fall asleep down here last night was still a mystery. Thinking back to it, they glanced down on the right side of their bed, where Flowey had rested, tucked into the crook of their elbow.

            He wasn’t there though. Instead, he lay propped up on his leaves, his stem and roots trailing out behind him as he glanced down at the floor. He looked to be deep in thought. Wondering what had gotten into him, they tried to think back to the night before.

            After taking the first bed they found, they’d quickly took off their boots and climbed in. There was a bath somewhere around here, but Frisk didn’t even know if there was water running to it—not to mention it had scared them damn near shitless as a child. They shuddered at the thought and decided they’d rather stink and be filthy than risk it. Still, they might change their mind in the morning. A change of clothes would have been just as nice, or even just a washer and dryer to clean their own.

            Oh well. Asgore was just going to have to put up with their smelly ass for a while.

            Amused by their own silly thoughts, they glanced down at Flowey to wish him a goodnight only to find him contemplating the shadows. “Flowey?”

            He hardly seemed to notice them calling. “Determination. The power to reset.” Flowey mumbled. “Do… do I have determination?”

            Frisk lifted their head off the pillow to glance down at him. “Yes. You had the power to reset, didn’t you?”

            He flinched.

            Frisk ignored him and laid back.  “Then you had determination.”

            “…did… did the Flowey of your world also have determination?”

            Too tired to be curious about why he was asking them now, they settled on just telling him the truth. “Yes. It’s how he came to be in the first place. Alphys injected a flower with determination and it became Flowey.”

             He shot them a startled look; had he known that much of his own creation, or was this new information? “How do you know?”

            “I read Alphys’ lab reports. But he told me about his resets on his own.” They glanced at him. “He knew a lot about resets because he did it a lot before I came to the Underground. He did it so much, he got bored of it. Started using it to have his own… fun.”

            Flowey shuddered. “I didn’t. I… I was always just trying to stay alive.”

            “Well, you are nicer than him.” They smiled and patted his head.

            He frowned at them. “Is… is the Flowey of your world a jerk?”

            Frisk considered it. “Well, let’s just say he wouldn’t have been out of place in this world.”

            Flowey scoffed, turning away. “Heh. Of course. He probably would be just fine, wouldn’t he? He wouldn’t be like me. Some crybaby who dies all the time.”

            Frowning, Frisk sat up and reached for Flowey, forcing him to turn and look up at them. “The Flowey of my world stopped caring about others. He was a firm believer in ‘kill or be killed’ in a world where that was the farthest thing from the truth. He hurt others because it was the only thing he had left to amuse him. He is not better than you because of that. He was misguided and he changed his ways. He became kinder. But you? You’re already kind.” They smiled at him. “You’re more like how he used to be. Someone he might want to be more like now even. Don’t compare yourself to him.” They paused and leaned down to press a kiss to his petals. “Kindness is not a weakness, Flowey.”

            He stared up at them, eyes wide, and nodded.

            With a smile, Frisk leaned back onto the bed again. “Now, I’m sorry, but I’m exhausted. Let’s talk about this later, okay?”

            “Okay. Goodnight, Frisk.”

            “Goodnight, Flowey.”

            It was silent, only the faint sounds of the machines running or amalgamates moving in the distance disturbed them. Frisk thought that was the end of the discussion, but then they heard Flowey mumble something.

            “I’m… not as nice as you think.”

            Frisk blinked drowsily, not sure if they heard right. “Whassat?”

            Flowey didn’t answer right away. “Nothing.”

            They hadn’t gotten anything out of him after that and they’d been so tired they just gave in and let themselves drift away. Now they wondered if they messed up. What was he thinking about? “Penny for your thoughts, Flowey.”

            He jerked and turned his head around to stare at them. “Ah, Frisk! Um, good morning.”

            “Hey, bud, you’re awake early. Something up?”

            “It’s not early. You slept late.” He frowned and glanced away. “While you were sleeping, I looked around the lab.”

            Frisk blinked at him. “How did you manage to do that?”

            “These, um, amalgamates? They’re surprisingly helpful. The snowbird one carried me around. She was pretty nice.”

            Frisk smiled. “Yeah, she is. She probably enjoyed helping you. She misses her son.”

            “How do you-? No, no. Something from your world right?” He shook his head and looked away. “I found her lab reports.”

            Frisk frowned thoughtfully. “Did you? Find anything interesting?”

            He sighed. “You were right. About how she made me. She mentioned injecting a flower with determination.” He shook his head. “It must have been…” He paused and shot them a look before glancing away. Poor thing—he hadn’t gotten enough practice to really learn subtlety. “Anyway. So that’s where I came from.”

            “Didn’t know much about it?”

            “No,” he murmured, drooping. “All I remember is waking up in… well. I just remember waking up and calling for help.” He grimaced, face darkening. “Not that I got any.”

             “Do you want to talk about it?”

            He considered it for a while before shaking his head. “Are we leaving soon? I don’t want to hang around here long if Alphys changes her mind and tries to attack us.”

            “I want to check in on Mettaton. Make sure she hasn’t done anything to him. Then we can go.”

            Flowey sighed, but waited patiently as they got out of bed and put their boots on before they offered him their hand. Once he was on his old perch on the back of their shirt, they waved a farewell to the amalgamates that were watching them and headed towards the elevator.

            Frisk tried to find the hidden panel to Alphys’ room, but the scientist never answered their knocks. Reluctantly, Frisk returned to the elevator and pressed the button for the uppermost level.

            There was a sharp wind howling as they stepped out of the elevator. Once they left the protected cover where the elevator was, Frisk reached up to shove their hair out of their eyes while Flowey ducked behind their shoulder to get out of the brunt of the wind. Looking out at the city, Frisk frowned to see the massive hole in the side of the mountain where a steady, pounding rain fell. Their path was too far from the hole for the wind to carry the rain, but it left a biting chill in the air. Frisk considered putting their sweatshirt on, but then remembered how tattered it was. They’d have to buy a new one when they got out; for now, they’d just have to deal with the cold.

            They wandered for a bit, admiring the fall of the rain as they walked silently. Flowey, at last, broke the silence. “Frisk, when you get out of here—when you go back to that other world,” Flowey murmured, gazing downward. “Make sure to go see your family first thing.”

            They blinked down at him, face neutral. “Why’s that?”

            “God, Frisk, they’re your family,” he snapped before his expression softened again. “If… If I could see my family again… I’d give anything for that. But you can go see yours whenever you want. You… You shouldn’t take it for granted.”

            Frisk smiled back at him, soft but quickly turning bittersweet as they looked away. “It’s not so simple for me.”

            “What’s that mean?”

            Frisk frowned. “It’s just…” they trailed off before turning back to him with an unreadable smile. “It’s just better this way.”

            He huffed at them. “Why on earth would it be better for you to be away from them?”

            They didn’t answer right away, or even look at him. Instead, they gazed down at the city below them. Finally, after a long pause, they spoke. “I just… get in the way. The fact is that I’m just. Unnecessary.”

            Flowey stared up at them, baffled. “Unnecessary? Frisk , you could never…” he paused, realizing that they probably weren’t going to listen to him. Instead, he thought of something else. “If you really aren’t in a hurry to head home, do you… do you think that maybe you can hang around here for awhile?”

            Frisk nearly stopped walking, but did stub the toe of their boot against the ground and stumbled. Once Frisk had a better footing, they looked at the flower. “Uh, should I stay?”

            He gazed up at them, eyes keen. “Well, it’s not like monsters have an ambassador to meet with humans ready, and that’s already your job. M-maybe you can do something like that again here? Monsters are going to need all the help they can get.”

            Looking back up at the path, Frisk mulled it over in their mind. The monsters in this world really would need all the help they could get. But, they’d told their mother they were only going to be gone the weekend—by tonight Toriel would be expecting them to call in. Tomorrow, she might start to panic. But worse than that, she’d probably figure that Frisk had run off again.

            Ouch. I guess I really am a flake. I… should really apologize to mom and dad.

            Frisk sighed. “I’ll think about it.” They fell back into mutual silence for a while.

            Despite the inclement weather, monsters were out. Frisk tensed, ready for a battle as they strolled along, but no one stopped them. Instead, they stared like the monsters at the apartment complex slum had over the railings. As they passed, some of the monsters called down to them.

            “You’re going to die, human!”

            “You’ll die and then will be free.”

            “We’ll be free. Free from our prison. Free to have our vengeance.”

            “Your mercy won’t save you from the Overlord.”

            The calls became quieter, somber. “Mercy saves no one.”

            “Mercy didn’t save our prince.”

            In their head, they could feel Chara recoiling, their shock spilling over into Frisk’s mind like a cup of bile. Frisk had to resist the urge to shudder.

            *What? Asriel… Asriel can’t be dead. The plan, when it failed, he… he went back home…

            Chara? You okay? They got no reply back. Frowning, Frisk shot a look at the monster who’d spoken—a birdlike fellow stared at them hollowly from a corner. When they looked upon him, he only stared back.

            “Our prince is dead because of you humans,” he murmured before turning to go into a building.

            “That’s right, human,” another monster shouted as Frisk passed by—he must have heard the first monster speak. “It’s your people’s fault that our prince is dead!”

            “It’s their fault that it’s ‘kill or be killed’,” a diamond faced monster sighed.

            Flowey was shuddering against their back like he was caught in the storm. Frisk decided to ignore the jeers of the crowds and made a run to the palace. As they ran, the rain fell on them, so they had to slow to avoid slipping. At least there were no more monsters idly hanging about. Once they ducked into the palace itself, they froze.

            This castle looked nothing like they had expected—Asgore must have done some serious redecorating, because the charming, cozy home that mirrored the Ruins was gone. Now everything was black and red, from the leaves scattered across the courtyard, to the walls. The only other color was the bright gold of the torches. It was an unsettling if a tad melodramatic; which, they mused, fit the overall aesthetic of this world in their opinion. Still, the front door gave them chills—it looked like a gate that would slam shut the moment they entered. They were half surprised when it didn’t do just that.

            Inside, the floors creaked and the corners stood dusty. Checking around revealed rooms barren of any of their father’s homey touches—no books, no comfy chairs, no flowers anywhere. The kitchen looked untouched and utilitarian—at least they found some hand towels to wipe off the worst of the rain from their body—as did one room that they only realized was Asgore’s bedroom from the size of the bed. They wondered if there was anything besides clothes—knickknacks? Mementos?—in his closet, but they decided that they shouldn’t poke around in places that would be catastrophically bad to get caught in. The other doors were locked, as was the entrance downstairs.

            “I don’t, um,” they paused, glancing back at Flowey. He frowned up at them. “I don’t suppose you know where he kept the keys?” At his long silence, Frisk reached up to rub one of his petals comfortingly. “Are you okay?”

            Flowey glanced away. “In the hallway. He has some keys in a side table. Try there.”

            Frisk frowned, but let him be as they went to search for the side table. They found it, eventually, tucked away in a corner next to a mirror. As they pulled the ring of keys out, they narrowed their eyes at the sheer number of them. “Oh, god, how on earth am I supposed to know which is which?”

            To their surprise, Flowey’s vines reached out and took the ring from them. He began to flip through them until he paused on old, tarnished one. He considered it for a long time before he spoke. “This one.”

            “Does it go to the lock for downstairs?”

            He shook his head and handed the ring back over. “It’s um. It’s important.”

            “Okay,” Frisk murmured, making sure not to let the key slide back into the mess of the others. “Tell me which door when we get there, okay?”

            Flowey nodded and they began to walk down the hall. They didn’t get very far before Flowey spoke. “In here,” Flowey said, voice dull.

            Frisk hesitated. They knew what room had to lie beyond this door. Caught between expectation and dread, they reached out and unlocked the door. They fought with the key, but the tumblers reluctantly fell into place and the knob finally turned. They had to press their shoulder against the door, but eventually they got it open. They slipped inside and decided to take a chance on leaving it open—getting stuck in here would be bad, but if they got caught then they would at least have a chance of escape.

            Inside, Frisk frowned thoughtfully at the child’s bedroom. There was a pair of twin sized beds, neither of which had been slept in for years. There was a wardrobe for clothes, a giant box for toys, and hand drawn pictures on every wall. Some were childish crayon doodles, jerky scribbles of strange things, mostly near the right side of the room. On the left, there were careful sketches, delicate lines to show flowers and faces—still rough work, but with enough time and practice real skill would have developed. Some were crumpled or even torn, as if they had been wrestled away from something, but there were a few pristine ones. The largest was one that had to have been based on an actual picture because everything about it was so carefully done; it was a family portrait of three Boss Monsters and a small, smiling human child.

            *You are standing in a room of ghosts.

            *Why has he led you here?

            Frisk frowned. Chara, are you upset?

            *Why has he led you here?

            “There, on the ground.”

            Frisk blinked and looked down to find a pair of wrapped presents on the ground. Frisk’s stomach flipped. “What about them?”

            “Open them.”

            *Those are not yours.

            Frisk closed their eyes before kneeling down between the boxes. I know, Chara.

            *You have still not asked him why he has led you here. YOU KNOW SOMETHING YOU ARE NOT TELLING ME.

            Frisk winced as Chara’s voice rang in their mind, that usually calm voice sharp and demanding. Frisk resisted the urge to sigh. Chara… please, just listen to him.

            Chara fell silent; Frisk took it as a sign and opened the first box. Inside, they found a worn gardening knife. In a child’s hands, it was a little large and unwieldy, but it felt snug now. Asgore must have thought that Chara would grow into it. Turning, they opened the other box to find a red heart necklace inside. In the back of their mind, they could practically feel Chara flinch.

            “There’s another one that that’s supposed to go with that, but…” Flowey paused, glancing away. “But it’s not mine, so I can’t tell you where it is. The knife, however, I think is too useful to leave behind.”

            “I haven’t had a weapon this whole time,” Frisk said noncommittally, inspecting the necklace. “But, better late than never, I suppose.”

            Flowey was silent for an awkward minute before he finally sighed. “You… you probably want to know how I knew about this place.”

            Quietly, Frisk reached up for Flowey. He climbed onto their hand; they offered him their knee to balance on as they undid the clasp before putting it around their neck—it was a child’s necklace, but it’d been meant to be worn long, so there was enough space left not to choke them. It rested just below their collarbones, looking odd but feeling right. They’d worn one identical to it when they fought Asgore and then Asriel, but it had vanished after the final battle. Maybe Flowey had stolen it during the fight. “I think now would be a good time to have a talk.”

            Flowey nodded, shifting his roots around Frisk’s leg to help his balance. “I… I lived here once with my family and… and my sibling.”

            Chara’s silence felt sharp and pointed—Frisk got the feeling that if they could, they would tear Frisk’s mind apart looking for answers. “I take it that things have changed.”

            “Uh, yeah. Yes, they have… This… this might sound crazy. But I wasn’t always like this. I didn’t used to be a flower.”

            Frisk waited patiently until they realized he was waiting on them. “Hell of a change.”

            In spite of himself, Flowey laughed. “Ha! Yeah, um, it was kinda drastic.” His face lost his mirth and he glanced down. “I… I wasn’t called Flowey back then either.”

            “Well, it’d be strange coincidence if you had been,” Frisk offered, but he didn’t laugh this time. Chara was restless in their mind. “Why don’t you tell me what it was?”

            Flowey hesitated; when he spoke, his voice was soft. “Asriel. My name was Asriel Dremurr and I… I was the prince of this land once.”

            Chara went silent again. They ignored Frisk when Frisk tried to call out to them. Biting back a sigh, Frisk reached out and idly rubbed one of Flowey’s petals, making him glance up at them. They gave him their kindest smile. “Mm, yeah, I thought so. That’s who you were in that world too.”

            Flowey gaped. “You knew?”

            *You. Knew.

            Frisk closed their eyes and answered the two of them aloud. “Yes.”

            “Why didn’t you say anything?”

            *This is what you hid from me.

            “Because not all the secrets I keep are mine to tell,” they answered. “The Asriel I knew, he begged me not to tell anyone. He… he would have hated it if anyone else found out. So I kept his secret.” Just as I am keeping yours, Chara.

            *…

            Frisk considered asking Chara if they should tell Flowey about them being inside of their body, but it seemed too cruel. It wasn’t anything that they probably weren’t already thinking anyway. They cleared their throat. “Besides, it’s not like you would have believed me anyway.” Either of you.

            While Chara remained silent, Flowey chuckled and shook his head. “Yeah… That’s true.” He sighed.

            Frowning, Frisk gave the petal between their fingers another gentle rub. “This world… I don’t know what happened to you in this one, but I get the feeling that it might be different from the story I heard before. Would you… like to tell me about what happened?”

            He closed his eyes and nodded with a serious face. When he opened his eyes, it was the most genuine they’d ever seen him. “Years ago, I was born to Toriel and Asgore. I take it that’s the same at least?”

            “Yeah.”

            “Okay, well, for awhile, it was just me and them. And, well, the rest of the underground that they ruled, but you know what I mean.”

            “I get you.”

            “Yeah, well, one day,” he paused, thoughtfully looking away. “One day I heard someone crying in the Ruins. I’d gone there, with Toriel, to go bug hunting.”

            Frisk smiled to themselves. “My Toriel likes doing that too.”

            The flower smiled for a moment, but it vanished swiftly. “I went to see what was crying and found a human. They were just a kid, like me. They were hurt, so I walked over to laugh at them.” He winced and paused. “I, um, was kind of a jerk.”

            Chara suddenly thrashed in the back of their head, but didn’t speak.

            Frisk blinked down at him. Well, that was a different version than they had heard. “Well… did you?”

            “Well, yeah! I, uh, didn’t know they were human at first. I thought some dumb monster had hurt themselves trying to climb out of the Ruins like an idiot. Then, then I realized they weren’t just a funny looking monster. And that they were really hurt. So, I went and I got mom. She fixed them up and decided to take them home with us. Mom—Toriel, she, um, she’s always kinda had a thing about adopting stray children whenever she finds them.”

            Frisk had to chuckle. “Yeah, that’s definitely the same across worlds.”

            “Heh. She said that they were my new sibling now.” He paused, frowning. “I—I hated it. I didn’t want to share my parents with another kid, not when they were always busy ruling the kingdom. I was a real jerk to them about it.” He drooped. “I was always picking on them, playing tricks. I never apologized either. I… I was the worst.”

            *Asriel…

            Frisk waited, but Chara didn’t continue; Frisk realized that they’d probably hadn’t meant to speak that to Frisk at all. Rather than pry, Frisk kept their mind focused on the conversation at hand. That’s another big difference. I don’t think I ever heard of Asriel bullying my Chara before. “Did you… ever try to get along with them?”

            He shifted, reluctant to look up. “Not really. Well, not at first. It’s, it’s just—they were always pissing me off. They loved to garden with dad, or bake with mom, always taking away my time with them, and then, then they would try to play dumb baby games with me, like I was stupid or something.”

            Frisk considered him, cocking their head to the side. “What changed?”

            Flowey giggled. “Well, um. I guess I finally used up all their patience with me. One day, I played a prank on them—I don’t even remember what it was anymore.”

            *Paint. You put paint in my hair.

            Chara’s voice sounded lonely and far off. Frisk didn’t comment.

            “Anyway, they actually started shaking. I thought they were going to tattle on me, so I panicked. I tried to tease them, trick them into keeping quiet. But then…” he paused. “Then they turned to me with the freakiest look on their face. I thought they were going to murder me.” He stopped, brightening. “It was so cool.”

            *Az. No.

            “Um, come again?”

            Flowey shrugged. “The look on their face. It was really creepy! They usually always had this dopey smile on their face, but that time, that time I saw something that no one else got to see. And… and I thought it was neat. It was the kind of face that if others saw, they’d never bother them again, for sure!” He paused, frowning. “I don’t know why they didn’t do it more often. I would have left them alone a lot faster, that’s for sure.” He shrugged. “But still, no one else ever saw that side of them but me. At first they made me promise not to tell anyone else, but more and more, I got to see that they weren’t the little goody-two-shoes kid I thought they were.” He laughed. “They could play tricks as well as I could. Better even—they were always really creative.

            “But, but more than that.” He paused before he smiled. “Chara was the coolest because at anytime, they could have stopped me. They could have tricked me back, could have snitched on me to mom and dad, or could have beaten the snot of me. But they didn’t. I asked them once why they didn’t. They said… they said it was because I was their brother.” He sniffed. “And siblings shouldn’t snitch on each other.

            “It made mom and dad real happy, when we started to get along. They said we were thick as thieves, but that was good, because that meant we could look after each other. I, um, I tried to live up to that. We went everywhere together, even the Dump.” He paused and nodded at the necklace. “That’s where that came from. One day, we found a box of jewelry that had gotten tossed away. Chara found that necklace and I found a locket.” He grimaced. “It was broken, but Chara liked it because it had ‘best friends forever’ written on it. So, I took it home and soldered it onto a necklace for them. They… they really liked it,” he finished with a soft smile. “We traded the necklaces. I gave them the locket, they gave me the heart. It was… nice. For awhile everything was nice.”

            He paused, glancing downward. “Then we… we both did something really bad. We… we were just going to play a little prank on da—Asgore. We, we made him a pie, but instead of putting in cups of butter, we put in buttercups.” He frowned. “We didn’t actually expect him to eat it. We just thought he’d take a bite and then spit it out. We’d have a laugh and that’d be it. But then he kept eating. We giggled a bit ‘cause we knew it had to taste terrible but then… then he started to get sick.

            “Mom… mom got really freaked out. Dad was sick for a while, but-but when he got better, he told us it was a good joke, but no to play on anyone else. We, we just laughed it off, but Chara…

            “Chara was quiet for awhile after that. I mean, they’d laughed it off too, but it really bothered them. Bothered them to the point that… Well. Anyway, I think it gave them an idea.”

            Flowey grimaced, but Frisk could feel Chara’s turmoil whipping around like a tempest in their mind. Chara? Chara, do you want me to ask him to stop? But Chara only whispered one thing back to them.

            *No one is above consequences.

            Frisk froze in concern, but Flowey started talking again. At a loss, they let him talk.

            “They started talking more and more about monsters breaking free and getting to the surface. I didn’t think much of it at the time, since we, like, only had Chara there and they’d already said they were okay with living with us until they died a natural death.” He shook his head. “No, they said they would have been okay with an early death too, if it meant us getting free sooner. M—Toriel and Asgore had talked to them about it and then they said they were okay with living with us. But, um. Something changed after the pie. Chara… Chara got an idea.

            “Originally, my father planned to absorb Chara and then other human souls later on. But Chara said what if it was you, Az? Then we could always be together.” He frowned. “It sounded… nice. Really nice. Besides, Chara was my best friend, not Asgore’s. Why shouldn’t we merge? But then, Chara told me the second part of the plan. They wanted me to go gather some more buttercups and then… then they ate them. And then they got sick—I-I didn’t know how’d sick they’d get—I thought it would be like dad, but then… they just got worse and worse over the day. Finally, that night… they died. Mom… Dad… they were really upset. I… I-I did my part. I absorbed their soul and then we took their body to the surface.” He paused to lick his lips. Finally, he continued. “The surface world was so… so much bigger than I expected. The sky just… baffled me. I’d never seen anything so big in my life. I was so caught up, Chara had to take over and take their body back while I just gawked.

            “Finally, we got to their village. They laid their body down in the center of the village, in a bed of flowers. There… there were people watching me, er, us. My body. They were… scared. Really scared. But they didn’t move. And—and I didn’t move.”

            Frisk frowned. Had this happened in their own world? Was the story they were first told just a myth created by a heartbroken people, or had humans in this world been more cautious?

            “I knew that I was supposed… supposed to get six more souls, but they all… they all looked just like Chara. Well, not literally. But, you-you know.”

            They nodded.

            “I… I don’t really remember what happened next. It just became a blur, but next thing I knew they were attacking me, and, and I started hitting back. I finally knocked one down, but when it came time to… to finish it, I… I just couldn’t. They still looked like Chara and, and this wasn’t just some prank anymore.

            “I got scared. Chara kept yelling at me, telling me to defend myself, but I couldn’t. And I wouldn’t let them defend me either, so, so I just fled. I grabbed their body and went back to the mountain because I couldn’t just leave their body with those people.

            “When I got back, I was really hurt. I collapsed in Asgore’s garden just as he walked in. He saw me, all—all cut up and nasty. I told him what had happened, but I couldn’t get it all out. I didn’t get to tell him why we’d done it or how or why I wouldn’t defend myself. I just didn’t have enough strength. And then, I died.” He sighed. “And that’s what happened. After that, Asgore just lost it. He said that monsters as they were then were too weak to stand up to humans. So, he declared that it was ‘kill or be killed’. Better a weak monster die to a stronger monster’s hands and make them stronger, rather than a human. Toriel, she… I think she could have been mostly fine with the ‘kill or be killed’ law, if he hadn’t also declared that any human, adult or not, should die. Mom hated seeing kids get hurt. She left after that.”

            He paused and shrugged. “Or, at least that’s how I guess it happened. I wasn’t there for it. The next thing I remembered, I woke up in the garden.”

            Frisk could guess what happened next. “Alphys had accidently revived you when she injected determination into the flower that your dust had settled on.”

            Flowey blinked up at them. “Is that what happened in your world?”

            “Yes. Do you think it happened differently in this one?”

            “Well, no. I did, uh, die in Asgore’s garden.” He stopped and mulled the idea over in his head until he decided that it only made sense. “After I woke up, I made the mistake of trying to call out to Asgore for help. I thought… well, it doesn’t matter what I thought. He didn’t believe me when I told him who I was. So he… he killed me.”

            In their mind, Chara thrashed, leaking despair into the edges of their mind. At the same moment, Frisk leaned forward without thinking to gently stroke his petals. “Asriel, I… I am so sorry that happened to you.”

            He shrugged. “In retrospect, it makes sense he’d attack me. He must have thought I was just some jerk imitating his dead son.” He glanced downward, detached. “Still sucked. But, after that, I just woke back in the garden. I was terrified, so I stayed quiet then. I was trying to figure out what was going on when Asgore walked in again. I thought he was going to kill me. I panicked and froze, but after a while, he didn’t do anything but water the flowers. I kept waiting for him to do something, but it was like I wasn’t there at all. I thought, hey, maybe I just dreamed it and tried to call out to him.” He screwed up his eyes. “That was a mistake. He killed me again. And then I woke up again. That time, I escaped after figuring out how I could move around in the dirt.

            “I kept fleeing for awhile. I still got killed a few times, but I found that eventually I could return to some point in the past. It wasn’t the only thing I learned. Before my death, I… well, I was a nasty brat. I played tricks on people and I was mean to Chara. But, it didn’t seem like anyone treated others different than I did. After my revival though, people weren’t trying to prank each other. They were straight up trying to kill each other. Finally, someone spelled it out when they said it was a ‘kill or be killed’ world. And that I—or rather that the death of the two royal children were the reason it was like that.

            “At the time, I was confused and just trying to stay alive. I finally decided to try living in the Ruins, since I thought they’d be mostly empty. And they were, but then… well, Toriel found me.” He shrugged. “For a second, I thought she’d be different. That she’d recognize me and that maybe she’d help me. She didn’t.

            “Toriel… she used to be the kindest monster and mother in the whole Underground, but even she became twisted by this place.” He was quiet for a long time before he looked up at them, his gaze steady and even. “Frisk, I want to ask you one last time. Do you really think this world can be saved? That if monsters try hard enough, they can turn themselves around and become better people?”

            Frisk nodded. “If they try hard enough, if they stay strong and true, I know they can. It’ll take a lot of work and a lot of forgiving on all sides, but so far I’ve seen nothing to change my mind. Even people like Papyrus, Undyne, and Alphys, in the end, they all chose to let me go and to believe in what we’re doing. The seeds of goodness are still them. With a little hard work, they can grow into something kinder. I know it.”

            “You promise?”

            They fought the urge to smile. Most of the time I forget, but he really is still just a kid. “I swear it.”

            He regarded them thoughtfully before he finally smiled. “Okay then! Let’s go and turn this world from ‘kill or be killed’ to ‘save or be saved.”

            Biting their lip, Frisk tried not to giggle. “Save or be saved?”

            He paused, looking a little sheepish. “I-is it too silly? It’s silly, isn’t it.”

            “No, no! I like it,” they grinned. “When did you come up with it?”

            “Um. I… I spent a lot of time thinking last night and it came to me after a while.”

            “Well, I think it’s great.” They offered him their hand; once he climbed on, they held him up to resettle onto his old perch. “Let’s get going and go ‘save or be saved’ then.”

            He grimaced. “Ugh, it sounds sillier the more you say it.”

            “Well, I’m not stopping. Shit, maybe I’ll make it my new motto,” they shot him a teasing grin as they slipped out the door, locking it behind them.

            “Frisk!” he groaned, lolling his head back.

            With a giggle, Frisk started down the hall. Still, there was one troubling thing left. Chara? Chara, do you want to talk about this?

            …Chara?

            There was no answer. No matter how much they called, Chara had receded far away from their reach, curling in on themselves until they were nothing but a faint suggestion in the back of Frisk’s mind.

            Frowning, they headed forward and unlocked the gate to the staircase. They went down the stairs, nearly stepping onto a trap of a fake step that tried to snap under them and send them pitching forward. They hopped over it and continued down. Stepping out onto the path, they had to stick close to the wall to avoid being soaked as the rain pounded just overhead. Scurrying along, they ducked into the next room and nearly gasped.

            The Judgment Hall was exactly like the one in their world, the golden tiles, the stain glass windows, the pillars, everything. It was downright unsettling. Why? Why is this place the same? Shaking their head, they squared their shoulders and started marching forward.

            They got halfway down the hall when a familiar voice called out to them. “Hey, Frisk. Off to see the Overlord finally?”

            Frisk turned and smiled before they could catch themselves. “Sans,” they called back. Sitting at the base of a pillar, the skeleton leaned back against the column like quite at ease. In his hand, he ran a golden flower petal through his fingers. “And yeah. Been a long time coming, huh?”

            “Maybe,” he shrugged, idly scratching the line of his jaw. “You in a hurry to meet your death, or you wanna pop a squat with me for a bit?”

            “How can I resist?” they chirped before they registered Flowey’s sigh of annoyance. Still, they walked over and dropped down directly before him, folding their legs before them. “What’s up?”

            He kept fidgeting with the petal, but his attention was on them now. “Eh, not much. But, you know, it’s funny.”

            “What is?”

            He glanced at them and then glanced down at the petal. “Mm, let me tell you a little story first. It’s about a dream I’ve been having for a while now. I think I must have dreamed it hundreds of times.”

            “Alright,” Frisk said, shifting themselves about to get more comfortable. The toe of their boot tapped against his shoe, but neither made a move to pull away. “Tell me about the dream.”

            “Okay. In this dream, a human falls into the Underground. Just a child, really, still running around in their striped shirts. The first one in literally years. Everyone’s all excited. Then they die.”

            Flowey stirred behind their back, but didn’t dare peek over their shoulder.

            “That's… unfortunate for them.” A chill shot up their back. What was it Papyrus had said to them? “At least you’re doing better than all the other times.” And before then, Sans himself who knew their name before they’d told it to him, knew that they were not ‘the right Frisk’.

            He shrugged. “But they don’t just die once. They die… a lot.” He paused. “Like a lot. Sometimes I kill them. Sometimes my brother kills them. Sometimes it’s just nobody monsters that kill them, sometimes it’s Undyne. But all the same, the human keeps coming back.” He smiled to himself, not his usual wicked, shadowy look; Sans’s smiles were an exercise in study as one well placed shadow or tilt of his head turned his static grin from pure evil to glee. Really, it was his eyes Frisk learned you had to focus on. Now, his smile was almost soft, quite the trick with those teeth. “They’re a determined little bugger.”

            “Well,” Frisk murmured, lacing their fingers together before them. “A kid after my own heart then.” What about those items that weren’t in Greson’s shop? What if they weren’t there because a human had recently come through and bought them? What if I never had an actual chance at finding the other items because maybe they’d already been found?

            He chuckled. “Spitting image, really. Anyway, they’re a hell of a kid. They’re dead set on getting to Asgore, and they refuse to kill along the way.”

            “Hmm. They really do sound like me.” They tried to smile teasingly, to lighten the mood. But, if there really was another human, maybe another me, one from this world… where are they now? Did, did we swap places? Their first thought was not immediately panic; from what it sounded like, the kid could use a break and no one would hurt them in Frisk’s world. The problem, however, was what if they reset? What if they ruined Frisk’s world on accident? They tried to push the thought away. You don’t even know if that’s what happened in the first place. Calm down. “You’re not psychic, are you? Are you dreaming of the future?”

            He snorted at that. “Fuck no. But like I said, it’s funny. That kid… they really were something else. They refused to obey ‘kill or be killed’.” He paused, his smile dimming. “And they paid the price. Over and over again.” He held the flower petal out and dropped into the palm of their hand when they held it out to him. As they studied it, he kept talking. “The last time they die, they’re fighting Asgore. I get there just in time to see them collapse into a bed of golden flowers in the middle of Asgore’s garden. Damnedest thing though, is that they’re wearing my coat, and they’re just laying there, the flowers smearing all over my coat, the petals getting into every nook and cranny.”

            The petal seemed to burn them through their gloves. Gently, but swiftly, they sat it to their side. If there’s another Frisk, one in my world, please let them be okay. Don’t let them have a reason to reset. God, I need to get home fast. “Interesting.”

            “It is. Just like how I keep finding petals everywhere in this damn thing,” he said, reaching up to tug on his right lapel. “Strange, isn’t it?”

            Frisk managed a neutral smile. “I’ll say.” They paused, trying to look thoughtful while they began to think of a plan. “They were wearing your coat? Do you think you two were friends?” What if he said yes? What if he believed in those ‘dreams’?

            What if he resented their presence in usurping that other human? They’d run—they had no interest in fighting him, but then, they’d never fought Sans before either. They’d be going in blind and they had no idea whether he’d ever even offer them mercy. They most certainly couldn’t attack him, even to deter him.

            To their relief, he only shrugged. “Eh, probably not. Who knows why they had my coat? Probably stole it from me,” he grinned at them, all dark shadows and sharp angles. “I don’t have any friends, even in my dreams.”

            “That’s not true,” they insisted on reflex.

            He rolled his eye. “Ah, yes. I forgot. Still, doesn’t matter. Who cares if we were my friend in my dreams or not? Fact is, they died, so they weren’t going to do me any good anyway.” He glanced up at them. “I think that last death… I think there was something off by then. This world, it finally wore them down. They weren’t even trying to fight it when they died. I just watched them slip away.” He shifted before smiling a kinder smile. “Eh, maybe they’re not like you. That kid, they’re probably just some half-assed memory from a book I read once. Nah, reality is better. You’re better.”

            They paused and almost forgot to hide their genuine pleasure behind a safer façade of tittering. “Oh, Sans, you shameless flatterer.”

            He sighed. “Don’t let it go to your head. I only meant that you’re way more competent than them.” He lifted his chin. “Why, you haven’t even really died yet. Have you?”

            Frisk blinked owlishly. “Well… something like that.”

            “Heh. Something like that.” He shook his head. “You know, I’ve been watching you.”

            “Scandalous. If I’d known I had a stalker, I would have tried harder to look better.”

            He shot them a disgruntled look, his cheekbones flushed. “Sometimes, I worry about you.”

            “Aww, that’s even sweeter.” They only laughed. “But I do like looking good.”

            “Yeah, well. Don’t expect me to say something sappy like ‘don’t worry, you always look good’.”

            They beamed. “I won’t. I shall just pretend you did.”

            “Ugh,” Flowey grumbled behind their shoulder.

            Sans propped his right elbow against his right knee and put his chin in his hand. “You’re hopeless. And you honestly think you can get past Asgore without killing him?”

            “Yes.”

            He looked at them, face as neutral as it could be, studying them before he spoke again. “I want to ask you a question.”

            So ominous. “You already have, but one more won’t hurt. Go ahead.”

            He took his time before asking, tapping his fingers against his knee first. “Ever since you started this little trip of yours, you’ve had… quite the effect on everyone. Monsters have gone quiet, especially after last night’s show. I haven’t seen a single monster snap or try any stupid posturing at all this morning. You’ve got all these people breaking our sacred law. Like you’re trying to incite a rebellion,” he ended, sockets dark.

            With a deadpan face, Frisk half-heartedly raised their fist. “Yay, anarchy.”

            He snorted. “All this talk about you breaking the barrier, about us going free… about you talking to Asgore, getting him to change his mind. It’s got me wondering. So, I ask you. Do you really believe that even the worst person can change? That if they just try hard enough, they can be a better person?”

            For a moment, Frisk was transported deep within their memories. They were eight, standing on a foggy riverbank, their hands curled into fists. Before them, a skeleton held out his arms to welcome them.

            “Everyone can be a great person if they try!”

            Frisk drifted back and smiled. “Yes. I do.”

            He had no great reaction; no laughter, no mocking, no support. At last, his smile looked wistful. “Heh. You sound like Papyrus used to.”

            Unconsciously, Frisk perked up. “Papyrus used to say that?”

            “Mm, something like it. He was practically a baby bones at the time,” he huffed, looking away.

            “That’s right. You said something like that before… what happened to him? To make him change.”

            For a moment, they thought he wouldn’t answer. He seemed more interested at looking at the rain splattering against the windows. At last, he spoke. “Pap used to be a sweet kid. Cute. Coddled like no one’s business—he wasn’t allowed out to see other people for a while, so he was sheltered. But everyone has to meet the real world one day. It was a shock, but for a while, it seemed like he’d mostly be able to weather it. Then, one day, I fucked up.

            “I was out in the Snowdin woods, looking for something. Shit, I don’t even remember what it was that I was looking for. Whatever it was, it couldn’t have been worth it, because I ran into the Canine Unit. And you can just bet how much dogs love skeletons,” he drawled. “So, I was, to be blunt, boned. And then Papyrus…” he paused, face tight as he shook his head. “That little idiot… showed up. Tried to stick up for me, like he was the older one. Five years old don’t have any business in a fight, not that those idiots care. Stupid mutts.”

            Frisk shuddered. “Would they have killed him?”

            “The dogs? Who knows. I do know that I was old enough to be on the cutting block though. Papyrus kept trying to talk to them though, convince them to leave me alone, even going so far to try and scare them away.” He paused, looking down thoughtfully. “Maybe the Dogi were backing off. Maybe Greater and Lesser Dog could have been bullied or tricked away. But Doggo… I made one wrong step and he pounced. He had his knives out, aiming dead at my skull.

            “Papyrus speared him through, neat as a needle through a bug.” There was neither pride nor scorn in his words, his tone flat. “Five bones spears, straight through the soul. Even a little kid like Pap could kill a grown adult with that much damage to the soul. So, it killed him. Scared off the other dogs. Made them leave us alone for a while.

            “My brother… wasn’t even in grade school. And, because of me, he killed and gained LOVE.” He paused, glancing up at them. “You know what I mean by that.”

            Frisk forced themselves to nod, but they couldn’t find their voice.

            “So. He murdered a monster to save me, and then came to me, offering his hand and asking if I was okay. And what did I do?” He chuckled. “I just… backed away, like the coward I am. I made my little brother shank a guy and didn’t even have the decency to wipe his tears away.” He cocked his head to the side, considering. “Which explains a lot, I suppose. Why he keeps me around, I don’t know. Probably petty revenge for the shit I put him through. Still a dick though.” He glanced up at them. “So, do you really think this world that forces a child to murder another only to be cast aside is really one worth saving?”

            Their chest tight, Frisk forced themselves to remember to breathe. Taking a deep, steadying breath, they reached out and took put their fingertips against the back of his hand, careful not to press down if it annoyed him. “I believe that this is a world that forces monsters to make tough choices that they shouldn’t have to. And maybe it’s one were sweet kids grow up to be tough adults who can only try to protect their ones they love through convoluted, strange ways. But I don’t think this is a world of pure evil. I think your brother protects you, and I think you love him for it, in your own way.”

            He only blinked at their hand, but at least that meant he didn’t shake them off. After a moment, he sighed. “You really plan to try and talk around a child murdering asshole like Asgore. You really think you can do this.”

            “Yes.” Over their shoulder, they felt Flowey laid the side of his head against their spine, comfortingly.

            He shook his head. “Frisk, have you done this before?”

            They frowned and resisted the urge to scratch their neck nervously. “How would I have done this before if this is my first time through the Underground?”

            He stared directly at them. “By doing so in a world different but similar to this one? Perhaps one that wasn’t ‘kill or be killed’?”

            Flowey froze on their back while they tried to keep their face neutral. Well. Supposed this was going to happen eventually. But, you know, I think I’m tired of this avoidance game. Time to place a bet. They aimed the last thought to Chara, but there was no reply. Fighting back a sigh as well as their nerves, they squared their shoulders. “Yes.”

            His hand twitched, hard, but he didn’t shake them off. “…interesting.”

            “Sixteen years ago, when I was eight years old, I fell into Mount Ebott. I found a world full of monsters. I had… a rough start, but I made friends with the monsters I met. They were all strange, but, for the most part, kind.” They grimaced at the memory of being chased through Waterfall by Undyne or nearly getting eaten by spiders or their many, many deaths before they found a way to save Asgore. “With the help of a special friend of mine, I got to see the barrier come down.” They smiled wistfully, remembering Asriel haloed by the lights of the souls inside him as he brought the barrier down. They shut their eyes, savoring the memory of stepping out into that golden day.

            “I saw monsters reenter the world and then integrate into it. It wasn’t always easy or fun, working with monsters who were trying to make a place for themselves on the surface, but the effect on them all was all positive. Not everyone left, not everyone immediately fell in love with living with humanity. But they learned and they got to do those things they always wanted to and I got to see them all change.

            “Monsters in this world, they can change too. You’ve seen yourself that they’re willing to try, even if they have to disobey the law,” they pointed out gently. “I’m going to talk to Asgore and convince him to repeal the edict. Then, I’ll figure out what I have to do to get the barrier down. But I have faith that it will fall, and I really do think that monsters can change.” They smiled pensively at his blank face and patted his hand before pulling away. “Come on, Sans. Do you really want to stay trapped down here forever?”

            Instead of answering, he raised his head, the light falling on his skull to make his grin look carefree. “Welp. Guess I don’t need to really tell you how to find Asgore, do I?”

            They decided to take this as a sign of encouragement. “No. I remember. Wish me luck, Sans.”

            “Do you really need it?”

            “Trust me, you can never have too much,” they shot back with a grin.

            He shrugged. “Good luck then. Try not to die permanently.”

            “I’ll try.” They started to stand, but paused and looked at him. Caught by a whim, they leaned forward and pressed a kiss to his brow. He flinched away, but his stare showed only confusion. They grinned at him. “You’re a good bag of bones, Sans. Thanks for everything.”

            He didn’t answer until at last he chuckled. “You really are hopeless. Get out of here.”

            They shot him one last smile and stood. With a quick salute, they turned and walked out of the hall.

            Sans watched them go, red eye trained on the door until long after they vanished from sight. Finally, he turned his head and glanced down at the petal, still on the ground beside him where it had fallen. He stared at it for a moment, tilting his head as the shadows played across his face. His smile turned strange.

            Raising his left hand, the one Frisk had pressed their own fingers against, he lifted one finger up into the air before snapping it back down straight at the petal. A bone slammed into the floor, smashing the petal into nothing more than a smear.

            Satisfied, he stood and shoved his hands into his pockets. Flickering out of sight, he shot the doorway one last look. No point in lingering. He had somewhere to be.

Chapter Text

            Before they went into the throne room, Frisk walked past it and looked down the stairs. In their world, it led to the crypt that held the coffins of the human children. Listening at the mouth of the hall though, all they could hear was faint moans and cries, trapped behind a massive set of iron gates. A dungeon, they supposed, shivering. “Has this always been here?” they asked Flowey, stepping away from the gate.

            “Yeah,” he sighed. “But it wasn’t for prisoners. It was a food storage place when I was little. We put emergency rations in there. Apparently, there were food shortages before I was born, when they were still building New Home and the Core. Back then, monsters would come to the gates and Asgore and Toriel would make sure everyone got something to eat. Nowadays, people who talk bad about Asgore get sent here. After they disappear for awhile, they go home but they… they’re never speak out against Asgore again.”

            Frisk frowned. A food bank was an even better use than their own father had done, but this Asgore had twisted even that. Rather than commenting, Frisk murmured a prayer. After they talked Asgore into repealing the edict, they’d have to convince him to let these poor monsters go right away.

            Chin up, they walked into the throne room and paused at the doorway. It was much like the rest of the castle—dark and done up mostly in blacks and reds. It was also as empty as the every other room had been. The only thing besides some torches in the room was a large, imposing looking throne of gold and red cushions.

            “Well, great,” they grumbled, reaching up to scratch the back of their head. “You’d think he’d stick around here if he knew a human was coming. It’s not like word couldn’t have reached him.”

            Flowey peered over their shoulder and grimaced. “If he’s not here and he’s not in his room, then he’s probably in the garden. Try his green house.”

            Frisk shot him a look. Well, that was different, but at least it made sense—in a world where Asgore obviously wasn’t going to be adored, he probably would prefer to keep his garden away from any monster troublemakers. “Which way?”

            He used one of his leaves to point to a pillar on their left. Walking to it, they found a door in a hidden alcove. The door was locked; Flowey had to find the key on the key ring before they could open it. Once opened, they took a breath of relief to see the rain had gentled for a moment, falling into a softer drizzle. Looking down and to their left, they could see a long winding stair on the outside of the castle, leading down to a decent sized green house, although knowing their own father, it was probably that size because he couldn’t move in anything smaller without knocking stuff down.

            Reluctantly, Frisk stepped into the misty rain and hurried as fast as they dared down the slick steps. The farther they got down, the more they were protected from the rain by the overhang of the castle, but they still had to be careful. They had to pause at the door so Flowey could again find the right key for them, but once the door was open, they quickly ducked inside.

            The green house looked larger on the inside than the outside had seemed; Frisk wasn’t sure that was just a trick of perspective or Alphys had managed to do something weird to the dimensions of the place. Either way, Frisk didn’t see Asgore immediately behind the rows of plants. Despite the entire castle being done in the same three colors, the garden was a riot of colors. Plants blocked their view to the other side of the garden, but it was the patch of gold before them that caught their eye. Moving slowly, they dodged around plants and tiptoed past vines to pause at the patch of golden flowers. Looking at it, Frisk’s heart climbed into their throat and lodged there.

            In the middle of the bed of flowers, there was a patch of dead flowers, the ground below it a deep earthy red, as if the dirt was stained with blood.

            “The last time they die, they’re fighting Asgore. I get there just in time to see them collapse into a bed of golden flowers in the middle of Asgore’s garden. Damnedest thing though, is that they’re wearing my coat, and they’re just laying there, the flowers smearing all over my coat, the petals getting into every nook and cranny.”

            Oh, fuck. Sans, you really weren’t joking, were you? They swallowed hard against the lump in their throat. I need to get going. Now.

            There was no time to take a step forward though. They only managed to lift their head when they heard Flowey gasp and something pressed against the spine.

            “Turn slowly.” The voice was deep, rumbling deep bass. It was raspier than they remembered their own father’s voice sounding. Still, for a moment, their brain wanted to believe it was just their father behind them, coming to call them to tea. Frisk had to close their eyes before they started to turn, but their eyes slid open again as they faced him.

            He stood, bedecked in black armor, his cape affixed by a gold clasp depicting the Delta Rune. He pointed a wicked looking halberd at them, the long spike at the top poking their sternum. They frowned internally at his head of long, black, straight hair rather than their own father’s mop of golden curls. Looking at his hair, it made it easier to imagine that this wasn’t Asgore before them at all. Just an imposter.

            It made it easier to fake a smile. “Good afternoon, your majesty.”

            Asgore only glowered. “Start moving.”

            Rather than argue, Frisk silently obeyed as he forced them to march back out of the greenhouse and then up the stairs. The rain started to pick up again as they reached the door to the castle. Stepping inside, they tried not to shiver, despite their chill from the damp. Asgore didn’t stop them at the throne room, instead he forced them to keep walking towards the barrier. When Frisk tried to speak, he only pressed the halberd’s spike sharply into their spine.

            Standing in the front of the barrier, they frowned and tried not to stare at the strange light that flashed the length of the barrier. Even as a kid, they had found this place to be rather trippy. This world’s version might have looked similar, if it weren’t for the large splatters of blood across the ground.

            It was the blood that made their heart stop for a moment. Their own father had murdered human children long before they arrived in the Underground, but he’d never left any physical evidence of it behind besides the coffins in the crypt. Were these bloodstains here as a badge of Asgore’s pride, or a reminder to himself or others what he’d done? They murmured a quick mental prayer for the lost children and then turned to face the monarch.

            “Unpleasant business, huh,” they said, glancing into his eyes. Those black eyes, so unlike their own father’s, were flat and dull as doll eyes. Do you enjoy this, they wanted to ask, but it seemed too antagonistic. Instead, they settled for something less rude. “You have a lovely garden by the way.”

            He grimaced. “Shut up.” He removed one of his hands from his grip on the halberd and flicked his wrist upward. Seven glass canister rose up out of the ground; to their horror, six of them had been splattered by blood at least once. Most of the blood looked ancient and flaked off in places, but the one containing the cyan colored soul still had most of the blood still stuck to it. Only the last one was clean and it stood empty. Did Asgore plan to have their blood join the stains on the floor and the canister?

            Frisk counted slowly, trying to control their racing heart. “Well, then, I suppose-”

            The world went black and white and their soul popped out of their chest. Frisk bit back a sigh.

            Asgore raised his halberd again, lifting it over his head. “I have no intention of listening to your nonsense.” Without another word, he swung down at them.  They jumped back in time, as the halberd cleaved into the ground, tossing chips of the shattered ground into the air around them.

            Holy shit, he is nowhere in the vicinity of fucking around. They ducked as he swung at their head, crouching low to the ground. “Asgore, please, listen to me. Your people-”

            “My people,” he snarled, lifting his hand up. Flames instantly began to lick his fingers. “My subjects, incited to rebellion.” His hand sliced down through the air, the fire following down. The flames rained down, prompting a squeak of horror as Frisk dodged them.

            Asgore readied his weapon again. “I do not know how, but you have brainwashed my subjects to disobey our most important law. You tricked them into allowing and nurturing weakness in their hearts.” He scowled. “You would see my people destroyed.”

            Holy shit, he believes this. “You’re people are dying!” Frisk shot back. “You have less than three hundred monsters left in the whole Underground when there’s no reason why there shouldn’t be thousands!”

            “And tens of thousands of monsters died in the war that forced us down here,” he answered, pointing his weapon at them again. “We allowed ourselves to be weak then. Never again. I should have instituted the law long ago. If I had, then maybe…” He paused, face darkening. “No. I do not care if you have chosen mercy out of some deluded fantasy of making yourself into a hero. I won’t let you destroy our last chance for freedom.” He lifted his halberd. “Your soul is mine.”

            Swiftly, silently, he lunged forward. Frisk darted back and nearly smacked into the barrier. They looked up in time to see the halberd swing down—not at them directly, but instead smashing clear through their Mercy option, shattering.

            How the hell does he know how to do that?

            Asgore glared at them. “There is no running. No misguided mercy. You die here, human.”

            Frisk grit their teeth and glared up at him. Why hadn’t they expected him to do that? It’s what their own father had done during their fight with him. One day, I really must ask him how he did that. Reluctantly, Frisk reached into their pocket and withdrew the old gardening knife, falling into one of the fighting stances Undyne had taught them for knife fighting—admittedly, not one of Undyne’s favorite weapons, but one she was skilled enough to teach them.

            *The rain… is pounding on the mountain.

            They blinked.  Chara?

            *Outside the barrier. You can hear it falling. On the other side of this barrier is freedom. Everyone is counting on you to get them there.

            That’s right, they thought back, taking a steadying breath. We can’t let them down.

            *Standing here before the barrier. Knowing that everything rests on this fight. You find yourself filled with DETERMINATION.

            They smirked to themselves. God damn right I do. Now, let’s talk your father out of this idea and save everyone, huh?

            *Do what you must.

            Asgore scowl only deepened when he saw resolve steeling the nerves behind their eyes. Without a word, he lunged forward and the fight began in earnest.

            Frisk had many a nightmare about the long, torturous numbers of fights they went through, trying to reach their father. He’d cut them down over at least a dozen times before Flowey snuffed him out before them. And then having to fight him again after that, only to have to watch him kill himself? The fights against Asgore were still some of their most painful memories to face, especially after many long years of his gentle care. He was the only man they’d ever truly called their father. This crude doppelganger sent shudders down their spine.

            They could now safely say that their father hadn’t just been holding back when he’d fought them; he’d tried to be careful as handling an infant in comparison to this world’s Asgore. In no time, he’d forced them to use up every healing cigarette they had left and then he caught them again.

            “Asgore, your people don’t even want to fight,” they shouted, dropping their guard for a moment to try and reach him. “Monsters aren’t meant to be murder machines!”

            And then the halberd went flying at them. They nearly tripped trying to back up, but too late they realized it wasn’t their body he was aiming at.

            It was the Act button. Frisk could only watch in open mouthed horror as the button shattered before them. Holy fuck. How-?

            There was no time to think. He attacked again.

            With no options left, Frisk took up their blade. When he tried to attack next, they took their chance and ducked forward, scoring a long slice up his side as they shot past him.

            He bellowed, not in pain—their genuine reluctance to do him harm was putting a serious cap on any damage they could do to him—but in pure rage. He wheeled around, swinging the halberd at their head.

            Frisk ducked low, dropping to the ground fast. Too fast.

            As they dropped, Flowey was jerked down with them, pulled back in surprise as they went down.

            The halberd cut through the air. And hit something.

            Frisk only heard a soft, short gasp of surprise before a familiar weight disappeared from their shoulder. Confused, they glanced over their shoulder just in time to see Flowey fall, bisected neatly in two pieces, his roots and lower part of his stem completely separate from the upper half.

            For a moment, time stopped. Frisk’s eyes widened. “Flowey?”

            There was no answer. In their mind, Chara started to scream.

            Asgore only huffed. “Useless trash has no place in battle.”

            Gazing down at the crumpled form, Frisk felt their world begin to narrow.

            No.

            That cannot happen. I will not allow that to happen.

            Reset.

            For a moment, all they could see was that familiar face, resigned and hollow, before the figure turned and walked away from their breaking heart. You cannot reset.

            I cannot allow him to die.

            Their heart was breaking again. I cannot reset.

            Lower, as their world kept shrinking past their own mental dithering, an ugly part of themselves began to emerge. Hidden over the years, trapped behind countless hours of therapy and shame, something dark snapped awake. As the world narrowed to a point, the old ugliness awoke to the cry of injustice stirring their whirling mind.

            Make him pay, their blood sang.

            Rage answered the call of vengeance. Frisk wheeled about, a scream tearing from their lips as they swung the knife. The blade skittered off Asgore’s breastplate, but bit deep into the metal, puncturing it at the sternum. Asgore only took one surprised glance down at the cut before Frisk lunged forward again, swinging up at his face. They clipped his jaw, his black beard quickly dampening with blood.

            He recovered; they were too close to properly hack at them with the halbred’s axe, so instead he could only slam them with the long shaft. It caught them around the middle, their ribs protesting as it collided with them and slapped them into the barrier.

            They smacked against it, but instead of losing momentum, they dropped the knife to push themselves off with both hands. Despite all that time trying to find a weapon, now in the heat of the moment, they forgot it in favor of smashing their booted sole against his breastplate. The armor, magic as their father’s had been, bent and made him stagger.

            As he was off balance, nearly falling to his knees, Frisk put one foot on his bent knee, caught the jagged tear in this breastplate with their right hand, and hauled themselves up. Curling their left hand into a fist, they punched Asgore’s muzzle, blooding his nose.

            Their lips parted, their teeth bared. Asgore staggered again as they hit him again. Make him pay. Make him pay. Make him pay.

            He destroyed the world. Caused so much death. Asgore fell to the ground.

            Killed Flowey.

            Make him pay. Make. Him. PAY. The corners of their lips turned up. Their fist came back, covered in a thin layer of dust.

            Something stirred in the back of their mind.

            “You’re hands are always covered in a dusty powder.”

            Frisk paused. Glanced up at their fist. This was… so familiar. Suddenly, they weren’t looking at their hand right now. They were looking back to the past to see a smaller hand, curled into a faded glove, thickly coated in dust. It had been easier to use than the toy knife, more useful than the stick. They’d known how to punch already by that age. Better to hit first, back then, than wait until someone hit you first. If you hit first, maybe they wouldn’t get to hit you at all.

            “It feels… Like you’re going down a dangerous path.”

            Frisk’s breath caught in their throat.

            “However! I, Papyrus, see great potential within you! Everyone can be a great person if they try!”

            They glanced at Asgore. His face was bloody, one of his eyes already swelling shut, his one good eye staring up at them with a sort of grim satisfaction. But then, looking at him, they could see their own father looking back, face sad and defeated, resigned to his fate.

            “Human! I think you are in need of guidance! Someone needs to keep you on the straight and narrow! But worry not! I, Papyrus… will gladly be your friend and tutor! I will turn your life right around!”

            They were eight. A trail of dust loomed large behind them. A naïve, sweet skeleton knelt in the snow, his arms open and shaking.

            Their gloved hands shook.

            “I, Papyrus, welcome you with open arms!”

            They waited, indulging their own dark curiosity to see how quickly he’d try and trick them. But always, his arms stayed open, until long after any sane being would have realized it wasn’t going to work.

            Papyrus was sparing them.

            It was a trick.

            It had to be.

            Because, if it wasn’t… then what was it all for? Wasn’t this world kill or be killed?

            Papyrus spared them. Their fists shook in the dusty gloves. It was a trick. He wasn’t going to be any different from all the monsters before. Impossible.

            Papyrus waited.

            Then it wasn’t Papyrus before them; that familiar figure was before them again, gazing at them with dull eyes.

            “Just be straight with me. How much longer?”

            “How much longer before you finish what you started back then?”

            A cry from deep in their heart, that broken child still inside them shattering at the harsh words, longing to reach out as the figure walked away.

            Frisk closed their eyes for a moment, caught their breath, and then opened their eyes again.

            Asgore was waiting.

            Frisk blinked and stared at their hand. Coated with blood and dust. Papyrus… I… I’m sorry. I… I was violent. Again. Mom, Dad, I… They closed their eyes. Flowey. You said you wanted this world to be ‘save or be saved’ and I, I almost ruined that. I’m sorry.

            Slowly, they forced themselves to lower their fist and let go of Asgore, taking a step back. Taking a deep breath, they forced themselves to calm down, uncurling their fingers and breathing until their blood stopped pounding in their ears and they could hear the faint sobs of Chara in the back of their mind. When they opened their eyes, Asgore was staring at them like they had put a gun to their own head.

            He looked so much like their father, but so little at the same time. It made it harder; steeling themselves, they forced themselves to imagine their own father’s kind eyes peering at them.

            “Asgore,” they began, once their mind was quieter. “Do you believe in second chances?”

            He stared at them. “What-?”

            “Because I do. I believe people can truly become better people.” They lifted their chin. “The bravest, kindest monster I ever met taught me that. And the second kindest taught me how to forgive. I think… I think it’s a shame you weren’t more like him. If you had, then maybe, this would have all been different. But still,” they turned, forcing themselves to glance at Flowey’s crumpled form. “Maybe you could…”

            Their gaze found him. Then their breath stalled in their lungs.

            Flowey was moving.

            He was breathing.

            Their mouth fell open and in their mind, Chara began to scream.

            *SAVE HIM.

            Instantly, Frisk forgot Asgore and raced to Flowey. Their mind ran a mile a second as they fell on their knees next to him. But how how could—fuck he’s a flower not a monster anymore, of course he’s harder to kill ah fuck I’m out of medicine how

            They paused and then began to attack their pockets. They yanked whatever junk was inside until at last they came to a small glass bottle. It was one of the few things they’d managed to salvage from their bag after Toriel lit it on fire. The contents were special, something Frisk had never managed to find again. On the side of the bottle, their childish writing was worn half away.

            Dream it read.

            *The ultimate goal of "Determination."

            Frisk grimaced at the small dancing lights inside and prayed it would work. There was only three left.

            Pulling out the stopper, they tapped a few times until one of the lights came out. Glowing brightly, like they’d caught a miniature star, Frisk stoppered the bottle and tucked it back into their pocket before pressing the light against Flowey. In their hand, the light grew hot and began to shine like a tiny supernova. Suddenly, the white light flared green.

            *The dream came true.

            Under the light, they heard a deep gasp. The light faded and Flowey opened his eyes. His stem was whole, knit together without an even single scar. He blinked up at them. “What was that?”

            In spite of everything, Frisk had to laugh. Oh, Asriel. What would you say if I told you that the medicine I got from your fight saved the Asriel of a whole different world?

            “Did… did I die again?” he asked, voice soft.

            Sniffing and chuckling, they scooped him up in their cupped hands. “N-no. I don’t think so. The medicine probably wouldn’t have worked.”

            “Oh… that’s,” he paused, frowning. “Cool, I think? Are you okay?”

            “I’m fine.”

            His brow knit together. “And Asgore?”

            They had to laugh. “He’s fine too. I-” They never got a chance to finish.

            A long spike pierced through their chest, smashing all the way into Frisk’s soul. Immediately, the soul shattered. Flowey could only scream as Asgore yanked his halberd out of their back. And yet, in the shattered remains of the soul, something faint and red glowed steadily. Frisk blinked at it.

            *But it refused.

            Behind them, Asgore gasped sharply as their soul came back together. Apparently, he hadn’t been watching his television the night before and Alphys or Undyne hadn’t reported in on them yet.

            Slowly, they stood and turned to face the king. The blood and dust were gone—he must have healed himself. It helped ease some of the guilt they felt. Gazing at him, they lifted Flowey up to their shoulder so he could climb back up. “Stay down from here on, okay?”

            “Got it,” he muttered, slipping down to half hide in the back of their shirt.

            Shock covered every inch of his face; his halberd even slipped from his fingers. “But… how?”

            Frisk shrugged, using the motion to roll and loosen up their shoulders. “It’s funny, you know.” They shifted their footing until the side of their boot hit the halberd. “You can do a lot if only you stay determined.”

            Shock gave way to anger; he gritted his teeth and started to lunge.

            Frisk was faster. Picking their foot up, they swept over the side of the halberd to hook the rubber sole of the back of their boot on the curve of the axe and dragged it backward. Dipping quickly, they snatched up the pole arm. It was heavy and unwieldy in their hands, too top heavy to pretend it was just a normal spear, but they’d make do. They jumped to the side to avoid getting body slammed by Asgore, getting the halberd up in time to make him think twice about just jumping at them as he turned again. The Overlord paused to glare at them and reevaluate his strategy.

            Frisk carefully readjusted their grip on the halberd, trying to find a way to feel more natural in their hands. “Hey, Flowey?”

            “Yeah?” he asked, still behind their shoulder.

            There was a natural pause in the fight—the loss of the pole arm was a major problem now. While Asgore was big, the halberd gave Frisk enough reach to keep out of his grasp and they had enough know how to hurt him if he tried to test them.

            Frisk grimaced as Asgore held out his hand and summoned a massive cleaver, wreathed in flames, evening out the odds. They braced themselves to see if he intended to take the first swing. “Do you still believe in ‘save or be saved’?”

            They could feel him nod against their shoulder. “Yes.”

            “Alright then.” Chara?

            *…

            *Save my father.

            Frisk smirked. Tall order, kiddo. “Let’s do this.”

            Asgore grew fed up with waiting. With a roar, he surged forward and swung at them. For a moment, Frisk felt like they were watching an avalanche barreling at them before they remembered to get out of the way. The halberd nearly tripped them as they ducked left. They chopped wildly as they moved, swinging with their right hand, their non-dominant one. Their swing went wide, but it made Asgore jump back.

            They paused again, still trying to feel each other out as they began to circle each other. They waited until Asgore tried another experimental swing. Instead of jumping out of the way, they only moved their upper body to the side and swung the butt end of the pole arm around and shoved it between his legs. Darting to the side, the shaft of the pole arm tangled up his legs and sent him sprawling. As he fell, Frisk freed the halberd and twirled it around in time to stick the spiked end directly in his face as he tried to sit up.

            Two of their options gone, they purposeful stood there, facing him down until he realized they were refusing to strike at him.

            The Overlord snarled and swung the cleaver at them; they started to retreat until they noticed the flames wreathing the cleaver were blue. Taking a chance, they froze. The first pass harmlessly passed them by but then they saw the flames changed to orange and staggered back.

            As the two of them got settled on their feet again, Frisk had to admit to themselves that the halberd was more of a hindrance than a help—it was too unwieldy whereas the knife felt like a natural extension of their own arm. Really, the only thing that kept them from tossing it aside was the fact that they really didn’t want Asgore to get it back. If their inventory had been working, they would have shoved it in there and kept it permanently out of his reach. Asgore, on the other hand, seemed comfortable with his cleaver.

            The flames on said cleaver began to grow brighter; Frisk watched with trepidation as Asgore reached out and grabbed a fistful of flames and then tossed it at them. Instead of being a fireball as they’d thought, the moment the flames left his hands, they grew into a massive swirling tornado of fire that spun around them, shooting fireballs at them. It took all Frisk had to focus on dodging them and not tripping over the pole arm. Finally, the flames stopped, but nearly too late did they hear Asgore behind them.

            They dropped to the ground just in time to avoid getting decapitated. Scrambling, they rolled forward and quickly straightened, still clutching the halberd. They got the halberd up, but refused to swing at him.

            “Refusing to fight?” he growled. “It isn’t going to save your life. I will have your soul!”

            He summoned more fire; this time a giant fireball shot at them. They dodged it at first, but then the thing ricocheted off a wall and began to move around wildly, gaining speed each time it hit something until Frisk couldn’t avoid it and took it straight to their stomach.

            They went flying; distantly, they heard Asgore’s laugh, but still they kept their grip on the pole arm. Heh, my Undyne would be proud of me for that much at least. They smashed against the ground; they heard Flowey groaning as he caught some of their weight. As fast as they could manage, they got up. “You okay back there?”

            “Peachy. Try to avoid repeating that, please,” he moaned, shifting around until he looked up and froze. “Frisk, watch out!”

            Frisk looked up in time to see fireballs raining down on them. Cursing, they had to dodge and weave as fireballs came down in a torrent.

            *HP: 18/30. Be more careful.

            You try dodging this! they shot back as the downpour finally stopped.

            “Yes, yes, very good, human,” Asgore drawled from across the battlefield. “You’re good at dodging. But do you honestly think you can dodge forever? Do you want to keep wasting time trying to spare me out of some foolish hope of saving me?” He scowled. “I don’t need saving. You do. But no one will come for you.” He gestured vaguely in the direction of the glass canisters, but neither of them turned to look. “Just as no one came to save them.”

            Grunting, Frisk raised the halberd and pointed it at him, but still, they never moved to strike.

            His face contorted. “Do you think this is a game, human? That if you just try hard enough, I’ll change my mind and everything will be fine? That we’ll just have a nice cup of tea and talk about what a nice day it is? And then what, human? We all pretend that everything will be okay, toss aside our weapons, and wait until you die decades from now? Then I will lead my people to the slaughter once more.” He shook his head. “Idiot. Haven’t you been told a hundred times by now? In this world, it’s kill or be killed!” With a yell, he raised his cleaver at the sky; Frisk didn’t have to wait long to figure out what he was doing. They’d barely glanced around before a pillar of fire shot out of the ground and blasted upward. They avoided getting hit, but this time their Item button shattered.

            Fuck! They scrambled backwards, stumbling a bit as the butt of the halberd caught on the ground for a moment. Once they had their footing back, they tried to rearrange their grip on the pole arm. Well, shit, I guess I didn’t need it anyway. Dreams were impossible to get—they’d let their soul shatter again if it meant not wasting them. Dreams were irreplaceable-

            Wait. Frisk glanced up in time to see Asgore readying another attack. “Flowey, I’m going to need your help for a moment.”

            Flowey twitched behind them. “There’s not a whole lot I can do.”

            “Don’t worry, it shouldn’t be too hard.” They raised the halberd and braced themselves. “We’re just going to be playing a little game of keep away with Asgore.”

            “…what do you need me to do?”

            The flames around Asgore’s cleaver turned a startling white. Frisk hurriedly told Flowey what to do and then braced themselves for whatever it was Asgore was preparing for them while Flowey released his hold on their shirt and vanished.

            Bellowing, Asgore sliced the air before him. Frisk still moved to the side, just to be safe. This, it turned out, was a smart choice as a white barrier appeared, following the line and cutting the area Frisk could move in half. Quickly, he made another chopping motion and another barrier appeared. Frisk hopped back forward, but when they looked back, the saw that not all of their sweatshirt had made it—the barrier cut straight through it. R I P, sweatshirt, you’ll be missed.

            *Keep your mind in the present.

            Right. They lifted the halberd above their head with both hands and took a chance. “Flowey!” they shouted and then hurled the halberd forward. Fortunately, they’d gotten lucky—the halberd, once separated from their hands, passed through the barrier and landed with a clatter, not far from the entrance.

            Asgore looked utterly baffled, turning to look from the halberd to them. “Is this a joke?” he asked finally.

            Face blank, Frisk kept their hands up, further drawing attention to the fact they were unarmed. “I don’t want to hurt you, Asgore. I won’t fight you with weapons.”

            His jaw fell open as he narrowed his eyes at them. “What are you-? Are you—do you honestly think that I’m going to stop fighting you because you tossed away your weapon?” He shook his head. “If you won’t kill, then you will be killed.” He dropped his cleaver, letting it vanish as he stalked forward to reclaim his pole arm.

            Frisk watched him go, fingers curling into fists as they watched him kneel and reach for the halberd.

            Before his fingers could touch it, green vines shot out of the ground and grabbed it. Asgore only had a moment to stare in confusion before Flowey shot out of the ground, wearing the creepiest face he could imagine and snapped with his fake teeth at Asgore. Startled, the king jerked backward. Quickly, Flowey tossed the halberd further to the door.  Asgore gasped in outrage and scrambled after it. Before he could grab it, Flowey ducked into the ground and popped out next to the halberd instantly. Wrapping his vines around it, he chucked it out the door. Thwarted, Asgore bellowed his rage.

            The barriers around Frisk shattered, Asgore too angry to think of maintaining them. The moment they were down, Frisk ran forward. The king never heard them running up, although he certainly felt it when they jumped up, landing with both feet against his back, and then kicking off to flip backwards off him. He went sprawling forward while Frisk landed neatly. Heh. Looks like I still remember that trick.

            *Where did you even learn that?

            Undyne. She got it off some videos Alphys showed her of baby goats jumping off each other and thought it’d look cool. Turns out, I actually finally found a use for it.

            Flowey ducked underground while Asgore staggered forward. Quickly, Frisk dropped to the ground and swept his legs out from under him. He fell to the ground with a loud crash; when he got himself flipped back around he paused when he looked up and found them staring down at him. He froze, gazing up at them with shock for one moment. To their discomfort, it settled very quickly into acceptance.

            He really thinks I’m going to kill him, they thought, frowning. Slowly, they lifted their hand and offered it to him. He might have destroyed their Mercy, but the gesture was too symbolic for him to even pretend that they were only offering to help him up.

            His acceptance turned to disgust. They only had time enough to step back as he summoned his cleaver and swung at them, just as they’d hoped. His eyes widened as he realized too late that as they shifted, his cleaver kept coming down—straight onto their Fight button as well. It cracked and shattered, leaving them with nothing.

            He paused, stunned again as they looked down at him. Finally, he met their gaze. “You’re suicidal.”

            They smiled softly, shook their head, and held their hand out again.

            Asgore’s face contorted and he got himself up on his feet faster than they would have given him credit for, letting the cleaver vanish in his haste. “Enough of your nonsense!” he shouted, grabbing their shoulders in his massive hands.

            For a moment, they thought he might to just crush their entire torso; still, they kept their calm, gazing at him with only a firm expression.

            “You’re a fool! Why on earth would you try to spare me? How many times must you be told? Don’t you see those souls over there, don’t you know I murdered six children for them? Six of your own species! Don’t you know how many monsters have died by my hand, let alone my laws? Are you so stupid? How can you not get this?” He shook them, hard. “Why do you keep trying to spare me? Don’t you get it—I’m not-!” he paused. Frisk only blinked as they felt his hands begin to shake. “This world… it’s not meant for weaklings. The weak get killed to feed the strong.”

            They kept their gaze steady as they gazed up into his eyes. “Do you think that if your children were stronger, would they still be around?” It was a low blow, but one that connected; he looked as though they had physically struck him. “Do you think if you’re hard on your people, that it will make them stronger? Is that the only way you can see for any of them to live?”

            His eyes widened for a moment before he snarled. His hands moved from their shoulders to wring their neck—his thick fingers were so big, he couldn’t even strangle them properly. Instead, he lifted them up until their toes barely touched the floor. “You! I know what you’re trying to do! You want to me to lower my defenses, don’t you? Then you’ll strike!”

            Frisk reached up to grab his wrists, trying to lift up enough to take the pressure of their throat. When that didn’t work, they paused then lifted one shaking hand to cup his face.

            For a moment, nothing changed—he kept strangling them. On the sides of their vision, the world began to go gray.

            Then, his grip loosened. Slowly, their toes found purchase on the ground again until their feet were firmly planted again.

            They could feel him shaking under their hand. His hands fell to their shoulders and he bowed his head. They let him have a moment before cautiously moving their thumb to stroke his cheek, like Toriel would do for them whenever they cried, gentle and soothing.

            “You…” Even his voice shook as he stared at the ground. “Why…? Why do I see in your eyes…? You… you have that same look of hope in your eyes. I… I don’t understand…”

            Frisk blinked. Looking down, they saw the badly cracked Act button had somehow returned—something like it had happened once in the fight with their own father, hadn’t it? “Who?” they croaked, throat sore. “Who had the same look as I do?”

            “My… my child,” he sighed. Finally, he lifted his head. “Why? Why do you look at me like Chara did?”

            *Father…?

            Frisk smiled, patiently stroking his cheek before pulling their hand away and offering it to him again.

            He stared down at it, brow knit in confusion. “Why? Do you honestly think that I’ll change my mind after everything I’ve done? After all the awful things I’ve done to this world, do you think there’s something left in me to redeem? There isn’t!” he roared, shaking them again. “I’m horrible! I—I chose to be this way! I tossed away any kindness left in me to save my people! I’ve done what I must, and I… I’d do it again. There is no goodness left in me, you stupid fool. You brainless idiot, I cannot turn back.” Just for a flash, they saw something flicker behind his eyes. Knowing their own father, they guessed it was fear.  “There’s no way to turn back. You, you should just kill me. Then, at least, you could deliver justice to both worlds.”

            “Don’t be silly,” they whispered. “Killing you, that doesn’t solve anything. That’s just be me getting your dust all over my hands. And then, it’s not like they’re aren’t more killers in the world who wouldn’t just love to take your place. No, Asgore, killing you won’t help. If this world’s going to be saved, it’ll be by the hands of the living. There’s always a way to turn back. Anyone can be a great person if they’re willing to try.” They offered him their hand again. “I know. I did.”

            He blinked. Eyes widening slowly, his mouth opened but no words came out.

            “The road back from cruelty isn’t easy, Asgore, but it’s not impossible. We cannot escape our sins. Those we carry on our shoulders wherever we go. But, if we don’t forget those sins, if we truly commit ourselves to changing our ways, we can become better. We can be kinder.”

            “I… I don’t think I can anymore,” he murmured, sounding surprisingly small. “I think I forgot how.”

            “It’s not as hard as you think,” they answered, patting his arm with their free hand. “Mostly, you just have to do the opposite of what you would normally do. But don’t worry.” They offered him their hand, one last time. “You won’t have to figure it out alone. Trust me, I had to relearn it once. I remember the way. I can show you, if you want.”

            “I think that’s the better way,” Flowey added, startling Asgore who glanced at him. Flowey gave him a timid smile from across the room. “If you die, you’re just running away from punishment. If you stick around, you have to help fix the mess you made."

            Asgore frowned at the flower. “You are… have we met before…?” Flowey panicked, but instead of waiting for an answer, he turned back to Frisk. He looked at their hand. Then, slowly, he pulled one of his hands away from their shoulders.

            For one bright, shining moment, they thought that maybe he would take their hand and accept.

            He never got the chance.

            One moment, he stood before them, shaken but still on his feet. Then next, a bright light slammed into him and blasted him across the room.

            Frisk stared at the empty space before them, shocked to their core before they finally turned their head.

            Tossed against the wall like a broken doll, Asgore lay in a heap on the floor. “No,” they whispered, turning.

            “Asgore!” Flowey shrieked.

            *FATHER!

            Frisk raced to his side, dropping to their knees to examine him. On the other side, Flowey popped out of the ground and watched as they began to look him over. “Frisk! I-is he okay?”

            “He’s breathing,” Frisk sighed in relief. Thank god and all the saints. Shaking their head, they turned around. “Now, what the hell hit-”

            Their breath caught in their throat. “…Sans…?”

            Standing on the far side of the room, the smiling skeleton dropped his hand. Behind him, his skull shaped blaster faded from sight. “Hey there, babe. Sorry to interrupt. Looked like you might actually talk Asgore around there for a second, huh?”

            Their hands shook—to hide that, they curled them into fists. “Sans, what the hell! Why did you do that?”

            “You almost killed him!” Flowey added, using a few of his vines to clutch his fallen father’s hand nearest to him.

            Sans only shrugged and lifted his chin. “Eh, sorry, babe. Had to do it. I know you had your heart on that ‘save or be saved’ spiel you were going on about earlier. But that guy?” He shook his head. “That’s the one guy I’m afraid I can’t let you work your voodoo on.”

            “Voodoo-? Sans! I really am not appreciating the jokes right now,” they growled, standing up to face him properly.

            “Really? That’s a shame. I’m a funny guy.”

            “Sans, he’s going to think I tricked him! I’d almost talked him around, damn it.”

            He only shrugged again. “Eh, I don’t really give a shit what he thinks. He’s a nasty son of a bitch and he deserves every ounce of pain he gets. Haven’t you been paying attention to this world? In the days you’ve been here, haven’t you seen enough pain and misery in this place to convince you that he doesn’t deserve a second chance?”

            That one actually stung; they hissed in a breath through gritted teeth. “Everyone deserves a second chance!”

            He paused. “Yeah. You believe that, don’t you? You… you did something, something awful in your past, huh.” He watched as they set their jaw and shook his head. “Something that’s left a real mark on you, I take it. Well, babe, knowing you, I’d say that no matter how awful it was, it still doesn’t stack up to a tenth of what he’s done to this world. Don’t pity him. He isn’t worth it.”

            “Don’t go around comparing my sins to his when you don’t even know what they are,” they snapped.

            “Babe, just look at your neck. Do you really think that a guy who could do that to you is going to just change his colors at the drop of a hat?” he drawled, gesturing to their aching throat. There’d be nasty bruises later if they couldn’t find some healing items soon.

            At a different time, they might have only been exasperated with him; right now, they wanted to throttle him. Taking a deep breath, they shook themselves and went with a gentler tone. “Sans, please, just go. I’ll stay here and wait until he wakes up. I’ll do what I can to smooth this over. Just, please, get out of here before he wakes up.”

            Sans made a clicking sound with his mouth, an odd trick considering he didn’t have a tongue. “Ah, yeah, see, I can’t do that.”

            Frisk paused, staring for a moment before their eyes widened in horror.

            Behind him, a ring of human souls spun, growing slowly faster with each revolution. “See, while you were, uh, busy with Asgore. I, heh, stole the human souls. So, you see, I can’t just go.”

            Mouth open, Frisk tried to find their voice. “Sans… what are you doing…?”

            For a moment, something that might have been regret went across his face. It disappeared quickly. “Sorry, babe. But I’m not just going to leave these here for him to just snatch up the moment he’s awake so he can use them against others. And I’m not leaving them here for you either, so you can break the barrier. Cause, you see.” His eye sockets went black as the lights in them died. “This barrier is never coming down. I will never allow that.”

            Frisk flinched. “S—why? Why on earth would you do that? Don’t you want to get out of here? Don’t you want Papyrus and the other to get out of here?”

            “Ha! Why would I want that?” he asked, amused again. “Babe, I told you. My brother’s an asshole. I’m an asshole. Everyone down here, we’re all terrible people who do terrible things. But not you. You’re the one person in this awful place who refuses to hurt others. Who’s done their best to help others. And you’ve done a hell of a job! If I didn’t know better, I might have thought people were actually going to change around here. But they won’t. They never do.”

            Their stomach felt like it was plummeting straight past the floor and into hell. “Sans…”

            His smile almost looked kind. “Come on, babe, remember? My one friend, Toriel? She told me to kill any human that made it through the Ruins, but above all, she made me promise this. That should a human actually do the impossible and make it to Asgore, that if it started to look like the barrier was going to come down, I should do everything in my power to make sure it don’t. And you know what? I agree. This barrier, it’s staying put. No one gets out of the underground. We all deserve to rot down here.” He paused, gazing at them. “Sorry. I know that this is dicking you over here, but I can’t let you leave either.

            “See, Frisk? Do you see? You, you really might have started to change things around here. None of us have turned into peace loving hippies, but you’ve got us all playing mostly nice for once. I don’t think anyone’s even killed another monster in the last three days since you came! Maybe, with enough time, you might manage to at least turn the kids around. Get them thinking differently before us asshole adults corrupt them too.” He paused, voice soft. “Maybe, if someone like you were around when we were little, you might have been able to save Papyrus from being what he is today.

            “But it won’t be today. But,” he said, lifting his hand, “don’t worry, babe. I’ll look after you. I promise, me and you? We’ll have nothing but time.”

            Frisk’s heart nearly stopped. “Sans. Don’t.”

            He smiled and snapped his fingers. The souls glowed and slammed into him.

            It sounded like the earth itself was cracking open before them. A pillar of light shot up into the darkness and a powerful wind nearly knocked them off their feet. They dug their feet in and tossed their arms up to block the light as it seared into the back of their eyes behind their lids.

            Abruptly, the wind died. Their vision was dark for so long, they wondered hysterically if he’d actually blinded them. Finally, the darkness faded into blotches of color that resolved into dancing spots in their vision, finally clearing up after a while. When they finally felt it was safe, they opened their eyes and peeked over their arms to stare at him.

            The pillar of light pulsed, shrinking slowly down until they could see Sans, floating in the light. Oh god, Sans, what have you done?

            Inside the light, they heard a wild laugh. “Holy shit!” Sans giggled, clutching his head. In spite of the light show going on around him, they were surprised to note that physically he was unchanged. “God, what a rush! Is this what it feels like to be powerful? To be a human? It feels like I’m going a million miles an hour!” The wind began to pick up again.

            “Sans!” they shouted. “Sans, stop this!”

            “Ha! Stop? God, Frisk, why would I ever stop? This is incredible! I—I could tear this world apart. Fuck, forget you having to help these worthless pieces of trash. I can just remake the world. I can make it better. I could bring back the monsters that died because of that idiot. You, you’d like that, wouldn’t you? God, what a feeling!”

            “He’s crazy,” Flowey said bluntly, clinging to their boot. They had no idea when he had latched on, but now he gripped them like a lifeline. “I know you hate that word, but he’s lost it! Here,” he held up the worn knife. “I think you’re going to need this.”

            Haltingly, Frisk kneeled down, took the knife, and scooped him up, tucking him against their chest. “I think he’s being overwhelmed by the souls,” they answered once they had him safely in hand. “I got to talk to him, get him to let them go.” They grimaced and straightened. “We got to hurry. We don’t have much time.”

            “Time? What on earth are you talking about? He has the souls! What can we possibly do against him?”

            “I’m not going to hurt him,” they said bluntly before leaning close. “But don’t you see? He hasn’t remade the world yet. I can still reach my save too. I don’t think he knows how to actually control the souls to their full potential yet. By this time, the Flowey of my world had already remade the world in his image. Sans is just drunk on power.” Which was great, because the moment he figured out how to work them and destroyed their save, what would it mean for their own world? Would it get reset too, or would it be safe because they weren’t even in it?

            Flowey mumbled a curse and climbed up their front to duck behind their shoulder. Once he was in place, he sighed and leaned up to speak into their ear. “Whatever you’re planning, I’m ready. Let’s go save this jerk before he dooms us all.”

            They glanced back at Asgore, checking to see if he was still breathing before they began to fight their way forward. The power coming off him pushed them back; they realized what they’d thought was a wind earlier was really just his magic radiating wildly off him. Slowly, they got as near as they could before they realized there was no way to get any closer on their own. “Sans!” they shouted over the swirling magic that howled like a gale. “Sans, please, you got to stop! You can’t fix the world this way!”

            His head jerked up to stare at them. His iris, they were unnerved to note, was nearly strobing as it flickered between the colors the souls had been. “Why the hell not? No one can stop me! Whatever I say, people are going to have to obey. If I say behave, people aren’t going to say no.”

            “That’s what I mean,” they shouted back. They went to take a step, but their foot slipped and they started to fall. To their surprise, the magic pushing them back vanished and a hand reached out to catch them, grabbing them around their right arm’s bicep. Reflexively, they reached out and gripped his coat with both hands to steady themselves. Once they had their footing, they didn’t let go and instead just stared up into his face. “Sans, you can’t just make people play nice with brute force! They have to want to do it, or they’ll just wait until they’re out of your sight and then they’ll just go back to what they were doing in the first place.”

            Sans barked a laugh. “What’s a matter, babe? Here I thought you thought us monsters were just cuddly little idiots, tricked into listening to that idiot over there. Heh, idiots leading the idiots. Hah! Hey, that’s an idea. I don’t have to force them if I just tweak their brains a little. No more violence! They won’t even think about it.”

            “Sans! What you’re talking about, you’ll either end up brainwashing them or lobotomizing them. No one deserves that.”

            For the first time, he dropped his gleeful expression to glare at them. “Enough. Frisk. Get out of my way. I’ve got some changes to make around here.” His iris slid past them to fix on Asgore. “Starting with that asshole.”

            “No!” They shouted, tugging on his coat to get him to look back at them. Once he did, they swallowed against the tight feeling in their throat. “Sans, please, I can’t let you do that.”

            He paused for a while, gazing down at them with an unreadable expression. Then, in less of heartbeat, he shoved his face nearly into them. “You can’t stop me. No one can stop me. Not anymore.”

            Frisk grimaced. “Sans, please.”

            “Stand aside, human.”

            They shuddered. So, I’m back to being just ‘human’ now, huh? They lifted their face close enough that if he’d had a nose, they would brush. “No.”

            “Human,” he said, voice tight. “I don’t want to fight you. Move. Aside.”

            They pulled on his coat until their foreheads touched, staring deep into the empty eye sockets before them. “Sans, I can’t do that.”

            He didn’t speak, and for a moment neither moved. Then he shut his eyes and sighed. “Frisk, sometimes you really are a pain in my ass.” Before they could blink, they felt their soul pop out of their chest and a familiar weight settled on it.

            *You’re blue now.

            Shit, they thought before he sent them flying. Rather than smash them around the room, he let them flop down in the middle of the floor. Groaning, they tried to sit up but their limbs felt like they were made of lead. Gritting their teeth, they forced themselves to sit up. Once they were upright, they looked up in time to see Sans start to float past them, heading to Asgore, hands tucked casually into his pockets. Panicked, they reached out and grabbed his pant leg.

            He actually paused to look back at them. “Babe. Have a little dignity. Begging doesn’t suit you.”

            “Oh,” they managed through gritted teeth and reached up, getting another fistful of cloth near his knee. They tugged and he allowed himself to dip down closer. “I don’t know. Begging… it can be kinda fun.”

            “Heh. Well, glad to see that you haven’t lost your humor yet.” He almost smiled as they managed to catch his coat’s hem.

            “Sans, please. Just leave him alone.”

            He reached out to grab their chin and lift it up so they could meet each other’s gaze. “Nope.” He let go and Frisk yelped as the weight on their body doubled. “Now, be a good human and stay put. We’ll have time to play around later.”

            Despite the pressure, Frisk refused to let go of his coat. Shaking with pain, Frisk growled through their teeth and forced one of their legs up. Fighting the gravity magic made it feel like their muscles were tearing from their bones. Hell, maybe they were. All the same, they forced their other leg up so that they were half standing.

            Sans’ smile twitched. “Frisk. Stop it. You keep that up and you’ll hurt yourself.”

            As if to proof his point, their soul grew tiny hairline fractures around the sides. The more they fought to straighten, the deeper the cracks went until, all at once, the cracks shot straight to the middle.

            Sans had less than a second to realize that their soul was going to tear itself apart. Jerking back, he tried to pull his magic off them, but too late. Even as their soul returned to red, it shattered and Frisk started to fall.

            *But it refused.

            Frisk caught themselves before they hit the ground, their death grip on Sans’ coat keeping up as they panted.

            “Fucking hell, Frisk! Even your weird ass soul would—are you trying to kill yourself?” he snapped, grabbing them by the elbows.

            Frisk let him lift them up and closed their eyes as they tried to catch their breath. Got to keep him distracted. “My… okay, what… what’s so fucked up about my soul anyway? You… Alphys… what’s so weird, huh?”

            “Weird? What’s weird? God, Frisk, you’re fucking possessed by a human ghost and you ask me what’s weird like that’s normal?”

            “What?” Flowey asked, lifting his head.

            Sans ignored Flowey to glare at Frisk. “Didn’t you know you were possessed? Hell, you even got their strange little parasite of a soul attached to yours.”

            Frisk blinked. Oh. I guess that explains how you got stuck with me, huh?

            *… I didn’t intend to latch onto you. I’m sorry?

            Aw, don’t worry about it. Glad to have you around, kiddo. They coughed. “Eh, they make good company.”

            “Good comp-” Sans shook his head and laughed. “Frisk, you’re too much. But, you know, I can’t keep doing this. Just stay put will you? I just need to take out the trash.” He pulled away too fast for them to keep hold of him, making them crash to their knees. “Don’t make me make you blue again. We don’t need a repeat of that performance.”

            Panicked, Frisk forced themselves up and ran after him. “Leave him alone, Sans!”

            He paused and turned his head to glare over his shoulder. “Human, this is losing its charm real fast. Stay out of this.”

            Staggering, they hurried around him, putting themselves in the way again. “Sans. Stop this.”

            “Human,” he growled, light around him growing brighter. “I’m not in the mood.” To their surprise, they saw him glance around, just below them, eyes moving left to right and back, like he was reading something.

            Menu options? Did he suddenly get options too? They’d never thought monsters had a menu in battle. Perhaps it was a human thing, considering he now had six souls in him. Still, rather than wait until he found something unpleasant to do to them, they reached up and grabbed his face. He paused, sockets wide, as they gently caressed his face and tugged him down closer. They didn’t stop until they’d pulled him down into their arms. They clung to him for dear life—or rather, for Asgore’s life. He didn’t fight them—when was the last time someone had held him a kind embrace? Had Papyrus ever hugged him? He claimed to have no friends—was this the first time he’d been hugged in a while?

            “Frisk,” he sighed as they buried their face into the crook of his neck and shoulder. For a moment, they almost thought they might have reached him. Then they felt his magic swirl around and then they knew without turning to look that he had them surrounded by a barrage of bones on all sides. And, judging from Flowey’s gasp, he had at least one pointing at the flower too. “Don’t make me hurt you.”

            They glared over his shoulder but didn’t let their frustration touch their voice. “Don’t let yourself hurt me.”

            Another familiar, heavy grip on their soul told them without Chara announcing it that he’d turned their soul blue. With a gesture, he yanked them away and sent them flying, but released them from his magic halfway through their trajectory. They hit the ground harder this time, smacking their face off the ground. When they sat up to glare at him, they had to wipe the blood from their nose.

            He might have winced at the sight of them; they weren’t sure with how the wind picked up. “Stay. Away.”

            Steeling their nerves, they stood and began to walk towards Asgore. The pressure in the room increased as he glared at them through narrowed eyes, every step being a struggle as they inched closer.

            “Enough!” he finally shouted. The pressure in the room dropped, but they had no time to feel any relief as a thicket of bones appeared around them. “You want to be stubborn? Fine. Let’s fight.”

            Frisk shivered, reaching for the knife Flowey had given them. “Sans, you have to stop. There’s still time to stop all this.”

            “I don’t want to stop,” he retorted. The bones disappeared and a pair of blasters replaced them. They fired from Frisk’s left, forcing the human to dodge away from Asgore if they didn’t want to get burnt to a crisp.

            Frisk ran, but the moment the attacked ended, they started back towards Asgore. This time, Sans growled and sent a wave of bones to block them.

            They did their best to dodge, but a few nicked them as they flew past. This is getting us nowhere. Any bright ideas?

            *I have an idea.

            “Well, I’m all ears,” Frisk muttered back.

            *It’s a long shot. If you don’t get it right the first time, he won’t give you another try.

            But? They thought back.

            *But if you do get it right, you can stop this fight. He won’t be able to hurt you or anyone else. And you won’t need to hurt him then.

            Lay it on me—I’m down. The two of them spoke for a rough, hurried moment, where they split their attention between talking and dodging. However, once they stopped talking, Frisk looked determined as ever. “Flowey, get ready.”

            The flower bobbled just below their ear. “What? What on earth are you planning?”

            “I’m going to charge forward. When I do, I want you to aim all the bullets you can at Sans,” they muttered, shifting their grip on the knife.

            “What good is that going to do?!” he shrieked in terror as Frisk jumped to the side of another magic beam. “You’re going to get us killed!”

            “Flowey, listen to me. I need you to trust me on this,” they gasped as they crouched to avoid another barrage. “Remember, it’s like you said—in this world, it’s save or be saved.”

            There was a momentary lull where Sans’ mocking laughter rang through the room. “Aren’t you two just precious? Are you seriously chit-chatting while I try to blast you to shreds? I’d be insulted if I wasn’t so amused.”

            Frisk tried to give him a self-assured smirk. “Just trying to tickle your funny bone, I guess.”

            Sans laughed, a horrifying, discordant sound that nearly shattered their eardrums—was he growing more powerful? They had to hurry. “Oh, Frisk, babe, I really don’t want to kill you—there’s just no one else quite as fun as you are. You should really just give up!”

            With a yelp, Frisk dove forward and rolled away to avoid another attack. They accidentally found themselves lying on their back and then looked up to see one of the draconian skulls pointing straight at them. Hurling themselves to the side, they barely rolled out of the way in time. They got their feet under them and ran pell-mell to escape the barrage of blasts that followed their path.

            As they ran, Frisk glanced up at Sans; the overpowered skeleton still grinned, but the smile was forced, his gaze following them with wild desperation behind them.

            This was it—they didn’t dare risk waiting any longer. “Flowey, now! Keep firing for as long as you can!”

            To the flower’s credit, he actually did summon up a small wave bullets that he shot at Sans as Frisk ran forward. Sans laughed, batting them aside with a wave of his hand. Flowey kept summoning the bullets, even as Frisk grew uncomfortably closer to Sans. Finally, Sans stopped smiling.

            “Enough,” he began, flicking his wrist one last time to send the bullets flying as Frisk got just out of arm’s reach. “I don’t know why you think you can-”

            Frisk cut him off as they took one last step, close enough to touch. Sans, instinctively, moved backwards, but it was already too late. Frisk swung their arm downward, slicing through the air—Sans tensed, ready to teleport, but already he could see the attack going wide, falling to his side. He started to really smile, ready to laugh and taunt Frisk.

            The sound of something shattering stopped him. His eye rolled down in his socket, looking off to his left. Frisk’s knife had hit something—it’d broken through his FIGHT button, the shards vanishing as they fell.

            For a moment, neither spoke. Sans kept staring at the empty spot where his FIGHT button should have been, uncomprehending, while Frisk stood before him, panting quietly.

            “Did you just…?” Sans started, one hand going to where the FIGHT button had been, as if it was just going to reappear. “How?”

            “I have a set of them too,” Frisk admitted. “And, you know, it’s surprisingly easy to destroy a menu option when you know where to strike.” They didn’t feel like adding that Asgore was the one to teach them that trick when he destroyed their battle options—not that Sans needed to know that.

            Sans stared quietly before he finally began to chuckle. “Okay, I admit—that was actually pretty good.”

            *Ugh. Complimented by a power mad skeleton. I feel unclean.

            Frisk ignored the voice.

            Sans started to smirk. “But you don’t think that’s actually going to stop me, do you? It’s not like that was my only option.”

            Frisk didn’t doubt for a second that he wasn’t going through his other options—after a moment, he gave them a flat, unamused look. They’d bet good money that all he was sure he could do was Check or Taunt them.

            “Fine, you know what? I’ll just—I’ll reset.” He grinned when he saw them stiffen. “With all these human souls, even I can fuck around with time on my own. Sure, we’ll have to go through this whole song and dance number again, but that doesn’t really bother me.”

            “You can try, but it won’t work,” they answered bluntly.

            Sans’ eyes widened, the only change in his static face. “And why’s that, babe?”

            “Because you haven’t bothered to save once since we started this fight.”

            Sans froze, breath catching in his throat.

            Bingo. They would bet good money that he’d just assumed it worked as an auto-save and never realized that the only save there was was Frisk’s.

            This time, Sans’ laziness really backfired on him.

            “If you reload, it’ll go back to my save file, back before you had a chance to steal the souls. Which I’d then be able to stop you.” Frisk raised their chin, their gaze steady on the floating figure before them. “And you can’t save now, because that won’t bring your FIGHT option back.”

            Sans began to sweat. “I… I’ll just recreate it then!”

            Frisk resisted the urge to tense up or frown. Hopefully, he wouldn’t see through the bluff. “I don’t think you can.”

            There was a long moment of silence where Frisk waited as Sans fidgeted with his hand until he finally gave in—maybe he was too flustered to figure out how to recreate it or he just simply couldn’t.

            The quiet abruptly ended with Sans laughing, a discordant, nervous sound that chilled their blood. “Heh… heheh—you… you’re good. You, you knew this whole time, didn’t you? You realized I didn’t know what the fuck what I was doing, is that it?”

            Uneasiness finally made Frisk move back. “I… figured some things out during the fight.”

            “Oh? Oh, did you?” he hissed through his teeth as he glared up at them. “Did you realize what a colossal fuck up I am, is that it?”

            What was he getting at? They glanced at him warily. “Sans, no, that’s not what-”

            He barked a harsh laugh that tore at their eardrums. A bright white light began to halo his body, a wind whipping up around him as he glared up at them. “Don’t patronize me!”

            “Uh oh,” Flowey whispered quietly behind their shoulder. Frisk shifted, trying to keep their footing as the wind lashed at them, forcing them back.

            “You—you think this is all a joke, huh? Trying to pull one over on ol’ Sansy boy, that it? Well, I admit, you got me. But now,” he grinned wickedly. “I got you. You and the rest of this world. I can’t fight? Fine. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to let you leave. You’re staying here—in this fight, with me. Permanently.”

            “Why?” They finally shouted, raising a hand up to shield their eyes from the light coming off of Sans. “How on earth will that help any of us? What good would that do either of us?”

            Sans choked on a word, his sockets dark before his left iris blazed red. “Good? Good! Are you really so blind? Don’t you get it—you’re the only good thing that’s ever came to this world!”

            Startled, Frisk pulled their hand away to stare at the skeleton despite the spots that blazed in their vision. “What?”

            He didn’t seem to hear them. “You know, the first time a child fell down here, we all got our hopes up then too.” His light brightened, causing Frisk to shield their eyes again. “Monsters all thought, hey, maybe this kid could help us! Maybe they could be the key to getting through the barrier. Then the kid kicks the bucket.” He hissed. “Monsters all grieved—not that we all knew the kid, but there went one of the souls to break the barrier. Then the king’s son died and we all fell to despair. And him, that idiot over there,” he snarled, waving at Asgore’s crumpled form. “He’s the one who told monsters all ‘it’s kill or be killed’! And look where that got us, what it did to us, what it… what it did to people like my brother.”

            He gazed at Frisk, stern and hopeful all at once. “All those children that died down here, they might have kept our hopes alive, but you—until you showed up... I don’t know what you did—I don’t know if you actually did come from another timeline, but you started changing things. Papyrus, Alphys, Undyne, hell, that little fucking weed that’s always hanging around you—these assholes actually start acting like decent monsters for once. And that’s directly because of you.”

            Why is this not feeling all that flattering to me? “Sans, those guys—I didn’t do anything special to those guys. Deep down, they were all-”

            “Don’t you dare say ‘oh, they were all really good people after all’ cause I’ll tell you right now, that’s utter horse shit! Papyrus hasn’t given a shit about me or what I think in years, and yet, after he talked to you, he’s all like ‘whatever, Sans, do what you want’?  Do you honestly think my brother has any sort of sentimentality to me? No! But you—you changed things. You made us better.” He growled. “And that’s exactly why you can’t leave! You have to stay—you have to keep making us better, or it’ll all go back to how it was. Back to everyone hating me, back to everyone attacking each other. I can’t let that happen.”

            “But, Sans, I’m not trying to just leave everyone here, to fall back into old ways. We can break the barrier—we can find a way for everyone to get out and move on from this. Monsters don’t have to go back to the way they were!”

            Sans scoffed. “Do you honestly think that a change of scenery is going to fix what’s wrong with people? Are you that gullible? No, I’m not going to let anyone leave. They don’t deserve that world—and you, we need you to keep things from getting worse again. Everyone is staying put.”

            Frisk bit their lip before speaking, shouting to be heard over the din of rushing wind. “Sans, please, stop this!” But he couldn’t, or at least wouldn’t, hear them. In a moment of desperation, they grabbed him again, yanking him back down into their arms and latching on.

            He thrashed around, but seeing he wasn’t going anywhere, he then opened his mouth and bit down hard onto their shoulder.

            They choked on a gasp as his teeth ripped deep into their shoulder; they felt something hot spreading down their back and front and something in their shoulder snapped under the pressure of his teeth. Distantly, they could hear Flowey’s squeak of horror and were glad that they’d least had the foresight to pull Sans towards their free shoulder, not the one Flowey perched on. Their head got dizzy, but still they hung on—no longer holding on to keep him in place, but also because he was the only thing keeping them upright.

            Mercifully, he didn’t thrash about as he bit them—he could have ripped the muscle straight from their bones if he wanted.

            Small favors, they thought distantly and then blinked. I-is the light getting dimmer or am I passing out?

            *No. The light’s getting dimmer. Keep holding him!

            Despite their grip on Sans, their knees buckled and they fell, dragging him down with them. They groaned and let their head fall forward onto his shoulder.

            Something stung their shoulder.

            They flinched and tried to focus. What was he doing now? If this was another attack, it was downright petty, not actually hurtful.

            To their surprise though, he actually pulled back, freeing his teeth from their shoulder.

            The pain was incredible—lately, powerful attacks just straight out killed them and then they came back. This they’d have to suffer through. Looking at Sans’ face though, his teeth and jaw downright coated in their blood, they saw they weren’t the only one suffering.

            Tears streamed out of his sockets and he gazed at their ruin of a shoulder in frank horror. “Fuck,” he managed. “Frisk, what did I-?”

            They closed their eyes and rested their head against his. “Shh. Forget it.”

            “Forget it? Frisk, look at yourself!”

            “Sans. Let go of the souls and let’s stop this fight.” They reached up and petted the back of his skull. “I promise, it’ll be okay. Monsters, they’ll be okay too. Let go of the souls and we’ll break the barrier.”

            He shook their head against theirs, still pulling far back as he could from the mess he made of their shoulder. “You’re still going to leave again.”

            Frisk sighed. “I got people waiting on me. I can’t stay.”

            His tone turned resentful. “Got your own Sans waiting for you back there, huh?”

            For a moment, their annoyance outweighed their pain, but only for a moment. They pulled back to look him properly in the eye. “My Sans doesn’t give a fuck about what I do.” Their face softened. “But, Sans, your Frisk? What if they’re stuck over in my world, trying to get back here?”

            He blinked at them. “What?”

            “Well, not everyone around here seems to remember them, but you and your brother do. And there’s been weird things going on, stuff missing that shouldn’t be. I saw Asgore’s garden—you were right. There’s something weird about that patch of flowers. It looked like they all died and something stained the ground red. What if, somehow, they and I switched places? We need to get them back here. And when we do, don’t you think that they deserve to get out of here at least?”

            He held himself stiffly before finally sagging against, still careful to avoid the wound. “I can’t stop you, can I?”

            They smiled. “Sorry, darling. I’m too determined for that.”

            He chuckled, shaking his head against theirs.

            Their soul sank back into their chest.

            He’d spared them.

            Sighing a deep breath of relief, they froze as pain shot through their body. “But, um, can I ask a favor of you?”

            “What?”

            “You got any more of those cigarettes left? This, um, this really hurts.”

            He laughed, a broken, but amused sound and began to search his pockets. As he looked, Flowey leaned up and whispered into their ears.

            “You did it, Frisk. You’re amazing.”

            Frisk only chuckled. “Thanks, bud. You too.”

Chapter Text

            After healing twice, Frisk maxed out their HP with a sigh of relief. However, no sooner had they started to relax into a sitting position then Sans made an odd choking sound. Quickly, they reached out and grabbed his arms as his body shook. “Sans? Sans, tell me what’s up.”

            “It’s—fuck—I think it’s the souls? They—Christ! They’re up to… something.”

            Frisk’s lips thinned as they tried to think. Their only thought was that first fight with Flowey, when the souls had escaped his grasp and then turned on him. With Sans’ HP though, that was horrible news. At a loss, they yanked him closer and grabbed his shoulders. “Sans, this is important. Let those souls out before they decide to tear their way out of you. The guy from my world who pulled that stunt had the souls rebel and ripped their way out of him before they attacked him.”

            He blinked. “They can… do that?”

            “Well, they did it to him and I have no idea how’d I stop them from killing you, so let them out before they get really mad.”

             He grunted, “I can’t tell if you’re fucking with me or not.”

            Frisk gave him a flat look. “Sans, after everything that happened today, I think you can do me a solid and trust me.”

            He stared for a moment before he finally snorted. “Fucking hell, Frisk. I-hrg!” He winced and nearly fell against their chest. “Oh, shit, this hurts. Fuck this.” Without warning, he slumped forward.

            Frisk yelped and caught him, but before they could ask what was happening, the six souls slowly drifted out of his body, rising into the air like confused fireflies. The souls bobbed about, like they weren’t sure what they were doing. Were they talking to each other? More importantly, could the six of them understand them? Frisk took the chance as the souls started to drift upwards. “W-wait a second! You six, wait, please!”

            To their surprise, not only did the souls wait, six spectral forms appeared. Now six children, spanning from the ages five to eleven years old, floated in the air, their features indistinct but recognizable as they were all the same color of their souls. The blue ballerina, the yellow cowboy, the green chef, they all floated there, gazing down at them silently.

            Well, they definitely had their attention. Frisk licked their lips before glancing down at Sans. “You okay?”

            He groaned. “I’ll live. It felt like they were breaking my ribs.”

            Frisk started to pat his back, thought better of it, and instead patted his arm. Content that he wasn’t in danger, they turned to look up at the humans and took a deep breath. Now they had to figure out how to talk them around to helping—they’d never met the other humans though, aside from that fight with Flowey before they rebelled. Still, Toriel’s diary had told them a little of these children. Maybe something there could help. “I’m sorry,” they began, raising their head to them. “I know how awful this all is. You all… you must have gone through hell. That these people have put you through hell.” Unconsciously, they rubbed Sans’ back as if it would take the sting out of the words. He didn’t seem inclined to move much; they let him rest. “You… you were abused and used, murdered, and I know you must want to go home, but I have to ask something of you first. This barrier, it can’t come down without you. Please, before you leave, will you help one last time before you leave?”

            The souls bobbed about; to their relief, at least the Green and Cyan colored souls drifted forward, the Orange one following as the Cyan moved. Still, the Yellow pulled away like they had offended them. The Blue and Purple stayed put, neither looking particularly interested.

            What had Toriel’s diary said about these souls? It was hard to remember after three very full days. “I know that what happened to you is horrible, and I don’t blame you if you’re not feeling particularly charitable. This whole situation is awful, for everyone, but I’m asking you to look at their side too. Monsters have been trapped down here for thousands of years, all because humanity decided one day that they should murder every monster they could find and trap the rest down here. No one deserves to be trapped their entire lives, to never feel the sun or see the stars. That’s why you tried to leave, isn’t it? To escape? Well, that’s what they want to do too.”

            The Yellow soul stopped moving away at least. Maybe they were reaching them.

            “Maybe you’re worried that monsters might attack humanity if they’re released. I know. That was their plan before. But you were here, during the fight with Asgore. You saw, didn’t you? I think he’ll be willing to listen to me, especially if we help break the barrier of our own will. But more than that, I know you know that not all monsters are violent.” They tried to smile as kindly as they could. “Think of Toriel. Didn’t she treat you with kindness? There are more monsters like that, monsters that won’t stand for it if humans got hurt.”

            To their surprise, that seemed to be enough for Yellow. They moved forward, joining the other four souls. Blue and Purple, however, seemed to be stubbornly stuck in place.

            Well, damn. How do I reach them?

            *Maybe you cannot. Maybe another child could.

            Frisk blinked. Do you think you can talk them around?

            *Ask Asriel. I can be very persuasive. There is a problem. I don’t think I can exist outside your soul for long. I have no determination of my own.

            *But. If you were to lend me some of your own…

            You take as much as you need, kiddo. Good luck.

            *Can you draw your soul out? It would make this easier.

            You got it. They lifted their hand, but had to pause to shift Sans to one side so they could reach for the center of their chest. As they pressed their hand against it and started to draw their soul out, Sans hand latched onto theirs.

            “What do you think you’re doing?” he asked, tone clipped and chilly.

            Frisk blinked at him for a moment before they remembered. He said himself that this world’s Frisk had been ready to give up in the end, to sacrifice their soul to bring the barrier down if necessary. They probably scared the wits out of him doing that.  They tried to smile kindly. “Easy, Sans. I’m not the one going anywhere.”

            He blinked up at them and cautiously pulled his hand away.

            They finished drawing out their soul. Looking at it outside of the frantic time of battle, there was something off about it. It glowed unusually bright, especially compared to their memories and the souls floating before them. Chara, wait. About Asriel-

            *It’s fine. I saw what you’re planning.

            Frisk sighed. Be careful, kiddo.

            Deep inside, something shifted and headed outward. At the top of their soul, another tiny light began to bubble up until a smaller soul, dim, but steady pulled away. Before the connection between the two souls cut off some of the shine from their own soul surged up into the smaller one, making it grow and brighten. Then the connection snapped; curiously, their own soul began to shine just as bright as it had before, then it settled back into their chest. Frowning, they put their confusion aside for a moment to watch what was unfurling before them.

            Chara’s soul drifted upward and a red aura unfurled around it until they could see Chara’s spectral form.

            “C-Chara?” Flowey whimpered from their shoulder.

            While Frisk lifted one hand to comfort him, Chara glanced back at him, regarding him for a long time before turning back to the other souls. Frisk had no idea if they were even speaking, but whatever they said, it worked. The final two souls drifted forward to join the ranks of the others. Once they were all decided, the seven souls turned to face them.

            Frisk rubbed one of Flowey’s petals gently before the spoke, smiling idly at the naked hope on the flower’s face. “Flowey, they need you.”

            “Me?” he asked, gaping at them. “What can I do?”

            “They need help channeling the powers. They need somebody who can guide the power to break the barrier,” they explained. “And if that person didn’t have a soul, well, that’d actually be a help.”

            He froze. “Frisk… is that really Chara?”

            “Yes.” They patted his petals. “I do believe they’ve been waiting to talk to you for a long time, Asriel.”

            “Chara…?” He hiccupped, shaking violently. “I—o-oh, god, y-you heard e-everything, didn’t you? You k-know I… I…” He screwed his eyes shut and bowed his head. “Chara, I’m so sorry!”

            Sans shifted in their arms, staring first at Flowey, then up at Frisk. He looked like he had a million questions, but Frisk only shook their head. Better not to get into it then.

            Chara’s soul watched silently for a moment before they bent down. Gently, they cupped their hands around Flowey’s head, startling the flower into looking up. When they had his attention, they leaned forward as if to press their foreheads together.

            Flowey drew in a stuttering breath, but Frisk could see him raise his head, his petals closing slightly as if to grip Chara’s face.

            Frisk allowed them a moment before they spoke. “Asriel, will you help us?”

            “I’ll help,” he murmured.

            Far behind them, something shifted. Frisk blinked and turned their head to see Asgore moving, wincing as he tried to sit up. When he caught sight of them, however, he froze. It was hard to see his expression from there, but from what they could see, he looked mostly shocked.

            In the next moment, a supernova to their side blinded them. The light died quickly enough; when Frisk could see, they found that the souls had disappeared and now a small glowing form was settling down on the floor next to them.

            Slowly, the light faded to reveal a young monster. White furred, clad in a red and black striped shirt and jeans, Asriel took his time to savor wriggling around his fingers and toes before he opened his eyes. He blinked, looking around until his gaze finally landed on them.

            “The fuck?” Sans finally asked, sitting back. To their amusement, he didn’t seem particularly disturbed to see their kingdom’s dead prince revived from the plant he’d tried to murder less than five minutes ago. Just mostly confused.

            Asriel made a noise caught between a laugh and a sob and launched himself at Frisk’s neck. Frisk yelped and then laughed as they reached up to hug the prince back. “It worked! Oh my gosh, Frisk, look at me! I—I’m normal again!”

            Frisk pulled him closer and gave him a squeeze. “Looking good there, kiddo. Glad to have you back.”

            He laughed into their shoulder, but a sound behind them made them all pause to look.

            Asgore was half standing, gazing at Asriel like he—well, no, Frisk mused. In a way, he was looking at the ghost of his dead son. They couldn’t blame him for that look on his face. “A… Asriel? Is it really… are you-?”

            Asriel froze and slowly started to stand as well, although Frisk could feel his body shaking. They patted his arm; it seemed to be enough to get him to hide his nerves. “Howdy.”

            The king looked like he was torn between falling back down and sobbing or trying to run over to them. Instead, he clutched his mouth with one hand and held the other out towards his son. “Asriel, my… my boy. My—how? Is, is this some dream or-?” He grimaced, flinched, and then began to glare. “This is a trick. It has to be… How dare you try to trick me with my son’s-”

            Asriel stiffened. “Shut up! I don’t care if you think this is a trick or not. If you don’t believe me, then just sit back down and be quiet. And don’t try to ‘my boy’ me! You nearly killed me less than ten minutes ago!”

            His father flinched, horror spreading over his face.”A-Asriel… Is… is that really-?”

            Please don’t tell me that his son yelling at him is enough to convince him that this is really Asriel. What a bizarre way to recognize someone, Frisk thought, bemused.

            The revived prince seemed to only be getting started though. “And that’s not even the first time you’ve done it! I don’t know how many times it was, but it’s truly ridiculous. And ignoring what you did to me—and even Frisk, my friend,” he added, relishing as his father shrank into his armor. “You set up that awful ‘kill or be killed’ law! Lots of monsters are dead because of you and that stupid law. You put everyone through hell because of it. And you drove mom away with it too!”

            To their surprise, Asgore slumped to the ground, tears running down his face as he gazed at his son. It was, they realized, the most like their father they’d seen him yet—despite the sorrow written into every line of his face, they recognized the adoration pouring out of him aimed at his son. Frisk almost wanted to call Asriel off, but knew instantly that it was an awful idea. For the first time, someone wasn’t coaxing reluctant acceptance out of Asgore—Asriel was pounding at his father’s defenses and they were crumbling.  At last, a sob made Asriel stop.

            “You’re right,” he cried, burying his face in his hands. “It is my fault that she’s not here anymore. I refused to even listen to her after you—after I… I just couldn’t hear any of her logic. So I turned away first. I… I am fool. An idiot! I—I wish I’d never made that law in the first place. Oh, god, Asriel, I…”

            Asriel paused, shifting about nervously until he turned to Frisk. ‘What do I do?’ he mouthed, panic growing behind his eyes.

            Frisk reached up and gave his arm a gentle squeeze. “You don’t have to forgive him if you’re not ready to,” they whispered as he leaned closer. “But if you can convince him to get rid of the law, then you should try.”

            “Do you really think I can?”

            They smiled. “If not you, then who?”

            “You, probably,” he muttered back, but he still turned to the direction of his father. “I-if you’re really sorry, then promise to take it back.”

            Asgore, startled, stopped his weeping and looked up, wide eyed. “W-what?”

            “I—I said, if you’re really sorry, then you’ll repeal the law!” He paused, looking conflicted. “I’ll never forgive you if you don’t.”

            Asgore’s eyes widened like he’d been hit, but Frisk’s heart rose when they saw the acceptance in his face. “…yes. I will. I’ll announce it. I’ll… I’ll release the prisoners, disband the Enforcers, I… I’ll do anything you want.”

            Asriel paused, looking a little unnerved with all this influence he’d been handed, but finally he began to brighten. “And, and I want you to promise not to hurt the humans!”

            “What?” Asgore gasped. “B-but, Asriel, they’re the one who murdered you! I can’t just-”

            “Say to leave the humans alone,” he insisted, glaring at his father. “Or I swear, I won’t let the barrier come down. What… what happened to me, it was an accident, I promise.” He paused, his eyes dimming. “I remember now. When I got to the human village, they didn’t attack me. It wasn’t until… well.” His eyes darkened; Frisk wondered if this meant that the Chara of this world had also tried to spark the conflict. They didn’t want to ask in front of Asgore and Sans though. “It wasn’t their fault. They thought I was going to hurt them. It was my fault. S-so, don’t blame them!” He paused, eyes sad. “Just leave them alone. It doesn’t matter anymore, so just, just let it go.”

            Asgore stared, dumbstruck, for a long time before, to Frisk’s delight, he nodded. “If it will make you happy, then fine.” He paused and sighed. “This… this will be a lot to explain to everyone, but… but perhaps it will be for the best.”

            Asriel brightened and turned to grin at Frisk.

            Frisk grinned back, but glancing down, they found Sans looking confused and disgruntled. “Sans?” they tried, nudging him.

            He just shook his head. “Years of strife and misery because of one damn law, and in the end, all it took was a kid to turn it over. My life feels like a joke.”

            Smiling gently, Frisk tugged him closer so he could rest against their shoulder and patted his arm. “Your life’s not a joke. And if it is, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad one.”

            That got a ghost of a laugh out of him as he let himself rest there.

            “C’mon,” they said, holding out their hand to him. “Let’s get off this floor. There’s still work to do.” He took their hand and let them haul him up with them. They spared him one last smile before turning to Asriel, ready to prompt him to break the barrier when they paused. Turning, they looked to the entrance of the room; someone was getting closer, stomping angrily as they went.

            The barrier flashed its light just as the figure stepped into the doorway. Asriel gasped and clung to Frisk at the sight of the tall figure was lit up briefly.

            Stepping into the room, Toriel glowered at Frisk. “So. You really are still alive.”

            Frisk dipped their head politely. “I’m a very stubborn soul, I’m told.”

            “That’s for damn sure,” Sans muttered very quietly by their side. Frisk was bemused to note that he seemed to be hiding behind Frisk nearly as much as Asriel was. Perhaps he was afraid of whatever retribution Toriel would hurl at him for not holding to his promise.

            “You must think you’re very clever. Did you honestly think I wouldn’t notice after a while that you hadn’t killed many monsters in the Ruins?”

            Frisk tilted their head thoughtfully. “Actually, I hadn’t killed any. I just let you assume, since you seemed to think I did and thought better of me for it.”

            Toriel sneered in disgust at them before glancing at Asgore. The poor king looked quite pathetic, still crumpled form on the floor who was now gazing at Toriel as if she too had returned from the dead. Which, for all Asgore knew, she had. “I see you have not even done the sensible thing in killing that fool either.”

            Tears were running down Asgore’s face; Frisk’s heart went out to him. “T-Tori…? You—you’re alive? Oh, god…”

            “Well, no point in that,” they replied to Toriel’s accusation. “He’s already agreed to call off the ‘kill or be killed’ edict and the war with the humans. Why would I harm him for that?”

            Toriel looked like she’d nearly swallowed her own tongue before she turned to her ex-husband. “After all the hell you put everyone through, you cannot even see that through? Coward! Idiot!”

            Asgore flinched and shrank back, looking tiny for a monster of his stature. “Tori, I…”

            “Do not ‘Tori’ me, Dremurr!” she snapped. “Once again, I find myself having to clean up your mess. You condemned every human child I raised to death, but you let this liar talk you around? You would not even listen to me, but this twofaced human convinced you? They’re a trickster, a-”

            “Stop it!” Asgore and Toriel both jumped as Asriel shouted. Stepping out from behind Frisk, he glared at his mother and balled up his fists. “Frisk is ten times better than you’ll ever be, so shut up!”

            “Asri…” Toriel gasped and took a step back, clutching the doorframe to keep from falling as her free hand clutched at the cloth over her heart. She stared, mouth open; her eyes were still wide as she spoke again. “Is—is this another one of your tricks? If you-”

            Asriel screwed his eyes up and screamed in frustration. As Frisk reached for him, to try to comfort him, a cloud of star shaped bullets appeared around him. “I SAID LEAVE FRISK ALONE!”

            “Ho shit,” Sans said, tone almost amused as more stars started to appear. “And here I thought Papyrus and I had a strained relationship.”

            Rather than scold the skeleton, Frisk took a chance and reached for Asriel’s shoulders, wincing as they hit a few of the bullets before forcing the prince to turn and face them. “Asriel, no.”

            Asriel looked up at them, shoulders shuddering. “But I-”

            Frisk sighed and ran a hand over his brow to cup the back of his head. “Take a deep breath. Don’t let all those souls get you wound up.”

            Asriel reached up to clutch their wrist, but he didn’t pull it away—he just seemed to want something to hold onto. Once his breathing started to even out, his bullets faded, but he still turned to glare at Toriel. “Don’t yell at Frisk. And don’t bother yelling at him either,” he huffed, jerking his chin in his father’s direction. “You don’t have any right to, you hypocrite. You ended up just like him. You believed in ‘kill or be killed’ too in the end. So just shut up.”

            Toriel could only stare. “Asriel…? Is it really…?”

            “It is,” Asgore sighed. “I, I saw. He absorbed the human souls. They brought him back.”

            “But how…?”

            Asriel winced. “I… long story short, I was a flower.” He paused to glare at the two of them. “One that the both of you kept trying to kill all the time. I still remember! But whatever. The souls got me my body back.”

            “Asriel….” She whimpered.

            He paused, frowning thoughtfully. “Chara’s here too. They’re the final soul who’ll help bring the barrier down."

            “Chara?” Toriel’s eyes somehow found a way to go wider. “T-the souls? Then, you have them, Asriel?”

            He nodded. “We already talked to them. They agreed to help take down the barrier.” He frowned at her. “That’s why you’re here, isn’t it? To try and stop it? Don’t bother. It’s already decided. Whatever you think about monsters, it doesn’t matter. ‘Kill and be killed’ is over.” He took a deep breath. “Monsters deserve to go free. So I’m going to bring the barrier down. Don’t try to stop me.”

            “You—you can’t!” She gasped. “If you let monsters go free-!”

            He shook his head. “Monsters aren’t the same creatures they were when you locked yourself away. I’ve seen them—me and Frisk, we saw them change as we got through the Underground. They can change permanently if I bring down the barrier.” He took a steadying breath. “You can’t change my mind. You lost your chance to change things when you gave up on stopping him. It’s my turn now.”

            As he started to turn, Toriel found the strength to straighten. “No, Asriel, stop! I—I forbid you! As your mother-!”

            He whirled around. “YOU DON’T GET TO CALL YOURSELF THAT ANYMORE!” he screamed, startling everyone. He let Frisk grab him around the shoulders, clutching their arms but never looking away from his parents. “You tried to kill me! You both helped to ruin this world and monsters! Now, I have to clean up this mess. And yeah, maybe me and Chara started it when our plan failed, but at least we’re going to do something actually helpful.”

            “Plan?” Sans muttered. Frisk shook their head at him.

            Asriel tried to catch his breath. Once he had, he continued. “As far as I’m concerned, Frisk is my family now. Whatever happens, at least they have only tried to look out for me. For us.” He closed his eyes and let go of Frisk’s arms. “Is… is that okay?”

            Frisk’s heart felt like it was cracking. Had he forgotten Frisk was planning to leave? Still, they weren’t going to remind him of that now. He needed support in this moment, and they were the one he was looking to. “Of course, buddy. I’m always glad to have you around.”

            He smiled, a little sad and wistful, but a real smile nonetheless. He took a moment to swipe at his eyes before he stepped back. “I’m going to break the barrier now. Don’t get too close—I don’t know what will happen exactly.”

            Frisk nodded; reaching out, they caught Sans’ hand and began to tug him backwards, giving Asriel the space he needed.

            Slowly, Asriel closed his eyes and then started to rise, lifting his arms up as he hovered in the air. A bright light began to shine inside of him, radiating like the sun as the human souls appeared in a rotating circle behind him. Then world went white.

            In the distance, something shattered. It was a sound Frisk thought they’d never hear twice in one lifetime.

            The barrier was gone.

            Bit by bit, the light faded and Asriel drifted downward, into Frisk’s arms as they held them out to catch him. As he went, the souls drifted from his body. The six souls—purple, blue, cyan, orange, green, and yellow—all hesitated for a moment before they shot to Toriel. Loosely, they revolved around her; distantly, Frisk realized that they were finally getting to say goodbye to the one monster who’d loved them as a mother should. Toriel’s eyes were wet as she looked at them; finally, she smiled. The souls, apparently satisfied, remained for just a moment before vanishing out of sight.

            The final soul, Chara’s soul, still lingered in the air. Frisk looked up at the soul—this was different. Chara’s soul hadn’t appeared in their world. What would they do here in this one?

            They didn’t have to wait long. The red soul hovered for a moment then shot down to sink into Asriel’s chest. The monster, who’d drifted off the moment he settled into their arms, woke up with a gasp.

            “Asriel?” Frisk asked, kneeling down so he could stand on his own. “Bud, you okay?”

            It took him a moment, but finally Asriel nodded. Tears welled up in the corners of his eyes. “Chara… Chara says… they want to stay. For as long as they can.” He blinked, tears running over his cheeks as he turned to look up to them. “Is… is that okay?”

            In spite of everything, Frisk had to laugh. “I don’t see why it wouldn’t be.”

            Slowly, Asriel smiled as he swiped at his eyes. “Chara says they don’t know if they can exist for long without your determination, but we both want to stay together for as long as we can.”

            Frisk frowned. “Asriel, you have determination too.” When he blinked at them, they cleared their throat delicately. “Remember what the lab reports said? Alphys made Flowey by injecting determination into a flower. Now, maybe it won’t be able to support you as you are now, but maybe you’ll have more time than you know.”

            He brightened. “Really? Do you think so?”

            They shrugged. “I have no idea. But hell, I do believe in miracles for a reason.”

            Without a word, he tossed his arms around their neck and squeezed. They hugged him back.

            Distantly, they were aware that they’d left Sans in the awkward position of being completely in the open while Asgore and Toriel both gazed at them. They knew they should probably do something, but at the moment, they couldn’t bring themselves to let go of their friend.

            Thankfully, a distraction arrived, nearly tripping over Toriel who was still half in the doorframe. “Human!” Papyrus crowed, shoving his head in the doors. “Human, are you—there you are!” He paused, staring. “Sans? What are you doing-?”

            A blue hand shoved the skeleton through the door, making him hop around Toriel. “Human!” Undyne shouted, beaming, looking still quite tall and intimidating without her armor. “You did live!” She cackled. “I knew it! Congrats.” She went to step in, but her foot caught on Toriel’s own. The fish monster stared and then did a double take when she found another monster that looked exactly like her boss staring back at her. “Whoa! Uh… I guess you made some new friends, human.”

            Frisk laughed and let Asriel go to stand on his own before straightening. “Something like that.”

            Undyne frowned thoughtfully as she stepped around Toriel. “Um… relative of the Overlord, I take it?”

            Toriel shot her a flat look. “Ex-wife.”

            Undyne paused. “O-oh.”

            Outside the room, there was a fainting huffing. While Alphys appeared, trying to catch her breath and scold her girlfriend at the same time for running around without her armor, Papyrus took that moment to walk over to Frisk and his brother. “Human, Sans,” he paused, looking down at Asriel. “…little Asgore clone? What’s going on?”

            Asriel sighed. “Papyrus, it’s me. I was the flower that was hanging around Frisk all this time.”

            Papyrus took a step back. “WHAT? How did—how…?”

            Frisk laughed. “Long story. Short version: this is Asriel, the prince of monsters. This is also, Chara, who was also a child of Asgore and Toriel, but that’s even more complicated.”

            The tall skeleton blinked at them. “I… I guess…?” He turned to look down at Asriel. “So, you’re the little flower that kept showing up every now and then.” He paused and beamed down at Asriel. Without warning, he reached down and slapped Asriel across the back, nearly knocking the kid down. “Good for you! I knew you’d find some way to be useful, and look! Now you have arms, legs, and everything! A real improvement, I’d say.”

            Frisk winced, knowing he’d probably smacked off some of Asriel’s health bar, but the kid only chuckled. “Uh, yeah. It really is.” He paused to smile back at Papyrus. “Thanks for not killing me all those times. It was… really nice of you. The only other person not to kill me was Frisk.”

            Papyrus started to grin but then froze and glanced at Asgore who was still sitting on the ground. “Is… is the Overlord…?”

            “He’s fine,” Frisk reassured him. “He’s just got a lot on his mind right now.”

            “Yeah, you missed it, boss,” Sans finally spoke, still keeping his voice down. “The prince—princes?—came back to life, Asgore called off the ‘kill or be killed’ edict, then the barrier came down.”

            “WHAT?” Undyne screamed, whipping around to stare at them. She’d walked over to cautiously approach Asgore, but now she was turned about to stare at the quartet before her. She turned back to stare at her monarch. “I-is that true, sire?”

            Asgore sighed. “Yes. It is. Now, captain, if you please, I have quite a headache. Please drop the formalities for now. I can’t deal with them at the moment.”

            “Oh.” Poor Undyne looked so confused. “Uh, as you wish—uh, sir.” She began to shuffle away, towards Frisk and the others, but Alphys beat her to it.

            “Is it true?” Alphys murmured, eyes wide behind her glasses. “You… you actually did it?”

            Frisk smiled and patted Asriel on the back. “Well, actually, Asriel did most of the hard work. Convinced Asgore to get rid of the law and broke the barrier.”

            Asriel blushed and reached up to clutch at Frisk’s shirt, stepping to hide behind them. “Me and the souls did. They’re gone now.”

            “So… so that sound earlier? That was the barrier coming down?” Alphys gasped.

            Undyne pressed a hand to one of her ears. “I knew I felt weird magic. My ear drums even popped when you did that.”

            “My ears popped, and I don’t even have any,” Papyrus added.

            Frisk nodded. “The barrier’s down. There’s nothing keeping us here.” They paused, waiting for one of them to react. Realizing that they were all too caught up in the moment, Frisk had to smile. “So, would you like to go? Do you want to finally get out of this mountain?”

            The moment the words were in the air, even Asgore got to his feet. Without any more prompting, they all began to hurry down the tunnel.

            “There,” Frisk said, entirely unnecessarily—the rest of them could see what had entranced Frisk easily. At the far end of the tunnel, rays of soft golden light crept through the cracks. Without a word, they followed Frisk, going around one last bend in the tunnel to step into the golden light that now flooded the tunnel.

            At the mouth of the tunnel, it was Asgore who gasped first, but the others quickly made their own noises of amazement. With a knowing smile, Frisk let the others pass them by until it was only Sans and Asriel who was still with them in the tunnel. The rest were gazing into the golden sunrise, the sun creeping just over the horizon. How long had it been since any of them had seen the sun? From Papyrus’s confusion about what the sun was, they could guess that maybe none of them but Asgore, Toriel, and Asriel had ever seen the sun before.

            “Feel that wind? It’s so… clean,” Undyne said, grasping absently for words. Alphys, next to her, seemed torn between her emotions, silently wiping away tears with her free hand as she reached for one of Undyne’s hands. “What is that smell?”

            “Fresh air,” Toriel murmured. “And fall leaves—it’s later in the year than I thought it would be. It’ll be winter soon.”

            “Winter? Does that mean snow?” Papyrus asked. He squinted suspiciously down below. “Does that mean it’s going to start looking like Snowdin? What’s the point of leaving the Underground if it’s just going to end up looking like it did down there? Where are the cars? I wanted to drive a car!”

            Undyne laughed at him. “Bitching already? What, you want to go back so soon?”

            “Never! I’ll just have to go looking for a car—there’s got to be one around here somewhere!”

            “It’s so warm,” Asriel whispered from Frisk’s side. “I’d forgotten how warm the sun was.” He sighed. “That was the one good thing about being above ground last time.”

            Frisk had to smile. “Of course you would enjoy the sun—you’ve been a flower.”

            Asriel gave them a good-natured laugh. “Whatever!”

            Chuckling, Frisk glanced past Asriel to see Sans. He leaned heavily against the other side of the entrance, gazing out at the sun with neither happiness nor wonder—more like resigned indifference. Frowning, Frisk walked to him. “Sans? What’s wrong?”

            He glanced up at them, reluctant to meet their gaze before looking down at the dirt below his feet. “I just… I’m not sure how I’m supposed to feel about this. Happy?”

            Frisk frowned. “What’s wrong? Not what you expected?”

            “No—and yes.” He paused, looking up at the sun again, although this time a muted calm touched his eyes. “It’s a hell of a lot quieter than I thought it’d be. Where are those cars anyway?”

            Frisk’s lips quirked upward for a moment before going back down. “There’s no road up on the mountain—this is a nature preserve. Or at least it was in my world. We have to go down it to see them.”

            “Huh. How surprisingly… cowardly of humans. Are they that scared of the mountain?”

            Resisting the urge to sigh, Frisk shrugged. “Maybe.” They frowned. “Sans, that’s not really what’s bothering you.”

            “Can’t get anything past you, can I? You’re a regular detective.”

            “Don’t you even dare think about calling me something like ‘Sherlock Bones’,” they quipped. They waited for a moment, hopeful, but Sans barely even managed a chuckle. “Sans.” Finally, he glanced up at them, but they didn’t know what to say; after a moment, they offered him their hand. “Let’s go. Together.”

            He glanced down at their hand for a moment before chuckling. “That’s what you were saying before.” He paused, gazing at the backs of the small crowd before them, still admiring the view as the sun climbed higher in the sky. “I don’t want to. You can’t make me.”

            “What?”

            He shot them a look, eyes wide and desperate. “What if I said I want to stay down there? You’d have to stay then. You said we go together, but what if I don’t let you go at all?”

            Frisk heard Asriel quietly growl behind them, but Frisk only smiled softly and offered their hand once more. “Sans, you don’t really want to go back that way. Trust me.”

            He glared at them. “And how do I know that I’m going to be any happier out there than back here?”

            They considered it. “Were you happy back there?”

            That seemed enough to make him think it over. At last, he sighed and reached for their hand. Frisk shot him one last smile, which he only gazed at before they turned to exit the tunnel.

            “Well,” Frisk heard him say, “at least the view’s nice.”

            Frisk just squeezed his hand and went to take that final step. Just as their foot neared the ground, a sudden blast of wind slammed into Frisk’s back. Time seemed to slow to a crawl; the gust flipped their hair up around their head, a chill shot down their back, and a pair of hands grabbed them, one around the arm of the hand Sans was holding, the other around Frisk’s mouth. An anguished cry rang in their ears, strange and incomprehensible. There was no time—no sooner had the gust hit Frisk then they suddenly felt themselves yanked backward. Their hand was ripped from Sans’ grasp, Asriel knocked from their side. Frisk could only watch as they were left behind, swallowed up by the darkness. For a moment, Frisk could still hear the two of them calling Frisk’s name as the darkness surrounded them.

 

 

 

 

            “Frisk!” Asriel screamed, still lying crumpled on the ground. “Frisk!”

            “What happened?” Toriel shrieked, running back to them, reaching down to scoop up her son. “Where are they? Where’s the human?”

            “Frisk…” Sans murmured, still gazing back down the tunnel with wide eyes.

            Asriel was more helpful. He picked himself up and turned to his mother. “Something grabbed Frisk and yanked them back down the tunnel!”

            The others tensed, faces ranging from baffled to horrified to furious.

            “What was it?” Undyne finally snapped. “What stupid asshole took them? I swear, I’ll find them and rip them limb from fucking limb!”

            “Sans, did you see who it was?” Alphys asked, turning to him with concerned eyes.

            For a moment, Sans was silent as he stared down the tunnel. Then his hand curled into a fist as he sneered. With a choked growl, he slammed his fist against the wall. “That fucking fool…!”

            “Who was it?” Asgore finally asked. “Did you or did you not see or hear anything?”

            “Oh, I saw and heard enough,” he snarled. “I heard that voice—that damn voice! Who the hell does he think he is, pulling this shit…”

            Papyrus, unlike the others, only gazed at his brother silently; Sans winced. His brother knew. He must have heard the voice too, speaking in a language that only they remembered.

            “Fascinating.” It had said. “I cannot allow you to go on further though.”

            “Gaster,” Sans spat and turned to walk back down the tunnel. Behind him, he heard his brother follow. They wasted no time in talking to the others as they moved.

            Frisk, after all, probably didn’t have much time either.

 

 

 

 

            Twin burning sensations in the palms of Frisk’s hands snapped them awake. They struggled out of unconsciousness like they were trying to escape the undertow, but they found themselves blinking sleep from their eyes only to stare up at the utter darkness around them. What the hell am I even doing asleep? Chara, what-

            Oh. That’s right. They shuddered reflexively. I’m alone now.

            They forced themselves to sit up, although they hissed at the pain in their hands when they tried to brace themselves. Once they were sitting up, they looked at their hands, face turning grim as they looked down at their gloved palms. Nothing looked wrong from the outside. Hesitating, they reached to pull off one of their gloves.

            Something in the darkness moved. They caught a glimpse of movement from the corner of their eye, but when they looked up, there was nothing there. Taking a deep breath, they licked their lips and stood before calling out. “Hello? Is someone there?”

            At first, silence. Glancing around, Frisk was disturbed to note that the darkness surrounded them on every side, but somehow their body was completely visible despite there being no light sources.

            This place is weird, they mused trying to shake the pain from their hands. “Hello? Anyone? Hey, I could use a little help here!”

            Something flickered in front of them, making them jump. They looked around and saw nothing; looking down, however, revealed a small puddle of inky darkness that somehow managed to stick out starkly despite being just as dark as their surroundings.

            Something dripped down, joining the puddle. Frisk froze and forced themselves to look up.

            It took everything they had not to scream. There was a face staring down at them and it was dripping not with drool, but with its own—not flesh? Frisk realized distantly that it looked like a melting skull. One that was grinning at them.

            “Um. Hi,” they managed as they tried not to scramble away as they stepped to the side.

            The—monster? The figure towered above them at nearly nine feet tall, although Frisk sensed that if it really felt like it, it could probably stretch even further than that. It followed their movements with a quiet patience, hardly doing more than moving its head as they moved. In its left eye socket, a pinprick of light followed them, but their right socket was closed shut. Cracks ran down it from the left socket to its mouth and extended from the right one up over the curve of its skull.

            “Ah… hey, there… big guy,” they finished lamely, tapping their fingertips together nervously. “So, um. I don’t know if you can talk. Or understand me, at all. I don’t suppose you’re an amalgamate, are you?” It certainly looked like one with its melting features.

            “No. I am not.” To their shock, he—or, at least he had a masculine voice although Frisk made no assumptions on what his preferred pronouns were—answered them with a flat voice, the words ringing oddly in their ears, but still perfectly understandable to Frisk.

            Frisk nearly jumped. “Oh!” they gasped, dropping their hands. “Uh, sorry, I wasn’t trying to assume or something. You just…” There was no good way to end that sentence.

            The being nodded. “Look melted.”

            Frisk winced. “Something like that.”

            “I’m not an amalgamate,” he began, shifting about, he expression unchanging. “But I’m not unlike them either.”

            “Oh? So you know the amalgamates? Do you also know Alphys then?” Was this some strange friend she’d made in this world? This world never failed to surprise them.

            “Sometimes, yes,” he answered. “Sometimes, no.”

            Frisk blinked. “Do you… have memory problems?”

            “Mm. No,” he shifted around. “I’m like an amalgamate because I too am made from more than one monster.”

            Frisk froze. “Really? If you’re made of more than one kind of monster but not an amalgamate, what are you? I thought monster couldn’t absorb another monster’s soul, so then…?”

            “I am the sum total of all versions of me that became trapped in this place.”

            Well. Oh yeah, that made all sorts of sense. Poor guy, is he confused by… where the hell are we, anyway? “Uh… do you, um, have a name I can call you by?”

            The monster shifted about. “I am Doctor WD Gaster.” He paused. “Male.”

            “Oh?”

            “You weren’t sure. I am male. At least, all of these versions of me are male.”

            Frisk frowned. That name… vaguely, they thought they’d heard it once long ago, but they couldn’t think of where. “Okay. Well, doctor then, where-?”

            “A follower of mine told you about me.”

            They blinked. “What?"

            “When you first went through the Underground, one of my followers talked to you. Told you my name.” He paused, gazing past them. “I was hoping that if others knew who I was, it could make them remember me. It didn’t work.”

            Some vague recollections came to mind—once, on their second run, when they’d been trying their hardest to be a pacifist, they had run into a strange gray figure in Hotland. They didn’t remember much about the encounter, other than the monster had looked stiff and unnatural, eyes following them as they walked away, but when they turned back, the monster was gone. Had the monster mentioned a Doctor Gaster? They couldn’t recall.

            They opened their mouth to say as much, but then they paused. Gaster was moving again, stiff but strangely fluid. For a moment, he squatted down to half his height and leaned his head back, throwing a weird shadow over his face. In that instant, a much more recent memory came to mind.

            “You!” they shouted before they could stop themselves. “It was you! You were the monster I met on the mountain.” They could picture that clearly enough; the shadows of the trees had made it hard to make out the monster there, but looking again, they could see the resemblance now. “You… do you have something to do with why I’m here? I thought you needed help back then.”

            He considered them. “I came to you for help, but I was not the one to call.”

            Frisk frowned. “If it wasn’t you then… was there really a child?”

            “A child did call out. The Frisk of this world,” he answered, shaking them to their core as a pair of white skeletal hands appeared, like he was shrugging with them. “But I was the one who answered them.”

            Frisk stared at his hands, wide eyed. “You hands…!”

             “My hands.” He held them up; in the palm of each hand, there was a twin set of holes, large enough to slip Frisk’s own hand through.

            Frisk could only gape. Slowly, distantly, their hands reached for one of their gloves with a mechanical ease. Tugging off the left glove, Frisk gazed down at their own hand.

            Ever since Undyne had pierced their hand, they’d known something had been terribly wrong. When they had peeled the glove off back at the dump, they’d nearly had a panic attack gazing at the damage. Or rather, the lack thereof.

            The glove had been cleanly punctured, but the hand was undamaged because there no part of the hand there to damage. Nothing but a perfectly circular hole in the middle of their palm.

            Slowly, stomach filling with dread, they reached for their other hand and pinched the palm of that hand as well. Despite the gloves resistance to stretching, they easily felt their finger tips touching.

            “Did…” they began, but their mouth was so dry they could go on. Wetting their lips, they looked up and then held their hand up as well. “Did you do this to me?”

            Gaster nodded. “Had to. I was already altering the data, but I needed anchor points to tie the spells to your body.”

            Frisk blinked. “I—what?” Altering data? Anchor points for spells? What on earth was he talking about?

            “The child, this world’s Frisk asked for my help. So, I gave it to them. Since they were not strong enough, I found a Frisk that was. One strong enough to break the cycle they were trapped in.”

            “Cycle?”

            The monster nodded. “They’d caught themselves up in an endless loop of death. To progress, they had to sacrifice their morals, but they were unwilling to do so, and so, paid the price. They were struck down time and again, meaning they more often lost their progress before they could update their save on their own.” He was twisting about, like a snake coiling in on itself. “No matter what they did, they died until their determination was almost gone. Then, during that last death, when they fell to Asgore in his own garden, that’s when they cried out one last time for help. That’s when I answered it. I’d grown annoyed watching them fail constantly, honestly, and it presented the perfect opportunity for an experiment I’ve been wanting to try. When I reached out to them, we struck a deal. I’d make it so that everyone could live and the barrier could come down, and they let me have what I wanted too.”

            Frisk glared, baffled and alarmed as they clutched their hand. “So you swapped me for them? Is that what you did?”

            Gaster paused to stare at them. “I didn’t swap you.”

            “Then what did you do?” Was he ever going to start making sense?

            He was quiet for so long, they wondered if he just wasn’t going to speak at all until he at last tilted his head to the side—and kept tilting his head and then his neck and shoulders until the top of his head pointed at the ground. “Have you ever heard of the multiverse theory?”

            Frisk blinked. “Um. Kinda? I always thought it was more of a sci-fi trope.” Their Sans had seriously loved that cliché.  “There’s supposed to be different versions of people and places running around, living completely different lives.”

            He grunted dismissively and for a moment sounded almost normal, as if he was only a mildly disappointed teacher who’d gotten a wrong answer. “Mostly similar idea. The differences between each universe can actually be quite small. In one world, you go left instead of right. You prefer coffee to tea. And then there’s some where a pacifist dies one too many times,” he held one hand up and then gestured at them with the other, “in another, a reformed murderer turns their life around.”

            They flinched away. “How do you know about that?”

            “I know,” he scoffed. “I know because I went looking. I needed a very particular Frisk. They needed to be of the same gender and similar genetic background, to not clash with this world’s Frisk. More than that, they had to have a very high level of determination. Say a pacifist who’d been able to resist death before. And I needed someone who’d murdered before but had turned back. Someone with enough shame and guilt to keep them on the straight and narrow, but also someone sympathetic to a world of murdering monsters, after all.”

            When he said it that way, they sounded disgustingly perfect for his needs. He also sounded completely out of touch with reality. He was creepy, he sounded downright unstable, but the holes in their hands and a thousand little coincidences they’d noticed during their journey kept them in place. “But how? What did you do?”

            He shook his head like they’d disappointed him again. “Have you ever heard of the idea that all of existence is nothing more than a computer program running it all? That we’re all just zeros and ones that make up this world?”

            Their stomach flipped. Oh god, what is he getting at? “Uh. Again, I’m familiar enough with it.”

            “Well, the idea’s not inherently wrong, but it’s nothing so grand as that. Existence as we know it isn’t some computer program running the entire world for us. It’s just a game that allows others to interface with us, to influence our actions as they see fit. We’re little more than data inside the game, at the whims of those on the other side of the interface.” He didn’t announce this information with any sort of grandiosity; to him, it was little more than a banal fact.

            Oh no. He’s definitely not part of any reality based community anymore. But, maybe he’s just a little narcissistic and delusional, not harmful. Even if he is a little… weird, he might honestly mean well. It’s not like I’m the best picture of mental health. “Ah. Well, okay, I guess. I still don’t see what that has to do with me or the other Frisk though.”

            He shot them a look; perhaps they’d annoyed him. “It’s simple. You, me, everyone, we’re only data. Data can be copied, you know. And then pasted over again to start fresh. Or, it can be patched over. Like, when a pacifist gives up and a new Frisk has to be brought in to replace them. You see now?”

            Well.

            To be fair, they could finally see what he was trying to get at.

            Didn’t make it sound anymore realistic, but his thoughts did have a strange sort of logic. Maybe he wasn’t so strange as they’d first thought—maybe he just had a bizarre way of explaining things and the truth was simpler than he was letting on. If he thought they were going to buy that they were just some character in a game, well, that was his problem. Still, maybe he had strange magic that let him mess around with the essence of a person. Magic was a strange thing still, maybe his was just stranger than most.

            “So you just… copied my data? When?”

            “Back on the mountain, when you took my hand—I copied it then. Then I took your data and applied it to this world’s Frisk.”

            Frisk paused, stomach sinking. “What… happened to that Frisk after that?”

            He gestured at them casually. “They became you. They are you now.” He continued, oblivious to their flinch. “That body, its soul, neither is truly yours. I could not create, just patch your data in, so I needed a base to work with.”

            Okay. Maybe he wasn’t so benign. “And the other Frisk… was okay with this?”

            Gaster blinked at them. “What does matter if they were okay with it or not? They asked for my help and I gave it.”

            Definitely not benign. “Okay then! Uh, well, this has all been, uh, enlightening. But I, I really need to get back to my friends now. Would you mind-”

            He paused. “You do not believe me.”

            Frisk tried not to grimace. “Well…”

            Surprisingly, this didn’t seem to bother him. Instead, he only straightened. “Would you like to go home?”

            Frisk stared. “Can you… do that?”

            “I brought you here,” he answered, bluntly. He raised his hand. “I can send you back.” Before they could say anything, he snapped his fingers.

            Frisk blinked and found themselves in a familiar spot. At the far end of their mother’s home, where the property line ended, an old wooden fence, weather worn and brittle, looked out over the field of wild flowers and separated the yard from the woods. Frisk could clearly remember the day they and Toriel first moved here; two years after leaving the Underground, they had moved from the cramped city brownstone they’d been renting and found this gem of a house, far from the city. How many times had they leapt this fence to go climb trees? How many times had they and Toriel gone bug hunting in the tall grass?

            Cautiously, Frisk hesitated then reached for the top plank of the post. The wood felt rough and real under their fingers. Pausing, they reached out and found the knick hidden on the underside of the wood. Frisk took a shaky breath—this couldn’t be fake. Who would know to fake such a tiny detail?

            Frisk closed their eyes and smiled. “I’m home.” The wind blew, ruffling their hair; they lifted their face to soak in the sun. They hadn’t realized how much they missed it after three days underground.

            Opening their eyes, they smiled as their gaze turned towards their home. If they squinted, they could see a familiar form moving about in the kitchen windows. Their breath caught in their throat and their eyes stung. “Mom?” they whispered. Laughing softly, they put one foot up on the lowest plank and started to climb over the fence.

            That’s when they heard the familiar sound of a motorcycle coming down the road; their heart nearly lodged in their throat. They could recognize that strange rhythm of the engine anywhere—they’d been too cheap to go take it in for a tune up before they left for the hiking trip. God, how Toriel hated that damn cycle along with the ruckus it made. She was sure they were going to break their neck yet driving it.

            Slowly, they turned to look down the road. Sure enough, a bike rolled into view, but the engine caught off long before it reached the driveway. Frisk could feel their throat closing up as they saw the rider get off the bike and start to walk the bike up the drive.

            It was an old trick of theirs; Toriel never paid any attention to the sound of road traffic. As long as they came up the drive quietly, they could always surprise her.

            I can’t breathe, Frisk thought. They half fell to their knees and ducked out of sight as the rider stopped outside the garage and took off the helmet. They couldn’t get a clear glimpse, but the figure had their hair, half tied up into a ponytail, and the same clothes they were wearing right now. The other person walked along the back of the house, went up to the sliding glass door of the dining room, and stuck their head in.

            “Something smells good in here. Is that for me?” They bet it was what the figure was saying. It was what they’d have said.

            A familiar laugh of joy and then their mother appeared holding out her arms to their doppelganger. The two clutched each other, the indistinct sounds of their voices carrying across the meadow until Toriel pulled them inside.

            Frisk tried to breathe.

            This is a trick. It has to be fake—an illusion, a spell. This can’t be real—I am Frisk, the Frisk of this world! That’s my bike, this is my fence, that is my mother. This cannot be really-

            “Human?”

            Frisk froze, head snapping up. They forced themselves to glance over their shoulder.

            Behind them, Papyrus, their beautiful, delightful skeleton who’d saved them from themselves, lit up like a Giftmas tree. He looked just as they’d last seen him with his wonderful mismatched eyes, bright dorky clothing, and even toothed grin. “Human! It is you! Oh, Frisk, you came home! And on time!”

            Frisk flinched. Papyrus always did take their trips very warily after their little year long jaunt. Still, they found themselves rising up and then engulfed in a tight hug as the skeleton yanked them close. They gripped the shirt he was wearing and tried not to cry. “Papyrus. It’s you.”

            The monster laughed and pulled away. “Of course it’s me, silly human! Who else would it be? Truly, is there anyone half as great as I who could even begin to pretend to be me?”

            In spite of everything, they had to laugh. “No, no way. You’re one in a million.”

            He brightened. “I’m glad you agree! But, Frisk, what are you doing out here?”

            “I, uh, just got back.” They blinked. “What are you doing out here?”

            “Oh!” he gasped, before grinning mischievously. “Well, wait just a moment, Frisk, and you shall see! Nyeheheh,” he giggled, turning around; he completely missed the wave of nostalgic pain that flashed over Frisk’s face. Quickly, he turned back and held up a bucket—inside it was a collection of snails. “Behold! I have gone snail hunting! Feast your eyes on the incredible variety I have found just within the woods here!”

            They had to smile as they peered into the bucket; most of the snails were the exact same kind, just slightly different colors or shapes. Still, they were mostly handsome specimens. “They look great, Papyrus. Are they for mom?”

            “Nyeheh! Yes, your mother did ask for them. She said I could keep the shells when she’s done,” he added brightly.

            Their smile nearly wobbled. “My, you must have quite the collection by now.” Once upon a time, they too had kept a collection, but they had been far more picky about which shells they’d kept; Papyrus, on the other hand, kept all of them. He’d had at least three cardboard boxes of snail shells, most of them duplicates. He couldn’t bear to part with any of them.

            “This will make over three hundred!” He beamed, stooping to set his bucket down again. He paused, however, and the bucket slipped from his fingers. Before they could ask what was wrong, he gasped and grabbed their hands, making them flinch. “Oh, Frisk! What has happened to your hand? Are you injured?”

            Frisk thought they’d faint for a moment before they shook themselves. They barely managed a smile for him. “Oh, no, it’s okay, Papyrus. I, um, I had a little accident. A monster, they, um. Anyway, it’s only temporary. Don’t worry about it.”

            “Temporary?” He blinked at them, still clutching their hands. “Humans can heal from this amount of damage?”

            They forced themselves to look cheerful as they shook their head. “Oh, my hand isn’t damaged. It’s just a little spell. Don’t worry, I’ll be fine in no time.”

            He looked doubtful as he gave their fingers a squeeze. “If… if you insist, human. You’re sure you’re alright though?”

            This time, their smile was genuine, even if their heart ached. “I’m sure. Sorry, I didn’t mean to worry you.”

            He looked at them, something unreadable in his eyes before he smiled. “Worry not, because the Great Papyrus never worries!” He paused. “Well, I might over think things a little, but that is only because I have a great mind that likes to ponder possibilities.”

            They had to grin. “That’s the truth.”

            “Nyheheh! Yes, it surely is! Now, shall we go up to the house? Your mother will be so excited to see that you are home now!”

            Their smile faltered for a moment. Quickly, they forced themselves to grin at him. “Okay, I’ll be there in just a minute. I just, um, wanted to get a little fresh air to myself before I go inside. Country air is great, isn’t it?”

            He nodded vigorously. “Oh, yes, it certainly is the best! As much as I like driving down the city streets for all to look upon my greatness, nothing truly beats the country atmosphere! But,” he paused, voice softening. “Are you sure you don’t want to come in with me now? Lady Toriel will be so happy. Even Sans, I’m sure, will be happy to see you!”

            Frisk’s smile slid off their face; they hid it by looking down and pretending to look at the snails. “Papyrus, your snails are escaping.”

            “What?! Oh, no! Quick, Frisk, help me catch them!”

            The two quickly bent down and began to grab all the wayward snails and put them back in the bucket. Once they had them all, Frisk stood as Papyrus straightened. “That looks like all of them. You better get them in to mom fast before they try to escape again.”

            “I will! No slippery snail shall escape me this time,” he paused. “You won’t be long?”

            “Promise. I’ll meet you there in a bit, okay?”

            Reluctantly, he nodded. How could they forget how he tended to hover around them after they returned home from trips? He always seemed so afraid they’d vanish the moment he looked away. As he started to walk past them, their heart did a funny hop. Without thinking, they reached out and tossed their arms around his neck. “Human?”

            They shook their head against his shoulder. “Sorry, I… I’m just so glad to see you. I missed you.” More than you could possibly know. More than you will ever know.

            He pulled one of his arms free to wrap around them. “I missed you too, Frisk. May… maybe you will consider staying home for now? It’s never the same when you’re gone.”

            They flinched. Had they been wrong? They’d been unnecessary, yes, but maybe not unwanted? Behind their eyes, though, a familiar memory reared its head and they found themselves deflating. No. This was just Papyrus being his usual sweet self.

            But then, another figure came to mind.

            “What if I said I want to stay down there? You’d have to stay then. You said we go together, but what if I don’t let you go at all?”

            Frisk blinked. Unnecessary, unneeded in this world, yes. But what if they’d actually walked away from a world that did have a need for them? Worse, since there was a Frisk in this world, what if Gaster was right?

            What if they didn’t belong to this world at all?

            “Frisk?”

            They blinked, coming back to themselves for a moment. “Oh, sorry. I, um. Sorry. Got lost for a second there.”

            He frowned at them. “Are you sure you’re alright? Why don’t you come inside and get a glass of water? You might be getting heatstroke out here!”

            They found themselves smiling, even as their mind began to whirl about. “No, no. I’m fine. I just need a few minutes to gather myself. You go head on in. We’ll talk in a bit, okay?”

            Reluctantly, he nodded. “Alright, Frisk. But I’m expecting you to come in no less than three minutes! That’s more than enough time to get fresh air, even if it is good country air, alright?”

            “Okay, Papyrus. Just go on ahead.”

            “Talk to you a few minutes, human,” he said, like he was reminding them.

            They smiled and waved as he walked away, his step turning into a jaunty hop to as he went. As he walked away, their smile vanished and their breath shortened. They kneeled down and tried to breathe.

            “Fuck,” they whispered for lack of something more coherent. “Fuck!”

            There was another Frisk already in this world—a fake? An imposter? They glanced down at their hands, at the large hole in their palm. No. If anything, they were the imposter. Another Frisk in a world where they were already a liability.

            “Fuck fuck fuck fuck,” they hissed reaching up to grip their hair in their fists.

            What would they do? What could they do? Was Gaster telling the truth then?

            “Of course, I was. Why would I lie?”

            Frisk blinked and found themselves back in the void. Looking up, they found the melting monster standing over them again. “You… did you really do it? Did you steal that Frisk’s data, paste it over another Frisk, and made me?”

            “Yes. And it worked. You saved monsters, saved their friends, and all without spilling any blood. I’d call this experiment a success.”

            “Success?” they half laughed. Their world was starting to spin; they put their head back down. “What the fuck am I?”

            “You are Frisk. The new Frisk of this world, if you want to be exact.”

            The Frisk of this world. They were going to puke. “This… this is a sick joke.”

            “I don’t have much use for humor anymore,” he answered bluntly.

            Their world was going off the rails; in desperation, their mind latched onto the first thing they could think of. “M… monsters in this world,” they gasped, their hands shaking. “What’s wrong with them? Why are they so different from the monsters of my world-?” But it wasn’t their world, was it?

            Gaster huffed. “Wrong with them? There’s nothing wrong with them. They just have inherent differences.”

            “B-but they’re so… so violent. Monsters, shouldn’t they be…?” What were they trying to grasp at? They didn’t know anymore. They let their hands fall to their sides. “Is… was there ever a way to help them?”

            “What? What is there to help?” As he spoke, he grew nearer. Slowly, his hands slid into view; they didn’t fight it as he held his hands above theirs, lining up the holes. Inside his hands’ holes, twin cores of red magic winked into existence. In their own hands, they felt their palms began to heat up. “Not all monsters are made of Hope, Compassion, and Love. Once, the monsters of this world were not all that different from your own, but they were never perfectly like them either. After the deaths of the king’s children, they changed even more. But now, there’s nothing to say they can’t go back. Even without you there, monsters can adapt and do as they see fit.”

            Frisk felt their reality slipping away as the magic in Gaster’s hands spike into their own—their one glove began to burn away as the magic linked up with each hand.

            “You should feel proud. You saved the world again, didn’t you?” he murmured as they slipped further away. “Don’t worry. I’ll take good care of them in your place.”

            Faintly, they realized he was doing something to them. But what did it matter?

            They were unnecessary to their home—why would that world need two Frisks when it didn’t even need one? And for this world, they’d stolen the body and soul of another Frisk. Oh God. What if they’re still in here? What if I’ve got them trapped in here and all they want to do is get me out?

            Fuck, what do I do? I… I…

            I want

            to just

            Disappear.

 

 

 

            This was excellent. Even better than Gaster hoped for; the magic in their body wasn’t fighting him at all. More and more, the body relaxed into his hold. In no time, he’d be able to reshape it to his will, to recreate the vessel for his own use. He smiled to himself, for once, genuinely pleased with how events had played out.

            Answering the call of this world’s Frisk was something he’d done after very careful consideration. He’d heard countless similar cries from the countless other world’s Frisks crying out. He was made up of so many pieces of so many shattered versions of the monster called WD Gaster. This world, it was home to just one of his pieces, but the opportunity had been too good to pass up. This Frisk had been hard to match, but not impossible. The conditions were too perfect.

            And how great it had worked out! Not a proper experiment, but a good test run. If worse came to worse and the body eventually wore out, then he’d know how to recreate it.

            Yes. Truly, this was excellent work. Soon, he’d be out of the void and able to work through a proper medium. Rewriting himself into existence would be long work, but with this body, he might finally have a chance.

            There was only one problem.

            There was a door where there hadn’t been one just a moment ago. Pausing, he looked up at it, confused. He hadn’t summoned the door. So, that meant someone else had managed to summon it.

            He froze. There were only two people in this world who could do that.

            He barely managed to pull back as the door exploded off its hinges. He slid to the side, out of its path, the door just whiffing past Frisk’s head.

            Gaster frowned. This was now a problem.

            Outside the new hole in the wall, Sans and Papyrus stood in the billowing dust and smoke. Sans still had one arm out raised, his blaster fading out of existence only to be quickly replaced by more.

            Hrm. At least he was making good use of the Blasters.

            Papyrus, on the other hand, dashed inside. Gaster watched as he darted forward, heading towards the slumped over form of Frisk.

            Gaster’s frown deepened. Definitely a problem.

            He started to straighten out to his full height, but a laser blast nearly took off his skull. Ducking, he found himself having to dodge again at another blast.     

            Damn him. Sans always did like to make himself a nuisance at the worst time.

            Weaving around the blasts, Gaster looked to the side and saw Papyrus scooping up Frisk’s limp body. He shouted to his brother as he turned and ran backwards. The blasts came swifter now, but that was unimportant now.

            The hole in the world was closing. Gaster watched it knit itself shut as the taller brother slipped back out. Seeing it close, he only got one last look at Sans’ shaken expression. Then he was alone once more.

            Yes. A most serious problem indeed.

 

 

 

            Someone was calling them. It sounded miles away.

            Frisk didn’t really care.

            “Frisk! Frisk!”

            What did that matter? In the end, who were they really calling? Them? Or this world’s Frisk? Or worse. What if they were calling the real Frisk?

            Frisk didn’t want to know. They wanted to sink deeper into oblivion.

            “Frisk, no. You can’t turn away.”

            Why not? They weren’t needed. They were only a burden. No, worse. A curse—a curse on the Frisk of this world.

            It was too unfair. How could they face the world, knowing they weren’t even supposed to be in it?

            “Frisk, you mustn’t run from this. It’s okay. You’ll be okay.”

            Liar.

            Unnecessary. Unneeded. A burden.

            It would be better if they stopped existing all together.

            “Frisk, that’s not the real you.”

            Disappear.

            “Frisk! Stay determined!”

            In the darkness, Frisk blinked. They knew those words.

            “Frisk!”

            Frisk stirred; that was a different voice. Familiar, welcoming—someone, someone who had reached for them.

            “Frisk, goddamnit, wake up!”

            Someone who’d needed them.

            Frisk’s eyes shot open. For a moment, they were blind, still trapped in the darkness. Then they blinked again and the darkness parted. Above them, Papyrus—this worlds’ Papyrus, not the one who’d just chatted with them and talked about snails. Did this Papyrus like snail shells too? They’d have to ask him one day.

            Papyrus frowned at them. “Frisk, are you awake?”

            Frisk blinked again. Were they? They looked around and saw Sans’ face not too far from their own. They realized after a moment, that he was holding them up from where they’d been laying on the ground. When their eyes met, his smile softened.

            “What… happened?”

            Sans huffed a small laugh. “You… you pain in the ass. You scare the shit out of me, and that’s what you ask first?”

            What? What else were they supposed to say? “Where are we? What on earth is going on?”

            Papyrus grimaced. “We’re in Waterfall.”

            Frisk frowned and looked around. He was right, they realized—they were indeed in Waterfall. In fact, they were in a familiar hallway, although there was something off about it. Well, more off—before, when they came through, there’d been a strange door in the wall. Now, there was nothing but a large scorch mark on the wall. “Okay, we’re in Waterfall. Why are we here-?” They paused, eyes widening as their mouth clenched shut.

            “Frisk?”

            Darkness. Void.

            A skeleton monster. The monster on the mountain.

            Gaster.

            The other Frisk. The Frisk they’d overwritten. Their original version, coming home to their mother.

            Unneeded. Unnecessary.

            The world closing in.

            “Frisk!”

            Frisk jumped; Sans had them by the shoulders and had shaken them. They reached up to clutch his arms, but all they could do was lean into his shoulder and try not to scream. “He—Gaster! He said his name was Gaster,” they missed the look the two skeletons shared over their head. “Said he brought me here! I—I can’t go back! There’s already a Frisk there-! And this Frisk, he-! Oh, god, he-!”

            “Frisk,” Sans began, trying to shake them again. “You’re not making any sense. What happened in there?”

            Frisk tried to breathe. Instead of answering, they buried their face further into his jacket and just tried to focus. Slowly, their racing heart began to settle and their breathing evened out. When they at last found themselves relaxing, they were distantly aware someone was rubbing their back. To their surprise, it was Papyrus.

            “Human… Frisk,” he began, voice more gentle than they could imagine it being. “Did Gaster do that to your hands?”

            Frisk blinked and looked down. Their stomach flopped as they saw the twin holes in their palms. Shuddering, Frisk clenched their hands and nodded. After a moment, there was a gentle tap at their shoulder; when the turned, they found Papyrus offering them his own gloves. Gratefully, they took them and slipped their hands inside. Even if the gloves were too big, at least they didn’t have to look at the holes anymore.

            Sans patted their shoulder. “Okay. Let’s try this again. Can you tell us what happened?”

            Slowly, haltingly, Frisk managed to recall the story for them, grateful that they rarely interrupted. When they’d gotten most of it out, the two skeletons sat back.

            “This is bad,” Papyrus muttered. “He’s meddling in time and space again.”

            “Idiot,” Sans growled. “He’s going to erase himself completely if he isn’t careful.”

            Frisk froze staring at them. “Do you two know him?”

            Sans went utterly still; it was Papyrus who sighed. “He’s an… acquaintance of ours. It’s… really difficult to explain.” They waited for him to go on, but then he only shook his head and stood. “Look, we shouldn’t linger here. He probably won’t come back, but we shouldn’t be here if he does.”

            “Why?” they murmured, looking between the two. “What’s so special about here?”

            “This is a weak spot between in the world,” Sans answered, standing too, offering them his hands. They accepted his help. “He can sometimes make a door here. Rarely. But he can. If he’s got magic on you, then we should definitely leave.”

            Shuddering, they stood, but once they were on their feet, they paused, frowning. “But to where?” They swayed, alarming the brothers. “I don’t have anywhere to go—I can’t go back… I-”

            “Hush,” Sans murmured, wrapping an arm around them to steady them. “Hey, don’t worry about it. I’ll make sure you’re okay. You can just stay with us.”

            Papyrus froze, staring at them. “Stay with you, maybe,” he muttered, sounding scandalized.

            In spite of everything, but perhaps because of Papyrus’s strange reaction, they had to laugh. “D-does that mean we should look into getting a house big enough for us?”

            Sans laughed. “Sure thing, babe. Whatever you want.” Behind them, his brother was making funny noises, but he ignored them. Frisk was shifting at last from that frightening mood and that was all he cared about.

            At last, Papyrus sighed and caught up to them. “What will we tell the others?”

            Frisk sighed. “Can… can we not tell them everything just yet? I… I can barely wrap my mind around what happened. I don’t know how I’d even begin…”

            “Of course not,” Papyrus answered quickly, patting their head like they were a child. “We’ll just make up a lie!”

            Sans snorted. “Uh, sure, boss. Let’s do that.”

            Frisk chuckled, shaking their head. “Well. It sounds like a plan at least.” Together, the three of them kept walking until they finally left Waterfall. Heading into Alphys’ lab, however, Frisk stopped short. “Wait, one thing. Are… are you guys sure it’s okay if I stay with you? If I’m any trouble, I could-”

            “You already accepted my brother’s proposal,” Papyrus said bluntly, waving them off. “You can’t back out now.”

            Frisk laughed at his odd wording, shaking their head as they followed him. Before they could reach the elevator though, the door in Alphys’s wall opened and a head poked out. For a moment, Frisk could only blink at the backlit figure in confusion. Then the tall figure stepped out and damn near squealed.

            “Frisk!”

            Frisk’s mouth fell open. “Mettaton?”

            The robot laughed and stepped out a little further before something seemed to tug him back. Despite that, though, they could clearly see him now, if only in the light spilling out of the room behind him. He had a new set of arms to replace the cannons he’d lost. But more than that, he now had a pair of shapely legs to stand on, and judging by the way he stood, he seemed to want to show them off. Without waiting for permission, his arms shot out and wrapped around them, dragging them towards him while Sans protested. Once he dragged them closer, he gave them a squeeze and smashed his cheek up against theirs. “Oh, Frisk! I wondered what happened to you. Oh!” he paused, pulling back. “I’m mad at you!”

            “Sorry,” they giggled in surprise. They’d forgotten his arms were like their Mettaton’s—of course he could extend them. “What did I do?”

            He huffed at them and sat them down. “I told you not to leave me behind and what do I see first thing after I wake up? Alphys, bending over me, looking like a complete psycho with those tools in her hands! If I had a heart, I would have gone into cardiac arrest.”

            Frisk sighed. “I’m sorry, Mettaton. I tried to come see you earlier, but no one answered when I knocked. But,” they said, stepping back. “I see you’ve made some changes since I last saw you! You look great.”

            He beamed. “I do, don’t I? So, it’s true then? You somehow actually talked Alphys around? She was a completely different person this morning! She actually asked me what kind of changes I wanted to make to my body. She gave me real legs!”

            “You really do look great.” Frisk turned to the brothers were both staring at the two of them. “Doesn’t he look great?”

            Papyrus was the one who spoke, snapping out of his stupor with a strangle shout. “Yes, he does! Mettaton, you look amazing!”

            Mettaton started to smile then paused. “That voice…” Everyone froze; Papyrus began to sweat and Sans shot him an amused look. “You’re the one who called in yesterday!”

            “I—uh-!” Papyrus looked around, panicked. “Um, yes? I mean-!”

            The robot didn’t wait to hear more; extending his arms out again, he snagged Papyrus and dragged him closer. Frisk had to jump back, crushing something below their boots as they did so. Without warning, Mettaton dropped Papyrus onto his feet only to yank him forward again so he could press their cheeks together. “Oh, I’m so happy to meet you! You don’t have any clue how much that call meant to me. No one’s ever said they were a fan of mine before!”

            Frisk blinked. What a horrifically sad thing to hear. Still, neither robot nor skeleton looked at all upset; in fact, Papyrus looked ready to melt from pure joy.

            At their elbow, Sans walked over to join them. “I take it you know what’s going on?”

            Frisk smiled and shrugged. “Papyrus called me after the fight with Mettaton. They talked.” They turned back to see Mettaton pressing a kiss to Papyrus’ cheek before he let the skeleton go; Papyrus promptly stumbled and almost fell into the litter of the lab. “I guess they hit it off.”

            “Apparently,” Sans grunted, shaking his head. “Well, ‘cute’ as this is, I think we need to get going. The kid was pretty worried about you when left.”

            The thought of Asriel made Frisk’s throat tighten. Nodding, they turned to the two monsters before them. “Guys, I hate to break this up, but we got to go. The others are waiting on us.”

            “Where are you going?” Mettaton asked. “Can I come too? It’s boring in this lab! My batteries are practically fully charged anyways.”

            Frisk smiled. “If you want. Need a hand?”

            “Nope,” he said, two of his arms easily snaking behind his back to yank out the large cords that had been attached to his back. He let them drop carelessly and then stepped out of the room. “I’m ready! Where are we going?”

            Amused, Frisk explained on the way as they rode the elevator up to Asgore’s castle. After that, Frisk gratefully let Mettaton chatter, filling in any awkward pause in the conversation. They followed in amusement as Mettaton naturally led the way, Papyrus trailing behind him like the amazed fan he was while they and Sans followed behind them.

            Once they reached the castle proper, Frisk found themselves leading the pack again. This was awkward as they had no idea where anyone was now, but they decided to try the throne room. As luck would have it, the moment they walked in, a small body slammed into them, almost knocking them off their feet. Instantly, Sans and Papyrus caught them from falling, grabbing their back before they tipped over.

            “Frisk!” Asriel sobbed into their stomach. “Frisk, you scared the daylights out of me!”

            Farther into the room, Asgore rose from his throne before sitting back down again once he saw who was there. Standing off to the side, probably having been looking out the window, Toriel also watched them. Nodding to the two, Frisk looked down to their son. Coughing a laugh, Frisk reached down and hugged him back. “Sorry. It wasn’t my idea.” They grimaced and gently pulled him back. “It, um, turns out someone still needed to talk to me. But don’t worry about it. That’s… settled for now.”

            Asriel looked unconvinced, but then he just buried his face back into their stomach.

            “Mettaton!” Alphys’ voice called from the other side of the room. Sitting to one side against the wall, Alphys still clutched Undyne’s hand as she stood. “What are you doing out of the lab? You’re batteries can’t be fully charged yet!”

            “They’re good enough!” he snapped back. “And nothing, I mean, nothing is going to keep me from seeing the surface now.” Before anyone could stop him, he stalked to the far side of the room. To their surprise, no one tried to stop him, although Alphys scrambled after him, grumbling like a flustered hen after her chick.

            “Yo, human! That was a hell of a scare you gave us!” Undyne shouted as she stood although she winced at the withering glared Toriel shot at her. “Uh… quite the scare!”

            “Sorry,” Frisk repeated, rubbing Asriel’s shoulders. “It was just a mix up. I, uh, got to talk to the monster who pulled me into this world.”

            “Gaster, was it?” Toriel began, startling everyone. She turned to face them properly. “That’s what you said,” she added, glancing to Papyrus and Sans.

            “Yeah, that’d be him,” Frisk answered for them. “Anyway, we talked. So, um. Small change of plans. I’m not going home.”

            Asriel nearly scrambled back, his face awash in delight. “Really? Frisk!” He hugged them again. “Frisk, that’s awesome! I-I thought… well, whatever! Does that mean I can stay with you?”

            “Huh?” Frisk replied elegantly.

            “What,” Sans grumbled, leaning around Frisk to glare at the boy—seems he was hiding behind Frisk again to get out of Toriel’s sight. Frisk was really going to have to talk to him about owning up to the fact that he knew who Toriel was.

            “Asriel,” Toriel began, already sounding tired.

            Asriel only shot her a look before he tightened his grip on Frisk. “I want to stay with Frisk.”

            “Um, well, I’d love to keep you around, but I don’t even have a home,” Frisk sighed. “I mean, well, Sans and Papyrus offered to let me stay with them but…”

            Papyrus tossed his arms up. “Oh, just adopt him. If we’re finding apparently finding all this extra space, take the kid too.”

            Sans shot his brother a confused look. “What, really?”

            “No!” he snapped.

            “Asriel, you can’t just decide to stay with someone so abruptly,” Asgore began, but the death glare his son shot him shut him up. “It’s… it’s not safe out there. You don’t even have a guard to protect you.”

            “I don’t trust anyone but Frisk to protect me,” he snapped back before pausing. “Except Papyrus. They’re the only ones to not try to kill me.”

            While his parents flinched, Undyne suddenly lit up. “That’s it! Sire—uh, Asgore—as Captain of the Enforcers, I have a candidate for the post of the prince’s royal body guard!”

            Asgore turned, staring at her for a moment before helplessly shrugging. “Who?”

            She pointed at Papyrus. “Him! I’ve been, uh, trying to find a position for him for a while and your son just said he already trusts him. Appoint Papyrus to it. He’ll look after your kid. Um, sire.” Blatant lie aside, Frisk thought she looked genuinely excited.

            Everyone looked at Undyne—Sans and Frisk in amused surprise, Asgore and Toriel in reluctance, and Papyrus and Asriel in pure joy.

            “Really?” Papyrus squeaked, sounding, for a moment, like the excitable Papyrus of their world.

            Asgore and Toriel shared a look that ended with Toriel sighing and turning away with a shrug. With no better choice, Asgore nodded. “P… Papyrus was it? I appoint you to the position of my son’s body guard.” He paused, glaring at the skeleton with all his old fierceness. “Do not let anything happen to him.”

            “Y-yes, sire!” Papyrus gasped.

            Asgore sighed, pressing a hand to his brow. “Don’t call me that. I’m so tired of that.”

            “Oh… uh, yes?” he tried, but he honestly looked too happy to care much about the scolding. Instead, he stood quiet for all of five seconds before he reached out and grabbed Sans. Hoisting the shorter skeleton in the air, he began to shake him back and forth. “I did it, brother! I finally got into the Royal Guards!”

            Sans, looking well scrambled, stumbled into Frisk as his brother sat him down. Rather than look annoyed or upset, he only looked happy. “That’s, uh… Great, bro.”

            “Congrats, Papyrus,” Undyne shouted, slapping him on the back—Frisk wondered if this was where he got his strange need to slap people on the back. “You made it!”

            “I did! I knew I would!”

            A tug at Frisk’s shirt made them look down. Staring down, they found Asriel’s beaming face. “Frisk, this means we can live together!”

            Frisk grinned down at him. “That’s amazing.” Reaching down, they squished their cheek against his. “There’s nothing that would make me happier.”

            For a few moments, Asgore allowed them their time to celebrate. But, eventually he had to clear his throat and stand again. “If I can have your attention,” he drawled. “I’m afraid we still have some things to discuss. Such as whether or not we should announce just yet that the barrier is now down.”

            “Why wouldn’t we?” Undyne began, frowning. “This is everything we’ve all been waiting for. People are going to be dancing in the streets!”

            “Or rushing the castle,” Toriel countered. “With the idea in their heads that the war is still on and that they need to kill everything in sight. Monsters aren’t ready for that now.” She shot a glare at her former husband. “Not until we can get the idea of ‘kill or be killed’ out of their heads first.”

            Asgore flinched but didn’t deny it. “Undyne, go collect Alphys. We’ll need her. Before we do anything, I need to get some form of a council started again. We must all talk about what comes next.” He paused, looking at Frisk. “Frisk. I would like to ask you to be on the council.”

            Frisk blinked.

            “My son has said that you were an ambassador for humans and monsters? We’ll need your help now. In fact, you might be the only one who can really help.”

            Frisk straightened, something warm filling their heart for a moment. “I’d be honored.”

            “Good.”

            “Um, Asgore, might I make a suggestion first?” they asked quickly. Once he nodded, they went on. “I believe you should release the prisoners in the dungeon downstairs first. If you really want to change, you should start with them first.”

            For a moment, they thought he would refuse, but then he nodded. “I’ll see to it. But first, come. We have a lot to talk about and only a few scant hours before my subjects begin to wonder what’s going on and start trying to figure out what happened.”

 

 

 

 

            Courage, loyalty, and hope. Not compassion, hope, and love—the monsters of this world really were different than their own. Frisk sighed, tucking the book they’d gotten from the castle’s library back into the place they'd found it. They’d been curious after awhile, still thinking about what had happened with Gaster, so they’d gone to see if they could find anything useful in the books in the castle. As it turns out, there was—but did that really mean that the monsters of this world were forever different from the ones they had known? Frisk ended up with a headache and decided to get some fresh air.

            A brisk wind blew up the mountain, ruffling Frisk’s bangs as they stepped out of the opening. Undyne had been right—the air up here was cleaner and a little chill. Frisk took a deep lungful, enjoying the refreshing feeling before a thought struck them. What if it wasn’t them who was actually enjoying it—what if it was the other Frisk? Or worse, what if that Frisk was locked away, deep inside, longing to breathe again on their own?

            Mood ruined, Frisk walked out to the edge of the path. The path was wide enough to easily hold a group of people walking side by side, but the sides of the mountain were steep up here without vegetation to slow you down if you fell. There should probably be a handrail, but the mountain had been closed down like Mt. Ebott had. If they squinted, they could see the mountain in the distance. The sight gave them no joy, so they sat down and turned their head up to something that would.

            The stars shone above them, silent sentinels that were identical to the skies of their own world. Or rather, their original’s world? Groaning, they reached up and rubbed their brow. God, what could they even call the Frisk whose data had been stolen to create… them. Their what, progenitor? Predecessor?

            “You look like you’re giving yourself a migraine.”

            Frisk tensed but then relaxed when they saw that it was Sans behind him. Thankfully, he was alone—Frisk felt themselves relax some more. They turned and looked back down at the world below them, at the far off city and the sea of trees between them. “Uh. Yeah, something like that.”

            Sans was quiet for a moment before he walked over and plopped down next to them, letting his legs dangle off the edge like they were. “I, uh, guess I should probably ask why, shouldn’t I?”

            Despite themselves, they chuckled and shoved their hair from their face. God, they felt tired. “To be honest, I don’t know if I’m ready to have that conversation yet.”

            “Oh, good. Cause, I’ll be honest too. I’m no good at those kinds of conversations.”

            Again, Frisk had to laugh. Without thinking about it, they leaned against him, letting their weight rest against him. He tensed up; Frisk grimaced and scolded themselves for being overly casual with him—all things considered, they did nearly have a dust up a few hours ago. “Sorry,” they began.

            Before they could move away, however, a skeletal hand grabbed the arm on their opposite and pulled them back. “Nah, it’s fine. You… surprised me is all.”

            “Well… sorry for that then,” they murmured, trying not to sigh again as they gingerly eased their weight back against him. “It’s been a hell of a day.”

            He snorted. “I know. I was there for it.”

            Frisk had to snicker. “Oh, were you? I hardly noticed.”

            They both had a chuckle at that. Rather than immediately talk, they sat companionably in silence as they turned their gazes to the sky. “God, I never actually thought I’d see the stars,” Sans said after a long time of quiet.

            Frisk smiled, letting their eyes slip closed for a moment. “Oh? So what do you think of them?”

            “It’s weird. On one hand, I’d thought I’d see more. But, uh, on the other hand, they’re nothing like the stones in the Wish Room or the rest of Waterfall.” He paused. “And they sure the hell didn’t move that fast. What the hell is that, a bug?”

            “Huh?”

            “That,” he said, pointing up at a distant light. Sure enough, it was speeding through the heavens, steady and true.

            “It’s a satellite. It’s, uh, they’re these human made devices, machines. We shoot them up into the outer atmosphere and then use them relay messages whenever we need them to. Like, tv shows, cell phone calls, that sort of thing. Or we use them to collect data, like weather satellites.”

            “You’re… not kidding me, are you?”

            Frisk blinked at him. “Why would I lie about that?”

            “Huh. I, uh, thought all those stupid human shows that fell into the dump were just fiction. I mean, the sci fi shit was good, but honestly, the rest of it just sounded like a weird fever dream.”

            Frisk had to laugh. “Humans were busy while monsters were gone. We got real interested in outer space. We’ve been to the moon, you know.”

            “Shit, that was real too?”

            Frisk nodded. “And Mars. Last I heard, they were thinking about putting up permanent bases on it.”

            “Well, goddamn,” he murmured looking back up at the stars. “I’m going to have to get my ass into a librarby, see what else’s happened. Have humans figured out how to time travel yet?”

            Librarby, they thought, trying not to giggle. “Uh, not to my knowledge.”

            “Good. That means there’s still some mysteries left to solve.”

            “Careful, Sans,” they said, “someone might think you’re actually excited about this.”

            “Oh god,” he grunted, leaning back. “Can’t have that.”

            Frisk laughed outright, turning their gaze away from the stars for a moment. “We’re being awful. Let’s stop.”

            “Alright. What else would you like to talk about?”

            Pausing, Frisk turned to look at him. “Can… can I ask you a question? A-a personal one?”

            He considered it. “This better not be any soul baring, mutual bonding shit. I’ve had enough of that.”

            Frisk snorted, but then fell silent again. “Can I?”

            He sighed. “You can ask, but I may not answer.”

            “Fair enough. Did you…” They bit their lip. “Did you know the… other Frisk well?”

            He glanced sharply at them. “Other?”

            Frisk sighed and straightened, using their free hand to rest against their chest. In a moment, they pulled their hand away their red soul floating out of them as they did so. “The other Frisk. The real owner of this soul. You said you dreamed of them, but did you really?”

            Sans was quiet for a moment before inhaling sharply. “Fuck, Frisk, put that shit away. No need to get so overdramatic.” When Frisk obeyed, letting the soul sink back into their body, he sighed, rubbing his brow. “I… yeah, shit, I knew them. We were…” He hesitated, shifting about, but never far enough away that he broke his hold on their arm. “Friends…? I guess?”

            Something stabbed at Frisk’s heart; it was cold and painful. “Really?”

            “Yeah, we… well, Flowey—Asriel—whatever the fuck his name is, he was with them longer. But we… we traveled together at least. I helped… look after them. Things got rough for them, so I just tried to keep them from dying all the time.” He shrugged. “Didn’t do much good.”

            Frisk frowned. “Don’t say that.”

            “Why not? They’re still—well, rather, they still died. A lot. I remember that much.”

            “That guy,” Frisk began; suddenly their hands felt hot, but Frisk wasn’t sure if that was magic or just their own discomfort. All the same, they kept Papyrus’ borrowed gloves on. “Doctor…?”

            “Gaster.”

            “Him. He… he told me that they… the other Frisk kept on dying. They were trapped in an endless loop.”

            Sans sighed. “That’s one way to put it. Yeah, they weren’t like you—going through the Underground was hard for them. They had way more trouble than you ever did.” He paused to give them an arch look. “Not that you didn’t go out of your way to find your own trouble.”

            Any other time, Frisk might have smiled. Now, all they could do was looking blindly down at the dark shadows of the trees.

            He continued. “They were persistent, but they didn’t know how to work people like you do. How to charm them, really.” He prodded their arm, but only received a chuckle for his efforts. “Mostly they got by with just slowly winning people over with each reset. But, for each of those resets, it took a little more of a toll each time. And they did have to reset often.”

            “I’m sure you tried you’re best,” they offered gently.

            He sat quietly for a few long seconds before speaking again. “No, not really. I killed them more often than not. And even after I tried to keep them alive, they still ended up dead because of me. ‘Cause stupid shit I didn’t think through.” He paused to reach into his pocket. He pulled out his packet of cigarettes and his lighter. He pulled out a smoke for himself and then offered the pack to Frisk; they took the pack to get their own out while he fiddled with his lighter. Once he got it to catch, they both leaned in and lit their cigarettes. Together, they took a long drag on their cigarettes and went back to staring at the sky. “Well, so much for no soul baring bonding moments.”

            They snorted. “Sorry. Well, turnabouts fair play. You have any burning questions you’d like to ask?”

            “God, I must have a million.”

            That got a laugh. “Well, I guess we have nothing but time. Lay one on me.”

            “So, uh.” He paused and shrugged. “You knew another Sans in that world?”

            Their smile vanished and they needed to take a moment to swallow. It took some effort, but they managed it and then even faked a smile for a second as they nodded. “Uh, yeah. Yes, I did.” The effort to smile was too much; it slid off and they found themselves glaring in the vague direction of the human city. “Yep.” They stuck the cigarette to their lips and began to puff away at it like a train’s smoke stack.

            They couldn’t have been more awkward if they tried; Sans really had no idea how he was supposed to respond to that. “Um. I take it you… weren’t exactly friends?”

            Frisk’s lips twitched, but whether it was to grimace or smile, he had no idea. “Oh, no. We were friends.” They glared again and realized they’d used up their cigarette. Frustrated, they flicked the dog end away into the darkness. “When I was a kid.”

            “Did you grow apart then?”

            Frisk stayed quiet for a long moment before finally looking at him, face closed. “You know about my past, don’t you?”

            It was his turn to fall quiet, his own cigarette gone. “I have some guesses. Considering how fixated you are on giving people second chances, even if they’re murders, I take it that you know how it feels, so. You… killed someone? And considering how far you’re willing to forgive, I’d say it was a bunch of monsters. Until some changed your mind? Then I take it you reset and helped bust the monsters out on a second run.”

            They let all their breath out at once, disturbing their bangs. God, I forget how observant he is sometimes. They nodded, looking down at the trees below them. “The Flowey of my world,” they paused then grimaced. “That world. Well, he wasn’t so sweet as this world’s. He told me it was ‘kill or be killed’.” They paused, not sure where they’d been going with this. Shaking their head, they decided to plow ahead anyway. “So, I believed him. I was already scared, so the first time a monster spooked me, I killed them. I’d met Toriel by then, but uh.” Where were they going with this? Perhaps they were going to admit that they’d had rage issues since they were seven years old, due to the abuse they’d suffered by their many foster siblings and classmates and the negligence of the adults around them? “Anyway. I murdered my way through the Ruins and then…” Well, in for the penny, in for the pound, right? “I didn’t stop there. I… I almost stopped. When Toriel, when she… she offered to let me live with her. But that wasn’t what I wanted, so I asked to leave. She took it… badly. We fought.” They frowned, thoughtful. “She was the only person I didn’t try to kill immediately. I tried to talk her around because, well, I guess even if I was a fucked up kid with issues, I didn’t want to hurt the one person who’d been entirely kind to me.”

            He waited patiently until he realized Frisk had stalled out. He faked a cough. “But you did end up killing her.”

            They nodded. “I tried… really hard to talk to her, but. Well, I’d been killing everything in sight. I hadn’t learned how to evade very well. So, I kept getting hurt between trying to talk her around and then…” The fire cascading all around them, catching on their clothes, the smoke choking them as the fire ate at their flesh. They died in agony. “I came back again, but that time…” Their mouth felt so dry, their lips like ash. Somehow, they worked up enough saliva to wet them. “I wasn’t interested in playing nice. Not when… well. I thought she’d only done me like everyone else.”

            “Kill or be killed,” he offered.

            They nodded. “So I left the Ruins behind me. That’s when I met him, the Sans of that world. We, um. We didn’t hit it off very well. I wouldn’t react to his jokes, or play along when he asked, so I. Well, I’m pretty sure I creeped him out? Can’t blame him. I was a genocidal fuckhead after all.”

            Sans snorted. “Must have been a hell of an impression.”

            “Yeah.” They paused; for a moment, their smile returned. “I met that world’s Papyrus then too. He’s, um, a lot different, but also, a lot like your brother. He was super excited though, to see a human. He was all jazzed about it.”

            “I’m not sure ‘jazzed’ is ever a word I’d use for my brother,” Sans quipped, looking at the stars for a moment.

            “Well, you’ll have to take my word for it, because it fit. He’s the excitable type. I, uh, still wasn’t willing to play along and I was killing everything I could find. Eventually… well, the Papyrus in that world, he was sweet but he really wanted to join the Royal Guard. Not,” they added, “because of the reasons your brother wanted. It really was a different place than this one.”

            “I believe you. So, you fought. Did you kill him?”

            The paused, still so clearly seeing that image of Papyrus, kneeling in the snow, arms open and shaking. “No. He’s the one who turned me around. Until then, no one ever spared me so I… well, I didn’t know what to do. Eventually, I just got so confused, I accepted it. But, um, before he could really celebrate, I kinda ruined everything by bursting into tears.”

            He stared at them. “You cried?”

            His reaction baffled them into smiling. “What? Of course, I cried. I was eight and my life was a mess. It started dawning on me that I had messed up bad.”

            He only shook his head. “You don’t cry. Even when—shit, when Asriel got cut up by Asgore, you didn’t cry. You just get pissed.”

            It was hard to argue that. Embarrassed, they looked away. “I lost control. I, um. It’s probably pretty obvious to you, but I have a lot of issues.”

            “Babe, you have a goddamn subscription,” he drawled. “But, that does mean you’re in good company.”

            They barked a laugh in spite of themselves and shook their head in amusement. “Well, as long I’m not alone, I suppose.” They paused, smile fading around the edges. “Anyway, he was real kind to me. Even let take a nap on his couch and wash up before he set me off on my way to the castle. The road got… rough after that.” Undyne, Mettaton, Muffet, and so many others stood in their way. They hadn’t blamed them. “But I got through eventually. Made it all the way to Asgore’s castle.” The Judgment Hall. Frisk took a deep breath. “Ran into Sans there. He, uh. Well. Turns out, he’d been keeping an eye on me.” As a promise to Toriel; that still stabbed them in the heart.

            “…and what’d he do?” his voice was low, rumbling.

            They shot him an amused look. “Are you getting protective over me?”

            To their immense amusement, he blushed. “No! I just—what happened?”

            They resisted the urge to chuckle. “Uh, nothing really. I could tell I really hadn’t impressed him, but well, that wasn’t a surprise. Still, he was… pretty blasé about the whole thing. When I tried to find out why, he,” they paused, frowning. “He said he didn’t care because he knew I was just going to come back again anyway. Told me to try harder then.”

            “So,” Sans murmured like he was mulling it over. “He knew about the resets too?”

            “Something to that effect. I think he was a scientist once,” they shrugged. “I don’t know. He really didn’t like talking about his past and I could never get a straight answer out of Papyrus.”

            They felt weird—were they disassociating? It certainly felt like they were outside their own body. They’d been devastated when they were eight; they’d burst into tears as Sans casually told them to try harder next time, his tone almost chipper even as he said he was looking forward to this timeline vanishing. Their tears, at least, made him drop the act.

            “Frisk?”

            Frisk blinked. “Hmm?”

            “You zoned out there.”

            “Oh, sorry,” they murmured, reaching up to shove their hair out of their face. “Just… remembering. Anyway, where was I?”

            “Sans told you to reset.”

            They frowned; that definitely wasn’t how it went. “No, he didn’t. He just told me to try better next time. He… well, he was probably trying to be nice to me. He said he knew enough to know that I could go back and fix everything. Then he…” They looked down at the toes of their boots. “Well, he wasn’t trying to be mean, I don’t think. But he did seem to think that I was just going to reset again no matter what. Even… even if I did get everyone to the surface, he just assumed I’d set everything back to zero again.” They grimaced. “I was horrified at that idea. I… I tried to promise that after that reset, that’d it be the end. He, um. He didn’t believe me.”

            Sans harrumphed. “Who the hell would want to go through hell more than once?”

            Frisk sighed. “Because that world was a lot kinder to me than this world was to its Frisk. Um, don’t take that the wrong way.”

            He paused and then shrugged. “Nah, that’s pretty fair. I take it you didn’t die a lot?”

            They frowned. “Nowhere near the amount that this Frisk did. I mean, I ran into some trouble along the way, but mostly monsters were sweet, if a little strange. They might have been desperate, but it wasn’t like there were death traps everywhere.”

            “Sounds downright pleasant in comparison.”

            “Well, yeah. So, you see why he probably had a right to worry.”

            Sans ran a hand over the curve of his skull. “That’s fucked up.”

            They shrugged; there wasn’t more they could add to that sentiment. “He wasn’t cruel about it, though. Just patted me on the head and sent me on my way. So, uh, skipping ahead. I did help get monsters out of the Underground. We all lived on the surface. Toriel adopted me,” they added with a smile. In their mind, they could see her shocked expression when they said they wanted to stay with her before it turned into a real, genuine smile as she gently scolded them for having not just having said that in the first place. “We were happy.” They frowned. “At least I assumed we all were.”

            “So, the root of the problem?”

            Their lips nearly twitched upward. “Yeah. Ten years after the barrier came down, we had a big party. And it was one hell of a party. But, during it, Sans pulled me aside. Said he wanted to talk to me about something. I agreed.” God, they could still smell the rich perfume of fallen leaves and candy sweetness from all the food on the air as they walked away from the celebrations to find some privacy. They could remember the soft warmth of the scarf their mother had knitted for them so they could match Papyrus. They blinked and took a breath. “Turns out, he wanted to ask me a question.”

            Their breath hitched in their chest.

            “So, what did you need me for?” they asked, smiling. They half expected him to pull off some new prank the moment he turned around.

            Their stomach dropped when he turned around and they saw for the first time in their life that he wasn’t smiling. “Just be straight with me. How much longer?”

            They blinked. “What?”

            “How much longer before you finish what you started back then?”

            Frisk’s heart felt like it stopped. “…I don’t know what you mean.”

            He gave them a flat look. “Look, kiddo, I’m not stupid. I know you did something to us back then, did something to quite a few monsters. So, how long before you go back, before you reset time and send us all back to square one? Cause, you know, kid, all this waiting… you could drive a skeleton right out of his skull.”

            They reached out, latching onto his sleeves. They wanted desperately to clutch his hands, like they had as child, when the world seemed scary and lonely and he was one of the only ones who admitted to them that the world was a scary place, but not one to be avoided. But now his hands were buried deep into his pockets and showed no signs of coming out. “Sans, I promised you. I will never, EVER reset time again. I—I could never do that to anyone! I love being here, being with mom and dad and you and Papyrus and—and god, why would I ever go back?”

            He didn’t answer.

            “Sans, why would you even ask this? Did something-?”

            He finally pulled his hands out of his pockets. Gently, he reached up and pulled their hands away from his sleeves. They could only stare helplessly as he refused to meet their eyes. “Look, whenever you’re done playing around here, I’ll be ready to go back. Just… just don’t dick around with us when you do, okay? If you have to repeat this, at least keep being kind as you do it. Let everyone have some peace.”

            They flinched. “Sans…? Why would—Sans, I swear to you, I’m never resetting again. I… I’ll die first before I make everyone go back.”

            He paused for a long moment before he finally chuckled. “You’re a good kid, Frisk. I just hope you’ll be that way forever.” With that, he turned and left.

            Frisk’s knees began to shake.

            He didn’t believe them. And, they were fairly certain, he never would.

            “Sans,” they whispered as he vanished back into the crowd over merrymakers. “Sans, I would never… I could never…”

            But they could. They could ruin everyone’s happiness in a heartbeat. The reset button was still there, always waiting for them to reach out and press it. Right now, it waited. If they pressed it, they could redo everything. They could erase this conversation from happening.

            They blinked. “Oh god. I could really ruin everything.”

            “Frisk?”

            Frisk jumped and turned reflexively to face the skeleton. When they looked at him, they saw the light in his eye shrink.

            “Holy shit, Frisk,” he murmured, reaching for their face. “I… I guess I was wrong. You really do cry.” He tried to put a jokingly slant on his words. “Did you really have to try so hard to prove me wrong?”

            “He wanted to know if I was going to reset time and ruin everything,” they blurted. “Ten years on the surface, and all that time I’d left him waiting in agony for the day where he’d find everything reset. He… he never trusted me not to ruin everyone’s happiness.”

            Sans’ hand froze on their cheek. “Oh. Oh.” He paused and leaned back. “What a fucked up thing to say to a kid.”

            They grimaced. “I was eighteen. I wasn’t a kid anymore.”

            He shot them a flat look. “Eighteen’s still a kid in my book. But fuck, that’s a horrible thing to say to anyone, let alone an eighteen year old. Fucking hell. Who the hell says that shit?”

            Without thinking, their hand twitched and snagged his. While he blinked at them, they just pulled his hand close and tried to breathe. “Heh. That’s funny. You know, I think you’re the first person I’ve told that story to.” That was a lie—they knew he was the only one they told it. They didn’t think they would probably find the guts to tell it to anyone else either. “Six years, and you’re the first. Heh.”

            He frowned at them. “Six years? God, Frisk, why not talk to someone else about? I thought you had all those friends. Why not them?”

            They shook their head. “No one else knew about the power to reset. Or, at least, I don’t think they knew for sure that I had it.” They blinked. “He was the only one I had who knew.”

            “And he just shot that to hell. Christ.”

            They closed their eyes, focusing on keeping their breath steady. “To be fair, I think I’m the one who ruined the trust first.”

            He made a disgusted noise deep in his throat. “The fuck do I care about ‘to be fair’s? Frisk, you’re still crying.”

            They jumped and opened their eyes. “What? Shit, I didn’t-”

            “Babe.” He pulled his hand free to reach for their face. “C’mere.”

            After a reluctant sigh, they leaned forward and let him use his sleeve to mop off the worst of the tears running down their cheeks. It took some scrubbing, but finally he seemed satisfied and sat back.

            “Okay. So he was an asshole to you. What happened after that?”

            They frowned; what happened next? For a few months, nothing. They had tiptoed around everyone, permanently aware at any moment they could destroy everyone’s happy lives on a whim. And then, one day, the announcement. Toriel was happy; Asgore sad. Everyone congratulating Sans and Toriel. Finally tying the knot, Undyne teased. And Frisk, on the outside, looking in. For one glorious moment, they were content. Maybe this meant that whatever had prompted Sans’ fears, maybe he was letting them go. Maybe he could be happy; they would safeguard that happiness with their life.

            And then he looked at them. And for once, his mysterious aura dropped from his face and they could see in. See the shame as he looked at them, and only them, before he looked away, returning to quiet happiness.

            They knew then. He was still afraid. He still didn’t trust them.

            Frisk took a breath. “I, uh, I left.”

            Sans blinked at them. “You… left.”

            They nodded. “Took off. Decided there were places I had to go.” They grimaced. “Didn’t take my cell phone with me.”

            “…how long were you gone?”

            “Uh. More than a year?”

            He gave them a flat look.

            “Look, I’m not proud of that, okay? I was…” They paused. Why hadn’t they tried to reach out more?

            No, that was a silly question. They were trying to forget, that’s why. If they kept moving, kept partying, kept drinking and smoking, kept meeting new people, kept having more adventures, then there was no reason to ever reset. No reason to ruin everything. No reason to remember that look in Sans’ face, the utter lack of faith in them. A faith they never deserved in the first place.

            Frisk took a breath. “I was just trying to pretend everything was alright.” They paused. “I did go home though. Eventually.”

            “Eventually, huh.” He reached into his pockets and again got out his cigarettes, offering one to them before they both lit up. The cigarette helped, soothing their frayed nerves; they took a deep drag and held it in until their lungs burned. “So,” he began again at last. “What happened after you got home?”

            They shrugged. “Nothing much. Got fussed over. Got scolded—again.”

            “Again?”

            “Well, I hadn’t gone completely off the radar. I did track down a phone eventually and give them a call.” More like forced into it—they’d gone to one of Mettaton’s live shows only for him to somehow spot them in the middle of that massive crowd. He’d stopped his show to haul them up on stage and then all but locked them into his dressing room with Papyrus to guard them. Not that they needed guarding; they were all too happy to see their favorite skeleton again. It was Papyrus, who somehow had gotten roped into being a roadie for Mettaton for awhile, who pressed his phone into their hands and made them call home. “Mom let me have it, but, uh, I didn’t head home immediately. Eventually, I ran into Dad. He was in, uh, a big city for a conference. I was in the neighborhood and visited his hotel.” They paused, smiling.

            That memory, at least, was a golden one—they could still remember him walking out of the elevator, looking massive as he tried to squeeze out of those little elevator doors that just was not meant for a nine foot tall monster. He looked around, trying to find this supposed guest of his; they had to flirt and sweet talk with the girl at the counter for twenty minutes before she finally called their father. Once his eyes found them, he looked stunned and then delighted as he rushed forward to meet them in a hug. After that, he all but dragged them up to join him in an impromptu sleepover where he finally convinced them it was time to come home. They’d even helped him book another ticket on his flight so they could surprise everyone at the airport.

            They heard a soft chuckle to their side; when they looked, they found Sans looking amused. “That, I take it, wasn’t too bad?”

            Frisk had to smile back as they took a drag off their cigarette. “Well, I do adore my dad. I…” they frowned. “I never had a proper father growing up. But Asgore, he was an amazing one.”

            Sans lifted a brow. “So, Asgore and Toriel adopted you? They must not have half as awful of a relationship they do here for that to work.”

            Frisk grimaced. “Um, no. It was… more like they adopted me jointly? It’s hard to explain, but um, they didn’t end up together again.” Frisk paused. “Mom and, um, Sans got together though. I got yelled at half because I didn’t go to their wedding.”

            Now the skeleton was gawking at them, his cigarette half fallen from his fingers. “…you’re kidding me.”

            “Why would I joke about that?” they asked bluntly and took a drag.

            He shook his head slowly. “Ah, hell, that’s why you kept teasing me about Toriel, isn’t it? Well, uh, I’ll tell you right now, that sure to hell ain’t happening anytime soon.”

            They snorted. “It didn’t happen soon in that world either.”

            “Yeah, well, forget it. It ain’t happening period.”

            Amused, they shot him a look. “Is this your way of telling me you’re a free man?”

            He blinked. To their delight, he seemed to be blushing. “Um. Well, I am, but that’s not the point.”

            Frisk couldn’t help but laugh at that. As he sat there, flustered, they tossed their cigarette away and turned back to the stars. Gazing up at them, they found themselves wondering if it was nighttime in that other world, if that Frisk was looking up at the stars as well. Toriel’s home wasn’t too far from the mountains—they’d have the same stars to look at. The thought sobered them. “I have another question for you.”

            Sans sighed, tossing his own cigarette away. “What?”

            “The… the Frisk of this world,” they grimaced. Maybe this wasn’t an appropriate question to ask; but still, they had to know. “Do you think they could have made it to the surface on their own?”

            “No,” he answered bluntly, looking up at the stars as well. “That kid, they were a sweet kid, but they couldn’t hack it in the end. It was way too much to ask of them.”

            Frisk frowned. They’d thought so. But it also meant something else—what if Gaster hadn’t tricked them with his deal? Maybe they’d known it was hopeless too. Maybe they were ready to give up their soul already. Maybe Gaster’s choice wasn’t such a terrible one to them. Frisk shook their head and sighed. There was no way to ever know. Not even Asriel remembered them—and that meant, one day, they’d have to tell him. He deserved to know—they sounded like they’d been close before that Frisk… became, well, them.

            “But, you know,” Sans began, startling them into looking at him. “That kid, if they’re really like how I remember in my dreams, then I think they’d be happy with how it turned out. Monsters are free. No one’s dead. And monsters have someone to look out for their interests,” he tapped their shoulder with his knuckles. “Even if we don’t deserve you. But they’d like to know that everything was in good hands. Shit, Frisk, you even got Asriel and Chara back.”

            Slowly, the ache in their heart softened and they found themselves smiling at him. Gazing at him, though, they noticed something. “Hey. Your eyes changed.”

            He blinked. “What?”

            “Your eyes. Before you only had that one big iris. Now you have two lights in your eyes and their both just regular dots.”

            Amusingly, he began to sweat as he looked away. “Oh! Oh, that. That’s, um, nothing.”

            They tilted their head to the side, leaning over so they could see his eyes again—yep. Still different looking; just two red dots now. “Why the change?”

            “Uh, I just. Well, with monsters, you can’t let your guard down, you know? So, I always have to stay ready for anything.”

            They blinked. “You’re always ready to fight if your eyes are like that?”

            “Yeah! You, uh, got it.”

            They smiled, delighted. “So, that means you dropped your guard? Around me?”

            They could pinpoint the exact moment the thought shit crossed his mind.

            Rather than wait for him to start making excuses, they laughed and pulled him into a tight hug. “Aw, Sans! Thank you! I promise, you’ll never have to worry about me attacking you.”

            He grumbled something, half heartedly tugging on their arms. “…didn’t expect you to anyway…” they caught, but that was about all they did.

            Grinning, they loosened their grip; he didn’t shrug them off though, so they kept their arms about him as they turned their face back up to the sky. “It really is an amazing sight, isn’t it?”

            Sans sighed fondly and patted their arm. “Yeah. Something else.”

 

 

 

 

            Ten years pass and Frisk found themselves standing again at the mouth of the entrance to the Underground. In the years since monsters were freed, someone had put handrails up here, to keep the tourists and hikers from wandering off the cliff side. Gazing out, Frisk admired the morning sun as it warmed the world below.

            They’d spent the night in the old castle, going over the fine details with the Asgore and Toriel for the celebrations for today. Despite the Underground going empty, a few monsters still lingered here, but once a year, many returned to the Underground for one last toast to its empty halls. It was an odd pilgrimage, one that didn’t occur in their original’s world, but it felt right. Still, setting up a celebration with monsters was like herding cats in any world, so they had a busy day ahead of them.

            Their expression turned wistful. Being an ambassador in this world was far more difficult than it had been in their memories, but that was to be expected. Still, monsters were thriving, humans at least tolerant—for the most part. It was, perhaps, the best they could ever manage.

            “Frisk,” called a voice behind them. Turning, Frisk saw Asriel coming out of the tunnel to join them. The young boss monster might be close to eighteen, but boss monsters aged differently, so he was still firmly in his adolescence. That didn’t mean he wasn’t getting obscenely tall already—he towered over them at six foot and according to Asgore probably had at least two more feet to go. He’d been shooting up like a weed lately; it meant trouble for Chara when they got to pilot the body for a day, since they could never seem to get used to being so tall. Frisk hoped for both their sakes that Chara got the hang of it soon. At least his horns had started to come in—Asriel was very proud about that.

            “Az,” they called back. “Coming up for some fresh air too?”

            He grinned. “Is that why you’re up here?”

            They shot him a droll look. “Why else would it be?”

            “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe you’re trying to avoid the racket the kids are making.”

            They smiled before they could catch themselves. “Well. Perhaps a little. I’m just not used to being woken up at six in the morning anymore.”

            “Why on earth would anyone want to get up at six in the morning?” he shot back as he came to stand next to them.

            “Eh, they’re kids. Just wait til they turn into old farts like us, then they’ll get up at sensible times.”

            “You’re not old,” he laughed.

            “Yeah,” they murmured, reaching up to run one gloved hand over their face, a face that hadn’t aged a day since they’d come to this world. They had no idea what it meant. It, they had decided, was a problem for future Frisk to worry about. “Well, if you’re not out here for fresh air, what are you out here for?”

            “Oh,” he hummed, thoughtfully. “I’d just thought I’d warn you that Papyrus and Undyne set the kitchen on fire, so we’re going down into the city to eat.”

            Frisk groaned. “Oh, god, that isn’t even either of their kitchens. Who even let them cook?”

            He shrugged. “They slipped out of mom’s sight, I guess. Anyway, you want to come with? We don’t have a ton of time before the festivities begin, so if you want to eat, we gotta go now.”

            Laughing, Frisk turned about. “Well, god knows I’m not going to get through today on an empty stomach. Shall we?”

            He offered them his arm. Dipping a short bow, they took it. Arm in arm, they walked back into the mountain. Somewhere in the castle, Mettaton would be going over his lines, Papyrus and Undyne probably trying to clean up the mess they made. Alphys, Toriel, and Asgore would be trying to coral the children into behaving. Sans was probably still asleep; they would have to go wake him up. They perked up at the thought and tugged a laughing Asriel on, eager to join their friends once more.

Chapter Text

While The World, Upside Down is indeed over, I wanted to share a few last things before I move on. As promised, here is the cover art mock-up I made.

 

And here is the older version I had before. 

 

 

Why the two versions? I wasn't actually very fond of the first one (where is Flowey grabbing them to hold on for one--is he grabbing their shirt front? Is Frisk holding him there?) and then I got an idea for the second. I thought for posterity's sake that I should show both though.


 

As for the deleted scenes, I had a few scenes that were cut for various reason. I'm going to share two of them today. This are very rough and unedited, but here we go.

The first is from the Waterfall section. It came at the end of Chapter Four, A Short Respite--you can even still see the where the scene would have naturally came in if I'd left it in. It was cut mostly because it added nothing and made the chapter longer than necessary. After cutting it, I quickly moved it permanently out of continuity, so there was no point to try to add it back in.

 

            “Weird,” Frisk said, more in agreement than anything else. They ducked into a new area that was little more than the path winding through with water on both sides. Without thinking much of it, Frisk started to walk down the path.

            The only warning they got was the sound of ripples as water was displaced. They stopped to turn, but as they started to shift, that’s when something yanked on their ankle. Falling unceremoniously, Frisk could only claw helplessly at the dirt as the thing gripping their ankle suddenly yanked them up into the air. Dangling like a worm on a hook, Frisk flopped around in the air, trying to get at their ankle while the world spun around them. Turning about, they caught something out of the corner of their eye and froze.

            A giant, pale face blinked slowly at them, a devious smirk tugging at its lips. “Well, look what I caught!”

            Frisk stared for a moment. What monster was this thing supposed to be a version of?

            “Looks like trash,” it sang, shaking them. Flowey squeaked and nearly slipped from where he’d been clinging to Frisk’s shirt, but managed to catch himself in time. “Probably got dragged up here from the dump. But, you know, maybe it’s tasty trash at least.”

            Who the hell is this? They thought wildly, searching their memory. The something around their ankle—that had to be a tentacle. Bulbous head, big eyes—oh shit, they thought with a start. It’s Onionsan.

            This Onionsan looked like that one only in the sense that they were both giant octopi, though. His coloring was pallid white, like the skin of a corpse, the pupils of his eyes so wide that it ate up the iris entirely. There were claws the size of grip hooks amid suction cups as big as dinner plates lining each tentacle, including the one holding their ankle.

            “I know the king says that we should hand over the humans if we caught one, but surely he won’t mind a few nibbles if I send your soul along later,” he murmured, smacking his lips.

            Frisk shuddered, clutching Flowey carefully, planning to try and chuck him back towards the path should the octopus try something. They didn’t have time to think of a good plan, so Frisk decided to go with a stupid one. “Onionsan, wait!”

            The octopus jerked back, eyes wide. “Huh? How’d you know-?”

            “I-it is Onionsan, right? H-ha, great! I, uh, I’ve been looking all over Waterfall for you!”

            The octopus narrowed his eyes at them. “Why?”

            Flowey gaped at them. What are you doing? He mouthed, face horrified.

            Well, they started this ludicrous plan—now they had to see it through. “Uh, my name’s Frisk—I’m with the MTT Aquarium in Hotland’s MTT Resort.”

            Onionsan yanked them away, perhaps out of shock or of horror; Frisk wasn’t sure which. “Y-you are?”

            “Yeah, I am. We, uh, we’ve been trying to contact you for some time, Onionsan. Uh… how’re you feeling today, sir?”

            Flowey was looking at them like they were crazy again, but at least he didn’t ask as much.

            Onionsan pulled them back so he could glare suspiciously into their face. “And just why would the Aquarium be sending someone out here to talk to me?”

            “We’ve, uh, we’ve been talking to the other monsters from Waterfall—you, you know the ones-”

            To their surprise, Onionsan actually drops them onto the path—even if he changed his mind and tried to attack, they could safely put Flowey down and let him get away. “Like Shyren?”

            This world’s Shyren lived in an Aquarium? The Shyren they knew was terribly anxious when it came to new people, but then she also wilted at the first sign of violence. Maybe she’d joined the Aquarium to escape the fighting going on. Good for her, if so—and if not, then Frisk hoped she was doing okay wherever she was. They’d always liked Shyren. “Yeah. Anyway, there’s been some talking and we’ve decided to tell you that we’ve freed up some space for you in our facilities if you would like to consider joining our… facility.”

            Onionsan’s mouth formed a perfect ‘o’ shape. “R-really? Uh, I mean,” his expression became haughty, even as a few of his tentacles wiggled about. “Of course you’d want me to join you.”

            Feeling a little more confident, Frisk straightened but still kept Flowey safely in their cupped hands. “Oh, yes. A monster of your, uh, size and quality means that you would make an excellent addition to our facility. Why, our attendance numbers would go through the roof if you joined us. Who wouldn’t want to come see the Great Onionsan?”

            The octopus began to slap excitedly with the tips of his tentacles like a little kid playing in the water. “Really? I could be famous!”

            “Yeah, yeah. Like Mettaton.”

            Onionsan paused to glare at him. “Ugh, who’d ever want to be like that idiot?”

            Frisk blinked. Idiot? Was Mettaton not a celebrity in this world? The idea was even more bizarre than half of the other weird things they’d seen since starting this journey. “Well, uh, he does have his own tv show?”

            That seemed enough to distract the octopus, his eyes lighting up as he looked upward, like he was dreaming something bid. “Do you think I could get my own tv show then?”

            Baffled, Frisk looked down at Flowey who shrugged wildly. Coughing delicately, Frisk tried to look nonchalant. “Who’s to say?”

            “That’s it, I’ll do it!” Onionsan announced, slapping the water again so it sloshed up to Frisk’s ankles, making them jump. “My public needs me. Oh, I got to get packing!”

            “You do that,” Frisk said, eyeing the exit eagerly. “I’ll just go on ahead, let everyone know you’re coming.”

            “Okay! Tata for now.” With that, the octopus vanished under the water.

            The moment the octopus was gone, Frisk bolted for the exit on the far side of the room, not even slowing down when they heard water slosh around and Onionsan’s voice drifting after them.

            “Do you think I’ll need my—hey, where’d you go? Oh, well.”


 

The next scene is an unfinished one from the Hotland section, specifically Chapter Eight, Break A Leg. Instead of having a scene to replace the Undertale: The Musical section, I just skip that part entirely. That said, there was originally going to be a scene there. When Frisk wanders out onto the stage, they found themselves in a talent show of sorts where monsters are harming themselves or others as part of the show. When Mettaton tries to pull Frisk into the "fun" by asking if they have any special talents, Frisk panics and admits they can play the piano. They would have played a song for a bit until Alphys ran in to try and kill them; in a moment of panic, Frisk would begin to play "Fly Me to the Moon", causing Alphys to stop because she knows its from Neon Genesis Evangelion, a seminal classic of older anime, but a violent mecha show all the same that UF!Alphys probably would like. She'd leave again and that'd be it. I cut it because the scene added nothing, only a little bit of backstory about Frisk learning how to play piano (and guitar) from Undyne and their grandfather, who I believe didn't even get mentioned in the finished fic. Mostly the scene was useless filler and it was stopping me from moving on. Still, it's kinda fun, so I thought I'd share.

 

            Frisk looked into the next room and paused, shoulders slumping, as they looked in. There was a small dark room and then a moodily lit stage. Ah, yes. The Musical. They had stronger memories of this place in their head, mainly because it’d been so bizarre the first time around—that and they had Mettaton’s song stuck in their head for weeks after they’d gotten out of the Underground. Even now, it’d sneak in and get lodged in their thoughts again. What was waiting for them now—was Alphys lying in wait with some new trap, or was the stage unused for the moment?

            “This is going to suck, won’t it,” Flowey grumbled, glaring out at the stage. “What new deathtrap do you think she has waiting for you now?”

            “I don’t know, but it better not involve any more damn scissors.” Taking a deep breath, they steeled their nerves and walked into the room and then onto the stage. They made it halfway across the stage when a spotlight hit them, making them flinch.

            “AND NOW, LET’S WELCOME OUR SPECIAL GUEST! FRISK THE HUUUUMAN!” Mettaton shouted, rolling on stage to join them under his own spotlight. “Hello, Frisk, nice to have you here tonight on our show.”

            Well, it could be worse. Mettaton hasn’t tried to kill me yet at least. It does make him one of the friendlier monsters I’ve run into. Frisk forced the corners of their mouth to turn up. “Thank you, I suppose, for having me. It’s just such a surprise, seeing as I had no idea I was going to be on myself.”

            Mettaton waved a hand casually above his head. “It was a good surprise, wasn’t it? Well, no need to thank me, darling, I’m glad to have you on.”

            “Fantastic,” they replied in a clipped tone.

            The robot didn’t notice at all. “Now, Frisk, since you just wandered in, let me tell you about tonight’s special show! Tonight, as part of our weeklong series showcasing new talents of the Underground, we’ve been inviting guests to join us on stage to show off their talents. Like Pyrope here, who burned three of his fellow guests alive!” A Pyrope did a happy shimmy from the side of the stage, scorching the floorboards underneath him. There was still three piles of dust surrounding that Frisk tried desperately not to think about. “So, now, I ask you, Frisk. What’s your special talent that you’d like to share with us?”

            Still horrified, Frisk could practically hear their own brain tossing its figurative hands in the air and giving up. In a moment of desperation, they searched their memories for something. Oh, wait! Tell him we play guitar! They probably have a guitar on hand, I’m good enough with one. Tell him you play the guitar! Frisk blinked and opened their mouth. “I play the piano.”

            *Really?

            Fuck, they thought in shocked dismay. What the hell, they are not going to have a piano sitting around—brain, why have you failed me so badly?

            Mettaton didn’t even turn to stare at them. “A musician, wonderful! As luck should have it, we just happen to have a piano in the studio. WHEEL IT OUT, BOYS!”

            Flowey popped out behind their shoulder as a pair of stagehands shoved a baby grand piano out onto the stage, huffing and puffing so hard that one of them flopped down from exhaustion and had to be pulled off stage. Flowey stared at the piano. “Really?” he asked.

            Frisk wasn’t sure if he was asking whether they could actually play it or just questioning their life in general, but they let Mettaton drag them over to the instrument with stiff legs.