Frisk wakes up yet again in a bed of golden flowers, and knows as soon as they look around that the worst of the nightmare has passed. Still, though the last timeline has already been reset, their skin still feels cracked and dry from sheets of dust, and they feel like they can still feel the pulse of a heart-shaped locket on their chest. What's left is their pulse and their pulse alone as they scramble to their feet, trying to remember.
They don't want to remember. The last timeline went very bad, very fast. At first they responded to whispers and urges: cut this, kill that, destroy whatever tries to hurt you. At first, it was strangely liberating. For once, they were afraid of nothing. They were strong, powerful, unbeatable. But unlike the timeline before that - the first one, where they fought back only when they had to - before long, their limbs no longer moved according to their own will. When they looked in the mirror, it wasn't them anymore. The one who had accompanied them through the timelines up until now...
...was still there, quiet, in a corner of Frisk's mind. Their heart races to realize their presence, though of course Chara wouldn't just disappear. Knowing they're still there still fills them with fear, though - fear and shame and guilt, all of the wretched crawling feelings they'd tried to escape by letting no one closer than the slash of a knife. Frisk shakes and trembles, and that's all the movement they can manage. Though the way to the door, past which Flowey has always waited, is routine enough by now that they could walk it blindfolded, right now they can't manage a single step.
I'm sorry, Chara says. It won't happen again.
It's not entirely reassuring. Frisk remembers many, many very similar promises from other people that were soon broken. Still, there's something about the way Chara says it that makes them believe them. Makes them want to believe them, anyway. Maybe they'd want to believe regardless. Frisk remembers almost nothing towards the end, but what little shreds make it through make them glad for small mercies.
What happened? they wonder. One of the last coherent thoughts Frisk remembers having is wondering if anyone would be able to stop them, because they didn't think they could stop themselves anymore.
There isn't a response at first. Then:
Frisk doesn't get more of an explanation than that. Frisk doesn't try too hard to get one. When they pass through the gate, Flowey sneers at them - really, at Chara; Flowey knows a lot of things, but he has never addressed Frisk by their own name - before vanishing. Flowey's smiling contempt is so normal, though, it's almost comforting. But Frisk doesn't truly feel like things are all right again until Toriel approaches with a look of concern on her face, alive and well, and they almost burst into tears on the spot. Toriel is surprised when they leap at and hug her, but she takes it in affectionate stride.
Mom, Frisk calls her in this timeline too, although the first time Chara blurted it out for them. She always was nicer than their own mom.
They're nervous when they face the dummy for what they know is the third but feels like the nth time. (They read that term in a book they found at Papyrus and Sans's house. They're actually not completely sure what it means beyond "a whole lot.") It turns out they didn't have to be.
I don't want to do this anymore, Chara whispers. You do what you think is best, Frisk.
So Frisk does. It feels good, being true to themselves, and they keep doing it throughout the ruins.
The next time Chara surfaces, it's in the bedroom Toriel's prepared for Frisk in her home. (It's not beyond Frisk that for the third time in a row, Toriel has failed to ask their name, but they don't mind. She's so nice and caring and loving, and even if she left them alone, they're used to that kind of thing. It wasn't even for that long, and she even apologized.) It isn't the first time that Frisk has looked at the box full of children's shoes, or the empty, dusty photo frame, or the hand-drawn picture of a flower, but this time, Chara asks them to touch them.
They do, seeing no harm in it. And there is no harm, even if Frisk doesn't see the point. Chara doesn't explain the wistfulness that trails up within them like smoke from a lit candle, either, but it seems like they're satisfied, and so Frisk is too.
Later, after they've endured the fight against Toriel and Toriel hugs them good-bye for the first time since they reloaded their SAVE in the first timeline, they head out for the exit of the ruins. Once again, Flowey awaits them, and he's even more irritated than before.
"Chara, what do you think you're doing?" he says, smiling only in a technical sense. "Are you seriously trying to spare a few lives NOW? What are you playing at?"
Frisk doesn't know what to say, and Chara doesn't provide a response, so they say nothing.
"Oh, I get it," Flowey continues, seemingly unbothered. "You're just biding your time, huh? It'd be boring if you ended it all without playing around some more. Well, hurry it up, wouldja? The world's not gonna destroy itself, you know!"
Chara trails off. Frisk understands what they're trying to ask, though. They can't recall a time when the presence inside them has asked for anything so humbly, and although they have plenty of reasons not to, they decide to trust them and surrender control once again.
And so, with Frisk's mouth, Chara asks, "Didn't you say you changed your mind?"
Flowey recoils as if physically struck. "I - I was just joking!" he protests, but he looks hunted. It shifts quickly into a malicious, toothy grin. "Besides, YOU were always the one who wanted to go for the kill! Don't tell me you've forgotten!"
What's he talking about? Frisk wonders, but Chara doesn't respond. Maybe it's because they don't get the chance, but Frisk has never known Chara to share anything about themself.
"Wait," Flowey interrupts himself, frowning. "Is THAT what this is about? You've gotten cold feet? Just because you got killed yourself a few times? What a hypocrite!"
"I didn't see you out there fighting him."
Again, Flowey looks hunted. Chara seems to have a talent for picking the exact thing to say to throw him off his groove.
"Whatever," he finally declares, assuming a disdainful expression. "Call me when you get bored of pretending to be a goody-two-shoes, Chara." Flowey winks, tongue sticking out, and sing-songs, "I'll be waiting~!"
And then he folds himself into the earth and is gone. There's nowhere left for Frisk to go but forward, but that's been true for a long, long time.
Did you fight Sans?
You don't remember? And, when Frisk doesn't answer, What else don't you remember?
A lot. Frisk pauses. I don't think I want to remember.
Oh. Chara is silent for long enough that Frisk thinks they're going to leave it at that. Then: He said, if we were really friends, I shouldn't come back.
Frisk waits. For context, for an explanation, for anything.
At first I was mad, they continue. Then when I stopped being mad, I thought it was really funny. You, uh, had to have been there, I guess.
Frisk giggles a little despite everything. For some reason, that cheers Chara up just a little, too.
And then it made me start to think. A short while before all that, Flowey told me about a lot I didn't know. Stuff about himself. Once I thought about what he said, really thought about it, it made me realize a few things.
Chara is quiet for another moment. Their discomfort is palpable. Then, in a very tiny mental voice: I've been a bad friend, haven't I?
Frisk's first instinct is to comfort them, but though what remains of them are tattered, their memories of the last timeline are too vivid for anything but complete sincerity: Yeah, you have. They pause, then add in surprise, Wait - I didn't know we were friends?
Chara is silent. Frisk wonders for a second if they misunderstood them, if Chara was talking about someone else, but before they can ask, Chara says, I've never had a human friend before.
Me neither, Frisk admits.
Oh, Chara utters. Then, We... might actually have a lot in common, huh.
Frisk isn't sure how to react to that. Fortunately, they don't have to.
Let's keep doing it your way this time, they say. I'll do what I can to support you. I want to see how far we can go.
Yeah. Frisk takes another deep breath, but when they let it out, this time, they're smiling in relief. They stare at the door leading out of the ruins, and knowing what awaits them on the other side fills them with determination. Okay. Let's go.