The hall was as quiet as all the other rooms they'd left behind in the underground. No activity, no movement, just silence so thick it almost felt solid. The difference was that, unlike the others, this one was not devoid of life. Not yet, at any rate. Just a few feet away rested the skeleton they'd spent so long trying to pin down. They'd lost count of how many times they'd had to go back and restart the fight after being killed. The air was still chilled from his attacks, a thin layer of frost coating every available surface in the hall. They eyed the jacket he wore with a faint envy, their own dusty shirt much too thin to be of any use.
They hugged their knees to their chest, small fingers clenched tight around the knife. It'd be easy at this point, if they were quiet. Inch a bit closer and put their all into one last attack. He wouldn't have time to dodge. Quick, clean, and one less obstacle blocking their path. They'd move on to the king, and it would all be over. Sure, there were a few left because of that lizard thing, but it didn't matter. The kingdom of monsters was destroyed, there was no building up from this.
Once the barrier was gone, they'd return to the surface. What they were going to do next, they hadn't the faintest idea. Go back home? That was the plan, and maybe it still was, not that they could muster any excitement for the trip. They hadn't been able to feel much of anything for quite a while. The urge to keep going forward was there, as it had been from the start, but there was nothing else. They thought back on all the monsters they'd taken down to get to this point, and they felt neither guilt nor victory.
As they reflected on this, so too did they take in their enemy in his most vulnerable state. He sat across from them with his legs stretched out on the floor, leaning against a pillar with his arms at his sides. At first, they'd thought he was pretending as another way to mock them. Why fall asleep with someone he knew wanted to kill him so close by? But it'd been over an hour, and he was snoring.
When they were finally convinced he wasn't faking it, they made their move. They eased themself up off the floor and crept toward him, alert for any sign he knew they were there. He didn't budge. Not even when they hovered above him, knife at the ready.
The slow rise and fall of his chest didn't falter as they took aim, ready to put an end to him. That was strange, wasn't it? They paused, leaning a bit to the side for a better look. Skeletons didn't breathe. Not that it was important. So what? He was still in their way. There was something about it, though. Not just that he was breathing, but something more.
Without a sound, they lowered the knife to the floor, and, as gently as possible, laid their hand over the place his heart would have been. The moment contact was made, their eyes went to his face, waiting for any signal that this might wake him up. When he didn't move, they brushed their fingers from one side of his chest to the other. There was no skin that they could feel, no flesh, nothing but the hard curve of bone through the cloth of his shirt. It stood to reason there weren't any organs, either, so what was this? What was he doing?
They shook their head. This was just a waste of time. They could be taking down the king, making progress instead of sitting there doing nothing.
But they stayed where they were, a hand on his rib cage. It was the rhythm, they thought. It was soothing, almost... familiar? A sharp flash cut through their minds' eye, a split second image that had them yanking away from him like they'd been burned.
Their back hit the wall hard, his grip painfully tight around their soul as he glared at them from across the room. "you didn't think it'd be that easy, did you?"
They clawed at their chest, as if they could tear off the invisible fingers that held them in place.
"huh." he said. "looks like you dropped something there."
At his feet lay their knife. He uncurled his fingers, and they fell to the ground with a harsh thump. Blue mist leaked from his left socket, the temperature dropping again as he froze their weapon. He gripped the blade with one hand and the hilt with the other, snapping it in half. He tossed both pieces behind him and started toward them.
"i don't suppose you feel like giving up, then?"
"What are you?" they asked as they pulled themself to their feet to face him.
"welp, that's new. don't think you've said word one to me since this started."
"What are you?"
He stopped a few feet away and shrugged. No answer. He folded his arms and stared, probably waiting for them to try and attack bare handed. They wouldn't be able to do much while unarmed, but then again he wasn't in fighting shape himself. His eyes were back to normal after that little display, an attempt to conserve energy, no doubt. His shoulders slumped, and that breathing they'd been distracted by had grown labored. The nap might have helped, but he was still exhausted.
"Why are you...why do you feel like that?"
"feel like what?"
"Like...I don't know." They didn't have the words to describe it, didn't even know what it was exactly. Now it was gone, the image slipped away, dull and faded like a dream. They rolled it around in their head, trying to get a good grip, but it was like trying to grab at water. Whatever it was, it brought with it a twinge of discomfort, and they hugged themself. "You were warm."
It took several seconds for him to respond. "now, i don't claim to be an expert on how humans work, but i'm pretty sure it isn't cold enough for you to start thinking you're too hot."
"No. You. You were warm." Silence. They glanced up at him, and found he was suffering his own unease. Not exactly fear, but it was obvious he didn't like this. He knew he'd fallen asleep in a bad place, and he knew what could have happened to him because of it. "And you're breathing. How can you breathe without any lungs?"
It looked like it was their turn to be the talkative one. They sighed, and let themself slide down the wall to sit on the floor. Their arms went around their legs, a small shudder running through them from the cold.
"You aren't just a skeleton. You're different. The other skeleton didn't breathe." But how did they know that? They weren't close to him long enough to know one way or the other. It didn't seem like a guess, though. They knew it, it was a fact.
"don't. talk about my brother."
Another flare of power, stronger than the last one. They wondered if he was going to use the last bit of his power to try and finish them off.
"I noticed before. But I don't think I should have."
"What did you do to me?"
"i didn't do anything." Some of the malice had faded from his voice, some of the bite eased from the chill of the air. "hmm."
Another span of silence. They buried their face in their arm, as if the darkness could help them track down the image in their head. The skeleton shifted, though not moving any closer, and they assumed he'd sat down opposite them. Probably to nap some more, they mused, though they were sure even he wasn't stupid enough to try it a second time. He was lucky they didn't tear his head off before.
They should have when they had the chance.
"sometimes," he started. "a friend comes to stay with me and my bro, and we all have a great time. we always do when we hang together. papyrus makes spaghetti, they get their favorite movies together, and we all sit and watch them until we're so tired we fall asleep right there on the couch. gives me a stiff neck something awful, but it's worth it."
They looked up at him, half frowning, but he continued on like he hadn't noticed. "it's not always peaceful, though. see, something bad happened to them. something they don't always remember during the day. but at night, when they sleep? it all comes back. they cry. they scream. they forget who they are and they hate themselves for what happened in the nightmare. we help them through it, whenever we can, but there's only so much we can do, you know?"
He wrapped his arms around his legs, hugging them to himself in a near mirror image of how they were sitting. "but i think it can work the other way. i think that, like how their nightmares follow them into their waking life, part of who they really are when they're awake might follow them into their nightmares."
"What does that have to do with anything?"
"isn't it obvious?" He paused, then continued when they didn't say anything, "okay. i'll ask you directly. do you remember me, frisk?"
"it's...your name. did you forget your name?"
They shrugged. "I guess. I thought it was Chara."
He froze. "Chara?"
"That's what the flower called me."
"i see. that's. interesting. but no, your name's frisk." He recovered rather quickly, but they could see the way his pupils shrunk into pinpricks. "do you remember me, kiddo?"
"No. I don't."
"well. it was worth a shot."
"that said, you still don't have to do this. you don't have to remember to go back. all the way back, to the beginning. you can have a new start. you have have friends, and movie nights at our place, and hey, i'll even treat you to grillbys. we can be happy."
"I don't think I can."
"you can. just reset. if you can go back to before this fight then you can go back to when everyone was alive and you had no LOVE or EXP."
"it's up to you, when it comes right down to it. i can't make you decide, only you can make that choice." he stood and raised a hand, "but i'm not about to let you catch me off guard after that speech."
They had no time to react before the bones shot out of the wall behind them, several impaling them through the chest and stomach. Just as quickly, they were gone, and Frisk fell limp to the floor. They grabbed at the holes, eyes wide, but it happened so fast there wasn't any pain. Just a pool of crimson spreading out on the floor.
He sat next to them, and with the much more delicate bones of his hands, pulled them into his lap. Careful not to touch any of the wounds, he hugged them close as they bled into his jacket. Fingers brushed through their hair, and as his chest rose and fell, so too did the head that rested on it.
Their vision failed, and the image came back to them. An image of them, resting on Sans, and Sans, leaning against his brother, the television playing in the background. It vanished as their soul shattered.
When they woke up, they were in a bed of flowers. They were warm, but they didn't remember why. This warmth filled them with determination.