The void outside it all is empty for a long, long time before it finds them.

Did you get what you wanted?, it asks, settling down beside Kris with its grey sneakers tucked under grey jeans. Grey hair falls to frame its blank grey face as it stares without eyes into theirs.

"... No," Kris admits.

They didn't want much, or maybe they wanted a lot, too much to name, too much say or fit into anything other people would understand, but this wasn't it. They'd been angry, screaming and clawing from the inside while that thing puppeted them around in their own body, and they'd gotten tangled in the marionette strings and collapsed the theatre stage, but in the end, all it made was rubble.

The titans had arrived. The town had gone dark, power lines vanishing cleanly at its borders like the outside world had never existed at all. Kris had sat on a rooftop and watched the windows wink out like dying stars or christmas lights, one by one, as the earth shook and heaved in a heartbeat rhythm below them.

They sat there a long time, waiting for the taste of victory, but air only tasted of ash and smoke.

Gray hands wring together like it's straightening out its nerves to speak. If you had the chance, it asks, would you do it all again?

Kris's hand moves to their chest without thinking, brushing the hollow between their lungs. "No."

It tilts its head until the hair falls away from its face, so Kris has to see the smooth spaces where its features should be. What would you do different?

Their breath catches.

"Tell them." The words scratch out of Kris's throat like when it's not their own, but they know these words are theirs.

About the soul. A statement, not a question, like it thinks it can read Kris's mind. It's right about the first, but Kris can choose to be petty and hate it anyway. There's a lot of things they can choose now.

They nod, and despite its empty face, it smiles.

He will prevent it next time, it tells them, but there is a way. You can try again.

"I can try?" The implication isn't lost on them.

It tilts its head at an angle Kris wants to call mocking. You have learned to defy it. It cannot learn any faster than you will.

The soul. Always whispering about things it couldn't know, but slightly askew, like it had seen Kris's whole world through a funhouse mirror. It took actions too specific to be random, but the outcomes surprised it. The right names, the wrong places. Connections where none existed. But it could never predict the Dark World, or what was about to happen next. It could never predict Susie. It could never predict Kris.

It's in pieces now, somewhere in the final fountain, where Kris flung all the broken shards before the true battle began and darkness's mantle tried to claim them for its own.

You, an invisible grey mouth confirms.

The silence of the void is absolute. When neither of them are speaking, Kris can hear the slow turn of their guts and tasteless cold air recirculating their lungs. There's no pulse.

"How?" they ask, finally, when the seconds grow too long and slow to bear. "There's nothing left." The world has been destroyed. No toys left for their tormentors to play with; they made sure of that.

You remember it, it tells them. "The light that only you can see". The sentence sounds like Kris has said it, but their mouth is shut and still, teeth pressed in two tight rows.

Kris scowls. They're already scowling, but now they do it more. "Not 'only me' anymore. The soul sees it, too." The soul writes its name over theirs at every opportunity. Wrote, that is. There's nowhere for anyone's name to go now, only jagged edges like broken glass.

Grey hair jostles in an imaginary breeze as the other shakes its head. It's your power first. All it took was the will to use it.

Kris wants to object. It can't be that easy. That simple. Kris of a week ago had a will of their own, and the soul crushed it like a plate of jello under a truck. Or maybe it is that easy because it's actually not easy at all, and Kris took a week trapped in their own body to build up the rage, the grit, the sheer determination to overwhelm it.

"How?" they ask again, and this time they know it's smiling.

Close your eyes.

Kris closes their eyes. Slowly, because there's a part of them that still doesn't trust it, but they let the field of shadow and color wash over them through the backs of their eyelids anyway, like they used to when they were bored in class and needed something less bright than the overhead lights to look at.

A light inside your soul.

The colors swirl and coalesce into light in the center of their vision. It's like what they've always imagined a monster soul might look like, and it's the afterimage of the sun, and it's a firefly that slips through their fingers when they touch it like they have a hundred times before. The next part comes almost naturally.

He won't like the change in his experiment, it warns them, before the point of no return. Be careful.

Then the world fades to white.

"Kris? Wake up, dear, or we will be late for school!"

They're in their bed again.

They're in their bed, and there's birdsong filtering in through the closed window between footsteps. Kris opens their eyes and looks right at Toriel pushing open the curtains, alive and undusted and far away from any classrooms full of shadows closing in, smiling warmly when she noticed their eyes on her.

"Thank goodness you are finally awake," she declares, brushing dust from the window sill as she ties the curtain in place. "I will wait outside for you, alright?"

Kris sits up in bed instead. Something resists ever so slightly, like stiff muscles that won't quite stretch, but it can't hold them down. The energy in their limbs won't allow it. The strings are smoking.

"Kris? Is something wrong?"

It must show on their face. They don't want to tell their mom, but she took things better than expected in the Land of Reality TV, so maybe there's a chance.

They open their mouth, and then their stupid body betrays them and starts bawling.

"Oh, Kris!" Even if she doesn't understand, Toriel still cares. She'd have to be a lot worse as a mom not to. It's basically her second job.

"I..." They can't get words out. God, they hate it when this happens. Maybe it's better if she doesn't know, but the loss of control still stings. Even when the soul isn't calling the shots, there's so much choice that isn't theirs to make.

Toriel kneels beside the bed, down on their level, and places a hand on their back. Kris can't fight back tears and stop from flinching away at the same time, and the former wins, but that's okay. She doesn't try again.

"Oh, Kris," she says again. "I know it's been difficult." What a thing to say. She doesn't know the half of it. "With your father, and Asriel..."

She trails off. It's like an echo of how helpless she sounded trapped behind the contestant's podium, watching the show go on. Not given the right cause to fight or bare her fangs, but faced with something worse: a problem she doesn't know how to fix.

"Do you need to talk about it?" she offers at last.

The thought freezes their guts, constricting their throat like a flattened plastic straw. No. They can't do this yet. Not with her.

"Just a nightmare," they mumble, focusing their thoughts on pushing the tears aside. "It's fine. Not crying on purpose."

Toriel sighs. For one last patient moment, she waits, like she's hoping Kris will open up for her anyway - then she stands again and dusts imaginary dirt off her knees.

"Right," she says, a little more subdued. "I will... leave you to get your things, then, and wait at the car."

"Mm," Kris replies, forcing themself to nod and wipe the leftover tears from their cheeks. It's another motion that comes stiff through all the resistance, but they can do it. As long as they fight, they can do it.

"And if you would like to talk, please, do not hesitate to come to me," she tells them as she turns to go. They watch her leave their room without another word.

She's trying. It was never enough. But she tries.

The moment of truth now. Kris turns in place. One leg over the side of the bed, then the other. Both feet on the floor.

They stand up, and the pressure rachets up like a thermometer dropped in an oven. It's almost unbreathable for a second, trying to make them turn toward the end of the bed and hand over the reins; their body seems to float away like a lost balloon, vision tunneling as their fingers go slack and numb. Kris grinds their jaw and shoves themself back down their own throat like bile, anchoring their consciousness to everything they can feel, the cold air over their drying cheeks and the carpet under their socks and the seams of their cuffed shirtsleeves against their wrists.

Forcing back control is equal parts grounding and spite. Kris has a lot of practice with the first, and a lot to offer lately of the latter.

After what feels like minutes, something slips and gives, and suddenly the pressure is gone. It's like surfacing from the deep end of the swimming pool, and it makes Kris gasp just as loudly.

Sun filters through the window behind them. Birds sing uncaged in the front yard, hopping through autumn leaves. For the first time in a week, Kris stands in their bedroom, and everything feels almost normal.

Slowly, like they've woken up from a dream, they wiggle their fingers and toes and take a deep breath in and out that nothing else tries to stop. A smile creeps onto their face, wide and a little deranged, but more important than all of that, Kris's.

Experiment guy better watch out. Susie's gonna flip when she hears about this.