The Space Between
Chapter 4: Judgement
Joining with Sans was nothing like joining with Chara. With Chara, the first time had been gentle and hesitant, with only the barest touch of our souls. The second time had been violent and brutal, with tearing and pain as our souls fought. With Sans, it was like an embrace, warm and reassuring. Our souls merged in an instant, molding and conforming to the shape of one another until we fit together seamlessly. My Determination flowed into him, and his magic flowed into me. With it came memories, not half-formed snippets of sound and pain, but knowledge and understanding.
I saw the past before my time.
"are you sure?" Sans asked. He wore a crisp lab coat rather than his usual hoodie and slippers.
Doctor Gaster, whole and undamaged by Determination, stood by a vial of red liquid and smiled sadly. When he spoke, it was with the strange noises I'd heard before. And yet I understood him perfectly.
"Our readings are undeniable," he said. "Someone has been resetting time, trapping us in a loop. We cannot escape. We must regain control of time or else we shall never be free."
This must have been when Flowey had control of the resets.
"and if you die?" Sans challenged, his eyes empty and black. "we need you."
Doctor Gaster leaned down and placed a hand on Sans's head.
"This is our only hope," he said. "If I cannot save us, our future will never exist. Nothing we do in this life will matter. Please forgive me."
I knew how it ended. Doctor Gaster was poisoned and scattered across space and time. Sans monitored the readings, noting how time kept resetting. Sans spent a long day and night standing at the counter holding an identical vial of Determination, wondering who would care for Papyrus when he was gone, wondering if any of it even mattered anymore. Eventually, he took Papyrus to Snowdin and simply gave up.
He still kept up with notes on the timeline. He was heartened to see time moving beyond the narrow loop it had been spiraling with Flowey, though at the time he did not understand why. With the help of his trans-temporal technology, he slowly developed a picture of the cause. Me. He tried so many times to make me happy. He hoped so badly that I would choose to end the loops myself. And with every reset, he grew more and more melancholy.
Then Chara took control.
I flinched from the memories Sans transmitted across loops. He watched Papyrus die again and again. The first few times hurt more than he could say. But his worst moment came many loops later as he recalled Papyrus's death once again and felt nothing.
He watched his brother die and he felt nothing at all.
He knew that it didn't matter. Papyrus would be alive again soon, and he'd die just the same. None of it mattered, not the good nor the bad. But eventually the timeline would progress, just as it had done before. Someone else would take control. Would he feel anything for the death of his brother then? Would he even know which goodbye would be for the last time?
The emptiness was what finally drew him back to the lab, back to the vial of Determination.
The emptiness was what led him to me in the darkness between save files.
Had I really sounded so broken when he spoke to me? Had I really looked so lost? All it took were those two words, and Sans knew that I was not the evil thing that had slaughtered his brother a thousand times over. But by my own admission, I was not innocent. When this was over, he wondered if he would know what to do.
And while I came to understand Sans's memories, he did the same with mine. I was aware of him watching my deaths, my pain, my fear. He knew my loneliness and heard Chara's soothing reassurances. He listened to my lies.
I flinched away from Asgore as he moved to hold me. It was two weeks after emerging from the Underground, and he wanted to hug me before I went off to bed.
"Frisk, what's wrong?" he asked, his expression sad and hurt.
"Nothing," I lied quickly. "I was just a little startled, that's all."
"I'm not afraid of you. Why would I be? You've never, ever hurt me."
"Of course I'm okay. I love you."
"I just don't like hugs. I'm sorry."
Reset. Reset. Reset.
"Maybe you wouldn't be afraid of them if you survived the Underground," Chara told me. "You're afraid because you're weak. If you were strong, you would have nothing to fear."
"I can't do it," I said. "I love them."
"You fear them," said Chara. "They can see your terror. It hurts them too, especially because they do not understand. Just once, don't you want to live? You would never be afraid again."
I was a fool to listen to Chara. I was a coward. I was…I was a child too ashamed to ask for help. Chara had taken advantage of me, had offered me toxic encouragement and feigned sympathy until absolute evil seemed to be the only path left before self-destruction.
it's not your fault. come on, kid. we have a fight to win.
Sans was right.
My focus shifted to the world outside, to where Chara was shrinking back, its eyes filled with fear and loathing. It held its knife at the ready, but the blade trembled.
"How?" it croaked. "How? I killed you. I killed you. I killed you!"
Even as it asked, I knew. Health could be restored above maximum by sleeping. And what did Sans do? He slept. All. The. Time. He slept until his health was beyond absurd, beyond imagining. In every battle, he surrendered after a single strike, not because he was defeated, but because he knew he could not win. It was his last shred of vengeance to deny Chara-me the satisfaction of killing him. It was why our kill count never rose after fighting him, though neither of us ever thought much of that fact. Sans always returned to the lab and added trans-temporal notes to review when we reset. Trust Sans to twist the rules of battle. Trust him to keep his trump card an absolute secret until the moment when it truly mattered.
you're making me blush, kid.
Only you could weaponize laziness, Sans.
We grinned with eyes glowing brightly in the darkness.
"No," said Chara. And it lunged. It was almost funny how easily we dodged Chara's blade. It was laughable how slow Chara seemed now, ridiculous that I had ever been afraid of it. Chara leaped and fought as we brought up an attack of bones and Gaster Blasters. But while Chara was still fast, I knew its mind as well as my own. Blast, blast, bone dance. There.
Chara was caught off-balance, too far from safety. The Gaster Blasters caught it right in its panicked face. Its health dropped low. Chara's expression grew wild, and it did the only thing left for it to do.
It did not get far.
An attack of blue bones was enough to stop it in its tracks. Freezing the blue bones in place as they passed through its body pinioned it as Gaster Blasters rained white fire from the sky. We watched Chara's health drop further and further until only a single hit point remained.
"This is the end," We said. "Run."
And what else could Chara do? It ran, its soul ripping from its-my body and darting into the darkness. I did not care where it went, only that it was gone. The tiny amount of Determination attached to Chara's soul was not strong enough to affect the timeline. Sans dispelled the blue bones and knelt beside my body even as our souls slowly disentangled. While joining had been simple, parting was a challenge. But in time it was done.
My soul slid from Sans's chest, and he took me in his hand. He laid me gently into my own body, and I took a long, shuddering breath. I blinked up at him, and I stared. I knew from seeing Asriel that monsters who had absorbed human souls took on different physical characteristics, but the changes were still startling. The crown of bone spikes was new, as were the bone wings, and there was the small fact that Sans could now dwarf Asgore in sheer size. He looked…absolutely terrifying.
And then he stepped back, and he was Sans once more, scruffy and smiling and scarcely larger than myself. I let out the breath I didn't know I was holding, and I sat up.
"Well done, Children," said someone behind me. I turned to see Doctor Gaster holding a heart-shaped locket, the same one in Asgore's castle with the words 'Best Friends Forever' inscribed inside. It now held a very distinct red glow. I opened my mouth to ask why he was speaking English, but after a moment, I realized that he wasn't. I simply understood his strange words. Because Sans had understood him. It took monumental effort, but I did not think about the implications of that. "Chara is now confined within the vessel I have created for its soul."
Doctor Gaster held it out to me, and I took it numbly. It was over. It was finally over. I looked up at Sans and started to smile, but I stopped when I saw his black-eyed stare.
I was not innocent. My final judgement remained. A thousand thoughts went through my mind then. I thought about begging, about excuses, about reaching over and resetting the world. I had the Determination. I could do it.
But I didn't.
I held out the locket with Chara's soul.
"You don't need me," I said. "Seven souls to break the barrier. If you reset the world, you can save everyone with this. You can have a happy ending without me."
Sans did not speak. He did not move. I felt a wave of relief for his hesitation, both because he did not instantly condemn me, but also because he did not instantly absolve me of my sins. I had earned the right to be judged fairly, and I could accept whatever he chose, whether it was death within darkness or life without friendship.
Sans finally stepped forward and reached out his hand. He closed my fingers around the locket.
"it wouldn't be a happy ending without you, kid," he said.
My eyes stung horribly.
"Will you…will yoube there?" I asked, but even as I spoke, I knew the answer and was filled with relief. Sans had performed the Determination injections across multiple loops. This allowed him to make an echo-copy of himself filled with Determination. That was how he could be here and within the timeline at once. He intended to copy his consciousness back over when I reset. He would remember. He would still be there.
But Doctor Gaster…
I looked to him, and he smiled sadly.
"This is where I belong now," he said. "Do not fear for me, Child. I will not be long in the darkness. Soon it will be time for me to pass on."
As though to emphasize the point, his face dripped a little more. I ran over and hugged him fiercely. I had not known him long, but I still knew him through Sans's memories. Doctor Gaster patted my hair until my breathing calmed and I let go. He turned to Sans, who drew him aside so that they could speak privately. I stood on the patch of green to wait.
When Sans finally returned, his eyes were oddly dimmed.
"ready when you are, kid," he said. But I hesitated.
"There's…just one more thing," I said. "Sans, I don't want to save or reset ever again. If…if I die, please promise me that you'll take the locket and break the barrier."
Sans's eyes darkened completely.
"aw, kid, you know how much i hate making promises," he said. "but i will make this one promise just for you. i promise to protect you. understand? no matter what happens, you will not die. and you'll never have to reset again."
I nodded, and my eyes were stinging again.
I pressed the Reset button.
For one final time, I woke in a bed of golden flowers with sunlight shining on me from above.
Note: I told you this would be short. You can't say I didn't warn you. I may write an epilogue if anyone wants a glimpse of life beyond the save files. Please let me know what you think, and I hope you enjoyed The Space Between.
Thank you and goodnight!