“You can’t regret hard choices your whole life, right?”
This was the only place in the underground where you could see the sky. If you placed your back against the wall of this dank cavern, heedless to the stones scraping against your spine, and turned up your head just so, you would glimpse it – that thin blue crescent at the outer edge of the cave mouth above. That merest hint of color. It would disappear completely at night. It would never be enough to see the stars.
But sunlight lanced in anyway, and pooled in the center of this cave, where the earth lay rich and golden flowers clustered by the dozen. Their stalks waved in unseen breezes; their pollen faintly smelled like sweet lemons. The two of them sat crosslegged in that splash of color, their striped shirts garish in the fading light. Asriel sat with his hands on his knees. The stubby fangs at the end of his muzzle sparkled.
“Well, not that I have much of a life left.” He smiled. “But that’s besides the point.”
Asriel’s smiles never reached his eyes.
The rest of his face made an effort, all the right muscles worked, but his eyes stayed sunken and dim, the brows hanging low. It made him look much older than he should have been. The same went for the boy sitting across from him. His own eyes were perpetually half-lidded, his mop of hair askew. His disheveled appearance gave him the impression of someone who was always fighting to stay awake. He never seemed to smile at all.
“Be careful in the outside world, okay? Despite what everyone thinks, it’s not as nice as it is here.”
The flowers bent as if in agreement.
“Frisk...don’t kill, and don’t be killed, alright?” Asriel’s expression turned wistful. “That’s the best you can strive for.”
“Well, see you.”
Several seconds passed. Frisk made no sign of getting up. Asriel tilted his head, then laughed, a little awkwardly.
“Frisk,” he said. “Don’t you have anything better...to...”
Confusion flitted across his face. He put one hand to his head, gently massaged his scalp.
“Ha...that’s funny. I feel like I’ve said that before. Right here, like this.” He tried to smile again. “I'm not surprised. After all those resets I did-”
Frisk reached out and took his hand.
Frisk enclosed both his palms over Asriel’s own. Asriel’s fur felt like terrycloth against his skin. His hair fell over his face. His expression was inscrutable.
“Wow, you’re, uh, really holding on tight.” Asriel put his other hand on top of Frisk’s. “Hey, come on. I’ll be fine. You don’t want to keep all your friends waiting.”
Slowly, Frisk shook his head. He released his grip and stood up. His gaze lingered on Asriel for a moment longer, then he carefully stepped around the flowers and out of the sunlight.
Around that patch of vegetation, the shadows were so deep as to be almost solid; anything that stepped into them lost its outline, its color bled into the surrounding black. Frisk’s shoes squeaked on the stones, his two-toned shirt turned monochrome. Just before he disappeared, he turned and saw Asriel sitting where he’d left him, head bowed low. His ears twitched gently in the breeze. The green and yellow of his own shirt blended with the flowers. Already he resembled the plants themselves.
Asriel raised his head, then turned to Frisk. He lifted his hand and waved. Frisk waved back.
The sounds of distant birdsong faded. The smell of sweet pollen gave way to earth and damp. Frisk left Asriel behind, and did not turn around again. The stained stone arch to the Ruins loomed like an open mouth.
The waiting dark filled him with determination.
* * *