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Aesop Boy and the Trauma Kid

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The human isn’t anything like what Asriel imagined it would be like.

It’s small, like him.

“A king needs friends,” his father tells him over a steaming cup of tea in the garden. “Good company! They remind you that you aren’t better than anyone else. They centre you. They remind you who you’re working for.”

Asriel would never have picked to be a king, he thinks. It’s pretty cool in theory – he sees the way people look up to his parents sometimes. Mom and Dad are always busy listening to people and doing things for them, though. It mostly just seems to be a lot of responsibility for other people’s problems. “You mean a king’s friends need the king,” he says, sticking his tongue out.

His dad gives him a good humoured smile. It’s as close to impatience as he gets. “Oh Asriel, no it’s not like that. Why, the other day Mrs. Snowdrake brought us by a lovely pie didn’t she?” says his dad, looking sincerely over to him, attempting an appeal.

“Yeah… It was a good pie,” Asriel offers peacefully. “Not as good as Mom’s though.”

“You see? We do things for others, and they help us in turn. We all help each other to create a better underground… Eventually you’ll get a chance to lead this effort!” His dad takes a gentle sip from his tea. He’s all small gentle mannerisms in a big unfitting body. “Of course, you won’t have to for a very long time. We live long lives,” he offers reassuringly.

Asriel might not ever make a friend who doesn’t want something else from him. That’s what he thinks. He’s not like Dad who can be so open and friendly to everyone – genuinely feeling care towards everyone he meets, and he’s not like the other kids.

He’s ‘not better than anyone else’… but what if he is? He hopes he is, because if he isn’t why does he feel so lonely? And if he isn’t better than them, maybe he’s worse than all of them. He’s definitely different.

The thing is, Asriel wants the other kids to like him. It just gets harder.

When he was young he made a lot of friends easy. He’d bring them over to his place and show them all the cool stuff, like his dad’s armour and tea collection; and all the books his mom had collected on snail facts.

Eventually, though, other kids always got bored.

“Your family’s surprisingly dull,” laughed one kid.

When the kids got bored, they got bored of him.

It always started and ended the same. They’d crowd around him, ask him questions about his family, and eventually he took them on a tour and answered everything they wanted to know. Then they left. They left him. They ignored him. They didn’t care.

He hardly bothers anymore.

Asriel used to get in more trouble. Sometimes he would push kids. Sometimes he would get into fights.

His parents always heard about it after, and gave him stern lectures. None of the other kids got lectures like him, he thinks. It’s not even about what he does, it’s about how everything he does means something for the future. Some version of him that doesn’t exist yet.

There were always words – words specific to him. “Someone like that will be our leader one day?” “Someone who hits people... how do you think they’ll be when they have power over others?” Mocking bows, ‘sorry your highness’ when he got upset, but with cruel smiles.

Asriel got placed in little special anger management lessons early on, taken out of class on occasion for private talks, because he was a bad kid. A bad kid who was going to have to be leader, which meant he had to be a good kid. When he leaves class to see his counsellor, he can feel the stares of the other students, because they know. Now he knows that when he loses in a board game, he’s not supposed to say a word. He’s supposed to smile, and lie, and hold out a hand and say ‘Good game!’

Asriel isn’t the best at tag, or the best at reading, or the best at telling stories. When he runs he loses his breath quick, he stumbles over words longer than seven letters and his stories always lose focus and end up too long.

He’d like to have something about him that makes the other kids point at him and go ‘that’s the friend I want’. He’d like if anything about him was special and appealing.

All he can offer people is cheap, fake smiles and nice words. He feels like a little friendly puppet, like in the shows his teacher sometimes gives, except he gets to puppeteer his own mouth. His parents would be proud, he thinks, that he smiles so much and he helps children who’ve fallen on the ground and that even when he isn’t into it he offers to clean up messes others’ leave behind. He always likes to do things that, if his parents heard about them later, would make them happy.

Something is building underneath his skin though. Some bubbling frustration. No one becomes friends with you because they think it’s cool that you say nice stuff you don’t mean. They get closer, and they can peel it off you, and they can see that inside all of those things you say are just appeals. Empty underneath. It’s not enough.

Asriel’s heard so many surface stories from his dad. Most of them are war stories, but not all of them. Sometimes his dad told him about sunny days on the surface, oceans, humans and monsters basking together, old trade negotiations that fell apart. His dad was just little when things started to turn sour though. The war went on so long, and his dad had hardly had any friendly human interactions when he was alive. Conflict had started escalating a few years after he was born.

So the human isn’t at all what he expects.

It’s soft. It’s weak. Not bad things. Things he wouldn’t have expected.

He imagined humans would all be big. He thought its teeth and claws would be sharper. It’s just someone roughly his size that smells weird.

“Oh! You’ve fallen down, haven’t you?” says Asriel when he sees it – the human. There’s nothing else it can be. “Are you okay? Here, get up.” He reaches forward for its hand. If Asriel had to rate himself, he’d say smiling and being helpful were his number one talents. He tries.

The kid reaches out and lets themselves be helped up. “I’m alright. I’m, uh, Chara,” it says, but slowly. Red dribbles from its head, leaks from the mop of fur that encases it.

“Chara huh? That’s a nice name. My name’s Asriel,” he says. Curiously, he reaches forward and sticks his hand in the red goo streaking the human. “What’s this stuff?” He opens and closes his paw pads around it. It coats the inside of his paw and feels a bit tacky.

“Shit, I’m bleeding,” it moans. “Ugh, stupid stupid.” It scrubs aimlessly at its mop of fur. Its eyes blink at him wide, and it slumps down on the ground. “Asriel?” it says.

“Uh, yes?” he replies.

“Could you sit down here for a moment? I feel a bit ill, and you’re hovering above me,” it says.

Asriel sits down and feels super awkward. He’s played with other kids before but it’s usually not one on one. He’s not used to being alone with someone else his age. It feels strangely intimate.

“I didn’t think monsters were real,” Chara says. It smiles a big unnerving smile, and looks deathly pale. Tired, too.

Asriel isn’t sure if he should be insulted, that the things that have cursed them down here don’t remember they exist. He isn’t sure, but he’s insulted anyway. “Yeah, uh. I wasn’t sure humans were either,” he lies, “I thought maybe they were just… Made up. Made up creatures because... what would be so horrible they’d trap us?”

The human is quiet for a second. It blinks its eyes rapidly, and sniffs. There’s something unreadable in its voice when it speaks next. “Well. You’re right. Humans are horrible. They’re… scum,” it replies, some sulkiness entering its tone. “…I like monsters. I hoped they were real.”
“…I don’t think they’re… scum,” Asriel replies, fidgeting with his sweater, ashamed his passive aggressiveness was called out. “I’ve never even met one. Before you, I mean. All I know is what happened. …I never thought I’d meet one.”

“It’ll be a unique cultural exchange for us both,” laughs Chara. It uses unfamiliar sounding words. Asriel likes it.

“Yeah,” says Asriel and as strange as it is he giggles too.

“This,” says Chara, probing around its head and coating its finger in the tacky red residue, “is blood.”

Asriel thinks about this a bit. “I feel I’ve heard that before,” – maybe in one of Dad’s war stories, “but I don’t get it?”

“Blood… excretes when you have an injury. I have a head wound. I think I might need some help walking. I feel dizzy,” replies Chara, wincing as it probes around the wound a bit more.

“Oh no!” replies Asriel, “We should get you back to Mom and Dad then!” He stands up quickly, and offers his paw out again. “Here!”

Hesitantly, Chara grips his hand and is pulled up. They both almost topple over.

“Lean on me if you need to,” says Asriel. “My house isn’t too far from here.”

Mom patches the human’s head up with healing magic and gives them some fresh clothes. Chara’s old clothes are covered with blood and when Asriel’s mom offers to clean them, they just shake their head. The clothes are thrown out.

Chara smiles at her, but it doesn’t say much. It says less to her than it did to Asriel.

The first meal with the human is weird. There’s a lot of staring and awkward smiling. Asriel usually gets a bit of a break from awkward smiling around the table, but now that this kid’s come here maybe he’ll never get a break. He dashes the mean thought out of his head though, because he can’t help but be hopeful. Having another kid around might not be so bad. Especially one who doesn’t know his parents. Especially one who just met his parents, and don’t think they’re a big deal and who even talks to him more than they talk to his parents.

Chara smiles a lot. Its smile doesn’t quite reach its eyes though, and Asriel wonders if that’s what he looks like in public sometimes, when he has to be nice to kids he doesn’t like or stand somewhere while Mom and Dad make a speech.

“We’ll try to make you at home as possible,” his mother tells the human. “I hope you find the food to your liking. I can try some other recipes if it doesn’t suit your tastes.”

Chara isn’t eating much at all, but it smiles at his mom and says “The food’s great.”
Mom and Dad’s eyes are on Asriel.

Asriel pokes around his dinner with a fork. “You wanna play some games after dinner?” he asks.

“…Maybe,” replies Chara, taking a slow restrained bite of some snail pie.

“Asriel,” his mother says, her voice turning soft, “tonight it might be best for our guest to get settled in.”

Asriel flicks his eyes to his mom and her stern expression, then back to Chara’s noncommittal smile. “But we can talk right!” Asriel huffs.

Chara’s smile shifts and becomes a little more lopsided, a little more natural. “Sure,” it replies.

It turns out Chara is a they, and not an it like most of the Underground and Asriel feels relief when they volunteer this information. It’s not weird to ask, exactly, but Asriel wasn’t sure how it worked with humans and if they’d find it a weird question.

As they get ready for bed Asriel tell Chara all about the underground. He tells them about Waterfall and Hotlands and even though he doesn’t let it slip past his lips, he gets excited thinking about the idea of showing them all these places.

Chara is mostly quiet, but nods along, only asking the occasional question as they open up the toothbrush packet they’ve been given, brush their teeth and slip into borrowed pyjamas.

Then they ask him something that gives him pause.

“Is it true people who come down here can’t return?”

Asriel shuts his mouth. Then he opens it. He reconsiders and closes it again. He’s not sure he should be the one to drop the news, but it’s nice to feel important. It’s nice to be considered someone who knows things. “Yeah,” he replies. “The barrier can’t be broken without… well it’s complicated. It’s impossible right now.”

Chara nods their head. “Good,” they say, giving a little laugh, as they climb into Asriel’s bed.

“Good?” Asriel asks as he climbs into bed beside them.

They shake their head. “Tell me more about Waterfall,” they say.

No one ever wants Asriel to talk, except for Mom and Dad, and they’re usually busy. No one asks. Asriel trips over his words, and flings himself out of bed at one point to drag a picture book over so he can show them in detail all the places in the underground.

Chara comes to really like the Underground, Asriel thinks. Asriel does get to do ‘cultural exchange’ with Chara, and Chara tells him all about the surface world and how brutal humans are, still even now. Chara was forced to come to the Underground because of how cruel humans were. Asriel’s first suspicions were right, as it turns out. Chara is just an exceptionally cool human.

Chara offers to help with the gardening (especially when Dad’s out there) and when Asriel and them go out snail hunting, they take a special delight in smashing snails, even if it’s better for Mom to receive unsmashed snails. It’s weird to finally have someone who tags along with him when he goes out. Sometimes the two of them eat bushes and bushes of berries. Sometimes they debate about whether Asgore or Toriel is cooler – Asriel thinks Mom is, because she can be so commanding, and she lets herself get angry at the right times, and she knows when it’s okay to be, and she has so much power behind a look. Chara thinks Asgore is, because he has so much control and never drops his smile, and he can genuinely care so much, an impossible task for either of them. They wrestle sometimes over this and Chara always wins.

Asriel and Chara both admit to each other they can’t care as much as Asgore about the blubbery kids and whiny adults of the Underground. Chara’s the first one to listen to Asriel talk about how he’s worried about being some sort of support for everyone. Chara understands, they’re not like Mom or Dad. They don’t know how to care so much about these people either. Sometimes they sit around and pantomime the requests Asgore and Toriel get, pitching their voices higher, whinier and more nasal. Chara makes Asriel feel like a better person.

Chara finds the other kids boring. Every time they say this, Asriel finds himself blushing a little, happy that he isn’t one of the boring ones.

Chara has started to attend school though, and it’s weird to finally know what it’s like to look forward to going to school. Asriel has someone to do projects with, and when they get together at recess Chara gossips about the other kids and makes Asriel laugh harder than he’s ever laughed. Asriel’s allowed to say mean things about the other kids. Not only is he allowed to do it, Chara laughs hard and is happy when he does, and instead of shutting his mouth it encourages Asriel to pick at their flaws more, to let out and grow out all his disdain at them even more. Asriel’s never been allowed that.

Chara’s surprisingly quiet around Mom and Dad.

“Why don’t you talk to them more?” Asriel asks Chara one day, after class.

“Asriel, Asriel,” they say chidingly, but in a teasing way, “Never trust adults.”

“Wha – why?” Asriel squawks out surprised. The only people who ever listened to him before Chara came were Mom and Dad.

“I like Asgore and Toriel,” they reply. “They’re better than the adults where I come from… but Asriel, when you tell adults things they always use that information later. You’re a kid! I’m a kid. If you tell an adult you don’t like something… when you eventually get in trouble, they’ll use it,” they say, nodding sagely at you. “It’s like… What kind of food don’t you like?”

“Turnips,” Asriel replies, automatically, rapt at this new information.

“Right. So if you tell an adult you don’t like those, next time they put them on your plate, they’ll watch you more closely. Telling them what bothers you doesn’t stop them from doing it. It just makes it harder to get rid of what you don’t like,” says Chara, as if they’ve said the wisest thing in the world.

Asriel thinks for a bit. “Chara, if you don’t like something… I think Mom would listen, or try to not make it so much. I mean, adults are supposed to help you, and look out for you? I think?” He doesn’t feel too sure about himself. Chara’s always good at giving him fresh ideas, and he has a hard time dismissing this one. Mom still makes him eat turnips, but Chara’s a human. They don’t have to eat snail pie if they don’t want.

“Asriel, you and me are big kids aren’t we? We’re what, 10? It’s not like we’re small anymore. We don’t need adults or their help.” Chara shakes their head. “Anyway, it’s not about that. It’s not about whether they’ll change a small thing here or there. If you tell them what’s bothering you, when they get angry, they’ll use it. Trust me.”

Asriel thinks about what Chara said, and tries to observe things. When adults get upset, they take away things Asriel likes. When adults get upset, they make Asriel do things he especially doesn’t like, like cleaning his room. Chara is right.

Chara’s small, just like him. Chara knows what it’s like to be small. The only reason Asriel can think of for Chara telling him this for is to protect him. His chest swells.

“You’re my first friend,” Asriel finds himself blurting out one day when they’re sitting among echo flowers and Chara is leaving rude messages for the other schoolchildren – saying all the things Asriel can’t say (his voice is too familiar – ‘you sound like a young Asgore’ or ‘you sound like the queen when she was small’ are things he hears a lot).

Chara is quiet for a moment, taking Asriel in. Then they laugh. It’s not nasty, like a lot of Chara’s laughs are. “...Mine too. My first real one…” they say, fiddling with the stem of an echo flower. “If you don’t betray me,” they add.

‘…Don’t betray me….’ Echoes out among the flowers as Asriel’s mouth hangs open in surprise.

“I’d never betray you, Chara!” Asriel replies, eagerly.

“Oh?” replies Chara, not really looking him in the eye.

“I-I… Yeah! I’d rip out my toenails before I betrayed you!” Asriel says earnestly.

Chara laughs, and a light red flush spreads across their face.

The fact Asriel’s succeeded at making Chara blush makes him blush in return.

Chara grows pensive for a second. “Hey, Asriel. Have you ever heard of a blood pact?”

Asriel hasn't. “A blood pact?” he asks, curious. He remembers what blood is, can remember the sticky tacky feeling of it.

Chara nods and crosses their arms. “It’s a solemn way of swearing loyalty. We could do one.” They look a bit shy at this.

“Oh. But I don’t have blood. I’m not sure I can do it,” replies Asriel, feeling his gut sink.

Chara’s mouth twists in disappointment for a moment, then untwists. They persevere. “It’s more about the gesture than the blood,” they say. “I mean, you have dust right? It’s the same thing.”

“Oh, yeah,” Asriel replies. “I mean, sure, I can do it then.”

“We’ll have to do it when we get home,” replies Chara, “Nothing’s sharp enough around here. It’ll be cool!” they say, and in their eyes Asriel can see they are excited, carried away with their plan already. They get like that sometimes.

Asriel’s excited too, he just hopes he can go through with it. He doesn’t want to be a bad friend.

Asriel excitement has died down by the time they get home, as he’s forgotten about the blood pact completely. On the way back they focused instead on topping each other with proclamations of loyalty, and what they’d do to prove it. Then occasionally toppling over a neighbour's garbage can when they made sure no one was in sight.

The two of them arrive home and Chara rifles through the knife drawer. They bring out a small kitchen knife, nothing too big, and then the two of them hole up into their shared room with their prize.

There’s two beds now that Chara’s a long term resident. It feels nice at night for Asriel to look at across from himself and see their face, sleeping. It makes everything seem less scary. Sometimes he wishes they still shared the one bed though, and he could cuddle up to them with an excuse.

Chara pricks their finger and the familiar red beads out. Then they hand the knife to Asriel, almost dropping it. “Your turn,” they say, expectantly, smiling.

Asriel really doesn’t want to let them down. He holds the knife over his paw, staring down at it. He can feel himself sweating.

The longer he holds it and doesn’t act, the more Chara's smile hikes.

“I, doesn’t it hurt?” Asriel asks.

Chara’s smiling, but it’s not their happy smile. “I mean. It does, but I did it,” they reply. Their brows are creased.

“I know you did,” Asriel replies peevishly, “I just…”

Chara shakes their head. “Whatever, I get it. You’re a baby. A boring baby. This is your limit.”

There’s a silence between them for a few seconds. In it, Chara’s smile stretches unpleasantly, strains in a way and Asriel can feel himself panicking. Chara looks away from him for a bit, for a long few seconds. Then they turn back to him, just to give him an exaggerated eye roll. “If you can’t do it,” they bite out and they hold their hand out, “just give the knife back to me. No one will ever know what a baby you are. Except me.” They pantomime crying with their free hand.

Asriel feels sick. He can feel his eyes filling up, and he trembles. He can’t let them think that. He can’t. His hand holding the knife is trembling. “I’m just, just give me a second!” Asriel says.

“Are you crying?” asks Chara, disgust apparent. They sigh. “I bet you won’t,” says Chara sourly. “I trusted you and you can’t even-“

Asriel, upset and shaking, plunges the knife down into his paw. Dust flies into the air and into both their faces, from the force of it.

Chara coughs and laughs. “Gross!” they say, but their smile has turned genuine. They reach for Asriel’s wrist, and press their fingers together. “Sealed,” they say, as the chalky dust covers up their cut and red stains Asriel's white fur. “Now we can always trust each other to keep secrets and to never let each other down.”

Asriel sobs but lets it turn into a laugh. He hugs Chara. He’s so glad. His tears turn half relieved. He didn’t want to disappoint them. He didn’t want to be boring, like those other kids, and he isn’t. He’s special. “Yeah,” he says, smiling. “We can always trust each other.”

Chara learns how to unlock doors in the Underground. They’re super proud of this skill. Every time they manage to successfully pick a lock, they’ll turn over to Asriel with a large proud smile and show it off. It always makes Asriel smile in return, because they are cool, and he’s never figured out how to do something like that.

It’s the most thrilling thing Asriel has done when the two of them skip an occasional class and start going into people’s houses while they’re at work. The idea of what would happen if they got caught terrifies him. Sometimes it excites him too though, and he imagines rescuing Chara from a house where a resident is still in it - standing boldly in front of them and shielding them with a flung out arm.

Chara like to steal sweets from other people’s homes. Small snacks. “Just in case Asgore or Toriel cut our food sometime,” they tell him.

“Why would they do that?” asks Asriel in a hushed whisper.

“Duh, Asriel, you idiot. Adults get angry and when adults get angry you need to watch out what they’ll take away from you,” they say.

Asriel always watches them with hesitation when they messily go through people’s stuff, but he gets roped into it too a lot of the time, especially when Chara notices he’s looking uncomfortable.

“C’mon Azzy, help me tear this baby toy apart,” they’ll say, holding up a plushie or some other kind of kid’s toy.

Asriel might like the same kind of baby toys, but Chara has assured him he’s different because he’s special. One of a kind. Asriel is self-aware, and a big kid, and when you’re a big kid who’s special like Asriel it’s okay to like baby toys because he’s ‘transcended’ that.

There’s a sick kind of delight that comes to the two of them when they stand together and grip onto the arms and legs of a toy and split it down the middle. Whoever can rip off a proper chunk of it first usually wins, and it’s usually Chara. Chara tends to win.

Chara and Asriel end up breaking into Gerson’s house when the monster is away at his store during the day.

It ends badly.

Gerson arrives home to find pages of his history books ripped and scattered everywhere. One book is crammed in his fireplace. Asriel's voice is caught in his throat, and he doesn't stand in front of Chara. He doesn't move at all. For what it's worth, neither does Chara, who is just as still.

“You know kid, all those prophecies might call you an angel, but I don’t believe it for a minute!” Gerson is clearly furious. He drags them both home.

“Asriel, what did he mean?” Chara asks, after Asgore and Toriel talk to them both sternly and send them to their room.

Asriel is forced to explain, embarrassed. He’s not sure he believes the prophecies. He avoided letting Chara see them, because he was worried what Chara would think of monsters if they saw them, what Chara would believe about their naivety.

“Asriel,” says Chara, and it’s the angriest Chara has ever been with him, “Never ever hide information from me ever again.”

Chara talks to Dad a lot more after that. They seem to have an easier time going up to him than Mom. They’ll open books, and ask him about the prophecies, and Asgore is glad to tell them all the positives of the prophecy, how a human could symbolize a new age and peace. Most of the monsters in the Underground have never seen a human before.

Sometimes Asriel wishes Chara was asking him that, but it’s not so bad for them to bond right?

“Asriel,” says Chara as the two sit together in the garden on the grass. “There’s something I think I can tell you. But only if you keep it secret.”

“Everything between us is secret pretty much,” Asriel laughs, hoping it fills Chara with more confidence. He’s curious and he feels honoured. “I mean, I don’t tell Mom and Dad any of it.”

“I know, this is why I’m… placing confidence in you,” they say, slowly.

“Okay,” says Asriel. “I cross my heart and hope to die,” he says dramatically, finishing his statement by sprawling on the ground playing dead.

Chara laughs and ruffles his head, “Okay okay. Well, you know how I told you humans suck right?”

“Right,” says Asriel, propping his head up on his paws. “But not you.”

“Obviously not me, you idiot,” they laugh affectionately. “I’m the one exception, since I'm barely a human at all,” they say, puffing out their chest and winking down at Asriel.

Asriel giggles. “You should’ve been a monster,” he replies.

Chara’s face grows softer at that. “Asriel. I didn’t… you must wonder why I fell,” Chara says.

“Sometimes,” Asriel admits, pulling out handfuls of grass. He can't look Chara in the eye. “I didn’t think you’d like me asking.”

“Asking would’ve been rude,” agrees Chara. “But I’ll tell you… I’ll be completely honest. I climbed up the mountain to die. The humans I was around – they were awful to me. They hurt me. So I wanted to leave this world forever. In my hands… In my power. Your life… is one of the biggest things you get to control. Whether you live or die.”

Asriel nods, though his gut wrenches at the thought. The idea he might never have met Chara, that he might have stumbled upon their body truly broken before he got to know them, makes him sick. Chara’s words are true though – if he thinks about what Chara says, that sounds true. Your life is powerful. “I’m happy you didn’t die though Chara… I. really like playing with you!” he says emphatically. “I was lonely before you came.” He sniffs back tears that have started welling in his eyes when he thinks about a life void of Chara, knowing they’ll make him look like a big baby.

“I’m glad I didn’t die then either,” Chara agrees, placing a hand on Asriel’s shoulder. “I got to meet you, and learn a lot down here. We’ve… had fun. And if I do die, I think it can be for… I think it’ll be for better purpose. Better reasons.”

Asriel’s heart skips a beat. “Better reasons?”

Chara shakes their head. “Trust me Asriel, when I figure things out, I’ll tell you. You’ll be the one to know.”

It shouldn’t, but Asriel’s cheeks warm and he feels like he's glowing. It makes him feel a bit gross. It sounds so ominous it shouldn’t make him happy but… to be trusted, to be special – he feels giddy. He feels warm. He basks in Chara’s trust.

“Right, well… Asriel. I’ve been listening to a lot of things, I’ve been reading a lot. My parents… the kids on the surface… I. I really really hated them Asriel. They hurt me. They – I didn’t have adults like Asgore and Toriel,” Chara says, the line of their mouth flat, their face solemn.

“No one looked out for you?” asked Asriel.

“People said they did but,” Chara shook their head. “Not in truth. I… had to look out for myself. Not just that. Asriel… sometimes if you don’t hurt people, they’ll hurt you. You have to be careful. Asriel… I hate them so much. Every day, I’m so angry, and hate and I just want. Maybe you won’t get this Asriel, you’re such a baby about some things but… if I could kill them, I think I would. This. Rotten, swelling anger. It makes me sick to know they live out there, that they could be happy when they’re such disgusting people. Asriel have you ever felt like you could kill someone?”

Asriel frowns, thinking. “Right now I do,” he says, placing a paw on Chara’s hand. “If – if I could hurt the people who hurt you, I would Chara.”

Chara stares. They blink, eyes slightly wet. “You loser,” they laugh. They shove Asriel slightly, wiping their sleeve over their eyes quickly. “You baby, you wouldn’t. That’s the sweetest thing you ever said though Azzy.” They smile. There’s a long pause where they fiddle with their sleeve and don’t look at him.

Then Chara reaches over and kisses him on his forehead.

Asriel blushes hard and thinks about it for the rest of the week.

Maybe Chara ignores Asriel’s ideas all the time. Maybe whenever Chara sees Asriel listening to their plans and ideas, Asriel can’t help but go along to make them happy. Maybe Asriel likes being able to rely in and trust someone. Maybe it’s okay if it’s just the two of them, telling secrets to each other forever with no one else.

“Asriel,” Chara tells him one day while they’re skipping stones in Waterfall. Chara's in a mood, and has been in a mood all day. They look sulky and haunted, and their eyes are rimmed with red. Asriel hasn't seen them crying, but he knows they have been. “If you ever betray me, I’ll kill you.” They're glaring into the water after its swallowed up another one of their skipping rocks.

Asriel laughs. “Sure,” he says, throwing a stone into the stream. “Not like it’s going to happen anyway,” he informs Chara with a grin. The stone plonks into the water and sinks.

They look back at him with a tight lipped smile he can't read, then look away and drop their rocks onto the ground. "Good," they say. "Good."

The beginning of the end arrives with a baking misfire, and a plan.

Asriel spends the week begging his dad for forgiveness, waiting outside his door and crying.

Chara laughs about it a lot. “It’s okay Asriel, he’s okay!” says Chara. They hang outside Asgore’s door all the same with him.

“I just wanted to be good, I wanted it to be good,” Asriel sobs into his sweater, trembling. He likes being bad with Chara, but these three – his mom, his dad and Chara – they’re all he has. He never meant to hurt Dad, with his peaceful smiles and gentle mannerisms and -

“Chin up Asriel,” says Chara placatingly. “Don’t be a baby. The king of monsters can handle a badly cooked pie. We’re all going to enjoy telling this story over again in the future, it’s funny. Like an unintentional prank.”

Ultimately, Asgore is okay. He forgives them both easily, so easily, too easily. He pulls Asriel up to his lap and hugs him, even when he is still recovering. He gives Chara small pats on the head – Chara only gets so close to people, they keep themselves at a distance but will accept the gentle pats when they see them coming.

Asriel gets a lecture though. “As a ruler you must think ahead in the future, even the smallest ripple can have a wide effect,” his mother tells him. Her face is tired, exasperated and lined. Disappointing her is one of the worst feelings there is.

Chara is wrong about Asriel thinking of this fondly in hindsight.

They’re both playing outside, talking about how one day they’ll be stars and shooting their own mock show. Chara has just utterly decimated a small tree. Asriel is delighted. They perform their scary face and Asriel mucks up recording it.

“Asriel, shut that off for a second. I want to share some thoughts with you on an idea I’ve been ruminating on.”

The camera turns off.

There are tears. There’s pleading. “Don’t you trust me?” Asriel fumbles with the camera, maybe clicks some buttons. There’s crying.

Asriel trusts Chara. Asriel wants Chara to trust him too. The only way to do this is to carry this out successfully. If any adults here of this, their trust will be shattered. Asriel wants to believe Chara has this all figured out, and Asriel… wants to be believed in. Asriel wants to be the one person they can turn to.

Asriel fetches the flowers.

“Asriel, I need you to rehearse this with me. You need to learn this,” says Chara from their bed, and their face is thinner than it was before. It looks like someone has taken a wax figure’s face and peeled out the sides, scraped and left it looking unfitting and uneven in weird ways.

Asriel’s listening, but he can’t shake his dread. He can’t shake the sickness he feels in his stomach when he looks at them. “I’m scared,” he tells Chara in a hushed voice, standing at their bed. Their shared bedroom has become a constant sickroom.

“You can’t afford to be scared!” Chara tells him impatiently, looking irritated. “This is important! You’ve heard Asgore right? I am the child of the prophecies.” They smile, but the smile is a shallower version of their usual smiles, like a badly forged copy. “And so are you!” they say.

“And we’ll do it together,” says Asriel. He’s been saying those words since the plan was told to him, repeating it.

“That’s right,” agrees Chara, confidently. More confident than Asriel, at any rate. “We’ll do it together. Anyway… think about it Asriel. I originally came down here to end my life. Here now, I can use it and I can continue with you. Together. Perhaps we can even figure out a way to separate again… But, I was never destined to live as long as a boss monster. Boss monsters go on infinitely… Eventually you’d be alone.” Chara reaches out one of their hands, it’s weaker and thinner than it’s ever been. They place it on his chest, right where his soul might be. “In this way, I’ll always be with you. We’ll be inseparable, no matter the years.”

“Inseparable,” repeats Asriel. He clasps his paw over their hand. Maybe some… maybe with Chara in his soul, it can fill up something he lacks. He doesn’t know how it will work yet. He’s scared.

“The important thing though Asriel… when we get up there, we can’t hesitate. We need to kill them Asriel,” Chara’s face is grim, and serious, and not even smiling like it tends to. “If we want this to work, you have to learn that.”

Asriel tries to nod resolutely. He worries it comes off a bit weak, but if it does Chara doesn’t mention it.

Instead, Chara pats him lightly. “Get me some more flowers,” they say quietly.

They’re so quiet, and are so strong, and look so fragile that Asriel can’t bring himself to argue.

Asriel fetches the flowers.

Chara dies.

Asriel is panicking. Mom and Dad are sobbing over Chara’s lifeless body, and when Asriel presses his paws against Chara’s hand it’s so cold. Asriel’s never seen a dead human, and it’s nothing like the death of a monster. Chara’s still here, just still, unmoving. Chara’s themself, but not.

Anxiety hammers in Asriel’s chest as he waits for Mom and Dad to leave the room. Chara’s planned it all ‘meticulously’, and it won’t be him who messes it up. If Mom and Dad see they could stop him but… but how do you absorb a soul anyway? Asriel’s never done it, and he’s scared. How long does it take a soul to disappear? Will Chara’s soul dry up soon if he doesn’t reach for it? What if it doesn’t work? What if he can’t absorb the soul?

Asriel’s crying, sobbing, heaving, with the thought that Chara might truly be gone. Not just that, even if this works – even if it does – Chara will never hold his paw in their hand again, or hold his face, or flick him in the nose, or press a dry kiss to his forehead. Chara won’t blush or cry or look at him with a smile or watery eyes or – but no. He tries to calm down all these racing thoughts. Chara said they might figure out a way to get a body for them again later, as long as he does his job and takes in their soul. Who knows? No one does.

His mother and father both take turns holding him, coddling him, in a time that feels like forever. They eventually both step away, probably to have an Adult Discussion about what’s happened.

It’s up to him to step up to the plate, for Asriel to fulfill his role. He can hear Chara’s voice chiding him in the back of his head ‘I’ve done all the work up until now’. He smiles a wavering smile, wipes his eyes clean of tears and his nose free of snot.

He presses both his paws up against Chara’s chest, trying to feel the resonance of their soul. It’s powerful, determined, and oddly familiar. As he beckons their soul forward to him, and eases it out of Chara’s body like a stuck cookie on a sheet, he can tell it is Chara’s. An essence that belongs to them alone, an indescribable vibe of a person - like when you sit in their presence on a summer day and feel them right beside you.

The soul, shining, slowly lifts from where he is pressed against Chara’s chest. It’s red like Chara’s blood, like their eyes, and it gives off a glow and the tiniest hum as it moves through the air. It drifts from Chara to him, and he feels a warm burning as it enters his chest.

“You did it,” he hears, immediately. He doesn’t get a chance to reply.

Asriel’s growing. His body’s twisting, growing taller and sharper. Horns burst from his head, from someplace deeper than just his head. They’re coming right out of his skull, and his head hammers and throbs with pain. Eyes pop out along his body in places they shouldn’t – an eye along his shoulderblade, more along his face, his head. He feels disgust, and his head swims as his vision adjusts and becomes more. He can see through them. His vision isn’t like anything he’s had before and he feels sick.

It takes him a second to move at all.

“You did it, Asriel,” the voice repeats with wonder and excitement. It’s Chara’s voice, lodged inside his head now, no face alongside it. “You did it! I knew I could put faith in you! I knew I could trust you! I’d hug you right now if I could, you oaf,” laughs Chara warmly.

In any other circumstance, Asriel would be glowing with the praise. As is, Asriel feels so uncomfortable in this new body, this new form that he wants to die. It feels wrong. His limbs don’t move the way they should, his head doesn’t feel the weight it should. Nothing feels right. When he glances at his limbs, they look wrong.

“Relax,” says Chara. “I can feel your feelings right now Asriel… This feeling of dysphoria. This body? We will both become acclimatized to it. Or be able to alter it in the future to accommodate us. I am sorry about how you feel. Bodies… are disgusting.”

“I can’t get used to this,” Asriel breathes, sob panicking. His voice is alone in the room. It sounds like a one-sided conversation.

“No, no. It’s… I have some experience here,” Chara confides in him. “It’s okay. Here, let me control this for a bit. You can sit back Azzy. I’ll handle it from here.”

Asriel’s arms move but it’s not him moving them. He feels sicker than before. It’s an unreal feeling that has him pulled up fifty feet into his own head. He’s being piloted. It makes him feel even worse. “Can’t… can’t we wait?” he asks. “Chara, I’m. I feel sick. You just died. I’m-“

“Mom and Dad will be back soon idiot,” Chara replies sharply. There’s a silence. “…I’m sorry. I know how you feel. But no. We only have one shot we can do this in.” They reach out and grab their own body, with his – their arms. Chara’s body is cold and light, still and coiled, tense.

Asriel feels his stomach getting worse and worse.

Asriel and Chara’s shared body strides off.

They cross the barrier. Asriel barfs when they hit the surface before they come in contact with the town. Chara laughs at him a bit, but it rings hollow. They throw in some uncharacteristic encouragement too. The encouragement makes Asriel ache with wrongness too.

“What? You want me to be a jerk?” asks Chara, who can feel Asriel’s discomfort.

“No,” says Asriel, “no. I’m… everything feels wrong. I’m sorry.” He laughs weakly. “It is unlike you though.”

“Yeah uh, obviously I’m trying to be nice! This is the serious bit,” says Chara.

Asriel finds it in him to smile weakly.

Chara’s tense like him too, and Chara’s nervous like him too, but Chara’s emotions are harder to feel under the roar of Asriel’s nausea. Asriel senses that they’re angry – he could always tell they were. Angry about humans, ready to hurt them. He finds their shared feelings harder to separate.

It’s a long hike down the mountain. Still, it gives Asriel a bit of time to appreciate the surface and he’s happy about it. They don’t have to hurt anyone right away. The sun – it’s so bright it hurts his eyes, but everything is so colorful up here. It’s like it’s been shot through a photo filter. Maybe the sun is a photo filter, in a way.

“I’m glad you like it,” says Chara softly. “Soon enough, Asgore and Toriel will be able to join us up here.”

On the way down the mountain, they discuss what it will be like on the surface. Asgore’s flowers will do better with more sun. Toriel will have more children to coddle – but that thought pangs at Asriel, reminds him of what they both have to do. They stop discussing it and Chara explains what some of the plants are, what the sky is like. They use their shared body to throw a few fireballs at trees, set a few things on fire, and summon magic neither of them have ever used before.

Chara’s pretty happy about it. Magic wasn’t something they could use before.

They hit the town. It’s not too bad at first.

Asriel’s nausea is still there, but it’s turned more into a butterflies in his stomach feeling. Like he’s about to give a big speech, except here it’s taking the souls from some humans. The buildings are taller than most of the buildings in the underground. The occasional person they run into screams and runs, or doesn’t say anything at all but bolts for it.

“Not them?” asks Asriel, as Chara moves them forward.

“No,” says Chara. “It’ll be easier if they’re crowded together, I think. Plus I’m carrying this,” and Chara hoists their own body up for a second. “So they’re definitely going to visit us and offer themselves up. Anyway, we still have somewhere to go.”

They bring Chara’s body to a patch of flowers and Chara lays their body down in them gently. Chara’s body is bedecked in pajamas, still sickly. “Looks good here, doesn’t it?” says Chara, smiling at him.

Chara’s body will never look right to him, as long as Chara’s not in it. Asriel knows, somehow, that this place has significance to Chara. He can’t begin to guess why. There’s so many things about Chara that are a mystery to him still. He tries to push down any of his misgivings, so hard so that Chara can’t feel them. “Lovely,” he says.

“Pff, I can tell you’re lying Asriel. It’s okay though. You helped me achieve this,” they say. “And now… It’s time.”

Chara’s right, as they always are.

The humans have arrived.

“Monster,” a human in blue shouts at him. “Why have you come here? Why have you killed this child!” In it’s hand, there is a gun. It glints in the sun, black and shiny.

There’s murmurs in the crowd. No one believed monsters were real. Everyone forgot they existed, or doubt they ever did.

Chara’s angry.

Asriel could sense Chara’s anger before, but now it’s come out in full force. Anger at people who have hurt them. Anger at specific people.

Chara’s eyes – their shared eyes – are searching for familiar faces. They’re roaming over the crowd before dismissing them. “Well,” says Chara. “I can always find them later.”

Their hand crackles with magic.

The thing is – Asriel wished he didn’t feel this way, but the thing is – they all look like Chara. Chara said humans were awful, but all of them just look like Charas. Big Charas, small Charas, and Asriel wonders – wonders if maybe Chara was wrong about all humans being bad. A lot of the humans just look scared. A lot of them are small, just like him. Just like Chara.

Their magic dies out. Their body jerks back and forth.

“You idiot,” snarls Chara, “Asriel! I told you! We can’t hesitate!”

These people could be his friends. They could be just like Chara. Asriel could kill someone who was Chara, in this moment, the person closest to him. He wouldn’t even know it. He doesn’t know these people. He feels stupid for thinking it would be so easy. “Chara, can’t we? Can’t we collect the souls some other way? Do we really have to kill-”

The crowd, silent, stares.

“The people here deserve it Asriel!” Chara’s anger boils, and its directed at him now too. “You don’t know anything and you’re acting like you do! I know all about this place! You traitor! You said you would trust me! You’re a liar! You’re-” Chara cries, “you’re just like everyone else!” Chara is angry, so angry their grip on the body fails.

A loud noise pops through the air, like a bang as the man pulls the gun back and fires. Then more loud noises. Numbness blossoms throughout his arms, his torso, his whole body at the points of impact. No, their whole body.

Asriel hesitates. Then Asriel runs. He runs as fast as he can, and when he’s running in this body, it’s pretty fast. The adrenaline helps, even if he’s leaking all over. He’s scared, and he’s going home. Some of the crowd follows, but they can’t keep up. They’re a bit like wary animals – only willing to go as far as that when others are with them.

“I hate you,” seethes Chara. “I hate you, I hate you. How could you do this to me? Asriel, how could you do this to us? We’d come so far! We’d almost made it! They almost got what they deserved and you almost got up to the surface! You, and Toriel and Asgore!”

“Chara, don’t you know why?” Asriel asks. Their eyes are leaking, their body is dripping some combination of blood and dust. It reminds him of their pact. This is what it feels like to have blood. It’s pretty messy.

“Yeah I know why,” they bark, “because you’re an idiot!”

“Chara they were just like you,” pleads Asriel.

“They weren’t just like me,” yells Chara. “You don’t even know how much of an insult it is to say that to me Asriel. You couldn’t possibly understand. You don’t understand me!”

The journey home feels so quick, maybe because of the rapid back and forth conversation between the two of them. Maybe it’s because of the boiling emotions and adrenaline, the fact he was hesitating on the way there and now isn’t. Maybe it’s the fear, the desperation. His vision is blurry. “Maybe Mom and Dad can help us, heal us,” says Asriel.

Their vision is blacking out. They’re in the door, they’re home, and Mom and Dad are coming but… He doesn’t even get to say anything to them. It’s like falling asleep, he can’t even bring himself to breathe out a word. His energy is zapped the moment he falls back through the barrier. They made it. No one has to die. They just have to readjust.

They’re not going to die. He can’t see anything, but he can still feel Chara in his head.

“Asriel, you idiot,” Chara angrily sobs. “You haven’t learned a thing.”

Chara dies hating him. They mean it – he can feel it. Chara dies having suffered for so long, and without ever being happy.

Asriel dies too. Filled with grief, wishing he could have unwrapped more of Chara, wishing he could have prevented this, but denying it, denying that he’s going to die. Asriel blames himself – he doesn’t know if he’s done the right thing. Chara was always right before, and maybe they were right now, and either way if it wasn’t the right thing maybe he should have done it anyway because sometimes it’s okay to be selfish. If he really did the right thing, then why did it turn out like this?

Asriel dies. Then he doesn’t.

Asriel wakes up alone. He wakes up alone, confused, jolted into a completely different kind of body ‘dysphoria’ and he cries. He doesn’t understand how he could be alive.

He may be an idiot, but he figures it out.

He figures out everyone and everything, actually.

The only puzzle he has left is Chara. Chara, who took them to the flower patch. Chara, who hated people so much but never told him why exactly.

He’s alone now, but sometimes he tries to prepare himself for when he’ll meet Chara again. He’s sure it will happen. He’s learnt so much in their absence he’s sure they’d be impressed. He pretends to have conversations with them sometimes – he apologizes. He begs. He shows off his new vocabulary. He tells them about all the constellations he knows now – he might know more than them. He tells them about all the people he’s killed – how he could do it too now, how he understands what drives them a bit more, how we could listen, and not disappoint them, and really help them this time.

Sometimes he’s very afraid of what Chara would say and do. He’s afraid a lot. The idea of them not coming back is worse than them coming back angry though.

He woke up alone and that doesn’t change, no matter how much he looks for Chara or spends hours calling out for them. He waits though – they deserve to be waited for. If he’s still alive, it’s only fair they are too. It’s only fair that Chara comes back too.

Then they do.

They may wear a purple sweater and hold a closed off expression, but Chara was always closed off – just in a different way. Asriel’s different too. It would be weird if Chara weren’t.

He understands them better now.

No one else would come down here and kill everything they saw. No one else would be full of that anger, need to settle that debt. No one else has what it takes. No one else has that raw lonely emptiness, that desire to get rid of everything out of disgust. He’s become someone who can do that for them. Even if Chara doesn’t say a word, even if they can’t – it’s okay. He’ll do better this time. After all this time, they’re still small, like him. They need help. They need to work together. He can prove to them that he’s the only one who understands them, and they were the only one who ever understood him.

“You’re Chara, right? We’re still inseparable, after all these years… Listen. I have a plan.”

Asriel can make it up to them.