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Friends Don't Leave

Chapter Text

It’s dark. Mostly quiet save for a gentle shuffling a short distance away. The blackness ebbs out of your mind, and your eyes soon follow suit. A couple blinks to let in the faint glow of the room you’re in, and you begin to read your surroundings. It’s an unfamiliar room, tile floors and walls a heavy wood color. Gold flames float upon sconces on the wall, and a soft pink glow arches around a figure to the side of the room. You recognize the silhouette, though without his signature hat you can better make out his tiny horns and droopy ears, bringing you back to the last time you saw him like this. You were saying goodbye but then… it takes your foggy brain a moment to fill in the blanks but once you have-

“Oh, Kris! You’re awake.” You look to the voice and see Ralsei give you a gentle smile. “I was just making a cake for us, but it’s still not ready.. I, um, did say we could come back here and eat cakes when your journey was over, did I not?” He fidgets a bit as he looks down on you. You’re still on the floor and when you adjust your weight you can feel your arms tug behind you.

“I, um, I’m sorry for the chains. I wasn’t entirely sure how you’d react to this, I mean, I really didn’t expect to react that way myself. People can be quite surprising in the moment I suppose.” He comes to his knees to match you in posture. “I admit, it was rather rude of me to pacify you without warning. I should have talked things over with you both, and perhaps you’d have agreed to stay on your own. I’m just so happy that you’re finally here, and I worry that, you might leave, and I’ll wake up as if you never came in the first place.”

The room sits silent now that he’s had his say. It seems he’s considering what to do next. You take stock of your position, legs folded beneath you, hands chained to the wall behind you, and hair strewn across your face as always. Susie doesn’t seem to be anywhere within the room. Just Ralsei, a subtly regal dining table and a cozy kitchen lined against the wall to your left. Ralsei heads in that direction and checks on something in the oven. You turn to examine your chains a little better. They seem to be standard prison shackles, oddly fashionable, as you noted earlier. They’re attached to a ventilation cover screwed into the wall. You wonder how much force you’d need to pull that from the vent itself.

“Um, Kris,” you turn to find Ralsei crouched near you again. “The cake is cooling now, it should be done shortly. If it’s alright, I could unlock you now and we can go sit at the table.”

From his behavior so far, you don’t seem to be in immediate danger. You’re not sure if he has other precautions in place to hinder your escape but being unchained certainly wouldn’t hurt, and at the very least, the table would be more comfortable than the floor. You nod and he sighs in relief before stooping to meddle with the chains.

“Here you are, Kris.” He’s learned nothing. There’s a moment where you imagine turning and clocking him in the head while leaping to bolt at the door, but you find yourself shuffling towards a seat at the dining table instead.

Ralsei approaches with a large plate in his hands. The cake is a dark, rich color with white poofs of icing spread in little dollops around the edge. There are some vaguely familiar symbols across the center but you can’t recall what they mean.

“I made enough for Susie as well but, she’s not ready to interact I think. I can bring her a slice when we’re done though. She might enjoy that.” He cuts out a piece for you and slides it in your direction, then repeats the action for himself. He seems totally unfazed by the bizarre situation that he’s wrapped you into. His gentle countenance and calm hum could almost fool you into thinking that this was just a normal visit among friends. It’s clear that that’s what he’s trying to trick himself into believing as well.

“Dig in, Kris.” Ralsei stares expectantly at you from his seat across the table. You glance at the sweet beneath you, and back at Ralsei. You take half a forkful from the corner and bring it to your mouth. It tastes like marshmallows. Besides that, the texture of the cake itself is deep and creamy, while the white tufts are light and fluffy on your tongue, striking a good balance between flavors. It’s so very comforting. You hate it.

“I hope you like it, Kris, it’s dark candy cake. I thought since both you and Susie liked those in the forests it would be a good one to start with. Plus, it’s one of the flavors that I have the most experience with, so I was certain I could do a good job.” He takes a few bites himself and you both sit in silence.

“Well this is pleasant, don’t you think?”

You think Ralsei should choke on that cake. You tell him it was a sweet gesture.

“Oh I’m glad you think so! I can teach you how to make it if you’d like. Not now, of course. It’ll take us a while to finish this one as it is, but with three mouths at the table, I’m sure we’ll get an opportunity soon.” He gives an easy smile that lights the room better than the bobbing flames behind you, and his body loosens in the comfort that you’d play nice. “In the meantime, why don’t you ask me some questions? I know plenty about the kingdoms and I’ve picked up a few things from the books around the castle.” You ask about Susie.

“Oh, Susie? Like I mentioned, she isn’t taking too well to the situation. She’s in another room for now, but I’m sure she’ll calm down soon, then we can all spend time together!”

You poke for more details. “Really Kris, don’t worry about her. She’s safe and she won’t be getting out on her own. Once she understands, she’ll be just as kind as you.”

Your stomach churns at that, but you shovel a couple more bites into your mouth anyways to feed the silence. Ralsei takes that as a cue to reach for his own slice. In the shuffle of fabric, you catch a glimpse of a bracelet and you suddenly remember what the symbols on that cake stand for.

Friendship.

Perhaps for someone who’s never experienced it themselves, this empty act might suffice, but you have your own personal grudges against being a puppet.

“Is there anything else you’d like to know?” You ask about the dark world.

“Yes, the dark world, fueled by the fountain here at my castle. There are three kingdoms within this realm with very little interaction as of late. There is the East Kingdom, overseen by Card Castle as you well know, the West Kingdom ruled by the Beakers of Reason, and this the Central Kingdom, ruled and populated by yours truly. There is no direct route from the East to the West, but Lightners could travel to both, and they’d bring stories along with them. Sometimes citizens of the East would travel to this kingdom as well to visit or shop, but the Great Door was closed long before I was born.”

You ask about the empty kingdom. “This land was full of kind people. They crafted and traded, and pursued music and art, and nurtured families. The books they left behind have provided me many years of comfort and knowledge. I wish I could have met them all myself, though I suppose it’s for the best that I didn’t. I wouldn’t want to lose all of my friends. Once the Lightners visits became less frequent, people noticed entire families start to disappear. The kingdom banded together to look for them, but soon there was no one else to continue the search. It was then that the door was locked, and I arrived.”

That was plenty of information, though none of it immediately useful. You’d rather leave.

“But all of that is in the past. For now, I’m just glad to have my friends with me, and we don’t ever have to be lonely again. Speaking of which, I should really check on Susie now. Thank you for spending time with me today Kris, and for being so understanding.” He stands and you take the cue to do the same.

“Now, if it’s not too much trouble, would you please return to your cuffs?” He waits expectantly but you make no motion to comply.

“It’s not that I don’t trust you of course. It’s just a precaution for my own peace of mind. You understand right?”

“Please Kris, don’t make this difficult. I’ll be back soon and then we can hang out some more.”

“Kris, I refuse to use violence against you, just go to your chains.”

He sighs. “Alright then, let me ask again. Kris, would you please go to your chains for me?”

Your options are yes and yes. You head to the chains.

“Thank you Kris, I knew you’d understand.” He walks to your spot by the wall and locks you into place. “I won’t be long. Maybe I can bring you back some pillows to make you more comfortable. Talk to you later, Kris.” He turns and you watch his cloak swish out of the room, shutting the door behind him.

Chapter Text

He did end up bringing you those pillows. It did little to cushion the hard floor beneath you and it’s difficult to adjust without any hands. Comfort is a futile attempt when your arms are constantly arced behind you.

You while away in silence with no way of determining how much time has elapsed. It’s so quiet. You’d think a large, old castle like this would creak with every breath, or you’d hear a cricket or dripping or a ticking clock or anything at all. But it’s silent and so empty you could scream. You consider screaming. Would anyone hear? There is only Susie and Ralsei and a big open expanse.

You continue to sit, and sit, until the tell tale echoes of footsteps down the hall.

Ralsei walks in more riled up than usual. His fur sticks up slightly in the back and his stance is tensed. He has a teapot in his hands and he goes directly to the kitchen.

“Ah, hello Kris. I thought I’d make some tea today, and perhaps we could play cards.”

It doesn’t make much difference to you, but the lack of choice does stir you a bit.

“I, forgot the cards. Sorry Kris, I’ll be right back.” He rushes straight out of the room again without giving you so much as a second glance.

You look to the stove. You can’t tell what kind of tea it is from here, but the pot looks nice, breakable. You think about the many ways you can use a shard, and when those thoughts dwindle out, you think about how you won’t do any of those things. How you won’t do a single thing you’re not told. You stare at the teapot until Ralsei returns. He hums as he boils the tea, then as he moves it from the kettle to the teapot, then from the counter to the table.

“Alright, the tea is all set up. Why don’t you join me at the table?” He seems calmer now. He unlocks you and takes his normal seat. You take yours.

He prepares the cards and suggests a game that you know. He’s come to see you intermittently since that first time, each visit with another activity more dull and superficial than the last. He’ll try to make conversation but you’ve decided that you don’t particularly care. He deals you a hand and you let yourself drift into your own mind.

 

“I’ll win this time for sure!” It’s the same face, but such a different tone. His ears perk and eyes glisten with honest conviction as you shuffle the deck again.

“Is that so?” you tease.

“Absolutely! There’s no way you can keep winning after that many games. My luck is bound to turn soon.”

You nearly chuckle at that but hold yourself back. You don’t want to ruin the trick so soon.

“Okay then, if you’re so confident, why don’t we add some weight this round?” You glance at your brother and discreetly slide an ace to the top of the deck.

His shoulders fall a bit, “Uhh, I don’t know..”

“Aw you always wimp out.”

“I would prefer to go a week without an injury or something sticky I have to scrub out of my fur.”

“Glitter isn’t sticky.”

“Don’t you dare.”

“Alright alright,” you hold the cards out in an appeasing motion and use that opportunity to read them as well, “How about this? If I win you do my history project.”

“Kris, that’s cheating!”

“And if you win, I’ll do your math.”

“…” Cheating is fine when it pays. Seven, king, three, ten..

“Okay. It’s a deal.”

You smile and pass the cards. One of these days he’ll quit being so trusting, but until then you’ll enjoy the free grade boost.

 

“Your turn, Kris.”

The room feels darker when you blink back to attention. If Ralsei had been talking to you, you hadn’t noticed. You place a card.

“Ah another two? You’re having terrible luck, aren’t you?”

You could say that.

Apparently your deadpan expression is getting to him again and he starts speaking, “I have plenty of other games as well if this bores you too much. Or we could read some books, or try something creative, I-“

You quickly cut him off before he can begin that rant. His list of ‘fun friendship bonding’ activities is long enough to challenge Alphys’ anime opinions.

You suggest something else.

“Huh? Go outside? Well we could explore the kingdom a bit, but I’d rather wait until Susie is up to it. I know I said she can’t get out, but I’m still more comfortable being here just in case.”

He puts down a card. Eight.

You place a three.

“Honestly, she is being very frustrating. I can understand being upset but she continuously feels the need to lash out.”

At least one of you is putting up a fight. You place a card.

“Can’t she see that if she would just accept this, everything would be much easier and more enjoyable for all involved?”

You can tell this will go on for a while and consider tuning him out.

“Of course she doesn’t. She never pauses to think before rushing into a situation with an axe and an insult.”

He places a card.

“I don’t know why she’s so determined to leave anyways. It isn’t like there’s much for her at home.”

Your hand stalls, but you place a card.

“If only she could be more like you.” Obedient. Submissive. You bite your tongue and keep staring ahead like a good little doll.

“I’m sorry, Kris. I’ve been rambling haven’t I? I don’t mean to be so harsh on her. I’m just worked up is all.”

You suggest that you go visit her. You place a card.

“Huh? Oh, I don’t know about that…”

You could reason with her. You could be a good example.

“That is true. Kris, you are very kind, and exactly what I expected of a hero. It’s just, it’s a dangerous idea.”

He places a card, a five.

You remind Ralsei that he set things up so that she can’t escape. You tell him you trust him.

“I, well, I- I suppose then. I’ll consider it. Let me just make sure everything’s safe before we do anything.”

It’s not a promise, but it’s a start, and if your guess is right, it shouldn’t be too difficult to get him to follow through.

You place a card down. A king.

Chapter Text

It’s been a while. Longer than usual, you think. You tap your fingers against your shackles. A steady rhythm to lull you back into the void, but no matter how much you stare, you stay painfully aware of your position in this reality. Tap, tap. One friend who can’t let go. Tap, tap. Two friends who cannot move. Tap, tap. Three friends who have never been so alone. Tap, tap. Four friends doomed to the dark. Tap, tap. Five friends who, well you’ve never had that many friends before. You keep tapping regardless, until Ralsei finally wanders in.

“Hello, Kris. I hope I didn’t keep you waiting too long. I brought some books for us to share.” He places the pile down neatly on the table then turns to lock the both of you in. “I also brought along some nice snacks. This one’s got chocolate because I know you like that. Feel free to request any type of food as well. I’ll do my best to find something fitting.”

He’s been feeding you regularly, and yet you never feel fed. Susie was right. It’s like nothing you eat here matters. It’s enough to keep you alive, probably, but it lacks any real substance. He approaches you without hesitation and unlocks your chains. You walk to the table, more out of habit than anything.

“Alright, so these ones have stories about this kingdom, its history and inhabitants, these two are informational, diagrams about darkners and such, and these are fantasy novels.” He spreads the books into their prospective groups and looks to you. You grab a novel at the end.

“Oh that one was written by me, actually,” He shifts his feet a bit and looks down with bashful humility, “I was just so inspired by the other books I read down here, and I wanted to try making something too. I made um, quite a few actually, but that’s one of my favorites.”

You take the blanket from your place by the wall and lay it on a dining chair. You sit down with the book and start reading. It’s a story about a group of close friends fulfilling a prophecy to destroy evil. The protagonist is very kind and ends up befriending the major villain. You don’t know what else you expected. You place the book down.

“Oh Kris, you’ve finished already? What did you think?” He puts his own book down from across the table.

You tell him it seems familiar.

“Oh yes, well,” he blushes a bit under his fur, “I was imagining how our meeting would go. The ending’s a little, different, but I like how our adventure turned out as well.”

You encourage him by mentioning the ‘friends’ he made.

“Um, yes,” he squirms a bit in his seat, “Did you maybe want to look at another book?”

You squint suspiciously, though Ralsei can’t tell with your fringe in the way. You grab a history book.

“Oo, right that’s a good one. I especially like the part where it describes the festivals held in this kingdom. It would be fun to experience one personally.”

You hold the book in front of you, but don’t open it. You ask if Susie could join you next time.

“I, well, I don’t think she should really.”

You ask if she’s safe to visit yet.

“No, no not yet, Kris. Why don’t you read your book?”

You allow the subject to drop for now and open your book. If you overwhelm him, you’ll lose your chance. He is visibly relieved and embraces the silence, turning to the pages in front of him. The history account features different types of darkners: origami birds, CV warriors with bullet attacks that seem to closely resemble staples, and so on. It’s actually somewhat interesting, but you have more pressing matters at hand. You reach across the table to grab a chip close to Ralsei. As you do, you ask how he has been lately.

“Hm?” he looks up from his book, “Oh, well thank you Kris. I’ve been doing very nicely, especially when I get to visit you.”

You ask if Susie is still causing him trouble.

“I, I suppose.”

You ask how she’s doing.

“Can we not talk about Susie please!” You reel back. That’s the first time he’s raised his voice since you’ve met. He looks flustered and curls in a bit. “I’m, I’m sorry. She’s fine, Kris. Let’s just drop it for now.”

You look at your book and start tapping the table. Something happened. You can certainly try again, but you’re not going to make any progress when he’s like this.

You grab another book. It’s a scientific explanation on Darkners and magic. The first couple pages start with general Darkner anatomy. They seem to be made up of some shadow matter, a thin net of pure magic full of void space and something abbreviated as IM. Though a fundamental aspect of their being, it comes from an external source that breathes life and character into them, seems like their version of a soul. You flip through the other pages and somewhat skim their contents, but for the most part you’re watching Ralsei and throwing tester questions to feel his mood and calm his nerves. Once he seems at ease, your queries get more specific as you try to determine just what might have happened between them two. You point to a page on darkner battles and ask if monsters can trigger a battle without physically being able to attack.

“Oh, well since the battle sequence is an expression of a monster’s soul, they could start a battle, even by accident, but they won’t be able to fight or defend. They could still act or spare to end the sequence though.”

You ask if someone could start a battle against a monster who is unable to fight. You know the answer to this one, having lived around plenty of monsters of both the magic and human variety.

“Well, I mean technically that would be possible, but it is very dishonorable and goes against the spirit of battle culture itself. Only someone who, has no regard for their opponent or how others may view them would do something so dreadful.”

You ask about attacks outside of battle.

“I, yes that is, I mean we can send attacks outside of a typical battle sequence as well.”

You ask if that is held to the same standards as a real battle. Must you always play fair?

“It’s, it’s still very despicable to, to harm someone who is unable to fight back, regardless.”

You flip a few more pages. Ralsei sighs and pushes himself back a bit in his seat.

“I’m quite done with reading for the day I think. If you don’t mind Kris, I’ll be going now.”

You tap the table a few times and turn the page you weren’t reading.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to cut you off in the middle of your book.” He looks at the pile left on the table then at the door, then at the kitchenette, then back to you. “I could bring these back next time and some others too. For now, could you please go to your cuffs again?”

You tap some more, and not finding any other reason to stall, you grab your blanket and set it below your chains, arranging pillows and shuffling things around as Ralsei waits patiently. You stare down then finally sit in this bed you’ve made. Ralsei slides your hands into the cuffs and locks them around you.

“I really do appreciate you, Kris. Thank you for staying with me.” He looks at you but has nothing else to say, so he stands, collects his things, and leaves you behind. You feel bitter.

Chapter Text

After a couple visits, you suggest that Ralsei teach you to cook something. It’d be a good excuse to explore the kitchen a bit more and find things to aid in your escape. He took up the suggestion without hesitation, pleased to see you engaging with him at last. You stand at the ready as he explains the ingredients he’s laid out on the counter.

“Alright, so I wanted to start out with something not too complex that allows you to get familiar with some of the resources in this area. From what I understand, this is called a spring roll and it’s something that Lightners eat as well, so it’ll be like eating something from home but with a Dark World twist, a bonding experience between two worlds,” he beams at the thought.

You open a drawer and start shuffling through the contents.

“Ah let’s jump right into it then. The first thing we’re going to want to do is prepare the vegetables.”

A whisk, measuring cups, frosting tube, and other miscellaneous baking supplies. You move to the next drawer. Beside you, Ralsei has divided the plant parts into two groups.

“We don’t need any supplies yet, Kris. First we’ll just rinse these off with water,” he gestures to one of the groups.

The second drawer holds cutlery. You run your finger across the silverware. Spoons, forks, knife.

“Oh that will be useful next Kris, thank you. You can just place that on the counter while we wash these vegetables.”

You pick up the knife as instructed and stare at it a bit longer than you should. Then you place it on the counter. Ralsei leads you in rinsing the vegetables, telling you the name and facts about each one as you go. He opens a cupboard. You note its contents: a pot, pan, colander, cutting boards. He grabs the pot and cutting board, places the pot on the unlit stove for now and brings the cutting board and knife to the table.

“Could you bring all of the vegetables over here, Kris?”

You look through more drawers instead. Spatulas, wooden spoon, funnel, peeler, some utensils you don’t recognize.

You observe the stove. It’s mostly ordinary except it’s missing any dials or buttons.

You check the fridge. It’s empty, save for some leftover cake from a previous visit.

“All of the vegetables should be on the counter, Kris.”

You grab the ingredients and bring them to the table. You sit down.

“Thank you, Kris. Now, we’ll cut these up into thin slices about this long.” He cuts up one of the orange plants to demonstrate, then hands you the knife.

You take another plant and do the same.

“Good job, Kris. So you’ll do that for all of the vegetables except for these.” He separates three plant types from the group.

One is a thick waxy leaf, like those from an aloe or agave, you could never remember the difference, another is a dark, block looking shape, and the last resembles a white grass shoot. He points towards the latter and continues, “Instead of cutting these, you can just tear them apart. We’ll use the grass part in the roll, and toss the root. It doesn’t offer much in terms of flavor and it’s too tough for anyone to eat anyways. As for the Kurey Wax,” he gestures at the leaf, “I’ll grind that down into a paste and let it boil while you work on the rest.”

He walks back to the drawers to grab a mortar and pestle and you start tearing apart the grass reeds. The white roots remind you of someone and you pocket them for later. Your inventory is mostly empty by now, save for a couple dark candies and an egg.

Ralsei returns with his supplies and crushes the leaves into a thick paste.

You use the egg.

“Huh Kris, have you had that this whole time? Well I guess that makes this an egg roll now, hehe.” With your permission, he grabs the egg and the smushed wax plant and heads to the stove. “I’ll just cook this into the spread. I’m interested to see what this’ll do the texture of the paste itself.” He has his back to you as he focuses solely on his task. “I don’t even know where you would find an egg down here. Were you carrying it ever since you arrived?”

You sit silently and consider the pile in front of you. An assortment of plant bits, a cutting board. A knife.

“You really are a fascinating person, Kris.”

You pick up the knife, and start slicing the vegetables. All of the plants are foreign to you, an arrangement of various shapes and colors. The ones that aren’t completely dark, have neon patterns or bioluminescent bits, though those seem to be fading the longer they sit lifeless on the table. You don’t remember seeing much plantlife on your walk through the kingdom. Perhaps you can use that as an excuse to go outside.

“Could you pass me the Basanine please?”

You look over the plants. You know he told you all of their names but you weren’t paying attention.

“It’s the block that you didn’t cut.”

Well that solves that. You grab the chunk from your pile and bring it to him. He takes out a lemon zester from the drawer and starts filing away pieces to mix into the pot. You make a mental note to pocket that once you get the chance. “Thank you very much, Kris. If you’re all done with the vegetables, why don’t you start laying out some rice paper? I’ll bring this to the table in a moment.”

You do as you’re told. Once the mixture cools, he brings it to the table and you both spread it across the paper. You add in the vegetables and roll them up and you’re done.

“Well done, Kris, perfect job.” The completed rolls sit in a nice line on the table. Ralsei takes a moment to admire them before pushing his chair back. “Well I should probably clean up first, but you can try one now if you’d like.”

You quickly stand up.

“What is it, Kris?”

You offer to do the dishes for him.

“Aw you are incredibly sweet, Kris. How about we do it together? Then we’ll be done in half the time.” And so you move everything to the sink. Ralsei washes and you dry, making sure to hide the lemon zester on you once you get it. After a moment’s consideration, you also equip the knife and hope that Ralsei doesn’t notice.

Once the kitchen is set, you both sit at the table. Ralsei compliments you some more and makes small talk as you eat the rolls. They turned out pretty well actually. You really wish you could enjoy this, but the locked door to your left and the shackles to your right are difficult to ignore. Well, perhaps not for Ralsei. He seems to be very adept at ignoring things he doesn’t want to see. He looks rather content with just the food and your company.

Soon enough, your time together ends. He leads you to your chains and thanks you for the visit.

“I’m really glad you suggested this. It was fun making something together and getting to share a bit of my world with you.”

You suggest he share even more of it by giving you a tour.

“Yes that would be very nice, Kris. I’m sure we’ll get to it eventually. For now though, I have plenty of activities for the two of us in here.” He stoops to lock your shackles as usual and you slide the lemon zester in between the pieces.

Unfortunately, he notices that they don’t lock all the way and you have to slide it back out of sight before he sees. The cuffs lock and after a good test tug, he gives his usual farewell and leaves the room.

You pull the zester back out and begin filing at your chains. It’ll likely take a while for you to see any real progress this way. Luckily, you have nothing but time.

Chapter Text

Books again. You stare at him as he stares at the page, each turn of paper registering like ticks to an unbearably slow clock. Your dull file is a prison pipe dream, sanding away at material much firmer than its intent. Even if it were possible that it’d stay rough enough to make it all the way through, it would take ages and your captor would notice its deterioration long before your escape. You know that, and yet you spent the last untold hours before Ralsei’s arrival chipping away at a futile goal, as everything else in your life.

Angel above, this place is a vacuum against the soul. A musty room that reeks of solitude and desperation, an all consuming hopelessness tugging at the mind. And it’s so quiet.

Ralsei’s presence usually dictated at least some pointless small talk, but he’s been abnormally silent this whole visit. No rambles or unnecessary descriptions or attempts at conversation. It’s up to you to lead this anywhere.

You start with the standard ‘How do you do.’

He looks up startled out of his book, or his thoughts. “Oh, I’m fine thank you very much.” He pauses as though that’s the end of it, then remembers the next part of the niceties, “Mm, how are you?”

You affirm that you are also well.

He nods but does not continue the conversation.

You ask him if something is on his mind.

He pauses thoughtfully before resolving to confide in you, “I was thinking about what you and Susie told me, after we fought the king. You said we cannot always approach things with kindness. Sometimes there will be people that we just have to fight.” He looks weary, like he’s been running through this for a while now. “The issue is, how do you know when to be gentle and when you should not?”

That choice hasn’t really been up to you. The tugging at your heart usually opted for a peaceful resolution as did the majority of Hometown, even going so far as to avoid conflict entirely, at the expense of a choice few, concealed by ignorance and averted eyes. Yet those in your experience who used violence seemed to do so only against those they knew they could abuse. Cruelty towards a weaker party couldn’t really be considered a fight. So then, when have you seen violence justified? You deliberate until you find something fitting.

You fight when it’s not just a game anymore, when your life is seriously threatened and your opponent shows no signs of backing down. You tell Ralsei as much.

He curls in ever so slightly and reaches for his scarf, rubbing the fabric as he considers your statement. “But, all of the darkners we encountered in Card Kingdom also threatened our lives, and you showed them kindness, Kris. Thanks to you, we amassed so many friends, and they all are the reason we survived the king in the end.”

You want to scoff, but the same voice that directed you to spare no matter how many times it killed you now holds still your tongue. It’s easy for them to sit back and choose kindness when they aren’t the one in the line of fire. Funny how the dark world shows what you are in a much more honest light. You’re nothing more than a toy soldier, and your prince still needs an answer. You consider some more then tell him that you fight where kindness fails, when nothing else will get through.

He nods thoughtfully. “I see, thank you Kris.”

The longer you sit in this room, the more you wish you could teach him a lesson in violence directly. It certainly would be the simplest escape. Part of you hopes Susie is still giving him hell. The other hopes she’s grown some common sense.

“Have you had to do that before?” he pipes in, “Fight someone, I mean.”

Your mind flashes through a sequence of associations, conflicts you’ve seen, arguments you’ve overheard, fights with your brother, though you know that’s not what he means. People have certainly picked fights with you, but fighting back in the traditional sense never worked in your favor. Soon you learned not to try at all.

When you were younger you were vicious with anyone who disturbed you, kicking, biting, scratching, you were a real tornado, but then the kids got bigger and decided to make it a game. Break the horse, tame the freak. You got back at them in small ways, ants in their bed, swiping their favorite keepsakes, replacing their food with hygiene supplies, but you were useless in most physical matches and lashing out your old way only brought more discipline from the adults.

Sometimes though, it wasn’t up to you. That voice can be so fickle. Sometimes it will fight regardless of the consequences to you, sometimes it will spare, sometimes it’ll make you relive the moment so you can do both. In that sense, you have been forced to fight. You tell him yes.

“Why? If you don’t mind me asking, of course.”

Because I’m actually just a puppet and sometimes I wonder if everyone else is one too. Alright, you don’t tell him that. You think to one of the times you elected to fight someone on your own. Because they wanted to hurt you.

“Oh, well self defense is certainly understandable,” he rubs a hand against his arm, “Do you know why they wanted to hurt you?”

They are bad people.

“Oh. Yes I’m sure they are, to hurt someone as sweet as you..” His hand travels to his ear. “Um, do you,” he’s not meeting your eye, “Do you think I’m a bad person?”

You know what he wants to hear, and you know what you want to say, but you also know it’s not your choice. You tell him no. His whole posture relaxes with a relieved sigh.

“Thank you very much, Kris. I know you’re not a bad person either. It was cruel of those people to hurt you in your past, but now that you’re here with me I promise that won’t happen ever again. I would never hurt you, Kris. You’re too special to me.”

Sufficiently peptalked, he gets out of his chair. “I’d like to go work on something now so I’ll be leaving you here, but there was something I wanted to say first. I’ve been thinking it over and really there’s no need for you to be locked up to the wall all this time while I’m gone. You can keep the blankets and the books and I’ll try to bring games whenever I visit so that you have plenty to do.”

You reel a bit at this development and he moves to your side of the table. “Thank you for being patient with me, Kris. I hope you know how much I appreciate you.” He hugs you goodbye and leaves the room with a smile.

You remain still for a moment then look at the door in disbelief. You get to your feet and rush to where Ralsei just left, quickly testing the doorknob. Locked, of course, but you’re in a much better position than before. Just one door and everything in the room at your disposal. Something is bound to work and for once you have a glimmer of hope.

Chapter Text

You observe the door, mind filing through the various parts holding it in place and the ways to take it apart.

First, you try running something in the crack between the door and wall on the side with the knob. Your zester, it doesn’t fit. The knife, it slides in but stops at the knob. Suppose that trick only works from the other side. There’s a sliver of space under the door but you don’t see any way to take advantage of that.

The hinges? If you can slide out the center of it, the hinge would come loose. You grab a fork from one of the drawers and use that to push the bit from below. It won’t budge. You grab your knife again and try hooking it under the flat top of the bit. After some finagling you get it in, but when you try twisting it to pull the bit up and out of the hinge, it loses its grip. You give it a couple more tries but that doesn’t seem to work either.

The door is way too heavyset for you to knock down as it is. Unscrew the knob? No, then you’d just be left without a door knob. You’ve been locked in a room like that before. It doesn’t help.

Really, your best bet is to pick the lock, but you can’t come up with anything thin and long enough to fit into the hole. Bobby pin, a needle, a wire hanger, the prong of that fork if you could detach it from the rest.

If Ralsei had a normal stove rather than an overglorified hotblock, then you could use the fire to melt the fork at the spot where the prong meets the grip until it becomes loose enough to snap off. That would work. You’ve done that before with Asriel when you made that angel doll.

All the kids had been making craft angels at church out of cardstock and cotton balls. They were small, generic things that got tossed out as soon as they went home, but you two teamed up to make the biggest most epic angel to grace the elementary kids’ room. You didn’t ever make it past the wings, but what wings they would’ve been! You cut out fancy twists and shapes along the edges, and the top corners curved upwards in sharp points, more like a dragon than the standard bird look everyone else opted for. You wanted to draw on a million eyes but Asriel wanted the plastic gems, so you compromised and drew pupils onto each of the gems he attached.

You quickly ran out of time and the mass of parents filtered over from their service to retrieve their kids. You ended up bringing it home with you and working off of the supplies you had there. After adding on quite a few more appliques, you realized that the giant wings sagged too much under the weight of their own amazingness. You suggested reinforcing it in the back like a kite, but you didn’t have any wooden dowels handy. What you did have were some forks, fire magic, and the sort of impulsive behavior and disregard for property that comes with being a small child. Together, you melted the prongs off and glued them into support beams along the wings. Eventually, the forging experience drew the attention of a very concerned goat mom and that was the end of that project.

It would be nice to have that ability now, or to have one of them with you, both for the convenient fiery escape and for the company. They were both such comforting presences. Sure, Asriel was a bonafide dork but he had a big heart, and he knew you. He knew when you needed space and when you needed to talk or a distraction. He was always so patient and understanding even when you lashed out or didn’t make sense.

Living in the same room, he was there for the bad nights, the ones where your body goes stiff and the shadows seem thicker and you can’t breathe and an invisible weight presses down on your chest and all you can do is stare and panic.

At first, he couldn’t know anything was wrong until the feeling had passed and you were curled up and shaking in bed, but after enough episodes, he was sure to keep an ear out for your struggled breaths across the room. The times in which he did notice, you would wake up to your big plush of a brother and his reassuring eyes. He’d talk with you until you could calm down again and allow him to sing you back to sleep.

Nowadays, the only time you see him by your bedside, his face disfigures into a gloppy white mess and melts out of sight with you motionless to reach him. You try to pretend it’s not there. Don’t struggle. Don’t panic. The less you fight, the sooner it passes. The first nights after he left were like sleeping with your foot out of the covers, cold and vulnerable.

That room had been home to plenty of intimate conversations, divulging fears and secrets, hopes and dreams. You more along the former half and Asriel dwelling in the latter. It was rare for him to open up about the things that bothered him, or at least anything more serious than exam jitters or an obnoxious classmate.

Seeing him break down over three open textbooks and a binder of papers, margins overflowing with notes, you had just thought it was finals biting at him. His eyes were wide and bore a hole through the books, his breathing a little more rapid than normal.

“I can’t do this.” It didn’t seem particularly directed at you but you picked up the baton of conversation anyways.

“Have the fractions finally got you?”

“Yeah, and not just them. It’s the integrals and the history timeline and covalent bonds, and other kinds of bonds, and college applications, and the list of clubs and community service that fills them up.”

“You always did put a lot on your plate.”

“Yeah and I can’t eat it all.”

“Well throw some away.”

“I can’t.”

“Sure you can. You already put all those clubs on the list, you can drop a couple now.”

“But I have a responsibility to them! I can’t just leave them now that I’ve got 'good kid' points with some colleges.”

“You don’t need points to be a good kid. That’s already who you are.”

“Kris..” his voice like a sigh, “Can I be honest with you?”

There’s really only one answer to a question like that. You nod your head.

“That’s-“

Not for you.

You’ve lingered long enough in those memories. You feel the edges of the table and press down on its wood to ground yourself firmly back into the present.

You breathe. You look at the door.

If you want that life back then you have to get through this door.

Yet even then, Asriel is gone. He may come and visit every now and then, but he’s no longer a constant in your life, and as he gets more wrapped up in his own, his appearances will become increasingly more rare.

You stare at the door, and soon enough the lock turns, and a young goat greets you with a smile.


Chapter Text

Ralsei pokes his head into the room. He pauses with a big smile, using the partially open door to obscure something from view.

From your position at the front of the room, you note that you must look like a dog awaiting its owner.

“I brought a gift for you today, Kris!” He announces cheerfully, turning towards the surprise with complete disregard for the vulnerable position it puts him in, the door open and his back to you.

You watch as he slowly wheels something large into the room. A wooden box on legs, with a thin arm reaching up over it and arcing down to a needlepoint. A record player.

It looks vintage, with thoughtful carvings around its bulk, but the wheels on the floor are much newer, like they were recently attached. The bottom half of the stand has been modified to hold shelves of records. Overall, the setup is more akin to those projectors they’d wheel into classrooms, than any traditional record player you’ve ever seen.

Once inside, he locks the door and gently pushes the gift to rest against a wall. “I know it can be very quiet around, especially when I’m not here, and that silence can be very overwhelming, probably even more so for you since you’re used to a much more active world, so I thought I’d share something that I used very often when it was just me in this castle.”

You walk over to the record player.

“I didn’t know what kind of music you’d like so I provided a variety of genres and songs that I really hope you’ll enjoy. You can test them out and listen to things at your own pace and preference.”

You run a finger along the carvings.

“My first idea was to get you a piano but that’d be a bit too much for me to carry, not to mention it wouldn’t have fit through the door, at least, not with all the good keys, haha.” He bites his scarf and watches you with hopeful eyes. “Do you like it?”

You pick up the arm of the machine and place the needle into a groove. Music hums out from the player and wraps the room in a soft melody.

“I do.”

He sighs in relief, “I’m so glad.” He closes his eyes to make room for the wide smile growing up the sides of his face.

The two of you sort through the songs. He points out the ones he likes and provides explanations for each disk. You listen to the beginning of a few different records and determine which ones you like best.

There are high tempo dance songs, swing, ballroom, even some ska. You nearly don’t recognize it without the cheesy messages of kindness and angels. Whoever thought it was a good idea to place worship drawl over an almost rock-jazz combo had no clue how hilarious it would sound, unless that was their intent. 

Asriel got a whole album of that stuff from Gran as a Gyftmas present. You could only imagine her disapproval at you curled up in laughter on the floor of your room as he let it play for the first time. As the good child that he is, he’d listen to it anytime she was in town to show how much he appreciates the gift, and every time, you’d have to steel your face like the guards in that one Monty Python skit. When he moved out to college, the CD was left behind with everything else he no longer needs. 

The songs here are all coated in an overlaying static that grants them a timeless feel. A couple have a certain nostalgia, though you know you’ve never heard them before. They make you want to sit back and drink in their bittersweet tune. 

You feel homesick. You listen anyways. As the song dwindles to an end, you try to settle on any one distinct memory but they all slip at the brink of attention like waking from a dream. The last note hits and you feel something drift away, something that won’t return.

You grab another record.

“Ah,” he gestures at the disk in your hands, “This one starts off simple Kris, but if you let it play a little while, it’s actually really pretty and complex.” 

You place it on the turntable and let it play.

He’s right. This one is very nice.

It’s calm. An easy to follow melody threads through the song as a sort of base. Additional notes make sweeping motions like a lapping river, and a higher key mingles, an occasional drip upon the flow of music. It’s like laying in the forest by the lake right after a rain, not entirely a hypothetical in your case. You’ve found yourself in that position on numerous occasions.

This song is also the only one so far with a vocal backing. There aren’t any distinct words, but you can tell a gentle voice reaches out as its own instrument. Your eyelids and shoulders droop, and you file this one away as a song for sleep.

As the next one plays, Ralsei invites you to take his hands. You look at his sincere face. He just wants you to enjoy this moment, to let yourself enjoy this. It’s only a moment isn’t it? You can allow a moment. You stand and the two of you sway, a rudimentary waltz, boxes around a boxed room. At least the ribbons on this cage are nice. At least you aren’t alone.

At home, you have no cage, but what good is a lonely freedom? 

Listen to that, soon you’ll be speaking in rhyme. 

Well you aren’t as isolated as all that. You have Toriel, kind, patient, trying to cure an emptiness of her own. She’s guarded, she’s a protector but not a confidante. Asgore, he certainly knows a thing or two about loneliness, and because of that he’s clingy and desperate. His eyes cry for companionship but all he’ll find is pity.

Noelle, the only one who still makes an effort to consider you since Asriel left. She’s nice to everyone, and yet she has no close friends in class. Her dad is keeping face in a hospital bed and her mom is hiding hers in the mayor’s seat. A huge house all to herself, at least on the days she can even manage to unlock the door. How is it that in a town so full of people, that everyone is so alone? Is that any better than an empty town?

You listen to slower songs. You aren’t that interested in dancing.

Eventually, Ralsei makes his way out the door, leaving the room to you once again. Almost by habit, you follow his tracks and examine the doorknob. A small, thin object…

You make your way to his gift. You casually lift your hand without the slightest bit of urgency and let it rest on top of the machine. In one motion, your fingers glide down towards the needle. You pick it up, and put in a new song.