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Just One Year

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Choosing to save a civilization of strangers is a big decision for a child at the cusp of their teen years. Making that choice when the majority of those whose fate you hold attack you on sight is even more so. It’s frightening, offering friendship when the sins of the ancient past, told in legends hardly remembered, are heaped upon your innocent shoulders.

One year after the fights and the flirting, Frisk smiled from up in her bedroom at her family and friends gathering at the house she lived in with Toriel for a party to celebrate the anniversary of the day the Angel of the Underground fell into their lives. Everyone was there: Papyrus and Sans, Alphys and Undyne, Mettaton and Napstablook, even Toriel and Asgore had managed to put aside their differences long enough to celebrate with their adopted child. Grillby and his wife Nina, a cyan colored flame, the favorite aunt and uncle of the neighborhood children, came with their daughter Fuku and Fuku’s best, skateboard-loving friend, Paige.

Only one person who Frisk wanted to see was missing. With a heavy heart, she thought of all the ways she had tried to coax Flowey, coax Asriel, to leave the underground to experience life on the surface. Nothing worked: there was still a hole in her heart; a sad phantom floating impatiently nearby. He stared out the bedroom window at the arriving guests but his mind was clearly far away. Seeing Chara in such a state was upsetting. Unable to talk to anyone besides Frisk; not alive, but apparently not really a ghost either, Chara was nearly consumed by the gloom he kept.

“Are you going to be alright?” Frisk turned soulful brown eyes up towards the other.

“What are you asking me for?” Chara’s reddish amber eyes refused to make contact. “I might as well not be here, but I can’t leave.”

It was true, nothing they tried had enabled Chara to move on. No amount of finding peace, reliving memories, confessing to their parents about what had actually made him sick, nothing they had tried helped. They stopped after many attempts, Chara growing more forlorn with every inch Frisk grew and way her body changed. They had looked almost identical when they first met, apart from Chara's paler skin, lighter hair, and eyes. Now all they could see was how different they were, with Chara still in his green and yellow striped sweater with his boyish face while Frisk had begun to show some of the signs of childhood giving way to youth.

“I’m sorry,” Frisk wrung her hands, resisting the urge to again drive home his ethereal state by swiping through his form with a well-meant pat. “If there was a way to make him see you, I’d live the rest of my life in the ruins so you could be together.”

Chara scoffed, finally turning his translucent face towards her. He fixed Frisk with a critical grimace. “It’s a good thing he can’t then. You’d ruin your entire life just to make two miserable idiots slightly less miserable. You’re almost as big of a baby as he is.”

“You helped me get through the Underground by reading signs and teaching me how to check stats. Even when I refused to do things your way. Does that make you a baby too?” Frisk crossed her arms, sticking out her lower lip in a pout.

“Probably,” Chara replied with a shrug. “If I had been a greater problem, you might have done something entertaining while you attempted to figure things out for yourself. It’s not like mom knew humans stopped teaching the ancient writing symbols used in the Underground.”

“It’s weird when you think about it.” Frisk, not for the first time, turned her mind over some of the oddities of her adventure. “Plenty of books fell into the underground over the years and I know she hadn’t been locked in the ruins for that long.”

“Frisk! My child, it’s time to come down,” Toriel called from the bottom of the stairs.

“Coming mom!” Frisk turned to head towards the door sitting opposite of the window in her light blue room. “I can’t believe a year already passed. It feels like I was just wandering around the underground yesterday.”

“That’s because everyone stayed in the exact same town and have no sense of privacy,” Chara quipped.

Frisk ignored the complaint, rushing towards the stairs.

Once in the entryway by the front door, Frisk was greeted by all of her friends. A solid fifteen minutes of hellos, hugs, and redirected fight challenges passed before the din of life settled. The crowd moved out towards the fenced in backyard Frisk had spent most of the morning getting ready.

“hey champ,” Sans said once he and Frisk were the only ones still inside. “gotta hand it to you, a whole year on the surface has been a wild experience for these lazy bones.”

“I told you there wouldn’t be anything to worry about.” Frisk beamed up at the older skeleton brother, leading the way to the kitchen.

“yeah, looks like you were right, kid,” Sans admitted. He shrugged his shoulders in the brand-new blue coat he had bought just for the party. “guess it’s time to say sorry for doubting you.”

“Nah.” Frisk brushed off the idea while playfully shoulder bumping the other. “Some days I didn’t think I’d make it through myself. Mom says doubting things is normal, especially when you’ve never done them before.”

Sans’ usual lazy smile dropped; his eye lights went dark. It only lasted a second, but Frisk caught it. Despite his normal poker face, sometimes Sans couldn’t help but display the pain and anger he felt. In a way, it was transparent to Frisk when compared to a face covered in fur or scales.

“Dad also says you don’t doubt things unless you know they can happen,” Frisk added. “So the fact we doubted it would work meant we both knew it was possible in the first place.”

Sans’ smile returned with a genuine warmth; he wrapped an arm around Frisk, pulling her into a side hug.

“you’re really something else, you know? I could almost forget you were a kid if you weren’t so short.”

“I’m still growing!” Frisk glared up indignantly.

Sans laughed as he walked out the back door to where he could smell Grillby’s burgers sizzling on the charcoal grill. “sure kid, but that doesn’t help you now.”

“Hah, he’s got you there,” Chara teased.

“You’re not helping!” Frisk said, though she was pleased to see her soul companion enjoying their friends in his own way.

“FRISK! JUST IN TIME! I HAVE SET UP MY LATEST PUZZLE AND WOULD SO GREATLY APPRECIATE YOUR ASSISTANCE IN TESTING IT OUT!” Papyrus called.

Forgetting her petty squabble with Sans (who was already three puns deep into a joke war with Toriel by the looks on Grillby and Nina’s faces) Frisk rushed over to test whatever contraption the younger skeleton brother had concocted this time. The sun was shining. The flowers were blooming. Birds filled the windy air with a melody of life and happiness. Nothing could have better exemplified their perfect happy ending.

#

It all happened so quickly. It felt like the beginning of a headache melding into the sensation of falling into darkness. Frisk groaned, picking herself up. The silence was deafening. No laughter, no games, no talking, not even a friendly inquiry into her well-being. She opened her eyes. Dread wracked her body with an icy chill when she saw she rested in a patch of golden flowers in a dark cavern with only the light shining from a hole in the air above her to illuminate the blackness.

“No.” Her voice was quiet, shaking.

She looked around her, her eyes resting on an equally stunned Chara.

“NO!” she shouted it this time. Scrambling to her feet, the young girl felt herself start to hyperventilate. “No, no, no! I didn’t do this! I didn’t ask for this! What happened?”

There was no answer.

“This isn’t funny!” Tears stung Frisk’s eyes; rolling down her cheeks. “Bring them back! Take us back! I didn’t do this! Mom! Sans! Anyone!”

But nobody came.

Frisk sank onto her knees, sobbing. Somehow, despite all her good intentions, she was back where she started. She had never activated a full reset: she had only ever needed to do the occasional quick respawn after falling to a particularly difficult future friend. Yet she knew, she could feel, all of her connections with her friends and family fall away no matter how tightly she tried to hold onto them.

“Did you do this?” she asked, her voice flat. She refused to look at who she was accusing.

“You’ve always been in control. I couldn’t have; even if I wanted to. And I already told you going back to the underground would be a waste of your life. Not even I’m that cruel.”

“Do you think, by leaving him alone, Flowey finally gained enough determination to regain control?”

Chara shook his head. “I doubt it. Even when you were feeling peaceful, you never stopped being determined to make each day the best for everyone. Asriel couldn’t come close to matching that.”

Frisk sighed, burying her head in her hand. “Then what happened?”

“How should I know? I didn’t wake up until you came and resonated with whatever was left of me. I’ve never been in charge of resets before.”

Frisk wiped her face on her new lavender sweater with baby blue stripes, the only indication of the timeline she had just emerged from, while rising to her feet. “Well, there’s only one other person alive who has.”

Frisk traversed the dark corridor and through the door into the room where she knew the flower waited.

“Howdy! I’m Flowey! Flowey the flower!”

It was surreal, hearing those lines so long after she had originally heard them. What made it worse was the sense of déjà vu as she watched him smile the trickster smile he wore whenever he thought he was about to pull something over on someone. The battle box opened.

“See that heart? That is your soul, the very culmination of your being!” Flowey said in his chipper deception voice.

“I know.” Frisk’s voice carried listlessly.

Flowey stopped for a moment, taken aback. “What did you say?”

“I said, ‘I know,’” Frisk snapped. “I know that’s my soul, I know your ‘friendliness pellets’ are actually bullets, and I know you're trying to kill me to take my soul. We’ve done this before!”

Flowey’s look of shock was quickly replaced by a wicked grin. “Oh, so you’re having fun with your game. Did you get board after killing everyone and decide to start over?”

“I’VE NEVER KILLED ANYONE AND HAVE NO INTENTION TO!” Frisk shouted at the flower. “And I never reset! I wasn’t going to! We were happy on the surface! It had been a year!”

Flowey shrank from the rant, genuinely afraid of Frisk’s outburst. “Golly, I get it. You don’t have to scream at me.”

“I’m sorry,” Frisk lowered her voice, crossing her arms over her chest. “I’m just, frustrated. I don’t know why this happened. Did a reset ever happen automatically for you?”

“Not that I can think of.” Flowey appeared to consider the possibility. “Then again, I’ve rarely made it more than a few months without getting bored or frustrated.”

“Do you think…” Frisk was cut off by a ball of fire entering the area, clipping Flowey, causing him to scream and run away.

Neither of them had realized they were still in an active battle box. Toriel, however, did notice, quickly assuming the worst of the flower confronting a young teen.

“What a terrible creature, torturing such a poor, innocent youth,” the goat monster said softly yet sternly.

The color drained from Frisk’s face when she saw her mother dressed once again in her royal robes instead of the yellow sundress she had bought specifically for their celebration.

“Ah, do not be afraid, my child.” Toriel spoke soothingly, mistaking the look of dread. “I am Toriel, caretaker of the ruins.”

No words could escape Frisk’s throat. Her desire to scream, to call out for time to fix itself, to beg her mother to remember what had been, all collided in a knot that silenced the girl.

“I pass through this place every day to see if anyone has fallen down,” Toriel continued, unperturbed by Frisk’s silence. “You are the first human to come here in a long time. Come! I will guide you through the catacombs. This way.”

Toriel took Frisk’s hand and began to lead her away.

No! This is so wrong! It’s exactly the same but it’s so wrong!

Frisk followed the familiar face turned stranger, her free hand twitching and her teeth biting at her lip.

“Of course it’s all the same.” Chara reminded Frisk he didn’t need her to speak aloud to hear her. “You’re doing everything the same. They’re stuck in a time loop. You’re the only one who’s able to change.”

Frisk didn’t dare touch the save spot in the red leaf room. Coming to the double staircase, she went up the left side, opposite the half Toriel took. This seemed to not concern the goat monster.

“Not like that, stupid.” Chara almost laughed.

Toriel began her spiel about the finer points of puzzle operation while Chara floated closer to Frisk’s ear.

“You need to do something drastic,” the phantom whispered.

“No!” Frisk hissed. She glanced at her mother, checking to see if Toriel had heard.

Luckily, she didn’t notice, merely telling Frisk to follow the instructions on the wall to figure out the next puzzle.

“Hey, if you want to figure this out, you can’t just do what you did before,” Chara insisted.

“I know what you’re talking about; I’m not killing anyone.” Frisk shambled towards each switch on the wall.

“So what, you’re going to do it all again, exactly the same, and then what? Have it all reset after a year again?”

“Shut up,” Frisk said under her breath while Toriel congratulated her, ushering her forward. “Something will change. A whole year has passed. Even if they forgot it, something about everyone should have changed.”

Chara growled in frustration, and became silent. Frisk set her jaw, powering forward. She seemed reinvigorated by her own declaration. The invisible child resigned himself to waiting; she was impossible to speak to in this state.

Frisk faced the dummy and talked through the encounter, this time telling the dummy it was short and scrawny. Just as the first time, Toriel gave the same chuckle after the match. Frisk’s frustration grew to the point of punching the dummy and knocking it over.

“Oh my.” Toriel frowned at the display of violence. “The dummies are for talking, not for fighting.”

The upset in her mother’s voice crushed the teen. She quickly righted the downed mannequin, apologizing both to it and Toriel.

“It’s alright, you’ll improve.” Toriel gently pat Frisk’s head.

Walking over the seemingly pointless coloring on the floor, Frisk remembered the upcoming spiked pathway puzzle and held her breath. She clearly looked older this time. Surely, Toriel would be comfortable letting a budding high schooler handle the floor spike maze on her own.

A look of despair crept across her face when the older woman decided it was too dangerous for her precious child.

“What did I tell you, Frisk? The only way to make things happen differently is to do things differently.”

Toriel left Frisk and ran down the long room to hide behind the lone pillar at the end.  Frisk realized for the first time Toriel clearly had no idea this or last time how old she was.

She probably still sees Sans as a child. She’s a boss monster like Asgore. The only one who comes close is Gerson.

“She doesn’t remember you younger, so she won’t treat you older.”

“I know, but…”

“But nothing, Frisk,” Chara snapped. “Something happened to take control away from you. Maybe it was you losing your determination after all, because you’re really acting like a wet blanket right now.”

“Not wanting to kill monsters isn’t boring.” Frisk glared at him.

“You can bring them back!” Chara exclaimed, his voice between an exasperated whine and a booming declaration. “It’s not like I’m asking you to obliterate them and return to the surface without them! But if you didn’t lose determination, then something else had to happen. Maybe, like with you and Asriel, someone came into the picture and took the power away from you long enough to reset the world. Maybe someone else decided they weren’t done with us yet.”

“And what would you have me do about it?” Frisk asked bitterly.

“You know what I want. Reset to the fall again to make sure you still can. Then, do something drastically different to change what happens and lure this other loser out.”

Frisk growled in frustration. “And I’m just supposed to be fine with this?”

“Think about dad,” Chara said, causing Frisk to stop in her tracks. “Sometimes, in order to help good people, sacrifices need to be made. He understood and gave up what remained of his family to try to help everyone. I understood and gave up my own life trying to help. Neither of us had the power to reset; but you do. You can tear this world apart until you find the problem, bring everyone back, and fix the true issue. You’re telling me you won’t even do this much after what everyone else has done? Because you’re uncomfortable with it?”

Frisk’s eyes grew wide. Her jaw went slack in utter shock.

“Greetings, my child.” Toriel rushed out from behind the pillar. “Do not worry, I did not leave you. I was merely behind this pillar the whole time.” It was apparent the kindly monster had misinterpreted Frisk’s reaction. “Thank you for trusting me. However, there was an important reason for this exercise…to test your independence.”

Toriel handed Frisk a cell phone, telling her to stay put while she ran ahead to accomplish a few tasks. The sound of padded footfalls disappeared up the dim purple tunnels; Frisk stood motionless.

She shook; her breathing grew ragged. Chara’s words ran through her mind.

If dad could do it, if I could do it, you can do it.

Tears began to fall: Frisk dropped her face, her knuckles white. She clenched the phone in her hand.

“Okay. For everyone’s sake, I’ll do it.”