Speeches are the worst.
Boring meetings with the grown ups that last hours and hours with nothing to do but listen to them argue about laws and stuff? Those are doable. Sitting with Asgore to look at paperwork while also doing homework? It means they have less time to play and hang out with all their new friends, but they know it will help monsters. Heck, a part of them even wants to argue that fighting Flowey after he had absorbed the other human souls was better than the stupid speeches. At least then, Frisk didn’t have to deal with this.
“Enunciate, my child,” Toriel scolds gently as she chops vegetables for supper, interrupting them in the middle of their practice recitation. “You need to speak nice and clearly.”
She means well. Fris knows she does.
It doesn’t stop the tightening in their throat or the tears from threatening to escape their eyes, though.
For nearly as long as Frisk can remember, they have been in speech therapy. When they were little, they didn’t think anything of it; back then, it was fun. There were the times the speech therapist would let them choose a flavour — cherry, sour apple or blue raspberry — to put on a popsicle stick that they would have to hold in their mouth to practice vowel sounds and learn how to shape their mouth properly. There were all the fun board games, with small additional rules to have them practice target words. There were the candies and compliments they would earn for successfully differentiating between two different sounds. Over all, it was a pretty good time.
But as they grew older, though, it quickly became less fun. Mentally, Frisk can only think of maybe five letters of the alphabet they haven’t had issues with, and that’s forgetting all the different, hard sounds made by combining those letters together. Most kids would think of the alphabet in only two groups: vowels and consonants. But Frisk had more. There’s still vowels and consonants, but then there are the other groupings: the combinations that blend together when Frisk says them, even though they shouldn’t. B, d, p and t. Th, ph, f and v. W, l and r. M and n. The list goes on and on, which meant that their speech therapy sessions did too.
Soon, it became a major point of embarrassment. Someone from the school would enter their classroom, and ask to “borrow” Frisk for “a few minutes”. Even though the adult would never say the reason out loud, everyone knew it was because Frisk needed special help. If Frisk was lucky, it would be a phone call instead, and their teacher would come to their desk and tell them to go. Either way, they could feel the eyes of all their classmates on them, watching like a lion ready to pounce, as Frisk shamefully made their way out of the lesson.
Each time, they considered not going. Hiding in the bathroom until recess was always an appealing option. But they never did; it would just send the adults looking, and then Frisk would get in trouble. It was better to just get the stupid thing over with.
A small room, super claustrophobic to be trapped in for at least ten to twenty minutes. The only furniture was a small table and two chairs, one for the speech therapist and one for Frisk. Nothing decorating the too-thin walls, which anyone walking by could hear through as Frisk was instructed to read off of laminated cards. The same brightly coloured board games are stacked on the table as when they were little, which really sucked considering most of them were made for kids half Frisk’s age.
The speech therapist, whose name Frisk still can’t actually remember despite having known her for most of their life, smiled fakely at them the entire time. “Good job,” she would say, because “thermometer”, “stethoscope” and “bathful” are “hard words”. Yeah, maybe if Frisk was still in preschool. But now, when they were capable of reading books made for grown ups and when they did really well in all — well, most — of their classes, it just came off as condescending and patronizing.
Worse yet, it made — makes — them feel stupid.
Does it matter that Frisk has been finding ways of working around their speech problems for years? That they have managed to substitute fancier words for something common because they knew, even as a preschooler, that what they would mean to say and what people would hear them say were two different things? Does it matter that most people don’t notice it? That Frisk is good at hiding it now? That they are trying their best and there is nothing else they can do?
No. It never did.
If it mattered, Frisk would have never been forced to repeat the same words over and over and over and over and over and over and over, until they want to scream or cry or run away, because they “need to practice”, even though those weren’t the sounds other grown ups like their teachers told them they were still having problems with.
If it mattered, Frisk wouldn’t be abnormally skilled at tongue twisters, because it was a good way to learn how to say subtle differences between sounds. It was a good way to be controlled. The rush of adrenaline when someone asks them to say one wouldn’t be there. But neither would be the fear of failure, of being scolded for messing up. Frisk wouldn’t have to feel sick for the next few minutes, because somehow saying the stupid things makes them feel worse inside than when Undyne was chasing after them with her spears, trying to kill them. They wouldn’t have to pretend to be normal, because tongue twisters are just supposed to be a funny thing to say, and not something that people cry about.
If any of those things mattered to anyone other than Frisk, they wouldn’t be so upset about Goat Mom’s advice right now.
“I’ll try,” they say, barely above a whisper because they can’t trust their voice right now. But they say it clearly, because that's what is important. After all, as they have been reminded, an ambassador shouldn't mumble. And this time, she is reminding Frisk so they can do well when they actually give the speech. However, that doesn’t stop their voice from cracking slightly from holding back tears.
“Are you all right, Frisk?”
“Yes,” Frisk lies. “I just need some water, I think.”
“Of course. Help yourself.”
Nodding, Frisk walks around her to grab a glass, their face carefully schooled into a neutral expression. Managing a smile simply won’t work. Not right now.
They hate this.
What makes it all worse is that Frisk knows all the speech therapy and reminders are for their own good. They need to get better. Baby steps, like saying “bathful” so many times that it doesn’t even sound like a real word any more, are necessary. If they can’t master things like that, how can they speak properly without practice?
Of course, it probably would have helped if the speech therapist had actually dealt with Frisk’s problems right away, instead of forgetting about them for months at a time. Maybe, they could have been done with this by now if that had happened.
Then again, maybe not. Being ambassador to monsters gives Frisk certain responsibilities. One of those responsibilities just happens to be public speaking, which means being able to talk perfectly, it seems.
It’s times like this Frisk misses the Underground. Down there, they could be as quiet as they wanted. If they wanted to give Toriel one word answers over the phone, they could. Nothing was stopping them. During all the Encounters they had with monsters, the flavour text let them get away with making the choice to talk. Sure, there were some times where talking was the easiest way to Spare monsters, like complimenting the Froggits in the Ruins or telling that one guard in Hotland to be honest about his feelings for his partner. But most of the time, they didn’t have to. They could pet Lesser Dog’s neck until it grew to be crazy long. They could flex with Aaron. They could give Temmie some Temmie Flakes. They had the choice to stay quiet, and they loved it.
You can’t notice if someone has speech difficulties if they don’t talk, after all.
Meeting Alphys was also a relief, and not just because her lab was air-conditioned after being chased into Hotland. She was probably one of the first people Frisk had met in real life who also had a speech difficulty. But nobody seemed to make a big deal out of her stuttering. She was an important monster, King Asgore’s Royal Scientist.
Even now, after months of living on the Surface, Frisk has yet to hear of anybody making fun of her because of it, or telling her to get it together. Undyne and their other friends, patiently wait for Alphys to stammer through her sentences, even when it takes her longer than it would take anyone else.
When Frisk messes up their words, however, they get people reminding them to be careful. Even during last week’s history presentation. Compared to talking with all those politicians about big, complicated words that still don’t make sense, it should have been easy. Frisk knew what they were talking about, and even had flashcards ready, just in case.
It all started when they misread a word, accidentally going to the wrong line on the paper. The teeny, tiny stumble shouldn’t have made a difference, but it did. Frisk became nervous, dreading any more potential mistakes, which only made them stammer even more, a vicious cycle. Shaking hands made the cue cards move, which only made it harder. After class, Monster Kid reassured them that it wasn’t even noticeable.
Yet, Frisk still doesn’t feel any better about it now.
None of this should be as big a deal as they make it out to be. Frisk knows that. Still, their heart is racing uncomfortably as they drink their water, beating like they have been running for an hour.
There was always one advantage about being able to Reset, Frisk supposes as they put down their glass: getting the chance to repeat the same script in the Underground countless times gave them plenty of practice to manage to say things properly.
But as for now…
“Good morning,” Frisk recites once more from the top.
Maybe this time, they can do it right.