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Kris is seven years old the first time they stumble up to the bunker’s locked doors.

They’d stumbled around the edges of Hometown for a while, having lost sight of their brother and their adoptive parents while out on an outing due to getting distracted and led astray by a trail of golden flowers. The trail had led them further and further into the trees, their head growing fuzzier and their hands growing colder with every step, their breath hanging in the air as though it were snowing outside instead of it being the middle of summer. The tree branches twist and reach in their direction, the wind picking up and howling in their ears, the shadows seeming to follow them as they follow the flowers down, down, down—

And then it all stops, and they find themself standing in front of dark, rusted doors, staring down a rusted padlock as the fuzziness in their head clears and they find themself completely and utterly alone.

Kris moves slow and sluggishly as they look around at their new surroundings, arms instinctively wrapping around their middle in a failed attempt to keep themself warm. Their whole body is numb, the air around them still and quiet. The cold digs into their skin and doesn’t let go.

They do not wonder where they are.

They do not question what’s going on.

No, the only thought that crosses their mind, eyes fixated on the towering doors in front of them, is why does it feel like I’ve been here before?

The sunlight dims, darkens, and from deep within the bunker Kris hears the distant sound of humming, accompanied by the ground shifting and the shadows stretching along the ground, crawling closer and closer towards them the longer they stand frozen to the spot.

Fear grips their heart, a painful chill settling deep within their stomach as they consider, only for a moment, to turn around and run, to follow the golden flower trail back home where they know they’re safe and loved and welcomed.

But one look back towards the way they came tells them that that’s no longer an option, eyes widening as they find no sign whatsoever of the golden flowers that had led them, bewitched, through the trees.

Escape is no longer an option.

They’re trapped.

The humming grows louder and the ground shifts more violently as the shadows reach them, Kris nearly losing their balance as they stumble forward. The shadows, seemingly pleased by this, nudge them along, pushing on their shoulders and their back and their legs until they’re taking step after step, closer and closer to their destination despite every fiber of their being screaming at them to turn back, turn back now.

The air grows heavy, electric, pressing against their skin until all they can feel is that numbingly-cold sensation inside and out.

Kris comes to a stop with their nose almost brushing against the rusted metal door, surprisingly steady despite how much their insides feel like they’re turning to jelly. More shadows wrap around them as they hesitate, stiff and startled, unsure as to what to do next.

The humming from behind the doors grows ever louder, so loud that the sound reverberates in their chest, the wind carrying off with its strange, distorted rhythm—and then they notice something odd.

Kris hesitates, thinking they’ve imagined it, before they press their ear slowly, gently against the doors, listening closely.

There—underneath the humming. They hear…not words, but still sounds that are something like words. A voice, for sure, calling out from the darkness.

Kris presses themself as close as they can manage against the doors, straining to hear what the voice is saying. If it’s even saying anything at all, for that matter.

The humming drones on, the cold becoming biting and the shadows becoming oppressive and irritated, gripping and tugging and pulling on them impatiently as time seems to stop altogether.

The voice wails, static ringing in their ears as it speaks once more.

This time, they understand what it says.

They almost wish they didn’t.

Is anyone there?

Please, can anyone hear me?

It’s so dark. It’s so cold.

I can’t see. Everything hurts.

Let me out. I just want out.

Please, someone, anyone, get me out of here.

I just want to go home…

Kris wavers, chest aching as they chew on their lip. Slowly, they raise a hand to knock on the door, mouth opening to say something, a greeting, a question, anything, when—

Kris!

They scream when a large hand wraps around their wrist, trying miserably to yank themself in the opposite direction, only to stop once they realize that the hand holding them is soft, warm. Familiar.

Kris looks up to find the distraught, worried expression of their mother, teary-eyed and frazzled judging by how messy and tangled her fur and clothes look.

“Oh, thank goodness, I found you,” Toriel murmurs as she pulls them into a crushing hug, Kris grunting as they return the hug as best they could. When they part, Toriel’s panicked expression melts into a hard, stern glare, holding the human child firmly by their hands. “Kris, you should not run off like that. You could get lost—or worse, you could hurt. We do not want that to happen, now, do we?”

Kris tries to speak, a defense at the tip of their tongue, but their mother stops them, shaking her head.

“I am afraid this is not up for debate, my child,” she informs them. Then, gaze trailing above her head, her expression stricken, Toriel adds, her voice growing faint, “It is awfully dangerous in this part of the forest. There have been too many cases of children going missing, stories of magical flowers and living shadows that steal them away, to act carelessly now. It is best not to risk such things, wouldn’t you agree?”

Kris thinks back on the golden flower trail and the way the shadows clung to them and nods, shuddering under the weight of the cold still clinging to their skin.

Toriel smiles at them, giving their shoulder a small pat. “Good. I am glad we are in agreement.”

She takes them by the hand, gently pulling them back in the direction they came.

“Now,” she tells them, her voice much brighter than it had been a moment ago, “let’s return home, my child. It is getting late—and you know how your brother gets around dinnertime.”

Kris does nothing but nod, slow and sluggish, their eyes downcast as they allow her to pull them forward.

They can’t help but glance back at the bunker one more time, watching as it disappears among the trees the further they walk. The voice echoes in their head as the shadows bend in their direction, watchful, waiting. Pleading.

Please let me out.

Kris bites the inside of their cheek and turns away, their expression blank and cold as they stare straight ahead of them.

They have a sinking suspicion they’ll be going against their mother’s wishes.

The only question now is when.