Chapter 1: Monday
It was raining that morning. Not heavily, but it was pretty constant. That was fine, he needed to practise this spell anyway.
As the large figure walked down the street with a bag of tools on his shoulder, individual droplets of rain vanished with a faint hiss and a puff of steam. He hadn't needed to do this for centuries, and the rust was showing as a few drops dodged the net and dampened the fur on his arms. He didn't mind though. Even the extra large umbrella he bought was a cumbersome thing with the joints occasionally catching on the fur on his hand, and the rain coat wasn't much use with his horns. The occasional pattering of water was actually soothing. As he dwelled on this he arrived at his destination. Time to fulfil his duties.
Asgore walked up to the front door of the school and, fiddling with the keys, opened it for the day. His deceptively light footsteps echoed in the empty corridor as he made his way to the basement. In typical fashion, the furnace had gone out. He looked forward to when CAP would be up and running. In the meantime he grabbed a few logs and some coal, loaded up the furnace and, with a gesture, watched it become a roaring fire. Good for the less hairy students attending, even if it made him personally uncomfortable.
Double checking the boiler, everything looked good. Heading back to the corridors, he appraised the floors for the first time. Looked like Woshua had just finished washing them. That was a relief, somehow they hadn't found a mop for him that didn't require him bent double, and while he wasn't getting any older, it still puts a strain on your back. It was a great idea of Frisk's to hire him. A few voices called from the cafeteria. The cooks had arrived to prepare for the breakfast program. Good, he could attend to his duties.
The rain was mere drizzle now, so his spell should block it all. There was a large puddle in the middle of the path. He knew ideally he should clear it first, but the kids love puddles. Perhaps he'd tidy up the bushes first. He'd meant to do that last week, but his actual duties had called for the first time in a while. The cloak and crown duties. It wasn't serious, some eminent domain issue about the pipes and cables for CAP, but it had taken him away from the school for several days. Diplomacy was a lot more... bureaucratic than he remembered. He couldn't complain, it was preferable to negotiation at the tip of a spear.
Sure enough, as he cleared the nasal cavity of Papyrus' leafy skull, children had started to arrive. The scaly ones had fun splashing in the puddle, while the hairier ones studiously avoided it. They might have enjoyed splashing, but a teacher would have had to fastidiously dry their paws off with a towel, and that would have been embarrassing.
They waved at him as they entered the school. He remembered visiting some of them in Snowdin. Not many people could claim to see their erstwhile leader on such a regular basis, but it made Asgore smile. The few human children, however. He was just as cordial with them as with the monsters, but they didn't seem to reciprocate. Was it because his appearance scared them? He doubted it, they seemed to get on well with Toriel. He hadn't given it much thought, it meant thinking about... well, there was a time and a place for that.
As he continued work on his latest project, a bush around half his height and vaguely shaped like a small person, his equal arrived, donning a smart sun-yellow cardigan. She looked at him trimming the hedge, then to the large puddle, then back to him, with a brief smile. He knew what she'd be thinking, that of course he'd prioritise this, even though they'd discussed this before. It was almost endearing how little this had changed.
It was a polite exchange, even warm. He had a feeling if not for that last moment of shared pain they couldn't have even made it this far, and in a way he was grateful for it. And speaking of the pain, Frisk was approaching now, waving enthusiastically, and close behind them...
This was the politest the flower had been for some time. The motorized buggy he could control with his head had been a form of probation, a way to get around the soil-free parts of town. Frisk and Toriel kept a kill switch should he try and run for it, but it had been months since he tried. Maybe he was just resigned to it now. He hadn't even argued when Toriel suggested he attend school. She had said how it was time to learn more about the world, and it was something they could do together, seeing how she kept maybe two weeks ahead of her classes. Asgore saw right through her reasons for suggesting it. Clearly she wanted to see more of him. Asgore hadn't contributed to the discussion at all, but the benefit of seeing him was one he shared. Even though they had to keep his name in their hearts, as putting it elsewhere was one way to need new windows, for the moment it felt acceptable.
The four of them briefly looked at the child-sized hedge. He hadn't told any of them what or who it was supposed to be, but even if he didn't know it the other three had figured it out. Flowey in particular regarded it with interest. Looking away from it, Asgore noted two copies of a light blue book Frisk was holding.
"Oh, is that the book you're reading in English class?"
Frisk nodded. "Thanks for the Sardine. It's pretty funny."
"It is a peculiar book." mused Toriel aloud. "They act so strangely. And yet its conclusion is a worthwhile lesson to impart on young minds, about what family can be if we give each other a chance."
There was a grumpy snort from the buggy.
"Oh, you disagree, Flowey?" Toriel took a deeper breath than necessary to continue. "I thought you had insisted you would not finish the book until we read it in class."
"Believe me, I wanted to." said Flowey. "But Frisk here wouldn't stop being a bookworm and reading ahead and talking to me about it. So now I know how it ends, and you're wrong."
"I am? Well what do you think the book tries to say?"
"It's a useful lesson, but not just for kids." Flowey looked blank, but his tone had a trace of resentment. "It's about how you shouldn't try to force people to be what they're not and just let them be themselves, no matter what you really want them to be."
Asgore looked over at Toriel. Her face was reserved, but he was sure that would have gotten to her. This wasn't really about the story. He glanced down at Frisk, and their expression betrayed they thought Flowey was closer to the meaning than Toriel, even if they didn't agree with how he was applying it. He'd have to take their word for it.
"Well," replied Toriel steadily, "we can discuss it more when the rest of the class have read it, before we move onto our next book. Now come along children, the bell shall ring shortly."
Asgore watched them enter the school, and thought about the conversation. Flowey was clearly benefiting from his time at school if he could ponder the implications of a story like that. After the first few temper tantrums surrounding schoolwork and homework and a visit from Sans to remind him to behave, Toriel had told him of the armistice, that Flowey would do what was asked of him and no more. He had been getting good marks, not as good as he once might have, but it seemed like education had given his life some well needed structure. Even if he used that structure to rebuff what was offered.
As Toriel had warned, the bell rang, the last few stragglers ran inside, and Asgore found himself alone again. The rain had stopped at last. Good time to take care of that puddle. Raising an arm, the magic almost flowed automatically. The puddle began to bubble as steam rose from it, and it steadily shrunk until it vanished entirely, leaving a patch of entirely dry pavement in the middle of the still somewhat damp path from the street to the front door. That was one duty addressed. Time to move onto others
An hour later, the chipped paint of the cafeteria wing was covered by a fresh coat. Of course, now the rest of the building looked a bit scuffed by comparison. What was the human expression? Don't start what you can't finish? He laughed, imagining Toriel saying how he badly needed that advice, and he'd have agreed. He could have spent the day finishing it, but he had a few other things to do. Better to set aside a weekend and do it properly, or maybe wait until summer vacation. Maybe he could raise it at the PTA and suggest the Royal Colours again. Actually that probably wouldn't pan out, Toriel had mixed feelings about it, and this was her area of expertise after all.
The gutters needed cleaning. If he was truly on his own, he might have used a spell to make himself featherlight and just jumped up, which would save time, but the kids would probably see him and that would be a bad example to copy, especially if it was the human children. Fetching the ladder it was. Fortunately human ladders, while a bit narrow, were really sturdy, having to hold the weight of all that water humans had in them. Despite his size, he was barely heavier than Frisk, and was still able to play with them on the see saw when they got a chance, while they held Flowey so he wouldn't feel left out and... hmm. Ah, they weren't too clogged this time. A little magical force - no fire this time - was enough to push the detritus clear. A brief washdown with the hose and the gutters looked brand new. Down again, across the playground, up again, rinse and repeat.
This school had a lot riding on it, and Asgore never forgot that. He was grateful to help out, and while he knew his forays to meet diplomats and politicians were of the utmost importance in the long run, being able to act on something so immediate was satisfying. No difficult questions to answer when a trash can gets knocked over. No hard choices when a lightbulb breaks. These were the duties he cherished.
The dark clouds that had been there since he woke up that morning were brightening, though still keeping a monopoly on the sun. It was half an hour until lunchtime. Heading back round to the front, to his nearby toolshed, he noticed the half-finished hedge. He wanted to grab his shears and continue work on it. But he needed to see if there was any paperwork that demanded his attention. He could be called away at any time, and wanted to ensure that Woshua had plenty of notice so he wouldn't get carried away and try to clean the kids' art projects or something. Again. As good as he was at cleaning, he needed structure almost as much as Flowey.
His inbox, usually topped up by Papyrus or Undyne dropping by in the morning, had a few notes of varying formalities. An early cup of tea, and he'd examine them in detail. It was as he held the kettle in his hand heating it up he noticed the tupperware box on the table with a note.
Know it's been a while, thought you'd like this - Frisk and- But the second name had been obliterated by angry looking scribbles.
Opening the box, it was a large piece of pie. It looked like Frisk had carefully smuggled it from last night's dinner table and darted in here while Toriel took them to school. He laughed again. In the early days on the surface there had been a definite edge in Toriel's refusal to offer him pie, maybe even a sense of not wanting to reopen those feelings. But Frisk's influence had won out, and now it was almost a game the three of them played, Frisk trying to smuggle a slice whenever they could without Toriel noticing. She almost certainly knew every time it happened, but she didn't say anything. She'd even brushed some crumbs off his beard once without further comment. Also it looked like this time Flowey had got in on the fun. It was impossible to read whatever was beneath the scribbles, but he wagered Frisk had either accidentally or deliberately used the name. Asgore admired their determination, and wondered what toy or book had paid the price for Frisk's refusal to let go. The fact it would elicit such a response was almost... No, don't dwell on it now, these letters needed to be acted on.
The only one properly sealed had a city council identifier rather than a legal office or personal address, so he couldn't continue his most important duty just yet. Looked like there was another meeting about CAP tomorrow morning and he needed to straighten a few things out, so he'd have to tell Toriel he'd be busy. The rest of the notes were far less formal, and thus far more urgent. The pie would have to wait. Not to worry. Like anything out of Toriel's oven, it would keep as long as he needed it to.
Taking a moment to drink his tea, he mentally plotted out the route around town he'd have to take. The cup drained, he grabbed his spare crown from the shelf. His proper one and cloak was kept at home for formal occasions. This one made from stainless steel was in case he had to speak for monsters at short notice. Carefully placed on his head, it managed to look somewhat impressive. The blue and white Hawaiian shirt slightly less so. He then grabbed a slab of wood with another crown carved on it and hung it on the door of the shed, so Toriel would know where he had gone if she came looking, and set off. He could hear the lunch bell ring as he reached the street corner.
The first port of call was easy enough. The large kennel-like building informally known as The Barracks. One of the few monsters taller than he was bounded into him, barking excitedly, but Asgore was adroit at keeping a firm stance against such assaults, and hadn't budged an inch. After Greater Dog had calmed down, Doggo had emerged to reiterate his hastily scribbled complaint about the weekend barbecue plans.
"I don't trust that guy Mettaton's sending to help cook the meat." he growled.
"Oh?" Asgore raised an eyebrow. "But you seemed to like those burgers he grilled, even if they were, em, a bit sparkly. Your tail didn't stop wagging."
"Yeah," he muttered begrudgingly, "but I just don't like the look of him. No muzzle to speak of, a little pink nose, tiny triangular ears. It just ain't right."
Asgore sighed. "I told you the other day, it's not just for the Royal Guard. It is a day of fun for the schoolchildren and their parents too. I can't cook everything by myself."
"You don't need to! There's nothing wrong with it raw-"
"Not after last time." his tone was final. "I shall not have Undyne on the warpath again because half the Royal Guard get sick from undercooked steak. Now I can procure different less sparkly meat, but I am accepting any help Mettaton offers."
Doggo growled softly at the thought of the erstwhile assistant, but ceased all argument. "You're the boss, Boss."
"There's a good boy." He smiled as he gave Doggo a brief pet of the head, and then proceeded to his next destination.
"I quite agree, that wasn't fair of them."
"Now I think that was going too far, there was no need to lose your temper."
"I'll have a word, and if it happens again you can call me or Undyne, rather than take matters into your own hands."
Satisfied that Franklin understood, now it was across town to track down the offending Temmie which had so crassly and thoughtlessly impugned his personal honour, as Franklin had melodramatically put it. There were two approaches to resolving a dispute in which a Temmie was involved. Take an hour to talk them through why they were in the wrong until they understood, or buy two boxes of Temmie Flakes and they would do whatever you said out of gratitude. Sure enough, Asgore left the chat thinking about how to reorganise his cupboard to store the latest purchases. If he didn't know any better he'd have suspected the Temmies were running a racket of some sort.
The final hotspot, for want of a better word, was potentially the most serious. He'd have gone there straight away had the letter informing him not asked him to wait until the doctors assessed the situation. He arrived at the medical clinic to find a human man with a large burn hole on one of his trouser legs, with bandages apparent beneath it, and a Vulkin looking distraught. Doctor Drake, chief expert in human injuries caused by monsters, approached him.
"Andrew Ollys. Second degree burns on his shin." he sighed as he held a clipboard in his wings. "It was an entirely magical injury, so it should heal up completely with proper treatment."
"Can I assist?" offered Asgore. Toriel was far and away the better healer between the two of them in general, but they were evenly matched at handling burns owing to their affinity for fire.
"Of course, sir."
He turned to the patient. "Howdy, Mister Ollys! I'd like to help you with your leg. Mind if I take a look?"
Andrew viewed him all over, regarding his claws and his fangs and his horns and the tiny grey crown, but eventually rested on his bright purple eyes and seemed to relax a little at what he saw there. "Um, sure."
"Good! Now, this may feel rather hot."
Delicately he lowered his huge hands so they covered the burnt area entirely, and allowed the magic to flow through his hands with little conscious thought. Andrew grunted slightly at the new pressure on his wound, but as Asgore worked his look of discomfort faded.
"Hey, the pain's gone!"
Doctor Drake descended on him, and carefully removed the bandages. They looked a total mess, but told a misleading story as the leg underneath them looked like nothing had happened to it that day. The Doctor looked impressed.
"You know your way around burns, Your Majesty. Well Andrew, my human colleagues will want to run a couple of tests to make sure everything is fine, but then I think we can discharge you in an hour or two."
"Wonderful." beamed Asgore. He took out a large wallet, and with a degree of difficulty extracted three tiny bills and a business card. "Now Mister Ollys, on behalf of the monsters I offer my most sincere apologies for what happened. I'm going to have a word with our friend here, and then I can arrange a Taxi to take you wherever you want to go at my expense. This money should cover a new pair of trousers and any costs this accident has put on you. If you, er, wish for a more formal arrangement, my contact details are on the card if your attorney wants to-"
"No, no, don't worry about it." said Andrew, feeling his restored leg with fascination. "It really was an accident after all. Don't go too hard on her, she's been in convulsions since it happened."
"Well, you have the details if you change your mind." replied Asgore. "Oh, and we monsters are having a barbecue in the park on Saturday. You're more than welcome to come along."
"I don't know if I can, I have other plans. But thanks for the offer."
"Alright then, Mister Ollys. I must apologise once again for what you've gone through."
Doctor Drake continued to fuss over the leg. Without another word Asgore left the room, the Vulkin following him without prompting. They both stopped as they stepped outside the clinic.
"I'm sorry!" she wailed. "He was watching me fishing by the lake and we were talking about the rod I was using and he was so nice and said I had a good technique and I was so flattered and excited I hugged him without thinking! And then he started yelling in pain-"
"I know," he said sympathetically, "and it's fortunate he considers the matter resolved, but you do recall Grillby's awareness meeting for Hotland residents about controlling their heat? Humans don't have the kind of tolerances for extremes that monsters do."
She sniffed as tears of lava streaked down her cheeks. "I just remember when Frisk hugged me and how nice it was."
"Yes," agreed Asgore, "but Frisk is pretty unique among humans.
"Yeah," she looked a little more upbeat, "they broke the barrier, they can do anything!"
"That's right." he said, perhaps a little too cheerfully. "So what I suggest you do is maybe practice around some Snowdin folk. You may make them uncomfortable, but they'll endure it better than a human will."
She nodded weakly, and then scurried away. Asgore then pulled out his brick of a phone and started dialling the number for TLL Taxies.
"Is that River Person? Howdy, it's Asgore, I need a favour."
He got back to the school with twenty minutes before final bell. There were a couple of odd jobs that needed done, but by the time he set up to handle them the hustle and bustle of hometime would make it awkward to attend to them. So instead he deposited his crown and retrieved his shears from his shed and continued working on the small hedge along the main path.
By the time the bell rang the hedge's main body was looking a lot less cylindrical, and something that might have been arms could be discerned. He continued clipping as the children filed past. He waved at most of them, but like that morning only the monsters responded. Well, Frisk waved at him too as they turned to head into town. Flowey looked at him but gave no reaction beyond that. Was that an improvement? It was hard to say.
As the stream of children became a trickle, he decided the hedge could wait until tomorrow. He headed for the cafeteria to help clear out all the rubbish. The cooks could have managed on their own, but his great carrying capacity sped up the process considerably. He then tracked down Toriel, who was marking homework in her classroom.
"Was it Doggo again, dragging you away?" Straight to business. He couldn't help but smile.
"Well, yes, but there were other matters to attend to. Valerie was in an accident with a human-"
"Hmph." she frowned, but it was more out of concern than annoyance. "That is the third 'Hotlands' incident in two months, Asgore. We cannot afford to become careless."
"I'm aware of that. He was most understanding, fortunately. I shall have a word with Grillby to arrange a refresher meeting just to be sure."
She nodded approvingly. "You do that."
"Oh, and the City have another meeting about CAP that they've invited me to. I'll probably take Alphys to explain the technical details, but even with that it may be most of tomorrow morning."
"That should be fine. As long as you open up the school Woshua can make sure the corridors are clean."
So...how was he today?
The question was on the tip of his tongue, but it was stuck there. He still didn't feel like he had the right to ask. He let it evaporate.
"Alright then. I'll have some sandwiches ready at my house when they come back from town, and you can collect them later."
"Thank you, Asgore. I shall lock up the school when I am finished with these."
He bowed slightly, an old habit from even before they had wed to show his respect for her decision, and headed for home.
He sat in the kitchen, admiring his handiwork. A pile of sandwiches he'd managed to assemble, and he had even been able to cut them into sort-of neat triangles. Once again Toriel had him beat when it came to wonderful recipes, but he could at least trust himself to heat up meat and assemble slices of cheese and bread with some butter and produce something edible.
Holding his kettle in his hand, he was reminded of doing this earlier that day, and realised the pie was still in his shed. Looked like it had been granted a reprieve. As the kettle warmed up, he looked out the window at the much neater handiwork in his garden. There hadn't been anything to do to them when he got home. He'd done most of the serious pruning and caring at the weekend, and then the morning's rain had taken care of the rest. It was nice to have this time to practice his kitchen skills, even if he was currently just polishing the skill he had long mastered. He had just finished straining the tea when he heard the front door.
"Howdy! How did you get on in town today?"
"We visited Gerson." replied Frisk. "You know, I think ever since he moved to the surface his memory's gotten better. He's been telling us more stories lately."
"Yeah, well," said Flowey in a bored voice, "I know most of them already. Not that he knows."
Asgore regarded them for a moment. That had indeed been a regular activity when they passed through Waterfall, long ago.
"Anyway Frisk, I have sandwiches ready. Make sure you don't leave here with an empty stomach."
"Thanks. Also, um, Flowey was a bit tired today. Can you check his soil?"
"Frisk! If I want help I'll ask for it! HEY!"
But Asgore had already unbuckled the pot from the buggy and brought him over to a table by the back door where a couple of other pots and assorted gardening tools laid. He touched none of these, and instead gently prodded a large finger into the soil.
"Hmm." he said clinically. "Dry. Very crumbly. You're not getting enough water. And the colour is very light. I'd say you've been sitting in this soil for, maybe two weeks?"
"...three." he eventually admitted.
"Well that would explain it. You've gotten everything you can from that soil. In a sense, you're starving."
"Flowey," said Frisk. ", I filled your next pot last week, and the week before, and gave you privacy to move yourself. Why didn't you do it?"
The leaves at his stem twitched in what may have been a shrug. "Maybe I wanna move when I wanna move, not when you tell me to."
"Independence is laudable," said Asgore, "but you're moving past independence into unnecessary stubbornness again. I'll prepare a pot here for you."
"Golly, how nice." The tone disagreed with the words.
Frisk and Flowey watched him gather soil from the one plant-free part of the garden, Frisk eating their sandwiches and Flowey wearing a face like they were being insensitive for doing so. He came back inside, and carefully packed it in a blue pot that stood apart from his current brown-red one, suggesting to Frisk that they get different coloured pots so it would be easier to keep track of whether Flowey had actually moved.
"And what if I still don't wanna move, huh?"
Frisk had grabbed their phone. "Hello, Sans? Oh, nothing much, Flowey's just-"
He didn't help, but he didn't resist either. This suited Asgore actually, it was like repotting a regular plant. He carefully took him out of his old pot, clearing away any soil that clung to his roots, and gently lowered him into the new pot, covering the roots with much darker soil, and then poured a little water from his can. He knew that had done the trick, as Flowey straightened up slightly like he had been invigorated. This wasn't a sign he saw in his other flowers, but he had learned to recognise it here. He smiled in satisfaction.
"Change your pot next Monday, and you won't need me to stand over you and make sure you do it."
"Say thank you, Flowey."
"'Thank you, Flowey!'" The cheeriness was entirely fabricated.
"You're welcome." Mock praise was an improvement from the old insults.
This was followed by an exchange of the day's events. Frisk had learned of Valerie's accident when they found her hanging around the Snowbunny's shop, and had almost hugged her to make her feel better when they realised that might send mixed signals. Flowey snorted when Asgore showed them the cupboard full of Temmie Flakes. He then faked a cough where the word "racket" could be plainly heard. Meanwhile Frisk's class had finished the book they were reading and would start another one on Wednesday. Curiously Flowey had not contributed to the class discussion like he had that morning. When pressed he said he'd already said his piece. Asgore didn't push, but he noticed Frisk regarding him intently.
The sandwiches finished, Asgore transplanted the tea onto a tray and moved into the living room to watch some television. Flowey's regular demand they watch the action movie channel was once again vetoed. Everyone had agreed that was for the weekend when all homework had been done. So instead it was a science fiction show. Frisk had said they loved these shows before coming to Mount Ebott, but time in the presence of Alphys seemed to have robbed the show of its novelty.
The show had a good sense of timing. There was a knock on the door as the credits wrapped up. Toriel had finished marking the homework and had been making preliminary notes for geography lessons she had planned for a few weeks later. She thanked Asgore for re-potting Flowey and agreed to get different pots so as not to enable his self-neglect. Frisk hugged him goodbye, and Flowey regarded him blankly, like he was appraising him, before following them out the door.
With the house empty, he proceeded to his bedroom. Better make sure his crown and cloak were in order if he was to attend a formal meeting. Sure enough they were just as clean as when he had cleaned them yesterday. Just as he looked around for pyjamas, he noticed the open book on his desk. Right where he had left it.
Nice day today!
The last time he had written in this book, the barrier still existed. So much had gone on since, highs and lows, negotiations and arguments and duties, he had fallen out of the habit. And yet he felt there were things he should be noting. The surface was infinitely more varied in less than a year than the journal would have bore witness to in the Underground. So much had gone on. So many feelings to express.
He turned away from it, and located his pyjamas. The green set Undyne had gotten him as a gift, with the Delta Rune she had less sewn and more stabbed into the breast pocket. He had to admire her enthusiasm.
Chapter 2: Tuesday
"Run that by us again, Doctor."
Asgore was sipping his tea as the state official spoke to the lizard standing next to him.
"I... I'm not s-sure how to explain it any d-differently."
"It's just..." she pinched the bridge of her nose, "You're saying you can create electricity directly out of heat? No middle ground?"
"Oh n-no, there is a middle ground!" Alphys adjusted her glasses. "I m-mean, the idea came from a book about g-geothermal plants, and the original design was like that. B-but we discovered that by adapting it into a thaumaturgically p-powered design, we could-"
"There's that word again, 'thaumaturgy', what even is that?"
"I believe," said Asgore, leaning forward in his chair, "the doctor is referring to magic. As we explained at the meeting which approved the Core Augmentation Project-"
"The C-Core Amplification Project, s-sir."
"Ah yes, sorry. Now, Madam Advisor, we could demonstrate the concept to you. The city has seen this before, but we understand that our, ah, talents are a little hard to appreciate without witnessing them."
She looked to the panel of city representatives, the leader of which nodded. "Alright, go ahead Mister Dreemurr."
He slowly got to his feet, not wanting to scrape the ceiling with his horns, and over to the table where a complex device stood. Alphys accompanied him, turning a nearby television on. They allowed it to play for a few seconds before Alphys unplugged it, and then replugged it into the device. Asgore held out his large hand, and allowed a small flame to poof into existence, which definitely caught the advisor's attention. He then got to one knee and placed the flame beneath a conical protrusion in the device's belly. After a few seconds, lights started blinking, and then suddenly the television turned on again, showing a garden center commercial as if it were still plugged into the wall. After a minute or so, he extinguished the flame, the device shut down, and the television flickered off.
"So, that's magic?" the advisor asked, looking impressed in spite of herself. "You're just creating electricity out of magic?"
"Y-yes and no," replied Alphys, "we're harnessing the n-natural heat of magma flows from within M-Mount Ebott, and converting it t-to magic. And th-then we convert that magic to electricity. M-much more efficient than bothering with s-steam and turbines."
"And this device, the Core. What sort of output does it have?"
"W-well I don't have the numbers in h-human measurements, but when only monsters were u-using it, that was about th-thirty percent of its safe output levels."
The advisor consulted her notes. "And by your calculations, affirmed by the city's own experts, the remaining seventy percent could supply power and heating to every county adjacent to Mount Ebott, with room to spare?"
Alphys nodded timidly.
"We ran a trial period." said the City Representative. "Two streets wired directly into it. For three months there wasn't a single interruption, even when the main power grid had that brownout a while back."
"And on this, you approved connecting it to the power grid?"
"Yes, Madam Advisor. That's what we're doing now."
"And you are applying for Green Tax Credits for doing this? You do realise you are claiming the entire city will be entitled to them? That would take up three quarters of our allotted credits for the state."
"And doesn't the state get additional federal funding if it can prove it used up those credits?"
"True, although I daresay Congress put that provision in the budget not suspecting anyone would come close to fulfilling it this year. They will probably be as sceptical about this as I was."
"Excuse me Madam Advisor," came Asgore's gentle voice, "but from my own review of official state data, this state is a net importer of electricity, is it not?"
She regarded him, not expecting the figure in a cloak and crown to do his own reading on such matters. "It is."
"So even if that funding does not come immediately, would there not be ancillary benefits in reducing the state's reliance on such things?"
The advisor looked interested. "There would."
"And I believe the good Doctor has confirmed there is nothing unique to Mount Ebott that would prevent additional Cores being built elsewhere."
"Th-that's right," agreed Alphys, "you just n-need an area that's g-geothermically ac-active."
"So if CAP succeeds," continued Asgore. ", it could allow you to handle all electricity in-state. And if not, well, a city enjoying cheap energy is hardly the worst outcome."
The advisor looked intently thoughtful. That was always a good sign, seeing that your words had reached them on some level.
"I can't speak for any plans beyond the current work." she said. "Nor can I sign off on the tax credits today. I can submit my report and recommendation that the Governor do so. Which I shall be doing. He'll see it as a long term vote winner, but some of us see the benefits it can have to the voters themselves."
The City Representatives relaxed a little. Asgore hadn't realised they had been tense, being out of practice reading human body language.
"I wish the project every success." she continued, seeming to warm a little. "And if I may, it was... very nice to meet you, Sir. Your tea was excellent." She held out a hand, smiling now.
"The pleasure was mine, Madam." he said jovially, taking the hand with the utmost care and gently shaking it. "I can send some with you if you'd like."
"I'm afraid that would give the appearance of bribery," she half-joked, "but if I'm in the area I know who to ask."
With that, she bowed slightly and walked from the room. Asgore looked at Alphys and gave her a smile as she made a note about something. He noticed the word "integrity" among the scrawl. Meanwhile the city representatives looked pleased.
"Once again, we're sorry we had to drag you here at such short notice. We should have onboarded the tax credit applications earlier and then she could have attended one of your earlier presentations."
"Oh, it's quite alright," said Asgore, "we appear to have gotten a new friend out of this, and that's always worth our time."
With that, the meeting broke up. Asgore picked up the micro-Core single handedly and carried it from the room, Alphys walking alongside.
"Th-that went better than I thought, your m-majesty." she said cheerfully. "I think when you b-brought up their own st-stats that showed her we can speak their l-language."
"Yes, well," replied Asgore, "the Queen would probably have gotten her to approve the credits immediately. She always had a knack for speaking in such terms."
Indeed he thought back to the discussions surrounding the Core's creation. The private proposal expressed just to the two of them, how Toriel had grasped it right off the bat, and served as translator for him. How they then took the proposal to the other monsters. She would speak of percentages and outputs, he would speak of warm homes and comfort, and this demolished what little resistance there was. For some reason he remembered it all vividly. Except for the curious case that he could not recall any details about who had proposed the Core. Apart from that it ranged from the people of Snowdin's excitement at having proper lighting to the small figure sitting on his knee during the meeting... ah.
"S-sir, the door!"
He had nearly walked into it during his revery. Chuckling at the near miss, he opened it and they proceeded into the car park and Alphys' van, where he proceeded to load the micro-Core into the back.
"Are you s-sure you don't want a l-lift, sir?"
"Of course! I'm headed the other way, and it's not far. Tell Undyne I said hello."
The walk took a little longer than he thought, but that was mainly due to helping Mrs Snowbunny carry her shopping and then giving directions to a human tourist. The bell had just rung for lunch as he reached the school. Just enough time to hang up his cloak and store the crown next to his tin one in his shed. He remembered the pie that was there, but before he could do anything there was a knock on the door. It was Toriel.
"How was the meeting?"
"Good, all things considered. A lovely woman, just wanted to cover some tax issues. I think you'd have enjoyed sparring with her on that."
"I am not coming out of retirement, Asgore." she said, amused. "The school comes first."
"Oh, of course. I didn't mean to suggest..."
"And speaking of the school, would it be possible for you to watch over recess? The district administrator wishes to go over the school certification process with me."
Asgore was reluctant. Not that the task was difficult, but he didn't like intruding on the human children until he had figured out where he stood with them. But it would negligent of his duty if he left her high and dry.
"Er, of course. Good luck, Toriel."
She returned to the school. He extracted some of yesterday's sandwiches he had stored there that morning. The pie would have to wait for another time.
The student body of the school wasn't large. First and second grade were a merged class taught by a single teacher, and it was overwhelmingly a monster population. Of the humans, maybe three were younger than Frisk, and when it had first opened all the humans stuck together like glue. It had been Frisk, of course, to encourage them to try hanging out with the monsters, and the playgroups were a lot more by age than species nowadays. Your fears can be assuaged if your new friend can conjure exciting light shows using magic. There were trials and tribulations, bullies of both sorts, but even they had learned to hang out together. An oddly heartwarming development.
No real trouble today. It gave Asgore the chance to glance over at Frisk and their group. They occupied a corner of the tarmac, running around as Flowey chased after them in his buggy. He liked recess - some things truly never changed - as it was a great excuse to crash into other people and not get in trouble, as it was all part of the game. He caught a glimpse of his face, and while there was a savage tinge to it, it was nice to see a genuine smile on it for once.
"'scuse me, King Asgore?"
A small blue lizard had been tugging at his shirt.
"Howdy, Horace! Do you need any help?"
"Nah. I mean yeah. I mean not for me. It's Petey."
He pointed to his circle of friends, to the young sandy haired human in particular.
"He dropped his frisbee down the drain by the slide, and none of us can reach it. I tried with my tail, but..."
"Don't worry, I can get it."
They made their way over to the offending drain, Horace soon absorbed by his friends. One hand advising them to keep clear, he lifted the grill off the drain. A glimpse of purple showed him the target. He reached in as far as his elbow and recovered the disc with ease.
"Hmm, a little wet from its adventure." he said. "Not to worry." With a red glow, the frisbee was suddenly bone dry. He held it out to the young man.
"Um, th-thank you, Mister Dreemurr." Muttered Petey, taking it from him carefully as though it were fragile. And then his shyness vanished as he suddenly threw it across the playground and ran after it, his friends in hot pursuit. All except Horace.
"Yeah, thanks Asgore."
"Glad to help." he said. And then, with a moment's hesitation, decided to pull on the loose thread. "Can I ask you something, Horace?"
He looked amazed that the King was seeking his counsel. "What is it?!"
"When you decided to ask me for help. Was there, erm, a reason Petey didn't ask me directly?"
Horace looked thoughtful, but also excited to be able to answer the question.
"Well he asked me to ask you."
"I see. And, um, did he say why?"
"Whateesayagain? Oh yeah, you look sad."
"I look...I'm sorry?"
"Something about you looking sad when you look at human kids, and he didn't wanna make you sad by talking to you."
Something in Asgore's face told Horace he was dismissed, and he availed of the opportunity to catch up with his friends. Asgore continued to regard the playground without taking it in, pondering what he had learned, and not noticing that Flowey had stopped to regard him in turn.
He was out on the playground for a good half hour after the children had returned to class. It was surprising how much of a mess they could make in less than an hour. Toriel had talked of a ban on eating food outside the cafeteria, but she hadn't implemented it yet, so he was picking up wrappers with an enlarged trash grabber. He ought to have swept it all up first, but the motions of doing it like this allowed his mind to wander.
Pulling the loose thread seemed to have unravelled more than he thought it would, and yet of course it would have. It was obvious now. He couldn't examine his current difficulties without his past actions coming up. He didn't trust himself, not really. Children were surprisingly adept at picking up on insincere cheerfulness. Even better than he had been, for he hadn't realised he was doing it.
He had somehow swapped the rubbish and the grabber for shears, and was pruning the lower branches of the trees that bordered the edge of the playground without remembering how he came to be doing it. It would discourage the children from attempting to climb them. Yes, this is a worthwhile thing to do. He'd been putting effort into... the other thing anyway, no sense dwelling on a duty he couldn't yet fulfil.
Or the other one he felt he could never fulfil.
After depositing the clippings and branches in the boiler room to dry out and become kindling, he decided to brew some tea. Toriel would be going straight home today, so he was not needed to keep an eye on Frisk. Or Flowey, he reminded himself. Why was he blocking him out from consideration like that, wasn't he his... don't. Not on your own.
As he found himself holding his kettle once again, he thought of his difficulty connecting with the human children. If he was to have any role in the blossoming peace that could not continue. Despite the crushingly heavy baggage surrounding the issue he was somehow able to look at his actions with something approaching objectivity. What occurred to him was whenever he saw them there was a moment's hesitation, like he was screwing up his courage to greet them. This must have been when he allowed something to show on his face. Did this happen with Frisk? No, Frisk had somehow bypassed this awkwardness. Just as...
He had thought himself into a corner. Once again he couldn't ignore the parallels with the first human child to call him a father. And with that he could not ignore the image of that child, stumbling and bloody, being half-carried into their home by his...
"Hey there, Asgore!"
That quavering voice reignited his smile that had quietly melted away as he turned around. It was a relief to have something immediate to focus on.
"Gerson! Howdy! You're just in time for tea!"
The turtle sat down in a chair way too big for him. "Tea is a young man's game, Fluffybuns! Do you have coffee?"
He did, but it took a moment to fish it out.
"Heh, figured you'd skimp out with the cheap instant stuff." laughed Gerson. "If I'd thought about it I'd have brought my own."
Asgore laughed too, sitting in a chair a little too small for him. It was usually his guest chair, but you had to respect your elders. Even if there was only one elder left.
"So, how's the antique shop doing?"
"Bah! 'Antiques'. I'm older than everything in that place. Thinkin' of wearing a not for sale sign so nobody gets the wrong idea."
"Heh. Well how can I help you? I could always trek up to New Home and find a few things to donate, it's not like I need it..."
"Nah, I ain't asking you to pawn the family silver. It's just been a while, and us old coots gotta keep in touch."
Asgore nodded appreciatively. There were maybe two or three centuries' difference in their age in Gerson's favour, but after so long underground such distinctions were academic. Only a handful of other monsters out there could truly understand what it had been like, from start to finish. And for Asgore's personal perspective, only Toriel could come closer to understanding than Gerson.
"So, how have you been keeping, Asgore?"
"Oh, I can't complain. I've been busy enough with my duties and-"
"Hyeah, I've seen your 'duties'. Standing around for pictures, cutting ribbons. Must be real taxing."
"Ha ha. True, it's not all drudgery. A lot of it is, however. For every such publicity event there are perhaps days of talking and combing over of proposals. Making sure it all fits within the law, soothing the occasional nervous human, things like that."
"And for all those days of talking and combing, there's weeks you can spend here. I dunno what removed the stick up the humans' butts while we were down there, but I'm sure you can't complain when things go so smoothly you don't need to King very often."
"Ha, you're right again. I'm not sure what's more surprising, the humans' attitude or how willing the younger monsters are to go with it. It's not as though I'm idle however. I don't think I could go without duties even if I am never asked to don the crown again. Therefore I help the school. I think I have been too focused on the past, Gerson. I must do something to help the future."
"And that's mighty laudable of you, Asgore. It really is. It's also probably been one of your biggest problems."
"Problem? What do you mean?"
"Sometimes you don't stop and think about which duties you should accept. An' maybe you ain't cleared up ones you should have."
To process the feeling of being nonplussed, Asgore sipped his tea. "I don't understand."
"Let me put it this way. I wanna talk about your kid."
"Frisk? Well they're pretty remarkable, they helped bridge the gap with humans by-"
"No no, I'm not talking about the human. I mean your kid."
"I'm not sure who-"
"Oh come on now, boy!" Perhaps those centuries weren't so academic. "You forget who you're talking to. I remember when those two made the Underground their playground. Of course he was more timid in those days. Sure can stand up for himself now when he and the human are in my shop. But he has his quiet days, and the resemblance is striking. He had one yesterday, and that sealed it for me. So I'll ask it straight: Why is your son a flower?"
Asgore could tell Gerson was trying to read his expression, but wasn't getting anything concrete. This wasn't out of deft concealment of his thoughts however, it was because no one feeling could take full control. There was something in the eyes, but it wasn't quite life.
"Who have you talked to about this?"
"Dropped some hints around his new friend, but they weren't buying it. Probably made one of those dumb promises kids make."
"Well I said us coots should stick together, but some things you don't ask a lady."
"Good. He doesn't want anyone to know. There are few that it would affect directly but he seems to cling to his current identity... almost out of spite."
So Asgore had recounted all he had learned since the barrier broke. Pieced together from Frisk's determination that the truth come out, from a two-way interview with Alphys that had left her in convulsions for weeks, and a tearful confession that had dissolved something toxic within him, and yet was almost as corrosive.
"...and we awoke to the barrier gone, knowing the name of our saviour, but we didn't know how we knew. And before we could do anything but glimpse the sun, they took the hands of Toriel and myself and led us through the Underground."
"Huh. Thought that was a victory parade."
"Well, that's a good cover story. And we went through Snowdin and the forest and the Ruins, to the farthest possible point from the exit. And there he was. Just as you remember him. And there were hugs and tears and apologies for things I couldn't understand at the time. It is still rather difficult to comprehend. And as the two of them told the story, the magnitude of what I had done sank in. In following my self-appointed duty to escape the Underground, I had condemned my son to a half-life without joy or love, and it was one he was destined to return to. And then he got agitated and begged us to leave, so we stood aways and after a while, Frisk was carrying the flower."
Asgore's voice was steady, even calm. But he had become increasingly rigid as the story unfolded. Gerson had the decency not to mention it.
"He didn't put up a fight? I've seen him get pretty stubborn."
"I have no idea what Frisk said to persuade him to come. They have refused all our questions about it. Perhaps our mere presence broke his resolve, or maybe he remembered himself too well. I don't know if he regrets coming to the surface, but at first he certainly acted like he did. He doesn't even pretend to acknowledge what he once was, at least not in front of us. If we try to do that, even just use his name, he lashes out at whoever said it."
Gerson took a long drink of his coffee. Both his yellow eyes met the purple.
"That's a hell of a story." he said as a matter of fact. "Okay then. I'll ask again: Why is he a flower?"
"I'm sorry? I just explained-"
"Why is he still a flower? Aren't you still king? Couldn't you order some scientists to look at him?"
"Frisk has some ideas. Mainly we've tried being nice to him. He hasn't threatened to kill anyone in a long time, but whatever happened since the barrier broke I doubt he ever meant it. He has an unusual fear of Sans and none of us are quite sure why, but it's been useful when he gets stubborn, as you put it. And yet he hasn't done more but be rude lately. Whether that is adjusting to life on the surface or anything else, I don't know."
"And you're letting a child who is a fraction of your age take charge over your son? Thought you had a backbone."
"You know me better than that."
The tea cup clattered briefly as he lowered it from a sip.
"I... I can't. I've failed him too many times. I couldn't protect him. He set the perfect example of not harming others at the cost of his life, and I've betrayed that example six times. I am why he goes to school in a buggy. I'll only fail him again."
"Huh. Sounds like duty's a pain in the ass."
In spite of his shame, a smile. "Ha, indeed. I'd be lost without it though."
"Not exactly sure of where you are right now, are you?" Asgore looked thoughtful at the rebuke. "Okay, you don't trust your instincts when it comes to fixing him. How about a duty of helping those who are working on it? That kiddo's the genuine article right there. If they've got a hunch, even money it pans out. Might make him more eager if you spend time with him too."
"I watch both them regularly for Toriel. They even spend the night every now and then. But... I'm always afraid to."
"Why? Because you're afraid you'll fail?"
"Yes. No. Sort of. For a long time he said the most hurtful things, talking about who he harmed, just to be left alone. Whenever it is just the two of us, I wait for the reminder of what I did to him. A victim who can finally talk back to me. I am an utter coward."
"Has he ever actually say that?"
"Well no, but-"
"Gotta feeling he'd have said it by now if he really meant it. You said it yourself, he's mellowed out. And if this thing does pan out, he'll want his daddy there."
The silence was damning.
"You better not be thinking what I think you are, boy."
"I... I don't know if I'm ready. Frisk performed a miracle and let us see our son and we were able to give him the hug we never could that night. And then we leave and a flower emerges instead of him... it felt like closure. Agony to go through it, but saying goodbye on our terms was helpful. It's allowed Toriel and myself to move on."
"Really? She calls him 'Flowey' and doesn't act like he was ever anyone else?"
"...in front of him, usually yes. Frisk has told me about her attempts at probing to the contrary, however."
"And this sounds like a woman who's moved on, has it?"
"It's... it can't be that simple. Look at how I led us for a century. What I did. Why Tori left. Why you and I didn't speak for fifty years. All done in his name, whether I meant to or not. If the unthinkable happens again, how can I be rewarded for everything I did?"
"Huh. For a guy who prattles on about duty that's awful selfish of you."
"I... What do you mean?"
"If he gets better and fluffier and starts feeling properly again, you're not gonna be part of his life? It won't be about what you want, it'll be about what he needs. If he did half of what he said he did, even if nobody remembers, he's gonna be messed up. Probably more than you are by a league or two. He'll need both of you to get through it. How can you jabber about duty while casually ignoring that?"
Asgore stared at him. It was like working at a jigsaw puzzle of solid cardboard, only to be told the picture was on the other side. Only rapidly blinking could express his feelings of foolishness and shame.
"You should probably be aware of this by now, but your duties can change overnight regardless of what you do. Be ready for it. Embrace it. I'll hazard you feel like you faced that test once before and failed it badly."
In spite of everything, he nodded slowly.
"Most folk, human or monster, don't get this chance. It might not happen, but don't blow it if it does. Make that your duty."
Asgore finished his tea, deep in thought.
"One thing I don't get about it however. How can you sit there and tell me all this and be so, well not cheery, but stoic? How does it not eat you up?"
"Oh Gerson..." his eyes lost everything, like he had suddenly died. "Of course it does."
Quivering hands carefully placed the teacup on the table, and his posture totally collapsed. Unseeing as the last century tried to drown him, he looked out the window.
"The birds are singing. They sound beautiful today." Gerson watched as the life in his eyes came back a little.
"Some folks would say it ain't healthy to do that."
"Perhaps. But focusing on the now and moving forward is my only outlet. Hence my duties."
"I reckon there are a couple of things in the past you haven't fixed properly. He's certainly one of 'em. Straighten them out or you'll be devoured by them. Your duties to others don't mean a thing if you don't keep a duty to yourself."
Gerson slowly got to his feet.
"Well, it's been fun catching up, Fluffybuns. I'm sure you'll make the right call. Got us this far, didn't ya?"
The smile had properly reasserted itself. "Thanks for visiting."
"No problem. Tell your kids to buy something next time!" A chuckle, and he was gone.
For some reason, Asgore thought about the pie. He wasn't hungry. It would probably be best to leave it for another-
The shed's door burst upen, a pairs of eyes met a pair of sockets.
"I HAVE SOMETHING IMPORTANT I NEED TO TELL YOU!"
"What is it?" Asgore was on his feet. He grabbed the stainless steel crown, despite the golden one being within easy reach.
"I WANTED TO SAY I ADORE THE HEDGE OF MY FACE YOU HAVE TRIMMED! IT REALLY COMPLIMENTS MY JAWBONE!"
"Oh. Oh!" The earlier tension was gone, as Asgore laughed and placed his backup crown on the shelf. "Well I'm glad you like it."
"INDEED! SANS WAS DISMISSIVE OF IT, HE THOUGHT THE BACK LOOKED LIKE A BUSHEL OF WHEAT!"
The rigid grin was even more frozen than usual.
"OH MY GOD I JUST GOT IT! SAAANS!"
The door slammed.
Chapter 3: Wednesday
His eyes jerked open.
It took Asgore a moment to realise that he was in bed. That, as he had predicted yesterday, he'd had a nightmare. He couldn't have spoken about and thought of the past so much without being rewarded with revisiting it more intimately. His chamomile tea the previous evening had a large dash of peppermint added to it. An unusual taste, but he had hoped they would soothe his dreams. A futile effort, but one must keep trying.
His head still laid on the pillow, the habit of bolting upright long discarded through patient endurance. So he sat up, noting the room was still dark. Despite it being May, only a faint blue-green tinge on the horizon out the window betrayed that night's grip was slipping, and indicating how early he had awoken. Something gently tickled the fur where his neck and shoulder met. Turning on the light, he felt the area and plucked a feather off his shoulder. With a sigh, he reached behind him for his pillow, finding the anticipated hole in it instantly. The dream must have been vivid enough to make him toss his head around fiercely, as the pillowcases had been reinforced to accommodate his horns.
Despite not needing to leave the house for hours, he resigned himself to getting up. With a sigh bordering on a yawn, he got out of bed and swapped his pyjamas for a vest and trousers. Quietly he slipped down the broad stairs to the kitchen, taking the mortally wounded pillow with him for an attempt at repair later that day. He could feel the last remnants of the peppermint trying to do its duty, so settled on chai tea to counter it, opting to use the oft-neglected stove to heat the kettle.
The glare of a television disagreed with his eyes at this time of day, so he fiddled delicately with the radio as the water heated. Late night talk. Jazz. Classic. Mettaton advertising a new cologne. Rap. Shyren's new single. At last he found what he was looking for, and felt the soothing relaxing tune of the Heavy Metal station screaming at him, stoking memories of the quiet evenings he'd spend with his family, letting the furious drumming from one of the CDs or even records that had been salvaged from Waterfall wipe away the rigours of the day. That taste in music had bewildered both of the humans that had joined the family.
Soon he was sitting with his tea, feeling its effects as the traces of lethargy still haunting his extremities were expunged. And he was thinking again. Between Horace and Gerson and his own subconscious, fate had laid overlapping reasons to think about this, despite his own inclinations. He'd already endured the dreams, now was really the time to do it.
The dream had been set in the Throne Room of New Home. No surprise there. Yet for some reason his brain couldn't confirm which of his nine regular visitors had been confronting him. He supposed it didn't really matter. They all had the same script. Even Frisk, who in reality had never hinted at anything but affection for him, would shout his crimes at him. And he would stand there and take it silently, not doubting a word of it.
And as he mused on this, he felt the need to speak.
"It happened. All of it. I failed them. I betrayed her. I killed six. I tried to kill a seventh. I allowed him to endure a life of torment, and harm those I sought to protect. I did it all."
The golden eyebrows rose in surprise at the words, more for their calm tone than their content. It had actually been the first time he had declared it in its entirety. He had explained and apologised and confessed and justified and begged for forgiveness, but only for parts of it. Never for all of it to a single person. Perhaps that piecemeal thinking was why it festered. Why some duties would be beyond him.
So, with another sip of tea and a reckless impulse, he let it consume him.
He'd later think he should have put the tea on the table first, but for now did not register the tinkle of breaking china or the damp patch on the fur of his left foot. He barely remembered burying his face in his mighty hands.
It was agony, flickering from one memory to the next, as if each had just happened. His ageless state refused to let the memories blur with time. The sick bed. The crumpled figures in the garden. A look of utter contempt, framed by heartbroken eyes. Seven faces, each with a different expression. A flower actively looking away from him. But as he agonised, he held onto the mantra he had unexpectedly given himself.
He repeated the two words incessantly. Burying it and trying to forget would never work. Justifying it was lying to himself. Making amends was necessary, but wouldn't erase it. If he was to uphold any duty to his people, to his family, he had to deal with it, and there was no way out but through.
In what could have been anything from minutes to hours, the anguish began to lessen. The raw fact of his actions and the reasons for them were surfacing. He was enduring his torment as he had endured the dreams, and grinding it down through attrition.
It happened, it happened, it happened, it happened, it happened...
There was an inner core of grief, guilt and remorse that seemed to remain no matter how he thought of it. It was much smaller than it had been before, but it was incredibly dense. The reckless impulse was satisfied. It would defeat the purpose to feel nothing about what he had done. He just needed acceptance.
Slowly he raised his head from the table. The sky was considerably brighter outside, and over the intensity of the radio he could hear birds singing. His breath was shuddering, like he had just recovered from illness. Although he had been outwardly silent during his revery, the fur on his hands and face felt wet and cold. As did his left foot for some- Ah. The tea.
As he attended to the mess, he questioned the wisdom of this approach, that perhaps slowly talking through it with an expert may have been more prudent. He wasn't even sure he had accomplished anything. At least, until a song was on the radio. The first song they had listened to Underground with the newest member of their family. He vividly recalled the puzzled look as the three of them had relaxed in their chairs, and how funny it had been when they couldn't believe they relaxed to this.
For the first time in decades, he could recall that face, and a warm rush of affection was the principal feeling. That core of anguish was putting up a fight, but his hard-won sense of acceptance put it at arm's length. Recalling the sick bed itself was still painful, but the shadow it cast over the rest of his time with them was diminished. Had he known the full truth of that night, that would not change. He would still have felt he failed them, even if it was beyond his power to help. But that was one mercy he was oblivious Frisk had given their new family, a final secret shared with their friend.
He knew better than to experiment with the others. There was little he could do for the child who had changed everything so drastically. But for the others there were practical things he could do. Some already in progress, others shamefully neglected. Not until they were addressed did he feel he could properly move on. He had a new resolve he had not felt in a long time.
And then he remembered that there was one thing he could do for them. And he could do it at once.
Asgore had not abandoned his post near the front door of the school since he begun his feverish work. Loose twigs and leaves clung to his arms and shirt as he continued to sculpt with his shears.
He had come straight here from the moment he thought of it, barely taking the time to unlock the school and check the furnace. The resolve he had forged burned to do something, and this felt appropriate. So as the sun rose properly before being consumed by clouds, he had worked. To finish this would have no tangible benefits to anyone, but in serving as a more fitting tribute than his behaviour that night... That was worthwhile.
As it began to match what was in his mind, his sense of purpose grew. The nearby sound of splashing and the stream of faces passing him were a sideshow. He greeted them with a warmness he had mastered long ago, and got waves and calls back from all of them. This would have been remarkable in itself had he been paying attention, but there was no time, not when he was so close. Tidy their fringe, fix that leafy collar, position the flowers...
"Nearly finished, honey. I mean, um- Oh. Sorry..."
The words had come automatically, before his brain had caught up. He looked up from his work. Toriel had been watching him, now equipped with a raised eyebrow and a tiny frown. Frisk and Flowey were looking at him too.
"Asgore, you are soaked. Did you not attempt to repel the rain earlier?"
"Oh, it was raining? I mustn't have noticed."
"Apparently." Said Toriel dryly, her expression giving way to bemusement. Frisk actually chuckled. "What on earth possessed you to- Oh..."
He had stepped aside to show what had possessed him. Although they already knew about it, the finished effort captivated them. Toriel raised a purple sleeved hand to her mouth in emotion.
To an outsider regarding the scene, they couldn't be blamed for thinking it was a tribute to the human child standing right there, albeit slightly shorter than the real one. The similarity was striking, even if its leafy hair was tidier. The one clue it might not have been Frisk was the band of golden flowers circling the chest of the bush. Frisk was not much for wearing yellow.
"I just... The date they arrived is not far off. I wanted to finish this so that, well..."
Toriel turned. Not away from him necessarily, but towards Flowey. Her arms twitched and she froze, seemingly caught in stopping herself from expressing any further feelings than she had let slip. As if sensing this, Flowey slowly drove forward out of her reach and examined the bush intently.
"Their trousers are wrong," he finally concluded, "they're too long, they never reached their shoes like that. Couldn't you get that right, you big dumb-"
"Flowey!" exclaimed Toriel. "Show some manners!"
"What? You said I should express myself more!"
"No no, Toriel, it's fine." reassured Asgore cheerfully, who had gotten to one knee at Flowey's words to examine the trouble spot and compare with his memories. "And he is correct. I'll fix that later. Thank you for noticing."
Deciding to shift the topic and not press Flowey about his choice of recollections, Asgore eyed the yellow and brown books Frisk was holding. "Oh, is that the next book you're reading in class?"
Frisk nodded. "Under the Hawthorn Tree. Mom found it. I hadn't heard of it before, but she said it's about kids taking care of themselves during a famine."
"Ah, y-yes," agreed Toriel, seemingly caught off balance by the discussion's sudden shift, "it is set during an actual famine that occurred a few hundred years ago. I thought perhaps that by exploring how humans manage in times of hardship, the monster students could better understand their human classmates, while also adding some context to future history lessons."
"I see," said Asgore with interest, "and how much of it has Frisk spoiled for you, Flowey?"
Flowey, who had resumed looking at the bush, turned back to the group with a look of curiosity, but also with some resentment. Not at the fact he was being asked to contribute, but seemingly at who had asked, like the script called for someone else to do it.
"None," he responded blankly, "they finally got it into their head not to bother."
"I hope that means you shall better engage with the class when we read it together." said Toriel. "Now please head inside, children. Asgore, if you were out here getting drenched, I assume you did not get Woshua's call that he needed to take today off so that he could wash his house again?"
His brow furrowed. "Ah, I did not. I shall clean the floors."
She walked up to the door to follow the children, and then halted, hand on the handle. After a moment's hesitation she turned around.
"I... I am sure they would have loved it."
Before he could process this compliment, she stepped inside. For some reason he now became aware of how wet he really was. Instinctively he clapped his hands together, and felt himself enveloped in warm air. Steam rose from his body, and he seemed to grow slightly as the flattened soggy fur became extra fluffy. Turning around, he noticed the puddle the children must have been playing in, even larger than Monday's. He wanted to boil it away, but with Woshua absent at short notice the floors needed cleaning after a day of abuse by kids whose enthusiasm was matched by how messy they could be. Before that, he let himself gently rest one hand atop the untidy hair of the bush, and rub his eye with the other.
"I hope your Mother's right, Chara."
As he feared, by mid-morning his back was feeling the strain of bending over to clean the floors. But it had to be done. It transpired there had been a magic fight in the corridor yesterday, and the combatants had summoned particularly squishy weapons of choice before Professor Madjick – as they had insisted on being called when Toriel hired them – had broken it up. It had taken all that time to clean it. Fortunately the rest of the school was in much better shape, and much quicker to clean.
The bell rang for morning break as he reached the stairs, and he permitted himself a break lest he had to visit Doctor Drake for a pulled muscle. He moved as close to the wall as he could, which didn't diminish his frame by much, as the corridor filled with students heading to the playground to stretch their legs. It wasn't often he was inside when they were, so he threatened to cause a traffic jam as they stopped to look at him or say hello. He had to ask them to keep going.
It was as the crowd was finally thinning that he heard it.
"I can't do it! Stop!"
It was coming from a classroom with an open door. At first it looked empty, its teacher gone off for a pick-me-up, but then he noticed the two small figures arguing. One a tanned human boy with blond hair, the other a green duck.
"It's what my dad says, Barry," the duck continued, "you should hafta do magic to be here. And humans could do it before. So cough it up!"
"I told you Raffy, I tried. I don't think I can!"
"Then what are you doin' here? Why do you get free reading time when we gotta practice magic with Madjick? It ain't fair!"
"I want to do it!" cried Barry "I don't know how!"
"Well you'll have to go to another school then! Or hey, I got an idea. Maybe if you feel a little pressure!" said Raffy angrily. And between his wings a small yellow ball of energy formed. Barry's eyes widened. "Now see if you can block this-"
"Excuse me. Is there a problem?"
The yellow ball vanished with a pop. Both of them wheeled round to see Asgore, who had bent slightly to poke his head through the door without catching his horns. His tone was soft and jovial, but he allowed a ring of authority to accompany his words.
"Um. N-no, Mister Asgore sir."
He smiled pleasantly. "I am glad to hear it. I wouldn't like to have the nurse troubled over a magical accident."
"No sir." said Raffy, looking at his webbed feet. And then a defiant impulse seized him, not bothering to hide it. "But why don't humans have to to magic practice?! It's not-"
"Now Raffy, don't you remember when Doctor Alphys came to school and told you all about how she was researching human magic? I admit I didn't quite understand everything myself, but didn't she say how they would organise classes as soon as they figured it out?"
"Y-yeah," he chirped meekly, "b-but my dad doesn't believe her. She's only saying it because she likes humans so much, and they're not such a big deal and the school would be better if-"
"Hmm," pondered Asgore, with enough force to forestall that nasty thought before it was uttered, "I believe Ronald spoke to Miss Toriel not long after the school opened, asking whether Frisk would give him an autograph?"
The tension faded as Barry giggled at the idea of a grownup chasing after a kid's autograph, regardless of species.
"I suppose I had better talk to him. Or perhaps Miss Toriel should speak to your mother?" Raffy shook his head in suppressed fear at the disaster that would be. "Very well then. Now, you had better hurry along. Surely you want to enjoy break?"
Raffy nodded politely, and carefully slipped past Asgore and out the door. Barry remained where he was.
"Uh, thanks Mister Dre- Asgore."
He stared at the boy a moment. There was a dividing line between monsters and humans about whether they called him "King Asgore" or "Mister Dreemurr". He didn't mind the latter, but it had left his dealings with humans feeling more formal than he'd have liked. Even the human children had picked up on it. So Barry's choice of name was a new development.
"You are welcome," he replied cheerily, "and I wouldn't worry about it. When the time comes, I am sure you will be a great mage."
The reassurance had helped wipe away the argument in his head, and he zipped towards Asgore, who stepped back into the corridor as he burst through and made his way to the playground.
After permitting himself a cup of tea, he resumed cleaning the floor. General maintenance was much less taxing on his back than the rigorous scrubbing he had applied to the battlefield, and progress was steady. He had one more corridor to do when the lunch bell rang. Once again he failed at staying out of the way of the throng of children. He caught sight of Frisk, who waved of course, and of young Barry and Petey who were talking rapidly. To his surprise both of them waved as well.
As the crowd cleared again he threw himself into the work, and before he knew it had finished. Satisfied, he headed towards his shed. Perhaps at last he could enjoy that pie...
She had been standing outside his shed looking impatient. The razortooth-filled snarl had become a grin when she spotted him however.
"Wondered why you didn't answer when I knocked! How ya doing?"
"Oh, nothing my back shall complain about, until tomorrow morning at least."
"You didn't stretch?!" she exclaimed in disgust. "One of the first things you tried to teach me that I actually listened to, and you go and skip it?!"
"Ha ha, true, I must be a disappointment. I always associated stretching with training or exercise, not cleaning."
"Anything physical, you told me! So, got off your butt a little more often?"
Before he could respond, she suddenly laughed before stifling it.
"Oh, heh, sorry. I was just talking to Gerson this morning and he was tellin' me how you squeezed yourself into a tiny chair just so you wouldn't be rude in front if him yesterday. Damn, it was funny!"
"Well, Gerson's always had a way with words when the subject is deprived of dignity." said Asgore unabashed. He recalled how 'Fluffybuns' had proliferated. "So, he mentioned we met?"
"Yeah, just said how he wanted to catch up, chew the fat about old times and junk."
"Ah," he said gratefully, "and were you talking for long?"
"Nah, just on my way here from drilling the guards at the Barracks. Is something up with Doggo? He looked grumpy but wouldn't meet my eye."
"Oh, I just explained how he's not getting his way with the barbecue this weekend."
"Hah! I should think so! I know we all got toilets up here, but using them's a pain!"
"Would you care to come inside and sit a moment?" asked Asgore quickly. He didn't feel like discussing digestive distress.
She marched in just as he opened the shed door, and flopped casually into the guest chair, before quickly rearranging herself into a formal upright posture. Asgore took the opposite approach, sitting down with practiced grace before allowing his posture to relax and crossing his legs.
"So," he probed, "was Gerson in good spirits?"
She shrugged. "As good as always. Been a while since he told me a story about you. I still remember him talkin' about when you found those flower seeds and it turned out you were allergic to them, and how your eyes didn't stop watering and it looked like you dyed your beard. Wish I coulda seen that!"
"Well it was before your time." he mused with a smile. "It certainly cheered the school children up to see me like that. And they were a lovely shade of blue. I daresay they would have complimented your skin."
"See what I'm missing out on?!" she yelled. "Man, all those stories. Makes me feel like a kid again just remembering them!"
"I believe he said you were his biggest source of lost income. Those free Sea Teas he'd give you as you listened to all those times I embarrassed myself."
"Oh, yeah. Spent a lotta time at his place. He kept inviting me. I think he wanted to keep tabs. I dunno if I ever told you this, but as a kid I had a really lousy temper."
"Oh my, really?" This was actually news to him.
"Yeah. I think he heard me getting into fights with bad guys who just happened to ask the way to Snowdin or something, and thought I could use someone lookin' over me."
"And did you feel your temper improved under his influence?"
"Not really. I just put it towards a new target."
"Yeah! Those stories weren't all about you being a fluffy dork. There were some really cool ones! How could I ignore the challenge?"
"So that would be why you shoved a fully grown Royal Guard out of the way and demanded I fight you?"
"Damn right! And then, well, you know how that turned out."
They took a moment's silence to recall how they had met, and what became of it. Their smiles broadened at it.
"Can I ask something, Asgore?"
"Hmm? Of course."
"Gerson said how you two didn't talk for fifty years. And it just hit me how I never saw you two talk when I was growing up. Why is that?"
"Oh." He took a deep breath. "It was the war. He never agreed with starting it again, and made that plain whenever we met."
"So he got in a huff and stopped talking to you? That doesn't sound like him."
"Very true. It was I who broke off contact."
"Why, 'cuz you thought he was wrong?"
"No. Because I knew he was right."
His posture slumped suddenly as he thought about it, but not to the degree of the previous day. Undyne's yellow eye stared. It wasn't like this was news. It had been plain for years Asgore found it all distasteful, and when Toriel had confronted him before the barrier he denied nothing. Undyne had thought it was unfair, but any attempt to discuss it was swiftly shut down. Asgore seemed to feel she'd earned her scorn, even if others didn't. And as Toriel had softened to him anyway after they went to the Ruins for some reason, it stopped coming up. Still, this was the first time he had acknowledged it in front of her.
"It is a great burden, the duties we choose." continued Asgore, breathing heavily. "Some must be followed through once embarked on, even if it was a mistake to begin."
"Really? It was a mistake? You regret all this? It wasn't worth it?"
"Well... Monsters are free, and prospering. We have become friends with the humans in spite of it. I have a family..."
It wasn't really an answer. Undyne mercifully didn't press the point.
"So Gerson never talked to you until the barrier broke?"
"Goodness, no. We've been speaking again for a few years now. I thought he would have mentioned it."
"Remember the first time you, how did you put it, 'knocked me on my butt'?"
The razortooth grin was back. "Yeah! That was awesome! I told Gerson that night and... ohhhh..."
He smiled. "Exactly. The next day he turned up in the throne room. I believe ever since you began Royal Guard training, you've been the main storyteller whenever you meet."
"Well he seemed interested in how I was doing!"
"He still is. He said, whatever else I had done, he felt I had done right by you, and thanked me. I think he was hoping I would take you on board all along."
Undyne's face was annoyed, but there was also a trace of being impressed. "That sneaky shell-head!"
"And I have to say," continued Asgore, "it was one of my better decisions."
"You got that straight! Can't regret taking me as a duty, can you?"
"No, I cannot." he smiled broadly. "If nothing else, I gained a friend as much as a Guard Captain."
Undyne looked pleased with herself.
"Now, what brought you here today? Not that I mind a chat, but you normally have more in mind."
"Huh? Oh yeah!"
She reached into her jacket pocket and took out a letter.
"I checked your postbox a bit later than normal today, this was in it."
He took it from her. It was addressed to him in a typed envelope, with no obvious identifiers. He could feel the warmth of reminiscence leaking out of him. He knew what this was, and Undyne had picked up on it.
"Are you okay?"
Mechanically he opened it, made a note of the relevant name, and the appointment time. Tomorrow morning. Good, it was never good to let this linger.
"Earth to Asgore! What's in that letter?"
He sighed deeply. "That duty it was a mistake to begin? This is part of it."
She looked puzzled, but her expression melted to understanding as she scratched a fin.
"I cannot pretend it did not happen. It must be acknowledged."
Undyne looked like she wanted to argue, but instead she nodded.
"Welp," she said, as if the letter never came up, "said I'd help Alph move some stuff around her lab. See ya later!"
He opened the door for her, and watched her sprint away.
There was no time for another break. A food fight had broken out in the cafeteria, and while Toriel had broken it up and put the instigators in detention, Asgore's work that morning had been undone, so he had to start again. Leaving it for Woshua would give him so much to clean it might put him in a frenzy, and then Toriel would spend tomorrow morning drying everyone.
He had time to help the cooks with rubbish after finishing, and then the bell wasn't far off. He knew Toriel would be handling paperwork, as her class had music with Whillie the Whimsun, so he tracked down the headmistress' office and knocked softly before entering.
"Asgore." she nodded without looking up from the form she was filling out. "Thank you again for handling the cleaning today. Even if it meant that puddle has been there all day. Were it not for the cafeteria I would think you were shirking."
"When have you ever seen me shirking?"
"Well there was the time I gave the monthly address because you just had to watch this brand new blue flower blooming. And then you looked like you had dyed your beard."
They smiled a little. It was things like this which their sense of closure allowed, Toriel actually remembering her life with him. Asgore could appreciate even this much.
"Undyne came by earlier." he said, resolving to say it straight. "She had another letter. For tomorrow morning."
Toriel stopped writing and looked up.
"And this is the... fourth to respond?"
"Fifth. One more after this."
She frowned with concern. "And if they reject it, or even..."
"It will not be the first time, as you know." His tone was resolute. "We have discussed this. I am prepared. I have to finish this."
Toriel regarded him with a piercing look. "I suppose you do. This was never like last time. You thought long and hard before embarking on this. It is the same result, however. Nothing I say will change your mind."
"No." he responded plainly.
"Then I can only ask that you take care. If only for those who care about you."
Asgore nodded solemnly, then decided to change the subject rather than dwell on it.
"Not too busy. We started that book in class, reading the first chapter, then moved on to geography. Sorting out the food fight was a headache, but preparing for these interviews tomorrow is soothing by comparison."
"So... how was he?"
"Well, he did not get a turn reading, and I think that annoyed him, but when most of his responses are wrapped in sarcasm or rudeness it is hard to tell. The tone is a small price to pay for actually contributing to the class however. And I admit I was surprised he did not start the food fight. I think he shall be in a better mood after music class, they let him play the drums there and..."
Her story ground to a halt. They both looked a little surprised at themselves.
"Well, his behaviour sounds better."
"Yes," she said thoughtfully, "though I wonder how his mood will be this evening. I am giving a cooking lesson for Papyrus, Sans and Undyne. While Frisk loves attending those, it always seems to rub Flowey the wrong way."
"Well, if he does not want to go," offered Asgore suddenly, "I can keep him."
She raised her eyebrows. "Really? On his own? You are... alright with that?"
"Why wouldn't I be?"
"Well, sometimes I thought you felt..."
So his subconscious tells weren't only with human children. That had to change. Perhaps it already had.
"I will be fine, Toriel. After all, I have a duty to him, however he is."
The open secret of Flowey lay thick in the air as they thought of him. Finally, Toriel nodded.
Flowey was just glad to avoid Sans.
Asgore opened his front door, allowing Flowey to drive through. His wheels tracked mud over the rug.
"Flowey, has your buggy been cleaned recently?"
He glowered impatiently. "Okay, okay, I'm sorry I got mud in the house!"
"Oh, that's not what I meant. I had just thought if too much dirt gunked up the inner workings, the motor might burn out, and Doctor Alphys would have to spend a day or two fixing it."
Flowey looked thoughtful at the sudden threat of his mobility being hampered.
"Okay, you can check it over, whatever. Just make sure Frisk knows if they've screwed this up."
Asgore smiled. "I will let them know."
Soon Flowey was by the kitchen window, basking in the evening sun and bobbing his head, watching Asgore. Sure enough, a lot of mud and dirt had gotten into the inner workings, so he was using his large claw to scrape away most of it before applying a wet soapy dish cloth to get the rest of it off.
"I may not be much for mechanics, but I have gotten better at cleaning lately."
Flowey merely continued to bob his head.
"How was music class this afternoon?"
"Ugh, annoying! Every time I got a good rhythm going the teacher made me stop! He kept saying I don't need to go all out on drums while we're playing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star!"
"Well, that would be an... intense rendition." chuckled Asgore.
"Why do you care anyway?"
There was that resentment from this morning. Like Asgore wasn't supposed to take an interest in his life.
"I was merely making conversation. If you rather we sit in silence until Frisk and Toriel come..."
"Maybe I do." he said stubbornly.
So the cleaning continued in silence, Flowey continuing to bob his head. At least for a few minutes.
"Are you done yet?"
The routine repeated every few minutes, until at last Asgore placed the buggy before Flowey for his approval.
"Ugh, it looks lame! The paint's all scratched."
"Well," Asgore had an idea, "would you like me to touch it up? Or maybe you would like a new colour? I have some paint under the stairs. And we can put some music on."
Half an hour later they sat at the newspaper-covered kitchen table, the buggy now a dark green rather than faded yellow. Asgore had dried the paint with a careful application of heat, and Flowey was now clumsily painting red and orange flames along the side, two paint brushes gripped in his vines, absently applying each stroke to the drum rhythm coming from the radio.
"Finished." he said. "I guess having a new look isn't so bad."
"I am glad you like it."
"Whatever floats your boat."
The two admired their handiwork for a while. Flowey was still bobbing his head.
"Erm, may I ask why you're doing that?"
"There's an itch or something in my stem, it's irritating."
"Well, may I...?"
"If you're not careful I'm gonna-"
He halted his threat, realising it wouldn't do any good. Asgore gently rested a finger on the stem near the soil, and gradually moved upwards. It was about halfway up, when Flowey grunted in discomfort, that he felt it.
"You have a fungal infection in your stem. I can feel a lesion. It probably developed when you lingered in the same soil for too long."
"I, I'm sick? I've never been sick before like this!" His face twisted with fear. "What'll happen? Will it eat me? Am I going to-?"
"It's alright," he reassured warmly, "It's not dangerous. I can treat it."
"Do it! Now!"
The last time Asgore heard such fear, he had been begging him and Toriel to leave his cavern shortly before emerging as he was now. Hurrying over to the garden table, he grabbed a small green bottle, poured some of its contents into a tiny sprayer, filled it up with water from the tap and shook it vigorously.
"I made this myself in the Underground. More effective than human remedies. Hold still."
Flowey obeyed, even if his petals trembled. Holding the pot steady, Asgore sprayed the affected area three times.
"Hey, it's all tingly!"
"I apologise. I admit I don't know how a flower feels when I apply it."
"So, it's not gonna kill me now?"
"No," he smiled, "that should be enough to get rid of it. I can give Frisk this sprayer, and if the itching comes back, make them change your soil and spray it again. Do you need me to write that down?"
Flowey still looked worried, but his stubbornness rallied. "I can remember."
"Very well. My, all that excitement over itching. Like that time we got excited because we thought horns were about to bud and it turned out-"
Asgore stopped dead. The look on Flowey's unsteady face showed the only reason he wasn't chastising him was he was still focused on his mould problem. Best to move on.
Another half hour later Asgore was tending his wounded pillow, watching Flowey give his buggy a shakedown. It seemed a lot more responsive than he was used to. He kept bumping into counters and walls and knocking things over, and for once he hadn't meant it.
"How is the itching? Any better?"
Flowey stopped, and took the time to flex his head back and forth.
"Yeah, it's almost gone." he admitted.
The song on the radio changed. Asgore stiffened slightly. It had been his favourite, before all this. Flowey too was pretty still, but his face was blank. Before long he was back to driving around. Asgore didn't pick up on the fact he seemed to swerve in time to the music.
"Flowey," ventured Asgore after a while, "what are you doing this Saturday?"
There was a brief look of surprise on Flowey's face, and then it was replaced with forced casualness.
"Whatever Frisk is doing, probably. There's that barbecue, right? Not that I can eat anything."
"Well," he continued, "I just thought that afterwards, the skies are meant to be clear that night. Perhaps you would like to look at the stars?"
Flowey's eyes were hard to make out, like two conflicting forces were struggling.
"...might be cool. Something different..." he said quietly.
Asgore was encouraged. "And I could bring our old CD player and put on that album you used to-"
His heart turned to ice at the sudden shift in Flowey's expression. He had pushed too far.
"Again?!" snapped Flowey. "I thought you got it!"
"I thought you understood who I am. Who I'm not. Toriel keeps probing, but you never did. Why bring him up now?!"
No response offered a happy way out, so Asgore decided to push onwards.
"I am sorry," he muttered, "I feel I have not connected with you as I should. I wish to improve this."
"And what does that get you? You're wasting your time."
"Time spent with you is not wasted. Especially when I thought I never could again."
"That's him you're talking about. You care about him."
"I care about you."
"Him!" he screeched. A vine whipped out and hit a cupboard door in anger, which cracked in two. "You talk about his horns and you put on his favourite song and you know he used to talk about stars and I used to like that album so you think hey maybe if you do both of them I'll be me again. You can't let go of me! Why didn't Frisk listen to me when I told them not to-"
"'Listen to me'? Not 'listen to him'?"
It was the perfect response, like a punch to the throat. Flowey choked on his words as he realised how he had let the separation slip. Another vine cracked the broken fragment of the door in half again, and then flailed for a moment, but then slowly withdrew. His anger melted away, and his head drooped. The room was silent a long while.
"You shouldn't care about me. I can't care back."
"That does not matter."
"I don't understand." There was a pleading note in his voice. "Why are you being so nice to me?"
Asgore's eyes were overbright as he struggled to find the words to reach him.
"Well, do you understand why Frisk is nice to you?"
"I... I used to. For a while."
"It is the same reason."
Flowey stared intently at the door he had broken, with what amounted to his back to Asgore.
"You cannot stop me caring. I never stopped caring. Even after all this time. No matter what you are, Flowey, I will be here for you."
The name seemed to calm him, like a promise Asgore wouldn't go any further. He finally turned around.
"Can we watch a movie or something? I don't wanna talk about it."
Asgore agreed with the sentiment, having gone as far as he dared. "Well, Toriel said you don't have any homework today. How about the action channel?"
Flowey really didn't understand him.
Chapter 4: Thursday
Despite the weekend's promise of clear weather, the week continued to be unpredictable. Thursday morning had a solid grey sky, with the occasional patch of sunlight. There was no sign of rain, however. This was good, it reduced the chances of something urgent happening at the school, and this was far more important at the moment.
Asgore sat at the table on a two-seat sofa, which he had moved with the attorney's permission, and despite almost crouching his elbows were still above the tabletop, and his horns could puncture the ceiling if he was careless standing up. No crown or cloak today. Just a white shirt under a solid green jumper. The onus for what had happened in the Underground would fall on him personally. Monsters would not be tarred by the same brush if he could help it.
He listened to some birdsong through the open window as a faint breeze wafted through along with it, sipping the cheap coffee he'd been too polite to decline. Was it the coffee that made him feel slightly jittery, or was it the meeting itself? He was never sure. He'd had a spread of reactions, so it wasn't like he didn't know the possible outcomes. He mused on this, trying to ignore his tail twitching.
It wasn't long before there was a knock, and the attorney he had hired to facilitate this project came in.
"Good morning, Mister Dreemurr."
He nodded in greeting. "Patricia."
"I got a text from their attorney, they should be here in about ten minutes."
She took out a spread of documents and started going through them with him. As she had done four times before. He understood the routine. What would or could be offered, what happens if an agreement isn't reached, and so on. He listened and nodded, and barely had a chance to ask how her husband's tulips were doing before there was a second knock.
Three people came in. The man in the crisp suit walked over to Patricia and shook hands before taking a seat across from her and Asgore, gesturing his clients to do the same. The woman was firmly in middle age with dark grey hair, and nothing rang a bell to Asgore. No features whatsoever to remind him. The young brown haired man in a t-shirt was a different story. Even with inexperience in human recognition he could tell he was very much like his mother. Except for his eyes. A deep blue, compared to his mother's faded light blue. Those eyes were a perfect match. Eyes he had seen behind thick glasses, that had never stopped examining and appraising him. The young man had inherited this appraising look as well.
"Welcome, everyone." said Patricia in a business-like tone. Everyone muttered a response. She started a recorder. "This meeting is convened, as per article two, paragraph two of the Ebott Treaty. Parties are Asgore Dreemurr, represented by Patricia June, and Eleanor Thompson, represented by Richard Martins, witnessed by Kevin Thompson."
Everyone seemed to nod unconsciously.
"For the record, and to ensure everybody understands, article two of the treaty covers liability for several named individuals that have been reported missing over the past century. Owing to the nature of the confinement endured by monsters and how that confinement had to be broken, the treaty formally indemnifies monsters for any erstwhile criminal acts committed in the process of breaking the barrier. However, monsters are to remain liable for civil damages. As de facto leader of monsters during the period in question, my client Mister Dreemurr has assumed all liability personally in this matter, and has waived all rights to conduct these meetings via a proxy. As the closest living relative to Miss Penelope Levins, one of the missing people, Mrs Thompson has the right to submit questions and requests for information, or indeed interview Mister Dreemurr as he is present, and call for appropriate restitution."
Eleanor seemed to take a minute or two to let the explanation sink in.
"So," she said carefully, "even if he didn't actually do it, he takes the blame?"
"Yes, Eleanor," said Richard, "but that doesn't mean he goes to prison."
"Well why not?"
Asgore closed his eyes briefly, and as a result missed Kevin examining him. It wasn't the first time the question came up, and if it had been down to him alone, he wouldn't have tried to answer.
"The reasoning," replied Richard patiently, "is that it was cruel to keep monsters imprisoned like that, without end. Especially since the vast majority were born into it, without doing anything wrong. Therefore they were justified in trying to escape, even though there was only one way to do that."
Eleanor looked thoughtful.
"Well, how does he know there was only one way? Did he bother trying anything else?"
It was soft, but Asgore's voice caught everyone's attention.
"We studied the barrier continuously, looking for another way. But we never found it. So there was only one way to free everybody."
It was Eleanor's turn to appraise him. It was the same look as her son.
"Well according to your attorney's letter, you were sealed for roughly five hundred years. Why wait four centuries to start freeing yourselves?"
This question was pretty standard. As was its answer.
"Despair was sinking in. Monsters can die if we wallow in despair for too long. I... I had to do something, and striving for freedom was the only thing that would do it."
Eleanor remained clinical. However Kevin looked a little suspicious.
"There was something else." he said.
"You're not lying," he continued, "at least I don't think you are. But something else spurred you on to do it. What was it?"
The young child who shared his eyes had been shrewd like this. It was a question he was unprepared for. He had discussed how to answer it with Toriel without reaching a conclusion. Though recounting the story of how they lost their children would undoubtedly have helped explain himself, especially the two times he had encountered a parent at this table, that was complicated by how one had come back. Not only would it make him look like a liar, it was like saying it had all been worth it to see him again, and he could never allow himself to feel like that.
"It... was..." He took a deep breath, and started again. "I just saw the anguish on the face of- of those around me, and it tore me up. I had to do something. I wish I could have ordered a different approach, but I..."
Kevin continued to examine him. He forced his purple eyes to meet the blue.
"I see." It was a detached conclusion. Like he'd have preferred something more substantive, but wasn't about to push for it.
"In any case," Patricia said, "while Mister Dreemur shall not be criminally responsible for Penelope's death, he accepts that he is responsible for the harm he has inflicted on your family. You can ask him whatever you like, and then we can discuss options."
"What are my options?"
"Well, Mister Dreemurr is prepared to offer compensation of a financial nature. If the offer is unsatisfactory, we could proceed to formal arbitration. Alternatively, you would be within your rights to file a wrongful death suit against him, and we would settle this in court. Or we could come to an alternate arrangement, where he undertakes some action in exchange for you waiving your rights to file suit. If you have any questions or would like to say anything, I advise you to do so now before making a decision."
Asgore looked resolutely at his large hands on the table. The silence was deafening.
"Was it quick?"
The sudden question was like a whipcrack.
"...I tried to make it so."
Eleanor closed her eyes, like she hadn't expected an open admission like this. Kevin now pitched in.
"Do you regret it?"
He forced their eyes to meet again. The fur on his cheeks felt wet. "Every day. Every one of them."
There was something like pity in the young man's face as he drew his conclusion. "You really do regret it. I don't think you're a bad person. Even if you did a terrible thing."
Eleanor opened her eyes again. "Why go to the trouble of meeting us when you don't have to? If you're not in danger of being punished, what does this gain you?"
He breathed deeply. "I have wronged your family. I have to acknowledge that. To hide from it betrays the duties I value."
"And... you think this buys you absolution?"
"No. It can't."
"Well... you're right. I can't forgive you."
Her tone was surprisingly flat, but it didn't matter. "I understand, not after what I-"
"I don't think you do," she interrupted, "it's not that I'm refusing to forgive you, but that I feel like I can't forgive you. You've done nothing to me personally. Your last chance for forgiveness for this has already gone."
He absently scratched a floppy ear. "I... don't understand what you mean."
"My father. Michael Levins. Peneople, Penny he called her, was his younger sister, so she would have been my aunt. If anyone had the right to judge you, it was him. And he passed away last year. Cancer."
"Oh. I am sorry to hear that."
"Thank you. I'd like to tell you a story. My father was already in high school when Penny was born, and had just graduated college. He had moved back home while he was looking for a job. One day, he found Penny had dismantled his computer. She was always very curious, wanting to know how things worked, he told me. Anyway, he was furious, called her all sorts of things and threw her out of his room. The next day he drove to the next state over for a job interview, he had to leave before everyone else woke up. When he returned, Penny had gone missing."
Everyone regarded her in silence. Eleanor gently wiped an eye.
"I don't know if you know what it's like, to part from someone you love with anger in your heart, and discover you can never take it back. Well truth be told, neither do I. But my father did. Even when I was growing up, I'd watch him sit silently at the table, wondering if he'd ever get a chance to apologise. And he burned that lesson into me, Mister Dreemurr. Never leave someone in anger. A wise lesson he learned the hard way. His whole life he lacked that closure. And now we've learned that you are the one who stole it from him."
"...yes. I am."
"I think my son has the measure of you pretty well. You're not lying to us. You sincerely regret what you did to Penny and whoever else crossed your path. And that will haunt you for the rest of your life. Would my father have forgiven you? I don't know. All I know is I can't. And I suppose knowing you will never have closure is revenge enough. Anything more than that is a waste of time and tears."
It was cold, what she was saying, and yet at the same time it burned. But still, Asgore had no inclination to argue. He had known he would have to bare his sins no matter how the families reacted. All he could do was nod in acknowledgement.
"That's all I have to say to you right now, Mister Dreemurr. Mrs June, may we see the offer?"
Patricia handed over a document formally outlying the terms. The Thompsons and their attorney huddled and began muttering. Asgore looked over at Patricia, who smiled briefly at him. That indicated she doubted it would come to concerted legal action. After a few minutes, the Thompsons looked up again and confirmed this.
"This is what we propose." said Richard. "Kevin here starts college in September, and he has a younger brother Charlie who's starting high school. You provide all college expenses for them. Tuition fees, accommodation, textbooks, everything. All billable to you. Whatever else is left of your offer, we'd like to fund a scholarship in Penelope's name."
"To honour her curiosity," said Eleanor, "and to allow better education, so perhaps the circumstances under which we have met never happen again."
Patricia looked pleased. Even Asgore felt relief.
"Yes," he said simply, "I will do this."
"Okay," said Patricia, "Mister Martins, we can draw up a formal agreement. If everybody's happy, we can sign that. I can arrange the appropriate fund transfers, and once they're in place, your waivers under article two, paragraph three of the Ebott Treaty will take effect."
It took another hour or so to draw up the contracts. Asgore found himself thinking of the other meetings in this office as Patricia and Richard hashed out the terms. One offer had been literally thrown in his face, and he'd been served with a lawsuit a week later. However it was soon dropped, and a follow up meeting with the initial contact and what turned out to be four brothers and sisters instead negotiated a higher settlement. Another had been accepted immediately, and had even said they understood why he did it. The next had not understood. In fact despite her age she lunged at Asgore, and had stuck him so hard she broke his arm. That had been a mother, and it was perhaps her shock at how badly she had hurt Asgore with one blow that saved his life. The injury was tended to by a hastily summoned Doctor Drake, and Asgore refused all talk of pressing charges. She had then accepted the offer without further complaint, though there was plainly no love lost. The most recent was also a parent, but much more understanding. In fact he had signed his waiver on the spot without accepting any compensation. Even when Asgore offered a donation to charity he refused to make any suggestions.
"And done." said Patricia with satisfaction. "Mrs Thompson, you sign here. And here. Mister Dreemurr, here and here. Oh, and here too."
And with that, a fifth child was answered for. There was talk of accountants and trust fund lawyers to contact, but he trusted Patricia to handle those details. He allowed himself a small sigh.
"I think that's everything. Mister Martins, Mrs Thompson, Kevin, thank you for being so understanding in this difficult case."
Patricia and Richard shook hands again. Asgore knew better than to offer his, it would come across as presumptive. Eleanor got to her feet and, without another look at his hulking frame, walked out of the room, accompanied by Richard. Kevin lingered however, still surveying Asgore with interest.
"Whatever it was that spurred you to do it," he said suddenly, "I'm sorry. I hope you can find peace some day."
"Oh. Oh!" spluttered Asgore, not expecting this after his mother's aloofness. "I, well... Thank you."
"You're paying for my college," mused Kevin aloud, "you've earned that much from me."
"I hope you do well. Um, if I may, what you are studying?"
"Botany. I like working with plants."
"Ah," said Asgore, brightening a little, "that is something we have in common."
Kevin didn't smile, but continued to look at him. Finally, he stuck out his hand. It took Asgore a moment to realise, and he took the hand and gently shook it.
He took a circuitous route to the school. Ever since one of these meetings had turned hostile, even briefly, he felt it was good to display himself about town. Let the monsters know it had gone fine, even though most didn't know there was anything to have gone fine, as he didn't broadcast their existence.
Still feeling jittery, he concluded it was the coffee, and resolved to stop at the Spider Bakery, which was well stocked with tea. When the King might visit, it's good business to have something he likes. Half a cup of chamomile later, he could feel himself relaxing, and he sat admiring the strengthening sunlight.
"Oh, howdy Franklin. How are you doing?"
"Very good. And I'm fine as well, thank you."
"Now where did you hear that?"
"I don't think you're being fair-"
"Now that's a fair question, but when Mister Heatsman returned the inflatable ball pool, surely that resolved everything?"
Asgore sighed. "I shall have Undyne look into it."
"You're welcome. Also, has Temmie been behaving?"
"No, it turned out it was Temmie, not Temmie. But I am pleased you have had no more trouble regardless."
"I have already paid for this, but thank you for offering."
Franklin hopped away. Asgore smiled at the meaningful conversation.
Lunchtime was almost over by the time he reached the school, so he abandoned any attempt to think of the pie. To his surprise, Toriel was standing watch at the front door.
"There you are." she exhaled in relief. "I assume they did not... I mean, after that other time..."
"It went well, all things considered. I doubt she shall invite me over for tea, and Frisk and Flowey aren't the only educations I shall be personally paying for, but we listened to each other. It is all that can be asked for in the end."
"I shall be glad when it no longer hangs over our heads."
"My head, Toriel."
She frowned. "You have already forgotten how upset Frisk was when they heard from the Drakes about your arm? This duty is all well and good for you, but never forget what it costs others."
The contentment he had felt since the bakery deflated a little. "You are quite right. That was always my problem, was it not?"
"Yes." she said flatly. "But enough of that for today. I am sorry to ask you again so soon, but a potential teacher had to reschedule their interview for during recess, and I-"
"Ah, say no more. I can supervise the playground."
She looked curiously at him, but said no more.
It was just as noisy as last time. Perhaps as a byproduct of his morning, or the conversations he had over the past few days, he allowed himself to drift around rather than stand watch in one location. Other than catching a few stray curse words and a magic demonstration that threatened a window if not properly controlled, the boisterous atmosphere was peaceful. He appreciated this, as it gave him an opportunity to glance over at Frisk and Flowey more often than usual. In stark contrast to his attitude on Tuesday, Flowey was lingering in one spot, and Frisk sat next to them. Neither were talking. A quiet day, as Gerson had put it.
After a while, the sound of crying caught his attention. Looking over to the swings, the youngest human girl in the school had tried a flying launch and botched the landing. She held a scraped knee. He made his way over.
"Howdy!" He said cheerfully.
"H-hello..." She seemed uncertain, though that might have been her scrape.
"What's your name?"
He remembered the injuries of Chara, and how he and Toriel kept them calm and brought them to a bed so healing could be applied. This scrape was much less serious, but his approach from then seemed appropriate now.
"Well Alice, can any of your friends here do magic?"
"So can I."
Fortunately scrapes were easy to heal. He rubbed his hands together theatrically and placed them on the knee. He felt the heat travel through his hands. Before long, he removed his hands to find a pristine knee. Alice was amazed.
"Thanks mister, I'll tell my mommy you helped me!"
"I am glad you feel-"
Instead of a hug, Alice had suddenly booped his muzzle, and his ears twitched in surprise. She giggled and then ran over to where her friends had been watching. It had been a long time since he felt anything like that. Even Frisk wouldn't have been so forward, and Toriel had told him about some strange phone calls they had made when they first met.
It wasn't polite, but there was no venom in the bluntness. However he felt about the previous evening, Flowey wasn't about to talk about it. Asgore could work with this.
"What is it, Flowey?"
"While you were with that girl, Frisk's friends came round and they had a kickball, and I was having fun bumping it around, but Lapis got carried away and kicked too hard and it's up on the roof. Could you get it down?"
Asgore looked up. Sure enough the dark red ball rested on the gutter.
"I'm sorry Flowey, I'd have to get the ladder, and that would leave the playground without an adult. Can you wait until Toriel finishes up with the interview, or after, recess and we can try and get it then?"
"Ungh. Fine, whatever." He started to drive away. The unsatisfactory resolution gnawed at Asgore.
"Wait a moment. Let me try something."
Childish light shows were one thing, but Toriel tried to keep adult monsters from showing off magic for fear of copying. However Flowey and Frisk and their friends were the only ones watching, and Toriel had drilled it enough into Frisk at least that they would moderate the group. Sometimes you had to bend the rules.
Taking careful aim, Asgore sent a narrow blast of hot air shooting upwards to nudge the ball. It had the desired effect. It rolled up the roof a little, then back down with enough momentum to clear the gutter. It bounced once before he managed to catch it and give it to Flowey.
"Uh, thanks." He drove away back to Frisk and their friends.
"So, you do not shirk?"
Oh dear. He had been busted.
"Mister Dreemurr, an argument could be made that using magic when one should not would be considered shirking."
"Well Madame Principal, you have caught me red handed." They both smiled. "Do we need to hold a conference?"
"Hmph. In your case it would perhaps be more productive to speak to your child. I am surprised, I thought setting a good example was always one of your duties."
"Well, an inflexible duty can be worse than no duty. I've been upended by such in the past."
"Indeed. But I am surprised for another reason."
"You have always been polite with Flowey. Frisk tells me how you replace his soil and such whenever they are with you, and you include him in whatever you decide to do with Frisk. But this week you have gone out of your way for him. Frisk wheedled most of last night out of him, and it feels like a significant change in how you interact with him."
Asgore almost felt bad that his previous behaviour had been so noticeable. But it was important for Toriel to understand.
"Gerson was around the other day. He... he recognised Flowey, and wanted to know how it happened."
Toriel gasped. "You-?"
"I am sorry, I confirmed it. He guessed too much already. I suppose he's one of the few who could."
"But what if he talks? If Flowey gets agitated..."
"I am not worried about that. He only spreads embarrassing stories about the King. He would not do that to a child. In any case, we discussed the duties I have chosen, and he reminded me of those I have neglected. I must keep the door open."
"The door I closed in... in the Ruins."
Her frame stiffened.
"It is funny. I kept that door open for a century. All I wanted was to see him. And when the impossible happened and he walked through it, I closed it behind him as he walked back out. I've been treating Flowey as his own being ever since."
"Well, he insists on it, so I can understand-"
"And you were the opposite, were you not?"
She looked away. "...yes. I kept it shut tight, tried to distract myself with others for so long, and then Frisk went and banged on it and, well, I've kept it ajar ever since."
"And that is what I must do. It may remain ajar for the rest of our lives, but we must keep it so, in case he changes his mind. I have failed him before..."
"We both failed him."
"...and after what I did in his name, I felt I didn't deserve to open it again. But that serves no purpose. I need to try again, because..."
"Because it is your duty?"
"Because he's our son."
Toriel covered her mouth as she inhaled sharply.
"I have been pretending he wasn't, but I can do that no longer. Whatever he is, whoever he claims to be, I must be there for him. I can never make it up, but I will try regardless."
Toriel lifted her glasses and wiped a tear away.
"We must both try. We both failed him that night, and ever since."
"Ever since? When have you-?"
"The six. And Frisk. I am just as culpable, through inaction, I-"
"No Toriel, don't think like that, it was I who-"
"I told you earlier, Dreemurr-" a warning sign if ever there was one "-do not take all this on yourself like... like a stubborn goat!"
The word was still a strange one to both of them. They had been aware of human livestock before the war, but had little direct experience with them. Toriel had been both unnerved and curious when it came to teaching about farm animals, and Asgore had finally met one taking Frisk and Flowey to the petting zoo one day. He and Flowey had been united in failing to really see the resemblance. Asgore didn't even have hooves.
"I let them all go off alone. As I demonstrated with Frisk, I could have protected them if I wanted. But I could not bear to see you. To see that the man I knew was..."
"...still there. The possibility that you were the same man, that the same man could have done all that, was agony. So I clung to my anger and twisted you myself. It was about my feelings more than their safety."
"Toriel, please don't blame yourself..."
"You have your sins. I have mine. In different ways we insulted him by our behaviour. So I shall help you, Asgore. We shall help each other keep the door open. You will not shut me out again! He may never come through that door, but as long as it is possible we must..."
Wishful thinking filled his head, but only for a moment. Her words were entirely for their child. They were not yet ready to truly get past their mistakes, and they may not ever be. But if they were given the chance to help their son get past his... well, that was a worthwhile duty.
"Of course. If that is the only thing we ever do together from this moment, I accept it gladly."
It was his turn to wipe a tear away. He felt no need to hide it. She had seen him at his worst. Her hand twitched, as if to reach for his shoulder, but thought better of it. Instead she smiled.
"So... did you enjoy the pie Frisk no doubt snuck into your shed on Monday?"
"Hm? Oh!" A chuckle. There was little you could get past this woman. "Would you believe I haven't had a chance to eat it yet? This week has been surprisingly busy..."
It was at this point they heard the shouting.
"I said get me down! HELP!"
On the far side of the playground, a small crowd gathered. Up on the roof, a familiar yellow face was shouting.
They hurried over. Toriel took charge.
Lapis, a brown bunny, squeaked as he stepped forward to face Toriel's copper-eyed glare.
"I'm sorry Miss Toriel, Frisk told me not to but we were talking about how their friend Sans could grab the remote with just magic I tried to do it myself and I pointed at Flowey and he shot up into the air and I tried to bring him back down but he got stuck on the roof and I don't know how to move him again!"
"Everyone move back." Said Toriel officially. "Asgore, can you get the ladder?"
If Flowey had stayed still there would have been no problem, but he was agitated and twisting around and not realising how much his pot was wobbling. Objectively Asgore knew there was little chance of serious injury. Flowers were durable and flexible enough to take such a fall. But he wasn't thinking objectively.
His eyes flashed a bright blue.
In a single bound, flanked by excited chatter from the children, Asgore had leapt the side of the building, deftly catching the gutter despite his size. He wasn't worried about it holding, he was even lighter than usual. Now just to grab-
He ducked his head as a small white bullet zoomed past. Flowey was getting so worked up he was falling back on old habits, and Asgore didn't know if it was fear or impatience or anger. He wished Sans was here to help.
"Get me down! Get me down!" PING. PING. Duck.
"Flowey, I'm going to get you-"
"Get me down get me down get me down!" A vine slammed the roof, with just enough momentum to nudge the pot over. Asgore grabbed it before it could tip, though this did nothing to break Flowey's tantrum.
"Flowey, I've got you, listen-"
"IT'S ALRIGHT, SON!"
Whether anyone on the ground heard this, Asgore never discovered. The shock of being linked to his past life did not stop Flowey's lashing out, but redirected it. Two vines slapped Asgore who, though clinging onto the pot for dear life, stupidly grabbed his nose with the other hand.
He didn't remember much about the fall. Distant cries, his back felt hot. Someone screamed "Dad!" He supposed it was Frisk. And yet, the scream was familiar. It reminded him of buttercups.
He came to in bed, a bed he hadn't been in for a long time. His crown and cloak and armour was in a messy clump on the floor. The bitter taste in his mouth continued to linger, and his fur looked like he had dived into Waterfall. Toriel explained he'd been unconscious for days. An unknown amount of time passed. Hard to tell with no sun. And then a small white figure clad in green was on top of his chest trying to squeeze the life out of him, tears flowing nonstop, saying how sorry he was. Some might have been annoyed by it, but Asgore found it comforting. He weakly raised a hand to pat his back and... found it oddly hard...
He came to on the ground. A creature with dozens of lungs exhaled at once. He glanced at Frisk's naked display of relief, then at Toriel's opaque expression. He knew that baleful glare. Her hands still glowed red. It had been enough to cushion his fall, but not stop it. Realising his hand was still on something hard, he traced his arm down to the edge of the flower pot resting on top of his chest. The flower was staring at him. He'd been in the middle of jabbering rapidly by the look on his face, but this didn't last long as it reset to concerted blankness.
"Oh. Well, uh, thanks."
Asgore gently picked the pot up and off his chest, sitting upright.
"Frisk," he asked calmly, "do you have Flowey's buggy?"
They placed it down beside them. Asgore put Flowey in his place and carefully tightened the straps that had come loose during Lapis' experiment. Flowey drove back and forth a bit.
"Well at least the idiot didn't break it."
"What? He's an idiot!"
The kids laughed. Even Asgore smiled, much to Toriel's disapproval.
"Well that is enough, children!" She spoke up. "The bell rang a few minutes ago. Everyone go to class. Lapis, wait in my office until I speak to you."
The crowd dispersed at last, Lapis bringing up the rear, scuffing his paws on the pavement and not looking forward to the interview.
"And you, Mister Dreemurr. Go to the nurse and get yourself checked out. And whatever she says, go home. I do not wish to see you exerting yourself after that."
After all the excitement he felt winded more than anything else. Still, that stare was not to be argued with. He carefully got to his feet and set off.
He paused. It was a knack of Toriel to say something so softly with razor sharp steel, and she was putting it to good use.
"What was that... that foolishness in aid of?!"
He turned around and shrugged. "Well... what good is keeping the door open if you don't let him know?"
The nurse declared that he didn't appear to have concussion, although as a human she wasn't entirely sure monsters could even get concussion. To split the difference, she wrapped his head in bandages. The colour matched his fur, and made it look like he had gone bald. It was actually pretty funny. Not wanting to linger lest Toriel saw him and fretted, he left by the front door. He didn't notice Flowey watching him from a classroom window.
He didn't go straight home. He thought it prudent to visit Doctor Drake and get his head checked out by someone more experienced with monsters. It was a relief when the Doctor gave him a clean bill of health and could take the bandages off. He had been quite conspicuous on his way there, and while it was nice to cheer people up, he hoped that Gerson didn't hear of this. He had already asked a great deal of discretion from him.
Like that morning he took a meandering route to his house. Partly to help digest his thoughts, partly to see if anybody needed help. And as he broke up an argument between two moldsmalls and Lesser Dog, and as he loaned some money to Jerry to buy a nice cream - "I'll pay you back tomorrow morning, for sure." - his mind was really focused on his actions earlier.
Why had he been so reckless? What he said to Toriel wasn't untrue, but was it incomplete? Did he think he could fix the problem at a stroke? Perhaps. But he felt after yesterday it was important to show this wasn't an act. Alphys had been reading about psychology for her own troubles, and had been talking about how some issues take years to fix if at all, and you work on them for your entire life in any case. In that context, the gesture would have been to signal his willingness to stick it out. And it was true, he thought.
There was little to fret about that day, although the earlier sun was swallowed by the clouds, and it looked like it might rain again. Finally reaching his house, he decided to tend to the garden for the first time in days. Some of the flowers were sagging, so with floppy sun hat adorned out of habit, he cautiously extracted them, put some fertilizer where they had been and then replanted them. It was a stopgap measure. In a month or so he'd have to work the soil more thoroughly. He always had a fresh patch in case Flowey needed it, but this had come at the expense of his own flowers. As he worked, he greeted a few monsters who saw him working over the unusually low fence, which allowed them to ask him for advice or just talk about the weather.
It was properly evening when he finished, carefully wiping some dirt off his arms. After washing up in the kitchen, he decided on a simple dinner of snails, not feeling up for anything more complicated. As he carelessly listened to the screaming radio, he noticed that the rain had begun its final assault for the week, the radio promising that though it would be heavy, it would be over by dawn.
Washing up after dinner was easy enough, though he had to wrestle with draining the sink. He'd been lax in cleaning his fur out of the drain, and was paying the price. The problem was even if he could find rubber gloves large enough, his claws kept tearing them. Perhaps Alphys might be able to whip up something sturdier.
The sun hadn't quite set yet when the water finally drained away, but it seemed his body had declared it was time for bed. The rigours of the day and the stresses of the week had caught up, so he headed upstairs. However as he eyed his pyjamas, something drew his gaze to the book on the large desk.
Nice day today!
Last time he had pondered about all his experiences at length but couldn't bare to express them. This time he didn't stop to think.
He sat at the desk, delicately picked up a pen, wrote down the date, and began to chronicle the past year.
The sharp knock on the door woke him.
His left horn ached slightly. No surprise, he had laid his head on the desk in a way that pressed against it. He couldn't remember at what point he had fallen asleep. Consulting the journal, the last legible sentence was how Undyne was laughing at the turban he had decided to start wearing and promising Gerson would know soon. He'd never written a dream before. They wouldn't have made fun reading.
Gathering his thoughts properly, Asgore remembered the knock and clumsily got to his feet. He hurried downstairs and opened the door. There was no sign of anyone. That was odd. However he soon spotted a note posted through the letterbox, so picked it up.
Sorry for the early disturbance. Can you meet me at 8am at the MTT Diner? It's about Darren.
The note was unsigned. Which was just as well, because the name had unsteadied him. He recalled Darren. The second child he had faced. The last to be answered for. His first impulse was to call Patricia for advice. He doubted she'd approve of meetings outside the framework of the treaty. However the impulse withered quickly. As foolish as Toriel would undoubtedly call him later, his instinct was to meet the family on the terms they chose. He owed them that much. And if he paid the price for it, so be it. Better him than somebody else.
After a change of shirt he set off. The cloud cover was much brighter than yesterday, though the ground was soaked from the overnight deluge. If the weather improved as promised, the humidity would probably dampen his fur almost as bad as the rain had done.
Before long the garish pink door of the diner swung open and Asgore walked through. He eyed the brown cat disinterestedly grilling bacon, and then looked around for one of the larger booths. It was then he saw-
She turned sharply at his voice, revealing her sky-blue cardigan, looking bewildered.
"Asgore? Did you send me that note?"
He pulled his out of his pocket. Eyeing it keenly, Toriel reached into her handbag and took out an identical sheet of paper.
"They... They want to talk to you about him too?"
Both of them felt anxious, not sure what the unknown messenger had intended for them.
"Well, you may as well sit in here. It is clear we are supposed to meet them together. It may be safer that way."
He nodded solemnly. For a moment he made to sit beside her, but thought better of it, and sat at the table across from her. The cat came over with a notepad for orders. Asgore asked for tea, Toriel for milk.
"Where are the children?"
"At my house, getting ready for school. When I got the note, I contacted Papyrus. He shall escort them if this meeting lasts long. And that reminds me."
Reaching into her handbag again, she took out a large green card with a white cross on it, "GET WELL SOON" plastered beneath it.
"Frisk, of course." she said pleasantly.
Taking it from her, he opened the inside. It was a simple message hoping he wasn't hurt. Frisk had signed it and, judging by the untidy scrawl, so had Flowey. He absently wondered how voluntary that signature had been. Papyrus had also signed it, his red ink clashing brilliantly with the other's black.
"When he heard I was taking this to you, he insisted on signing it as well. That is why there is no envelope."
Asgore couldn't help but smile. Their drinks arrived, and after watching him sipping the fairly weak tea, Toriel returned to more pressing matters.
"Obviously when I saw the name, I knew it must be whomever was contacted as part of your crusade. I do not understand why they wish to talk to me."
"Neither do I. At all times I... I insisted I acted alone. I did not even mention you."
She stiffened a little, undoubtedly over discussing what he had done out loud. With that, they sipped their drinks in silence, checking the clock every few minutes as Mettaton's leg got closer to 12. And shortly after it had passed 12, the front door opened, and a human man walked in.
Asgore knew Toriel had been right. The man was slightly pudgy, with grey hair slightly lighter than Eleanor Thompson's had been. The nose was unfamiliar, as was the pointy chin, but once again his hazel eyes were an exact match. Those eyes had belonged to a tall young man, completely unfazed by the strange creatures he had met, even when meeting their King and knowing what Asgore had planned for him.
The man spotted his quarry instantly - It would have been hard not to - and advanced towards them. As he grabbed a chair, Asgore glanced at Toriel, and it was clear she had recognised the eyes too. She really did dwell on them as much as he did. The man sat down at the head of the table.
"King Asgore." he said, tipping his head forward in a gesture of respect. "And you are Queen-? Oh! I'm sorry. Just Toriel these days, correct?"
Both of them were taken aback at his choice of address, but saw no reason to do anything but accept it graciously. The cat came over again, and took an order of black coffee.
"Professor Horatio Johansen." He offered a hand, which Asgore took.
"Oh. You are a teacher?" asked Toriel.
"Yes. At the university. I lecture on history."
Toriel nodded appreciatively. Asgore felt slightly comforted by the small talk, but resolved to get down to business.
"Erm, may I ask why you wanted to meet here?"
"I - Oh, coffee, thank you -" he took a sip "- I thought that was obvious. Darren Johansen was my Great-Great-Uncle."
The copper and purple eyes widened.
"And I am willing to discuss him." rallied Asgore. "I assume Mrs June sent you a letter offering a meeting?"
"She did," said Professor Johansen, "but I felt it would be much simpler if I dealt with it here."
Both monsters stiffened.
"I see." said Asgore, glancing at the apprehension smothering Toriel's face. "And... How do you wish to deal with it?"
He lifted up a briefcase and opened it at the table. Rummaging around for a moment, two typed up letters soon appeared, and he handed them one each. Toriel fumbled for her glasses, while Asgore opted merely to squint. The letter had the header of an unfamiliar law firm.
I, Horatio Johansen, verified closest living relative of the late Darren Johansen, do hereby waive and forfeit any rights or privileges to compensation or legal action against Asgore Dreemurr or any other monster in connection with the death of Darren Johansen, as outlined in article two, paragraph three of the Ebott Treaty 21XX.
Asgore read it twice, finding it hard to take in. And then he lingered on the signatures at the bottom. Professor Johansen's, his attorney's, and the countersignature of two witnesses. Toriel appeared to have absorbed it faster, and was looking at the Professor with a look of disbelief.
"My attorney helped me write this yesterday. Another copy should be on the way to your attorney this morning, and that should resolve any legal obligations we may have towards one another."
"B-but... Why?!" spluttered Toriel. "Why would you do this without even meeting him, or requesting compensation? Asgore is more than willing-"
"He certainly is," he agreed, "but compensation would just have upset the scales again. You see, as far as I'm concerned, our families are already even."
"'Already even'?" repeated Asgore. "In what way?"
"Well..." his voice dropped quietly, "...we hurt your child first."
There was a clinking noise. Toriel had knocked her milk over, crying a choked bleat of shock. Asgore looked stunned.
"I'm sorry. I should have explained it better. To start, I know why you started trying to free yourselves. You clearly lost someone you love. And my family had a hand in that."
"A hand in our so-" blurted Asgore before he could stop himself, confirming what the Professor had suspected.
"Your son? So I was right. But I should start from the beginning. My family has a motto. 'Omni Virtute et Veritate Primus'."
"'Courage in All Things, and to the Truth First'." said Toriel, shaking slightly.
"Ah, you know your Latin," he said, nodding in approval, "you're quite right. Courage and bravery are highly prized, but none more so than the courage to face and accept the truth. Or, when the truth is not apparent, to seek it out. I have always tried to live by these principles."
He took a long draft of his coffee, and cleared his throat.
"When I was growing up, there were two family legends my father told me. One sounded completely outlandish, but there was the more grounded story of a great uncle that disappeared as a child. I remember looking up the news reports from the time to verify it. I believe that researching that story was what gave me an interest in history."
"And, you decided to find out what happened to him?"
"Indeed. If I was to seek the truth, the truth of my own family was a good place to start. As a hobby, I pored over everything related to his case. Police records and eyewitness accounts mainly. Unfortunately, nothing came of it. The only thing I felt I could piece together was Darren had likely left town heading west. Now, Mount Ebott is in that direction, but so are a thousand other things, so I drew no conclusions. Nothing in my evidence gave a clue as to where he may have been going. I wanted the truth, but I was young and had a busy life. I accepted I could not possibly spend all that time searching. It pained me, but I moved on. To the outlandish story."
Asgore had a dull sense of where he was going, and found himself anticipating and dreading the conclusion. "What was the story?"
"It came from my great-great-great-grandfather. Darren's grandfather. It is the story..." he hesitated, as if deciding on the softest approach, "...of how he drove off a strange beast that had killed a child."
Asgore heard Toriel give a muffled sob, but couldn't bare to look at her reliving that night. He had a duty to see this through.
"It is almost tradition for a town to have such a story, but they are usually born in the age before street lights and cameras. It piqued my interest, wondering how such a story could form in the modern age. So I started working to see if I could piece it together. For a long time the only corroborating evidence was a single newspaper report talking about an unconfirmed disturbance, and that my interviews uncovered other families which had a similar legend dated to the same time. Even less to go on than Darren. And then, about ten years ago, one such family had something much more valuable: An antique camera."
Asgore felt ice drop into his stomach at what this implied. The Professor reached into his briefcase again, and took out a tablet.
"I'll not show you the whole scene. Some things a parent should never witness. But to understand where I am coming from, you should see this."
Both of them, trembling, looked down. The picture had been taken from a paused video clip. A street at night, a group of men looking more scared than angry. In the distance, a shadowed figure wearing ripped clothes had their back to them, walking away from a patch of golden flowers. Even in the still image his stance was unsteady as he carried something almost as large as him, already marked by the wounds his parents would briefly see soon enough. Asgore recognised the wicked looking horns on his head, though he had only seen them once, later that night. A century old dagger still piercing his heart gave a cruel jab.
"I had tremendous luck in finding a few other cameras with intact data, so I was able to observe most of the incident. And I drew an important conclusion: He never fought back. The entire time, he tried to protect the body he carried and nothing else. My ancestor let his fear trump his courage, and instigated a tragedy. That's him there, with the shovel. Everything I've seen and heard confirmed he was the leader of the mob. I never learned if he regretted it. I would like to think he did, but it is wishful thinking. Why else would the story reach me at all in that form?"
Neither monster could speak. They were both vividly remembering the Throne Room that night.
"Now, answering this question raised another: What was he? No recent records would tell me. So I delved into legend and myth. Like the legend of Mount Ebott. The University has access to rare and ancient documents. From them I pieced together your existence, and the nature of your imprisonment. Strictly speaking it was speculation on my part, but the evidence of your son's existence gave me confidence enough, even if I did not argue it with my colleagues. Forgive me for my arrogance, but I believe I may have been the first person on the surface to realise your predicament. It was then I thought of Darren again, and realised where he may have ended up. However the rigours of my youth were replaced with the responsibilities of age, and I had no time to go trekking up a mountain. When you revealed yourselves to the world, and I saw in the news how strikingly you resembled the figure in the videos, it confirmed everything I suspected. Your invitation to discuss Darren was merely a formality."
Asgore's throat was bone dry. He struggled with drinking his tea.
"You... You believe that Darren's death answers for my... for his Grandfather's actions?"
"Yes." he nodded simply.
"But I knew nothing of who had hurt my son. He never said who... and I can tell you that Darren told me nothing about it. It was not vengeance. Not in that sense, anyway."
"The truth of the matter is my ancestor beat a child to death out of fear, and in so doing caused six more to die. He failed our principles, at terrible cost for seven families, including his own. It is not a pleasant fact to have in the family tree, but it is an honest one. You obviously don't see it that way, but I do. We're quits."
"Wait," said Asgore with quiet urgency, "we are not even. There is something you do not know, an imbalance. My son, he-"
"Asgore!" hissed Toriel.
The three were in absolute silence for a while. Asgore fretted, wanting to respect the man's value in honesty by giving him all the facts, and yet not wanting to betray Flowey's confidence.
"You know, you aren't the first monsters I've spoken to. I've been interviewing some, getting a feel for their history underground, cross referencing with gaps in ours. And also, forgive me, it has allowed me to prepare for this meeting. They speak highly of both of you, and the human child you've adopted. Not so much their friend, but they do talk about him."
Asgore couldn't help himself. "Um, you didn't speak to Gerson, did you?"
"Hmm? Ah yes, the antiques seller. Who better to fill me in on life before the war?"
Toriel focused on mopping up her milk with perhaps a little more force than was necessary.
"And... and did he talk about-"
"He mentioned something about you having an allergic reaction to flowers? He found it hilarious."
Toriel sighed. The relief was palpable. It may also have tipped her hand.
"Also, I attended a conference along with some colleagues in the physics department a few weeks ago.The monster scientist Doctor Alphys was a guest there as well. We got into a conversation about how the barrier worked, and her efforts to break it without burdening you any further. She seemed to clam up, however, when talking about who, or what, actually broke it. I had the impression something she tried was the ultimate factor."
Asgore risked looking at Toriel directly for the first time in minutes. Her face was rigid. He absently wondered what his was like, in front of this man who seemed to have seen through them like they were made of glass.
"Monsters really are fascinating. From an historical view obviously, but also in other fields like biology and physics. You rewrite some textbooks just by existing. In fact there are probably some things that happen to monsters even you don't know about!"
He finished his coffee, a look of enjoyment on his face as he examined the two of them.
"Don't worry. It doesn't matter what's happened since then. We harmed you, you harmed us back, and you had all the reason in the world to. It happened, and there's no undoing it. As an historian, I sometimes need to remain keenly aware of when to move on from the past. Especially when the future is right there."
He got to his feet. "Is there anything you'd like to say?"
Asgore scratched his horn. It still felt uncomfortable from his sleeping position.
"I'm not sure I'd agree with how you see it, Professor. Your ancestor could not have possibly predicted the results of his actions. And vengeance is a hollow reason to do anything, knowingly or otherwise. But that said, I have engaged with all of you on your terms first and foremost. If this is your decision. I respect it."
"Yes," agreed Toriel, "thank you for understanding, for showing us, for not..." Her voice tailed away.
"The pleasure was mine, ma'am. I doubt you've enjoyed much of what I've said, but when the King has worked so hard to acknowledge the truth, I can only return the favour. I shall be constructing an archive of my studies into that outlandish story. I daresay both humans and monsters should find it interesting. And no doubt I'll be helping chronicle how you all fare. Good luck."
With that, he took his briefcase and left. Once they were alone, Toriel seized a clump of napkins and started dabbing her eyes. Asgore understood. He at least had signed on to revisit the past, even if he hadn't counted on this particular past. She'd been dragged into it at short notice with no time to prepare. In normal circumstances he might have joined her, but the magnitude of what he had just accomplished was oddly acting like a mood stabiliser. He didn't feel lighter or anything like that, but he felt more aware of his surroundings, like he was in the present properly for the first time.
"Six..." he muttered, absently sipping his tea, "that's all six."
Before long Toriel looked at him, her expression unclear. "How do you feel? Was it worth it? Is your conscience clear?"
He stroked his beard thoughtfully.
"I don't know if it ever can be. But I had to do this regardless. I suppose I am glad it's over. It is all I can ask for."
Toriel studied him intently for a moment. "I have a request of you before we go."
Asgore raised an eyebrow. "What is it?"
"Next time, would you at least try to let someone tell you no before embarking on a quest like this?"
In spite of the coldness in her voice, he laughed.
Toriel normally had administrative tasks on Friday mornings while Frisk's class was in art class and then the gym, so neither of them hurried back to the school. The ground was still drenched, but the cloud cover was breaking up. They didn't talk much. The closing of the longest chapter of their lives didn't call for intense conversation. It didn't stop Asgore from waving at passers-by. He saw Valerie and Andrew, heading to the lake together, with each holding a fishing rod. Andrew's trousers looked reinforced, like they would withstand high temperatures. He also saw Jerry, who about-faced and hurried away at the sight of him. Perhaps he had gone to get the money he owed. It didn't matter, Asgore was in no hurry for it.
Class was well underway by the time they arrived, so Toriel headed straight to her office. Asgore noted the puddle on the path, larger than ever. He should boil that away now, before... Oh wait, what if his adventure yesterday damaged the gutter? He'd better see to that after all the rain. On a ladder this time.
The gutter turned out to be pristine. Satisfied, and enjoying the sun's increasing dominance, he decided to boil away the puddles that made the playground look like a sea. Children not allowed outside could get very worked up, especially right before the weekend. It took longer than he thought, but eventually it was completely dry. Then he eyed the truck driven by a Froggit, carrying next week's lunch supplies for the cafeteria. He helped the cooks unload. They chatted about the excitement yesterday, but he didn't join in.
To the art classroom next. Frisk's class had been here last, and it seemed Flowey had kept throwing paint and glitter at Lapis. It was a grudge he could understand for once. Either his heart hadn't been in it or his aim was improving, because there was surprisingly little to clean up. Best to keep Woshua away from here if he could, or all the art on the walls would be destroyed.
The lunch bell rang. Asgore decided just to wait in the room until the children had come and gone. When they had, he headed to his shed. He hadn't eaten much that morning, so maybe the pie would-
He smiled a little at fate's little twist.
"Doggo! Good afternoon."
His guest's dark nose sniffed a little.
"Okay, I've been thinking. How about I help you instead of Mettaton's guy? I can even get the burgers right."
Asgore frowned. "I thought we discussed this on Monday."
"Yeah, but I just thought of this, it means everybody wins!"
"And, have you ever cooked meat before? I understand you usually relied on Grillby's back in Snowdin."
Doggo's ears flattened against his head. "Well, what better time to learn-"
"I am sorry, I think it would be a bad idea. I fear you would undercook it and people may get ill."
"But boss, you don't understand! He's a c-"
He hadn't shouted or looked angry. He had shifted his posture however, and the slight change in his body language had the desired effect. Doggo actually stepped back, his tail visible between his legs. Asgore's voice was now stern.
"I am disappointed, Doggo. The Royal Guard may not exist any more, but surely you remember its oath? To put the needs of other monsters before your own? And to treat them equally?"
Doggo whined. This shattered Asgore's tough veneer immediately, and the sternness melted away.
"I do not understand." he said patiently. "Why does he upset you like this? I saw him this morning, and he knows his way around food. Even if he does not care for it. Is it merely his appearance?"
Doggo struggled with how to express himself. It was like he was grappling with the legacy of a dozen Floweys.
"My... my grandpa. He went to a restaurant owned by that- that guy's grandma. And she tried to charge him for a Cinnabun he didn't order, and they argued, and she s-said... 'I'd expect nothing l-less from such a... such a... BAD BOY'!"
Doggo howled loudly and buried his face in his paws, awash in the acidic sting of the family shame. Asgore let him sob it out, knowing he'd force himself calm shortly.
"I see. That must have truly upset him." he said kindly. "But I must ask. Has he ever said anything like that to you?"
"N-never gave him the chance. I didn't want to be called-"
"Well then, surely you do not wish to hold his grandmother's actions against him if he has not wronged you? We all have a duty to treat people on their merits, not their ancestors'. Give him a chance tomorrow. If it turns out he shares her views, I shall inform him that you are, in fact, a very good boy."
Asgore petted him, and his tail wagged a little. Accepting defeat, and perhaps looking cleansed after baring his soul, he slinked off. Stepping inside his shed, Asgore started heating up his kettle. Once he had a nice cup of tea, maybe he could finally tell Toriel how good her pie-
He laughed loudly, wondering whether Undyne would interpret it as a laugh of welcome.
She was carrying a large covered tray.
"I worked really hard at what Toriel was teaching us on Wednesday, and I think I've really improved! Wanna try it?"
Lifting the lid, she revealed a large salad which looked like it contained nothing but lettuce and a single tomato, a bowl of snails drowning in an unknown lime green sauce, and a slice of slightly burnt pie.
"Frisk says you like that pie. Try it!"
After expending his reserves against Doggo, Asgore had no ability to resist. He took the offered fork, carefully carved a piece off the pie and ate it.
...well, it wasn't not butterscotch-cinnamon pie.
Finishing the large cup of tea he used to wash down Undyne's lunch, Asgore found himself no longer hungry. He would have to remember to bring Toriel's pie home.
The clouds were gone now, and the sun was starting to beat down, an early sign of summer. No time to enjoy it, as a faint tinkle suggested the weather had finally overexcited the children. Sure enough a window in the cafeteria was broken, and he had to clear the glass away and cover the empty frame. He eyed Toriel scolding the furry perpetrator severely. As recess broke up, Asgore helped clear away the rubbish on the playground, before helping the cooks clean up before they headed home early for the weekend.
Classroom windows were opening now. They were really entering an early heatwave. Snowdin had its advantages sometimes. After replacing some lightbulbs in the spare rooms he decided to check his shed for messages. Stepping through the front door he heard Toriel's voice. She must be teaching in the classroom next to the front door. A sideways glance confirmed this. She had taken off her cardigan because of the heat.
Walking down the ramp, vaguely aware of Flowey now reciting something and sounding bored, Asgore was halted on the journey to his shed by the puddle. A lot smaller than this morning and would probably be gone by the time the final bell rang. Still, better late than never.
Raising a large hand, the puddle began to bubble and visible steam was starting to rise. If he hadn't been concentrating on it so much he may have noticed the tenor of Flowey's speech had changed.
He was halfway through boiling the puddle away when he found he had trouble concentrating. The bubbles slowed and then stopped as a strange feeling appeared in his chest. He instinctively clutched at it with his hand, though he still didn't know why. Something had clutched his heart. No, it felt deeper than that. In any case they weren't letting go. He vaguely remembered taking Frisk to a human doctor to get a flu shot, and while sitting on two chairs waiting for their turn, he had read leaflets on heart attacks, a common killer of humans but completely unheard of among monsters. And yet this vice reminded him a lot of the symptoms in that leaflet. Had he hurt himself in some new way getting Flowey down? Why hadn't Doctor Drake noticed it?
As he struggled with the feeling in his chest, he suddenly remembered something. Something someone had said, though he couldn't remember who. It was the same sensation as somehow being aware of Frisk's name.
I'm so alone...
Along with his confusion and worry about what was happening there were now other feelings, not nearly as physical as the vice like grip. Distracted by an anxious voice coming from somewhere and completely devoid of context he couldn't recognise them at first. One was a feeling of exhaustion, it came with a pain in his throat and itchy eyes. The other could only be described as warmth, spreading through him and encouraging him to breathe deeply.
I'm so afraid...
And as they went on, he understood. They were sadness and love. He didn't know how he knew, but whatever was grasping him was feeling intense remorse, peppered with worry for someone. The love, however. The love was his own. It had not had a chance to be fully expressed in so long. Whatever this force was doing, whatever it was feeling, he knew that he loved it with all his heart. So he stopped struggling. While the two feelings danced around, he felt strangely at peace. Paying the nearby crunching sound and chatter and clambering of chairs no heed.
I'm so sorry...
"It's... alright..." he grunted through gritted teeth, "I'm... here!"
The vice was still there, but it stopped being uncomfortable. In his mind, he felt like he had reached out into darkness, and found a trembling hand. He grabbed the hand, which responded by gripping with all its strength, an act he returned in kind. As he continued to hold it, a sense of completeness washed over him, something that had been interrupted was starting again.
And continuing to hold onto the hand, he pulled.
It was over. The grip on his heart was gone. Breathing raggedly, Asgore realised he was on his hands and knees. He wasn't sure if his ears were working properly. So he tried his eyes.
He was staring at what remained of the puddle. It had gone completely still during his episode, so it made quite a good mirror. His ears drooped towards it while he inspected his face. He wasn't sure why, he couldn't see anything different. Well, his eyes looked at peace for the first time in a long time, and... wait, that was new. He couldn't remember his beard having that grey streak.
His ears were finished with their break and were starting to receive information again, even if his brain was still trying to process it all. Tori was sobbing without restraint. His mind still trying to catch up, he thought it sounded like sobs of grief, but what would cause that? There was a second set of sobs too, and something about them gave context to Toriel's. It wasn't grief, but his jarred brain wouldn't let him say what it was. She punctuated her sobs with a name. It had sounded like his name, but soon became clear it wasn't. Was it hers? That didn't sound right either. He had to concentrate. It sounded like... like...
He gasped sharply, the warmth he felt during his episode returning in force. And a new sensation in his chest. Hope.
"Oh. Oh my..."
He couldn't quite remember how, but soon he ended up inside again. In the corridor outside the classroom Frisk's class was milling around. It appeared Frisk had taken charge of marshalling them out of the classroom, where the two sets of quiet sobbing could still be heard.
"Children, why are you here? What has happened?"
Frisk looked up at him beaming, with a little surprise in the change in his beard, but their classmates were too interested to let them tell the story. A glittery-eared Lapis led the way.
"It was weird, but it was cool! I didn't know he could do that!"
"We were reading that book about the Hawthorn Tree, and it was Flowey's turn to read..."
"...but when he got to the part with the baby he stopped and Miss Toriel asked why and he said it was sad..."
"It was sad! She was just a little baby!"
"...and Miss Toriel asked him why it was sad and he said about how it was a baby..."
"And while he said that his eyes changed colour. They turned green!"
"...and he asked her where the baby's dad had been..."
"And then it looked like he was growing a nose. It was like Pinnochio!"
"...and he asked about his own dad, was he still hurt? He was sorry he hurt his dad. I didn't know he had one..."
"And then Miss Toriel looked really dizzy and had to sit down."
"And then there was a really bright light for ages-"
"It was only ten seconds, Lapis."
"-and there was a smashing crunching noise and somebody was running and when the light was gone so was Flowey and Miss Toriel was holding someone!"
"Who's Az-reel anyway?"
At the mispronounced name the dagger in his heart was suddenly wrenched free. The pain was intense, but it felt like something had unblocked. He took a steadying breath as the story concluded.
"And then Frisk said we should give them some privacy and made us come out here."
He didn't know what showed on his face, but he hoped it was calm.
"Alright, children. Frisk, I think you made the right decision. That was good thinking. I shall escort you to the staff room and a teacher can keep you supervised until the bell rings-"
Frisk finally got a word into the conversation.
"I can take my class to the staff room myself, Dad. You don't have to wait any longer."
"But Frisk, it's irresponsible to leave children unsupervised. I have a... duty..."
He laughed. Not his polite chuckle, but a hearty guffaw. He hoped Gerson never caught wind of this.
"You are right. This duty is the most important one. Frisk, you're in charge until another teacher can supervise the class. And when they do, can you let them know you're running an errand for me? Go to my shed. Your pie is still there. Bring it back here. I think someone... I think your brother needs it more than I do."
Beaming even brighter, Frisk nodded, and barked orders to their classmates, who were chattering excitedly at Asgore's words. Surprisingly quickly, Asgore was alone. He reached for the door, but that core of anguish started throwing memories of that terrible night at him and stayed his hand for a moment. But with a burst of concentration, he crowded them out by memories of two children with arms full of flowers. With another steadying breath, he opened the door.
A desk and chair had been flipped over, while most of the others had been abandoned haphazardly. The familiar flower pot lay in pieces on the floor, shards and soil covering the crushed buggy. Other than that the classroom looked pretty normal. It even had a teacher. She had wrapped the fuzzy white child in her large cardigan. The miracle had not provided for clothes, it seems. He was slightly taller than he had been in the ruins, and though both were locked in an embrace that looked impenetrable, one hand was absently scratching his head. Perhaps this time his horns really were getting ready to bud. Toriel showed no significant difference in her appearance, although her breathing suggested she was exhausted. Their eyes were firmly shut. In the time he had spent talking to Frisk, they had moved beyond tears. Their emotion was expressed silently.
For some reason his mind suddenly produced a list of things that needed to be done to accommodate this development. Call Doctor Drake to check over all three of them. And Alphys as well, she would be able to assess the health of their souls. Frisk would handle that, this whole subject was difficult to broach with her. And the barbecue tomorrow, would he have to delegate it to Undyne? Or would he reveal what had happened to everyone there? They'd know soon enough, he couldn't ask Frisk's classmates to remain silent...
The smaller head turned slightly, as if sensing his presence. And that list, important to address as it was, became completely superseded by the one thing he knew he had to do right now. Everything else could wait an hour or two.
The doubt was gone. As he made his way up to join them, and as Toriel finally opened her watery eyes and smiled broadly at him, he knew this was his duty.
Original short story version: https://pastebin.com/PrVvaNBC
Let me know what you think, and thanks for reading!