The Space Between
Note: By popular demand, I have written an epilogue for The Space Between. This chapter is dedicated to my reviewers for giving me encouragement and for giving me a reason to keep writing. There is no real plot for this chapter. It's more like a day in the life of Frisk after the end, but it does offer some insight into how things work on the outside as well as some closure for Frisk. Enjoy!
I sat on a small wooden bench and watched the sunset alone. Six months above ground was enough time to dull the amazement and wonder of the monsters of Mount Ebott. But this time around I'd long since come to terms with my ordinary life beyond the adventure and horror of the Underground. This was my happy ending, and I was content.
There was meaning in my life when Toriel tutored me with my homework every night.
There was meaning in my life when Asgore let me putter around his garden.
There was meaning in my life when Papyrus showed me how to create ever-more elaborate puzzles in the labyrinth surrounding the monster city. Some of them were getting particularly complicated, requiring sophisticated knowledge of spaghetti noodles and pasta sauces. But the labyrinth was necessary because 'free' and 'safe' were not the same thing.
I felt Sans's arrival before I saw him. It was always like that between us. Even when we were far apart, I could still sense his soul, a faint spark of life and reassurance. When he was close, I could even feel his thoughts.
"hey kid, mind if i join you?" Sans asked lazily. I smiled and patted the bench beside me. Sans flopped down and watched the red sky through half-lidded eyes.
As he settled beside me, his awareness brushed against mine and I knew why he was here. He'd felt my twinge of loneliness and wanted to make sure I was alright. He did that occasionally. Whenever I felt sad or alone or afraid, Sans would appear. He would appear outside my school after a bad day or outside my door after waking from a nightmare. It was an extension of his promise, because death was not the only thing I needed protection from.
I leaned into his side, and the memories of his day drifted across my mind. He'd spent the morning reviewing notes on the timeline to make sure that no one had hijacked it. He'd spent the afternoon playing pranks on humans trying to get into the labyrinth. It was something of a legend even after only a few months. There were plenty of terribly challenging puzzles to keep people away from truly dangerous areas, but Sans still liked to keep an eye on things.
I felt Sans skimming my own thoughts, and I focused on the snail habitat project I was working on for class. I was particularly proud of that one, and I let my feelings color the memories. I couldn't completely hide the memory of Toriel and Asgore saying that they did not have time to watch the sunset with me, though. Sans patted my head and ran his fingers through my hair. It was alright. He was here, and I was not alone.
"did Asgore mention the human delegation arriving soon?"
Being an ambassador between monsters and humans was, of course, complicated and required a fair amount of extracurricular work. Toriel made sure I never fell behind (well, more behind) on my schoolwork, though. Thousands of loops and resets had done terrible things to my memory of multiplication tables, but I was getting back on track with her patient lessons. Her smile always brightened when we sat down at the kitchen table and cracked open a school book.
I'd been a little worried at first. Humans were so much stronger than monsters. Or, at least, that's what I'd thought. Chara had been able to slaughter the entire Underground single handedly. What hope did the monsters have here on the surface, which was populated by billions of humans? But my fears were mostly unfounded. Chara's strength came from draining Determination from my soul as well as the residual power from joining with Asriel. And monsters were stronger than they once were. Their souls were weak, but their magic was powerful. They were not the helpless victims I feared. They could survive.
And, besides that, they had Sans and me. There was a peculiar side effect of our joining. Our power was still linked even after separating, especially when we were in close proximity. Added to that, Sans's knowledge of shortcuts meant that he could appear anywhere and instantly shut down any aggressive actions from the humans.
Strange how I now thought of humans as something else, something other than myself. Perhaps I did spend too long in the Underground. I didn't feel particularly human anymore. I was comfortable with that fact. I'd met far too many humans who thought that 'child' was just another word for 'prey'.
"Do you think there will be trouble?" I asked. Sans always had a bit of extra knowledge and intuition that he never got around to explaining.
"who knows?" he asked, giving me a sidelong glance. "shouldn't you be heading home? it's getting dark."
True. The sun had finally crossed the horizon and the stars were out. I could sit here for a while longer, but the air was cold as autumn crept toward winter. I slid from the bench, and by the time I turned to look back at Sans, he was gone. He wasn't far, though.
I shook my head and began walking down the long, curved path toward the castle where Toriel, Asgore, and I lived. Beyond it, I could see the industrial labs where Alphys was creating a whole host of robots for various purposes. Farther down the slope, I could see the training grounds where Undyne was probably still training a new crop of fighters even at this late hour. I could see the bizarrely complicated house where Papyrus and Sans lived right on the edge of the labyrinth. I spotted a dozen other places where my friends would be right now. The soft light from their windows was an assurance that everything was right with the world.
I looked up toward the stars and smiled.
"Hey, Kid," said a gruff voice. I turned, startled by the newcomer. It was not a voice I recognized.
"Who are you?" I asked carefully. I stood with my hands held loosely at my sides in a completely nonthreatening pose. Monsters sometimes didn't realize how frightening they could be to small children. It was best not to spook them by acting aggressive in response to perceived aggression.
A shadow stepped forward, and I stiffened slightly. It wasn't a monster. It was a man. A man with a long blade and cold eyes. Before falling into Mount Ebott, the sight of an armed stranger would have left me paralyzed in fear. Hundreds of loops through the Underground and I would have been badly shaken and ready to beg for my life. Now, I felt only resignation and a small touch of annoyance.
"Are you the human that belongs to the royal monsters?" the man asked, moving the blade slightly so that the edge caught a flash of light. The question was likely unnecessary. I was the only human living within the walls, although there were plenty of children who tried to pass through the labyrinth. I suppose it wasn't impossible that I could be from the outside.
"My mom is Queen Toriel and my dad is King Asgore," I said, because this conversation was only going to end one way, and I was hoping to get on with it. "Who are you?"
But the man did not respond. Instead, he dove forward, knife extended. I sidestepped easily. I routinely fought a dozen monsters faster than this man. If it came to speed or stamina, I would win. If it came to strength, I could still win, but there was usually no reason to go that far.
I did a quick check on him. Relatively low hit points but moderate strength. It might have been a problem if he was fast, but he wasn't. He would also not survive more than a single hit from me, so I wouldn't be able to attack him at all. I shrugged and spoke to him between his strikes instead. He didn't seem to be listening, though he grew more exhausted with every attack. His Determination was quite low.
"Please, stop this," I said as kindly as I could. "There is no need to fight, and you cannot win against me. I don't know why you're here or what I have done to make you hate me, but this is pointless. Please, you can still go home."
The man was panting heavily now, his eyes wild and confused. He hadn't expected a mere child to stand against him so casually. If only he knew. In a way, I was far older than he would ever be, and my life was nothing but a constant battle for survival and death.
"What are you?" the man asked, a slight edge of fear to the question.
Well, there were always the less-polite methods of non-violence.
I let magic fill me up until my eyes glowed with power.
"I am Determination," I said, opting for threats over reasonableness. "And you cannot defeat me."
The man looked frightened now, his eyes darting between me and the darkness he had emerged from. I just was wondering if another threat might help when I felt a presence at my back and smiled. From my peripheral vision, I could see wings of bone. The man's eyes looked up and up and up.
"if you keep going the way you are now, you're going to have a bad time."
The man fled.
"Was that our delegation?" I asked, not looking around until I felt Sans shift back to his normal form. I released my own power with a sigh and let the tension drain from my shoulders.
"maybe," said Sans, slouching over to stand in front of me. That meant 'yes'. I doubted that a normal human could get through the labyrinth at this point, and the human delegate would be the only one with a free pass.
Delegates, I corrected, skimming Sans's thoughts. There were supposed to be three.
"Walk me home?" I asked him.
"sure, kid," he said. "your mom is probably getting worried. come on, i know a shortcut."
I followed Sans through a hole in space and time. Asgore and Toriel were in the living room talking amicably. When he saw me, Asgore opened his arms and smiled. I threw myself into his hug and laughed.
"Did you have a good day, Frisk?" he asked, ruffling my hair.
"Yeah, Dad, it was exciting," I said. I kissed his nose. "I love you."
His smile softened and he kissed my forehead.
"I love you too, Frisk. Now go wash up for dinner. Your mother even made her butterscotch cinnamon pie for dessert. Sans, you're welcome to stay if you'd like."
But Sans waved a hand and slouched out the door, saying something about other things to do. I caught a quick thought of the human man dipped in a giant vat of honey and smiled. Sans would find out if the human had acted alone or if the others were a threat. I wasn't really worried. This was just another day of politics. There was nothing to be afraid of.
I gave Toriel a hug, a kiss, and an 'I love you' before heading into the kitchen to wash up. As we all sat down for dinner, I looked up to my family. It was true that there would be some days that felt dark and lonely. It was true that I would never truly forget the pain and fear I'd felt in the Underground. It was true that there were many more dangers to face in the future.
But in these small moments where I was surrounded by my family, with my friends all safe and happy outside, and with my guardian angel looking out for me from the night, these moments were the happy ending I'd always wanted.
Note 2: For those wondering, the assassin/delegate was summarily dipped in honey, feathered, and tossed into a lake. Sans will claim innocence of the entire thing. No one will believe him.