He looked worried. At least he was under no illusion this would be a pleasant conversation. She had been sure not to give him any room to doubt exactly where he stood with her.
“Let me be very clear,” Toriel said without preamble. “We are not telling anybody about the children you killed. Monsterkind would suffer if the humans gained that knowledge at this time, and they do not deserve that, even if you do.”
They were standing in the kitchen of the apartment of a human Toriel felt was a little too concerned about Frisk. Of course, it was good that she was concerned about Frisk, Toriel was concerned about Frisk too, but Isla’s concern seemed to extend to how Frisk was doing with the rest of them, and she did not need to be concerned about that. Toriel would take care of them. They called her Mom; they were her child.
Asgore cannot meet her gaze. “I am prepared—”
She does not want to see evidence of his guilt over this. “Asgore, you have ruled for a century without me. Six dead children mean you have done a poor job. I think it would be best for everyone if you regularly consulted me.”
There was a pause. For half a second, Toriel felt conflicting urges to hug him and throw a fireball at him for his injured expression.
“Our people like and admire you,” she continued. “I am not asking you to step down. They are too young to know me, so I could not replace you. I am simply saying we should co-rule again. It would put me in a position in which I can guide your decisions.” Because there was no point in pretending it would be for any other reason.
He finally looked up, but he was only able to make eye contact for a second. “Of course, Toriel. I agree. I would be grateful to have your help.”
Good. This was good, even if she did not feel good about it.
When Toriel awakens, she sucks in a sharp breath. In a beat, she recognizes her room in her house on the surface.
She does not have nightmares often, but… perhaps that did not even count as a nightmare. It was unpleasant, certainly, but not frightening. Oftentimes her dreams consist of boring, emotionally-neutral memories, but occasionally they diverge.
She is about to roll over and go back to sleep when she hears it. Somebody is moving about downstairs.
She stands, stretches briefly, and smooths down her nightgown before exiting her room. She pauses at the doors of her children’s rooms, but cannot hear anything going on inside, so she heads downstairs.
Chara is awake. They have turned on the light above the sink. They stand next to the counter, sipping a mug of hot chocolate.
When she sees it is them, she deliberately steps more heavily so they will hear and know she is coming. Chara hates it when someone sneaks up on them. When they turn to her, she smiles and says, “Greetings, my child.”
“Greetings,” they reply quietly. “I apologize for waking you.”
“Oh, you did not wake me. I simply had an unpleasant dream.”
She leaves it at that, dangling, and they take it. “So did I,” they admit, still quiet.
She stops perhaps three feet from them, resting a hand on the counter near them. She would very much like to sweep them into her arms to comfort them, but Chara likely wouldn’t find that comforting at all.
“Would you like to talk about it?” she asks gently.
Their small body goes still for a moment, then the hand holding their mug shakes a little. “No,” they answer. Their voice is slightly higher-pitched, the word choppy. One of those dreams, then.
There are very few circumstances in which killing another is acceptable. War is one such instance. But she wonders – were she faced with Chara’s abusers, would she be able to stay her hand? What about Frisk’s? Chara’s are dead, but Frisk’s may be still alive. The people who killed Asriel – they did a terrible, terrible thing when they killed her sweet boy, but they did it out of fear. She can understand that. She still hates it, hates how it hurt him and Chara, but she can understand it. What happened to Frisk and Chara is something she cannot understand. She cannot understand why a parent would deliberately hurt their child.
“Do you want some hot chocolate?” Chara blurts. They go red at how loud their voice was and add, more quietly, “I can make some for you.”
She should not push them to talk. She nods, mentally filing away a reminder to herself to tell Isla about this. “I would like that, my child. While you do that, I will prepare snacks.”
She watches them for a moment as they turn to get everything ready. They are alright with turning their back to her, at least. She is glad they offered to make hot chocolate; they tend to do better when they are able to keep their hands and mind busy. Some days are better than others. One day they will be fine with something and the next the very same thing will bother them immensely, and they are always unlikely to say something about it. When someone they love breaches one of their boundaries or prompts them to do something that makes them uncomfortable, they will not say anything. They will do it and deal with it because they believe they should be able to do more at this point.
Isla told her it is likely going to be a problem for a while. Sometimes she feels like a failure of a mother – needing a therapist for all three of her children. Needing advice from a therapist simply to navigate interactions with her children.
Only a thought later she chastises herself. What matters is that she loves them and does the best she can by them.
Her fire magic means she gets done first. She gets a genuine smile out of them when she presents them with a plate of s’mores. The chocolate is redundant and the marshmallows are unhealthy, but it’s worth it, to see them smile.
Minutes later they are snacking and drinking hot chocolate. Toriel has to be careful not to get the stickiness of the marshmallows in her fur. She is pleased to see Chara leave a few crumbs on their plate when they finish.
After Chara recovered from their fall into the Underground, they all finally ate dinner together at the table. Chara ate slowly, constantly sneaking peeks at Toriel and Asgore when they thought the adults weren’t looking. Toriel suspected then, but she knows now they were looking for some sign that it was a joke. They must have thought either she or her husband was going to take their food away and tell them they couldn’t stay after all.
She noticed many of the nuances in Chara’s behavior. How they flinched when anyone touched them. How they looked for escape routes every time they walked into a room. How when they ate, they left absolutely no mess behind.
Toriel thought all this pointed to a child who had been punished severely for messes on the surface. It was more than that. Chara left no evidence when they ate because sometimes they hadn’t been allowed food on the surface. The rest of it… to think that anyone could do that to a child…
“Mom?” Chara says hesitantly, snapping her out of her thoughts.
Frisk begin calling her Mom immediately after the barrier broke. It took months for Chara to get into the habit. Sometimes they still call her and Asgore by their names. It does not mean Chara does not love them. They still have a lot to learn and unlearn about the concept of parents, and it would not be a failure if they cannot fully break free from associations formed because of people who hurt them so deeply.
“What is it, my child?” she asks gently.
“I was…” they trail off, start again. “I was wondering if Asgore stayed over tonight. It is not a big deal if he didn’t. I was only wondering.”
The question catches her off guard. It is not a surprise to her that they want Asgore after one of their nightmares. Often they will seek Asgore out to remind themself that not all men want to hurt them.
That they ask the question at all surprises her. Has she truly been allowing her ex to stay over so often her children have come to expect it?
Well… yes, she has. He leaves things in her guest room. He has his own key. At first it was because Asriel needed them both, he’d been so traumatized when he returned to them, but after that…
She never got around to telling him to remove his belongings from her house. In fact, she realizes belatedly, she kept inviting him over for dinner, kept asking him if he wanted to take the children to the park or the Embassy, kept saying it’s late, you can sleep in the guest room tonight. Then they got Chara back, and Chara needed them both, just as Asriel did. In fact, all three of her children seem to do better when both of them are around, and it is easier to co-parent when he is here.
“He did not, my child,” she answers. “I believe he has an early morning at the Embassy tomorrow.” She has no idea if this is true. Chara will not want her to call him over right now. They will not want to disturb his sleep. Instead, she asks, “Would you like it if he came over for dinner tomorrow?”
They nod. “If… he is not busy. And you are okay with it.”
“I am sure he would love to see you and your siblings,” she says. “I will ask him tomorrow.”
It begins as a normal, nice day. It is summer, so the birds are singing. Last year he’d gotten around to installing birdhouses in the Embassy gardens and the park. He found he rather enjoys watching the birds take up residence and form their own little families. He ought to mount a camera on one so he can watch the babies learn to fly. He missed it last year.
Asgore heads downstairs early enough to greet the night janitors. He always says hello to everyone before he starts his day. It is the best motivation to complete the paperwork aspect of his job. He could probably get Isla to do it, but she hasn’t entirely gotten rid of her bad habit of overworking herself so he tries to never give her additional tasks, even if those tasks would keep her from interacting with people during politically-toned conversations.
He is pleasantly surprised to find Frisk is in the lobby already. He didn’t expect them for another thirty minutes or so. They are on summer break, so they have been spending their mornings helping him. He delights in their company and their commitment, but he rarely lets them spend a full day here. They enjoy some aspects of this work, but it is still work, and it is important they have time to themself for leisure activities while they don’t have school.
Frisk is chatting excitedly with the receptionist, who just arrived. Asgore is distracted from this by Toriel. Usually she only comes to the Embassy when they have a task that requires both of them.
“Howdy, Toriel,” he says, wondering what she needs.
“Greetings,” she replies, and that in and of itself is a miracle. That they can stand in one another’s company and greet each other and everything can be normal and alright. When Frisk led them into the sun, he was not sure she would ever allow him to speak to her again. Had she not, he would not have blamed her.
He pauses when he notices how stiff her posture is. She doesn’t seem mad, exactly, but there is a tension in her that makes him immediately wary. Does she have bad news? Frisk seems to be alright, but are Chara and Asriel okay? Did something happen?
“May I speak with you privately?” Toriel asks. “It will only be for a moment.”
He nods and moves within conversational distance. He is fully prepared to hear that one of their children is having an issue when she says, “I think you should move in with me and the children.”
Asgore blinks. “Pardon me?”
Toriel clasps her hands in front of her. Her gaze is intense. He is so used to reading hostility into her body language he nearly expects her to throw a fireball at him. “I believe it would benefit the children if you were to move in,” she says. “Chara had a nightmare last night. They wanted your company upon awakening. I doubt it would be much of a change, given how frequently you have been occupying the guest room.”
“Ah,” he utters. “I have been staying over a lot, haven’t I?”
“Yes. You have.”
There is neither judgment nor accusation in her tone. It is simply a statement of fact. He cannot think of anything to say, and then the silence becomes awkward, and how can he not think of anything to say to someone whom he spent centuries loving?
Toriel is not in the mood to be patient. “Take some time to think about it,” she suggests. “You may get back to me later.”
He nods and she moves away from him. She pauses, turns around, and calls, “Oh, and come over for dinner, would you?”
He nods again, automatic. Toriel waves to Frisk on her way out. He stands there like a fool long enough that Frisk comes over, giving him an odd look. “What was that about?” they ask.
Asgore smiles at them. “Nothing in particular. Just two old folks saying howdy.”
Frisk raises an eyebrow. “Alright,” they say, though he can tell they don’t believe him for a second. “What are we doing today?”
Sans drags himself out of bed just before noon. I’ve already got breakfast on the table for him. Papyrus likes to cook whenever he’s home, so I usually cook for Sans when I get the chance. Now that I can make magical food, there isn’t any reason for me not to cook.
He comes down with his phone in hand, texting away. He recently started working second shift at the college. Usually the undergraduates do research in the afternoons and evenings and he helps them on days when the professor in charge of the project can’t be there or needs to leave early. Second shift wouldn’t be my cup of tea, but he likes it.
“Who are you texting?” I ask, because he usually doesn’t even look at his phone until after he eats.
“Tori,” he replies.
That was my first guess. They communicate daily, and it’s not like they see each other every day.
My own phone buzzes. I pull it out and look at it. “Huh,” I say. “It’s supposed to be my day off, but Asgore wants me to come in for lunch.”
Sans looks up. “He wanna talk to you about something personal?”
“Yeah. How’d you know?”
He holds his phone up. “Tori’s tellin’ me about it.”
He sends Frisk home at lunch. Right on time, Isla shows up.
Asgore barely gives her enough time to sit down before he says, “Toriel asked if I would move in with her and the children today.”
Her eyebrows go up a little, but not a lot. “That would explain it. Toriel told Sans about it. I’m not sure exactly what was said, but I’m under the impression she was looking for reassurance.”
For a moment, he is unhappy about that, then he realizes he did the exact same thing. He reached out to a friend so he could talk about it. “I am not sure what I should do,” he admits. “Her focus was very much on the children when she asked me.”
“Of course it was,” Isla says. “Just to be clear, she asked you to move in to make co-parenting easier, right? There were no romantic or sexual undertones?”
He glances around in a way he knows is entirely too conspicuous to make sure nobody can overhear. “No? I do not believe so.”
“Would living as roommates with Toriel make you uncomfortable?”
He shrugs. “No?”
She gives him a flat look. “I am… unsure about this whole thing,” he says. If he is honest with himself, his first instinct was to talk it over with Isla because there is something comforting about letting her tell him what to do. He does not trust himself with hard decisions. Toriel made most of the hard decisions when they were married. He was used to letting someone else tell him what to do, and the one time he refused to listen to Toriel, he ended up losing her and killing six children.
“I’ll ask something I know you have an answer for,” Isla says. “Do you still love her?”
Typically he would automatically answer in affirmative, but this is not the case. He hesitates, then says, “Yes. But… not in the same way, I believe.”
“I’m listening, if you want to talk.”
Think about it. He needs to think about the answer himself. “I spent so long… longing for what we’d had. It was not just Tori, it was Asriel and Chara as well. I would have given anything had it made us into a whole family again.
“But now? We have Asriel and Chara back. We have Frisk as well. I would feel comfortable saying that Tori and I are friends. But it’s not the same. It will not ever be the same as it was. Too much has happened and too much has changed. We would not be here without all that, so I cannot say I would rather the terrible things never happened at all. I will always love Toriel – I always did, but it does not feel the same.”
“Don’t box it in,” Isla says. “Let it be what it wants. Don’t start applying terms to it that don’t fit.”
“I will keep that in mind.” He pauses. “Would I, um, be remiss in thinking that this might possibly lead to something more?”
“Toriel obviously thinks so, too, or she wouldn’t have wanted to talk it through with Sans.” Crass as ever, she adds, “If you get laid, you have to tell me about it.”
He can’t stop himself from blushing. “I don’t, and I won’t.”
She shrugs, beginning to smirk. “Fine. I’m sure at least one of your kids will notice if it happens. They’ll let me know.”
Oh, golly. Does she really need to go there? Then again, this is the woman who readily admits whenever she and Sans have sex. She was the one who talked to all three of his children about sex. He was only glad about that because it let him off the hook.
Not that Chara required the entire talk. For perhaps half a second he feels wholeheartedly murderous, but he lets it go. Those people are already dead. They are dead, but he will likely have nothing but rage and bitter contempt for them forever.
Isla’s smirk fades. She noticed his sudden shift in expression, but she does not question it. “You should consider the possibility that this might end badly.”
“I have. It is what makes this decision so hard.” He pauses, claws tapping on his thermos of tea. “Is this… something we should discuss with the children?”
There are a few seconds of silence. “I don’t know,” she admits. “On one hand, I want to tell you that you should. Your decision will have a huge impact on them, so it seems unfair to keep them uninvolved. On the other, I’d bet you all three of them will feel… responsible, to some degree. Chara and Asriel have both dealt with guilt over your breakup, and Frisk will always be quick to dump blame and responsibility onto themself. They may feel compelled to make sure they won’t stress you out – which would mean hiding their symptoms, when they have them.”
If only loving and valuing a child rid them of anything painful in their mind. It is not enough, but it is all he can do. Love them and let them know it is okay that they must deal with their pasts.
“Would you want to tell them?” Asgore asks hesitantly.
She shakes her head. “If you choose to tell them, it needs to come from you and Toriel. You may have to encourage them to respond. They might feel like they shouldn’t speak up.”
He considers. It is true, he does not wish to unnecessarily stress his children – but they will probably be stressed over this as soon as they hear of it. He values their input and perspective. He is aware that he and Toriel don’t always know what is best for them. Sometimes they know better, and he and Tori have had to accept that.
“I think I want to talk to them,” he decides. “This is their family, too. They deserve to have their voices heard.”
Isla nods. It’s kind of funny. The idea of talking to his kids about this doesn’t make him nearly as nervous as the text he has to send to Toriel to see if she agrees.
Dinner is… normal. Asgore is around often enough that the children do not think anything of his presence. He asks Frisk about their endeavors in getting their driver’s license, since they will turn sixteen this month, but they will not be able to test for it for a few more months since they were late to get their learner’s permit.
Toriel is not looking forward to it. Partially because driving as a human teenager can be unsafe, but also because… she is not looking forward to any of her children growing up. Well, she is and she isn’t. She has had moments of pride tinged with sadness and she expects more of those feelings as they near adulthood.
Neither of them says anything until she brings out dessert. Chocolate pie today. To her pleasure, Chara’s face lights up when they see it.
She waits until all three of her kids are forking pie in their mouths, then folds her hands in front of her and says, “My children, your father and I have something we would like to discuss with you.”
Chara and Frisk look up immediately, both of their gazes darting from her to Asgore and back again. Toriel smiles reassuringly. Frisk relaxes. Chara does not.
Asriel simply looks curious and a little confused. “What’s up?”
She exchanges a look with Asgore. There she sees the typical you say it, you’ll say it better. She agrees. “We discussed the possibility of your father moving in with us. We wanted to know how you feel about it before proceeding.”
Frisk’s face immediately breaks into a grin. “That’d be great! We could—” they glance at Asriel and Chara, realize their reaction is not being shared, and cut themself off. The grin drops off their face. “Um,” they utter, more quietly. “I mean… I’d like that.”
Chara stares at them both, expression neutral, before settling on Toriel. “Is this because I had nightmares last night?”
She has a response for this. “No, my child. This is because Asgore has been staying over frequently enough I figured he might as well move into the guest room for consistency’s sake.”
“But you live here, and this is your family too,” Asgore says. “It is going to impact you no matter what, so it seemed unfair to not allow you to have a say.”
Chara and Asriel exchange a look. Asriel’s face is beginning to look pinched. “So, uh,” he says. “Are you, um, getting back together?”
Toriel expected this question, but Asgore beats her to answering it. “No, Asriel,” he replies. “Toriel and I are friends,” here he glances at her, and she nods to confirm this, “and it is likely we will stay that way. We thought it would be better for you to have us both here. It would be easier for us as well, when it comes to parenting.”
She feels herself starting to frown and stops herself. Odd. She has never heard Asgore so much as imply that their future is only one of friendship. She knew that, at first, he hoped they could get back together. She also knew he respected her too much to ever bother her about it, but she never considered he had lost that hope.
Her son looks resigned, and she does feel bad about that. He has talked to Isla about guilt over their divorce – Isla told them so. Asriel knows they know about it because Isla only tells them whatever Asriel says she can tell them.
Chara blinks owlishly. “I agree with Frisk. I would like to have Dad here, but if it is going to be awkward for you two, that needs to be taken into account.”
“We have thought about it, dear,” Toriel says. Sans told her that things are only awkward if someone makes them awkward. He is a fairly shameless person, so of course it is easy for him to say that. “We wanted to speak with you before coming to a decision.”
Asriel bites his lip. “This sounds like it’s just for us. Would it make you happy?”
She knows that what she wants to say – they are the kids, they come first, always – will not satisfy Asriel. All three of them are children, yes, but they have also lived far longer than their ages indicate. They have all been through so much more than any child should ever experience.
“Well,” Asgore allows, “it may feel… odd at first, but it will be familiar and easier for us. Those are good things, so I suppose it will make us happier, even if we do not notice it.”
There is a pause. Frisk and Asriel are holding hands under the table. Toriel wishes they wouldn’t hide it. There is no shame in giving or accepting comfort. They must know nobody here would think less of either of them for needing it.
“I’m – I’ll always miss how it used to be,” Asriel says. “But I’m glad we can be a family again. Even if – even if you aren’t together, I think it would be good if we could all be here.”
She is not sure what she was expecting out of her children, but she is not surprised. “Alright,” she says simply. “Asgore, can you set aside this weekend so we can get you moved in?”
He looks relieved that it went so well. She wonders what he was expecting. “Certainly, Toriel.”