Snow drifts by the kitchen window, in flakes the size of nickels. Frost creeps up the corners of the glass, but the inside of the apartment is warm and rich with the smell of baking cinnamon. Sans stifles a yawn as he pads into the kitchen, drawing an oversized bathrobe closer around him. He rubs sleep out of his eyes. The clock over the oven tells him it’s one in the afternoon.
Man, he loves Sundays.
Frisk is sitting at the dining table, a tall mug of cocoa next to them and papers and books spread out across the table’s surface. They’re tapping their pencil irritably against the wood, other hand tangled up in their hair. Their lips are screwed up in an expression of distaste.
“Hey, kiddo,” Sans greets. He folds himself into the seat next to Frisk and collapses forward, pillowing his skull on crossed arms.
Frisk waves a half-hearted hello, and doesn’t look up from the paper in front of them.
Sans cracks open one eye socket. “Geez, you’re really glaring at that thing. What it’d do, insult your mom? ‘Cause if so, I could have a few words for it.”
Frisk taps the heavy textbook at the top of their stack. “Midterm tomorrow,” they reply wearily, over-exaggerating the movement of their thumb as they sign 'tomorrow'. “I’m not getting the right answers on the study guide questions.”
Without lifting his head, Sans tilts his skull to read the spine. Physics. “Whatcha studying?”
“We started waves. I thought I understood but when I try the questions, I’m not getting the same answers as in the answer key.”
Sans peers over at the paper Frisk is attempting to glare into submission. The space under the first question is strewn with half-erased attempts. Sans points one bony phalange at it. “You forgot to square the x.”
Frisk looks startled. They stare down at their paper, brow furrowed.
“You’re looking for work. Area under the curve, right?”
Frisk blinks. They hastily scribble in a tiny 2 over their x, and then then pull out a calculator to punch in the new numbers. They compare the result to another sheet of paper laid out by their textbook, and a look of relief crosses their face. “That's it. Thanks!”
Frisk pushes their paper over toward Sans. “Can you tell what I’m doing wrong on number five?”
“It’s a Sunday afternoon, and you’re asking me to find work ? Man, tough standards.”
Frisk rolls their eyes.
Chuckling, Sans picks up the sheet. At that moment, padding footsteps behind him announce Toriel’s return to the kitchen. He twists around in his chair and smiles. Toriel is wearing a soft blue sweater under her apron, which is dusted white with flour. It’s a great look.
“Hey, T,” he says with a lazy wave.
She smiles at him. “Hi, Sans.” She comes over to the table and leans down to press a soft kiss to the top of his head, then does the same for Frisk. She glances down at the table, at the papers and books scattered around the surface, and the sheet now in Sans’ hands. “Are you helping Frisk with their homework?”
“He figured out what I was doing wrong,” Frisk signs cheerfully. “At least on the first question.”
“Oh, good! Well, now that you’ve had a break through, do you want to break for pie? It’s about to come out of the oven.”
Sans grins broadly. “Really? That was not up to your usual standards.”
Toriel wrinkles her nose and swats at him. Sans laughs, and doesn’t bother to dodge.
Frisk shuffles some of their papers into a semblance of proper piles, clearing a few spots of space on the table. A hot draft of sugar and spice wafts through the kitchen as Toriel pulls open the oven to retrieve the pie. She sets it up on the stove to cool, and begins to pull some small plates out of the cabinet.
“You know, I want some hot cocoa,” Sans announces. “Kid, you want a refresher on yours?”
“Cool, you can make mine too, then. Make it with milk, not water, thanks.”
Frisk shoots him a very dry look and lifts their eyebrows. Behind him, Toriel huffs an amused sigh.
Sans chuckles. “Just kidding. I’ll make it. Tori, you want some?”
With effort, Sans drags himself back out of his chair. Frisk pushes their mug toward him; he takes it over to the counter, where he starts rummaging around in the cupboard for the cocoa.
And then the three of them are sitting at the table with three slices of pie and three mugs of hot chocolate in front of them. Frisk is still scribbling at their sheets of physics equations, but looking considerably less frustrated than when Sans first came into the kitchen. Toriel leans back with her mug in her hands, eyes closed as she breathes in the steam. Sans rests his chin on one hand and watches the snow still swirling past the window.
Nearly ten years since the barrier vanished, and he still hasn’t gotten used to snow on the surface. Oh, sure, they’d had plenty of snow back in Snowdin - enormous, eternal drifts of the stuff. But snow in the darkness was nothing like snow in the sunlight, when you could make out each individual flake and light sparkled off the ground and through the trees. When Frisk was younger, they’d drag everyone off to play outside every time a snowstorm blew their way. Now, homework kept them inside more often, but this was pretty good too -- quiet Sundays around the kitchen table, sharing pie and hot chocolate.
Ten years since the barrier vanished. It’s at once everything they’d hoped for, and nothing he’d expected. Sometimes, he thinks, time is the strangest thing.
To be fair, though, he’d always had an odd relationship with time.
The physics textbook is still in front of him, and Sans pulls it closer. Absently, he flips through. Thermodynamics, optics, electromagnetism… old, familiar equations jump out at him, and it’s like vertigo.
He keeps turning the pages, until… Chapter 29: Quantum Physics .
It’s not quite what he used to work on -- he wouldn’t expect a high school textbook to have the long, elaborate equations they’d used on the CORE -- but the principles are the same. Sans stares down at a page demonstrating the difference between photons in gamma rays and x-rays and at the image of the skeletal hand that’s printed there.
Time is an odd thing.
“Hm?” he pulls himself out of his thoughts and looks up. Toriel and Frisk are both watching him curiously.
“Can Frisk have their book back?” Toriel says with a smile.
“Oh -- yeah, sure.” He passes the book to Frisk, who flips back to Chapter 16: Oscillatory Motion and Waves.
Toriel is watching him knowingly, a slight smile on her lips. Sans flashes her back a shrug and a grin. Trying to pretend he wasn’t thinking of anything would be a futile endeavor, he knows. But she doesn’t ask for any details.
Loud footsteps clang up the stairs outside, and then the door bursts open in a flurry of snowflakes.
Papyrus bustles into the apartment, shaking snow from his thick wool hat. Under one arm, he has an assortment of envelopes and paper. “I am here to collect Frisk for our weekly visit to Alphys and Undyne! I have also collected your mail!”
“Papyrus!” Toriel gasps. “I hope you didn’t drive in this weather!”
“Certainly not! I walked! ”
“Oh, dear,” Toriel murmurs, taking in the the snow crusting the edges of Papyrus’ scarf.
Papyrus kicks off his slushy boots, then strides over to the kitchen table. With a flourish, he slams the mail on the table and pulls off the top piece.
“Toriel! Snail and Wine - first issue of the year! And for Sans, oh, a credit card offer! And these people are asking for you to vote for them! Oh, an electric bill!”
Somehow, junk mail is just as much a problem on the surface as in the underground -- if not more so. As Papyrus slides coupons for local businesses they’ll never use in Sans’ direction, Sans tries propping the envelopes upright into a tower shape. Papyrus glowers, but Toriel hides a chuckle behind a large paw.
“And for Frisk!” Papyrus continues, as he reaches the last, but largest, pieces of the pile. “Oh, these are big! Exciting! ‘Thank you for your request for information,’ they say. How polite! You have one from Ebbott University, New Home College, and Northwestern State University!”
Oh geez, college mail. It’s not the first time Frisk has received college mail, but each time another information packet or flyer shows up, Sans gets a stab of that of not-quite-vertigo that always makes him feel like he’s on the receiving end of the timeline’s own prank. He catches Toriel’s eye. Her expression is soft, warm, but there’s also an ache there. He offers her a would-be-casual shrug, but he knows she can read him as well as he can read her.
Frisk has already snatched the packets from Papyrus, and torn open the first one. They flip eagerly through the glossy magazine from Northwestern State. Sans peers at the images of laughing college students on the cover, considering. Somehow, he feels like he doesn’t trust them.
“And when you have retrieved your warm clothing,” Papyrus adds, “we can head to Undyne and Alphys’!”
Frisk looks meaningfully clock over the stove, then back to Papyrus. “It’s early,” they accuse.
“Indeed! Snow and ice does not not hinder me ! Of course, it may be difficult for you, my friend, and there is no shame in that. If we depart early, we will not be late for anime viewing!”
“Really, you two want to head out again in this weather?” Toriel asks worriedly.
“It is Sunday! Sunday has always been the day for the great Papyrus and Frisk to watch anime with our dear friends Undyne and Alphys!”
Frisk looks up at Toriel imploringly. They gesture at the papers strewn in front of them, in a clear “look how much work I’ve done!” expression.
“I know, my child. But this snow is so heavy, and it’s not going to let up until late this evening…”
“Eh, let them go, T,” Sans puts in. “It’s just around the corner. If the weather is too bad later, they can crash at Undyne and Alphys’. It’ll be snow problem.”
That makes Toriel crack a smile, while Papyrus throws back his head with a loud groan. Sans grins, pleased to have elicited his two favorite reactions. Finally, Toriel nods. “Okay -- but bring your school bag, Frisk, in case you get ice -olated over there.”
“UGH,” Papyrus protests.
Frisk, however, just signs “thank you!”, chugs the rest of their hot chocolate, and scrambles up from the kitchen table.
“I will come help you pack!” Papyrus exclaims. “Anything to get away from these two’s bad jokes…”
“You don’t like our winter jokes?” Toriel asks, in mock concern. “How… cold .”
“The day you two met was the worst day of my life!” Papyrus retorts, while Sans bursts out laughing.
Frisk disappears into their room, Papyrus on their heel. A few moments later, both reappear, Papyrus with Frisk’s half-packed bag under his arm, Frisk cradling a flowerpot that contains a single, yellow flower. The flower is wearing a tiny woolen scarf.
“Oh -- you’re taking Flowey?” Toriel asks, surprised. “Won’t it be too cold for him?”
Frisk shakes their head. “I’ll put him under my jacket,” they say with some difficulty, as they need to keep one arm still to hold the flowerpot.
“I will not be left here alone with them ,” Flowey growls, his tiny scowl focused directly on Sans. Sans lifts his brow.
“It would be cruel to leave anyone alone to their onslaught of bad jokes,” Papyrus agrees sagely. “Do you know what they just said? Sans said the weather would be ‘snow problem’, and then, Toriel said we might get ‘ice-olated’ at Alphys and Undyne’s! And then! And then! She made another cold pun! That’s three bad jokes in ten seconds!”
“Uggggh,” Flowey groans. “Yesterday, I had to hear them flirt-punning . It was disgusting .”
“You poor creature,” Papyrus sympathizes.
“Well, if you all are going to head out, why don’t you take the rest of the pie?” Toriel says. “I’ll wrap it up for you.”
When Papyrus and Frisk finally leave the apartment, trudging carefully down the spiraling metal steps under Toriel’s watchful gaze, Papyrus is carrying an enormous box that’s been tied up with a piece of cooking twine, and Frisk carefully keeps their arms wrapped around the bulge at the front of their puffy jacket. Flowey’s surly face pokes out over the zipper.
“Be careful!” Toriel calls after them. “Call me when you get there!”
Frisk waves goodbye with a gloved hand.
Toriel retreats inside and closes the door behind her. “I cannot believe that Papyrus walked all the way here,” she sighs. “I should have called him and let him know we don’t need him to take Frisk out for us this week…”
Sans waves one hand dismissively. “Eh, we haven’t needed Papyrus to take Frisk out for us for years; Frisk keeps themself busy. He just likes doing it. And we’ve walked further in worse snow back when we were sentries.”
“I suppose it is nice to have a routine,” she agrees, smiling. “I’ve goat to admit I appreciate having a weekly ‘date night’.”
Sans cracks a broad grin. “Heh. Can’t make any bones about it either. Say, did you have any plans for today?”
“Oh, not really… I have some progress reports to work on. Is that not a little embarrassing -- using our date night to catch up on work?”
Sans shrugs nonchalantly. “I don’t mind. It’s always a treat to see you in your reading glasses.” He winks.
“You incorrigible flirt,” she teases.
“Is that one of your kids’ vocab words for this week?”
“‘ Incorrigible ’? Sans, I teach first graders.”
“Yeah, and you’re their teacher, aren’t you?”
She rolls her eyes. “Help me clear the table? There isn’t enough space for my papers with all this.”
Toriel clears away the empty plates and mugs and carries them over to the sink. Sans dumps the junk mail in the recycling and takes Toriel’s magazine over into coffee table in the living room. He picks up Frisk’s mail next, then pauses, his gaze lingering over the cover of the top of college catalogues. Ebbot University. The cover displays students laughing on an outdoor campus, surrounded by fall foliage and books.
He turns the first page. Our Mission - Break All Limits! -- vague, grand words describe commitment to things like ‘achievement’ and ‘potential. The next page. Award-Winning Programs . Arts. Chemistry. Political science. Next comes Extracurricular Opportunities and then State-Of-The-Art Dorms. It’s this page he lingers on the longest, scrutinizing the images of brightly-lit dormitories that are filled with bunk beds and books and plastered with generic posters.
Toriel notices him pause. She comes over and glances over his shoulder. “Ah…,” she says softly. “At least this one is not far away.”
Hastily, Sans flips the catalogue shut. “Eh, they’re not leaving for a year and a half yet.”
“Yes, that is true.” Toriel takes the catalogues from him, and takes a moment to turn through them. The heartache in her expression is back, as a tension in her temples and a shadow lingering in her soft eyes. She’ll never be really ready to let Frisk go, Sans knows. And even if it’s just college, this time… that pain in her expression is so potent it makes Sans’ own chest tighten. He reaches out to rest one hand on her arm.
Toriel covers his hand with one paw. “Are you going to be okay, Sans?”
“Me?” he replies in disbelief. “What about you?”
Toriel meets his eyes steadily. “It will be hard, yes. I will miss Frisk when they leave. I will cry for many months, most likely. But Frisk gives you something to do. As I said, it is nice to have a routine -- and Frisk is your routine. I teach. I will still have somewhere to go, something to do, most days. You will not.”
“I mean, looking after Frisk doesn’t take that much work even now,” Sans says bewilderedly. “They’re seventeen. They don’t need me for much.”
“You get them ready for school in the mornings. You clean their dishes. You make dinner on the weekdays.”
He snorts. “Half the time, that’s frozen pizza.”
“Not every day. And even on pizza days, that still gives you a reason to get off the couch each evening. What will you do without that?”
Awkwardly, Sans rubs the back of his head. “I dunno. I guess I’ll find something. I mean, back in Snowdin I had three jobs, right? There’ll be something to get me out of your hair.”
“I do not care about you ‘being out of my hair’. None of those jobs you had in Snowdin were important to you. Looking after Frisk gives you something to do that means something to you.”
“Hey, I liked those jobs,” he protests. “It was fun, working with Papyrus.”
“Yes. It was Papyrus that mattered to you, not your jobs. If he were not there, would you have bothered to go to those jobs?”
Sans huffs a weak laugh. “There were a few I worked without him. He didn’t sell hot dogs with me.”
Toriel gives him an expectant look.
“Eh, alright, I slept when he wasn’t around. Okay, cool, maybe I’ll work with him again. Would that be bad?”
“No,” Toriel replies. “That would be fine, if you want to do that. Just… I want you to think about what you want to do when Frisk leaves home. I want you to be doing something that you want to be doing. Something that means something to you.”
Sans looks down at the catalogues in Toriel’s paws. How ironic it is, the thinks, for him to be worry about the passage of time. “I mean, you guys -- you, Frisk, Papyrus, kind of are the important things.”
“ You also are important.”
“I don’t follow. Are you calling me out for taking care of my family? Because, pot, kettle.”
“No, no, that’s not it,” Toriel laughs. “Sorry, I am not explaining myself well. But your family is here. We will always be here, even if one of us moves away. I just want you to make sure you’re giving yourself enough, that there are enough things in your life that matter to you to keep you going when what your family needs from you changes.”
Sans isn’t quite sure what to say to that. Family matters. Toriel knows that. Hell, Toriel has the same damn priorities. “Right. So…. I don’t get it. What am I supposed to be doing?”
“Just. Think about what you’ll do. Maybe,” -- and here, she offers him a wry, apologetic smile -- “make some plans.”
He laughs softly. “Okay, I’ll think about it. No promises on the plans.”
“Deal,” she agrees. She sets down the catalogues on the kitchen counter, then leans down to give him a light kiss, which he returns. “I will go get the progress reports now. Can you make us some more hot drinks?”
She leaves the kitchen. Sans watches her go, scratching absently at his jawbone.
Ten years. He’d never pictured anything like this back in Snowdin: the surface, the sunlight, this apartment, a kid he thinks of as his , being able to watch laughter crinkle at the corners of Toriel’s soft, currant-red eyes, Papyrus still dropping by at all hours. But that’s time for you, he supposes.
He only wishes it didn’t feel so tenuous.