Snorpy hadn’t realized orchids could grow outside in this region. He admittedly didn’t know much about plants, as they weren’t one of his interests, but he had always liked orchids. He had heard they were high-maintenance and required a lot of care and attention, as they tended to be more sensitive to environmental changes than other plants. Beautiful, but hard to keep, only really thriving indoors. Apparently that wasn’t true for all orchids.
The calanthe orchids were blooming; they were growing far from the other flowers, almost hidden in the garden. There were several of them there, their succulent green stems bent with the subtle weight of their adornments. Snorpy counted the blooms in his head, thoughtful.
Plants, and nature in general, seemed chaotic to Snorpy. If he looked up, he knew he’d see the sinuous, winding tangles of the tree branches above, a jumble of curves and sharp angles, rough wood and small, tender leaves - contrasting and confusing. The orchid, on the other hand, was a crown of fine symmetry. He bent a bit lower to examine the structure of the flowers themselves more closely. They hung on their stems elegantly, flared lateral petals giving way to the more delicate structure within. To him, it almost looked like two flowers joined together - a much smaller one, nestled under the bright, friendly petals of another.
Snorpy scoffed quietly to himself and straightened again, glancing about quickly in a way that was too routine, now, to appear nervous. Chandlo smiled at him from further down the path. He was standing in front of some beautiful blooming bush, but he had been looking at Snorpy the whole time. Snorpy blushed.
“Orchids? Nice, bro.” Chandlo came over to look, his solid side bumping against Snorpy. Snorpy’s paw went to Chandlo’s reflexively, and as he squeezed it, he became aware of the tension he was holding in his body. Chandlo squeezed back, and looked up at him with a warm smile. Snorpy returned it.
“Yes, well… They’re not difficult to appreciate.” Snorpy shifted in place, leaning his side against Chandlo’s. He scanned the gardens again. Snorpy had specifically chosen the botanical gardens early on a weekday, partially because he knew the grounds would be almost deserted, and partially because Chandlo loved to take strolls in nature. It was a good location for a double date, regardless.
Chandlo heard the sound of paws padding down the path, and his relaxed grin grew wider as he turned his head to look. Snorpy followed suit, spotting Filbo waving from much further down the path.
“Filbo! Good to see you, chum.” Snorpy said with a smile as Filbo slowed to a stop in front of them, a bit winded.
“Gotta work on that cardio, bro!” Chandlo held out his paw for a fist bump, which Filbo happily returned.
“I think it’s just running…!” Filbo panted. “I mean, I can dance for hours!”
“Yeah, he can really cut a rug.” You had finally caught up. “Are you up for a ‘hugging experience’, Snorpy?” You grinned crookedly, and Snorpy half rolled his eyes but stepped towards you with his arms out all the same. You used to refrain from touching people often, but Snaktooth gave you an appetite for hugs. It was Filbo’s fault.
Snorpy patted your back and released you. He was getting better at hugs too, you noted, probably thanks to Chandlo. You turned to greet him next, and he wrapped you up in a tight, strong hug of his own.
Snorpy turned to Filbo, then. "You next! Yes, you aren't exempt from receiving a friendly embrace. Come here you… Scamp." He leaned over to hug Filbo.
"Oh! Well, okay! Don't mind if I do!" Filbo hugged him back, smiling warmly. You saw Snorpy discreetly feeling the back of Filbo's neck, squinting as he checked Filbo’s fur.
Apparently finding nothing, Snorpy pulled back. He folded his arms behind his back and cleared his throat. "Very good! Now… One last thing. Seeing as we are in the serene beauty of the outdoors, it occured to me that it would be quite a shame to disturb this peaceful aural experience with any unexpected phone calls! With that in mind, please power off your mobile cellular device." He began pulling a roll of painter's tape out of his bag. "Here, use this to cover the receiver as well." You nodded, taking a strip and putting it over the receiver.
Filbo watched, eyebrows raising slightly. "Um, Snorpy, is this really necessary?"
"Sure! Gotta protect the aural experience! Right, dawg?" Chandlo threw an arm around Snorpy's shoulder and gave him a conspiratorial wink. Snorpy grinned widely, very plainly touched and excited to have Chandlo in on things. You smiled too, happy to see Chandlo support Snorpy. You knew how much it meant to him to be listened to and believed.
"Right! Well then, let us proceed. Chandlo, there were some… er, Maple trees you had wanted to behold?"
"Yeah, bro! Those leaves are unbelievable. Those vivid oranges and yellows, dawg… I could get lost staring at them." He looked at Snorpy, eyes soft. "C'mon, let's get our behold on!" He took Snorpy's paw and led the way.
You looked to Filbo, who was smiling as he watched. He seemed happy, but… Somewhat tense. You reached out and brushed his paw, taking it gently in your own. His face lit up with surprise, turning to you.
You gave him an apologetic smile as you let go, not sure what you had been thinking. "Um. Sorry. Are you alright?"
He gave you a small smile. "Yeah, I'm okay…" He said, looking down. His paw found yours and squeezed. This time, you didn't let go. "I guess we should… Try to catch up to them, huh?" He grinned.
"Sounds good, Filbo."
The get-together ended up being the pleasant break that you really needed. It hadn’t been that long since you had last seen Snorpy and Chandlo, but you had so much to catch up on. The conversation came easily as you strolled under the bright, leafy cover of the garden’s trees, and you realized how much you had missed this.
Back on Snaktooth, you and Snorpy had become close. When you had first met, he had given you missions to complete to earn his trust, but you had only realized later that you trusting him first had really been what counted. You had listened to his theories on the Grumpinati without being dismissive or condescending, and there was genuinely enough hard evidence to warrant serious consideration; not only that, but Snorpy was helpful, and he could match your obsessive energy when you really dug into a problem. There had been multiple times where you had run out, in the dead of night, just to burst into his hut with your arms full of paper and a wild look in your eyes, spouting theories. He had even let you borrow some string for your own wall-mounted idea map.
You two enjoyed poring over theories together and hashing things out even now. Chandlo and Filbo were looking for rocks to put on the corners of your picnic blanket as you and Snorpy unpacked the basket, volleying ideas back and forth.
“It’s got to be an alien.” You set down the plates.
Snorpy’s face scrunched. “Possible… Though, don’t you think it’s more likely the island was grump-made? Surely if it were an extraterrestrial entity, someone would have settled it more permanently by now. If it’s a secret testing site for a shadowy organization, then the ship disappearances seem more plausible. After all, if it were merely a biological entity, or a collective of such, one would assume more travellers would have escaped to tell the tale."
You put your paw to your mouth, thinking. "...That's a good point. I got knocked out of my ship by a mothza, but nothing was damaged beyond repair. You fixed it, fueled it, and had time to make a new weapon in a day."
"That I did!" Snorpy beamed, proud.
You nodded. "To be fair though, you're basically a super genius blacksmith who's married to a master carpenter," Snorpy looked flattered. "...But still. Any grump sailing to a dangerous island would know their ships well enough to be able to fix them… I'd assume. There are plenty of resources on the island, too. So you're right, there must be something else at play, keeping the nature of Snaktooth under wraps… Hm…" You got out your journal and flipped it open, making a note to go investigate common safety procedures and resources people would bring on ships historically. Triffany might be some help, and it would be a fun excuse to go visit her and Wambus. You smiled to yourself at the thought.
"Perhaps it's a bit of both, Chum." Snorpy set out the last of the sandwiches and leaned back. "Extraterrestrial entities that operate like a hivemind… A culinary, psychic tumor lodged in an island, being studied, harnessed and protected by the Grumpinati." Despite the subject matter, his voice had lost its bite. He looked out over the field you had set up in.
"I was going to ask Triff about the likelihood of ancient grumps repairing their vessels to escape… I'll see if she recalls seeing any evidence of modern grumps on the island. We'll get to the bottom of things…" Eventually, you thought.
It was getting late in the afternoon, and the sunlight was a warm, glowing gold. It bathed and gilded everything around you; the flowers, the field, the canopy of the stand of trees, and the river they stood by, warm and beautiful. It was like a picture in a storybook.
The wind blew, picking up the edge of your picnic blanket and causing the soft grass to sway. As the blades rippled under the light, scattering it into flecks of gold and translucent green, you spotted Filbo and Chandlo trekking through it back towards the two of you.
Chandlo was saying something, his posture relaxed as he gestured with a paw at the air. Filbo was grinning a big, happy grin, squinting against the sunlight that lit up their fur like they were dandelions.
You had never felt happier. Inside, there was a soul-deep satisfaction and sense of safety that swept away any memory or possibility of fear or danger, the same way the warm afternoon sun softened the shadows. Filbo sat next to you, telling you about the creek he and Chandlo had gathered the rocks from. You took one to weigh down a corner of the blanket, and your paws brushed accidentally. The two of you shared a smile.
Chandlo chuckled, and you noticed the couple was watching you. Snorpy had a big, smug smile on his face. Chandlo was grinning. "The double date was a good idea, huh?" Chandlo said.
"Heh, yeah!" Filbo laughed. His grin dropped as he realized exactly what Chandlo said. "Wait, what?"
"He said," Snorpy adjusted his glasses, "The double date was a good idea, eh, chum?"
You could feel your face heating up. "Um, guys, we're just roommates," You started to say, but Snorpy was giving you such a knowing look you had to snap your mouth shut.
"Bro, don't try to hide it!" Chandlo laughed, putting an arm around Snorpy's waist. "You feel what you feel, dawg! Are you just roommates?" The two of them grinned.
You looked at Filbo, flabbergasted. His mouth was open slightly, at a loss for words.
"Ah…" Filbo's shoulders hunched slightly, casting you a shy glance. "...Are we…? Just roommates?"
You blinked, feeling your heart stuttering to life in your chest. This wasn’t a question you had even considered up until this point, and you always had questions. Filbo was Filbo to you. Filbo was a friend, a person you gladly shared your space with, a… A companion. “...Are we just roommates? I don’t…” You felt nauseous, starting to realize. You hugged Filbo and got hugged by Filbo all the time. You thought about him whenever you were apart. The two of you cuddled when you watched movies. Your paw went to your mouth in shock. “Are we... dating?”
"I- Buddy, I don’t know, that’s the problem!" Filbo covered his face with his paws, blushing furiously. "Oh my grump…"
"I-" You looked around helplessly. Snorpy looked so smug. "Um, do you want to…? To date? To date me and, and me be, uh, to date, for us to…” Oh god you looked like an idiot.
"I… Well, I'm happy being roommates if that's what you-"
You grabbed his paws, heart in your throat. "I like spending time with you!!" You blurted out. Filbo looked terribly embarrassed, and you let go of his paws like they were made of hot iron. "Sorry- That is-" You felt like you were going to pass out. "I like you a lot, Filbo!"
FIlbo also looked like he wanted to pass out. “Do… Do you like me as a friend?"
"I like you a lot!” You said it like you were trying to apologize. “I-in a romantic sense I mean!” Oh grump, what if he didn’t feel the same way? Everything would be awkward now! You were an awkward person! “But, hey, I like being friends too!” You added, desperately. “Nothing has to change because I just like your company! It's okay if you don't feel the same way-"
Filbo kissed you. You felt that it must have been sweet and romantic, but in that moment you swore you must have blacked out. You blinked and it was over, and you were sitting there stupidly with your fur raised, staring at nothing while everyone else stared at you.
Wordlessly, you reached for the wine.
"You can never tease me again!" Snorpy laughed.
"I knoooow!" You wailed.