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Grillby removed the key from the ignition still singing along with the last song even after changing the station, “With nothing on but the radio,” he swung open the door, “Feel the music playing soft and slow,” enwrapped in the melody now playing only in his head he shut the door with his hip. “You and me and the lights down low,” he looked up to the door of the skeleton brothers’ house suddenly drenched in a rich blue shade.

Gaster was trying his best to contain himself but the penetrating gaze and coy smile managed to freeze him straight down to his hearthstone. Underneath the skeleton’s expression Grillby could do little more than cover his mouth, utterly humiliated by the southern accent he’d been impersonating.

That wasn’t fair. Gaster was never waiting for him outside. The weather was only preferable for those who wished to cook along the sidewalk and those with his own constitution so there was no reason for him to be there.

‘Are you wearing denim?’ Gaster was grinning from cheekbone to cheekbone as he walked along the path with far too much mirth in his magic.

A few pops escaped his mouth before he could find his voice, “Does it look bad?” Orange began to pattern itself back in amongst the blue slowly fighting it out for dominance.

They were just going to walk around town for a bit he hadn’t thought to really dress up or anything. A simple white t-shirt, jeans, a jean jacket, and brown leather dress shoes wasn’t really the best date-wear now that he thought about it. Especially when his partner was dressed in a soft violet button down made of some slick material and a patterned black vest with matching pants.

‘No not at all,’ Gaster affirmed, ‘but I’ve never seen you dress so,’ his hand rolled on his wrist as he processed his thoughts, ‘casual.’

He shrugged, “I’ve been so busy lately I haven’t had much on but my uniform. I guess I just wanted something different.”

Gaster hummed, an ornery brightness illuminated his sockets, ‘Papyrus has a pair of leather boots like in those western movies… I bet they’d fit.’

Just like that the blue across him launched a counterattack against the orange. “I am not wearing cowboy boots.”

‘Come on, I bet they’d look great on you!’

Despite his best effort he began to crackle and pop with a restrained chuckle, “Get in the truck.”

‘I bet I could find them real quick.’

Grillby opened the passenger door and gestured to the seat while he walked back around the truck to get in himself. His partner admitted defeat slumping like a disappointed child into the seat beside him, but it was ruined by the sunny expression still across his teeth.

As they took off down the, still mostly gravel, roads of Camp Gaster lowered the sun visor while he stared out the window. With his WingDings back as his primary language there had been a few changes that they were forced to work around. Most of them were small, inconsequential, Grillby was more than happy to grow more alert to hand bullets suddenly appearing or vague gestures,. He still missed them a few times leaving Gaster to repeat himself but he liked to think those were few and far between. If they weren’t his partner never seemed to draw a lot of attention to it.

Car rides had grown much more difficult however: once his truck was full of chatter as they bantered back and forth or just made observations, now they were taken in silence with only quiet instrumental music strumming between them.

Grillby just wasn’t comfortable enough with driving to try focusing on both the road and interpreting Hands which made longer rides, like this one, feel even longer.

Driving itself still felt far too odd for his tastes, if he could walk somewhere, especially in this heat, he would, but he’d needed the truck for the store so he learned to drive. The poor administrator that gave him his test was white knuckled and terrified the whole time but he proved to be efficient enough. Which resulted in him being one of the first monsters with a registration card and a driver’s license. (To no one's surprise Papyrus was the first.)

He caught Gaster snickering against the glass, “What?”

Instead of signing his answer he merely tapped his shiny black shoe that was propped over the top of his knee. Grillby’s flames wavered across him as he thought before it clicked, “You’re picturing me in a cowboy outfit.”

Gaster’s soft laughter turned clamorous as he nodded enthusiastically, ‘Someday.’

A tuft of hot air escaped him, “Sorry to disappoint you but no.” Gaster reached for the radio dial but Grillby blocked it, “Don’t you dare.” Now that he thought about it this outfit really didn’t do him any favors as far as a counter argument went. After all the teasing and prodding he’d done to Gaster it was finally coming back to him in spades.

The air between them grew companionable but quiet as they both returned to their own windows to focus on. The radio’s violins dimmed in a held diminuendo softly fading away to the somber trumpets when they entered the shopping district.

Gaster pointed out the building he’d been talking about and Grillby pulled into a parking spot in front of it. The outside was a soft pale green color with a hand painted wooden sign hanging above the door. Wide windows gave a plain view to the homey interior and coffee brown floors. He held the door open for Gaster as eager bells jingled with excitement at their arrival.

When the door opened it was obvious by the robust full scent with sweet undertones that they were in a coffee shop. ‘We drove all this way for a cup of coffee?’ Grillby crackled.

‘A specialty cup of coffee,’ Gaster hummed.

‘It’s almost six o’ clock.’

His expression grew resolute, determined, as he turned his attention directly to Grillby, ‘There is never a bad time for coffee.’

Grillby scoffed, ‘Right before bed?’

‘It’s counter productive, truly, but not a bad time.’

The purple cactus monster with wide black eyes adjusted the large flowers atop their head before brushing out the dresslike uniform. She seemed incredibly uncertain as she watched the pair banter back and forth with nothing but their hands. Gaster barely paid her any mind; eyes trapped by the four blackboards filled with handwritten specialty drinks. Grillby decided to ignore the board of fancy drinks and skim along the glass display of pastries searching for something more to his tastes.

Gaster tapped Grillby’s arm once he finally freed himself from the board, ‘Just a black coffee.’

Grillby smirked, ‘You could have done that at home.’

With an obstinate glance he looked back to the board, ‘With a pinch of cinnamon sugar.’

There wasn’t much more he could do then laugh, they’d gone all the way to the other side of town for a cup of run-of-the-mill black coffee. The waitress’s empty black eyes kept darting between the pair her expression fixed into a forced tight smile as she attempted to figure out how to take the order. “A black coffee with a bit of cinnamon sugar in it and a lemon orange muffin.”

Her smile became much more genuine once given instructions she could follow, “Your total is ten.”

Grillby nodded and reached to grab his wallet when Gaster dumped an assorted pile of change and crumpled up bills that couldn’t even remember their proper shape onto the counter. “I’ll pay it’s not a problem,” Grillby offered passing her a crisp bill.

‘No I’ve got it,’ his hands were busy at work as he sorted the change.

The waitress slipped the money into the drawer not catching Hands as any reason to stop before she went to fill the order. Gaster’s shoulders dropped as he began to scoop the money back into the drawstring pouch leaving a collection of dirt on the counter. “Where do you want to sit?” When Gaster turned to survey the nearly empty cafe Grillby carefully burned the dirt off of the counter with his hand.

Gaster darted over to the tall bar stools and high tables lined against the large open window. “You sure?” Grillby glanced over to a sofa couch that wrapped around a small table on the far side of the room. It was considerably darker plus it faced away from the window but he heard the barstool’s legs screech against the stone floor before he could propose anything.

Sunlight filtered through the open window, unyielding but warm. As wonderful as it made his joints feel he doubted it was good for Gaster. They’d been on several dates out in the sun but they tended to be short, contained, outings. If they were just going to meander around town after this it would be best to not sit directly under the light source now.

Gaster rested his chin against the top of his fist staring at him with furrowed brows,‘I had the money.’

“I like to treat you,” he shrugged.

‘And sometimes I want to return the favor.’

“Here’s your order,” the waitress nearly tossed the muffin off the plate when both of her customers flinched.

“Sorry, it looks lovely thank you,” Grillby exhaled as he took the muffin from her. She dismissed herself once her arms were free with the promise she’d be back if they needed anything else.

Gaster seemed to shut the world away for a moment as he took a long slow drink, ‘That’s some fine coffee.’

“I didn’t realize you liked coffee so much,” he pulled off a few pieces of muffin to plop in his mouth. Moist, well balanced flavors between the citrus and the bread, not exactly memorable but it was hard for a muffin to be extraordinary.

‘It’s my go-to destresser,’ he held the cup firmly between his hands to take in the warmth leaving a pair of hand bullets to finish his thought: ‘sometimes all I need to do is hold a mug between my hands and everything just feels better.’

Grillby gently cupped the back of one of Gaster’s hands with his own, “Everything alright?”

‘Yeah,’ he squinted as if reading a script in the distance, ‘I’m fine.’

“You sure?” His voice popped in his mouth as he lowered his already quiet volume.

‘I’ve just been thinking a lot lately,’ his free hand discarded its’ grip on the cardboard cup to trace along the top of Grillby’s hand, ‘about the future.’

He shook his head with a bit of a sad laugh, ‘Back when I was the Royal Scientist I was revered as a visionary leader, a futurist! But I only ever focused on the task at hand… I never really thought about it.’

‘And now I have this second chance and my life is so different than I ever imagined it.’

“I hope it’s the good kind of different.”

This seemed to take him a moment, ‘You’re definitely the good kind of different,’ he squeezed his fingers around Grillby’s which returned the gesture. ‘The future didn’t have a place for me… That’s what I was told. And now with you, with my sons, on the surface, I have the opportunity to do something that always terrified me.’

“I am happy to be here for you.”

Gaster nodded in acknowledgement before he released the top of Grillby’s hand to take a drink. ‘Did you know this shop was inspired to open because of you?’

The abrupt change in subject left Grillby sparking a bit before he shook his head. ‘You were the first monster to really regain what they had in the Underground… in the city. Amongst the humans in a time that they were still so wary.’

‘You might not think much of it but Grillby’s was a cornerstone towards humans and monsters truly integrating with one another.’

Small tufts of blue danced with hot magentas as he tried to sort out how he felt, “I just liked the lot…”

Gaster smiled and suddenly his flames decided on their natural tone his nerves melted away in the wake of Gaster’s light. ‘And that’s you. You just move in the direction you want until you get to where you're going…’ His eyelights grew soft, sockets half lidded, a content smile across his whole form, ‘and you don’t even notice the path you burn for others.’

If it wasn’t for how much he knew Gaster hated kissing in public he would have leaned across the table right then and there. He didn’t know how to say just how strong he felt Gaster was, how much he admired his tenacity, the way he threw himself into subjects he knew nothing about without a second of hesitation. Gaster didn’t know how many times Grillby had given up. How many times he tried to pack up and move back to the Underground where things made sense. That if it wasn’t for the kindness of his friends he wouldn’t have ever succeeded.

Stars, he just wanted to tell Gaster all of these things and, where his flames were happily chatting away they weren’t in words his partner could understand. If he could just kiss him his magic would speak for him. ‘I love you too,’ Gaster signed with his physical hands.

Grillby nodded as he rediscovered how to make his words leave his throat, “I love you.”

‘So much.’

“So what’s this future you’re thinking of?”

Immediately the softness in his eyelights hardened as he steeled himself for the conversation he needed but didn’t exactly want. ‘I am happy with you, with us,’ the words seemed to tickle at his teeth as his smile curled sharp but bashful.

Much to Grillby’s disdain Gaster quickly dismissed the endearing expression, ‘Sorry, I don’t know if I’ll ever really be used to saying things like that.’

“I hope you don’t.” Gaster scrutinized him, “I’d miss those cute shy expressions of yours.”

He covered his cheekbones briefly as if he could physically feel whether he was blushing or not, ‘Well I hope I do.’ He stated obstinately with an ornery glint in his sockets.

The light dimmed however as he returned to the task at hand,‘This,’ he gestured between the pair of them, ‘isn’t anything I ever thought I’d want or I certainly would have tried this sooner.’

“But?” His soul was starting to shake in its’ hearthstone and he hoped to finish this conversation before paranoid greens leaked through from his core.

‘I’m not happy with me,’ he signed hurriedly before he grabbed his drink and took a shot of coffee. Grillby had seen enough drunkards to know that’s exactly what had just happened. When he pulled the cup away he shook his head, ‘Forget about it,’ he dismissed the conversation with a wave of his hand but Grillby caught it in his grip.

He lowered Gaster’s hand to the table and burned his flames just a bit warmer. Slowly he ran his index finger and thumb down each boney digit lingering at every joint. Gaster just needed to bind his nerves a bit tighter, he needed to speak, but Grillby knew he couldn’t coax the words out of him. So he worked along each long elegant finger first along the sides then across the top before he traced just outside the holes in Gaster’s palms burning as soothing of a warmth as he could.

Gaster wasn’t the type of monster to stay satisfied without a project or something to work on. It was why his ancient truck he’d bought for a few hundred bucks was back to firing on all cylinders. Gaster had torn the thing apart to modify with hunks of metal from junkyards and dumpsters that he’d poured his science magic into. There was little Grillby could do but watch in amazement as the monster worked and occasionally pass him a tool his busy mind had misplaced.

As much as he wanted to look into those focused sockets he knew if he dared his partner would change the subject. So he kept himself occupied warming his hands until he had his thoughts together enough to use them to speak.

With a subtle shake of uncertainty Gaster took his hands back, ‘I want something to work towards.’

“And what is that?”

He bowed his head as if in prayer staring diligently at the lid of his coffee, ‘I would like to be a Professor of Medical Sciences.’ Before Grillby could even say anything Gaster’s head was up as he frantically defended himself, ‘I know there’s a language barrier and I know it’s a lot of work but I want to study how humans have come so far without a drop of green magic to them, I want to learn the workings of the medical field, and I want to pass on these things I’ve learned to those who share an interest.’

‘I’m just,’ his gesture fell flat before he scooped it off of the table, ‘ready to be someone again.’

“Bun,” he hummed, “that sounds perfect for you.” With the exception of his voice he really was suited for the profession and at a college or university there would be an endless amount of research he could perform with tools always in his reach. There wasn’t any difficulty seeing the monster in a nice clean suit just a little bit out of place after he got distracted in a lab on some grand project or another. “And you are someone,” he stated a bit firmly, “who I care about very much.”

There was a quiet smile in his eyelights that didn’t quite reach his teeth before he reached for Grillby’s hands. With a gentle squeeze he said more than his hands could muster, more than his teeth would dare. Like he had said: he was happy with them which warmed the flame’s soul like a summer sigh.

“Can I ask why you still feel like you aren’t?”

‘It’s not as bad as it was,’ he assured him, ‘I don’t think dark corners mean I’m looking through screens, I don’t feel completely detached as often, but… I’m not doing anything. I’m only existing and I’m pretty poor at that as it is.’

‘My sons, you, you’re constantly having to dote on me. I want to go to places without someone wondering if I’m going to shut down. I want to do things that no one else would enjoy and not feel like I’m forcing someone to come along. I...I want to buy my own cup of coffee with money I made.’

‘And I know,’ he clenched his hands into fists, ‘I know you all care about me. That you’re happy to do these things because of that. I just… I’ve always been independent--’

“I get it,” Grillby assured him, “You were the Royal Scientist you’re used to independence and,” he sighed, “I know I’ve been… a bit overprotective.” At least he hoped it only came off as overprotective because whenever he got in these, fits? Was that the right word? He just couldn’t help himself, he had to make sure he was okay, had to ask as much, had to wrap his arms around him and assure him that everything was going to be okay. It was a sensation that burned deep in his core blistering and festering until he did something about it. “But I really do think you’re capable I’m just… prone to worrying.”

‘It’s how you show you care,’ Gaster shrugged, ‘same as Papyrus actually, though, perhaps a bit more physical and less verbal.’ Grillby watched the transition from nervously uncertain Gaster into the Royal Scientist as the monster adjusted his posture into full properness. ‘As often as I find myself bothered by it I understand it's simply an effect of my instabilities. Which is also why you are the only one I can trust with this question.’

Grillby crackled nervously, red entered his form before he could do anything about it while he nodded stiffly.

Gaster observed the changes with a bit of a condescending smirk, ‘Do you think I am stable enough to attend school this semester?’

Immediately ‘no’ pressed itself to the outreaches of his flames but he kept his mouth shut. Gaster was doing so much better. Grillby had been delighted to point out the white cracks in his void tainted magic, even more so when his partner grew so elated about it. Plus they’d managed to determine his triggers: crowded areas, overlapping noises, aggressive behaviors, and stress, plain, simple stress. All of these were in bulk on a college campus, at least if Fuku’s stories were to be believed.

Grillby leaned against the glass of the window taking in the excessive heat just outside the air conditioned compartment. “What did Sans and Papyrus think?”

He chuckled obviously having anticipated the aversion, ‘They are far too excited that I’m trying to move on from the decades I missed to give any sort of sound opinion.’

“I am proud of you too!”

‘I know.’

But that wasn’t the subject at hand. Stars, he hated being on the spot especially when everything in him was still telling him ‘no’ was the correct answer. How was he supposed to say that without hurting his feelings?

Grillby’s features were masked by a wall of flames until finally he let out a sigh, ‘Could I have some more time to think about it?’

Gaster blinked, his brows knit together before his expression loosened, ‘Oh my, yes! I’ve been yammering on about this dreadful subject for far too long, then I just throw that at you. I’m sorry.’

Tension left Grillby’s shoulders, then his neck, before he felt his soul thrum in a healthy beat, “Not like that, this is important, I just want to process it.” He rubbed at his knuckles, “I’m glad you can tell me these things.” The Gaster he’d kissed in front of a dumpster amidst a panic attack wouldn’t have ever dared such a conversation, neither would the one that hid away when his Font returned, it was another mark of just how far he’d come.

They slipped off their barstools and disposed of their remainders in the nearby trash bin before they bid farewell to the waitress.

The sidewalk desired nothing more than to scorch away the soles of their shoes but the couple hardly paid it any mind. Grillby wrapped his hand around Gaster’s, relieved that his partner lacked the nerves for his touch to become unbearable in this heat. His flames moved freely wherever they were exposed giving their shadows a hard time finding a place across the asphalt. The weight of their conversation drifted away as they made their way along the strip.

Grillby wasn’t ever one for shopping for anything more than groceries and it seemed Gaster just prefered to window shop pausing at every display along the way to take in the mannequins or sale signs. Their hands remained locked as nothing seemed quite worth mentioning; even if Gaster’s sockets told a different story.

Everything was information to him worthy of being thoroughly analyzed no matter how tacky, odd, or ugly it might be. Perhaps that was why it was so easy for him to get overwhelmed. If that was the case then it would make sense that he preferred window shopping. Grillby on the other hand rarely saw a point in looking unless it was a gift or for the bar.

Kitchen supplies were his weakness however. His grip tightened on Gaster’s hand when he prepared to move on before Grillby was ready. The display was a huge top down view of a summer barbecue set. A glorious grill was loaded with charcoal on one side, wood on the other, for grilling and smoking. Lots of wonderfully pristine wood handled knives spilled out of their holder alongside fake hotdogs and hamburgers. The grip on the spatula handle seemed to be just the perfect length for cooking with fire.

That was something they could have done this summer. As much as Grillby physically adored the season’s sunlight it always gave him far too much energy with too few outlets. When you asked anyone what they did in the summer swimming was always the top of the list but that was out of the question, for obvious reasons. Vacations were too costly plus there wasn’t anything out there he felt he couldn’t do here. They’d had a few picnics out in their favorite meadow but it didn’t feel like anything they were meant to do this time of year.

Grilling though? Grilling said summer.

‘I’m surprised you don’t have an outdoor grill,’ a pair of hand bullets signed, their reflection caught Grillby’s attention enough to read them.

He pulled himself out of his reverie, “I live on the second floor of a restaurant, I don’t have a place for one.”

‘Well, maybe sometime this fall we could have a family picnic or something. We could use one of those grills they have stationed out by the lake for common use?’

“We could borrow Asgore’s.”

‘Yes,’ Gaster smiled, ‘I’m sure he’d be more than happy to help.’ His eyelights seemed to spark at the idea, ‘It would be nice to invite everyone and make a feast of it! Between you and Toriel there would be more food than anyone could dare to eat.’

After a while of staring dreamily at the idea floating amongst crisp orange leaves they made their way further along the shops. They were a bit more chatty now making open commentary but they still didn’t find anywhere worth going in. Gaster scoped out a confectionary with all the excitement of a child but when asked if he wanted to go in he shook his head.

‘Can’t have you melting all the sweets after all,’ he teased.

By the time they were almost back up along the other side of the street to the coffee shop they were pretty much done looking. All of the clothing stores were blending together and it wasn’t like they had much of a need for jewelry. But one last shop caught Grillby’s attention.

He clasped his hand around his mouth to stop the soft ‘aw’ that wanted to escape him as he stared at the sky blue baby footie pajamas. Stars, how long had it been since Fuku wore something like that? She detested the color even as a spark but it complimented her flames so well, at least he thought so. Maybe the Snowdin Shopkeeper had put some sort of enchantment on it since that pair had lasted longer than anything else when she went through her clothes burning stage.

Now she was in college, on the surface, attending classes with human students far from the Ebott they’d been entrapped in. Far from him. She’d made him so unbelievably happy in a time where he’d believed he’d always been alone and was too afraid to reach out for help. Even when he so desperately needed it. If it wasn’t for her being such a dedicated attention grabber he wondered what he’d be like now.

He leaned heavily against, Gaster who had to brace himself a little, “Were Sans and Papyrus ever that small?”

‘Surely at some point. I didn’t meet them until they were older.’ Oh, right, he remembered that it just slipped his mind.

‘I regret that I haven’t met her yet… I know how much she means to you, we just seem to keep missing each other.’

“No,” he tapped his hand to the glass, “she’s planned it that way. Even if she’s so far away I don’t think she really likes the idea of sharing.”

Gaster furrowed his brows, ‘What do you mean she planned it?’

“She’s way smarter than I am,” Grillby folded his arms. “I talk a lot about you, she knows you couldn’t handle crowds well so of course she goes to the Snowdin Gyftmas, she spontaneously shows up on a weekend you were out of town with your sons, and the fireworks festival a few weeks ago?”

‘I really wanted to go to that one,’ he picked absently at his sleeve, ‘the movies always make it look so spectacular… then I heard Fuku was going and I tried, I really did… I watched videos of showcases and turned the volume up as loud as I could bear or I would drop things down stairs just to get used to the noise.’

Grillby fizzed for a moment imagining it, “You really didn’t have to go through all that.”

‘I had to try,’ he shrugged, letting his arms flop to his sides before picking them up again, ‘she means so much to you and it’s a part of your life I know nothing about.’

“She’ll come around eventually.”

They stood there a bit awkwardly unsure what to do with themselves as they stared at the assorted baby clothes. Soft plushes in blush tones stared up at them from an assortment of toys in a basket, tiny shoes were organized in little cubbies, and a stroller was decorated with signs for all of its safety features. Grillby swore once Fuku was old enough he’d never again have to stare at such things but now, he genuinely missed it.

‘I really thought I was going to be able to handle the fireworks… I wanted to meet Fuku and, well, in the movies it’s always—’ his hands stilled successfully trailing off into some unfinished breath. Grillby had a good guess what it was going to be, he pulled out his phone and skimmed over the baseball schedule. The sun was just barely hanging on to the end of the world dotting the sky with a dark blue night and a fatigued sunset that recoiled from the stars.

“How do you feel?” Grillby pocketed his phone casually.

He pulled back from the question before he mentally went through his checklist, ‘I’m alright.’

“You sure?”

‘Yes.’

Grillby grabbed his hand, “Then I have something to show you.”

They roamed the city streets until the black asphalt lead to dark trunks and green foliage. Gaster had an easier time than he did passing by snagging bushes or over snared roots as if it was just second nature to him. The monster always just seemed so at home out in nature, something he usually wouldn’t associate with the sciency type. As they slipped around a tall branching tree Gaster suddenly paused staring it up and down. ‘Is this mystery time sensitive?’

“What do you want to do?” Without another word Gaster hooked his glossy black dress shoe between a pair of ‘y’ shaped branches while his hand reached out for a thinner one right above his head. “Gaster! You’re going to break your neck!” A chuckle was the only thing that turned in his direction as he scaled higher up. Grillby burned as brightly as he could to illuminate the branches hoping to make the situation a little less precarious. Soaked in the light from the flame Gaster stretched his long body across a wide branch that jut out of the tree awkwardly.

“Satisfied?”

Gaster nodded.

The pair stared at each other: Grillby was afraid to take his eyes off of him in case something terrible happened but Gaster had a light hearted smirk and soft eyelights. ‘There. Now we’re even.’

Grillby blinked, “What do you mean?”

‘When we were-- when I was… Nevermind the specifics they’re complicated.’ A pair of hand bullets appeared not too far from Grillby but he refused to take his flecks off of Gaster. ‘We were in the Underground, laying in the last sunspot that had yet to be transformed into a harvest spot, just staring up at the sky we couldn’t see through the barrier.’

‘I asked you what you wanted to do… When we got back to the Surface. You thought about it in silence for a long time but just as I thought you drifted to sleep you answered: a tavern.’

‘It was something we’d talked about a lot, but it wasn’t until that moment I realized that you genuinely believed it, as if you’d etched it into your hearthstone.’

“I guess I haven’t changed much at all then.” Whether that was a good thing or a bad thing he wasn’t entirely certain.

‘You wanted it to be that safe place we’d never seen on the Surface, away from war, away from humans, just a tiny slice of the world where nothing mattered but good food, good drink, and good friends. It was going to be the lighthouse, or the guiding star you were always meant to be… and you did it Grillby. The world isn’t the same as it was, but you did it.’

“You make a bar sound like a heroic thing.”

‘No… you did.’ Grillby rubbed his arm awkwardly and fought to keep his flecks trained on the affectionate eyelights in the branches above. ‘Grillby’s has always been remarkable.’

Alright, no more compliments, his soul couldn’t take it: “And what did you seek to accomplish oh grand Royal Scientist?” If they were just kids he highly doubted tiny Gaster would have mustered anything quite as impressive as the Core for a response but he was always focused on something.

‘I didn’t remember what I told you for the longest time, I was just so caught up in how amazing you were. We might not have ever been together like we are now but I always respected you as everything I couldn’t see in myself.’

“Well, what did you say to me back then?”

Gaster chuckled, ‘I told you, that once monsters were free of the Underground… I was going to climb a tree.’ Grillby sparked having anticipated a thousand things before something so simple. Gaster seemed to enjoy the response his sockets creased with happiness. ‘I’d forgotten all about it until just now.’

“I guess we are even then.” A restaurant, climbing a tree, it was about the same level of ambitious.

‘Nothing to look to but the future now that the past is all tied up.’

Grillby pulled out his phone, “Speaking of the future we need to get going.”

Focused but cautious eyelights traced the branches below him but just as Grillby wondered if he was stuck the skeleton dropped from the tree. With a quick adrenaline filled step forward Grillby caught his featherlight partner between both his arms, “Dings! Don’t you dare do that again!” His chest heaved as if his soul had been replaced by a herd of hummingbirds, his flames hung lazy, tired, and gray about him as he stared in disbelief at his partner who was in turn staring up at him with a matching expression.

‘What did you just call me?’ Hope rolled off of the monster like strands of cotton candy set free from the bin. What did he just call him that made him react like that?

“Bun?” He tried.

‘No,’ he shook his head, ‘you called me D-I-N-G-S.’

“That’s your first name…” His mind raced against the fog in the labyrinth of his lost memories trying to place what he’d forgotten. Gaster hated his first name though so why would he want Grillby to call him that? Well, it was fairly old fashioned to refer to him by his last name, “Do you want me to call you WingDings?”

‘Stars no, I hate it!’

“Then, why--”

‘For a long time that was my only name,’ he placed his hand on Grillby’s shoulder as he slid out of his arms to land on his feet, ‘and you… always called me Dings. Unless you were angry with me or after the boys where I begged you to call me Gaster.’

Gaster squinted as his thoughts roamed into the distance, ‘I used to roll out of trees all the time and it always upset you… Do you remember?’

Grillby wrapped his hand around Gaster’s urging him further up the hill as he thought, and thought, his soul was pulsing strong enough it felt like his Core was vibrating. Somewhere deep inside he had to remember to have blurted it out so plainly, but he couldn’t find it. Every corridor he traveled down only lead to another pointless dead end. There was something there or he wouldn’t have said that.

The footsteps that echoed as he chased a pointless memory froze abruptly when something cold but comforting pressed against his cheek, ‘I love you.’

Disappointment settled across him as he found himself back to the start of his dreary maze, “I love you too…” It came out half hearted, he didn’t mean for it to, he was just so tired of trying to remember a monster he loved so much. They’d spent their entire life together, so much had happened between them, they’d survived so much, and now he couldn’t remember any of it. His flames grew close to his Core as his disposition soured.

Gaster squeezed his hand, ‘What’s this surprise?’

“It’s just at the top of the hill,” Grillby supplied. If nothing else he was fairly certain he would get a smile and a kiss out of this then his bitter thoughts would hardly matter.

Beautiful silver stars spread high above their heads turning the black of the sky into a brilliant navy sparkling like the sea at sunset. For a while they stared up into the universe soaking in that feeling of being so small but so proud that the sky would bother to smile so unabashedly at them despite this. The air was so clear up here leaving behind all of the lingering smells of the city they looked down upon.

‘How did you know about this place?’ Gaster asked as he grabbed a blanket from his inventory. It furled out splendidly quick to be caught by another set of hands that lowered it precisely to the ground.

“Fuku likes the shopping district quite a bit and we always went hiking before lunch.”

Grillby sat on the blanket leaning heavily on his right arm as Gaster lined his left shoulder. ‘Sounds like a pleasant memory.’

It really was. He liked to prepare foods with a high citrus level so they could tease one another about the way their flames reacted. Sparks would fall from them without fear of insult or injury free from the stipulations of being a living flame in a fire wary society. Tonight would be another pleasant memory atop the grand hill.

‘So the surprise?’ The way Gaster shifted it was obvious he was growing anxious.

“We’ve got a few more minutes.”

‘O.K,’ he wrapped his arm around Grillby’s. ‘Have you given any more thought to school?’

He took a steadying breath and decided it best to just speak from the soul. “I don’t think you’re ready to sit side by side with humans in a stressful environment involving a constant flow of work… I’m sorry.”

Gaster’s shoes caught his attention as he observed the scuffs the tree had caused in an effort to seem indifferent. ‘I see. Thank you for being honest…’ He chuckled, ‘I’ve come so far in the last year or so, maybe by next semester I’ll be ready.’

“You don’t have to wait to start.”

‘What do you mean?’

“Have you heard of online classes? You still get to do the coursework but you don’t have to deal with other students that much.”

‘That…’ he held his hands still as his mind raced to catch up, ‘sounds like a good idea. Yes, then if I can handle the workload stress with minor incident next semester I can try a class or two! And I could always study on campus!’ Grillby couldn’t help but smile as the hands kept rolling out his reasonings for why online classes would be so beneficial and how clever Grillby was for thinking of them.

Just as the monster was about to start a tirade of compliments his hands froze while his eyelights widened in wonderment. The sky was lit with a brilliant purple sphere that splayed out with a soft pop before raining gently away just as another replaced it. Before long the sky was filled with purples, blues, reds, and yellows as explosion after explosion stained itself against the majesty of the universe.

Gaster ignored the lingering summer heat to curl as tightly as he could against Grillby never daring to take his eyes off of the sky. His expression was childlike in its’ wonder as if the entire world had just opened up to him for the first time, and maybe it was. It was only a matter of time before Gaster shown as brightly for all of Ebott as he did for Grillby. School was his next step, he had no doubt the monster would see it through.

Grillby’s eyes disappeared behind his flames as he thought of his own future. Nothing really came to mind though as he was content with the way things were. Eventually he’d like to add more handmade brews to his menu, the one he had was appalling to most after all. Once Fuku was done with school he wanted to help her settle into a little house where she could happily pursue her dreams.

Aside from that, his eyes fell to Gaster, he knew Gaster would be there. Well, perhaps he just hoped the monster would be a part of his future so long that the past didn’t matter. He hoped to spend days in the sunlight talking about anything and everything and the nights under the star’s twinkling eyes.

Gaster smiled up to him his eyelights round and more intoxicating than the moon above, a fond smile was painted across every feature. In that moment Grillby knew something he hadn’t even recognized before: “I’d marry that smile.”

‘You- you would what?’

He sparked adding to the dancing lights of fireflies around them, he’d said that out loud? Magenta freckled underneath the rim of his glasses but a bashful smirk crossed his jack o’lantern mouth. No, he really would. There was nothing more that he wanted than to see Gaster smile, to watch him scrunch his brows together as he worked on something puzzling, to hold him when the world seemed lost, to just be with him made his soul feel like the bursts of color still filling the air. “I would,” he confirmed to both himself and his companion. He placed his forehead against Gaster’s, “I’d marry that smile and everything attached to it.”

Gaster covered his mouth, his eyelights somewhere between traumatized and mesmerized as they shook subtly in their sockets. ‘You’d really want to spend forever… with me?’

“Yes. I really do.” There was a sharp inhale from his partner as he tried and failed to think of something to say.

“Of course not just yet,” Grillby rested against both of his hands, “you still need to meet Fuku and we should probably live together for a while first,” he nodded in agreeance with himself. “I love you Gaster,” his soul pulsed a myriad of colors through him, “and,” he grabbed Gaster’s hand, “I want to love you forever.”

Poor Gaster’s mind was racing his eyelights spinning circles about themselves as he tried to process how to respond but it all came to a halt when he squeezed on Grillby’s hand. He stared down at their conjoined hands watching the flames moves across the back of Grillby’s hand before he pulled away, ‘You really don’t--’ He clamped his teeth shut and took a noticeable breath, ‘One year.’

“Hm?”

‘Our one year anniversary,’ his eyelights were fixated on Grillby’s glasses, ‘I want to spend a bit more time with my sons… but if you still feel the same then I will gladly move in with you.’

He had to still a rattle, ‘I--’ His hands twisted and turned in the air in meaningless gestures until a twisted smile curled across his features, ‘Does this mean I get to see you in cowboy boots?’

Well that ruined the moment, Grillby was about to say as much when suddenly he was knocked on his back by a surprising amount of force. His chest was draped by his partner and his mouth a pleasant cold that beat away the lingering heat of the day.

The future was uncertain but if he could just have more of this, more of them, then he knew it was going to be bright. Behind them the fireworks entered their finale throwing brilliant shades across them as they soaked in the others adoration dreaming of a future they could share.