This was the day that Sollux Captor went on a shopping trip.

But it was not just any shopping trip. This excursion had been months in the making. The impetus came after dragging himself across the street to Karkat's while Eridan went to retrieve his guitar from the Core. The minute Sollux got through the door he was sat at the table and interrogated about the previous night like he'd been seen committing a murder. After his confession, he was impressed by how affronted Karkat managed to look over receiving information that he'd demanded to have.

"I can't believe you. After all the shit that happened last night, you decided that the best way to handle it was to whisk the fucking nexus of disaster off to a bed to nail him?"

"Well, I wouldn't really say that the person doing the nailing was me," Sollux replied thoughtfully.

"Stop!" Karkat yelled, throwing his hands in front of him as if Sollux had just unleashed a swarm of bees from his mouth instead of a few words. "I don't need the sordid details, you shameless fuck. What about my current demeanor suggests that I want to know the specifics of whatever sort of debauchery the two of you got up to last night? I'll answer it for you: none. None of my demeanor suggests that. It's like my demeanor is a butler, only instead of taking your mantle of shame and hanging it neatly beside the door, he takes the coat rack and breaks it over your fucking head."

"So you admit that your demeanor is still in undeniable obligation to me?" Sollux sat back in his chair, grinning.

Karkat gnashed at the air for a few seconds before retorting, "No, fuck you, what part of a metaphorical head-bashing gives you any indication that I want to remain in this fucking indentured servitude you call a friendship? No. No, I will not take any more of your sex coats, Sollux Captor, consider this my formal fucking resignation."

Sollux rolled his eyes. "Okay, but do I at least get some kind of severance package or whatever?"

"Okay, I realize that your lengthy sabbatical from the working world has probably made you ignorant to this fact, but you are the one that gives me the severance, not the other way around, dipshit."

"What about a last request then? Like, an informal favor between chums?"

"Fuck you and fuck your chumhood. I've doused that bridge in kerosene and lit the match. I am watching it burn up like the fucking Hindenburg."

Sollux ran his fingers through his hair, his face a grinning contrast to Karkat's frown. "Can we just back up for a second to take mutual note of the fact that our friendship bridge is in flames over me getting laid?"

Karkat glowered from beneath his mop of dark hair. "That's an excellent reason to burn our friendship bridge, which, may I remind you, wasn't exactly the height of fucking construction in the first place. Not when it was originally made out of balsa wood by a couple of retarded middle schoolers who thought that Nerf warfare was the fucking apex of human experience."

"You're just bitter because I won most of those plastic gun battles," Sollux snickered. "Anyway, since we're going the route of reminiscence, I was actually wondering a few things about GZ." His face was still bright, but his smile was no longer the easy curve that it had been a few moments before.

Karkat pointed an accusatory finger at him. "Fuck you, that is an illegal topic change."

"Fuck your topic changes, I make the rules here." His lips quirked up briefly but his voice was firm.

Karkat stood with his finger leveled for a few more seconds before sighing and yanking out a chair. He then plopped into it, leaning over the kitchen table and staring at his hands. "Fine, whatever. What do you want to know?"

Sollux pulled himself out of his reclined position in order to hunch over the table along with Karkat. "Well, first I guess… Is he okay?"

"Sure. He brought you a pie, didn't he? Isn't the state of Gamzee's happiness directly correlated to the number of pies he bakes on any given day? Didn't we figure out a formula fort that or some shit?"

Sollux snorted. "I'm pretty sure it was based on a ten point scale where one pie was equivalent to two points of happiness and brownies were worth one."

"Yeah, and you spent a good hour making the case that each pie should get 3.14 points because you're a huge fucking nerd."

"Yes, well, the empirical methods of mood measurement have clearly determined in a really objective way that pies are definitely worth two points of GZ's happiness. You sure out-scienced me on that one, KK."

Karkat lifted his eyes from his hands and glared. "Flattery will get you nowhere, fucknuts. Do you have any further inquiries or can I start hacking up the charred remains of our friendship bridge with my chump-buster ax?"

"I haven't even gotten started," Sollux replied, his voice sharpening. "Like has he ever done that before? Freak out like that? I know you two were friends in grade school, so maybe you know something about it."

This time he didn't receive an immediate retort. Karkat played with his fingers for a bit, at last grabbing the salt and beginning to spin it on the table. Sollux watched the tiny white grains fall out of the silver top.

"Sure."

Sollux blinked. "What, you mean that you know something? Or that he's done that before?"

"I was really only trying to answer the first question. But I guess 'sure' effectively addresses both." Karkat's voice was distant. He pressed a thumb to a mound of salt grains.

Sollux watched for a moment before he finally replied. "So you weren't really surprised by what he did?"

Karkat lifted his shoulders before putting his chin on the table. "I don't know. Yes and no. It is Gamzee, so it's surprising in some respects. But not in others."

Sollux frowned, ducking down to meet Karkat's eyes. "What do you mean?"

"Things used to be shitty for him. I forget that a lot. But I think he forgets too sometimes, you know? These days I feel like I remember more of his past than he does. And I think he wants it that way. So that's why it's surprising when shit comes up that brings the memories crashing back in. I think it's surprising for him too. Almost like he's sitting on some hippy beach and managing to forget about the tide every time it goes out. But that's the thing about tides. They always come back in. And they fuck up everyone's adorable little sandcastles when they do."

Sollux leaned back in his chair. There was something about Karkat—the way his mouth was buried in his arms, the fact that he refused to look up or lift his head from the table—that made Sollux feel as if he shouldn't get too close.

But he did speak. "Is it something you can talk about?"

Karkat shook his head, brown eyes fluttering shut. "No. Like I said, if Gamzee wants to forget about it, then I'm not going to go around spreading things. I'll just sit on the beach with my little seismometer, trying to predict when the next fucking tsunami is going to roll up the coast."

Sollux shifted in his seat, hooking his thumbs under the table. "And you don't want help with that?"

"No. I feel like one stupid asshole poring over a couple squiggly lines and misreading the fuck out of them is all Gamzee needs. Thanks for the offer, though."

Sollux nodded, staring down at his knees. "Yeah."

"Anyway," Karkat said, banging the table, "I need to get dressed for work."

Sollux blinked. "But it's Saturday. I thought the call center was closed on Saturdays."

"Stupidity doesn't take days off," Karkat replied, pushing himself to his feet. "And I have to be there to answer ignorance's call and shed the rays of divine enlightenment down upon all my drooling disciples."

Sollux grimaced. "Sounds like a blast."

The response he received was not the one he'd expected. Karkat gave a tiny smile and a shrug before saying, "No. But sometimes yelling at someone else for being an idiotic shitstain is better than sitting alone and saying those things to yourself."

He was quiet for a moment, and Sollux held the silence on his tongue as well, watching him. At last, Karkat gave a chuckle and flicked the pepper over so it was lying beside the salt. "So yeah. I'm going to shower and put on a shirt that doesn't have a picture of joystick on it. I'm sure some psychoanalytic asshole will find it remotely phallic."

"To be honest, you really don't have to be a psychoanalytic asshole to find that phallic."

"Why don't you go suck a phallus, shithead," Karkat replied, flipping Sollux off as he retreated from the kitchen.

Sollux stood, leering as he followed Karkat out into the hall. "Maybe I will."

"Yeah, you'd like that."

"I have a rather nice phallus waiting at home for the loving embrace of my mou—"

"Sollux, get the fuck out of this house."

So he did. He retreated back across the street to Eridan's with the full intent of making good on all the talk of phallus sucking. At least he did until Eridan caught him at the door, dragging him inside to chatter endlessly about his new position with Vriska at the Core.

And Sollux had been happy. At first.

But then Monday came. And he found himself lying alone on the purple comforter, up to his eyeballs in hex codes (he wasn't going to give pink leaves to the Alternian trees by blinking at them), waiting for the sun to dip. And once it had, the front door opened and the house was suddenly submerged under a deluge of complaints. Apparently Vriska's elevated status had sunk back down to "horrid bitch" territory and Eridan was never going back there again because how can you be expected to remember twenty different syrup combinations after just one day, Sol?

After sharing a comforting tin of Chinese and putting in a movie that they hardly even blinked at due to more pressing preoccupations, Eridan seemed miraculously cured. So much so that he woke up the next morning and went back for more punishment.

And Sollux was left alone again. This time he was up to his eyeballs in PMs from people on the message boards telling him that he'd been slacking egregiously on covering the most recent Minecraft patch updates.

He sent a few succinct replies telling his correspondents to go suck a giant bowl of dicks.

It was after about two weeks of bouncing back and forth between crushing solitude and asphyxiating demands for solace that he finally snapped and thought that maybe Karkat had a point.

That was when Sollux Captor got a job.

In retrospect he might have taken Karkat's words a bit too literally during the first week of his application process. Either that or he was just feeling particularly masochistic after one of Eridan's more taxing dinnertime drama spiels. Whatever the reason, he somehow dropped an application off at a local tech store offering himself up like some martyr of computer science to work the customer service desk.

And of course that was the job he got.

After two days of dealing with specimens of the most technologically brain dead that the human race had to offer, he wasn't sure if he didn't prefer dealing with Eridan's drama and the press of idiots flooding his inbox on the forums. He said as much to Karkat, who simply regarded him with a cocked eyebrow and the affirmation that it was his peerless rancor for the dregs of humanity that would keep him coming back day after day.

And, day after day, he was right.

In a way it had a certain appeal. Nights became almost like a friendly romp through the depths of human stupidity as he and Eridan compared work days, each trying to trump the other in terms of idiots dealt with. The arguments usually fizzled out with no decided victor as they turned their attention instead to Minecraft or Team Fortress 2 (which Eridan was hilariously bad at). World of Warcraft was another frequent diversion, one that Eridan had only agreed to take up again on the condition that they reap bloody vengeance on all those who had provided him insult during his first excursion through the game. It was a provision that Sollux was more than happy to oblige on account of one of his favorite activities being to deal out mass carnage to shitty players.

Other nightly activities involved bickering over music, bickering over the remote, bickering over the bathroom, bickering over whose turn it was to get groceries, and various other things. The arguments usually ended in the bedroom or the shower or even the kitchen table, with one party eventually conceding defeat simply due to sheer post-coital exhaustion.

This person was usually Sollux.

It was on one nightly run to Walgreens to pick up a bottle of mouthwash ("Because my teeth need the extra whitenin' from all the coffee drinkin' I've been doin' lately, it's becomin' a serious fuckin' problem") that Sollux decided that he was in sore need of a vehicle. His resolution was more firmly cemented by the fact that the night sky decided to dump about eight gallons of chilly rainwater over him on his way back home.

And so the job provided him with the income to take out a loan on a shitty used car that Vriska managed to find after fishing through her bottomless barrel of connections. This particular contact happened to be a perspiring monster of a man who worked as a mechanic in town. Sollux had been dubious about the dealing, but Vriska's unabashed guarantee of the giant's honor had convinced him to take the offered Corolla. He didn't regret it. Despite a dented door and a few spots of rust, the little blue car ran like a dream. The seller (who he learned went by the name of Equius) explained later that he had made various upgrades to the car for his own recreation. It was a fact that Sollux came to intensely appreciate, not only because he had received no up-charge for the additional service, but because, according to several websites, his car's lifespan had been increased by at least five years as a result.

Though the vehicle was another step towards the inevitable shopping excursion, it was not the final one. Those came with the obtainment of further disposable income (since Eridan continued to refuse to let him chip in for rent) and the approach of the winter holidays.

Sollux couldn't remember the last time he'd done anything remotely festive. At least that's what he told himself to avoid thinking about the times that he had. Times like the one two years before when Aradia had bought him a pair of reindeer antlers and a matching light-up Rudolf sweater to go with them. Times when everything had seemed ridiculously perfect. Instead he focused on the more palpable memories of the year before, when expectations and budgets were low, and Christmas Eve had consisted of a shared plate of Gamzee's gingerbread and too much eggnog. That was his life now.

Or at least, his life as he would've tried to live it had Eridan not come along and shaken everything into some snow globe slurry.

The realization that they were probably not going to have another eggnog Christmas came right about when Thanksgiving rolled around and everything suddenly became A Very Big Deal. Just as soon as Eridan had booked a flight home to have turkey dinner with his family was about the time he began assailing Sollux with pleas to come along. Apparently he thought it was high time his parents met the boy he'd been dating for four whole months.

Sollux's response to all this was to blink and stare.

He hadn't given his own family so much as a phone call since he'd moved out to attend college. And as for the families of others…

He still remembered the way her father had looked standing in the hall of the hospital. Like a tattered scrap of parchment. Wavering under the doctor's breath.

So the answer was no. Such a firm and resolute no that Eridan didn't bother asking twice. But somehow Sollux knew that the issue of Christmas wouldn't be so easily settled. And so he spent the week of Eridan's absence skimming through the pages of Amazon and wishing he had enough money to buy Gucci or whatever the hell else Eridan liked to adorn his body with.

Matters were only made worse by the slow transformation of the house into some kind of holiday abomination. With each little window cling and strand of lights that Eridan bought, the closer Sollux could feel his demise looming.

It was when he got them matching stockings that Sollux knew he was doomed.

"I even had them embroider our names on the front, look."

He showed Sollux his purchase proudly, a few more bags of clothing lying next to the door behind him. Vriska had a nasty habit of taking him out to the mall on their off days, and Eridan had the equally nasty habit of overspending every time he went.

Sollux stared at the stockings helplessly from his place at the kitchen table, laptop open in front of him.

"They're…" Nice, he meant to say. Just say they're nice and ignore it. Don't talk about it. Don't even start the conversation, if he started the conversation he was finished.

"…not even red and green," he remarked lamely.

"Well a course not. That would look atrocious with the earth tones I've got goin' on in the livin' room here." He moved to one of the walls in front of the couch and eyed it with his thumb extended.

"And yellow and purple look any better?"

"Well, no, to be honest they look a lot worse." Eridan dropped his arm and turned back to Sollux. "But I thought I'd forego the aesthetic value for the sake a sentiment. These are the blood colors of our trollian avatars, after all. So I thought I could maybe hook you into a more festive spirit by appealin' to the side a you that's an unforgivable computer enthusiast."

"Eridan."

"What in layman's terms is known as 'a huge fuckin' nerd.'"

It was at that point that Sollux had to cry uncle. Because there were a lot of ways he could have responded to the fact that Eridan had gotten them Alternian-themed stockings. But the only appropriate one, in his mind, was to close the distance between them and kiss him into the couch.

Of course such a reaction was also an admission of defeat. And so it was with an almost giddy resignation that Sollux let Eridan dress him up in a snowflake sweater and purchase two round trip tickets to Orange County to spend Christmas with his family.

It was about then that the issue of a gift became not only a question of suitability, but of time as well. Ordering something online was no longer a viable option, not with his current income.

Which was bad on a cosmic level.

Because Sollux did all his shopping online.

"I don't even know how to work a fucking strip mall anymore," he wheezed into his cell phone from the break room at work. One of his co-workers, a blond girl who always wore a necklace with a pink cat face on it, gave him a knowing grin as she popped open a can of soup and dumped it into a plastic bowl. Sollux narrowed his eyes at her and turned towards the wall.

The voice on the other end laughed. "You probably won't find anything up to par with his super high standards at a strip mall anyway."

"Come on FF, you're not helping me at all," Sollux hissed into the phone. "This phone call was supposed to be about you giving me advice, not you taking morbid delight in my current situation."

"I'm not trying to be pessimistic or anything," she replied, her voice edged with laughter. "Because if you're pessimistic, that's saying you're not too sure about what the future outcome might be. And in this case I'm completely sure! There's positively no hope of getting him a decent gift at a strip mall in your city, none at all."

Sollux wanted to throw his phone as her laugh sounded in his ear. "Will you take this seriously?" he seethed.

"You two are really starting to sound like each other."

Sollux put a hand to his face. "Yes, we are rubbing off on each other and I've adopted all his most horrific qualities, KK is always sure to point that out at least twice a day so I don't forget. Because you know me. And my forgetfulness problems. That I don't have."

"So are you really coming down to California next week?"

"Yes, don't fucking remind me, I'm flipping enough shit as it is." Sollux pulled his feet up onto the seat, hugging his knees to his chest. "Just give me a couple things. Preferably things that will suck slightly less than me trying to get him a fucking scarf or some other article of clothing."

"He does like articles of clothing," Feferi responded thoughtfully.

"Okay, that's great and all, but doing successful clothes shopping for him would require me to hold at least a PHD in fashion, okay? I didn't even graduate from fashion high school, I dropped out like the miser of fucks that I am."

She laughed. "But that's the whole point! The point is doing the best you can to get the people you love something special. The present he got you on it's own probably wouldn't be that great, especially not to you, but since it's from him and he put his heart into it, I think you're going to love it."

Sollux switched the phone to his other ear and crouched down further. "Wait, you know what he got me?"

A giggle.

"FF, I swear to god." Sollux looked over his shoulder to see the cat necklace girl grinning at him from over the brim of her soup bowl. He glowered and turned back around, lowering his voice. "Give me a hint or something. Please, I need to at least be able to do a value comparison here."

"It wouldn't be fair to do that when Eridan is practically made of his parents' money!" Feferi rebuked.

"Come on, I just want to get him something he likes," Sollux begged into the phone. "Just give me a category. Something broad and vague, I don't even care. I'm desperate."

"You're going to have to stay desperate, mister," Feferi said, her voice needling. "My lips are sealed."

"God dammit, you're about as helpful as a quadriplegic butler. This is going to be horrible. And it's also going to be your fault. I hope you feel really shitty."

"Well, I've already got all my Christmas shopping done, so I am actually feeling pretty great."

Sollux glared at his shoes. "Okay, my procrastination and I have a beautiful and loving relationship, so you can just shut the hell up with all your responsibility."

"Well, you and your procrastination can have fun shopping at the strip mall then!" Feferi replied, her voice a laughing taunt.

Sollux hung up, turning around and slamming his phone down onto the table.

"Is this Christma-shopping I'm hearing about?"

He looked up. God damn, that fucking girl was still there. Whatever her name was. Sollux didn't bother talking to a lot of his coworkers. He slouched back in his chair.

"Maybe."

"For your best guy friend?" Her smile was lopsided and her eyes lidded. As if she were engaging in some kind of sordid conversation. She handled her bowl like a glass of red wine.

Sollux stared at it as she swirled the soup around sloppily. "Uh. I really don't know how it's any of your business."

"Well you'll wanna make it my business. You'll wanna be slappin' that business in my hands like a couple hot potatoes because I got the goods."

"The…what? What goods? How did this even become a topic of conversation that we both agreed to engage in?"

"Because these are the goods," she said, her lips curving up into a sly smile as she dragged her bag up onto the table and reached an arm inside. "The couple's Christma-copia of romantic lootery. Like, I've got it. The answer to all your holiday frettings. Right inside this bag."

Sollux narrowed his eyes at her. "Okay, are you going to give me this sweet loot or just sit there and be coy for the next six hours until I'm pining for it like some lascivious asshole begging for the paddle."

"All depends. On how many paddles your lascivious asshole is willing to take." She gave him a seductive wink.

He stared. "Was that…a serious attempt at a romantic pass?"

"All my attempts are serious, like that even needs going over. But this isn't about that. It's about the goods. The goods that you want. And they are right here." She rummaged around in her bag before pulling out a magazine and slapping it down on the table. "Let your eyes eat that shit up."

Sollux pulled it toward him and stared down at the ad it had been opened to. White print on a black background stared back.

"Whaddya say, Captor?" she asked. "A diamond is forever."

He pushed it away as if he'd been burned. "Jesus christ, I'm not proposing to the guy."

"Ain't gotta be no proposal," she replied, sliding the magazine back toward him. "It's all about the blings. Who doesn't like the blings? Nobody, that's who."

Sollux grimaced, but he bent over the glossy paper anyway, peering at the images of jewels and gleaming metals all arranged into striking array over the page. He pulled the ad closer, his grimace dissolving into a more serious frown.

"Well, he does like that shit. Sparkly shit. Because he's basically spoiled royalty. His title is the Archduke of Asshole."

"Well obviously any duke of arches deserves the archiest jewels. Something so archy that the ends meet and it becomes a circle." She held up her thumb and forefinger in an O shape to demonstrate, peering at Sollux through the center. "Like. A ring. A nice fancy ring with a diamond in it, who could possibly refuse?"

"Well, I know he couldn't, that's for sure. But I don't exactly have pools of money that I dive into every day after getting home from working at this asshole factory." Sollux sank back into his chair, crossing his arms and glowering at the ad still laid open before him.

"Well it don't gotta be no diamond," she replied, snatching the magazine up and thumbing through it. "Just something sparkly. What does your archduke care if its not some transparent glittery thing?"

Sollux's frown relaxed slightly. "He doesn't. He likes colored things anyway. Purple. He likes purple."

"Then get him the best purple rock you can dig up. Here, I even gots myself a store name because I am fucking prepared like that." She whipped out a pen and paper from her bag and scrawled something across it. She then shoved it towards Sollux. "There you go. No need to thank me. I already know I got the most awesome perceptivity that ever was. Call me a fucking clairvoyant if you want because it's true right now. Look at this shit. You are all set up and ready to Christma-shop your way to paradise."

Sollux leaned over the scrap of paper and grimaced. "I am looking at it, and apparently your hand is some undiscovered eight-legged wildebeast judging from the tracks it left all over this note. Seriously, did you even try to make this legible?"

She drew it back and squinted at it, holding it up to the light. She shrugged. "It's plain as day to me. I don't know what's got your undies all up in a twist."

She slapped it back down on the table.

Sollux sighed. "Okay, well, I'll dig out my spare Rosetta stone to untangle this mass of pink hieroglyphics."

She winked at him. "It'll probably have all the secrets of the universe."

"Probably," Sollux agreed, folding it up and slipping it in the pocket of his pants. "Anyway, I should get back on the floor to deal with whatever new asshole decided to overheat his damned computer. But thanks for all your help, uh…"

"Roxy." Another exaggerated wink.

"Yeah. That. Also you might want to get your eye checked out, it seems to have a really bad twitch or some shit."

"Ain't no twitch, Sollux. This is my charm. Can't turn off the charm. Can't even turn it down. It stays ratcheted all the way up to 'Whoa Momma' constantly and there's not a thing you can do about it. Besides maybe try your damnedest to resist." Another wink.

Sollux rolled his eyes. "Yeah, I'll do my best."

Through some work of miracles, which may or may not have involved an actual Rosetta stone, Sollux managed to decode the name of the jewelry store that Roxy had written down. It ended up being one of the outlets in the downtown mall. Upon discovering this fact he promptly texted Feferi to suck his giant mall-bound schlong.

Which was followed immediately by an apology and a profession that no, he did not really want Feferi to suck his giant mall-bound schlong and that she was pretty great and to please forget that he ever sent that.

Actually going to the mall ended up playing out only half as smoothly as the schlong texts.

Mostly because when it came to even the barest whiff of a possibility for a shopping trip, Eridan became a fucking bloodhound.

So it was that Sollux got caught halfway out the door with his keys in his hand before he was assaulted by his man-puppy, who proceeded to leap on him and berate him for trying to sneak off to the land of material splendor on his own. Then Eridan bounded to the car and buckled himself in the passenger's seat, tail wagging so hard that Sollux expected the vehicle to start rocking on its wheels.

It turned the mall trip from a twenty minute outing into an all day affair.

At the end of which Sollux found himself standing in front of a dressing room mirror, decked in a pair of tight black pants, a yellow V-neck, a gray argyle scarf, and a black hoodie that was so tight around his arms he suspected Eridan had smuggled it from the girl's section. He blinked forlornly through a pair of oval shades that Eridan had shoved over his eyes.

"Well?" he asked, standing beside Sollux with a rainbow of scarves draped over his arm.

"I look like a bumblebee."

Eridan was shocked. "Is that really all you can say? Nothing about how all a this is doin' a spectacular job a displayin' some a your finer assets?"

Sollux looked at himself again and reconsidered. "I look like a bumblebee whose balls are being forced back up into his pelvic cavity."

Eridan gave an exasperated sigh, tossing the scarves onto the dressing room bench. "Well this is your fault anyway, you know, givin' me all a those color restrictions at the beginning. That really limited my fuckin' options."

"I told you that it's not within the realms of possibility to arrange a condition in which I will wear any shade of pink."

"That wasn't even pink, Sol, that was fuckin' salmon."

"Any shade. Named after fish insides or otherwise."

Another sigh filled the small space as Eridan rummaged around in the heap of T-shirts he'd amassed next to the scarves. He pulled out a purple V-neck.

"No."

Eridan shoved it into his hands anyway. "You will fuckin' put that on, Sol, this dressin' stall is where the arm a this country's democracy ends. Think of these three square feet as my own personal nation a clothing authoritarianism. Your free will in the matter a dressin' yourself does not exist here, and Eridanopia is a lot fuckin' better for it."

"Then I'm staging a coup d'état on your shitty authoritarianism," Sollux proclaimed, forcing the shirt away.

"Bullshit," Eridan snapped, shoving the article back. "A lone renegade like yourself couldn't possibly have the artillery necessary for stagin' such an act against my well-armed militia."

"Oh, but I do," Sollux rebuked, giving the shirt a yank. It pulled Eridan along with it, sending him toppling against Sollux's chest. Then their lips met, and Eridan turned to jelly in his arms, powerless to resist as he was pushed up against the dressing room wall.

"Fuck…" he groaned as his shirt was pushed up to his armpits. He gave a few tiny whines as Sollux's lips descended over his stomach and brushed just above the top of his pants.

"What do you have to say about my artillery now?" Sollux murmured into the front of Eridan's jeans.

"That I made a huge oversight in vestin' you with the powers a my nation's seductive clothin'." His voice was not much more than a strangled gasp, which earned him a grin before Sollux unzipped Eridan's pants and ducked down.

The next ten minutes were spent with Eridan's face screwed up and the back of his hand pressed to his lips to keep the louder moans in check. When Sollux had licked him clean and pulled away, Eridan collapsed onto the dressing room bench, his face flushed and his limbs splayed about him in exhaustion.

"Mr. Captor has emerged victorious and will now stick a little flag in the ground to claim his newly attained sovereignty."

"F…fuck you…" Eridan panted, shivering.

Sollux smirked. "As his first order of business he shall free all those confined by the oppressive dress code of the former nation of Eridanopia." He began unwinding his scarf, tossing it over Eridan's head before moving to extract himself from the skin-tight hoodie.

Eridan gave a groan, plucking the argyle fabric from his face. "Dammit, Sol, why do you have to be so fuckin' obstinate?"

"Because wearing these clothes feels like someone's trying to compress the third dimension out of me," Sollux replied. "And also because we've already been at this for three hours and haven't even touched my shopping yet."

"Well, you gotta understand my position here," Eridan replied, zipping his pants back up. "It's not an everyday occurrence that I manage to get you out into a place where puttin' clothes on you is a viable possibility. This might be the only chance I have in my entire life to get you a decent lookin' ensemble."

"All my ensembles are decent looking," Sollux snapped. "But fine. If you want to keep this bumblebee outfit then whatever."

"I'd actually like it better if you'd try on the purple." Eridan plucked up the V-neck and held it out to him.

Sollux glared.

Eridan smiled.

With a huff, Sollux snatched up the purple shirt and yanked it over his head. "There. Happy?"

"Not even close. Put that hoodie back on for a minute. And the gray scarf too."

"Of course giving in to one demand spawns two more," Sollux grumbled, but he did as he was directed. He stood in front of Eridan when he'd finished, arms crossed and lips drawn into a diagonal slash of displeasure.

"You look amazin'," Eridan sighed. "Okay, we're gettin' all a this. Then we can go and do whatever it is you came here for. Even though it'd be nice to get you a few more shirts and maybe an extra scarf so you could mix and match a bit with those pants."

Sollux may as well have shot lasers out of his eyes.

Eridan held up his hands. "But a course I know where to draw the line with someone a your delicate shoppin' disposition. Just gimme the clothes you got on and I'll pay for them while you get yourself back into…that." He waved a hand at the faded, rumpled pile of Sollux's original outfit.

Sollux stripped himself and flung the clothing at Eridan before tugging on his old clothes and stepping out of the dressing room. He strode briskly from the store as Eridan veered aside to approach the front counter and begin chatting animatedly with one of the cashiers. Sollux had seen enough bags with this shop's logo on them to know that Eridan was a frequent customer.

As he ambled back out into the central walkway of the mall, he approached one of the lighted signs displaying a map of the complex. He studied it silently, locating the jewelry store and trying to devise a plan for keeping Eridan away while he went to go peruse its goods.

"Heeeeeeeey, Sollux. You look a little lost to me."

He turned around to see Vriska standing at his shoulder and grinning.

Sollux could have sworn in that moment that the mall ceiling opened up, and cherubs bathed in holy light descended from the heavens, strumming harps and singing a gentle chorus of exaltation. He grabbed Vriska by the shoulders.

"Thank fucking christ for your existence right now, VK."

Her grin dissolved. "That greeting was way too happy. I'm starting to think that coming over here to give you a hard time was a crummy idea."

"No, it was the best idea," Sollux replied. He turned her around, pointing her in the direction of the store he'd just exited from. "You see there? Standing by the cash register?"

"Ha, figures. You wouldn't be caught dead shopping unless your little mall-rat boyfriend dragged you here." She threw him a smirk over her shoulder, mascara-framed eyes flashing.

"Yeah, well, you are both mall vermin. That's why I need you to distract him. Get him a fucking pretzel or something. Anything to keep him the fuck away from me while I go pick him up a Christmas present."

"Ooooooooh, a covert operation," she replied, her blue lips stretching wider. "Now you're speaking my language. Don't worry. I'll keep your prince of purple occupied while you struggle hilariously in the clutches of the jewelry shop."

He squinted at her. "I never said…"

"Oh please Sollux, as if it isn't obvious that's where you're going." She gave his cheek a pinch. "Just leave the rest of this up to the pros, okay?"

He rubbed his face as she ambled into the store, sidling up to Eridan and grabbing him around the neck. They exchanged disgustingly exuberant greetings as Sollux stalked away.

The experience at the jewelry store was a mess that involved Sollux sweating over gem type, band material, and ring size for no less than forty minutes. At last he just had to make his best guess while demanding at least twenty times for a verification that yes, he could bring it back and get it resized if it wasn't correct.

After handing over half his paycheck, he left the store with a velvet box shoved in his pocket. He put his hand over the bulge, swallowing hard as he thought of the gleaming ring nestled inside.

If Eridan's reaction was anything less than perfect, he decided that the blame would fall solely on Roxy and that he would be thoroughly justified in slapping her about the head with her own magazine.

Dragging Eridan away from Vriska turned out to be an even more involved affair than the jewelry store. By the time Sollux finally got them back to the mall's entrance, he'd been stuffed into three more outfits. And so it was, arms laden with bags and a chattering boyfriend, that Sollux lumbered out into the parking lot.

That was when the talk ceased.

Sollux's breath steamed in the cold night air as he let his eyes drift upwards. In the hazy orange glow of the street lights, thick white flakes were illuminated. He watched as they tumbled down, settling on his old winter coat like a dusting of sugar.

Eridan stared up at the sky beside him, his mouth slightly open as the snow drifted down. "Wow…"

That was the only word that passed between them for a good minute. Then Sollux pulled Eridan close, rubbing his arm. "You haven't seen snow before?"

Eridan shook his head. "Not in person. I sort of expected it to be colder." He stretched out his hands. Sollux watched as flakes settled on his palms, dissolving instantly into little wet droplets. Like tiny kisses.

"Let's go," he said at last, pulling Eridan through the parking lot towards their little blue Toyota.

By the time they got home, the snow was already ankle deep. It made the trek up to the porch even more treacherous than it would have been already what with the addition of an armful of shopping bags factored in. As Sollux dumped the spoils of their mall trip onto the couch and wiped some of the snow from his face, he looked back over his shoulder to see that the front door was still open. He leaned outside to see Eridan standing in the middle of the driveway, illuminated in the yellow light pouring from the house, white flakes drifting around him in a powdery halo.

Instead of calling him back inside, Sollux gave a little smile and crunched through the freshly fallen flakes to join him, slipping a hand around his waist.

Eridan blinked, tearing his gaze away from the clouded black sky above him. "Sorry," he said, giving a tiny smile. "This is just…really fuckin' beautiful."

Sollux nodded, pulling him close. "Yeah…"

"Sol?"

"Mm?"

"Think we can stay like this forever?"

Sollux put his lips in Eridan's crystal-dusted hair. "Snow always melts."

"But it's not melted right now."

"So we can stay like this. For now."

Eridan tucked himself into Sollux's chest then, nuzzling his chill-nipped cheek into the faded blue coat. Sollux wrapped his arms around him and they stood that way. Immobile, the only movement coming from the falling flakes around them and the steam of their breath. And for a moment, it almost seemed as if time had stopped. That they had taken the wildly spinning filmstrip of life and frozen it on that single frame.

If perfection felt like anything, it felt like that. Like the kisses of snowflakes. The warm breath of light at his back. Like the weight of Eridan against his chest and the smooth scent of vanilla filling his nose.

Then he sent the filmstrip whirring forward again, and he planted a kiss against Eridan's moist brown hair.

"Have you ever made a snow angel?"

Eridan looked up at him, his face lit by the honeyed glow of the house. He shook his head.

Sollux led him onto a patch of unblemished snow in the front yard. He then pulled Eridan down beside him and they laid themselves back on the chilly blanket, moving their arms and legs in wide arcs at Sollux's instruction. When they pulled themselves up they took a few steps back to admire the sloppy impressions they'd made in the snow. But Sollux's eyes eventually fell on Eridan. On the soft rose color that the cold had nipped into his cheeks and the tip of his nose. On the snow melting his hair into damp, wild curls. The flakes caught in his eyelashes.

And it became clear to him that there was really only one snow angel present under the dusted sky of that night.

It was about then that the cold became too much, and Eridan's laughs became interspersed with the clack of chattering teeth. Sollux hugged him close and led him inside. Once the warm embrace of the house spread over them, he stripped his shivering lover and wrapped him up in the blanket draped over the back of the couch. He left him sniffling on the sofa as he went to heat up a cup of cocoa. When he returned, Eridan demanded that Sollux also rid himself of his wet clothing before he was allowed to sit down beside him.

They fell asleep that way. Chilled skin and shared blankets and a mug of hot chocolate nestled between them.