This was also the day that Eridan Ampora conned the guys across the street into helping him move into his new place.
He pulled his phone away from his ear to see that Sollux had hung up on him. He glowered at the device for a time before he pocketed it. He ran through the mental list of Sollux's order once more and decided he really didn't care if he fucked one or two things up. Because Sollux was a dick and really this whole operation only required the most basic generosity to find a firm foothold on success.
He shuffled around a bit, trying to look casual before he approached the counter. But the guy there was just so…
Eridan backpedaled and made his way around to the large menu framed on the wall, staring at it as if it held some secret to eternal youth. But it didn't. And Eridan didn't really stare at it that hard either. He snuck a slow, subtle glance to the side before snapping his eyes back to the big picture of breadsticks in front of him.
God, the guy just kept looking at him.
Like, a real smile.
Who the hell was that happy working in a pizza joint at one o'clock in the morning?
No one natural.
Still, Sollux's final words to him were intriguing. He snuck another little glance at the guy. Maybe he wasn't smiling, actually. Maybe his teeth were just that big. He did have rather unfortunate incisors… If he could just muster up the will to look at the kid for more than a few seconds…
He glanced at him again. This time the boy raised a hand and waved.
"Are you ready to order yet?"
Well, the point in subtleties was now effectively demolished. Eridan took one last glance at the menu in an attempt to make it look like that was indeed what he had been so focused on. He then smoothed his hair back and made his way toward the counter. As he got closer, he realized the guy's smile was genuine, though so too were the unfortunately sized incisors. He had to try very hard not to stare at them as the boy stood there and continued to be unnervingly content.
"So, uh," Eridan began.
"Oh, I forgot the whole formal greeting thing. I'm still pretty new at this. So, uh, welcome to Toppers!"
"Oh, yeah, right, I kinda figured that was where I was, but thanks for the greetin' and shit, I guess."
"Heh, no problem."
Eridan stared at him for a while again, taking in his square glasses and the black hair sticking up from behind his pizza visor. Finally the boy's smile began to disappear.
"Uh, are you going to order anything?" he asked.
It was too tempting for Eridan to resist. Of course he wasn't going to say what Sollux had told him to say. He wasn't that fucking stupid. But it had made him curious.
"Are you familiar with Karkat?" he asked, leaning casually up against the counter.
"Oh, Karkat?" the boy looked mildly surprised. "Yeah! I actually was over at his house for that party yesterday." His smile widened. "I think I saw you there too, actually. Were you the one belly dancing on the table?"
Eridan pushed himself away from the counter, feeling his cheeks starting to get warm. "Uh… I don't…actually remember doin' that. So no, that probably wasn't me. I mean, I was there, but I was drinkin' beer and doin' shit that definitely wasn't dancin', so…"
"No, I'm pretty sure that was you. But don't worry, Gamzee sort of does that to all the new guys. It's kind of like his version of initiation I think. Did you throw up at all?"
"Uh…no. I fuckin' drink all the time so that shit was nothing for me, to be honest. I just walked it off the next day. You know. It was really no big deal."
The kid laughed. "Really? The first time Gamzee got his hands on me I threw up everywhere. It was really gross! Especially because Karkat and Sollux were kind of helping him. Like, Karkat told me that eating would help me not feel so dizzy and so I listened to him. That was a really bad idea, though, because that just made the whole throwing up thing even worse. I would go into details, but you're probably ordering food. I think? So I'll just spare you."
Eridan stared at the boy as he went on, his brows knitting closer and closer together and the corners of his lips turning further and further downward. It was as if some particularly sour odor was making its way closer and closer to his nostrils. This boy was unnaturally nice. Like, weirdly fucking nice. And weirdly observant too. Since Eridan was one hundred percent certain that he hadn't danced on a table. Because he would've remembered that. It was more likely that this boy was just inventing excuses for staring at him from the corner like some kind of stalker.
It was then that Eridan came to the sudden realization that this kid definitely wanted his dick.
He was instantly both very disgusted and very flattered. Because it was not as though he could blame the poor guy. He was rather obscenely attractive.
He would note it down for later. He would have time for the inevitable crowd of people after his precious crotch cargo in time. Right now was all about getting pizza and perhaps some dirt on Karkat. All very necessary pieces for getting his neighbors to do him a couple simple favors. Nothing huge.
"So, uh, you're impartin' all this personal information with me but I still don't have a proper name to call you by." He leaned carefully back against the counter, his necklace swinging as he bent forward slightly.
"Oh, sorry! My name's John." The boy smiled before putting his fist to his chin thoughtfully. "And I think you're Eridan, right?"
"Yeah. Is news a my arrival already bein' circulated through the city?" He gave the boy a rather sultry grin. No harm in using a little sex appeal to get some information.
The boy's smile never faltered, but he did frown a bit. "I'm not really sure about that. I just know it because you were yelling it. You know, when you were on the table."
"Okay, I'm tellin' you that wasn't me."
"But you said your name was Eridan."
"Okay, let's stop talkin' about this, it's gettin' really fuckin' pointless."
"Whatever you say, I guess."
He was starting to dislike this John person. He cleared his throat and stood up a bit straighter, too flustered to employ his sexual attraction properly. "So I heard somethin' interestin' about you and Karkat maybe bein' a thing."
John's smile vanished, his brow creased with confusion. "Oh really? Um, I'm pretty sure that's not true. I guess I can't speak for him. I mean, he does invite me to Gamzee's parties a lot and stuff, but he never really talks to me once I come. Except to make me eat wings and diss all my favorite movies. Which is really dumb because he has the shittiest taste in movies ever."
"Uh-huh." He was rapidly losing interest in this boy. Clearly a case of "too dense to notice signals." And poor Karkat didn't have the necessary sex appeal that Eridan obviously did. He'd have to consult with his ornery neighbor to see if he was interested in this weirdly happy stick of a boy. Perhaps at the cost of a few more favors, Eridan would offer some tips on how to become a bit more appealing, an area in which Karkat desperately needed assistance.
Two days in and he was already making this town dance like a puppet on his strings. Damn, he was so fucking good.
"Anyway, I'll just order this pizza and get outta here. Got places to be and shit." He sighed, casually running his fingers through his hair as he took another glance at the menu.
"Okay, what can I get you?" John's smile reappeared and he readied his fingers over his computer.
"Uh… Okay, let's see… Wings…and a tub of ranch…"
"Boneless or regular wings?" John looked up from his computer to peer at him.
"Uh. Christ. No, he said he didn't want the boneless shit."
John laughed and typed it in. "Okay, anything else?"
"Yeah. A pizza. Can't remember what kind though."
"Who was ordering?"
Eridan blinked. Why would that matter? "Uh, Sol was."
John tilted his head a bit in confusion. "You mean Sollux?"
"Does seriously no one call him Sol? It just seems so fittin'."
John smiled. "Sollux usually orders the buffalo chicken pizza, but since you're already getting wings, I'd go with the taco pizza."
"All right, whatever, just put that in. You'll get the blame if it's wrong."
John laughed. "Yep, I guess so. Anything else?"
"Sticks. Or some shit like that." Eridan waved his hand dismissively.
"Okay, baconstix. You should probably write this stuff down next time. They always order a lot of shit." John finished typing in the order and then printed out a bill for Eridan, sliding it across the counter toward him.
Eridan looked at it before slapping it as he suddenly remembered. "Oh fuck, that's right. Triple the order a those sticks things and I also need a root beer."
John took the slip back and crumpled it up before stuffing it in his pocket and making Eridan a revised bill. He slid this one across the counter and Eridan nodded approvingly before handing John his credit card. After a few swipes and button pushes Eridan had nothing to do but wait while John hopped back to make his food.
After what seemed like a life-age of the earth, the gangly boy returned, balancing root beer on top of a stack of boxes. He slid them carefully onto the counter for Eridan. "Sorry if some of it's cold. I'm still pretty bad at timing everything to come out right."
Eridan shrugged. "I'm not eatin' it, so I don't really give a shit. But thanks anyway."
And then began the long balancing act back to his street.
It wasn't that far away. Only a few blocks. But a few blocks under the burden of about twenty pounds of food seemed more like a nighttime trek across the vast expanse of the Sahara. He had to stop more than seven times to set the food on the ground and wipe the off the sweat beading on his brow. The last time he thought he might not make it. Karkat's house was in sight, the windows lit despite it being nearly three in the morning, but he just couldn't do it. He had to plant himself in the grass for a long while, putting a hand to his chest to make sure he wasn't about to go into cardiac arrest. After a good ten minutes of meditative breathing, he managed to gather up his things and complete the last leg of his journey.
Panting under his burden of greasy treasure, he kicked the door weakly. As it opened before him, Karkat's short, rather stocky frame was revealed from behind it.
"Dear sweet milk from God's heavenly tits, Sollux wasn't lying."
Eridan's arms shuddered a bit, causing the root beer to sway dangerously on top of his stack of boxes. "Can you like, take this or something?" His voice was strained with exertion.
"Uh, yes. I can take this with more tenderness than that with which I would pick up my firstborn child. Because I couldn't eat my firstborn child. Which makes this shit infinitely better than children. Gamzee, how about you get off your ass and help me with some of this?"
Eridan began to shuffle his way carefully into the house when suddenly his burden was lifted. He blinked up through his glasses, still shivering with exhaustion, to see his olive-skinned, tousle-haired savior. The man smelled distinctly of an odd smoke that Eridan could only guess was some kind of drug. But his smile was relaxed and easy, and he offered Eridan a grateful pat on the head before taking the boxes into the living room.
As Eridan closed the door behind him, he heard the sound of a foot connecting with wood.
"Sollux, get your ass out here. Your magic pizza fairy came."
There was a click and a soft creak of hinges as Eridan sat down on the sofa in front of the coffee table where Gamzee was organizing the boxes. He was lining them up and opening them, his movements slow and his enormous hands almost…tender? Eridan's lip curled in unsettled confusion. He wondered for a moment if this guy had taken Karkat's tangential "firstborn child" ramblings seriously.
Karkat reappeared moments later with Sollux in tow. Eridan frowned at the wiry young man as he shuffled in behind his shorter friend, his expression largely hidden by his dark sunglasses. But beyond that, Eridan distinctly remembered the man sporting a white shirt and gray sweatpants the last time he'd seen him. He was wearing the same thing now, his hands hanging limply at his sides and his jaw shadowed with stubble.
Eridan's observations were interrupted by a swift kick to the ankle.
"Ow!" he yelped, clutching his calf as he looked up to his short, angry attacker. "Are you fuckin' serious? That was my leg!"
"I know," Karkat replied. "Did you think I was aiming for the couch?"
"I just bought you guys pizza! Are you sayin' this is the type a treatment I'm deservin' in this situation?"
Karkat threw his hands up, rolling his eyes. "Yeah, yeah, thanks forever, we owe you our lives, blah blah. But you're in Sollux's spot. And that's throwing off my entire ability to tear into hot wings. And it probably messes with Gamzee's fucking feng shui or whatever kind of hippy shit he's into these days."
"Nah, I ain't got no kinds of problems with our seating arrangements being as they're going to motherfuckin' be," Gamzee replied as he came and eased himself down next to Eridan. He put an arm around the young man's shoulders. "You just sometimes gotta let the asses fall as they will and just appreciate the kind of shitfuckin craziness of it all. Like, you can't control that, man."
"Yeah, I don't really give a shit either, to be honest," Sollux said as he bent forward and began gathering pizza and breadsticks in his arms.
"Okay, can I just say that I get really fucking pissed off at how much shit you guys never give about anything? Like, honestly, I think this is where all my anger issues stem from. I have to get pissed off for you because you guys are just too high or depressed to fucking do it for yourselves. We are like a fucking jigsaw puzzle of emotionally stunted assholes and when you put us together we make this awesome tapestry of a completely dysfunctional anal sphincter."
When he was finally finished, Karkat's arms were spread as if he were delivering the holy gospel. Sollux had also managed to eat half the box of breadsticks in that same amount of time. What resulted was reminiscent of some kind of Renaissance painting. Except instead of Jesus in front of his rapt worshippers, it was just an angry kid in a sweatshirt standing over his scruffy, starved roommate.
Eridan was kind of worried about what he'd gotten himself into.
"All right, I'm done. See you guys later." Sollux grabbed the bottle of root beer by the neck and began to shuffle back toward his room.
"Wait, you can't leave yet. I haven't even made my proposition," Eridan burst out, torn from his thoughts.
Sollux turned and Eridan was faced with those emotionless shades once more. And once more he had to fight from quailing beneath them.
"Uh, okay. Because I just wanted to remind you what you agreed to. You know, durin' our phone conversation. Remember, Sol?" Eridan's voice was bloated with implication. He thought about quirking a coy eyebrow, but decided it would probably be too much.
Sollux's thin, rigid line of a mouth tugged down in displeasure. "What?"
"You know. I told you what you'd be agreein' to if you let me buy you pizza. And don't think you can avoid it by sneakin' off to your room so soon."
Karkat, who was now sitting beside Eridan on the couch and face-deep in taco pizza, looked up, his cheeks stuffed with beef and sour cream. "Tholluckth…? Whot ith he tolkin about?"
Sollux's lips grew even thinner. "I don't know. Good night, guys." He turned to leave again.
"You said you'd help me move my shit into my house tomorrow. Or I guess it would be today."
Sollux's and Karkat's reactions were instantaneous. "What?"
Eridan recoiled, wiping off a bit of the pizza Karkat had spewed onto his glasses. He sat up slightly, getting a bit defensive. "I told you. I would only get you free pizza if you agreed to help me unpack my shit and take my furniture outta the movin' van."
"Sollux! You fucking traitor! Traitor! Take back your demon pizza, I don't want it!" Karkat began grabbing chunks off the pizza and flinging them at Sollux, who held up his root beer bottle as a kind of flimsy shield, stumbling out of range. "Fuck you! I can't believe you sold me out for Baconstix!"
"I didn't!" Sollux objected as he ducked a spray of lettuce. "Jesus, KK would you just—" he threw the bottle mercilessly at the raging boy "—stop!" As Karkat yelped and curled up on the couch to protect himself, Sollux whirled around to face Eridan. "And you! Is that what you were muttering under your breath?"
Eridan tried to hold his ground as firmly as possible. "I was very fuckin' distinct with you, Sol, and I think it's shameful that you're tryin' to wriggle your way outta this after I was downright generous with the lot a you."
"What's generous is that I'm not already over there strangling your stupid ass," Sollux snapped. "I can't fucking believe this. Fuck you. We're not your moving service. Free pizza doesn't mean jack shit, especially not when it was just some kind of con."
"Okay, yeah," Karkat added as he uncurled himself from his defensive position now that the threat of flying root beer bottles was no longer imminent. "As much of a dick as Sollux is, I'm more inclined to believe that you're just a lying bastard. Plus you puked Cheetos onto my carpet this morning and I'm still not okay with that in any way. Seriously. It was up to my fucking elbows. And still warm."
"This is fuckin' unbelievable, I mean, here I thought I was doin' good business with trustworthy guys and here you all are, backin' out a the deal we made."
"We didn't make a deal, you fuck. You mumbled shit into the phone and then said, 'free pizza,'" Sollux seethed.
"I can't help that your underdeveloped brain filters out anything that doesn't have to do with stuffin' shit in your mouth," Eridan snapped back, shifting his weight forward to stand and defend himself if he had to.
"Haha, this pizza is fuckin' shittits bananas, man. It's like…two foods makin' love. Right in front of my eyes. And if I eat it, it's going to be like…inside me. All that love."
Everyone froze, verbal slurs bitten short. They all looked to the man leaning back in the sofa, holding a piece of pizza before his face and staring at it carefully. It seemed as though a mutual agreement had suddenly been reached.
The fight was suspended on account of Gamzee.
"Uh…are you plannin' on eatin' any a that…?" Eridan asked hesitantly.
"Nah, bro. As much love as there is on this little triangle of food, there's also death. I don't do the whole dead animal thing, man. Makes me feel all discomforted." He set the pizza down, smiling distantly.
"Oh fuck, all of this shit has meat on it, doesn't it?" Karkat began shifting boxes and peering at all the goods within. "Sollux, you asshole. You just had to get bacon on your fucking stix, didn't you?"
Sollux put a hand to his head, sighing as he brushed back his hair. "I was in the midst of severe hunger throes, Christ. I needed nourishment."
"Okay, but that doesn't excuse you from being a big vegetarian-insensitive dick."
"Nah, it's cool," Gamzee replied. "I got some shit in the fridge that I can sink my teeth into." He then raised his eyes to Eridan and gave the man a lazy smile, his eyes half closed. "Where'd you say you was all up and making a residence at?"
"Uh…" Eridan was still unsure what to make of this strange, instantaneous truce. "Just across the street."
"I don't have any things of an obligatory sort of nature to up and get myself to tomorrow." He shifted his eyes away from Eridan and began nodding slightly, as if listening to music that only he could hear. "I can help you move your shit, bro."
Eridan sat back against the couch, stunned. "Really?"
"Oh. Well. Uh. Thanks. That's very…decent a you."
"Nah, bro, it's chill."
Silence permeated the room. Gamzee continued to nod to his silent music. Eridan sat ridged, his hands balled into fists on his knees as he slowly turned his eyes to Karkat and Sollux. Karkat was flicking meat begrudgingly off a slice of pizza while Sollux stood motionless beside the table, his expression impregnable as always.
After a few more minutes of silence, Karkat shoved Gamzee a slice of meat-free pizza and the man picked it up and began to chew, continuing to bob his head.
Then there was more silence.
And then Eridan stood.
"So I'll see you guys in the afternoon then?"
A communal grumble of "yeah" served as his reply.
"Well. Okay then. Thanks." Eridan slowly backed toward the door. "I guess I'll see you guys later, then."
He made his way hesitantly out of the house before beginning to walk across the street. He half expected someone to come tearing after him in a stand of last-minute objection. No one ever did.
Sweet, sweet victory.