This was the day that…
Sollux woke to the hiss of the shower. His eyes fluttered open and he caught sight of the living room window across from him, which looked like it had been painted over with pitch. As he blinked the sleepy haze away, however, he registered the tiny white flakes drifting down on the other side of the glass.
Why was it so cold and early? He groaned, pulling the blanket over his head and turning toward the back of the couch, blocking out the nonexistent light.
He could only be irritable for so long though. Today marked the last day at work for the both of them until after the holidays. And though he wasn't bouncing on his toes to use the time to perpetuate awkwardness in California, he did have the prospect of two weeks' worth of sleeping in to look forward to.
Unfortunately it was still one day off, and so it was not yet a luxury he had access to. Technically speaking, he really had no business being awake so early, but Eridan was never exactly careful about keeping quiet as he went about his morning routine. Just thinking about all the times he'd crawled around on the bed to dig clothes out of the sheets or turned on music while doing his hair was enough to make vexation spread through Sollux's chest.
But it was an odd vexation. One that made him feel warm. He pulled the blankets closer, burying his face in them and letting himself get dizzy on the smell of vanilla. He grinned so stupidly that he was glad to be half smothered in bedding.
After getting that bout of fuzziness out of his system, he stretched and sat up, shivering as the blankets fell off him, leaving him exposed to the waist. Gathering one of the blankets about his shoulders, he shuffled to the bedroom and rummaged in the dark for some clothes. Once he grabbed what felt like a T-shirt and sweatpants, he pulled them on, letting his makeshift mantle crumple to the floor. He then shuffled back out to the kitchen and turned on the light.
The next few minutes were spent being blind and cursing photons for their very existence.
Once that was over, he began rummaging through the cupboards, pulling out mixing bowls and a large frying pan.
It wasn't often that Sollux lent his culinary skills to the household. Mostly because on the one hand they could hardly be called skills and on the other he often preferred filling his time whipping up codes rather than meals.
Still, sometimes an overwhelming sentimentality gripped him by the heartstrings. And he still couldn't shake the image of Eridan smiling down at his sloppy snow angel, cheeks rosy and lashes damp with snowflakes.
He had to pause in pouring out a few cups of flour just to rub at his chest and get absurdly warm despite the fact that he was standing in the middle of a frostbitten kitchen.
The hiss of water in the bathroom eventually stopped and there was a click as the door opened. Sollux looked up as he heard the damp pat of feet against linoleum. He found Eridan standing at his shoulder in nothing but a towel, peering down into his mixing bowl.
"Pancakes?" he asked, glancing up. His blue eyes looked hesitant.
"Hopefully," Sollux replied.
They both took a moment of silence to reflect on the last batch of "hopefully" pancakes that Sollux had made. Each of them turned a bit green.
"Well, that's fuckin' ambitious a you," Eridan responded before reaching over Sollux's shoulder to open the cereal cabinet.
Sollux knocked his arm away. "Don't be a jackass. At least try them first."
"You burned the fuck out a the last ones. I need real sustenance if I'm gonna get through a full day a servin' coffee to an endless line of assholes."
"Just finish getting ready," Sollux snapped. He was trying to be a boyfriend and dammit, Eridan was going to let him.
"Fine," came the bleak reply before Eridan slumped out of the kitchen and back down the hall toward the bedroom.
Sollux returned to studying the recipe with the air of a linguist deciphering some dead tongue. The result ended in a decision that the answer was definitely to start with flour and holy fuck it came out fast so okay maybe he would compensate for that minor spill with just a half a cup more instead of a whole one and shit shit shit fucking flour everywhere what the fuck was he supposed to put in now, milk?
He carried on in this fashion until the kitchen looked like more of a frosted winter wonderland than the yard outside. When Eridan returned it was to a sweating Sollux stirring feverishly at his mixing bowl. Sollux tried to ward him off with his dripping spatula, but Eridan ducked under his arm and grabbed the bowl toward him.
He let out a groan of dismay.
Sollux snatched the bowl back possessively, as if Eridan had insulted his firstborn child. "Shut up," he snapped.
"Sol that looks like glue, not batter, what the fuck did you even put in there, cement?"
"It's fine," Sollux retorted, pulling the bowl closer and shielding it from Eridan's eyes with his arms. "It's supposed to look like this."
"Well, okay if you say so," Eridan sighed. "But could you hurry it up, I need a ride in like, half an hour. And not that kinda ride either, this is my work and it needs to be taken seriously."
Sollux rolled his eyes but couldn't completely hide the tiny smirk pulling up at the corners of his lips. He returned to mixing the goop in his bowl while Eridan wandered off to the living room window, peering outside.
"It snowed a lot," he said softly.
He nodded before pulling his eyes away from the window to look over his shoulder at Sollux. "I'm gonna go dig your car out. Do we have a shovel?"
Sollux slowed in his stirring, turning his gaze toward Eridan. "No… KK does but…"
He bit the inside of his cheek, surveying Eridan. His thin frame. The way his hair had been sculpted perfectly into place, save for the tiny lock that always curled over his forehead. The paleness of his skin and the way it offset the brown sweater he'd pulled over his dress shirt. He felt his insides twist.
"I'll just head over there and steal it from his garage for a couple seconds. He won't even notice." His lips quirked up in an impish grin.
Sollux released his cheek from between his teeth, nodding slowly. "Just…bundle up, okay? Put on those earmuffs I got for you."
Eridan sighed. "They're gonna mess up the masterpiece I made a my hair this mornin' but whatever your majesty, I'll do as instructed."
"And your mittens," Sollux added at his retreating back. He stood motionless over his bowl for a few seconds after Eridan had gone. Then he returned to stirring his mixture.
He had just clomped the frying pan down onto the range, turning up the dial on a burner when he heard the front door open and close. Sollux wandered from the kitchen and toward the living room window, watching through the drifting flakes as Eridan shuffled over to Karkat's house. He was dressed in a pea coat and scarf, earmuffs fastened over his head. Sollux made a mental note to get him something warmer than his current jacket. The midwest sure as hell wasn't California.
He wandered back to the stove, but he didn't begin frying pancakes until he heard the reassuring scrape of a shovel against the concrete outside. He gave a little smile before pouring some batter into the pan and making something that could not even be considered the second cousin twice removed of a circle.
He watched the batter begin bubbling up and became concerned when it started taking on the consistency of cracked granite. He tried to slide his spatula underneath to flip it over in case it was burning. And that's when he realized that he hadn't greased the pan. And Eridan's pans weren't exactly the height of teflon technology. He swore and lifted it off the burner, trying to scrape the pancake off the bottom before it went up in flames. He was mostly successful, but it made a complete mess of his first attempt.
Whatever. It had been a trial run anyway. Grabbing a stick of butter from the fridge, he quickly greased up the bottom of the pan and tried again.
The result was a stack of steaming, albeit rubbery, golden brown pancakes. Sollux admired them proudly as he turned off the burner and dumped the frying pan in the sink.
It was only when he'd finished setting the table that he realized that the rhythmic scrape of metal against concrete had stopped. He wondered if Eridan was already done. Either way, he was going to come inside and partake of the veritable breakfast feast that Sollux had orchestrated for him. Wiping his hands on a towel and smiling, Sollux went to the door and pulled it open.
Snow blew in, stinging his eyes. He raised an arm, blinking the icy crystals away. When he lowered it, he saw his blue Toyota, some of the snow scraped away from around its wheels. And at the end of the driveway Eridan lay sprawled in the snow, the shovel beside him.
Sollux stepped out onto the porch, smiling. "Are you making snow angels?"
The reply was nearly lost in the wind, but the indignant flop of his arms and the following cloud of disturbed snow was unmistakable. "No. I'm fuckin' dead is what."
Sollux rolled his eyes, not bothering to even step back inside to stuff his shoes on. Because Eridan was lying in the middle of the driveway like some petulant two-year-old, his pea coat powdered white, and his hair sculpture now beyond all hope of salvation.
It was stupidly irresistible. No-time-even-for-shoes irresistible.
He crouched down beside Eridan, wiping a particularly large clump of snow from the purple streak in his hair. "That's a pretty pathetic snow angel. I thought last night's lesson would've coaxed better out of you."
"I'm in no mood to be condescended at," he replied, his breath an angry puff in the cold air. "I take back every good thing I ever might have said about snow, or ever will say. I am retroactively fuckin' dashin' snow from the quality records. This shit is wet and heavy and I only got like half the car dug out and my hair is a mess, I don't even know why I bothered to do it if this was gonna end up bein' its cruel and premature demise."
More eye-rolling. "You didn't have to dig the car out, you know. I can probably just drive through it. I'm pretty sure the guy I bought the Toyota from had plans to turn it into some kind of unregistered combat vehicle had I not taken it off his hands. So the least it can do is plow through a couple inches of snow."
Eridan's cheeks turned a shade of pink that was too bright even with the current temperatures factored in. "I know. I just wanted to dig the fuckin' thing out, okay?"
Sollux ran a palm over Eridan's forehead, wiping away the melted snowflakes to plant a kiss there instead. He smelled like cold and wet. "I know you did. But you're going to be late, especially considering there's no way I'm letting you escape before eating at least one of the breakfast discs I slaved over."
The comment was met immediately with Eridan shuttering his eyes closed and replying in grave, hushed tones. "I'm afraid I can't do that, Sol. I have died."
His placid expression broke into a breathless burst of laughter the second he received a whap to the stomach.
"You will die if you don't get your ass back inside and eat my fucking blood, sweat, and tears."
"That sounds really gross, Sol, I'm just gonna state that now, for the record. We are recordin' this, right? I want this down on paper so that I never have to do it again. That way the next time you try to make breakfast I can just hold up my documents and remind you that this shit was fuckin' recorded all proper-like."
He was chased back inside so fast that his earmuffs and left boot never made it through the door.
"Brave soldiers," he proclaimed when he eyed them through the window, even as Sollux grabbed him by the scarf to drag him toward the table.
"Look, I set our plates up nice and everything. Just sit down, holy fuck."
Eridan slumped in his seat at last, defeated. Sollux pulled out the chair across from him—the only other chair available—and sat down as well. He then grabbed one of the pancakes off the top of the stack and tossed it on Eridan's plate.
"Why do you have such a hard time usin' utensils," Eridan whined as the butter and syrup were scooted toward him.
"Seven twenty-two," Sollux replied, tapping the back of his wrist.
"Fuck," Eridan burst out, lurching forward to grab his silverware. He lathered butter on his pancake and drizzled some syrup over it too before taking his knife and beginning to saw through the whole golden brown travesty.
Even though it was rushed and not at all the feast Sollux had quite pictured when he'd woken up that morning, there was something about watching Eridan stuff pancakes sloppily into his mouth that made something hot snag behind his sternum. He reached across the table to catch Eridan's chin in his hand, wiping a stray glob of syrup from the corner of his mouth. Those thick lashes fluttered under Sollux's touch, blue eyes turning towards him.
"You're not eatin' yours," he stated, the accusation plain in his voice.
The tiniest crease appeared between Eridan's thick brows. Not the hard line that he'd don with his usual ruffled indignation, but something soft and small. That he could hardly even be aware of.
Sollux just wanted to kiss it.
"Stop makin' stupid faces at me, if you don't eat I'm not waitin' for you come seven forty-five, okay, Vris'll have my head if I'm not in on time."
"Are the pancakes horrible?" Sollux asked, letting his hand migrate from Eridan's chin up to rest on his cheek.
Sollux tugged hard on his ear.
"Stop," Eridan yelped, jerking away, even as a grin split his face. "Eat your fuckin' food."
A sigh. "I don't want to go to work today," came the drowsy murmur, hand drifting down Eridan's neck. A pink blush followed in its wake.
"It's just one more day, Sol." His voice was distracted though. Like all the vehemence had been drained out of it by the lightest touch of fingertips.
"Sol, come on," he whined as the fingers snagged at the collar of his brown sweater. "I'm bein' serious."
The fingers retreated. Because he was being serious. For all the whining and complaining Eridan did about work, Sollux knew that he took a special kind of pride in it. Mixing coffee drinks with the same intensity that he did his hair, or tuned his guitar, or made Poptarts.
That he lived life.
He was impossible to hold down, even for a second. Even to just admire the way he burned, bright and vibrant. Because taking him from his wick, cupping him close, would only snuff that flame out.
Sollux liked the way he was too much. And sometimes all it took was a glob of syrup and a tiny crease between two eyebrows to remind him.
They clambered into the car after Sollux allowed himself a few bites of his own food. Eridan hadn't been just being petulant—they were quite shitty. Not sweet enough, and with the consistency of rubber. Not even a lethal smothering of syrup and butter could save them. So they dumped the rest of the culinary abominations in a container to pawn off on Gamzee later. Because Gamzee liked everything, and had trouble with 'no.'
After that, it was a quick drive downtown and a peck on that pink cheek and Eridan was out the door, waving one mittened hand before disappearing into the Core to serve the already gathering crowd of caffeine slaves.
The return drive was too quiet. As was the house when Sollux finally kicked his way back through the door. He didn't have work for another few hours. His was a short shift today. So he cleared the table properly and filled the sink with suds. Eridan complained if shit got left out, so one of the first things Sollux had learned about maintaining a happy coexistence was to do the dishes as soon as they were dirtied.
He spent the rest of the morning wrapped in the red blanket from the couch. Breathing in vanilla and dozing off and on until the phone in his pocket went off, declaring loudly that he had about twenty minutes left before leaving was an absolute requirement. Grumbling, he threw it on the floor before traipsing to the bathroom to shower.
Work was the usual drudgery, and he was about to get Very Angry at stupid-kid-who-spilled-soda-on-their-keyboard number three hundred and fifty-six when he was mercifully Suped and allowed to go on break. As he stomped into the back room and yanked his Hot Pocket from the company fridge, he pulled out his phone to see that there were about seven missed calls that hadn't been there that morning. Throwing his thawed block of calories in the microwave, he leaned against the counter and tapped his call history.
All from Feferi.
His brows drew together and he hit her number, pressing the phone to his ear. It rang twice before connecting.
"You know I have work today," he said before she had a chance to get a word in.
"I know, but this is extra serious! I had to catch you before you left tomorrow."
Sollux rolled his eyes. And people accused him of having adopted Eridan's dramatic streak. "What is it?"
"Vriska told me that you bought Eridan a ring."
Sollux pressed his lips together in a silent moment of vitriol against Vriska's unrepentantly loud mouth. "Yeah, I did. That was my gift idea, thanks for all your help. Are you about to tell me how shitty it is?"
"No, it's perfect, it's just…"
"I don't think you should give it to him at the actual Ampora Christmas exchange, is all."
Sollux's jaw went slack for a moment. "Why?"
"I don't know if he's talked to you about his parents that much? But they are pretty intense. Like, super-doting-to-make-up-for-all-the-time-spent-away intense. Does that make sense?"
"You're being stupid on purpose. It makes sense. But anyway, that means that the second they see the boyfriend giving him jewelry, they're going to pop open the champagne and induct you into the family. You'll get little pens with 'Sollux Ampora' engraved on them. I'm not joking."
"Oh my god."
"See?" she burst out. "So here's what you're going to do. You're going to give him your actual present early, and I'll stop by your place tomorrow with a set of scarves I had on reserve in case you couldn't think of anything else."
"You had scarves on reserve?"
"Yes, and they are perfectly innocuous and his parents will just think it's adorable and not a proposal."
The word 'proposal' sent a blush burning to his face. It was a good thing nobody else was in the break room.
"You'll accept the reserve scarves?"
"I'll accept the reserve scarves."
"And give him the real present early?"
"And give him the real present early, jesus christ FF, yes."
"Okay great, that's all I needed to hear! Good luck Sollux." The laughter was bright in her voice before the line cut off.
Sollux pulled his phone away from his ear and stared at the dimmed display as the microwave beeped insistently. His Hot Pocket had been done a few minutes ago.
By the time five o'clock rolled around, he was pulling up beside the Core, stomach tying itself into knots he was sure would make any boyscout jealous. He smoothed the lapel of the blazer he'd thrown on after speeding home from work. It had been a present from Eridan after one of his many mall excursions. 'Because you don't have anything nice and if we ever go out, I am not havin' you accompany me in your fuckin' Aperture Science T-shirt.'
'My Aperture Science T-shirt is awesome.'
'This blazer is better.'
Sollux had argued the contrary until he'd vowed to never wear the suit coat under any circumstances ever. So Eridan's look of blank shock as he opened the car door was not wholly without warrant.
"You're dressed up," he said, standing frozen with his hand on the roof of the Toyota.
"Yes," Sollux replied. That was all he could get out before his throat closed and he had to swallow a few times to get it open again.
"Is…something goin' on? Did I miss a memo somewhere?" He looked ready to bolt. Like he'd gotten the wrong car and just wanted to go back to waiting on the curb until his scruffy boyfriend pulled up like usual.
"Was no memo. Memo went out at three," Sollux forced out.
They stared at each other.
"Get in the fucking car before I ruin this suit with Three-Cheese Puke."
Eridan sat down like he'd been pushed. He swung the door shut behind him and Sollux slammed the car in drive before speeding down the road, kicking snow and slush up from under his wheels.
"So um. Are…am I gonna have the chance to also make myself look presentable?"
"No," Sollux replied immediately.
"I spilled coffee on my pants today," Eridan rebuked, completely aghast.
"If I stop now I'm going to fuck up, just let me do this," Sollux snapped, gripping the wheel until his knuckles turned white under the flickering glow of the passing street lamps.
The restaurant was a tiny affair, tucked away behind a larger shopping conglomerate located just off the city's main strip. It wasn't a place Sollux frequented at all, due to his shopping allergy and permanent lack of adequate funds. But he knew from repeated pining that Eridan had a thing for Indian food, and so it was to the tiny Indian restaurant that he drove, pulling his car into one of the few empty spaces and putting it in park.
"When do I get to know what's goin' on?" Eridan asked as Sollux undid his seat belt.
"Emergency date," Sollux replied. "You're hungry, right?"
"Well, yeah, but—"
He was cut off as Sollux got out of the car, circling around to open the door and pull Eridan out as well. There was a lot of stammering about coffee stains as Sollux dragged him to the restaurant, which stopped the instant they stumbled inside.
For as small as it was, it was bright and warm and vibrant. It placated the pulse hammering in Sollux's wrist to some extent. At least enough for him to ask the host coherently for a table for two. Sollux had to give the guy credit for his impeccable read of the situation, for they were led to a private nook tucked away in the corner of the restaurant. Once their waters were filled, they were left alone, the only sound coming from the distant chatter of the other patrons and the round tones of the overhead music.
Sollux pushed a menu toward Eridan before flipping open his own.
He blinked up from the list of curries and looked at Eridan. Truly looked at him for the first time since that morning. Since he'd waved goodbye with his knit purple mitten and disappeared inside the coffee shop.
He looked so pale. And small. He was holding the menu at an angle, hunched slightly in his seat. Like he was cold. Or embarrassed of his current state of dress, which was far more likely. And high on his cheekbones were two spots of pink warmth. His eyelashes looked even thicker and darker against the milk of his skin, like they'd been drawn in ink.
Sollux pushed his water aside and reached around the candle flickering in the middle of the table to catch Eridan's hands in his own. The return grip around his fingers was stronger than he'd been expecting.
He forgot sometimes. How strong he was.
Sollux bent down toward those knuckles, slightly chapped from the dry winter air, but soft. Fragrant with lotion and the distant kiss of coffee grounds. He pressed his lips to each one, chest uncomfortably tight.
He looked up without lifting his lips from those fingers. And the gaze he met was glossed with tears. It made those blue eyes flicker gold in the candlelight.
"You can order whatever you like." Sollux's voice was nothing more than a hoarse murmur, barely audible as the violins humming overhead hit a high note.
Eridan's lips, pink and full, pressed into a line. Perhaps to keep them from trembling. One tear shivered down his cheek, glinting gold.
"What's goin' on?"
Sollux's lashes brushed the back of Eridan's hand as he ducked down to kiss those knuckles again. "Like I said. Emergency date." His voice was soft against the pale warmth of Eridan's skin.
"Sol, we're…leavin' tomorrow."
"I know. I guess I wanted you to myself tonight. Also I heard your parents are kind of nuts."
A shaky laugh. It jostled another tear loose. "Yeah, they kinda are."
Sollux pulled one hand from Eridan's fingers to reach up and brush a tear away with his thumb. Eridan leaned into the touch hard. Harder than Sollux was expecting. It made him ache down to his toes to watch those inked lashes flutter shut. To see those pink lips come apart and mouth at his thumb. Gently. And yet with a certain desperation. A hunger. A want.
Sollux lifted his other hand and ran it through Eridan's soft brown hair. He could barely breathe.
"I wanted. To give you."
"I love you. Okay? I know I'm—I'm ass at saying so. I know I am. I whine and yell at my computer and make shitty food but—"
"—but I do. I…was in a really bad place. Before all this. And you. I don't think you realize how. How strong you are. You give your body a lot of shit, but goddammit Eridan, it has to be stronger than you think, to hold someone so…so beautiful, and…alive… Fuck…"
He ducked down, trying to wipe at his eyes as discreetly as he could. But it hardly mattered now. Like he could do anything else besides just look at the pale face and wobbly lips gazing back at him. Like he could do anything else besides be completely overwhelmed by it all. By everything. His entire body shuddered, like it was about to break.
But Eridan gripped his hands and leaned across the tiny table to press kisses against his messy black hair.
Sollux closed his eyes, just wanting to feel those lips against him. That warm intensity. The smell of vanilla. The overwhelming presence of life that was Eridan Ampora.
It calmed him enough to let his hand ease into his pocket and extract a tiny box. He placed it on the table between them, just beside the candle, and opened it. Between two white swells of velvet glittered a silver band, a purple gem cradled on top.
Eridan pulled away. He was silent as he stared at it, his eyes obscured by his eyelashes and a glaze of tears.
"If…I can…I can take it back. If you don't like it."
"God, Sol, you're a fuckin' idiot."
It was awkward, kissing across the table. But Sollux couldn't even care. Didn't care about the uncomfortable bend of his knees or the edge of the wood digging at his middle. His whole world, for that single moment, was the warm press of Eridan's lips. The taste of his tongue. Like coffee and cream. Like salt. Wet tears. The smell of his skin. The unrepentant grip of soft fingers in his hair. Sollux pulled him close. Closer. Around the table and into his lap. And he kissed him harder. Pressed a hand to that scarred sternum until he could feel the curve of Eridan's back against his chest. Until he could feel the flutter of his heart. Warm and unapologetically feverish. Alive. He pressed his lips to Eridan's neck, letting that pulse flicker at his lips like feather tips. Buttefly wings.
And stronger than anything he'd ever felt in his life.
He pulled the ring from the velvet with shaking fingers, and gave a wet, tear-drenched laugh as Eridan fumbled with one of the many rings adorning his fingers. It fell to the table with a metallic clatter, and Sollux palmed the offered hand gently before slipping his ring in place.
"It's cold," Eridan whispered. A chuckle edged with tears.
"It'll warm up," Sollux replied, pressing a kiss to the shell of his ear.
"I don't even have your present," Eridan murmured, sniffling.
"I can wait," Sollux whispered. "This couldn't."
Eridan shifted around and buried his face in Sollux's shoulder. They stayed that way for a while. Long enough for the waiter to approach and immediately retreat at least twice. But Sollux wasn't really counting. More important were the soft curls of Eridan's hair. The way the candle light made shadows dance across them.
"I got so lucky." Eridan's voice was a stuffed-up warble against Sollux's shoulder. "It's unfair. It's unfair is what it is. I'm a shit, I don't deserve this."
"I'm a bigger shit who deserves it even less."
A tiny laugh. "We're both so fuckin' dumb."
He cradled Eridan's head close. Ran his fingers through the curls. Let the warmth of his body permeate through his skin. His bones. Into the core of his heart. His whole body ached.
"I love you," Sollux whispered. Desperately. Fierecely. As if the intensity of his love could let him hold on. To keep things this way forever.
On his left hand a cracked gem glittered.
"I love you too, Sol."