Dave sticks a finger between his throat and bow tie, pulling it a little looser. He took off his suit jacket five minutes into the reception, back when he caught sight of Tavros leaning forward to talk to John, Hasa beside him, and – there was nothing, in his head, just silence limned with the beat of his own blood.
He's been struggling since then. It'd be a pretty douche move to sneak off with Tavros halfway through his own sister's reception to go have a quickie. Besides, knowing their luck Samar would wonder what they were doing, follow them back to their guest room, and get an eyeful that all the therapy in the world would never cure. So Dave has spent most of the reception staring at the ceiling, which is a replica of the Hogwarts Great Hall, or at his plate, which is why he's now done eating when everyone else still has half their food left.
Tavros's suit doesn't fit. Nothing ever does, not even the scrubs he wears at work, but this is different, less ‘young overworked veterinarian working badly-timed shifts' and more 'young father in what was a moderately well-fitting suit before it got rumpled while herding his-and-Dave's grubs around' and that is an entirely different iron cooking pot full of aquatic scalefinbeasts. Except Dave does not want to take aquatic scalefinbeasts back home and cuddle in bed with them like a four-year-old with a stuffed animal.
On the other hand, aquatic scalefinbeasts would not wake him up in the middle of the night on a regular basis because "being a nocturnal creature living on a diurnal schedule is, uh, hard."
He still wouldn't fuck a fish, though.
One seat down on the other side of the table, Bro is showing Samar how to gouge out suprasternal notches using table knives and/or chopsticks, which Dave is actually surprised they hadn't gotten around to yet. Samar's almost four sweeps old now.
He should probably put a word in Bro's ear to make sure Hasa learns pretty soon too. She's too cute not to be learning self-defense early, and anyway she follows in the Strider tradition of idolizing her older brother, as is good and proper, so she might as well learn it right the first time.
"I am afraid," Equius mutters beside him, as if trying out the word. "I am afraid of your human lusus and his dangerous effectiveness and why is he teaching... Oh dear."
"It's not that bad!" Nepeta chirps from across the table. "The knives aren't as sharp as they look."
"'Scuse me," Dave says, and stands up.
He walks around the table, past Sollux and Sollux's plus-one girlfriend and Gamzee, to where Bro and Samar are sitting, reaches to lean on the back of Bro's chair, and flashdraws his table knife to press the blunt edge to Bro's throat from behind, only to be halfway there before there's a pricking at his throat. He freezes and flicks his gaze down.
It's a fork. He looks across the table.
It's his own fork.
"Yield?" Bro asks.
"Yield," he sighs. He's getting rusty.
Samar squeaks. Bro takes the fork away from Dave's neck.
"What's the first rule?" Bro asks Samar.
"Always know who's behind you," Samar recites.
"And the second rule?"
"Be behind them first with a weapon in hand."
"Good." Bro sits down again.
Dave ruffles Samar's darkwild hair and asks, "How you doing?"
"Uncle showed me how to use chopsticks!"
"Use like eat with or use like deliver extreme beatdowns?"
Samar puffs out his chest. "Both."
Dave tries to match Bro's sunglass-obscured expression with his own, similarly sunglass-obscured, one. "How's the tracheotomy going?"
Bro delivers a casually expressive shrug. Not bad for a three-and-a-half-sweep troll wriggler.
"Keep going, then," Dave says, and ruffles Samar's hair again. He's starting to worry that he's not doing that as an ironic nod to the Fifties-Dad stereotype anymore, and is just doing it because Samar's hair curls uncontrollably and is surprisingly soft.
Dave and Samar share a fistbump of mutual paterfilial respect and he gives Bro an ironic eyebrow salute before walking a little further down the table to lean over Hasa's chair.
"Hey, babe," he says to her, as she turns around and wiggles to standing on the chair so that she's eye-level with him. Her little yellow eyelashes flutter. "How's it going?"
"I had a cupcake," she declares, thrusting an empty cupcake wrapper at him. "Rainbow flavored!"
He looks over her head, at an angle, and sees that yes, there are cupcake crumbs caught in Terezi's teeth. Gotcha.
"And you didn't save me any?"
"Daddy said not to."
"Daddy's as right as a politician advocating -" he starts, and cuts himself off before he can say the deportation or execution of all trolls on Earth and the shutdown of all the warp sites, because sometimes he forgets that as smart as his kids are, they go to diversity-friendly schools and don't need to hear that kind of shit yet. "As a politician advocating a National Honey Almond Grubcake Celebration Day." He lets himself look at Tavros, then, and he can tell from the way Tavros looks at him, chin low with sadness, that Tavros heard the comparison he didn't make. Fucking Walton.
"Hey, babe," he says to Tavros, in an ironically identical tone of voice.
"She's been good," Tavros says, standing up. His tie is still tight around his throat, a streak of black disappearing into the vest he's still wearing, except that the tie's woven so that when the light hits it just right it sheens copper.
Dave flexes the fingers of his left hand where it hangs by his side, wanting to touch. "Have you been good? Because Santa keeps track all year ‘round for big boys and girls too."
"I guess I'm bad, because I keep getting carbon bricks," Tavros says earnestly, "but I, uh, know better than to ask for my dead mammoth lizards in the form of Texas oil again."
"There's nothing dead about the mammoth lizard Santa made sure you got," Dave starts, and would go on except Hasa interrupts him.
"Dad, what's a mam," she pauses, "Ma..."
"Mammoth lizard," he finishes. "Ask Jade." She folds down on her seat and bumps down to the floor, tripping three seats down to where Jade is sitting. Jade picks her up and sits her on her lap before booping her nose. Dave looks away before he can get diabetes.
"Do you want me to take her?" Dave asks.
Tavros shrugs. The fabric of his tie ripples into color, then darkness. "Bro might want to talk to someone. Adult."
"Gamzee's with him, and he gets a better class of dame when the wrigglers are with him, actually. They like that he's multicultural. It's a cried river of human watertears when he tells them stories about his Ensigneecapper matesprit who is lost in the depths of space on the Iya-Seht-Seht Carnavoracious, most decorated ship in the fleet, et cetera, now that the wrigglers are in bed how about we get better acquainted."
A sharp cackle from behind him fails to startle; Terezi finishes sniffing his suit before declaring, "The Iya-Seht-Seht Carnavoracious was the site of an episode of cannibalism after an attempted mutiny! All the remaining officers were promoted. They now serve on the Iya-Seht Bellicause, which is stationed near the Strait of Malacca." She sharkgrins at him.
"Glad to hear that Alternia is joining in on the tropical sun-and-sand beach skullvolleyball fest of reining in Southeast Asian piracy," Dave says.
"It is part of a special agreement with Singapore. I like Singapore. They execute criminals." Terezi shows some more teeth – her mouth is a +1 Orifice of Tooth-Holding. One of these days he should get her to open up and let him count how many she has.
"Hard to commit crimes without a pulse, yeah," Dave says.
Terezi takes a swig from her lime-green sippy cup. Rose's mom made sure the reception was passive-aggressively catered with Thai, wine, milk, and sippy cups. Dave and Terezi have, of course, spent the whole lunch reception drinking out of said sippy cups, though Terezi took the lid off hers after one of her fangs punched a hole in it.
Tavros picks up his glass of water and sips from it. The ice inside scatters the light from the dining hall windows over the ceiling, his suit, the softened edges of his face. Dave files away for later the sudden image of bringing ice to bed on a summer evening, the shades of sunset drawing shadows and brightness over their bodies. Dragging chips of ice over each other's skin with their fingertips, licking coldness from each other's mouths.
Maybe when Samar and Hasa go to Bro's for a week during summer vacation.
Terezi sniffs the air, cackles, gives him a spine-realigning slap on the back, exhales cupcake and curry breath on his face, and says, "You smell like maple syrup and fake cherry."
Tavros frowns vaguely at her in confusion. "What does that mean?"
Before Terezi can say it means he's thinking about pailing you! Dave jumps in with, "It means that Terezi wants to go on an ice cream moirail date tomorrow so she can order sherbet with rainbow sprinkles and cherries. And now I can feel Rose getting her let's use our psychology degree to tease out the phallic imagery in Dave's verbal diarrhea of allusions look again – like the literal bulging cocks in my life aren't enough as it is - so I'm absconding the hell outta here before she can put me on an uncomfortably vulva-shaped couch and ask me why I think it looks like a vulva and why does that make me uncomfortable. Come on." He wraps his hand around Tavros's upper arm and hauls him out of the room into the hall, where a life-size wax statue of Ian McKellen as Gandalf faces the door.
Tavros stares at it, wide-eyed. "That's... scary. Actually."
"Close your eyes."
"I think it might be watching me."
Dave drags him around to the other side of the statue, and then Tavros whimpers. Dave looks back at it.
The head has turned to follow them.
"...that thing just buried itself in the depths of the uncanny bottomless pit of Balrog-slaying wizard undeath," Dave says, lets his back sink against the wall, and pulls Tavros in by his tie for a kiss, making sure Tavros is facing away from the statue.
When Tavros pulls away, breathing hard, he's holding Dave by the small of his back, hands warm through the fabric of his shirt. Dave loosens Tavros's tie, undoes the top button on his shirt, spreads out the fabric at the neck. Lets his fingers run over the faint outlines of copper-colored bruises rising under Tavros's skin from last night. Tavros shivers a little.
"This is probably, uh, a bad place," he says.
"I know. Gandalf over there is probably communing with Rose about how we're getting all horny-teenager here in the hall, and any minute now Hasa is going to come looking for us, leading to her drowning her traumas in booze and seriously uncool romantic partners in high school."
"You don't care?"
"Your tie," Dave says, "makes every ice-cold bone in my body think that melting might not be such a bad fate after all."
Tavros inhales. Dave watches the color slip into the fabric of the tie and then fade away when Tavros breathes out.
"Kanaya loaned it -"
"Ours now," Dave cuts him off. "Wearers keepers. Also, I'm getting some very strong feelings related to this tie."
Tavros's expression gets stuck somewhere between a smile and an anxious frown. It looks painful, so Dave rescues him. "She'll be too busy getting up to snarky-hot XXX girl-on-girl shenanigans, probably involving dressing Rose up and then dressing her down and then deconstructing lesbianism, to remember a couple feet of tie," he points out, then inadvertently imagines what Kanaya dressing Rose down might look like.
From the guiltily aroused look on Tavros's face, he's thinking the same thing.
"Uh," Tavros says awkwardly.
Dave pushes his sunglasses back in place. "We can always say that one of the lusi ate it."