"I cannot fuckin believe this," he is saying and staring despondently into the shitty dorm kitchen's drawers. They contain a motley assortment of bent cutlery and the occasional plastic utensil that has very obviously been forgotten in a hot pan long enough to bubble and droop. "Sol, we gotta make a Super Basic Kitchen Shit run to Target."
"We don't have time," you remind him. "Improvise."
"Fuuuuuck," Eridan groans and runs his hands through his hair. The brown dye over the violet is a weird almost auburn shade, the fluorescents striking wine-colored sparks from it. "Okay. No non-serrated knives, check, not that they'd even be remotely fuckin sharp enough to do a goddamn thing. One shitty cuttin board that is probably harborin colonies of bacteria that have worked out the rudiments a space travel by now. Two saucepans, neither one with a lid. One hideous motherfuckin roastin pan that I do not even wanna look at--no, take that shit away, Sol, I'm feelin downright faint over here." He droops against the counter and you relent and quit waving the offending article in his face.
"So can we do this shit or is this a 'sorry our kitchen blows syphilitic goats no joy for you' situation?"
He straightens up. "Let it never be said that Eridan fuckin Ampora shucks a goddamn challenge. Go find us some bleach to start with, all that shit wants disinfectin, and oh turn on the oven, it'd be ideal if it would maybe agree to work."
You have undertaken to make Dinner for Rose and Kanaya. You are regretting it. You have been regretting it ever since you agreed to do this shit.
Eridan gives you that look, that big violet-eyed Sol please this means a lot to me won't you just help me out here look, the one that's gotten you in trouble on more than one occasion since you fell under the umbra of his influence. Aw, dammit.
"Okay, okay. Oven is...on to three-fifty. Let's hope it works or at least doesn't not-work catastrophically, yeah? I'm gonna go find your stupid bleach but honestly, Eridan, it might be better to postpone all this shit until we can manage better--"
"I said we'd make dinner and we fuckin well will make dinner," he informs you. You raise your hands in defeat.
"Jawohl. If I don't come back it's because whatever lives in the janitor's closet ate me, okay? You get my computer shit. It is yours."
You're about to trudge off in service of your fate when KK slips past you through the door and goes to rootle in the fridge. "--Jesus Christ in an iron lung, the fucking milk thief thieved my fucking milk again. I even had my name on it and I HAVE TWO KINDS OF STREP in big old unmistakable letters, who even steals milk?"
"Hey, KK," you say. "Nice to see you too, I'm doing fine, thanks for asking."
"Shut the fuck up. Last time it was my goddamn frozen edamame and now it's my milk. I swear I should just suck it up and pay to get our fridge repaired but I should not have to fight to keep what's mine in a communal fridge."
"Fuckin unconscionable," Eridan agrees. "Shit with your name on it is sacred. Especially if you go to all a the trouble a puttin a contagion warnin on it."
"See? See?" KK gestures. "Ampora sympathizes with me."
"Sup, Vantas," somebody says from the doorway and you are utterly unsurprised to see Dave Strider leaning there in a red shirt that does wonderful things for his complexion. "Borrowed your dairy," he adds, and strolls off. You look from the door to KK and wonder if it's possible for somebody to have a stroke out of sheer fulminant rage.
"I'm going to kill him," KK seethes. "I'm going to dice him up into lots of little pieces and feed them to the carnivorous plants in the bio lab. And I'm going to fucking laugh while I do it."
"No you're not," you say and drape an arm over his shoulders. "You're gonna help me locate some bleach and stand up to Taskmaster here in our quest to make edible dinner for a couple of girls."
KK looks up at you, and belatedly twitches out from under your arm.
"...fuck," he says. "Not like I got anything better to do with my afternoon, God knows."
You think you've bought Strider another couple of hours of life to do whatever prankster's gambit he's got in mind. The things you fucking put up with for the sake of dorm hall peace, it is astonishing.
You are not surprised that Eridan manages to pull off a goddamn triumph using a stove with one functional burner, an oven with one and a half functional elements, two saucepans, one mixing bowl, a truly shitty collection of knives, and the somewhat unhelpful assistance of Karkat and yourself. You are not even surprised when Lalonde, after dinner (he’d fucking roasted a chicken like someone who knows what the hell they’re doing and he’d made you stir this rice thing like crazy while he poured stuff into it and kept up a running commentary about shit you had no idea what he was talking about and magically somehow the rice seemed to sort of stop being rice and go all wonderfully gloopy and almost silky-looking and you even forgave him for not letting you have any of the wine until that was done because wow, it turned out to be really fucking good) wraps him up in her perfect arms and kisses the top of his head and tells him he has done well, he has proved himself worthy of the Theater People tribe. Kanaya drums a little ceremonial beat on the table and grins at you, a wonderfully undignified grin from somebody who looks like that, and you think maybe the approbation kind-of-sort-of maybe extends to you as well.
After they’ve gone, walking arm in arm back to the townhouses like two figures out of dream, you tug Eridan aside and you say “leave the dishes for later” and you kiss him before he can react. It never stops making you stupidly happy when you can stall his processes entirely just by doing that, by tracing the points of his teeth with your tongue, claiming his lips with yours.
“Sol,” he says, but you shake your head and take him by the hand. You have discovered a thing--well, you and KK had discovered a thing--which you think he ought to see.
“Come with me.”
Gresley, like the other dorms on this side of campus, is a three-story building with a flattish roof surrounded by a parapet that’s supposed to look dignified but just looks vaguely tenemental. You aren’t supposed to know how to get up onto that roof, but then again you aren’t supposed to be as fiendishly clever as you are, and you and KK had been exploring the other night and found that if you slipped a school ID card in between the jamb and door of the locked entryway in the north stairwell you could wiggle it just like this and the tongue of the lock would slide free, opening to reveal a dusty narrow flight of additional steps leading upward into darkness. If you then followed these up and did your card trick again on the roof-access door you would find yourself standing on the roof overlooking this entire side of campus, a strange landscape of chimney vents and air-conditioners and drifts of faded leaves in all the corners.
The moon is up by the time you and Eridan get up there, and he makes a little soft sound staring out at the silvered world, so you have to kiss him again: it’s necessary.
“Sol,” he says again. “How did you...”
“I’m very clever.” You kiss him again and draw him over to the corner you’d found before where you could settle comfortably looking out over campus without being all that noticeable to any curious upwards-glancing public safety officers. “Eridan, listen.”
His face goes still and he stares at you and oh, fuck, you can tell he’s thinking you’re about to have The Talk, so you just pull him close and tuck his head under your chin so you don’t have to look at that face while you say what you have to say. “--Listen. I just. I.”
Fuck this is difficult.
“Kind of really suck at words, which you mighta guessed already but I just...need to say this okay, it’s fine if you don’t like feel the same way, it’s dumb of me and everything but...”
“Sol,” he says against you, and you are horrified to hear the threat of tears in his voice, and so you just abandon the speech you’d memorized the night before in front of your computer, lips moving soundlessly as you tried to get the words to stick in your stupid buzzing head.
“....IthinkIloveyou,” you jerk out in one unlovely spate of sound.
Now it’s your turn to swallow back the promise of tears because this is not something you can take back or ameliorate with a “just kidding” or a self-deprecating laugh. He says nothing for so long that you think you might just have to go take a running jump off the side of the fucking roof before he pulls back enough to be able to look you in the mismatched eyes.
He is crying and oh no what have you done what have you done Captor did you just fuck up the best thing that has ever happened to you in your stupid bipolar life what is going to happen now, and he...
...he takes your nerveless hands in his and he kisses your fingertips. A tear splashes hot-cold on one of your knuckles and just like that everything is no longer terrible.
“...well good,” he says, unsteadily. “That’s fuckin convenient, Sol, on account a I love you like...a thing I don’t got words for, is all. You’re the best thing ever happened to me.”
“Oh,” you say, and the next thing you know the two of you are twined up together in an ungainly wonderful knot of bones and angles and you’re holding him tight, so tight, because you kind of think if you let him go even a little he’ll just disappear: this is not something that should be happening to you, you’re Sollux Captor, you’re the universe’s grand idiotic fuckup, somebody somewhere has failed to carry the three and good things are suddenly in your life. “Eridan, I...”
“Shh,” he says, face buried against your neck. You are breathing in the wonderful sharp-rose smell of his hair, the warm solidity of his body is steadying your racing heart. “Sol. Sollux. I suck at this, okay? I always sucked at this, at...at like bein a person someone could love, so this is kinda hard for me, but shut up an listen?”
You make a little helpless noise and hug him tighter, until he groans a little and you have to let him go so he can breathe.
“When I was fourteen or thereabouts, maybe a little older, I got switched from private tutorin at home to this snotty rich-kid private academy cause my dad’s kinda the universe’s most egregious fuckin snob and he wanted me to get in good with my social peers or whatever passes for a rationale in his mind. I thought this was a wonderful idea at the time.”
He’s beginning to relax a little, you can feel his pulse fluttering slightly less crazily, and after another moment he wriggles enough to be lying comfortably in your arms with his head against your shoulder. “A course the other kids at the snotty fuckin rich-kid private academy were, y’know, actually capable a basic social interaction with one another, whereas I never even fuckin hung out with other kids. So you can kinda see where this shit is going.”
“They tore you to bits,” you say.
“Pretty much. The cape didn’t help.”
“You wore the cape?”
“At first it was like I thought they expected me too, and then after the first couple a days I was doin it because I was fucked if a bunch a stupid stranger kids would make me change my method a dress an style. That’s where it went. I’d go in every day an it’d be all oh check out Lord Ampora in his regal fuckin regalia, walkin around with his nose in the air like his shit don’t stink, let’s knock his books outta his hands and throw shit at him in the lunchroom and put gross things in his locker and play that hilarious trick where we get someone to go over to him where he’s sittin alone an pretend to be all like they like him so the rest of us can laugh like drains.”
You hold him close. “Eridan...”
“Shh. I’m not done. Not close to done. So yeah, shit was sub fuckin optimal, but the thing was I learned that if I agreed with them they didn’t know what the hell to do next, and that was enough to get them to leave me alone for a couple hours at a stretch. Problem is with that that if you hear shit enough times and you agree with it out loud you start believin it.”
You know this for a fact.
“So about halfway through my first year at the academy I was like okay, so basically everyone an their grandma fuckin hates me, statistically speakin it must be true, also I kinda hate myself for a bunch a different and interestinly varied reasons, what the fuck am I even doin tryin to bother with this shit. By then it was painfully obvious that whatever my dad paid to have me in the first place was kinda a shitty investment.”
“Test-tube baby. Or petri-dish, whatever. My mother couldn’t catch pregnant on her own an my dad was like ‘no i must have a son an fuckin heir to carry on my lineage’ so I guess they spent a shitload a money on it. Musta been one massive disappointment, I can tell you.” He rubs his cheek against your shirt, damp with tears--yours and his, you don’t know which. “So I was like basically this shit is not even worth it, I suck on every level a kid can possibly suck, and, yeah, took a bunch a pills. Thinkin back on it I coulda chosen my method a little better, like, not only did it not work but it screwed up my stomach like fuck.”
You stroke his hair, not saying anything: you know he has to say these words, get it out, you know because you have these words to say as well. “Landed my stupid ass in the mental hospital for like two, three months after that. Only good thing about that place was the goddamn jello, I couldn’t even eat the institutional pizza cause my guts were so fucked up. But I started gettin letters from someone at the school out a the blue.”
“Yeah, like this kid--Feferi Peixes, she was the daughter of some ambassador or somethin, super rich--she wrote to me while I was inside an said shit like, I hope you’re feelin better, the things the other kids said to you were bullshit, like that. I was so fuckin bored an miserable I wrote back to her an said no I am not feelin better I feel like fuckin shit an I hate everybody includin myself, what’s it to you, an to her credit she actually wrote me back after that, an...well, she ended up bein my only real friend till I got here.”
You suddenly feel very, very warm toward Feferi Peixes. You still need to write her a letter or something.
Eridan sniffles and sits up enough to rub at his face and make cross noises about his makeup, which is a mess. He fishes for his cigarette-case.
“When I got here I was...really fuckin messed up because I didn’t know how the hell to...like, you know, be, toward other kids, an I wanted to be awesome an way cooler than everyone an you saw how well that went, an you were just so...so cool, Sol, you had your shit together an you knew what you were doin an I just...I felt so miserably sick I couldn’t hardly think. But I was a dick to you an I know that perfectly well.”
“Yeah, you were,” you say, and reach to stroke a strand of hair away from his face. “Course, I was being about as dickish as it is possible to be right back, so I dunno which one of us is the bigger jerk in this situation.”
He lights two cloves and hands you one. “Anyway after my amazin one-night-only performance as Eridan the Disgustin Human Puke Volcano you fuckin rescued me an...yeah, I was kinda lost right there. You couldn’t know about it, a course. Couldn’t let you know about it.”
You make a little helpless noise and tug at him and he settles back against your shoulder. “An then you were all like...stoical an I couldn’t read you for shit but I figured you were like so not even interested in my goddamn bullshit an then Rose an I came back from the party after Fef texted me an found you all curled up on fuckin fire, Sol, I was scared, you weren’t makin any sense. You have any idea how hard it was not to just crawl on the bed an wrap you up an hold you tight right then? I just...fuck, I thought you seriously didn’t have any feelins for me at all.”
“You’re an idiot, Eridan Ampora,” you tell him, and you stroke his hair. “But...if you want to be, I mean. You’re my idiot.”
He nods against you, burrowing closer. The night air all around you is soft, sweet, you can hear a single bird’s voice in the woods singing on and on, like tears. “Your idiot,” he agrees. Clove smoke rises around the pair of you like a veil. “Entirely yours.”
Opening night. Rose texts you when you’re already on your way over to the theater building; the curtain doesn’t rise for another two hours but you figure you’re gonna be needed. You aren’t wrong.
TT: Sollux, could you be an angel and come round to the dressing rooms--and bring Eridan’s medication?
TA: iim already on my way
TA: how ii2 he
TT: Bearing up as well as can be expected but he’s been rather sick and he’s in some discomfort.
TA: under2tood. btw you are gonna be a great 2hriink one day dr. ro2e
TA: you already know how to mi2u2e the word dii2comfort
TT: I try.
He looks fucking awful but he lights up like a follow-spot when he sees you, and wriggles away from the people around him to fling himself at you in a hug. You hold him tight, aware of his thrumming nervous energy, how tightly wound he is. “Hey,” you say. “Brought you stuff.”
“...you are the best,” he says into your shoulder and then pulls himself together. He’s very very pale and slightly greenish around the mouth and you can tell by the way he moves that his stomach is hurting him.
“Go sit down, jesus.” All around you the dressing-rooms are bustling, the smell of hot lightbulbs and powder and sweat and makeup and wig-glue and sheer excitement blending together into a sensory overload that makes you feel unsteady, and you don’t have to go out there on stage. You walk Eridan back to his seat at the makeup table and unpack your medic’s satchel: his super fucking crazy turbocharged prescription antacids, his promethazine, Tums, and a thermos of his gross herb tea stuff with the good honey in. For a moment his lip wobbles and you’re afraid he’s going to mess up the careful paint around his eyes but he gets hold of himself and just clutches your hands in gratitude. You squeeze his fingers gently--they let him wear his rings at least, even if his poor beautiful stupid purple hair had to go--and you lean down to kiss him very lightly on the lips.
“Break someone’s legs, Eridan,” you say. “I love you.”
He gurgles with laughter and the green tint is already fading from his face. “Are the others gonna be there tonight?”
“The fuck do you take me for? Of course. We got a whole goddamn section in the second row. I made sure KK and Strider were sitting together for maximum lulz.”
“You are an evil mastermind, Sol.” He’s counting pills out into his hand--a hand that’s shaking less-- and swallows them with a businesslike gulp of tea and only a small wince. “What about Gamzee?”
“Gamzee will be chill. Gamzee explained this to me with gestures of an almost ethereal grace while dangling upside down off the edge of his bed. I’m pretty sure he’s gonna be too high to do much other than clap a whole fuck of a lot.”
“Splendid.” Eridan turns his attention back to the mirror and you can see his concentration sliding back into place and you have to stop yourself wanting to do something to get his attention back on you goddamnit, but what the fuck, that’s the whole point of you being here is to get him to relax and get back on track. You just watch as he traces the curves and angles of his eyebrows with a pencil, outlines his eyes--he’s using a sort of pale-gold at the inner corners that makes the purple color seem ridiculously vibrant--and lets one of the others do stuff to his hair.
You feel superfluous.
You are in fact about to just sort of turn and go when he meets your eyes in the mirror and something in the expression makes you come closer. You have to duck out of the way of the kid fucking with his hair and you just find yourself ending up kneeling beside his chair without thinking about it.
Eridan puts a slightly shaky hand on your shoulder, then strokes your hair. “Love you,” he says. “So much. I wanted you to have this, Sol, I meant to give this to you before but today has been such a goddamn clusterfuck you would not even believe it,” and he’s wriggling one of the rings off his fingers, it’s the one you really like and you always play with, the one with the amethyst like a lump of violet ice held between the curving arms of two hyperbolas of gold. You’d been really bored one afternoon while he was rehearsing and you’d asked to look at it properly and you’d realized it really is a decent representation of the function (f)x = 1/x and you’d tried to explain that to him and he had gone all glazed and you’d both ended up laughing and then more than laughing, and that day--to quote Kanaya quoting Dante--you read no further.
The ring is warm, heavy in your palm. You look up at him and it’s your turn for your lip to tremble, but Eridan just smiles at you and whatever it is huddling darkly over your heart shatters and falls into dust. This is real, you think, this is real as the weight of gold and gemstone in your hand, as real as the little tiny dark freckle beside his right eye that constantly demands that you kiss it, as real as anything can ever be.
You slide Eridan’s ring onto your finger and it feels hot and strange and perfectly correct at the same time, and when he leans down to kiss your forehead, leaving a smudge of pale paint, you feel dismissed--but rightfully--and you say goodbye and you take your leave.
TT: I’m impressed.
TT: Enjoy the show, Sollux.
TT: We’re all coming back to my house afterward for the standard Opening Night Party. You are of course invited.
TA: ii would not mii22 iit for the world, ro2e.
TA: but iif ii 2teal hiim away before naked tiime wiill you look the other way?
TT: I should be jolly well disturbed if you did not.
TA: ro2e tell me thii2 ii2nt goiing two end
TT: I can’t.
TT: Everything ends.
TT: But I believe I can say with some certainty that now, at this time and in this place, for all intents and purposes, we are right where we belong.
Karkat is about to say something about your new jewelry when Strider interrupts him; Gamzee is staring happily at the beautifully painted set pieces; when the curtain goes up all four of you are quiet. It’s a good play, it’s a hilarious play, it’s a play that makes you tear up more than once, but your eyes are only for Cinderella’s Prince--who is haughty and beautiful and flawed and you would totally say that he and Rapunzel’s Prince should just get the fuck over it and kiss already if you weren’t so damn intent on listening to him sing. Even Strider doesn’t talk during the play, and you know it’s difficult short of shooting Strider full of thorazine to get him to shut the fuck up for more than ten minutes at a time.
It’s beautiful. And you can tell how much work went into it, and you can also tell how much work is not being shown to the audience, the hours and hours and hours of rehearsal and angst and memorization and tantrums. You will probably never think of theatrical productions the same way again.
When the curtain falls KK has tears in his eyes--hell, one of them’s escaped to trail a glistening line down his cheek, it was You are not alone that got him, it gets everyone, it almost got you--and beside you Gamzee is snurfling with zero self-consciousness whatsoever. You hand him a kleenex.
You feel oddly dissociated, floaty, as if you’re not sure what should happen next. When the four of you sidle out of the seats and back into the lobby you don’t know if you should go excuse yourself and try to get back into the dressing rooms or wait for Eridan to come out or what and then you get sucked into a conversation with KK who is desperately trying to get his cool back and wiping furtively at his eyes and you take pity on him and argue about the morality of beanstalk invasions and the motivation of the giants until he has his breathing steadied and his face mostly under control. Then Gamzee’s there, wrapping a long arm around KK, and you can see the desire to burst into fresh tears controlled with difficulty--and Strider’s saying something--and then Strider’s tugging on your shoulder and you turn to tell him to fuck off and Eridan is there.
Eridan is there in what is not his purple cape but is the purple cape belonging to Cinderella’s Prince. He’s taken off his stage makeup with the exception of the beautiful work around his eyes and he’s wearing plain black underneath the violet drapery of the cape.
You don’t hear anybody else saying anything to you at all: you just find yourself twitching your shirt out of Strider’s nerveless grip and closing the distance to Eridan and then you are wrapped up in heavy violet satin and held close to a warm insistent body. Distantly there’s applause, and you sort of want to wriggle one hand free to flip off everybody in the world, but Eridan is holding you, Eridan is hugging you tight right in front of the entire fucking campus in a stupid borrowed purple cloak and you think you might explode into little flickery stars of utter, utter contentment.
He turns with you and murmurs in your ear, and you look up to find Rose and Kanaya, and the whole troupe of players, smiling at you both. Rose holds out her hands to you.
You slip your arm around Eridan’s waist and you reach for Rose’s hand and, surrounded, embraced, inexplicably wanted, you let them lead you home.
From now on I know I'll be more careful where I tread
I'm alive, I'm smiling, I'm so tired of being dead
I see in full clarity what was so muddy before
You see I'm far from empty, I'm back to what I live for
--Temporal Shenanigans, Rachel MacWhirter