“So...excuse me if this sounds about as polite as cholerbear fart at a highblood banquet, but what the fuck is going on with you and Rose now? Since apparently it’s human custom to get high on space candy and make an ass out of yourself while hurling a pair of matesprits around the room on chairs, I was wondering if you could explain. Slowly. Preferably clearly, since the remaining members of the Human race that actually know anything about this custom seem to favour spiralling off into hitherto uncharted realms of bullshittery whenever I try to get a straight answer out of them.”
You pause. It’s less of a choice and more of a necessity, given that your lungs are completely empty. Kanaya eyes you knowingly as she continues sorting laundry, and the whole scene is so bulge-blisteringly domestic it makes you want to puke with happiness. Their house is a tasteful mix of bright colours and bold black artwork that starts to give you the creeps if you stare at it for too long, and the bedspread you’re perched on is no exception. It has a large, detailed depiction of a terrifying monster emblazoned across it. The monster is wearing a rainbow-coloured bowtie and a miniature top hat.
Kanaya is smiling, two fangs perched on her purple lower lip even as she roots around in the basket of clean clothes for a lost sock and comes up empty. She hasn’t stopped smiling since she and Rose returned from their “honeymoon”, and you’d be willing to bet that nobody will need a nightlight in the Lalonde-Maryam hivehold for the foreseeable future. Rainbow drinker status aside, both of them are glowing.
“Karkat, I know that you and Dave have watched hundreds of human movies that feature a wedding. Surely you know what it means.”
You probably should know, after your extensive research into human cultural customs. The problem is that 90% of those movies ended with a wedding, if they featured one at all. Information about marriage itself was frustratingly thin on the ground, and asking Dave had resulted in a lot of vague mumbling about 2.4 kids and falling slowly and desperately out of love with one another. He wouldn’t even tell you if this was due to the tragic loss of 60% of one of the children or not. Either way, it didn’t sound good.
It doesn’t sound like something that will be good for two of your best friends. Nonetheless, they seem happy.
“Humor me, Kanaya. Pretend I’m as braindead as John for five minutes and explain what all of this means. Use big words, nothing with more than three syllables.”
“I will endeavour to ‘keep it simple, stupid’.” Kanaya says, grinning as she makes the enclosure talons. “When humans get married, they agree to spend the rest of their lives together and not to have any sexual relationships with anyone else. Does that make sense? I apologize for the word ‘relationships’, I know that was four syllables. I can clarify what it means if you need me to.”
Every word is even more careful than even Kanaya’s usual speech. She sits down on the bed next to you and ruffles your hair. You feel like a stupid piece of shit but it’s also sort of nice. Damn, you’ve fucking missed her.
“Okay. I know I said to treat me like Egbert, but I formally fucking rescind that order. I can feel my think pan rotting with every over-enunciation.”
You sigh, looking down at the floor and away from her mockingly-caring eyes.
“I do understand all of that, believe it or not. I guess my question, really, is...why? It’s not like you were afraid you were going to break up or anything, is it?” Your voice wavers a little, and you fucking hate how it sounds.
Kanaya puts an arm around you, leaning her cheek against your head like you always imagined a moirail would do. It’s almost too much, too gentle.
“No, of course not,” she says, squeezing you gently. “Rose and I are completely fine, as always. Rose simply said that in some timelines, she’d never made it clear to me that this was what she wanted. That she wanted us to be together always, and that she loved me. She didn’t want me to ever doubt for a second that that was the case...apparently not all versions of us were so lucky.”
For a few seconds you can tell Kanaya is somewhere else, lost in the memory of the conversation. You lean against her as discreetly as possible, and suppress a shiver at the thought of all of the dead Karkats that didn’t make it. All of the dead Roses, dead Kanayas.
“Yeah...that makes sense.” You reply, with a lump in your throat.
“We are very happy together,” she murmurs, her voice soft with affection. It makes the hairs at the nape of your neck stand on end, but not in an unpleasant way. “I’m glad you’re happy too, Karkat.”
You are, you realize. The worries and the anxieties and the nagging stress that squats at the back of your mind are all still there, but they’re quieter. A low buzzing in your soul instead of a high, wailing vibration. You know the reason for that, and he’s sitting back at your hive, most likely mixing together some godawful pieces of ancient pop-culture into something weirdly catchy. Hands that are firm and sure with the decks were gentle, hesitant, when he reached out to you. Now they’re just as skilled at calming you, loving you, making you feel whole and warm and safe.
You wonder if he knows that.
You think you might have an important question to ask.
“Kanaya,” you say, as you pull yourself to your feet. “I have to ask. I’ve seen about a million fucking weddings and not one single one involved the entire party getting wasted on space candy. Please tell me that isn’t compulsory.”
The trees are in bloom as the sun sets in Rose and Kanaya’s garden, leaving drifts of pink and purple petals along the sides of the path to the transportalizer. Being out in the sunshine still feels odd, unnatural, even at dusk. The sun always shines a little too brightly for you in the Carapacian kingdom, which is good for the flowers and Rainbow Drinkers, but shitty for you. A quick step through a haze of static, however, and you can finally open your eyes again. The Troll kingdom has a nice, ever-present layer of cloud that makes it perfect for Alternian eyes. It lifts only when the stars are shining in the sky, turning to the ragged ribbons that hang above you now. Having a Witch of Space as a neighbour and best friend really pays dividends in the weather department.
The lights are on in your hive, a warm glow that calls you home, but when you walk through the door there’s no sign of Dave. It’s hardly surprising; Dave likes the whole hive to be lit up like a Perigree’s Eve Shrub, and apparently doesn’t give a shit about the glow-grubs burning out. You flick them off as you wander across the living room to the stairs, glancing disapprovingly at the empty cans of Tab arranged into a pyramid on the coffee table, and head up toward your respiteblock. As you thought, Dave is there, his head bowed low over his decks and his headphones clamped over his ears. He looks lost, but you know this is when he finds his centre. Your book is on the bedside table, lying half-open where you left it last night, so you grab it, lie down, and leave him to it.
Dave mumbles from time to time, snatches of phrases that you don’t really hear. It’s nice, peaceful, your own little slice of paradise in the aftermath of hell. The book is just one of your old, trashy romance novels, but you’re enjoying picking through it. Two dimensional characters with one dimensional problems, and none of them have seen the destruction of their entire civilization and subsequent resurrection of their race. Nor do they appear to fucking talk to each other about their stupid romance tangles. You could sort this shit out in five minutes with a screamthrower and a rolled up newspaper. Alternia’s writers had no fucking imagination, you swear to god.
Your little moment of peace is predictably shattered by Dave screaming as he falls off his swivel-chair.
He lands in a tangle of wheels and plastic and doesn’t even start to try and disentangle himself. Even behind his shades, you can tell he’s shaken up, his chest rising and falling as he recovers from the shock. For an immortal being, Dave can weirdly delicate sometimes.
“Shit, dude! You nearly gave me a heart attack. How...long have you been there?”
“In my own respiteblock, reading a fucking book? I don’t know, a half hour? Why?”
You try to iron out the frown forming on your face. Maybe sitting silently behind him wasn’t a fantastic idea, given what you’ve managed to piece together of his wigglerhood.
“Fuck, sorry,” you say, scrambling across the bed to help Dave up, “you just seemed like you were ‘fuck-deep in beatsville’, or whatever you call it. I didn’t want to throw you off.”
“It’s fine, it’s all totally chill, I’m good.” Dave says, and you know none of that shit is remotely true. His hand is sweaty and hot when you help him to his feet, and he’s shaking. It’s just a tiny shiver, and it’s gone before you put your arms around him, but he knows you felt it. Holding him is like holding an iron bar.
“Mmmhmm. You definitely don’t feel like someone shoved a broom up your wastechute in place of your posture pole.”
“Damn straight,” Dave replies, and you feel him force the tension out of his muscles, relaxing against you. Rubbing his back helps; slow, easy, well-practiced circles. You give him time, wait for him to thaw. It doesn’t take anywhere near as long as it used to.
“I’m okay, really.” he says, whispering softly into your ear, “like, how much did you hear, of what I was doing? I know I talk to myself, it’s not exactly a national fucking secret. If you try and alert the president with the breaking news that Dave Strider’s been dropping hot, unrefined speech nuggets into the void you’re not going to get anything but the sound of a phone hanging up.”
“We don’t have a “President” dunkass. Also you’re a fucking King around here. I didn’t hear anything except the usual barely audible mumbling.”
Dave finally relaxes fully, and you can practically feel the stupid grin spreading across his face.
“Fucking King or King of--”
You squeeze him hard around his human diaphragm, cutting off his stupid one-liner in mid flow.
“Nope, I’m not doing that right now. I’m tired and you need to actually sleep occasionally, despite you and the other Strider’s claims that sleep is for weak babies with no willpower.”
Dave relents, and lets you bully him into bed. The process is helped by the fact he’s already in his pyjamas. You swear to god, if you leave him alone in the house for more than five minutes he’s in his fucking pyjamas, but at least they’re soft and comfy and thin enough to discreetly feel him up through the fabric. That’s exactly what you do, settling into the nest of pillows and snuggleplanes that the two of you share. Maybe you make a few involuntary happy noises. It’s not a crime, shut the hell up.
“How are the newlyweds, anyway?” Dave asks, kissing the top of your head, “still almost tangibly eyefucking each other whenever they’re in the room together? Sorry I noped out once the “congrats on all the space sex” party died down.”
Your nose wrinkles at Dave’s phrasing and at the memory of John’s stupid banner. Egbert doesn’t have a romantic bone in his body.
“They’re both fucking glowing,” you reply, “and so happy I almost threw up. Again.”
“Not my fault if you ate too much cake at the wedding. I’m not gonna claim perfect recall of the evening given the atomic sugar high I was on, but you puking into a plant pot definitely made the cut.”
You jab your fingers into the soft flesh under Dave’s armpit, and hold him still so he can’t squirm away. His ribs are the most ticklish spot, and boy was the day when you found that out memorable.
“Stop! No fair...can’t breathe…just...death...imminent.”
You relent, and let dave catch his breath. He licks one of your horns in retaliation, before blowing on it with his cold fucking breath. It’s a half-hearted attempt, though. Both of you are tired. In the dark limbo-time, while your breathing synchronizes as sleep takes you over, you pull Dave in close and kiss him. He tastes like cheetos and Apple juice, his lips soft against your own.
“I love you, you know,” you say, and feel the warm, swooping rush that saying those words always brings. You squeeze him, just a little.
“love you too, dude.”
His reply is a half-murmur, and you can tell he’s already drifting. When you roll over, Dave folds his long legs up under yours and tucks his head against your neck, his hand resting gently on your stomach. He’s asleep in minutes, his breath slowing peacefully. There was a time when you thought it would take a miracle for you to see Dave this relaxed, to be close to him without a wall of feeling and darkened glass between you.
Now Dave can tell you straight to your face that he loves you, and you never want to come down from that high. It’s a happiness you never thought you’d find; not the dangerous, lethal Alternian romances that stole your teenage heart but the mundane, simple pleasure of Dave’s breath on you neck.
Images of roses and sunsets and champagne fill your mind as you fall asleep, too tired to even care about cliches. Dave wearing one of his terrible suits, trying not to cry as you present him with the ring that symbolizes all that he means to you. It'll take some preparation, sure, but it'll be worth it.
You're going to romance the fucking pants off Dave Strider.
Keeping your plans a secret from Dave is simpler than you thought it would be. Going all out involves a lot of sneaking out; getting roses from Jade, ingredients and some cooking advice from Jane, even semi-genuinely asking Dirk, Rose and Roxy for permission (the human romance novels Rose lent you insist that asking the “parents” is traditional, but you have less than minus 9000% chance of working out which of Dave’s family that would actually be). Those fucks laughed at you for a solid minute, even Dirk, who you don’t think you’ve ever seen smile, but the bear-hug Roxy gave you almost made up for it. Jade doesn’t laugh at you, but she does scream way too loud when you ask her to make a ring for you from teleported platinum. At your request, she even engraves it with a tiny clockwork symbol.
From that point on, your life becomes a living hell, because for some reason you’re convinced that Dave will find it. The ring is hidden at in the depths of your sock-drawer, but the feeling still nags at you that Dave “I keep all of my socks in a pile on the floor” Strider will get a sudden hankering for socks that are both clean and colour-coordinated.
Dave doesn’t notice a damn thing. You’d be offended (OK, you are a little offended that your intended, your beau, your husband-to-be seems to prefer jamming his headphones on for hours on end and ignoring your comings and goings completely), if it wasn’t making things so easy. Dave apologizes sleepily each night for being distracted, for neglecting you, and you tell him you’re a grown ass troll who can take care of himself and kiss him until he stops protesting.
Eventually, before you can really face the fact that you’re actually going to look Dave in the eye and ask him to spend the rest of his life with you, everything is ready. The fanciest picnic you can make is sitting in Jade’s thermal hull, complete with far too many apple-based dishes for your tastes, and you should be feeling some kind of euphoria at the imminent romance smackdown you're preparing to lay on him. Of course, it's right about then that Dave's recent tendency to distance himself from you suddenly hits you square in the anxiety centre. Morning after morning for the last week or so, you've woken up alone. Dave has just been moving like a ghost between his decks and the fridge, lips moving silently and headphones jammed down over his ears. The sudden realization hits that this could be one of those issues; that maybe Dave wandered blindly into one of the insidious trauma landmines left over from the game and you didn't even notice.
When you corner him, tearing him away from his laptop for a scant few seconds (he slams it shut as you do so, and that really doesn't help assuage your fears), he laughs at your frown.
“I'm fine, Karkat, I promise. Seriously, I'll always tell you if there's anything wrong, I don't wanna make you have to chase me down and sit on me till I talk actually talk about my feelings and shit again.”
He pokes you gently in the stomach and grins up at you, his eyes sparkling.
“I might be immortal, but I can still be crushed to death by your sweet a-hey!”
You grab his computer squeakbeast and hold it threateningly over his waste basket full of empty doritos packets and mouldering apple-cores. Fishing it out and cleaning it will be a messy, disgusting job for Dave, but it's a sacrifice you're willing to make.
“ I'm being serious here, Strider! Stop acting like an emotionally constipated wiggler and fucking reassure me that this distracted, distant zombie impression isn't something I, your supposed fucking partner, should be concerned about.”
Dave swallows, and his composed expression cracks at the edges. The slight downturn of his eyebrows and mouth might be invisible to other people, but to you they're as clear as day.
“No, shit, sorry. There honestly isn't anything wrong, double cross my heart and swear on Roxy’s life.”
He looks away from you and runs an anxious hand through his hair. You can hear worry in his voice but at the same time he seems to be telling the truth. Closing his computer lid with one hand, Dave unfolds his long legs and stands up, stretching out his back as he does so. You relax slightly as he hugs you tight against his chest and don't resist when he takes the computer mouse from your hand.
“I know I've been distracted or whatever, but I'm almost done,” he says, his voice muffled as he presses his face into the crook of your neck, “I gotta really lock this shit down, Karkat. Gotta get it flowing right. It'll be worth it, or at least I hope it will.”
That’s all he’s saying on the matter, and no amount of pseudo-casual probing pries any more information from his lips. At least you can worry less about him now. For all of his talking in circles, Dave has always been useless at hiding the truth from you, and he really does seem to be telling the truth. He’s OK. He’s an inconsiderate, pig-headed ass who ignores you all goddamn day, but he’s OK. As frustrating as Dave is being right now, you do have an ace in the hole: an excited Dave Strider holds onto secrets as well as a sieve holds on to water.
Following your epically romantic proposal, he should be more than happy enough to spill the fart niblets on his mysterious project.
Tomorrow, then. Tomorrow will be the big day. Time to find out if you can make this human marriage thing work.
You don't get much sleep that night. Restless tossing and turning eventually gives way to a grey doze at around 3am, but it’s a shitty replacement for real rest. Morning light stabs you in the face at god-knows-what o’clock and you roll over, but Dave isn’t in his usual position sprawled like a starfish across his half of the sleeping platform. A glance at your phone and you know something’s up, because what the fuck is Dave doing awake at 7.30am? Strider sightings before 10am are practically unheard of. The pillow beside yours is cold and a brief investigation reveals that his sneakers are gone, which means this isn’t just some early morning trip to the can. Your brain is full of static and your eyes are full of grit, but you still drag yourself from the warm embrace of your bed. The things you do for love, you swear to god.
The sounds of clattering and faint swearing are coming from the kitchen, so you make your way toward them.
“Dave? What in holy fucking shit are you doing?”
It's way too early in the morning to discover your boyfriend at the centre of an expanding cloud of flour (where did he even get flour?), but the Universe doesn't seem to care about that. The loud “FUCK!” you're greeted with doesn't help matters, either.
“Go back to bed! Why the fuck did you choose this morning to be awake before noon?” Dave says, planting his floury hands on your shoulders and trying in vain to steer you back toward the bedroom.
“I could ask you the same, assface,” you reply, and brush both him and copious amounts of flour off with both hands. Now that the dust has literally settled you can see that the kitchen is in complete shambles, with all of your carefully stored cookware piled haphazardly the countertops. “Did you decide to get a head start on your daily quest of making this hive look like a load gaper or something? It looks like a squadron of Cavalreapers charged through here.”
Dave makes a little whining sound when you push past him and fetch the dustpan and brush, but he'll just have to deal with it. The bag of flour he dropped when you startled him isn't going to clean itself up and every second it lies forlornly in the middle of the floor is an actual physical torture.
“If you really wanna know,” Dave says, fetching a garbage bag and holding it open for you, “I was making you pancakes, because I'm a fucking gentleman and I'm classy as shit.”
“Why? I mean the sentiment is nice but you don't need try and cook for me, especially since I've seen you burn a salad before.”
“Dude I've seen you cook spinach, not my fault if I don't know what kinds of leaves you cook and what kind you don't. I swear to god the only green food I ever saw growing up was on commercials for shit that was supposed to make you live forever as long as you didn't mind existing in a taste vacuum for the rest of your goddamn days. And I'm not so shitty at it anymore, Jane's been teaching me. Kind of. I watched her anyway. I stirred some stuff. I'm basically a master chef in the stirring things and timing how long things have been in the oven, so how hard can some flat ass battercakes be?”
“Surprisingly fucking difficult, apparently,” you say teasingly as you tap the last of the flour off the dustpan and into the bag.
“Yeah, well, I guess it'll have to be a mystery for the ages cause there's no more flour left. Your breakfast options at Strider’s Diner just got trimmed to coffee, coffee, or a big bowl of syrup.”
You wrinkle your nose at the thought. Dave probably would eat a fucking bowl of syrup, too.
“Coffee, just coffee will be fine. And an explanation of what exactly is going on if you're not fresh out of those.”
Dave says nothing, but gives you a smirk as he turns to fiddle with the coffee machine. For someone who can't remember where he left his underwear half the time, Dave managed to alchemize what he assures you is the ultimate coffee machine from memory alone. You take the mug he offers and take a deep breath of the smell of it; rich and dark and as sweet as death. Just the way you like it.
“Sooo…” Dave says, clutching tight to his own cup. You notice that his knuckles are white, and your calm evaporates.
“Thing is, I was all set to make you this great breakfast, cause I know that's your favourite, but that was sorta the support act. I kinda had something else planned for the headline act.”
He pauses and clears his throat. You stare at him blankly for a few seconds, until it becomes obvious that a response is required.
“Yeah?” You ask.
“Uh, yeah. I guess I should just show you, huh? Yeah, can't really do anything else. Hold on a sec, man, I gotta go get something.”
Dave dashes back toward the bedrooms and returns with his laptop in hand, the screen lit up with his songwriting program. He places it gently on the counter, his fingers shaking slightly as he opens a file and an electronic backbeat fills the kitchen.
It takes a few seconds and another clearing of Dave's throat for you to realize that he's going to start rapping .
“At first I was afraid, maybe even petrified,
By the feelings that you somehow got me feelin’ inside,
Cause the bro code is strict and it's goddamn crass,
To spend all day staring at your best bro’s ass.”
Dave flashes you a grin and you remember every time on the meteor you turned around to find him red-faced.
"I kept my face like stone, I stayed chill as ice,
But you kept on trying cause you're so damn nice,
Denial ain’t just a river - if it even still exists,
I made you wait forever for the shittiest of twists.”
You smile at that. You could read Dave like a book, cover to cover, before he had even begun to examine his feelings. Luckily some things are worth waiting for.
“The first time you smiled at me I knew that I was done,
No more hiding, no more running, I'd found my only one,
It sucked it took me so long to tell you all my feelies,
You deserve so much better than an idiot in heelys.”
OK, now it's your turn to flush red.
“But if you'll have me and you'll hold me, I guess I wanna know,
If you fancy an eternity with that idiot in tow,
I'll be your love and partner, in every knightly trial,
Karkat Vantas: wanna make this thing legit, matrimonial style?”
You're not exactly sure, but you think you might have just been proposed to. Dave stands still for a few seconds, chewing his lip, before diving down onto one knee.
Shit. Now you know it's a proposal.
Asschafing douchetits! you were supposed to be the one doing the proposing ! Properly, romantically, in a meadow with a picnic surrounded by wildflowers, not in a messy kitchen at fuck-o-clock in the morning!
Dave is staring up at you, frowning, and it occurs to you that you haven't actually said anything.
“Shit, Karkat, did I break you? Hello? Anyone home? Wanna get hitched? Blink once for yes and twice for oh hell yes.”
“Firstly,” you manage, finally marshalling your vocal cords, “yes, of fucking course I want to marry you, and secondly, which wretched excuse for a friend let the meowbeast out of the containment cube?”
“Im sorry, what?” Dave says, grinning, “you list me after ‘yes I will marry you’. I kinda wasn't paying attention after that.”
He stands up and gathers you up in his arms, lifting you out of your seat and obviously forgetting that you're holding a cup of hot coffee. Thankfully, one of you has some poise, however, and you manage not to spill it all over your idiot fiancée.
Fiancée...that's what humans call it, you think. Sounds stupid but at the same time also wonderful. Just like Dave.
“ I said who told you, one of them must have. I was going to fucking propose to you this evening. I should have known you were going to be a competitive wiggler dipshit and do it first.”
Dave lowers you back into your seat and from the way he's looking at you, his eyebrows lost up under his fringe in shock, you think there's possibly a tiny chance that he has no idea what you're talking about.
“Uh, dude, I was working on that shitty rap for like three weeks. You were gonna propose to me?”
“Yes! Of course I was, you know I was!”
“As per usual, Karkat my dude, I had no fucking idea that that was the plan. You gotta tell me more, man, do you have like, rings? Did you get flowers and a string quartet and hire a skywriter? I need details of how the legendary romance master was gonna pop the question!”
You fold your arms and stare him down. This shit will not fly, and he knows it.
“If you think I'm letting all of that planning and effort go to waste just because you wrote an adorable and touching piece of slam poetry, you can think again. We're doing this, man. We're making it happen. And you're going to dress up smart and not laugh at me for trying to do things properly. This is your fucking cultural tradition and you're going to participate! And you're going to say yes and eat the delicious real food I made with my own two fronds! And it will be wonderful and magical! Stop laughing!”
Dave takes your hand and pulls you in so he can kiss you, passionate and happy. You decide that maybe getting the issue of whether or not you're actually going to get human married out of the way beforehand might actually make proposing to Dave even more fun.
After all, he can't exactly back out now.
It takes longer than you anticipate to convince Dave to let you put any clothes on at all, let alone your new fancy suit with its red tie and waistcoat. The sun has almost set when you get to your chosen spot, the bower of roses Jane and Jade helped you to create. Every single one is in full bloom, and the sunset paints everything with a soft, film-like glow.
In the end, you were right.
It is wonderful.
It is magical.
And, of course, Dave says yes.
(And he totally cries)