Sollux rubbed his hands together and blew into them. Normally he wouldn’t wait outside the car. Especially not in winter. It was hard enough keeping his wiry frame warm inside a vehicle with standard heating. But today was a bit of a special case. A statistical outlier, so to speak. Because normally he wasn’t toting around a belly full of angry dragons that were filling his guts with their flaming breath. It was enough to make him sweat.
And so out of the car and into the cold winter air it was. And for nearly…he checked his watch again. Fifteen minutes. He was used to her being late, but he was starting to get a little concerned with how much dragon warfare his stomach could continue to endure. He rubbed his hands again. He then pulled them apart a bit, staring into his cupped palms. His hands were shaking. Beautiful. She was sure to notice that.
Sollux turned around so fast that his foot caught a patch of ice and promptly proceeded to slide out from underneath him. He grabbed the car door mirror, snagging it just before his ass hit the ground. His surprise assailant grinned, her almond eyes alight with laughter. She offered him a red mitten.
“You look like you’ve had a pretty long day,” she said as she pulled him onto a patch of snow with more traction.
He hoped he could pass off the tingling warmth he felt in his cheeks as purely an effect of standing out in the snow for fifteen plus minutes. In fact, embarrassment was the last logical feeling that should have been popping up on the emotional bingo ball machine that was his head. By all rights, he should be getting angry now.
Yes. Angry was good. Angry was less embarrassing than…embarrassing.
“Did you have an especially talkative corpse to embalm today or something?” he asked, trying to inject as much vexation into his slight lisp as he could.
Aradia laughed, moving around to the passenger’s side door and sliding into the car. He got into the driver’s seat and stuck the key into the ignition. As he waited for it to warm up a bit, she dug into her pocket. He felt the stomach dragons getting ticked off again, and he had to clutch the steering wheel very hard to put all his effort into not puking.
A lollipop poked into his field of view. He pulled his head away from it, wrinkling his nose. “What?”
“I had to wait until my dad was out of the office before I could steal one,” Aradia explained. “You like the bee shaped ones, right?”
He plucked the lollipop out of her hand, twirling the wooden swizzle stick between his thumb and forefinger. “These are for your dad’s tea, AA. He’s going to get pissed.”
She gave him a smile as she pulled her seatbelt over her chest. “But you like them. And he’s friends with the lady who runs that gift shop, since he interred her father. So he is able to get them pretty cheap.”
“You know, it’s really weird that your dad gets chummy with the relatives of the dead people he dresses up.”
She blinked at him, her expression simply tinted with confusion. “I don’t think it’s weird at all. People with deceased relatives are still people.”
He sighed, tapping the sucker to his forehead. “Just forget it. That was a pretty stupid thing I said just now.”
She raised a shoulder dismissively. “Just eat your honey pop, Sollux. I think it will make you feel better.”
He frowned, pulling the clear plastic wrap from the top of the lollipop and sticking it into his mouth. Immediately the sweet, warm taste of honey spread over his tongue. He hated to admit it, but it actually did a great deal to calm his snapping nerves. He sucked on it for a long time, staring straight ahead at the road in front of him.
He was fine. He could do this.
He put the car in drive and began to roll forward, shifting gears as he picked up speed.
“So are we going somewhere special?” she asked him, peeling off her mittens and setting them in her lap.
“Why would you say that?” Sollux asked.
His voice cracked on the last word.
It didn’t slip Aradia’s notice either. “It’s our anniversary, isn’t it? I’m pretty sure this was the day we started dating. After you spent so long dancing around the issue when we had that literary analysis class our freshman year that I finally just had to do it myself at the start of second semester.”
Sollux sucked harder on his lollipop, hoping the motion would keep the blood from rising up his neck and into his cheeks and ears. “I was still adjusting, AA, christ. You can’t expect a college freshman to have his shit together. I mean, look at some of the morons you have to tutor for geology. And that’s geology. The class that the idiots take for a free lab credit to skip out on their other gen eds.”
Aradia put a finger to her chin, frowning. “I suppose the one-hundred-level class does have that reputation.”
“They’re all idiots, AA. Completely, one hundred percent, fucking stone cold idiots. And that is an incontrovertible fact, if you want to know. Because KK and I fucking tested this using top notch empirical methods.”
“So I guess that means you both took notes on the freshman table in the cafeteria again?”
“Damn right we did. I even added some drawings. It was pretty sweet.”
She laughed. “All you ever accomplish by doing that is making it very hard for me to keep a straight face whenever John signs up for a tutoring session.”
“I think I do him a service in my drawings.”
“It’s not very nice, Sollux.”
“No, no, you’re reading it all wrong then, AA. It’s a fucking compliment. His incisors would make our good friend Castor canadensis jealous.”
“The beaver.” She gave him a small smile. “Did you have that ammunition carefully tucked away just to impress me with?”
“I think the more pressing question here is if you have poor Castor’s skeleton tucked away somewhere. Most likely not to impress me with, but just to be generally creepy.”
“I don’t have a beaver skeleton, now that you mention it,” she bit her lip and ran a hand through her loose, dark curls.
“Oh god, please don’t take that as encouragement to get one. The fucking bird skeletons are weird enough.”
“You know it’s all just for research, Sollux. I can never understand why death makes you so uncomfortable. It’s just as natural as being alive. Maybe even moreso!” Her eyes were alight as she spoke, though they were aimed at her lap. She flipped her mittens over, smoothing them out before stacking them up again.
Seeing her get worked up always made his heart squeeze. Even if it was about bird skeletons.
“Besides, I have a very strong feeling that all of this is just to throw me off so that I don’t keep asking questions about our anniversary. We’ve been dating for three years now, Sollux. That’s a pretty big deal, I think.”
He shifted the lollipop around in his mouth, trying to concentrate on the sweet flavor. It did no good though. Not when he could taste the tang of anxious bile gathering at the back of his throat. He pressed the gas pedal a bit harder. He couldn’t keep up this façade for much longer. Soon, he was going to have to pull onto the road they both knew so well. The one way out in the middle of bumfucked nowhere, but a road they frequented often because at its end was Aradia’s favorite Italian restaurant. And at that restaurant was a private room that he had spent the better part of his paycheck in reserving.
He clutched the steering wheel tighter. He was going to throw up. He just knew it.
This shouldn’t have been so hard. He’d been with this girl for so long now.
As they made their way out of the city and into the white, snow covered fields of the more rural district, Aradia sat back in her seat and frowned. As Sollux shifted gears again to adjust to the speed of the country road, he saw her turn her head to look out the window.
“This isn’t the way to your house.”
Fuck, she was thinking. She probably already knew and was just making a show of being confused so that he didn’t feel like an utter failure. That was obviously what was happening now.
He’d just have to fucking do it now. Spring it on her before she could figure it out. Fucking punch her in the jaw with pure surprise.
All right, maybe a less violent metaphor would have been a better choice. But the basic sentiment was there.
His hands shaking, Sollux dug into his pocket. Aradia looked over at him, frowning as she sat up a bit straighter in her seat.
“Are you looking for something?” she asked.
“No. I mean, yeah. Just. Fuck, hang on.” Fingers trembling, he looked down briefly to his pocket so that he could see the little red box nestled inside. He pulled it out and quickly proceeded to drop it to the floor of the car. It rolled down by his feet, just next to the gas pedal.
“Ah, fucking dicksauce.”
“Was that a box?”
“No it was a… Fuck, just. Hang on.”
He reached down, biting his lip as he tried to keep his foot steady on the gas pedal. He felt his fingers brush against a corner of the small container. He grunted as he ducked his head a bit further, trying to get a good grasp on it.
“Sollux, the stop sign!”
The sound of screaming metal blackened his world.