It was Saturday, and Eridan couldn't stop himself from fidgeting; he wanted to get all of this over with already so that he could go home and get ready for Sollux's visit, but he knew that his father would drag this on for as long as possible, and the old bastard would absolutely make it last twice as long simply for the sake of teaching him some kind of lesson. Eridan had agreed to come to his childhood home on the pretences that his father wanted to get his opinion on the menu prepared for the soiree he was throwing for his business associates, but when he arrived he had found that Oscar had actually roped him into a tasting luncheon meant to choose the menu. The saving grace had been that at least Feferi was there.
Servers milled around the table, offering a wide variety of delicately-portioned foods, and politely offering descriptions and explanations of the sources of the ingredients, and also the inspiration behind each dish..
With every new plate Feferi had excitedly professed that it was the best thing she'd ever eaten, before trying the next and saying exactly the same thing, while Cronus spent more time trying to flirt with the servers, before Oscar put an end to that with a quiet threat.
Eridan barely felt as though he was in the room with them, his eyes were repeatedly drawn to the ornate glass and gold clock high on the wall, though the seconds seemed to crawl by so slowly that he was sure the hands had started to move in reverse.
"What's gotten you so distracted, Erifin?" Feferi asked, waving a fork in front of his face as though to punctuate her point, "I'm not even shore you're paying any attention to what anemone-one's been saying!"
Eridan looked back towards his step-sister, and tried to act casual as not to catch the attention of his father, "what? I'm absolutely payin' attention, how very dare you! I take umbrage with the mere accusation that I'm somehow not givin' you all a' the focus that I got," he puffed up his chest, and sighed dramatically, "honestly, Fef, sometimes I feel like it's you who doesn't pay any attention to me, you know."
Feferi scoffed loudly, and put her hands on her hips, "then you'd know that it wasn't me you were ignoring then, wouldn't you?" She smirked like the cat who got the cream, in the way that only a sibling who knows a parent is about to bring down hellfire on the other could do.
Knowing he wasn't lucky enough for this to be a bluff, Eridan looked up at his father, and saw that he did indeed look more than a little annoyed to have been ignored.
Eridan shook his head, and refrained from even thinking about looking at the clock, "no." He offered, trying not to huff a little from being caught in the act. He shot a dirty look at Feferi, who poked her tongue out playfully.
"Then what seems to be the problem?"
Oscar's voice was calm, but there was a hidden barb hiding under the words that Eridan knew all too well. It sounded like a cloying mix of disappointment, and a cruel annoyance.
The plates were taken away from them as the last of the savoury dishes were tasted, and Eridan cursed that the distraction was gone, "nothin's the problem, I just didn't know I was comin' for a whole tastin' session is all." He put up his hands, knowing exactly what his father's next comments would be, "an' I'm grateful to be included with the family activity, so don't even start with that. I just," he cursed quietly, hoping beyond hope that he would be able to get through this without an incredibly long-winded argument, "I had plans to see Sollux today, and I'd rather not be late."
This didn't appear to surprise Oscar, but it also did not seem to ingratiate him to the situation either, "you can see him whenever you want, however like I was just saying, this is important family business, and I would appreciate it if you took the responsibility of helping to choose our menu for one of the most important soirees that I have ever thrown a little more seriously." Oscar waved over the servers, who approached with trays of tiny cakes and pastries.
Eridan sighed to himself, there was no arguing with the man, he would constantly twist the narrative to fit his own arguments, so instead, he busied himself with stabbing the bite-size piece of chocolate gateau in front of him.
Cronus pushed a small strawberry tartlet across his plate, "well I can tell you one thing, this one is out." He frowned, and turned his nose up at it like a child complaining about broccoli, "Why is there vinegar in this? That don't belong anywhere near a dessert."
"It's balsamic vinegar, Cronus, it brings out the…. something in the strawberry," Feferi offered half-helpfully, "you're just uncultured." She sniffed in a mockery of haughtiness before eating hers, and looked pleased for as long as it took her to get through her third chew, at which moment she discreetly tried to spit out her mouthful into her handkerchief, "oh no, no, I don't like that."
Despite the fact that Feferi and Cronus were chatting noisily, the silently judging glare of his father was deafening. He knew there had to be something that the head of the household wanted to talk about, but to push it too soon could cause the thing to be much worse than it would have been otherwise.
But still, the constant pressure of the glaring man was suffocating.
With his clock-watching being policed, Eridan instead focussed on his tasting-plate, and spent the time trying to guess which ones Sollux would like, and what he would say in response to the ones he would undoubtably hate.
"I think it's time for you to take your responsibilities more seriously, Eridan." Oscar said.
A smile must have crept onto Eridan's face because the timing of his comment was far too perfect to be anything but spite, "what's that supposed to mean?" He pouted, annoyed, "I take my responsibilities plenty seriously. Show me one example a' me not doin' so!"
It was Cronus who made a response, "wait, Pops, you can't be talkin' about-" His words were cut short by a single glare from Oscar.
Eridan looked between them both waiting for Cronus to continue, but when he didn't, he started to feel increasingly frustrated, "he can't be talkin' about what?" He demanded, "Cronus, what's he talkin' about?"
Cronus made a tch noise and leant back against his chair until he was balanced on the back two legs, "I can't wait to see how you think you'll fly this, old man." He folded his arms casually behind his head, and smirked, "get ready for this, Feferi, you're about to witness an Ampora tradition."
Feferi looked between the three men, and raised an eyebrow curiously as she ate a small piece of cheesecake, "this had better not end with a dual, or I swear I'll put all three of you on the naughty step." She took out her phone and tapped at it before setting it back down, and when Eridan felt his own phone buzz in his pocket, he knew it was a message of solidarity.
Oscar sounded more than a little annoyed when he spoke again, "if you're all quite done with this ridiculous display, Eridan I know that you've been doing a more than adequate enough job running things in my stead, but I'm ready to get back to work full-time now, and so I thought it was an appropriate time for you to learn some proper respect."
Eridan didn't trust any of the implications of that. He drew himself up in his chair, and tried to choose his words carefully as not to antagonise the older man, "I don't see what you think you can offer me as an experience to learn this amount a' respect that I'm apparently missin'." He didn't understand what he had done wrong. Eridan had tried so hard to work inside the strict confines of his father's footsteps, rules, and overbearing shadow, to try and perfect every single action that he made working in his father's stead, but somehow he was going to be punished for not slipping up?
There was a smile on Oscar's face that Eridan had only seen a few times in this life, and the expression filled him with a sense of pride like some kind of warped Pavlovian response, as it was mostly reserved for the times when Eridan had done something that he would now see as abhorrent, like speaking down to someone with nasty poisonous remarks.
Or killing something on a hunt.
The small smile continued, its presence felt almost like a warning, "you're going to enlist in the navy." He said proudly, "it's the only way you'll ever learn the respect of authority, and change yourself. You'll thank me afterwards."
Cronus laughed and clapped his hands together, "I knew it," he guffawed, "I remember my first time hearing this crap." Cronus' celebrations were cut short with yet another glare.
Eridan's blood froze in his veins, a mix of white-hot fury and utter disbelief held his tongue firmly behind his teeth, he inhaled slowly and deeply to calm his voice before he spoke. "Father," he began, "with all due respect, what the hell are you on about? You're tryin' to enlist me?" Eridan turned his eyes towards the head of the table and ignored the frozen faces of his siblings as they too held their tongues.
Oscar linked his fingers and leant forwards on his elbows, "I'm not doing anything, Eridan, I am telling you that you would benefit from learning some respect, and that enlisting in the navy is the perfect way for you to learn everything you'll need to run the Ampora business when the time comes."
"Then what, pray tell, have I been doin' all these past few months?" Eridan scoffed, "so the runnin' of your business hasn't been practice for you know, running your business, it's been busy work before you drop the bombshell a tryin' to enlist me?" He glared at the man in front of him, and felt the disbelief melt away to a knowing disgust, "of course that's what you're tryin', I should have known you'd pull this crap one day. I should've seen this comin' the first time you tried to sign up Cro!"
Oscar's posture stiffened, and his eyes flicked over to his other son, "your brother is a lost cause. I would have hoped you would see some sense in the offer I'm making." He turned his hands outwards and showed his palms, "all I'm saying is that I have the paperwork, and you'd benefit so much from being there, think of the opportunities you'd have, think of the future," and as though to add a heaping helping of guilt, "think of the family."
This shocked Eridan. He had always suspected that his father was the kind of man who viewed his children as nothing but pawns, but a hopeful and maybe childish part of him had believed that after all the family-centred speeches he gave maybe he actually did love his kids more than just what they were worth to him.
"Eridan you stand on the precipice of the rest of your life, are you really going to throw it all away, throw your family away, just to keep being…" Oscar waved a hand towards his youngest son as though trying to find the right words, "this?"
"What's wrong with bein' this?" Eridan asked, motioning to himself.
An annoyed sigh was his only answer.
"No really, Father," Eridan said, holding back the biting fury that threatened to clip his words, "what's so wrong with me that you think sendin' me off to the navy will fix?"
Oscar leant back in his chair and stared at him in silence for a moment. When he spoke, his words were calm, and cold, "you lack discipline." He began, "you don't respect authority enough to take an order standing down, and you seem to put more stock into how you look than anything to do with work. You're an entitled brat who is not ready to inherit my name let alone my business."
Eridan had to stop himself from throwing the plate of food in front of him at his father. He swallowed the lump in his throat, and glared coldly at the man in front of him, "and how would the navy fix that, then?" He smiled, "seein' just how much there is about me that you want to change?"
"They'd break you down and build you back up into the man you could be if only you'd put family ahead of your bloody hair." Oscar narrowed his eyes, "I notice you've started dying it again. I had hoped you'd finally grown out of that."
Eridan began twisting a napkin under the table, taking comfort from the control he had over at least one thing at that moment, "so what you're sayin' is that despite the fact I've been doin' your job more than satisfactorily, while you've been recoverin' might I add, you want me to be shipped off to the fuckin' navy because you're hopin' I come back a completely different person," he took a breath to settle his voice, and felt his cheeks burn. He had done so much, he had given up so much, he had worked so hard. Of course his father didn't recognise any of that, why was he even surprised? The disbelief was being overwhelmed by the anger bubbling up from his gut. The napkin felt hard between his fingers, it had been twisted into the coiled knot that his stomach felt like at that moment, and Eridan couldn't stop himself, "everythin' I've done these past few months has been for the family! I've worked myself half to death for the family, I've given up time I could a' spent reconcilin' with Sol for the family, and now you want to get rid a' me because I'm not good enough, for the family?" Eridan stood abruptly, the chair squealed as it scraped across the floor.
Both Feferi and Cronus jumped at the sound, and made starts to speak, but Oscar cut them off before they could jump in with any kind of protective sibling interjection. "Sit down. Stop acting like an embarrassment."
The familiar heavy feeling of projected shame settled on his shoulders, and Eridan knew that he had two choices; sit down, and resign himself to a life of being under his father's thumb, or continue to stand and face the wrath of his father. He had lived his whole life with this feeling infecting every decision he had ever made. Everything had been for the family's status, and every little victory he had ever enjoyed had been crumbs thrown down by his father to keep him placated.
Ignoring the voice in his head that was trying to deprecate him into giving up on his choice, Eridan clenched his fists to hide the fact that his hands were shaking, "I won't."
Oscar stared down his nose at Eridan, with no less disgust than someone seeing a dog defecating on their prized rug, "you will do as I say, boy."
"I won't." Eridan said again.
Oscar's nostrils flared as his cheeks reddened just a little, "boy." A single word, a single warning.
Eridan swallowed down the internal calamitous cacophony, and folded his arms. Somewhere inside himself he could feel the calm at the centre of the storm, and he knew he had to be making the right choice. There was one thing he was sure of, and he wasn't about to let his father get in the way. He shrugged at the head of the family and began making his way to the door.
Oscar slammed his hands down on the table, and stood, "Eridan!"
It was enough to make him turn, though Eridan kept what he hoped was a disapproving expression on his face, "what? Do you expect me to stand here all day while you insult me?"
His father had a dark look to him, as though he was trying very hard to keep up appearances in front of his other children, "your choices are your own, but know this, I won't pick up the pieces after your life falls around you while you fuck up. If you turn your back on the family, you won't be welcomed back into it." He straightened up, and adjusted his tie, "go home, cool off, and make the right choice. You will be here for the soirée Friday evening, and you will be on your best behaviour."
Eridan glared at him, so typical that his father would try to take away his exit by making it seem as though he had been sent away. He turned without a word, and stormed out.
Once Eridan was past the front door he began grumbling to himself about how his father's words had been bullshit and poppycock. He had just gotten the key into his car door when he heard his name being called, and looked up to see his brother.
"Eridan," Cronus was jogging towards him, waving, "wait up for a minute!"
They stared at each other for a second, almost trying to weigh the other's intentions up. Cronus smiled coyly, "first big fight with dad?" He leant against the purple car and offered a cigarette from a small slightly crumpled box.
Eridan held up a hand to decline, and watched as his brother took one then replaced the packet into the front pocket of his shirt.
He lit the cigarette between his lips and took a drag, "You alright?"
"I'm fine, I'm pissed off, but I'm fine."
Cronus nodded, after another drag, he looked down at Eridan and smiled, "don't let him get to you okay? Trust me, losing the respect of that asshole is nothing, you'll get over it soon enough, and then you won't care what he spits at you." He grinned, "take it from the main disappointment of the whole Ampora name!"
As his older brother began eagerly listing off the things he'd done to bring shame on the family name, Eridan stared up at him and finally understood that he had allowed his father to colour the way he'd seen Cronus all these years. Cronus was his big brother, the one who had spent years nurturing a childhood passion for magic, and a hope for destiny and adventure and the promise that this isn't all life is about, that things could be better. Eridan swallowed a lump in his throat, feeling ashamed of himself, "I'm sorry, Cro."
Cronus raised an eyebrow, and blew out a plume of pale grey smoke, "why's that?"
"I'm just re-evaluatin' how I've been perceivin' you these past few years," he admitted, "I always believed him when he said that you were an embarrassment, but you've been the only one of us who's had the balls to stand up to him consistently." Eridan didn't meet Cronus' gaze, and instead picked at the little seahorse keyring on his car keys, "I'm the fuckin' embarrassment."
Cronus snorted, "let's not get carried away with the dick fluffing here, I'm no angel." He finished his cigarette and dropped it to the ground before grinding it into the driveway with a heavy black boot, "look, you're your own adult, and you have a life outside of his bloody work, don't let him choose your future just because he wants a carbon copy of himself to be his legacy." Cronus reached up and put a hand on Eridan's head, "you'll be fine, man. Just, think about what you want from life and tell him to go fuck himself if he tries to make that choice for you."
Eridan watched as his brother made his way back to the mansion, and felt the unfamiliar feeling of respect towards the man.
He got into his car, and as he began to drive away, he started to think.
Sollux had spent the better half of an hour trying to find an outfit to wear. The day before he had almost succumbed to using the sniff-test to find something clean, but had caught himself and then spent half the day dredging up the motivation to wash the whole shameful pile of clothes that had been growing in size on top of his beanbag.
It had been a few days since their last date, and Sollux had tried to busy himself with work as not to overthink the disastrous and yet somehow successful date he had shared with Eridan. After all, the last thing that he needed was to have the spark of hope that they could get past and reconcile be extinguished by his own deprecation. It had been a good night, and they had even shared a kiss before making plans to have another date.
Sollux was about ten minutes from Eridan's when the rain started; large heavy raindrops that pelted the pavements and rattled the flowerpots in the gardens of the houses he passed. He began running, though that didn't last very long before he was wheezing and questioning his own sanity for trying to exercise, besides, hadn't he read once that running in the rain got you more wet? Definitely a good enough excuse to continue to avoid doing any cardio, Sollux decided.
When he finally got to Eridan's, he huddled under the portico and knocked the door, trying to look unbothered by both the downpour, and the fact that he was soaked to his boxers. He silently cursed his luck, he'd actually done the laundry god damn it, so much for a good impression on the guy he wanted most to impress. Sollux straightened up as the door opened, "thup?"
Eridan hurried him inside, and huffed, "trust you to bring the storm, Captor." His nose wrinkled in mock disgust, and he shooed Sollux inside.
Sollux couldn't help but bite, "whatever'th up there must think that theeing you ithn't punishment enough for my crimeth againtht humanity." He snickered as Eridan puffed up a little.
"Hilarious as always, you little shit, I'll have you know I'm the complete opposite of a punishment." Eridan folded his arms, but instead of continuing the trade of barbs, he sighed and sagged a little, "I'm glad you're here. You would not believe the fuckin' day I've had. Apparently I'm a failure to the family because I don't want to be enlisted into the damn navy just because my father thinks they'll teach me how not to be all of this!" The hipster motioned to himself with a flapping hand, and began walking through to the kitchen, still tits-deep in a rant, "I mean, how dare he try to tell me I need to change so much as a single atom of this! I'm perfection incarnate, a glorious an' magnanimous bastion a' humanity, a god damn delight if I do say so myself!" He slammed a mug down on the counter and huffed loudly again before making eye-contact with an amused-looking Sollux, "shit, sorry, here I am rantin' and you're all wet!"
"No, no, it'th fine, I'm uthed to you being too thelfish to athk me how I've been." Sollux leant against the kitchen doorframe, and grinned at the outraged expression of the man in front of him, "tho you had a rough lunch with your dad then?"
"Rough doesn't even begin to describe it." Eridan muttered, as he shooed Sollux away from the doorframe, "I don't need to bring your mood down about it though. Now get upstairs an' out a' those wet clothes. I'll get you a towel."
"You're moving too quickly for me, ED, I'm barely through the door and you're already trying to thtrip me off!" Sollux snorted as the other man began to protest, but he did as he was told, and began taking off layers as he made his way to Eridan's room.
As Sollux pulled his own clothes off, struggling with the way his wet jeans clung to his legs like a desperate lover, Eridan disappeared into his bathroom and returned a few moments later with a fluffy towel, "it never ceases to amaze me that you're simultaneously the smartest guy I know and yet can be the most dense-" Eridan squawked as he saw Sollux lying in a mock-seductive across his bed wearing only his sunglasses and a pair of boxers.
"Like what you thee?" Sollux wiggled his eyebrows before being hit in the face with the towel, he laughed as he sat up, and after drying himself off he began rummaging through his bag while Eridan busied himself by putting wet clothes on the radiator, "hey gueth who'th thpare clotheth are wet?"
Eridan threw a shirt on the bed, and then stood between Sollux's legs, and took the towel from him, "not all of us are insatiable little fiends who can't control themselves around someone who's tryin' to be sexy." He smirked as he took over the job of drying Sollux's hair, not trying too hard to be gentle.
Sollux sat still while Eridan fussed over him, and couldn't help but to lean into his hands. "I don't need to try, it just comes naturally." He hadn't realised how much he had missed Eridan's fussy nature until he was experiencing it again. The world melted away into white noise, and Sollux closed his eyes to savour the moment completely, breathing in the familiar subtle notes of perfumes and fabric softeners that hung in the air everywhere. He had to resist the urge to wrap his arms around the man in front of him, knowing that his arms would fit so perfectly around his toned waist. He looked up as the towel was pulled away and watched Eridan return it to the bathroom.
"Do you want to use the hair-dryer? I can only get your hair so dry with just a towel." Eridan offered as he returned, watching as the nerd pulled the offered shirt on.
"Nah, I'm good, thankth," Sollux stood up and moved over to Eridan, frowning a little, "look, ED, all joking athide, you really theem like you're pithed off, you can talk to me, you know." He stepped forwards, and hesitantly took Eridan's hand in his own, "What'th happened?"
Eridan looked up and saw his own reflection in the sunglasses. He hadn't wanted to say anything, but now being face-to-face with the Gemini, he couldn't deny the fact that he was disappointed that those sunglasses were back – but it wouldn't be fair to ask for them to be removed, especially if Sollux was wearing them for his own comfort. He tried not to make eye-contact with himself, and sighed, "okay, but let me get you a coffee first because this might take a while."
They sat together at the kitchen table, steaming cups of coffee in front of them. Eridan recalled the events of the previous days lunch, and Sollux to his credit listened intently, only interjecting with half-shouted profanities aimed at the offending father.
"An' that's why I'm now the biggest failure of the Ampora family, an' why all my hard work is completely unappreciated as per fuckin' usual." Eridan finished, and leant his forehead against the table, as though resigned to his position, "it's bullshit though, I'm not goin' to the navy."
"Yeah, you'd run away before they got anywhere clothe to shaving your head."
"I'm serious!" Eridan pouted, "it's not fair."
Sollux held up a hand, "I know, it'th not fair, and that'th why you're going to thtay thtrong and fight him on everything he'th going to throw at you. He can't forthe you to go, can he?" He reached out, and squeezed Eridan's hand, "He'd have to go through me, firtht." Though he didn't doubt for one second that he would get his ass handed to him within a single minute of going up against the battle-hardened head of the Ampora household, he was also more than willing to wolverine his keys and go in windmilling if the bastard tried to force Eridan to go.
The appreciation washed over Eridan's face like a cool wave, and the furrowed brow finally smoothed somewhat, "thanks, Sol."
Somewhere deep in his chest, Sollux's heart gave a flutter, and he felt his mouth go just a little dry, "hey, anything to help you out. You know, within reathon." He added with a grin.
Eridan sighed, "you're helpin' me out plenty just by lettin' me vent about what father's doin', really."
It seemed to Sollux as though there was something else that Eridan wanted to talk about, but was holding back. He squeezed Eridan's hand again, "hey cheer up, what do you want to do today? Let'th not thpend the whole day thinking about your dickhead dad."
They both looked at the window, where raindrops pattered heavily and continuously, "nothin' outside." Eridan said, sounding a little disappointed, "I was goin' to take us out for dinner, but I'm not even sure I want to think about goin' outside anymore."
"Oh no, what a shame," Sollux shrugged.
Eridan rolled his eyes before standing, "come on, let's at least go sit in the lounge where it's a bit more comfortable," he looked Sollux up and down, "do you want some trousers, or are you goin' to continue to treat my house like a red-light district?"
"Red light dithtrict, obviouthly."
Settled in the lounge, Eridan pilfered Feferi's usual fluffy fuchsia blanket for Sollux so that his bare legs wouldn't get cold. They sat side-by-side with their blankets cocooned around themselves as the rain hammered outside.
They ended up talking for most of the day, just catching each other up on the time that they hadn't been together, it was nice for both of them, though the discomfort would arise when they would remember why they had so much to talk about, but the company was too good to be unhappy around for long.
Eventually their conversation became punctuated by grumbling stomachs, and they agreed that it was time to order some food.
Sollux opened the container of jalfrezi, and breathed in the savoury smell deeply, "tho, any new paintingth or drawingth to show?"
Eridan sighed as he spooned chicken pathia next to the pile of rice on his plate, "no, it's just been hard to find motivation to paint while working so much." He shrugged, "it is what it is, though, I'll just have to find some time off soon, I guess."
After a moment, Eridan glanced across, and muttered, "to be honest, I've been thinkin' more about my time off in regard to how I'd spend it with you."
This made the tips of Sollux's ears turn pink, and he quickly ate a large mouthful of curry to ensure there was no room in his mouth for his foot, but his stomach did a little flip at Eridan's words. He thought about what he wanted to say carefully as he chewed, and then put his plate down, "I know what you mean, I wath really really looking forward to today, ED."
"I'm still really hurt over what you did," Eridan chewed at the inside of his cheek nervously. Feelings of inadequacy began bubbling up, and he swallowed them down before they could breach his lips, "but today's been the first day I've felt at home in this place since what happened, happened." He glanced down at the Gemini's slightly parted lips, "an' I'd be lyin' if I said it wasn't nice to hear that you've been lookin' forward to today as much as I have."
They contemplated all of the things they wanted to say; sweet nothings that had gone unsaid for so long, spiteful barbs born from loneliness, grand declarations of adoration, but words failed them both.
It was Eridan who cleared his throat, "well, I think you should choose the film we watch." He held out the remote and smiled.
"Sure." Sollux couldn't deny that he was disappointed that they didn't delve deep enough into the conversation to bring up the painful things that they needed to air out, but then again there was some reassurance in pushing the twisting worry aside and obscuring it with a comfortable blanket of procrastination. After resisting the urge to force Eridan to watch Kindergarten Cop and selecting Baby Driver, he sat back with his curry, and shared a smile with the man he could only hope felt the same way as he did.
After the third time Eridan yawned, he stretched and slapped some feeling back into his legs, "I think that's me done," he turned to Sollux, "do you want to come up to bed yet, or are you goin' to stay up a bit longer?"
Sollux smirked, and wiggled his eyebrows accusingly, "are you inviting me up to your room? Gathp, you huthy it'th only our thecond date!"
Eridan rolled his eyes, "if you'd rather stay in a spare room, then be my guest, Captor." He waved a hand as they ascended the stairs, and glanced over his shoulder, "was I perhaps too forward in offerin' you some basic hospitality?"
Sollux smirked, "why Eridan," he purred, "are you sure you want to thtart flirting when we're about to go to bed?"
"I wwasn't- that wwasn't-!" Eridan spluttered before giving the taller man a shove as they walked into the bedroom, "you're goin' the right way to gettin' the privilege a' sleepin' in the garden." He snatched up a pack of makeup wipes from his vanity table, and began cleaning his face off.
"You really don't need makeup, you know." Sollux said as he flopped onto the bed to get comfortable before watching the familiar routine take place.
Eridan scoffed, "not even someone as perfect as I can claim not to need makeup, Sollux. It is an art form, and I absolutely need to use it to hide these fuckin' bags at the very least." His reflection pouted dramatically as he wiped his face.
"Yeah, you're right," Sollux rolled his eyes, "although you should probably invetht in face paint inthtead." He didn't manage to duck in time to avoid the pack of wipes as they were launched straight at his head.
It was a warm enough night that they both only needed to wear a loose shirt and a pair of boxers each, and once they were comfortable, they sat together, lounging lazily against the large plush pillows adorning the entire top third of the bed, neither wanting to be the one to break the comfortable silence, but knowing that they had both put off talking about the thing they had spent their time apart agonising over. While they circled their own thoughts, Eridan and Sollux reached for one another's hand.
Sollux remembered how many times Eridan had taken the time during their post-passion spooning to tell him how much he loved how completely opposite their hands were, but yet they fit together as though they were made for that purpose alone. Usually Sollux would have taken that moment to ruin a sweet sentiment, but for once he had to agree with the Aquarius; their hands were a perfect fit for one another.
He glanced over to the other, and wondered if he was thinking the same, but somewhere deep down in the caverns that hid the darkest recesses of his mind, Sollux heard the whisper of insecurity start, quietly at first, but as it crept through his mind it wrapped it's cruel words in venomous honesty.
This isn't real, are you stupid? Remember how he looked at you.
Eridan's eyes flashed through his memory. So loving, so blue, so… full of hatred. Those blue eyes that had held so much love for him, that had looked at him in ways that no one else had ever done, that within such a short amount of time had burned with such a visceral loathing.
You did that. You ruined those eyes, you ruined everything. You're wasting your time. Why would he ever choose you? Maybe this is just an elaborate plan to get back at you. And you know what the worst thing is?
Sollux tried to swallow the lump in his throat, but it clung like thick molasses and threatened to choke him. He tried to think of something else, anything to shut the voice in his head up, but he could feel it smiling in the darkness, and knew that he was powerless to stop it.
The worst thing is that you deserve it, and you know it.
Sollux could barely hear his own thoughts over the thunderous white noise as blood rushed through his ears. He had dipped his toe in what had appeared to be a puddle of deprecation, but had been dragged into a god damn ocean. He frowned, and scolded himself for being ridiculous, but it had taken him by surprise. He knew that he had to throw himself a proverbial life-preserver, but sometimes finding a conscious thought that he could control was like not only trying to grab a greased-up weasel, but hold onto it while it did the can-can.
He blinked, turning back to Eridan as the white noise receded, and saw he was watching him carefully.
"You were kind a zonin' out there, and you had a face like thunder," Eridan learnt forward, and gently squeezed the nerd's hand, "are you okay?"
Sollux looked between the blue eyes in front of him, feeling the doubts ebb away as he searched for even the tiniest hint of malice in them. Finding none, he smiled, "I'm good, I wath jutht thinking."
"What about? It must've been somethin' particularly botherin' for you because you looked pissed," Eridan tilted his head, and grinned, "want to share? I mean, I did have a rant of a lifetime earlier an' I suppose I should do the gracious thing a' listenin' to you while you're strugglin' with some kind a' moral quandary for the ages."
Eridan huffed, and gave Sollux a little push, "come on, I'm tryin' to show you how magnanimous I am by bein' the best damn listener ever."
"You'd have to shut your mouth long enough to actually listen for that."
"Hilarious." Eridan's frown softened after a second, and he shrugged, "okay, I won't push you to talk if you don't want to, but you know as well as I do that you won't feel better until you get whatever's on your chest off of it."
He was right, but Sollux hated to admit it. If only he could have had this talk with Karkat instead, there was too much on the line with having this conversation with Eridan without a practice first. Then again, Sollux was fed up with the feeling of being weighed down so heavily by terrifying possibilities and regrets for things that hadn't even happened yet, it was like being a bird tethered to the ground with ropes and hooks unable to even try to fly.
"Fine." If Eridan wanted to talk, they were going to talk. Time to rip the plaster off, "I want to talk about… uth."
Sollux cursed his choice of words. He felt the nauseating anxiety begin to sprout in the cracks of his courage, and he tried to ignore the memory of the way Eridan had looked at him the last time he had had called them 'us'. He tried to push back the tendrils of doubt and condemnation as he tried to convince himself that things would be different this time, even if the outcome ended up being the same.
Eridan blinked owlishly, as though this comment had caught him completely off-guard, "okay, sure, go ahead."
Sollux took a deep breath to calm his nerves, "I kind of want to know where we thtand ath a… we? I gueth."
True eloquence thy name is Captor. Suck it, Shakespeare.
Eridan paid no mind to Sollux now slapping himself on the forehead, "are you askin' me if we're in a relationship?"
"Yeah, I mean," Sollux said as he rubbed the back of his own neck as though to erase some of the nervousness, "I really want to hear about how you're feeling on thith, but if it'th too early for uth to put a label on what we're doing, I abtholutely get that. It'th a no pressure quethtion, honethtly, I jutht want to talk about it."
"If you want to talk about this then let's do it right," Eridan said, crossing his legs, and sitting up straight. "we need to be one hundred percent honest about our feelin's," the blue eyes glanced away, "we need to lay all our cards on the table, so we know exactly where the other stands."
Sollux swallowed a lump in his throat, "thoundth good." He braced himself, this was what he'd been agonising over for the past week; their last date had gone so positively that he didn't want to throw any kind of spanner into the works, but he had to trust that this was a case of striking while the iron was hot.
"How would you feel if I thaid that I… wanted uth to get back together?" He asked, hoping that he had managed to sound somewhat casual despite the fact his heart was hammering so hard in his ribcage that Sollux was sure it would burst through like a messy, but no less lethal, imitation of a chest burster.
The hipster was quiet, but there was no denying the pink dusting across his cheeks, "why do you want us to be together?"
Sollux groaned, and sagged against the pillows, "I should've known you'd be a pain in the ath." He couldn't pretend as though he hadn't seen the disappointment flicker on the hipster's face, so he sighed loudly, "fine, you've got me, I'll be the thappy shit you want. But only thith onthe."
He moved a little closer to Eridan, but turned away a bit so that he didn't have to make too much eye contact while he spoke, "I want uth to be together becauthe when I'm with you I feel actually happy, and becauthe when we were apart there wathn't a minute that went by that you weren't playing on my mind like the huge pain in the ath you are," he didn't want to look at Eridan until he was finished baring his soul, "you're arrogant, thtubborn, annoying, short-tempered, childish-"
"This somehow isn't the worst argument I've heard to take someone back." Eridan interrupted grumpily.
"-Impatient, prickly, rude, self-centred—"
Eridan narrowed his eyes, "who the fuck taught you how to compliment someone?"
Sollux snickered, and bumped against Eridan, knowing that the Aquarius had waited long enough, "but you're altho dependable, intelligent, nerdy, thweet, thoughtful, romantic, and thuper hot," he glanced at Eridan and grinned sheepishly, feeling grateful to have the extra comfort of the sunglasses on his nose, "I mith you when I'm not with you, and no matter where we are, when I'm with you I feel like I'm home, and all I want to do ith pull you onto my lap and wrap mythelf around you becauthe I love holding you, and you alwayth thmell tho good." He flopped against the pillows and covered his face in embarrassment, pulling Eridan's hand along with his own, "I'll be honetht ED, I'm not uthed to feeling like I want to thpend all my time with thoemone, and not being able to be near that perthon after growing tho clothe to them wath jutht… tho lonely."
Eridan didn't try to move Sollux's hands, and instead gave one a squeeze, "you know, arguin' with father today has kind a' helped me realise that I think I'm finally done livin' my life accordin' to what he wants from me, and I'm fed up a' thinkin' about all the time I've wasted doin' exactly what he wanted me to do.
"I keep tryin' to imagine my future, but no matter what situation I imagine for myself, you're there by my side. Every time." Eridan's eyes were hard but not unkind when he looked back, "every minute I've spent with you today has cemented that feelin' for me, but…"
"But?" Sollux pushed gently, encouraging Eridan to speak.
"But," Eridan repeated, "I need to know, before we go any further, would you be faithful?"
The last question was said so quietly, and yet the words were so firm that there wasn't a single wavering note to betray his conviction.
"Alwayth." Sollux said, "I promithe."
Sollux found his gaze drifting from Eridan's intense gaze to his soft lips as the other spoke, "fair warnin' though, if you even think a' getting' any closer to cheatin' than you got last time, an' I will eat you."
The half-serious threat did nothing to dampen Sollux's mood, though a sweeping swarm of thoughts certainly derailed his focus for a moment or two; sudden rising fears of wasting Eridan's life with his problems, sharp pangs of doubts about his own morality for being so selfish for monopolising the other man's love, especially when he was such a bad person he didn't deserve to get a second chance, he should just tell Eridan he made a mistake-
He was so thoroughly engrossed in his dizzying circling of the internal drain of his deprecation that he almost didn't feel the cool hand settle on top of his own. Sollux's eyes met Eridan's, and for once there was nothing to second guess.
Eridan's breath caught in his throat as Sollux pulled him into a sudden kiss. He had barely tasted Sollux's passion before the nerd pulled away, with nothing on his lips but a breathless apology.
Eridan took Sollux's chin in his hand, and he turned his face back, but found himself face-to-face with his own reflection staring back at him from the damnable sunglasses. He watched himself frown, then brought his hands up, and hesitated when his fingers brushed against the frames to give Sollux time to stop him. When Sollux gave no sign of resistance, Eridan pulled the glasses down, and felt his frown give way to a flustered smile as soon as he saw his mismatched eyes.
Sollux's heart swelled with a rush of nostalgic adoration as the whispered nickname echoed in his ear, and he grinned as he pulled Eridan in for another kiss, not caring a single bit when their teeth clashed together unceremoniously.
Their bodies fit together as though they had once been one, and neither could pull the other close enough for their craving to be satisfied soon enough, but when Eridan felt the softest moan against his bottom lip, he was the one to pull away.
"We can't," he said softly, "I can't."
Sollux could barely hear over the blood pounding in his ears, but he nodded groggily, "I get it." He dipped his head below Eridan's jaw, and pressed a soft kiss against his neck before nipping him, "take ath long ath you need, I'll be here when you're ready."
Eridan huffed playfully, and pinched him, "and what if I'm never ready, Captor?"
He shrugged while his arms were wrapped tightly around the hipster, "that'th fine, I'll jutht make sure to uthe the good tissueth," he smirked at the disgusted face in front of him, "and all of your motht exthpenthive lotionth."
"You had better keep your grubby little grippers away from my good moisturisers, some a' those are worth a whole lot more than a pretty penny!"
Sollux tutted, "tho thelfish," he said disappointedly, "the only way I can feel clothe to your pretentiouth touch is by uthing your overprithed creamth ath lube."
"Sollux!" Eridan laughed hopelessly as Sollux kept them pressed flush together with a huge hug, "you wouldn't dare!"
"Jutht imagine the good I could do if you'd thtop being thelfish and jutht let me uthe your youth rejuvenator cream on my dick," Sollux choked out his words as he tried not to laugh, "I'd be doing it for you! You should be thanking me for being tho thoughtful!"
Eridan snorted and laughed against Sollux's neck while Sollux felt his heart thump steadily in his chest, it had been so long since he'd seen Eridan in such a vulnerable state he had almost forgotten the way that a flutter of warmth would spread from his chest downwards towards the reawakened butterflies in his stomach, and lower still to stir his affections.
"Ah!" Sollux exclaimed suddenly as he pushed his boyfriend away before he could feel something poke him, and tried to readjust without bringing too much attention to himself.
Eridan snorted, "serves you right, now come here an' shut up, you're too damn noisy." He laid down against his pillows with his eyes closed, and arms open. Sollux shuffled himself down against Eridan, and felt the hipster almost automatically relax against his back before wrapping him in a hug.
He felt the lips whisper against the back of his neck.
With the humility of a wounded sparrow I genuflect to you all and offer a simple chapter of erisol in these trying times.
With all seriousness, everything has kind of hit the fan like, everywhere. I hope that you and your loved ones are keeping safe, and healthy, and if you're joining in with the protests I am so proud of you. Black lives matter, trans rights are human rights, and ace/asexuals deserve some goddamn respect.
This is the first thing I've written in at least three years after getting into a shockingly mentally-abusive long term relationship that stomped out any motivation for well, anything really, so please mind the cobwebs and clichés – the last time I tried to write this chapter my laptop decided to kick it in, and I lost every WIP I had including the first twenty chapters of the rewrite I'd done for BoB, but such is life.
I had a thought a little while ago that I wanted to finish this thing, as a thank you for every single comment left on it, because they have made me so happy I've lost count how many times I've reread them all. So, thank you for reading and for sending me so much love over the years, I hope that the final five chapters scratch an itch for you. (I will try to write the next chapter soon, but please be patient with me because I'm working double my usual amount of night shifts because us carers are swamped!)