“Soooo... Can I ask you guys a question?"
Brock and Ash exchanged an eye roll.
Claptrap ALWAYS seemed to have a question in regards to Sam and Max.
"Shoot." Sam said with a shrug, tossing a pair of chips towards the center. He never minded the little unicycle-dumpster-fire's innate lack of tact. In fact, he found a lot of Claptrap's mannerisms similar to Max's. The high-pitched voice, the manic eccentricity, the endearing vulgarity...
'... God Lord, do I have a type?' he suddenly thought.
"... What exactly ARE you guys?" Claptrap asked, his processed voice cutting through Sam's somewhat horrific epiphany. Sam, giving his head a stirring little shake, looked towards Claptrap curiously.
"... Like... our species?" he paused, before shrugging. "Well, as far as I know, I'm just your run-of-the-mill anthropomorphic Irish Greyhound. Max, on the other hand-"
"No, no." Claptrap gave his claw dismissively. "I mean, like, your relationship. Are you guys just friends, or dating, or nerf-buddies, or...?" he trailed off, visibly cowering under Brock's disapproving glare.
"Knock it off, Johnny Five, that ain't our business to know."
Claptrap's light flared up almost at once.
"Oh-!" he seethed. "Don't go givin' me that 'holier-than-thou' crap!" Angrily, his lens flitted between Brock and Ash. "We were ALL thinkin' it!"
Sam's brows shot up.
"... Really? ALL of you? ... Even GlaDOS?" he gestured towards the ceiling, and, as if on cue, the ivory skeletal frame of the Aperture AI lowered herself to the table.
"~Quite frankly, I don't really care one way or another.~" she chimed, her yellow sensor unnervingly affixed to Sam's face. "~But even I have to admit, you fail to follow the standard routine of a normal mammalian courtship... But then again, you two are not normal mammals, so I suppose it's just as well...~"
And with one graceful bow, she slid back up towards the ceiling.
"... Gee-" Max said, at long last looking over from his usual booth. "I didn't realize our personal life was such a hot button issue."
Ash leaned back against his chair with a sigh. "... Well, can ya blame us? You two are about as inseparable as me n' my chainsaw. Ordinarily, I'd just say you were real good buddies, but..." he shrugged. "I dunno, it's hard to tell with you whackos."
Sam, somewhat hot under the collar, readjusted his tie.
"... Well, since the whole room seems compelled to put me on the spot, I may as well say it." He glanced over his shoulder, briefly sharing a reaffirming smile with Max. "... Max and I are recently divorced."
... If if it weren't for the soft ambience of smooth jazz, one could've heard a pin drop.
Finally, after a prolonged moment of flabbergasted stares, Brock was the first to speak, carefully keeping his eyes to the minuscule font of his cigarette pack.
"... I'm, uh... I'm sor-"
"WHAT THE #@*&?!" Claptrap screeched, standing up against his wheel. "YOU TWO WERE MARRIED?! LIKE... LEGALLY?! IN FRONT OF GOD?! ... AND THEN YOU JUST... BROKE UP?! BUT YOU'RE STILL FRIENDS?! ... Not to indulge in a harmful stereotype towards robots, but... DOES NOT COMPUTE, MAN! DOES. NOT. FREAKIN'. COMPUTE!"
He then fell back against his chair, his servos evidently spinning.
"... Subtle." Ash quipped, raising his glass in a mock toast. Sam, however, looked confused.
"Broke up? ... What're you talking about? Max and I haven't broken up; we're just as in love now as we've ever been."
"We're just not married." Max continued, hopping up onto Sam's lap. He'd ultimately grown bored at listening in from a distance. Besides, these bozos were finally discussing a worthwhile subject... Him and Sam!
Now it was the table's turn to look confused. Once again, Brock's voice came first.
"... Okaaaaay, ya lost me."
"It's not that complicated, really." Sam said, offering the trio a bemused little smile. "See, every so often, Max and I get a divorce just so we can experience the pleasure of marrying each other all over again."
"Like buyin' a new pair of shoes once the old ones wear out!" Max piped up.
"Or, at least, that's what we ASSUME buying shoes is like." Sam added, helping himself to a sip of root beer.
Another bewildered silence fell over the room.
"... Wait, so-" Ash leaned his elbows against his table, pointedly staring towards the odd couple. "... Exactly how often does this happen?"
"Oh, we're on marriage number twelve now, actually." Sam beamed, seemingly oblivious to the stupefied silence over the remaining players.
Claptrap's lens fidgeted uneasily. "... That's like... romantic, bordering on masochism..."
"Ro-Masochism." Ash offered.
"... Okay, so-" Brock smothered the end of his cigarette against an ashtray. "I can understand wantin' to marry the same person over and over again-"
"Really?" Claptrap glanced over.
"... Well, not really, but I can humor 'em." he shrugged. "... No, what I don't get is, why go to all that trouble? ... Repeatedly, no less. I mean... wouldn't it be easier just to renew your vows and leave it at that?"
"Yeah, we don't believe in that baloney." Max scoffed, folding up Sam's cards into an origami swan. "I mean, what's the point in setting up a fake wedding if you're ALREADY married? It's a total sham."
"A disgrace to the sacred institute." Sam added solemnly.
"Here-Here!" Max proclaimed, shooting the paper swan towards Ash. He caught it almost at once, crushing it between his metallic fist, and dropping it to the floor.
"... Well, I guess I fold." Sam said, scratching his ear. "Pun not intended, of course."
Max rolled his eyes. "Liar."
"So... wait-" Ash held up his hand, drawing the conversation back on track. "Just how the hell can you n' Thumper afford eleven consecutive weddings? I'll admit, my experience with this sorta thing is limited-"
"Yeah-!" Claptrap broke in. "His last fiance wasn't exactly top-shelf material!"
"... In ANY case-" Ash continued through gritted teeth, as Brock slammed his steely fist against the robot's flat top. "Doesn't all that ceremony get pretty expensive after a while?"
"Not at all," Sam said, watching as Claptrap clattered to the floor like an oversized soup can. "Ya just gotta know how to economize."
"We're good friends with the president," Max said, absentmindedly picking at his nose. "And I'M a registered Minister, according to Nebraska. So, we never have to bother with hiring an officiant."
"Not to mention, we get most of our essentials from Bingo's Birthday Bonanza." Sam added. "Balloons, cups, goodies bags-"
"And of COURSE, the cake!" Max bounced a little at the thought. "Last year, it had a dinosaur motif. THIS time, though, I'm thinkin' more... Race car. What do YOU think, Sam?"
"Can't think of a reason NOT to," Sam smiled, tenderly setting his hand between Max's ears.
Brock scratched at his nose. "... So, basically, this whole routine is just an excuse to throw multiple parties in which you two knuckleheads are the centerpiece."
Sam and Max exchanged a look.
"More or less," Sam shrugged.
"Isn't that just a wedding is, though?" Max asked.
Brock had no choice but to chuckle, shaking his head lightly. "Touche."
"Ooh!" piped Claptrap, as he awkwardly clambered back onto his chair. "Here's a question for ya! You two got this whole crazy-train system down to a science... but what about your first run-through, huh? How'd THAT go down?"
"... What, our first wedding, you mean?" Sam asked, a little surprised.
"Hey, yeah!" Ash nodded. "Knowin' you two, that must've been nuts..."
"More importantly, who asked first?" Brock shot Sam a slight smirk. "My money's on ol' Rover Romeo over here."
Sam suddenly gave an embarrassed sort of laugh, shyly averting the table's curious eyes as he turned his muzzle to the side.
"... Well, it's, uh... It's actually a funny story..."
"Oh!" Max clapped his hands together excitedly, glancing up towards Sam. "Can I tell 'em, Sam? Can I, can I, can I?"
Sam paused, before easing back against his chair with a soft smile.
"Sure, buddy. Knock yourself out."
Squealing in delight, Max took to the center of the table, clearing his throat theatrically.
"... Well... it all began on a dark and stormy night..."
The rain lashed the ancient cobblestones of our victorian manor like the cruel tongue of an unforgiving governess. I, clad in nothing more than my scandalously sheer negligee, sat alone in my bed chamber, coyly plucking at my harp like a fluffy siren of yore. There was a CRASH of lightning, when suddenly, my door FLEW open with enough force to rattle the chandelier! I gasped, retreating to my bedspread in an effort to save my modesty, but Sam strolled in all the same, beads of rain still fresh against his unkempt fur.
"Max-!" he cried. "I can't STAND it any longer! Your tender touch, your delicate fur, and the THROBBING of your MASSIVE-"
Sam's hat came down like a burlap sack over Max's head, silencing him almost at once.
"... You'll have to forgive my associate." Sam mumbled, shades of red visibly peering through his fur as he dragged Max back towards his lap. "... He, uh... He's been taking some creative writing classes as of late."
"No kidding!" Claptrap announced, ever the enthusiast. "If I had a stomach, I'd be barfing it inside out!"
"... Yeah, that was..." Ash squirmed slightly.
"Gross." Brock concluded.
"... I was gonna say HEART, in case anyone was wondering!" Max shouted, slightly muffled through the material of Sam's stretched-out cap. "... Sheesh, people, get your minds outta the gutter!"
"How's about you let ME tell the story, buddy?" Sam said gently, finally freeing Max from the hat's pincer grip. He gasped for air only once, before shrugging.
"Eh, works for me. That was only a first draft, anyway."
"Much obliged." Sam turned to address the table. "So! You gentlemen ready to enter a proper flashback?"
"Hold it-" Brock held up a hand, stone faced. "Will there be any mention of the word 'negligee?'"
"... Not that I can recall." Sam said, quite honestly.
"Alright then." Brock lit the end of his cigarette. "Continue."
"... Well-" Sam gave the ceiling a ponderous glance, leaning his chair against its back two legs. "... I suppose the the REAL story starts with us cowering behind a tire pile in the city dump."
"And we're startin' off strong!" Max grinned.
"I can't believe that innocent toxic waste mutated New York's over abundance of garbage into a monsterous, (yet vaguely effeminate,) shape!" Sam exclaimed, checking his gun for any remaining ammo.
"Ooh, lovely exposition Sam!" Max said, his back to the rubber wheeled wall. "I just can't believe she wants ME to be her King of Crap! ... Why ME of all people?
"Could be your smell," Sam proposed, cocking the cylinder back into place. "Second only to her, you're the foulest thing in New York."
"... Saaa-aaam..." giggled Max, coyly cupping his hands to his face. "How am I suppose to concentrate on a life or death situation if you keep flirtin' with me?"
Sam felt himself flush slightly.
Why were Max's obvious jokes beginning to rub him the wrong way?
Suddenly, Max's ears began to twitch. Dropping the act, he hurriedly peered out from behind the mountain of discarded tires.
"She's comin' back!" he hissed.
Instinctively, Sam threw his arm around the rabbit as if shielding him from a bomb, and the two promptly ducked.
The putrid air of the city dump was suddenly made even worse, as the mucilaginous form of the twelve-foot garbage wench (or 'beldump,' as Max'd taken to calling her,) slithered by like a slug. She then paused, raising her misshapen head, as her divot-nostrils curiously flexed at the air.
Wordlessly, Sam threw both arms around Max, drawing him to his core as if suddenly desperate for a hug. Max, more than surprised, was thrown against his partner's chest like a ragdoll.
... His sensitive ears picked up the heavy hammer of Sam's distressed pulse, while the full weight of his heavy arms squeezed against Max's back...
Max, in spite of his best efforts, felt an odd warmth rise against his cheeks.
The beldump, with a disappointed sort of grumble, soon began to meander away.
Sam sighed, slowly loosening his grip on Max.
"... S-sorry..." he breathed, wiping at his forehead. "... I, uh... I had to hide your scent-"
"G-gee, Sam-!" Max broke in, smiling frantically. "... i-if ya wanted to cuddle, all ya had to do was ask!"
He laughed, though it was a far cry from his typical mischievous titter.
Sam's brow furrowed. "... Are you blushing?"
Max's ears shot up like corn stalks.
"... N-no!" he seethed, suddenly anxious to get away. "... It's... it's your stupid cologne! ... It's givin' me a rash!"
'Funny, considering I don't even WEAR cologne,' Sam was about to point out, when an idea suddenly came to mind. He quickly began to loosen his tie, before slipping off his jacket
Max's "rash" only worsened. "S-Sam, what're you- oof!"
Sam slapped his hat between Max's ears.
"This'll mask your smell." he said, affixing his loose-fitting tie to Max's throat. "Or, at the very least, it'll buy me some time to lure the beldump away."
He gently drew his jacket around Max's shoulders like a blanket, before plucking out a small tuft of fur. Max winced.
"This should be adequate bait."
Gently holding the lock between his fingers, Sam stood up, and carefully surveyed the landscape.
"... Okay, lil' buddy. You just hunker down here 'till I get back."
Max's face suddenly dawned with distraught realization.
"... You're leaving me?"
Sam looked down. Underneath all that bulky clothing, Max suddenly appeared so much smaller. Any other time, that might've been amusing, but now...
It just broke Sam's heart.
"Only for a minute." Taking a knee, Sam offered his gentlest smile, in spite of Max stubbornly refusing to meet his eye. "Just long enough to draw her into the city."
Max, however, kept his eyes to the dirt, practically pouting.
Sam sighed. He knew what that expression meant. They'd made a unspoken agreement never to be separated for too long. Not after... well... everything that'd happened recently...
In a rare moment of tactile tenderness, Sam curled a finger beneath Max's chin, guiding his gaze upward.
"... I PROMISE I'll come back." he said softly, practically a whisper. Cupping it with a chuckle, he added, "After all, I got YOU to come back to, right?"
Max said nothing... He simply stared, as slack-jawed as a blind man seeing color for the first time.
... If this were a movie, the sacrificial hero might've planted a peck against his lover's forehead, either as reassurance, or goodbye.
But this wasn't a movie... And Max certainly wasn't his lover.
Compromising, Sam sweetly scratched at Max's drooped ear, before standing back up. Once he was sure the coast was clear, he made to run, when all at once, he felt Max scaling up the front of his shirt like an anxious reptile.
"Marry me." he said stoutly, looking positively fevered.
Sam scowled. He'd had his fill of cheap jokes for the evening. "... Max, c'mon, don't-"
"I'm not kidding," he croaked, his hands grasping at Sam's collar for support. "Please, Sam... marry me. Like... right now. I don't wanna be with anyone else. I don't think I CAN be with anyone else. Losing you the first time was..." he broke off, trails of tears and snot running down his face. "... Well, it sucked. Like, a lot." he finally choked. "... But the worst part was... I finally realized just how crazy I was about you... But you were dead!"
He then began to laugh, but something in it made Sam cringe... It was a high, unsettling, hysterical laugh... Different from his usual variety, anyway.
There was no joy in it.
"Isn't that hilarious?" he continued. "And what's even funnier? ... I actually got a second chance to tell you how I felt... and I STILL chickened out! And now you're leaving me AGAIN, and... and..." he quickly dissolved into a fit of laughter and sobs, clinging to Sam's shirt with no intention of letting go.
... Needless to say, Sam was more than shocked... The same three shrieking words seemed to reverberate against his addled brain.
... How I felt... How I felt... How I felt...
... Funny. He wasn't nearly as shocked as one would think. If anything, Sam felt a kind of... serenity settle over him.
He'd known it, without knowing it...
... Max loved him... Max'd loved him for a good while now...
Of course he did... Of course he did! It was too damn obvious! It practically went without saying! And... and...
'... Holy hotpot party hosted by a Hostess Hoho...' thought Sam. '... I think I might love him back.'
Max looked up, his face a mess of varying fluids. "... W... what?"
"You're a high priest, remember?"
Sam then flinched. Of course Max wouldn't remember, HE never experienced that.
".... N-no...?" he sniffled hesitantly. "... But I AM a registered minister, according to Nebraska."
Sam smiled, briefly relieved, before glancing around. Spotting a rubber band off to the side, he snatched it up, before twining it around the middle finger of Max's left hand.
"If you think I wouldn't want marry you, right here and now, you're even crazier than I thought."
Prying Max from his shirt, Sam set him down, and took both hands.
"Don't even bother asking anything," he said quickly, smiling a little. It was one of the few instances Max was ever lost for words. "You already know I do. I do a thousands times over, and twice on Sundays; never to anyone else but you."
"... D-ditto.." Max said at last, grinning incredulously. "... Th-then... I guess... b-by the power vested in me by the state of Nebraska, I now pronounce us-"
He didn't even have time to finish the sentence before he and Sam began to kiss.
It was the kiss of a thousand unsaid longings, the kiss of sweet, relinquished grief. It was cathartic, practically euphoric-
"- and the first of many to come." Sam concluded, beaming towards the wide-eyed faces of the Inventory regulars.
Ash huffed a short, disbelieving laugh, shaking his head. "So you two professed your love, got engaged, and then married, all within the span of a few short minutes..."
"In the middle of a stinky landfill, no less!" Claptrap added.
"Just for the record-!" Max said quickly. "Sam was TOTALLY exaggerating my little proposal. I was doing doughnuts on a tricked-out motorcycle, and tossed him a ring made out of pure gold. It was the smoothest thing in the world, and I did NOT cry!"
"~Max's temperature seems to be rising at an alarming rate.~" GladOS's voice rolled out coolly. "~Perhaps he is suffering another rash outbreak?~"
The table broke into a bout of good-natured laughter, as Max folded his arms grumpily. He already knew he'd never hear the end of that...
"So whatever happened to the garbage monster?" Brock asked, still smiling.
"Oh, that-" Sam waved his hand dismissively. "That was easy. Using the scent of Max's hair, I lead her back to our office. Once there, she immediately fell in love with the trash congregating in our workspace, and took that as her husband rather than Max."
"They then moved to Detroit to live among their own kind!" Max sighed, fluttering his eyelids. "It was like the ending to a fairytale..."
"Yeah, that's... one way of putting it." Ash mumbled.
"And how long was it before ya decided to get re-married? Claptrap asked.
"Three days." Sam answered, leaning forward to dig through his pocket. Fishing out his wallet, he opened it up to reveal a small photo guarded by a sheet of plastic. "We knew we wanted our second wedding to be a lil' more formal, so we pulled out all the stops." he pointed towards the lavish church setting, as well as Max's uncharacteristically grandiose top hat and tux.
"... Nice dress," Brock remarked with a sneer.
"I know, I know..." Sam smiled sheepishly. "It's a little old-fashioned, but it belonged to my Granny, and she insisted on me wearing it."
"Plus, she n' Sam have the same cuddly corpulent build, so it was an easy fit!" Max chimed in. Sam, rolling his eyes, pushed him to the floor.
"Well-" Brock raised his glass. "Cheers to your divorce, I suppose."
"And may many more follow!" Ash said, joining the toast.
Claptrap, however, remained motionless.
"... Does it bother anyone that the six of us guys just spent the last half-hour discussing marriage and weddings like an old sewing-circle?"
The table traded looks.
"Not even remotely!"
"... Alright, just checking!" Claptrap held up his sippy-cup. "To Sam and Max!"
"To Sam and Max!"
"Ya know-" Sam said, as he and Max barreled along their the long stretch of their familiar street. It was a perfect night for reckless driving. "We oughta invite our poker buddies to our next wedding."
"Oh, HELL yeah!" Max said, nodding vigorously. "It wouldn't be a dream wedding without 'em! Ooh-!" he grabbed at Sam's arm, nearly swerving the Desoto into an oncoming truck. Sam pivoted back almost at once, heart thudding, but smiling all the same.
"Think we could get GladOS to sing at our reception?" Max bobbed excitedly against his seat. "I would, and CAN, kill for her to do Nat King Cole!"
"We'll havta ask next time we see her, buddy." Sam chuckled, sparing a hand to pet at Max's head. "Though, personally, I wouldn't mind meetin' some of YOUR old card sharks... 'Specially that wrestler fellow, uh... What was his name?" Sam snapped his fingers rhythmically. "String bean?"
"Strong Bad. But PLEASE, call him String Bean once you finally get to meet him!" Max giggled. "I have GOT to see how that goes down."
Sharply rounding a corner, the two finally skidded their car into its usual spot, halfway hunched atop the curb adjacent to their building.
Making their way up the stairs, they soon found themselves in the comfortable chaos of their office. (Naturally, it didn't them long to re-accumulate all the garbage swept away by the beldump.)
"Well, that depends-" Max shrugged, as he and Sam crossed into one of the more residential rooms. Flopping down onto the patchwork couch, Max made an immediate snag for the remote. "When're you gonna propose already?"
"Guess I'm just waiting for the right occasion. Timing is everything, ya know. Here, scooch over."
With a sigh, Sam helped himself to a seat beside Max, and the two finally settled on something to watch.
"Ooh! Robot Terror From Beyond the Galaxy!" Max curled up against Sam's leg, and Sam, smiling contentedly, rested a hand to his back.
"Hope we haven't missed too much."
"Nah," Max shook his head. "We haven't even gotten to the marrow-suckers yet."
Sam nodded, and then glanced over. His partner's eyes were beginning to droop, and Sam wondered whether or not Max was about to fall asleep.
"... Hey, Max-" Sam whispered, lightly jostling the lagomorph's head. "... You wanna get married?"
Max chuckled, tucking his hands beneath his head as his eyes closed in full.
"... Well, DUH, Sam... A thousand-" he cut himself off with a yawn. "... A thousand times over, and twice on Sundays..."
Sam, with a warm smile, leaned over, planting a soft kiss to Max's forehead.
"You're the light of my life, lil' buddy."