The first time Eduardo meets Mark, Eduardo is a little drunk at a party, so it's probably forgivable that he doesn't really notice Mark's daemon. The room is a little dark, and Eduardo's eyes are half-closed, so Mark is just a blur with an ugly hoodie and ugly flip-flops that is saying, "Your daemon is shedding all over the floor, just so you know."
Neida hisses at him, slightly annoyed, and then settles at Eduardo's feet. She tends to ignore people who just wander up to Eduardo and try to talk to him, preferring to keep to herself until they've proven themselves. Tonight, she has been extra sulky about something, and when mixed with the alcohol in Eduardo's system, it makes her meaner and more introverted.
"Nah, it's fine," Eduardo says. He blinks once, twice. The music seems get louder, settling in the base of his chest, or maybe his mind just gets fuzzier, fading away. Somewhere else, one of the brothers laughs loudly enough that it almost sounds like a cackle, his parrot daemon mimicking the sound. Neida lightly scratches at Eduardo's shins.
"You have an exam tomorrow morning. We should go," she says.
Eduardo waves to the hoodie-flip-flop-blur. "She's right, you know. We should go."
The blur shrugs."Okay," it says, and it then slowly fades away.
When Eduardo meets Mark properly, he is wearing a different-colored ugly hoodie, and he's wearing sneakers instead of flip-flops. He's got curly hair, Eduardo notices this time, because they're both outside, and the sun is still high in the sky. It's spring, and the trees are budding again, the first sign of green in months. Eduardo had decided that eating in the dining hall wasn't worth the effort. Mark almost trips over Eduardo's bag as he's coming down the steps from Widener, right as Eduardo is finishing off his soda.
"Do I know you?" Eduardo asks. He's seen the guy around campus before, since their schedules vaguely line up. They pass each other on the strip of land between the Yard and the Science Center every day after lunch, but now there's a new twinge of awareness in Eduardo's brain, like maybe Eduardo knows him from somewhere else, too.
Mark shrugs in a way that seems familiar. "You were pretty drunk at the time, so." Eduardo can't see his daemon, which is a little unsettling, almost as unsettling as the stillness of Mark's face. He has to have one-- he'd be dead otherwise, but Eduardo likes having one within sight when interacting with strangers. It makes things easier.
"Yeah, sorry about that," Eduardo says. Neida sits next to Eduardo and stares at Mark with huge, dark eyes, still as a statue.
"Whatever," Mark says. A spider crawls onto his shoulder, black with a red hourglass symbol on its back, and Eduardo only has a moment to freak out before realizing it must be Mark's daemon.
"Stop being such a dick," Mark's daemon says to Mark, "and introduce yourself." Eduardo can't read her body language, not in way Eduardo can read a dog daemon or a ferret daemon or even sometimes a snake daemon.
"I'm Mark," Mark says with a roll of his eyes. He sounds reluctant. "I'm rushing AEPi." He gestures to his shoulder. "And this is Alochka."
"Oh," Eduardo says. "Nice to meet you. I'm Eduardo. And you've kind of met Neida already."
Neida nods her head and blinks.
After they become friends, properly friends, Eduardo spends a lot of time in the Kirkland Suite with Neida curled up in his lap and an Econ textbook laid out on the bed in front of him.
He meets Mark's roommates. Dustin is the sort of guy that Eduardo likes spending time with, warm and easy-going and ridiculous, and his rat daemon, Katinka, likes to scamper through their rooms and annoy Neida with the latest Kirkland gossip, her high-pitched voice bright and chipper. If she were any less friendly, he would probably be annoyed by the sounds of her skittering across the floor, usually heralding the arrival of Dustin himself. Not that Dustin doesn't have his own ways of announcing himself.
Chris is a lot quieter, and he doesn't spend as much time in their rooms, because Inkeri, his elephant daemon, doesn't fit through any of the doors. She does linger outside their second floor window, and sometimes, she'll tap her trunk against the window so that Chris can stick his head out and listen to what she has to say.
Mark is an obsessive workaholic, which suits Eduardo just fine. It makes Eduardo feel like he needs to keep up with him, work harder because Mark won't try to distract him. Alochka keeps herself busy while Mark is working, too, spinning webs on the edge of Mark's desk, in the corners of Mark's window.
"Do you need to eat or do you just like hunting?" Eduardo asks her, watching as she wraps up the latest fly to be caught in her web. Neida doesn't eat, but she does breathe and she does sleep. Eduardo's never met a daemon that's needed to eat, but he's heard that some people have daemons that do eat regularly. Mark is doing his systems homework or something like that, biting down on his bottom lip as he stares at the computer screen in front of him, tuning out their conversation so he can focus. Alochka's on the window today, and the late afternoon sun catches in the silken strings.
Alochka snorts in a way that makes her sound a little like Mark, for all that she's a lot meaner and more aggressive than he is. Alochka says, "Do you always have to ask pointless questions or is that something you do for fun?"
Neida glares at her with sleepy cat eyes. They make an odd pair, the two of them. Neida's a Savannah cat, larger than most, gray with dark spots. She could probably eat Alochka if she wanted to. When Eduardo and Mark are off doing their own work, she and Alochka get into a lot of weird arguments amongst themselves about pretty much anything and everything, but she seems to like Alochka well enough, letting Alochka ride around on her head and growling at Katinka when she scampers through Alochka's webs while she's working on them. "Well, sorry for asking," Neida says before she licks at her paws.
Alochka says, "You should be," but she sounds more amused than annoyed, almost affectionate.
"Fine," Neida says, sulking, and she curls up in a patch of sun, falling asleep.
Alochka goes back to rolling up her latest catch, humming happily as she does so, and Eduardo ends up watching her work, unable to look away.
He doesn't realize until much later that he never got an answer to his question.
Mark doesn't bother cleaning the cobwebs out of his room, and so they fill up all the available corners. Eduardo runs into some of the ones hanging in the doorway by accident, and then he's stuck trying to clean it off his face while he's waiting for Mark to reappear. The lighting in the dorms isn't good enough for Eduardo to see where all the webs are; the strands are too thin.
"This is disgusting," Neida says, swiping at one of the other webs with her paws. "I don't know how they can live like this."
The problem with Mark is that he doesn't care about anything besides his computer and his code and maybe sometimes his classes, and so this is no different for him. It's something that he doesn't care about and so it doesn't get taken care of. "It's really not our place to--"
Mark wanders back into his room from the bathroom, rubbing at his eyes before he focuses on his screen, not bothering to pay attention to anyone else. Alochka is sitting on his head, flattening some of the curls. It's impossible to tell what she's focusing on, what she can even see.
"That's going to cause an infinite loop in certain cases," she says. "You're going to want to put that check earlier to avoid duplicating code."
"We'd still have to duplicate code," Mark says. "It'll be faster this way. We can put the check somewhere else."
"Hey," Eduardo says, because when they get into their code, they really get into it, and Eduardo wouldn't be able to get a word in edgewise, "are you going to the AEPi thing tonight?"
Mark shrugs. "I don't know. Maybe."
Neida says, "You should, you know. You can sit in front of your computer some other time."
Mark turns to face her, and he smiles, just a little bit. It's a little odd, but Mark has always been a little nicer to her than he is to Eduardo himself, for reasons that Eduardo doesn't understand. It makes something flutter in Eduardo's chest. "Okay, fine," Mark says. "I'll go."
Alochka turns on the top of his head so that her eight eyes are facing Eduardo now. He's become more used to it, but it's still unsettling. "This better be fun," she says, grumbling.
"Oh, shut up," Mark says to her.
Eduardo laughs, because it's always funny when Mark and Alochka snipe at each other for some reason. It makes Mark seem more human. He tosses an arm around Mark's shoulders, enjoying the way Mark lets him with only a minimal amount of of sulking. "C'mon," he says. "Let's go."
It's kind of obnoxious that Eduardo's father can always pick the absolutely the worst time to call. They're playing a game of never-have-I-ever in the suite's common room, but Eduardo is surprisingly sober because he's never been to Applebee's or rollerbladed off the roof of his house or grossed out his little sister by convincing his daemon to turn into disgusting types of bugs while she was around.
It's probably a good thing that he hasn't done a whole lot with his life, though. "Shit," he says, when he sees the number on his phone. "I gotta take this one."
He disappears into Mark's room, pulling the door closed behind him. He doesn't need another lecture about his inappropriate weeknight activities.
The conversation is short. Eduardo only has to answer in yes/no statements. This time around, his father is disappointed that Eduardo hasn't managed to secure on-site interviews for some of the more prestigious i-banking internships, and Eduardo needs to study better next time, maybe buy a book on the subject so that he's more adequately prepared. He's not entirely wrong, because Eduardo really hasn't had much time to prepare. He's been spending too much time in the Kirkland suite, just talking with Dustin and Chris and Mark. It's not good for him, but he doesn't want to stop either.
When his father finally hangs up, Eduardo collapses onto Mark's bed, feeling worn out and drained. Neida climbs onto the bed and licks his hand, resting her head on his thigh. When he was younger, she would do that while in dog form, licking his hand or his face when he was particularly upset. He pets her, feeling the reassuring fur underneath his fingers, and he closes his eyes to collect himself.
He hears the door open, and the muted sounds from the common room are turned up to full volume for a moment. Dustin is trying to explain his theory about movie sequels or something like that, and he keeps getting interrupted by Katinka when she wants to go off on a tangent.
The door closes again. Eduardo opens his eyes. Mark is standing there, hands shoved awkwardly in his pockets. Alochka is on his shoulder. He's probably not drunk, but it's pretty much impossible to tell when Mark is drunk until he starts talking, and sometimes not even then. "That was your dad, wasn't it?" Mark asks. He sounds sober enough.
Eduardo sighs. "Yeah," he says.
"Your dad's a dick," Alochka says.
Neida says, "He's still our father." She gives Eduardo's a finger another lick, and Eduardo absently wonders whether or not this will turn into another one of those arguments they've been having more of these days.
Alochka says, "Whatever. He's still a dick."
Mark settles down on the bed next to Eduardo's side, opposite Neida so that they won't accidentally touch. His shoulder brushes Eduardo's, almost intimate, and Eduardo relaxes for the first time since his phone rang.
"You're going to miss Dustin's story of the first time a girl let him put his hand down her pants," Mark says, but he doesn't sound like he's in any sort of hurry.
Eduardo laughs. He's too comfortable like this to get up, especially if Mark is sticking around. "Yeah," Eduardo says. "Too bad."
It's the shiver of pleasure running through his body that wakes Eduardo up. It's not quite a physical sensation, not associated to a particular touch or smell or sight. It's something deep inside of him heated up, warmed all over. He accidentally fell asleep on Mark's bed during a study session -- he has a midterm in a few days -- and he's been snoring into his textbook, apparently.
In the dim light, he blinks and glances around for Mark, but he has to close his eyes when another shiver of pleasure chases its way down his spine.
Mark is sitting cross-legged on the floor, which is strange enough as it is, but Neida is curled up in his lap, purring as he scratches behind her ears. It must be a dream, Eduardo thinks, because no one would ever-- could ever-- and Mark wouldn't anyway.
"I can see why he likes you," Neida murmurs.
Eduardo can't read Mark's expression. It's too careful, too hidden away. Another feeling takes up space in his chest, aching with how much he wants, and he's not even sure what it is that he wants. It's all so tangled and confused inside him.
He's so distracted that he almost doesn't feel the brush of tiny legs climbing up his arm until it reaches his neck, and he tenses, all of his muscles going tight and on alert.
"It's just me," Alochka says. "No need to get your panties in a twist." She keeps climbing, over his face and onto the top of his head, settling there. Eduardo doesn't know if that's comfortable for her or what. He's never seen her and Mark exchange physical affection. It's not how they do things. Cats are so much easier to please.
"Hi," he says, soft enough that maybe Mark and Neida won't hear them. He doesn't know what's going on, but this is-- this feels good, warm, right, like it should always be this way.
"Hi yourself, big guy," she says, and she sounds the way she sounds when she's talking to Neida.
Eduardo lets out a small laugh. Neida leaps out of Mark's lap so she can curl up by Eduardo's side.
Mark looks up at them, and his eyes are almost black in the darkness. "Wardo," he says, and Eduardo's breath catches in his throat.
"Mark," Eduardo says back, because he needs to, because it's too much, the way Mark can make him feel. He can't-- it's too strange, and Mark doesn't-- he doesn't make sense the way Eduardo wants him to. Mark is confusing and his daemon is confusing and this is confusing and Eduardo wants all of it in a way he's never wanted anything before. "Mark," he says again, softer this time.
He closes his eyes when Mark kisses him.
Alochka ruffles his hair.