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Of kittens and teacups and love

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Charles and Erik are best friends. They've been since freshman year, when Erik had just moved to the US from Europe and didn't know anyone at Harvard, but hated them anyway because at the time Erik hated everyone.

To be fair he still hates most people, but he always find it difficult to hate Charles, even when he's stressed about finals and wakes up Erik at three in the morning to recite him the names and key traits of personality disorders until Erik is convinced that he has at least a dozen of those. Not even when Charles drags him to the bookstore for the third time in the same week and buys enough books to fill a small library and Erik is the one who has to actually carry them home. Not even when they order pizza and Charles spends thirty minutes choosing what to have and then orders something off the menu and then decides that Erik's plain mushroom pizza looks much better. And Erik ends up caving under the puppy eyes and splits his pizza with Charles and ends up with half a plate of something that is less pizza and more pineapple and bacon and eggs and eggplant and meatballs and zebra.

Charles is very good at the puppy eyes thing. He'll point those ridiculously blue eyes on Erik and stare and pout, because God help him, Charles is the kind of person who pouts. And Erik just won't be able to stay mad at him. Like the first time they met, when Erik was so furious and angry with everyone and everything that he felt ready to go back to Poland, swimming across the Atlantic if he needed to, and he didn't feel particularly well-disposed towards posh psychology students who just happened to have overheard his screaming match with the Dean and apologized for being too forward but could maybe offer a solution to Erik's housing problem. To this day, Erik still doesn't know why he accepted Charles's offer to move in with him. He's often had the chance to regret his decision (usually at three in the morning under finals) and at the same time he doesn't know how he could have survived the past few years without Charles.

Sweet, reliable, old Charles. Erik had tried to warn him. He wasn't the best roommate, he was moody, not very talkative, Charles had just met him... All of Erik's protests had been for nothing. Charles had practically bullied Erik into moving in with him, by being stubborn and polite and helpful and infuriatingly calm. Erik had felt like screaming that he had issues, damn it, he wasn't a good person, he'd done some really fucked up shit. Charles was a good person and didn't deserve to have someone like Erik in his life. And Charles had just stared at him as if he could read his mind and he'd said that he'd never met anyone quite like Erik and he thought they could be great friends.

So that's how Erik and his two suitcases had ended up in the spare room of Charles's flat. Which really wasn't a flat but some kind of miniature mansion, because which kind of student lives in a place with three bedrooms, a study, a dining room, a living room and two bathrooms? The kitchen alone was larger than some of the places where Erik had lived. Charles had looked at Erik's suitcases and asked when he was going to get the rest of his stuff, and Erik had said that was it, and remembered that at the time it had seemed like a lot of things to take along and maybe he could have just brought the larger suitcase and left the second one behind. And most of all Erik worried that Charles was treating him like his pet charity case, like a stray kitten that he'd brought home because it looked pitiful and defenseless.

Except now Erik knows that Charles feels that way towards everyone. He's like some kind of masked hero, out to save the world, except instead of tacky spandex suits he wears crisp shirts and cardigans and half gloves. And at some point during their first year together he did bring home a stray kitten. It was a dark ball of fur, not bigger than Erik's fist, and Charles was holding it reverently in his arms and cooing over it as if he was the single most beautiful thing in all of existence.

He'd immediately asked, pleaded even, if they could keep it. And Erik had been so torn because he didn't like animals, not even ones as sickeningly cute as this kitten, they were just a nuisance and they got in the way. But it's not like he could have told Charles what to do in his own home, even though Charles was asking for his permission, and Erik doesn't even know why Charles was asking since he was just a freeloader. Whenever he tried to tell Charles that he would be happy to pay half of the rent, Charles changed the subject, and Erik had later learned that his family owned the whole apartment building. Which was infuriating since Erik was sure he couldn't have afforded to stay in a place half as nice as this, and Charles didn't even let him pay the electricity bills. Erik had retaliated by getting Charles a first edition of Christopher Isherwood that he'd found on eBay for Christmas, and Charles had been so happy about it that he'd quite literally started jumping around the room and had almost stepped on Moira's tail.

Because they'd kept the kitten, obviously. Erik hadn't been able to say anything in the face of Charles's obvious enthusiasm, and then Raven had come home and saw the kitten and started fawning over it. Then Erik had been faced with two pairs of puppy eyes, plus a pair of kitten eyes, and he'd just sighed and said yeah sure let's keep it and had gone googling what to feed kittens and how you find out if it's a boy kitten or a girl kitten. It turned out that she was a girl kitten and they'd named her Moira. Naming the kitten had been one of the single most difficult decisions they had to take. Raven wanted to name her Nightprowler, which sounded ridiculous, but Charles wanted to name her after some famous dead scientist, which sounded even more ridiculous.

The two siblings had argued for almost one hour while Erik sprawled on the sofa with his laptop and let the kitten play with a loose thread on his sleeve and went slightly insane as he read blogs about cats written by crazy cat ladies. And then Charles had turned towards Erik and had asked how would you name her, my friend? and Raven had glared at him and Erik had felt cornered like never in his life. He couldn't side with either Charles or Raven without forever alienating the other one, because apparently kitten names were serious business. He was supposed to side with Charles because Charles was his best friend, but at the same time Erik felt that it was probably customary to let bratty younger sisters pick the pet names. Erik didn't have any particular attachment to Raven, she was just Charles's little stepsister who liked Taylor Swift and wore so much make up that sometimes her face looked blue and drove Charles mad because he was completely incapable of keeping her in check.

Erik was so not taking sides in the argument about kitten names, so he'd just blurted out the first name that had come into his mind. Moira, he'd said, and so he'd turned the standstill into a three-way standstill. But then Charles had thought about it and decided it was posh enough for his standards and he liked it and he would be the better man and give up his claims on kitten naming. So Raven, being in the minority, had caved in and allowed them to call the kitten Moira, though Erik is sure than when they're not around she calls her Moira Nightprowler. And then they'd all gone out to the pet shop to buy special kitten milk or whatever it is that kittens needed, and of course they'd gone back full of cat food and cat toys and cat beds and enough to raise their own cat army.

Which is fortunate because in the next months Charles had apparently embarked on a mission to adopt all of Massachussets's strays. After Moira had come Emma, who was white as snow and always gave Erik the impression that she was looking down on him, which was quite a feat for something that didn't even reach up to his calf. Then came Azazel and Riptide, who couldn't be saved from Raven's unfortunate naming skills. Riptide is grey and nondescript and quiet, while Azazel is huge and ginger and likes to sleep on Erik's legs so he'll wake up with no circulation in his feet. And then there's Shaw. Erik is sure that Shaw is the spawn of a demon, sent over from Hell itself to wreck havoc in the world. Shaw is out to kill Erik, that much has been clear ever since the first time Erik stared into his yellow, evil eyes.

He had tried to explain that to Charles, but Charles had just laughed at him and petted the evil black monster and told Erik not to be silly. Which was infuriating because nobody had a right to told Erik that he was silly, especially not grown men who adopted kittens and thought it acceptable to say my friend every two sentences, as casual as you please, without any regard for the fact that Erik's stomach did a little twist every time. So Erik had just glared at Shaw, who had glared back, and he'd said, okay, the hellspawn can stay. As a thank you, Shaw had sunk his claws into Erik's arms and attempted to maul him.

Charles had been very apologetic about it, glaring at Shaw and saying bad kitty over and over while Erik clenched his wounded arm to try and stop the bleeding, and also tried to stop himself from killing the damn cat because it was still Charles's cat and Charles would probably be sad. Then Charles had seen the blood on Erik's arm and had gone pale and it took Erik a lot of effort to persuade him not to call 911. Instead, Raven had been dispatched to the nearest pharmacy and she had clearly taken after Charles's shopping habits since she had come back laden with bandages and disinfectant. Erik tried to tell Charles that he'd had much worse, but Charles wouldn't be placated until he had wrapped Erik's arm from wrist to elbow in bandages. And then he let Erik order dinner from his favorite takeaway place.

So Erik is by now resigned to the fact that their home has been turned into some kind of shelter for orphaned kittens. It's Charles's home, to be honest, but by now it's a technicality. Erik is quite sure that Charles would pout him to death if he ever tried moving out. Not that Erik would want to move out, he likes living with Charles, murderous cats notwithstanding. Charles is quiet, never listens to loud music, or actually any music composed in the past hundred years. He's neat, bordering on neat freak, but Erik is the same so he has no complaints about that. He even cooks, a little, just enough to ensure that they're not just living out of takeaway boxes.

One night Erik mentions that he misses his mother's chłopski posiłek and the next day Charles returns from his daily trip to the bookstore with a book of Polish recipes. Apparently the concepts of searching things on the internet instead of buying even more stuff isn't very clear to him. Then they have to go grocery shopping, because their fridge is mostly empty save for a couple of bottled of beer and a large tub of Raven's favorite cookie dough ice cream. Erik takes control of the shopping cart while Charles runs around like an overexcited kid and pretends that he can tell which leeks look good and which ones don't. Erik bags their groceries in their socially conscious reusable shopping bag while Charles flirts with the pretty cashier and completely fails to get her number, for which Erik teases him to no end while they walk home.

They chop the vegetables side by side while Raven perches on the kitchen table and munches on pieces of bacon, and Charles is torn between telling her off for ruining her appetite and trying some himself. Erik has no such compunctions and steals the rest of the bacon, so they end up having to replace it with ham. Then they have an argument over cooking times because they can't agree on what until it turns brown means, Erik argues that there's different shades of brown and anyway it is such an unscientific time, couldn't they just print how many minutes you should cook the damn sausage.

They end up with something that might not be authentic chłopski posiłek, but at least it's edible and they didn't destroy the kitchen in the process, though the mess they made doesn't seem proportioned to the four servings. Because, obviously, neither of them read the line of text at the bottom saying four servings until the very end. So they end up inviting Hank, who lives next door and has a crush on Raven, which Erik finds hilarious. The cats feast on the leftovers and Azazel gets, if possible, fatter overnight.

The next morning Erik complains about it to Charles. It doesn't seem fair that Azazel keeps using him as a pillow when he's got a perfectly comfortable cat bed in a corner of the living room. Azazel never bothers Raven or Charles either, which Erik finds unfair. "You're probably very comfortable to sleep on, my friend," Charles mumbles, and it's early in the morning and he hasn't had any tea yet and his eyes are a little unfocused, so Erik doesn't argue and gives him a mug of Earl Grey. The mugs have got a cat pattern too, Raven made them in her art class. Her mug has a blue cat, Erik's mug has a yellow cat and Charles's mugs have red cats. He's got two mugs because he's drinking tea all the time and doesn't want to bother with washing up when he's caught up in something.

Charles is very passionate about his major, which is psychology. He's got this uncanny ability for reading people and telling you what you're thinking, sometimes even when you weren't aware that you were thinking it. Erik is used to keeping his emotions all bottled up inside, but it's hard when Charles can take a glance at him and guess whether Erik is happy or angry or tired like it's some kind of magic trick. Then, if Erik is in a good mood and willing to listen, Charles will ramble on about a particularly interesting lecture or about the last book he read. And if Erik had a bad day and doesn't feel like listening they'll just get the chessboard and play in silence until the quiet clicks of the chess pieces has washed away everything else from Erik's mind.

Erik is studying engineering. He's not too enthusiastic about it, not on Charles's levels, but most of the courses are interesting and his professors are good. His initial choice of major had been physics but he'd ended up choosing something more practical and less theoretic. Charles doesn't really understand that, he's a firm believer in studying whatever you love the most. Then again Charles never had to worry about future job prospects, what with the whole rich family background. Erik doesn't begrudge him that because, if there's a person who deserves to live a spoiled and pampered life, that's Charles, who spends most of his money on books and tea and cat food.

Besides, it's not like Charles's family ever gave him much apart from the money. Charles doesn't like to talk about it and Erik doesn't like to ask, but he's heard enough over the years to learn that Charles and Raven didn't come from a happy home. Their father was always working, their mother was too busy with her life to have time for two kids who had been left to themselves and to an endless string of nannies and teachers. This explains why Charles doesn't want to visit his family during winter break or spring break, and when he has to go home in the summer he becomes miserable and asks Erik to go with him and Raven.

Erik accepts in a heartbeat, because it's not as if he's got anyone waiting for him at home in Poland. He's not even sure if he can call Poland his home any more, it feels like it's just this place where he used to live after Germany and before Harvard. It never felt home, not like the flat he shares with Charles and Raven does. So he stays with them for the summer and finally finds out why Charles always thought their place was small. His family manor his huge. Erik would probably get lost on his way to the bathroom if his room didn't have its own private bathroom. But the place feels cold and Charles's father isn't there and Charles's mother is so painfully not interested in her son. It makes Erik want to scream don't you see how brilliant he is, can't you at least pretend to care. The worst part is that Charles and Raven expected nothing different and are just staring dully at the dinner plates.

That night Erik tosses over in the huge four-poster bed for almost one hour before giving up and knocking on Charles's door. Charles wasn't sleeping either, he opens the door wearing a ridiculous dressing gown, which makes Erik crack up with laughter. Charles drags Erik into his room before he can wake everyone in the house and argues that sleeping gowns are very comfortable and perfectly fashionable, to which Erik replies that maybe Charles is a time traveler from another age, which would explain a lot. Charles pouts and worries about their kittens and worries whether Hank will treat them well. Erik thinks they should call them cats now, since nothing that large could be termed kitten any more, and is more worried that Shaw won't maul Hank during their absence.

They end up watching a James Bond movie with the audio off and Erik ad-libs most of the dialogue, which makes the movie infinitely funnier. Especially when Charles joins in during the sex scene, showing an hitherto unsuspected skill with innuendos, and they exchange lines that get more and more outrageous until Erik makes kissy kissy noises and Charles cracks up, burying his face into the pillow to muffle his laughter. The next morning at the breakfast table Erik asks Charles to pass him the marmalade in his best Sean Connery voice and they both start laughing, and everyone stares at them like they're mental. After that, staying at the manor for the next month doesn't seem that hard any more.

All the same, Erik is glad when they go back to Harvard in September. Not because he misses the cats, of course, that's just Charles, who had been getting more and more mental with all his messages to Hank and the phone calls and tell them that me and Erik say hi, we're coming home soon and we miss them. Erik most definitely didn't say hi to the cats. But he did miss the quiet of their flat, and not having two flight of stairs between the bedroom and the dining room, and cooking breakfast while Charles makes tea and tries not to yawn and pretends he didn't work on a paper all night instead of sleeping. Erik knows Charles didn't sleep because he could hear the rattling of the keyboard in the next room, the walls are that thin, but he pretends not to know and stops Charles when he attempts to put the milk in the cupboard and the sugar in the fridge.

Most of all, Erik missed the pub on the corner, which is where they spend almost all their Friday nights. They're there so often that Angel the bartender knows their names and she's already drawing two pints of beer and greeting them with hi Charles and Erik as soon as they step through the door. Erik leans back in his chair and watches with a small smile as Charles tries to hit on some pretty girl with the same hackneyed lines about psychology that Erik knows by heart by now. Then Charles gives up and joins Erik at the table and they order a second round from Angel. She's all right, Angel, though Erik thinks that her eyes are shifty. Charles insists that Erik doesn't like her because at first she'd assumed that the two of them were a couple. It had been quite embarrassing and she'd got very flustered when they'd explained that they were just friends, stammering apologies and you're always in here on your own and you live together and you talk about your cats and I'm sorry I assumed, while Charles's face went red and Erik thought, of course it's the cats' fault.

Just because he's gay and Charles flirts with anything that moves, that doesn't mean that they are a couple. Or that they should be a couple. Or that they ever considered being a couple. Not even when they have a family of adopted cats and go shopping for new cat toys and have a row in the middle of the aisle because Erik doesn't want Charles to spoil the cats any more than he already has and Charles holds out something fluffy and squeaky and says but Erik this is blue and they'll love it and just this one. Not even when they both know each other's order everywhere, even Charles's insane pizza order, and they always steal bits of each other's food and fight for the last dumpling whenever they order Chinese food. Not even when Charles gets home exhausted on Tuesdays because he's had eight hours of lessons with almost no breaks and he shoves his feet in Erik's lap and Erik gives him a foot rub and Charles sighs and professes undying love for him.

Okay, so maybe. Maybe Erik has thought about it, once or twice, very quietly because Charles and his uncanny mind-reading skills are not to be underestimated. He's thought about telling Charles that he's maybe perhaps a little bit sort of in love with him but he's never actually done anything because it seems like an epically bad idea. Charles is the best thing that's ever happened to him, despite the cats and the bad tea addiction and the fact that he drags Erik to watch bad movies just so they can fling pop corns at the screen together. Erik doesn't want to risk all of that by making things between them awkward with some ill-timed confession. And, even if Charles went all teary-eyed and said I've loved you since I laid eyes on you, my friend, let's get married and live in my ridiculously big family mansion and run a kitten orphanage, then what?

They're already a couple by most people's standards. They go on plenty of dates, so to speak. Erik brought Charles to the zoo once for his birthday because, if it wasn't already clear from the horde of cats, Charles loves animals. Charles had compared Erik to one of the sharks at the aquarium and Erik had no idea why but he thought sharks were magnificent creatures, and then Erik hadn't been able to tell which animal he thought Charles was most like, so he'd stammered something about small and furry and big eyed and cuddly and then he'd felt horribly embarrassed and gone to buy them ice creams to avoid Charles's snicker. Charles always sits on Erik's right at the movies, so he can steal Erik's pop corns when he's finished his own, and Erik pretends not to notice.

They live together, do laundry together because otherwise Charles would to separate his whites from the coloreds, they walk together to classes, study together in the library, have lunch together even when it's impractical because they're on opposite parts of the campus. They sleep separately but that's a mere technicality because they're always in and out of each other's rooms. At first Erik was bothered by the fact that Charles hardly ever knocked before walking in, but it's not as if there's ever a time when Erik wants Charles to stay out. Sometimes they cram together for finals, sprawled on the same bed and surrounded by piles of textbooks, until they both fall asleep and wake up the next morning complaining that Erik snores and Charles kicks him in his sleep.

The only difference that there would be in this hypothetical scenario in which Charles is madly in love with Erik is that they'd have sex too. Not that Erik hasn't thought about it. Once or twice, very, very quietly, feeling the tips of his ears go red, because he's seen Charles almost naked on several occasions, wearing nothing but socks and boxers after a very bad night of drinking, or wrapped in a towel and dripping everywhere and complaining about cold water and a broken heater, or in his swimming trunks at the pool when he'd dragged Erik along and then asked him to help him put sunscreen on because Charles has ridiculously fair skin. This is usually the point where Erik stops thinking about almost-naked Charles, because that way lies only madness and an epic case of the blue balls.

So they carry on pretending that they're not acting like an old married couple all the time and they do everything together and they are always each other's plus one to everything, to the point that when Charles gets invites they don't say bring your plus one they say bring Erik and vice versa. Because it's not like they don't have friends apart from each other. Erik has got a few people from classes that he gets along with, and a couple of other friends he met at the gym, but then he started dragging Charles along to the gym and it just made sense that Charles should hang out with Erik and his friends whenever Erik and his friends decided to hang out. And Charles has got tons of friends, he knows everyone on campus and remembers everyone's name and birthday and favorite color, which baffles Erik because this is the same Charles that sometimes forgets to eat when he's too absorbed in a book. But Charles knows everyone and likes to hang out with everyone and he always brings Erik along, even that time when everyone in his modern philosophy class decides to have karaoke night and Charles doesn't know any of the songs and ends up singing a duet with Erik and makes up half of the words.

And one night they're on the couch watching a marathon of Doctor Who and maybe Erik has been drinking more than usual because Raven is sleeping over at a friend and they don't have to act like good role models for anyone but the cats, and the cats are already spoiled rotten anyway. So Erik refills Charles's glass and points his finger around the room going all exterminate, exterminate and Shaw glares at him while Charles giggles. And maybe it's the alcohol, or because Doomsday is such a depressing episode, or because Erik would be hard pressed to find a term that describes the way their arms and legs are entangled aside from cuddling, or because of the way Charles's lips curve in the soft light coming from the tv screen. Maybe later he'll plead temporary insanity.

The thing is, Erik leans forward and says I'm maybe perhaps a little bit sort of in love with you, and then has a full three seconds to freak out about it before Charles leans forward too and replies I've loved you since I laid eyes on you, my friend. And there's no talk of marriage or kitten orphanages, but there's a lot of making out on the couch under the cats' unimpressed stare until they fall off and decide to move to Charles's bedroom, and also close the door to get some privacy from the cats, whom Erik thinks should mind their own business. And then Erik finds out just what he's been missing out in all those years of not having sex with Charles.

They wake up tangled together at six in the morning because Charles forgot to pull down the blinds last night and he's also stolen the blanket overnight, but Erik doesn't mind. Then, several hours later, when they finally get out of bed, Erik cooks breakfast while Charles makes tea and says that they're almost out of sugar and they should put it on the shopping list, and Erik says they just bought sugar and Charles should stop putting so much sugar in his tea, and they argue about it until Raven gets home.

And the best part is that it isn't awkward at all to be in a relationship with your best friend, or maybe it's because they're best friends, though Raven insists it's because really they've been dating all of this time and it just took them a long, long time to figure it out. She's probably right.