The day had passed in a muggy sort of fog. By no means just due to his lingering hangover. He glanced down at his phone again. Eleven must have checked his phone about fifty times since he had emerged from Gemma's comforting embrace, wiping his tears away, embarrassed as he did.
He had only returned to his room to collect his shoes and jacket, firmly not looking at the rumpled duvet of his bed, and the pair had swiftly gone out to a coffee shop to talk undisturbed by his flatmates.
Gemma had given up trying to cheer him up now. He felt even more guilty.
“I'm sorry your visit has ended in....this...” Eleven said sadly, gesturing to nothing in particular.
Gemma shrugged. “I'm still glad I came to see you,” she smiled at him, “Though I'm gutted to see you like this – especially given how happy you were last night.” She frowned a little.
Eleven sighed, ducking his head. “I guess I messed things up huh?”
Gemma's frown deepened. She opened her mouth to speak, shook her head and closed it again. Eleven tilted his head at her and raised an eyebrow.
Gemma set her drink down on the table with purpose and stare him in the eyes. “O.K look I know you don't want to talk about it any more, but seriously, it takes two to tango.” she said, grumbling.
“Gems, please.” El groaned. He was trying and failing not to agonise over Erik's swift departure and what it meant for their friendship.
“No, I'm sorry. He was just as much a willing participant in your bed as you were–“ Eleven covered his reddening face with his hands, “I saw you both all snuggled up. He doesn't get to storm away after that.” she huffed.
“Nothing even happened. We just slept....Are you done?” Eleven asked, voice muffled by his hands.
Gemma shrugged, took a sip of her coffee. “You need to talk to him, El.” she said simply.
Eleven removed his hands from his face and picked at his sleeve. “He was one speed setting from literally running away from me Gems, what am I meant to do?” his tone was pleading, he was actually asking.
Gemma thought for a moment. “Well, I don't really understand his reaction if I'm honest. It seemed pretty obvious to me last night that he cared for you. Maybe he was worried you didn't feel the same? But that doesn't make sense either...who snuggles like that with their platonic friend for crying out loud..maybe....maybe he was afraid of what it would mean?”
Eleven just stared at her as his head gave a throb. He grimaced and reached for his coffee.
“Either way, we could sit here all day and speculate El, but I gather you would rather not torture yourself?” Gemma asked, eyeing him.
El shook his head, carefully. “My hangover is already taking care of that part.” he said weakly, raising a hand to massage his temple.
Gemma nodded. “Well, then I'm afraid you are going to have to be brave and reach out to him. At the end of the day, wouldn't you rather be his friend, than nothing at all?” she asked.
El considered that. He had thought they were just best friends anyway hadn't he? Until things crept up on him all of a sudden. They had grown very close over a relatively short period of time, but that can't all have been because of his little crush on him, could it? The idea of not having Erik to confide in, joke with, just hang out with, made his chest ache.
Eleven nodded at her. “He's my best friend, if that's all we'll ever be, I'll take it.”
Gemma smiled softly. “Then you know what you have to do.”
After waving off Gemma on the bus, El sat down on a bench. He took his phone out his pocket and sighed, no new messages. Gemma was right, if he wanted to keep his friendship with Erik, he was going to have to be brave. It had been quite a few hours since Erik had left. Enough to sleep off the hangover, he hoped. He started to draft a message.
Sighing in frustration, he deleted it.
Eleven: Hi Erik, I'm sorry about last night, I
He shook his head, delete, delete.
He stared out across the campus. He was making this way more complicated than it needed to be. He just needed to let Erik know he was sorry for overstepping and that he hoped they could still be friends, that was it. Easy- peasy. He stared at his phone, frustration mounting, eyes boring into it as if they could burn a hole in it or light it on fire.
Why was this so difficult? This was stupid. This was his best friend.
Eleven: Hey man, sorry about being an idiot drunk last night. Sorry if I overstepped a boundary and weirded you out. I guess I'm a clingy drunk. Hope we're still friends?
He read it over once, then again. Before losing his nerve he hit the send button, and then immediately stashed his phone in his pocket so he wouldn't sit staring at the screen, waiting for the “read” symbol.
He let out a puff of air and sagged back on the bench. What was he expecting really? He supposed he had been trying not to acknowledge to himself that he had a little crush on Erik, but did it have to be the end of the world? He could get over a crush if it meant keeping his best friend. He had just never really noticed any one else the way he had noticed Erik, and it had snuck up on him. Maybe it wasn't even a crush? Maybe it was just admiration and...his want for comfortable companionship? His phone buzzed in his pocked and he whipped it out so fast he nearly dropped it.
1 unread message – Erik.
His heart pounded. He tapped the envelope icon, pulse racing.
Erik: It's fine. We were both pretty wasted. Sorry for being weird earlier, I felt like I was gonna hurl all over your landing and my head was splitting. You surviving?
El's eyes read over the message hungrily. There was a little awkwardness there. He noticed Erik hadn't answered his question if they were still friends though....His thumbs set to replying.
Eleven: I'm alright, hangover has mostly passed now. I'm never drinking again.
Eleven hit send and waited. The read sign appeared almost instantly and he could see Erik was typing a reply.
Erik: You say that now, but wait until the next party. That wasn't so bad was it? Maybe avoid the drinking games though....that was brutal.
Eleven felt a small smile pull at the corners of his lips as he hastily typed his reply.
Eleven: Lethal. No more drinking games for me. I gotta get back and help with the clean up. Dreading it.
Eleven felt more at ease now they were talking again. If felt like a massive weight had been lifted off his shoulders. Things weren't exactly back to normal, but he felt like it was going to be ok, maybe.
Erik: Did you really skimp out on cleaning duty? Poor show. Veronica will roast you alive for that one.
El chuckled. He really did need to get back. Veronica would unleash her fury if he didn't at least help out a little in the clean up.
Eleven: Not intentionally...Gemma took me for a coffee to clear my hangover and talk. Then I walked her to the bus stop. Heading back now to face the wrath.
The read sign appeared, then nothing. El put his phone in his pocket and started walking back to his dorms, feeling a little bit lighter.
Most of the cleanup had been done when he got back. He felt a little guilty about that. He helped with what was left while Serena waved away his apologies.
“It's fine, it's not like you caused most of the mess anyway, I believe that was Sylvando's rowdy guests.” she smiled, showing no hard feelings. “Your guests were well behaved! How was Gemma this morning? She can't have been comfortable on that sofa curled up like that?”
Eleven chucked. “She was in a better state than me, that's for sure. She's fine. I just walked her to the bus stop.”
Serena nodded and smiled. “She's nice! I can see why you're friends.” she said. Eleven nodded and internally prayed she wasn't about to start asking if they were “just friends” again. He could really do without that.
Veronica plonked herself down on the couch. “I'm beat.” she croaked, her voice hoarse. Serena smiled and patted her twin's shoulder.
“You are pretty gone last night.” Serena giggled.
Veronica prickled. “Me!? El was way more wasted! “ she turned to him, eyes sparkling. “You were stumbling about all over the place. I thought Erik was going to have to pick you up and carry you over his shoulder at one point.” Veronica said, laughing. Eleven tried very hard to fight the blush that dusted his cheeks.
“Yeah, no more drinking games for me.” he admitted, rubbing the back of his neck.
Veronica chuckled, then turned back to him. “What happened to Erik anyway? I don't remember him leaving?”
El blushed a little now, unable to fight it. He ducked his head a little to let his hair hide it. “Yeah uh, he made sure I got to bed, then he crashed in my room. He left this morning while I was talking to Gemma, ran outside saying he was going to be sick.” he mumbled, mashing half-truths together.
Veronica rolled her eyes and made a face “Charming as ever that one.”
El merely nodded in response. His phone buzzed in his pocket.
Erik: Hope you survive the wrath, it would suck just a little not having you around.
Eleven smiled down at the screen.
A couple weeks had gone by, and he and Erik had settled back into their usual easy familiarity with one another. Eleven could not express how relieved he was. He had been so worried that he had ruined their friendship with his stupid drunken clingy-ness. He was trying to come to terms with his inappropriate crush too. He was learning to deal with it, trying his damnedest to push it away and down, down to the depths of his mind, behind a locked door, in a locked chest.
He wasn't sure if he was imagining it or not, but Erik seemed to be being very careful not to touch him. Gone were the casual shoulder squeezes and bumps. Although, Eleven may just be hyper-aware of his presence now, which wasn't good. Push that down too.
It was late afternoon and classes done for the day, so they headed to the student union for a coffee.
“Two ciders, please.” Erik ordered as they stood at the bar. So much for coffee. Eleven eyed him warily, raising an eyebrow. Erik chuckled. “What? Gotta get back on the horse sometime huh? No drinking games though.” he wagged his finger at him.
Eleven shook his head. “No drinking games.” he agreed. They took their ciders over to a little semi-circle booth and sat. Erik grabbed a menu from a nearby table and peered though it, as if he didn't already know the contents by heart with the amount of time they both spent here.
Eleven kicked his foot lightly. “Why do you even read that? You're just going to order the same thing like you always do.” he chuckled.
Erik stared at him in mock outrage.” Maybe I'll surprise you and go for something different.”
Eleven shrugged, sipping his cider. It was refreshing.
A waitress spotted them after a little while and hurried over with a smile. “Hi, sorry about the wait! What can I get you?” she smiled at Eleven.
“Um, onion rings please? And a chicken burger?” Eleven asked, she nodded and wrote it down on her pad before turning to Erik, who was still perusing the menu.
“And for you?” she smiled and Eleven thought he saw her bat her eyelashes at Erik.
“Uh...”Erik mumbled, flipping the menu over, skimming it hastily, then flipping it over again. “Uhhhh., I'll have...ummm.”
Eleven sighed and then chuckled. “He'll have Chilli Nachos, extra guac, please.” he told the waitress. She looked back over at Erik to confirm before she scribbled it down. He laughed and nodded, handing her his menu.
Eleven eyed him over his cider. “Told you. Same thing. Why do you even bother to pretend to browse?”
“I don't pretend! I like to know all my options before making a choice.” Erik grumbled.
Eleven chuckled again. “You always just pick your favourite anyway.” he said, drumming his fingers lightly on the table, a habit he'd picked up recently.
Erik eyed his drumming fingers and then shrugged.
“Should I not give all the other food a chance to pique my interest? Am I destined to always come back to Nachos?” Erik sighed dramatically in a fashion more suited to Sylvando.
Eleven rolled his eyes. “You are so weird.” he laughed. Erik nodded and shrugged.
“You wouldn't have me any other way.” he said, eyeing him over his glass.
Eleven shrugged. “I guess not.” he admitted, his fingers drumming again.
Erik glared at his fingers and tutted, rolling his eyes. He reached over and grabbed Eleven's hand to still his fingers. Eleven jerked sharply in response, not remotely expecting it.
“Will you stop that? It drives me crazy!” Erik hissed, his voice low. He squeezed Eleven's fingers again to reiterate his words, before letting go and sitting back, huffing slightly.
Eleven could only stare at him, stunned. He blinked a few times, tried to assume his composure and convince himself his pulse was only racing because he was surprised. He flexed his tingling fingers. “Sorry...” he said, and ducked his head, blushing furiously.
Erik clicked his tongue. “You've been doing it loads lately, it goes right through my skull.” he muttered, chuckling a little.
The waitress came back over with their food. Erik leaned forwards eagerly as she handed them their plates. Eleven accepted his with a mumbled “Thank you” and glanced over at Erik, feeling inexplicably shy.
“Sorry, “El said once the waitress had gone, “I didn't realise I was annoying you.” he picked at his onion rings.
Erik was scooping chilli onto his nachos and putting a big dollop of Guac on top. “You don't annoy me. This weird new habit you've picked up though...” he smirked at him, then plopped the nacho in his mouth, groaning appreciatively as he chewed.
Eleven smiled slightly. Erik was always very appreciative of his food. Usually pretty vocally.
“I didn't even notice I was doing it.” El shrugged, biting in to his burger. It was good. It was always good here.
Erik shovelled more nachos into his mouth, then sipped his cider, looking thoughtful. His brow furrowed.
“Hrm, is this Gemma's influence then?” he mused before dipping a chip into the melted cheese.
Eleven's burger halfway to his mouth, he set it down and stared at Erik. “What d'you mean?” he asked, puzzled. He picked up an onion ring to nibble on instead.
Erik eyed him, swallowing his mouthful of nachos before speaking again. “I mean, is this a habit you've picked up from Gemma? Since you've been dating?”
Eleven dropped the onion ring he had been nibbling on. It bounced off his plate and rolled away across the floor, forgotten. He gaped at Erik. “What an earth are you talking about?!”
Erik wiped his mouth on the back of his hand, laughing sharply. “Oh, come on! I saw you guys on the landing the day after your flat party, all huddled together.” he glanced up at Eleven, eyes glinting. He took a sip of his cider, still eyeing him. “She had her hand in your hair? It looked like you were about to....kiss?” Erik said, and Eleven thought he noticed a slight redness in his cheeks before he lifted his drink to his mouth and took a long swig.
Eleven just stared at him, mouth open. Had Erik really thought he and Gemma had been dating ever since that day?
Eleven blinked. “Is that why you ran- why you left so suddenly?” he asked, staring at him.
Erik held his hands up and shrugged. “I didn't want to....intrude...” he said, swirling his almost-finished cider around in his glass. Eleven looked down at his plate, thoughts all jumbled. Erik really thought he and Gemma had been dating for weeks? Even though he told him he wasn't interested in her like that. He frowned. Erik was waving to get the attention of the waitress, “Could we have two more ciders please?” he smiled brilliantly at her, she nodded and walked off to the bar, fanning herself with a menu.
“Did you think I had just been lying to you all this time?” Eleven asked once the waitress was out of earshot, his voice sounded small.
Erik drained the last of his cider before sitting forwards. “No,” he said, “I just thought you must have a reason for keeping it so...secret...”
Eleven glanced up at him, glaring. “I wasn't being secretive. There is nothing going on with me and Gemma.” he said firmly. Erik watched him, picking at his nachos.
Eleven sighed and fell back against the booth. He felt tired. He was sick of feeling like he was having the same conversation over and over. He took a deep breath and kept his gaze on the plate in front of him. “When you found us, Gemma was.... She was reassuring me I guess.” He took a big drink of his cider, unsure how to continue, unsure how much to say. “She walked in to my room when we were....when we were in bed.” he said, blushing. His eyes flickered up to Erik. Did he remember? He clearly recalled seeing Gemma and him on the landing, but how much from the night before and the early morning did Erik remember?
Erik flushed lightly. “Oh.” he said, looking away from Eleven.
The waitress came back and set down their drinks in front of them with a smile, before walking off. Erik lifted his immediately and took a large gulp. Eleven drained what was left of his first drink, his mouth very dry.
“So, “ El continued. “I went to talk to her. I didn't want her to get the wrong idea about us sleeping together-” he stopped, flushing furiously. Erik spluttered into his drink, looking like he wanted the ground to eat him. “You know what I mean.” El mumbled, trying to regain his thoughts. “So Gemma and I went outside and talked and...”he huffed, exhaling loudly. “We talked about our feelings I guess, or lack off to be more specific.” Erik glanced up at him, eyebrow cocked. He leaned his elbows on the table as he listened intently.
Eleven continued. “We both thought we were supposed to feel something for each other...eventually. And we both realised if it was going to happen....it would have happened already. There was no magic switch to be flicked...we just....didn't feel it. I was actually....so relived.” Eleven sighed. “and so was she.” He finished, and not quite sure what to do with his hands or where to look, he took a swig of his cider and set it down.
Erik was quiet, considering him. “Well....huh” he said softly. Eleven gazed at him.
“Huh what?” he asked.
Erik shrugged. “Just.....huh. I...I really got that one wrong there.” he mumbled, looking bashful.
Eleven shrugged. “You and the rest of the world.” He toyed with his burger, not really feeling hungry any more but not wanting to waste the food. He picked at it.
Erik nodded, looking thoughtful. He spun his glass around slowly in his hands. They stayed quiet for a moment. Eleven could already feel the alcohol in his system. One pint. He really was a lightweight.
“So...what did Gemma say about.....about what she saw?” Erik asked quietly, looking up at him.
Eleven blushed, his fingers almost stared their drum beat on the glass he was holding but he stopped himself at the last second. “Uh....she uh...she had some thoughts.”
Erik looked back at him, head tilted. “Care to share?” he asked softly, his expression was unreadable.
Eleven swallowed. “Uh...she...she thought we looked cute?” he said, heat blooming in his cheeks. He sipped his drink for something to do, his gaze flickered to Erik and it looked like he was smirking. He looked away. His hands felt clammy.
Erik nodded. “I am pretty cute.” he stated, swirling his drink around.
Eleven nodded nervously without realising what he was doing, blushed, then shook his head. Then raised his pint to his cheek. “It's too hot in here” he mumbled, closing his eyes.
He could feel Erik watching him. He didn't know how much longer he could dance around this feeling he was desperately trying to shove into a box that was fit to burst and coming apart at the seams.
“Can we not talk about this please?” Eleven mumbled from behind his glass.
“Why?” Erik questioned him, an eyebrow raised.
Eleven sighed exasperatedly. “I dunno it's, it's embarrassing, I'm embarrassed.” he admitted, blushing again. There must not be any blood anywhere else in his body except in his cheeks at the rate they were heating up.
“Do I embarrass you?” Erik asked teasingly, taking a drink as he watched him.
“No!” Eleven exclaimed, before dropping his voice. “No, not you it's …” He ran a hand through his hair in frustration. “I'm embarrassed to be talking about...the fact that Gemma walked in on us...cuddling.” he finished, feeling incredibly juvenile and completely ridiculous. “She jumped to conclusions...” he mumbled, sinking back into the booth, looking anywhere but at Erik.
Erik looked down at his glass for a minute, then back up to Eleven who was staring intently at his burger like it was the most interesting thing in the world. “So...you're embarrassed that she walked in and saw us laying there...together...not because of anything else?” he asked, no hint of teasing in his voice this time.
Eleven squirmed, his foot bouncing nervously. “I mean I guess I'm embarrassed that I was being...so clingy and stuff. I'm not usually like that.” he said, and drained what was left of his glass. Feeling the alcohol swirling around his head. He needed that to take the edge off this entire conversation.
Erik was nodding to himself. He reached across the table and squeezed Eleven's hand. It took everything in Eleven's might to hold back the squeal that threatened to break free from him.
“You worry far too much about everything. Stop that.” Erik smiled at him. It was a reassuring smile. It was also beautiful.
El huffed out a big breath. “I guess.” he said, his skin burned where Erik still lay his hand. It was not unpleasant. Then, the heat was gone as Erik retracted his hand. He tried very hard not to feel the loss of it.
“I'm being serious. Don't worry about it.” He smiled at him again. The look he was giving him right now made Eleven want to melt into his seat. There was something in Erik's eyes, something...that took his breath away. Eleven could only nod, feeling shy again.
They paid their bill and stood up to leave, walking out in companionable silence. It was only a little awkward, as it felt like something still hung in the air between them. It reminded Eleven of the strange static air he'd felt when they were in the lift together the night of the party, although it was not anywhere near as charged. He felt like they'd just been on a date without either of them knowing about it. He blushed a little and pushed that thought from his mind. Wayyyy down in the box with all his other inappropriate Erik-thoughts.
“Look, Eleven,” Erik turned to him as they walked. “I don't want you to ever feel awkward or embarrassed around me, kay? You can talk to me, about anything.”
He stopped walking when they reached the corner of the street. Eleven's dorms were a little ways off to the left, and Erik lived further away in the opposite direction.
Eleven stopped alongside him. “Okay...thanks Erik.” he smiled shyly, looking away.
“No problem. Right, lets hug this out.” he turned to him smiling, arms extended.
Eleven laughed and rolled his eyes, stepping closer as Erik reached out pulled him into a hug, his arms around his waist. Eleven wrapped one arm around Erik's shoulders and held the slightly shorter boy close, his eyes fluttering closed briefly. He couldn't help but notice the fragrant scent of his bright blue hair as it pressed against his cheek. It smelled like a sea breeze. He caught his thoughts there before they ran away with him, and pulled back.
“Better?” Erik smiled up at him, his eyes gleaming. The thought crossed Eleven's mind that he could just lean down slightly, bridge the gap between them, and kiss him, and let the chips fall where they may. His heart pounded once, twice. A third time.
Bet Erik was releasing his hold on his waist. Eleven stepped back and nodded.
“Yeah, much better...thanks.” he smiled, all thought of kissing his friend being forcibly shoved down in the box that was definitely going to need some reinforcing.
Erik flashed him a grin. He put his hands in the pockets of his hoodie and backed away. “You get home safe now.” he said, and he winked at him before turning to walk away and waving casually over his shoulder.
Eleven watched him go, smiling. He felt a warm, happy glow inside. It wasn't just the cider.