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when the world rolled over

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It’s nearing noon on a Sunday when Eli wakes up shivering, which means one of two things.

One: the age-old heating system that runs through the Lockland dormitories has failed yet again, and now Eli must rouse Victor from his comatose-like slumber so they can peruse through the storage closet down the hall for all the good quilts before the rest of their floor takes them all. Specifically: Frederick Harrington, the asshat that lived across the hall and kept trying to get Eli to work with him on his chemistry project, despite Eli’s countless answers of no. No doubt he would steal the last few blankets just to bribe Eli into working with him on the damn thing.

Two: Victor, in all of his terrific, alcohol-induced brilliance, opened all of the windows in their shared apartment. Again. And Eli would walk into their tiny living room only to find Victor passed out on the couch, bundled up in all of his cashmere sweaters and wool scarves and the (terribly made, though Eli would never admit it) knitted beanie Angie gifted him last week so he was as soft and plump as a marshmallow, completely unaware of the living hell he was putting Eli through just by existing.

Eli slowly breathes out. He already has a headache.

When he rolls over onto his side, he’s met with the sight of the broken window and all the rags shoved into the unclosing crack between the sill and the paneling of the glass. All of it has probably melded together over the years he has lived here, forming one frozen, mismatched raggy mass that will no doubt be a bitch and a half to pay off come graduation. There are ice crystals spreading from the corners of the window and spanning to the middle, and he also sees an inch or two of snow piled up the sill outside, and that’s when it hits Eli that it completely slipped his mind that there was a third option: that all of Lockland’s classes and programs were canceled for the following two days because of the blizzard scheduled to hit this very evening, and that the storm was rather (obviously) ahead of schedule.

Eli sits up in bed and immediately starts throwing his comforter aside in search of his socks. He can’t sleep without them— a trait Victor wrinkles his nose at— but he can never seem to wake up with them both still on his feet, either. Once he finds them (one on the floor, the other somehow trapped beneath his pillowcase and the head of the bed), he gets out of bed and slips out of his closet-sized room.

He knocks his fist against Victor’s door as he passes, lingering just long enough to hear his friend groan on the other side of the thin wood. It’s one of Eli’s favorite moment of the day, waking Victor up, because any pain and misery Victor feels seems to warm his insides the same way any person feels when they watch their best friend trip over their shoelaces or accidently burn themself on the stovetop. It’s a masochistic kind of pleasure, a lift of the heart as swift and quick as a word flicking off the tongue.

Eli is patient in his waiting, shoulder propped against the adjacent wall as he stares at Victor’s door until finally, it creaks open, and a very tired, unimpressed eye that fixed him with a heavy, hardened gaze.

Eli’s smile spreads over his face like honey. “Good morning, sunshine.”

The eye narrows. “I will fucking murder you.”

It’s untranslatable, the language Eli and Victor communicate with. It’s a mess of curses and sarcasm and intellectual words that Victor only says to make himself sound smart or to make Eli look like a regular asshat when he’s forced to demand what does that even mean? Eli swears the only reason Victor called him cockamamie two days ago was to hear Eli angrily spit out the word cock between gritted teeth when he repeated it to him questioningly. It’s a way of communicating that always leads to fighting, nails and teeth bared like wild animals under a silk-white moon and hazy stars, eyes that narrow and squint until one of them is pulling the other into a bedroom or onto the couch where they file down out every cut-edge part of each other through tongues and teeth turned soft. Whatever the case, Eli is certain that by now the universe has relented to agree that trivial things, like watching Victor stub his toe or stumble around with a hangover, are allowed to bring Eli some pleasure.

Which is why witnessing a cranky, dark-eyed, eye bag ridden Victor is an absolutely brilliant start to his morning.

“Oh, don’t be like that,” Eli croons. “I’ll make you some cocoa.”

The door slams in his face. Eli laughs.

In the kitchen, he starts up the old Keurig Angie gifted him for their three month anniversary while simultaneously grabbing the instant coffee mix from the cabinet that has a creak that suspisciously sounds like the opening of Britney Spears’ Toxic. They don’t have K-cups because Eli is as penniless as most broke college students are, and Victor is too stuck up to even consider drinking his coffee from anything that comes in a little plastic container. Also, he had added snobbishly when Eli asked why he couldn’t just buy Eli the stupid box of clearance K-Cups at the check-out aisle of the kitchenware section of Macy’s, they’re bad for the environment. Eli doesn’t mind the absence of K-cups as much as he claims to; caffeine is caffeine, after all, no matter the source. Just using the cheap packets of instant mix is perfectly fine, even if they do leave an aftertaste in his mouth that tastes familiarly like ash and leaves him unable to stomach any hearty food for at least an hour after consumption. Besides, if Victor considered for even a second to spend his extravagant allowance on K-cups for the Keurig, it would mean Eli would have to listen to Victor complain even more about how the stupid machine whirs too loudly.

So yes, just using it to heat up the water is good enough. At least he’s getting some use out of it.

“That fucking—“ Victor stumbles into the kitchen— “noise.”

“Yes,” Eli agrees. “It certainly is a noise.” He takes in the bags under Victor’s eyes, dark as the shadows the trees cast in through his window at night, and the tufts of hair scruffing up the very edges of Victor’s jaw, and the one spot near the corner of his lips where he regularly forgets to shave. It’s strange; before meeting Victor, Eli never knew that someone with hair as blonde as his could grow facial hair that was actually noticeable. He told this to Angie, once, and she simply replied, I think you’re looking a little too closely, darling, in that same honeyed tone she always used when he did something that could be considered worrying.

Eli still isn’t sure what to make of that.

“Ughhh,” Victor groans, but he’s flopped himself unceremoniously onto the couch and his words come out all muffled against the cushions, so it sounds more like Urrffbblrrr. The Keurig stops whirring, and Victor sighs in relief. Eli sets his cup— a Lockland mug that Victor says makes him a conformist for owning— under the nozzle and sets it to fill up with water. The whirring resumes. “I,” Victor says, standing up again, “am going to throw that fucking thing out the window.”

“Please don’t,” Eli says. He grabs another Lockland mug from the cabinet along with the fancy tin of cocoa that their RA gave everyone for the holiday season. “I’m making you your hot cocoa.”

“Not from that thing.”

“It’s called a Keurig, Vic. And you’re welcome.”

“It’s called a monstrosity. And I’m not thanking you, so you can fuck right off.”

“Has anyone ever told you how pleasant you are in the morning?”

Some time between watching his mug fill with steaming water and opening the tin of cocoa powder only for a cloud of it to rise up into his face, Eli failed to hear Victor make his way from the couch to the counter. So he jumps when he feels nails scratch against the small of his back through the fabric of his soft shirt, fingertips pressing and rubbing into the last notch of his spine. It makes Eli want to unfurl even though he’s already standing up, something akin to the sensation he imagines a cat feels when it lays on the floor beneath a sunny window, stretching out on its belly. Before he can melt into the feeling, though, the fingers are gone, their absence as soft and unassuming as the very chill that woke Eli up this morning, and Eli is left staring unamused at Victor, who hunches over the kitchen counter with a pout pulling on his lips.

“No comment?” Eli grumbles, shoving Victor’s mug into his hands. A drop of it spills over the ceramic rim and Eli only feels a little bad when it burns the back of Victor’s hand. “I must be lucky.”

“I have nothing to say to the likes of you. In fact, consider yourself shunned.”

“You can’t shun me,” Eli tells him. “Who else will listen to you complain?”

Victor said nothing, and Eli sighed. “At least wait until the storm is over to shun me. We need to go out before the roads close. I’m pretty sure we only have, like, three Cup O’ Noodles in the pantry.”

“Well,” Victor starts, “if we need to resort to cannibalism, I believe everyone on our floor can agree that Frederick—“

“We are not going to kill and eat Freddie Harrington.”

“God, I hate that bastard.”

“Which is exactly why we can’t kill and eat him. Because everyone will suspect it was you who suggested it, and once the blizzard stops you’ll be charged with manslaughter.”

“Is that how it works?” Victor asks. “No matter. I’d rather not eat one of Harrington’s limbs anyways. He probably tastes like lard, judging by how he eats.”

Eli is very, very done with this conversation. He takes a long sip of coffee and pretends to look out the window, but really observes through his peripheral as Victor keeps his gaze on him. A huff of breath leaves Victor’s mouth and a thin lock of fine blond hair flurries up in the air as a result. Eli swallows too fast and burns his tongue. They need to leave. He needs some fresh air, even if it comes with six inches of snow and a chill so cold it bites.

“D’you think the power’s gonna shut off?” Eli asks finally, and because the universe hates him (and because this is how things naturally go), the usual ever-so-present hum and click of the radiators that line the entire apartment complex suddenly halt. Above them, a student shouts a curse spat so vehemently that the sharpness of it carries through the cheap linoleum of the floor and the popcorn tiles of the ceiling.

Victor raises his eyebrows at Eli and lifts his mug of cocoa. “Cheers to that, Cardale. Nice going, really.”

Eli just frowns and snaps his earmuffs over his ears. “Let’s just go, asshole.”

The snow is already up to their ankles, and even though the weatherman claimed the storm would lead to just below six inches, Eli has survived two blizzards on the campus of Lockland, and neither of them had snow under two feet. The streets are still open, but the council that decides on things as finicky as road light repairs and school snow days are as volatile and spontaneous with their decisions as they are about not giving any warning when they shut down basic transportation, a decision that more often than not results in the streets of East Brook Avenue to become flooded with cars, a sea of red lights and honking. It is, simply put, a situation that Eli does not want to find himself in. So he steers Victor in the direction of the underground instead of the curb. Victor prefers cabs, but Eli prefers not being trapped in bumper-to-bumper traffic on a road that’s an inch of snow away from closing.

“Oh,” Victor says when they reach the bottom of the staircase. The fog-dyed light shines down on him and makes his hair look like nothing more than the hazy glow of light from far away. “I forgot my card.”

Eli pauses. Looks at Victor. Looks back up at the stairs, at the steady waterfall of people trickling down and shuffling around them. At the snow falling heavier and heavier every passing moment. At the student-issued transportation card in his gloved hand. Eli turns back to face Victor.

“Alright, Vale,” Eli sighs, tugging at Victor’s sleeve. “We’ll swipe mine twice.”

They fall into line behind a group of girls, all of which stare and whisper to each other the moment Victor and Eli are in range. It’s the kind of laughter that can only come from city teenage girls, shrill and excited and with a frequency that rangs so high, Eli wouldn’t be surprised if a dog picked it up. Eli thinks one of them takes out their phone to snap a picture of them both, but he can’t be too sure because Victor has just stepped far too close to Eli, the toes of his boots knocking against the heels of Eli’s, and the way he keeps breathing on Eli’s neck is really distracting, and, if he were to be quite honest, a bit rude. Eli dares to peek behind him and almost knocks his nose against Victors. Ahead of them, the girls move through together, all passing through on one payment. Eli can practically see the light bulb begin to flicker to life above Victor’s head.

“No,” Eli says.

“Yes,” Victor responds. And then he takes Eli’s hand the holds the subway card and presses it against the sensor. The barrier doors swing open, and Victor pushes Eli through, leading him through with his other hand resting against Eli’s hip and his knees knocking against the bend of Eli’s legs. They stumble through and Eli trips over one of his shoelaces that must’ve come undone without him noticing, and he’s only saved from falling face first onto the dirty pavement by Victor’s arm wrapping around his middle. His hand is warm and his fingers crush uncomfortably into Eli’s hipbone, but despite all his layering, Eli still shivers at the sensation of Victor skin touching his. He closes his eyes for half a second and wishes desperately for a moment that they were back in their apartment and Eli could shove Victor against a counter or wall or couch or otherwise solid surface and kiss him until their mouths grew sore and his skin hummed and vibrated with want. But they aren’t in their apartment, and they won’t be back for at least an hour or two, and Eli is stuck in the midst of a miserable storm with an even more miserable best friend who is still bitter over the fucking Keurig. Eli groans and allows himself the brief satisfaction of feeling Victor struggle to hold him up as he drapes over in defeat.

“Get up, Eli, no need to fuss. I just saved you a buck fifty,” Victor grits out between clenched teeth. He heaves Eli up with bruising hands and shoves him towards their platform, and Eli pretends not to feel how Victor clings a bit too long and how his heart stomach seems to drop at the feeling of liking it.

*

They return to a dark and cold apartment.

If Eli could describe their home in one word— a feat which has proven to be impossible, because even Victor claimed he’d need at least three adjectives to perfectly encompass the entire atmosphere of just their living room— he would have to call it wretched.

But then he’d also have to add loved, and always a little too warm, and finally, their own.

Still, it doesn’t excuse how utterly unorganized and messy everything is. It’s despicable, Angie once said, how cruelly you treat your kitchen alone.

Eli supposes she has a point; plates pile high in the sink and the window above the kitchen sink is so dirty, everything it reflects is tinted gray. Eli knows he could clean it, but he also enjoys seeing Victor squint to peer out of the glass every morning, the pad of his thumb tracing over the outline of his lower lip as he thinks about whatever it is he thinks about. With Victor, it could be anything from how to hide a body to how to convince Eli he can properly hide that cat he’s been wanting to get for a few months now (litter box in the closet, scratch post behind his bedroom door, and food put in dirty cereal bowls). Eli likes having to maneuver around their living room, a maze of stacks of books and records and CDs, likes laughing until his sides are sore when Victor is drunk and stubs his toe over and over again, likes laying on the floor looking at the ceiling and listening to Victor’s shitty jazz, likes picking up the poetry book with its bent spine and post-it covered pages and ink-smudged margins and reading about fern hills and eunuch dreams; likes having Victor rip the book from his hands a moment later and demanding to know where he found it, and not to touch his things, and This is the fifth fucking time, Eliot. If you want to read it so damn bad I’ll just buy you a copy of your own.

Eli likes walking through their door knowing he has something to look forward to, even if it’s as small as hearing Victor pace around in his bedroom; there is something that feels like home in the way the floorboards creak under sock-clad feet and the cold draft seems to sneak in through even the slimmest crack between the door and windows. It’s a gentle, soft wave of feeling that wells up inside of him, the feeling of coming home and knowing he belongs there.

But when he trips over something left carelessly astray only three steps in from the threshold of their apartment, Eli can’t help but think that maybe it’s about time he and Victor invest in cleaning up after themselves.

“Motherfuck,” Eli hisses. He picks himself up from the floor and scurries to collect the canned soup that rolled out of the grocery bag.

“Careful,” Victor says as he bends down to untie his laces. “You might bump into something.”

“Shove it, Vale.”

One by one, the groceries are dug out of their cardboard bags, brought out only by the illumination of a small candle fished out from the depths of Victor’s desk drawer and a miniature keychain flashlight Eli holds between his teeth. Everything they’ve purchased has a shelf-life that is meant to withstand even the worst of apocalypses, which is good, because the very next thing they need to do is dump the spoiled milk and luke-warm yogurt from their mini fridge, which in the event of the power outage has halted its job as fridge and began a new career as a breeding ground for bacteria and potentially vomit-inducing odors. Victor’s lip curls in disgust at the sight of the yogurt glopping down the drain and pulls the collar of his turtleneck over his nose, which makes him look both stuck-up and ridiculously hot simultaneously, a combination that is rather confusing to Eli. He can’t decide if he wants to snarl at him for being a drama queen or shove him against the sink and shove his tongue into his mouth.

Once they’re done with that, Victor disappears into his bedroom only to return with a hot plate that looks mysteriously similar to the ones Eli remembers using in his second year of chem-lab. When questioned, Victor rolls his eyes and says Really, Eli, I’m practically drenched in money. Don’t you think I’m above stealing from our wonderful school’s classroom supply? And while Eli oh so desperately wants to reply no, that seems exactly like something Victor would do, and to deny so is rich, coming from a man who blatantly shoves library-owned copies of his parent’s books into his bag and gleefully defaces them with sharpies, he also wants this whole conversation to end so they can get the the matter at hand, which is how exactly to fit their too-big pots on the surface of the stupid hot plate in order to properly cook up some Campbell's chicken noodle soup.

And so they end up in the living room, infamous for its book towers and cushion piles, the raggedy couch and shitty TV that Eli found about to be thrown out on a street corner last year. Also known as The Place Where Shit Happens. Case in point, the place Victor and Eli had their first real discussion over a human anatomy assignment, the room that Eli first kissed Angie in, the room where Eli got his first handjob by a dude, who just happened to be Victor, who just happened to think that Eli’s presentation about flesh-eating viruses was so hot he couldn’t even wait for a bed before he shoved his hand down the front of Eli’s pants.

Eli blinks. He really shouldn’t be thinking about that sort of thing.

“You know,” Victor says, as steam begins to rise from the pot. “When I got sick, my mother always made me chicken noodle soup from scratch.”

Eli has to resist rolling his eyes. “Oh yeah, and how did it taste? Let me guess. Wonderful? Like an orgasm on your tongue?”

Victor peeks up at him and smiles cheekily. “It tasted like fucking trash. I’d have much rather had something out of a can. Now give me that ugly bowl. I don’t know why you still have this.”

Said bowl was a gift from Angie, some hand-painted pottery piece that you craft at one of those walk-in places, where you’re handed a pre-made mug or bowl or plate and a selection of different glazes and brushes to finish it. It’s a mix of sludge brown and dark sea blue, because when Angie texted Eli to ask what colors he liked best, he had been staring at Victor and his dusty hazel trousers and light blue dress shirt all tucked in, and his fingers had typed out his answer without his brain really analyzing the answer. And so his bowl came out sloppily colored and looking rather like a lump of crap at the bottom of a polluted lake than the nice light, aesthetic colors that Eli had in mind.

Still though, it was from Angie, so he can’t exactly throw it out. Which is exactly what he tells Victor, who just rolls his eyes as he pours half the portion of soup into it and the rest into his own ceramic white bowl, shutting off the hot plate and pushing it away. “Of course you can,” he says, “You just don’t want to. Whatever, I just hope she knows her skills are in the sciences, not the arts.”

“Yes, well, we can’t all be like you, with your poetry and labs and… fancy clothes.”

Victor raises an eyebrow. “Fancy clothes? Not sure how that entered the conversation.”

Fuck. Eli shrugs his shoulders and shovels a spoonful of soup into his mouth. It's too hot, but that’s alright because their apartment is too damn cold, and even though he’s wearing the thickest pair of wool socks he owns, Eli finds his feet are still growing numb. But with his back against the couch, as he’s seated on the floor, and Victor right beside him, he can’t bring it upon himself to get up to get a blanket, or even to get an extra coat from the coat rack in the corner. He’s content with just staying here. When he’s done eating, he sets his bowl up on the coffee table and watches Victor finish, eyes lazily tracking a small drop of broth that leaks out from the corner of his mouth and dribbles down to his chin. Victor catches him staring and rolls his eyes before wiping at it with the back of his wrist.

“Well that was the most mundane Christmas dinner I’ve ever had,” Victor says when he’s finished. Eli hums and imagines what it's like to eat a meal at the Vale house. There’s probably a roasted duck, and one of those pigs splayed out with the apple in its mouth, surrounded by small plates of french food, and portions of dessert that are not the least bit filling, but are nice to look at nonetheless. These thoughts of Victor’s most-likely rich, plentiful Christmas dinners makes Eli remember his own Christmas dinners of his childhood, chinese take-out on paper plates and ice cream on store-brand sugar cones that tasted like cardboard.

These thoughts make him frown, and then make his stomach feel weird, all twisty and aching, and so he stops thinking about it and folds his feet underneath him as he shivers and his teeth begin to chatter.

“You know what we need?” Victor asks.

“Hm?”

“Alcohol.”

“Oh, indeed.”

“Eggnog, then?”

“That sounds disgustingly rich.”

“As well as deliciously enticing.”

“Oh my God. Yeah, sure.” Eli watches Victor as he retreats to the kitchen with his bowl in hand. He leaves Eli’s because he is a firm believer in doing things for oneself, and also because he is an asshole. Eli tells him this as he moves himself from the floor before the couch to the couch itself, his back sinking into soft cushions and body loosening slightly, but not enough. Eli closes his eyes to the sound of Victor’s bowl clattering down in into the sink, followed by the creaks of cabinets and Victor’s soft murmuring as he rummages through things. He only opens them when he hears that telltale Aha, barely audible from the kitchen, and Victor’s footsteps returning.

“Found it?” Eli asks, even though he knows the answer is yes. He is greeted by the sight of Victor, smiling and looking absolutely dashing with a bottle in his hands and two mugs in the other. Eli never thought he’d use the word “dashing” to describe Victor Vale, but, well, here he is.

“I’m going to get completely smashed,” Victor says pleasantly, and that’s how it begins.

The eggnog is a cheap one, spiked already with bourbon and tasting more acidic and bitter than Eli would like, but he drinks because he’s cold and because the power is out and because there is absolutely nothing else to do. He doesn’t want to think. He doesn’t want to attack the ever growing stack of homework on his desk. He wants to get drunk off of eggnog with his best friend in the whole world ad forget about how damn cold it is in their shitty housing flat. So that’s exactly what Eli does.

Before he knows it, he’s loose and lithe against the couch, warmth leaching from his belly to his arms, which feel flabby, just like rubber bands, folded over his middle. Eli has bent his knees up, his heels brushing against the backs of his thighs, and lays with his neck uncomfortably craned over the armrest of the couch. All of this to make room for Victor to sit normally on the opposite side, his third mug of eggnog nearly empty. The bottle is done and dry, and Eli feels a little dizzy when he turns his head side to side, testing if it’s even worth it to get up right now and grab a blanket or two. The decision is made for him, however, when his eyes catch on the battery-powered electric clock on the side table, and he sees it’s past midnight.

He kicks his legs out, which causes Victor to curse and drop his mug to the ground, and though it doesn’t break into a million ceramic pieces, it does spill the rest of the eggnog onto the old wooden floors, and with the sound it makes, the mug has either chipped or the floor has definitely earned a dent. Eli silently hopes it to be the former, because replacing a mug is much cheaper than paying an extra three hundred dollars or more in damaging costs to the university’s floors.

“You cloddish oaf,” Victor says, which is an absurd sentence that only Victor would say, a fact that makes Eli smile.

“It’s Christmas, Vic,” Eli says, stumbling to his feet. The room pitches but then rights itself after a second, and Eli is glad he isn’t totally drunk, because he wants to do this right. ‘This’ being: “I have to give you your gift.”

Silence. Eli turns to look over his shoulder because he’s worried maybe Victor found a way to drown himself in the puddle of eggnog slowly spreading into a bigger circle on the floor, or maybe passed out even though he’s way more sober than Eli. But no, he’s perfectly fine. Sitting up on the couch, back mostly straight, staring at Eli as if he’s done the most confounding thing in the universe.

“Gift?” Victor asks.

Dumbly, Eli nods. “Yeah. For Christmas.” He doesn’t understand why it’s such a big deal, except that maybe Victor doesn’t do gifts, and in that case, doesn’t have one for Eli. Which is totally fine, because that's not the point of gifts at all. It’s the giving, not the getting, that’s important. Eli grins. “Don’t worry. I don’t expect anything back.”

“That’s not—” Victot begins, but then he cuts himself off. “Never mind. Go and fetch it.”

“Why can’t you say ‘go get it’ like a normal person?” Eli mumbles as he walks to his room. He lands hard on his knees and reaches under the bed until his fingers brush against the silky surface of the plastic gift bag. “Achievement unlocked,” Eli mumbles to himself. He’s sure that Victor would make fun of him if he caught wind that Eli counts grabbing a bag from underneath the bed as something worthy of recognition.

Victor is standing when Eli returns, which makes it weird to give him the bag, since Eli doesn’t have much experience with gift-giving, except that when he would go over to friend’s birthday parties (a rare occasion in itself, both due to the fact that Eli wasn’t allowed to leave home much and because he didn’t have many friends to begin with), the one who was receiving was always seated, and everyone else stood close and looked on.

Eli decides on staying where he is, across from Victor, only a mere five inches or so apart. Victor takes the bag without a word, and peeks inside. Gently, Eli clears his throat. “There, uh, isn’t a card.”

Victor rolls his eyes. “So you can go out and buy me a gift but you can’t put in the effort to write me a sentimental holiday card?”

Eli blinks. “Everything I want to say to you, I can.” He pauses. “Everything I want to say to you, I do.”

Victor looks up from where he’s furiously ripping bits of tightly-packed tissue paper from the bag and just stares at Eli. “You’re strange, Cardale,” Victor finally says. “Very strange to solid eyes.”

“What eyes aren’t solid?”

“Most ones, really. They all squish. Why the fuck is there so much tissue paper in here?”

“Oh, sorry, it was the gift-wrapping lady. She wanted to make it look proper.”

“Aha,” Victor mumbles, finally pulling the last bit of paper out. It crinkles in his fist before fluttering to the floor like a snowball. A bright red, crinkly, tissue-paper snowball.

He really shouldn’t have had the eggnog.

“Eli,” Victor says, and that is all. The scarf in his hands is soft like pudding on the tongue, warm against the skin and feels really nice when you rub your cheek against it. Eli only knows that last one because he made an absolute fool of himself in J.Crew doing just that, the cashmere feathery and light to the touch.

“It’s Ovcio,” Eli says, because he thinks that’s easier than, Oh, and by the way, I spent over one hundred dollars on that thing.

“Eli,” Victor says again. He’s like one of his old records, scratched through the center and skipping back, over and over. Eli sees Victor swallow, and suddenly he can’t take it anymore.

“Well, put it on,” Eli says. He’s already grabbing it out of Victor’s hands, wrapping it around his neck totally wrong, not like how Victor usually does it, with his long arms winding it delicately around his neck. The result is dark navy cashmere rucking up the back of Victor’s fine blond hair, the stringy ends of the scarf sticking with static to his sweater, and the folds looking off.

But despite the messiness of it all, seeing something he bought— something nice he bought, not just a ratty sweatshirt from Goodwill— actually on Victor makes him shiver. A little thrill runs up the arch of Eli’s back, and he tucks it away before it has a chance to reach his face.

“Well?” Eli asks. “You like it, right?”

Victor looks down at himself, then at the bag in his hands, and then up to Eli. “Blue really isn’t my color,” he says decidedly, and then he kisses Eli.

Victor’s mouth is surprisingly warm, though after the realization Eli understands that he shouldn’t be surprised at all because he’s a pre-med student and he should know that the human body’s interior temperature is always 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, a draft difference than their apartment, which feels to be below freezing. His thought process is sluggish like the heat now spreading down to his fingertips and toes, and Eli has just enough control to pull away and say, “There are sharpie pens at the bottom of the bag, too, for your poetry,” before Victor’s pulling him back in again with a type of ferocious intensity only Victor could make seem slow and careful.

They make it to the couch, but only just. Victor leans against the arm of the couch and pulls Eli on top of him, which means Eli has the absolute pleasure of feeling his knee squished between the lumpy back cushion and Victor’s bony hip, and then, on top of that, the pure ecstasy that comes with stubbing one’s toe rather hard on the leg of the coffee table as you scramble to straddle your best friend on a couch. Luckily, Eli’s feet are so numb he can only feel the echo of pain, and though he’s fairly positive it might bruise later, he knows he’ll have several marks on his neck and shoulders to match, with how Victor is attacking his skin, roughly yanking his sweater collar to the side so he can bite the dip between Eli’s neck and shoulder.

“Ow,” Eli hisses. He doesn’t mean it, and Victor knows it, but he still slows down, laps his tongue over that same spot and then cups Eli’s neck with his cold hands, pressing a kiss to his chin.

“I didn’t get you anything,” Victor admits.

“I know,” Eli says. “I always was the better friend.”

“Hmm,” Victor hums, which is neither a dismissal nor an agreement. His hands slide down to Eli’s lower back and slip up the hem of his sweater, past the two shirts he layered under it, until all Eli feels is cold cold cold, running up and down his spine. Behind him, Eli sees the old miniature clock, ticking its way around time that seems to be slipping away faster and faster, the whole world rolling away forever. “Merry Christmas, Eliot,” Victor says. His lips bump against Eli’s lazily with his words, and Eli swears he’s melting.

“Merry Christmas, Vic,” Eli whispers back, and he pulls him back in.