I don't really know what I was trying to accomplish with this. I've just recently fallen in love with Romania and Bulgaria and it makes me sad that there's so little fan material for them compared to the others. So here's some more. Don't say I never did anything for you.
Maybe the coffee should be yoghurt, but I know more about coffee than yoghurt so meh. ^_^
Warning: Nothing happens. If you're looking for yaoi lemon or a quest for dragon gold or something, it's not here. This is just a slice of life. Thank you!
Today, the morning goes like this.
Stefan wakes up at half past nine with his alarm and rolls over to turn it off. He doesn't feel tired, which is surprising considering he couldn't have had more than five or six hours' sleep, but he's a morning person. His shift at the coffee shop doesn't start until eleven but he pulls on his uniform shirt anyway, checking the weather out of the window before thoughtfully picking out the same jeans he wears every single day. He brushes his teeth thoroughly, carefully, because he can't remember doing it last night. The line between the two halves of the bathroom counter is second only to the Berlin Wall in its strictness, and in the difference between each of its sides, with the sink plughole their Checkpoint Charlie and the only place of overlap. Stefan pushes a crusted toothpaste lid and pink flower hairclip back across the border with a forefinger and puts his toothbrush back neatly in its holder, trying not to wonder what Nicolae would want with a pink flower hairclip.
He passes through the living room on his way to the kitchen. It's still dark and his roommate is still passed out on the couch, mouth wide open. Stefan doesn't disturb him yet. Nicolae is not a morning person. He remembers half-dragging, half-carrying him through the front door at three o'clock last night and dumping him right there amongst the cushions to sleep it off and knows with a sense of deep foreboding that waking him up without incident will be a trial worthy of Hercules. It had been Francis's party and Francis never did anything halfway, so the music had been loud and the drinks had been strong. Nicolae had overestimated himself, just as he always did, but there's no point in telling him off. His alcohol tolerance is like a seesaw, or a set of old-fashioned balance scales, and by the time you reach the tipping point it's already too late.
Stefan shuts the kitchen door behind him, turns on the light and opens the fridge. One of them needs to go shopping at some point in the near future, and 'one of them' tends to mean him. There are still a few eggs left, so he lets butter melt in a saucepan as he whisks the yolks into a smooth liquid that clings to the fork. On an impulse, he adds some shredded ham and a few half-soggy but probably-still-okay mushrooms. He tips it all into the pan and pushes it around with a spatula, stirring and scraping as the mixture slowly hardens. Usually he cooks to music, thumping beats and steady rhythms adding pitch and tempo to the process until Nicolae comes in to complain about his taste in songs and he can guilt trip him into helping out with the food. But today he simply turns off the gas, tips the scrambled eggs onto two plates and dumps the saucepan into the sink. They have a dishwasher, but it's been squirting out hot water whenever they turn it on for the last two months. One of them really must get it fixed.
Time to wake the sleeping dragon.
Nicolae hasn't moved in the last ten minutes, which is a bad sign as he's usually such a restless sleeper. Stefan resigns himself to his fate and kneels down next to the couch, shaking him gently by the shoulder.
"Rise and shine. I made breakfast."
For a moment he thinks it hasn't worked, but then Nicolae lets out a sigh as it dawns on him as if for the first time that morning brings consciousness. His eyes flicker half-open, still hazy with a film of sleep. He makes a sound that could've been a groan or could've been a "No."
"You can't lie there forever." Stefan gets up and heads over to the window. Nicolae's head jerks to follow him in alarm.
"Don't open the curtains, don't you dare," he says, his voice very clear all of a sudden. "No, be nice, please, don't do it, don't- AAARGHH!"
He throws himself back down onto the couch with a bloodcurdling wail as light floods the room and buries his head under a cushion. It's too early in the morning for melodrama, so Stefan fetches a big glass of water from the kitchen, roots around in dodgy-smelling bathroom drawers until he finds some aspirin and puts them down on the coffee table next to Nicolae, who has started making a continuous, forlorn moaning sound like the creaking of an ancient drawbridge.
"Take them," he prompts. "You'll feel better."
There's a pause, then his arm reaches slowly out from the couch and gropes blindly at the surface of the table. Stefan doesn't feel like vacuuming broken glass out of the carpet today so he pushes the water into Nicolae's searching fingers and leaves to start breakfast.
Stefan eats thoughtfully and always has done, considering each forkful and analysing every aspect of the taste and texture before he swallows. He always takes twice as long to finish as Nicolae, who simply inhales everything but the plate and cutlery and goes back to what he was doing, so they rarely eat together. Their mealtimes are half-cooled bowls left out on the counter before work, tupperwares taken from the fridge and microwaved separately, a takeaway picked up on the way back from one of Nicolae's evening lectures. True to form, he's already dumping his plate in the sink by the time the door opens.
Nicolae is still wearing his clothes from the night before, black jeans now crumpled and a band T-shirt that seems to have deflated, somehow. His too-long hair hangs limp in front of his eyes and he looks for all the world like he just climbed his way out of a coffin. Stefan takes pity on him and starts a pot of coffee while he slumps down into a chair and looks at his fork as though trying to remember what it's for.
(They weren't childhood friends. Stefan went to school on Staten Island and Nicolae in Bucharest. But when Stefan's old roommate moved out without warning and saddled him with the rent, his (now-ex) girlfriend had introduced him to her brother's friend's cousin, who was moving to America for university and needed someone to share a flat with. And maybe that's how it starts, with ground rules and short-lived washing-up rosters and a snaggletoothed Romanian who speaks perfect English with an incomprehensible accent and sleeps at all the wrong times.)
This is what does not happen.
Nicolae eats his scrambled eggs and drinks his coffee as Stefan leaves for work. He's lucky, he thinks, to have a roommate that makes such good coffee. There's no way they can afford a proper espresso machine, but even without all the equipment Stefan seems to know the best way to grind coffee beans to get the flavour out and exactly the right amount of time to leave the pot to brew for. Nicolae can never manage it like he can. He keeps a shameful little pot of instant coffee hidden in the back of the cupboard for when he's home alone.
This morning, however, Stefan has made plenty, so he pours himself a second mugful and carries it through to his bedroom. His head is still pounding at the inside of his skull but he figures he might as well get some work done. So he draws the curtains, plunging the room into pleasant darkness, and puts the coffee down on his desk. There's barely enough room for it. His entire workspace is covered in a mountain range of papers: Unfinished Homework Peaks becomes Mount Research Materials becomes Disagreeable Paperwork Heights, with the Valley of Broken Stationery snaking its way through the middle. He organises them into neat categorised piles and puts the jacket and trousers hanging off the chair back into his chest of drawers.
Nicolae, he has often asserted to Stefan, cannot simply 'get a job' because he has to focus on his education. Namely, the thesis on Eastern European legendary creatures and their impact on the mindset of society for his Folklore and Mythology course. It's coming along quite well. The aspirin, urged on by the coffee and eggs, begins to take effect as he sits down in front of his laptop, opens the thesis file and begins work.
This is what does happen.
Nicolae eats his scrambled eggs and drinks his coffee as Stefan leaves for work. He makes it halfway through his plateful before his stomach begins to churn and he's forced to race to the bathroom, banging off the walls as he goes, to kneel in front of the bowl and throw up every last mouthful. He can't stomach any more after that, so he puts the eggs in the bin, pours himself another cup of coffee and gulps it down strong and black. After that he strips his clothes off, throws them into the laundry basket and takes a shower, letting the steam and running water clear his head, then puts on his best slouchy tracksuit bottoms and baggy T-shirt. His head is still throbbing but he feels marginally more human.
Perhaps it's the highly visible dividing line in the bathroom that triggers it, or maybe it's been there for months now, but it's Stefan's voice in his head that tells him to take it easy, at least for today. He tries to make a mental list of things that could be considered 'taking it easy' but still fun, but his mental functions are not up to their usual standard today so he decides to just go back to sleep and figure it out when he wakes up.
His bed is not made, mainly because Stefan doesn't dare venture into his room. He likes it that way. Some things hidden amongst his bookshelves and under his bed might be taken the wrong way if seen out of context. But without Stefan's intervention, Nicolae's room is also the messiest in the entire flat. Now, however, is not the time to clean up. "Do it later," he thinks in Stefan's voice as he picks his way across the carpet to his bed. "And you've got to finish that thesis draft at some point too."
"Yeah, save it for someone who didn't just leave their guts behind in the toilet," he thinks back in annoyance. "I'm going to sleep."
And he does; he collapses on top of his black and red pentagram duvet and falls asleep like a landslide.
(The start they get off to is neither bad nor good, but completely uneventful. Their first few weeks as roommates pass by in a steady march of unpacked suitcases, unfamiliar laundry and departures and returns gone almost unnoticed. They're so different, they have nothing in common, and for a while Nicolae is sure that they'll just co-exist, no more and no less, until one of them packs up and moves on. But they're opposites, and perhaps that's what draws them together, apart but connected, like heads and tails. Nicolae begins to find Stefan under his nails and in his hair, merged into the fabric at the bottom of his shirt pockets after the wash, in the kink in his neck when he sleeps on his side. And when he storms out of the flat after an argument about which cable channels they should be paying for escalates into a screaming row, Nicolae sits fuming on the damp pavement and realises that Stefan is to his life as his brain is to his heart.)
Stefan learned how to make coffee on the job. He mastered the café latte in an hour (shot of espresso in a glass, frothy milk poured slowly into the centre to swirl and settle in quickly-extinguished patterns of white on brown) but the perfect cappuccino took him another two (shot of espresso in a ceramic cup, milk dumped in quickly to form layers of froth and liquid, the process too fast and cup too opaque to see the two mix). It's rarely ordered, not in this milk-and-sugar society, but his favourite is the macchiato, bitter marked with sweet, because you can watch the milk trickle slowly down into the espresso and the black-brown-white pattern doesn't disappear.
Toris orders a mocha and sits by the counter to chat, nursing the glass like a designated driver with a cocktail a little too strong for comfort. He's been coming here every day for the past three weeks and tells everyone it's because Stefan makes the best mochas in the state, but Stefan knows that a) mochas aren't his speciality, and b) the date he first started coming coincides directly with Natalya Arlovskaya's transference to the office block down the road and resultant daily coffee runs for her boss and fellow employees. He wonders who managed to convince Natalya to fetch them coffee without being stabbed.
"That's going to get cold if you don't drink it," he says matter-of-factly.
Toris makes a non-committal noise and takes a tiny sip of mocha.
"She's not due for another ten minutes yet. I can make the second one decaf if you like."
There's a pause, then Toris hangs his head in defeat and drains the last lukewarm dregs. He doesn't ask for it to be kept secret. There's really not much of a point any more.
Stefan stamps the air out of a new dose of coffee grind as Toris fishes out his wallet and places the coins on the counter. You can tell, he muses as he steams the milk, whether someone grew up here or in Europe by how they pay. He always waits for the cashier to finish and hands the money to them – it feels friendlier, more personal that way – but Toris, who left Lithuania when he was fifteen, has never been able to get into that habit. Nicolae is the same, consistently dropping handfuls of pennies all over flat countertops sometimes despite the cashier's outstretched palm. It earns them some funny looks, but it's hardly the least socially acceptable of his roommate's habits.
Stefan laces the sides of a glass with chocolate sauce, adds the espresso, milk and decaf and passes it across the counter to Toris, then picks the coins up one by one, drops them into the till and takes the first glass to the sink. There isn't a lot to be washed up from this morning; he should be able to get through it before the end of his shift. Absentmindedly, Stefan wonders if anyone in his life does any washing up except him.
The door opens with a jangle of bells and the panicked clinking of Toris's glass tells him that Natalya has arrived. Although she's not really his type, even Stefan has to admit she's something. She's all smooth, pale symmetry, simple blouse and pencil skirt clinging to delicate shoulders and slim hips in precisely the right places. She stalks across to the counter, her movements smooth like quicksilver and just as poisonous, and it occurs to him that she's beautiful like a Venus flytrap is beautiful just before you realise you're stuck.
One café latte with sugar, one double-shot americano, one soy cappuccino and a macchiato. She doesn't have to ask any more. He grinds the coffee beans fresh while she leans against the counter, her elbow almost touching Toris's steaming decaf mocha. He wonders if the heat won't melt it. She seems to have frozen Toris into an ice sculpture all the same, an expression halfway between terror and awe stuck to his face as though the wind had changed when she walked in. Stefan twists double-shot spouts onto the machine and concentrates on steaming the milk, watching Toris out of the corner of his eye. He isn't sure what he wants to see. Some days he cheers him on, silently encouraging him to be brave and chase after what he wants, but other days his hope is closer to anxiety and Toris seems very much like a fly.
Nobody speaks as Stefan makes the coffees in takeaway cups fitted into a portable cardboard holder. The opaque sides hide the patterns in the macchiato but he spoons the froth on top as carefully as ever and wonders as he always does which one is hers. He doubts it's the latte or the cappuccino; she's Eastern European like them (Russian or something, he isn't sure) and no-one he knows drinks their coffee any way but black. He doesn't see her as the type to dilute her espresso either, even if it is a double-shot, so that rules out the americano. Which leaves only the macchiato. Bitter marked with sweet. He searches for sweetness in the way she nods at him as she takes the coffee, in her haughty stride as she lets the door swing shut behind her and is gone. Maybe he sees it, but then again, maybe he doesn't.
Toris finishes his mocha in silence. Then he stands up, tucks his heart back under his sleeve, and with a final "Say hi to Nicolae for me," the coffee shop is empty.
Stefan starts the washing up.
(He's not a bad roommate, as far as they go. He turns his music down, albeit by miniscule increments and with bad grace, when Stefan shouts at him, he does the washing up at least half of the times he's meant to and he keeps his mess on his own floor and his own side of the bathroom. He has a few bad habits – getting crumbs on the couch, leaving used towels all over the flat – but he can live with that. He's no more adept than Stefan at bringing people home so he only has to make breakfast for three occasionally. Neither of them have had any kind of long-term relationship since they moved in together, unless the exceptional hatred between Nicolae and Elizabeta involves enough dedication and commitment to be counted as one, but Stefan knows that's Forbidden Territory and he isn't allowed to think about it, so he lets them do as they please without comment so long as they stay in his room and she uses his side of the bathroom in the morning.)
Nicolae is woken at twenty past three by a high-pitched, bloodcurdling scream of terror. He sighs, rolls over and grabs his mobile phone from the bedside table. "Uh?"
"It's me," says Stefan's voice, only this time it's actually Stefan, and he can hear the muffled static of chatter and car engines behind him. "Feel like a takeaway tonight?"
Nicolae gives himself a once-over. His head still feels like it's been bashed in by a crowbar, but in a distant, dull way that somehow isn't quite as bad. His stomach is empty but otherwise fairly normal. "Sure. What kind?"
Stefan thinks. "Indian?"
"Are you trying to kill me?" He might be on the road to recovery but he's not superhuman.
"What about that new Chinese place?"
He considers this. "Okay."
"What do you want?"
"I trust your judgement," he says, and hangs up. He still doesn't feel like making any decisions today. Looking at the screen, he can see two new text messages received since he fell asleep. He sighs again and opens them.
From: Lizzie Hedervary
At: 11:34 AM
I think I left my hairclip at ur place. Bring it 2 alfreds
From: Alfred Jones
At: 12:57 PM
Hey dude party my place nine tonite. B their!
He fires off two replies and goes back to sleep. It's lighter and more fitful than the last, the type that's always so full of dreams.
To: Lizzie Hedervary
At: 3:23 PM
To: Alfred Jones
At: 3:23 PM
You better believe it
(Sometimes Nicolae watches horror movies with the volume turned all the way up, so loud Stefan will come in to tell him to turn it down before the neighbours call the police, but will always end up joining in on an impromptu competition of who can pretend to be the least scared. Sometimes Stefan uses up all the hot water and Nicolae is forced to boil the kettle a thousand times and soak in the scarcely-used tub that's at least three-quarters on his side of the bathroom. Sometimes Nicolae orders things off the internet that come in ominous black boxes with labels and return addresses that make the deliverymen peer into the flat as he signs for them as though expecting to see some sort of Satanic cult performing blood sacrifices in the living room. Sometimes Stefan will change the WiFi password and use it to threaten Nicolae into cooking or shopping or picking up after himself, deaf to all pleas to be given admin privileges or that he needs WiFi for his education. According to Stefan, Nicolae's 'education' has become a synonym for 'laziness', and having a university placement does not excuse you from having regular human responsibilities. Sometimes Nicolae says that Stefan is a spoilsport. Sometimes Stefan says that Nicolae is immature. Often they fight, because Stefan's temper is as quick as Nicolae's tongue, and even the smallest things grate until they cause a spark which, with enough kindling, can become an inferno. Always they make up, even if no apologies are given until a drunken night in a month later, but they both know that life without each other would be dull and tuneless like a guitar filled with sand.)
Today, the evening goes like this.
Nicolae wakes up again at six o'clock feeling approximately eighty-three percent back to normal when Stefan knocks on his door and calls, "I brought Chinese food!" He makes a noise of assent and stares at the bat stickers on his ceiling, wondering if he'd be able to sleep tonight if he tried and if Alfred's party isn't the best thing for him.
From: Lizzie Hedervary
At: 3:41 PM
To: Lizzie Hedervary
At: 6:06 PM
But ive already got u 4 that ;)
He climbs groggily out of bed and wanders out of his room, almost slipping on a Ouija board he left on the floor God-knows-when. Stefan is in the kitchen unpacking a bag full of little plastic boxes of rice, noodles and stir fried vegetables. The sight of food doesn't make his stomach churn, which is a nice change. In fact, he realises, he's starving.
"We should eat now," he says, leaning against the doorframe.
Stefan looks up. "Why? Are you hungry?"
"Starving. And Alfred's throwing a party at nine, so if we have dinner now we can be ready and there by half past, give or take a bit."
"Another one?" Stefan raises an eyebrow. "Don't you need a rest after Francis's?"
"I feel fine, mother," says Nicolae sarcastically. "I slept all of today anyway. You're coming too, right?"
He bites his lip, staring back down at the Chinese food. "I don't know."
"What?" Nicolae wails, turning big, betrayed eyes on his heartless flatmate. "You have to come, I need you!"
"Yeah, to carry you home once you've made enough of an idiot of yourself."
"I do not make an idiot of myself!"
Stefan shrugs, tipping portions of noodles and vegetables onto two separate plates. "You do."
Nicolae draws himself up to his full height – five feet and nine inches, ten if his shoes are big enough – and says, "Like when?"
"Like that time at Feliciano's when you thought it would be funny to empty all the red punch into his swimming pool because it would look like blood. When you and Sadiq decided to have a strip dance-off in the hallway at Feliks's birthday. When you-"
"It's called 'having fun'!" He can feel his cheeks heating up in an angry flush. "It's not my fault you have no idea how to-"
He skids to a halt, the remnants of the last 'o' leaving tyre tracks across the end of his sentence. Stefan has pulled something out of the bag and is holding it up to his face. "It's just been released on DVD. I stopped by the rental shop on the way home."
All animosity lost and forgotten, Nicolae stares at the plastic case and laughs. "You are the best roommate ever. I thought I missed Hotel Transylvania at the cinema. Have I ever told you how you're the best roommate ever?"
"Not nearly as much as you should," says Stefan. "I got popcorn as well, I thought we could have a night in. You know, quiet. Just the two of us."
To: Alfred Jones
At: 6:31 PM
Sry man something came up – next time k?
They eat together, for the first time in living memory. The Chinese food is good but not great, much like the popcorn, which they manage to burn at least half of in the microwave, and the film, which Nicolae insists he always knew and only wanted to watch it because he was born in Transylvania. It's not that late by the time it finishes and neither of them are tired, so they watch their way through Nicolae's favourite DVD's. It is that late after Carrie, The Blair Witch Project, Dawn of the Dead and Love, Actually, but they're both far too content to fall asleep.
It's limbs tangled under a blanket with your roommate-slash-housewife-slash-best-friend with soy sauce breath and loose popcorn down the cushions and in the folds of your clothes, arguing over whether to watch Psycho or The Ring next, and pretty certain now that there's some sort of ghost or serial killer lurking in the corridor to your bedroom. Stefan laughs at all the parts he laughs at and they both jump at the scary bits, even though Nicolae knew they were coming, then Stefan will try to guess the plot twist and he'll refuse give away anything except maybe the occasional tiny hints that raise more questions than they answer, just to see him squirm. And it's nice. It's warm and comforting despite the blood and the monsters, and maybe this is what it was meant to be, all along.
(Maybe they'll wake up like that the next morning, with the blanket scrunched between them and the dirty plates still on the coffee table, with Nicolae sprawled half on and half off the couch and linear indentations from the cushions across Stefan's cheek. Nicolae will have a lecture to go to and Stefan will swear and announce that he's going to be late for work, but they both know he'll still make them breakfast and a pot of coffee before he leaves. Because that's how it is now. Their life ticks past second by second to the tempo of class timetables and shift rosters with horror movie rhythm and a timbre like steaming coffee. They shout and they fight and there's never enough milk in the fridge, and they both know that the dishwasher will probably never work again.
But maybe that's how they like it.)
Thank you so much for reading it all! Please leave a review, I'd really appreciate it if you told me what you think. ^_^