Major (capital “M”) angst and have tissues at the ready for this story.
He woke alone. He ached in odd places, like he’d used all sorts of weird muscles just in the process of crying, which may have been true. He’d never quite felt like that before. And he’d definitely never cried like that before.
He rubbed hard at his face, the headache he’d had earlier still nagging at his right temple, and he stared at the bottom of the upper bunk for a minute. The odd thought roamed through his head that they ought to just give up and get rid of the damned thing since he never slept in it. In fact, they ought to just get a slightly bigger bed and give up the pretense altogether.
He shook his head, which dislodged the headache, spreading it to his other temple and making him regret the move. That successfully derailed his train of thought about the beds and he rolled, catching a glimpse of the alarm clock. The bright blue digits told him it was ten o’clock, but… what day of the week was it? Had he missed school?
As he started to sit up, Kane came through the door. “Hey,” he said, crossing the room, a mug in his hand. Ian’s stomach rumbled at the smell of coffee.
“Coffee?” he asked, hopefully and Kane’s smile was big.
“For you. I was going to wake you.” He sat next to Ian on the bunk and handed the mug over. “I’m glad to see you asking for something.”
Ian swallowed at that, fighting a fresh batch of tears and shame. He couldn’t speak, so he simply nodded, then took a few moments to sip at the brew with closed eyes. “Tastes good,” he managed, then opened his eyes and stared at his friend. “Thank you,” he said and looked back into his cup.
“It’s just coffee,” Kane said, shrugging, but Ian shook his head—gently, this time.
“No. Not for the coffee—though, thank you for that, too. Um, for l-last night.” He stumbled over himself a little bit and swallowed hard as the pain wanted to resurface. He forcibly pushed it back down. He had a bad enough headache at that moment; he really didn’t want to add to it.
“Oh. Well, you don’t have to thank me for that, either. We’re best friends,” he said, shrugging one shoulder again. “It’s what we do for each other.”
Ian knew there was more to it than that. Not all best friends slept in the same bed. Not all best friends kissed or had sex, for that matter, even if it was only once, even if they were both gay. Not all best friends could comfort or understand each other the way he and Kane could. But Ian didn’t argue the point right then. He really wasn’t up for it. “Well, even if I don’t have to, I want to. Thank you.” He sipped a bit more of his coffee, grateful Kane didn’t push for any conversation yet. “What day is it? I’ve—” He paused and swallowed around the lump again. “I’ve lost all track.”
“Oh. Saturday. We missed the Dojo, but I figured you needed the sleep more.”
Ian nodded. He searched his memory and knew that he’d been going, even since Hayden’s… death. But he couldn’t remember much of it. “God, what a mess I’ve been. I don’t even remember that much. Like it’s been sort of a dream. A bad one,” he qualified before taking another drink of his coffee again.
Kane cleared his throat and dragged a toe over the carpet, keeping his eyes glued to it. “He wouldn’t want this.”
Ian swallowed again, wishing for the hundredth time that he could get rid of the stupid lump that seemed to have taken up permanent residence in his throat. “I know. God, I know…” He paused, finding regular breathing suddenly very difficult. He stared hard at the floor, at a tiny little spot on the carpet, fighting the muscles in his face that wanted to let go. He wasn’t going to, he was not going to.
He swallowed several times, took several harsh breaths and finally had himself back under control. “Sorry,” he whispered.
“God, don’t. No more. Don’t apologize, please,” Kane said, wrapping one arm around Ian’s shoulders. Ian looked over at him to see Kane looking near tears. “All I wish I could do is to make it easier on you somehow. I… God, I didn’t love him. I can’t imagine what it is to go through this. But… I would, if I could make it so you didn’t have to.”
Even that made it hard to breathe, hard to think. Some rational, intellectual part of him knew that he was supposed to go through this stuff. He and Kane had taken psychology, so academically, he understood that there were stages to grief and all that good garbage.
But it was one thing to read about it in class and a whole other to experience it.