Major (capital “M”) angst and have tissues at the ready for this story.
He took a few more breaths and went back to drinking his coffee. He and Hayden had picked up the habit over the summer because they ended up getting out of bed early most days so that they could get together. They’d recognized it was silly and stupid to drag themselves out of bed so early just so they could be grumpy with each other, but they never quite were able to… not either.
The coffee thing had carried over into the school year and he had a sneaking suspicion he’d be hooked for life. But right then, it was more comforting than painful, so he drank and remembered their first sips of it.
Hayden had shown up before Ian had gotten out of bed. He’d awaken to his boyfriend squatting next to the bunk. Kane had been wrapped around him, which had given Ian no small amount of panic. Hayden just laughed when it took Ian quite a bit to remove Kane’s arm from his waist. He’d tried to apologize, but Hayden had long since gotten over the idea that they slept in the same bed. He had gone on to tell Ian that the look on his face every time they saw each other again was enough of a reminder of how he felt.
So, after peeling himself out from under Kane’s arm, they’d gone to the kitchen, both a little grumpy and still tired, and brewed coffee. Neither had done anything to their cup and the face Hayden had made was priceless. Ian’s mom ended up buying a lot of sugar that summer until they found a mix they could stand.
Ian scooted a little closer to Kane as the memory faded and laid his head on Kane’s shoulder. Kane’s arm tightened around him. “It’ll get better, Ian,” he murmured.
Ian nodded with his head still on the shoulder. “Eventually. I… guess it already is a little bit.” He shifted and buried his face in Kane’s neck taking comfort in the familiar scent. “Are you really not… Kenji’s boyfriend?” he asked without moving.
“Yeah. We…” He paused.
“Go ahead, it’s okay,” Ian coached.
“We saw you two and thought that’s how boyfriends are supposed to be. So we kind of figured that, well, we were friends and all, but…” He shrugged.
Ian nodded again. “I guess I can see that.” He dropped a light kiss on the spot on Kane’s neck he’d been up against then sat up and finished the coffee in his cup. He made a face when he smelled himself. “I need a shower.” He sighed and dragged himself to his feet. Kane stood with him and stared at him for a long moment, then pulled him into a hug.
“Just… need a hug,” he whispered.
Ian again forced the regret back and wrapped his arms around his friend. “I—” He stopped the apology. “I can use a lot of them, myself,” he said, instead.
Kane nodded, the arms around him tightened briefly; then Kane let go. He sniffed loudly. “Yeah, you need a shower,” he said, his lips quirking.
“Ha, ha,” Ian retorted, his own lips twitching. He caught sight of it in the mirror and that set off a fresh ache. How could he smile?
“Don’t. You’re allowed,” Kane said in his ear.
Ian nodded, but said nothing and headed for the bathroom. When he stepped through the door, he looked up into the mirror and stopped to really look at himself.
He’d lost weight. He had dark circles under his eyes—eyes that looked like they wanted to be dead. Sad, yes. Lost. His hair even looked limp and dull. He shook his head. No, Hayden wouldn’t have wanted this.
He opened the door to see Kane coming out of their room. “Is Mom home?”
Kane paused. “Yeah, she is, why?”
“Would you ask her if she has the stuff for pancakes?” Ian asked.
Kane blinked at him then grinned. “Yeah, I’ll ask her. Pretty sure she does.”
Ian nodded. “Okay, see if she’ll make them. I need to eat.”
“If she won’t, I will,” Kane said.
“Oh dear God, no. I want them edible.” Ian smirked.
Kane laughed and Ian chuckled as well, a rusty sound. He swallowed around the lump again, but the chuckle felt good. He fought the thought that said he shouldn’t be feeling good. There was a name for that, but Ian had forgotten it. He knew that it wasn’t right to feel that way. He shook the thought off when Kane leaned forward and dropped a kiss on Ian’s head. “Get cleaned up. We’ll have pancakes somehow.”
He felt even better after his shower. He’d washed his hair three times and scrubbed every inch of his body twice. His skin was raw but he felt a little better.
He paused in front of the mirror and stared at himself. He didn’t look much different except maybe in his eyes. They seemed more… well, a little less lost. He headed back into his room and was a little annoyed to discover he had to tie the string on his sweats a lot tighter than he’d expected to.
He picked up the framed picture of Hayden that was sitting on top of his chest of drawers. “I’m probably certifiable for talking to you like this, but… well… I’ve… kind of screwed up for the last couple of months. Maybe it was understandable and maybe it wasn’t. I don’t know, but… I can’t do it anymore.” He paused to run his fingers over the glass. “I miss you,” he whispered. “No, that’s not right.” He stopped. “I haven’t quite gotten there, yet. I’m still accepting that you’re gone.” He kissed the picture and set it carefully back on the top of the chest, staring at it for another moment before he left the room.
As he was heading for the kitchen, there was a knock on the door. Kane waved on his way by. “I’ll get it.”
But Ian stopped him, holding a hand up. “No. I… I will.” He took a deep breath, tossed a weak smile at Kane and turned toward the front door. One more breath and he twisted the knob, pulling it back.