It was four AM, and Daniel Rodgers had been awake for about an hour when Bear came into the living room. Dan assumed that his boyfriend was searching for him, as he usually did when he woke up and the man wasn't in bed beside him, but one look at Bear's face told him that this wasn't the case.
His expression was blank, but his brown eyes were wild. Something obviously wasn't right. Dan set down the book he had been reading and stood up from the couch, touching Bear's arm. The light touch almost caused the man to jump out of his skin.
"What's up?" Dan asked quietly. Nervously. Honestly, he wasn't sure he really wanted to know. Nothing good happened this late at night, and Bear's empty stare wasn't helping to calm his anxiety.
Bear really didn't know how to answer that question. Big things were "up". Life-changing, soul-destroying, heart-breaking things were "up".
"Talk to me, man. Please?" Dan's voice was just barely above a whisper, and Bear almost didn't hear him over the pounding of blood in his ears. The inaudibility was just as well, really, because he wasn't sure he could handle hearing what would be coming out of his own mouth next.
"I just got a call from one of my old friends from high school. He said Dustin died tonight."
"Dustin's dead," Bear repeated, keeping emotion out of his voice, even as his heartbeat sped up and tears started to well in his eyes.
"Yeah, I got that." Dan took Bear's elbow and pulled it, making the man sit on the couch with him. "What happened? Do you know?"
"I guess he got into a wreck on his way back from the store."
"Were his wife and son with him?" Dan asked, showing more concern than Bear thought he would. Considering the history Dustin and Bear shared, Dan wasn't exactly the man's biggest fan, even though their relationship had happened years ago, and Dustin had since married a woman, with whom he'd had a baby boy.
Bear shook his head.
"No. His son was sleeping over at a friend's house, and his wife didn't go with him because she wanted to watch some show." Fucking bitch.
"What are you feeling right now?"
"I don't know," was Bear's honest response.
"You're not going to freak out, are you?"
"No." He stood up from the couch. "I'm going back to bed." He turned to face the other man, and he looked so vulnerable that Dan felt his heart shatter into a million pieces. "Will you come with me? I don't know if I can sleep alone right now."
"Of course I will, Cl-"
"Don't," Bear cut in, his voice going from numb shock to vicious anger, and back again in two seconds flat, "call me that. Just don't."
Right. Dustin had been one of the few people outside of his family to regularly call Bear by his actual name. It made sense that he wouldn't want to hear it just then.
Dan stepped beside him and softly kissed his cheek.
"I'm sorry, baby," he said into his ear. "Lets go to bed."
Bear didn't respond - just walked down the hallway, towards the bedroom. And he didn't see the worried look on his boyfriend's face.
Two days later, Dan awoke to something of a role reversal. According to the clock on the nightstand, it was almost five in the morning, and he had been sleeping relatively soundly, but Bear wasn't with him. Their sleep schedule had been erratic after the news of Dustin's passing. Bear was having a difficult time getting to sleep, and Dan didn't like the idea of leaving him alone with his thoughts, so he forced himself to stay awake until the man finally fell into a fitful rest.
Tonight, though, he had fallen asleep first, and Bear was gone.
Trying to ignore the gnawing fear that something had happened to the man, Dan got up and wandered the house, discovering Bear in the kitchen, the light above the sink turned on, casting a dim glow on his form sitting at the table. His short brown hair was a mess from the small amount of restless sleep he had gotten, as well as the fact that he kept running his hands through it, and he had pulled out the entire silverware drawer, and was organizing the cutlery, even though Dan knew for a fact that everything in the drawer was already exactly where it should have been.
A closer inspection revealed that Bear had also lined up their cereal boxes on the counter from largest to smallest, rewashed the already-washed dishes, and scrubbed down every surface until it was so clean, Dan thought they could probably be considered a sterile place to perform surgery.
"What are you doing?" Dan asked, but Bear didn't answer. He just kept putting away the silverware, double and then triple-checking to make sure everything was lined up correctly.
Something clicked into place for Dan, then, and he pulled out a chair to sit with the man at the table.
"Your OCD is kicking in again, isn't it?" He questioned softly, even though it didn't really need to be asked. He had seen him like this before, and it was an ever-reliable indicator that he was melting down.
Bear didn't like to talk about the disorder that plagued him, but he had spoken to Dan about it a select few times. Dan was sure he didn't know everything about his boyfriend's inner demons, but he had a very basic idea of when this one took over.
As far as Daniel knew, he had been showing warning signs even as a young child, but it didn't become disruptive to his life until he was a teenager, and was working to come to terms with the fact that he was bisexual.
Having gone to a Christian school for every year of his basic education, any sexual preference besides heterosexuality was not only frowned upon, but would also get a student kicked out without hesitation, with no chance of being allowed to return.
The stress of having to hide who he really was - as well as the intense guilt and self-loathing he felt - took its toll, and manifested itself in the form of obsessive-compulsive disorder.
He had since seen a therapist and was prescribed anti-anxiety medication, which worked well in calming his racing, repetitive, and sometimes self-destructive thoughts. He had been off the meds for almost a year, with no big relapses - until now.
"Why aren't you in bed?" The answer was obvious, but Dan asked the question anyway, for lack of anything better to say.
"Can't sleep." Bear was still organizing as he talked, and Dan had an urge to take the silverware away from him, but he knew that to do such a thing would only make the man's anxiety worse, so he refrained.
Dan knew what he had to say next, and he broached the subject carefully, scared of what Bear's reaction would be.
"Do you think maybe you should consider getting back on your medication?"
"No." He still didn't look up from his task.
"No," the word came out sharp, his deep voice sounding angry, and Dan flinched, hoping Bear didn't notice it. He finally took his eyes off the silverware and looked at Dan. He was frightened and sad, but not angry. "I can't go back on those pills, man. Not now. I'm better. I can't go back to the way things were."
Dan let out a quiet sigh through his nose, sad that this had to be happening to the man he loved. Bear was nothing if not a strong person, and he hated having to see him in so much pain when there really wasn't much he could do to assist him.
"Why are you so afraid of needing help? It's not a bad thing. Everyone needs help from time to time. No one will think any less of you."
Bear didn't respond, so Dan kept talking.
"Think about it, baby. Look at where we are, look at what you're doing. This isn't healthy. The pills helped you before - maybe they'll help now. Isn't it worth a shot?"
Instead of answering, Bear pushed the silverware drawer away and rested his head on his arms atop the table, his eyes on Dan's face.
"You know," he said after several lengthy minutes of silence, "Dustin was the first guy I ever kissed."
"We had been friends for a long time, even though he was a couple years older than me," Bear continued. "I would stay over at his house a lot. Our teacher would always give us huge amounts of English homework, and we helped each other on it. We worked well together.
"We ditched school one day, and went to the mall. I wound up kissing him in a dressing room, even though I always told myself that was one impulse I would never act on. He was studying to become a pastor, and if it was discovered that something was going on with us, we both would have been kicked out of school, and his dream of becoming a teacher for the Lord would have been ruined.
"I thought he would never talk to me again - he would have been justified in doing so. But he kissed me back. We wound up in a relationship - if you can even call it that - but we had to hide what we were doing."
"So who broke it off?" Dan asked. They had never gotten quite this far into the story while talking about Dustin. Bear didn't want Daniel to think he still had a thing for him, and if he was honest with himself, Dan didn't really want to hear much about Dustin in the first place. Bear was his - not Dustin's.
"I did," Bear replied. "It hurt so much, but I couldn't risk Dustin losing his dream and everything he was working for just because I was selfish. And really, it never would have worked out, anyway. I see that now. Once I ended things, we stopped talking. He graduated, and I threw myself into my schoolwork, finishing up high school a year early. I loved the place, and the people, but I couldn't stand being there anymore. I couldn't handle lying day in and day out."
Dan reached over as Bear lifted his head back up, and put a hand atop the other man's.
"You did the right thing. I know you know that. You got out of an unhealthy relationship, and he got the kind of life he was looking for."
"I suppose," Bear said, shaking his head. Then, with a sigh, he spoke, "I need to go back on the pills, don't I?"
"I think so, babe."
"I'll call the doctor next week." He leaned over and looked at Dan with a smile. It was small, and wobbly, but it was still a smile. "What did I ever do to deserve you?"
"Just lucky, I guess. Honestly, though," his tone became serious once more. "I love you, Clay. You know that, right?"
He didn't get angry when Dan spoke his name this time.
"I do. And I love you, too."
"Things are going to be okay," Dan said. "I promise. I'm not going anywhere. Ever."
"So what do we do now?"
"Now," replied Dan, "we go to bed and try to get some sleep."
"Sounds good." He stood up from the table, and Dan followed suit. "Should we put the drawer back in first?"
"I'll do it in the morning," Daniel said. "Lets just go to bed."
Bear did what was requested of him, but Dan waited a moment before following. Another look around the spotless kitchen revealed just how much pain his boyfriend was in. He knew pills wouldn't help Bear with the agony of losing his first love, but hopefully, coupled with Dan's support, they would bring back the man he knew. The man both he and Dustin had (separately) been enchanted by. The man he had fallen in love with.