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the day breaks, your mind aches

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The man wakes up, on his side of a bed built big enough for two.

Curled toward the inside of the bed, his hand offered up in the space between to be held. As his eyes shiver open to the sunlight filtering through the window over the headboard, his fingers curl against the sheets, and he smiles, warm, sleepy and loving. “Good morning,” he murmurs, curling in tighter to the inside of the bed for a moment, before he dutifully surrenders to his morning routine.

He gets up and showers, brushes his teeth in his sink, braids his hair. He glances over to the other sink installed in the vanity, and decides to futz around a little, since he always forgets where he put his comb the day before. Arranges things to make the morning go more smoothly. Small gestures like that made up their relationship, after all.

He returns to the bedroom, smoothes the sheets before making the bed, fluffing pillows and chopping in perfect hospital corners toward the footboard with steady hands, neat and precise. He begins to dress, choosing an outfit carefully for himself and then for his partner, when he thinks he catches the fall of water in the shower down the hall. Pants, undershirt, oxford, belt, picks a jacket. He puts an outfit together, sighing and picking up yesterday’s clothes laying on the floor before he lays out fresh clothes on the bed.

He tucks his blazer in the crook of his elbow and heads downstairs, smiling to himself as he steps into the kitchen. Hanging his jacket on a chair and grabbing an apron, he starts getting things together for breakfast (nothing fancy, eggs, toast, bacon,) and starts a kettle for tea. While the water’s boiling, he sets the table for the both of them, and starts the bacon cooking in the oven so he can focus on the eggs on the stove. Bread slices in the toaster, kettle whistling. He takes the pan over to one plate to slide the eggs on, hoping they’re not too underdone, and waits to start on his own until teabags have been dropped into cups and filled with water. He leaves one with a little more room, to leave space in the cup for sugar and milk. The toast pops up, and he butters it quickly before dishing it up.

“Allen? If you don’t hurry, your breakfast will get cold,” he calls out into the house, ignoring the lack of reply. He makes his eggs, finally pulls bacon out of the oven, and adds that to the plates. He comes back to fix the tea for them, bringing one of the cups to the table, and finally Link sits down to his breakfast.

———

That evening, Link sighed as he let himself into the house, tugging his tie loose once his hand is free of the doorknob. “I’m home,” he calls out, sighing again. He toes off his shoes and begins the evening routine.

He sets his valise down in his office and hangs up his jacket, setting his work aside for the time being as he turns and heads down the hall to the kitchen with groceries. He starts dinner, starts going through the motions, starting pasta, making sauce, cooking shrimp. Sets the table for two, calling out for Allen to join him. He doesn’t bother with wine tonight, doesn’t really bother with drinks, but dinner comes together peacefully all the same, with delicious shrimp alfredo to share.

Table cleared, dishes in the dishwasher. The same rituals, transposed into the amber light of the advancing dusk.

He has a little work to catch up on, so after dinner he heads back to his home office, taking off his tie and hanging it with the jacket. He sits down at his desk and opens his valise, idly tucking a sympathy card away into a random drawer before pulling out a few file folders and going to work.

An hour or two later, he emerges once more, heading for the living room, settling into his favorite place on the couch. There’s some debate on movie choices, but soon enough an old Humphrey Bogart is starting up. Link slings an arm along the back of the couch and settles in, his eyes relaxing on the black and white spectre in front of him. His hands wander idly, traveling but not seeking any immediate satisfaction.

A peaceful night, all in all.

Eventually, the movie ends, and Link decides that it’s bedtime. He knows that Allen doesn’t keep as strict a schedule, but he has work in the morning, and such is the way of office jobs. He folds up their throw blanket for tomorrow night, takes out the trash that holds two extra meals that didn’t need to be made. He locks the door, and makes his way upstairs.

He brushes his teeth, flosses, heads for the bedroom. Undresses, hangs up his clothes, regales the laundry hamper with relevant articles. Link puts his pajamas on, pulls back the covers and slides in on his side. As he kicks and shimmies his way into place, the outfit he picked out for Allen falls away and becomes yesterday’s clothes.

Link settles in for sleep. Curled up towards the inside of the bed, hand offered up in the space between to be held.

It lays empty on the sheets.

“Good night,” Link murmurs, and he closes his eyes.

———

Link woke up in a shiver of cold sweat, body tense, eyes wide.

He felt arms around him and he immediately tried to force himself to relax, trying desperately to keep Allen asleep, but it was a fruitless effort. Allen was craning his neck to look up at him through his eyelashes, sleepy and confused.

“Link…?” Allen mumbled, and Link had never been so glad to hear his voice, to hear a voice that wasn’t his own. “Y’ okay…?” Link wrapped his arm around Allen a little tighter, held him a little closer.

“Bad… It was a dream,” Link breathed, still so deeply disturbed by what he’d seen. Such vivid detail, to throw such lonely madness into sharp contrast. Link shook his head. “Just a bad dream. It’s alright.”

It was only slightly alright. The image of sitting at a table set for the both of them, talking to air like it would talk back, his arm along the back of the couch like they were cuddling and watching a movie, the clothes on the bed… it haunted Link, like his own personal Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. The image of carrying on and maintaining the facade, pretending nothing had happened, it all loomed in the back of his mind like an omen.

Link wasn’t so regimented that his daily routine would continue with or without Allen, was he? Was he such a creature of habit that he took Allen’s presence for granted, another cog in the machine he maintained?

Allen frowned, eyebrows creasing. Link had never thought the silver glint of his eyes, shining in the thin moonlight that diffused through the blinds, had ever looked so beautiful. “Are you sure…?” he asked, a little more awake. “You don’t get bad dreams like this often.” The do you want to talk about it? went unspoken, but hung in the air all the same. Link sighed.

“Do you… find me predictable?” he finally asked, after a long moment. The words are you happy here? came to mind, but he couldn’t bring himself to ask. He hoped Allen picked up on it all the same.

Allen chewed on the question at first, choosing his words, looking around. Link could feel his heart rate rising. “A little,” came Allen’s reply. Link’s eyes widened frantically, but Allen continued before he could fully panic. “But you know how I am— I’m not really good at the whole ‘stability’ thing on my own, right?” Allen chuckled a little then, affectionate and bashful. “I need that in a person, Link. That’s why you’re good for me.”

Link sighed, his vision shimmering in the dark. He brought up a hand to cover his eyes.

“I dreamed you died and I kept living like you were still here,” he murmured quietly. “Making dinner for two and throwing half of it away. Putting clothes out for you on the bed every morning.”

It was terrifying to vocalise, and he felt bad for describing the dream to his partner. Link’s heart sank in shame as Allen’s eyes widened with understanding. “Oh, Link …” he began. He shifted up, so they were eye to eye, and Allen’s hands came up to gently take Link’s away from his face, stroking his cheeks and carding through his hair gently.

“Link, you don’t have to worry about that, I promise,” Allen crooned, bringing his face down to touch their foreheads together. “You’re pretty routine, sure, but I’m not going anywhere either, alright? I’m staying right here.”

He kissed Link then, soft and reassuring, and the worried, insecure remains of Link’s dream began to ebb and fade away, like sandy footprints under high tide.

The next morning, Link used his heap of accrued paid time off to put in for two weeks' vacation.