He still dreams of Jacob, he doesn’t know if that will ever go away. He’s become so accustomed to them, it used to scare him how much it was happening until he just started to accept the fact that it’s one of his last tethers to Jacob that he has. It’s like he visits him in these dreams to let him know that he’s okay. Dan stopped chasing after him. They just exist together in them now. There’s a distance that can never be closed, but Dan has stopped seeing that as something he needed to do.
When Dan wakes up there’s a heavy feeling in his chest knowing what day it is. He opens his eyes and feels the cat next to him, and he turns around, clutching his pillow and staring at the wall in front of him. He didn’t want to exist today. The dreams started to be a recurring thing the past couple of days, it was overwhelming for him to try and contain it.
He feels a dip in the bed and grounding hand on his shoulder. The cat meows and then jumps on Dan just to merely move across him to jump onto the floor. Dan doesn’t want to look at Phil yet, but he knows that he needs to. He bites his lip now and turns himself around to look at him.
Phil has a small smile, and he leans in to press a kiss to Dan’s forehead.
“I made you breakfast and bought you coffee at that coffee shop you like so much.” Phil moves Dan’s hair back and gets up, not forcing Dan to get up with him, just to let him know that it’s there if he wants it.
Dan nods, squeezing his hand and then pulls the covers up more to just go over his head. No matter how well he was doing, the grief just felt like an ache that may never really go away. He didn’t always notice it—because it didn’t always hurt, but there were days when it would just sit on his heart, weighing him down.
Jacob’s gone. It’s the anniversary of his death.
Sometimes, he pretends that he still exists.
Sometimes, he pretends that Jacob, Liz, and Rosie are just on a very long vacation and when they get back they’ll have days worth of catching up on what they’ve missed.
He lets out a ragged breath.
He didn’t die alone.
Dan gulps, pulling the covers back and getting up from the bed before making it. His new therapist told him that just by making his bed it was the start of some kind of improvement. He didn’t know if he believed her but he will say that he didn’t feel as overwhelmed coming home after a long day to a clean bed and room.
He shuffles out to their kitchen and pulls a chair out and rests his head on his arms. Phil comes up from behind him, sliding his hands across his back before sitting down next to him, sliding the coffee into his hands. Dan peaks at Phil who’s still smiling.
“Hi.” Dan whispers, reaching out to poke Phil’s cheek.
“Hi.” Phil whispers back, tugging on his hair.
“I don’t want to exist today, Phil.” Dan’s thumb smoothes across the lid of the cup.
“Okay. I made sure I didn’t have anything to work on for today.” Phil presses a kiss against the side of his head.
“You didn’t have to do that.” Dan sighs.
Phil shrugs, “You would have done the same for me.”
Dan knows it’s true.
Dan leans against Phil’s shoulder, taking his cup of coffee with him.
There’s a buzz from Dan’s phone. He didn’t realise the amount of texts he received this morning.
HAYLEY: HI ily, just wanted to show you the donut I made for you this morning. It’s black frosting. I really sat there and made some black frosting for Alex, Soph, Donna and me!!! to have today. I thought you would appreciate it.
HAYLEY: Donna says to call when you can.
ALEX: I waited a couple minutes to send my message and my picture of the black frosting donut bc Hayley told me to. But its v good and I think you would like it!!! We’re all thinking of you today. Call us when youre free!!!!!
SOPH: i know today is already going to be hard for you, so im not going to try and tell you how you should feel bc that never helps. i will tell you how i slipped and fell again at the bakery last night. i actually bruised my ass that time. wanna know how awkward it was for both hayley and alex to examine my actual ass on the couch when i got home??? VERY AWKWARD and then put some frozen peas on it.
SOPH: anyway i miss u and i hope youre doing well. i would like to visit soon bc life is like. exhausting.
SOPH: oh shit yeah here’s the donut that hayley made this morning! it’s very dark on the outside but it was v soft and warm on the inside. like you <33333
Dan shakes his head, showing Phil the photo of the donuts with the black frosting. Phil smiles.
“I know, Hayley texted me that she was going to do it. I told her that you’d appreciate it.”
Dan could cry.
“I’m going to stress bake.” Dan sighs, getting up and wrapping his arms around Phil from behind.
“Want me to bake with you?” Phil looks up and Dan bends down to give him a quick kiss.
“Sure.” Dan pats Phil’s chest and grabs the coffee and reheats the food that Phil made and eats it quick before they start. Phil grabs the machines and utensils that Dan uses the most when he bakes. Their neighbours love them because of the many treats he puts in a cute basket to give them every so often when he’s trying to learn something new.
Dan finishes his food and grabs the ingredients he’ll need. He’s learned a lot at school, but he finds himself making donuts when he’s stressed, because it’s familiar and comfortable.
His hands know what to do, there’s a part of his brain that shuts off, and Phil follows Dan’s lead before he grabs the speakers that have traveled very far from West Bay to be here. He plays some music in the background and Dan can feel Phil’s eyes on him. He wasn’t staring at him like everyone used to stare at him; like he was some wild or exotic animal that you couldn’t touch. It used to feel that way sometimes. Phil was the only one brave enough to really treat him like a person; to let him mourn on the bad days, to let him cry when emotions were complicated, and to let him laugh at things that weren’t always so funny.
Dan bites his bottom lip, his hands kneading the dough. He looks at Phil now, and he’s giving him that look. It’s the look that he didn’t understand before, but Dan was blinded by his need to protect himself. It was just. Love. It was a look of love and empathy.
“How’s this?” Phil asks, showing him his dough.
“It’s good.” Dan says with a small smile.
They’ll need to let them proof, but it looked good.
“Are you just saying that because I’m your boyfriend or do you mean it?”
Dan doesn’t answer for a second, he just gives him a cheeky smile.
“The first one.” He says and Phil’s face falters, grabbing Dan’s dough to compare.
Dan cuts Phil off with a kiss. It’s a quick one and he uses his floured hand to press against Phil’s cheek.
“I’m kidding. It’s perfect.”
Phil feels relief and he shakes his head, dipping his finger into the flour to poke Dan’s cheek.
“Arse.” Phil laughs.
Dan sets a timer for when it’s finished resting, and they sit on their tiny couch and Dan rests against Phil and closes his eyes.
Meatball joins them when he sees them just sitting. His purr is loud and he’s bumping his head into Dan’s hand before he quickly gives him the tail because he really loves Phil.
The music is light, but he can still hear it, he tries to listen to the sound of the music, the sound of their cat purring, and the way that Phil breathes. Sometimes it’s the only grounding things that he’s got.
Being back in Manchester even after all this time made him feel like he needed to be on edge for something that wouldn’t happen again—but sometimes the memories sat their in his bones, made him ache and reminded him that it was a part of him that would always exist, and he had learned to love and treat it the best that he could. It was like when you injured something, it would always remind you that it was there when it got cold. It might not hurt as bad as before, but it still hurt. Dan was okay with that.
Today, the pain, it was exhausting.
“Sometimes I’m afraid it’ll be too much.” Dan whispers, his throat feels constricted.
Phil just looks down at him, giving him a questionable look.
“I know that it’s a lot. I have more bad days than good days a lot of the time, and I know you do too.” Dan gulps.
There had been a day where Dan and Phil had gone out to one of the places written down in Jacob’s notebook and Phil had spotted Theo and his new boyfriend. Phil had almost thrown up seeing his face because of the overwhelming emotions that it made him feel.
Dan had reached out for Phil’s hands that were shaking. He knew it wasn’t just because they broke up that he was feeling this way, because Theo was a line to Olivia in some ways. They were forever connected by that event. It didn’t help when Theo walked over to their table and Theo looked down at their hands and said that he was happy for Phil.
Dan was quiet for a while, Theo filling the silence between both of them with what he was up to. Dan had shook his head after a while, his thumb gently gliding across the skin of Phil’s hand. When he looked at Phil he had gone pale.
And that night, Phil had cried.
There were things that Phil was still dealing with, and they had that conversation they had a long time ago about being too much. Dan remembers shaking his head, pressing soft kisses to Phil’s neck.
“You’re not too much,” Phil said now, echoing what Dan told him that night.
Phil gives Meatball another pet before setting him down to the ground and turning so he could look at Dan properly.
“You’re never too much.” Phil reaches out to grab a curl, and he holds it in between his fingers like it’s some fine and precious thing. “You hold me, I hold you.”
It was hard to see past grief. No matter how many times he sees the light at the end of the tunnel he swears that it gets further and further away.
“Yeah.” Dan says again, trying to remember how to breathe without something stomping on his chest and his lungs.
“You’re allowed to have your bad days, just like I am.” Phil reaches out to stroke his cheek, and then his nose.
Dan nods, leaning his head against Phil’s chest.
He stays in the position for a long time until his alarm goes off.
Phil grabs Dan’s hand and leads them to the kitchen. Dan takes a deep breath.
“I’m going to let you finish the donuts.” Dan says with a small smile.
Phil looks panicked for a moment.
“What? I don’t know what I’m doing.”
Dan shakes his head. “Yes you do. You’ve watched me make this a hundred times. I’m going to work on the frosting.” Dan smacks his butt when he passes him.
Phil lets out a small, dramatic breath.
Dan pretends that it’s early morning time, he pretends that Soph is in the back cleaning what they’ve already used, and he’s just a little behind with the frosting. It’s easy to get in that headspace because it puts him in the zone. He feels a little out of place sometimes at culinary school, even though he’s made friends—they even come over sometimes to study or to just hang out, but on the days where he feels the most lost he pretends.
He doesn’t have the fancy machines that the bakery has, and the smell doesn’t resemble what he was used to, but he was home. Where he was right now was home and he liked being able to bake at home.
It had become one of the things that Dan and Phil did together, on top of the new recipe book that they bought. They have a system: they make two meals from the recipe book each week and eat the leftovers, and then they go out and try one of the places that Jacob wrote down in his notebook. It’s a system they’ve perfected over time, it gives them both that sense of routine and quality time that they needed.
Dan sometimes felt this softness in his heart that didn’t used to be there; he used to feel like his heart was guarded with ice, and that ice was protecting something that was so hard and unworthy, but loving Phil it was like all of it shattered and those pieces that fell weren’t sharp and jagged like he thought—they were just pieces that needed to be handled with care—and over time they’d get better.
Every so often Phil will poke him and Dan will smile.
He’s mixing the two different icings, Phil keeps looking at what Dan’s doing and once he realises it, Phil stops for a second before smiling to himself and finishing.
When Phil’s done he takes a picture of Dan working with his tongue out because of concentration and he sends the photo to the girls.
It’s not too long after that the donuts are done and the icing is finished.
They grab the donuts and put the icing on them together and put them on their little cooling rack that Dan made since they were always baking something, and then they waited.
They played video games and Meatball napped next to them after they scolded him for getting on the counter. Dan was slowly starting to feel a little bit better the more that he got his mind off this particular day. The fog was slowly lifting and he was only just starting to see again.
Dan gets tired of the videogames after a while so Phil puts on their home improvement show with Dan laying his head on his lap with the cat on top of him.
It was late afternoon by the time they both got up.
Dan and Phil got dressed and they went to retrieve their donuts, taking a picture to send to the girls and Donna before eating two of them and wrapping one up.
“You have keys?” Dan asks as they walk to their door to leave.
Phil nods jangling them. Too many times have they gotten out the door to realise that neither of them have grabbed keys. It makes them laugh.
They take the elevator down and walk past their fountain and they wait for the tram.
When it comes they find a seat and Phil reaches out to grab Dan’s hand.
Dan proudly holds his hand, thinking of the stories that came only late at night.
(Like, sometimes Theo would be embarrassed to be seen with me, he’d never say it, but I could feel it because over the years he changed his look and I stayed the same, and I always wanted to hold hands and he didn’t.)
Dan squeezes Phil’s hand now.
After twenty minutes they get off and they walk a little.
“It’s a nice day.” Phil muses, looking up at the sun and feeling the wind against his cheeks.
If Dan closes his eyes he can pretend they’re at the beach.
“Yeah it is.” Dan agrees.
When they get to their destination, Dan has to stop.
He lets himself take a deep breath and Phil holds his hand out for him. Dan takes it again and they walk through the gates and near the back of the cemetery.
Jacob has a nice spot underneath a tree. There’s a bench by it with someone else’s name that he sits at. He hopes that they—whoever and wherever they are—know that it’s a really beautiful spot.
The tightness in his chest slowly starts to go away once they see his grave. There’s fresh flowers on the tombstone and a stuffed animal from Rosie.
She’s walking now, Dan gets a lot of pictures from Liz. He tries to visit as much as he can and he stays for a long time, it just feels right. Rosie really loves Phil, and Dan can’t believe that both his cat and Rosie just adore him so much but he can’t blame them. He does too.
Dan gulps and walks slowly to the tombstone and he sets down the donut with yellow frosting.
Dan knows that it’ll eventually go to the birds, but that’s okay, he knows that Jacob wouldn’t be mad at that.
When he visits, he doesn’t say that much, he doesn’t really need to. He wants to believe that Jacob just knows what’s happening in his life, like he’s still here—in one form or another.
“We had a good day today, Jacob.” Dan says after a while, he’s looking at the flowers, and he smiles softly at Phil before looking back. “We had a really good day.”
It was important for him to say out loud that on such a painful day, it was still capable of being good.
They leave around sunset and when they get home Phil makes them dinner while Dan picks the movie.
Life, it continues, even after death, and Dan was still reminding himself that it was okay to live it after someone was gone.