Vilnius

March 1997

Feliks sighed softly before sliding into bed next to Tolys and turned the light off. Tolys, back turned to him, gave no response, even when Feliks pressed himself against him and wrapped his arm around him tightly, nuzzling the back of his neck.

"I'm here," he murmured, "I'm here, and everything's going to be alright."

Silence.

"I'm gonna make you breakfast tomorrow, mkay? And the weather's supposed to be nice, too, maybe we can go for a walk…. Oh, and remind me, I have a blanket at home I meant to bring you but forgot, it's huge, and nice and thick and very soft, I think you'll like it. It's even green."

Feliks grew quiet for a moment.

"I…I cleaned up the bathroom," he whispered hoarsely, "so…so you won't need to worry about that. That's where I was."

He felt Tolys sigh.

"Listen, I…. I've done this, too, I swear, I'm not judging you or anything—but, please, please, Tolys, the…the next time you feel…. The next time you feel that way, please tell me. Even if I'm not here, even it's, like, three in the morning—please, promise you'll tell me."

Tolys didn't say anything, but he rolled over so he was facing Feliks—and buried his face in Feliks's chest, wrapping his bandaged arms around him and holding him close.

Feliks adjusted the blankets so that Tolys was still covered by them, then started to run his fingers gently through his tangled hair, brushing it behind his ear and following that same path over and over again. He kissed the top of Tolys's head and began to hum. It wasn't long before Tolys's shoulders began to shake; Feliks stopped caressing his hair for a moment in order to wipe his tears away from his eyes.

"It's alright," he murmured, over and over. "It's alright, I'm here, you're going to be alright."

Eventually, Tolys's sobs slowed, then stopped; Feliks could tell from his breathing that he'd fallen asleep, and only then did he allow his own eyes to close.

Feliks looked up from the stove as Tolys silently sat at the kitchen table, deep shadows under his eyes, his cheeks alarmingly sunken in.

"Good morning," he said cheerfully; Tolys still didn't say anything, and he sighed. "Hey, you know what I think we should do later—maybe before we go for a walk? I think we should bake something together. Maybe just some bread, you're running low, anyway. We can let the dough rise while we're gone, and come back and put it in the oven…. We could put some dried fruit or something in it, if you want?"

Tolys's chin was resting in his hand, but he was too busy staring blankly at the table for Feliks to be entirely convinced he'd heard him.

He frowned to himself before bringing the coffee pot to the table and pouring Tolys a cup. "Would you rather have a hot breakfast or a cold one?" he asked softly, brushing his fingertips across Tolys's cheek.

Tolys slowly, stiffly, wrapped his hands around the mug in front of him. "I'm not hungry," he muttered, voice rough.

"Not an option." He paused. "But maybe just, like, some fruit or something. Alright? You can eat that."

Tolys hesitated, but nodded.

"I brought you groceries yesterday, by the way," he said, grabbing a couple of plums and some strawberries from a bowl on the counter, then broke off a banana from the bunch next to it. "Nothing much, mostly just produce. And butter, you can't have too much butter. It's so much cheaper these days, I swear, I want to find a way to include some in everything." He continued rambling on as he cut the fruit and put it in a little bowl, setting it in front of Tolys who looked for all the world like he hadn't heard a single word.

Feliks kissed him chastely, frowning a bit at how chapped his lips were. "And once we get back from our walk, I have something I want to show you."

Sighing softly, Tolys nodded, and began to pick at the fruit with his fork. "I'm sorry."

"There's nothing to be sorry for," Feliks said, sitting next to him.

"There's everything to be sorry for."

"Please, Liet, stop being so melodramatic, that's my job."

Tolys almost looked amused at that.

"I mean it," Feliks said, "you don't have anything to apologize for."

"What I did was stupid—"

"Everyone does stupid things."

"—and selfish."

"Everyone does selfish things, too." Feliks took a deep breath. "Listen, Tolys, I…I know you, and I know what it's like to…to feel that way. I know…I know way to well how that feels, and I…I'd do anything to keep you from feeling like that ever again. And I know that's not…possible, or whatever, but I—I love you, is what I'm saying, I love you, and I want you to be happy."

Tolys set the fork down and buried his face in his hands. "Felek…."

"I really do mean that."

Tolys nodded.

"Now, come on, eat some breakfast so we can go for a walk."

He hesitated, but eventually picked the fork back up. "Thank you," he said hoarsely.

Feliks brushed a lock of Tolys's hair behind his ear. "You're welcome."

He really just wanted to see Tolys smile again; it had been so long….

Tolys squeezed Feliks's hand. The action felt desperate somehow, and Feliks brought his hand to his lips and kissed his fingertips. Tolys was clearly forcing himself to eat, which Feliks felt bad about, but, well, he had to eat—

Despite that, it didn't take long for him to finish; Feliks grabbed the bowl and fork and set them in the sink. Tolys had stood, but he looked lost, unsure of what to do next.

"C'mon," Feliks said, "let's get our coats on, and we'll grab some coffee."

"Thought we were going for a walk," Tolys mumbled, making his way over to Feliks.

"Well, yeah, that, too, of course. The coffee is to bring with us."

"Though you didn't like coffee."

"Okay, well, you'll get coffee, and I'll get hot chocolate or tea or something. Now, quit stalling."

Tolys let Feliks drag him to the front door, let him put his coat on for him, wrap a scarf around his neck—Feliks stood on his toes and kissed him again, gently brushing his hair out of his face. His deep green eyes were sunken into his face and surrounded by alarmingly dark shadows; Feliks hoped no one would look at him too closely while they were out. I'll make it a short walk, anyway.

It wasn't long before they were wandering the streets of the old town with their coffee and hot chocolate; they didn't speak—Feliks, for one, was a little breathless from the hill near the old city wall—but that was fine; Tolys was out of the house, he was getting exercise, and fresh air, and he'd eaten this morning—

Feliks didn't even mind that it had started to snow, little flakes that were easily flung around on the slightest breeze—

They eventually ended up at the square in front of the cathedral; Feliks sat on the stairs and regretted it instantly—his pants were definitely not thick enough to keep the cold away. Wordlessly, Tolys sat next to him, now-empty paper cup in hand. Feliks casually leaned his head against his shoulder, not really caring that they were in public.

"Hej."

"Hm?"

"I love you."

"I love you, too."

They lapsed back into silence. Feliks watched a couple of kids playing with their dog absentmindedly before glancing up at Tolys's face—

Ah.

That reminded him.

"Liet?"

"Hm?"

"I…was gonna wait til we were back at your house, but…." He took a deep breath. "I think you should get a dog."

He could feel Tolys stiffen.

"I—I think it would help you feel better—less lonely—I know you've always loved dogs—I—I—I know you want to live a—a normal life, a dog would—would help with that, too—"

Tolys stood, shaking his head.

"I only want you to be happy, Tolys," Feliks said, voice cracking slightly as he stood. "I mean it when I say that I love you, I do, and I want to see you happy—more than anything else in the world, Tolys, I want to see you happy. I know—I know that a dog wouldn't—wouldn't be some magical cure-all, I know—but it would help—"

"I can't get a dog, Feliks."

"Why not?"

"What if—"

"What what if do you need to worry about? I know—I know you may not feel like it—believe me, God, I know, Tolys—but—but there aren't any what ifs you need to think about, I swear."

Tolys shook his head and began to walk away, in the direction of his house in Užupis; Feliks nearly had to run to keep up with his long legs.

"Will you please, please, at least consider it?" he asked.

Tolys shook his head again.

"Look, I've been looking at some—some breeders and stuff here and—and in Warsaw, I can—"

"I can't get a dog, Poland."

Feliks scowled at his back, then jogged so that he was ahead of Tolys and turned around to face him, cheeks flushed. "Listen to me, Tolys, please—"

Tolys tried to push past him, but Feliks grabbed his arms.

"Please, Tolužis."

That caught his attention; he froze, frowning down at Feliks.

"You really think…." He shook his head. "I'll…I'll consider it, I guess, but—but I'm not making any promises!"

Feliks grinned. "Thank you."

Tolys sighed, shaking his head again. "I need a shower first," he muttered.

"We can take care of that as soon as we're home," Feliks promised, grinning.