We were strangers, starting out on a journey
Never dreaming, what we'd have to go through
Now here we are, I'm suddenly standing
At the beginning with you
Even could barely walk through the door. He just heard it close behind him, and stood glued to the floor. Marianne had warned him carefully about how tiny and fragile Isak looked. It was worse than he imagined. He felt his throat close up, he couldn't breathe. He wanted to turn and run away from this. He couldn't do this. He just couldn’t.
Even sat up in his bed, covered in sweat, feeling like he couldn't breathe. A nightmare. He reached out for Isak… but he wasn't next to him. Maybe this wasn't a nightmare then. Maybe it was real? He tried to look around the room, but it was so dark. Glancing at the clock next to the bed, the digits lifting up, he realised why he was alone. Isak was working the nightshift. Of course. It had been only a nightmare. They were fine. Isak was fine. Even was fine. Everything was just fine. He just needed to breathe, take deep breaths. It had just been another nightmare.
It had been six years since that night. Isak had started studying medicine the year after, when he had been in remission for a year. He wanted to become a doctor. Even was so proud of him. This autumn he had started specialising in the field he wanted to work in; oncology.
Even had found that a bit morbid at first, Isak wanting to work with the very thing that nearly killed him. But then Isak had sat him down and explained that he wanted to work against the thing that nearly killed him. He wanted to learn more about it, learn how it worked and how to fight it. Even could understand that, he could. And Isak working with cancer meant that he was extra careful of any signs of the cancer coming back. But it had been six years and Isak had been healthy. He was fine. He was good.
Same thing could not be said about Even. He was a freaking mess. He still went to his therapist twice a week, and a few months ago they had to put him on stronger meds. He had been at a point of total collapse, having panic attacks and breakdowns regularly. Isak had been the one to prescribe the stronger meds after a particularly heavy panic attack during one night, making Even feel even more hopeless. But he was still grateful for Isak’s caring. He never got angry at his husband, or disagree with him. Even knew Isak only meant to help.
But Isak didn't meddle in Even’s therapy. And he had only prescribed the drugs at request from Even’s therapist. Even appreciated that. The fact that Isak trusted him enough to not meddle, despite the fact that Even just didn't get any better.
Even sat up, groaning. He was a freaking mess. A sorry asshole who only burdened Isak and his parents. They were living in their own apartment now, he and Isak. But he often went home to his parents on the nights when Isak worked, not wanting to sleep alone. Even having his dog, Buddy, didn't help all that much anymore. It helped a little. Just not enough.
He had given up his dream of being a director. He was a fucking mess after what had happened with Isak and the cancer. So he had to quit. Now he worked part-time in a coffee-shop, being a barista. He only worked four hours, three days a week. Isak told him it was fine, that he was proud of Even for trying. Even felt like a failure. Isak had to pay for almost all their regular expenses, as Even made so little money he could barely pay for his meds. His parents supplied some, but he hated asking them for money.
Even knew that no-one blamed him for being sick. But he had been sick for years before Isak got cancer and he always managed to function. Now all he could do was lay in bed, holding his dog and try not to panic. He woke up in the middle of the night, screaming in terror, being back in that hospital room, the pain so strong he couldn't even breathe.
Most nights Isak would be there, holding him, telling him it was okay. Telling him that he was there, he was fine, they were fine. Even knew it was true, but his body betrayed his head. He couldn't control it. He could repeat it over and over, that things were fine. He still got panic attacks and nightmares.
He had to find a way to change this, to break the cycle.
He gave up sleeping, it was five o’ clock anyway. He got dressed and tok Buddy out for a walk. The dog was a bit tired, but still went with him happily. They walked around for an hour, a bit long for a morning walk but Even didn't have any plans today and it was nice outside. It was a nice day.
When he got back inside, he decided to make some pancakes. It was around six thirty and Isak would be home by seven. If he didn't have to work overtime again. Hopefully not. Even knew how tired Isak had been for the past few weeks.
Finding all the ingredients, he started making pancakes, turning on the radio and singing softly along to it as he worked. He wasn't a particularly good cook. He could make a few things and he had learned some over the years. But he could make a decent breakfast at least.
Lost in thought, he didn't hear the door open, or Isak getting in. He didn't realise his husband was home before he felt strong, warm arms wrap around his waist and Isak whisper “Smell’s good.” in his ear.
Even turned around and smiled at Isak happily. “Hey.”
“Hey.” Isak said, kissing Even quickly before pulling away to sit down and pet Buddy. “Why aren't you guys in bed still? I was planning to sneak in and join you.” Isak smiled, laughing when Buddy flipped over, belly up, expecting a stomach scratch.
Even shrugged and turned back to his cooking. “Woke up early.”
“Even. Nightmares again?”
“Baby…” Even could feel Isak’s arm wrapping around his waist again. “Are you going in for a therapy session tomorrow?”
“Maybe I should come.”
Even pulled the pan of the stove, turned the stove off and turned around in Isak’s embrace. “Why?”
“This is getting worse. We need to do something Even.”
“Do what? What is there to do? They have tried everything and I’m still a fucking freak.”
“Don’t. Don’t you dare say stuff like that about yourself.” Isak pulled away, and turned his back to Even, started to walk across the floor. Turned around again, his face radiating with sadness.“But we can’t live like this Even. I don’t mind you staying home while I work, that’s not the problem. The problem is knowing how horrible you're feeling when you're here alone all day. It messes me up. I just want to help you. Please.”
Even had heard it all before. And he couldn't help but feel like a burden to Isak. The problem was; there wasn’t anything more to do, or try. His therapist had tried everything. Even was a lost cause. She hadn't used those exact words, but he knew he was a lost cause. But he replied what the knew Isak would want to hear. “I know. You can come, maybe she has another idea, I don’t know. Maybe you two can come up with one together.”
“Thank you.” Isak just said, and like that, the talk was over. They sat down at the table and ate pancakes in silence. Isak said he needed a few hours of sleep, but maybe they could take Buddy for a walk in the forrest later? Even had just nodded and told him to go to bed, he would clean up in the kitchen.
Even washed the dishes, and started cleaning the rest of the apartment. He didn't use the vacuum, not wanting to wake up his husband. But he washed every room apart from the bedroom, and even did some laundry. When he was finished it had been two hours, and he figured Isak needed more sleep than that. Grabbing his sketch book, he walked silently into the bedroom and seated himself on the windowsill.
Taking a few minutes to study his sleeping husband, Even found himself smiling. Isak was so beautiful, so peaceful. Grabbing his pen, he started sketching.
He was nearly done when he felt a hand on his shoulder. “You’re amazingly good at drawing babe. You’ve always been. And somehow you just keep getting better.”
Realising that Isak was standing next to him, Even looked up at his smiling husband. His smiling, naked husband. “What time.. is it?” he managed to whisper a little brokenly, his throat suddenly dry. They had been together for 8 years now but Even still felt like a love sick teenage girl whenever Isak undressed in front of him. Or kissed him. Or simply flirted with him.
“Noon. Wanna join me in bed?” Isak’s voice was a little deeper than normal, sending shivers down Even’s spine.
“I thought we were going for a walk…” Even tailed off, pretending to not understand what Isak wanted. But his body betrayed him, making Isak chuckle softly.
Isak just took Even’s sketchbook and pen and placed them down on the windowsill before grabbing his hands and dragging Even over to the bed. It was going to be light out for a while, they had time…
“Buddy, don’t drag me!” Even was laughing. Isak laughed with him. They were in the forrest, and had found a path with no other people on. “That’s it, I’ll take his leash off.” Even took the leash of the dog, who ran along happily, sniffing at everything. Even turned around, facing his husband. “I love you Isak.”
“I love you too Even.”
Even smiled, grabbed Isak’s hand and they started walking again. Despite his bad morning, he was feeling a bit better now.
“Is this one of the places you and Jonas run?” Isak asked after a while. Even nodded slowly. He was still running with Jonas a few times a week. Jonas had also pulled his life together, working in politics. It had surprised them both. Well, mostly Even, Isak had knows that Jonas was passionate about the politics.
“Are we still going to that party at his place tomorrow?” Isak asked. Even nodded again. Jonas was having a party the last Friday of every month, and they always went. So did all their friends. Well, almost all. Noora had moved to London again, now married to William. They had found back to each other a few months after Isak’s transplantation. She had come to visit a few times, and joined a few of the Friday gatherings. The rest of the original gang were coming.
They walked for a while longer before Even decided to sit down on a rock. Isak just sat down next to him. They sat in silence. Even had been thinking a while now, and decided to tell Isak what was on his mind. He had been debating this back and forth for a few weeks. Isak never pushed him to talk, he was always patient and kind with him. Even often felt like he didn't deserve Isak. He probably didn’t.
“I have to start making some changes Isak. Going to that appointment tomorrow won’t be enough. I have to figure out what to do with my life. Working in a coffee shop and spending the rest of my days home, trying not to panic. Most days I can’t even gather myself enough to help around the house. It’s not fair to you.”
“Even… I don’t mind-“
“I know you don’t. But I do. And I don’t want to keep living like this. I need to get out of this shit. I have to figure my life out.”
“You don’t want to be with me anymore?” He could hear the hurt in Isak’s voice. Shit. He hadn't meant it to sound like that.
“Of course, that’s not what I’m saying, not at all! Shit. This is all coming out wrong.” He buried his head in his hands. “I just need to figure my life out without help. I need to find a way to fix this mess in my head, and I think the only way to do that is by doing it alone, without help. It has nothing to do with you Isak, or anyone else. I just need to find myself, so I can be better for you.”
“What exactly are your plan Even?” Isak just asked. He didn't sound upset, or angry. Maybe a little sad or hurt. Mostly he sounded genuinely curious and concerned.
“I want to go travelling. Europe. For a month at first, maybe longer. Draw. Visit places. Try to find out what I wanna do with my life. But I have to go alone. I have discussed this a few times with my therapist. She think now is a good time. I’m not on the verge of an episode and the new meds are working fine.” He turned around, looking at his husband. Searched his face for a reaction.
Isak looked like he wanted to cry and Even regretted telling him this now. He wasn't getting the message out the right way. He made it sound like Isak was the reason of his problems, that he had to get away. Escape. Well, it was partly true, but it wasn't Isak’s fault. “No, just forget it. I’m sorry.” he added quickly.
But Isak shock his head. “No, no Even. Of course you have to go! If you think this can help, then go. I support you. I will wait for you. Just go, figure out your life!” Isak was actually smiling a little. There were tears in his eyes, but he was smiling at Even.
Even couldn't believe this. He couldn't believe that Isak would be so understanding. He couldn't believe that he himself was so selfish and kept taking and taking from this generous, wonderful man. But this was the reason for him going on this trip, right? So he could get a grip on himself, start being an actual normal person again, instead of a angsty mess. “Are you sure? Like, really sure?”
“I’m sure Even. I will wait for you. Til kingdom come.”
Telling his parents had been just as hard as telling Isak. And they weren't as easily convinced. He was actually glad Isak had been called in to work and couldn't come with him to see them, because it turned into a screaming match. Like, literally.
“EVEN BECH NÆSHEIM!”
“You know that’s not my name anymore, I’ve changed it, please use my actual name when you are screaming at me.”
“IT’S THE NAME YOU HAD AS A CHILD AND NOW YOU ARE ACTING LIKE ONE SO I WILL USE THAT!”
“STOP FUCKING SCREAMING YOU TWATS!” Anders broke in and the kitchen fell silent. Like, awkward silence, until Anders started laughing. “You two are ridiculous. The kid wants to do something with his life Lisa, he wants to try to get better and you are screaming at him? And actually, he isn't even a kid anymore so yeah.”
When Even smiled, his father turned to him. “And you, springing this on us the day before you leave is shitty. You should have given us a lot more time to digest this. Like minimum a month.”
Even just nodded at his dad. He had given this a lot of thought, and the reason he wanted to do this on the spur of the moment, was that he feared he would back out if he planned it ahead. He feared his psyche and angst would get the better of him and keep him from doing this at all. But he needed to do this.
His mother seemed to have calmed down a bit, so he dared to speak again. “I’m sorry mom. But I need to do this.” It’s this or the psychward.
His mother looked at him for a long time. He could feel himself crumble under her glare. She didn't look happy. She looked furious. So he expected more yelling. “I know.” she finally said, and the anger was gone from her eyes. “But what about Isak?”
“He’s fine mom. He has his life together. He had a good job, friends, and no mental problems. He has been in remission for six years and he never talks about that period anymore. But I can’t seem to leave it. I can’t escape it. So I need to get away and try to find a way to move on, so I don’t manage to drag him down into this black hole where I’m headed. I need to get better, find myself, figure my life out. Not only for myself but also for him. I want us to be able to start living, instead of him taking care of me and my problem.”
“Fine. Okay, go. Fine. But you call us every day and you take your meds and you take care of yourself properly, okay?”
“Yes. Thank you mom.”
“I love you Even.”
Even’s therapist had said some of the same things. She was glad he had decided to go. They talked about making a plan or not, but Even decided against. He wanted to pack a bag and board the plane, go to Paris first and then go from there. His parents had agreed to fund the trip, and Isak insisted on helping out economically as well. Even had accepted, knowing it was Isak’s only way to help him, and had the roles been reversed he knew that he too would have wanted to do anything and everything to help his husband.
Now they were standing in Jonas’ kitchen, sipping beers and talking. Well, Isak and Jonas was talking about their jobs. Even didn't have anything to talk about and just hung out, listening to the younger men talk. He studied his husband, who was wearing a dark grey button up shirt, and light grey jeans. He had filled out a lot since they were younger, with strong muscular arms and nice abs, but he was still quite slim and lean. Even himself was wearing a dark blue button up shirt and black jeans. He had folded up the arms and was now looking down at his wrist. The ugly scar was still there. Maybe he would get a tattoo while he was traveling. He had talked about it with Isak before, but Isak was against the idea. He told Even that he should be proud of his scar, like Isak was proud of his. But Isak’s scar was from a kidney transplant and showed that he had survived cancer. Even’s scar was from a moment of weakness and despair. He hated it.
“So, I’ve heard you're travelling Europe man? That’s awesome.” Jonas’ voice brought him back to reality.
Even nodded quickly. Adjusted his grip on the beer. Of course Isak had told Jonas. “Yeah, I’m leaving tomorrow afternoon.”
“Yeah. I have to figure my life out, you know?”
“I know. Good luck Even. I hope you find what you're looking for.” Jonas left them there in the kitchen, going out in the living room to talk to Magnus. Who was still by some miracle dating Vilde.
Isak walked over to Even and put a hand on his waist, smiling. “I’m proud of you.”
“For leaving you?” Even couldn't help but snort.
“For being brave enough to try this. It’s a long shot, yeah, but it beats taking more drugs or having to be admitted to a psychiatric-ward.” That had been the only option left, the only thing they hadn't tried. Or even discussed. And neither of them wanted that, because they knew there would probably be no coming back from that.
“I really hope this works out Isak. I can’t keep being a burden to you.”
“I feel like it.”
“I know. And that’s why I’m okay with you doing this.” Isak’s smile was so genuine, so happy, so filled with pride. It made Even’s insides clench with love.
“I love you Dr. Isak Valtersen Næsheim.”
“I love you too Even Valtersen Næsheim.” Isak smiled softly and kissed him.
Even kissed his beautiful husband back and for a moment he wanted time to stop, the night to never end. He didn't want to leave Isak behind. He didn't even know if he could manage to be on his own. But he had to try. He just had to.
Standing at the airport in Paris Even really wondered what he had thought with this. He couldn't do this, could he? None the less, he gathered his backpack and walked out of the airport, getting on a train and following the other travellers. He pulled out his cellphone and debated calling Isak, hoping that his husband’s voice could soothe him. Mentally scolding himself for being so weak, he just sent a text instead to let his husband know he was okay.
FROM EVEN TO ISAK
Arrived in Paris, safe and sound. I love you. E <3
Then he walked off the train and started walking. This was the first day of his new life, and if he succeeded, he would be able to go back as the husband Isak deserved.
But that wasn't the only reason he wanted to do this. He wanted it for himself. He wanted to find himself. He wanted to be more than bipolar and PTSD. He wanted to become the Even Bech Næsheim he was before Isak got sick. He was going to find out who Even Valtersen Næsheim really was. So with that in mind, he walked forwards, going where his heart lead him.