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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
2020 - Spring - The Storm Entry

Keraunophobia - 1. Chapter 1


The world lit up, illuminated by the white fork of lightning crackling through the dark sky. The heavy rain was a constant drumbeat against the roof and windows. He didn’t mind; it was a comforting sound. The thunder rumbled through the sky, but that too was a comforting growl, unlike the deafening claps that would sometimes rattle the house. He leaned forward, placing his hands on the glass as another streak of lightning broke the darkness. A faint scent, musky and herbal, teased his nose.

Austin woke with a gasp. It took a moment to orient himself to his surroundings. The dim light of early morning was filtering into the room. He was lying in a bed, warm underneath the blankets and quilts. And his boyfriend was in front of the mirror that hung over their dresser, in a dress shirt and gray slacks, combing his thick, dark hair.

“You were muttering in your sleep,” Reyansh told him as he saw Austin starting to stir. “Did you dream again?”

“Yeah,” Austin said, rubbing his hand across his eyes, rolling over, and collapsing back facedown on the bed.

“Don’t go back to sleep,” Reyansh warned. “We have to be at the lawyer’s office by ten. Get up and get dressed.”

Austin groaned and turned over on his back again, stretching out. The lawyers. The will. Of course. How could he have forgotten?

The dream still nagged at the edges of his memory but slipped away like smoke when he closed his eyes and tried to recall the details. Something about thunder….

Austin opened his eyes and caught Reyansh giving his body an appraising stare. Austin grinned, rested his head on his arm, and let his other hand toy with the edge of the sheet, sliding it down over his hips.

“Sure you want me out of bed?” he asked.

Reyansh crossed the room and gave him a firm kiss. “We can’t be late,” he said. “Into the shower with you, cretin.”

“Numbskull,” Austin muttered back as he dragged himself out of bed and stumbled towards the bathroom. He could hear Reyansh’s amused chuckle from the bedroom.

Austin turned the shower on as hot as it would go, then stepped under the spray, letting the heat pepper his neck, back, and hair. He rested his forehead against the cool tile. Jesus, he was so fucking tired. Too tired to go to class, too tired to deal with all of the minutiae surrounding his mom’s passing, too tired to feel sadness or anger, too tired to eat.

The only time he wasn’t tired was when he actually lay down to go to sleep at night. Go figure. Luckily, he had a boyfriend that was very good at distracting him. And then there were the dreams when he did sleep.

Like the one he had just woken up from. Austin searched for the same kind of calm contentment he felt in the dream, which was the opposite of how he usually felt when facing a storm: hot panic and cold sweat. But the emotion was as elusive as the content of the dream itself, and he felt the way he usually did since his mother died: gray, cold, and empty.

Austin sighed and did a cursory job of washing his hair and body before turning off the water. Austin toweled off and stumbled to the toilet, sitting down and resting his forearms on his thighs, his head hanging heavy. He didn’t want to do this. Didn’t want to have to put on that fucking suit. Didn’t want to go to the lawyer’s office. Didn’t want to do anything except crawl back into bed with a bottle of bourbon and drink away the hours until he fell back asleep or the world ended.

But if he didn’t leave the bathroom, Reyansh would come in and nudge him out anyway.

Austin got up from the toilet. He didn’t bother shaving but managed to put on some deodorant and slap on cologne before heading back into the bedroom. His suit was hanging up on the closet door for him. He dressed mechanically, watching Reyansh out of the corner of his eye. Reyansh had a suit jacket on and was tying his tie in one of the complicated, fancy knots he used for work. For some reason, that irritated him. Austin swallowed down the angry words, shoved them to the back of his mind to join the half-remembered dreams, grief, and fear.


Austin sat on the bus a half hour later, a steel thermos full of espresso in his hand, courtesy of Reyansh, who was sitting next to him. Austin had snapped at him when Reyansh had tried to fix his tie for him, and the walk to the bus stop had been cloaked in icy silence.

Trying to fix things, Austin slipped his hand into Reyansh’s and gave it a gentle squeeze. Reyansh turned to look at him, and Austin gave him a quick kiss.

“Thanks,” he said, holding up the thermos. The thanks wasn’t just for the coffee; it was for everything: holding him in the hospital while he sobbed, for helping with straightening out finances and funeral arrangements, for pulling Austin out of bed and making him dress, shower and go to class.

Reyansh pulled him in for another kiss, longer, lingering, and deeply tender. It helped Austin, warmed him, soothed him. He smiled and drank again from the thermos.

Even with a borderline unhealthy amount of espresso running through his veins, Austin felt himself growing drowsy. Reyansh was doing something on his phone, and Austin rested his head against the window, letting the rhythm of the wheels lull him. Familiar streets and buildings flew by until something caught his attention and he sat up.

“This isn’t the way to the lawyer’s office,” he said, looking at Reyansh.

Reyansh wouldn’t meet his eyes and kept looking at his phone. “Hmmm?”

Austin narrowed his eyes. “I didn’t lose my memory yesterday numbskull. The lawyer’s office in on First Street SW; this is taking us up to Elm.”

Reyansh shifted next to him. “Well…now don’t get mad, baby. But—”

“You’re taking me to see her, aren’t you? Dr. Patel.”

“Look, the lawyers’ office called while you were in the shower, and they had to reschedule because somebody’s kid broke their leg, but I figured, since I had already taken off of work and you didn’t have class—”

“I’ve told you not to do this,” Austin said crossly. Normally he would be furious, both at the deceit, Reyansh’s unnecessary coddling, and even at himself for not noticing which bus they were on. But it was so hard to work up the energy for anger, so hard to care. He had used up his quota of anger on the way to the bus stop.

“Look,” Reyansh said quickly, trying to forestall an argument. “You’re having the same problems you said you had when your pop-pop died. Not eating much, sleeping all the time, and I bet you’re having those dreams you can’t remember, too.”

“No,” Austin said and caught the look Reyansh gave him. “I mean, yes to the eating and sleeping shit, sure. But not the dreams. I can remember something…something about—” He closed his eyes and an image of lightning seared across the inside of his lids. “Storms.”

“So, nightmares?”

“Maybe,” Austin conceded. “But I’m not scared in my dreams, not like the way I am now.”

“Still, I think it would be a good idea to talk to Patel about it. Then, we can have lunch somewhere—your choice--and just take the rest of the day to relax.” Reyansh grinned mischievously and slid a hand up Austin’s thigh. “Or whatever.”

“Bribing me with sex again?”

Reyansh winked at him. “Only because it works so well.” His expression turned serious. “Just talk to her, baby, please. For me?”

Austin sighed. It would take too much energy to argue.


* * * 

Austin sat on the couch in Dr. Patel’s office. He hated that couch. He wanted to cross his arms, but Patel had told him once that was a defensive gesture. While he never enjoyed his sessions, he did like Patel, so he sat on his hands instead.

Dr. Patel was watching him. Austin hated that too.

“It’s good to see you again, Austin.”

Austin shrugged and looked at the window, which showed a tantalizing strip of blue sky and sunshine. He wished he was out there now.

“Was there anything in particular you wanted to talk about today?”

Austin stared at his boots.

“Not really.”

“Do you want to talk about—"

“I don’t want to talk about my mom.”

“Okay. So what else is bothering you today?”

Austin sighed. “Well, I didn’t know I was coming here today until I was on the bus, for starters.”

“Tell me about that.”

Austin relayed the story, how he thought he was heading to the lawyer’s office for the reading of his mom’s will, and Reyansh’s unilateral change of plans, and how he had kept quiet about it until Austin noticed their route.

“How did that make you feel?” Dr. Patel asked, writing something down on a notepad in her lap.

“Annoyed. Like, I want to be mad, but it’s too much energy.” Austin sighed again and released his hands, resting his forehead on his fists. “Everything takes too much energy.”

“We talked about fatigue being part of the grieving process.”

“I know, I know.”

“It sounds like Reyansh was very invested in getting you here to see me. Enough for him to become unconventionally deceitful and manipulative. It’s understandable you would be upset, even if his intentions were good.”

“He—he thinks I’m not handling things well. Sleeping too much, not eating enough, having nightmares.”

“What do you think?”

“Well, maybe.” Austin shrugged again. “I sleep a lot. But I’m not having nightmares. I…I’ve been having dreams, but I think they may be related to my phobia.”


“Yes. I keep dreaming about…well, it’s hard to remember. But there are storms in them.”

“And how do you feel in these dreams? Do you remember your emotions?”

“I’m not scared. Which is why I don’t think they’re nightmares. I feel…calm. Safe. I…” He hesitated, wondering if it was worth broaching the subject again. “I wonder if it has something to do with when I was younger. Before the accident.”

Dr. Patel nodded, scribbling something down on her notepad. “Do you feel like you’ve made progress with your phobia through therapy?”

Austin considered it and shook his head.

“Not really. I mean, I can handle storms better now than when I started, but I would like to get to a point where I can handle it if I get caught in one. Unless I move, which is not an option, I’m going to have to deal with storms.”

“Which is something exposure therapy can address.”

Austin fidgeted. “I get it, but I get the feeling my phobia has something to do with my past. I want… we talked about hypnotherapy.”

“Yes. Do you remember what I said about it?”

“That it can be unreliable at best and has a risk of implanting false memories. But you also said it can be beneficial in treating phobias.”

Dr. Patel regarded him. “I’ll make a deal with you,” she finally said. “Make another appointment for a few weeks from now. I want you to work on journaling again. Write about your dreams and about how you’re feeling when it storms. We’ll review it next session and see about setting up hypnotherapy then. Does that sound fair?”

Austin blinked. He had expected more resistance than this.

“Would you do it?” he asked.

“No,” Dr. Patel said. “I’m not trained. But I would like to sit in on it, if you’re okay with that.”

Austin nodded.



Austin sat on the steps of their apartment. The day had taken a downturn after his session with Dr. Patel. Reyansh had persuaded him to eat lunch by taking him to his favorite restaurant, but Austin was still so annoyed by Reyansh tricking him into seeing Dr. Patel that he was snappish and short-tempered all through lunch. Eventually, Reyansh had gotten off the bus early to walk the rest of the way home, leaving Austin feeling guilty and abandoned.

Austin knew he was being unfair. Patel had told him he was lashing out at Reyansh because he was safe, that Austin knew Reyansh wouldn’t leave him. But none of what Austin was going through was Reyansh’s fault, and Austin hated treating him this way, but it kept happening.

Austin saw Reyansh approaching. He didn’t get up as the other man approached, but moved over when Reyansh went to sit down, making room for him.

“Did you forget your keys?” Reyansh asked.

Austin shook his head. “No. I just wanted to wait for you.” He was watching the sky. The clouds were large and low, dark with rain. He could feel the way the temperature was starting to drop and the dampness of the air. A storm was coming.

“Do you want to go in?” Reyansh asked. “Get your stuff?”

Austin shook his head. Patel had wanted him to journal about the way he felt about storms. He wasn’t going to get that curled up inside under his blanket with his earplugs in, like a fucking baby.

“No. Just…just stay here with me.”

Reyansh moved in closer and took Austin’s hand.

Austin tried to keep his breathing slow and even, but he could feel the way his heart was accelerating inside his chest, and cold sweat began to break out all over his body. His breath, despite his efforts, became quick and choppy. Thunder rumbled in the distance. Austin tried to remember the sensation of comfort from his dream, but the rumble sounded like something dangerous approaching, something that wanted to hurt him.

The temperature dropped again, and the wind picked up, pulling at his clothes. Austin closed his eyes. He felt like a tight band was wrapped around his chest and ribs, closing in, crushing him. The growl of thunder changed into a roar, like a monster that was coming after him, something he had to get away from, to run from.

He stood and turned blindly, hands searching for the door. The very limited part of his mind that was thinking rationally was telling him this was a bad idea, too much too fast, and he needed to get away, get away, get away NOW.

Austin collided with something solid. Panic started to claw at his throat until he smelled the scent of Reyansh’s cologne. It was all around him. The panic receded slightly, and Austin felt an arm come around him, holding him steady against Reyansh’s chest. There was a clink of keys and the faint groan of a door opening.

Then Reyansh was guiding him in, away from the wind, the rain, and the monster hidden inside the storm clouds.

* * * 

A flash pop of lightning briefly illuminated the room. The contrast of white brilliance and dark shadow made his ordinary surroundings look odd and alien. He wasn’t scared though. It looked cool.

Austin moved towards the stairs, confidently maneuvering his way around the familiar confines of his home. He tripped on the cord for the controller he had thrown to the ground in frustration after the power went out and cursed softly as he stumbled.

He approached the stairs and paused, considering his options.

One of the rules was he was not allowed upstairs when Tyler was here. He wasn’t sure what his brother and Tyler did while he was over but suspected it involved pot because it stunk up the whole house, and porn because he had seen the DVD cases in Tyler’s backpack once. Sometimes he could hear it during a quiet moment in the game, or if he paused it for a snack or to go to the bathroom. He didn’t care; he would rather play the video games Tyler brought him.

Tyler himself was also a secret, which Austin was okay with. Luca said their house “held many secrets”. There were small secrets, like how he and Luca lied about their various bruises, lash marks, and occasional sprains and strains. There were big secrets, like the men who came to the house sometimes. Luca had taken to grabbing Austin and leaving the house when the men came, and Austin was grateful. The men at the house scared him and appeared to scare his father, too, who normally wasn’t afraid of anything. Austin would spend a couple of hours with Luca at their oak, and when the men left, their family usually had money for groceries and sometimes take-out. Austin loved take-out: sticky rice in cardboard boxes, chewy chicken in tangy sauces, and crescent-shaped cookies with encouraging words on a slip of paper tucked inside them.

But Austin was bored and lonely now, and all of his stuff was upstairs, and the game useless without power. What else was he supposed to do? He wondered how angry Luca would be if he snuck upstairs. Just to grab a book and flashlight.

He took a cautious step up the first stair.


Austin opened his eyes, blinked. He was lying on the couch, a warm weight pressed gently against him. The chalky, bitter aftertaste on his tongue told him he had needed to take a Xanax. He sat up, pushing his weighted blanket off. All were hallmarks of a bad panic attack, including difficulty recalling things that happened after the panic had set in.

He could hear the steady clacking of their exercise equipment set up in the back of the room, but as Austin started to stir, the sound stopped and Reyansh approached, dewed with sweat and looking concerned.

“How do you feel?” he asked, squatting down in front of Austin to look at his face.

“Stupid,” Austin muttered. Reyansh disappeared into the kitchen and returned a few minutes later with a mug of hot tea that Austin took gratefully.

“You’re not stupid,” Reyansh said. “Who is the one that hops around screaming when they see a bug on the floor?”

Austin gave a watery chuckle and leaned into Reyansh a little. He loved the way his boyfriend smelled right after working out. Reyansh stroked his hair.

“What made you stay out there and face the storm? I’ve never seen you do that before. It was brave as hell.”

Austin took a sip. It was green tea, his favorite. “I talked to Patel about trying hypnotherapy.”

“For trying to get over the kera—whatever?”

“The keraunophobia. I told her--I think something in my past happened to make me scared of storms. So, I want to try to access those memories to help me figure out my phobia. I’ve been doing exposure therapy for years, and it’s not really helping. Agreed?”

Reyansh nodded.

“Patel wants to know how I feel during storms, and she wants to know about the dreams I’ve been having.”

“The dreams about the storms?”


“Did you have any while you were sleeping on the couch?”

Austin nodded. “I can’t remember much. Something about storms and stairs and secrets.” He shook his head. “Pop-Pop wouldn’t talk about what happened to me when I was a kid, and Mom swore it was just an accident, that I fell. But I don’t think so. And now they’re both gone, so who can I ask?”

“I don’t know, baby.” Reyansh took his hand and kissed the back of it gently. “But no matter what you decide to do, I’m behind you one hundred percent. I’ll take care of you during storms, and you’ll kill the bugs when I do my ‘yucky bug dance’. Deal?”

Austin grinned, the hot tea and his boyfriend’s teasing helping warm the cold chasm inside him just a little.

“Love you, numbskull.”

“Love you too, cretin.”


The next week found Austin back in the hated suit and in the lawyer’s office for real this time. Reyansh sat next to him during the reading of the will. Austin zoned out during most of it, trying not to think of his mother wasting away in the hospital.

His mom left him ten thousand dollars that was specified to be used for his education, all of her personal effects, and, surprisingly, the key to a safe-deposit box that he held clenched in a sweaty hand. He had no idea his mom had a safe-deposit box. He had assumed any important documents or items were kept in the wall safe of their house.

Reyansh had kept respectfully silent but prompted Austin to ask the right questions, something he was unspeakably grateful for.

When Reyansh got up, Austin scrambled to his feet as well, and practically ran from the building. Once he was outside, he took a deep breath. The inside of the lawyer’s office had felt oppressive and cloying.

Austin took another deep breath. He could smell rain in the air, even though the sky looked clear.

Reyansh wanted lunch, so Austin went with him to a Korean restaurant downtown he knew Reyansh liked. Austin picked at his food, not really tasting it.

“You okay?” Reyansh finally asked, noticing Austin was pushing his food around on his plate rather than eating it.

“No,” Austin snapped.

Reyansh reached across the table to give his hand a squeeze. “I know reading a will can really suck.”

Austin sighed and dropped his chopsticks onto his plate. “Sorry. I just miss Mom. And it’s going to storm again.”

Reyansh pulled out his phone to check the weather. “Yeah, it looks like it. How about this? You can head home on the next bus so you’re inside before the storm hits. And then I can run by the bank and check out the safe-deposit box for you. Let you know what’s in there, and then you can figure out what you want to do with it later.”

Austin nodded. Getting home and maybe a couple of drinks in him sounded much more appealing than going to the bank and possibly embarrassing himself in public if the storm broke before getting back home.

“Sure, that sounds good. Thanks, baby.”


Reyansh didn’t reappear again until that evening. The storm had broken, and Austin had spent most of it under the blanket, watching videos on his phone with his air pods in to block out some of the noise.

Reyansh lifted a corner of the blanket when he came in. Austin took his pods out and let Reyansh lie on the couch with him. Reyansh was well-built, and his comforting bulk was another defense between Austin and the storm.

“How was the bank?” Austin asked.


Reyansh rested his head on his chest, and Austin ran his fingers through the coarse strands. “You said you were going to the bank, to see what was in the safe deposit box.”

“Oh,” Reyansh said. “It was mostly money; some cash she had saved up. It looks like about five grand or so. And some documents, birth certificates, deeds to the house, stuff like that.”

Austin considered that. Between the money bequeathed for his schooling and the 5K and the life insurance policy, he wouldn’t be in dire straits financially. And he knew Reyansh wouldn’t let him struggle for money, either.

Austin ran his hand through Reyansh’s hair again, liking the texture of it between his fingers. Reyansh was being unusually quiet.

“You okay, numbskull?”

“Yeah,” Reyansh answered. “Just tired.”

“Same here.”


* * *

Austin woke up in the night, his neck sore and stiff with a dull headache beginning to pound behind his eyes. The last thing he remembered was Reyansh turning on a movie.

Austin got up, stretching hugely, and saw the light spilling in from the kitchen. He followed it, squinting, and saw Reyansh at the table. He was still in his clothes from earlier, had his laptop open, and was looking at some documents spread across the table. Austin watched him lift a glass of bourbon to his mouth and take a sip.

“Hey, babe,” Austin said, approaching. Reyansh quickly gathered the documents together, tapped them against the table to align the edges and dropped them into his briefcase.

“Hey,” he said. His voice was rough, and he looked worn and tired.

“Are you working? At this hour?” Austin asked, picking up the bourbon bottle and pouring some into a glass. If Reyansh could drink, while working no less, then he couldn’t say anything if Austin wanted a nightcap.

Reyansh shrugged as he shut his briefcase and spun the lock. “Couldn’t sleep.”

Austin took a sip of the liquid. “You know, I could’ve helped with that,” Austin said, making sure the flirty intention was clear in his voice. Reyansh loved it when Austin initiated.

Reyansh smiled, but didn’t look up, and downed the rest of his bourbon before he got up.

“You were resting so soundly, I didn’t want to wake you.” Reyansh plucked the glass of bourbon from Austin’s grip and moved in closer. “But now you have my undivided attention.”

Austin smiled and drew him towards the bedroom.


They made love, and Austin lay awake for a while afterwards, enjoying the feel of Reyansh sleeping next to him, a strong arm around his waist. He felt relaxed and pliant with the gnawing ache of grief buried underneath a warm layer of oxytocin. He pressed his sheets against his face, breathing in the smell of Reyansh and fresh sex.

It would be easy to fall asleep now if he wanted to, but Austin found himself staying awake, mulling over the events of the evening, trying to suss out what was making him uneasy. Reyansh’s uncommon silence. And the way he had been sitting at the table in the kitchen. Reyansh didn’t usually bring work home with him, but it happened occasionally, and since he had taken the day off work, it made sense for him to be trying to catch up. But something about the way Reyansh had snapped up the papers was off. And the bourbon… Reyansh usually drank coffee or tea when working but never alcohol.

It didn’t quite add up, but Austin was too sleepy, too sated, and too warmly comfortable being tucked up against his lover to worry about it now.

* * *  

Austin’s suspicions returned the next day when he woke up alone. Reyansh had taken up a habit of waking Austin up and making sure he was at least out of bed before he left for work. Austin figured if Reyansh didn’t care about him getting out of bed and going to classes, then it was a good excuse to stay in. He went back to sleep and woke up at noon, then spent a few more hours on his phone, watching videos and playing games. He reluctantly got out of bed when his stomach began growling.

He thought about showering, but that seemed like too much trouble. He dressed, ate same ramen, then spread out his books on the table to make it look like he went to class and was working on homework.

Thinking of homework made him remember he was supposed to be journaling for Dr. Patel. He hated journaling, but if he didn’t, then she might not agree to the hypnotherapy, and he would live the rest of his life cowering in fear every time he heard a hint of thunder. He broke out in a cold sweat the other day because of an airplane passing overhead he thought might have been thunder at first.

He opened one of his notebooks and thought back over his dreams. He still couldn’t remember most of them. He wrote down what he could remember: storms, stairs, secrets. Then, for reasons he couldn’t quite understand, added “take-out” and “the oak”.

He turned to the next page and dutifully wrote out the dates of the last few storms along with his symptoms.

He stared the page for a moment, then wrote one more additional line.

I’m worried about Reyansh.


A few days later, Austin upgraded to “seriously concerned about Reyansh”.

His boyfriend was gone every morning, making Austin responsible for getting up and getting to class, which was successful about half the time. He also wasn’t getting home until late at night. He looked drawn and exhausted when Austin did see him and appeared distracted and aloof.

“What’s up with you?” Austin finally asked one night. Reyansh looked up from his phone to where Austin was washing dishes from his solitary supper.

“What do you mean?”

Austin shrugged. “You’re just gone a lot.”

“It’s a busy time of year, baby. You know that.”

Austin did know that, but he also knew for the past two years, Reyansh usually at least made it home for dinner. But maybe Reyansh was really behind at work. Maybe Austin’s constant neediness had kept Reyansh so busy looking after him that he couldn’t keep up with his work.

The guilt that spilled inside him kept him from saying more. Austin held his silence, Reyansh continued to be a diminishing presence in his life, and Austin continued to suffer the crushing loneliness alone.

He was getting used to it.


The storm came on and broke during the night. Flashbulbs lit the bedroom, and thunder filled the night around them.

Reyansh was moving over him, kissing him hungrily. Austin felt a flare of desire, his arms coming up around Reyansh to pull him closer, running a hand up Reyansh’s back, a warm press of fingertips against flesh. Reyansh’s lips were hot against his neck while his hands were busy carefully and gently working Austin’s body open to accept him. Austin groaned in pleasure as Reyansh slid inside. It felt so good, feeling Reyansh moving inside him, over him.

It was the eyes Austin noticed first. Austin pulled Reyansh down for another kiss, but the eyes staring back at him when they parted were blue. Reyansh’s eyes were brown—a dark brown that nearly looked black. Austin froze, his breath catching in his throat. Reyansh’s face began to change, his features narrowing, his hair lightening and lengthening, his honey-dark skin growing pale. The man staring down at Austin had high cheekbones, thin lips, and cold blue eyes, along with a small scar at the left corner of his mouth.

“No,” Austin gasped, trying to push the stranger off. The man grinned, a lupine showing of teeth, and bent down to kiss him again.

“No!” Austin said, struggling away from the man’s hungry mouth and trying to get out from under the stranger’s body, to no avail. The man was still lodged deep inside him, hard and thick, and the thought made Austin feel sick. The man moved his mouth to Austin’s neck, and he felt the scrape of teeth, a trickle of blood.

“Get off, get off!” Austin yelled. “Help! Luca! Help!”

He struggled again, fighting to move paralytic limbs, and then he was free, stumbling out of the bed, and into his dark bedroom.

The stranger rose from the bed as well, advancing on him with dark promises of suffering in his eyes.

Austin cast around in the dark until he found what he was looking for: a wooden baseball bat tucked into the corner near the door. Gripping it in both sweaty palms, he swung wildly at his attacker. His attacker hesitated, then dove forward as Austin reared back for another swing. There was a satisfying thwack as the bat made contact, but his triumph was short lived as his attacker shoved hm up against the wall and caught both of his arms, pinning them to his sides.

“Luca! Help! Luca! Luca!”

His throat was raw from screaming. He thrashed desperately, but his captor held firm.


“Austin! Austin!”

Austin opened his eyes, the bedroom around him sharpening into hard focus. Thunder and lightning still crackled around him. He could smell Reyansh, the warm scent of his body. There was no stranger with cold eyes, and Austin felt the bat dropping from suddenly numb fingers.

“Hey, numbskull,” he managed. He felt the way Reyansh relaxed a little and the pressure around his arms loosened.

“Austin?” Reyansh asked again. “Are you back with me?”

“Y—Yeah. I…had a nightmare.”

“No shit,” Reyansh mumbled. “I’m going to let go of you now, but I need you to not go for the bat again.”

“I promise,” Austin said. Reyansh stepped back, looking him over carefully, then bent down and picked the bat up with a slight grimace. Austin saw the way he was holding himself gingerly and remembered the feeling of the bat making contact.

“Oh God, baby, did I get your head?” he asked.

“Shoulder,” Reyansh grunted, opening the closet and putting the bat inside, then closing the door again.

“Jesus, baby, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Austin babbled. “Let me get you an ice pack.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Reyansh said, sitting down on the bed, holding his arm.

Austin ignored him and raced to the kitchen, fumbling in the dark for the ice pack and clumsily wrapping it in a kitchen towel. Thunder broke the air again, and Austin found himself crouching down, trembling.

Don’t freak out, don’t freak out, Rey needs you, don’t freak out.

Austin was totally freaking out. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and made himself count to five before releasing it shakily. Then again. And again.

He wouldn’t think of the storm. He wouldn’t think about the man with the scar. He wouldn’t think of the way the bat made contact with Reyansh’s body. He wouldn’t think of any of that.

He wouldn’t.

He wouldn’t.

He wouldn’t.


The next day saw Austin back on the much-hated couch in Dr. Patel’s office. Reyansh sat beside him, stony-faced. Austin was relating what had been happening recently, the dreams, and the events leading up to the previous evening’s dramatic conclusion.

“And you were yelling for someone near the end,” Reyansh reminded him. “Someone called Lucy or Lucky or something.”

“Luca,” Austin corrected softly. It came out automatically, without thought, as if he had done it before.

Dr. Patel looked over the scant amount of journaling Austin had done. He had ended up mentioning Reyansh’s increasing absence more than once, and he was grateful she didn’t read it aloud.

Finally, Dr. Patel looked up. “I think we should move forward with the hypnosis.”

Austin blinked, surprised. He had expected the recent events to be a setback in their hypnosis plans. “You do?”

“Yes. It sounds like the memories from your past are trying to resurface. It’s best to recover them and process them in a calm, safe environment. Recovering memories through dreams is not optimal. Dreams are colored by our subconscious urges and influences, and lashing out like you did the other night, while unintentional, is still dangerous.”

Austin nodded. She was right. His long-forgotten past was catching up to him at last, and he had a feeling there might be a lot to unpack.

“When do we start?”


It turned out Dr. Taylor, the hypnotherapist, was available in two days’ time. Dr. Patel wanted to get things moving quickly, before Austin had another nightmare. Reyansh had asked if he could be present during the hypnosis, but after Dr. Patel and Taylor had shot down the request, Reyansh refused to accompany Austin. That stung. He knew why Reyansh wouldn’t want to just to sit in the waiting area and read magazines for God knew how long, but it would have been nice, comforting, just to know he was there.

Austin wasn’t sure what he was expecting from a hypnotherapist’s office: maybe sterile white and filled with crystals or something. In fact, Dr. Taylor had a nice office with comfortable chairs and couches, and it smelled warmly of cinnamon and vanilla. It was comfortable, homey. It did nothing to soothe Austin’s nerves; however, he felt trapped by the cozy surroundings, smothered by the warm scent of vanilla.

“Okay, Austin. What we’re going to do is guide you through some relaxation techniques. Then enter into a deep meditation to help unlock some of these memories that have been repressed. You’ll be able to wake up at any time.”

Austin nodded.

“You may not recover any memories, especially early on, so don’t get discouraged.”

Austin found that vaguely comforting. Maybe nothing at all would happen and he could go home, order take-out, and hope Reyansh came home before he went to bed.

He eyed the couch uneasily.

“Do I need to lie down?”

“Not if you don’t want to,” Dr. Taylor reassured him. “All that matters is that you are comfortable. The chair you are sitting in does recline, but you may remain upright if you prefer.”

Austin nodded again. He felt sick. He wished desperately that Reyansh was there, just to hold his hand.

Dr. Taylor dimmed the lights and started a guided meditation, which was familiar territory. It was one of the techniques Dr. Patel had used in an attempt to ease his phobia, with considerably mixed results.

This time, though, it seemed to help. The sick feeling began to ease, and he could feel himself relaxing more and more, just sitting with his eyes closed and following Dr. Taylor’s voice, telling him to breathe, to count back, to sink deeper, relax more. He felt light and empty, but in a pleasant way, not the cold emptiness he had been fighting since his mom died.

It felt like he was in this state for a long time, just pleasantly floating, before Dr. Taylor’s voice started to filter in again. She was directing him down a stairway in his mind. Austin decided he was cool with that. He liked this staircase. It was dark and soothing, but lit with cool blue lights on either side, like the steps in a movie theater. Dr. Taylor was walking him back through his memories. The most recent first, then back through his life, to his very earliest memories. Austin was cool with that, too.

He was almost surprised at how readily his memories flooded his mind, especially since he didn’t seem to be putting a lot of effort behind it. He recalled the blind thrust of panic during his nighttime attack on Reyansh, the cold draft and droning voice of the lawyer reading the will, and the terror of the storms. Earlier memories now: grief yawning up below him while packing up his mother’s belongings, Reyansh working grim-faced next to him. The special hell of the hospital room, watching his mother slowly die as the cancer ate the rest of her life away.


Giddy excitement as he slid the key into the lock of their new apartment, his and Reyansh’s. The soft thunder of his own heart as he saw Reyansh close the distance for their first kiss. Seeing Reyansh watching him and smiling from across the coffee shop. His mom helping him move boxes into the dorm the first day of college, half sobbing and half joking about her baby leaving home.

Memories of high school, graduation, prom, crushes. Cold dread right before coming out to his mom, the sweeping tsunami of relief when she hugged him and told him how much she loved him.


Standing at a funeral, stone-faced while his mom cried, watching an officer fold a flag over Pop-Pop’s coffin. Watching his mom stumbling back into the house after a frightening late-night phone call, the tang of fear on his own tongue. Watching bright shards of sunlight off the water while in a fishing boat with Pop-Pop on those trips where his father claimed to want to “talk” but ended up sitting in companionable silence, waiting for a fish to take the bait.

Back further. Earlier.

His earliest memories, foggy and unclear. Trying to relearn routes around an unfamiliar house, trying to put names to unfamiliar faces, hearing explanations about an unknown accident that caused a fall and a “bump on the head”.

His very earliest memory. Lying in a bed, at eleven years old, staring up at the sun-painted ceiling. A woman in nurses’ scrubs standing next to him, peering down into his face with concern.

Dr. Taylor was telling him to keep going down the staircase. Back further. But there was nothing there, nothing to flow across his memory, just a large blank space.

Dr. Taylor continued to speak, a gentle, pleasant presence in his head.


Except that was wrong. He wasn’t going down stairs. He was going up.


He crept up the stairs, slowly, his hand gliding along the banister. The steps were old and would creak and groan, but Austin had enough expertise sneaking up and down stairs to be able to avoid those potential pitfalls.

His brother’s bedroom door was only open a crack, and Austin breathed a sigh of relief as he moved to his own room, groping around until he found his flashlight, comics, and blanket, then turned back to the stairs. His overburdened hands fumbled with the flashlight, and he dropped it with a barely audible thump on the carpet. Austin’s breath caught, then he released it, feeling silly and giddy. Here he was, sneaking around in the dark in his own home just because his brother was being silly about pot and porn. Like Austin cared about either.

He could smell the pot strongest up here, and he could hear the low murmur of voices from Luca’s room. Curiosity pulled at him. What did Luca and Tyler do up here?

Barely daring to breathe, Austin inched closer to the door. He didn’t want to thinkabout what Luca would do to him if he got caught, but the sense of danger fed his curiosity, charged his desire to discover why Tyler was such a secret.

He crept right up to the crack in the doorway to peer in. Tyler wasn’t visible from Austin’s vantage point, but he could see Luca, sprawled on the bed, naked.


Austin swallowed. Luca had an erection on display, was touching it with light, teasing strokes. Embarrassment flooded through Austin, with another feeling, deep inside his stomach, one he didn’t have the vocabulary to put into conscious thought, but he knew he didn’t like it. The same way he didn’t like the glassy look in his brother’s eyes when he smiled up at the person leaning down to kiss him.

Austin recognized him. The tan skin, the dark hair, the familiar smile.


Austin took a step back, then he was falling, falling, down the stairs, out of his memories, out of reality, out of his mind.


Austin jerked awake, back to reality. He was in Dr. Taylor’s office with both Dr. Taylor and Patel regarding him with expressions of concern. Dr. Patel was saying something he could barely make out over the roaring in his ears.

“Austin, you’re having a panic attack. Take some deep breaths for me, that’s right….”

Austin shook his head. Dr. Taylor was saying something about analyzing what his mind had shown him, and Patel was trying to calm him down, and they didn’t get it, didn’t know what he had seen, what he had remembered. Reyansh. There, in his house, in Luca’s room. In his brother’s room.

The lights in Dr. Taylor’s office were suddenly too bright, too glaringly harsh. The angles of the room were too sharp, the furniture too close. He was suffocating.

Reyansh. Luca. Reyansh. Luca.

Austin staggered up from the chair and raced from the office. He needed to get out, get out, get away. Out, out, out.





When Austin came back to himself, he found himself in his own bedroom, in the house that belonged to his mom and Pop-Pop. Back when his past was still a blank slate, but at least the rest of his life made sense.

His phone buzzed on the ground where he had dropped it. He just sat on his old bed, very still, very careful. Everything felt incredibly fragile, spun glass delicate. If he moved too quickly or in the wrong direction, the world around him would shatter, fly apart at the seams, and he would be lost.

So he sat there as the light in the room transitioned from late afternoon gold to the dusky hue of twilight. It had always been Austin’s favorite time of day, to see the play of colors smeared across the sky and the feeling of how the entire world seemed to hold its breath, savoring the last few seconds of the day, before exhaling and letting the evening dark claim the land.

Austin didn’t see it, still trapped in his silent paralysis of grief and fear. But the encroaching darkness was a type of comfort, quieting his mind and making him feel safe. Safe enough to slowly lean forward and pick up his phone. It buzzed in his hand and, when he unlocked it, he found a handful of calls from Reyansh and many more texts. He guessed Reyansh had reached out when he couldn’t get in touch with Austin because there were also a few calls from Reyansh’s parents, his friend Jake, and, alarmingly, a call from Dr. Patel’s office.

He ignored all of them and texted Reyansh.

How could you?

Reyansh called almost immediately. Austin declined it, then dropped the phone on the bed. He needed distance from this and didn’t think he could handle Reyansh’s voice right now.

A text from Reyansh popped up.

Where are you?

Austin texted back. No.

We need to talk.


Please. I want to explain.

Austin’s stomach seized painfully. This was what he was afraid of, his deepest fear. Reyansh knew. Knew what had happened that night, because he had been there. Knew that Austin knew because he wanted to explain.

Explain. Explain what he had been doing to his brother. Explain what had blocked Austin’s past from his own mind. Explain how he had moved from Luca to him, wormed his way into his life, his heart, his bed.

Austin remembered the first time he had met Reyansh in the coffeeshop, how Austin had looked up from his books and chai to see a handsome stranger watching him. The sweet, shy grin Reyansh had sent him after being caught, giving Austin enough courage to gather up his things and move to the table right next to him.

Had Reyansh tracked him down? Been following him this whole time?

His head was pounding. What had happened? How deeply involved had Reyansh been? Why couldn’t he fucking remember?


Austin woke up in the middle of the night. He didn’t remember falling asleep, but he was cold and curled up on the bed, so he must have dozed off at some point. The last thing he remembered was looking up self-hypnosis videos to see if he could unlock his memories, the way Dr. Taylor had.

He was about to climb underneath the comforter and fall back asleep when he heard something… the barely there creak of a door being carefully opened on well-maintained hinges.

Cold fear flooded his stomach. Someone was in the house.

Austin moved carefully, sliding open the nightstand drawer and feeling to see if the gun was still there. Austin didn’t take the 9mm with him when he moved in with Reyansh, who loathed firearms, but his father had given him one once he turned fifteen and made sure he knew how to use it.

He checked the magazine and got to his feet, creeping towards the door and opening it carefully. Whoever was sneaking around downstairs was being equally careful but didn’t know this house the way Austin did. He could hear movement downstairs and slid the hand holding the gun behind his back as he gently maneuvered his way down the stairs. When he got to the landing, he would be able to see into the living room and kitchen. Nowhere to hide.

Austin took a deep breath, took one more step, and brought the gun out from behind his back.


The intruder, backlit from the faint light of the kitchen, halted.

“Who’s there?” Austin asked, holding the gun in front of him. He was relieved his voice was strong, even though the rest of him felt like it was barely holding on.

“It’s me,” the figure said. Reyansh. He had something in his hands, which were up in a gesture of surrender.

“Drop it,” Austin commanded.

Reyansh didn’t move.


Reyansh released the object, which fell softly on the floor.

Austin stepped closer.

“Are you going to shoot me?” Reyansh asked.

“I don’t know.”

“If you put down the gun, we can talk about this.”

Austin didn’t move, except to glance at the object on the ground. It was a large manila envelope.

“I didn’t hurt your brother,” Reyansh continued.

“Move,” Austin said. “Into the kitchen and keep your hands up.”

Reyansh moved into the kitchen, and Austin moved in behind him, stopping only long enough to pick up the envelope.

Austin directed him to the table. Only once Reyansh was sitting there, his hands resting on the tabletop, did Austin feel comfortable enough to sit across from him and place the gun a judicious distance away from him.

“I know you can overpower me,” Austin noted. “But if you try, I’ll shoot you.”

“This isn’t necessary,” Reyansh said. His voice was calm and even, too much so. “I’m not your enemy; I’m trying to help you.”

Austin's head was spinning with questions.

"How did you find me?"

"Looked," Reyansh said. "When you didn't come home, I checked Dr. Patel's office, the library, your favorite restaurants and coffeeshops, called Linda, Jake and Noelle. This was my last spot before going to the police.”

"Why are you looking for me?"

Reyansh laughed in disbelief, a caustic, bitter sound.

"So my grief-stricken boyfriend wakes up in the middle of the night and starts hitting me with a bat, then goes to a weird hypno thing that I’m not allowed to see, and then completely disappears for hours. And when I finally get in touch with him, he refuses to talk and just sends cryptic-as-hell messages. And you expect me to, what, just sit there? I'm worried about you, you infuriating cretin, and I want to help you. Because I love you. And if sneaking up on me and waving a fucking gun in my face makes you feel safer, then by all means, but I am not the enemy here. I'm not.”

Austin tried to steel himself, to harden his heart against the words he was desperately wanting to be real. “If you’re really not my enemy, then tell me how you knew my brother.”

“I didn’t know him.”

“Don’t lie to me.”

“I’m not!” The angry frustration gave Reyansh’s words a sharp bite, but Austin felt his own anger well up in return to meet it.

“I saw you, Rey,” he snarled, bitterness making the words sharp and brittle. “Dr. Taylor was able to show me some of my past memories, and I saw you, with him. With Luca. You—you were—" The bitterness welled up as bile in his throat, and he had to stop talking before the words choked him.

“You couldn’t have seen me with Luca, because I wasn’t there.” The measured calm in Reyansh’s voice was worse than the sharp anger. “If you tell me what you saw at Dr. Taylor’s office, we can try and make sense of it together.”

“You were there,” Austin insisted. “I saw you.”

“You saw a memory that was induced during a hypnotic state, which makes you more suggestable to outside influences,” Reyansh said.

Austin crossed his arms and raised an eyebrow. “You sound like Dr. Patel.”

“Who I called and talked to when I was looking for you. She couldn’t tell me what happened to you during your session, obviously, but she did tell me some more about hypnosis when I asked. About how sometimes you can remember things differently than what happened.”

“I—” That was something Dr. Patel had warned him about.

“She wants to talk to you when you’re ready, by the way,” Reyansh added.

Austin felt his stomach tighten. Who could he trust? Not Reyansh. Not his own mind and memories. His family was dead. There was no one. No one. He was alone.

“You can’t prove it wasn’t you who hurt Luca,” Austin said.

“Yes, I can,” Reyansh said. He reached down and Austin’s hand automatically inched towards the gun. But all Reyansh did was pull out a set of keys and tossed them to Austin, who caught them one-handed.

“Go out to the car and look in the glove box,” he said. “My passport is in there. Bring it in, please.”

Austin glanced at the keys, then at Reyansh, then at the gun.

“Take it with you, if it makes you feel better,” Reyansh said, nodding towards the gun. “I’m not going to use it.”

Austin took the gun with him, but once he was outside and knew Reyansh couldn’t see, unloaded the magazine. He shoved the gun into his belt, which probably would have driven Pop-Pop nuts if he knew, and opened the car door, retrieving Reyansh’s passport from the glove box. He lingered a little bit, the cool night air feeling welcome on his overly hot face and soothing his overtaxed, overtired mind slightly.

Walking back into the house, he tossed the passport on the table, then poured two glasses of water, setting them on the table with a clunk.

“Start talking.”

Reyansh pulled the passport toward him. “Okay. Luca was killed on the eighth of July, 2011. If you look at my passport, here.” He flipped to a page and held it out for Austin to see. “I was in Mumbai. My friend Rashmi was getting married, and I was there for the wedding.”

Austin took the proffered passport even as icy dread flooded his stomach. “This is an old passport,” he pointed out.

“I keep it for ID purposes,” Reyansh said. Austin studied it and set it down on the table. Reyansh was looking at him expectantly.

“I don’t believe you,” he said.

Reyansh sighed and rolled his eyes. “Why not? I just proved to you I was out of the country.”

“You said Luca was killed on the eighth of July,” Austin reminded him.


“How did you know when he died?” Austin said. “I didn’t tell you. On that note, how did you know he’s dead? I don’t even know that.”

Reyansh paled slightly. “Oh God, baby, I thought you knew. I thought—after the hypnosis—"

“I don’t want to talk about what I know. I want to know how you know this stuff if you weren’t there like you claimed.”

Reyansh pushed the manila envelope across the table in Austin’s direction.

“What is this?” Austin asked.

“It’s—it’s the truth,” Reyansh finally said. “The truth about your past, the stuff you can’t remember. I thought it might help you make sense of whatever you remembered today at the doctor’s office. But I wanted you to be sure you’re ready for it.”

Austin opened the envelope. It was full of papers. Austin upended it, and several items came out onto the table. Most were documents that looked like copies from a newspaper or website, a folded-up letter with his name written on the outside, and what looked like a couple of birth certificates.

“What—” Austin started.

“I would start with the letter,” Reyansh quietly advised.

Austin felt another wave of cold dread at the sight of the folded letter. Trying to stall, he stacked all of the documents together. One of the birth certificates was his own, the other was for someone Austin didn’t know, but it didn’t have Luca’s name on it, so he pushed it aside.

Taking a deep breath to steel himself, Austin unfolded the letter.

My dearest son,

The words blurred almost immediately as he recognized his mother’s handwriting. Austin blinked them away and forced himself to continue.

I love you. More than anything else, I want you to know that. I love you more than you can possibly know, and even if you can’t forgive us for what we did, please know our love for you was genuine and never wavering.

You came from a rough background. Everyone knew Pete was abusing his kids. Your father got called out there so many times, but Pete was so good at slithering out of trouble, and his family was too scared to say a word against him.

When the house caught on fire, your father was sure Pete was behind it. One of his drug deals had gone wrong, or maybe an insurance ploy. He either didn’t check or didn’t care enough to make sure the house was empty.

We’re not sure how you got out, but your father found you in the woods. He had a choice to make. Return you to a broken home or foster care.

Or take you in as our own.

Austin felt his breath catch in his chest. The world narrowed alarmingly around him, and he gripped the table tightly, letting the sensation of the wood biting into his hand ground him. His face felt hot, his skin overly tight. He clenched his jaw and continued to read.

You were injured, so that was our first priority. When you recovered from your head trauma and couldn’t remember anything about your former family, we took it as a sign. Your dad quit the force to go into private security, used some of his connections to forge some documents, and we moved. So you would be safe and raised by two parents who loved you more than you could ever know.

“I—I—” Austin tried to talk. “I think I—”

The next thing he remembered was staring at the floor. Reyansh had a strong hand on his back, pushing his head between his knees. He didn’t even remember seeing Reyansh move.

“Breathe, baby, breathe,” Reyansh was telling him. Austin sucked in a breath, then another. The black spots dancing at the corners of his eyes cleared, and he felt the world steady underneath him.

“I’m okay,” he said, straightening back up. Reyansh’s hand remained on his back, rubbing in soothing circles.

“No, you’re not,” Reyansh said. “Who would be?”

Austin turned back to the letter but couldn’t stand to look at it again. Not right now.

“I—I don’t understand.”

Reyansh sat down next to him. “I can fill in the blanks if you want.”


“Well, I found the letter and the birth certificates in the safe-deposit box your mom left you. I was puzzled by the birth certificates, so I read the letter.”

“And you didn’t tell me?!”

“No. I was as stunned as you. So I decided to wait a little bit. You were still so distraught over your mom, and I didn’t want to add this on top of that. So I looked into things. There was a family with two sons, you and your brother Luca, with a father who had an unfortunate drug habit and many run-ins with the law. There was a…a fire one night, at the house. The parents were gone, but the two sons were at home. There were a few…remains and it was thought that you and Luca died in the fire. The police thought your dad might have set it on purpose, for the life insurance policies on you and your brother. He was arrested, but there wasn’t enough evidence to make anything stick. As far as I can tell from the letter, the couple you lived with for the past ten or so years, found you as you escaped from the fire and…um…kidnapped you.”

Austin sat there for a moment, then rested his head in his hands and started to chuckle.

There was a moment of uncomfortable silence from Reyansh before he spoke again. “Share the joke?”

“It’s just…it’s so fucking ridiculous,” Austin managed. “My life is a fucking soap opera.” He started to laugh harder. “Like…my parents die, and it turns out they kidnapped me after something happened that I can’t even remember. I mean, how dumb is that?” He was laughing too hard to speak now, doubled over with it. He could taste frenzied panic and tears behind the laughter, but he let it carry him past that. It eventually trailed off, and he pressed the back of his hands to his eyes. “I…I can’t. This can’t be me; this can’t be my life.”

“I shouldn’t have let you find out this way,” Reyansh said. “I—I just thought waiting would be better. Until things had stabilized. And then when you went to hypnosis, I thought…maybe….”

“I had remembered, and you didn’t need to tell me?” Austin snapped.

Reyansh looked down. Austin made a disgusted sound and got up from his chair. He didn’t want to be near him right now.

“So…my brother died, and my parents kidnapped me, something happened to delete my memories of my old life, then Pop-Pop goes, Mom goes, and you withhold vital pieces of my past from me. Have I got all that right?” Austin whirled to face him. “And after all that, you want me to trust you?”

“Are you angry at me or your parents?”

“I’m pissed at all of you!” Austin shouted. He stalked to the doorway of the kitchen, staring out at the living room. At the house he thought had been theirs. His and his mother and Pop-Pop. A lie. All of it, a lie.

He could hear the scrape of a chair, the soft patter of footsteps approaching, but when Reyansh put a gentle hand on his shoulder, he still shrugged it off. His anger was draining away, like it always did, leaving the cold numbness behind. He willed it back, wanting the heat of it, the sharpness that helped clear his mind behind the harsh redness as it tore through him.

“How could you keep this from me?” he asked, partly to Reyansh, and partly to the parents who couldn’t answer him anymore.

“I’m sorry baby. I’m so sorry.”

“Is that why you were gone so often?” Austin asked. “Because of this?”

“Yes,” Reyansh said. “I wanted to get as much information as possible before I came to you about it.”

Austin turned and ran his hands through his hair. A headache was beginning to pound at both temples.

He walked back to the table. He was going to need some coffee.

* * * 

“Nicolas,” Austin said, looking at the birth certificates. They were nearly a perfect match, identical except for the names. “Nicolas Rua.” He paused for a moment to wait for something to click into place, or some kind of tingle across his memory. But there was nothing. It was like saying the name of a stranger.

“Fucking stupid name,” he decided, tossing the birth certificate aside.

“You don’t have to use it,” Reyansh pointed out. He had his forehead resting in his fist. Austin knew he was tired, had to be exhausted, but any sympathy was buried underneath curiosity and no small amount of vicious pettiness.

Austin looked through the articles Reyansh had printed out. Most of them said the same thing and supported the story Reyansh and his used-to-be-mother told him in her letter. Luca and Nicolas were left at home; someone started a fire, and the police arrested his father, Peter. There was nothing to tie Peter to the fire, so he was released but died a few days later after being shot, execution style. It all fit so nicely. Too nicely.

And none of it gelled with what Austin had managed to glean from his dreams and his hypnotherapy session. He had decided to trust Reyansh’s insistence that he wasn’t there—for now. He had checked with the dates in the news reports and compared them to Reyansh’s passport, which did confirm he was in India at the time. And Dr. Patel had warned him about false memories with hypnosis. And while it was certainly possible to fake birth certificates, he didn’t see any reason for Reyansh to have a fake passport.

There had been someone there that night, though. Someone who wasn’t supposed to be. Someone secret.

None of the news stories or Reyansh’s accounts mentioned that, and Austin decided to keep it to himself until he could figure out what it all meant. Everyone else was keeping secrets; why shouldn’t he have one?

He glanced up again. Reyansh was literally starting to nod off.

“Why don’t you go to bed?” Austin suggested, with a solicitousness he didn’t feel.


“You’re falling asleep at the table.”

Reyansh rubbed his knuckles against his closed eyes. It was quite adorable, and Austin felt a smile he didn’t want, pulling at the corners of his mouth.

“Go sleep in my room,” Austin told him. “At the top of the stairs, you remember.”

“I don’t want to take your bed. I can sleep on the couch.”

“Take the bed. I want to look at this stuff for a little longer, and the light will keep you up if you take the couch. I’ll sleep on the couch when I’m done in here.” Austin hoped his voice was as casual as he needed it to be. Either he succeeded, or Reyansh was too tired to notice, as he acquiesced and made his way up the stairs. Austin, well acquainted with the sounds of the house, waited until he could hear Reyansh moving around upstairs before reaching for his phone.

He tapped in the address listed in the articles and saw the location was about a six hour drive from where he sat. Only six hours. He checked the time. It was deep into the night, almost morning, but he was wired from coffee and still primed with suppressed anger and bitterness. He was done with waiting for other people to tell him about his past when they felt like it.

He gathered up the documents and waited for the sounds from his bedroom to slow, then stop all together. He brewed another pot of coffee, poured it in a travel mug, then, moving as quietly as he could, pulled Reyansh’s keys back out of his pocket and left the house.


A few hours later, Austin was able to admit driving six hours on only a few hours of sleep was probably not the best idea he ever had. His eyes ached in his sockets, and his mind kept drifting an alarming amount of the time. Loud music, caffeine, and the AC had helped some, but as the monotony of highway miles slipped by, he could feel the fatigue pressing down on his mind and body. His ears were starting to ring, and he was having trouble coming up with a plan for when he reached his destination, instead just blankly following instructions from his phone telling him when to turn or which exit to take.

He jerked back to full attention when his car drifted over the rumble strips on the side of the road. He eased back into his lane.

I need sleep, he thought, feeling dazed. Before I have an accident.

He was still a full hour from his destination but found a Sleep Inn off the next exit. Perfect.

He checked in and was led to a nice, quiet, cool room. He didn’t look at anything but the bed waiting for him as he stripped down to his boxers and fell into it.


Austin found himself sitting at the kitchen table at his parents’ house. There were no papers with the ugly truth of his past laid out before him, just an empty table and the knowledge that Reyansh was upstairs, sleeping in his old bed.

Austin wanted to join him, lie down with him, feel warm skin and hear steady breathing against his own chest.

He got up from the table. The room around him darkened to gray as he crossed it towards the stairs, and thunder rumbled warningly as he took the first step.


He was inching down the hall towards his brother’s room, peering in through the cracked door. Luca was sprawled on his back, naked and aroused. A man, not Reyansh, but someone with long, brown hair, pale skin, and a small scar pulling at the corner of his mouth as he smiled, was bending over him.

Tyler was shirtless and leaned down to kiss Luca before tipping a bright blue pill into Luca’s mouth and kissing him again.

Mouth dry, Austin took a step back, but his foot landed on the fallen flashlight, which rolled underneath his foot. Austin lost his balance and landed on his backside, hard.

There was no way the other two couldn’t hear it.

Austin glanced up in time to see Tyler whip his head around to face him. A short lifetime of reading his father’s mood warned of danger in Tyler’s narrowed eyes, hard lines, and the snarl already curling his mouth.

Luca was floundering up from the bed, as Tyler slammed the door the rest of the way open but seemed to have trouble coordinating his limbs into fluid movements.

“Tyler—” he slurred. “It’s okay, he won’t—”

“Shut up!” Tyler snapped, not taking his eyes off Austin. “You fucking perv; I’m gonna gouge out your fucking eyes—”

“Tyler!” Luca had managed to free himself from the bed and grabbed Tyler’s arm. Tyler flung him off violently, pushing him back into the interior of the room. Luca stumbled and seemed to fall in slow motion, his head making a horrible sound as it struck the edge of the dresser, like wet meat hitting linoleum. He collapsed on the floor, leaving a dark stain behind.

Seeing his brother unconscious, possibly dead, galvanized Austin more than Tyler’s anger, and he was on his feet and racing down the stairs before his mind even caught up. Tyler’s roar of rage and thundering footsteps followed him out into the teeth of the storm.


Bang! Bang! Bang!

Austin awakened with a gasp. The room was full of murky sunlight trying to creep past the drawn curtains. Austin rubbed his eyes with his forearm, yawned, and rolled onto his side to check the clock.


Shit! He had only meant to catch a few hours rest, not sleep the entire day away. No wonder he felt so rested.

The pounding at the door came again, aggressive and insistent. Getting up and ignoring his growling stomach and aching bladder, Austin shuffled across the room and had just enough presence of mind to check the peephole to confirm it was Reyansh on the other side before opening it.

His boyfriend looked…ragged. Exhausted shadows smudged his eyes, and Austin could see concern in his eyes and frustration in the lines of his face.

“Hey, numbskull.”

Reyansh didn’t return the endearment but pushed his way into the room. He gripped Austin’s arms, almost hard enough to hurt, but not quite, and his hands were trembling like he wanted to shake Austin, but he didn’t do that either.

“What the fuck, Austin?” His words were slow and measured.

“I was just—”

“No. Austin, you lied to me. Stole my company car. Drove out to bumfuck West Virginia on nearly no sleep. Do you have any idea what could have happened? You could have fallen asleep at the wheel, had an accident. Could have hurt yourself, killed yourself, or someone else.” Reyansh released him to take a few steps away, rubbing his forehead. “Jesus, Austin, why didn’t you just…ask me, if you wanted to come to…well, whatever this place is.”

“I wanted to see the place where I used to live,” Austin said. Reyansh’s rebuke hit him hard, mostly because it was all true, and it made him feel defensive. “How did you find me?”

“You neglected to turn the GPS off, cretin. And don’t change the subject. If you wanted to come here, fine. Why did you think I would have a problem with it?”

I can’t trust you yet. That was the reason, but Austin couldn’t bring himself to fling the ugly accusation at Reyansh. Not after everything that had already happened.

“So, what? This was your way of punishing me? Or were you trying to even the scales? I lie to you, so you lie to me?” Reyansh continued.

“No!” Austin snapped. “I want the truth.”

“I told you the truth.”

“No, you didn’t. You told me what you thought was the truth. What everyone thinks is the truth.”

“Austin….” Reyansh sounded completely defeated.

“Look,” Austin said. “Let me shower real quick and then we can get some breakfast and figure this out. But I’m going to my old home, with or without you.”

“I’m not letting you out of my sight,” Reyansh said, sitting down on the bed.


Reyansh was as good as his word, waiting for Austin when he emerged half an hour later, and driving them both to the Waffle House. Tucked into a corner booth of cracked linoleum, Austin ordered waffles and Reyansh only asked for coffee.

“Did you sleep at all?” Austin asked.

“About five hours or so,” Reyansh said. “Woke up, found you gone, panicked a little bit, got a rental and came up here.”

“Sorry,” Austin said.

The waitress stopped by to deliver their food, and Austin spent a few seconds gleefully drowning his waffles in sweet, sticky syrup.

“That’s revolting,” Reyansh said.

Austin ignored him and stuffed a fluffy forkful into his mouth. This felt so close to normal that he almost missed the way things were, when his past was a messy unknown but his relationship with his boyfriend had been warm and solid. Now as his past became more and more clear by degrees, his relationship with Reyansh was growing more and more strained. Austin took a minute to reflect and see if he would be okay letting everything go, to return to his life of school and dating and the terrifying menace behind storms tormenting him for the rest of his life. Let the rest of his past die here, with him only knowing what he knew now.

No. At one time, he might have been okay with that option, but not now. Not knowing what he knew, not having gone this far.

“I’ve been dreaming of my past,” Austin started. “I think what I’m seeing is the night of the accident. And what I’m seeing is not what you or the papers describe.” Austin, between bolstering bites of his waffles, laid out what he knew so far.

“So…just to make sure I understand,” Reyansh said, about twenty minutes later. He was on his second cup of coffee, and Austin’s empty plate had been cleared away. “You think Tyler killed Luca and set the fire to cover it up?”


“And not your dad?”

“I mean, I guess he might have helped Tyler with the fire if he had known, but I doubt it. Luca was clearly keeping Tyler a secret from our dad, so I’m not sure if he knew.”

“Do you think Luca had other boyfriends?”

“I don’t know. And I don’t even know if Tyler was a boyfriend. Luca might have been…uh…prostituting himself, for drugs or money. I know Tyler was giving him pot and pills.”

“And you’re sure Tyler killed him?”

“I’m not sure of anything, that’s the point,” Austin snapped. “That’s why I want to see. But yeah, I do think Tyler killed him. I knew Luca was hurt when I left; he had hit his head after Tyler pushed him.”

Reyansh pressed his fingertips to his eyes and took another drink of coffee. Finally, he looked at Austin. “Goddamn, cretin. Your family….”

“Which one?” Austin asked dryly.

“It makes sense, a little bit, why your mom and Pop-Pop wanted you out of that environment. Seeing what your biological parents were wrapped up in, seeing what it did to your older brother…they must have really cared about you.”

“Enough to kidnap and lie to me, you mean. Not to mention whatever head trauma they left untreated for years. Remember the letter my ‘mom’ wrote me? They took it as a ‘sign’. Like it was just a nice little bonus.” Austin felt the bitterness welling up in his throat again.

Reyansh was still watching him, and Austin felt himself growing defensive. He was already feeling embarrassed at his outburst. “What?” he snapped.

“How about this?” Reyansh said. “We go to your old house. Together. But after that, you come back home and talk to Dr. Patel. Deal?”

Austin relaxed slightly. So Reyansh wasn’t going to try to keep him away. “That’s fair,” he managed. “Let’s go.”


Reyansh insisted on driving, even though they both knew Austin was better rested. Austin didn’t argue but did tentatively reach for Reyansh’s hand and was comforted when his boyfriend took it and gave it a gentle squeeze, a silent reassurance.

The miles slipped by quietly, spotted with mountains, trees, and small towns. The sinking sun traced the scenery in brilliant gold that made his eyes ache with its intensity.

The scenery gradually changed, became less mountains and more factories, rough streets, and small houses. When Reyansh pulled up to the address, there was no house, just an empty plot of land. There were plenty of other houses clustered on the street, mostly small and poorly maintained. There was a definite vibe of poverty in the area.

Austin felt his heart sink but went ahead and got out of the car. The wind was starting to pick up, fluttering his hair. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Reyansh pop up the collar of his jacket.

“What do you think?” Reyansh asked, leaning back against the car.

Austin didn’t answer, but walked into the empty lot, looking around. There was a heavy line of trees right behind the houses but little in the way of yards and no distinction between the clumps of weeds where the house would have stood and the clumps of weeds that would have made up the scant yard. He turned in place, trying to figure out the layout of the house, where the living room would be, the kitchen, his room. Luca’s room. He closed his eyes, trying to remember, but all he could picture was the staircase, that dark hallway.

He felt the cold kiss of rain on his shoulder and cheek. He opened his eyes to see Reyansh rummaging in the car, pulling out an umbrella and a raincoat.

He took the proffered coat when Reyansh approached, pulling the hood up.

“Maybe we should go,” Reyansh offered hesitantly. “It’s going to be a big storm, and I didn’t bring any of your things with me.”

Austin shook his head. His heart was racing, and his legs were trembling, but it was different. Still fear, but charged somehow, in a way it hadn’t been before.

A white-hot blade of lightning cut the sky, followed by a growl of thunder that rumbled through the air, through his chest, curling around the panic beginning to awaken in there.

Run run run.

His feet moved, but not towards Reyansh or the car, the promise of a quick escape. His body sang with adrenaline, and as his mind whited out with another flash of lightning, his feet carried him through the vacant lot and into the woods beyond. Cold rain peppered his face, and he could hear the alarm in Reyansh’s voice calling after him, but his body was in charge now, taking him somewhere…somewhere safe.

A hand on his wrist, pulling. “C’mon Nico, you don’t want to be there when that Circelli fucker shows up. The way he looks at you, ugh.”

Luca. Luca, bringing him out here, out to the woods where it was safe. To the oak.

His feet pounded against the gently yielding ground, slipped over damp leaves.

Tyler’s footsteps and yelling grew fainter but were still too close as he burst into the trees after him.

C’mon, Nico.

Running. Running.

Rough bark under his hands as he grabbed a tree branch.

Thunder and footsteps and his brother’s phantom voice melded together in the back of his mind, and all he knew to do was run.



He was running as the storm lashed around him. The rain and flashbulb pops against the dark were disorienting, but he knew the way. Luca had taken him out here so many times. He just had to find the oak.

Austin’s body knew when he reached the place. His feet slowed, and he was able to finally catch his breath and look around. He was in a small clearing in the middle of the heavy foliage. An old gnarled tree, the oak, stretched up into the sky, standing sentinel against the storm raging around him.

This was safe.

Climbing the oak required a running start and a jump to reach the lowest branch, but Austin had done it so often it was easy by now. The tree felt as familiar as his own limbs as he climbed.

There were rapid footsteps behind him, and Austin turned to see Reyansh barreling down on him, not stopping or even slowing down, until he plowed right into Austin, knocking them both down onto the damp ground.

Austin felt a tumult of emotions as he fell, mostly confusion and shock, but there was a little bit of fear and an underpinning of desire as he felt Reyansh’s weight on top of him, the familiar sensation sending a small shiver of warmth through him even as water and mud dampened his clothes and turned them into a cold, clammy, second skin against his back.

“Hey,” he finally said. Reyansh was holding Austin’s hands against his chest and was regarding him with worried eyes.

“Are you with me, cretin?” Reyansh asked.

“Yeah. Care to explain why I’ve got mud trickling down the back of my pants right now?”

Reyansh released his hands and helped him back to his feet. “It looked like you were freaked out about the storm and ran away. I didn’t know if you were having something similar to the dream you had a few nights ago.”

God, that feels like ages ago, Austin thought. “No, I just…got scared.”

“And ran away into the woods, instead of getting into the car, which would have been safer.”

“I—I think maybe I had a kind of…flashback,” Austin admitted. “Something drove me here. But it wasn’t like the other night, when I didn’t know who you were or where I was. I just…I knew this was a safe place. Luca used to take me here when we needed to leave the house.”

“Well, it’s not safe right now.”

“I know. I know.” Austin stared up at the oak. “I think this is where—where I went. When Tyler was chasing me. That letter, my mom said Pop-Pop found me in the woods, right?”

“I think so.”

“I ran out here. And—and I climbed this tree.”

“Do you remember it?”

“I remember running. And Tyler following. I might have been able to lose him if he didn’t know the way. But I knew how to climb, and I remember this tree. I was up in the tree, and something made me fall; that’s how I hit my head. Maybe the lightning hit somewhere nearby and scared me. Or maybe I just climbed too far and lost my balance. I don’t think Tyler was here when that happened, though, or he would have just killed me like he did my brother.”

Austin was surprised at how his voice caught. It was just another dead end. No more answers. Why should he care?

But all he could think about was Luca. Trying to protect him from his dad, from Tyler, from everything in their goddamn world that had wanted to hurt him. He had died trying to protect him. And now, Austin could barely even remember him.

Austin didn’t remember starting to cry, didn’t remember Reyansh coming forward, just knew that he was all of a sudden sobbing into Reyansh’s shoulder, mourning his mother, a brother he barely knew, and a past he couldn’t remember.

 * * * 

Austin sighed from his place on the bed. Reyansh glanced over.

“Don’t do that,” Reyansh said.

"Do what?”

“That. The ‘puppy who just got kicked’ look.”

Austin couldn’t help it. He felt like a puppy who just got kicked.

He had agreed to most of what Reyansh laid out after the impromptu trip to West Virginia in an attempt to heal their fractured relationship. First, he was not to steal Reyansh’s company car again. Easy. Second, he was to attend regular, frequent sessions with Dr. Patel to help “process his trauma”, as she had called it. That was not as easy. He had even gone, after much arguing with Patel and Reyansh, to see a psychiatrist who prescribed him anti-anxiety medication and a mood stabilizer. Pure resentment kept him from admitting how much it was helping. Austin was still nervous when it stormed, but he was past the point where he had a full-on meltdown. Reyansh had surprised him by commissioning a photograph of the oak, blowing it up and framing it for him. They had hung it in the living room. It would just look like a piece of artwork to anyone else, but he and Reyansh knew why it was there. Another secret, just between the two of them, but a happy one this time. One that made him feel safe and grounded.

The third had been relationship counseling, which was where this entire fuck-up happened. Austin had been horrified to hear how dysfunctional their relationship had become. Austin knew he was at fault for some of it. He had lashed out at Reyansh. Had stolen his car and left in retaliation for Reyansh lying to him about his past. Had been taking and taking from his boyfriend without giving anything in return or utilizing other resources.

So, he just sat and watched in heart-broken silence as Reyansh finished packing his suitcase and toiletries bag. He couldn’t believe this was happening. Not even a month out from the revelation about his past, and his life was in shambles again.

“Can’t you just…not go?” Austin’s voice cracked a little, and he quickly swallowed, tried to steady himself. “Please. Let’s talk about it more.”

Reyansh sighed. “The counselor says we need the distance, and Patel agrees. And I don’t think they’re wrong. We weren’t doing well before.”

“I can’t believe you’re leaving me.”

“I’m not.” Reyansh turned to face him, kneeling down so he was at eye level with Austin. “I’m not leaving you. This isn’t a breakup. It’s not even a break. Look at me, baby, this is important.”

Looking at Reyansh’s open, earnest face made the pain he was feeling that much worse, but he forced his eyes up, met Reyansh’s warm, dark brown gaze with his own.

“I love you like crazy, and I think you’re amazing.” Reyansh said. Austin opened his mouth to argue, but Reyansh plowed on ahead. “You are. You’ve gone through absolute hell, more than once, and came out the other side. I’m not sure if I could have handled it as well as you. And I need to be an awesome boyfriend for you. But I need space to do that. I need to work on trusting you. I need to trust you to be able to stand on your own. I need to trust you to be able to take care of yourself and tell me when you need help but not do things for you because I think you can’t handle it. I love you and want to make things easier for you, but I can’t do that by keeping things from you. It made you distrust me, and maybe if I had been open and honest with you, you wouldn’t have seen me in your memories instead of Tyler. So that’s what we need to do. Trust each other and build on that. Otherwise we can become—"

“Codependent. I know.”

“Then you know why we need some space. You have your own work too.”

“I know.” Austin had to work on finding other support systems aside from Reyansh. As part of his “homework” from Dr. Patel, he had made plans for a study group with his classmates that evening and was spending the next evening with his friends Jake and Linda for a board game night. At one time, he would have looked forward to those things. Now, there was just a heavy sense of dread.

“And remember, I’m going to be over at Dev’s place. Just a phone call away. And you have Dr. Patel’s number in case of crisis. And I’ll be seeing you on Saturday for a date night,” Reyansh told him. “I’ll take you out and wine you and dine you and win you over with my awesome Elvis impersonation.”

Austin covered his eyes with his hands. “Baby, not the Elvis thing. It was bad enough the first time you did it.”

“Thank you, thank you very much.”


“I’m a hunka hunk of burning love.”

“Baby, no.”

Reyansh chuckled, then moved in for a hug, wrapping his arms around Austin’s ribs and resting his head on his chest. “I love you.”

Austin hugged him back, briefly pressing his lips against Reyansh’s hair, breathing him in. “I miss you already.”

“I know. I know.”


Saturday night, Austin sat at their restaurant, waiting for Reyansh to arrive. They had agreed on the restaurant Reyansh took Austin to on their first date. He felt butterflies, which he secretly thought was ridiculous, because it was Reyansh, but he still liked the excited flutter.

The few days until their date had passed quicker than Austin expected. The study group had thrown into sharp relief exactly how behind Austin was in his schoolwork, from frequently skipping classes to not studying or doing assignments in general, and he was working hard to catch back up. His friends, Linda and Jake, had been so pleased to see him for their game night that he felt guilty for neglecting them for so long and ended up staying much later than he planned on, and he had already committed to another game night the following week.

Luca’s ghost still haunted his memories, mostly at night or when it stormed, but even that was more bearable, held at bay by warm memories of Reyansh, his friends, and the gentle rhythm of his life he was slowly rejoining. He still had the occasional random memory resurface, but they were mostly an unpleasant recollection of an abusive childhood, so he wasn’t in a hurry to uncover the rest of them.

As Reyansh entered the restaurant, smiled and headed over towards their table, Austin found himself smiling back as he stood to greet him.

“Hey, cretin,” Reyansh greeted.

“Hey, numbskull,” Austin countered, pulling his boyfriend down for a kiss.

He was going to make it. They were going to make it. He knew it now.


Copyright © 2020 CassieQ; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
2020 - Spring - The Storm Entry
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Cool story a lot of confusion and a lot of questions but it was really good thank you 

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4 hours ago, Nana Atuwa said:

Cool story a lot of confusion and a lot of questions but it was really good thank you 

Thank you.  It was written to be somewhat confusing, so I'm glad it came across as so.  Thank you for commeting, I'm really glad that you enjoyed it.

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oh wow

just wow - it'll take time and likely a few re-reads for me to digest

thank you for sharing such a challenging tale

i hope you are well, healthy, safe and loved


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1 hour ago, NoSkis said:

oh wow

just wow - it'll take time and likely a few re-reads for me to digest

thank you for sharing such a challenging tale

i hope you are well, healthy, safe and loved


Thank you so much.  This was a story that was very challenging to write, so hearing comments like this really means a lot to me.  I hope you are well, healthy, safe and loved as well.  :hug:

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Loved the way you allowed the suspense to build up and unraveled the mistery just as slowly. Next, we need a detective story tracking down Tyler who ends up with A 9mm hole between the eyes. Thanks, Cassie. I enjoyed it.

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5 hours ago, Carlos Hazday said:

Loved the way you allowed the suspense to build up and unraveled the mistery just as slowly. Next, we need a detective story tracking down Tyler who ends up with A 9mm hole between the eyes. Thanks, Cassie. I enjoyed it.

Thank you for the comments.  I'm glad you enjoyed the story.  For once, I think we agree on something...Tyler is someone who deserves a messy end.  Thanks again!

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Reyansh is an absolute saint in this story. I know you show us how deeply he loves Austin, and there is that old adage that true love conquers all, but his love and loyalty and caring for Austin went above and beyond. Austin does acknowledge this in the end, by agreeing to Reyansh’s terms, and in the line “... had been taking and taking from his boyfriend without giving anything in return...” 

I know this was Austin’s story, finding out about his true origins and the source of his nightmares after the death of his mother, and I do really feel for his plight, but even with so much trauma, the self-obsession soon begins to rankle. So with you ending the story with Reyansh insisting on taking time away from their relationship made perfect sense to me. 

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22 hours ago, lomax61 said:

Reyansh is an absolute saint in this story. I know you show us how deeply he loves Austin, and there is that old adage that true love conquers all, but his love and loyalty and caring for Austin went above and beyond. Austin does acknowledge this in the end, by agreeing to Reyansh’s terms, and in the line “... had been taking and taking from his boyfriend without giving anything in return...” 

I know this was Austin’s story, finding out about his true origins and the source of his nightmares after the death of his mother, and I do really feel for his plight, but even with so much trauma, the self-obsession soon begins to rankle. So with you ending the story with Reyansh insisting on taking time away from their relationship made perfect sense to me. 

Reyansh wasn't perfect, but his patience with Austin is definitely laudable.  Grief can take a strong toll on a relationship and Reyansh was a rock for Austin when he needed him.  I agree that both of them needed time apart to recenter themselves and the boundaries of their recovering relationship.  

Thank you so much for commenting!  

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I enjoyed this story very much. It was so well done. 
I liked that Reyansh didn’t feel like he had to break up completely withy Austin, and that the time apart was what they both needed to heal and be better to and for each other. That showed so well who Reyansh is. (Make sense?) Austin is a lucky guy. 
Thank you, Cassie. 

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On 6/23/2020 at 11:11 AM, Defiance19 said:

I enjoyed this story very much. It was so well done. 
I liked that Reyansh didn’t feel like he had to break up completely withy Austin, and that the time apart was what they both needed to heal and be better to and for each other. That showed so well who Reyansh is. (Make sense?) Austin is a lucky guy. 
Thank you, Cassie. 

Thank you.  Your comment about Reyansh made sense and was spot on.  I didn't want to break them up, but they couldn't keep going like they had been.  Reyansh is smart enough to recognize they need space, and loves his boyfriend enough to make that happen.  Thank you for reading and commenting!

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On 6/23/2020 at 12:30 PM, Parker Owens said:

Not a neat and tidy story, but one as ragged as a nasty storm. Well done!

Thank you.  I do like neat and tidy stories, so writing one that was as turbulent as Austin's was a challenge.  Thank you for commenting!

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