The farmhouse was scarred by age. Yellow paint had peeled off in huge chunks across the front of the house. One of the shutters was missing and another hung from a corner. There was a head-sized hole in the bottom of the screen door. His father's green pickup was conspicuously absent, its lack dispelling a large portion of Brian's nervousness.
He parked in the grass near the front door and left the keys in the ignition, just in case. No one answered when he knocked. The door was unlocked. As soon as he stepped into the front hallway, he knew that his mother was gone. All the feminine touches that had once graced the entranceway were missing. There were only men's coats hanging by the door, only men's shoes. The antique vase her grandmother had left her was absent from the small table halfway down the hall. There were only discolored patches on the brown and green floral wallpaper where pictures of distant relatives in dollar store frames used to hang. There were no cat toys piled by the door, tossed aside before the cat could take them outside with him.
His hand lingered on the doorframe, clinging to the vestiges of the outside world. Memories he'd spent years burying resurfaced. It was like he'd never left, like the past decade had been erased. Suddenly the hallway seemed too small. The very air inside the house was suffocating and he turned, started to walk out to the porch to catch his breath.
Footsteps on the stairs stopped him. They pounded down fast, then slowed halfway as a vaguely familiar face appeared. The boy on the stairs was in his late teens, with messy sandy blonde hair and an athlete's build. He wore an old red tank top that was stained in several places and a pair of black shorts. He came to a stop a few steps from the bottom and stared at Brian with a confused expression.
Brian turned in the doorway, one foot out of the house. "Hi."
"Hi," the boy answered, his voice tinged with confusion. He looked so familiar. It was in the shape of his face and the color of his eyes, eyes the same blue as Brian's own.
The boy frowned. He took another step down the stairs. His mouth opened, then closed, and he stared hard at Brian. "You're Brian, aren't you? The real one?"
Brian's mouth fell open but no words came out. Real one? "I... what?" In the sudden silence he could hear the distinct rumble of a vehicle approaching. Brian swallowed and stepped out onto the porch. "I should go."
"Wait." Daniel jumped the remaining steps but Brian was already out the door. He'd always been the faster one. He'd almost made it to the car door by the time the hood of a green pickup peeked through the trees.
Brian froze. His hand curled around the door handle, clutching it so hard his knuckles turned white.
"Brian, wait. You can't leave. Not yet."
He could hear Daniel running down the porch steps but it sounded distant, like the rumble of far off thunder signaling an approaching storm. The pickup drew closer. He imagined how angry his father would be to see him here. He could almost see the rage on the man's face, could almost hear the shouted obscenities his father would hurl at him. But it wasn't his father behind the steering wheel. As the truck turned to pull into the garage he saw himself driving the truck.
"Brian." He flinched as Daniel grabbed his arm. "I can explain."
The truck door opened and shut. A man who looked exactly like him stepped out of the truck. He recognized the man's clothes as things that belonged to his father. Daniel tugged on his arm, trying to pull him back towards the house but he remained fastened to the car.
"Brian, come back inside. I'll explain everything."
A wide smile stretched across the man's face. It reminded him of the look his friend Cathy got when she'd scored a prize bit of gossip and wouldn't share. The man moved with fluid grace. He exuded confidence, something Brian rarely experienced.
"No need," the stranger said. "He knows who I am."
Brian shook his head. His mouth refused to work. Despite his certainty that he'd never seen this man before, never even seen himself look so sure and suave, there was a vague familiarity, like when he'd first seen Daniel.
The stranger cocked his head and regarded Brian with an amused look. "Maybe not. He will in time. Until then, would you please come inside?" He gestured grandly towards the house.
"Who are you?"
The stranger's smile widened a fraction. "An old friend."
"I don't have any friends who look like me."
"We used to play in the woods together." For a second, the stranger's voice changed. It sounded different, higher, more lyrical. There was something about it that seemed familiar. But he'd never had many friends when he was a kid, and none of them had ever come to his house. Every time he'd played in the woods, he'd been alone.
It was too much, too weird. He'd been riding a rollercoaster of nerves for the last three days, ever since he'd made the stupid decision to come out here, all based on needless worry. He'd barely slept, only ate a fraction of what he should have. He still expected his father to show up any second. He'd found his brother, found him alive, and that'd been all he'd wanted out of this visit. He could leave now, and forget about the strange man who wore his face and why he was driving his father's pickup and wearing his father's clothes.
The stranger's hand closed over Brian's, uncoiling it from around the door handle. "Stay," he whispered into Brian's ear. He shivered as the stranger's warm breath ghosted against his ear and he relaxed, just a fraction.
The stranger's hand brushed against Brian's hip as he pulled away. Brian's thoughts flashed briefly to his boyfriend back in the city. He'd left with little explanation, just said he needed to see his family and that he'd be back in a week. The stranger stayed close behind him as they walked back into the house. Daniel led them down the hall and into the kitchen. They still had the same metal table that he remembered from when he was a kid. It was barely larger than a fold-out card table and glazed over the top with an ugly orange and yellow floral print. The metal chairs scraped against the floor as they were pulled out one by one. Brian dropped heavily into the one facing the door. Daniel and the stranger flanked him.
There was a bright shimmer and a faint ripple in the air. The stranger's appearance wavered, then changed, and in his place suddenly stood a tall, pale man with long red hair. Eyes the color of sunlight regarded Brian. "There. Much better." Even his voice was different, like the one he'd used briefly earlier. His voice matched with the graceful way he'd moved, but there was an unnatural quality to it that matched his strange appeared. "Call me Lyn."
He stared at Lyn. "What are you?"
Daniel fidgeted in his seat, then stood and opened the refrigerator. "Do you want anything? Coke?"
Lyn smiled at him and said nothing. Silence stretched for several minutes. Daniel kept looking into the fridge but he made no move to shut the door. Brian was the first to look away. "Sure."
Daniel set a cold can of off-brand soda in front of him. He returned to the fridge and pulled out another can of soda for himself and a bottle of juice for Lyn. "Why'd you come back?" He asked as he sat down.
Brian played with the tab on his soda and stared at the table. His eyes kept shifting towards Lyn, who had yet to look away from Brian. Every time their eyes met a shiver of pleasure ran through Brian's body. He opened his mouth to repeat his earlier question and stopped. He got the feeling that Lyn wasn't going to tell him. Maybe if he played his cards right, he could get Daniel to tell him.
He looked over at Daniel. "I wanted to make sure you were okay." It seemed stupid as soon as he said it. Of course Daniel was fine. He was here with a strange man who drove their father's truck and wore his clothes and sometimes looked like Brian. What could possibly be wrong?
"Really?" The sudden anger in Daniel's voice reminded him of their father, quick to anger and long to burn out. "You just now decided to check up on me? It's been twelve fucking years."
He closed his eyes and curled his hands around the soda can. The metal was cool, wet. It gave him something solid to focus on. He knew it was a mistake coming here. He wasn't sure what he'd expected. He'd thought, for a brief time, that maybe they were dead, maybe he'd lost his chance to be a brother again. Maybe they were. Maybe that's why his parents weren't here.
"What did the private investigator tell you?" Lyn asked, his voice soft and low.
"What?" Daniel and Brian asked at the same time.
Lyn cocked his head and smiled at Brian. "The man you paid to spy on us." There was no accusation in his tone, just a simple statement of fact.
Daniel's face started to turn red, just like their father's used to. There were too similarities between the way Daniel was acting and their father. He needed to leave. "This was a mistake." He started to stand but Daniel caught his arm in a bruising grip.
"Don't you dare leave." Anger twisted Daniel's face and in that moment he looked so much like their father that Brian's knees gave out. He dropped back into his chair and hoped that Daniel didn't notice how much he was shaking.
"Daniel." Lyn set his hand on top of Daniel's. Daniel let go instantly and sank back into his seat with a pout, his anger gone like it'd never been there. They shared a long look before Lyn turned to Brian. "My apologies. He will do better to reign in his temper in the future."
Daniel opened his mouth, shut it, and looked away.
Lyn popped the top of Brian's soda can and slid it closer. "Drink. It will make you feel better."
The can was halfway to his mouth before he even thought to question why he was doing what the strange man told him. He hesitated for a second and then obediently sipped at the soda. It did little to calm him.
"Too much of his father in him," Lyn said, as if that was the only explanation Brian needed. In a way it almost was. "You'll stay, won't you?"
He didn't want to. He was afraid of what would happen if he did. There was one question he needed to answer before he could even consider it. "Where's Dad?"
"Dead." Daniel stared at the wall and didn't elaborate.
A euphoric wave of relief washed over Brian. He felt bad for it but at the same time it was like he'd had this weight attached to him, constantly dragging at him, and now it was gone. His father was gone and that news alone made the trip here worth it.
Some of his pleasure must have shown on his face because Daniel turned and glared at him. "You don't have to seem so happy about it," he snapped.
The blood drained from Brian's face and he opened his mouth to apologize, to say something but he wasn't sure what to say. He had good reason to be glad his father was dead and for a minute he'd forgotten exactly how young Daniel had been when Brian had lived here. Brian had been fifteen when he'd left home. Daniel had been eight. He didn't know.
"Daniel, don't." Lyn touched Brian's arm. "He will not return." There was an unspoken 'unlike you' audible in Lyn's tone.
"Did you really hire a P.I.?" Daniel's expression was a mixture of curiosity and indignation.
He nodded. It had seemed the safer option at the time, safer than coming here and chancing running into his father.
"What did he tell you?"
He glanced at Lyn but for the moment the strange man seemed content to sit back and let them carry the conversation. "He didn't tell me anything. He sent the check back and wouldn't return my calls. That's why..." He shifted in his chair and stared down at his soda can. "I thought something had happened."
Lyn's smile never faltered. Brian had a feeling Lyn had already known about the PI.
"Well, we're fine." Daniel ripped the tab off his soda can and started bending it between his fingers. "Though that doesn't mean you can just run off now that you made sure I'm not dead. You have to stay. Just for a few days, at the very least."
With his father gone, he had no reason not to stay. He'd driven for two days to get here and he knew he'd never forgive himself if he left without at least learning a little bit about the man his brother had grown into and the stranger that had taken his place. "Three days. I can stay for three days and then I need to head back. I'll stay in a motel."
"No." Lyn squeezed Brian's arm. "They think you still live here. It'll raise suspicion. You need to stay here."
He hesitated. Daniel was pointedly not looking at him. "Fine. I'll stay here."
Lyn squeezed his arm again and stood. "Great. Why don't we get your things and get you settled in? We'll have more time to talk over dinner."
Brian was glad for the excuse to escape the kitchen. He lingered at the car. For a brief second he debated driving away, just leaving and never looking back again. Then he noticed Lyn watching him from the porch, his hand on Brian's suitcase. He followed Lyn into the house.
That night he dreamed that it was raining dirt. No matter how hard he tried to run, the dirt kept piling up around him, slowing him to a near crawl. He woke up when the dirt covered his face. As he lay in bed, shivering and panting to regain his breath, he heard Daniel's door open, then footsteps heading past Brian's door towards their parents' old room - now Lyn's. Lyn's door opened and shut and the footsteps never came back. He fell asleep thinking of eyes the color of sunlight.
Brian leaned against the porch railing and stared out at the woods. He'd only been back a day but already he could feel their pull, their promise of solitude, a chance to escape from the constant tension of the house. Something kept him from going any closer than he was now. He was afraid, and that made no sense. He'd spent most of his childhood playing in the woods. They'd been his safe haven since his father never went into the woods. His mother had told him stories of monsters that were supposed to live in the woods but Brian had never seen any. The real monster lived at home with him. Yet now that that monster was gone the woods no longer seemed as safe as they had once been.
A shadow fell across the railing and Brian tensed. The wooden boards creaked as someone approached. Brian half-turned as Lyn stopped next to Brian, close enough to brush shoulders. Lyn leaned against the railing next to Brian and stared out at the woods, a look of longing passing across his face for a brief moment before being replaced with his usual smile. Brian shifted, resting his elbows on the railing and turning back to the trees.
Neither of them spoke. In the distance a bird chirped loudly.
"Who are you?" Brian asked a few minutes later.
"I'm Lyn." There was that strange smile again. It should be infuriating, but Brian found it oddly endearing. The fact that Lyn knew more, or at least seemed to know more than he let on, was somehow comforting. He trusted Lyn, even though he shouldn't, even though he'd just met him, and that made him doubt his own memories. It felt like he had met Lyn before. That would explain why he felt connected to him but he just couldn't place where they'd met or when.
"That's not what I meant."
Lyn's smile softened and his fingers brushed against the back of Brian's hand. "I'm someone who helped you before, and someone who's here to help you now."
His hands tightened on the railing. "I don't need help."
Slender fingers slid beneath Brian's hands, pulling them away from the wood. The pity on Lyn's face made Brian's stomach twist with shame. "We all need help with something."
He stared at the floorboards. "Then what about you? What do you need help with? Why are you here? Why are you pretending to be me?"
Lyn released one of Brian's hands to card his fingers through Brian's hair. Brian flinched and then relaxed into the touch. Lyn's hands were warm against his skin. His eyes drifted closed. He'd almost forgot about his questions when Lyn started to speak.
"You left this life, and when you did you left a hole here. I merely stepped in and took your place. You didn't want this life. For the time being, it serves my needs."
He forced his eyes open even though all he wanted to do was melt into Lyn's touch. "What needs?"
Lyn's eyes seemed as warm and welcoming as a summer's day. "To collect what's been left behind."
"Why me? Why did you chose to be me? There's so many better choices. You could have picked someone who wasn't..." A failure. Broken. Unwanted.
Lyn shifted closer, erasing the minimal distance between them. "Because you're special."
Lyn's hand rested gently on the side of Brian's face. Warmth spread out from his touch, travelling down his neck and up his arm to pool in the center of his chest. His eyes drifted closed once more as Lyn leaned forward. Soft lips settled on his and it felt natural to open up, to let Lyn in. They kissed slowly. Warmth filled him and he melted against Lyn.
He could have spent hours kissing Lyn but the need for oxygen pulled them apart. His skin prickled with pins and needles, as if his entire body had fallen asleep and was just starting to wake up. In that moment, everything seemed more vivid. It was like he was suddenly, briefly, hyper-aware of everything - of his clothes pressing against his skin, of the breeze rustling through the trees and blowing across the porch, of the birds calling from the forest. But there was more than just the physical sensations. He could feel the trees pressing in around them. Lyn was like a bright burning flame, pulling Brian in with his warm glow, and on the peripheral that was something else, someone else.
Brian's gaze shifted past Lyn's shoulder. Daniel stood on the other side of the screen door. Their eyes met. Brian started to open his mouth but before he could say anything, Daniel turned and walked away. Then the moment was gone and the world shifted back to the way he'd always known it.
"I don't get it. You used to have such a good time."
Brian clenched his hands on the back of the kitchen chair. "Daniel." He didn't want to be having this conversation. He wanted to walk away but the last time he'd done that Daniel had just followed him, refusing to back down. Daniel had been harping on their father all evening. Brian knew better than to think it wasn't related to the kiss Daniel had caught him in earlier.
"You used to spend so much time together."
"Daniel, shut up." He couldn't take it. He wanted to puke. Daniel had everything wrong. He'd taken snapshots of their childhood and put the pieces together in the opposite order. Brian was tempted to just shout at him, to destroy every last shred of the kind and loving father Daniel remembered but he couldn't bring himself to shatter the memories of a pleasant childhood that Daniel was stubbornly holding on to.
Daniel kept talking, oblivious to how agitated he was making Brian. "I mean, you used go out to that old woodshed all the time." Brian froze. His breath ran out like he'd been punched in the gut. "I went in there, after he died, and there was nothing. Wasn't even that much wood. What'd you do, build birdhouses?"
Memories flashed through the head, as real and visceral as if he was a child again. He remembered the fear he felt every time his father told him to go out to the woodshed, how much it hurt if he resisted, the way his father's fingers would dig into his arm as he dragged Brian out of the house. He could still picture the way his tears would splatter against the wood, forming misshapen patterns. He could still feel the wood beneath his fingertips as he gripped it tight and tried to ignore the pain. Sometimes his father used his hand. Sometimes it was his belt or a branch or a thick dowel rod. Sometimes he turned on the blow torch. Sometimes he used a knife.
"That's enough, Daniel." Lyn's voice cut through the fog of memories. For a second, Lyn's voice seemed familiar, connected somehow to Brian's past, but the memory slipped away, buried beneath the fear that stuck with him, always at the edge of his mind. Lyn's hand settled on the small of Brian's back and it took all of his control not to scream. "Are you alright?"
He shook his head. He needed to get out. He needed to not be here anymore. He turned without a word, moving blindly. The corner of the hall table caught him on the hip but he stumbled past it. The screen door banged against the wall when he pushed it open. He nearly fell down the steps. His feet got twisted and he tripped on a rock, caught himself with a hand on the hood of his rented car. The keys pressed against his thigh, a solid weight in his pocket. Daniel reached the porch just as Brian put the car in reverse. He was at the tree line by the time Daniel made it down the stairs.
The road disappeared beneath him. He had no idea where he was going, he just needed to go away from the house. He wasn't sure if he'd be going back. The last of the twilight faded. Neon lights called to him and he ended up at a bar God knows where. It was mostly quiet, just a radio playing old country as background noise and the occasional clank of pool balls being struck as two men played in the corner. He took a seat at the bar, handed the bartender his credit card, and started to drink.
Tim McGraw turned into Kenny Chesney turned into Billy Ray Cyrus then Garth Brooks. He downed vodka on the rocks then switched to rum and cokes then shifted to draft beer. Around his third or sixth bottle, a familiar hand curled over his own. He looked up into yellow eyes and felt a wide smile slide across his face. It'd been a long time since he'd smiled but the alcohol made everything seem distant and disconnected.
"Time to go home," Lyn said.
"Okay." Lyn supported him as he stood. People were staring but for the moment, he didn't care. Lyn was warm and close. Brian rested his head on Lyn's shoulder. Lyn smelled like the forest. He wanted to kiss Lyn again.
Rain was pouring down when they stepped outside. His hair was plastered against his head in seconds. By the time they reached the car, his clothing was soaked through.
Lyn leaned Brian against the car. "Keys."
He dutifully dug them out of his pocket. When Lyn reached for them, Brian leaned forward, pressing an awkward, sloppy kiss against Lyn's lips. He could almost feel Lyn's amusement as he kissed back. The car doors unlocked and Lyn helped Brian slide inside. The ride home seemed to take far less time than it should have. The world outside was dark, growing darker the further they went away from civilization until they came back to the farmhouse. Light shone from windows on both floors.
Lyn ushered him into the house and upstairs to the bathroom. There was no sign of Daniel. Brian closed his eyes and leaned against the wall. His head spun with too much alcohol. He could hear Lyn moving around the room. The shower curtain was drawn back and the faucet turned on. He would miss this alcohol haze when it was gone. He didn't usually drink. More often than not, it just made things worse, cut down the barriers he'd built and brought all the painful memories back to the forefront. Today was one of the good drinking days where he wasn't happy but he wasn't sad either. He was numb. He liked being numb because it meant, just for a little while, he could forget about his father and Daniel's questions and all of the unpleasantness that surrounded him when he was at home.
In the midst of all of it, there was Lyn. Brian opened his eyes as warm hands peeled his wet clothing from his skin. He was too drunk to be self-conscious as his bare skin was revealed, his borderline fit build marred by a patchwork of scars that covered his skin. Lyn's eyes never lingered on them like most of them men Brian had dated. There were no comments about the jagged line that ran from his shoulder to his hip, no questions about the circular scars that dotted the insides of his arms, no sad looks at the multitude of lines crisscrossing his back. Lyn pulled him under the water without a word.
Hot water poured down over them both. It chased away the chill of the rain and some of the alcohol haze. As Lyn's hands ran over his body, working shampoo into his hair and running soap over his skin, he started to come back to himself. He'd never had anyone take care of him like this. It was nice. His brain shut off and he let Lyn take over. Lyn moved him, lifting his arms to gain access to his side, turning him, shifting them both until all of the soap and shampoo were carried away by the water.
The door opened the same time as Lyn slid slick fingers inside Brian. He gasped and leaned into Lyn. Fabric rustled on the other side of the shower curtain and he started to turn but then Lyn caught his lips, bringing his focus back to the hardness pressed against his leg and the way Lyn's fingers stretched inside of him. He moaned, shivering as his growing erection brushed against Lyn's leg. The shower curtain moved and a new pair of hands, larger and thicker than Lyn's, settled low on Brian's hips.
"D-daniel?" Brian gasped. He blushed as he felt his brother press against him. Daniel's erection settled against the cleft of Brian's cheeks.
Daniel kissed Brian's shoulder. There was reverence in his eyes. His hands moved slowly over Brian's sides, his touch incongruent with his anger from earlier. "I'm sorry." His lips pressed higher along Brian's shoulder the same time as Lyn's mouth closed over the opposite side of his neck. "I'm sorry I got mad at you." Brian gasped and pressed backwards as Daniel's hand brushed over Brian's erection. Lyn's followed it. Daniel's cock pressed against his entrance, and he shivered. "Please don't go away." Daniel rolled his hips, wrangling another moan from Brian's lips. "I've been thinking about you for so long." He pushed his hips forward again, the head of his cock pressing against Brian and then sliding in.
Brian gasped and let his head fall forward onto Lyn's shoulder. Lyn's tongue ran along the curve of Brian's ear. He shuddered as Daniel pressed into him, forcing Brian's body to press against Lyn's until he was sandwiched between the two. Lyn's hand circled Brian's cock, pulling up as Daniel pulled out. It was too much sensation all at once. Brian clung to Lyn, helpless as the two men played his body, winding him up with hands and teeth and tongue while Daniel thrust into him over and over again. He lost track of who touched him where. Someone bit his shoulder lightly while the other brushed his hand over the base of his cock. Fingers dug into his hips as Daniel thrust harder, faster, his rhythm building towards climax. Brian's voice echoed off the shower walls, muffled slightly by the constant fall of water over them.
Climax ripped through him like an avalanche. He whimpered as the sensations overwhelmed him. He screamed into Lyn's shoulder as the world went white. Pleasure coursed through him, hot and fast, burning straight through his core. For a brief second he soared, riding the wave of climax. Then the wave washed out of him and he was falling. Two pairs of hands caught him, teasing him through the aftershocks of release. Every brush of fingers along his side, every kiss against his skin, pulled another moan from his lips. He shivered, pliant and yielding as Daniel's rocked through the last of his orgasm. When he pulled away, it felt like he took a part of Brian with him, leaving a tiny void inside of Brian.
It took him a minute for the world to settle back around him. His breath came in heavy pants. He felt boneless, exhausted. He couldn't remember ever having sex that felt this good. Daniel reached past them to turn off the water. As he did, Brian pressed against Lyn's still hard erection. Brian slid down to kneel on the tub floor. The world spun slightly as the alcohol in his system reasserted its presence. He ignored it for the moment and leaned forward to take Lyn into his mouth.
Lyn made no sound as Brian swallowed him down. He relaxed his throat, pushing until Lyn brushed against the back of his throat. Daniel cursed softly. Brian could feel Daniel's eyes on him as he moved his head, sliding Lyn's cock between his lips. Lyn's fingers wound through his hair, gently stroking him like when they'd kissed on the porch. It wasn't the best blow job Brian had ever given. He was too drunk for finesse but what he temporarily lacked in technique he made up for in enthusiasm. Lyn came with a soft sign, his seed spilling down Brian's throat.
Lyn tasted like honey and raindrops.
He stayed kneeling in the tub after Lyn pulled out of Brian's mouth. The ache in his knees seemed distant. There was something he was forgetting about, something he should be concerned about.
Lyn's hands slid under Brian's armpits, lifting him to his feet. He stumbled. Daniel helped him out of the shower. They helped him sit on the closed toilet lid. Daniel paused in the midst of pulling a towel off the rack and stared at Brian strangely. A pained look crossed his face. Brian looked down, thinking he'd injured himself, and then he remembered the scars.
The bathroom was suddenly too warm, too crowded. He felt sick. He jumped when Lyn's hand touched his face. The touch helped, a little bit. He closed his eyes, waiting for the inevitable questions.
"What... where did..." Daniel faltered.
"This is what dad did in the woodshed. This is why I'm glad he's gone."
No one moved for a long time. Daniel was the first to break the silence. "Brian, I'm sorry. I didn't know."
"I know." He stood and took the towel from Daniel's hand, drying himself haphazardly before tossing the towel on the floor. "You weren't supposed to know."
He walked out of the bathroom and the cool hallway air hit him like a brick wall. It chased away the last of the alcohol haze, leaving him feeling tired and worn out. He was almost to his room when Lyn's voice stopped him.
"Brian." Lyn's arm wrapped around his waist, turning him. "This way." Lyn led him down the hall to his parent's room.
He hesitated before crawling into the large bed. The blankets were the same as his parents had used. Little of the décor had changed, though there were subtle differences, signs of Lyn's presence. Lyn and Daniel climbed in bed after him, one on either side. They pressed up against him, limbs entwined with his, and as he closed his eyes, he felt safe for the first time in his entire life.
That night he dreamed of dirt pouring over his head until it completely covered him. He struggled, trapped beneath the weight of it. Then Lyn whispered softly to him and he could breathe again. He relaxed into Lyn's arms and slept peacefully.
Brian woke feeling relaxed and refreshed. He smiled as he looked over at Daniel's sleeping face. His brother - half-brother, technically - looked so different when asleep. There was no hint of his temper, no sign of the passion he'd displayed last night except in the way his leg was thrown over Brian's hips. The house was quiet. He could still feel warmth on the sheets where Lyn had been.
He slowly disentangled himself from Daniel's arms before sliding out of bed. The wood floor was cool beneath his feet. He made a brief stop in his room for clothing before heading downstairs. He found Lyn on the porch.
Lyn turned and there was no smile on his face when he looked at Brian. "Take a walk with me."
Brian glanced at the woods and hesitated.
Lyn held out his hand. "It's time. You need to come."
He swallowed around the sudden lump in his throat and stepped forward. Lyn's hand wasn't as warm as usual. Leaves crunched beneath their feet as they walked through the woods. Trees towered above them, reminding Brian of the skyscrapers in the city. It had taken him years to get used to being around so many buildings crushed together in such a confined space. He'd missed the forest more than he'd thought. The further they walked, the stronger the feeling got. He felt sad, like he'd lost something in leaving, something he'd never get back.
The house was long out of sight when Lyn finally stopped. They stood at the top of a small ridge. A small creek cut through the woods less than three yards away. Water burbled against the stones, sounding almost like someone whispering.
There was something familiar about this place. He didn't want to be here. He turned to go but Lyn's hand caught him.
"It's too late."
Fear gripped him. He turned towards Lyn. There was no light in his eyes today. His entire expression was dimmed with sadness. Slowly, Lyn lifted his arm and pointed towards a raised mound a few feet away.
"We've come to reclaim the part you left behind."
Brian shook his head. "I... I didn't..."
Lyn's hand closed around his wrist, his grip as strong as a manacle. He moved towards the mound, dragging Brian with him.
"Lyn, let go." Lyn ignored him. "Lyn, please." He'd seen that mound before. He knew it, knew it as well as if it was him. He was afraid. There was something there, something he'd seen before, something he didn't want to remember.
Lyn tugged, pulling Brian off balance. He fell and caught himself seconds before his face hit the mound. The leaves covering the mound stirred and fell away. Brian stared down at a skull, inches from his own. His skull. That was his skull, there in the dirt. Memories washed into him like a dam breaking apart. He remembered. He was going to run away, started packing. His father chased him. They ended up in the woods. His father caught him. Hands. Hitting him. Big hands closing around his neck. He stopped struggling, passed out. There was a hole. Dirt. Dirt falling on him. A shovel. He couldn't move, couldn't breathe. Dirt closed over him. It was dark. Then, a voice, calling him back. Lyn.
Tears rolled down his cheeks. He didn't know when they'd started but once they had, they wouldn't stop. Lyn's hand settled on his shoulder. He leaned past Brian to place a kiss on the skull, then turned and kissed the same spot on Brian's forehead. A jolt of energy shot through him. He gasped, nearly vomited as something inside of him was torn loose.
"Why?" Brian croaked. "Why did you save me?"
Lyn's fingers brushed against his cheek. "I would have thought you'd have figured it out by now. You've seen the kind of love your brother holds for you. I am the same."
The tears dried on Brian's cheeks. He stared up at Lyn. "What?"
Lyn stood and held out his hand. "Come. Our father wishes to meet you."
Brian took Lyn's hand and the forest faded away.