It was the present day, and Alex had just finished reliving one of the worst nights of his life.

He was running his hands over his face. He was desperate to ground himself in any way, but they still felt like they were cold with running water. Why was he remembering all of this now? They had literally just talked about the same event a few days ago and he hadn’t reacted at all. Did he even remember they were dating a week ago?

Josie’s hand gently touched his shoulder, and he jumped, but they shushed him softly. “You’re here,” they whispered. “Hey…”

“I don’t know why I remember it now,” he choked out. “I didn’t even remember it the next day. Why now?”

Their hand moved down his arm, onto the back of his own hand. Alex could feel the hairs on the back of his wrist stand up, but he didn’t fight it this time. He just breathed, in and out, trying to slow his heart rate.

Josie’s voice was so gentle, he could barely hear it over his breath: “I need to ask you again.”

He knew it was coming. There was a lump in Alex’s throat. He struggled to speak through it. “I want… I just want to not be hurt.”

“I can’t promise that.”

Alex couldn’t stand this. He was trying so hard, but he wanted to be anywhere but here. “I know.”

“But I can try. I need you to just… be there.”

He closed his eyes. Their other hand cupped his face, wiping a tear away. He summoned all of his energy. “There’s something inside of me. Some kind of craving. I have to fight to hide it. The closer I get to someone, the more it hurts.”

“I have it too,” Josie said. He couldn’t bring himself to look at them. “It’s not your fault. You can overcome it.”

Alex had already decided he wasn’t going to allow himself to be comforted by Josie’s usual platitudes. He wanted to make a change. “No. It’s my responsibility… and it’s me.”

He opened his eyes. Josie was smiling.