You’re still you

Here it is! Prologue to continue Joni’s and Misha’s story, please let me know what you think 🙂

Betad by: Charity

Prologue

His hair had never been so long before, and it didn’t bother him as much as it would have before. They were a little wavy now having reached this length, the “emo hair” he would have hated when he was young, and Misha would have loved. They might not be that awful, he even got his hair on a little ponytail because he had cut them the last time before it happened. Perhaps it was part of seeking his new identity, this was how Eelis was like, he had emo hair, and he wasn’t the kind of social butterfly that Joni had been. He practiced kickboxing and had a tattoo on his finger, which sadly aroused curiosity.

The studies had begun and he, Eelis, felt disturbingly insecure. He had imagined when he first moved, that building this new identity would be easier than what it had turned out to be. Because he didn’t know who he was. He had known before. He had been confident, one who didn’t care what others thought, guess that was still true in part, but only in part. Those gazes caused uncertainty and he wondered what they were thinking. Which was frustrating! And his former self wanted to huff dramatically at how frustrating he was! At times, those qualities of his former self, pushed to the surface, wanting to shake him; quit being such a wuss!

Yes, it was frustrating. He didn’t know how to present himself to other people because he was so lost. The others seemed so normal and relaxed, easily sought after each other’s company and talked about their summer. Told about themselves. What could he say? What did he want to say? How much? What had Eelis done in the summer? What had Eelis done in the winter when…? It had happened to Joni, not to him. On a certain level, he realized this wasn’t the right way to deal with it, and on the other hand, he had canceled the meeting with that man at the last minute, his nerves getting to him, feeling like he didn’t want to deal with it any further.

However, that man had soon texted him back. ”It’s hard, I know that Eelis. But it helps when you talk about it. It’s painful, I know, but it’s possible to deal with it and live with it if you just talk about it. When you’re ready, I’ll be here.” The man probably knew all too well what he was going through and the course of his thoughts. But Eelis wasn’t sure he wanted or needed that support… Hadn’t he already talked about it with his therapist to the point of exhaustion? Wasn’t that enough?  – In a way, he knew it wasn’t. He was helpless and confused, broken. But if he just focused on this new life. He could gather all that shit in one room, close the door, and throw away the key. That horrible experience was part of Joni’s life, not his.

But he couldn’t be as confident as he would have liked. The gazes he received from other men distressed him, especially those which eyed him in that certain way, the way which meant he was far too aware now. There was one guy in his study group, British apparently, called James, who stared at him often. He might have been a nice guy, handsome to be sure, one that in a different time might have caught his interest. But now, he was definitely in the category: Never again! Reminding too much of… He was tall, muscular, with dark hair and pale eyes, the color of which Eelis wasn’t entirely sure of because he had avoided looking.

He received looks from women as well. That kind of looks, curious, interested, they were whispering to others, stealing glances and trying to smile in that certain way if he happened to look. And he wasn’t sure how Eelis should react to it. He didn’t want to say he was gay; he didn’t want James to have any ideas about approaching him. He didn’t want to be anything and still wanted and missed the comfort of how to be in his own skin.

So, contrary to how Joni would have done, he sat quietly and on his own, listening to music and trying to delve deeper into his studies by staring at his notes or reading a book during the breaks between classes. Before he would have been updating his social media accounts, messaging with his friends from his phone, getting to know new people, even flirting with James probably. But now he found that sort of thing awkward. Eelis was not on social media at all.

But his loved ones at home didn’t let him retreat completely and lose himself in his new identity. And it had to be admitted that this new identity was far from complete, his new name, for example, he hadn’t gotten used to it as well as he would have liked. The teacher had said it; “Eelis Sairola?” And he had stared thoughtfully at the papers in front of him until the woman sitting beside him; Sarah had gently nudged his arm. He had first looked back at her confusedly and then at the teacher, who was looking in his direction, with a questioning eyebrow raised, making him straighten on his seat.

”Here.” He said and cleared his throat, anxious that now most in the class were staring at him.

Eelis did not look at them, stared straight ahead, somewhere past the teacher, and answered the question given to him, grateful as the attention shifted to the next student. But at the same time, Sarah still stared at him curiously and it undeniably made him nervous. Sarah was one of those who wouldn’t let him retreat either and did her best to get the person out that he truly was. Sarah had been sitting next to him from the first day on, which was a blessing really because Eelis had noticed that James had been about to do the same. So, he had accepted the woman’s company. And Sarah was talkative enough for both, not seeming to be very bothered about his very stereotypical Finnish withdrawal; behavior which would have seriously annoyed Joni.

Sarah was from Ireland and Eelis liked her way of speaking. For the first time, it had occurred to him how he had once joked to Misha that they could move to Ireland, set up a pub, and grow potatoes. Perhaps he had been in part even serious, despite the illogicality of the plan. The memory now felt bittersweet, and it ached his chest. Thoughts of what had been, what could have been, and what was no longer. Joni had joked to Misha, Joni had been the one in his embrace, Joni was the one Misha had loved.

After a school day, Sarah had often asked him to join her for a beer in an Irish pub, saying they were the best with proud Irish patriotism. Though Joni would have probably agreed and accepted the first invitation, Eelis kept giving her excuses not to go. It didn’t seem to bother the woman. “One day I’ll get a yes from you!” She often declared with confidence, which made Eelis smile at her softly.

He trained quite hard. What had happened to Joni wouldn’t happen to him, not ever! But still… Too often, it tried to push its way to his consciousness, he woke up from his sleep with the sound of gunshots ringing in his ears. Or, being pressed against the bed, unable to move, the man’s heavy, lustful breath in his neck, the belt buckle snapped, and he woke up in cold sweat.

At times, he saw Chris’s piercing icy blue eyes staring into his own, a moment before…

So, he trained, studied, and tried to rebuild his life. He had already applied for a job and got it quite easily from a gym. The praising recommendation written by Eljas had certainly helped. Everything seemed simple, but it wasn’t. Not all bridges could be burned, and he didn’t want to, and his loved ones didn’t give up. They stubbornly put out the starting flames and stubbornly walked over the bridge to him.

Dima had already announced that he would be coming to London on his autumn holiday. His family had already visited for a few weekends, lived in a hotel, and his siblings could not call him by any name other than Joni, guess they had tried at first, his father had too, but in the end…  Eelis could take it, Joni could exist in small moments, though it was damn confusing. Dima had confessed that he too had a hard time starting to call him by a different name, he had promised he would try though. Ivo was in constant contact as well, sending him messages and calling.

They didn’t let him fall apart and start from a completely clean slate. How frustrating that he wasn’t given a full chance to be trendily traumatized! – He sometimes huffed to himself. Only Misha had respected his wish not to keep in touch for at least a moment until… He didn’t know what he wanted. Or knew he would have wanted; the life he should have had. But this. Damn, everything was hard. He simply didn’t know who he was anymore.

** ^^ ** ​​^^ **

Life had become a daily struggle. The only silver edge of the loss was the awareness that Joni hadn’t died. He excised and lived and that was the most important thing. Still, coping with the loss was hell. His chest was gnawing, and he was constantly comparing the days of the year to what had been the previous year and at times it seemed incomprehensible how different everything had been then. They had gotten engaged and moved in and then… Chris’s release from prison was like diagnosing a severe, life-threatening disease that had ended… Damn. It was fucking unfair. The disease itself may have been torn out and buried, but it had left enormous havoc.

Misha didn’t know how Joni imagined him going on with his life. How Joni imagined he could just shrug his shoulders and move on, meet someone else, and fall in love. How Joni imagined he would be able to do anything more normal than Joni did, after what had happened.

He would never get over the horrible, cut tearing feeling of learning that Chris and Aki had kidnapped Joni. He still woke up to those nightmares, the insane fear that Joni would be killed. But Joni wasn’t dead. – He reminded himself time and time again. Joni was just confused and lost, but Misha was too.

He continued living with Ivo and Jami. And the atmosphere, it was… Nothing was as before. Ivo was not his own cheerful, laid pack self, and Jami, well … he was acting far from his usual self as well. Everything that had happened was still haunting them in the background. Misha knew Ivo and Dima were in regular contact with Joni, and though he ached to be with him, he had decided to give the brat the space he needed.

However, Joni would be fooling himself if he thought that Misha could just continue his life like before… No, he was simply surviving from one day to the next. He felt like he was in this weird intermediate space, the waiting room of life. He existed, got to work each morning, ate, slept, saw his friends on weekends, though less often than usual. He was and he missed what he had had before.

Autumn crept towards winter, he realized it, watching the leaves fall, feeling an emptiness inside. And at times, he woke up from his numb state when Jami or Ivo laughed, disturbing lightly as if time had melted and gone back to when everything had been somewhat normal. And he woke up to how outside he felt from that normality.

 He wasn’t supposed to be here, in this stage of life. He would turn twenty-seven too soon, and he should not live with his brother and his partner. They seemed startled every time he looked darkly at their normal conversation or when they laughed at something like people were supposed to do. He didn’t mean to be intimidating, of course not, they should all go on with their lives. Joni wasn’t dead, he reminded himself thousands of times. He lived and existed and survived or at least tried. People also survived a concrete loss, the true death of a loved one. People survived. He would survive and he… Misha frowned in thought. He couldn’t go on like this. Damnit!

He loved that brat and Joni was alive! Eelis or whatever Joni called himself now. Misha understood the change of name. It was those fucking pictures… and… he guessed they could still be spread around somewhere on vague internet sides by perverted people… But before long it would be forgotten… There were numerous similar images… Sure there were such jealous, cruel people who got pleasure in harming other people’s lives. That small but rather obnoxious and loud part of the people who… enjoys producing bad feelings for others. Most, however, forgot and hadn’t even seen the pictures, or heard of their existence… It certainly didn’t comfort Joni. Misha understood that.

He loved Joni; he would love him ‘till the end of time to be sure. And as long as Joni was living and walking on this same planet, surely Misha wouldn’t be able to give anyone else a chance. Joni or Eelis, the name didn’t matter. He gave him time; he gave him space but did not intend to give up. Before long, he would reach out softly towards Joni. In his heart, they were still engaged, and Misha believed that deep down, the Joni he knew and loved had not given up on him either. Horrible things could happen, but people would survive and adapt and changed to some degree. But that inner, that essential self, survived. That’s what Misha believed. Joni was neither dead nor disappeared, he felt lost and scared and Misha, though he kept his distance, had not given up finding him and bringing him back one day. He had meant what he had once sworn to Joni; I’ll always love you, come what may. And damn it, he would still prove it to that stubborn brat!

Chapter 1

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