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Wrapped in Firsts

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They go slowly.
They are both so inexperienced in such different ways that it just about works itself out. Ash’s kiss and the times they’d embraced are about as physically intimate as Eiji has ever been with someone; and for Ash, someone caring for him, waiting for him, loving him without any strings attached is nearly beyond his ability to grasp. On many levels he gets it, he feels sure of it, Eiji’s love pierces him and assimilates into his very consciousness but it hits a wall of trauma-built brick further down. So they go slowly, bit by bit, weaving through cracks in the wall and chiseling new ones. The first sledgehammer to that wall is when Eiji asks permission to kiss him.
“Who even asks that?” Ash scoffs, though he doesn’t try to hide his fondness.
“Has nobody ask you before?”
Ash almost has to think about it. Almost. It’s such a little thing, it’s not like anyone asks.

“It’s not like I asked you first either,” Ash reminds him.

“Ash...” Eiji’s voice is soft, serious. “I want to, but I must know you do. I do not want to do anything you do not want.”

Ash’s heart may have stopped, it may be beating right out of his chest, he can’t tell. It might be shock, not because of Eiji’s words but because Ash believes them. He feels that unfamiliar sensation, trust , intimacy maybe, crash against the bricks.

“Yes,” it’s all he can manage at first but Eiji hesitates because there’s clearly something else trying to work its way out. “Yes. I love you.” Ash leans in to invite a kiss and Eiji meets him half-way. It’s soft despite the immediate intensity. Eiji lets Ash guide at first but he’s certain, if not in his technique then at least in his intent. He doesn’t give Ash’s mouth any unnecessary room, chases him even as Ash only presses closer.
“I love you, Ash,” Eiji says, breathless as Ash kisses his neck and jaw, “I love you.”
It’s not the first time they’ve said it, not exactly. It’s not their first kiss either.

One night, cool enough to be wrapped around each other under the blanket, their first kiss so desperate for each other. Ash was without a doubt ravenous for Eiji but tender with him all the same. There hadn’t been the same words but the mutual magnetism was blatant to them both .
Daisuki. I really like you, Ash. I love you.
Ash was shaking as he repeated the word: “ Daisuki .”
Eiji was crying and Ash shook with tremors but they never let go of the other and they kissed and kissed until neither could breathe .

---

It wasn’t perfect as they fumbled through the newness. For Eiji, every touch, every kiss was new, no one had ever kissed his neck or left marks behind his ear (prudently enough, a spot his hair would cover.)
For Ash, it’s Eiji who makes all the difference. No one loved him or looked at him the way Eiji is now, their faces are so close it’s hard to see but they’re tangled together as if any space between is too much. If Ash’s gaze is a smolder then Eiji’s glisten like he’s melting. He can hardly stop staring and only the need to keep kissing Eiji, to crush him closer, keeps their eyes from meeting and freezing there.

“You’re too good at this,” Ash says. “Are you sure no one else taught you like this before?”

Eiji doesn’t miss a beat, though he waits one. “I think about you a lot.”

Eiji, sweet Eiji whose bashfulness could be so hard to predict...well it wasn’t like Ash didn’t think of him too.
“What were you thinking of when you’d think about me?”

Eiji kissed him again instead of answering in words. “I would think I want to be close to you,” he said. “I wonder how it feels to touch you, to always be with you. I would think that I want you to be happy. I think a lot about the first time you kissed me and I didn’t know how much I wanted more.”

Ash blinks like a deer in headlights but he still leans into the hand Eiji uses to cradle his cheek and into the kiss that follows.
“I wanted more,” Eiji repeats and kisses him again, not as deeply, “and more...and more...”

 

Ash grabs hold of the next kiss and drags it deep, he has never kissed someone else with so much feeling,
has never loved someone like this or burned to give them everything. “Like this?” he asks, hands roaming lightly over Eiji’s body, it’s slow and ghosting so that Eiji knows what Ash is asking his permission for.

Yes .”
It comes out of Eiji as a sweet little gasp. Ash can hardly believe what he’s already done to Eiji. It feels so new, no one has lain themself helpless and so trusting under his touch like this, down Eiji’s body, over his jeans and up under his shirt. His chest is warm to Ash’s hands and he sighs at the feeling of them on him. Ash leans in again to kiss him, slow and sweet and revels in it when the hand between Eiji’s legs makes him gasp into Ash’s mouth.

“Ash...will...will you touch me? Is that okay?”

Ash slows his hand but doesn’t go still, the other hand moves to Eiji’s cheek, tilting him towards a brief peck against his lips. “If that’s what you want.”

Eiji nods into Ash’s hand then lets out a startled but needy whine when the other hand cups him firmly. Eiji squirms into the friction, Ash’s motions guide him to rock against that hand. Eiji whimpers when Ash’s hand slips away from him but gasps and nods again when it’s undoing his fly and slipping in.

“Touch me...closer?” Eiji whispers.

“Directly?” Ash asks, “skin contact?”

“Y-you don’t have to!” A sudden fear strikes Eiji’s voice as he takes Ash’s carefulness for uncertainty.

Ash’s expression softens again, “I want to if you want me to.”

 

“Ash...Aa sh ...”

It’s incredible to unravel someone, Eiji doesn’t last at all but it doesn’t matter. Ash has never gotten pleasure from someone else’s pleasure like this. Eiji’s eyes go from blown wide to half closed. Ash wipes away a tear from one and kisses him, gentle and sweet as he floats down, he’s oblivious on his high even to Ash wiping them off and doesn’t do anything to fight for coherence. Ash pets Eiji’s bangs back and looks at him carefully. “You okay?”

Eiji has a love drunk expression, “yes. That was...do you want me to do that too?”
Ash hesitates, grimaces for a second and shakes his head, “I don’t really...not now.”

“I want you,” Eiji tells him, “but I don’t want to do anything you don’t want.”

What’s really new to Ash is Eiji’s consideration. It’s not like everyone who ever bought him was violent and callous, but no one buys a child’s body to show them respect and tenderness. He doesn’t say anything else then but he buries his face against Eiji’s shoulder presses a fleeting kiss to his neck before he settles there.


Chapter Text

Sometimes slow means baby steps. It means Eiji’s hesitates when only his fingertips brush the inside of Ash’s thigh over his jeans. “Ash?” even his voice is hesitant when he tries to ask.

“You don’t have to treat me like I’m fragile,” Ash says without any bite to it.

“I don’t think you’re fragile,” Eiji says back.

Sometimes slow means Eiji has to help Ash fight himself to learn his own needs now that he’s not in danger. Now that he doesn’t need to comply with anything anyone wants to do to him, now that there is no one with the power to treat him like a toy meant to suit their whims.

 

Ash wakes up gasping and on instinct Eiji reaches for him and tries not to balk when Ash pushes him away.

“I said don’t touch me!” Ash spits, he’s verging on panic rather than cogzignance.

Ash .” Eiji’s voice. It’s Eiji, not someone to fight off. The realization hits Ash and throws him at Eiji, he finds himself with two fists full of Eiji’s pyjama shirt. Eiji drops his arms slowly, encouraged not to back off when Ash pressed against the hold Eiji pulls him into. He doesn’t press, just pets golden hair, (well, alabaster and shadow in only vague moonlight,) until Ash’s breathing evens out.

“I can’t make it shut up,” Ash whispers, “the voice that says I should have fought Foxx, should have fought every time I didn’t.”
Eiji lets the silence linger, not immediately sure what to say nor ready to interrupt the boy in his arms.“You survived,” is what he finally chooses. Eiji knows. Of course he knows. Ash didn’t have to say anything when he fell into Eiji’s arms, Eiji would catch him. Eiji did catch him.

Eiji. ..” Ash’s voice sounds broken, he lets go of Eiji’s shirt to hold onto him instead. “I’ve never felt so much or cried so much since you.” Ash is vaguely aware of how Eiji tenses, just the slightest bit. “It’s only you, Eiji. You don’t ask anything of me, you don’t need me to be stronger than this.”

Eiji’s first response is to press a gentle kiss to the crown of his head and wait to be sure it was okay.

“You are so strong Ash. Nothing defeats you. All you do was survive, everything you survived is still there, those feelings don’t go away.”

“I wish they would,” Ash grumbles, “I wish there was only you instead of waking you up with this shit.”

Eiji kisses his hair and then forehead, “I will always be with you Ash,” he gives Ash a brief squeeze, “always.”

Ash takes another fistful of Eiji’s shirt and tilts his head for a kiss, urgency melting into a softness only Eiji has ever shown him. Ash knows that no one could love him more or more genuinely than Eiji. If only his head and his heart and his demons would let him give as much in return. Eiji doesn’t seem to mind though, his touch is just as adoring, his embrace just as welcoming as ever. He sighs and doesn’t try to fight his eyelids as they droop, “I wish I could give you everything Eiji.”

Eiji’s eyes are already closed but it’s obvious he didn’t miss the sentiment. “When you’re ready.”

 

The next crack in the wall feels almost like a flick compared to Ash gifting Eiji his vulnerability, but all the same more pieces fall.

They‘re in a familiar tangle of limbs and half-present clothes in disarray, Ash has a hand on them both pumping in firm strokes. It’s the first time his pants are below his hips, the first time he took Eiji’s wrist inviting his hand to the dip where Ash’s hipbone met thigh. Eiji had at first only drawn soothing circles into Ash’s skin with his thumb, but as his fingers roam they coast over Ash’s own and Ash interlaces them, holding Eiji there. It’s the first time he’s touched Ash like this but the sentiment is only part of the overwhelming senses flooding him all at once, Eiji will have to process later. He comes to in Ash’s arms, another familiar feeling. The way Ash is looking at him, all thoughts but “I love you” disperse. From the soft kiss Ash gives him in response it must have been aloud, in English.
“Yeah,” Ash finally speaks, “me too.”

---

Sometimes slowly means backsliding and picking up from there. Sometimes there are no warnings, no pattern, no rhyme or reason.

Eiji can’t help but gasp. He’s seen Ash naked, changing, moments between their turns to shower, but not like this. Not hovering over him, skin to skin. Not sinking down against him to place slow kisses all down his body. This is what he wants to do to Ash. To worship and cover him in love and affection in any way he can manage. Eiji wants to make him sigh and pull out excited gasps like Ash is beckoning from him. The first time Ash slid between his legs had been no less thrilling than any other time they touched but there had been more clothing, more overwhelming newness, fewer moments of skin brushing skin to savor.  Everything new overwhelmed Eiji, drove him out of his mind, nearly out of his body as if there was nothing but whatever sensation Ash bestowed. His breath hitched when hot and damp enveloped what felt like his entire being. His fingers curled into Ash’s hair in time with his toes curling near Ash’s shoulders.

 

Eiji was sure he could feel Ash smirk around him right before ripping a gasp out of him. Then a gag, a cough, cool air replacing wet heat. Eiji looked up blearily, he didn’t remember his hands going slack, or the vice grip they must have taken given the vague ache.
“Ash?”

Ash sat frozen and glassy-eyed before him.

“Ash?!”

Ash’s eyes refocused so quickly that Eiji had to blink. “It’s been a while,” he said shrugging. Then as if nothing had interrupted he kissed Eiji’s knee and back down his thigh, proud and hungry grin right back where Eiji had last seen it. But something was wrong.

“Ash, wait.”

Anyone else would have but Eiji didn’t miss the slightest flinch before Ash had moved to resume, the uncertain but determined glint when they broke eye contact like this was another task to get through.

“What is it?” Ash asks.

“You tell me,” Eiji’s erection aches again but it’s nothing compared to his heart. He could almost laugh at himself for how cliche the sentiment is if not for the look in Ash’s eyes.

“What happened?”

“I don’t know, nothing,” Ash says with another shrug. He’s so good at playing it cool but Eiji can see that he’s forcing it, he sits himself upright and reaches for Ash only to frown when Ash flinches away from him.

“Sorry,” Ash realizes immediately what’s just happened and struggles to look his love in the eye.

“Let’s stop,” Eiji says.

“It’s fine,” Ash rebuffs, failing to move Eiji.

“You aren’t happy,” Eiji says, “I don’t want that.”

Ash looks almost confused as he crawls over Eiji and into his waiting arms. He isn’t expecting when Eiji asks “this is okay?” even if the question doesn’t surprise him.

“Yeah. It’s good.”

“Do you want to get dressed?”

Ash shakes his head, “I like feeling you, knowing it’s you.”

 

They lay in silence for what’s probably a much shorter stretch than it feels like to Eiji. He’s trying to give Ash time even as concern nags at him. “Ash, Did I do something?”

He feels a warm kiss against his throat before Ash’s words, “it’s not your fault.”

More kisses, no hunger behind them, only Ash’s own affection if not need for it. “You’re the first,” he says. Eiji physically feels the words as much as hears than. “No one’s touched me at all since, y’know.”

“I know?” Eiji is too genuine and understanding for his question to be anything less than sincere.

“Foxx, I guess.” As soon as the words leave him, Ash feels Eiji’s arms tighten protectively around him. “It’s funny y’know, I told Jessica if I needed I months or something to deal with every rape... well basically I’d never have the time. I didn’t. I never had time to deal with any of it, I just kept moving and now it’s like it’s all catching up to me.”

“What happened right now?” Eiji asks again.

Ash clenches his jaw but speaks, “I remembered something. A feeling more than a memory.”

“It’s over,” Eiji reminds him.

Ash answers him with a kiss that sets off an easy, relaxed back-and-forth. Eiji’s love will not remind him of anything he didn’t want nor anything but Eiji himself.

---

Slowly is a pace at which they can continue after a pitfall, struggling upwards, stumbling forwards. Speed is relative, non-linear, like a process of healing. The nightmares come and go in fitful cycles, as do potential remedies. “It’s getting worse,” Ash can only think, sometimes he it’s as if he’s losing his mind. He’s cuffed and chained again, he can’t lift his head until someone else’s hands are doing so. The hands don’t belong to anyone with a face or distinguishable figure yet there is a reflection in the absentee eyes. It’s like a mirror image, in which Ash grips the face of some nondescript and chained up person. Whoever it is can’t see , he knows this somehow. But Ash continues staring even though it changes nothing. I’m going to kill you , he realizes, and you can’t do anything, it’s too late . This is an absolute. There are not options, it’s not even his will or within his physical control to do anything else.

He can feel hands settling on him, his shoulders and arms, waist, chest. even his throat. Ash feels it closing inside. He recoils when hands come at him again and distantly registers something clattering, then rustling. There is only the dark around, that didn’t used to be an obstacle... breathe, listen , in the next moment something comes close again and he’s prepared when he shoves it away using its own momentum.

“Ughf!”

“Shit- Eiji? Shit .” Ash can’t scramble fast enough to the side of the bed he pushed his boyfriend off of. “Shit, sorry Eiji. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay Ash.” Eiji reaches out again and it takes Ash a moment to realize that Eiji has now moved away from him. He replays the last few seconds, Eiji reached, he smacked Eiji’s arm away. It had been completely involuntary, maybe he hadn’t woken from survival mode.

“Sorry,” he repeats.

Ash ?” When Eiji says his name like that it’s a question, what’s wrong? what happened? is this alright?

Ash stands up shuffles away. “I don’t think I can be touched right now,” he says. “Go back to sleep.”

There are moments, even days like this where Ash can’t stand touch. He hates it. Eiji hates it for him. Long days where the most Ash is comfortable with is sharing the couch at opposite ends and even then, only with Eiji.

“It hurts a little,” Eiji admits on the second evening in a row. “I want to be able to protect you, to touch you and help to make things better. I know it’s not me.”

“It’s not,” Ash echoes. They both know that but he knows Eiji likes to hear it too.

“Let me sleep on the couch tonight,” Eiji says. “You can take the bedroom.”

“There’s two beds,” Ash says.

“And yet just who is it needing to be alone?” Eiji tuts. Ash frowns and Eiji only sighs and gives him a patient smile. “It’s okay, Ash. But I want to turn in soon so get moving.”

“I’m gonna take a bath,” Ash says as he stands. Eiji holds up a hand to stop him, “I can get the bath ready, you move your things,” he eyes the pile on the couch (a book, a few papers a newspaper and a notepad.)

 

The bath is filling slowly, a bit less steamy than he was once used to when the bathroom door opens.

“Hmm? Do you want me to take your clothes?” Eiji asks.

“Stay.”

It’s not what Eiji expects.

“Please.”

Nor is that.

“Test the temperature for me,” Eiji says.

Ash kneels beside Eiji and the tub, he sticks one hand under the water and raises the other to Eiji’s chin. It’s not that Eiji needs guidance though he gravitates into the kiss without reserve.

“I don’t know if I can sleep next to anyone tonight,” Ash pauses his thoughts to drop a couple smaller kisses, “but I wanna hold you, just a little while.”

Eiji speaks against Ash’s lips, “sounds good.” He resumes decorating Ash’s face and neck with soft little kisses, the kind of pure affection that no one else has ever given Ash. He lets Ash pull at his shirt and lifts his arms to let Ash rid him of it.

“In the bath?” Eiji has to be sure.

“Yeah.”

Ash undresses them both, Eiji’s hands retreating when Ash tenses just the slightest bit. He looks like he wants to apologize again, he’s seemed an uncharacteristically apologetic for the last couple days. Eiji doesn’t give him time to dwell, keeping up with Ash’s kisses and retreating when Ash shivers against the ones Eiji leaves by his jawline.

“You don’t have to do anything, you know,” Eiji says. “You should say if you don’t feel like doing something.”

Ash looks at him like a shyly hopeful child, it constricts Eiji’s heart for a moment as if Ash has reached into his chest and holds it in a trembling fist.

“I still forget that.”

Ash has seated himself in the water and extends a hand asking Eiji to join him. Eiji climbs right into his lap, slightly sideways to look at him. The wavering tension dims as Ash pulls Eiji into him. “Feels like I’m broken. I’m living my nightmares instead of fighting them like I used to.”

“This is fighting,” Eiji says, “you are fighting.”  


Chapter Text

Sometimes slowly doesn’t feel accurate. Sometimes things seem to move far too quickly, utter change in the blink of an eye. There are times Eiji wishes they could fast-forward through and moments Ash would kill to play over again, a blissful numbness Ash misses when memories boil over or the kiss-and-make up-and-keep-growing Eiji longs for when something goes an unfortunate direction. Eiji raises his head from his knees and leans it against the side of the bed. He cries mostly when he is angry and overwhelmed. Ash cries when he feels relief. When something crashes against those sturdy emotional floodgates, a last straw. It happens more than it used to and Ash hates it. He hates feeling weak, waking up on the verge of hysteria and robbing Eiji of rest.

 

Ash hates the little things that plague him when they should mean nothing. He hates the times he falls too deep into his own thoughts and loses vigilance of everything around himself. He hates every time he flinches because Eiji’s touch startled him. He hates himself right now for slamming the door on the way “out”, as he’d put it, not bothering to look at Eiji when answering “where are you going?!” And bless Eiji, for developing an uncanny accuracy of knowing when Ash truly needing to stalk off by himself, for the demons to take up the entirety of whatever space Ash was in. Trying to suffocate them only made it worse. Ash hates when they fight, he hates how what should be absurd little things blow up.

 

“I’m sorry Ash,” Eiji says into the dark. And then, “asshole.” The words have lost their fight though, Eiji is too tired.

-

“Help?” Ash said and rolled his eyes.

“You don’t think a doctor or different professional could be helpful at all?” Eiji repeated.

“Don’t let everything you see influence you too much,” Ash says as the clinic and shops behind them dissolve into the distance.

“I’ve been thinking for a while, actually,” Eiji said. “I don’t know someone could fix things but what if talking about everything or maybe a sleep remedy-“

Ash stopped in his tracks, effectively halting Eiji as well. He pointed a finger at Eiji’s chest, “ you are everything I need. What I don’t need someone to save my soul and tell me how growing up passed around by fags turned me into a fag and I can’t trust anyone. Like I don’t know that already.”

“Ash don’t say that,” Eiji said, “you’re not...don’t make it a bad thing.”

“A bad... it is ,” Ash said. “I’m already over it.” He waved it off with no further debate .

-

Eventually Eiji forces himself to stand and check the time. Ash has been out for no more than an hour, probably.

-

They are silent the rest of the way home. Eiji radiates tension but doesn’t give Ash a chance to gauge it when he goes right to their room,  he even shrugs off the hand Ash tried to lay on his shoulder and makes a beeline for the bedroom.

“Hey!” Ash calls.

Ash isn’t one to hover but Eiji has hardly looked at him.

“I can’t think now,” Eiji says instead of explanation.

“Eiji?”

At his name he turns to see that Ash has followed him.

“You’re angry,” Ash says, if Eiji didn’t know better, it would sound accusatory. He does know though, he knows Ash and that there’s a mix of emotions at odds with each other behind those sharp green eyes.  

“I don’t want to be angry at you,” he says.

“Tell me why,” Ash continues, “so I can fix it.”

Eiji shakes his head, “you can’t, it’s too much to undo at only one time.”

“What I said on the way home?” Ash asks.

“You know I hate that word Ash, what it means when you use it. You should not compare yourself to those... people like that.”

“You mean ‘it’s not a bad thing’?” Ash doesn’t catch his own spite before it spills over his words.

“I can’t think right now Ash!” Eiji cries. It’s not as though he never raises his voice but he hates to be truly upset with Ash. “I’m saying I don’t want to fight! I cannot fix everything , Ash. It is too much.”

“You’re saying I’m too much? When you’re the one who’d never leave. I count on you too much, is that it?” Even to Ash himself it sounded off, childish maybe. “What’s wrong? Telling me I need other help? You’ve always been good to me, what, am I not good enough because my head is screwed on wrong and my whole life before I never had to deal with it like this?” Ash no, his inner-self urged, Ash stop talking to him like that. “ You think you’re the only one having a hard time?” Ash stop talking.

“No! Of course I know you are hurting, I know you feel these things too much. I am saying I love you but I cannot fix it. I cannot fix anything alone and I’ve been not saying things I need to either, I have not let myself feel all the things I need to either. I get to be upset, I get to be angry too! At you, not only for you or with you. I cannot be the person, Eiji, who loves you so much if I don’t let myself feel my own things.”

 

Ash clenched his fists and turns on his heel, stalking out. “Maybe we should talk later.”
“Where are you going?!”
“Out.”

-

Eiji had just turned off the shower, knob squeaking in finality, when he hears what might be the front door open and close. He doesn’t hurry when he wraps a towel high on his waist and scrunches the other through his hair before he lets it drop over his shoulders.

“Eiji?”

He does move with more intent at the sound of his name in Ash’s tempered voice. “Hi,” he says softly. He glows in the light of the bathroom doorway, one of two serving as the only light seeping into the bedroom. Ash takes him in, eyes roaming up and down as if he didn’t have every chance every day to appraise Eiji like this. “Hi yourself.”

Eiji’s expression is soft and welcoming. He takes only a couple of steps forward and gives the rest of the choice to Ash, who meets him in their now shared personal space, tilts his head and leans in so that their foreheads touch.

“I’m sorry your boyfriend’s such a messed up asshole.”

“I’m sorry I yelled at you for being a asshole.”

Ash chuckled lowly, “it’s okay, I-”

“No wait, I’m sorry for yelling.” Eiji takes Ash’s hand and sits them down on the end of the bed. “I should have said something before, I’ve been keeping quiet because I don’t have a better idea.”

“Eiji,” Ash kisses him, lips fleeting against the corner of Eiji’s cheek. “Loving me shouldn’t have to mean you can’t be you. I know you would do anything for me. I don’t...you know I don’t know how to trust or talk to anyone else.”

“I will not leave you Ash, I promise. Saying I cannot be the only person you trust doesn’t change that. I said I’ll always be with you. I will.” He kisses Ash carefully, testing the waters of the mood and finds them delightfully warm. Ash’s hands come up to Eiji’s face and shoulder the feeling hints of hunger but Ash keeps it soft and slow.

“Maybe I should shower too,” Ash laments, “I’m kinda gross from blowing off steam.”

Eiji stops to face him, “you are not.”

“I mean I’m all sweat covered,” Ash says.

“I know what you mean,” Eiji says back. “You are not wrong , you know that, don’t you?”

“You’re not talking about sweat, huh?”

“You are right,” Eiji says with a nod. His towel is falling loose and he catches Ash as they both realize it. “ Ash .” It’s Eiji’s turn, his hands frame and guide Ash’s face. He doesn’t need to be firm or to make Ash do anything, he knows he only need ask, he drops his hands. “Ash the way you look at me, they way I look at you, it doesn’t make us anything like those monsters . Ash I love the way you look at me. Can you tell me that is not completely different than the way they looked at you?”

Ash’s gasp isn’t audible, but even in the dark it’s clear on his face. “No it’s nothing like that.”

“You know that,” Eiji answers him. “Ash when you talk like that it seems that you think we are wrong. I feel like your exception but that isn’t good. It’s not real. I am not special, I am just a person lucky enough to love you.”

Ash waits for a long beat of silence. “I don’t know what to say here.”

Eiji smiles for him again, “that’s okay. Are you tired?”

“Yeah,” Ash nods.

“Do you want your bed? Or I can wait for you here.”

Ash gives him another kiss, a reassurance, “I’ll be right back.”

 

Eiji is curled up in bed, still shirtless, when Ash leaves the bathroom. Ash pulls off his own shirt and tosses it onto the other bed before he climbs in beside Eiji, jeans and all. Something feels quite simply right when Eiji curls closer and drapes an arm over Ash’s chest, mirroring the one Ash lays over his shoulder.

“Welcome home, Ash,” Eiji says just above a whisper.

“Oh- right-” Ash mutters. He presses another kiss into Eiji’s hair. “I’m home.”
-

“How do you do it?”

The question seems out of nowhere that morning, unlike Ash who clearly came from the bedroom and is still in the bedraggled shirt and sweats he slept in.

“Do what?” Eiji asks. He’s been up a while, evident from the newspaper pile next to him and the one he sets down to address his boyfriend.

“How do you deal with it? You...it’s like you just know when the bad days are and how much space I need.”

Eiji’s soft grin melts Ash, “I pay attention. I know you.”

 

He does. It’s a slow, perhaps eternal journey towards recovery but Eiji knows.