There’s a moment just after sunrise where the whole world is fuzzy. Rays of daylight stretch out from beyond the horizon, reaching for heaven and Earth and all the spaces in between. No high-rise or crack in the sidewalk is immune, no blade of grass left untouched.
New York is the city that never sleeps, but to Ash, it seems to reset at dawn. It’s like the sleight-of-hand prescriptions become disappearing acts and the bad blood evaporates in the morning sun like dew, if only for a moment. Business men tie their windsor knots and pick up coffee on their way to work. Kids wake to the sound of their alarm clocks and stuff wrinkled brown paper lunch bags into their backpacks. The city becomes a liminal space, a vehicle for a sliver of peace that’s as real as it is fleeting. For an infinitesimal amount of time each morning, the world rebuilds itself after whatever calamity came the night before. There is, if nothing else, a chance to hope for something new.
Eiji calls it the golden hour, when daylight is soft and sleepy and he is even more so. Apparently it’s a photography term. Ash doesn’t know much about taking pictures, but the moment Eiji first uses those words for that ethereal time of day, he understands.
Eiji is still asleep, his dark hair an unruly whorl against his pillow. Ash watches the rise and fall of his chest, studies the arch of his brow and the sooty eyelashes underneath. His face is so unguarded in sleep, even more than when he’s awake. Ash wishes he could look like that all the time, peacefully tucked into bed without a care in the world.
Ash wishes a lot of things for Eiji. Safety above all else, happiness a close second. A long life of golden hours and sweet dreams. The whole world, if he asked for it.
And, in the warmth of pinkish sunlight streaming in through their blinds, Ash dares to wish something for himself, too.
For example, as he watches Eiji stir and roll onto his side with a sleepy mumble against his loosely curled fingers, he wishes he hadn’t decided on separate beds. His own is starting to feel oddly cold all of a sudden. What would it cost him, he wonders, to crawl into bed next to Eiji and cuddle?
Eiji sighs deeply, nuzzling into the groove of his pillow before shifting again and rubbing his eye with the heel of his palm. His hand lowers and his eyes blink open.
“Morning,” Ash says gently, not bothering to keep the fondness out of his voice. He doesn’t often have the privilege of watching Eiji wake up. The sight is almost sweet enough to make him reconsider his stance on waking up before noon. Almost.
Eiji’s faculties seem to return to him slowly, his bleary eyes clearing with consciousness as he sluggishly sits up. His hair’s a mess and he’s drooling a little and there’s a red line tattooed on his cheek from a wrinkle in his pillowcase, but Ash thinks he’s all the more beautiful for it. It’s like the golden hour exists just for him and his leisurely morning routine. The bustling city falls away. There’s only Eiji.
He grins sleepily, beginning to say something in Japanese before seeming to think better of it.
“Good morning,” he greets Ash after a moment, a little sheepish. He yawns then, leaning back against the headboard and covering his gaping mouth with his hand. He turns his head to look at Ash again. Hopefully, he asks, “You slept well?”
“Yeah,” Ash answers absently, too focused on the easy tilt of Eiji’s smile and remembering too late that he actually hasn’t slept at all. In fact, he only just got back from his little outing last night. But right now, everything is perfect. He doesn’t want to ruin it with too much honesty. “Did you?”
Eiji looks pleased as he hums in thought. “I dreamed about you,” he says. Words that would take Ash a lifetime to summon the courage to say always come so easily to Eiji.
Before he can think of a reply, Eiji stretches his arms above his head lazily, happy like a cat dozing in a patch of sunlight, and Ash wonders if Eiji’s wrists have always been so beautiful, or if it’s just the magic of the golden hour that makes the way they taper off into his gentle hands so captivating.
Ash suddenly feels too warm. “Oh yeah?” he asks finally and curses internally when his voice cracks.
Eiji blushes, smiling bashfully with his bottom lip caught between his teeth. He really is beautiful. Ash gets a lot of (predominantly unwanted) attention for his own looks, and while he kinda gets it, he also wonders if anyone who’s called his blond hair and green eyes pretty has ever really gotten a good look at Eiji .
He never understood why dark hair and eyes are considered unremarkable. Eiji’s in particular are stunning.
“Yeah,” Eiji answers finally, his voice startling Ash out of his reverie. “We were dancing.”
Ash processes, then grins. “You don’t say,” he says slowly, the cogs behind his eyes turning in thought.
He’s never considered dancing with Eiji before, which he feels kind of idiotic for now. It’s a whole untapped resource for his daily - no, hourly - daydreams about what he would do if he wasn’t tied up in all the sex and violence and drugs; about what he and Eiji could be. They’re already sort of dancing, metaphorically - tip-toeing around feelings and contact that’s just a little too friendly and not friendly enough - but the kind of dancing Eiji means, with rhythm and melody and steps to follow and not follow, would actually be really fucking fun.
He wonders what Eiji saw in his dream. A ballroom, maybe, with a polished hardwood floor that refracts the soft white light of the lavish chandelier overhead. Eiji with his hair slicked back and his shirt crisp and buttoned. Ash holding his hand and standing close, then dipping him low and watching an indulgent smile form on his lips. Eiji pulling him in for a kiss by his tie.
Or maybe it was the rough, dirty kind the inner city kids do in those shady clubs and bars Shorter loved so much. He and Shorter used to dance at those places together, half as a joke, half as an experiment. The thought of doing that with Eiji makes his mouth go dry. He thinks about seeing patches of Eiji’s skin light up under strobing rainbow lights as he twists and shakes and sweats; about feeling his humid breath on his neck and his finger in his belt loop; about hands on hips and lips on earlobes.
He has to know. “What kind of dancing?”
“Umm,” Eiji starts, smiling timidly. “The slow kind. Slow dancing.”
Ash’s heart leaps. He swallows it back down.
“I didn’t know you can dance,” he says when he can’t come up with anything else.
Eiji lightly tugs on his earlobe. “Ah, I can’t,” he admits, chuckling. “It was not, um, an accurate dream. We just swayed, I think. So maybe not slow dancing after all...I’ve never really tried before. It seems complicated.”
Ash feels his heart flutter, an idea making him sit up in bed.
“It’s not that hard,” he assures him, swinging his legs over the side of his mattress, bare toes curling against the cold wooden floor. Hoping he doesn’t seem too eager, he clears his throat and offers, “C’mon, I’ll show you,” before he can think better of it.
Eiji’s eyes light up as he props himself up on his elbows. “Now?” he asks, surprised.
“Yeah, now,” Ash answers, standing and casually stretching his arms. “What, you got somewhere to be?”
Eiji rolls his eyes, but follows Ash into the kitchen, where the radio is. Ash plucks it off the cluttered counter and carries it over to the living room, fiddling with the dial on the front. Eiji watches him curiously as Ash flips through stations, static-fringed songs and weather reports endlessly cutting each other off until Ash hears the familiar starting piano notes of a soft jazz song he hasn’t heard in a long time. Immediately he knows this is the one.
He sets the radio down on the living room window sill and grins at Eiji, reaching out a hand.
“C’mere,” he beckons.
Eiji steps toward him unsurely. When he gets close enough, he slides his palm into Ash’s, staring down at their socked feet, inches apart on the hardwood floor beneath them.
“Are you sure about this?” Eiji asks, laughing quietly. He tilts his head up.
Ash can see his eyes now, up close and unobscured by his bedhead bangs. He feels himself being pulled into them by some kind of cosmic force before managing to reel himself back in.
“It’s just dancing,” Ash whispers, knowing that nothing he does with Eiji could ever be ‘just’ anything. “You’ll be a pro in no time.”
Eiji raises an eyebrow at him, skeptical, before shutting his eyes and sighing. When he looks back up, Ash is struck by that familiar but always surprising determination in his gaze and the implicit trust in the way Eiji’s hand tightens its grip on his.
“Okay,” Eiji says, smiling a little. “But don’t be mad if I step on your feet.”
Ash hadn’t thought about that. “We’ll cross that bridge when and if we get to it,” he decides, sliding an arm around Eiji’s middle and lifting their linked hands. “Put your hand on my shoulder.”
Eiji complies, but gets a peeved look on his face. “I am the lady in this dance,” he realizes grimly.
Ash grins. “Hey, you’re the one who said you don’t know how to do this. Once you get the basics down, I’ll let you lead,” he says patiently while Eiji pouts up at him. “In the meantime, hush. Class is in session.”
Eiji purses his lips obediently, awaiting instruction. Ash’s hand holds Eiji’s waist a little tighter.
“Okay,” he breathes, voice low. “All you really need to do is mirror me. When I step forward, you step back. The count for this is one , two, three, one , two, three, and so on, got it?”
Eiji nods cautiously.
Ash smiles, squeezing his hand encouragingly. “Good. Just keep repeating that in your head in time with our steps and the music. I’ll count out loud for you to start out, though, since I’m leading.” He pauses, listening to the song and waiting for the right time to start. “Okay, here we go, one - “
He takes the first step, his knee brushing Eiji’s. Eiji squeaks, startled, and jerks his leg back, almost losing his balance in the process. Ash is unfazed, hand sliding from Eiji’s waist to the small of his back, still counting under his breath. The hand Eiji has resting on his shoulder curls tightly into his shirt.
“Sorry,” Eiji laughs quietly.
Ash lightly pinches him in the side. “Less talking, more dancing,” he chides, taking another step.
Eiji snorts, but manages to keep up this time, swaying easily in time with Ash. By the end of the song, he’s only stepped on Ash’s toes twice, and the sheepish looks he gives Ash afterwards are so cute that it’s hard to really be mad about it.
The piano solo fades out as the two of them come to a stop in the middle of the living room, bathed in soft orange light from outside.
“See?” Ash says quietly, smiling. “Not so hard.”
Eiji thinks about this for a moment. “I think I need more practice,” he says, inching just a little bit closer.
“Oh,” Ash says before clearing his throat. “Uh, yeah. Sure.”
Eiji is very close now, and his thumb brushes idly but deliberately over Ash’s shoulder. Ash hopes Eiji can’t tell how sweaty his palm is getting.
This was a bad idea.
Actually, it was a great idea - which is what makes it such a bad idea.
Yeah, it feels good dancing with Eiji. But it also feels wrong. Whatever it is the two of them have, Ash knows it’s as beautiful and as transient as the golden hour. The clock ticks, the sun rises. Poof, Ash turns back into the alley cat gang leader he has to be. Fucking alakazam.
They’re torturing each other with each dance step. Every touch is like a drag of a cigarette. Dangerous. Addictive.
But Ash isn’t quite strong enough to stop himself from lighting another.
The next song is one he doesn’t recognize, so he pauses to listen. It’s more jazz, slow and smooth. After a moment, he nods and says, “Okay. New song, same dance steps. See if you can do it without staring at your feet this time.”
Eiji narrows his eyes up at him, trying not to smile. “Fine.”
“Good. Here we go,” Ash says, stepping forward. Eiji tightens his grip on Ash’s hand and follows.
The second time goes much more smoothly. Eiji is a fast learner and he knows it, grinning up at Ash in triumph.
Ash gets another one of his self-destructively brilliant ideas. “Want me to twirl you?”
Eiji tilts his head to the side, brow furrowing, but doesn’t fall behind in their dance. “Twirl?” he repeats slowly, lips cautiously forming the unfamiliar word.
“Yeah, you know,” Ash starts, slowing to a stop. “Like - “
He lifts up Eiji’s hand and shrugs the other off his shoulder. Eiji looks up at him, confused, before realization makes his eyes light up.
“Oh,” he says, turning on his heel and glancing back at Ash over his shoulder, “Like spinning?” He twirls in place a few times, looking to Ash for approval.
“Yeah, like that,” Ash says, “but there’s a trick to it. A special way. For dancing.”
“Show me,” Eiji says, regaining his footing and facing Ash. He grabs him by the shoulders, trying to spin him around. “You twirl now.”
“Hey,” Ash sputters, laughing, “I told you, there’s more to it.”
“Less talking, more twirling,” Eiji commands sternly, the corner of his mouth quirking up.
Ash grabs Eiji by the wrists, pulling his hands away from his shoulders. “I’m the expert here,” he reminds him, smiling playfully.
“But I’m the oldest,” Eiji counters, jerking his arm out of Ash’s grasp and jabbing him in the chest with a pointed finger.
“But I’m the tallest.” As if that gives him any authority whatsoever.
Eiji stews for a moment, pouting impressively while Ash smirks. Suddenly, a grin breaks out on Eiji’s face, and before Ash realizes what’s happening, Eiji grabs his shoulders and leaps up.
“ Fuck ,” Ash rushes out, instinctively catching Eiji around the waist before he falls down. He tilts his head back, looking up at Eiji in confusion.
He’s smiling down, warm like the sun and twice as beautiful. His arms are looped around Ash’s neck, his fingers brushing against Ash’s hair.
“Now I’m tallest,” he points out smugly, his heart-melting smile now a shit-eating grin.
Ash gapes. “Oh, you’re a bastard,” he says, a laugh sneaking out of him without his permission. He loosens his grip in retaliation and Eiji slips toward the floor.
Eiji gasps, hands scrambling at Ash’’s shoulders. His legs hook around Ash’s waist, steadying him. Ash stumbles, knocked off balance, until his back hits the closest wall. He hisses in pain.
“Oh,” Eiji gasps, a hand covering his mouth. “I’m sorry, Ash. Are you hurt?”
“Nah, it’s,” Ash grunts, adjusting his hold on Eiji, “I’m fine.”
Eiji smiles, relieved, then chuckles lightly. “I think we didn’t follow the steps correctly.”
Ash snorts. “Yeah, I wonder if it has something to do with a certain klutz randomly starting a game of leapfrog with me,” he says dryly, pretending to be more annoyed than he really is. He slowly loosens his grip on Eiji’s waist until Eiji’s feet safely touch down on the floor. He nods toward the middle of the living room and the two of them shuffle over, ready to keep dancing.
Eiji rolls his eyes and clicks his tongue. “So sensitive. Everyone says you are like a cat, but where are those reflexes, hm?”
This time, when they get into position, Eiji links his hands behind the base of Ash’s neck; casually, like how girls at prom hold onto their dates. Ash has no choice but to place his sweaty hands on Eiji’s waist.
Ash remembers what they were talking about. “You’re the one who was trampling all over my feet earlier,” he scoffs, “so maybe my reflexes aren’t the problem.”
Slowly, he sways in time with the music. Eiji does the same, languidly shifting his weight from foot to foot.
“You’re right,” he concedes, “The problem is your teaching methods.”
Ash frowns, affronted. “How ‘bout I step on your toes,” he threatens.
Eiji shrugs, unconcerned. “You won’t,” he says, mouth tilting into a smile.
Ash opens his mouth to argue, but shuts it again quickly. Eiji’s right. Ash glares down at him half-heartedly, face feeling warm. For a moment, they just look at each other, soft jazz notes and squeaking floorboards filling the silence.
It’s romantic until Eiji’s smile dissolves and his brow furrows. He reaches a hand up, thumb brushing the delicate skin under Ash’s eye.
“You have dark circles,” Eiji observes thoughtfully. He frowns. “You were still away when I went to sleep. When did you come home last night?”
Home , he says, referring to the 5th Avenue apartment they share. Home.
The truth comes accidentally. “Two hours ago,” Ash says before immediately biting the insides of his lips, shutting up.
“You lied to me,” Eiji sighs, eyes closing.
Ash is frowning now, too. “I promise I’ll catch up on sleep today, alright?” he offers in an attempt at appeasement.
“This is not why I am angry,” Eiji says firmly, dark eyes focused. He glances up at Ash through his messy dark bangs. His tongue says ‘angry,’ but his face says, ‘No, just disappointed.’ Anyone with half a brain and a person they love knows that’s a million times worse. “Ash, I know that sometimes you must lie to protect me. I wish you wouldn’t, but I understand your feelings.”
Ash bites the inside of his cheek, glancing off to the side again, ashamed. Eiji reaches up to touch his jaw, silently coaxing Ash into looking at him again.
“But this is not one of these times,” Eiji says, smiling sympathetically. “I am safe. I am not harmed.” His thumb brushes over the plane of Ash’s cheek, soft and warm. “These little truths, you can tell me. Okay?”
Guilt carves at a familiar groove in Ash’s heart.
“Force of habit,” he mumbles absently, turning his head toward the window and smiling wryly. The sun is slowly rising above the New York City skyline. “Sorry.”
Suddenly Eiji’s nimble hand is at Ash’s chin, gently tipping his face back toward him. His fingers trail up Ash’s cheek, warm palm smoothing over his skin. He brushes some of Ash’s hair out of his face, tucking it behind his ear. Eiji has that look on his face he gets when he’s taking pictures - that quiet focus that makes Ash want to kiss him more than usual. Another wish not even the magical golden hour can grant him.
Ash closes his eyes. He allows himself to lean into Eiji’s touch, just a little, and waits for Eiji to keep talking.
“We can stop this now, if you want,” Eiji says softly, caressing the side of Ash’s face with his knuckles. “You should rest. You look tired.” He chuckles lowly. “What were you doing for two hours? Silly.”
“Couldn’t sleep,” Ash answers simply. It’s not even a lie - it’s hard to sleep when Eiji is so close, breathing deeply and mumbling quietly every now and then; when his eyes are closed and Ash can let himself just look . The skin of Eiji’s hand isn’t particularly soft, but he’s so, so warm . What, Ash often wonders, would the rest of him feel like?
Before he even realizes what he’s doing, his hands are slowly trailing up Eiji’s sides.
“Why?” Eiji wonders, the tip of his thumb brushing Ash’s eyelashes. Ash takes a deep breath, trying not to shudder. Eiji seems to grow bolder, bringing his other hand up to Ash’s face so that he’s cupping his cheeks. Ash wishes Eiji would pull him in for a kiss - a real one. No capsule to maneuver into his mouth, just lips and tongue and teeth. Just love.
Ash doesn’t realize he’s been scowling until Eiji traces over his eyebrows and smooths out the wrinkles between them with his thumbs. He remembers that Eiji asked him a question and decides he has no idea how to answer.
Eiji lets it slide. “This is nice,” he says, but also asks, like he’s testing the words out before committing to them. “Being like this...I like it.”
Ash’s eyes open, but stay hooded. “Like what?” he asks, feeling the subtle divots between Eiji’s ribs under his thumbs.
“Being…” Eiji whispers, trailing off. His hands keep stroking down Ash’s face, and Ash swears he can feel Eiji pulling him forward, “...With you.”
Ash’s head starts tilting down. “Yeah?” he murmurs, hands sliding around Eiji’s back and following the curve of his spine.
Eiji’s eyelashes flutter, a soft smile curling his lips. “Yeah,” he breathes, fingers sinking into Ash’s hair.
They’re breathing the same air now, noses brushing, chests flush. Ash can feel Eiji’s heartbeat, fast and hard.
Slowly, Ash leans in -
- and miserably buries his forehead in Eiji’s shoulder.
The music on the radio fades into static white noise.
“I can’t, Eiji,” Ash whispers into Eiji’s shirt, tired. “I can’t.”
Eiji’s arms wrap around Ash’s shoulders and hold him tight. Ash deflates against him. He’s usually so selective about who can touch him and when and where, but Eiji’s hands are always welcome. His touch feels nice. Like a necessity, even. He hates loving it this much.
“Ash,” Eiji says desperately, mouth right by Ash’s ear, “You can do whatever you want.”
Ash’s fingers dig into the fabric of Eiji’s shirt. He laughs bitterly and lifts his head, looking down at Eiji with wet eyes. “I wish that were true,” he whispers, shaking his head. “But it’s not. I can’t promise you anything, Eiji. My whole life is so uncertain - I can’t even guarantee that I’ll,” he swallows the lump in his throat, “be around this time tomorrow.”
I can’t do that to you , he thinks, solemn but resolute. I can’t make you miss me more than you have to.
Eiji’s face hardens. His hands frame Ash’s cheeks, pulling him forward until their foreheads touch.
“Ash,” he repeats, “Know this.”
Ash presses his lips into a tight line, listening.
“If you do not want this because our feelings aren’t the same, that is fine,” Eiji tells him sincerely, voice gentle but firm. “But if you are pushing me away to protect me, don’t bother. For me, there is only Ash. It is too late for worrying about these things. I already love you.”
His determined eyes glint in the morning sun.
“Forever, I will love you,” he vows.
Ash doesn’t realize he’s crying until Eiji starts drying his tears, his thumbs rubbing gentle circles into his damp cheeks. He sniffles, staring down at Eiji in wonder. His resolve crumbles like dirt clumps; like he’s been buried alive all this time and Eiji finally pulled him out of the Earth. He breathes.
The light of the golden hour touches Eiji’s face and turns his eyes into rich, glittering black pearls, his smile into rose petals in bloom.
“Forever,” Ash echoes quietly, resting his forehead on Eiji’s more firmly. It feels right.
Eiji nods as much as he can without pushing Ash away, face serene. “Forever,” he affirms.
And with that word, something inside him clicks. A door creaks open, a chest unlocks.
Of course he and Eiji are in love. Of course they’d be in love no matter what. Of course they’re already way too tangled up in each other to back out now. Of course a kiss now and then wouldn’t kill them. Dangerous - What was Ash thinking? Everything makes sense now. Of course, of course, of course.
They’re both right here. Not being present now, in this moment, because he’s too busy worrying about what if ’s and but how long ’s - it’s wasteful.
How many golden hours has Ash wasted already? How many toothpaste kisses and fevered nights has he missed out on? How many dances?
“Hey,” Ash whispers, eyes fluttering open. “I have something else to teach you.”
Eiji glances down at Ash’s lips, then back up to his eyes. It’s very conspicuous and very cute.
“What?” Eiji asks, but smiles knowingly.
“You’ll see,” Ash replies slyly. “Close your eyes.”
Eiji does as he’s told, but not without teasing. “How can I see with my eyes closed?”
Ash squeezes his waist. “Zip it. Class is in session. Again.”
Eiji wiggles his eyebrows suggestively. “Oh, I am learning so much today.”
“Yes, you’re very smart. Shut up.”
And with that, Ash tilts Eiji’s chin up and ducks his head down.
Eiji sighs through his nose in relief when their lips touch, hands reaching back up into Ash’s hair and curling tight around the strands. Ash has to fight not to smile against his mouth. He feels relieved, too. It’s such a novel concept - being touched and feeling relieved about it. Ash could get used to it, this flood of comforting warmth coursing through him. He lets himself indulge, floating and wading through vast seas of love.
He angles his head, gently licking Eiji’s lips apart. Eiji melts, rising up to the tips of his feet and hooking his arms around Ash’s neck tight. He makes a needy little noise in the back of his throat that vibrates through the warmth of his lips.
“Ash,” he mumbles, breathless and dreamy, and if Ash could just hear that sound on repeat for the rest of eternity, he’d be a happy man.
Eiji pushes his tongue into Ash’s mouth, clumsy but persistent, and Ash rubs his tongue against his softly, sets the pace, shows him how. He was Eiji’s first kiss. As selfish as it is, he wants to be his last, and all the kisses in between.
Eiji’s mouth is as quick to learn as his feet were, his fevered kisses slowing into languid but hungry sweeps against Ash’s lips. Ash feels his heartbeat stutter. His hands trail up Eiji’s back and pull him closer.
“I never knew,” Ash breathes, breaking their kiss just for a moment, “what it was like to do this for love.” He presses his mouth to Eiji’s again, and again, and once more.
Eiji smiles a little, eyes still closed. “Me neither,” he whispers before pushing his chin forward and kissing Ash again, hard.
They kiss for a long time. It’s the longest Ash has ever kissed anyone without it escalating into something else. He loves it. He’d kiss Eiji into oblivion, if he could.
“You know,” Eiji starts when they pause to breathe, tilting his head to the side to let Ash drop kisses on his neck, “I think about our first kiss every day.”
Ash hums in acknowledgement, pleased with himself. He may have gone a little overboard that day, but he supposes it was worth it if Eiji liked it.
Eiji idly strokes Ash’s hair. “Now, I will think about this,” he says sweetly.
It’s enough that Eiji thinks about him at all, but picturing him daydreaming about kissing Ash, longingly staring out their apartment window as he waits for him to come home - that’s too much. Way too much.
Ash raises his head to plant a kiss on Eiji’s cheek, dizzy with affection. He feels Eiji smile. “You don’t have to just think about it,” Ash tells him, inviting, “you can just do it.”
Eiji chuckles, tilting his head and pressing a kiss to Ash’s mouth. He pulls away just enough to say, “Okay, but I want you to tell me what you like.” He gives Ash a meaningful look, brushing his thumb along the bone of his jaw. “And Ash, you must tell me what you don’t.”
Ash slowly begins to smile.
He has a pretty good memory, even when it comes to things he’d rather forget. Gun to his head, he can’t remember what he did to deserve Eiji.
No one has ever asked what he wants before. He’s never wanted so much in his life.
“Okay,” he whispers, smitten, and kisses Eiji again.
And they’re still kissing long after the golden hour has passed.