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They let Eiji have the only bed, poor soft thing. By the time Shorter wakes up, Eiji's still sleeping the sleep of the innocent, but Ash is gone from the floor beside him.

Shorter has this great idea: he'll make them all breakfast, Chinese-style, like Nadia rustles up whenever Ash wakes up hungover on Shorter's floor. They could use a good breakfast. The stove's on and he's got half a tomato chopped by the time he realizes he hasn't got his shades — left them on the counter when he went to take a piss last night, probably.

Shorter hears the sound of the shower running as he bangs through the bathroom door.

Past a half-closed shower curtain, he can see Ash standing under the spray, rivulets of water running down his chest and hand gripped around his stiff cock.

"Oh," Shorter says. "Hey."

Anyone else would look ashamed, or at least awkward, but of course Ash only looks pissed off. He raises one delicate eyebrow and doesn't move his hand.

Shorter knows he should back out of there — or at least look away — but he can't; he can't. He's thinking about the last time he saw Ash like this. He was in that little closet-hole that Ash calls home, flat on his back in Ash's bed, stripped naked, chest covered in come, with Ash looking down at him, that same smirk on his face.

That was just, what, three weeks ago? Good times. Easier times.

Shorter never asks; it's always on Ash to make the first move. So he waits. And Ash makes a move.

"Get out," Ash says, "or get in and give me a hand."

His voice sounds rough. Shorter wonders how long he's been in here, working over his cock; he likes where that thought takes him. By the time he's shucked off his shirt and his jeans on the floor, he's pretty hard, too.

He steps in behind Ash, wrapping one arm around him and pulling him in close to his chest. Ash leans back, their bodies remembering; he can't even count the number of times they've done it just like this.

His other hand goes to rub Ash's cock, hard and heavy and flushed red; and he laughs a little, appreciatively. "He's got you really worked up, huh?" Shorter says. "Your Eiji."

Ash lets out a low noise, half helpless, half heat. "He's not mine."

"He sure wants to be."

"Shut up and get me off," Ash growls, and Shorter obeys, stroking up and down the length of Ash's cock, liking the way it makes Ash twist and gasp in his arms.

Even Ash needs it, once in a while. He'll indulge to blow off steam. After they have sex he always sleeps through the night, no nightmares. Usually they doesn't mess around when things are serious, when their lives are in danger — but seems like he can't control himself around Eiji's wide eyes and soft smiles.

That's fine. That's what Shorter's here for.

Pretty soon Ash is talking again. Sure, he'll tell Shorter to shut up — to shut up and suck, to shut up and fuck me, already — but most of the time he needs to hear Shorter's voice and see his face. Shorter has some idea of why.

"Anyway," Ash says, in between gasps, "it's not like that."

Isn't it? Shorter doesn't get it. The way Ash looks at Eiji, the things their bodies say — Shorter knows that dance. It's sex, it's want, plain and simple. He's rarely seen desire in Ash before now, but it's there: desire and warmth and trust, in the casual, easy way Ash lets Eiji touch him. You don't walk up behind Ash Lynx in an empty room; everyone knows that. But Eiji does. When Eiji's around, that knife's-edge disappears.

Shorter wonders if Ash maybe even loves Eiji — whatever that word means to him. Anyway, he knows enough about what gets Ash going to say what he needs to hear.

Shorter leans forward and puts his mouth against Ash's ear, biting down on his earlobe. "Why? Because he's a virgin? Because he's never touched anyone before?" Not enough response. "I bet he doesn't even touch his own dick, huh? Just lies in bed thinking about you, about holding you, about kissing you —"

It's not his fantasy, not really. Sure, Eiji is cute, when he's flustered, when he's laughing, when he's angry, when he's — well, okay, all the time, really. But Shorter's never once moved in on Ash's territory.

Ash likes the sound of that, though. He lets out a moan, unable to keep quiet, this low, desperate sound that Shorter has never heard him make before. It's a really, really good sound.

"You could teach him," Shorter whispers, and oh, yeah, Ash is losing it, he's almost there. Just how long was he in here for? "He'd do anything you asked. Anything you want. Let you suck his cock, let you teach him how to come —"

Everything is wet and slick with soap and hot; Ash grinds his ass against Shorter's cock and comes so hard that he collapses.

Shorter takes his full weight, straining a little to hold him up. They stay like that for a while, Shorter's body wrapped around Ash's slighter frame, waiting it out. He soaps Ash down and rinses him off as the water starts to run colder.

Ash is trembling, he realizes. Is it — is he having an episode again?

It happens sometimes in the middle of sex: Ash will go silent, then panicky, then catatonic. Shorter always just holds him through it, skin to skin, holds him until he comes back. Sometimes it takes hours. He doesn't know what else to do. They've never talked about it.

But no, Ash's breathing is steadying out. He looks good. Relaxed.

Finally, Ash straightens up, seeming to snap back. He cuts the water and drags Shorter out of the tub. Shorter catches Ash's reflection in the mirror: he's grinning.

"Get your back against the wall."

Shorter shrugs. "I'm okay." He's so turned on he's a little dizzy and that moan at the end about did him in but hey, but he's okay. He can work it off himself.

"Against. The wall," Ash says, dropping to his knees.

Well, he's not going to say no to that.

It's nothing like it usually is. With the two of them — the way their lives are — it's usually fast, rough, and more than a little violent. They both like it that way. It's probably the only way Ash can stand it. Sometimes, Ash gets this look in his eyes like he's not even there. He goes wild. The next day, he'll touch the bruises on Shorter's neck, on his hips, confused, like he doesn't even remember what he did, with his own hands, his own mouth.

But right here, right now, is Ash: eyes closed, hands gentle on Shorter's hips. Pressing him back against the wall, kissing the tip of his cock, sliding it into his mouth inch by slow, wet inch.

Shorter feels tense and strung out and off-balance; what the fuck is happening?

Ash sucks him off slowly, pressure and slickness sliding up and down with such gentle patience for two minutes ... five ... ten. Time disappears. Ash spends a lot of time mouthing at the head, tongue moving in broad, gentle strokes that edge Shorter closer, in delicate licks that send a jolt up his spine. He's making soft, murmuring noises that rip at Shorter's heart.

Usually Shorter doesn't give a damn if he's loud. Hell, it's better that way. But this time, he bites down on the inside of his lip.

The look on Ash's face is something Shorter has no right see. With his eyes closed, he looks at peace — blissed out — an angel, somehow, even with his mouth obscenely full of cock. Ash isn't here, right now, in this crappy bathroom with its cracked mirror, with Shorter. He's somewhere else entirely.

Shorter keeps quiet and thinks about what Eiji would do.

Eiji probably wouldn't fist his hand in Ash's hair and fuck his mouth until he came. He'd say something sweet, not something filthy. He'd — maybe he'd — Shorter puts a hand on Ash's cheek, thumb stroking across his jaw, and he can tell by the way Ash's entire body melts and softens that it was the right thing.

Fuck; he's not going to last much longer. It hasn't been that long, but Shorter's just, he's not used to this. There's so much to feel: Ash's cheek beneath his palm, the tremble in his moans, his wet, warm mouth.

The feeling builds up, throbbing, unbearable. The most beautiful pain he's ever felt. He's — Ash grips the base of his cock and angles his wrist and Shorter comes.

He thinks, maybe love is pretty fucking great, if it's anything like this.

They stay there for a minute, just breathing. Ash's arms are wrapped around his hips in a tender, sort-of hug, his forehead resting against Shorter's stomach.

"Nngh," Shorter manages, finally, pulling Ash to his feet. Neither of them need to say anything as they disentangle, Shorter reaching for a towel, Ash fumbling at the sink.

Shorter asks, "So, when are you gonna do him, instead of taking it out on me?"

"I'm not going to."

"What?"

"I'm not going to. I can't," Ash says. "If we — if they — no one can know, Shorter. He'd be in danger. More danger."

"Oh, but it's fine to fuck around with me," Shorter says, but good-naturedly.

Ash scowls. "You can take care of yourself."

Shorter shrugs in acknowledgement. He finishes towelling off and runs a hand through his hair, which is now a floppy mess. Oh, well. Can't be helped.

He debates not saying it, but halfway out the door, Shorter stops and puts a hand on Ash's bare shoulder. "You need to give him a gun."

"I know."

That's all. Shorter leaves, not bothering to close the door behind him.

Shorter told Ash, once, that he'd do anything for him. Anything. They were crouched underneath a bridge at six in the morning, gasping for breath, blood all over both of them but so, so alive. They were fourteen. They'd just decided not to kill a man together, left him there on the pavement. Shorter was on top of the world. The sun came up.

He wasn't thinking of sex when he said it, that's for sure. He'd probably meant something stupid, something like, I'd die for you, Ash.

Over the years, he's kept that promise, again and again. He'll do anything that Ash wants, anything that Ash needs. On his back, on top, on tables and floors and in back alleys, on his hands and knees. Handcuffed to the bed. Stoned out of his mind. Drunk, sober, angry, soft. Laughing. Eyes open. Eyes closed.

Anything.