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His hair is long now.

It spills down his back, curls around his cheek, splays across the crumpled pillow like crackling fireworks whenever he sleeps. He hasn’t cut it since they left New York, and Ash finds himself using its length as a sense of time.

Because when they first arrived in this country, Eiji’s hair was shaggy and twined, cut sharply beneath his ear and occasionally prodding behind his nape. It was boyish, simplistic, a sable sign of youth he didn’t really think about. All the same, Ash liked the way it ran between his fingers and tickled his cheek whenever they’d hug - soft and slow like so many other things in their newly constructed life. It was strange, but he liked the way it smelt, too. Like teatree and lemongrass.

Now, their hair smells the same - if sharing souls with someone wasn’t out of the question, neither was shampoos - and Eiji has, in more ways than one, grown over the years.

Ash isn’t exactly sure how long he has been here in Japan, but he wakes up with Eiji’s hair tangled around his own, so it must have been a while.

He turns on his pillow, blinking against the tangerine sunrise streaming in through their open windows. It’s early, he can tell, too early to be awake when Eiji is still soundly sleeping - how often is he the first one up? Nonetheless, he accepts this role, and assesses his environment with lidded lashes.

The curtains hemmed by Eiji’s sister flutter against the window. The fan whirs uselessly against the summer heat as it oscillates back and forth. The bookshelf overflows with novels and polaroids lay nestled between the pages, holding their place.

And Eiji is asleep on his stomach, arms folded around his head and hair trickling down his back. Ash lingers here for a moment, drinking in the way those pink lips part and sigh with every breath - a sound he would know blind. The cream colored sheets bunched around Eiji’s waist reveal nothing but a single leg, and though modest, Ash knows that Eiji is naked beneath it. Knows that he is too, and that just hours earlier Eiji had been inside of him, and that they had loved so well the rest of the world seemed to dissolve into stardust.

It has taken them a long time to get where they are - sore from sex and naked in every sense of the word - for recovery is not linear. Some days Ash feels so trapped in his past he crumbles, crying in the bedroom like a stray animal cowering from domesticity. Some days Eiji feels responsible, some days he feels guilty, some days he finds the need to shrivel away from Ash’s touch in order to keep his composure at bay.

But some days their kisses carry on, and some days they slip inside each other’s bodies, reassurances tumbling from their lips with every breath. It took them months to kiss like that. Took them even longer to open up.

Recovery is not linear, Ash knows, but he trusts the way he feels right now, and he trusts the man sleeping by his side even more.

Throughout the years of growth and exploration, Ash has picked up on all the quirks Eiji is riddled with whenever they get that close. Like how his neck is sensitive (often, Ash will approach a working Eiji from behind, brushing the hair away from his nape to kiss the flushed skin behind it. “You ruined the shot,” Eiji would laugh, lowering his camera and hunching his shoulders in an attempt to dilute his flattery) or how he always ties his hair in a low, messy ponytail beforehand (so much so that Ash finds his stomach flipping whenever Eiji ties it back in order to cook or clean, intimate memories racing past his head like speeding trains.)

In fact, Eiji had his hair tied back last night, but between the rhythm of their bodies and the restless sleep that followed, it now lay charmingly wild. Ash adores it. Truly.

So, lulled from sleep and all things good, Ash settles his body until he is propped up on one elbow, eyes locked on the man next to him. Beneath the sounds of fabric shuffling and breath drawling, the birds sing their dawn chorus, and it is a melody Ash has learned to love. It is different from the sounds of traffic blaring and trains clanging, of guns firing and ammo clinking to the floor, and he is lucky to wake up to it each morning.

Lucky, lucky, lucky. He is lucky to be able to love so many things.

Ash lifts his free hand, fingertips featherlight with intent. Carefully, as if not to wake him, he strokes and soothes the hair away from Eiji’s neck to reveal the sculpted skin of his shoulder-blades and spine. Eiji stirs at this, nothing more than a shiver from the sudden exposure, and Ash interprets it as approval. He leans down.

Due to the summertime humidity, Eiij’s skin is sheen, and Ash can practically taste the heat beneath his lips. He traces down the bumps of bone and muscle now revealed to him, and his mouth is slightly parted as it grazes. It is amazing, he thinks, how Eiji’s body has maintained this greek-like athleticism he had formed in highschool. Amazing how he has not been encapsulated into pristine marble yet, with a body like this.

Ash presses a wet kiss onto Eiji’s shoulder, and a voice finally breaks the quiet.

“Morning,” Eiji rasps, voice caught on a sigh. Ash runs his nose down the ridges of spine.


Eiji sighs again, a content sound, and buries further into the pillows.

Their room is quaint, a little bit less of what they need and a little bit more than what they pretend not to want, but it provides a perfected sanctuary. The curtains are never closed, the nights are never long, and although their door is always locked, it is open to neighbors and friends and family. It seems that much like their relationship, their entire house is built upon comfort and steadiness.

A deserved slice of heaven.

“Turn over,” Ash instructs when he reaches the dip of Eiji’s lower-back - curved like a violin, musical to his touch. Eiji complies, a small sound escaping his throat as he stretches his bones awake. He then blinks up at Ash, who, at some point, had crawled across him further until he was practically sheltering him from the sun.

“Why are you up so early?”

Ash brushes his bangs away. “Thinking,” he answers truthfully, lips falling to Eiji’s forehead.

“About what?”

Ash kisses his cheek. “About you.”

Eiji smiles: another thing Ash is lucky to love, he realizes. “Coffee or tea?” he groggily murmurs as Ash crawls across him once more.

“Neither,” he insists, leaning back down to continue his praise. “Just stay right here.”

Eiji blinks, but does not complain. “Alright.”

And they have papers to edit, photos to develop, a cat to feed and a world to address, but for now they bask. For now, Ash kisses the spaces between Eiji’s collarbone, and Eiji trades in the warmth of his sleep for the warmth of his love.

They wish they could take snapshots of moments like these, cradling them close to their chests like fragile gifts. “Look at how things turned out,” they’d say to their younger selves, unfurling their hands to reveal this future. “Look at how far you’ve come.”

“Do you think we would have been friends as kids?” Ash had wondered once, back when his voice would constantly shake with years of pent up fragility. A nightmare, ugly and sharp, had woken him up with a start, and he proceeded to reminisce on all the what-ifs. What-if Eiji had been with him when they were children. What-if Griffin hadn’t left. What-if, what-if…

“I do,” Eiji confirmed, pulling Ash closer to his chest and out of his own head. In front of them, their hands lay splayed and coiled, wrapping around each other in a dance that chased the ghosts away. Ash laughed wetly.

“You would have given me a reason to stay,” he whispered. Eiji had cried with him.

He thinks about that conversation, that idea, a lot these days. About how, if Eiji had given him his kindness when Ash had needed it most, perhaps he would have found peace within his past. Perhaps he would have grown up happy and healthy and normal - whatever that means.

But that doesn’t matter, now, for he is all those things despite it all.

So maybe that’s why, in this early morning light, he says it. Maybe that’s why he figures, since they share so much already, that they might as well share a last name, too. Because Eiji’s hair is long, and so much time has passed, and Ash isn’t getting any younger.

“Marry me, Eiji.”

And he isn’t getting any luckier, either.

There’s a soft sort of silence, then, and the sounds of the morning birds replace conversation. Ash, unsure how to take the lack of response, lifts his head and assesses Eiji, who, surprisingly, has not faltered.

Instead Eiji just continues smiling, a tender upturn of his lips that speak more words than none. His eyes, though large enough already, swell into a doe-like expression - pupils dilating the longer he holds Ash’s stare. The question seems to soak into his skin like the sunrise, making him glow a shade brighter and appear a tad warmer.

He could say a million things. Could say yes in two languages, could kiss his answer in a way that leaves Ash the blushing one, could simply nod his head and leave it at that - they never really needed words, anyhow. But the question itself came as naturally and as beautifully as their life together, so why shouldn’t his answer be just as simple?

“Callenreese or Okumura?” he wonders.

The birds seem to sing their congratulations.

A beat passes before a laugh escapes Ash’s lips, breathy and rushed and unbelievably relieved. His heartbeat trips against his chest so loudly he becomes deaf to his own ears.

“Okumura,” he answers, for he would be lying if he said he hadn’t thought about it before. If he hadn’t imagined how the name would look swirled across a mailbox, or filed upon legal papers, or belonging to both a culture and a man he has been given permission to love.

Picking up on all the implications, Eiji moves his fingertips up the curve of Ash’s biceps, following the trail of defined muscles etched with fading scars and, due to the sunny season, freckles. “Are you sure?”

Ash gives a nod, jade eyes flickering across Eiji’s face as if he was memorizing its topography. “Unless you want mine,” he suggests. Eiji’s fingers squeeze.

“Of course I do,” he breathes, giving away the fact that he must have indulged in his own future fantasy at some point, too. Between the many years spent together, nothing was out of the picture for their dreams - they know that, now.

So Ash laughs again, a wonderful sound, and finds himself succumbing to an instinct he’s grown into like a second skin; he kisses Eiji, long and deep and tender. The kiss breaks on smiles, breaks on giggles - giggles, for God’s sake - and comes together once more as Eiji mutters into him.

“We can hyphenate.”

Ash contemplates this with a sigh through his nose, tickling Eiji’s cupid’s-bow as he exhales. “That would be a mouthful,” he mutters. How lovely this all is.

Eiji hums when Ash settles back down in the crook of his neck, a place that has been claimed countless times before with sliding tongues and nipping teeth. “I am used to mouthfuls,” he flirts. How lovely.

“So is that a yes?” Ash wonders, melting into Eiji’s embrace with a lean. He sucks on the skin between his lips, encouraging another flurry of breaths to oscillate between them.

“Is that your proposal?” Eiji clarifies. His eyes catch the freckles dappled across Ash’s shoulder, his lack of glasses making them the only thing in his foreground, and he knows come winter he will watch them fade. Knows the paleness upon Ash’s skin will become so great in those cloudy seasons that his veins will appear like purple snakes across his arms. Knows that his lips and knuckles will crack from the cold, sometimes so badly that they will draw both blood and concern.

Eiji knows Ash has flaws. Flaws that are seasonal, perpetual, and carnal, but flaws all the same.

But with the morning sun streaming in, with their bed rumpled and feathered, with sex on his mind and hair still wild, Eiji is proposed to, and he loves it just as much as all those flaws. Loves it so much it aches.

“It can be,” Ash responds, still tucked into Eiji’s neck and nosing around his hair. Black lashes flutter shut.

“I want it to be.”

“Then it is.” Ash’s voice is barely a sound, barely a breath, and yet the pressure of his hips speak volumes. They turn their heads to meet, just like they always do, and a warmth spreads from body to body. “Say yes.” Soul to soul.

It isn’t a possessive request, in fact it nearly breaks on desperation, but Eiji can't help but feel a swell of ownership. Ash has more of him than anyone ever will - body, mind, soul - so it's only natural for marriage to certify that.

Only natural for him to want to give Ash his livelihood as well as his last name.

So, “Yes,” Eiji answers, because of course he does. Of course.

And then they’re kissing again, a flurry of skin and hair and hands that seem to say yes a thousand times over. They are so entwined, so hopelessly in love, that they are unsure as to where they begin and where the other ends. They’ve always seemed to live like that, though - where would life start if the other wasn’t by their side?

When they break apart, Eiji is panting from both breathlessness and shock, a flushed expression if there ever was one. “We’re husbands,” he realizes, left hand slipping away to cup at Ash’s cheek. “My husband,” he awes, and suddenly Ash gets it. He gets why people get married. Hitched.

Because if he could bottle the way he feels right now, with Eiji splayed beneath him, lips slick and bruised and the word husband tumbling from them, he would. He would soak in it and lap it up like a dog.

He wishes he could bottle every damn day.

“My husband,” he returns, and a little noise of contentment slips out of Eiji’s mouth. Ash laps that up, too.

He’ll buy a ring, of course. He’ll do the things that couples do when they get engaged, like call friends and family and the entire goddamn country to let them know that he, Aslan Callenreese, will be wrapped around Eiji’s finger and sealed with gold. He loves that. He loves him.

Will there be a wedding, he wonders? Will there be flowers and suits and pastel icing cut with two hands instead of one? Will they dance? Will they cry?

“Ash Okumura.”

Most likely.

Ash stills for a moment, unsure as to when his lips had begun to travel down to heated places. He blushes, then, because not only had Eiji called him something he had only ever fantasized about, but he had said it with such ease, such prosperity. Like the name was as natural as any other sound or gasp of pleasure that occurs beneath these sheets.

He looks up to find Eiji’s eyes on him, lidded and warm and waiting. Another smile.

“I love it when you look at me like that.”

The sun warms Ash’s back. “Like what?”

Eiji cards through his hair, knuckle deep in fields of blonde. “Like that,” he whispers, tucking his bangs behind ears. “Like you are seventeen again.”

And Ash immediately understands, for he, too, often finds himself nostalgic whenever Eiji gives him a certain expression. An expression that knows no other world but their own, that is both devoted and boyish, that says more than anything pride won’t let them confess. They are new to one another - wishing to know more. They are young.

“Call me yours again,” Ash pleads softly.

They are soulmates.

“Ash Okumura,” Eiji says, and the words taste like honey in his mouth.

“My husband.”