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Helping Hands

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The pungent and familiar smell of curry curls in Akihiko's nose as he drops his briefcase and toes out of his shoes. With socked feet, he edges his loafers up in line next to a pair of sneakers. "Okaeri."

"Tadaima!" Yuya calls from further inside the apartment. "I made dinner."


"We'd eat at eleven if you started now--" Yuya shrugs, grinning unrepentant as he scoops rice onto individual plates. The elastic that holds his bangs out of his face as he cooks is the same colour as the apron he wears over a T-shirt and jeans. "--as you know, I don't like washing dishes."

Yuya's idea of clean-up is piling anything he'd used while cooking in a plastic tub in the sink, and covering the lot in boiling water. It had cooled to a comfortable, just warmer than blood temperature while they ate. For a time after he'd left the hospital, Akihiko had felt self-conscious eating, self-conscious of the difference between the ferocity he'd once eaten with and the care he now needed to take, self-conscious doing anything that brought his hands close to his face-- but Yuya pours so many words into Akihiko's silences that it's more often Yuya who is left, like tonight, shovelling curry into his mouth while Akihiko starts on the dishes.

With his sleeves rolled up to his elbows, the dishwater in the sink feels good on Akihiko's arms, the heat seeping into the bends of his wrists, the joints of his fingers that ache from needing to stretch just a little further, a little further to hit the right key. He likes his job; he's good at operations, good at conference calls, email negotiations-- in three languages!-- but there is a part of him that will always wonder about the life he would have had on the dealer's floor. Rinsing off pans and bowls and spoons, Akihiko looks at the dishes, the soapy water, not at his own hands.

Yuya slides his plate and chopsticks into the dishwater, his bare forearm brushing Akihiko's. It brings the hair up on Akihiko's arms, but Yuya doesn't look up, doesn't stop, and so Akihiko goes back to washing Yuya's dishes.

Akihiko puts his folder down on the coffee table, the weight of cardboard and printed pages, and rubs the thumb of one hand into the wrist of the other. They've never had more than one desk, and it's Yuya's now, for when he works from home.

"I don't think I've mentioned it, but I worked at a shiatsu clinic for a month."

Yuya has a lot of stories that started like that. They don't usually worry Akihiko. They don't usually start with Yuya flopping down on the sofa next to Akihiko so close that his bent knee knocks into Akihiko's thigh.

"I was there to buy coffee orders and because their receptionist had quit to get married and they hadn't found anyone to replace her yet, but I learnt a few things.

"Can I--?" Yuya reaches forward with both hands.

Easier to just let him, or so Akihiko thinks. After all the awkwardness of "Sit like this, no like this, no-- Right hand-- no, other right hand--," Yuya's left hand cradles Akihiko's forearm in his palm, Yuya's right hand loosely linked with Akihiko's. It had probably taken less than five minutes. It felt longer.

Yuya wriggles their hands, making them sway hanging there in the space between them.

"You need to relax more."

"I am relaxed," Akihiko retorts. Yuya's frowning faintly, and Akihiko's not sure if it's that that makes all the muscles from his hands to the back of his neck tense up, or the fact that Yuya's looking at his hands. Anego doesn't look at Akihiko's hands, when she manages to have a drink with him instead of a catastrophe with one of her juniors, and he's always been glad of that.

"Ok," Yuya says. "Just relax as much as you can. Try to be floppy. Think about letting it all... go, ok?"

Akihiko doesn't think about his arms, his hands, his fingers, or at least what's left of them. They hurt when he does.

Akihiko takes a deep breath.

He tries.

He tries to think about nothing.

He doesn't watch what Yuya's doing. It doesn't hurt, what Yuya's doing, something slow and gentle and not exactly like anything he remembers from physiotherapy. He wonders if it would feel different it was.

Akihiko hadn't known Yuya then, not before Mongolia and not at the hospital. Not until Akihiko was back at work, a desk in the corner, and living among unopened packing boxes in the one bedroom flat that had been everything he'd saved his Mongolia project salary towards. Yuya had been the friend of a friend of Akihiko's boss, looking for somewhere to stay, someone to split rent with, and it had seemed easier to agree than to look for someone else. Six months later, it's hard to remember living alone.

"Try--?" Yuya is saying, bringing Akihiko sharply back to himself and his hand, suddenly so warm in Yuya's warm hands.

"You want to try it?" Yuya asks.


"Try it on me. I can explain what to do."

Akihiko isn't sure why he nods, or why he lets Yuya rearrange their hands, so that it's Yuya's right arm in Akihiko's hands. His left hand is invisible underneath Yuya's arm, and the fingers of his right hand curled nearly out of view behind Yuya's palm.

The doctors all said Akihiko was lucky, lucky to be alive, lucky to have been found when he was, lucky to have lost so little, only five digits spread across both hands. But people who aren't doctors don't admire how thin his scars were, how smooth the digits the Mongolian winter left behind. People notice the missing fingernails. They notice his missing fingers, and stop looking at his face.

"You don't need to hold on tight," Yuya says, "just lightly, ok? Just to support my arm."

"Your floppy arm."

"Yeah." Yuya grins, and somehow that makes some of the tightness in Akihiko's shoulders unclench. Yuya rolls his shoulder and then his arm is somehow heavier in Akihiko's hand. "My floppy arm.

"Ok, so, there are spaces between our bones and therefore they can move a lot. Well, some. Probably more than you'd expect."

Akihiko says little while Yuya explains, though, that's nothing unusual.

Yuya's hands are smaller than his, his fingers short and thick and so far from delicate it's ridiculous how nervous Akihiko is. But he knows how complicated hands can be, all the nerves, all the bones. He doesn't understand why Yuya trusts him this much, but he's determined to do it right.

"In and out," Yuya says. "Like a gentle wave. Have you ever gone surfing?"

Akihiko shakes his head, and then Yuya's talking about the different sorts of waves you'd need for surfing, places they could go if Akihiko wanted to try it, but that's ok. Akihiko thinks he's got the hang of this, the slight push and pull, the give he can feel in Yuya's wrist as the joint extends and the resistance that means time to push back. He can really feel it, and he can see it, see Yuya's wrist opening up for him just like Yuya said it would, so he knows he's going ok.

"What about the other hand?" Yuya asks.

Akihiko looks up, surprised to find how close Yuya is, how close their heads are, leaning in over their linked hands. He can feel Yuya's forearm sliding in the sweat on his palm, his fingertips on the smooth skin on the back of Yuya's palm. He can feel Yuya's pulse, steady and strong, or maybe that's just the blood rushing in Akihiko's ears. He hadn't asked for scars that made his finger-stumps as sensitive as lips.

He drops Yuya's hand, or throws it, something awkward and awful that's over so quickly Akihiko's not sure what he did.

"No worries." Yuya shrugs, picking his hand up off Akihiko's thigh. "Like I said, I was their receptionist--"

"Maybe tomorrow," Akihiko interrupts, and he can't look at Yuya's face. He points to a clock behind Yuya's shoulder that says his alarm goes off in five hours.

"It's a date," Yuya grins, jumping up from the sofa and halfway to the bathroom before what he's said even registers with Akihiko. That probably means curry again, but for all that Akihiko complains about Yuya cooking, he really does prefer washing dishes.

He gets his organiser out, and scribbles in "Ishida, 23:00" on the bottom of what is technically today's page, and when he puts the pen away, he sits back into the sofa. His hands are still warm, and his fingertips tingle.