He couldn’t allow himself to fall apart in front of Mokoya. Wouldn’t let himself fall apart. He could hold her as she sobbed, hold her until she wrung out every tear from within her, but he couldn’t bear to show her his own devastation. It wasn’t until she left that he allowed the levees within him to break: to flood his own body with emotion, so much so that he couldn’t contain it, so much so that his body shook with the force of all the feeling leaving him.
He clung to the only solid thing that could ground him: Yongcheow. Yongcheow, whose life he’d saved without consciously knowing why; Yongcheow, who’d become a steady presence in his life, an anchor that moored him in a way that Mokoya didn’t. The tides had led Akeha to him, and for that he was grateful—but now the tides were pulling him into an undercurrent that would drown him if he didn’t act.
He couldn’t bring himself to swim, not yet, not now. Instead, he sank deeper into Yongcheow’s arms. Yongcheow was warm against him, vital and unshakable, the immutable drumming of his heartbeat a constant that soothed him. Being held like this, allowing someone to bear witness to his pain—Akeha tightened his grip on Yongcheow’s shirt. These, their bodies, pressed together in the dim light of the room: the touch between them was heady, thrilling, even as a softer feeling bloomed within Akeha.
His shuddering breaths calmed to a more even rhythm, inhale-exhale, as his sobs ceased. Even so, Yongcheow still held him and stroked circles on his back. With anyone else, the contact would be too much, his rawness and vulnerability too sensitive for such a gesture. But he welcomed Yongcheow, sighed as Yongcheow kissed his forehead.
He needed this. Needed Yongcheow’s touch, needed to be close to him, needed to feel someone so intimately that he would stop feeling the hollowness within his skin. He tugged at the sash around Yongcheow’s waist, undoing it in one smooth movement, the panels of fabric crossed over Yongcheow’s chest parting just barely to show the compression bandages beneath. He pulled away from Yongcheow, tugged his own tunic off.
“Keha,” Yongcheow murmured. “You’ve had a difficult night. Are you sure you want to…?”
“Yes,” Akeha replied. Yongcheow took a moment to scrutinize his expression, and the intensity of that gaze would annoy Akeha if not for the fact that he knew it was out of a deep respect and concern for him.
The affirmation, the certainty in Akeha’s eyes, were all that Yongcheow needed. He slipped the fabric off his own shoulders, unwound the compression bandages binding his chest, stepped out of the rest of his clothing as Akeha did the same with his. Yongcheow steadied a hand against Akeha’s cheek, his palm warm, and Akeha nearly melted into the tenderness of it, his eyes fluttering shut.
He felt Yongcheow’s lips against his eyelids, against the tip of his nose, against his own lips. So typical of Yongcheow, to be gentle and fond, but Akeha needed more—needed to be skin-to-skin and sweat-slick, roughed against the sheets until all he could think of was the sensations washing over him and not the undertows dragging him away.
At first, this need had come as a surprise to them both. Certainly Akeha, surly and unyielding, would take the top role; even he himself thought he’d lean toward such a preference. But they discovered time and time again that while Akeha wasn’t shy about expressing his demands, he was more interested in receiving than giving.
So Yongcheow indulged his wishes and took pleasure in it. They had journeyed for some time together, grown used to each other’s presence, learned the details of each other’s bodies such that Yongcheow knew precisely what to do to arch Akeha’s back, to draw obscene sounds from his lips.
“Yongcheow,” Akeha growled, the soft kisses maddening him.
“Yes?” Yongcheow replied, placing another gentle kiss on Akeha’s neck.
“Take me already.”
But Yongcheow didn’t—not yet. He pushed Akeha down on the bed, still taking his time pressing kisses to his skin. Akeha was vocal with his wants, but Yongcheow was equally as forward: he wanted to tease Akeha, to draw things out, to frustrate Akeha until he could overwhelm him with sensation and release.
Akeha knew that the anticipation, every moment of vexation, was part of what built up to the intensity that he needed. The crashing tsunami would have no meaning without tiny eddies to compare it to. So he endured, grit his teeth, and cursed.
Yongcheow traced his tongue on Akeha’s nipple, grazed the delicate skin with his teeth: hard enough to draw a sharp inhale from Akeha, but not hard enough to make him cry out.
“More,” Akeha said, prompting a laugh from Yongcheow.
Yongcheow’s response was to suckle at him, nip at him, draw lines of sensation across his chest that coaxed a groan from him. He paused only to draw a small bottle from the drawer beside the bed, unstopping it with a pop that made Akeha flush with association.
“You’ll tell me if anything hurts or is uncomfortable, right?” Yongcheow said. The gentle scent of the oil permeated the air as Yongcheow pressed a slick finger against him. Akeha rolled his eyes.
“I can take whatever you give me.”
“You say that, but I still worry sometimes.”
Akeha took a deep breath and relaxed as Yongcheow stroked him, eased his way into him. He knew his limits, and Yongcheow hadn’t yet reached them. He’d come close on a couple of occasions, leaving Akeha gasping and on the verge of breaking, but Akeha always pulled through in the end.
Akeha squirmed, bucked his hips against Yongcheow. It still wasn’t enough, and the keening that escaped Akeha’s lips made that clear to Yongcheow, who nuzzled Akeha’s hip.
“You ready for more?”
Akeha relished the sensation of being filled and rocked himself against Yongcheow, his moans low. Yongcheow swirled his tongue against Akeha’s tender flesh, shooting a sharper pleasure through him that surged together with the duller pleasure that had suffused him earlier.
“Please, Yongcheow,” Akeha said, his voice shaking. “I need you.”
That undid the dam holding Yongcheow back: he was rougher, more aggressive, but in a way that they both knew bore no ill will. He curled his fingers inside Akeha, his pace bordering on forceful, and drew a cry from Akeha’s lips, made his whole body tense. The deluge of sensation washed over him, and he allowed himself to let go: to yield to Yongcheow, to surrender any semblance of control, to fall helpless to the pleasure-almost-pain careening through him.
When Akeha was close to the edge, ready to crest over, Yongcheow drew back, earning him a string of curses and lascivious groans from Akeha. Again he built Akeha up, inundating him until he was gasping as though he were drowning in sensation, and again he drew back, allowing Akeha a chance to breathe and curse again.
“So help me, Yongcheow…”
Yongcheow only laughed and kissed Akeha, stealing the air from his lungs, capturing every sound he made as Yongcheow once again intensified against Akeha.
Akeha was on the brink again, everything only the rush of sensation, his body reduced to the lightning flitting through him, the submission to Yongcheow’s will. Yongcheow kissed Akeha’s neck; Akeha was so close, his whole body tensing, shivering, shuddering—
“I love you.”
Yongcheow’s words sent him over the edge, thrilling him as he cried out, not even trying to muffle the sound. Let whoever could hear hear them: loving was the least of his sins.
When Yongcheow held him this time, the atmosphere was different: contented, almost; as much as Akeha could be given the circumstances. That feeling blossomed inside his chest again, boundless and uncontained.
“I love you too,” Akeha murmured, allowing himself to name it and knowing that it was true and mutual. A few moments of comfortable silence passed between them, the light of the moon shifting as it set, a cool breeze tickling the sweat still lingering on Akeha’s skin.
Yongcheow’s voice was soft and nonjudgmental when he finally spoke.
“Why didn’t you go with her?” he asked.
“Let the black tides of heaven direct our lives,” Akeha replied as he looked into Yongcheow’s eyes. “I choose to swim.”