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Measure In Love

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It was hot. The windows were open in a vain attempt to cool down the apartment. But, all that happened was more heat came in, warm air blew through the room and gently ruffled Ash’s hair. The AC was broken, so this was his life.

 

He was lying on the floor in the living room, a pillow under his head and a book held open over his face. Ash worked tutoring children in English, but today he was off. Another gust of hot air blew over him and Ash grimaced. He closed the book and then put it down, he thought about undressing, jeans were a mistake, clearly. But, the heat made him lethargic, and so he just lay there thinking about changing his clothes instead of actually doing it.

 

It was an incredible luxury to be able to do this. Just lie down in the middle of the day, the heat, and the quiet lulling Ash to sleep, he felt his breathing slow. When was the last time he had felt like this? Probably Cape Cod three – no, four years ago, and before that? When he was a young child. Ash closed his eyes.

 

Was this his life now? It felt too good to be true. And, yet, this had been Ash’s life for months already. Even if things changed, he would have had these months of glorious peace, he was grateful. For the first time in a long time, without any exceptions, he was grateful for the life he had.

 

Ash heard the sound of keys outside the door a moment before it opened.

 

Tadaima .”

 

Ash smiled slowly, eyes still closed. “Okaeri .”

 

“It’s too hot !” Eiji cried, closing the door behind him, Ash heard the sound of bags rustling. He could picture Eiji standing by the door, putting his things down, taking his shoes off, his face flushed from the heat.

 

“Hot damn!”

 

“Ugh.”

 

Ash laughed silently. He heard Eiji’s footsteps move from the door to the kitchen, the sound of glasses clinking, then water running. Footsteps again, closer this time.

 

“Aren’t you hot?”

 

Ash finally opened his eyes. Eiji was standing by the kitchen, glass of water in one hand, cloth shopping bag in the other. He was red, just the way Ash had pictured, and his hair was messy and a little stiff, probably from sweat drying in it, Eiji had been outside most of the afternoon. His hair curled a little at the ends, and it was getting long again.

 

“Yeah, I’m melting."

 

Eiji gave him a look, and then shook his head. He walked over to Ash and knelt beside him. He held out his glass of water. Ash eyed it, he was thirsty, but drinking it meant sitting up, and sitting up meant moving.

 

As if Eiji could read his mind, he huffed a little and rolled his eyes. He prodded Ash’s shoulder. “Get up.” Eiji could be ruthless.

 

Ash heaved a sigh. Eiji put down the glass; he had already put the bag down, and offered his hand to Ash instead. Ash took it, and let himself be pulled up. In the same movement, Ash leaned in to steal a kiss from Eiji’s surprised mouth, picking up the glass Eiji had put down, and drinking the entire contents in seconds.

 

The faintest colour appeared on Eiji’s cheeks, “You didn’t have to drink all of it.”

 

“I thought it was for me.”

 

“You did not.”

 

Ash smiled, and watched as Eiji tried not to smile back.

 

“How was the shoot?”

 

“Long,” Eiji pulled the bag over to himself and took out a small box of cookies. “I don’t think I want to do event photo shoots for the rest of my life. Want some?”

 

He offered the box to Ash who peered in curiously. Pulling out a chocolate chip cookie, he said, “At least you get paid.”

 

Eiji made a face. “Money is not everything.” Setting the box down, Eiji pulled out sunblock from the bag, as well as insect repellent. “Did you pack?”

 

“Nope.” Ash took another cookie.

 

“Of course you did not,” Eiji sighed; he wore the expression of someone who was digging deep for patience. His accent was more pronounced too, a sure sign of his fatigue.

 

Ash dusted the crumbs off his fingers, and pinched Eiji’s cheeks.

 

“Ow, what – “

 

Ash kissed him softly, gently caressing Eiji’s cheeks with his thumbs now. “Come on,” Ash got up, taking Eiji’s hands, and pulling him up with him. “I’ve been waiting for you to come back.”

 

“To pack?”

 

A huff of laughter. “Sure,” Ash said, “to pack.”

 

It was very hot, literally, and Ash found it a practical necessity for them both to strip completely before he laid Eiji down on his bed. They were sweating, their skin sticking together.

 

It was also hot figuratively. Ash’s mind reflexively shied away from words like ‘hot’ or ‘sexy’ from years of being called those things from men who saw him as an object. But, right now, ‘hot’ was really the best word. Eiji had pulled him down, slipping his legs to either side of Ash’s hips, and arching up. The sensation of it, the unabashed want from Eiji – it took Ash’s breath away.

 

He was always so careful to ask for what Ash wanted, Eiji almost never asked for anything for himself. But, now he was, and Ash wanted to give it to him.

 

They were moving together, Eiji’s hand adding wonderful friction, spreading slick pre-cum over their cocks. Ash braced over Eiji, Eiji’s thighs a warm strong bracket to Ash’s hips, it was a sweet simulation of something else, and it made Ash’s head spin.

 

Eiji’s eyes were closed, his fingers dug into the skin of Ash’s back, he felt so good. Too good.

 

Ash slowed right down, so he was barely moving.

 

Eiji opened his eyes; he looked at Ash dazedly, like he was waking up in the middle of a vivid dream. “Are you okay?” Eiji sounded winded, like he had been running hard.

 

“Yeah,” Ash leaned down to kiss him softly. “Just – let’s go slow.”

 

“Yes,” Eiji agreed, brushing back Ash’s sweat dampened bangs. “I want that too.”

 

Ash would have been worried that wasn’t true, if not for the way Eiji reacted. He was wonderfully responsive, and every reaction he made seemed to be pulled from him, like it was impossible for Eiji not to gasp, or jerk his hips up, or clench his hands. And, the way he looked at Ash, there wasn’t anything untruthful about that either.

 

Slowly, and sweetly, Ash guided them back to the edge. Eiji was shaking, and so was Ash. He stopped completely, waiting for Eiji to open his eyes again.

 

“Okay?” Eiji managed to get out.

 

Ash kissed him by way of answer. And, let them both, finally, tip over the edge.

 

Then, they lay together breathing hard, both of them lying on their backs. It was too hot to cuddle, but they lay next to each other, fingers brushing, and sweat cooling.

 

Being with Eiji was incredible, and sometimes it was too much for Ash. It felt like pouring wine into a full glass, everything spilled out, soaking into the carpet, staining it. Sometimes Ash remembered the times when similar touches weren’t his choice, couldn’t stop remembering them, and even Eiji’s soft voice didn’t help. He had cried, once, turning his back to Eiji, sitting on the edge of the bed with his face in his hands. He had almost forgotten how delight could turn so quickly to agony, like they were different sides of the same coin.

 

It was slow work pulling Ash back from the brink when that happened. When Ash stood on the precipice of his own self, Eiji was always there, letting him stare into the abyss, and then gently turning him away. Reminding Ash that he didn’t want to look anyway, he was just used to that scenery.

 

There was nothing like that this time, and Ash was glad but, “I think I’m – I’ve been looking at – therapists.” Ash said it haltingly, knowing that Eiji wasn’t going to think any less of him for it, but still finding it hard to say the words. Harder than the effort it took him to type the words ‘remote therapy’ into a search engine.

 

He felt Eiji turn his head; saw the movement from the corner of his eye. “That’s great!”

 

Ash turned to look at him too, that wasn’t exactly the reaction he thought he might get.

 

It must have shown on his face because Eiji quickly added, “It’s not great that there is stuff you need to see a therapist for. But, it is great that you are asking for help. Everyone needs help, I’m glad you want to take care of yourself.”

 

Eiji was like summer ripened fruit, or pure spring water; so sweet, so unbelievably good.

 

Ash huffed a laugh, lacing their fingers together. “Thank you.”

 

“What for?”

 

Being you , Ash thought. What he said was, “Just, thank you.”

 

Eiji bumped Ash’s shoulder with his, “Now who is being a sap?”

 

Ash laughed again. “Come on, we should go shower before we fall asleep like this. And, I still need to pack.”

 


 

 

It hadn’t been easy to coordinate time off at the same time, easier for Ash than Eiji, but they had managed four days. It wasn’t a lot, but next time, Eiji had fervently promised Ash, they would go on a longer vacation all around Japan. Ash was determined to hold him to that promise. For now though, they were in Kyoto, and Ash felt like he was wearing the pink tinted glasses Eiji bought in New York, because he was seeing everything en rose .  

 

The architecture was beautiful. So much care was taken in every detail of the cityscape, so that even the manhole covers had beautiful designs. It was very different from Izumo, and only the second place in Japan Ash had ever been. It was a purposeful beauty, one laboured over and thoughtfully put together, an entirely different experience from New York. 

 

Eiji took Ash to shrines and temples, teaching him customs and history. Ash had read up on Kyoto history, and so had Eiji.

 

“I want to show you around. This is not my city, but it is my country, and I want to introduce you to it.” Eiji had said. So, he had kept studying, and Ash had stopped his reading, he wanted to hear everything from Eiji.

 

On their way up to one particular shrine, they found themselves walking among a street lined with shops.

 

“Things will get more expensive as we keep going,” Eiji said, gesturing up the hill, but Ash was already walking into one of the shops.

 

He felt like a character in the cartoons from his childhood; floating into the shop on the waves of aroma coming from it, led by his nose. There was such a strong smell of peaches, Ash couldn’t help but follow it in. It smelled so overwhelmingly good.

 

Ash,” came Eiji’s voice from behind him. He said Ash’s name in an exasperated tone, like he had been saying it a few times now. Maybe he had, Ash was busy contemplating the peaches sitting in their own individual boxes, on display like precious gems.

 

After a moment’s serious contemplation where Ash completely tuned out whatever Eiji was saying to him, he pointed at two of the peaches. “These two, I think, look best.”

 

As if he was waiting for Ash’s selection, the sales clerk materialized at their side and offered to take the peaches to the counter for them.

 

“Ash,” Eiji said again. “These are not cheap.” He spoke quietly; even though he said this in English, there was a good chance the clerk would understand him.

 

Ash waved this away. He got his wallet out at the counter, and passed the clerk exact change, and then turned to Eiji. “You’re telling me you don’t want any?” He raised his eyebrows and watched Eiji hesitate. The fruit already bought, there was no point denying the fact that he did want to try them; Ash could see him wavering. Ash turned back to the clerk, thanked him, and took the peaches, knowing Eiji was going to follow him out.

 

“Fine,” Eiji said once they were outside again. “Let’s see if they were worth 4000 yen.” He was trying to sound annoyed, but Ash could tell he was genuinely curious. “Just because they are more expensive, does not mean they are always better.” Eiji added as he took one of the peaches Ash handed him. Ash said nothing, just waited for Eiji to try the fruit. With great dignity, Eiji bit into it, he couldn’t hide his expression of pleasure fast enough for Ash to miss it. Ash smirked as he bit into his own. It tasted as good as it smelled. “Don’t.” Eiji said, pointing into Ash’s face.

 

Ash widened his eyes innocently, “I didn’t say anything.”

 

“You are thinking it, I can see it on your smug face.”

 

Ash laughed.

 

The temple was beautiful; it almost seemed to sit in the water surrounding it instead of merely resting at its edge. In shops by the temple they sold ice cream with gold leaf in it, a tribute to the gold leaf decorating the temple. Practical Eiji would not even let Ash look in the shop’s direction. Ash only pretended to be interested in the ice cream to see Eiji bristle.

 

On their way back down Ash spotted a flyer on the side of one of the stores. He took Eiji’s hand, reaching out without even looking, and pulled a startled Eiji with him.

 

“This is for a festival right? Tomorrow?”

 

Eiji looked at Ash and then at the flyer. “Yes,” he said simply.

 

Delighted first by the fact that he could read the flyer, and then by the contents, Ash grinned at Eiji. “Let’s go.”

 

It was an added pleasure to see Eiji grin in return, his eyes lighting up. “Yes!” Eiji took his phone out and took a quick picture of the flyer to get the details, even though, since Ash had read it, he wouldn’t forget it. “I’ve wanted to take you to a festival too, and – “ he turned to Ash stuffing his phone back in his pocket. “You need a yukata !”

 

“One of those robes?”

 

“Yes! It’s tradition. You need the full experience.”

 

Ash hesitated. He looked down at sparkling brown eyes, and felt himself giving in. “Fine,” Ash said, seeing Eiji’s smile widen. “But, you have to wear one too.”

 

“Deal,” Eiji held out his hand, which Ash shook. “Let’s go find a shop.”

 

They left the touristy area; everything there would probably be priced higher than other places, and geared toward foreigners anyway, Eiji explained. They went to a more residential area, and there Eiji brought them to a store.

 

“There is no time for adjustments to be made, so it will have to fit you now.” Eiji said as they walked in.

 

It was a specialty store, it only sold traditional Japanese attire, the bulk of which seemed to be yukata, but there were elaborate kimono on display too. Ash looked around with interest, this too was new for him.

 

It was a somewhat cramped little store, it felt close and a bit like stepping into a different world, the way small business stores tended to feel. In the back was a small platform and a set of three full length mirrors angled around it. 

 

Welcome.”

 

Both young men turned, an older woman stepped out from behind a rack, smiling at them. She was very small, possibly she had been taller in her youth, but Ash guessed she wasn’t even five feet.

 

She turned to address Eiji, “Is there anything I can help you with? ” Her gaze kept going back to Ash.

 

“Is it the hair?” Ash asked Eiji, one week after his arrival, getting many more stares then he was used to. Ash pulled on his own bangs.

 

“Yes, that is part of it.”

 

“What’s the other part?”

 

Eiji looked away, suddenly all his attention consumed with chopping peppers. “You are very – attractive.”

 

Ash was the one to reply, “Yes, please. We are looking for yukata.

 

She looked a little surprised and then nodded approvingly, and whether it was at Ash’s Japanese, or his desired purchase, Ash wasn’t sure. But, the shop clerk led them to a rack when Eiji added that they needed the yukata for the next day, so it needed to be ready to go now.

 

The woman’s accent was a bit different than he was used to hearing, and it took Ash a moment to adjust to the sound of it. And, although Ash could handle pleasantries, and had taken pains to learn more complex vocabulary to talk about things that were interesting for him, not much about traditional Japanese clothing had made it into his lexicon. So, it was Eiji who handled most of the conversation with the store clerk, though once Ash had the names for things he had a good understanding of what was being said. 

 

Take these in for now, and let me know if you would like more options. I recommend these in particular,” she indicated specific yukata Ash and Eiji were holding, and then gestured them into adjacent changing rooms.

 

Thankfully, yukata were fairly straightforward. Ash slipped the robe on, and tied the obi into a knot at the front. He wasn’t sure how to tie it properly, but he just needed it to be closed for now. Not even a minute later, Ash was stepping out of the changing room. Seconds later, Eiji came out too.

 

While Ash hadn’t particularly liked or disliked how the yukata had looked on him, he did have an entirely different appreciation for how it looked on Eiji. He came out in a yukata that was soft blue at the top and darkened to midnight blue at the bottom. It was shot through with silver thread along the hem, it and Eiji were beautiful.

 

Before Ash could do more than stare, the shop’s clerk came over clicking her tongue at Ash’s shoddy obi tying job.

 

Eiji smiled at Ash when the women gently, indirectly, scolded him for tying the obi like he was knotting a shoelace.

 

I will show you, please pay attention.” Ash tore his eyes away from Eiji.

 

Eiji, of course, had tied his own obi just fine. When the clerk was done schooling Ash, she came over and brushed imaginary lint from Eiji’s yukata and remarked on how good it looked.

 

Eiji turned to look at Ash, and smiling, said, “That colour looks good on you.”

 

They tried a few more, and eventually settled on ones they both liked, though everything had looked good on Eiji.

 

Thank you for your patronage, I hope you enjoy the festival.” The woman said, inclining her head and handing them their purchases.

 

Thank you very much,” they both said, bowing their heads.

 

Walking out of the store, Ash turned to Eiji, “You don’t have anything like this at home, do you like wearing yukata ?”

 

Eiji shrugged as they made their way to the bus stop. “I don’t mind it. I used to wear traditional clothes for every occasion when I was little, but when I got older it did not seem very practical.” He paused, smiling a little, “It will be kind of nice to wear one again.”

 

Ash wondered if he could ask Sakura to send him pictures of a young Eiji wearing a yukata. He was probably exceptionally cute.

 

Back in their hotel, Ash and Eiji dropped their things off in their room, and then headed out to the communal dining room. They were staying in a traditional Japanese style hotel, and the dining room had tatami mat flooring, along with low tables that guests sat around on cushions. The rice paper door slid smoothly open when one of the hosts showed Ash and Eiji in.

 

They shared a table with some of the other guests; one of the servers came over to take their order after they had looked over the menu. Ash was very proud of the fact that he hadn’t needed Eiji to translate or clarify anything for him; he had read the menu faultlessly.

 

Everything was simple and beautiful. There was an obvious stress on quality over quantity that Ash really enjoyed in the Japanese aesthetic. There was so much pride taken in knowing how to do one thing really well, and the results were always worth the effort.

 

The food was delicious, and the atmosphere was lively in a slightly understated way, everyone seemed conscious of not wanting to disturb their fellow guests. It was nice, this consideration. Everything about Ash’s life since he had arrived in Japan had been nice.

 

Sometimes, he got homesick, but he didn’t know where exactly he longed to return. New York? Cape Cod? The things that had happened there marred both places; intellectually Ash understood his longing to be for a place that had never really existed. What he missed was a point in time when he was innocent and carefree, and was conflating that with a physical space.

 

He was still sometimes worried he would mess things up, or some crazy act of God would interfere, following some unwritten rule that Ash wasn’t meant for happiness. 

 

But, he only saw an endless line of days where he and Eiji worked, and came back to the same apartment that was their home. Their home. Their home . Sometimes they were so busy they didn’t have time for more than a quick ‘goodnight,’ and that could be lonely. But, it almost seemed as if tomorrow were not only a possibility, but a guarantee. Of course, that wasn’t true, but for the first time in years, Ash had the luxury of time.

 

“Um, excuse me ,” both Ash and Eiji turned to look. A young woman, probably around their own age, was looking at Eiji. She gestured to her menu, “Do you, um, know this?”

 

Ah, yes,” said Eiji, looking genuinely eager to help. “Do you speak English?”

 

“Yes,” the young woman replied with obvious relief.

 

Ash watched them as he sipped barley tea. He didn’t feel the need to offer help, Eiji could probably do a better job then him, but he was amused that this young woman, who was sitting at the table next to theirs, had leaned over to get Eiji’s attention, when, if anyone there looked like they would speak English, it was Ash.

 

The young woman swung long light brown hair over her shoulder; she leaned in close to Eiji, and looked up at him through dark eyelashes. Ash sipped more tea calmly. Eiji didn’t seem to notice any of it; he politely leaned back when she got too close.

 

It was charming, really, how oblivious Eiji could be. He walked around unaware that he was the definition of catching flies with honey.

 

Back in their room they carefully laid out their clothes for the next day and went to bathe together. Ash remembered how illicit it had first seemed to him when Eiji suggested they take a bath together. It was definitely a combination of cultural differences, Ash’s life experiences, and his own desires that had made it seem more sexual than it was. Having spent almost a year in Japan, and having visited the public baths a few times now, Ash understood how Eiji’s offer could be completely innocent. It was, even now, nothing but practical bathing. Eiji never tried to ‘make a move’ on Ash, even though he did mess around sometimes, but that too was purely playful. It was nicer than Ash would have imagined, it felt like a reminder that just because there was a sexual aspect to their relationship now, it didn’t mean that everything they did revolved around it. Their relationship wasn’t defined by it.

 

“Here,” Eiji said, holding out his hand to Ash. Ash passed him the soap from where he sat and Eiji lathered up the washcloth he was already holding. Eiji drew a half circle in the air to indicate Ash should turn; he did, and felt Eiji begin to scrub at his back. The other, wonderful, thing about this was that Ash didn’t bristle about this particular loss – yielding – of independence. He didn’t need the help, he could do it on his own, but it was a different way to share his body. Eiji had a way of cutting past Ash’s usual annoyance or embarrassment and let him be vulnerable, Ash was appreciating the fact that he had needed this, this implicit trust for longer than he cared to admit.

 

Because it was their first official trip together, Eiji had grudgingly agreed to splurging on an en-suite bathroom. It was much bigger than the one they had in their apartment, and the bathtub fit them both much more comfortably. While neither of them could fully stretch their legs out, they weren’t folded in the way they were at home, and they soaked in the hot water for a long while.

 

“I’m already excited for the festival tomorrow,” Eiji said, breaking the silence.

 

Ash, who had his eyes closed, smiled. “Me too.”

 

“I haven’t been to one in years, there’s so much to do. There are usually big crowds, we might get separated, what will you do if we get separated?”

 

“Find you.”

 

“I think it will be easier for me to find you,” Eiji reached up to tug on a lock of Ash’s hair. “With your hair like a beacon.”

 

It felt a bit condescending of Ash to praise Eiji for his English in that moment, so he didn’t, but he did appreciate how good that sounded. ‘Your hair like a beacon,’ he had said, it was pleasant, poetic, almost. The sheer phonetic sound of it. Ash thought maybe his tendency to latch onto the wrong thing was showing.

 

Ash got out of the bath first; he dried off, and then wrapped himself up in one of the hotel provided robes. It was softer than he had anticipated, and there was more dignity in wearing these than their American counterparts.

 

There were two brilliantly white futons laid out for them, Ash pushed them together and laid down on the one farthest from the bathroom.

 

Ash was very excited for tomorrow. He felt like a child waiting to open his presents on Christmas Eve. Just one more sleep. Ash could already see it in his mind’s eye. Scenes taken from anime he had watched at Michael’s insistence, overlaid with real life knowledge of what busy shrines looked like, and of course Eiji in his yukata . He could see it so clearly, like it was a memory rather than his imagination, Eiji laughing in the glow of lanterns, his brown eyes sparkling, and his whole being radiating joy. Ash was excited for tomorrow.

 

When Eiji emerged from the bathroom, Ash sat up. Their room was now dimly lit; Ash had turned off the brighter lights and left them with only the small lamps by the futons. In this partial light Eiji looked soft, softer than he usually did. The colour of his robe was palest yellow, and it highlighted how much more colour Eiji had gained since the weather had gotten warmer. Part of his studies meant he needed field experience, and he was working for an event photography company, meaning there were a lot of outdoor photo shoots.

 

Eiji was plugging his phone into his charger; he turned, and caught Ash staring. “What?”

 

“Nothing,” Ash said. “Come here.”

 

Eiji did, looking suddenly shy. 

 

Ash held out his hands, which Eiji took, letting Ash help him balance. He knelt beside Ash, so close his knees were pressed against Ash’s thigh.

 

“You know,” Ash said, pulling a little on Eiji’s hands, “that girl was flirting with you.”

 

“What girl?” Eiji asked, and Ash laughed in disbelief. “The one from dinner? Was she? I thought she was just asking for help.”

 

“Mhm, and I was just trying to get you information in that pill.”

 

“Pill?” Eiji echoed in confusion, and then looked at Ash with comical surprise. “What? That wasn’t – you weren’t?”

 

It was, admittedly, still a little embarrassing to say it but, “Not completely.” Ash owned, looking down at their hands. “I wanted to kiss you. But, it’s not like I could ask. ‘Hey, Eiji, I know this isn’t a great time and stuff, but what are your feelings on kissing guys? Me in particular?’” Ash scoffed.

 

Eiji tugged on Ash’s hands now, more firmly than Ash had been doing. “Hey.” Eiji said. Ash looked up. “You could have asked me.” And then he kissed Ash.

 

What would that have been like? Ash tried to imagine a timeline in which he had just confessed to Eiji frankly. How different would things be? Would they still be here, now? Practically, it didn’t seem like it would have changed much, but to Ash it seemed like it would have changed everything.

 

He could have had this much sooner, probably. But, even if Ash had a time machine and could make himself confess his feelings all those years ago, he probably wouldn’t. It didn’t seem worth putting their present at risk, things had worked out anyway.

 

Ash broke away to ask, against Eiji’s mouth, “That far back?”

 

He didn’t need to clarify; Eiji seemed to catch his meaning. Even in the dim light Ash could still make out his blush. “Yes,” he said, and Ash tasted the words. “My feelings changed, but from the moment I saw you, yes.”

 

Eiji kissed him again, softer this time. 

 

That far back.

 

Ash felt Eiji gently pull his hands away, he let go, and Eiji’s hands came up to cup his face.

 

He would never have guessed. That was a strange and funny thing to realize, but Ash, who prided himself on his intuition, his ability to read people, and his intelligence, he would never have guessed that Eiji had felt something romantic for him all that time. When they had met it was like schoolboys in the playground. Eiji had done the equivalent of walking up to him and asking Ash to be his friend; it had been beautiful in its simplicity. Ash had found this refreshing and intriguing, but that had been too soon for him. Even when he had kissed Eiji, he hadn’t completely developed feelings yet, it was more of an attraction at that time. He had just wanted to kiss Eiji, this young man who had risked life and limb to help him, and then dazzled Ash by seeming to fly more than jump. Even then Ash had wanted to know if Eiji would taste as good as he looked.

 

After that he had firmly retreated. Forcefully reshaped the way he thought of Eiji, and looked at him. Reminded himself that Eiji was his friend, his brother. It was easier with Eiji playing along too.

 

Now, Eiji was forcing Ash to change the way he saw him again. He was still those things, still his family, his best friend, but now they both knew Eiji had wanted to kiss Ash back. 

 

Back when Ash had first come to Japan, when all he wanted was to kiss Eiji again, he had felt selfish, and a little dirty, and he still sometimes felt the latter. But, when it was Eiji who kissed him first, like he had this time, and when he was the one to reach out and touch Ash, like he was doing now, his hand moving up Ash’s thigh, it made him feel like they were equal. It wasn’t just Ash who kept thinking about how their bodies felt pressed together, couldn’t seem to stop thinking about it.

 

Eiji’s hand slid higher up, Ash wavered for just a moment, and then caught his hand, gently pulling it away. He broke the kiss and let go of Eiji’s hand, holding up a finger to forestall Eiji’s apologies.

 

“I was thinking,” Ash began, and decided to simply be direct, “do you want to have sex?”

 

Watching Eiji blush the way he did just then would never lose its appeal.

 

“I – ah, now?”

 

Ash tried not to laugh, “Not now, not unless you packed condoms and lube.” He said, “Wait, did you?”

 

“No!” Eiji shook his head, leaning back a little.

 

“So, not right now,” Ash continued, supremely unembarrassed. “But, have you thought about it?”

 

Eiji gave him a suspicious look, like Ash had asked him a trick question.

 

Patiently, Ash clarified. “I mean, have you thought about penetrative sex between us? Is that something you’d want?” They hadn’t outright talked about the other things they had done, but there was no time like the present to establish clear communication, especially when one party was completely inexperienced in this area.

 

A short pause ensued in which Eiji couldn’t seem to meet his eyes suddenly. He bit his lip, and then said, like he was pushing the word out, “Yes.”

 

There was one second where Ash entertained the idea of asking for clarification, but he didn’t. That one word confession went through him like a shot of vodka, warming him from the inside out. Eiji, still red faced, glanced up at him. The desire to push him down was very strong in that moment, it was almost scary how much Ash wanted.

 

He leaned over and kissed Eiji softly on his forehead. “Okay. Then we can do that another time.” He drew back and picked up his phone to distract both of them. “It’s getting late though, we should sleep.”

 

Eiji didn’t protest. He got up and drank some water, then came back to bed. Ash carefully set his alarm for earlier than he actually needed to be up, making plans in his head, and then stowed his phone under his pillow.


 

 

“Do you remember what the lady from the store taught you?”

 

“Of course.”

 

“No you don’t, you’re doing it wrong.”

 

“Fine,” Ash threw up his hands, letting the obi fall loosely around his hips. “Then you do it.”

 

With great dignity, Eiji did. He picked up the ends of the obi , and deftly tied it so it sat neatly against his yukata, the way Eiji’s own obi was doing. In the end, Eiji hadn’t bought the first yukata he had tried, but was now wearing a soft pink yukata decorated with white sakura. It too looked good on him, it brought out the warm brown tones of his skin, his eyes, and his hair, and it complimented Ash’s own yukata better than the blue one would have. Eiji had picked out Ash’s yukata, a soft green. Eiji had smiled when he came out wearing it, and said, ‘I like this one best, it makes your eyes look green.’ Ash had of course pointed out that his eyes were green, but he understood Eiji’s meaning, and had bought this one.

 

“There.”

 

“Don’t be so smug.”

 

Eiji flashed his teeth, not quite a smile, an expression he had learned from Ash thrown back at him. “Come on, I’m starving!”

 

The sun was just setting when they headed out. Along with their yukata, they had bought geta, a type of Japanese wooden sandal. This particular footwear wasn’t something Ash was used to, but he adapted quickly, and soon learned to walk at a more normal speed in them.

 

On the bus they weren’t the only ones dressed in traditional wear, but they were some of the only men wearing them. Almost every woman wore a yukata, where almost none of the men did.

 

“Not cool for guys to wear a yukata ?” Ash asked looking over at the crowd on the bus.

 

Eiji shrugged. “Kind of, but we’re not trying to be cool, so it’s fine.”

 

That was true, but Ash was getting twice as many looks as he usually did.

 

When they arrived at their stop, everyone on the bus got out with them. The sun had almost completely disappeared by then.

 

The booths and games weren’t at the shrine itself, but had been erected along a pathway leading to the stairs of the shrine. When Ash and Eiji arrived, there were already crowds of people moving along the pathway. It was getting darker now, and the lanterns lining the stairs, strung along the booths, and through the nearby trees were already lit.

 

Ash was already grinning, he turned to look at Eiji who returned his look.

 

“Shall we?”

 

“Yes!”

 

The first stop was food. Eiji had suggested they skip dinner so they could try all the food they wanted. Eiji took his hand and led them over to a booth selling takoyaki, fried octopus balls with a special sauce that made everything delicious. Ash had stopped eyeing food that Eiji recommended to him suspiciously. He had almost a year of trying new foods to delightful outcomes, and was almost completely over the trauma and trust issues that had arisen after natto .

 

Next they had croquettes, then fried soba, and then karage. If they didn’t buy the same things, they shared each other’s food; they ate, and ate to their heart's content. 

 

They were careful not to get anything on their clothes, but luck definitely played a part in that. Other visitors bumped them accidentally more times than Ash could count. When they were finally done with the first round of food, they moved on to the games.

 

“Okay,” they were both crouched by a large tank filled with water, and in it swam very small goldfish. Eiji was holding out a small, what looked like to Ash, paper fan. “You have to carefully scoop it, look.” Ash looked. It wasn’t a fan at all; it was, as Eiji had accurately said, a paper scoop.

 

Maybe net was a bit better to describe the way it was being used. Since the scoop was paper, the trick was to catch the fish without ripping it. Ash soon had his own and determinedly gave it a try. On the other side of the tank a child of about five or so was struggling to catch anything at all.

 

It was harder than it looked. You had to be quick, but you couldn’t be too forceful or you risked ripping the paper, Ash learned that the hard way. And, of course, the fish weren’t exactly working with you. Ash broke five scoopers before he finally managed to get one.

 

“That one! Try that one!”

 

“I am!”

 

“Quickly, it is going to rip!”

 

“I know!”

 

“No, the other fish was slower!”

 

“Would you quit backseat fishing?”

 

Yosh! ” Eiji clenched his fists in excitement when Ash caught the goldfish, and Ash looked at him with triumph and wonder. That was more fun than he would have guessed.

 

Congratulations, young man! ” The woman running the booth said. She carefully bagged the fish for Ash and then handed it to him.

 

He stood, automatically taking it, and thanking her. “Uh, Eiji, what do we do with – ?“

 

Eiji was still crouching down; the young boy who hadn’t managed to catch anything was about to leave, his mother trying to console him as he stood up.

 

Ah, excuse me ,” both the young boy and his mother turned to look at Eiji. “Would you like ours ?” Eiji gestured toward Ash.

 

Ash immediately held out the fish. 

 

The little boy looked up at his mother, pleading in his eyes.

 

Oh, thank you, that’s very kind of you.” His mother said.

 

Ash walked over and crouched in front of the small boy. “ Next year you will get one on your own. For now, please take care of this one .”

 

The little boy looked at Ash with wide brown eyes. He nodded seriously. “I promise I will. Thank you, big brother .”

 

The young boy waved as he left, and Ash stood, walking over to Eiji.

 

“He called me onii-chan .”

 

Eiji laughed. “Isn’t it cute?” It was.

 

They went and played other games. Ring toss, which Eiji was surprisingly good at, although Ash was much better, to the astonishment of the man running the booth. They fished for water yo-yos, and then came across a shooting game. Ash pulled them over and demanded Eiji play.

 

“What?” Eiji said, taking the toy gun Ash pushed into his startled hands. “Why me? You’re the one who can shoot!”

 

“That’s not sporting,” Ash explained. “Now come on, just like I taught you.”

 

Eiji hesitated. The gun was longer than the one Ash had taught him on, Eiji held it a little awkwardly, adjusting his grip and then aiming. Ash watched him take a breath, square his shoulders, and carefully survey the target in front of him.

 

He completely missed the target the first time. And the second time. Ash laughed. “You can do better than that, I taught you how!”

 

“Shut up,” Eiji said, brows furrowed. “That was years ago! It’s not like I practice!”

 

“Here,” Ash came up behind him, arms around Eiji, ignoring the looks that earned them. “Remember what I said before, follow the sightline, your stance is good, remember to breathe.” Eiji took a deep breath. “Okay, now try.” Ash let go and took a step back.

 

This time Eiji hit dead centre.

 

The older man running the booth looked completely baffled.

 

The prize for hitting the centre was a giant stuffed animal, but Eiji asked if they could have keychains instead, neither of them wanted to carry that around with them for the rest of the night. The man agreed, and gave them small Domo-kun keychains.

 

After that was more food. It was fully night by then, and the atmosphere was different, more electric, excitement brought out by starlight. The lanterns strung around them glowed brightly, washing everything in golden light, and for a moment Ash appreciated just how amazing everything was. Everyone around him was laughing or smiling, they were with friends, dates, or family, and there was a lovely sense of carefree enjoyment going through all of them, Ash included. Eiji took his hand, they looked at each other, and then they both started laughing, for no reason at all, other than that they were happy.

 

While they were getting shaved ice, they heard the crowd start to murmur.

 

Fireworks.”

 

The fireworks are starting!

 

Ash and Eiji exchanged a look, and then followed the crowd to the fireworks. They moved off the path and through the trees lining it, about a minute away from the pathway. They were in a clearing that stopped at a sizable pond. On the other side of the water they could see people set up the fireworks.

 

“I can’t remember the last time I saw fireworks that weren’t on TV,” Ash said as they waited.

 

“Me either,” Eiji replied. “There will be another festival in Izumo in August, do you want to go?”

 

Yes .”

 

Eiji laughed, and then the fireworks began. Even the colours were different. Fireworks Ash had seen in America were generally primary colours, but these fireworks burst with colours like turquoise, magenta, and pale purple. He wasn’t used to seeing that, and they went on longer than he thought they would. Each fire flower burst with different colours several times, and when Ash thought, surely that was it, they burst again, colour blooming in the night sky.

 

Eiji was holding his hand, and he had stepped closer to Ash, so his arm was pressed against Ash’s. They watched every firework go up, and in that moment Ash felt infinitely grateful for everything, for the chance to be there, for Eiji, for his own life.

 

Eventually the display ended, and the crowd cheered and applauded.  Ash and Eiji turned toward each other.

 

“Should we go back?”

 

“Back – to the hotel?”

 

“Do you want to?”

 

“Do you?”

 

They looked at each other, and then both laughed. Ash shook his head. “Being considerate gets things done a lot slower. How are your feet?”

 

He seemed startled for a second, like he thought Ash hadn't noticed, but of course he had. “They…kind of hurt.” Eiji admitted.

 

“I thought so,” Ash tugged on his hand and turned them in the direction of their bus stop. “Let’s go back, do you want to take off your sandals?”

 

Eiji considered, and then shook his head. “It’s okay, I can keep them on.”

 

They walked slowly, and got to the stop not even half a minute before their bus showed up.

 

It wasn’t as crowded as it had been on their way to the shrine, but it was still rather full, a lot of other people had left after the fireworks display. When they got to their hotel, Eiji was walking more slowly. Ash had his suspicions as to why, but since Eiji didn’t say anything, he didn’t either. Back in their room Eiji kicked off the geta and sank to his knees on the freshly laid out futon.

 

Ash knelt by his feet. “Let’s see.”

 

Eiji lifted one foot onto Ash’s lap. He had rubbed a blister onto his big toe, and it had burst, but it wasn’t bleeding very much. Ash made a small noise of sympathy and carefully set Eiji’s foot down on the futon.

 

“Hold on.” Ash went to get their travel first-aid kit, and then came back, picking Eiji’s foot up again. Eiji didn’t protest, just reclined on his hands, and let Ash take care of it. Ash put on disinfectant, and waited a moment for the skin to dry, and then put on a bandage. “Technically, you should leave it in the open air so it dries faster, but since you still need to walk around, this is probably better.”

 

“Thank you,” Eiji said.

 

Ash looked up at him, Eiji was smiling a little, like Ash had said something funny.

 

“What?”

 

Eiji shook his head; he pulled his foot back and then held out his hands. “Help me up.”

 

Confused, but willing to let it go, Ash got up and took Eiji’s hands. He felt resistance, and then give as Eiji pushed himself up, using Ash’s pull to practically jump to his feet.

 

As they got ready for bed they reminisced about everything they had enjoyed at the festival.

 

“The best takoyaki – “

 

“And the karage – “

 

“The colours of the fire works – “

 

“The look on that man’s face when you – “

 

They dissolved into helpless laughter.

 

“This is actually pretty comfortable,” Ash said after, plucking at the collar of his yukata, and spoke around the toothbrush in his mouth, “It’s not bad.”

 

Eiji, whose mouth was already full of toothpaste, crinkled his eyes at Ash, and spit into the sink.

 

Instead of changing back into the robe the hotel provided, Ash put on the pyjamas he had brought with him, soft baggy shirt, and shorts. As much as he did like wearing the yukata he still enjoyed Western style clothing more.

 

Eiji had finished getting ready first, so that when Ash emerged from the bathroom he found Eiji already lying down. He had pushed the two futons together, and lay smack in the middle of both of them, his arms were up over his head, and unlike Ash, he had opted to wear the robe.

 

Walking over, Ash nudged none too gently at Eiji’s side with his foot, “Hey,” he protested.

 

Eiji turned his head to look at him, he was smiling in a way that made Ash’s heart beat faster. “What?”

 

“Move.”

 

Eiji held his gaze. “Make me.”

 

Ash knelt feeling like this was a challenge of an entirely different sort, but decided to take it at face value, for now. Lifting his hands, Eiji mirrored him, they eyed each other warily, and when Eiji struck out, Ash caught his hands. This, he realized, was Eiji’s intention, because he held on tightly to Ash’s hands when Ash tried to pull free. Fingers digging in, just shy of painful.

 

They had played this game before. If Ash really wanted to, he could free himself, but that wasn’t the point of this game anyway. There was no real winning. Even if one of them said they won, the winning didn’t come from being free from each other, it came from the contact, the point of the game was to touch, and stay touching.

 

They struggled for a moment, muffling laughter, protesting as the other pulled or tugged on their hands, their holds still testing, not even kind of serious. Eiji could probably pull himself free too, if he wanted to, he obviously didn’t.

 

When Ash leaned forward, Eiji pulled sharply on Ash’s hands, so that Ash’s balance was upset and he had to brace himself on their joined hands now up over Eiji’s head. His face was much closer to Eiji’s now, and that, he realized, had been Eiji’s goal. He saw it in the way Eiji looked at him, in the way colour slowly suffused his face.

 

“What now?” Ash asked, his voice coming out more quietly, and deeply than he had anticipated.

 

“You are asking me?” Eiji’s voice was just as quiet, just as weighed down with warmth.

 

“You started it.”

 

“Did I?”

 

Eiji could be such a tease. Ash closed the distance between them, and kissed him. He felt Eiji’s triumph, so maybe you could win this game after all.

 

Ash had once wondered if Eiji tasted as good as he looked, and he thought he had known, then, but he hadn’t. 

 

Kissing Eiji was a lesson in contradictions. It seemed to pull conflicting impulses and desires from Ash. He wanted to be gentle, so gentle, and so slow it almost hurt, but at the same time he wanted to press more firmly, harder, he wanted to take, and take, and take. He wouldn’t let himself do any of the latter, not because he thought it was wrong, exactly, he just wouldn’t let himself. As much as he wanted to take, he also wanted to give. He wanted to give to Eiji until he was overflowing like Ash was, until there was no space in him for anything other than Ash. Just as Ash felt sometimes when they kissed, that there was nothing in his heart, his body, or his mind that wasn’t Eiji.

 

They kissed long and slow, hands still clasped together, their grips now more relaxed.

 

When Ash pulled back, it was only far enough to watch Eiji open his eyes.

 

For a moment they just looked at each other in the dim light. Eiji’s eyes were dark and liquid. Ash didn’t understand why he was the one who got all the stares when Eiji looked like this .

 

“Now,” Ash said. “Do you want to?” He waited to see if he needed to clarify, knowing Eiji liked that he was blunt even when it embarrassed him.

 

It didn’t seem like he needed to however, because Eiji’s colour deepened, and his grip on Ash’s hands tightened.

 

“But,” Eiji began, “we still don’t have anything.”

 

“Wrong.” Ash said, enjoying the surprised look on Eiji’s face. “We didn’t, but we do now.”

 

“In the morning,” Eiji said slowly, putting it together. “You went out early, that’s what you went to do?” He let go on Ash’s hands when he gently pulled them back.

 

Ash was standing now, his back to Eiji as he rummaged through his luggage. He was glad Eiji couldn’t see his own blush at Eiji’s disbelieving tone.

 

“Yeah,” he said evenly.

 

Eiji didn’t say anything, but when Ash turned around he found him sitting up now. His robe had fallen open to his stomach; most of Eiji’s long legs were bare. He had very sharp tan lines just under his knee and just above his ankle, like he was wearing brown legwarmers; it was kind of funny and cute.

 

Ash carried with him a small plastic bag that he upturned on the futon when he knelt down again. Eiji followed the spill of objects onto the white blanket, after a beat he looked up at Ash.

 

“I don’t – “ Eiji stopped, swallowed, and tried again. “I don’t know what to do.”

 

“Don’t worry,” Ash leaned forward and kissed him, it was more of a soft brush of lips, “I’m a good teacher.”

 

Eiji made a small noise that could have been a scoff or laugh, or maybe both.

 

“What do you want?”

 

“What do you want?”

 

“You can’t answer my question with a question.”

 

“Says who? What will you do, arrest me?”

 

“Yes. Arrested for questions. Now, answer properly.”

 

Eiji gave him a look. He sat up on his knees and leaned over to whisper in Ash’s ear. That struck Ash as very funny, it wasn’t like there was anyone else to hear them anyway. But, his amusement turned to something else when Eiji’s words blew softly across his ear.

 

He sat back and they just looked at each other again. Eiji was biting his lip, his whole face red. Ash felt incredibly warm.

 

“Okay,” Ash said, his voice not even at all.

 

Eiji leaned forward again and kissed him. This time it was decidedly not just a brush of lips. It was still soft and sweet, but there was an undercurrent of something electric. It reminded Ash of that time months ago, when after they had both laid down to sleep, Eiji had made a small sound, kissing Ash and pulling his hand up and under Eiji’s shirt. This kiss had the same feeling, the same tender request. And, Ash answered.

 

It was an entirely different experience to undress Eiji like this. Partly because of what he was wearing, the act of pulling on a tie, watching the fabric fall open, and then pushing the rest off to find Eiji completely naked underneath, that was different. And, partly because they both knew exactly where this was going, and they had both asked for it. Ash wanted to say something about the former, about Eiji’s state of undress, but he didn’t get a chance, Eiji was climbing onto his lap.

 

He was a wonderful weight over Ash, and there was nothing to stop Ash’s fingers when they trailed up skin, so much skin. Ash had already spent so much time touching Eiji, but it wasn’t nearly enough.

 

Eiji began coaxing Ash out of his own clothes. Now Ash lamented the fact that his clothes wouldn’t come off as easily or erotically as Eiji’s had, god, he was going to replay that moment in his mind over and over again. Instead he had to break the kiss to tug his shirt off, and then Eiji had to move off him to get his shorts off. Western clothing was overrated.

 

Maybe some of what he was thinking had made it onto Ash’s expression, because Eiji was clearly trying not to laugh. He sat back down on top of him and smoothed Ash’s bangs back.

 

“What?”

 

Eiji was still smiling, and he didn’t reply right away. He ran his fingers through Ash’s hair, not as smoothly as either of them had probably hoped, fingers caught in tangles, but he gently pulled them through.

 

Tilting his head a little to the side Eiji seemed to regard him, still smiling like he was in on a joke that Ash wasn’t. “I like you.” He said, finally.

 

That caught Ash by surprise. Now, he was smiling too, felt his chest tighten, and his cheeks warm.

 

He used to think that sounded childish. A stupid young thing to say, but hearing it from Eiji, it sounded more profound, it carried weight. And, when Ash said it back, it was with feelings of more than just ‘like.’

 

They kissed again, and again, and again. This much was familiar; they had been here before. Their hands touching bare skin, their bodies instinctively pushing closer together, moving on memory, on desire.

 

Ash broke the kiss to lay Eiji down. Seeing him there, dark eyed, dark hair splayed out over a clean white pillow, it made Ash feel like fire ran through his veins.

 

When Ash bent down again it was to kiss the curve of Eiji’s neck. Eiji made a small sound when Ash grazed sensitive skin with his teeth. He thought about biting him, about sucking skin into his mouth, but he wouldn’t, not on his neck anyway. And, that was only partly for Eiji’s benefit, the other, greater part, was selfishly for Ash. He didn’t want people to see marks on Eiji’s neck and think about what Eiji might look like when they were being made. He had never really thought of himself as possessive, but the idea of anyone else looking at Eiji like that – Ash didn’t like it.

 

Instead, he trailed his mouth wetly down, taking care to run his tongue over the dip in Eiji’s collarbone. Kissing his way to Eiji’s shoulder, there, he bit down. Eiji gasped, his hands fisted in the sheets under them. He kissed the same spot, tenderly, soothing, and then kept going.

 

Eiji’s skin, Ash had discovered, was littered with beauty marks. He had one at the top of his ribs, one on his stomach, another on his hip, at his ankle, and when Eiji turned to lie on his stomach, Ash kissed the beauty mark on his shoulder blade, on his spine, and the small of his back.

 

By then they were both breathing hard. This – this was new. Ash had never seen Eiji completely naked and lying on his front before, it struck Ash as an incredibly vulnerable and trusting position to be in. His heart squeezed.

 

Reaching out, Ash trailed his fingers lightly down, tracing the line of Eiji’s back, and then lower. He felt Eiji tense, and he knew it was with anticipation.

 

Eiji was beautiful and Ash wanted to – he wanted to do everything Eiji had asked of him.

 

Ash was kneeling beside him on the futon. To his left were the things he had bought, condoms, lube, a packet of hand wipes; he looked over at them and then at Eiji. Eiji’s head was pillowed on his arms; he was looking the other way.

 

“Eiji,” Ash said, more breathy than he wanted. He waited until Eiji turned his head to look at him. His eyes were very dark, and his skin was a deep red, but he met Ash’s gaze. “Is this,” Ash gestured, “okay?”

 

Eiji lowered his gaze, black lashes that swept down hid his eyes, and then brought it back up. “Yes.” He said, and then, “I trust you.”

 

Ash’s heartbeat was almost painful. He couldn’t say anything to that, so he nodded, leaning down, unable to do anything other than kiss Eiji in that moment.

 

After a long moment, Ash pulled away, and Eiji gave him a slightly shaky smile.

 

If his life had been different, this would have been Ash’s first experience with this type of sex. Eiji would have been Ash’s first sexual experience full stop. He picked up the lube, and poured a generous amount onto his fingers. It wasn’t Ash’s first time doing this, but it felt to him like it was. Ash was nervous, he felt desperately consumed by desire, and he wanted only to be worthy of this intimate act, and of Eiji.

 

At Ash’s first touch, Eiji gasped. Ash looked at him, Eiji was biting his lip, and his eyes were closed. Carefully, Ash pushed a single finger in. Eiji smothered his noises into his arms, but Ash wished he wouldn’t.

 

After a long moment, Ash carefully added another finger, and felt Eiji’s body tense. He paused, and then felt Eiji slowly relax, watched him exhale shakily. When he kept going, Eiji made a sound in the back of his throat; it might have been a moan. Ash leaned forward and kissed Eiji’s shoulder.

 

The third finger made Eiji push his hips back. It took Ash by surprise, both the movement and how incredibly aroused he was by it. Ash pressed in, deeper, breathing hard. Eiji arched his back, and moaned loudly. Ash leaned forward, he couldn’t stop himself from pressing as much of his body as he could along Eiji’s, and kissing him. Eiji kissed him back frantic, open mouthed, and with such longing Ash had trouble breathing.

 

When he pulled away Eiji opened his eyes. His brows were furrowed, almost as if he were in pain, although Ash knew it wasn’t that, it was the opposite.

 

“Ash,” he said, pleading.

 

Ash kissed him again. He kept moving his fingers, enjoying the way Eiji couldn’t seem to control his responses; it was a heady thing.

 

He slowly withdrew his fingers, taking one of the wipes he had bought out and cleaning his fingers. He balled it up and threw it without looking in the direction of the trashcan; if he missed he would pick it up later. For now, Ash picked up the box of condoms and withdrew one. As he did Eiji got up, it seemed to cost him more effort than it should to raise himself up on his arms, but he managed it, and then turned to lie on his back. Without meaning to, Ash swept his gaze down. Eiji was hard and leaking onto his own stomach. When he looked back up, Eiji met his gaze. 

 

Ash put the condom on fully aware that Eiji was watching him do it, biting his lip as he did so.

 

They had decided this way was best. It might be a little easier on Eiji’s hips if he had stayed lying on his stomach, but it wouldn’t be the same if they couldn’t look at each other.

 

Eiji was lying with his knees up and pressed together, his hands on his stomach. He watched as Ash shuffled over to him, and let Ash gently push his knees apart.

 

“Ash,” Eiji said, when Ash was braced over him, excitement, and nerves thrumming through him. Ash looked at him. Eiji reached up, cupping Ash’s face in his hands, “I love you.”

 

This too had seemed to Ash like childish fantasy for so long. He remembered being about fifteen and brooding over the concept of love, saying it like it was a dirty word. He remembered scoffing at and concluding that love didn’t exist, it was a fairy tale and nothing more. Ash couldn’t remember when he had stopped thinking like that. When he had instead realized love had always lived inside him, whether it was platonic, romantic, or erotic, Ash had only turned his back on it because he had wanted it too much. And, now, here it was, meeting his gaze, teaching him firsthand that love was a bright, sharp beat of his heart that hurt him so good.

 

Eiji didn’t give Ash time to reply, he leaned up and kissed him. Ash was going to fall apart, he was going to fall to pieces, and everything he felt was going to wash over Eiji, because everything he felt was for Eiji.

 

They kissed, and kissed. Their feelings pouring out.

 

Ash felt Eiji’s hands slide down to his hips, and then pull a little. He broke away from the kiss to look at Eiji. “Tell me if you want me to stop, okay? Or if you don’t like something or – anything, tell me, okay?” Ash was breathless, but completely serious.

 

“I will,” Eiji said, “but only if you promise too.”

 

Ash felt his expression soften. “I will,” he promised. They kissed again, and then Ash slowly pushed in.

 

Eiji broke the kiss to gasp softly, his breathing quickening.

 

This wasn’t Ash’s first time, but it felt like it. It felt new, a completely different experience from anything he had ever done. Ash had never wanted like this, and he had never had that want answered in kind.

 

Ash had thought before that he was going crazy with the desire to touch Eiji, and now he felt like he was going crazy with the act of touching him. Eiji was hot and tight, and Ash’s body trembled with the effort it took to go slow and not thrust hard and deep like it was his instinct to do.

 

It was so much. This. Eiji. Everything. He tried to fight back everything that was coming over him.

 

So many sensations, so many hard beats of his heart, so many feelings, everything about Ash was turned all the way up. And, Eiji was so close, and this was so intimate –

 

Ash.”

 

Ash opened his eyes, and realized he had closed them. Eiji was looking at him in concern.

 

“Are you okay?”

 

Ash wasn’t sure what he had done to indicate something was wrong. Stopped, probably, he wasn’t even all the way in.

 

“I don’t know,” Ash answered, honest, and quiet. “I’m going to – sorry – “ He slowly withdrew, it was a little uncomfortable, but Ash fell on his back beside Eiji, and felt fractionally better.

 

“Talk to me?” 

 

Ash closed his eyes and took a deep breath; he let it out slowly.

 

He didn’t say anything for a few more heartbeats, then, “I think sometimes it’s just – “ As far as Ash had come, and as much ground as he felt he had covered, it was still hard to admit. “Too much.” He finished. “It makes me feel – vulnerable. I know I can be, with you, but it’s – hard. I’m sorry, - I just - ” He broke off, looking away, feeling shame burn in his face.

 

A gentle touch to his shoulder, “Ash,” Eiji said quietly, but Ash didn’t look at him. After a beat Eiji kept going, “You do not need to apologize, not for this. It is okay if you want to or need to stop. I love you, Ash, and nothing will change that.” Ash closed his eyes, squeezing them shut tight. “I know you trust me, I do not think that is the issue.”

 

“Don’t you think it’s stupid?”

 

“No. Not at all, why would I?”

 

“Because,” Ash ran a hand through his hair, pushing his bangs back. “I’ve done it with strangers, with people I hated and I – “ The words seemed to stick in his throat. “I – really like you – “ Those words now seemed stupid and little in the face of what he really felt, really wanted to say. He made a small noise of frustration. It was good that he was starting therapy soon, he obviously needed it. 

 

“Ash,” Eiji said again. He touched Ash’s hand in a gentle request. Ash turned his hand over and Eiji took it and it brought it up to rest over Eiji’s heart. Eiji’s heart still beat harder than normal, but it was calming. Ash finally turned to look at him. “I don’t think you can compare those times and now,” Eiji said gently. “This,” he pressed Ash’s hand against his chest, “makes things different. It is not the same, and that’s okay. Only things you want to happen happen, and when you are ready. When you want, and not before. There is time.” Eiji lifted Ash’s hand, and kissed his palm.

 

It was such a tender and courtly gesture, like Ash was a nobleman and Eiji was a knight.

 

Ash’s heart squeezed, he leaned over, and kissed Eiji, kissing so softly it was hardly even a kiss.

 

Eiji was sweet, so incredibly sweet and Ash – Ash still wanted him.

 

Pulling back Ash said, “Let’s try again.”

 

Eiji gave him a look, “Ash,” he started.

 

“Just – “ Ash paused, not sure how to explain how he felt. “It’s not that I didn’t want to, I was just – “ Ash gestured inadequately. “I needed a second. I’m not asking for anything I don’t want,” Ash finished. 

 

That was true, but it was also as if saying it out loud, what worried him, what held him back, had helped. It had certainly helped to see Eiji look at him with understanding, with love. His fears and worries didn’t go away, but they were soothed with open acknowledgement, and the fact that he didn’t have to face them alone. 

 

There was an impulse in Ash still to feel guilty, Eiji could be with someone less troubled and troublesome, but instead he had to deal with Ash. As much as that still sometimes pricked, he had spent so long without him, Ash couldn’t find it in himself to feel guilt the way he once had. Time and distance had changed things, much the same way as proximity had, Ash wasn’t the same mercurial, self denying boy he had been. That was still in him, but there was the start of something else too, acceptance, and forgiveness, of, and for himself. He was beginning to see himself the way Eiji saw him. 

 

He watched Eiji waver, unsure.

 

“I promise,” Ash kissed the corner of Eiji’s mouth, “I want to.”

 

Maybe this attempt would end the same way as the first, but the possibility of things not going exactly as planned had never really stopped anyone from wanting to have sex before. 

 

Eiji still looked a little uncertain, but he nodded. “I’m trusting you.”

 

For one ridiculous second, as Ash got back up, he had the image of an arcade video game in his head. ‘ROUND 2’ flashed across the screen. It surprised a laugh out of him.

 

“What?”

 

He was braced over Eiji again. Ash told him, and then they were both laughing. “You are crazy,” Eiji said, but he was smiling.

 

“Yeah,” Ash agreed, and he was smiling too.

 

It was a bit easier this time, now that he knew what to expect. It still hit Ash with a barrage of feelings and sensations, but it was easier to let them wash over him this time instead of trying not to feel them.

 

When Ash pushed all the way in, he stopped, and he and Eiji just looked at each other. He felt it again, there, lodged in his throat, having climbed all the way up from his heart. Words crowding in his mouth. Ash bent his head and said it, finally, into Eiji’s ear.

 

Eiji’s grip on his back tightened, and he repeated the words, turned his head to kiss Ash’s cheek, his neck, and shoulder, and then his mouth when Ash raised his head.

 

Eiji was right, the feelings in his heart made this different. Of course Ash would be lying if he said he didn’t want this for the pure sensation of it, Eiji flush against him, the smell of his skin, the sounds of his gasps, the burning feel of him, Ash wanted all of it. But, he also wanted a way to communicate what he had so much trouble articulating.

 

It was so much better than anything he had felt before, anything he had fantasized. Eiji was hot and eager, doing his best to rob Ash of his restraint. 

 

When all they had done was kiss, Ash thought Eiji might be a quiet lover, that he might simmer slowly, and let self consciousness rule him, but he wasn’t like that at all. He was wonderfully responsive, willing to lead and be led, and he always seemed too caught up in what was happening to be self conscious in the slightest. Like he was now.

 

Ash moved slowly, watching Eiji’s face, carefully cataloguing his reactions. Eiji seemed to like – Eiji pressed his head back into the pillow, and made a sound that seemed to be pulled from him.

 

Ash’s own body was pleasantly on fire, burning, and consuming, driving him onward. But, he continued to move slowly, shaking with the effort, and refusing to give in to the desire to push harder.

 

Ash .”

 

His name sounded like pure poetry.

 

Eiji opened his eyes, his chest heaving, and face flushed, “Ash, I can’t – I – “

 

Ash closed his hand around Eiji’s cock, feeling it throb in response. Eiji cried out, he jerked his hips upward, and Ash grit his teeth. He almost didn’t hear that cry for the blood rushing in his ears. Ash moved his hand unhurriedly, and Eiji made a sound almost like a sob.

 

Ash leaned down and kissed him. He was steadily losing his mind, he couldn’t think properly for everything he was feeling. He pulled back, and then as slow as he could sank back into heat that created a pressure in him that threatened every second to break. For a moment his mind caught on that train of thought, he was going to come inside of Eiji. And, as soon as he thought it, he almost did, Ash dropped his head and moaned. 

 

Wrapping his legs around Ash’s hips, Eiji pulled himself up so he could kiss Ash’s face, his arms around Ash’s neck. He kissed Ash blindly, “Please I can't– “

 

The words came out in Japanese. 

 

Ash’s breath hitched, and he surged forward. It felt like a taut wire snapping. 

 

Eiji’s back arched, and he began to shake. This caught Ash by surprise, Eiji felt good, so good – And, Ash was coming too. It wasn’t just Eiji who had been on the brink this whole time, Ash had been denying them both, caught up in the desire to draw it out.

 

They were both panting. Ash had fallen on top of Eiji, and Eiji held him tightly, his fingers trembling.

 

When Ash finally had enough breath in his body, he lifted himself up. Carefully, he pulled out, and then fell onto his back.

 

They breathed together for a moment, and when Eiji brushed his fingers, Ash took his hand, and turned his head. Eiji was already looking back at him. His eyes were warm, his expression was joyous, and a little shy. It was probably the same expression Ash himself wore.

 

“Okay?” Still breathless.

 

“No,” Ash replied, much the same. “Way better.”

 

Eiji squeezed his hand, trying to glare and not even kind of succeeding. Ash lifted his hand, and kissed Eiji’s fingers. They smiled at each other, and Ash felt, embarrassingly; tears begin to prick his eyes. He blinked them back.

 

“Hold on,” Ash said, letting go of Eiji’s hand, and pushing himself up. His limbs were heavy and he immediately wanted to lie back down, but he didn’t. Eiji was sitting up too, wincing. “Are you hurt?”

 

He looked up; Ash was standing now. Eiji shook his head, “Just sore,” he smoothed his hands over his hips and rubbed at his knees.

 

“Do you want to take a bath?”

 

“Yes.”

 

Ash went to clean off, turning the heater on for the bath when he did. He then poured a glass of water for Eiji, bringing it and a damp washcloth back for him. Eiji was lying down again, stretching, hands over his head, and body twisting this way and that. When he saw Ash staring, he stopped.

 

“What?” Eiji sat up again a little stiffly.

 

“Nothing,” Ash handed him the water. It was probably too much for both of them to do it again right now. “You’re sure you’re not hurt?”

 

“I’m sure,” Eiji drank all the water down in one go. He lowered the glass and asked suddenly, “Do you think the people next to us, ah, heard?”

 

“Yeah,” Ash said without missing a beat. “We weren’t quiet, and these walls are thin.”

 

Eiji dropped his face into his hands, and Ash tried not to laugh, too much, out loud.

 

“Here,” Ash touched Eiji’s arms lightly, coaxing them back down, and gently cleaned off his stomach. Eiji let him, and when he was done, pulled Ash forward to kiss him.

 

“I’m happy,” Eiji said, not even an inch from Ash’s face, “I’m glad everything was – is with you.”

 

It was similar to what Ash had been thinking; his heart beat in his chest. “Me too.” He was glad it was Eiji he had fallen in love with.

 

When the water was ready they got up. Ash had to help Eiji who almost fell back down, his knees completely gave out.

 

“I did not think,” Eiji said, when he could walk again, “being ‘weak kneed’ was a real thing.”

 

The bath felt wonderful. Ash probably wasn’t as sore as Eiji, but his muscles still appreciated the soothing heat. Eiji was leaning against Ash, his back against Ash’s chest, and Ash could feel them both start to drift off after only a minute.

 

“Hey,” he said, forcing his eyes open and nudging Eiji, “Don’t fall asleep.”

 

Eiji made a sleepy noise of protest.

 

“Wake up, or we’re getting out right now.”

 

He watched Eiji struggle to open his eyes, “Fine,” he said, grudgingly.

 

“Tell me about work.”

 

“What? Why?”

 

“It’ll keep you awake, tell me.”

 

Eiji sighed, and then he did. Even with that added assistance, he was still falling asleep, his speech slowed, and his words started to drag out.

 

Ash heaved his own sigh and prodded Eiji in the side. “Come on,” he said, ignoring the indignant sound he made. “Let’s go to bed.”

 

Blurry eyed and swaying slightly, they managed to dry themselves off enough to stumble back to their futons. They were both too tired to bother with pyjamas. They simply fell into bed, Ash just barely had enough energy to drag the blankets over them, Eiji’s head had settled into the space between Ash’s neck and shoulder, and there it stayed, he was already passed out. Ash wanted to turn off the lamps, but all he did was blink at them, and then he too was asleep.


 

They slept in well-passed breakfast. They must have been very tired indeed because when Ash woke up, they were still in the exact same positions they had been in when they fell asleep.

 

It took Ash a moment of slowly blinking to realize he and Eiji were both completely naked, and then to remember why that was. As soon as he did he felt the slight soreness in his body, and remembered everything that had happened last night.

 

Gladness welled in his heart.

 

Eiji began to stir beside him; Ash watched his eyelids flutter. When he finally managed to open them, he looked at Ash in an unfocused way for a second, then put his arms around Ash’s middle and pressed his face to Ash’s shoulder.

 

“’Morning,” Eiji's voice was muffled against Ash’s skin.

 

Ash smiled softly, “Good morning,” he said. And, it really was.