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Day 1: Holding Hands

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It was a chilly autumn day in New York City. The sky was a gloomy gray-white, and golden yellow, orange, and brown leaves littered the trees and the streets. Eiji was staring out the window of the grand condo he and Ash were currently living in. Well, using "living in" to describe what Ash and Eiji were doing in this apartment didn't feel right. What they did could hardly be called "living". When someone lives in a place, they have some of their happiest memories in that place. They sleep in that place. They share meals with their loved ones in that place. They come to that place to unwind, to relax, to find solace from the world. When someone lives in a place, that place becomes home.

This isn't the case for Ash and Eiji. To Eiji, it seemed as though the more time passes, the less this condo seems like a home. It's been ages since the last time he and Ash shared meal together, and Ash was rarely home. Eiji was forced to sit around all day and wait for Ash to come home just to have a brief moment with him. 

Taking pictures all day was boring and Eiji couldn't bear staying cooped up inside all day. The days were lonely without Ash. Eiji could feel the heaviness of Ash's absence all the time, especially when he was cooking and eating his meal made for one person.

Eiji pouts, propping up his right cheek with his right hand. He continues to stare out the window, studying the details of the bustling life teeming through the streets. Wasting time doesn’t feel good, but Eiji will find something to do eventually. For now, he notices the way the leaves flutter in the wind, wobbling and waiting for the moment when they finally glide gently to the ground, only to be crushed by a New Yorker walking in a rush. Eiji’s mind starts to wander as his gaze steadies and stares at nothing in particular. Today was the first day of October. Eiji knew Halloween was a big thing in America, but he wondered if shops had begun selling Halloween stuff already. What would stores even sell for Halloween? Probably chocolate and paper ghosts or something, Eiji assumed. He wouldn’t know since he hadn’t been outside in so long.

The silence that surrounded Eiji and his thoughts was suddenly shattered by the click and turn of the door being unlocked by a familiar face. Eiji peels his gaze away from the window to look at Ash.

 “Hello, Ash,” Eiji says, tilting his head slightly, his chocolate eyes wide and soft, like a doe’s.

“Hey,” Ash replies, placing his keys on a side table near the door. He strolls over to the table Eiji sits at and plops down onto a chair. He leans back into his seat and takes out his phone. Ash stares at phone as he asks,“What happened?”

The question catches Eiji off guard, making his eyes widen slightly. “What do you mean?”

Ash glances at Eiji for a moment before shifting his gaze back to his phone. “You seem...off. You didn’t smile when I came in, your expression is blank, and your tone seems…”

Ash looks at Eiji for a moment, shrugs, then turns back to his phone, his words sinking into Eiji. Eiji puts his right hand down onto the table and stares into the wood. Eiji responds with a simple, monotonous, “Oh. I hadn’t noticed.”

“Anything wrong?” Ash asks again, swiping at something on his phone. Eiji remains silent for a moment, twiddling his thumbs before the words burst out of him.

“I’m just—!” Eiji cries, his volume louder than normal. Ash turns to Eiji, his eyebrows scrunching together. Eiji’s cheeks heat up and he lowers his voice. “I’m just tired of being cooped up in here, Ash. I want to go outside. With you, I mean.”

Eiji breaks eye contact with Ash and looks down at the table. Ash sets his phone facedown on the table. Ash could almost see the pools of chocolate in Eiji’s eyes swirling with discontent. His hands fold together neatly on top of the smooth surface. “We haven’t been spending much time together, and I know that it’s dangerous outside but it’s not fun to be cooped up in here.”

“Eiji,” Ash says, his voice soft and mangled. He stares into Eiji’s eyes as he speaks. “I’m sorry I made this happen to you—”

“No!” Eiji cries, shaking his head. “Don’t blame yourself. I—”

Ash cuts him off by standing up from his seat and tucking his phone into his pocket. “Let’s go outside.”

Eiji’s eyes widen as he stammers. “Wait, are you sure? You just got home—”

“It’s fine,” Ash says, turning around to walk over to the door and grab his keys. He opens the door and whispers, “I’ve wanted to spend time with you, too.”

The confession throws Eiji for a loop. Eiji can’t stop the warm fuzz that creeps from his heart to fingers and toes as he smiles and stands up to follow Ash outside.

[]

“Where do you want to go?” Ash asks. He walks side-by-side with Eiji on the rough gray concrete sidewalk, golden leaves crunching under their feet as they step.

“Well…” Eiji trails off, taking a moment to think as he studies the displays they walk past. “I’d like to go inside some shops, maybe see some Halloween decorations.”

Ash snorts, a smirk finding its way onto his lips. Eiji pouts. “What?”

“What’s so interesting about Halloween decorations?” Ash says, his golden-blonde hair bouncing with him as he steps.

“I was thinking maybe we could decorate the apartment a little bit,” Eiji huffs, crossing his arms and looking to the side. “I’ve never celebrated Halloween and the apartment seemed very lifeless, so…”

“Halloween isn’t a thing in Japan?” Ash inquires, raising an eyebrow, his smirk gone. Eiji shakes his head in response.

“I mean,” Ash starts, looking off to the side. “If you wanna decorate the apartment, I won’t stop you.”

Eiji opens his mouth to reply but his words are quickly forgotten as a certain shop comes into view. Eiji’s eyes instantly light up at the sight.

“Ash! Look!” Eiji says, tugging at Ash’s sleeve. He doesn’t notice the way Ash’s cheeks flush at the contact.
“Bubble tea! Can we get some?”

“Sure,” Ash says, turning his face away from Eiji to hide his own. They enter the shop, which is filled with cute animals and plushies. Eiji’s hand falls away from Ash’s sleeve and Ash becomes overly aware of its absence. There’s no line, so they walk up to the register. The cashier says the regular pleasantries, and Eiji orders taro milk tea, which Ash pays for.

“You don’t want any?” Eiji asks, tilting his head to the side.

Ash shakes his head. “Not thirsty.”

“What’s your favorite flavor?” Eiji asks as the cashier makes the drink in the back.

Ash shrugs. “Regular milk tea, I guess.”

Eiji snorts, struggling to hold in his amusement before bursting into giggles.

“What?” Ash snaps, indignant.

“It’s just,” Eiji struggles to speak between his soft laughter. “I wouldn’t expect a talented guy like you to like such a plain flavor.”

Ash pouts, crossing his arms and turning away from Eiji in huff. The heat was back in Ash’s cheeks. Seeing Eiji so happy like that after so long was giving Ash more joy than he was willing to admit.

“Your drink,” the cashier says, placing the drink next to the register on the counter.

“Thank you,” Eiji says, grabbing his drink and taking a sip. The satisfied smile on Eiji’s face was enough to make Ash’s heart explode.

“What does it taste like?” Ash asks, letting his arms fall to his sides.

“Would you like to try some?” Eiji asks, holding his drink towards Ash. Ash wraps his lips around the pink straw, taking a sip of the sickeningly sweet purple liquid. Ash makes a face.

“How can you drink that?” Ash says, sticking his tongue out and shaking his head, making Eiji giggle again.

“It’s good!” Eiji exclaims as the duo starts heading towards the exit.

“Sure,” Ash states, rolling his eyes. Eiji smiles and slips his fingers between Ash’s. Ash’s heart skips a beat as Eiji gives his hand a light squeeze. 

“Thank you for buying me bubble tea, and for taking me out today,” Eiji says, smiling, his chocolate eyes extra smooth and shimmery.

“Of course,” Ash replies, tightening his grip on Eiji’s hand. He can’t stop the smile from forming on his face, nor can he stop the sparks bubbling and bursting within him as they walk out of the shop and towards the street, Eiji’s soft hand intertwined with his own.