He wakes up, chest heaving, the words ringing in his ears.
I don't think we should hang out anymore.
Somehow, it still haunts him, like a phantom limb he keeps forgetting isn't there because cutting off Sully was much like cutting off a limb – though Ash thinks he'd prefer losing an arm or a leg above losing him (would prefer losing anything and everything above losing him, actually, but Ash doesn't let himself go there) and is almost sure the pain wouldn't be as bad as it is now.
He'd foolishly tried to convince himself the pain would numb down as time passed – after all, he's spent so long not feeling anything for Sully (another thing he tries not to think about for too long, to not look into it too deeply in fear of what he might discover; the fact that somewhere in the back of his mind he knows he's always loved Sully, to retrace all those moments he'd see him with Fraser or any other guy that definitely did not deserve him for one reason or another and feeling something he could connect to jealousy if he let himself, which he won't) it shouldn't be so hard for him to go back now, would it?
But he had kissed him. And that moment in the car – and the moments before, really, when he was forced to think about how he interacted with Sully, when he had to discover that maybe, just maybe, there was something there in how he would look to him first, place him above others, follow him and care about his opinion most – is the one he thinks gets him most. Because now he knows how Sully's lips feel; he knows how he kisses and the noises he makes (the noises he could make if– Ash doesn't let himself go there, either) (or, well, tries not to) and how his hand tingles when he holds him, sends those shivers down the rest of his body. But most of all, he remembers the feeling in his chest: so full yet so free, the weight he didn't know was there lifting off his shoulders. That's when the dream changes every time, without a fault. Because just as he remembers that moment in the car, he remembers the moment in the alley of the Railway, and how that weight came crushing back onto his shoulders double, triple, its size as soon as Sully walked away.
He wakes up, gets off the bed and grabs a glass of water that he drinks in one go, before laying back down, taking a deep breath, and reminding himself he made the right decision choosing his brother.
But the words are still ringing in his ears.
He doesn't really sleep after that.
Suddenly, he's aware of him everywhere.
Ash tries to avoid the shop as much as he can – which isn't too difficult, seeing as Kam works there and is now delegated to do the groceries for practicality – but it's as if Sully fills every other area in his life no matter how impossible.
Ash knows it's probably him just being paranoid, but sometimes it's as if he can walk into a room and just be able to tell that Sully was there. And if it isn't that, then someone is talking about him – especially for the first few weeks of their new dynamic, when he would get questions about where Sully was, or how Sully's doing, or how come they haven't seen them run together, and he had gotten pretty good at answering without really saying anything, and the questions soon faded away.
Still, he runs into him more times than he would like (but less times than he needs, though Ash crushes that line of thought quickly) and though Ash wants to think it'll be easier each time, it's still the same agony.
Ash's heart constricts in his chest much in the same way it does every night – hell, every time he thinks of him – and he still gets that feeling he could finally name that night in the car, but never let himself say, as his chest fills with a warmth that he's only ever felt a few times in his life (his first girlfriend coming to mind) but never as strongly as it had when he was with Sully. It's almost immediately crushed as he feels a sharp pain go through it when he remembers how much everything's changed and how he can never get those days before back.
Too soon – or not soon enough, he still can't say – Sully's not there anymore, and it's a kind of ache Ash doesn't think he'll ever get used to.
Ash doesn't know what he hates more: the pain in Sully's eyes when he looks at him, or the pain in his heart when he looks away.
Sully could always read him a bit too well, so he can read his emotions like a book; except he misinterprets exactly why Ash doesn't want to have him around – why the thought of Sully tutoring Laila and having him in the apartment so often causes Ash such fear, a fight or flight response he can't seem to shake.
Sully's voice quivers and Ash's heart breaks all over again because it sounds so much like it did that night that haunts him in his dreams still, and as Sully leaves again Ash wants to run after him; wants to scream about how it's not about that, how it's about the fact that he loves him so much but cannot choose.
And that's where Sully read his fears wrong: it's not about loving a man, it's about loving Sully. Loving him so much that, if forced to choose again, Ash believes there's a possibility that he would now choose differently. And that thought shakes him to his core, because the only reason he hasn't completely fallen apart is because he's managed to convince himself (barely, but it'll do) that he was doing it for Kam, for his brother, for the only family he'd thought would never leave him, and that it was worth it. He can't risk anything breaking that bubble. Helping Sully get his keys proved to Ash that distance was crucial because he wasn't handling it well at all (to the absolute shock of no one) and he couldn't afford to change his mind.
The weight on his shoulders overflows down to his chest and he can't breathe.
Sitting with Helena at the bus stop, he knows he should kiss her.
But the only thought going through his head is She's not Sully. and he's still shaken from talking about him without ever really doing it. Still, those words seem the closest he'd ever say to anyone, and he can feel his hands still tingle, though he tries to write it off on the beer.
Ash tries to ignore the sunken look on Helena's face.
It was too close – too fucking close – and he can't believe how quickly all the walls he'd built up had fallen down as soon as Sully was right there above him, looking down at him in a way he hasn't in so damn long, and if Uncle and Kam hadn't walked in–
But they have.
He decides he'd prefer to drive a few extra hours than call Helena for a drink, and he's surprised when Leonie gets into the back of the car, dressed nicely enough to summarize she's going on a date.
"Going somewhere special?" he asks and Leonie smiles at him like she always has and it's contagious enough to make his own fake smile real.
"Um, yeah. Dinner. It's a date." she replies with the slightest hint of shyness. "Believe it or not, we met on an App."
Ash shrugs. "Hey, I won't judge." he says. "Whoever he is, is a lucky guy."
Leonie pauses, thinks for a bit. Ash wonders what he could've said that was wrong, but it's as if she decided to tell him. "Girl."
"Oh." Ash says. "I'm sorry, I didn't-"
"Oh, no, it's fine!" she quickly replies. "It's all still... new."
"Yeah, I get that."
He's not sure if Leonie realized the slip, but she says nothing on it. "I'm just... putting myself out there. Hoping for someone special." Ash can tell there's something she's not saying, but decides not to pry.
"If you need a quick getaway, you know the number."
Ash tries not to think about going out with Sully. However now, he thinks he'd settle just for a run. Or for a look that doesn't hold all that pain and coldness.
"I heard through the grapevine you've been seeing someone." Leonie continues the small talk and Ash tries not to flinch.
He's gotten good at that lately.
Somehow, they wind up back in the same alleyway of the Railway and Ash tries not to think about the ways this will end up haunting him, too.
He tests the waters with a joke, and Sully's laugh rings in his ears for longer than it actually lasts, and his chest fills with a warmth that he hadn't felt in a while. He thinks it'll haunt him now, too; wonders for how long he'd be able to feed off that single smile. He doesn't think it'd ever be enough.
"You should go back in." Sully says. The chill up Ash's spine is sudden, but he manages to stay still. "Don't keep your girlfriend waiting."
Ash shouldn't let himself hinge on the tone of Sully's voice when he alludes to Helena, but his self-control flies out the window whenever Sully's looking at him.
"Ash-" Sully tries to interrupt him, but Ash continues.
"She's never gonna be you, Sul." he says and thinks That's it, that's all I'll allow myself to do, no more. but his body works on its own accord, moving closer to Sully and making him lean on the wall as he crowds his space. Ash's voice is barely loud enough to be a whisper. "She'll never feel right."
The look in Sully's eyes tells him he remembers that night as well as Ash does – maybe he wakes up from dreams of it, too – and Ash hopes he understands the meaning behind it. Understands that Ash will never be happy, unless it's with him.
Ash is as close to him as he can be without touching – knows that if he breaks that barrier there won't be any coming back. He can feel Sully's breath on his skin and it makes him feel like he's burning.
Sully breaks out of it first. "I won't play this game, Ash." he says, and Ash moves away as soon as Sully does and they still don't touch, as if it's some kind of unspoken agreement between them. Still, Ash's hand twitches wanting to touch him. "I can't."
He leaves with that and Ash is left there again, in the alleyway of the Railway, leaning his head on the cold brick wall and trying to breathe through the weight that's crashing back onto him.
He stays there for longer than he should.
And he finally lets himself think.