Hands, fingers. Tangled. Palms touching, skin warm and flush. His body is beside yours, free hand resting on his chest, rising and falling with motion slight yet mesmerizing. You can't take your eyes off him. If you do, he may stop breathing.

Your hands sweat. You don't let go.

Your head, against the pillow, strands of hair plastered to your cheek with sweat. His fingers nestled into the dips between your own.

His body is so close, his mind far away. You wonder what it would be like, to see what he sees, to hear the things he can hear. To have the tender presence of another heart inside you. Your own heart skips a beat at the thought. There is already so much bubbling away inside you that you may well burst.

You can see the physical remnants of this otherness, through the thin peek at his belly between his shorts and raised shirt. The careful line cutting across his hip, where his skin is markedly darker, mimicking the natural curves of color splashed across Yubel's old body. He's been able to explain it away as a birthmark - so, too, with his chest, where the pigment curves so delicately over one shoulder. You suppose it could be called a birthmark, though it wasn't his to begin with.

Your mind wanders, lazily. Fleeting memories and thoughts, mostly unpleasant. Decisions you regret. Unflattering senses of the self. But Jaden's hand is weighty and soft in your own, and you let these thoughts bubble and boil away, shutting your eyes gently. You are so very tired.

He's tired, too. He has healed from wounds deeper than anyone should ever have to receive but he'll never completely forget them. He smiles cordially, he is pleasant to those around him, he even laughs. He makes love to you and he means it when he does but there are many days where he simply can't bring himself to leave his bed. On days such as this you lie with him, fingers stroking over his hair for hours and hours, as long as he may need you.

Today has been kind so far. He kissed you upon waking, and the two of you made breakfast in your small, cramped kitchen, backs together while alternating tasks. Eggs, toasted bread. The sounds of faraway birds and scraping pans. It's not unusual for you two to go hours without speaking these days, so the soundtrack of your life is mostly ambient.

On the few occasions when the two of you go into town together, Jaden's hand is like a vice in your own, his shoulder pressed hard against your own. You have to admit that this lifestyle has turned you into quite a similar animal; when employees in the grocery store ask how you are, you look at the floor and mumble something quickly to escape their gaze. You flinch when you receive your change and you wash your hands hard when you get home until your skin is tinged with the pleasant smells of your own space.

He doesn't like to speak in public anymore. It's a sharp contrast from when you met him all those years ago, when he'd bounded across the room to shake your hand and introduce himself, when everyone he met was simply a friend he hadn't made yet. It isn't so much that his personality has changed. He just simply doesn't have the energy anymore for such superficial things.

His friends are still in contact, though somewhat sparingly. That's okay, though. They all have their own lives to lead, just as you do, and you catch small glimpses over the phone when Jaden receives calls every month or so.

Asuka is doing well - last you heard, she was pursuing teaching, or maybe it was some sort of tutoring. She's as warm and confident as ever, though her calls have been coming less and less frequently. You think she'll stop calling after another year or so. Neither of you blame her. There are just some things she doesn't have any concept of, and that's okay.

Sho still visits in person every once in a while. He makes the effort to do it, even when he's uncomfortable - you know he gets sick to his stomach when he sees Jaden stuck in bed like some kind of hermit. You try to text him on the days when Jaden is feeling particularly energetic, and he'll make the drive - two hours one way - and the three of you will talk for a while, about things of very little substance, because anything deeper would crack open this thin layer of pleasant domesticity that you have all worked so very hard to achieve.

Sho always pulls you aside before he leaves, and he thanks you. You know that he loves Jaden more than words can say, but it takes all his willpower to come see him in this state. You understand. It is hard, sometimes. But you smile and you tell him that you'll always be here. It eases his heartache, his guilt. He passes on well wishes from Kenzan, who passes on well wishes from Jim, and he excuses himself before he hits his limit.

Manjoume, surprisingly, is the one who visits the most often. He shows up unannounced, whenever it suits him, or whenever he needs advice. You often leave the two of them alone; even to this day, he's sensitive about asking for help. But you're grateful to have him. When he's around, Jaden almost seems like his old self again - you hear muffled laughter and shouting, antics reminiscent of the days when they would pit themselves head-to-head as if it were the most important thing in the world.

Jaden's overwhelming tiredness doesn't bother him. He doesn't feel sorry for him. He sits on the edge of Jaden's bed and pokes fun at his mix-matched eyes, the way his old clothes hang so loosely off his figure now. His words are harsh but Jaden just laughs, laughs harder than you've heard in ages until his whole body is shaking. Jaden's words are just as sharp, asking Manjoume if hating yourself is the secret to getting ahead in the business world, and Manjoume has to laugh, even if he doesn't want to.

Manjoume's visits always end at the kitchen table. In all these years he's never forgotten his deck once. They'll play in silence. Their cards are worn and faded, ink barely legible, but it doesn't matter. They know every move the other can make by now.

Jaden nearly always wins, but sometimes, Manjoume will flip a card and Jaden will blink, look down at his own field, and smile. He thanks him for a good game and they shake hands, touch lingering, before Manjoume pulls him into a hug. He always hesitates to do it but never once has he thought better of it.

You glance over at Jaden once more, slowly pulling yourself out of this whirlwind of thoughts. His eyes are closed now, his breathing slower. He's fallen asleep. You slowly detangle your fingers from his, your joints creaking.

You turn to lie on your side, eyes alighting on Jaden's sleeping body. There's the smallest hint of a smile on his lips. You smile, too. You slowly let your eyes close, and it isn't long before you slip under, letting the pleasant, quiet darkness lull you to sleep beside him. Not many people could live like this. But for you, it's perfect.

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