Back at his apartment, I barely let Asher get into the kitchen before I needed to touch him. As the front door shut behind me, I leaned forward to wrap my arms around him from behind, reaching down to run my hands down his chest. Just as I kissed the side of his neck, I heard him gasp, felt him tense; his contracted arm clenched up against me.
Quickly I released him, stepping forward to crouch down at one side of his chair and look up into his face. “Sorry,” I said hastily – the startled expression was still fading from his face. He shook his head, laughed a little awkwardly. His CP – and, I suspected, his experience in the alleyway – made him jumpy, physically easy to startle. He often tried to apologize for it, so I was oddly pleased when, this time, he didn’t. Though I wondered also if he was thinking back to the morning of the arraignment, when he had turned suddenly cold and strange after I tried to touch his hand.
If I was thinking of it, he probably was, too.
I reached up to put one hand on his cheek, reached out my thumb to slowly rub the corner of his mouth. I had a half-formed thought: touch could be strange, unreliable; but it could it also be its own solution. Asher closed his eyes, and then reached to wrap his hand around the back of my neck, pulled me up for a kiss.
His lips were cool. I kissed them, slowly, until they warmed. My heart beat hard, thudding in my chest, anticipating. I could feel him smile against my lips, and then he kissed his way down to my jawline, pausing once to just brush his lips over my stubble. Then he bit my jaw, delicately.
I had to take a long breath, almost shuddering.
I opened my eyes a moment before he did. He flicked his eyes up at me through his lashes. What, his look said, are you going to do now?
I shifted until I was kneeling in front of him. His smile still looked nervous, but his eyes were glinting. I reached out and slowly slid my hands under his scarf, for a moment felt the warm skin, the tremor that ran through him at my touch, then pulled out to loosen the scarf. Without moving my eyes from his, I dropped the scarf to one side. I undid his jacket, pushed it back over his shoulders, helped him slide it off his one arm, then eased the other, bunched sleeve off of his bent arm. Everywhere I moved, I paused to touch, stroke, as if I were molding him for the first time. His body moved restlessly.
His jacket, too, we dropped to the floor; and then his shirt, and mine. For a moment I sat back on my heels, just looking at him. Asher. Dark-haired, bare-chested, flushed, breathing deeply, his lips parted. Looking half embarrassed, half thrilled, exposed there in his kitchen. The slanting afternoon light cast a wash of shadow below his cheekbones, his jaw, his upraised arm, even the hollows of his ribs. Every time his legs kicked, thrusting, or a spasm ran through his abdomen, the shadows flickered, smoothly sliding off over the planes of his body.
My eyes couldn’t stop moving over him, his vividness. Suddenly my mind flicked back to the arraignment – when the men had come into the courtroom, the way I had seen it all in heated, jagged flashes. How strangely similar this moment felt, and how different. The way I wanted to stay here, watch this moment of him breathing, moving, waiting, over and over again. The restfulness of it. The hunger.
Slowly, I moved my hands to his waist. I stroked my fingers there, one at a time. I leaned to kiss him, as he reached his arm to stroke my neck, my back, slid down to grip my ass with sudden strength. I hummed appreciatively, slid my lips down his neck, just barely touching, until I rested them where I could feel the play of his muscles as his right shoulder twitched, subtly.
Feeling that, it suddenly, finally, occurred to me to ask: “How’s your back?”
Asher burst out laughing, pushed my shoulder back so that he could see my face. “Now you ask?” he demanded. I shrugged, flushing, ducking my face back down.
“Sweet Roy,” he said. I heard him unbuckling his seatbelt, and then there was a sudden warm weight on my head: he had leaned forward to drape himself over me. “Look at your face. Sorry, I shouldn’t have laughed.” He kissed my ear. “It’s okay. I took a lot of muscle relaxants the rest of the week.”
He said all of this in a murmur. The part of my brain that wasn’t consumed with embarrassment thought about how much I liked it that Asher always spoke so softly when we were together like this. I’d been with men who just kept talking in normal, even bored, voices in the bedroom.
Asher kissed my ear again, rubbed his fingertips along the nape of my neck. “And how,” he said, “are you?”
I felt warm, and the words came out easily, almost thoughtlessly. “Good. Great. It’s so easy to focus when I’m with you.” I had told him that the worst part of using sex had been how mechanical it had become. Going through the motions, chasing down the expected chemical hit. Half the time already distracted and dissatisfied within the first five minutes of starting anything.
I felt Asher’s warm exhale. “You don’t know how happy that makes me to hear.”
Still bent under his comfortable weight, I pressed my hands into his waist again, then slid my fingers under the waistband of his jeans and into the hollows under his hipbones. He gasped, and I couldn’t help smiling to myself at the expected kick of his legs.
I curled my fingertips into the sensitive skin at the bend of his hips, moved to stroke the now-familiar stretch of surgical scar tissue. Asher sighed.
After another moment, I whispered, “Sit up again?” He complied, pushing himself back off of me and leaning back in his chair with a heavy-lidded smile.
I slid my hands back out against his hips, and then, in unspoken accord, we each moved to undo each other’s jeans. But we were daring each other to move as deliberately, as minutely as we could, pausing often to stroke, to smile, to give looks that said, I could take all day, doing this. I felt so buoyed up with anticipation that it was if I was outside of myself.
Finally Asher gave up the game – or maybe won it: grinning, he swiftly tugged down my jeans and boxers. Still kneeling, I was moving awkwardly to extract my legs, when he leaned forward again and took me deeply into his mouth.
I had been thinking so much about him all day that I nearly came, just then. But he must have known, because he hmmed deep in his throat appreciatively, moved his tongue against me just once, with careful slowness, and then withdrew, grinning again.
I groaned. Without realizing it, I had closed my eyes. Still thinking about the feeling of his mouth on me, resenting the now suddenly cold air, I slowly sat, pulled my pants off the rest of the way, kicked aside my shoes and socks. I took in a deep, shuddering breath and opened my eyes again.
With playful vengeance, I stripped Asher in turn, briefly and so easily lifting him from his chair to complete the process of taking off his jeans that he laughed. I set him back down again, tossed the jeans onto the growing tangle on the kitchen floor, and kissed him roughly, his lips, his shoulders. I ran my hands down one of his thin legs, now stopping to kiss his knee, the slight swell of his calf. I circled my hands around his ankle, slid down to the inwards-bent foot. Here I slowed. Whenever I really thought about it, there was still something surreal about realizing that he had never been able to stand; it was simply so different from anything I had ever experienced. Yet at the same time, it was a fact I had already internalized: this was the Asher I knew, and he had never known or been any differently, either.
I ran my hands over his stiff ankle joint, his curled foot, whose sole had never been able to touch the ground. It jerked and tugged gently in my grasp as his legs kicked and stirred.
From the tense quality of his silence, I could tell Asher was getting uncomfortable with this attention, but I left my fingers there for another moment before placing a kiss on the top of his foot and gently releasing it. “I just like seeing you,” I said in explanation when I looked up again.
“Oh, well,” he said, a little breathlessly, his previously uncomfortable smile warming.
“Work by this c-criminally underappreciated artist…” I murmured, quoting – it was a joke, sort of, that Asher liked to make about himself sometimes. Asher was the “work.” The “artist” was the god of people with disabilities, or something.
Asher grinned shyly and reached to run his hand along the outside edge of my hip, and then back down to cup my ass.
“Mmm. C-can I pick you up?”
“Yes, please,” he said.
“Let’s try –” I picked him up with one arm under his thighs and one hand behind his back, tried to wrap his legs around me so that I could hold him chest-to-chest with me – but stopped when his thighs suddenly clenched tight around me, and he winced. “Mm, maybe another time,” I said quickly, at the same time that Asher apologized. For a moment we looked down wistfully at the gap between us: his hips were still far too tight for us to be able to embrace this way.
“So close yet so far…” Asher murmured, still looking down.
“Mm hm. D-d-don’t worry. Plenty other things we can try.” I turned and started walking slowly to the bedroom, enjoying the way he was playing his fingers over the back of my neck again.
I gasped, and then sighed: Asher had dropped his hand down to start rubbing me slowly.
Without stopping, Asher leaned forward and rested his forehead against my shoulder. “Keep walking – keep going. And I’ll keep going.”
We lay in bed. It was weirdly nice, luxurious, to be naked in bed together with a little daylight still in the sky, the blue of twilight only just approaching – it was as if we’d won extra weekend.
We’d played, napped, and then played again. Both of us had been determined to make it last, keeping it slow, pausing often just to kiss and touch each together, letting the suspense stretch on and on.
The second round, especially, had spun out into a kind of lazy experimentation – continuing the process of figuring out what Asher could and couldn’t do, exploring his physical limits. Without talking about it, both of us knew that this was the best time for us to really experiment – after the initial urgency was out of the way, Asher felt less pressure, so he was less tense, less self-conscious.
I was also starting to realize that the process put me into a weirdly enjoyable problem-solving mindset, and I thought Asher had noticed, too, from the teasingly serious way that he’d ask me for suggestions.
As we lazed together afterward, he had started threatening to go back to his physical therapist with a suspiciously specific list of requests. “It’s either that, or you’ll have to become my personal trainer.”
“Is this not personal training already? Maybe –” I nipped his ear, and he laughed in protest, “– you should be paying me.”
“Hmm, I certainly wouldn’t call it impersonal… Do you think,” he said consideringly, “they would give you a discount at the boxing store if you only had to buy one glove? For when you really start whipping me into shape.” Slowly, he punched a displaced pillow that lay in front of him.
“There’s no such thing as a boxing store.”
“Oh, yeah? Then where do all the boxes come from?”
I sighed loudly.
“This is a real turning point in our relationship, Roy. I’d been restraining myself from making that joke for so long. Now it’s gone. We can never go back to the way things were.”
I sighed again, and slid my hand up from the side of his face to loosely cover his mouth in a mock reprimand, as he shook with laughter. He twisted his head a little, so that one of my fingertips slid into his mouth; he licked it.
“Hm. Careful,” I warned him, “do you really have the sss – s-stamina for World War III?”
“Is that what we’re calling it now?”
“That’s it. I’m out of jokes,” I said, nestling more deeply into the mattress, and pulling him more tightly to me. “You have sss – sole r-responsibility for saying nonsense for the rest of the evening.”
“What a heavy burden to bear…” his voice trailed off sleepily.
Again we drifted off. Dusk filled the room with blue light.
A little while later, we stirred at the same time, slightly disentangling ourselves. The sun had set, and it felt pleasantly den-like in Asher’s dark bedroom. I had the vague sense that he had been awake for longer than me; I must have felt his legs starting to move again before I’d been properly awake.
I kissed the back of his neck, and then made space for him as he started to turn onto his back. He smiled at me without saying anything, watching me stretch; then his gaze grew absent.
After a little while, I said, “Asher…”
“D-d-do you want to tell me… what you were thinking about the arraignment?”
“How did you know that’s what I was thinking about?” he said with artificial brightness. I didn’t bother responding.
He held the not-smile for another moment, then turned his head so he was looking up at the ceiling and sighed heavily.
“Sorry for being so crap at talking about it. I know you’ve been worrying.” I made a noncommittal noise. I reached to hold his left hand, loosely, and he gave a brief squeeze of acknowledgement.
“Okay. One thought: Everything Ms. Ganon said to me on the phone, about not standing up for myself, or for the disabled community… I already thought that myself, at least ten times.” His voice was slow, every word placed uncomfortably.
“Another thought: Also, I just… really, really want everything not to have happened. Except for the part where I met you.”
There was a long pause. Asher’s legs moved jerkily under the covers.
He continued: “It’s just… it’s a really fucked up thing to have happened. You know how I don’t even like other people to touch my joystick, or push me without asking, let alone…
“You do all this work, telling yourself that you’re strong, you’re independent. That your disability is more a problem with society than with you. Okay, so then what? You’re still society’s victim, whenever it… it forgets its manners.” His voice was heavy with scorn, anger, in a way I had never heard before. “Whenever some guy from a dating site realizes he’s disgusted by your body. Or some assholes decide a wheelchair is a fucking toy, not somebody’s legs. Or – or –” I started as he gripped my hand with sudden intensity and jerked his head to the side on the pillow to look at me. “Or some asshole kids decide it’s fun to torture another kid because he might be gay, oh and he has a stammer.”
My stomach curled in on itself in a way that felt like fear – an old fear. I had to push it aside.
“Just – fuck!” Asher let go of my hand to gesture wildly, and then dropped his hand down onto his forehead. In the dim light from the window, I could see his eyes darting back and forth, no longer meeting mine. “I know this is really basic, but why why why does my health, or your sanity, or – or anybody’s, have to be dependent on what the shittiest people in the world decide they’re going to do for fun that Tuesday.”
He gave a long, shaky exhale, and reached down to find my hand again. “Sorry.”
I murmured a reassurance, waiting, holding myself still.
He continued, somewhat more slowly, “Like, good job, district attorney’s office. Good job, criminal justice system. Good job cleaning up after this mess, I guess. But is it so crazy to just want none of it to have happened in the first place? Just think about how much time we would have saved.” The sarcasm in his voice was so intense that it bordered on another emotion, one I couldn’t name.
“Ms. Ganon thinks I should sue for emotional damages. What would be really great would be if I could sue to not have any emotional damages. But something tells me that’s not how things work.”
He fell silent. He stared off at his window. His eyes were steady again, and the jerking of his legs was slowing.
Finally he looked back at me. “I don’t know if that went anywhere. Sorry.”
I had still been digesting, considering. But now I felt a hot surge of protective affection. I rolled and wrapped my arm around his thin chest, holding tightly, feeling his warmth, the sudden flexion as a spasm ran through him. My other hand still held on to his; I stroked my thumb over the back of his hand. “Asher, why do you apologize for everything?”
I looked up in time to see his face go blank. Then he gave an uncomfortable “Umm…”
“I’m not chhh – changing the subject,” I added hastily. “I just…” I thought for a moment. “I want you to be able to be pissed off if you want. Or hurt. Or even… just not apologizing b-b-because you think you’re in people’s way, but you’re not actually. Or maybe you are, but you can’t help it, so, so what. Screw them.” I aimed to say it playfully, and was pleased, or relieved, when Asher laughed. “But seriously. You said it: there are a lot of assholes. You deserve to take up space. Sidewalks. Wherever.” I kissed his cheek. He looked more pleased than I thought I deserved.
I paused, thinking again. What I wanted to say next, I was less comfortable with. “I know I’m not always… open, myself. So I hope this doesn’t sound… fuhhh… fake. But it mm-matters to me when you tell me things like this. And it matters to me when I sss – see that you’re h-hurting, or afraid. I don’t always know what to say. Usually I just want to hold you.” Resting my forehead against his cheek, I could feel him smiling.
“So…” Again I had to pause, feeling as if I had already used up all my good ideas. “Just… honestly, it feels reassuring just to hear you say ‘that was fucked up.’ I feel like that must be th-th-the most you’ve talked about it since the night I actually f-found you.”
“It’s gotten kind of… compacted, inside,” he admitted.
“Mm. And it doesn’t feel reassuring when the only other thing I s-see is… you having nightmares.” I said it as gently as I could, looking at his face again, knowing the likelihood he’d take it as another kind of guilt to hold. He grimaced and pushed his face into my shoulder; his cheeks were hot. I continued in the same tone, “Look, I know your m-m-mom has already been on you about it. B-b-but I haven’t really said anything yet. So: if you feel like you want more help figuring thhh-things out – can you please look for help? I want to h-help how I can, but I’m not even a g-g-good everyday talker. Let alone a professional talker.” I nudged him with the shoulder he was leaning into. “That’s what they call it, right? P-professional talker?”
He laughed so shakily that I realized with a jolt of alarm that he was actually crying a little. But his body was quiet. “Sorry. No, I mean I’m not sorry.” I smiled, despite my concern. “Yes. Yes.” Awkwardly he reached his left arm up from under my overlapping arm to rub his face, sniffing. “I, Asher, promise you, Roy, to either share more things with you than nightmares... or find a professional talker.”
“Or both…” I suggested tentatively. Everything I’d managed to say had been reasonable enough, I thought, but I was way out of my comfort zone here, drawing on scattered memories of the one guy I’d been with who talked with what seemed to me to be alarming casualness about “getting help for things.”
“Or both,” Asher agreed. “Mmmf.” He was sitting up, carefully pushing himself up in a way that suggested his back was bothering him again. “Can you hold me?”
I blinked at him, distracted by the need to search his face for remaining tears; but he just looked a little flushed, blotchy. “How?”
“In your lap,” he said shyly.
“Oh!” I smiled and pushed myself up too, looked to make sure he was ready, then reached to draw him into my lap. At the same time I pulled my legs up so they were bent at the same angle as his, supporting him. With the warmth of his full body against me, I sighed contentedly, put my arms around his chest.
“Oh my god,” he said at the same time. “You’re like the best heating pad in the world.”
“That’s me. Did we hurt your back?”
“Just a little irritated.”
“Well I don’t know how that could have hhhh… happened,” I said, kissing the side of his neck, enjoying the way the dim light from the windows caught his collarbones.
“A great mystery,” he agreed, very low in his throat, and reached up to lace his fingers into mine. Once again I felt a jolt of desire; he laughed appreciatively.
“Unstable ground,” I warned him.
“Hmmm,” he said speculatively. Slowly, he arched his back against me a little; it could have been an innocent stretch.
“Mmm. Does this count as th-therapy?”
“Oh, I thought we’d established that already. Really, your therapeutic commitment is… commendable.”
I snorted. Again I kissed him from the side. Then I tipped his chin until I could see his eyes. “You really want to…?”
He laughed, embarrassed. “Yeah, you got me. Honestly, I’m starving.”
I laughed, too. “Me too.” It had been a long afternoon, and a long time since those fries at Zeke’s. “’Kay. Refuel. Then we go back to… wh-whatever.”
“Whatever,” Asher agreed happily. “Take me to the bathroom? And then bring me my chair?”
“Mm hm –” I was already shifting him so I could climb out of bed with him in my arms, my mind racing ahead. His warm weight felt light, so light; the best weight to carry. The weekend was drawing to an end, but there were still so many hours left in the night.