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“Well I don't think it's truly the best representation of Ash, I mean, nothing against the artist, but I'm pretty sure actual Ash is way better looking. It's good, I mean, but just saying.”

“Oh, shut up Chase,” Layla groaned, rolling her eyes in mounting annoyance, a common reaction to Chase's presence she was cursed with much as of late. “If you're thinking this is getting you any brownie points, it's not, no one's touching your dick. Mason, this is amazing, you did wonderful, and Ash you look hot as fuck in both art and in real life form.”

I snorted, standing between the two, feeling a smile unconsciously curve onto my lips. Chase was eyeing the drawing thoughtfully, rubbing his chin and channelling his best pretentious art critic character, all while sneakily flashing me grins whenever we crossed gazes. We all crowded around the great unveiling of Mason's picture of me, that was absolutely beautifully done, a portrait of me looking off in the distance and fully shaded with the steady hand of artistry. I felt a prickle of pride as my eyes rolled over every highlight and contour, even capturing the stray mole below my left eye, it was breathtaking and magnificent and every other synonym in that category.

“Thanks, Mason, actually, it's awesome.” I turned to him, genuine appreciation melded in my words.

He shot me a proud grin, dismissing me with a wave of his hand. “Ah, don't mention it, all in a day's work. Just kidding, shower me in compliments, my ego is loving this.” He barked out a laugh, hands in his back pockets and radiating that comfortable ease that was the utter essence of Mason, complete with his signature beanie and all.

Chloe clapped her hands beside him, glee basically dripping from her pores. “Wow, that's crazy, it looks exactly like him! It's so cool!” she chirped, absolute awe infusing her words.

It was entirely surreal, standing in my living room with this particular group of people I would never imagine being able to keep in a cage for five minutes before. And yet, here we were, surrounded with helium balloons and poorly tacked streamers in celebration of Mason's birthday, a cake waiting in the other room.

“Well, I think the real Ash is way cooler,” Chase mused coolly with a casual shrug, arms crossed over his chest, igniting yet another round of groans from my red-headed compatriot.

“Gross, Chase, I know you think that basically assaulting Ash with compliments is going to get you anywhere, but spare everyone the atrocity of witnessing it,” Layla chided, accentuating with some exaggerated gagging for melodramatic flair. Mason hummed in agreement, failing miserable at trying to suppress his laughter.

Chase sniffed. “Excuse me for being an objective observer.”

“Whatever, just as long as he knows that if he ever hurts Ash again, I will rip off his balls,” Mason asserted, a cheeky smirk digging into his cheek as he sent me a wink.

This time I was the one that rolled my eyes.

“Well you'll have to be quick about it because Layla's already threatened me with that one,” Chase intoned, a sardonic edge to his words.

Layla rested a hand on Mason's shoulder, grinning broadly in his direction. “I got the left one but don't worry, the right one's all yours,” she offered, one that Mason was very delighted to accept.

This was the common route of conversation as of late, which surprised me none at all, but it was still a work in progress I acknowledged. No one had died yet, so I figured that was as much of a win I could hope for, and I honestly found it incredibly comforting to have all my favourite people all in one room, despite how much they disliked each other. They were forming weird passive aggressive (and aggressive aggressive) bonds of friendship right before my eyes, whether they liked to admit it or not.

I mean, Chase was at Mason's birthday. That said enough as it is.

“Ash, darling, did you guys want to move to the kitchen now? You all must be starving.” My mom swooped in, all in her maternal glory, coming up behind me and placing a comforting kiss on the back of my head. “Come, come, eat,” she urged.

I felt a little warmth ignite in my stomach, remembering how accepting and kind my mom was when I finally came out to her. I knew that there was no reason to really be nervous, and I knew my mom was an amazing woman who would always support me, but there were still hints of anxiety lingering in my throat. But all of that was dispelled when she drew me into a hug and reassured me that she loved me, and that she always would. It felt good knowing that, no matter what.

“I'm so excited for cake!” Chloe squealed, eyes shining with a hunger that was a little teetering on terrifying.

“I'm just gonna go grab my lighter for the candles,” I told them and began jogging up the stairs towards my room.

When I pushed open the familiar forest green door, I was met with my room, which my mom was very keen on reminding me had not been cleaned in a couple of days, and it showed. I remembered that the lighter was somewhere on the ground, the safest place to keep all my important possessions I always said, and so was digging through the mountains of dirty clothes when my door clicked shut.

I looked up to see Chase standing there, smiling softly at me. “Need any help?”

“Yes! Thank you! Try looking in that general area,” I chimed appreciatively, gesturing to the other side of the room. “It's definitely here somewhere, I swear I saw it like, yesterday.”

Continuing to throws things around and managing to create an even bigger mess, it seemed like a crashing effort, until Chase piped up. “Found it!”

“Awesome, thank you!” I straightened up, grinning over at him. “Throw it over!”

Chase stood with lighter in hand, tapping it thoughtfully against his chin, a mischievous glint reflected in his coffee dark eyes. “And what do I get out of that?”

I rolled my eyes at his antics and very obvious and most unsubtle ploy ever. “You get being a good person.”

Chase hummed in thought, pretending to consider this, before scrunching is nose in distaste. “See, that's not very appealing, I'm more of a blackmail kind of guy myself,” he admitted, continuing to tap the lighter against his chin, a cheeky grin devouring his face. “But I wouldn't object to an exchange. A kiss, perhaps?”

I groaned. “Chase, come on, I told you I didn't want to rush anything,” I repeated, giving him the scolding look that without fail reduced the boy to a puppy dog in mere moments.

He frowned in defeat, guilt written across his face as he held out the lighter. “I'm sorry, I don't want to rush you, I just get... excited. I'm sorry,” he apologized, shame weighing on his voice.

Goddamnit, why were my heartstrings so tug-able?

I heaved a sigh, crossing the room albeit a tad reluctantly. I was determined not to rush this, because if it was or wasn't going to work, either way, time would tell me. But sometimes time needed to maybe speed just the tiniest bit up.

“Hey,” I said while lifting his chin, staring into those espresso eyes. “I know you're trying.”

I smiled softly at him and then leaned in, gently pressing my lips against his in a very innocent and very chaste kiss that was the opposite of all rushing. When I pulled away, ignoring the shortness of breath, Chase's eyes remained closed. When they opened, a broad grin began to grow on his face.

“Now don't get carried away,”I warned him, pointing an accusing finger in his direction.

“Wouldn't dream of it,” he feigned reassurance, although we both knew it was a false hope at that point. I admitted, it really wasn't the worst thing. And I couldn't deny the warmth that flushed my lungs when I saw his cheerful grin, feeling my own mouth curve infectiously.

I didn't know what was going to happen, if it was going to work or if it was going to crash in flames, the future lingered ahead of me completely shrouded in the shadows of the unknown. Catching Chase's gaze, though, I was excited to see what was laid beyond.
♠ ♠ ♠
And it's... it's done?
It is done!
Homophobe has finished!

Now I have a blog here filled with all of my rambling emotions, but to keep it short and sweet:

I love you guys, there isn't enough thank you's in the world to give to you. Like a millions times a billion times another billion and maybe we might have a beginning.
You guys are awesome, and I would love to hear your thoughts for the end, even if you've been silent this entire time, it would really mean the world, today or three years from now.
I'm sad to see it end, but I'm happy too.
This is goodbye to Ash and Chase.

Goodnight to all, and to all a good night! <3