Ash's Marriage Trigger - 12. Chapter 12- Bad Thoughts
a/n: Possible trigger warning. Ash's therapist's suggestions are explicitly catered to Ash's case. The methods suggested by her are most definitely not suited for any other diagnosis.
“Joseph, I think I’m in love with you.”
“Are you shitting me right now? I just want to fuck you. Nothing’s really useful about you other than as a means to blow my load.”
Ash tossed around in bed as he stirred awake. That was one vivid nightmare that he didn't want to sleep on and continue. While it was based on an ancient memory, the man was surprised it felt so real. It was almost like he had gone back in time to his younger, dumber self. He usually went out of his way to not think about his ex…ex? No, Joseph wasn't even a boyfriend or anything like that. Eighteen-year-old Ash had been led on by the fucker and read more into their interactions than there really was. He'd since been more careful and less of an idiot when it came to such matters, hadn't he?
Ash felt his heart stutter erratically when thoughts of Cove snuck their way into his mind. Cove was not Joseph. He couldn’t be any further from Joseph. Yet, the copper-eyed man was still scared of being hurt again. Not only that, but Ash was the one who had hurt Cove on more than one occasion, all because of his cowardice.
“Cove is not Joseph. I know that! He’s never been anything like him.” He muttered to himself as he forced himself out of bed to get ready for his appointment.
Though it had been three years since Ash had last seen his therapist, his recent failures made it feel as if it was only yesterday that he forced himself to walk through her teal-green door. While he didn't pass by anyone and saw no one in the waiting room, he knew that his therapist treated many others. Not once had she ever referred to him by a different name or confused his sessions with someone else's, and while that was surely true for many therapists, it still meant something to him.
“Good morning, Ash,” Inessa greeted as he walked in.
Ash’s gaze fell to the floor as he noticed the rug, his rug already rolled out onto the floor beside the sea green reclining couch. Inessa had been expecting him. During their first session years ago, Ash had explained how pacing barefooted on a plush rug made him feel more at ease, so she had purchased one speckled in all shades of blue just for him to use. He hadn't made an appointment for so long. It surprised him that she still kept it all this time.
“I apologize for practically falling off the face of the Earth,” Ash responded.
"There is no need to apologize for that. You can pay me a visit whenever you wish. Life happens," Inessa replied. "On that note, I would like to know more about what brought you in today."
Several minutes later, Ash continued to gripe as he paced in circles upon his therapist's plush rug barefooted. He talked about his stress at work, added pressure from his family to settle down, and coming across Cove again and meeting his daughter. Inessa took a few notes here and there, ultimately allowing him to rant freely.
“So, you said that in terms of sleep, things are not that great…can you tell me a little bit more about that?”
“It’s like Joseph’s been seeping into my nightmares. I thought I was over all of that,” Ash explained. “It’s been twenty years…isn’t that long enough to get over that?”
“Do you feel you still have some unresolved feelings regarding Joseph?” Inessa asked.
Ash paused in his pacing and sat down on the couch with his elbows resting on his knees as he thought about it for a moment. In the past, he'd felt nothing but anger, resentment, and pain while so much as thinking about Joseph. "A part of me still feels a bit of lingering disgust whenever I think about Joseph, but that's about it. I mean, it's less Joseph himself than what he said to me…."
Inessa motioned for him to continue, and Ash scowled. The whole point of therapy was for him to not only vent out his frustrations but to also be honest with himself and with his therapist. How else would he even begin to know how to heal? So, despite his reluctance, he pushed on.
“When I told him I loved him, Joseph basically said I was worth nothing beyond a good lay,” he admitted. “And a part of me believed it…still believes it to this day.”
“During your time with Joseph, was he unfalteringly honest?”
“Can you think of any occasion when he was truthful?”
“Then, is there any merit in believing his words?”
Ash let out a long sigh and finally dropped back onto the reclining couch with a flop. “No, not at all.”
"We all have negative thoughts and sometimes worry about how we will be perceived by others," Inessa continued. "But, remember what I've said about challenging negative thinking when it presents itself…."
“Damn, I have been allowing a lot of my negative thoughts to go unchallenged lately," Ash confessed as he thought back to when his boss had praised him on his training, but he was too busy worrying about his performance. Then, later on, when the Director of Ashley's preschool told him he did well on his presentation, he brushed it off. Both times he had responded with disbelief.
“I’ve been so wrapped up in all the bad, I haven’t even acknowledged the good when it’s happened,” he added.
"It's important to challenge negative thinking when it presents itself because if you don't, you'll be controlled by those thoughts. Challenge them deliberately. Where is the evidence, the truth, in those thoughts? If you can't find evidence or true facts to support those negative thoughts, don't waste your time entertaining them." Inessa responded.
"So, I want you to make it a point to challenge negative thoughts consistently," she prompted. "Every single time they come up. I also want you to make sure that you are being pretty diligent when it comes to your own self-care. If we want to get ourselves into the best position possible, we need to put in the time, effort, and energy as far as our self-care is concerned…."
An hour later, Ash walked out of his therapist's office with red, swollen eyes. A balanced, healthy lifestyle helped combat stress, and he knew that. Catching and challenging negative thoughts was also something Ash had put into practice three years prior. But, he kept letting himself become overwhelmed and slipping back into the old bad habits.
You deserve to be happy.
Inessa had told him those words before. They hit him just as hard back then as they did earlier that day. Why was it that he still doubted deserving happiness?
“Highway run into the midnight sun…Wheels go 'round and 'round. You're on my mind~"
Ash patted himself down until he found which pocket held his cell phone before answering. One of the people he passed on the sidewalk towards his parked car gave him an odd look, and he blushed in embarrassment for having impulsively chosen that ringtone for Cove. With a flood of thoughts about changing the ringtone as soon as humanly possible, he rushed to answer. "H-Hey…"
“Ash, are you doing anything this weekend?”
“Uh, no, not really.”
“Ashley's spending the weekend with her mom's family, and I wanted to know if you'd like to keep me company until Sunday?
Damn, if that wasn't the most dangerous scenario he had ever heard in his life, Ash mused. He’d be a fool to agree. But, he’d be more of a fool to turn it down.
“I’ll be there,” his mouth answered before his brain took too long to decide.
“See you tonight, then.” Cove sounded entirely too happy.
It was official. Ash kept thinking with the wrong head whenever it came to Cove. He sent a glare down to his own privates, that seemed to want to celebrate despite still being out in public. Now was not the time, goddamn it. He rushed into his car before any passers-by noticed the tent in his pants and tried to justify heading to Cove's immediately instead of waiting for actual nightfall.
“When you say Ashley’s with her mom’s family, is Todd included?” Ash asked after initially greeting Cove at the front door and walking inside as if he owned the place and wasn’t just a guest.
“Ashley told me all about your teaching adventure,” Cove replied with a grin noting the petulant tone of Ash’s voice. He found it difficult to hold back his laughter around the other man’s antics, but he did his best not to laugh out loud because he knew it made Ash feel insecure whenever someone laughed at him. “She also had the impression that you don’t like her Uncle Todd very much because you ran away after talking to him.”
"I didn't run-" Ash denied but caught himself. He had started the day off well in terms of being more honest with himself and in general, so it wouldn't do for him to be dishonest now. "Okay, so I did run. And Todd might not be my favorite person in the world. But, I took off because I had to sort some things out with…myself."
"And by that, you mean…?"
“I ended up booking an appointment with my therapist,” Ash replied in a low grumble.
“There’s nothing wrong with that,” Cove insisted, but he didn’t push Ash to tell him why. Either way, he was curious about the information the copper-eyed man did provide. “And Todd isn’t your favorite person?”
"Tell me about Ashley's mom. What happened?" Ash countered Cove's question with his own. As much as he wanted to be honest, he didn't want to admit that he felt so petty over Todd because Todd was a key player when it came to Cove meeting his ex-wife in the first place.
Cove walked over to his sofa and sat down, motioning for Ash to sit beside him. He'd been prepared to explain everything to Ash whenever he was ready to inquire about it. But Cove didn't think it would be so soon. So, he started from the beginning.
"The first year of our marriage wasn't bad. We had some rough times," Cove explained as he recalled the start of his married life. "From my point of view, nothing was so terrible that we couldn't handle it together. But, from Leslie's perspective, she felt she couldn't overcome every struggle we went through."
Ash nodded for him to continue. Some of him felt that Leslie's handling of rough times was relatable. In his own experience, failures had a way of keeping someone down. But Cove wasn't the kind who would give up on someone so easily. What the hell happened?
"I tried to convince her to seek therapy, but she refused. So, I did what I could to try to help." Cove paused as the memories were brought to the forefront of his mind. There were times he felt he'd failed her. But, looking back, he had done all that he could. "Halfway into our fourth year of marriage, she insisted on a divorce," He couldn't hide the sadness that tinged his words. "She never fully explained why, but I gave her the space she wanted. My only source of how she was doing was her brother Todd. But, even he didn't realize why she was becoming more and more unstable until her family took her to the hospital and they were told she was with child."
A frown formed on Ash’s face as he tried to piece everything together. They had divorced before Cove ever knew about Leslie’s pregnancy. Did she not want Cove to be in her baby’s life?
“She had concealed her pregnancy from me and was adamant about giving the baby up for adoption," Cove continued. "But Todd convinced her during her last trimester to reconsider and talk to me about parental rights. If it wasn't for him and her family's concern over Ashley, I'd have never been given full custody of her."
“He may not be my favorite person, but maybe I’ve misjudged Todd,” Ash admitted. “Any uncle who would go above and beyond for the sake of his niece is alright with me.”
“Says the perpetual uncle,” Cove teased.
“You know it’s true!” Ash affirmed. “But, go on.”
Cove took another pause as he sorted through his recollections. He remembered moments of anger and frustration echoed by Leslie's family. Then, the immense relief when Leslie rescinded her original decision.
"Leslie finally ceded and was diagnosed with postpartum depression, anxiety, and intermittent explosive disorder," Cove concluded. "She's been recovering gradually over the years. At first, she couldn't look at Ashley, and there was concern about her throwing objects or throwing the baby. But, Ashy behaved so well every time we visited. It's difficult to tell a kid that she can't rush up to her mom, sit on her lap, or give her a hug or kiss. But, lately, Ashley seems to know the difference between the family members she can hug and those she should just greet from a distance unless they are the ones offering the hug."
Damn. Ash felt an ache in his chest at the thought. His reasons for not liking Leslie had nothing to do with her condition and everything to do with the fact that she married the man he could not bring himself to marry. But, after what Cove had divulged, he finally saw Leslie as Ashley's mom rather than just his lover's ex-wife. He thought back to when he first met the little girl and how she had braved sitting on his lap as if she knew he wouldn't shove her away or injure her. Cove's hand touching the side of his face startled Ash until he felt a thumb wipe away a trail of tears. Ash thought he'd run out of tears earlier that morning during his therapy session. Yet, he was weeping again over a little girl's hurt feelings.
"Shit, Cove," He commented aloud. "You already had a rough enough time with your ex-wife. Why bother with someone like me? I'm barely any better. Wouldn't it be just another type of hell?"
“Believe it or not, your commitment complex is not the worst thing in the world,” Cove retorted. “Being with you is not hell, Ash. Being with you is a balm, and I wish you’d one day truly understand that.”
Ash highly doubted it. Then, he scrunched up his nose when his therapist’s words bounced around in his head. He had to challenge negative thoughts, not positive ones. So, should he doubt his doubt? Exactly!
“Does something smell bad?” Cove questioned after a moment of confused silence.
"Huh?" Ash countered before realizing that his nose was still scrunched up. "Oh! No, that's a renewed new habit that happens when I have to question myself over thinking bad thoughts."
“Bad thoughts?" Cove prompted with a raising of an eyebrow.
“Not those kinds of bad thoughts, nothing naughty!” Ash defended in a rush. “Negative thoughts. Aw, just forget it. What are we eating for lunch? Want me to order something?”
“I’m in the mood to make something,” Cove replied as he stood up and headed towards the kitchen.
A few moments later, Ash was seated at the kitchen table watching Cove fry some chicken tenders and freshly cut sweet potatoes while wearing a plain black apron. The silver-eyed man still wore the apron when he joined him and divided the meal. Ash ate with dubious success, often missing his mouth when lifting a chicken tender or a fry to it, all because he kept staring at Cove's apron while imagining all kinds of lewd scenarios.
When they both had their fill, Cove could no longer keep quiet about the burning gaze Ash kept sending. "Ash, I think you're staring too hard. Is it the apron?"
Ash, still staring even while drinking some water, nearly choked on his next gulp. "Um…" He began before clearing his throat. "I mean, maybe?"
“Or are you just imagining me wearing nothing but the apron, I wonder?”
Ash put the glass of water back down before he really did choke on the next sip. "If it didn't look so good on you…."
“You know who else would look good wearing nothing but this apron?” The way the tone of Cove’s voice shifted nearly had Ash overheating.
Ash felt Cove's hand cup the side of his face before it slid around to grasp the back of his head, and he was pulled into a kiss that escalated faster than either of them anticipated. He had decided to go along with Cove's request to wear nothing but his apron. But, the copper-eyed man had barely tied the thing on his nude body when Cove's hands moved down to Ash's hips and then pulled away to lift the shorter man by his thighs and set him down on the kitchen counter. Ash glanced at Cove in shock, but the silver-eyed man distracted him once again with a searing kiss that had Ash gripping Cove's shoulders.
Ash tugged the hem of Cove's shirt up as the other man began to suck on his neck. But, he yanked the fabric upward insistently when Cove refused to stop long enough to take the shirt off. With a sharp bite to Ash's shoulder, Cove finally conceded and tossed the shirt aside with lust-fueled impatience. Meanwhile, Ash wasted no time in undoing Cove's pants and shoving them down as far as he could.
Cove laughed when the copper-eyed man nearly lost his balance in the process. He took a moment to finally discard the rest of his clothes before leaning down a hand on either side of Ash's thighs on the counter. He kissed the other man's nose and leaned back before Ash could grab him. Cove then slid his hands from Ash's knees up to his inner thighs, slipping underneath the fabric of the apron and stroking the hardened flesh.
Ash arched his back with a groan before locking gazes with Cove. His hands clutched the back of Cove's head as he tugged him into another kiss. Ash's tongue stuttered against Cove's when the shorter man felt a thumb slide along one of his nipples. One of Ash's hands ran down the side of Cove's throat and down his upper chest until he could pinch a nipple of his own.
Cove frowned when he realized Ash being seated denied him access to his lover's backside. He wrapped his arms around Ash and tried to slide him back off the counter. But Ash flailed and ended up half-draped against Cove's chest. An embarrassing squeak echoed in the kitchen as the copper-eyed man allowed the rest of his body to drag off the counter. When Ash was firmly on his feet, Cove took hold of his hands and gently tugged him towards his bedroom.
“Face down,” Cove instructed.
They had all weekend long, yet Cove was definitely more impatient than usual; Ash mused to himself as he clambered onto the bed and lifted his ass high. Whenever the taller man became like this, Ash knew that he would probably end up sore by morning. The fingers that began to prep him proved his theory.
With both hands, Ash clutched the pillow beneath him when Cove began to breach him. Though his movements were slow and measured at first, the shorter man swore that he felt the man's shaft twitch inside him. Ash turned his face to send him a sideways glare to urge him faster, but he didn't even need to.
Cove grabbed one of Ash's hips with one hand and held the apron strings with the other as he began to tug Ash's body into his thrusts. "Yes, Ash," he hissed in arousal as he thrusted with abandon. "Just keep glaring at me."
"Kinda hard to do while face-down," Ash huffed, but he peered at Cove anyway.
The silver-eyed man slowed down with a grin so he could lean down and press a firm kiss on Ash's shoulder. "Do you want to flip onto your back?"
Ash bit his lower lip and nodded. He felt Cove tug and loosen the apron strings around his waist and neck before raining kisses down his spine and giving one of his butt cheeks a bite. “Hey!” Ash protested as he turned onto his back.
Cove tugged the apron the rest of the way off and tossed it aside. He then leaned down to kiss the shorter man. His tongue took over Ash's mouth as he spread the caramel thighs wider. Ash's arms clutched at the back of his head and claws at his back, but he forced himself away from his grip to work his way back into the hot depths.
Ash tossed his head back and began to stroke himself as Cove's thrusts became fierce and deliberate as if he were purposely trying to drive him insane. "Oh, fuck!" He gasped as he came all over his lower abdomen.
Cove slowed down his pace as he continued to chase his own pleasure. It wasn’t much longer before he also found release. He held himself still as he whispered in Ash’s ear. “Let’s go bathe together.”
"You are trying to drive me insane, aren't you?"
"What?" Cove questioned with a laugh. "Says the man who eye–fucked my apron and then chose to be the one to wear it naked. Who's driving who insane again?”
“You have a point there,” Ash grumbled.
The two of them bathed and changed the sheets together. Ash, who hadn’t come prepared to sleep over yet again, ended up wearing one of Cove’s pajama shorts and sleeveless shirts to bed. Cove wore nothing but a pair of boxers. But, as the two clambered into bed, they drew close to one another.
“Cove, I know I’m late as fuck considering it’s been a decade since then,” Ash confessed with an arm draped over the other man’s chest. “But, I want to apologize for nearly ruining your wedding.”
"I forgave you for that long ago. At the time, a part of me even regretted not running away with you," Cove admitted as he carded his fingers through Ash's hair. "But, the Leslie I knew for three years didn't deserve being left at the altar like that. I don't think marriage was what she wanted, either. If I had known she was pregnant when she was adamant about the divorce, I would have tried harder to get her the help she needed."
“Sounds like you really did love her,” Ash whispered, trying his best not to allow the sting of jealousy to seep through.
“In my own way, yes,” Cove responded candidly. “But, never as much as I’ve loved, and still love, you.”
That can’t be true, Ash thought to himself as he tried to calm his racing heart. But what if it was? If there was anyone who deserved to be loved back, it was Cove. So, why couldn't he get the words out of his mouth?
"Has anyone told you you're crazy for loving me, of all people?" He asked instead.
“I think anyone would be crazy not to,” Cove countered.
Ash kept silent after that. Despite his guilt for not being able to express himself the same way, the way that Cove kept raking his fingers through his hair lulled him to sleep. He had been meaning to get a haircut, come to think of it. Eh, what was the rush? Ash fell asleep with the lingering thought of letting his hair grow out.
He suffered no nightmares that night.
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