For a few hours, Ash is happy in Cape Cod.

He's not exactly sure how the hell that happened. There hasn't been much "happy" in his life lately—not much Cape Cod, either—and the two don't normally fit together right in his head, sort of like how squares clash with circles and Eiji's sweat looks healthy even when it smells like fear. Maybe it's just been so long. Maybe it's seeing Griffin's room again, touching his papers, ink long dead much like the creator.

It used to be, this fucking sandpit drove Ash mad. He hated the dunes. He hated the long grasses and dry stretches of rock. The sea, which should've been fun for a boy, was vast, and lonely, and colorless.

But by the time Ash leaves, he carries a new collection of memories with him and it isn't so bad. Eiji's hair getting tangled up in the high winds. That moron, Max, scowling at the long-legged birds that stole his bag of chips. Ash feels sand between his toes, and what's cold is comforting. He likes listening to Eiji sleep, a soft whistle in the hazy light of morning, and he likes getting out his gun in a place where it's not really needed. Novel damn feeling.

He teaches Eiji to shoot—tries to—seriously, why—and the guy's hopeless. But it's not so bad. Ash can smell gunpowder and dust and tiredness on him, and somehow it's endearing instead of alarming. "Like this," he says, bending Eiji's wrist. The bones are fine. This whole thing, it's fine. He only shows people how to shoot when it really matters they live; and normally that's the kind of passing thought that fucks up his day, but Eiji is laughing, and the sky is blue, and the gun is heavy and reassuring.

And Ash thinks, If it'd been like this, maybe I would've never left.

But that was a long time ago. This is now, better or worse.