Once I thought my innocence was gone
Now I know that happiness goes on
That's where you found me
When you put your arms around me
Billy Joel "The Longest Time"
Ash sighed; he had been reading the same page for at least half an hour. He glanced at his watch, and put his book down. He had made a choice; he needed to stick to it. Eiji would be safe away from this city, away from him, that was a fact, and it didn’t matter how twisted up he felt inside thinking about it, things were better this way. Blanca had been right, he was selfish, and it was completely unfair to Eiji. He had already asked so much of his friend, how could he possibly ask for more? Especially when he had nothing to give, Eiji didn’t need protecting anymore, if they were together what could Ash give him?
He looked down at his book again, and then closed his eyes. He took a deep breath; the smell of old paper was welcome and familiar. Ash tried to let his mind go blank, let the sound of voices, and the feel of activity around him occupy his senses. He tried to pick out individual voices around him and then, painstakingly recalled all the details of the library in an exercise that usually served to occupy his mind.
Unbidden came the memory of Eiji with him at this library, his soft brown eyes, his teasing smile.
Ash sighed again and checked the time; Eiji’s flight would be leaving soon. Somehow he thought the feeling in his stomach would settle once Eiji’s plane was in the sky. That way he wouldn’t still have the hope of seeing him at the airport, the stupid fucking hope that refused to go away no matter how hard Ash pushed it down. His body would not relax; ready to take off at any moment to catch up to Eiji. His saw again Eiji’s tearstained face in the hospital hallway, the last time he had seen him. Ash ached to brush those tears away, soothe both of them. Maybe that would ease the feeling of bitter regret in his chest.
He looked up, he wasn’t startled exactly, but he had noticed Sing’s presence only a moment before he spoke. He was clearly off his game.
Ash gave him a look and Sing snapped his mouth shut, clearly about to call out to him again. He stood and motioned for Sing to follow him, together they walked out onto the sidewalk in front of the library.
“What?” Ash asked, voice as flat as he could make it. It was probably unfair to talk to Sing like this, but Ash thought he knew what brought his friend here and he really wasn’t up for having this conversation.
“What are you doing here?” Sing demanded. “Why aren’t you at the airport? Eiji’s waiting for you, you know!”
Ash looked away. He had been right, of course. He felt the familiar ache in his chest at the mention of Eiji’s name. Why couldn’t anyone see, this was obviously for the best. Ash shoved his hands into his pockets, hands clenched tightly into fists. He took a breath before replying.
“I’m not going,” he said as steadily as he could.
“Why the hell not?” Sing was visibly upset, he was practically yelling. “What the hell was all this for if you’re not going to go to him? Don’t you at least have anything to say to him?”
Ash glared at Sing. What the fuck did Sing know about his feelings? About anything? There was no ‘point’ to any of the things that happened. The things that happened were simply the result of people being involved with Ash Lynx, notorious gangster, murderer, and whore.
“It’s better this way,” Ash forced himself to say. “Eiji’s better off without me, in Japan. I said my goodbyes, I’m never seeing him again.”
“Idiot!” Sing shouted, his hands were balled up into fists at his sides, it was then that Ash realized he was holding something. Sing glared up at him, he looked like he was ready to take a swing at him. Ash kind of wanted him to. He didn’t, instead Sing thrust the thing he was holding into Ash’s chest, Ash’s hand came up automatically to take it. “You’re so damn stubborn! I’ve had it with you!” Then he turned on his heel and left.
Ash looked down at the envelope, for that’s what it was, in his hand. His name jumped out at him. It was written in a hand he was familiar with, and his heart beat painfully. Ash moved without thinking to a nearby bench, he ran his fingers along the edge of the envelope, he thought about Eiji hunched over in his hospital bed, pen and paper in hand, painstakingly writing to Ash in a language that was not his own.
His fingers trembled as he slowly opened the envelope, he held it lightly, and held his breath, like he thought the letter might melt away before he had a chance to read the words.
But, read them he did, and it was almost too much, his heart was practically bursting in his chest.
We are from different countries, and our skin and eyes are different color. But, so what? We are friends. Isn’t that enough? What else do we need?
He could hear Eiji’s voice in his head as he read those beautiful words, words that sent warmth flooding through his whole being, that made his heart sing, and his blood move.
I am very happy I came to America. I made many friends here. Above all…I met you, Ash.
And there was the plane ticket.
I always wanted to protect you. Funny, isn’t it? But, what did I want to protect you from?
He felt tears prick his eyes, Eiji did everything but confess with this letter, Ash could feel the unwritten words between every line, and he felt them in his own soul. As always, Eiji was braver and truer than Ash could ever hope to be. And he was there again, to rescue Ash from himself.
I think I wanted to protect you from your future. Because your fate was sweeping you away, like a flood.
He realized he was crying when he saw tears stain the pages Eiji had written him. He hastily scrubbed at his face.
His resolve was for shit; it always had been, when it came to Eiji. How many times did he think to himself that it would be better if Eiji left for Japan? He had gotten as far as getting him a plane ticket back twice, but he hadn’t been able to go through with it. He knew irrefutably that if Eiji left he would take something fundamental to Ash with him, and without that, what would be the point in living? He might as well have let Foxx finish him, if he was going to cop out now. No, Sing was right, the little brat, what the fuck would be the point if he didn’t go with Eiji? God, he was an idiot.
But, I said you are not a leopard, and that you can change your future. It’s true, Ash. You can change your fate.
Ash stood suddenly frantic, he looked at his watch, was there enough time? He needed to get to the airport, he needed a taxi –
There was a blur of movement to his right, bodies colliding and muffled shouts. Ash was knocked to the floor and completely taken by surprise. It took him only seconds to take in his surroundings, put his guard up, but they were precious seconds that could have gotten him killed if it weren’t for Sing. The young gang leader had tackled his brother to the ground, and had a knife buried in his shoulder for his trouble.
Ash pulled out his gun and trained it on Lao.
“No!” Sing cried, clutching his wounded shoulder, but shuffling quickly on his knees to block Ash’s shot. Lao had been knocked on his back and was now crouching by his brother looking torn. “Stop!” Sing snapped, this was directed at Lao.
His brother’s eyes were still trained on Ash, and Ash didn’t lower his gun.
“He needs to go,” Lao said, eyes on Ash’s face, “I can’t let him hurt you.”
The realization of what was happening and why hit Ash like a ton of bricks. He was an idiot for leaving this loose end, for not predicting this, for having his guard so completely down, and for giving Lao a reason to mistrust him in the first place. If not for Sing Ash would have been run through by the knife that was buried in the young man’s shoulder, he could have been seriously hurt, he could have died. Ash felt a chill go through him, he had never really wanted to die, and right now he never wanted so desperately to live, to embrace a future that no longer looked so bleak.
“You hurt me, you fucking moron!” Sing yelled, this got Lao’s attention. He looked down at his brother, Sing’s sleeve was stained with blood, the wound didn’t look like it hit anything vital, but it would probably hurt like hell. “Ash and I are square, we’re not gonna fight!” Sing glared at Lao, and Ash watched as his older brother searched Sing’s face for any deception. He found none, the truth was obvious.
“Fuck,” Lao breathed.
“Damn right,” Sing grumbled, “Idiot.” He added. Then turned to Ash. Ash lowered his gun; he saw the fight had left Lao. “I guess I’m an idiot too, I had to come back and try again. Go to him.” Sing was glaring at Ash so fiercely that under other circumstances he might have actually felt some trepidation, as it was his mind was back to thinking about Eiji.
You are not alone, Ash. I am with you. My soul is always with you.
“Thank you,” was all Ash said as he stood, and then ran.
The ride to the airport was agony. If Ash had a hard time keeping his eyes off his watch in the library, it was nothing to the obsessive way he checked the time in the backseat of the cab. He kept doing the math in his head, at the speed they were going, considering how far the airport was, what were the odds he would make it in time?
Ash closed his eyes and willed himself to calm down. If he didn’t make it it wasn’t the end of the world. There were ways he could contact Eiji, he would just have to wait to get a message to him, but it could be done. He could let Eiji know he got his letter, that he had received his feelings and wanted nothing more than to return them. It wasn’t as tragic as his stupid mind was making it seem if he didn’t manage to catch him before his plane left. He just needed some damn patience; this wasn’t an all or nothing moment.
Still, his stomach twisted in knots, it refused to believe him when he said it wasn’t vital he make it in time.
When the airport was in sight Ash’s body tensed, he was getting ready to bolt. He knew he shouldn’t be pushing himself like this, he had recently been shot and beaten, but if it was for Eiji…
Ash had been keeping an eye on the meter; he had plenty of money in hand to cover the fare by the time they were pulling up to the airport. Ash thrust the money at the driver yelling, “Keep the change!” before he threw the door open and took off before the cab came to a stop. Distantly he registered that he was being yelled at, he ignored it, single-mindedly making his way to Eiji. He already knew the terminal, and he knew the airport, having come here with Papa Dino a handful of times to greet his “guests.”
Ash flat out ran, he ignored the pain in his side, concentrating on not colliding with anyone, less concerned about hurting others than with how much colliding with them would slow him down. His weakened body was starting to protest its abuse in ways that were harder to ignore by the time Ash caught sight of them. Eiji was in a wheelchair; he was being pushed by Ibe-san toward the boarding area. His name was on Ash’s lips, but he couldn’t seem to voice it. There was a lump in Ash’s throat at the sight of him, his head bowed, looking small and fragile, unable to walk on his own two feet.
People were looking at Ash; he must look utterly desperate, frantic. Ibe-san noticed the looks and turned too, his eyes were wide with surprise and he stopped mid step. Ash saw him say something, and then Eiji was turning too.
Seconds later Ash was in front of him, doubled over and panting, staring into wide brown eyes. Eiji was saying something, but Ash couldn’t hear him, there was too much blood rushing in his ears. He felt lightheaded from exhaustion and relief.
Eiji threw the blanket over his lap aside and struggled to stand. Ash instinctively reached out to help him, taking Eiji’s hand, and finally found his voice.
“What are you doing? Don’t push yourself!” He scolded.
Eiji glared up at him, but there was no real heat to it.
“You are one to talk!” Eiji retorted, pressing his free hand gently into Ash’s wounded side. Ash winced, but he didn’t really care about the pain. Ash watched as Eiji’s expression softened, when he spoke again his voice was quiet, his words honest and vulnerable. “I thought – I thought maybe you would not come.”
Ash let go of Eiji’s hand so he could put his arms around him instead. He was immediately flooded with warmth when he felt Eiji return his embrace.
Ash closed his eyes and breathed deeply. Eiji’s familiar smell washed over him, the familiar warmth, and weight of Eiji in his arms, and Ash could feel his whole body relax at his proximity, he was practically dizzy with Eiji pressed this close to him.
“You promised me forever,” Ash whispered against Eiji’s ear, he felt him shiver. “I – “ Ash felt his resolve waver, he was only willing to push so far, it turned out. He wasn’t ready to say what his heart sang every time he looked at Eiji. “Wait for me.” He said instead, pulling back gently so he could look at Eiji’s face. His friend was gazing at him with such emotion in his eyes Ash thought his knees might buckle. He didn’t think about it as he brought his hand up to cup Eiji’s cheek. “I can’t leave right now but – wait for me.”
There were tears in Eiji’s eyes, but he was smiling, and nodding. Ash realized he was smiling too, a small smile, but a smile nonetheless. He ran his thumb along the smooth skin of Eiji’s cheek; he glanced down at his mouth. Ash closed his eyes and leaned his forehead against Eiji’s. For now this was enough, there would be time for more later. He desperately wanted to do things right. How often had they held each other like this with an audience? How much of his – their – feelings had been public knowledge, on everyone’s mouths before they even had time to deal with it themselves? It was unfair, and this time Ash wanted things to be for them only, private and intimate, he wanted to give Eiji that.
“I will wait for you, Ash,” Eiji breathed, eyes still closed. Ash felt the words in his heart and his stomach; he felt the truth of them.
They pulled away, but not completely, reluctant to let the other go. They were gazing at each other.
“Ei-chan.” Ibe-san’s voice broke the moment, and Eiji dragged his eyes away from Ash. “We have to board,” he said somewhat apologetically. Ash became dimly aware that they were getting looks.
Eiji just nodded and turned back to Ash.
Ash smiled at him encouragingly, he made to pull away entirely, but he felt Eiji’s hands on his shoulders and he stilled. Eiji reached up and kissed him softly on the cheek.
“Come see me soon,” Eiji said, stepping away from him.
Ash knew his surprise was written all over his face, but then he was smiling, charmed by the gesture, and the beautiful flush blooming across Eiji’s cheeks.
“As soon as I can,” Ash promised.
Sayonara America. Sayonara, New York…
But, I’m not saying ‘sayonara’ to you, Ash. Because this isn’t goodbye. I know we’ll see each other again someday…