Ash peered up from his textbook, having been stomped at what do in the next step of the equation he was working on.
"Hey, Eiji, I don't get—"
Eiji kept his gaze down, his own problem left unsolved. Ash frowned at his face. It was usually really content to the point you could see actual stars in his eyes. But now, he looked really far away and upset, the twinkle in his black coffee like eyes that resembled specks of creamer is gone, leaving nothing but a bitter brew.
"Eiji, what's wrong?" he asked, dropping his mechanical pencil on to the loose leaf paper before leaning over the table.
Eiji sunk more into his seat when the gang leader moved in closer, Ash's green eyes filled with concerned.
"Oh," he muttered out, his voice ever so soft. "It isnothing serious, do not worry about it." Eiji started to fumble with the collar of his dress shirt. Ash wasn't convinced.
"Yes, it is." The blonde implied, "tell me what's the matter, you look so sad."
Eiji gazed up from the wooden table their books were spread out on, startled that the seventeen-year-old could tell so much. Solemnly, Eiji traced his finger on the silver rim of his spiral notebook and kept his eyes down at the unanswered math question neatly written on the lined paper.
"Yesterday, after I came back dropping Sing to school, Arthur came up to me and he..." Eiji trailed off, his accent fading with his words, unsure if he should continue.
"What did he do?" Ash pressed, his knees were now up in the chair he sat in so he could be closer to the boy across the table. He wasn't rough and his tone wasn't harsh; quite even and low as to not disturb anyone else in the library. He spoke out in genuine curiosity.
Eiji sighed, his bottom lip slightly chewed on in uncertainty. "He... Called me the— the 'f' word and some other things as I passed by. And... I guess it hurt my feelings."
When he got no response, the Asian boy looked up and came into eye contact with icy ocean still eyes. Quickly, Eiji backtracked himself with a nervous smile. "But like I said: It's not serious. I will get over it."
Ash's muscles tensed at that. Ash knew Eiji, and he knew he wouldn't just get over it. The boy would let himself drown in guilt or despair if no one asked him about how he was feeling. Someone could bump into him and he'll apologise profusely and then some if he thought he didn't sound sincere enough. Eiji took things to the heart, his innocence and kindness was a big reason for it. No one liked to see Eiji sad, it made them feel as if they kicked a puppy. And no one kicks this puppy.
Ash took in a breath, not wanting his growing anger to show. Eiji would only find a way to defend that prick if he did because he cared about everyone, even those who treat him badly.
"Okay," Ash decided to give instead, leaning back into his chair to emphasise the pretend calmness he certainly didn't have. "If you say it isn't serious, I'll believe you. Right?"
"Right," Eiji nodded firmly.
Ash continued his nonchalant act, "okay," was all he replied before pushing his notebook over to Eiji. Eiji, happy to change the topic, quickly gripped it and held it to eyes level so he could look over the few problems they managed to get through.
"Ash, great job!" Eiji smiled brightly at him, Ash was happy to see the twinkle back in his irises, more so to be the cause of it. "You have gotten much better at this."
Ash took back the notebook, watching the brunette check his watch then gathering his things up. "I am sorry, but I have to go— my internship starts a little earlier today."
Ash waved the apology away. "That's fine."
Eiji paused zipping up his Nike shoulder bag that held his camera equipment and study material. "I know we did not have time to actually work, but I think no time was wasted seeing how much you have improved. Even so, my study session with Shorter is at Chang Dai around 4:30, you can come get some extra practice if you would like. Plus, Shorter always works better when you are around, the little competitions you guys have seem to always do the trick."
Ash smirked, he was totally up to beating Shorter in a little History trivia. "Sure thing. I'll see you tomorrow, then. Tell the old man I said 'what's up.''
Eiji continued to finish up clearing his materials before throwing the bag over his shoulder. "Will do," Eiji started for the exit but stopped in front of the blonde to bump fist and do some other interactive hand gestures he wanted in on when he saw Alex and Kong do it. "Take it easy."
Ash couldn't help but laugh at the word leaving Eiji's lips, his interest in American slang never failed to amuse him, especially when he used it. "Take it easy," he gave with a lazy peace sign, Eiji copying it because 'Alex and Kong do it, too!'
He kept his eyes straight ahead while Eiji passed him and left, of course not before politely telling the librarian to have a good rest of her day. Only when he was gone, did Ash start to see fire. A blazing fire in a form of a ball mixed with pure anger.
He let out a low chuckle while he packed his own things up and dumped them into his school bag. All the while, he smiled a crazed, disbelieving grin. "Oh, Arthur is so going to get it."
These parts of New York City were bad. Many gangs roamed the streets as well as police officers ready to bust anything suspicious. Ash couldn't say there was anything remotely good about this place. The smell of tobacco, weed, murder, and trash lingered in the stuffy air. Gloominess followed at night when things felt vulnerable and suspect. Despite all that, everyone trapped in the darkness of the place had a light. That light was Eiji Okumura.
Eiji came to this side of New York nearly a year ago with his boss. The first time Ash collided with the Japanese boy was when he stumbled into their underground bar. He stood right out like a sore thumb, eyes wondering in confusion. Ash nor anyone saw him as a threat, he resembled a baby deer with such doe eyes and his clothes just showed he wasn't from here when everyone else wore streetwear. As it would turn out, he was lost but confirmed was living around these parts to Ash's surprise. Eiji was clueless to what he just stepped into, just hoping to find good Samaritans who would assist him in finding the apartments closer to the city. Ash was kind enough to give directions back home, it would seem so wrong to be hostile with Eiji when he displayed nothing but politeness.
During the middle of discussing the quickest route home— or safest, but Eiji didn't need to know that— the foreign boy caught sight of Ash's gun. His didn't seem scared, just fascinated, asking almost immediately after he saw it was it real and could he hold it. Impressed with the straight-up question, and with a collective gasp from his gang, Ash responded with yes and held out the weapon for the boy to grip like a new toy, examining it then returning it after thanking him for trusting him with that. Right then and there, Ash figured he couldn't let him go home on his own and offered to just take him which he greatly appreciated.
From that day forward, Eiji came back as if he'd belonged there— which he kind of did after a few days of just returning and making it a normal thing— and no one batted an eyelash. Even when the nineteen-year-old found out they were a group of gang members, he wasn't bothered by it at all. It was as if he hung out with gangs all of the time back in Japan. Eiji helped them all with their studies from the kindness of his heart. He even went as far as to take Sing to school because he tended to skip out for the hell of it or he had no way to get there.
He became one of them just like that and everyone loved him. He didn't only mingle with Ash's gang, he somehow found his way to Shorter's and Cain's gangs as well and then they began to interact because of him. No matter the beef they had between each other, with Eiji there, all of that didn't matter.
Although they still had their disagreements, all the gang leaders could collectively agree Eiji was a pretty cool guy. They liked him so much they would protect him like one of their own.
Ash was sure this point still stood.
"I swear when I see Arthur, it's going down," Ash grumbled at the bar, eyes closed as his head pumped with a headache.
Shorter sat beside him, nursing some mixture of multiple fountain drinks, because out of all the alcohol here to his disposal, finding the best soda concoction seemed to interest him more. "Woah, what happened?"
Ash picked up his beer bottle and took a swig, "said some shit I didn't like."
"Oh, well, he's all talk so don't worry about him."
Shorter stopped slurping through his straw at that. "What did he say?"
"Called him some homophobic slurs. Eiji swears it's not that serious, but you know how he is, always trying to cover someone." Ash replied through gritted teeth.
Shorter frowned now, pushing his 'greatest creation yet' to the side. "Are you planning on doing something about it?"
" 'Course, who would I be to leave it alone? No one gets away with talking smack about any of my men, that includes Eiji."
Shorter shrugged at that, "count me and my guys in. Eiji may be merciful, but I feel like a good sucker punch is what that prick needs."
"Who's this prick we're talkn' about?" Cain popped out from by the pool table where people were crowded, enjoying the match between Bones's and one of Cain's men.
Shorter gave him a fist bump and then Ash before Cain leaned against the bar.
"Arthur said some things about Eiji so we're just gonna talk to him, is all," Ash explained before sipping his beverage again and then discarding it for the pool table. Cain and Shorter followed and watched as Bones passed the stick over to Ash so he could give it a few rounds.
"Woah— what? Eiji's an angel, who would talk badly about him?" Cain responded in disbelief as if such an idea was unpredictable and deserved major prison time— maybe life.
The gang members started to murmur among themselves, equally as confused at someones motive to be hostile towards the Japanese boy.
"I know, right?" Shorter agreed. "That's what we're going to figure out. Tonight."
"I want in on this, too," Cain decided and his gang muttered in unison, liking the idea. "Knowing Eiji, he was probably really upset about it but pretended it was no big deal."
Ash nodded after taking his shot, four balls going into the pockets with ease. "He was and it made me even angrier. So all three gangs agree to do something about this?"
Everyone roared with confirmation.
"Make that four, well, technically, I can't be a gang on my own. So make it one more person." A voice came from the steps, no one heard the door open, but by the sly seducing tone, they all had a hunch of who it was. Yut-Lung entered the bar with his arms crossed, staring down the bar with disinterest but kept the cunning smile gracing his lips.
"You? Want to help us defend Eiji? Why?" Ash called out, standing straight again to glare at the sixteen-year-old who invited himself in as if he was actually wanted.
Yut-Lung shrugged in response to this, running his slender fingers through his raven ponytail over his shoulder. "I mean, he can be irritating with all of his questions and his naiveness gets exhausting, but he's okay. Plus, he has sensible fashion taste you imbeciles would never understand, he told me Arthur insulted his cute cardigans and I won't stand for it."
At this everyone just looked at him funny and Yut-Lung groaned. "My point is... I hate seeing Eiji sulk, like, he's even more annoying. I can't say I'll offer much, but I'd enjoy seeing Arthur's face punched in."
Everyone held a mini-conference at this, Cain rising up and giving the final answer. "Okay, you're in."
Yut-Lung clapped his hands in response to this, sliding into a chair at the tables. "Oh, goody! So, what's the plan?"
"First things first," Ash began, everyone now serious as if a lesson on reviewing for exams has started. "No one tells Eiji."
Yut-Lung leaned against the brick building of Arthur's resident with his arms crossed and right foot in black flats up against the wall. The bass coming from the place grew louder and the rap coherent when the door swung open. Friendly yelling and laughter came out for a minute or two before the door closed back up and footsteps climbed the steps leading to the streets, much similar to the bar Ash hung out at.
Swiftly, when the wild-haired blonde was able to be seen, Yut-Lung sidestepped him almost unseen, the only tell-tale of his very existence was the breeze he left behind with the scent of lavender. It was enough to make Arthur attempt to twist his head in alert but the Chinese boy already had his needle out of his ear. He wrapped his fingers around the cloth of Arthur's shirt before pricking him with it. Yut-Lung, not feeling the lest generous, let the man's paralysed body drop to the floor.
At that, a group of guys came from out of the shadows and into the streetlights, Ash, Shorter, and Cain leading the pack. They didn't even wear scheming grins. They were expressionless.
"He can see and hear," Yut-Lung advised with a playful smirk before graciously finding a place away from what was coming.
Shorter and Cain cracked their knuckles while Ash crouched down by the other blonde, lifting his head up by his hair. If Arthur could scream, he would. "Let's hope he puts those two senses to use because we'll only tell him this once," Ash growled, snapping Arthur's head towards his own so their eyes could connect, "and if you're lucky, we'll only show you this once."
Eiji had entered the bar around six in the afternoon, coming back from the city after leaving Chinatown from tutoring Ash and Shorter. To everyone's delight, he looked really happy.
"What's up, Eiji?" Alex asked, doing the handshake Eiji couldn't get enough of with him.
"Just chilling," Eiji replied cooly, beaming when the others approached him to greet him as well.
"You look really happy today," Ash pointed out from the bar then throwing him a Pepsi.
"Thank you, my day went well," Eiji twisted open the cap, pausing. "However, the strangest thing happened."
Cain turned in his chair and tilted his head in curiosity while Yut-Lung watched from under his eyelashes across from Cain, swinging his feet and asking: "Oh? How so?"
As far as they knew, Eiji was still clueless about the night before, everyone keeping quiet like told. Ash expected to hear at least one thing from Eiji during tutoring but he said nothing about it, he was just being Eiji if not a brighter version of himself.
"Well, I saw Arthur after I dropped off Sing to school. As I was walking past, he seemed to be very wary of me. Enough to run away." Eiji frowned like a lost puppy.
Shorter shrugged then returned to his fountain drink mixture— Seven Up and peach Fanta— still a little salty about his numerous losses in History trivia. "Maybe you're just more intimidating than you think," he suggested innocently, swiping his shades from off his face to give the photographer a wink.
Eiji contemplated this for a bit before smiling and taking a drink of his Pepsi. "I'd like to think that was true. Thanks for hyping me up, though, Shorter."
"That's a new one!" Sing called out and everyone laughed at the new word added to Eiji's vocabulary.
When everyone had been occupied again, Eiji stared at Ash a little longer. Ash startled, but before he could think on the possibility of Eiji knowing, which seem more than likely now, Eiji already padded towards Skipper and collected the little boy into a hug. Asking how his day at was school like he always does to which Skipper would branch on about his day.