“Eiji.” Mari spoke slowly as though she was trying to feel out each word. “Who is this?”
Eiji gulped. He needed to put a stop to this now, right now, but something distracted him. Ash had put him down (finally) but that meant that they were no longer touching and suddenly Eiji found that he couldn't bear that, not after all the weeks and months that he had spent thinking that Ash was beyond his reach forever. Eiji reached out, almost automatically, and buried his fingers in Ash’s sweatshirt. Mari raised her eyebrows at this and Eiji swore inwardly, this wasn't helping. Still, he didn't even consider letting go of Ash.
“Ash, this is my sister Mari. Mari, this is Ash. He's my, he is, well he’s Ash.” Eiji finished lamely, his blush deepening, if that was even possible at this point.
“Right…” Mari said, crossing her arms, her eyes narrowing.
For his part Ash seemed highly amused, snickering as Eiji fumbled the introduction, but when he turned back toward Mari his face was a perfect mask of politeness.
“Ash” he said, extending a hand. "It's a pleasure to finally meet you."
Mair just blinked at it for a moment before slowly extending her hand to take his. “it's a pleasure to meet you as well, although my brother hasn't mentioned you at all.” She gave Eiji a very pointed look.
Ash’s face stayed composed but Eiji saw the look of hurt and uncertainty that flashed through his eyes. Briefly he wondered if the rain outside was heavy enough that he could drown Mari in it. Why the hell did she have to be so blunt all the time? The truth was it wasn't all the time, with everyone else she could be perfectly genteel but when it came to Eiji she seemed to enjoy getting under his skin, and now he had one hell of a mess to clean up.
“I haven't really talked about New York at all.” Eiji interjected hastily by way of an explanation. It was true, but even to his ears it still sounded lame.
“Right.” Ash said. He withdrew his hand and his polite smile stayed in place, but Eiji could see through it to the hurt beneath. He just couldn't address it in front of his sister.
“Let's go to my room.” He said quickly. “You and Mari can get to know each other later.”
“A good idea.” Ash’s polite smile morphed back into his earlier, more familiar, smirk, although it didn't entirely erase the uncertainty from his eyes. “I need to get you out of those wet clothes after all.”
Mari’s eyes nearly popped at that, and just when he thought his blush might actually be receding too, no it was definitely still there, and probably darker than before.
“That's not… I mean…. He didn't mean…” Eiji spluttered.
Ash snickered as Eiji began tugging him toward the stairs, desperate to get him away from Mari before he he could go and say something else she could misinterpret.
“Impatient aren't you?”
“Shut up!” Eiji snapped. “Mari ignore him, we're just going to change into dry clothes. We’ll be back down in a bit.”
“Right…” Mari said, her arms once again crossed as she stared suspiciously up the stairs after them.
When they reached Eiji’s room he pulled Ash inside, slammed the door behind them, spun back around to face the room, and froze. For a few moments Eiji just stood there taking in the sight of Ash, Ash alive and in front of him, Ash here in his room, Ash who, even an hour ago he had believed lost to him forever, but who was no longer lost but instead finally found, and who had found his way here, to Eiji.
Again the tears gathered at the corners of Eiji’s eyes and this time he could not stop them from spilling over and down his face to mingle with the rain water soaking his T-shirt. Ash, for his part, looked strangely uncertain and tentative, a highly unusual combination on his usually poised face. He gazed slowly around the room, taking in every detail, the neatness of the made bed, the school trip photos from Eiji’s childhood sitting on top of the dresser, the closed photo album lying on Eiji’s nightstand. Then his eyes widened as they returned to Eiji and noticed his tears.
“Eiji.” Ash’s voice was soft, almost unsure. Eiji wiped his eyes, ineffectively attempting to put a stop to the flood.
“A-Ash” His voice hiccuped with a sob. Ash closed the space between them in two strides and tentatively put his arms around Eiji. Eiji leaned into him, returning the embrace.
“I guess this is my fault too.” Ash said it quietly.
“Hu?” Eiji blinked up at him, confused.
“You, crying, or getting hurt. It's always because of me.”
“Maybe I shouldn't have come.” He started to pull away.
Eiji tightened his arms around Ash, gripping the back of Ash’s sweatshirt with his fingers, refusing to let him go. Ash stopped trying to pull away and blinked down at Eiji, and Eiji was a little hurt by the fact that Ash seemed actually surprised by his refusal to let Ash walk away again.
“Ash! Listen to me! Me getting hurt is never your fault! It's the fault of the people who wanted to hurt you!”
“But that's the same thing as…”
“No it's not!” Eiji cut him off, glaring up at him. “It's not the same at all! And as for making me cry, the only reason I'm doing that is because you disappeared for six hole months! Stupid! And because he couldn't think the call me even once during that time to let me know that you were okay!”
Ash looked honestly abashed. “Eiji I… I thought you might need some space, after getting shot and all. I thought it would be better for you to have a chance to heal and move on with your life and” Ash’s eyes traveled around the room again, “it looks like you have so…”
His voice trailed away and Eiji realized what he was seeing, or rather what he wasn't seeing, any traces of New York and the time they'd shared in Eiji’s room.
“Let me show you something.” Eiji gently untangled himself from Ash and, grabbing his wrist, pulled him over to the nightstand. With his other hand Eiji scooped up the photo album and handed it to Ash. Ash took it dubiously. He opened it slowly and his eyes widened with shock and emotion when he saw what it contained. It was filled with photos, photos of New York, photos of Ash’s gang, but mostly photos of Ash himself. The entire album was filled with them, photos of Ash sitting drinking a beer, photos Ash waking up in the morning, or cooking breakfast with a towel wrapped around his head after a shower, or sitting, curled lost in thought, on a windowsill. Ash wasn't even sure when Eiji had taken most of them. He certainly hadn't remembered Eiji taking them, but here they were, all together in an album on Eiji nightstand.
“Eiji, this is…”
“I look at them every night before I go to sleep.” Eiji said it softly. “If this is about what my sister said then it's true that I don't talk about you, or about anything else that happened in New York, but it wasn't because you don't matter or because I was forgetting you, it was because I wanted to keep you all to myself.”
Ash raised his head to stare at Eiji, his eyes wide and watering, his face, for once open, emotion clearly written across it.
“If you think that I'm better off without you or that I could ever forget you,” Eiji continued, “you're wrong. In these past six months there hasn't been a single moment that I haven't thought about you, haven't missed you and wish you were here with me. Honestly Ash I've been a complete mess. I haven't been able to do anything, just thinking that I would never see you again…” Eiji’s voice trailed away and he shook his head.
“Eiji I… I’m sorry…I…”
“It's like I said Ash, my soul is always with yours, so please, please don't ever do that to me again.”
Ash placed the album gently back on Eiji’s nightstand and, once again, wrapped his arms around Eiji.
“I promise.” He said it so quietly that if Eiji’s head hadn't been pressed against the others neck he probably wouldn't have heard him. “And I really am, so sorry Eiji.”
“It's okay.” Eiji smiled against Ash’s neck. “You came back to me, and that's what matters. You're here with me now, here and safe and this, this is our new beginning.”
Ash hummed in contentment, pressing his face into Eiji’s hair, and they just stood like that for a while. Then Ash pulled back and looked down his elegant nose at Eiji.
“You know,” he said, his voice returning to something like its more normal, amused, tone, "you're still soaking wet. And I did tell your sister that I would personally get you out of those wet clothes.”
He winked. Eiji blushed and slapped his arm. Ash chuckled, and everything was exactly as it should be.