“I'm going to kill Ash” Sing murmured to himself as he slouched into the underground bar and dropped onto the stool. The jerk hadn't left so much as a text or a note when he'd disappeared and consequently it'd taken them a whole day to figure out where Ash had gone. By “them” of course Sing really meant just him since Blanca had been of no help whatsoever. After Blanca and Ash had had yet another row and Ash had stormed out yet again it had taken Blanca a full day to get concerned but once he did start to worry what had he done? Call Sing with a polite request that he track Ash down, that’s what. He'd gone, of course he had gone looking. After everything that had happened and everything that Sing had personally been through to keep that ungrateful idiot alive he wasn't about to let him get killed or arrested or something now.
So Sing had taken to the streets, checking all the usual places, the bar where he was now sitting, Nadia's restaurant, Cain’s place in Harlem. He'd talk to Nadia and Cain and Alex and Bones and Kong and even Yut Lung and by the time it became clear that no one had seen or heard from Ash in over a day Sing had begun cursing Blanca for not calling him sooner. He’d have had his boys out scouring the city but there was still enough bad blood between them and Ash what with the whole Lao stabbing Ash, Ash shooting Lao thing that, even though he was pretty sure he could trust everyone to behave, he hadn't wanted to take the risk. He also hadn't wanted to risk some member of Ash’s gang thinking that their boss’s disappearance was because Lao or Yut Lung had decided to take another stab (literally) at killing him and go after either of them for revenge so he downplayed his concerns to Alex and the others but that meant that he was basically on his own when it came to searching. Cain said he'd keep an eye out in Harlem but beyond that it was just Sing to scour the entire damn city. It had been raining too, not hard but hard enough that Sing had been thoroughly soaked as well is exhausted by the time that, nearly 24 hours later, Blanca called him to inform him that Ash’s passport was nowhere to be found.
Sing guessed then what had happened but he had to be sure so he'd ended up dragging himself all the way to the airport where he'd talked to security guards and airline reps until he found one who remembered selling a ticket last minute to a blonde haired green eyed teenager in a rush to reach Japan. When Sing heard that he'd nodded, murmured a quick thanks to the airline rep, sent a text to Blanca and Cain filled with both the relevant information and a good deal of profanity, caught the first cab he could find to Yut Lung’s house and flopped into one of his guest beds where he'd stayed for the next 12 hours.
He’d been crashing at Yut Lung’s a lot lately since going home typically meant another argument with Lao, he was getting better but he could still be a jerk sometimes, and because after all the garbage Yut Lung had put him through Sing figured that the least he owed him was unlimited room service. Yut Lung, however, hadn't exactly been sympathetic when he eventually showed up to pry Sing out of bed and Sing had ended up throwing a shoe at him. Yut Lung had, of course, responded with the usual threats of poisoning and assassination but Sing had just pulled the covers over his head and pretended he couldn't hear any of it. No, Sing hadn't exactly been having a great couple of days and it was all Ash’s stupid fault. Not that Sing minded him running off to be with Eiji of course, far from it in fact since he'd been the one telling Ash almost daily to get going already, but his inability to leave even the most basic of notes had cost Sing no end of trouble. Sometimes Sing wondered if Ash had done it on purpose as payback for all of Sing’s nagging and knowing Ash Sing figured there was a chance he really had.
Sing was pulled out of his morose thoughts by the sound of laughter echoing around the bar. He looked up to see Alex, who is seated with Kong, Bones, and Cain, collapsed across the bar, staring down at his cell phone and laughing hysterically.
“What's so funny?” Kong asked.
“Yeah what is it?” Bones demanded, leaning equally forward to try and catch a glimpse of whatever was on the screen of Alex's phone.
Curious, despite his dour mood, Sing hop down off his stool and wandered over to lean against the bar beside Cain.
“I just… Heard the… Best joke!” Alex choked out between bursts of laughter.
“Oh yeah? Well how about you stop laughing long enough to tell us.” Cain said, sounding mildly amused.
“Okay okay,” Alex said, taking a few deep breaths to stifle his laughter. “So these two thugs come out of a bar and they see a dog come running down the street and a moment later they see a girl come running after it. The thugs think “well there's an easy target,” so they go after her to mug her. Only then two guys come running after her, once her soft looking older brother and the other’s some pretty boy foreign tourist, so the thugs think "great, more easy targets” and one of the thugs has a knife so he pulls it.”
Alex convulsed with laughter again while the other four blinked at him slowly.
“I don't get it.” Cain said sounding slightly bemused.
“The foreigner! Guys! The foreigner’s Ash Lynx!”
They all stared at Alex in bemusement for a moment before all of them, Sing included, burst out laughing as well.
“the boss!” Kong exclaimed, although in amusement.
“No way.” Bones slammed his fist against the counter.
“Way!” Alex grinned, “he just messaged me.”
“Wait, that actually happened?” Sing burst out laughing all over again. “Some Japanese thug actually tried to tangle with Ash Lynx?”
Alex nodded "but wait it gets better!”
“Oh yeah?” Cain asked. Alex nodded.
“So the girl's older brother tells them to leave his sister and his friend alone so one of the thugs tries to take a swing at him… Right in front of Ash…”
Alex convulsed with laughter again.
“Wait, wait, so if the foreigners Ash than that means that the brother’s Eiji.” Bones stared at Alex incredulously.
“And someone actually tried to hit Eiji in front of the boss.” Kong’s mouth fell open and he and Bones exchanged looks before they both doubled over in renewed mirth.
“Those poor basterds,” Cain snorted.
“But Eiji’s all right though?” Sing asked quickly.
Alex nodded, "oh yeah, fine, of course the boss didn’t let them lay a finger on him, just taught them a lesson about knowing who not to mess with.”
Well, Sing thought as the others burst out laughing again, I doubt those thugs managed to land a single blow on Ash but if they did it would serve him right.
Ash woke slowly, blinking first at the morning light coming in through the window and then at the neat room around him. His eyes followed the trail of light downward until they lighted on where it shone across Eiji’s sleeping face, highlighting his natural beauty in a way that took Ash’s breath away. All he could do was stare at Eiji mesmerized, and wondering how on earth could be so lucky that he was waking up to this face for the third day in a row. His fingers itched to reach out and caress the banks back from Eiji’s forehead, but he restrained himself, fearful that Eiji would wake and catch him in the act. After all he had no idea how Eiji would react. Probably he'd laugh and pout and let Ash pass it off as a joke, or maybe even believe it really was one, but what if he didn't? What if he pushed Ash away, disgusted, or shook his head with a gentle smile and told Ash that if that was what he'd expected that maybe he should return to America. Ash didn't dare let himself entertain the other what-ifs, the ones where Eiji leaned into his fingers or ran a hand across Ash’s own cheek, he didn't dare let himself hope for a response like that.
He didn't know what, if any, sort of feelings Eiji had for him and he'd yet to have a chance to find out. They hadn't had a chance to talk properly just the two of them since that first evening. After he'd met Eiji’s parents Eiji had ended up helping his mother with dinner while Ash leaned against the counter and watched. Then they'd had a family dinner and as soon as it was over Ash had crashed, the jet lag finally overcoming his adrenaline from seeing Eiji again. Slept until it was time to go and meet Ibe the early afternoon of the next day and they'd ended up staying out and talking with Ibe and Max all afternoon and evening and quite late into the night as well, so that as a result he crashed again as soon as they got back and then of course the following day they'd spent in Tokyo with Mari and they'd both been so tired when they got back from that, what with the long day and all the walking and having been out late the night before, that they both stumbled straight into bed once again as soon as they gotten home.
Privately Ash wondered if they really hadn't had a chance to talk or if they'd both been avoiding it. If he was avoiding it it was because, even though he had sworn to bury his feelings forever for Eiji’s sake he'd known the second he heard that beautiful voice calling to him through the rain that in coming here he'd put aside that promise to himself and would have to deal with the consequences. If Eiji was the one doing the avoiding however… Well, as much as he'd been reassuring Eiji and as much is Ash believed him, there was still a part of Ash that wondered if Eiji regretted having him there.
He looked down at Eiji’s sleeping face and sighed. They'd been sharing a bed since he arrived but between his own exhaustion and the fact that Eiji always woke up first this was his first chance to really enjoy it. It was strange that he was the first one up this time but he figured that he was in better shape than Eiji who probably hadn't fully regained his muscle tone after being shot and stuck in a wheelchair for so long and he'd also been sleeping so much over the past few days that he doubted that his body was anywhere near as exhausted as Eiji’s had been.
Eiji, however, must only have been dozing because at the sound of Ash’s sigh Eiji slowly opened his eyes and blinked hazily up at Ash. Ash smiled down at him, noting the way the loose neckline of Ash’s shirt exposed the sweep of Eiji’s collarbone. Ash had slept in it for a couple of nights but, after their shopping trip he had returned it to Eiji, telling him that Ash no longer needed it, Eiji had been too tired to put up any real objections, and Ash couldn't seem to get enough of the sight of Eiji sleeping in his cloths.
“Morning.” Ash smirked down at him.
“Good morning to you too.” Eiji smiled angelicly back at him, causing Ash’s heart to perform a backflip.
Ash wanted to respond with something witty and teasing, perhaps about how comfortable Eiji was with sharing a bed with him, but what came out of his mouth was "we should talk about yesterday.”
Eiji blinked up at him, confused. “okay, what about yesterday?"
Ash looked away, not wanting Eiji to see the emotions that he was sure must be written clearly across his face.
“Yesterday, when those guys tried to mess with me, what you did, putting yourself in the middle of it like that, it was stupid. You know that I could've handled things myself just fine.”
Ash shot a quick glance at Eiji, expecting to find him looking angry or at least annoyed, but what he didn't expect was to see understanding and was that affection? On Eiji’s lovely features.
“I know.” He said simply. “But that doesn't mean I'm not going to stand up for you. I promised you that once you came here you have a more peaceful life and I meant it and I'm going to do everything I can to make that happen so don't feel like you have to deal with everything on your own okay?”
“Eiji.” Ash's voice cracked as he spoke the other boy's name. “What you did, standing up for me like that,” he shook his head, “no one's ever done something like that for me before, no one's ever put themselves between me in danger like that.” Ash thought back to that moment again, hearing the taunts aimed at him with the feeling of oh here we go again, only to see Eiji’s arm flung between him and danger, Eiji shielding him with his body even when he knew that no such shield was necessary. He remembered how he'd frozen, eyes wide, his heart suddenly racing not because of the two thugs, or thug wannabes was more like it, but because despite everything, despite the fact that the last time Eiji had protected him it had nearly caused the raven haired boy his life, Eiji had still put himself between Ash and trouble without the slightest hesitation. Ash could see the other boys determination in every line in his body, determination to protect Ash no matter what and Ash had thought that he had never looked more beautiful. Yet it also scared him, terror filling every fiber of his being as he remembered a pale pink shirt and the sound of gunshots and the stain of red covering the floor.
“You nearly died last time.” The words came out softly.
“Ash, Ash please don't blame yourself for that.”
“But it was my fault, I put you in danger I…”
“No!” There was so much anger in Eiji’s voice that Ash jerked his head around to face him, surprised. Eiji had sat up so that their eyes were more or less on a level and was staring directly at him, those eyes burning with some emotion Ash couldn't quite place. “No Ash it is not your fault! It was never your fault! And I am done letting you wallow in this! I was not with you because you forced me to be! I chose to stay by your side! You tried to send me away but I refused to go!”
“I could've tried harder…” Ash said it quietly, but Eiji ignored him, talking over him. “And don't tell me that you haven't done the same thing for me! How many times have you risk your life to keep me safe? Why is it that you always get to be the one to risk yourself? Why is it that I can never be the one protecting you? Because I want to protect you Ash! I do! More than anything!”
Eiji’s eyes were bright with tears. All Ash could do was stare at him, shaking slightly, as his words washed over Ash in waves. Somewhere in the back of his mind he could hear the words of Eiji’s letter replaying themselves on an all-too-familiar loop the way they had every day of the six months the two had spent part. I know that you are much smarter than me, and bigger, and stronger— but even so— I always wanted to protect you.Those words, which had meant more to him than anything else in the world, yet which in the six months since he had first read them, he had tried to force himself to doubt, scared as he had been that they were too good to be true, scared of expecting too much and being hurt again. Yet wasn't Eiji saying almost the exact same thing now that he had written then? The thought was enough to increase Ash’s shaking and to bring tears to his eyes.
“Eiji.” He murmured the boys name again, unable to get anything else out beyond that single word.
It seemed to be enough however for Eiji leaned forward and wrapped his arms around Ash. Ash hesitated for a moment, slightly unsure of how to respond to such an innocent gesture of affection, before instinct took over, his body crumpling against Eiji’s as he returned the boys embrace and buried his face in Eiji’s neck.
They just stayed like that for a while Eiji holding Ash while Ash cried all the tears that he had been unable to cry since Eiji was shot, the fear and the pain and the longing that he'd held bottled up inside all forcing their way out of him in choking and gasping sobs. Slowly Ash quieted, his breathing evening out and he became aware of how closely pressed against Eiji’s chest he was in the sense of the other boy’s neck and the feel of his hair tickling Ash’s forehead. He was just wondering if he could risk leaving a soft kiss on the boy’s exposed throat when there was a loud barking from just outside their window.
Ash’s head jerked up, the moment broken, and he looks toward the window.
“Mari must be taking Dazai for a walk.”
“Dazai?” Ash asked.
Eiji nodded. “Yeah, that's what Mari decided to name him. She said it was appropriate for a stray dog.” He shrugged. “I'm probably just going to call him Buddy.”
Ash smiled slightly. "Fair enough. Your family certainly does seem to specialize in bringing home strays.” He’d meant the comment is a joke but the way his voice trembled a little as he spoke made it fall kind of flat.
Eiji turned to look at him straight on and Ash noticed that they were still very close together.
“You're not just some stray Ash.”
Eiji shook his head. “Not if you mean by that that I'm taking you in out of pity or kindness or something.” He hesitated for a moment then continued. “You mean the world to me Ash. You know that right?”
Ash’s breath caught in his throat. As Eiji spoke Ash head and seemed to drift lower and lower of its own accord until their lips were just millimeters apart. Tentatively his hand came up to brush a few stray strands of hair away from Eiji’s cheek.
“You do don't you? Ash?” Eiji voice sounded genuinely concerned that Ash tried to come up with a response even though his mind gone temporarily blank.
“I um…” He licked his lips nervously, hoping that Eiji couldn't hear the way his heart was pounding. They were so close now. All Ash would have to do was lean forward the tiniest bit and….
“It's okay…” Eiji was saying and Ash could hear sudden pain in his voice. “It's okay if you don't feel that way about me, I understand I just, I wanted to tell you I….”
What was Eiji saying? Don't feel the same way? Ash blinked in confusion. Eiji wanted to know how he felt? Wasn't it obvious? Hadn't it always been? But, for some reason Eiji sounded so sad, and Eiji shouldn't be sad, not ever, so Ash struggled desperately to find the words to tell him, tell him everything, the months of yearning and telling himself the pretended away, the way his heart fluttered every time Eiji looked at him, the way just the thought of Eiji being hurt hurt him worse than anything that had ever been done to him. He tried to find the words but he couldn't, not with Eiji’s warmth still pressed against him and his mouth so distractingly close to Ash’s own… His mouth. Ash couldn't find the words to tell Eiji how he felt but perhaps there was another way.
Slowly Ash leaned his head forward, closing the last of the gap between them to leave a soft, chaste, kiss on Eiji’s lips. Ash’s brain, which it felt like it was moving through molasses, froze completely then seem to fast-forward, speeding up onto overdrive as he processed everything that was happening. He pulled away, eyes he had not even remembered closing fluttering open as he desperately sought Eiji’s. Eiji had frozen, eyes still closed, lips have parted, and panel as though all the blood drained from his face. Ash’s eyes widened in sudden horror. What had he done?
“Eiji? Eiji? I'm sorry! I'm so sorry!” Ash’s voice was frantic and his heart was pounding, although in a very different way than it had been a moment before. He was such an idiot, such a complete and utter idiot. What had Eiji ever said or done to make him think that Eiji’s feelings ran that particular way? And now you gone and hurt Eiji, destroying not only his fantasies about what Eiji might feel for him but also the reality of their friendship as well.
At the sound of Ash’s frantic voice Eiji’s eyes snapped open. It took him a second process the meaning of Ash’s words, what with the way that his entire body still felt as though it was being consumed by the feeling of Ash’s lips against his own, but when he finally registered the words he shook his head sadly.
“No,” he said. “I'm the one who should apologize. I'm so sorry Ash, so very sorry.” He could feel the tears forming in his eyes. “After everything you went through the last thing I wanted was to make you feel obligated by sharing my feelings.”
“Obligated?” Ash was trying to figure out what Eiji and meant by that word, there was something that had seemed off about it.
Eiji nodded. “Yes, I knew how it's always been for you, people always having expectations, a-and I swear it's not like that!” His voice was sounding more and more desperate as though he needed Ash to understand something terribly important but Ash still couldn't quite figure out what it could be.
“That's why didn't think I should tell you. I mean I knew you didn't feel the same way about me and, well, I was afraid that if I told you you'd feel obligated to…”
“Well that… Kiss me or something…” Eiji’s voice trailed away, his face turning bright red.
Obligated to kiss him? Why would Eiji telling Ash his feelings leave him feeling obligated to kiss him? Why… Unless… Suddenly all the pieces seem to fall into place as an impossible idea presented itself to him. Yes, it was impossible, absolutely so, but still, one way or the other he had to know. Ash realized suddenly that his hand, which he had used to brush the bangs from Eiji’s eyes was still pressed against the boy’s cheek, forgotten by both of them. Now Ash pressed its thumb against Eiji’s jaw, forcing the older boy to look up at him.
“Eiji.” He asked slowly, feeling out each word in the desperate hopes that he wouldn't screw this up, “do you, do you like me?”
Eiji’s breath hitched his throat but then he met Ash’s eyes and in a voice that was quiet yet filled with absolute certainty he said, “No.” Pain lanced through Ash so sharp it might as well have been physical and he began to pull his hand away. “I love you.”
Everything inside Ash seems to freeze as Eiji’s blasted themselves through his brain, wiping away every other thought.
“I love you.” Eiji said again and again everything inside Ash seemed to tremble at those words, “but I understand if you don't feel the same way about me. You don't have to love me or like me or anything like that. I understand and I'm not saying it because they expect you to do anything! I’m not!”
Ash’s eyes widened as he really processed what Eiji was saying. Eiji had said he loved Ash. He said it twice, yet he was unsure, unsure not of his own feelings but of Ash’s and it was that what was causing him pain.
“I just… I just thought I should tell you and now I have so…”
Eiji’s pained rambling was suddenly extinguished as Ash buried the fingers of the hand still resting against Eiji’s face in the older boys hair, pulling him forward and slamming his own lips against Eiji’s. Where the last kiss had been chased and gentle, barely more than a brushing of lips against lips, this one was anything but as Ash tried to pour all of his feelings into that single kiss, to proved to Eiji beyond all doubt how much he was loved. He wrapped his free arm around Eiji’s waist, pulling the boy closer, as close as skin and cloths would allow. He felt Eiji’s hands search wildly for something to brace themselves against before wrapping around his back a as their own attempted to pull Ash even closer.
When they finally broke apart this time Ash stared down at Eiji’s closed eyelids, his heart fuller than it had ever been before and whispered “I love you too.”
Eiji blinked up at him. “Y-You do?”
Ash couldn't help but laugh. “Is that really such a surprise? Do you really think I would've kissed you like that if I didn't?”
Eiji shook his head bemusedly, a grin spreading across his face and illuminating all of his features with pure joy. “I guess not.”
Finally! Mari thought as she peered around the door of Eiji’s bedroom. It was evening and Ash was in the shower. He probably be out in just a minute so she didn't have long but she'd been trying to catch her brother alone since the moment Ash had appeared on their doorstep and at last she'd finally managed it and that meant it was time for answers!
“Eiji.” He looked up from his phone.
“Yeah? What is it Mari.” He was speaking English, something he'd been doing almost the entire time since Ash had put in an appearance and so she followed suit.
“Who is Ash?”
“Hu?” Eiji narrowed his eyes as the confused.
“Who is he?” She repeated impatiently.
“Ash is.. Ash is Ash…”
“Yes but who is he? He showed up on our front doorstep out of nowhere, he won't say anything specific about where he came from or how you two met or what your relationship is or what he does for a living and you glare at me and change the subject every time I try to ask him.”
“Mari,” Eiji seemed to tense suddenly, “what are you asking exactly?”
“Is he your boyfriend?”
Eiji froze, eyes widening and face turning bright red all at once. Mari was surprised by just how startled he seemed, clearly whatever he'd been expecting her to be talking about it wasn't that. Strange.
“Is he my what?” Eiji sounded truly flabbergasted.
“Your boyfriend. He is isn’t he? I've seen you two together so don't try to deny it!”
“I um…” Eiji looked at the floor.
“Yes, he is.”
Both siblings jumped at the sound of the calm voice which had spoken from directly behind Mari. She spun around to see Ash standing behind her in a T-shirt and sweatpants, his hair wet and a towel around his shoulders. When had he gotten out of the shower? She had been so focused on her brother that she hadn't even noticed.
“That is.” Ash looked over Mari’s head at Eiji. “As long as your brother wants me to be of course.”
Eiji smiled up at Ash and nodded. “Forever.” He said simply.
Ash nodded and smiled back. “Forever.”