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Love Don’t Lie

Chapter Text

---

The sun has just begun its ascension in the sky when Ash walks through the golden gates of Dino’s immense property.

The man always summons Ash at the earlier hours of the morning; partly because he is an old geezer, but especially because he knows Ash hates being called this soon and Dino never misses an opportunity to remind him who is the boss.

Ash is tired of Dino’s demonstrations of power, but he figures the man wouldn’t take the time to assert his might so obviously to him if he didn’t feel threatened.

He should know better, though. Ash needs this job. And he’s far too tangled into Golzine’s web to even dream of rebellion.

Sometimes, it’s eating him alive, to be so deprived of choices. 

But the thing is, Ash did make a choice, a long time ago. A choice which is the very reason he is up so early in the morning and will continue to do as Dino commands for the time being.

---

Ash is fourteen, when Griffin’s cancer is diagnosed.

He is living with his brother in a small apartment in New York, struggling to eat three meals a day because Griffin’s deteriorating health is preventing him from keeping a job, and Ash is too young to work.

Too young to work legally, at least.

When Griffin’s condition necessitates he stays bedridden at the hospital for long periods of time, Ash is forced to find a mean to pay for his medical care.

From there, it’s a simple twist of fate that introduces him to the solution to his financial problems, in the shape of the tallest and widest man Ash had ever seen.

Ash meets Blanca in a decayed bar, where the teenager is well decided to beg for a job, even if said job requires him to prostitute his body.

“This isn’t the first bar you try to find a job in, boy.” the immense man declares simply, while Ash cranes his neck to stare at him in the eyes.

Ash is instantly wary of Blanca. Especially when the man calmly completes his first statement by admitting he has been following Ash for days from bars to bars.

“I would say I have a job for you,” Blanca continues, imperturbable. “But truly, it would be more of a lifestyle.”

Ash stands as tall as his short height allows him to, resolved to hide how uneasy the man makes him.

“Would it be paid?” he asks in the same unflappable tone, copying the man’s attitude.

That’s all Ash cares about, at this point. He hasn’t been able to pay the rent to their apartment for the second month in a row, and the landlord is losing patience. Ash knows there’s no way he can find anything more affordable than that shitty place, and winter is right around the corner.

Blanca smiles in response, but there isn’t any joy in the gaze he lays on Ash, and it sends an irrepressible shiver down his spine. The memory of Blanca’s eyes on him at this moment still makes Ash tremble to this day.

Blanca asks for commitment. He says Ash can’t pick up the job as he is then and will need to be trained. However, he will be given a salary, comfortable enough to answer all his needs and pay for his brother’s medical bills. Ash isn’t even surprised the man knows all about Griffin and his condition. Blanca already seems to know everything about Ash’s life, anyway.

He accepts without knowing too well what the man expects from him. There isn’t a thing in this world he wouldn’t do for his brother. When Ash concludes the deal by a handshake, his small hand disappearing in Blanca’s wide palm, it feels like he has just sealed his fate.

This is how Ash’s training begins. The very same day, right out of the bar.

Blanca calls himself a freelancer, but the truth is that he has a mysterious employer who Ash has never met. Blanca’s job consists… to do anything this man desires. It’s mostly murders or risky transactions with shady groups of peoples, a bit of weapons traffic, research of the concurrence and exploitation of their weaknesses… Really, Blanca can do anything. A handyman, all in all.

And he is teaching all of that to Ash. He had been in search of a successor for a long time and had been struck by Ash’s motivation when he had encountered him in one of the bars where the teenager begged for a job. Struck by his eyes, Blanca would say, anytime he had drunk too much wine and would become whinny and tell Ash things about his sexual adventures he really shouldn’t be telling a fourteen years old boy. But then again, Blanca was teaching Ash how to kill and deceive, so nothing he could say was truly out of the line.

Blanca makes a rule of being as transparent as possible with Ash, and still he hides from him the name of their employer. He refuses Ash meets him, and he refuses to even tell Ash what kind of company he runs. Ash doesn’t insist, but he isn’t naïve. He knows he won’t like the answer anyway.

Learning from Blanca isn’t hard. And the man himself isn’t bad either. Of course, Ash wouldn’t say he is good, because he still is a murderer, but he isn’t bad per se. He has always been correct with Ash. Nice, even. And more importantly, he respects his promise of paying Ash in good old cash even so at first the teenager isn’t doing anything worth a salary.

“I see this as an investment.” Blanca would easily say. “One day, you will become someone, Ash, and that day, I will earn more than what I give you now.”

Griffin’s state knows ups and downs, while Ash is adjusting to his new life. Periods of remission before new ill cells are found irremediably. He is in such a bad shape most of the time that it’s easy for Ash to hide from him his real daily activities.

When Ash turns eighteen, Blanca introduces him to their employer, Dino Golzine, boss of the Corsican Mafia.

Ash isn’t surprised to learn he had been working for the mafia all this time. The clues were easy to piece together, and he had rapidly suspected only the mafia could use men like Blanca and him.

What is a surprise, however, is to finally learn from Dino the true reason behind Blanca’s need of a successor.

Blanca is just too useful to the Corsican mafia for them to allow him to retire. Ash’s teacher had made a deal with Dino: if he could provide him with someone as skilled as he was, the mafia would free him. Until then, he was forced to work for them.

Ash tries to tone down the feeling of betrayal that dwells upon him at the revelation that Blanca is basically exchanging Ash’s life for his own, but it’s a pill hard to swallow. Especially when he still needs to work with Blanca, as Dino will only let the man go when Ash has made proof of his valor.

Hence why Blanca and him are still working in tandem, even so Ash is already nineteen and his brother’s cancer has known a seemingly lasting remission.

Dino had been very clear. Ash would stay the property of the mafia until he found a successor for himself, like Blanca did. And in the meantime, Ash would have to remember Dino is perfectly aware of Ash’s reason to obey and is very capable of using it against him.

---

When Ash enters the large reception room, Dino is sat at the immense table, his breakfast finished in front of him.

“You’re late.” he says in lieu of greetings, and even so his voice is calm, Ash can feel the discontentment underlying each word.

“Traffic was a bitch.” Ash replies, crossing the room to seat on Dino’s fancy sofa instead of standing where he was summoned.

Ash has the satisfaction to see Dino’s face harden, anger flaming in his eyes. Dino hates Ash’s vulgarity and despises his lack of punctuality. But that’s precisely why Ash can’t help himself. These small acts of rebellion are the only things keeping him from insanity.

Everything is an act, for Golzine. From his elegant suit to his pompous manners, everything is a façade. The haute cuisine food he eats, the fancy interior he lives in, and even his slight French accent – stretched just enough to make you know he’s from a “more civilized” continent – it’s all a lie.

And Ash refuses to bend his head down and play his part in the masquerade. He will do the job asked but will never let Dino think he could be one of them.

It’s a fine line, he’s walking upon. Sometimes, he fears he’s gone too far, fears Dino will grow tired of his shenanigans and simply get rid of him.

But Ash is lucky. Everyone around him keeps repeating that. They can’t stress enough how lucky he is to have Dino’s indulgence. And they all know the reason behind it. Like Ash knows the reason Blanca kept him away from Dino until he legally became an adult.

It took one night, for him to understand. He had stayed at Dino’s mansion late, focused on a research he had been tasked with, and had fallen asleep in front of his computer, in the room Dino kept at his disposal.

He had awakened to the feeling of a hand in his hair, the scent of a pricey perfume filling up his lungs, a low voice murmuring in his ear.

“If only I had known you when you were younger.”

Ash had stayed still, as the hand had left his hair to caress his cheek; pretending to be still sleeping in the hope it was only a bad dream. But when Dino’s oppressive presence had finally recoiled, when he had heard his heavy steps leave in the door’s direction, Golzine had talked one last time.

“I know you aren’t asleep, sweetheart. You’ll have to learn to pretend better, if you want to make it in this world.”

He had left the room as Ash clenched his jaw, determined to not let himself throw up on Dino’s expensive carpet.

Golzine had never tried to touch him again, but Ash knew what his gesture had meant, why he had trespassed his personal space while knowing the whole time that Ash was awake.

“You’re mine.” his action had said. “You’re mine, and I can do to you anything that pleases me. Do not forget it.”

As if Ash could forget he has sold his life to the mafia. As he takes his eases on the sofa, he knows all too well every of his acts is decided by Golzine. His irreverence seems savorless, when he knows he would never dare to truly cross the line. And Dino knows it too, which explains he indulges Ash so much.

Dino stays silent an instant before he stands up. Ash knows he is enjoying himself, reveling in the way his silence lets Ash hanging. A petty reprisal for Ash’s lack of manners.

“I have a new task for you to accomplish.” he begins slowly, turning to face Ash. “I hope this time you won’t disappoint me.”

Dino’s words send a shiver down Ash’s spine. He knows exactly what Dino is referring to. Ash’s latest assignment had been an exceptional failure, and Ash was waiting for Dino’s retaliation.

It had been the first – and surely the last – time Ash had disobeyed a direct order from Golzine. He was still surprised the mafia boss had waited this long before finding for him a fitting punishment.

Ash waits for his sentence, dread making his stomach ache. But still, he can’t bring himself to regret his decision then. When he had discovered the target he had been tasked to kill was one of Griffin’s old friends, when he had understood the reason Dino wanted this man dead was simply because he was refusing to be bribed by the mafia… Ash had been unable to execute his order. And acting according to his own will, for once, had felt too good for Ash to have regrets now.

“The mission is quite simple, but has to be handled with extreme discretion.” Dino continues, affecting to be blind to the way Ash has tensed up at his previous words. “Blanca will go over the details with you, but I wanted to give you the gist of it. So you understand the importance of your serious.” Dino marks a pause, his eyes now fixed on Ash with a new attention.

“You’ll surely be relieved to learn that if everything goes well, you won’t have to kill anyone for this assignment. What I need you to do is steal an information to a target. As soon as this is accomplished, you’ll go to a rendez-vous point and will give the stolen data, as well as the money I’ll lend you, to our clients. All of this will happen tonight.”

The mission doesn’t seem too complex, but Ash knows better than to relax. He is certain Dino is waiting to give him the last blow.

“Like I said, you’ll need to be extremely discreet. Above all suspicion. The target can’t know you stole the information from him. In fact, I need him to wake up tomorrow morning still having the information in his possession, which means you’ll have to steal it, copy it, and then return it without the target noticing. The target is staying in a hotel in the city tonight, that’s where you’ll operate. The difficulty lies in the fact that the target won’t separate himself from the information, he’ll have it on him the whole time.

You’ll have to find a way to enter the target’s room, obviously, and copy the information while he sleeps. However, the hotel’s security is acute, you won’t be able to sneak into the room, you’ll need the target to invite you there.”

“And how am I supposed to do that?”

Dino gives him a long, chilling look.

“I’m sure you can charm your way into the room. After you’ve slept with the target and he is out like a light, you’ll have all the time in the world to take out your computer and copy the information. No one has a heavier sleep than a sexually satisfied man.”

Ash feels his blood freezes in his vein, a violent wave of disgust shaking his very core. So, this is his punishment? Dino wants him to prostitute himself? This whole mission’s background seems questionable. It’s obvious that Dino’s real interest lies in pushing Ash further down the abyss, with the goal of reminding him where his place is. Under his feet, ready to go prostitute his mind and body when given the order to do so.

Ash should consider himself fortunate. At least Golzine took the pretense of a mission, rather than to just give him a room number and one of his perverted buddies to fuck. Maybe it’s because of Blanca, that he still pretends all of this is of utmost importance for a ridiculous mission. Not that Ash thinks the mission is fake, no, but surely there was another way to deal with it.

Dino stares at him silently, surely not blind to what concerns agitate Ash’s mind.

“That’s all. Do you understand, Ash?”

Ash hesitates. He has a feeling that if he accepts too easily, he won’t be able to come back from this. That’s a line he wasn’t prepared to cross, and he doesn’t want Dino to think it could become the norm for him.

Patience is not something Dino is known for.

“You seem to be hesitating, Ash. It’s not like I gave you a choice, though.”

Ash swallows hard, grits his teeth. He would never have guessed the price for his transgression would be this high. And still, he can’t bring himself to regret the choice that brought him to this position. If all he has to do in exchange for this innocent man’s life is prostituting his body, he’s willing to accept it gracefully. And like Dino said, it’s not like he has a choice.

All he can do is nod once, a sharp acknowledgement of his head. He can’t force his lips into a smile, so he keeps his expression neutral.

Dino turns his back to him, staring at the sky through the large window, his hands joined behind his back.

“Blanca will give you the details.” he continues, tone light and disaffected. “I expect this mission to be a success and will accept nothing less.”

Ash nods again, even so Dino can’t see him. He leaves the room with heavy steps, his veins hardened to ice keeping his body stiff.

Talking with Dino never leaves anything else than a strong feeling of disgust he can’t seem to be able to shake himself of.

---

Ash checks the lock to his briefcase for the third time in a row. It’s mostly to spend the time, he knows it’s not what will prevent anyone to open the case and access to its content; that’s what the hotel’s security system is here for. Still, he is uneasy with the idea of leaving so much money in his hotel room, even for such a short amount of time. So much money, and he doesn’t even know to what end.

He possesses very little information on his mission tonight. He only knows that he is supposed to find a way to seduce his target, steal the information he carries on him, and quit in the morning, unsuspected. He doesn’t even know what kind of data he must steal, or whose company his target works for.

Ash hates being so ignorant. He had to act in a hurry and had no time researching information outside what Dino and Blanca gave him.

At least, he is a little reasserted when he thinks of his secret plan. There’s no way he will simply endure Dino’s punishment like a good boy. The mafia boss wants Ash to steal the information while the target is asleep? Very well, Ash will make the target sleep. Dino doesn’t need to know Ash plans to drug the target instead of letting him have his ways with him.

“Ash.” Blanca’s voice distracts Ash from his thoughts, and he focuses his attention back on the phone he settled next to him on the bed. “He is entering the hotel.” Blanca says in the device. “Wait ten minutes and… Oh.”

“What?”

The silence at the other end of the call is oppressive.

“Change of plan,” Blanca finally continues. “He isn’t going for his room. Wait a second.”

Ash stays quiet, whole body frozen with anticipation.

“He entered the hotel’s bar. He is sitting down…”

Ash presses his lips together, his mind rushing to evaluate all the possibilities this gives him.

“That leaves me with a choice.” he says.

“Exactly. Either you go on with the plan and wait for him to go back to his room… Either you approach him at the bar. I would advise for the second, it will seem more natural.”

Ash examines the situation silently. He doesn’t like to agree too easily with Blanca, but the man is right. And if anything, Ash trusts his experience and skills better than his owns.

 “Okay, I will do that.” he consents.

“Perfect.” There’s a pause, and when Blanca speaks again, his professional tone turns teasing. “I hope you got your best suit on, kitten.”

Ash groans in the mic. “Do you have him in visual?” he asks, staying focused.

“Not right now, I can’t enter the bar, and he was heading to a blind spot. But I know where he is sitting.”

“Alright, gives me a description and I will go in.”

“He’s Asian, I heard him talk fluently in Japanese. Younger than I thought he would be. Wearing a black suit. Short dark hair. He is sitting at the bar’s counter, three seats from the entry. He’s short.”

“Short how? Everybody is short compared to you, Blanca.”

“Shorter than you, for sure.”  

“Got it. You can back off, now.”

“Good luck, kitten.” Ash can hear the smile in Blanca’s voice. “Make sure to be charming.”

Ash cuts the communication without replying. Blanca is running on his last nerve, and he is already on edge. The change of plan is good, though. Ash wasn’t too sure about the first one, which relied too much on how fast he could seduce the target. Approaching him at the bar will be less artificial than crossing his way accidentally in the hotel’s corridor. Plus, the target will be less suspicious of Ash’s behavior if he’s drunk…

Ash stares at his reflection in the large bedroom’s mirror and takes a steadying breath. His well-cut suit is as impeccable as the last time he checked, five minutes ago. His hair is still in place. He can’t be readier than that.

---

The target is exactly like Blanca said; short, surprisingly young, he is sipping from a colorful cocktail with small, measured swigs. Gently lit by the amber lights of the bar, his dark hair takes a soft and warm glow, a halo of gold kissing his skin.

The man had seemed like nothing at first, pretty in a discreet, quiet kind of way. But there is something appealing about his face. Even from where he is seated, Ash can see how expressive it is. His dark eyes are a little bigger than normal, making his face seems genuine and innocent, which is surely an advantage for his line of work. His lips are full and pink, easily quirking up whenever the bartender leans down to talk to him.

Ash can’t hear what the bartender is saying, given how far he is sitting himself, but it makes the target’s lips part in a laugh, which is indiscernible from the background noise but lights up his whole face more efficiently than the room’s artificial gleam.

If Ash hadn’t known better, he would never have noticed the man wasn’t a regular client, simply enjoying a drink after a long day of work. But Ash knows where to look, and he sees how tense his shoulders seem to be under his black suit, notices the way his fingers fumble on the table, reaching for his drink, playing with his clothes; never once staying still on the counter. These are signs the man isn’t as relaxed as he seems to be at first glance.

Leaning on his elbows, Ash retains a long sigh. Alright, so maybe the target is beautiful. But it’s not like it matters to him in any way. He could be the ugliest man on earth, Ash would still do his job. He knows all too well what’s on the line for him if he doesn’t.

With reluctance, Ash decides he waited long enough to be certain that the Japanese man he has zoomed on is the only Asian present in the bar. He gets up of his chair to walk to the empty seat beside the target, sitting down in a smooth motion.

Ash realizes too late that he has no idea how to address his target. Usually, it comes naturally to him. It was always so easy to charm his way out of troubles that he didn’t even have to think about it anymore. Plus, he was mostly used to be flirted with, and not the opposite.

That’s why he hasn’t come up with a plan to talk to the target. And now that he is sitting next to him, he wavers. What if the target brushes him aside before he can even talk? What if he can’t seduce him? After all, the Japanese is beautiful enough to be picky, and he is probably used to creeps coming to bother him when all he wants is some alone time. Ash knows too well how bothersome the unwanted attention can be.

Ash commands a whiskey and forcefully shakes himself off these thoughts. He is a professional and he has a job to do. He can’t let himself be shaken just because the target has pretty eyes.

He quickly notices that the target’s drink is empty. Ash would have preferred a subtler approach, but he unfortunately lacks ideas to break the ice.

Swallowing up his embarrassment, he smiles purposely at the target before calling the bartender to ask him to refill the Japanese’s drink with the same cocktail he was having before Ash sat down.

“Oh, no you don’t have to.” the target says right away, his brown eyes widening in surprise. But the protest is weak, and Ash is sure it’s more a pretense than anything.

He flashes him his signature charming smile. “But I want to, if you let me.” he replies, and has the satisfaction to see the target’s cheeks color with a beautiful shade of pink.

The bartender gives Ash a quizzical look. “No, what he meant is that you really don’t have to, since I already offered to put his next drink on my tab.”

Ash staggers under the blow. So, the bartender was already flirting with the target before Ash even sat down? Dammit, this will make everything far harder if Ash has competition.

The target offers him a placating smile. “But, thank you, I appreciate the attention.” he says, and his voice is sweeter than anything Ash has ever heard in his life and he finds himself slightly distracted by it.

The bartender put the target’s new drink in front of him, not without giving him a stressed wink, and Ash an assessing glare.

Ash stares back, equally appraising. The bartender isn’t bad looking. In fact, one could even call him handsome, with his broad shoulders, his piercing blues eyes and his dark hair. It’s the kind of competition Ash absolutely didn’t need. He’s hating this mission more and more.

Ash is busy brooding and glaring at the bartender when he hears the target’s laugh for the first time. It’s a short laugh, but it sounds so joyful and amused and it’s so pretty, that it immediately distracts Ash from his gloom.

He turns his head to see what made the target laugh and he sees that the Japanese is staring at him, his lips up in an amused smile, his eyes shining playfully.

“What?”

The word is out of his mouth before Ash can even decide to pronounce it, and he cringes a little upon hearing how unattractive he sounds.

The target’s smile widens. “Are you pouting?” he asks, and he sounds so delighted Ash’s heart misses a beat.

And then he processes the target’s words and he blushes. He, Ash Lynx, reputed assassin and handyman of the Corsican Mafia, really fucking blushes.

What the fuck? Since when did Ash lose the control he thought he had over himself? He is supposed to be seducing the target, and there he is, pouting like a child and blushing like a virgin. Where is gone his perfected charming persona? How will he be able to make the target want to sleep with him if he keeps acting dumb instead of enthralling? It’s bad enough that the bartender completely screwed his effect earlier…  

Ash takes a mental breath and smooths his expression into something neutral.

“I wasn’t pouting.” he replies, and he knows he sounds childish, but he can’t do anything about it.

Gosh, he is glad Blanca isn’t spying on them. He would never let Ash live this down.

The Japanese gives him a knowing smile. “Right, sorry, I guess I misunderstood your expression.” he says, and he looks anything but sorry. Hell, he even looks downright snotty.

Ash represses a sigh. Alright, this wasn’t the best start, but at least he established a contact with the target, and he seems inclined to continue to talk to him. He can work with that.

He manages to quirk a confident grin. “Well, now that I made such a fool of myself, I guess it can’t hurt but to introduce me, so you can remember me as something else than the dumb stranger at the bar.”

The target laughs freely in response, and Ash considers it a win.

“I’m Ash.” he continues. “And you are…?”

“Eiji.” the target supplies. “Nice to meet you, Ash.”

The target has a funny way to say his name. Ash can hear a faint accent when Eiji talks, but it’s more stretched when he pronounces Ash’s name, for some reason.

“Likewise, Eiji.” Ash replies, tongue feeling around the syllables of the foreign name, voice purposely low and sultry. He knows what effect it has on men when he talks like that, and it’s easy with the target, his name is rolling effortlessly on his tongue.

To his satisfaction, Eiji’s cheeks heat up again. He takes a sip of his drink, doing a shitty job at hiding his embarrassment.

“So,” Eiji’s voice comes out a little strained. He pauses, clears his throat, begins again. “Are you staying at this hotel too?”

“I am.” An elbow on the bar, Ash leans his head in his hand, showing off the smooth skin of his pale neck. Staring at Eiji from behind his eyelashes, he has the satisfaction to see him follow the movement with his eyes.

“I wouldn’t have come to this crappy bar, otherwise.” he adds, a little louder than necessary to make sure the bartender hears him.

The man is occupied somewhere at the other end of the bar, but he glares at Ash from behind the counter. Ash doesn’t fight the smug, satisfied smile that stretches his lips. Maybe his competition with the bartender will be easier than what he feared.

“I had business affairs in the city.” Ash continues casually, aware giving more details about himself will help him win Eiji’s trust.

Eiji nods thoughtfully. “It’s the same for me, actually.” He tilts his head to the side, hesitant to give Ash a longer response. “I’m a photographer. I came here for a very important shooting. The company I work with on this assignment paid for this fancy hotel, so I thought I might as well enjoy the bar while I was at it.”

Ash tries to hide his surprise. What kind of lie is that? He understands Eiji probably can’t talk about his real company, and especially not about his real assignment in the city, but still, the lie is far stretched.

“Oh, a photographer?” he forces the words out of his mouth. “I bet it must be a fascinating job.”

Eiji smiles. “It is. Sometimes it doesn’t even feel like a job.” After a pause, Eij crunches his nose with distaste, and Ash can’t help but to mentally label the gesture as cute. “But today's assignment wasn’t any fun. Plus, I had to wear this suit like I’m some sort of important person, and talk with all these boring people… I think I deserved a drink.”

Ash laughs at Eiji’s predicaments, but he can only hope it doesn’t sound too fake. How can Eiji be that good at lying? He seems so genuine and honest, and everything he said seems so real.

“Was the model an asshole?” he asks, playing along. “People always say I would make a great model, but that seems to me like a hard job.”

“Oh, no no, the model was fine.” Eiji casts his gaze away, contemplating. “You’re right, it isn’t easy for them, shooting is always long and tiring. I’m not too fond of photoshoots in a studio, I prefer to capture people in their real day to day life. But, well, you can’t always do as you want in this line of work, I’m already thankful for the assignments I get.”

Eiji gives Ash an appreciative look, grinning with excitement. “But you’re right, you would make a great model! I’m sure you would be really popular.”

And he seems so honestly enthusiastic at the thought, it makes Ash’s cheeks redden slightly in embarrassment. He hopes it isn’t obvious enough to be noticed by Eiji and stretch his lips into a flirty smile to appear composed.

“Hum, you think so? Too bad I’m not photogenic.” he teases, taking advantage of the joke to lean closer to Eiji.

The Japanese darts a brow, silently disagreeing with the statement; but he doesn’t back away from Ash. At least, Ash has now the confirmation that Eiji finds him good looking. It makes him strangely glad. But then again, he needs Eiji to find him attractive if he wants his plan to work, so of course he would be pleased.

They talk for a while about photography, and Ash notes that Eiji’s interest in the field is clearly genuine, because he masters his subject effortlessly. Ash tries different approaches, but for a strange reason, Eiji reacts better when Ash is genuine rather than when he forces himself to flirt with him, so Ash decides quickly to drop his fake persona.

Talking with Eiji is surprisingly easy. When he tells Ash about his hometown in Japan, Ash replies with an unflattering description of Cape Cod, and before he knows it, he is revealing to Eiji far more than he had meant to.

There’s something in the way Eiji laughs at Ash’s lame jokes, the way he tilts his head when Ash’s talks, listening intently like Ash is the most interesting person he has ever met, that Ash can’t get enough of. Something bright in his eyes, an inner light that seems to be glowing for Ash and for him only. He wants to get more of it, wants to make Eiji laugh until he is breathless, want to tease him until his cheeks are flushed red and his doe eyes glare daggers at him.

Distantly, Ash knows that he should just wrap everything up and invite Eiji to his room to complete his mission. But he can’t help but think that it’s too early, that Eiji is still not ready to say yes, that he can allow himself to linger just a while longer.

And he knows he is trying to find excuses to stay longer, but he can’t recall when was the last time he talked so heartily with someone who wasn’t his brother, and as the evening unrolls, he forgets little by little about the reason he is talking with Eiji in the first place. He lets himself relax and simply enjoy Eiji’s company, his mission pushed away in the very back of his mind.

“You’re drinking so slowly, I told you I would buy your next drink so why do you need to make it last like this?”

Eiji puffs his cheeks. “That’s none of your business, I’m just enjoying my drink.” he replies, and he sounds so bratty it makes Ash bite his lips to retain his laugh.

He quirks an eyebrow. “Alright. What’s the true reason?” he asks, confident Eiji isn’t being honest.

Eiji blushes slightly. “You will laugh if I tell you.”

This time, Ash doesn’t try to keep to himself the giggle that escapes his throat. “I’m already laughing, so who cares?” he insists.

Eiji’s cheeks take a shade darker. “If I tell you... don’t make fun of me, alright?”

Ash nods, but he isn’t sure he can keep his promise, and he knows Eiji can tell because the Japanese purses his lips in offence, his frown deepening.

“I’m… kind of a lightweight?” he admits with evident reluctance. “If I drink another cocktail, I will definitely be drunk.”

Ash snickers. “Really? Your drink doesn’t even smell like alcohol. It looks like the thing a child would drink at a birthday party.”

Now, Eiji is clearly offended. Maybe this sort of teasing isn’t the best way to seduce him, but Ash can’t help himself. Eiji is just too damn cute when he’s annoyed.

He takes Eiji’s drink and smell its content while Eiji stares at him with an adorable pout on his lips.

Ash turns the glass in his hands and puts his lips purposely where Eiji’s own were, mere seconds ago. He takes a sip and notices Eiji watching him intensely, his annoyance already forgotten, his brown eyes fixed on Ash’s mouth.

The American smiles slyly. “That’s what I thought. There’s barely any alcohol in this.” He lets his voice drops an octave when he continues. “I’m sure your mouth taste like sugar, now.” he practically purrs.

Eiji stares at him with wide eyes and Ash sees him gulp obviously. He tracks the long line of his throat, watch the bob of his Adam’s apple, reluctantly enthralled.

Ash had expected Eiji to give in to the clear attraction he is experiencing, but the Japanese seems to make a conscious effort to quit his haze, and his brows knit down in irritation.

“Yeah? Well I’m sure your mouth tastes disgusting, because of the whiskey you’ve been drinking.” he replies petulantly.

Ash chuckles lowly, nurses Eiji’s glass against his lips before taking another long sip of his drink.

“You think it’s better, now?” he asks, sliding the glass back in front of Eiji. He leans in close, until his lips are nearly touching the shell of his ear. Eiji smells great. Ash can’t identify what is his perfume, but it’s floral and sweet and suits him perfectly. “I guess there’s only one way to check…” he murmurs, his breath hot on Eiji’s neck.

He withdraws just enough to see Eiji’s reaction, his face staying a breath away from his. He doesn’t miss the way Eiji’s eyes blink in surprise, how they sear his face, searching.

Ash quirks a knowing smile. On cue, Eiji’s whole face turns red, and he leans back to look around himself with embarrassment, like he expects all the clients of the bar to be looking at him. Ash feels his smile soften, charmed by his innocent reaction. Eiji doesn’t seem to be one for public demonstrations of affection. It’s better, it will be easier to convince him to go to his room if Eiji doesn’t want to make out in front of people and it’s better for the—

Right. The plan. This is why Ash is trying to seduce Eiji. This is why he is trying to get him to kiss him. No other reason. The plan. Which Ash needs to follow more closely. Fuck.

Eiji doesn’t seem to notice Ash’s trouble, surely because he is so flustered himself. They stay silent a bit, both deep in though. Ash is a little baffled by how easily he let himself forget his mission. He glances at Eiji, knowing he needs to put an end to this. The Japanese is frowning at his half-empty drink, his expression undecipherable. Ash wonders what thoughts agitate him. Will he give in when Ash finally ask the fateful question?

Sensing Ash’s gaze on him, Eiji stares back, a hesitant smile on his lips.

“It’s late.” he observes after a quick glance at the watch he is wearing on his wrist.

Ash reaches for Eiji’s arm, turning his wrist with careful hands to get a look at the dial of his watch.

“It is.” he acquiesces, and he doesn’t withdraw his hands from Eiji’s wrist, fingers coming to gently caress the exposed skin.

Eiji’s deep eyes peer into Ash’s, questioning. When Ash leans closer, he doesn’t back off, but his cheeks color slightly.  

“What would you say if I invited you to continue our conversation in my room?” Ash asks in a hushed voice. “We will be more comfortable there.”

Eiji’s hesitation is obvious. He bites his lips silently and Ash follows the nervous gesture with his eyes. Eiji’s lips seem so soft, and he is convinced his mouth really does taste like sugar. Heat pools low in his stomach when he thinks that he will maybe be able to confirm his impression for himself later.

He holds his breath, waiting for Eiji to resolve his silent debate. Now is the moment of truth. Ash has no idea what he will do if Eiji declines.

“I’m not used to…” he stutters. “I mean… we’re still strangers and—”

Ash takes Eiji’s hands in his. “Are we really?” he asks, his voice a quiet whisper.

Ash ignores the throbbing of his pulse in his ears. He lowers his eyes on their entwinned hands, playing shyness.

“I have to make a confession, Eiji. I’m not used to it either. I would never…” he stops, keeps his voice hesitant. “But tonight, with you… It felt… It feels… I don’t know, I don’t want to separate ways with you so soon.”

He stares at Eiji from underneath his eyelashes. “Don’t you feel the same way?” he asks meekly, and his voice wavers with fake uncertainty and just the right amount of sadness.

Eiji gives his hands a comforting press. “I do too.” he replies. “Talking with you was… It’s just…” Eiji hesitates again but suddenly, he seems to make up his mind. His expression turns certain and his eyes shines with a new determination.

“You know what? You’re right. Let’s see where this go.”

Ash smiles brightly. It’s a win. His heart is beating erratically in his chest, and Eiji’s answer did nothing to ease the thrum. It’s probably just a normal reaction to the stress the mission put him under, and has nothing to do with the way Eiji is looking at him...

Or so he hopes. He isn’t too sure about anything, now.

---

They’re silent when they get in the elevator. Ash presses the button to the sixth floor and leans back against the wall. Eiji is standing at the opposite side of the lift, his fingers playing mindlessly with his suit’s jacket.

There’s a new tension between them. Ash can’t ignore the pull he feels toward Eiji, and it’s evident that, despite his earlier reservations, Eiji feels the same. The space separating their two bodies feels solid, and Ash is burning to cross it.

When Ash finally takes a step closer to Eiji, the Japanese smiles shyly at him.

“You— You know, I really am fine with going to your room to, hum, talk.” he begins nervously, his eyes refusing to meet Ash’s. “We don’t have to… we don’t have to do anything you don’t want to…”

Ash pauses, surprised. He is the one who proposed they go to his room, with an implied purpose that can’t have been lost on Eiji. Clearly, it should be Ash’s place to reassure him. And yet, it’s a relief for Ash to realize that despite his insistent seduction, Eiji isn’t even seeking sex from him. The men Ash deals with habitually would already be out of their mind after he did his charm number on them.

“Anything you want is fine by me.” Ash says finally, his voice resonating loudly in the silence. “What matters to me is that we stay together a while longer.”

Eiji nods, a light blush dusting his cheeks. “A-alright, that’s what I want too…”

Ash doesn’t repress his smile, one eyebrow darting up. “Now, if you did want to go further… I wouldn’t be opposed either.” he adds, tone teasing.

Eiji becomes impossibly redder. “Oh.” he says, his eyes widening slightly. “Oh, I—”

He presses his lips together, apparently unable to form a coherent sentence and he seems slightly mad about it. A small crease forms between his furrowed eyebrows and his expression is so endearing, Ash finds himself leaning closer to take his face in his hands, a careful thumb brushing along his cheek.

Eiji makes a little strangled noise, his deep eyes searching Ash’s with a vibrant intensity, and Ash stares back, enthralled. With a gentle finger, he smooths out the lines of Eiji’s frown and lets his hand linger on the soft skin.

“You’re beautiful.” he breathes, and yes, complementing the target to make him lower his guard was part of the plan, but Ash has never been this genuine.

The blush on Eiji’s cheeks spreads to his ears, lips parted by surprise. He seems to be willing to talk, but no sound escapes his mouth except for a small whimper.

And there, Ash wants to kiss him. He really wants to, not because it’s the best course of action for his plan, but because he really, truly wants to.

And it scares him, but it also makes his heart beat faster in his chest. He never felt that way for anyone. Staring into Eiji’s eyes, there’s nothing he wants more than for Eiji to want to kiss him in return.

He cradles gently Eiji’s cheek with his fingers, and he feels the Japanese relax slightly. As he replaces a soft strand of inky hair behind his ear, he sees Eiji’s eyes dart to his lips, his body traversed by a shiver of anticipation.

“A-are you sure you want to…?” Eiji asks, his breath hot on Ash’s lips. “Like I said, we don’t have to—”

“I know. And I’m sure.” Ash doesn’t want to think about what his answer entails. All he knows is that he isn’t lying, for once. “Is it okay with you?”

Eiji acquiesces, doubt washed away from his eyes. That’s all the confirmation Ash needs. He leans his head down and slowly presses his lips to Eiji’s.

Eiji’s lips against his feel even sweeter than what he expected, and the kiss is tender and slow. Ash feels like he is kissed for the first time in his life and he wants to enjoy this sensation for as long as he can, to grave it in his memory and keep it forever in the most secret corner of his mind.

He buries his hands into Eiji’s hair, marveling at the softness of it under his fingers. Eiji’s hands slide up his neck, coming to frame his face, and his fingers caress his skin lightly, mirroring Ash’s earlier gesture. Ash has never been touched so carefully and it makes his heart sing.

When Ash pulls back for air, Eiji’s mouth chases after his and Ash decides that any air that doesn’t come from Eiji isn’t worth breathing. He presses his lips back on Eiji’s and hears the other man sigh pleasantly. When Ash darts his tongue to lick at the commissure of his lips, Eiji opens his mouth eagerly, tipping his head up to let Ash deepen the kiss.  

Ash doesn’t even feel the alcohol on Eiji’s tongue, only a sweet, intangibly sugary aftertaste. He presses into Eiji and soon, he can’t even distinguish between their two bodies, as they fit so well together.

When the elevator comes to a stop with a little ding, Ash and Eiji start and part, equally surprised to be still standing in the lift.

Ash takes a second to admire Eiji. His lips are swollen red and his breath is coming in short pants. The smile he gives Ash is shy, but his eyes are shining brightly, and Ash’s breath stays stuck in his throat at the sight. There is no doubt left, Eiji is the most beautiful man to have ever walked on earth, and Ash’s feelings are all over the place.

They break apart with reluctance to get off the elevator, but Eiji’s hand finds Ash’s and he entwines his fingers with his. He then gives Ash such a beautiful smile, that Ash is already back at kissing him before he can stop himself, a gush of want coiling deep in his stomach.

Eiji lets out a breathy laugh, but he returns the kiss with a warm, languid sweep of his tongue, his body melting into Ash’s arms.

When he registers that they are still in the corridor, Ash wants to withdraw but right then, Eiji runs his tongue on his bottom lips and Ash’s mind goes blissfully blank. He slips his hands under Eiji’s jacket, in the small of his back, and presses the man closer against him. Eiji lets escape a small whimper that goes right to Ash’s guts and his body arches into him, his entire being singing with the contact.

There’s a little voice in Ash’s head, screaming in alarm, but he has no trouble ignoring it. The kiss is just too hot, and the noises they make in the silent corridor are just sinful. Ash knows it’s bad, knows he needs to stop, but he can’t even remember why it would be wrong to continue when kissing Eiji makes him feel more alive than he ever felt.

“It’s… it’s going a little fast.” Eiji suddenly manages to say between two heated kisses.

Ash forces himself to withdraw from Eiji. “Y-you’re right. Sorry.” he stammers, and he is surprised by how raspy his voice sound.

Eiji seems to notice only then that they are still in the corridor. He looks around him with surprise, frowning slightly.

“Hum, where is your room?” he asks, his gaze back on Ash.

“Not far.”  

Ash takes Eiji’s hand into his, and he entails him to his room, situated at the end of the corridor. Eiji follows him without a word, his lips curved in a wavering smile.

Their walk has the benefice to help Ash gather his thoughts.

Right before, in the corridor, he was so far gone that he doesn’t know what would have happened if Eiji hadn’t stopped them. The kiss was beginning to look too much like a sexual preliminary.

But he can’t have sex with Eiji. For the other man, this is just a nice encounter in a foreign city, and he probably thinks Ash is seeking a one-night stand. He has no idea Ash plans to steal him the information he was tasked to bring back to his company.

And now that Ash has calmed down a little, he realizes just how fucked up what he planned to do was. He had let his feelings take the best of himself and forgot for an instant that he is supposed to be tricking Eiji, and to what aim.

He doesn’t know what will happen to Eiji after that. If everything goes well, Eiji won’t even notice Ash has stolen the information from him, since he will still have it in his possession. So, he should be fine, right?

Still, guilt settles low in his stomach when he thinks of what he still has to do. He had planned to offer a drink laced with a strong soporific drug to Eiji as soon as they reached his room, but now he isn’t too sure of how he will achieve that, when he can barely bring himself to look Eiji in the eyes anymore.

In fact, the more he thinks about it, the less he wants to execute his mission altogether. If he listened to himself, he would just reveal everything to Eiji and hope for forgiveness. Except if Ash doesn’t carry on with the plan and bring back the information to Golzine, he is as good as dead. And his brother…

No, he can’t risk all of that for someone he just met. He doesn’t even know how much has Eiji lied to him, this night, maybe the Eiji Ash thinks he knows doesn’t even exist.

But when he thinks back of their conversation, when he looks at Eiji’s smile, he knows that’s not true. Eiji is a good person, there’s no way around it, and Ash doesn’t want to make him suffer.

But really, what can he do? If he decides to reveal the truth to him, how will Eiji react? He will obviously be hurt. And he will hate and despise Ash when he’ll understand that Ash has tried to seduce him with a purpose. There’s no way he won’t feel betrayed by that.

And even if he can make Eiji understand, nothing guarantees he won’t decide to refuse to give him the data he carries. Why would he risk his company for Ash, when he just met him?

No, as much as it makes Ash nauseous, he needs to carry on with the mission.  

His stomach churns unpleasantly when he realizes that after that night, he will never see Eiji again. If only they had met in different circumstances… Ash doesn’t know what would have happened, but it could only be better than the situation they were in currently.

When they reach Ash’s room, he opens it mechanically. He feels so uneasy he can’t bring himself to stare at Eiji as they enter.

He closes the door behind them as Eiji looks around himself, a nervous smile on his lips.

“It’s exactly the same as my room, except my bed is blue, not red.” he babbles, like he feels the need to fill the silence.

Ash nods but he fails to quirk his lips in a smile. Suddenly, his phone buzzes in his pocket. When he sees the name on the screen, his blood freezes in his veins.

Blanca.

He turns to Eiji. “Sorry, I have to take this call. Make yourself comfortable, alright?”

Ash goes out on the balcony and closes the door behind him. He presses the button to accept Blanca’s call.

“Wha—”

“Ash what are you doing?”

Ash hisses, surprised by how loud Blanca’s voice comes out of the speaker.

“What do you mean? I’m with the target, in my hotel room.”

“What—” Blanca shouts. Ash has never heard the man lose his temper like this. “That can’t be— Ash, your target is going out of the building right now, as we’re talking!”

“Wh— No, my target is there, in my room.”

“You id— This can’t be your target! I’m telling you, I have him in sight right now, and he’s outside the building!”

Ash’s mind is racing to follow Blanca. Eiji isn’t the target? But how…

“It’s impossible, I followed your instructions, you said he was at the bar! There was no one else fitting your description, I swear!”

Blanca stays silent a while. “Then something must have happened between the moment I lost his visual and the moment you entered the bar. I came back to see how you were doing and saw your target leaving the hotel. It seemed fishy so—”

“I thought he was the target.” Ash clenches the phone in his hand. “No time to dwell on this. Where was the target going, can we—”

“I’m already on it.”

Now that Ash is focusing, he can hear the traffic's noise in the speaker. Blanca is probably driving.

“I will find him and bring the information back. But I will also have to kill him. We screwed up, Ash.”

Ash stays silent. Blanca never screws up. Golzine will be furious. But worse than that, Blanca must now kill a man when it was strictly unnecessary. And it’s all Ash’s fault. Because this is one of Dino’s rules: when you screw up, you must erase all traces of your mistake. And that means killing everyone involved and move on.

“I will call you back when it’s done.” continues Blanca. “I will bring the data to the hotel and you will go to the meeting’s place to proceed to the exchange, like planned.”

“Alright. Thanks Blanca. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. I will clean this up.”

Blanca hangs up and Ash leans on the balcony, taking his head in his hands. They have fucked up really badly, and he is in no way happy about it, but at the same time… It also means he won’t have to trick Eiji. The Japanese really was who he said he was, a simple photographer. And he will walk away from Ash unscathed so—

There’s a motion behind Ash’s back. He turns around as fast as his sharp reflexes allow him and…

He sees Eiji, standing behind the open door of the balcony, a betrayed expression on his face.

How long has he been here? How is it possible Ash hasn’t heard him? Was he that shaken by Blanca’s call that his sharpened senses hadn’t warned him of Eiji’s presence?

“Eiji… Wh—”

“A target?”

Eiji has whispered the words, but he could have screamed them, it would have been the same.

He looks so hurt that Ash’s first reflex is to take a step near him, but as he does so, the Japanese takes a step back, his hands raised nearly defensively. Ash freezes, not daring to approach further.

He can’t bear the way Eiji recoils from him, hurt and frightened, and there’s nothing he can do about it.

“I— What did I just heard, Ash? My target is in my room? Was it what I was to you tonight? A target? I don’t even understand, why—"

Where Ash had expected justified anger, Eiji looks instead nervous and uneasy. He struggles to find his words and his face is colorless, the pretty pink dusting his cheeks all night long faded. And worse than everything, he can no longer look Ash in the eyes.

Ash has no way to defend himself. The truth is ugly and hurtful.

“So, all of this…” Eiji continues. “All of this was fake?”

Ash wants to deny so much it hurts, but he can’t. It wouldn’t be right to give Eiji a false hope to hold onto. Ash can’t let him know that their meeting has shaken him to his very core.

So he doesn’t reply and something breaks in Eiji’s eyes, pain and betrayal painted all over his face. Eiji opens his mouth, but no sound exits it. When he closes his lips again, his expression hardens, unforgiving.

“I’m sorry.” Ash tries, but he knows he can’t say anything that could be enough, and his apologize sound empty to his own ears. It’s obvious Eiji won’t believe a word that comes out of his mouth, now.

The Japanese narrows his eyes. “Yeah, right, you’re sorry. Sorry to be discovered, I gather.”

“Eiji…” Ash represses a sigh. “I made a mistake tonight, I thought you were someone else, and I’m sorry I gave you all this trouble for nothing. This had nothing to do with you. I can’t tell you more than that. The less you know, the better for you.”

“And that’s it?” Eiji presses. “You don’t have anything else to say?”

“That’s it.” Ash hates how final his voice sounds. But he needs to be clear with Eiji. “You should forget about everything and… and you should leave.”

Eiji wavers, and his lips tremble slightly. “I- I can’t believe I thought…” he passes a shaky hand in his hair. “Of course it could only be some sort of scam, there’s no way you could… Gosh, I’m such an idiot!”

Ash wants to comfort him, wants to tell him that if they had met in another circumstances, he would truly…

But no, he can’t say that. In the long term, it’s better if Eiji hates him and moves on, only remembering him as the asshole who lied to him all night.

Upon Ash’s silence, Eiji turns away and walks to the door, too fast for Ash to make sense of his expression. Then, his hand on the handle, he hesitates.

“I guess this is goodbye then, Ash.” he says, obviously struggling to keep a straight face. “I hope you’ll have better luck next time.” He falters, presses his eyes shut to fight the emotion boiling underneath the surface. “I’m sorry.” he adds, voice breaking on the last syllable.

And he storms out of the room, closing the door shut behind him.  

His heart heavy in his chest, Ash can only stare at the closed door, a wave of strong disgust threatening to overwhelm him. He always knew he wasn’t a good person, but he has rarely felt so bad with himself and it makes him want to throw up.

His phone buzzes again. He doesn’t even verify the caller.

“Ash. I found our man. But he doesn’t have the information on him.”

Ash swears. This is just getting worse and worse. “How is it possible?”

“He says that someone has already stolen it from him. After he entered the bar, a man asked for his help, saying he didn’t talk English and needed a fellow Japanese to translate his request to the hotel’s reception. Except when they got out of the bar, the man knocked our target out, and left him in a locker. When our target woke up, he had lost the information.”

Blanca talks with urgency, the words succeeding each other too fast to leave Ash time to process them.

“The man…” Ash grits his teeth, realization dawning. It can’t be, he doesn’t want to believe it. “You said, a fellow Japanese?”

“Yes,” confirms Blanca, and the temperature in the room loses ten degrees. “A Japanese who, like our target, fits the description I gave you. I think the man you mistook for our target is the same who stole the information from him. Is he still in your room?”

“Fuck! No, he isn’t, he just left—"

Ash is already in the corridor, but of course, no trace of Eiji.

And he gets it, now. Every piece of the puzzle falls in place. The nervousness Eiji had shown all night wasn’t shyness. No, Eiji was a man on a mission, of course he would be anxious, Ash had seen the signs, but he had misinterpreted them. And he understands why Eiji looked so off when he had pretended to discover that Ash had led him on with a purpose. His act wasn’t even good and still, Ash had been fooled, because he didn’t want to see it. And the way Eiji had apologized when leaving the room… Gosh, how could Ash miss that?

Ash runs to the target’s supposed hotel room, his pulse roaring loud in his ears. But again, the room is empty.

“I’m in front of the hotel’s entry,” Blanca says on the phone. “Of course, I didn’t see him leave the hotel, but I’m sure he can have taken another exit.”

“I can’t find him.” Ash says, struggling to speak because he is left breathless by his run and by the revelation. He still can’t believe—

“It’s too late, we won’t find him. Take the money and meet me in front of the hotel. We will find a way to get to him.”

Ash cuts the communication and runs back to his room. His briefcase is still there, but suddenly, he has a bad feeling…

He opens the case to verify his fear, his fingers trembling so much that he struggles with the lock.

The briefcase is empty. Of course it is.

Taking a step back, Ash makes a sound that is halfway between a nervous laugh and a cry.

He’s fucked. He is irremediably, deeply, thoroughly, fucked.

No, not irremediably. Ash clenches his fists, fights the ball of frustration that wedges itself in his throat. He refuses to give up so easily. He has to get a hold on himself, too much is at stake.

Forcing himself to breathe, he tries to make sense of the situation, to organize his thoughts.  

Firstly, Eiji is a filthy liar and he played Ash like a fiddle.

Secondly, If Ash doesn’t bring the information back, he is dead. There is no way Golzine could forgive a mistake that enormous, not even for Ash. And if Ash is dead, his brother is too. Conclusion, failing is not an option and Ash needs to wrap everything up as cleanly as he can.

Thirdly, he has to find Eiji, and he has to kill him.