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Love Don’t Lie

Chapter Text

Golzine’s call leaves Ash with a stomachache.

Oh, he’s glad he only had to experience Dino’s reaction to his failure through a phone call, of course. Simply thinking about speaking face to face with the man makes Ash’s skin crawl. Not so much by fear than because of the basic disgust the man inspires him.

Ash owes one to Blanca, for the chance of avoiding this specific meeting, his mentor deciding he would be the one to inform Golzine of their fiasco. What happened there stayed concealed from Ash, as he hadn’t heard from Blanca since. He could only estimate that he had received Golzine’s call not too long after Blanca had left for the mansion.

From Golzine, Ash was prepared for wrath, he was expecting a terrible fit of rage… Nothing could have prepared him to the satisfaction he had heard in Golzine’s voice through the phone.

Ash would have preferred anger, all in all. Everything but the sickening contentment of the mafia boss while he recounted to Ash point by point how disappointed he was in him. They both knew Ash’s mistake allowed Golzine to tighten his grip on him, and Ash had hated how unsubtle Dino’s had been in his clear appreciation of the situation.

Yet, it could have been far worse, because the man hadn’t evoked a punishment. And with how badly Ash had failed his assignment, he expected a memorable one. But that didn’t mean there wouldn’t be terrible consequences later…

Because Ash had not only lost Golzine’s money and been unable to collect the information he was tasked to steal, but he had also failed to retrieve Eiji before the man had come to meet Ash’s clients and completed the transaction in his place.

Which left Ash with only one request from Golzine: to find the man who had wronged him and make him disappear.

A mission which was supposed to be simple. After all, finding information on Eiji hadn’t been too difficult.

Either Eiji was an idiot, or he was overly confident in his advantage on Ash, because the information he had given to Ash back when they had talked at the hotel’s bar had quickly led him to a page web titled Okumura Eiji, Photography.

With Eiji’s complete name, it had only taken a bit of research in databases a normal citizen shouldn’t have access to, for Ash to find nearly everything he wanted to know about the man.

Or rather, about his public persona, Eiji Okumura. Ash was well aware it was probably a fake name. Strangely enough, he had been unable to find anything on Eiji’s other activities. It was off-putting, because Ash knew the field enough to have a bunch of contacts in it, and nobody he approached had ever heard of a Japanese hitman taking assignments in New York.

Ash lowers his gaze on the file he has put together. On the first page, Eiji Okumura stares back at him with his big, innocent eyes; and Ash’s heart tightens in his chest.

Because despite everything, Ash still hates that he has to kill him.

With a thumb, Ash strokes the picture once, removing a little particle of dust that had the audacity to lay itself on Eiji’s face. He lingers here, follows the curve of his smile. If only he didn’t remember the taste of his lips, the sound of his laughter… Maybe it would be easier.

Ash has to exhort himself to remember how fake all of it was. How fake Eiji was.

And still, he can’t bring himself to hate the man. After all, he’s misplaced to judge him, when he had approached Eiji with in sight the same goal as him, the same lies on his lips. So why is Ash so fucking hurt by Eiji’s betrayal?

Eiji and him played the same game, and Ash is just sore because he lost, that’s all there is to it.

His eyes leave the picture to scan over the information on the first page once more. There isn’t anything on it he doesn't already knows though, and the missing pieces of data are what makes Ash’s blood buzz in his veins with anxiety.

He figured Eiji’s age, height, weight, blood type, hometown, and even the date of the day he became an American citizen… But still nothing on his true identity, the one that matters to Ash.  

With a click of his tongue, Ash puts the file back in its folder. Piecing together intel on a target is usually Blanca’s job, and Ash is once again finding himself coming up short when he takes in the difference in skills between the two of them. If Blanca had been there, there’s no doubt Eiji’s file would be much thicker.

---

Once it had been clear Blanca and Ash wouldn’t be able to retrieve Eiji in the hotel, Ash had decided to still go to the meeting with Golzine’s clients, like he was supposed to.

His clients weren’t there, but Ash had quickly understood the reason for their absence.

Figuring retrieving the clients would be easier than retrieving Eiji, he had decided to begin there. And indeed, it had been a piece of cake to find them back, and even easier to make them talk.

They were only businessmen, after all, and Golzine’s interest in them laid simply in their immense fortune and the ties they had with other companies. But the Corsican mafia would have to do without these clients, because Eiji did his job well.

The clients were quick to retell Ash how they were contacted by another “investor”, offering more money and the same information Ash should have gifted them. The place of the meeting was changed, and the clients had met with their new collaborators earlier.

That’s how they had met Lee Yut-Lung and had changed loyalty from one mafia to another.

It didn’t come as much of a surprise to Ash, that the Chinese foundation would try to take over Golzine’s clients. It wasn’t a secret in the field that the Chinese syndicate was going through some difficulties ever since all the Lee brothers had disappeared mysteriously one after the other, until only the youngest heir was left.

However, the fact that Lee Yut-Lung wasn’t trying to hide his hostility against the Corsican was new and more intriguing to Ash, and he felt as if he was on the verge of discovering something far more interesting than a simple affair of stolen clients…

Ash couldn’t be confident Eiji was even present at this meeting. The clients had talked about a group of Asian men and could even describe them when Ash pressed them to do so, but none of the men fitted perfectly Eiji’s description. Yet, it was certain that Eiji was working for the Lee, and this had made Ash’s goal of finding him again finally reachable.

After this discovery, tracking Eiji down had been fairly easy. Ash had set up in a building situated right across the street from Lee Yut-Lung’s main residence. He had then begun his stakeout, keeping track of every person entering and leaving the place, and of course of the occupants of the house.

In the two days he spent like this, he spotted Eiji a good amount of time, but never once the man left the building.

It didn’t matter. Ash had figured out which room was the one Eiji spent most of his time in –most likely his bedroom— and while it would normally not be reachable to a sniper, Ash was confident he had found an angle from which he could make the kill.

Which meant what was left to do now was the easiest part of his job.

Or so one would have thought.

---

His sniper weapon tactically settled with the ideal angle; Ash waits for Eiji to walk in the spot he has decided to target. He peers through his binoculars. From where he is situated, he has a perfect view of the window.

When he finally spots Eiji entering the room, Ash straightens himself, a rush of blood flooding in his veins, and suddenly, his heart is beating louder in his ears. Through his binoculars, he observes as Eiji walks into the room, until he sees him approach the window, right where Ash needed him to be.

He has Eiji’s head in sight, now. It would only take a press of his finger on the trigger, and it would be done. Eiji would die, and all of Ash’s present problems would be taken care of. “A clean kill,” as Blanca would say, which never failed to make Ash cringe. A clean kill. As if such a thing existed.

But Ash’s hands waver on his weapon and he isn’t able to steady them. A press, and Eiji will die. He can already picture it, just a slight movement from his index and the bullet will fly to the window. From where he is situated, Ash will just see Eiji’s body fall on the floor, and that will be it. It’s supposed to be easy.

Yet, Ash can’t. He tries and he tries to reason with himself, but he can’t do it. Not like that.

Eiji walks away from the spot and disappears in a corner of the room. Ash has let his chance pass, and who knows when he will get another occasion as good as this one…

Ash swears and jumps to his feet. He packs his sniper’s weapon and grabs his gun. He has to do it, he doesn’t have a choice. He waited long enough, he doesn’t have the luxury to wait forever for Eiji to walk to the window again.

Ash will fulfill his mission. But not like that. Not without confronting Eiji a last time, not without giving him a piece of his mind.

Yes, that’s the reason he didn’t kill Eiji just then. It’s not that he doesn’t want to do it, not that he can’t, it’s because he wants to see what kind of twisted bastard Eiji really is. It will be easier to kill him once he has proof that the Eiji who made his heart swoon doesn’t exist.

Or at the very least, that what Ash tries to convince himself as he leaves the building.

---

There’s only one thing Ash has always been better at doing than Blanca, and it’s sneaking in buildings with a bit of climbing. And Eiji’s bedroom is ideally situated, all Ash has to do to reach it is to climb to the roof before jumping from there to the balcony to his room.

Ash gets easily rid of the two guards patrolling on top of the roof. Quick, precise, he doesn’t make a noise and the guards have no time to give the alert.

His task done, Ash jumps to the balcony, landing heavily on his feet. He winces a bit, the impact stronger than what he had anticipated. Fortunately, it’s not enough to hurt and he readjusts himself immediately, facing the window to Eiji’s room.

There, he has to retain himself from pinching his arm and checking he isn’t dreaming, because the window is already fricking open. After all the troubles Ash had to go through in these days following his failed mission, it seems too easy to just push the window open and hop into the room.

He falls silently on his feet on a plush carpet and looks around himself, taking in a glance the luxurious bedroom, mapping the layout of the space before him and spotting the only exit, a large door situated at the opposing side of the room.

A soft gasp makes him turn to his right.

Eiji is standing a few feet away from him, his brown eyes widened by surprise.

“A-Ash!”

Ash’s heart misses a beat when he hears Eiji pronounce his name, his slight accent making it sound like two syllables, a particularity Ash had thought to be extremely endearing back when they had met.

But now, it just angers him.

Especially when he notices that Eiji has the audacity to look happy to see him. Not that he breaks into a wide smile or anything, but the corners of his lips quirk up slightly and his eyes shine with emotion.

Ash raises his gun and aims for his head.

Eiji’s features fall, he takes a half-step back, hands raised in surrender. He stays frozen and Ash sees his breath itch in his throat, his mouth open in a silent plea.

Ash had expected Eiji to look changed, when they would meet again. He had tried to picture on his face the cold expression of a trained assassin, the careful mask of a liar. Yet, there is nothing of that in Eiji’s expression. And the man does look different, but not for the reasons Ash had imagined.

Eiji is wearing a soft white jumper on a pair of brown trousers, his hair not as neatly styled as it was when they last met. Compared to the suit he wore at the bar, the casual outfit makes him look… oddly normal, and yet somehow even more attractive.  

Ash had meant to confront Eiji, but suddenly he doesn’t know what to say. They stay silent, dark eyes meeting jade, and Ash’s gun only grows heavier in his hand. He can’t help but to think about everything Eiji had said, that night. He had talked about his family, back in Japan. His hometown by the sea, with a name Ash hadn’t been able to pronounce properly, which had made Eiji giggle adorably. Was it all a lie? And if not, what difference does it make?

Ash lowers his gun, frustrated by his own hesitation.

Eiji relaxes visibly and he lets out a shaky breath. He hasn’t yelled, he didn’t call for help. They’re alone in the room and more than anything Ash wants to understand.

“I’m sure you had fun, that night.” Ash’s voice is raspy and low, but he manages to keep it calm. “I bet you thought I was a true idiot. I would never have guessed you were such a good liar, I have to give you my compliments.” he says, one nod of his head gracing Eiji with a mock bow.

Eiji flinches at the hostility in Ash’s voice and surprisingly, it gives Ash no satisfaction.

“It wasn’t fun.” he protests weakly. “Deceiving you. I know you probably won’t believe me, but I’m truly sorry things had to go this way.”

And he sounds so sincere, so genuine, Ash wants to believe with all his heart, but he knows now that he can’t trust the Japanese. He was led on once, it won’t happen twice.

Eiji sighs as Ash doesn’t speak back, lips pressed into a tight line, jaw set violently.

“You won’t get your information or money back, by killing me.” he tries. “I—”

“That’s not why I’m here. It’s too late for any of that, now.”

A sad smile curls Eiji’s lips. “So, it’s about revenge?” he asks softly.

“It’s not.” Ash grits his teeth, offended. “It’s nothing personal. My employer wants you dead, that’s all.”

Eiji grimaces. “Your employer.” he repeats. “Dino Golzine, right?”

“See.” Ash sighs, fatalistic. “You know too much. I have to kill you.”

“But you don’t want to.”

Eiji’s gaze on Ash is intense, his voice strong, sure. Ash has the feeling Eiji can look into his eyes and see the depth of his soul. Except that’s stupid and Ash’s very being revolts at the thought.

“Don’t—” Ash nearly chokes on his words in his irritation. “Don’t think you— You don’t know me, alright?” he shouts, the fake calm he tried to affect long forgotten. “You think you were the only one being a clever actor that night? Well, god do I have news for you, then!”

Eiji furrows his brows, his eyes alight with a new emotion that Ash can’t quite name.

“I’m perfectly aware it was all an act.” he protests. “You made it very clear. But I don’t understand why you’re taking this so at heart. If you were only playing your role, why are you so affected by—”

Ash can’t believe his ears. “I— I’m not taking this at heart! I’m not affected!” he exclaims, totally baffled. “Excuse me for being slightly surprised to discover that you were a lying snake all along!”

Eiji’s eyes widen. “A lying…?” he blinks once and huffs, frustrated. “Alright. Yes. I did lie to you, and I’m sorry about it. But you did the same! I see no difference. Except that you’re butt hurt about it for some reason.”

“I’m not—”

Ash gapes at him, but he swallows back his retort. He tries to regain his composure instead of letting Eiji entail him in a verbal fight of bad faith. Why are they arguing when Ash has a loaded gun in his hand and every intention of emptying its chamber on Eiji?

“Yeah, you already mentioned you were sorry,” he says, quirking a sarcastic brow. “But I’m sure you can understand I won’t believe a word that comes out of your mouth now that I know the truth about you.”

Eiji’s shoulders drop slightly at that, and he looks suddenly exhausted. “I know you don’t want to listen to me, but I have important things to say to you.”

Ash tenses up, his hand on his gun a tight grip. Suddenly, he is sharply aware of the time flying by. He should already have killed Eiji, it’s been too long since he entered the room and he still hasn’t made up his mind. Despite his resolve, he’s still letting Eiji talk when the man has already proved he could make Ash believe anything.

“Yeah, right, you’re only trying to buy time for your allies to come here, am I right?” he spits. “You think I’ll quietly listen to your lies while you’re waiting for someone to enter this room?”

Eiji shakes his head, his sad smile back on his lips. “That’s not it. I’m sorry to tell you that, but everyone in this building is aware you entered my room. If you kill me, you won’t step out of here alive.”

Ash shoots a glance around him, all senses on alert. Are there cameras here? A sniper on the building he was on just before? Everything seems quiet, however…

He raises his gun again. “Well, we’ll see about that.”

The bedroom’s door flies open as he finishes his sentence and a tall Asian enters the room, aiming at him with a gun.

“Okay, that’s enough!” the newcomer exclaims, storming into the room to place himself in front of Eiji so fast Ash has barely the time to blink. 

Ash aims at him with his own gun, but he doesn’t fire it. The Asian has already lowered his weapon. He just has it in his hand and is shielding Eiji with his body. However, three guards have followed his steps and they have their guns set on Ash, which makes them a more pressing menace.

Ash purses his lips. Eiji is right, if he fires in anyone’s direction, he will not step out of this room alive.

Dammit, he was so stupid to think he could just change his plan like that. If he had got the guts to kill Eiji when he was at the window, he would already be done with all this.

Eiji’s only reaction to all this mess is to sigh heavily.

“Sing…” he complains. “You weren’t supposed to interfere.”

“I wasn’t going to let this maniac kill you!” the Asian protests strongly. “You’ve heard him, he isn’t willing to even listen!”

Eiji shakes his head. “He wasn’t going to kill me.” he says confidently. Then he furrows his brows, tilting his head to the side in thought. “Not when you entered, at least…” he continues, voice now laced with hesitation, and he casts a doubtful glance at Ash.

Ash doesn’t know what is the most infuriating. This loud Chinese who literally threw himself in front of Eiji like he couldn’t care less about his own life or Eiji’s certainty about Ash’s actions. How can he think he knows what Ash will or won’t do? Ash himself doesn’t know if he was going to pull the trigger.

“How could you know he wasn’t going to do it?” Sing retorts, exasperated. And he takes the words out of Ash’s mouth and that is infuriating too.

“If he wanted to kill me without listening to what I have to say, I would already be dead.” Eiji replies, tone far too casual for his words. “He could easily have pulled the trigger as you entered, but he didn’t.” Eiji interrupts himself, eyebrows knitting down. “In fact, it’s a miracle he didn’t shoot you too! What were you thinking, Sing?”

Sing has the good taste to look sheepish. “I— I acted without thinking, sorry…”

Now that Ash looks at Sing more attentively, he notices how young he seems to be. He can’t be older than seventeen, if Ash had to judge, and holds himself with the clumsiness of a teenager who just had a growth spurt.

 The guards who followed him look between Ash and Eiji, clearly unsure if they have to continue to aim Ash.

Eiji lets out a sigh. “Sing, tell them to lower their weapon, this is so unnecessary.”

Sing looks like he is about to protest, but he does as Eiji asked, and the men fold their weapon back into their clothes after a sign of his hand.

Ash relaxes slightly. The situation is tense, but if he behaves, he might be able to make it out alive. Clearly, Eiji has no intention of killing him, so he might be telling the truth when he says he has things he wants to tell Ash. Maybe Ash can play along for now and wait for an overture. It’s not like he has any other option anyway.

Lowering his gun, he puts it in his pants and crosses his arms over his chest.

“Alright. I’m willing to listen. Tell me what you have to say.”

Eiji’s response is a smile, small but so genuine it comes directly for Ash’s heart and wraps itself securely around it. Ash holds Eiji’s gaze, stubbornly trying to act like he hasn’t already lost the fight.

But he knows better.

The result of their second confrontation is clear and obvious to everyone in the room. There is once again a loser, and once again, it’s Ash.

---

Eiji and Sing escort Ash to another room, on the first floor. The three guards are following them, and even so their weapons are packed, Ash can still feel the skin of his neck tickle unpleasantly when he realizes he wouldn’t have any way out if he wanted to attempt a risky evasion.

He doesn’t have much time to dwell on this thought, because Sing soon opens a large door in front of which are standing two more guards, and Ash has to retain a sigh. He walked headfirst into this mess, and he is the only one to blame for the troubles he put himself in, which makes the situation even more frustrating.

Ash’s mouth hangs open when he walks into the room in Eiji’s steps and his gaze falls on the last person he was expecting to see in the Lee’s mansion.

“Hi, Ash.” Blanca gives Ash a calm smile. “It’s been a rough few days, isn’t it?”

Blood iced in his veins, Ash can only gape at the tall man.

“What the—? What are you doing here?” he croaks with difficulty.

Blanca’s smile widens. “You’ll understand in a minute.” he only says. “Come here, take a seat.”

Ash browses the room with his eyes. Blanca isn’t alone in the large living-room; a young man is sitting on a sofa next to him, and a sly smile blooms on his lips when Ash meets his eyes.

“Ash Lynx. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you. Blanca said a lot about you, I hope to see you live up to your reputation.”

Ash frowns, taken aback by the assurance with which this newcomer is talking. The boy seems young, and yet he’s acting like he owns the place, and Ash suspects maybe he indeed does. At the very least, he doesn’t seem displaced in the refined decor, with his elegant clothing, his long silky hair tied in an elaborated braid on his shoulder.

“And who the fuck are you?”

The boy opens his mouth, clearly offended, but Blanca is quicker.

“Ah, my deepest apologizes sir, I’ve never quite managed to make him lose this dirty mouth of his.” he says, his voice the sweetest saccharine. He turns to Ash, serene smile still in place. “Ash, this is sir Lee Yut-Lung.”

A Lee? So, Ash assumed correctly, the young man is indeed in charge here. Ash knew the remaining heir of the Lee was fairly young, but he hadn’t expected him to look… like this.

Yut-Lung seems easily reasserted by Blanca honeyed obedience. His eyes leave Ash to travel to the door, where Eiji and Sing are standing.

“I see he didn’t kill you.” Yut-Lung observes flatly, his chin tilted toward Eiji.

“I told you you could trust me, Yue.”

Eiji’s answer makes Yut-Lung’s lips twist in an amused smile, and he spares a glance in Ash’s direction.

“Oh, I trusted you, Eiji. It’s him I didn’t trust.”

With reason, Ash thinks. Something which Eiji seems to be lacking. Ash doesn’t understand how the two men can be so casual when Ash is so at loss. His patience has run out and he hates how little control he has on the situation.

“Will anyone explain what’s going on to me?” he grunts, as no one seems decided to put an end to his ignorance.

Blanca nods, the same smile still placated on his face. “I made a contract with mister Lee Yut-Lung.” he announces conversationally, while Yut-Lung preens with satisfaction next to him.

Ash blinks once. Processes Blanca’s words. Concludes his mentor can only be lying.

“It can’t—”

“Monsieur Golzine put an end to my contract.” Blanca opens his hands, mimicking helplessness. “Mister Yut-Lung was generous enough to offer me a job and save me from the embarrassment of unemployment.”

Ash takes a step back. “It’s impossible…” he protests, eyes set on Blanca’s serene face. “There’s no way Golzine would let you—”

“Monsieur is aware of my change of loyalty, of course. We thought you were finally ready to take over, so he accepted to end my contract before our latest assignment. I was only supposed to give you a hand one last time, as a goodbye. Obviously, none of us would have imagined you would screw this mission up so badly.” Blanca lets out a short laugh. “I was definitely lucky Monsieur trusted you enough to end my contract before your first mission in solo.”

Something akin to betrayal is battling with Ash’s bewilderment, but his surprise is so big he can’t seem to process anything else.

“Why— Why didn’t you say anything to me?”

He hates how small his voice sounds when he talks, hates how he knows he can’t put it entirely on his surprise.

“I didn’t want it to influence your mission. You’re still too easily distracted by your feelings, Ash. After your failure, I went to meet Monsieur alone, to verify if our agreement was still intact. I knew your new mission would allow us to cross ways soon enough anyway.”

“I don’t understand… Why did you take another job? What about your retirement, what about the Caribbean? I thought—”

Blanca’s smile widens. “I’m still too young for complete retirement, am I not? I only needed a change of career. The contract I made with Mister Yut-Lung is only one of a bodyguard, after all.”

A simple bodyguard? Why would Blanca decide to protect the young Lee’s life, all of a sudden? It doesn’t make any sense.

He opens his mouth to voice his thoughts, when Yut-Lung raises to his feet, a wave of his hand signaling his disinterest.

“So, you’re now aware of Blanca’s new loyalty. I got not time to hear you whine about it endlessly, you both can settle things between the two of you later.” Yut-Lung takes a step closer to Ash, his dark eyes glinting with a new interest when he talks again. “I’ve got a proposal for you, Ash Lynx.”

He pauses, then, clearly aware Ash is suddenly hanging at his lips. Finally, answers.

“I want you to help us put Dino Golzine down.”

---

Yut-Lung’s plan is crazy, and Ash wants no part in it.

“I won’t do it.” he states, final, as soon as Yut-Lung is done explaining his plan. “All I can do is wish you luck and—”

He is interrupted by a breathy laugh, Yut-Lung seeming quite amused by his refusal.

“Do you really think you are in a position to refuse?” he asks. “You think I’ll let you walk away?”

Ash grits his teeth. “So, you’ll force me to agree? I’m sure you know how much a man’s words weight when they’re obtained through constraint.”

“Oh, this I know, believe me. I won’t oblige you to cooperate under a death threat. Blanca did warn me about how you react when forced to do anything.” Yut-Lung shakes his head slowly. “No, but I need the threat to make you listen to me until the end. Then, I will let you make an educated decision.”

Ash turns to Blanca, annoyed by the man’s new silence. “What part do you play in this? You really plan on betraying Golzine like—”

“I’m not betraying the Monsieur, Ash. Like I told you, he knows about my contract. We’re in no conflict of interest until he directly attempts to Sir Yut-Lung’s life.”

Yeah, until he does. If Yut-Lung is so set on taking Golzine down, the mafia boss won’t go without a fight. Ash still doesn’t understand why Blanca is suddenly protecting the young Chinese, but what he does know is that he doesn’t want to be in the opposite camp from him.

“Blanca, you know exactly why I can’t accept this deal. It’s too risky, I can’t—”

Yut-Lung interrupts him again, with an exasperated huff, this time.

“We will protect your older brother, if that’s what worries you. We—”

You told him?” Anger and betrayal rush through Ash’s system, and suddenly he crosses the room to face Blanca, hands curled into fists at his sides. “You told him about—”

“Ash.” Blanca’s tone is tentatively placating, and it stops Ash in his tracks. “I didn’t need to. Sir Yut-Lung researched on you, your family’s ties aren’t something difficult to find.”

As he talks, Blanca reaches to put a comforting hand on Ash’s shoulder, but Ash hits it away, furious. Now, not only one but two mafia bosses are aware of Griffin’s existence, aware they can play with it to obtain exactly what they want from Ash. He’s so frustrated he would scream if his jaw wasn’t so firmly set.

Yut-Lung grimaces. “All this brotherly love is sickening me. But I can assure you Ash, that your brother will be safe with us. It will only be a matter of weeks, and then the two of you will be free from Golzine. Isn’t it what you want?”

Once again, Ash ignores Yut-Lung to stare at Blanca. “We don’t need a few weeks. If it’s you and me, we can take him down in a few days, all we need is—”

“No.” Ash startles at the finality in Blanca’s voice. “I can’t repeat myself enough, Ash. I was only hired as a bodyguard. I won’t do anything to attempt to my former employer’s life.”

Ash expected this answer, but it still infuriates him. “You’re such a hypocrite. Always been. You can hide yourself all you want behind your screwed up moral code, you’ll have to take a side, in the end.”

Blanca smiles at that, yet his grin is denuded of any joy. “I will cross that bridge when and if I come to it. For now, I stand by my words.” He takes a step back, shrugs casually. “Think about it for a minute, Ash. What are your options? If you refuse Mr. Yut-Lung’s proposal and return to Golzine, you can’t do it without killing this Japanese boy, like he asked. And after that… what? I’ve seen how much you hate working for him. If you go on like this…”

“What?”

“I’m afraid it will kill you. Sooner than later.”

Blanca isn’t smiling anymore, and his words unnerve Ash. He didn’t think Blanca would have noticed how much his allegiance to Golzine is costing him. He glances at Eiji, who is still standing beside Sing, silent. Their eyes meet, and Ash knows he can’t kill him. He tried twice today, and twice found himself physically unable to do so.

His mind is already beginning to work on the problem, testing how the different scenarios would play out.

“Still. We don’t need these weeks you talked about. Even on my own, I can just go and kill Golzine, we don’t need your plan.”

Blanca raises his brows. “How would you achieve that? The mansion is well guarded, and the Monsieur never goes anywhere without an entourage. Plus, he doesn’t exactly trust you, Ash.”

“There’s a place where he goes with only a minimal guard. I could hit there.”

“Cape Club?” Blanca asks, frowning. “There’s no good spots for a sniper to hit there. And you can’t just walk to Monsieur Golzine and shoot him in plain day.”

“Who’s saying I would walk?” Ash counters, working out a plan as he talks. “I need to be quick if I don’t want to be shot by his gooses in retaliation. I could… use a vehicle. Stand on top of a truck or something.”

Blanca opens two wide eyes, and it’s the first time in this conversation he seems destabilized.

“Are you telling me…” he begins slowly. “That you would shoot him while standing on top of a truck? That’s your plan?”

His tone is so incredulous, Ash feels suddenly less certain of himself. “I could.” he insists. “You taught me how to shoot, that’s all I need.”

Blanca furrows his brows. “Apparently, I should better have taught you some common sense. This is the stupidest thing I have ever heard you say, Ash.”

Yut-Lung extends a hand to silence Blanca. “We can work the details later, we can’t act in a hurry. Plus, I don’t want to simply kill Golzine, I have to destroy him.” He faces Ash again, a curious gleam in his dark eyes. “Now, Ash Lynx. Do we have an agreement?”

Ash doesn’t hesitate, this time. He’s beginning to believe this is the only chance he will ever get of getting rid of Golzine. Beginning to think this could work out.

“We do. I’ll help you take down the old man. Once this is done, I want nothing to do with you anymore, got it?”

Yut-Lung smiles widely. “Perfectly.”

“And another thing; I’m working with you, in collaboration. But don’t think for one second that I’m at your service or anything.”

“Oh.” Yut-Lung considers Ash’s condition with a slight frown. “I was going to propose you a job, though. You can ask Blanca, the pay is more than adequate for the service asked.”

“You can keep your money.” Ash smiles then, the beginning of a plan forming in his mind. “I’ll have more than my content of that in no time. Along with a way of forcing Golzine out of the country for a while.”

“Really? That would allow us to gain some time to put in place our plan of action.” Yut-Lung pauses to think, a finger to his lips. “Alright.” he decides finally. “I agree with your terms, partner.”

The last word is said with evident mockery, but Ash decides to overlook it.

“I’ll have a contract ready tomorrow, for us both to sign.” Yut-Lung continues pensively. “Once our agreement is settled, we will discuss our plan.”

Ash acquiesces reluctantly. He would have preferred to discuss all of that immediately, but the hour is late and he is in need of a night of sleep.

As if he had read his thoughts, Yut-Lung talks again. “You’ll sleep here tonight, as my guest. I don’t want to risk you running to Golzine before our agreement is signed.”

Ash holds back a grimace. He doesn’t know how much sleep he will be able to find when adrenaline is still rushing through his system. But he is used to it. It won’t be worse than sleeping at Golzine’s.  

“Eiji will show you your room.” Yut-Lung tilts his chin toward the Japanese. “Making people comfortable is kind of his thing.”    

Eiji lights up in response, and he shares a discreet smile with Yut-Lung.

Ash feels inclined to refuse to follow Eiji, inclined to insist he prefers to leave the mansion; but he still has a lot of questions for Eiji, and his curiosity prevails on his uneasiness.

As they leave the room, Ash sees Sing walk behind them, an attentive presence in his back, but Eiji doesn’t seem to mind so Ash stays quiet about it.

“You seem to have a comfy relationship with your boss.” Ash observes as they take the same path as before.

Eiji turns to him, his brows lifted in question. “My boss?” he asks, clearly confused.

“Lee Yut-Lung.”

“Oh.” Eiji frowns slightly. “Yut-Lung isn’t my boss.”

“Really? Didn’t he hire you for that thing back at the hotel? Do you cut ties with your employers as soon as your mission is completed?”

Ash hears a short chuckle in his back, and it’s Sing who reply, as Eiji is too busy staring at him with his eyes wide open in surprise.

“Why are you talking like Eiji is some sort of secret spy?” Sing asks, amusement obvious in his voice.

It’s Ash’s turn to be surprised. “Not a spy… But surely, you must be some sort of hitman, right?” he asks to Eiji, annoyed by his silence.

Again, Ash’s response triggers Sing’s hilarity. “A hitman? You thought Eiji was a hitman? Oh my god.”

Ash is mostly confused, now. “Yes? You prefer to call it differently? Blanca does call himself a freelancer, after all.”

Sing laughs harder. “Holy fuck, I can’t believe— You really looked at Eiji and thought he was a fucking hitman?”

A rush of blood colors Eiji’s cheeks. “Hum, I’m… I’m not a hitman or… anything like that. I’m just a friend of Yut-Lung. He needed a Japanese for this mission, so I proposed my help.”

Sing laughs again. “Our plan relied entirely on the fact it would be easy to make you white people confuse one Japanese for another. And fuck if it didn’t work perfectly!”

Ash is still processing Eiji’s words. This new information doesn’t add up with what Ash knows of the man. It’s impossible he would have—

“Yeah, I know.” Sing completes, an amused smile playing on his lips. “I guess it’s hard to accept you were tricked by a normal person and not a trained assassin, uh? Yut-Lung and I were also surprised it worked so well, to say the truth.”

Eiji blushes some more. “Sing.”

“But I guess it’s why it worked, right? Because Eiji isn’t like you, you didn’t recognize your training in him and concluded he was harmless, because he indeed was.”

Harmless?” Ash turns to Eiji. “You knocked out my real target, tricked me all night, stole my money before vanishing into thin air and—”

“Sing helped me a bit.” Eiji says, suddenly uneasy. “And I mean… We were thoughtfully prepared, it wasn’t so hard…”

Ash mulls it over. It’s beginning to make sense, actually. Ash has always been confident he could see it when someone was covering their training, no matter how good of an actor. There were always the little things betraying a professional, be it their scent –or their absence of it, usually— their gaze, their clothes… It’s true that Ash didn’t see on Eiji anything that would betray him as a killer. But to think he managed to trick him like he did without any kind of training? It seems impossible.

Ash is tired of being wrong, tired of having so little control on the situation. As he opens his mouth to ask following questions, he is interrupted by the arrival of a guard in their back.

“Sing. Master Yut-Lung wants to see you.”

“Right now?”

As the guard nods, Sing hesitates, his gaze traveling to Eiji before returning to Ash, assessing.

Ash retains a sigh. “Don’t worry, you can go. I’m not planning on betraying our agreement, I won’t complete my mission for Golzine.”

Eiji startles, as if he didn’t even consider Ash could still only be waiting for an opportunity to kill him. Ash is beginning to see how there’s no way he could be a trained killer, and he’s not feeling any smarter for it.

“It’s okay, Sing.” Eiji assures. “I’ll be alright.”

Sing watches him carefully, a worried crease between his eyebrows. He passes a hand in his short hair. “Fuck. Alright.” he turns to Ash. “You better not try anything, because if Eiji here is kinda harmless, I am the exact opposite. Got it?”

Ash calmly raises a brow, not ruffled by Sing’s threat. “Got it.” he repeats, the slightest trace of sarcasm audibles in his voice.

Sing frowns at it, but he still turns heels to follow the guard.

The silence following his departure is uncomfortable.

“Hum, right.” Eiji visibly tries to compose himself back. “Please follow me this way.”

Ash quickly notices that they are returning to where they were earlier, close to what he still suspects to be Eiji’s bedroom.

“How did a normal person like you become friend with the head of the Chinese mafia?”

“Oh. That’s… a long story.”

There’s a sorrowful smile on Eiji’s lips, and he doesn’t seem willing to expend on the subject, so Ash doesn’t press him further. But still, Sing can say all he wants that Eiji is normal, there’s no way it’s truly the case. Normal people don’t befriend mafia bosses. Normal people don’t propose themselves for a mission so dangerous without a good reason.

Eiji opens a new door and they step into a room, very similar to the one he found Eiji in earlier, except smaller. Like the rest of the building, the walls are pale, and it’s elegantly decorated.

“Here is your room. Mine is right across the corridor. So, if you need anything… Well, I’ll be there.”

Ash faces him, bewildered. “Why are you even telling me this? Aren’t you scared?”

“Scared? Of what?”

“I tried to kill you, today. How can you be so sure I’m not waiting for you to sleep to complete my mission?”

“Oh.” Again, Eiji seems so clearly surprised, it’s as if he didn’t even consider it to be a possibility. “But… You agreed to work with us?”

“Of course, I did.” Ash grunts. “But nothing guarantees you I’m not lying.”

He doesn’t know why it seems so important to him that Eiji gets it. Why he wants Eiji to be wary, to keep his guard up. How is it possible for Eiji to be so naïve and still have managed to live this old in their world?

Eiji frowns. “Well, you have your answer. You agreed to work with us, so I need to trust you from now on.”

Ash wants to reply that he did nothing to earn this trust yet, and it’s very foolish of Eiji to give it to him so easily, but he stays silent. One thing is sure: he won’t be stupid enough as to trust Eiji.

“So…” Ash rounds the room, half-wanting for Eiji to leave and yearning to question him further. “Is that Sing guy your lover or something?”

Well that absolutely wasn’t what he had planned to say. Clearly, he must be even more tired than he thought.

Eiji whips his head in his direction, his eyes wide, pink lips parted in surprise.

“Wh—” His cheeks color with bright pink. “No! Of course, not! What makes you even think that?”

Ash shrugs casually. “I mean… he did try to shield you with his body while you had a loaded gun aimed to your face. I thought only people in love could do stupid things like that.”

Eiji furrows his brows. “Sing can be… impulsive, sometimes.” he mutters, adverting his gaze from Ash to stare at the floor.

Ash hums noncommittally. He stills doesn’t know why he asked Eiji that question. It’s not like he cares, right?

Eiji still isn’t leaving the room. He looks around himself, as if he was trying to find something to add while Ash begins to check the place for cameras.

“Hum… What are you doing?”

Of course, Ash could have waited for Eiji to leave before beginning his inspection of the room, but he doesn’t see what it would have changed anyway.

“Nothing.” he replies, checking behind a first painting fixed on the wall.

“Ah.”

Ash doesn’t understand why Eiji isn’t leaving. He showed him his room, what could he still want from Ash? Ash has still questions for him, but he’s so tired he doesn’t know where to begin and doesn’t trust himself to read Eiji’s responses correctly.

He finds a first mic in between two books of the library. He crushes it under his foot in front of Eiji, who only seems mildly surprised.

“Ah… I’m sorry about this.” he murmurs. “Yut-Lung thinks you might…”

“Be dangerous? He’s right. I understand.” Ash says calmly, continuing his search.

“I think there should be one more under your bed.” Eiji continues, his voice still very low.

“What?”

“A mic. You should check underneath your bed.”

Ash crouches beside the bed and quickly finds a new mic. He breaks it also and turns to Eiji, frowning.

“I don’t understand… Why are you helping me out? You should already be snitching me to Yut-Lung. You can, you know. I don’t mind him knowing.”

Eiji shrugs simply. “I think it’s not good of us to be spying on you. If I was in your place, I wouldn’t want to sleep in a room full of mics.”

A tickle of warning spreads through Ash’s veins. This isn’t right. Eiji is being too nice. Ash was so close to kill him earlier, and yet, Eiji has been nothing but courteous ever since, showing Ash his room, helping him find the mics, lingering for no reason…

No. There is a reason. There is always one.

“Why are you being nice to me?”

Eiji looks at him like he doesn’t understand the question.

“Why am I… What?”

Ash huffs. “Nice.” he repeats. “I don’t understand what you could be seeking, by acting like that.”

Ash has already agreed to work with them. He’s completely at their mercy, what could Eiji still want from him?

Unless… Oh. Of course. The only thing all men want from Ash. It makes sense. Ash did make a show, that night. It couldn’t leave Eiji indifferent since Ash made an actual effort to be especially enthralling, back then. It takes less for people to be seduced, usually.

The cold understanding clings to Ash’s skin and he approaches Eiji slowly, his eyes set on his face.

“I know the drill, Eiji. Nobody has ever acted nice to me unless they wanted something in exchange. So, let me be very clear. If you think we can just continue from where we stopped last time, you’re greatly mistaking, I—”

“Wh- No!” Eiji’s whole face flushes with a fierce red as he protests strongly. “I- I wasn’t—”

“You know I was only pretending, right? Do not expect anything more from me.”

Eiji’s face pales as quickly as it had reddened. “I- I know that.” he says, his voice smaller than before.

Ash asserts his reaction silently. Eiji seems genuine enough. Maybe Ash was too quick to leap to conclusions. After all, Eiji was also pretending that night. Perhaps even more so than Ash was, since…

You weren’t pretending when you kissed him.

Ash casts that thought aside as soon as it grazes his mind. He can’t allow himself to think too closely about what he felt for Eiji that night. It will only make his heart ache, when he’s already so confused about everything else… He needs to stay level-headed.

Eiji’s face still hasn’t retrieved its colors. He steps back to the door.

“I know you don’t care about my apologies, but… I’m really sorry about that night. I-“

“Don’t be. You said it, earlier, we were playing the same game.” Ash grazes at his neck. “I guess I indeed was sore about losing it… You don’t have to excuse yourself.”

Eiji nods hesitantly. “Alright… Then, I guess I’ll let you rest…” he opens the door slowly, as if he wishes Ash will stop him. “I— Good night, Ash.” he says finally, and Ash can easily tell the smile on his lips is forced.

He doesn’t try to return the courtesy. Eiji leaves the room quietly and Ash is left alone with his thoughts. Good night. What kind of good night can he expect to find in this house?

---

Eiji had thought he would feel better once Ash would have accepted their deal. But clearly, the guilt he feels won’t ease until he has totally made up for the wrong he has done to him. It doesn’t matter if Ash himself pretends Eiji has nothing to apologize for.

When Eiji closes the door to Ash’s room, his mind is entirely preoccupated with that fateful night he met him.

He remembers the careful planning, remembers Sing and Yut-Lung’s worries about how dangerous the whole thing would be for Eiji. How dangerous Ash would be.

But Eiji had insisted. He wanted to do something useful, for once. He had so much to prove. To Yut-Lung and Sing. To himself. And this was so important, for what would come next. If Eiji could help in any way, he had to do his best.

At first, the mission had been strangely pleasing. Oh, of course Eiji was terribly nervous about screwing up badly along the way, but he knew Sing was ready to intervene if something went wrong. And more importantly…

He wasn’t afraid of Ash.

How could he be afraid of him, when Ash had spent the first minutes of their encounter sulking like a baby? There was nothing scary in the curve of his smile, in the green of his intelligent eyes.

Eiji wasn’t an idiot. He knew Ash was forced to flirt with him because he was expecting to steal the data Eiji had himself stolen to their target. But quickly, he had thought he was able to tell whether Ash was pretending or being genuine, and the Ash he could see underneath all the seduction had managed to touch his heart.

It nearly seemed like there had been two Ash. The one who was overly flirty had something dull in his eyes, and his face was stilled, his expression closed. It was easy to tell when he was lying, because he then became awfully calm, and his speech seemed clearly rehearsed. But there was another Ash, one who pouted when Eiji teased him, his cheeks the faintest pink, his tongue sharp with endless quips. This Ash was funny and nearly rude in his teasing, and his eyes were so very bright, one glance from him left Eiji breathless.

And Ash had been so tender when he had touched him, his hands the softest brush in his hair, on his face. Eiji had thought there was no way Ash could fake this. No way he could be pretending when his eyes were so sincere.

Yet, it was now painfully obvious that Eiji was clearly mistaking.

But he had just been so sure…

Eiji couldn’t bring himself to truly regret the kiss they had shared. After all, he had asked twice if Ash was certain he wanted that kiss, back in the elevator. He was convinced he had been clear enough, that he had made Ash understand he didn’t have to kiss Eiji to make sure he would go to his room.

And then, twice. Twice Ash had replied he truly wanted to, his eyes glistening with certainty, with a longing Eiji was sure was reflected on his own face.

He had thought they were on the same page, then. Two people letting their mission aside to indulge in a mutual affinity. Eiji had given in to his feelings, and it was the sweetest of surrender.

But guilt had been a faithful companion, even as Eiji was slowly losing sight of his initial goal. And it had forced him to interrupt the kiss, helped him remember that he couldn’t totally let himself be swept off his feet.

The moment Eiji had found himself alone in Ash’s hotel room, with the other man replying to a call on the balcony, had felt like the longest moment of his life. He had nearly stopped everything, nearly decided to drop his mission and just leave before Ash ended his call.

Yet he hadn’t, because he couldn’t do that to Yut-Lung.

Yut-Lung who was convinced this dumb mission was too dangerous for Eiji.

Eiji had gritted his teeth and made up his mind. He had to succeed. He would never get another opportunity like this one. Raising to his feet, he had easily collected the money he had found in a case under the bed. But then, the hardest needed to be done.

Eiji had a syringe, in his pocket. Filled with a drug from Yut-Lung’s conception. Eiji was supposed to inject it to Ash, before leaving. He couldn’t risk Ash discovering everything too early and screw their plan up.

But when Eiji had silently opened the door leading to the balcony, his syringe in his sleeve, he had been like frozen in place.

Ash was talking about him on the phone, or rather about his real target, and had apparently figured Eiji wasn’t who he thought he was. Ash was turning his back to Eiji, his shoulders tense under his suit, his voice hurried. All Eiji had to do was jab the syringe anywhere on him. All that it would do was make him sleep heavily, had said Yut-Lung.

And yet, he couldn’t. And he hated it because he could still hear Yut-Lung’s voice echoing in his ears, asking; “Are you sure you have what it takes to do it, Eiji?”

Maybe Yut-Lung had been right to worry, because while Eiji was preoccupied with his moral dilemma, Ash had ended his call and was now facing him, his mouth agape.

Eiji had panicked. Had tried to keep his innocent boy’s act up. He was certain he wasn’t very convincing, but Ash seemed to be too shaken to notice, his mind probably all occupied with dealing with his real target.

Stupidly, Eiji had tried to hear something from Ash. Had wanted to verify if Ash had shared his uncertainty, if he had felt the same pull Eiji had felt toward him.

“A target, was it all I was to you? Was everything fake?”

“Don’t you have anything else to say?”

Ash had stayed silent. Then he had asked him to leave. Eiji had felt so very dumb.

He knew Ash was an amazing actor, he was warned enough by Yut-Lung. And still, he had managed to convince himself that his feelings and Ash’s owns were aligned.

But Ash was only pretending and Eiji had felt like he had taken advantage of it, because he was supposed to be aware of Ash’s act, when the opposite wasn’t true.

He couldn’t leave the room without apologizing.

---

“So, how did it go?”

Yut-Lung is waiting for Eiji in his bedroom, comfortably spread on the couch. Eiji would have preferred to have the time to organize his thoughts before facing him.

“He doesn’t trust us…” he begins reluctantly as Yut-Lung stands up.

“Of course, he does not.” Yut-Lung half-shrugs a shoulder. “For what it’s worth, I don’t trust him either.”

Eiji stays silent. He doesn’t understand how the others can stand a situation where none of them trusts anyone else. How are they supposed to work together as things are?

“Eiji.” Yut-Lung’s stern tone of voice makes Eiji startle. “You aren’t trusting Ash Lynx either, aren’t you?” He walks closer to Eiji, an accusatory finger pointed at his chest. “Because that would be fucking stupid of you, if you were.”

“I…” Eiji cheeks heat up slightly. He knows Yut-Lung won’t like his answer. “I feel like we can trust him, though.”

As expected, Yut-Lung’s response is immediate, his brows furrow furiously, mouth opening in a protest.

Eiji raises his hands, pushes the words out to finish his thought before Yut-Lung can explode. “Yue, try to see things from his perspective! We know that all he wants is to be free from Golzine and to keep his brother safe. And all you want is to take Golzine down; so, you should be able to trust each other!”

Yut-Lung presses a hand to his face. “Gosh Eiji, don’t be so naïve. We know the lynx’s motivation, yes. But what we don’t know is what he is ready to do for it. Nothing guarantees he won’t betray us if the situation allows it.”

“Maybe.” Eiji has nothing to reply to that. “You’re right, I guess… it’s just…”

Yut-Lung’s features are stilled in a discontented mask, his eyes searing Eiji’s face. “How many times do I need to repeat myself for you to get it, Eiji. You can’t let your emotions, your compassion, cloud your judgement, in our world. You chose to see the end of it, so you’ll follow my lead because I know how deal with that kind of person.”

Eiji hums noncommittally. He feels too drained by the day to try to argue with Yut-Lung now. Hell, not so long ago, he was held at gunpoint by a very discontented looking Ash Lynx! He can still feel his heart rabbit in his chest at the memory.

He didn’t notice he had wrapped his arms around himself until he feels Yut-Lung’s hand reach his shoulder in a comforting attempt.

“Eiji…” Yut-Lung sighs, suddenly looking exhausted himself. “I knew letting you stay was a bad idea. You—”

“No.” Eiji gently pushes Yut-Lung’s hand away, lets his arms fall to his side. “I’m okay, Yut-Lung. You said it yourself, I’ve chosen to stay. And I don’t regret it. I want to participate, you know I need to.”

“I know…” Yut-Lung hesitates. “And I know it’s no use to try to argue with you… Ah, I don’t even know why I bother…”

“Yue, it will be alright.” Eiji forces a smile. “We’re all tense right now, but I’m sure we will see more clearly tomorrow. After all, everything went as you planned until now, right?”

“Yes,” Yut-Lung frowns, his expression somber. He walks to the window, his eyes searching for the moon. “And now, we have the Ash Lynx with us. Only time will tell if it will make things better or worse…”

---

When Ash wakes up in a cold sweat the next morning, it takes a while for his hazed mind to remember where he is and why he is there. The night hasn’t been all that resting, but Ash feels better after taking a refreshing shower. And more importantly, he already has formulated the beginning of a plan.

He closes the bedroom’s door and it’s only when he finds himself in the corridor that he realizes he doesn’t know who he must find to put things in motion. He figures he could probably wander around until he finds a guard or a servant to take him to Yut-Lung.

As he walks down the corridor, he comes across an open room and casts a quick glance inside. The room is large, and the morning sun is pouring through the window, casting a bright light on the only occupant of the room.

Eiji is sitting at a table, visibly focused on a bunch of photographs. It’s hard to say because of the blinding brightness coming from the window, but Ash can see an upset crease between his furrowed eyebrows, and he wonders if Eiji got as little sleep as he did. When Ash enters the room, nothing in Eiji’s behavior betrays he noticed him.

“What are you doing?”

Eiji jumps out of his skin at the sound of Ash’s voice, his head snapping in his direction. Ash frowns. Is Eiji so badly aware of his surroundings he didn’t notice Ash entering the room? It’s true that Eiji is welcomed here, as opposed to Ash, so he doesn’t need to keep his guard up, but still…

When his eyes meet Ash’s, Eiji relaxes slightly, an uncertain smile finding its way on his lips.

“H-hi, Ash. Did you sleep well?”

Ash shrugs noncommittally in response, and the crease returns between Eiji’s pinched brows. He gestures to the table, where pictures and photo albums are neatly set in piles.

“I’m sorting some pictures I took. I’ve got new clichés I wanted to organize.” he continues. His tone is cordial enough, but it feels forced and guarded to Ash. “I do this when I’m… hum, never mind.” He doesn’t finish his sentence but by the sound of it, Ash wonders if sorting pictures is Eiji’s way of dealing with his stress.

He feels nearly bad for intruding Eiji’s space like this and imposing his presence to him. But he can’t help but to be curious, so he continues to walk until he reaches the table Eiji is working on.

“So… You really are a photographer?” he asks.

Eiji nods. “Yes, I am. I’m a freelance photographer in my spare time. I don’t get a lot of work but…”

“So that assignment you talked about, when we met… It was true?”

Eiji acquiesces again. “Of course. I really did get an assignment for a photoshoot with a model earlier that day. Like I said, I don’t really get a lot of requests so I couldn’t refuse this one…”

“This must have been an awfully busy day for you, then.” Ash tries to wrap his mind about the new information. It’s true that he had felt like Eiji’s love for photography was genuine, but after learning he had been so easily led on by the Japanese, he had concluded he must simply be an excellent liar.

“You seem surprised… You thought I was lying?”

Ash huffs. “Well, yeah, obviously.”

This time, a true smile blooms on Eiji’s face, and Ash stays starstruck by the difference it makes.

“Hum, like you lied about being a young businessman, right?” he asks, quirking an amused eyebrow. “Gosh, your lie was so boring.”

Ash feels himself flush. “Yeah, well, not everyone has a second secret life as a photographer they can use as a covert, you know.” he counters lamely.

Eiji chuckles, returning his focus on the pictures set on the table. Ash follows his gaze. There’s an open album full of classified photographs, each picture neatly set next to a written date and place. Ash reaches for it, intrigued. He looks silently through the album while Eiji continues to sort pictures into another book.

Ash knows nothing about photography but… He can’t help but to pause on a few clichés of New York. The city seems weirdly soft, seen through Eiji’s lens. Beautiful, even.

“You’re good.” Ash turns another page. “You really like this city, don’t you?”

Eiji blushes discreetly. “I… I didn’t have the best time here, but… I met great people and there’s something about New York that’s so different from Japan… Everything is magnified, here. The good like the bad, everything is intense, unhidden. I’ve grown to know both part of the city, and to love them both.”

Ash nods, thoughtful. He turns a new page and finds his gaze attracted by a new photograph. It’s simply a picture of the city at daybreak, the kind of picture that would make a good postcard for tourists. Yet, for a reason Ash can’t quite explain, the scenery is calling to him; enthralling in the way the soft colors blind together, toning down the sharp edges of the buildings.

“Sunrise and sunset are about the only times this junkyard of a city looks good.” Ash muses out loud, eyes glued to the picture. When Eiji doesn’t react, Ash quirks a glance toward him, only to find the photographer staring back at him, something akin to surprise lingering in his eyes.

Ash puts the book down. It’s clear Eiji is trying to figure him out in the same way Ash is. He wonders what Eiji can see when he looks at him. Surely nothing good, Ash did try to kill him only the day before, after all. But then, why is he staring at Ash with such a gentle smile?

“I didn’t want to interrupt you.” Ash takes a step back. “I guess I will—"

“No!” Eiji’s eyes widen. “No, ah, you’re not a bother. I— Actually, I’m glad you came to talk to me. After yesterday… I was afraid you would hate me…”

“Hate you?” Ash can’t keep his incredulity off his voice. His feelings regarding Eiji are complicated, but there are so many people in Ash’s entourage more deserving of his hate that it feels ridiculous Eiji could draw such conclusions.

“Yes.” Eiji grazes a finger to his cheek, nearly bashful. “After how you acted yesterday, I—”

Ah. Ash can see how he wasn’t exactly the most agreeable to Eiji, the day before. He feels weirdly bad, when he sees how upset Eiji seems to be about it.

“Don’t worry about yesterday. I was… Well, it was a lot to take in.” 

Eiji seems relieved by Ash’s answer. He opens his mouth to say something, but Ash will never know what, because right then, his stomach produces a loud growl, making them both start. There’s a silence while they both just stares at the other with stupefaction, wide jade meeting even wider brown.

The moment is broken when Ash sees the corners of Eiji’s lips quirk up, seconds before he breaks into a delighted laugh.

Ash feels his cheeks warm up, and he puts a hand on his stomach, bewildered by the betrayal of his own body. His reaction just makes Eiji laugh louder and Ash curses himself mentally.

“…Are you hungry?” the Japanese finally asks once he manages to calm his laughter enough to form a coherent sentence.

Ash adverts his gaze, cheeks hollowed in annoyance. “I guess I must be…” he grunts. When he looks up, Eiji is staring at him with a fond smile, and this too makes Ash’s stomach react in a funny way, but this time, it’s not because of his hunger.

“Do you want to eat breakfast?” Eiji asks gently. “I could cook something for you, if you wanted. I haven’t eaten breakfast either…”

Ash wants to refuse. But when Eiji stares at him with his doe eyes, expression hopeful and open, Ash finds out he wouldn’t mind staying by his side a while longer. Just to test the waters, to try to figure out what kind of guy Eiji is. They will be working together, after all, they have to get acquainted. And if Ash wants to keep the upper hand, he needs to get a better understanding of the people living in this house.

This is the only reason Ash acquiesces. It has nothing to do with the realization that he might have been a little quick to judge Eiji and is now very curious about him. It has nothing to do with the quiet warmth that dwells in his chest when the other smiles at him.

Ash follows Eiji through the house while the photographer takes advantage of the walk to give him a quick tour of it. The mansion is immense, but Ash is beginning to map it quite precisely in his mind.

The kitchens are exactly what he expected: grand and functional, large enough to host a team of cooks; it looks a lot like the kitchens at Dino’s. Except for the fact that they are strangely empty.

“You said you would cook… But isn’t there a kitchen staff here?” he asks, turning to Eiji with his brow lifted in question.

Eiji nods. “Yes, there is. And we could call them, if needed. But they don’t spend the day in the kitchen you know, they follow a schedule. Yut-Lung wakes up early in the morning, after that, he has no need for them until 12.” Eiji shrugs slightly. “I like cooking, so I prefer to cook my own meals when I can. I cook for Sing also, sometimes.” He wrinkles his nose. “I rarely cook for Yut-Lung, though. He is so picky…”

Ash sits on a stool while Eiji washes his hands at a sink nearby.

“So, what are you making me?” he asks after a bit, watching as Eiji dries his hands on a towel.

Eiji lifts his head up, a faint look of surprise on his face. “What am I…?” his surprise morphs into amusement before he can finish his sentence. “So, you won’t even ask if you can help me?”

It’s Ash’s turn to be surprised. “You said you would cook something for me.” he states, but he’s unsure suddenly and he can hear his hesitation in his voice. Eiji can probably hear it too, because his answer earns Ash a new chuckle. “Hum… Do you need any help?” he adds, fully realizing it’s a bit late for this question but hoping it will distract Eiji from his hilarity.

It fails miserably because Eiji’s eyes still shine with amusement when he replies, but all things considered, Ash doesn’t mind very much.

“It’s alright. You’re right, I did offer to cook. I can’t help but notice how much of a gentleman you are, though.”

Ash allows a sly smile to stretch his lips. “I’m only a gentleman when I need to—”

He doesn’t have the heart to finish his thought, because Eiji’s smile stills on his lips. Yes, Ash Lynx is only a gentleman when he needs to obtain something. Stating it out loud seems very pathetic, suddenly.

The silence stretches awkwardly between them for the first time since Ash walked in on Eiji this morning.

“To answer your question…” Eiji continues hesitantly. “I can cook anything, really. What do you want to eat?”

Ash half-shrugs. “Whatever you’ll have is fine.” he responds.

Eiji taps a finger to his lips in wonder, a new smile slowly quirking his lips. “Hum, I’m not sure if what I usually eat for breakfast would suit your tastes.” He lays his hands on the workplace, leans closer to Ash. “What is your favorite food? If it’s something like hamburger, I’ll not cook it, though.”

“Hamburger?” Ash snorts. “Are you saying that because I’m American?” Eiji nods in response, and Ash has to retain another giggle. “After living here for years, you should know Americans aren’t all burgers eaters.” he says, shaking his head with mock disapproval.

“I spend most of my time with Chinese Americans, and those have good tastes, it doesn’t change me much from Japan. You, though, you look like such a typical American...”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Ash retorts, mildly offended. “I’m sure you know typical Americans don’t eat burgers for breakfast, you’re just messing with me.”

Eiji shrugs casually, but a smile pangs at his lips. “Maybe… Like I said, you seem like the type of American who drinks coke for breakfast.”

Ash laughs again. He just can’t seem to help it. “Ah! Now, that was insulting.”

“You called me a lying snake, but I am the insulting one?”

Oh. Ash would fear Eiji is mad about it, but he still seems fairly amused when Ash meets his gaze.

“Alright, that wasn’t very fair of me, I suppose… Besides, it was a bad comparison; you look nothing like a snake. More like… I don’t know, a puppy or something.”

Eiji pouts at that, which only makes his resemblance with a puppy even more obvious. “I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that.” he grumbles. “Now, what’s your favorite food, if it’s not burgers?”

Ash leans back on his chair, crossing his arms over his chest. “I’ll have you know I prefer healthy food. Like salad. My favorite is salad with shrimp and avocado.”

Griffin does the best avocado and shrimp salad. Nothing can surpass that.

“Oh?” Eiji quirks a brow. “That’s fancier than what I would have thought.” he observes, clearly amused.

Ash has to restrain himself from sticking his tongue at him. He doesn’t understand why he feels so compelled to act childish this morning, but it isn’t all that displeasing. Quite the opposite, in fact.

“Okay, well avocado and shrimp salad it is, then.” Eiji declares, walking to the refrigerated chamber.

Ash gets up to follow him. “Wait, you don’t really have to—”

“No, I want to try it. Plus, it’s quick and easy to cook, that’s perfect.”

“Do they even have what you need to cook it?”

Eiji emerges from the fridge. “Of course! They have everything you want here!”

Eiji returns quickly with a bunch of ingredients, and Ash watches him with curiosity. But Eiji doesn’t have the time to put himself to work, because the kitchen’s door opens soon. Blanca enters the room and frowns slightly when he takes in the sight before him.

Because it’s Blanca, he’s immediately able to compose himself back, of course.

“Ash, sir Yut-Lung is waiting for you in the blue lounge.”

“Oh, so he made you his errand boy, beside his bodyguard?” Ash asks, caustic. “Tell your new master I will come when I have eaten breakfast.”

Blanca purposefully ignores Ash to turn to Eiji. “He was looking for you also, mister Okumura. You should come with us.”

“Ah.” Eiji looks at Ash, hesitant. “We should go, then. Believe me, you don’t want to deal with Yut-Lung when he’s mad.”

Ash doesn’t want to deal with Yut-Lung no matter his mood. He would rather stay and eat whatever Eiji would have managed to cook. Except the sooner they plan Golzine’s demise, the better for everyone.

“Right.” He raises to his feet. “You will owe me this salad, though.”

Eiji’s smile is a thing of beauty, in the cold and sterilized kitchen, under the artificial gleam of the neon. It seems to be holding a promise, one Ash fails to figure.

He follows Blanca out of the kitchen while Eiji puts back what he took off the refrigerated room. When Ash passes in front of Blanca, the man leans to murmur in his ear.

“I don’t know what you’re playing at with this boy, but you should be careful, Ash. It’s dangerous.”

Ash lifts a brow. “More dangerous than betraying Golzine?” he jests somberly.

He didn’t expect Blanca to respond, yet he does, and his words send a shiver down his spine.

“Yes, Ash. So much more.”