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Ash cursed himself even as he crossed the room. He'd known it had been a bad idea to bring Eiji here, but trying to explain why to the guy, when he was giving him that blank look, was like trying to bring himself to kick a puppy; he just couldn't do it without a good reason.

Well, now it looked like he had one.

The problem was, of course, that Eiji didn't even realise it enough to look relieved when Ash appeared at his side, only smiled that sweet, gormless smile of his and tried to introduce his ‘new friends'. He looked so pleased at his industriousness – after all, they were here for information, and these friends of Eiji's said they had something for him – but Ash was about a breath away from wanting to either smack Eiji for being an idiot, or smack himself for yet again letting him talk him into something that he'd known was going to be a bad idea in the first place.

"Uh, yeah," he said quickly, interrupting as Eiji launched into an explanation on how the conversation had started while at the same time doing his best to ignore the leering grins of the three guys surrounding them. "That's great, Eiji, but we gotta go, like right now." He glanced at the guy he thought was probably the ringleader; or at least the one who seemed a little brighter than the other two thugs, and the thought of where they would have had their hands, and other things, about ten minutes from now if he hadn't been keeping a close eye on the Japanese made him want to hurt them. Lots. "Sorry, gentlemen," he said with a smile that was more mean than meaningful. "But whatever you had for my friend, he doesn't want it." He grabbed Eiji by the arm before anyone could object and dragged him away.

"Ash! Ash, wait! But we haven't-"

"Yes, we have," Ash growled, glad Eiji wasn't actually fighting him as he wove his way across the crowded bar floor and started up the stairs. It wasn't like he couldn't handle himself, but if they started a scene someone might get it into their heads that Eiji didn't want to be dragged off, and Ash was in no mood for intervention. Not here.

"Oh, we have?" Eiji echoed as they reached street level, and he stumbled into Ash's side as he stopped to orientate himself to the closest subway, and the safest route home. "Oh, well, okay then. But if you got what you wanted, why are you so angry? Was it bad news?"

Ash cursed himself again, silently. How could one teenage boy be so clueless?

"No, it wasn't bad news," he replied through gritted teeth, and started walking again. The South and 18th Subway was probably the best bet, busy at this time of night and they could lose anyone who might be following in the crowds if they had to. "And I'm not angry," he added, but they probably both noticed he was yet to let go of Eiji's arm. He was probably bruising the poor kid, but he just couldn't seem to make his fingers uncurl. Just thinking about- fuck, about what could have happened if he'd taken his eyes off him for longer than a few seconds...

Of course, it didn't help that Eiji had just enough sense to realise something was in fact wrong, and too little sense to pretend he didn't.

"Yes, you are!" Eiji objected as he stumbled along the sidewalk in Ash's wake. "You're acting like I did something wrong, but I didn't! I only do what we planned, and those men were going to tell me-"

That, Ash decided, was it.

His next step veered off the sidewalk, as he swung Eiji roughly towards the dark cover of a closed shop front, and he forced himself not to wince at the clang the roller door of the shop made as Eiji's shoulders hit it.

"God damn it!" he snarled, both hands now clenching into Eiji's thin shoulders, bearing him up against the door. "Those men weren't going to tell you anything! They just wanted to-"

And, oh shit, there was that look again, that blank, innocent look that made Eiji's face look even younger and he probably would have looked like that right up until the moment those guys-

"Fuck," Ash breathed, too stubborn to admit any sort of defeat, and gripped Eiji's jaw roughly with one hand to force his head up. He had to scare him, freak him out. It was the only way. Eiji didn't understand about things like that; he wasn't part of that world, and Ash didn't want him to be part of it. But he had to show him, had to make him understand. He wasn't safe. His innocence, his unwavering trust, it couldn't protect him, not when there were guys out there who looked at him like he was good enough to-

It was a good plan, clean and simple. Or at least it was until he felt Eiji's mouth fall open under his, and Ash didn't even really get it until his tongue had already pushed past the sharp line of Eiji's teeth without his instruction and holy fuck. Eiji sucked on him in a way that went straight down in a spike of heat just like a goddamn bullet.

That was the point at which he realised; Eiji was good enough to eat.

Ash reeled back, not quite sure how they'd gotten so tangled up in so short a time, not quite sure he was looking at the same Eiji, leaning against the door, unmoving except for the breath rising and falling shallowly in his chest and his lips, parted and wet, pulling into a faint smile…

"Oh," he breathed. "That. No, they asked, but I say no, thankyou. They were very nice about it."

"What?" Ash said dumbly.

"They wanted me to have sex with them," Eiji said plainly, and Ash thought if he hadn't still been still pressed up against Eiji, and Eiji pressed up against the door, he might have fallen on his ass right then.

"They…said that?"

"Oh, yes, sure," Eiji said agreeably. "But then I said I didn't think I wanted to be neko, and then they didn't know what that is so I explain to them, in Japan, the one who does it is the tachi, and the other one is the neko - not like the cat, neko, of course, although, huh, maybe there is some connection. But, anyway-"

"Eiji!"

Eiji stopped, drew a breath and blinked at him. "What is it, Ash?"

Ash breathed in as well; he seemed to have forgotten how in the last few moments. "You...You know about that stuff?"

"Is there a reason I shouldn't?"

A reason…he shouldn't? Ash was dumbfounded. "I- You- You haven't…done that, have you?"

Eiji looked cross at that. "Of course not!" he denied, and reached up to prise Ash's hand away from his face. "I will only let such a thing happen with a person I like."

Ash blinked and opened his mouth to say something, anything. It came as a shock – another one and he wasn't sure he could actually take many more – that whatever words he had been about to utter were stopped by another quick, pressing kiss, and this time it was Eiji's tongue flicking against his lips. Then Eiji moved back again, and smiled, and gripped his hand, and Ash found himself wondering for just a second whether he wasn't completely and utterly wrong about this guy.

"I thought-" he began, and maybe the heat he was feeling wasn't all anger, but damned if he was going to admit it. He was going to hang on to the reason he'd ushered Eiji out of that bar as fast as he could, and why he felt like he had to explain the ways of the world to him anyway. The guy was just too trusting, too vulnerable. He was going to end up dead in an alley somewhere, or worse, and Ash needed to be watching him twenty four seven so as to not let that happen. "You should be more careful! Disreputable guys like that won't care whether you want to be some cat or whatever or not. They'll just grab you and drag you away and…"

Eiji's smiled softened, and his grip squeezed briefly. "It's okay," he said, tilting his head at Ash in a way that made him lose his train of thought all over again. "I only will let such a thing happen with a person I like also."

Ash stared for a second – well, no, he gaped. And when Eiji's smile widened again, he turned away, clamping his teeth shut over the rattling of his heart and words that he would not say, would not, even if he couldn't stop himself thinking them.

"Geez," he muttered as they started walking again. "You're more trouble than you're worth."

But he didn't take his hand from Eiji's, and Eiji let him drag him along behind without another word.