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Stratagem (Banana Fish)

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Ash was told this mission would be an easy one. Well, at least as easy as taking another person’s life would be.

He was informed that the target would be a middle-aged hipanic man, with brown hair and somewhat of a beard, donning a lab coat and a briefcase. The target would be wearing glasses, naturally, and Ash would find him in the Dead Rabbit Bar- alone and antsy, as most targets were. Dino had instructed Ash to steal the man’s briefcase without looking at its contents- after killing him, of course. Although the thought of murder brought forth a heavy, dreadful weight on Ash’s chest, he knew disobeying Dino would be suicide. And as much as he despised the man, Ash would not be adding his own life to the list of things Dino had stolen from him.
Still… the heavy feeling remained, squirming around through his insides, whispering in his ears, calling him a terrible person for going through with this. For surviving this long. Ash grimaced, swallowing down the bile that grew in his throat. Oh well, Ash thought. It wasn’t his first time, and it surely would not be his last.

There was just one, colossal issue: the target was supposed to be alone. Ash sunk further into his seat, a hard wooden chair at a table for two, which was located directly across from the bar where his target sat. His target, who was for some reason deep in conversation with some Japanese boy. Feeling a headache already forming between his temples, Ash glared at the boy through the tall, blue glass of whatever it was that he ordered- he was so absorbed in the mission that he had already forgotten. The boy sat facing away from Ash, fiddling with a lock of his fluffy raven hair with one hand, his slender frame leaning in slightly. He hadn’t seen the boy’s face yet, but judging by his accent and childlike wonder, he probably hadn’t been in New York for long. Suspicion crept through Ash’s mind: what was a tourist doing in a place like this?
It didn’t matter. This was by no means Ash’s first rodeo, and unwanted company was not going to get in the way of his mission. Fierce jade eyes flickered to the target, who seemed just as Dino described, save for a slightly taller frame with broader shoulders.
It seemed like an eternity had passed before the target finally stood, excusing himself to use the restroom. The Japanese boy smiled- at least, Ash assumed that he was smiling- and waved him off. Ash counted thirty seconds before standing up as well, following the man to the bathroom.
Disarming the man was a walk in the park. He was washing his hands when Ash kicked him hard in the back of the head, using the shock of the blow to wrap his right arm around the man’s neck, shoving his head against the sink in somewhat of a headlock. The man struggled, but went limp as soon as he felt the cold barrel of a pistol against the side of his sweaty forehead.
“The briefcase,” Ash hissed, “Hand it over.”
“I-I don’t- it’s empty!” the man wailed. Ash threw him onto the ground, gun still aimed at his head. For someone carrying such valuable information, the guy really sucked at lying.
“N-no, I swear, look!” The man grabbed at his briefcase, dropping it twice, and clumsily unclipped its fasteners. The grimy thing swung open, the lid falling to the ground. Sure enough, the case was empty.
“Then where the hell-” Before Ash could finish his sentence, several shots rang out through the bathroom. A bullet blasted through his pistol, wrecking the weapon and rendering it useless. An inch higher, and it would have caused the gun to blow his hand off as well.
Ash cursed. Dino hadn’t mentioned that the guy would have backup. He swung around wildly to meet his attacker, and cursed again. It was the damned Japanese boy after all! Face still concealed, the boy was now wearing a Kitsune mask, with curving, narrow eyes and plumes of red paint decorating the sides. The mask was intricately carved. However, his raven hair gave him away, all silky and fluffed up in random directions. He gripped his pistol tightly, aiming it at the ground. Ash found that odd: usually, the guns were aimed at his face.
The boy shifted his attention to the target, who was staring at him intensely. The two seemed to exchange glances in some form of silent communication, and the silence that followed was stifling. Finally, the target closed his eyes and nodded, taking in a deep, shuddering breath. The boy responded by raising his pistol, hands shaking, and firing a bullet into the man’s head. He then turned, dropped his pistol, and ran.
Ash’s head spun, but a single thought spurred him into motion: the Japanese boy, spy- whatever he was- had somehow managed to capture the contents of the briefcase. He stumbled forward, yanking the pistol off of the ground. It was empty. Sparing no hesitation, he threw the pistol aside and ran after the boy.
Said boy blew past a waitress, actually managing a “sorry!” before knocking a table into the path behind him and flying out the door. Ash leapt over the table, spilling drinks everywhere, and followed hotly behind him.
Flinging himself through the bar’s glass doors, a cold rush of air slammed into Ash, heightening his senses as the adrenaline swam through his body. It took him fifteen seconds to pick out the boy weaving through the crowd, ducking swiftly into an alleyway behind the bodega, where on Saturdays its elderly owner would blast opera from his stereo and hand out candy to children passing by. That alley, Ash recalled, was a dead end. He sprinted forward, throwing himself into the alleyway, forgetting to check for any traps or dangerous surprises that might await him. But to his surprise, there were none.
Instead, he saw the boy working away at a pole attached to the fire escape. Ash let out a dry chuckle- he was familiar with using random objects to fight with, but a fire escape pole? That was a new low. He pulled a switchblade from his back pocket.
“I’m giving you one chance: hand over whatever was in that case or I’ll kill you.” He growled, shifting into a guarded stance. The boy ignored him, yanking a few screws from the pole, taking great measures to keep the full length of it intact.
Without another word, Ash lunged forward, knife readied. The boy blocked his hand with surprising strength, grabbing his arm and shifting it over his shoulder. In less than a second, the boy had thrown Ash over himself and onto the ground with a deadly amount of force, instantly knocking the air out of his lungs.
“Stop it… there is no reason to go so far!” The boy gasped, yanking the pole free.
Ash wheezed and rolled onto his stomach, looking up to catch another glance of the mysterious Japanese boy. Strangely, there was nothing threatening about his appearance. Something about this boy… it was different. He had some sort of aura around him, one that was warm. Comforting, almost. It made Ash want to open up to him, to keep him near. Blinking, he shoved those feelings down. He must have had a little too much to drink.
“Speak for yourself,” he hissed, regaining his footing quickly and aiming a kick at the boy’s jugular. The boy blocked it with his left arm and stumbled backwards, unbalanced with the pole in tow. He was preparing to strike back when suddenly, he stopped in his tracks and for the first time stared directly at Ash. The wind ruffled through his hair as he stood, shaking a little, before rummaging through his left pocket and pulling out a crumpled stack of papers pinned together by a thick paperclip. He tossed the papers to Ash.
Ash caught them, shock painting his sharp features. Why in the world would this boy just throw them away? He could see no benefit in the action on the boy’s end- he was practically signing his own death warrant. There was no way.
“Wh-why?” He spluttered.
The boy shrugged. “Your eyes. They’re like mine. You are Ash Lynx, right?”
Ash gaped at him, wide-eyed.
The boy sighed- a wistful, nostalgic sound. “My boss hates you. He’ll be very angry, but I’ll survive.”
“N-no,” Ash spluttered, gaining his composure,”you won’t. You’ve seen my face, and you’ve seen those papers. You aren’t leaving this alley alive.” The hard glint returned to his eyes.
“Ah,” said the Japanese boy, sounding almost sorrowful, “I thought you would say that.”
He turned to face the wall, and paced a few steps backwards, raising the pole. Ash’s face paled once he realized what the boy planned to do. He raised his knife, and ran towards him.
But the boy was agile. Ash watched helplessly as the boy ran forward, with trained, peppery, powerful steps, to lodge the pole into the ground. He was flung into the air almost instantaneously, eyeing the wall with a calculated glance behind his intricate mask. Then, he flew.
It was as if all air had left Ash’s body. He gasped and leaned forward as the boy rose gracefully over the wall. Each movement he made engraved itself into Ash’s mind- Ash could feel the way the air blew past the boy’s face, and the rush and the tingle of the cold New York wind in his raven hair. In that moment, all the dread and the loathing and the ever present weight of Dino’s hands on his skin had left Ash, replaced by the cooling ease of nothingness. In that moment, Ash was someone else. He was free. The very essence of the boy’s movement sent him flying through the milky way, where all he could see were stars and stars for miles around. This boy was pristine, he was elegant, he was…

“Beautiful,” Ash breathed.

He heard the dull fwoomp of feet landing on the dirt behind the wall, accompanied by the heavy breathing of an athlete finishing up his routine. Then, the sound of footsteps began, and against his better judgement, Ash called out to the boy.
The footsteps paused.
Ash took a deep breath in. “Tell me your name!”
The boy was quiet.
“You know mine! It’s only fair!” That was a useless argument, and Ash knew it. Nothing in this cruel world was fair. The boy didn’t owe him anything, and it was a bloody miracle that he was leaving without a fight in the first place.
There was a tentative silence, but then…
“Eiji Okumura.” The boy’s voice was airy and light, “But it will not be of any use to you.”
And with that, the footsteps continued until they faded away, leaving Ash alone in the alleyway as the dawn rose behind him.