It was a blistering cold day, but somehow, Eiji managed to convince Ash to take a walk with him outside. It was those damn puppy-dog eyes Eiji always pulled whenever Ash said no to him. Eiji's master plan was always the same: First, Eiji would lower his body to make himself seem smaller and cuter than he actually is; Then, he'd stick his out his plump pink bottom lip ever so slightly underneath his top lip, creating the perfect pout; And finally, to top it all off, Eiji would make his already doe-like chocolate eyes go wide with childlike pleading, creating the ultimate trifecta of sad-puppy-dog-cuteness power and the stupid expression would always win Ash over every single time. So, despite hating the cold and wintertime in general, he still ventured out into the chaotic streets of New York City with Eiji.
The streets were still teeming with life, despite the bitter cold. The sky was a mass of gray clouds. The lifeless steel skyscrapers towered over them. Looking up at the sky to see the buildings scraping the skies was one of Ash's favorite things about this chaotic city. Seeing the great infinite sky be dwarfed by steel structures gives Ash a strange sense of peace. It makes him feel like maybe he's not important, and maybe his problems aren't important. It gives makes him wonder if just might be insignificant enough to live an insignificant, boring life, one free of danger and darkness and corruption.
The fresh snow crunched under their boots as they walked. The snow was still pristine and pure, it's white hue providing a sense of tranquility that fails to stifle the hustle and bustle of the city. Ash rubs his hands and brings them up to his lip, blowing his hot breath onto his icy hands.
"I told you to wear gloves," Eiji frowns, noticing Ash's movements. Ash frowns as well.
"Whatever," Ash grumbles, bringing his hands closer to his mouth. Eiji stops walking and stands off to the side. Ash follows suit, raising an eyebrow. Eiji takes off his gloves.
"Here," Eiji says, holding out the blue and white knitted gloves to Ash. Ash shakes his head.
"No, you're gonna get cold," Ash says, trying not to rub his hands too much.
"I have pockets," Eiji counters. Ash's eyes drift down Eiji's unbuttoned dark green jacket at the two spots where two pockets lay. The golden yellow buttons had a shine to them that starkly contrasted the dulled down colors of the city.
"But—" Before Ash could protest anymore, Eiji shoves his gloves towards Ash, forcing Ash to hold onto them to stop them falling onto the dirty ground. Eiji turns around and starts to walk away before Ash can hand the gloves back to him. Ash stares at the gloves for a moment before sliding them on and walking towards Eiji. The gloves were thick and warm with Eiji's heat. Ash hurries to catch up with Eiji. They walk together side by side in comfortable silence for a moment before Ash breaks the silence.
"I still can't understand why you'd want ice cream in this weather," Ash says, his breath forming a misty white cloud in front of him.
"I love the cold," Eiji replies, a smile finding its way onto Eiji's lips. Ash rolls his eyes at Eiji's words. "And besides, ice cream is a year-round thing."
"Yeah, if you're eating it inside a sauna," Ash says as he they walk into a chain ice cream shop. "Ice cream in winter is like hot chocolate in summer: it's gross."
The duo step into the line and wait as they talk.
"But hot and cold are two different things," Eiji says, adjusting his maroon scarf. "The feeling of heat can feel gross, but the cold leaves a nice feeling on your skin. I feel more alive in cold. Heat makes me feel sluggish. Wouldn't you agree?"
Ash shakes his head, smirking. "I'd take summer over winter any day."
Eiji makes a face and before he can reply, they find themself at the front of the counter. Ash speaks before Eiji can get a chance to.
"Hi, I'd like a scoop of mint chocolate chip ice cream and a—" Ash turns to face Eiji. "What do you want?"
"A scoop of chocolate ice cream," Eiji says, looking at the cashier.
"Ok! Anything else?" The cashier asks, smiling politely. Ash shakes his head. The cashier gives him the price and he places a ten on the counter and tells her to keep the change before he and Eiji move over to the spot wear they would find their order.
"I'm surprised you didn't choose vanilla," Ash teases, winking at Eiji. Eiji blushes and pouts, huffing.
"Vanilla is boring."
"Ugh!" How was it that Ash could make Eiji feel so irritated so quickly?! Eiji stumbles over his words for a moment as he fails to think of a good comeback before finally replying. "Well, I did not choose vanilla!"
"Chocolate's still pretty boring," Ash singsongs, looking much too satisfied with himself. The look on Eiji's face was priceless. His eyebrows were scrunched together and his curved into a frown. His cheeks were bright pink, too, and the whole look was much too cute for Ash to handle. Before Eiji could splutter out another adorably frustrated response, one of the employees comes over to the counter and places their order on the counter. Ash and Eiji both grab their ice creams and their spoons and move out of the way for other customers.
"Chocolate is delicious!" Eiji exclaims, stabbing his spoon into his ice cream. "Who even gets mint chocolate chip anyway? At least I didn't order toothpaste."
Ash laughs, his shoulders shaking and his hair fluttering as the noise comes out of his mouth, and the sound of Ash's laughter is like music to Eiji's ears.
"Mint chocolate chip does not taste like toothpaste," Ash snorts, taking a small bite of his ice cream. "Have you never had mint chocolate chip?"
"I had some when I was a child, and yes, it does taste like toothpaste," Eiji replies, taking a grumpy bite of his chocolate ice cream. His frustration is briefly forgotten as the sweet flavor brings a smile to his lips. Eiji closes his eyes and savors the flavor and the feeling of the cold treat in his mouth. He holds his spoon in his mouth as he does this, and the sight brings a strange warmth to Ash, which was weird since it was cold outside. Ash pretends the feeling was caused by the heating in the shop when he knows for a fact it wasn't.
"Enjoying your boring chocolate, Nii-san?" Ash teases. Eiji opens his eye and pulls his grumpy expression again, his moment of bliss shattered by an obnoxious blond-haired boy.
"I haven't had chocolate in ages," Eiji smiles again, ignoring Ash's teasing. "The flavor brings back good memories with my family."
Ash's smile fades as the real meaning of Eiji's words sink into him, settling in his gut, heavy and painful.
Eiji hadn't been able to enjoy chocolate ice cream—or any treat for that matter—because of Ash. With all the constant dangerous lurking everywhere, Eiji hadn't been able to enjoy New York City like a normal tourist. Eiji hasn't seen his family in almost two years and Eiji has constantly been put in the face of danger all because of Ash. The guilt stabs and scathes Ash from the inside, and Eiji tilts his head to the side, confused by Ash's somber expression because Eiji didn't mean for his words to have that deeper meaning because Eiji would never mean it in that way because he's the sweetest person on Earth, too sweet for his own good, too sweet for Ash and why is he here and not at home, living his normal life with his normal family in Japan?
"Ash, what's wrong?" Eiji asks, holding his spoon and his ice cream in one hand and reaching out with his free arm to gently brush his fingertips against Ash's upper arm which was covered up by his jacket.
Ash shakes his head and scoops a bit of his own ice cream onto a spoon and holds it out towards Eiji. "Maybe your tastebuds have changed and the flavor isn't as bad as you remember."
Eiji notices the attempt to change the subject and decides to let it slide for now, sensing that his words won't reach Ash, no matter what he says. Besides, Ash was initiating something with Eiji for once. Eiji didn't want Ash to mistake his concern for rejection.
Eiji leans in and wraps his lips around Ash's spoon, dragging his lips off of the spoon to get the whole bite of ice cream in his mouth. Eiji wrinkles his nose as Ash retracts his spoon, a smile teasing his lips upward at the sight of Eiji blanching so strongly at the flavor.
"Blech!" Eiji exclaims, sticking his tongue out. "That's horrible!"
Ash can't stop the giggles from bubbling up and bursting forth from within him, light and sparkly. "I've never seen anyone react so strongly to a flavor of ice cream."
"Mint chocolate chip is horrible!" Eiji cries, shoving his own chocolate ice cream into his mouth to cleanse his tastebuds. Ash chuckles at Eiji's silly display.
"Can I have some of yours?" Ash asks, his voice softer and more delicate than usual, like sugar cookies and cupcakes. Eiji scoops up some of the chocolate and holds out his spoon to Ash's lips, waiting expectantly. Ash takes the bite of chocolate ice cream and closes his eyes, humming contentedly.
"See? Chocolate isn't boring," Eiji says, taking another bite of his ice cream. Ash opens his eyes and smiles, letting the cold sweetness hold his fiery dark thoughts at bay, just for a little while.