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You jump into the water, but off of the bridge.

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It’s not like Ash wanted to disappear on his classmates for two weeks in the middle of a season of their webshow. Shit just happens.

The show, Banana Fish ... It means the world to Ash. It’s not the greatest crime drama show to ever exist, but it’s by far the most incredible thing Ash has ever done with his life. He never thought he would be capable of doing something half as amazing as voice acting in Yut-Lung’s show, much less as the protagonist.

But if Ash keeps fucking up like this, Yut-Lung is going to kick him off the show, and he’s going to have to go tell his therapist, Dr. Meredith, that Ash was right, for once in his miserable fucking life, and that he really can’t do anything right. And Dr. Meredith is just doing his best trying to keep Ash alive, so does Ash really need to make his life harder?

So currently, at this recording session in Yut-Lung’s mansion, Ash’s number one goal is convincing Yut-Lung that he’s worth keeping on cast. Valuable as both a voice actor and a friend. Deep breaths. Come on, he can do this—

“Why didn’t you just write me out of the script if it was such a big deal? It’s not like you all can’t do this without me.” Shit, wait, no. Not like that. Fuck.

“You’re kidding, aren’t you, Ash?” Yut-Lung sneers. “You’re the protagonist. Your inferiority complex isn’t nearly as cute as you think it is.”

Shorter and Sing fidget in front of their mics.

Banana Fish is really Yut-Lung’s thing. Each of them have their own equally cheap mic, they each voice a character or more, but they all know who writes the script. Literally and figuratively. And when it comes down to it, Ash only voice acts. He’s the only one who only voice acts. So is it really an inferiority complex? Because ... Ash is pretty sure he’s actually inferior.

“I didn’t leave intentionally,” he mutters. No one stopped the recording when he fumbled his line, so the screen shows the difference in volume from only a minute ago. “It was out of my control.”

“Right,” Yut-Lung says, rolling his eyes. “And yet you don’t even trust us enough to tell us where you went. I want to trust you, but that’s not a one-way thing. And now you don’t even know your lines?”

To be fair, it’s not ... easy for Ash to trust people. Not after what he’s been through. Not after almost everyone he interacted with for the last nine years of his life hurt him. But he’s here now, and he’s trying.

Which isn’t good enough for Yut-Lung.

It really wasn’t that bad of a screw up, but Ash normally has his lines memorized within hours of getting the script, so he guesses it is a little unusual for him to mess up a line like this. He’s had a lot on his mind since he got out of the mental hospital. And this is the same fight that he and Yut-Lung have been having over and over in the week since he got back, and frankly, he’s getting fucking sick of it.

“Let’s call it a day,” Shorter says hesitantly. “I think I need to look over a couple of my lines too, actually. Is everyone free day after tomorrow?”

Sing mutters an agreement, and everyone starts packing up. Sing and Shorter both glance over at Ash as they do. The usual idle chatter of cleanup is gone, replaced by the awkward tension between Ash and Yut-Lung. God, Ash fucking hates this shit.

It’s not that he hates Yut-Lung. They were decent friends before Ash landed himself in a mental hospital for two weeks. Or, at least, Ash thought they were. But maybe not, if two weeks of distance could shatter things so thoroughly. He should have known better than to think he could have a friend at all. It’s only a matter of time before Shorter and Sing also realize that he’s not worth it.

They leave their recording space—that is, one of the rooms in Yut-Lung’s mansion. Shit, Yut-Lung really runs the show in every way.

“I’ll see you all day after tomorrow then. Directly after school, 3 o’clock sharp, yes?” Yut-Lung says, tossing his long hair.

“Yeah, yeah,” Sing says, brushing him off. “We’ll be here, Yue.”

Ash murmurs a ‘bye’ and takes off, fast. If he still can’t handle being around the others in the context of the show, he’s so not ready to be around them as friends.

“Ash, wait up!” Shorter calls. Fuck. There’s no way he can pretend he didn’t hear that. Ash slows his pace a bit. “How are you doing?” Shorter asks.

Ash sighs. He probably shouldn’t respond with Oh, you know. Suicidal. People don’t want to hear the truth. And he doesn’t need people more worried about him than they already are. Then there’s a chance they’ll miss him when he’s gone.

Maybe.

So instead, he says, “I’m fine, I guess. I just want to move past this shit already.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean. I ... I think we all do. I mean, I don’t want to take sides, but I wish Yut-Lung would just fucking chill. And, honestly, Ash, I wish you would talk to us.”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

They reach Ash’s car. After Dino Golzine was sentenced to life, Ash sold the Maserati the old man had gifted him—the title was in Ash’s name—and gave most of the money to Max, Griffin, and Jessica before buying an old, cheap sedan instead. He’s pretty sure they put the money into a college savings fund for Ash, but once Ash is dead they can use it for something else.

Ash leans against the passenger door, thumbs in his jean pockets. Shorter pops his bubble gum. Was he chewing that while recording? Yut-Lung would have been pissed if he noticed. Ash is normally more observant than this, but—honestly, he has no idea right now.

“Why won’t you talk to us, anyway?” Shorter asks. “I mean, you don’t have to if you don’t want to, but man, I think we’re all kind of wishing we had some explanation. Like, literally any sort of anything.”

“I know. I’m sorry.” But Ash leaves it at that. He’s not ... ready to talk about it. And he doesn’t think he will be. They’ll understand once he’s gone, or Max will tell them. For now, only Dr. Meredith needs to deal with that shit.

After a second of silence, Shorter lets out a sigh. “Someone messaged the Banana Fish Tumblr, asking about you.”

“Fucking really? Someone from school or what?”

“I think so. Said their name’s Eiji?”

Shit. Shit shit shit fuck.

“Eiji,” Ash scoffs, tapping his foot against the pavement. “You can ignore him.”

“You sure? I feel like you could use a break from all this drama shit with Yut-Lung right now. Someone to talk to outside of the group.”

“It’s fine. I barely know him anyway.” Kind of true. He had less than two weeks to get to know him, but fuck did they get to know each other in those two weeks.

Shorter grins. “Well, you know, all friends start off as strangers. I never would have met you if Sing hadn’t just really liked your voice when you transferred in.”

Ash can almost laugh at that. Sing scouted Ash, so to speak, when Yut-Lung was looking for someone to voice the Banana Fish protagonist. It was right after Ash got away from Dino, so he was kind of in desperate need of attachment at the time. Nonsexual attachment. Friends.

“Hey,” Ash starts, hesitating. “Eiji didn’t ... He didn’t say anything about how he and I met, did he?”

Shorter shakes his head, and Ash breathes a sigh of relief. “You can log in later and see the message for yourself, if you want. It was pretty vague.”

“Okay. Thanks.” Honestly, Shorter is such a gift to this shitty world. He’s been so calm about the entire mess that is the last month of Ash’s life. He’s handled it way better than Yut-Lung.

Way better than Ash.

Sing’s been pretty decent too—at least, Ash thinks he has. He hasn’t had a real conversation with him since getting back, and the kid’s always been a little awkward around Ash. And it’s not like Ash wants him and Shorter to have to pick between Team Yut-Lung or Team Ash, but it’d be nice to have some semblance of them all being a team again. Friends, even.

But he guesses it doesn’t matter. Not when he’ll be dead soon anyway.

“Well,” Shorter says, “I don’t know the context of your shit with Eiji, but I think you should consider reaching out to him. Or someone. You need someone in your corner, right? It’s up to you, obviously, but I just don’t want you to feel alone.”

That hits a little too close to home. Ash didn’t feel alone with Eiji. For once in his fucking life, he didn’t feel alone. Eiji ... heard him, in ways that no one else has ever even tried to.

But Ash doesn’t think he wants anything to do with him right now.

— — —

It’s 11 p.m. and Ash may or may not be staring at Eiji’s message on the Banana Fish Tumblr.

Okay, so he definitely is.

[Not following each other:]
Hi! I’m Eiji. This message is for Ash Lynx. I’ve been wanting to get in contact with him since we met. Ash, I miss you! I thought we really connected. If that’s true, please text me!

That’s it. Just that, and a phone number. Nothing telling where Ash and Eiji met, nothing accusing Ash of ghosting him. Even though he could have easily been pissed.

They weren’t technically allowed to exchange contact information in the hospital, but everyone did it anyway. When Eiji tried to slip Ash a note with his phone number, Ash could tell that he was hurt when he didn’t take it. He used the rules as an excuse—like he’s ever given a shit about that kind of stuff before—but now what does he do? How does he say no here? Does he just pretend he never saw this message?

It’s 11:04 p.m. and Ash is closing the Tumblr tab on his laptop. He is. Just ... as soon as he saves Eiji’s number.

Just in case.

Ash closes the tab. Closes the browser. Shuts his laptop.

His screen was too bright, and the darkness is startling. Sometimes Ash is able to take comfort in darkness, but other times it only makes his thoughts louder. Too many nights spent alone in the dark, still covered in the results of whatever they did to him that day.

“Fuck,” he whispers into the silence.

He lies down on his bed, still in his jeans from the day. Jessica will give him a lecture if she sees, but it’s fine. It doesn’t matter. Nothing fucking matters.

Ash breathes slowly. Tries to sleep. Tries not to think about killing himself. Tries not to think about killing himself. Tries not to think about—

Max and Jessica told him to wake them up, if he’s having these thoughts. But he’s always having these thoughts, and it’s 11:10 p.m. and he’s worth less than their sleep.

11:11. Make a wish, Griff always says. But Ash doesn’t know what he’d wish for. Maybe death? But that’s something he has to do himself. There’s nothing else he really wants, or at least nothing he could articulate into a wish.

All he wants from his life is for it to be over.

That’s the problem with the LED alarm clock on Ash’s beside table, the one that Shorter got him as a joke when he kept sleeping through their first period class. The clock makes him painfully aware of every second.

Each second he’s alive spent waiting for the one when he’s not anymore.