The New Year has come and gone, and New Year’s resolutions were made. Ash and Eiji left Austria in pursuit of warmer climates south as December turned into January. The New Year brought renewed vigor for their travels as Eiji swore he’d finish everything in his list before August this year.
So they spent the entire time doing just that.
The sightseeing part of the list was easy enough since, as tourists, they were technically going to get around doing that at some point. No, it was the more abstract ones that proved challenging. Things like, I want to do something reckless, I want to do something embarrassing, I want to do something brave, I want to go on a date, I want to try sex for the first time, I want to get black out drunk in the city, I want to be happy…and so on.
They sped through January, February, March and a bit of April from Austria to Switzerland (“It’s so freaking cold! Ash! Ash! Help! I can’t move my legs! Ash! Stop laughing!”), Switzerland to Germany (“Can you believe a great wall divided the city here once? It really just shows how no walls can divide humankind and that they will overcome any kind of oppression one way or another.” “Eh, it was just a regular cock up of a simple job really. The dude choked on live TV and said the worst possible mistake one could say to the public.” “Work with me and just romanticize the wall Ash.”), Germany to Italy (“I mean on one hand, aesthetics, but on the other, it’s really wet and the flood must be a bitch to deal with. No Eiji, don’t give me that side eye.”), Italy to Spain. (“I wish I’d get engaged in Barcelona. Yuuri and Victor did.”) And so on.
By the last days of April, they’ve finally managed to reach France. Four months have more or less passed and they were living absolutely the best days of their lives. It was domestic bliss…or at least as domestic it could get and it was the most content Ash has ever been in his life. And now they‘re boarding a boat for a cruise along the river Seine for lunch. The wind was blowing a nice breeze, whipping their hair into different directions. Eiji kept pushing back strands of his bangs as it often ended up on his eyes. They were past his ears already, just a few more inches from his chin.
“I need a haircut.” He concluded after pushing back his hair for the umpteenth time with a little frustrated furrow on his brows. Ash ran his fingers over the softness of his dark locks in a guise of examining them, when really it was just a shameless excuse to touch Eiji’s hair, well…a shameless excuse to touch Eiji.
“I like that it’s longer.” Which was true. Cropped and fluffy haired Eiji was adorable, but there was something else about a long-haired Eiji that somehow made Ash’s face heat up. So yes, Ash will do whatever trick there was in the book to prevent Eiji from getting a haircut.
“I don’t get how you manage with that long mane of yours.”
Ash scoffed. His hair was hardly any mane. They barely reach his shoulders. But he supposed a haircut would be nice. Later, maybe. “Don’t cut it.” Was what Ash said. And then Eiji smiled indulgently.
“Okay,” He responded. “I won’t cut it.” As if the little whims of Ash was enough to persuade Eiji, as if his opinion mattered so much. It shouldn’t make Ash’s heart constrict so hard at the thought of it. It had no right to make him feel this giddy, it definitely had no right to make Ash smile so wide and make him look at Eiji fondly, and oh he was being utterly obvious about his feelings wasn’t he?
But Eiji would respond in kind. He’d give such an openly soft gaze, a tender up turn of the lips. Ash wasn’t that dumb. He knew Eiji liked him, it was obvious in his touches and in his smiles, but not the way Ash did.
And even if one day he would, somehow, miraculously like him the way Ash liked him, it’ll lead nowhere anyway.
Ash cleared his throat. “Yeah. Right so what’s in plan for us?”
“Right,” Eiji gave another smile, but something dimmed in his eyes, almost as if he’s disappointed and was trying hard not to show it. This has been happening lately too. He often seemed like he was looking expectantly at him. “If you aren’t too against being too touristy…”
Ash barked a laugh. “Since when were we ever touristy?”
Eiji rubbed the back of his neck, curling inwards into himself. He hasn’t done that in a while. “Well what do you say about climbing the Eiffel?”
Eiji leaned on the rails, nearly resting most of his weight against them. He looked relaxed, serene, almost boneless. He had his camera hanging loosely on his chest.
The spring winds whip over their faces. The smell of the French city air filled their noses. "Lovely view huh?" Eiji hummed with contented delight with the sun about to set on the horizon, the skies slowly turning into inks of blue and purple and the golden city lights slowly turning on one by one, like fires that were lit, like stars that slowly twinkled on the night sky.
"Yeah." Ash replied. He'd be looking at Eiji with breathlessness as he said this if this was a cliche Hollywood movie, but they weren't in a movie so Ash was pointedly not looking at Eiji and instead focused on the view and if one was to admit, the view was stunning. It's something you don't see every day, that much is certain. Ash couldn't seem to care about it.
What he didn't like about infatuation was its tendency to make everything awkward, for one party at least. It was always so unfairly one-sided. He did not like how it often felt like his lungs were refusing to cooperate, how they think they were not allowed to breathe. The air was caught in his throat and his heartbeat thudded in the cavity of his chest.
This was mostly how he spent his time with Eiji lately and he was not amused. He did not like how every word, every gesture, every touch that lingered longer than it was supposed to, caused for him to overthink like some man in the verge of paranoia.
He also disliked how he felt like he was tiptoeing a fine line every day, like he was teetering the precipice between confession and denial. He did not like how he was keeping a secret when they were just starting to be honest with each other.
“Gustav Eiffel also designed the statue of liberty too, did you know?” Ash said instead to dispel the brewing awkward tension he was feeling. “It came in pieces when France gave it America as a centennial anniversary of being free from British rule.” Ash was rambling. But that’s okay, better even than the discomfort of silence. Rambling he could do. It’s fine. “Thankfully they didn’t decide to name the statue with a weird tacky name like Eiffel tower. You’d think they’d be more creative.”
"It's not like your name isn't that weird." Eiji teased. "It's the lion from Narnia after all."
"My name?" Ash snickered, though mostly he was just surprised Eiji knew about that. "Aslan is Turkish for lion. So the lion in Narnia was conveniently named 'Lion'. People really just tend to name things in their language. It's a linguistic miscommunication. Like Mississippi River, where Mississippi comes from "Messipi", the French rendering of the native American Anishinaabe name for the river, "Misi-ziibi," meaning "Great River" which means it’s now roughly called Great river River.”
"Like Soviet Union." Eiji grimaced.
"Exactly." Ash snorted. ”Though Soviet literally means council. So it’s Council Union. Essentially it’s the same thing.”
"But Lion. A symbol for bravery. It's nice." Eiji pointed out. "And Narnia's character who came back from the dead."
"Eugh. Stop comparing me to C.S Lewis' Jesus lion." His face crumpled with a face that meant he didn't care for the similarities at all. He'd rather not associate himself with either the character, or the martyr on the cross. He’d rather nor associate himself with dying. Suicide ideation had fallen out of fashion for him nowadays.
Eiji's face only looked confused.
"I bet you haven't even read the book and had only watched the movies." Ash sighed. "It's a book symbolism thing."
"Ah." Eiji decided that he'd rather not know as he nodded with resolution to tuck that conversation away for later.
"Griffin used to tell me it was an ancient Hebrew name for Dawn. I don't know where he got that from, but I like this meaning better." Ash shared. Griffin did tell him this. Dawn, the first instance of the light from the darkness of the night. He called him the sunrise.
“I’ve always meant to ask,” Eiji said after some minutes of pause. "What does the J stand for?" He asked with sudden interest.
Ash shrugged. "Eh. It's just a J really."
Eiji didn't look impressed.
"Fine. It's Jade. My mom picked my names. If you can call her that. Maybe the woman who birthed me will suffice. Take your pick." Ash grumbled. He didn't really like his second name. He wouldn't even like his first if it weren't for Griffin.
"Jade?" Eiji had an expression that sat between surprised and perplexed.
"You don't like it?" Even if he didn't really like his name, he felt suddenly protective of it. Or maybe it was just his deep need of Eiji's approval or something similar to that. God what had he become? He’s turning into a lap dog, eager to wag his tail for his master.
"I didn't say that." Eiji was also suddenly defensive. "I just didn't expect it. But I'll get used to it."
"Mhm." Ash leaned on the railings as well. "Aslan Jade Callenrese. AJC. It's a mouthful."
"I think the names are fitting for you." Eiji quipped.
"You think so?" Ash tore his gaze from the city view and instead directed them at Eiji with a touch amused smile. "I've always thought they were strange."
"Yes." Eiji explained. "Dawn like the brightness of your hair, Jade like the color of your eyes. A jewel in the sunrise. It's lovely."
Ash sighed. "I still think it's weird."
"Better than mine at least." Eiji pointed out.
"It can't be that bad."
"The kanji in my name says differently." He chuckled.
"Yes. Our names are written in Kanji." He tried to explain. "Ei-ji." He took Ash's palm and wrote the character of his name with a black sharpie marker. “英二” His palm now read. "It roughly means "great second."
"Do you actually carry that sharpie wherever we go?" Ash grumbled at the Japanese character on his palm.
"I do. You never know when you need it." Then with Ash's other hand, he wrote "Okumura." “奥村“ it read, and Eiji capped his marker before putting it away. “It means secluded village and really, neither of them makes sense.” He examined his handiwork on the American’s palm, a searching gaze flickered in his chocolate eyes. “Yes, the name Eiji is traditionally given to the second born, ironic is it not?” Eiji’s hands on Ash’s were temperate with only the tips slightly colder than the rest. His thumbs started to stroke his hands. “Oh and Okumura isn’t any better.” He gave Ash’s hand a squeeze before letting it down. Now his face was a little morose with downcast eyes.
Ash’s face morphed into concern and Eiji seemed to have immediately sensed this.
“Sorry. That was a bit of a mood killer.” He’s always apologizing, always afraid to take up space as if he’s not allowed to want something for himself and Ash hated that. He hated that Eiji was somewhat still holding himself back.
“Eiji,” He took his hand and clicked his tongue. “You can say what you feel. You know this. It’s fine.” He tried to sound reassuring. He thought he might be doing an alright job at it. The faint quirk up Eiji’s lips was evidence.
“I know.” He said. “In theory yes. My brain is still trying to accept it.” Eiji laughed quietly. “You don’t just unlearn the attitude you grew up with, but I think I’m doing better. I’m trying and when I took up this trip I was determined to do just that. I thought if I just told myself to pretend I’m confident enough to say how I feel, it might be real. I’d like to think it’s working.”
“I never would’ve known the first time we met. You looked confident then.” Ash remembered the man he first conversed to in that shitty diner, the bubbly personality he seemed to be in the surface. Funny how first impressions always had something more laying beneath them. People are multifaceted. You’ll find yourself surprised the more you learn about a person, and Eiji was just surprise after surprise since America and now they’re halfway across the world and Ash was still constantly learning.
“It’s called practice. I had a lot between the start of my trip and meeting you,” Eiji’s eyes crinkled. It seemed like a funny thought crossed his mind. “Faking it is easier when you know you’re talking to strangers and that you have the reassurance that you’ll never see each other again. You have no idea how anxious I was making you agree to this crazy idea of an adventure.”
And while Ash recalled the moment they first conversed properly as they drove madly away in a getaway car, his mind was replaying a different scene, something that happened earlier before that. “I meant when you jumped through the wall. You’re posture, your eyes. It was like you changed into a different person. You looked so sure of yourself. And you flew,” Ash said softly. “It was easily one of the single most amazing thing I’ve seen in my life.” He confessed.
“I’m sure that can’t be true.”
“But it is. It looked like freedom in a single moment.” And he’s never felt freedom his entire life.
Wind blew away at their hair. Eiji kept one hand on his head to brush away the strands that whipped on his face.
“Well. Pole-vaulting is all I ever know so yeah. It was probably the surest I’ve ever been in my life.” He pushed back his bangs with this contemplative look. “The closest second was probably responding to you in that diner. Or maybe just sticking around you all in all.”
Ash had a lot of questions reeling, questions like how can you say that? What are you trying to say? What do you mean? He somehow managed a “How can you say that?”
“When you spoke, you sounded so fascinating. And when I saw you, I was immediately drawn to you as if something was telling me it was alright, as if the universe was pointing bright neon arrows at you saying here! Talk to him! He’ll be perfect for you and you’ll both get along with no problem. And when I met you, like really met you, it was so easy to get comfortable and you felt so familiar. You get me?” Eiji sounded frantic in his explanation, caught in some heated fervor. And maybe if it had been another person who said it, Ash wouldn’t have understood, but somehow this was Eiji and it felt like he simply understood for some reason.
“I think I do.” He found Eiji fascinating from the get go, with some inexplicable reason. And it was easy to be comfortable with him too. Like he’s already met him long ago and was simply relearning him again. He felt so familiar like no one in the world ever did. “Do you believe in the multiverse?”
Eiji’s eyes widen. “Are you implying that we’ve met already met each other in a parallel universe?” And he grinned like this idea pleased him.
Ash shrugged. “It’s either that or reincarnation. But I like the former. It sounds more realistic and I’m not religious so…” He trailed away.
“Do we always meet in those universes?”
“Depends. I’d like to think we do in a way. There is a phenomenon where particles can interact physically with each other no matter the condition or distance. Maybe we’re like that in a way. Maybe we’re always meant to interact.” Ash thought about Quantum theories and Quantum mechanics and entanglements, and particles in the universe that are always existing with the other.
“Doesn’t that just sound like soulmates?” Eiji squeezed his hand and the reality that their hands were still together all this time dawned on Ash and there was Eiji’s fond and gentle and hopeful look again that was so cryptic and could mean a million fucking things and Ash just wanted to know because he did not like not knowing and it was driving him insane.
He had to tell him.
His heart pounded in his chest so loudly, it drowned out all other sound in the world.
He had to tell him. Everything. He need to confess his feelings here and now.
“Does it?” Ash croaked. “A person made by the universe to be with you? I don’t know as much as it sounds probable, I want to believe in free will and choice.”
And again, Eiji’s eyes dimmed just slightly, just enough to lose the luster they once had previously. Ash knew he probably said the wrong thing again. He pulled his hand away to fiddle with the strap of his camera and he gave a nervous chuckle.
“I’m glad to know you chose me then.” But the statement didn’t sound as happy as it was said in previous times.
And they fell silent. They’ve been playing this dance lately, like a waltz. A move forward, a move backward, a sidestep, and forward again. It’s driving Ash mad.
Eventually it was late enough in the evening and they needed to eat dinner.
“So what are you in the mood now?” Ash asked Eiji.
And Eiji, in all sincerity he could muster, said with all pent up energy he could express.
“I think I want to get really really really drunk.”