why don't we go...
eiji leans back, beaming at his handiwork. ash blinks as he reaches up to touch the flowers on his head. it's a crown he's aware eiji has been making for the past twenty minutes or so, but he's aware in that vague way that eiji sometimes makes him feel -- the temporary luxury of being at ease.
the petals under his fingertips are soft. they remind him of eiji.
it's walking down the street with eiji, ice cream in hand, eiji's disarming smile aimed up at him with pinpoint precision, that it occurs to ash: he wants to protect this.
this: these moments, eiji's smile, the feeling of the sun on the crowns of their heads like a blessing not a curse; this.
"what?" eiji tilts his head. ash smiles and it's faint but real.
"just thinking," he says and eiji, not surprised by this in the least, goes 'ah' and with one thoughtful look of his own, says nothing else.
"it's called a friendship bracelet." the threads of the bracelet eiji makes are thin and seem honestly kind of weak. but somehow when he braids them they gain substance. the thinner one is strong too. ash is so busy watching, cataloging how to do what is being done, that he spaces out. "ash." still soft. "ash?" he shakes his head, looks up. eiji has an expectant look on his face and ash realizes he must have asked him something.
the purse of eiji's lips is borderline pout. ash is quietly alarmed by the suddenly there and equally quickly snuffed out desire he has to angle close; to kiss him. he can't remember the last time he wanted to kiss anyone. but this is eiji and eiji is the first time in a long time of many many things for ash and maybe he should be used to it by now but he never ever is.
"i asked if you will give me your hand?"
ash wonders if eiji knows how that sounds and gives him his hand.
suffocating are ash's nightmares. this, one expects. what one perhaps does not expect: his good dreams -- his good dream -- crushes him too.
they are at the sea. eiji has a sun hat that is floppy with a pale blue ribbon and a brilliant sunflower. the gulls are cacophonous, the waves are steady, and the sky is feathered with clean clean clouds. eiji has this smile he gets, a soothing brightness that reminds ash of how certain verses in poetry evoke deep emotion without trying too hard, the way music does, the way there is something inevitable in him.
and how he wants to share that with ash. even if ash cannot possibly understand, cannot fathom how eiji's hand reaches out open palmed for his and waits. patient. kind. overwhelming.
ash was named for the dawn but he's never really felt it like this: sunrise not fearless but still brave.
and even in his dream, if eiji spoke to this he would say the same thing as eiji outside of his dream: you are brave ash lynx. you are brave and you are human. and--
ash lets eiji in the dream thread their fingers together, lets eiji offer for him to come closer and then does; ash comes closer, ash comes closest, ash comes close enough to let eiji kiss him between his eyes just for ash to shift their angle just enough to kiss him on the mouth and again: not fearless but brave .
when he wakes up from this good dream it hurts. he turns to watch eiji's even breathing and cannot fall asleep again, a weighted pain in his chest that he finds he's still grateful for.
one such night, watching eiji sleep, ash puts to memory what he already knows: the soft dark lay of eiji's eyelashes, the curious always slightly tousled look of his hair whether he's in bed or out and about, the soft part of his mouth, the line of his neck to shoulder. and oh ash knows; he shouldn't.
but he has this, lets himself have this. not really. not like in the dream. he cannot -- will not -- reach out and take eiji's hand in his like this, will not come to sit on the side of his bed. but sometimes he does leave his own to kneel at eiji's side, to curl his hands in the bedcovers on eiji's bed. he tells himself it's enough.
they cannot stay like this.
he's having a thought like this another night when eiji mumbles something.
on alert out of habit, ash leans closer, hands flexing at his sides in anxiety for whether or not to touch him to see if he has a fever, if he should wake him, if he's alright, if --
"-- ash ."
his hands are deadweight. he cannot move. or if he could have a second ago he cannot possibly now; he watches that soft neutral part of eiji's mouth as it becomes a softer still smile, the sigh of ash's own name its echo.
a ripple effect like a heartbeat.
he would laugh if he could, cry if he could.
instead, ash watches, waits for himself to come back to himself enough to return to his own bed where he lays awake until the sun steps through their window.
it isn't easy, ash thinks, glancing down and over at eiji who rubs the sleep out of his eyes and smiles up at ash with such gentleness it aches. don't, he thinks. and then: do. and then: why? eiji smiles as he looks up, smiles as he pulls himself to sitting and then gets out of bed to pause at ash's bedside and is still smiling as he waits.
and waiting like this is something eiji has always done; from the moment they met to now; eiji waits and what he means is: may i?
means: do i have permission?
means: is it okay?
means: you can say no.
you can say yes.
it's the kindest thing anyone has ever done for aslan callenreese.
ash pats the empty space beside him. eiji sits.
'dawn' never felt like a kind of love before. it feels stupid that it should do so now.
but it's probably not 'dawn' at all. ash knows.
"hey," he says, carefully not looking at eiji who unabashedly smiles equally at him and the sunrise; like there's enough love for both of them.
"what does 'eiji' mean?"
it might be insincere of him to ask. he already knows what 'eiji' means to him. but eiji tells him anyway and ash listens anyway.
eiji too has his thoughts, has his definitions.
take 'aslan' for example. yes: dawn. but also? fortitude.
strength when one has the inarguable right to be weak.
love when one has the history to show it wouldn't be their fault if they had nothing left to spare.
perhaps that's not so much 'aslan' as it is 'ash'.
ash of new york. ash of cape cod. ash of the trains that never stop running and the lights that don't always mean one is welcome. ash of the endless distances in green eyes flecked with gold. ash of the human soul. ash.
"ash." eiji says more reverent than a prayer and kinder than comfort. "ash." eiji says and means:
my heart my heart my heart.
it would be lying to say eiji knows from the very very beginning what he feels. eiji comes to america because he has become so very bad at that -- knowing and feeling, feeling and knowing. but maybe part of him understands even if it cannot outright know it all in one; understands this: the dangerous fluttering like a bird's wings as he flies for a boy who, in another life, must have been a king or a god but in this life must be respected as he is: human, mortal, and worth saving. eiji flies not knowing almost understanding and very much certain: this is a person i will not let down.
this is a person i cannot let down.
things eiji cannot do: save ash from what has already happened, shoot to kill, understand why ash can't stop calling himself a monster.
things eiji can do: try to save ash from what is happening now -- "come to japan with me, ash." --, shoot to run, understand that if ash cannot see himself then he will help him to -- not monster but man, not city god but mortal boy, not disposable goods but so so good.
"i'm not," ash says and it's a rain soaked empty thing. eiji aches, asks if he can touch, and when ash lays his head in eiji's lap, runs his fingers through ash's impossibly soft hair and says,
"you are." pauses. "i promise."
"boss wants me to stay close," alex says.
eiji tilts his head. thoughtful.
the loyalty in the boys of ash's gang isn't purely about charisma or fear. there's something warm in how they speak about him. 'boss'. eiji at this point has heard this title regarding more than a few people. if he was to compare it to anyone else, he thinks of shorter.
he knows without ever bringing it up (not that he would) that ash would never see it that way.
he also knows without ever asking (not that he could) that shorter would.
"you okay?" alex isn't so out of his depth that he's anxious but he's obviously worried enough to kneel in front of eiji so they can actually make eye contact. hardly necessary. it's been well established that eiji is a horrible liar. but there's something kind about the gesture. eiji meets him halfway and smiles soft soft soft.
"just thinking," he says and realizes only a little while later how that's a phrase he's picked up from ash.
'home' is a foreign term made familiar the day eiji wakes ash up and, after ascertaining he's fully coherent and so-far untroubled, touches a warm mug to ash's cheek. ash is looking up at him and cataloging all the details from eiji's ugly shirt to eiji's perfect smile -- how the corners of his eyes crease just so, how he has this habit of biting his lower lip briefly like he's biting down on things to say. ash wants to tell him not to hold back but ash does not tell him this. instead ash accepts the warm cup and sits up in a way that invites eiji into his space the way ash thought he himself had forgotten how to. instead ash moves more so they can both lean back and their arms touch and the morning is gliding through the window less portent more careful promise. 'home' is a word and it's a person and they say -- ash knows, knows better than anyone -- that you shouldn't do these things: put your whole heart into someone else. but eiji is a thief. that can be the only explanation. eiji is a thief who ash can't help himself around and it's terrifying.
and it's wonderful.
at his side, he can feel eiji take a deep breath and exhale it out like so much kindness.
his chest is tight; sharp; heavy; alarmingly full.
he tilts his head: listening.
in his peripheral vision he can see eiji close his eyes.
"you should wake me up."
"we just got up--"
"no, i mean," eiji opens his eyes to peer up at him. he's incredibly soft. ash knows this: the touch of his skin and his hair, the considerate rhythm of his heart. soft. but not weak. he's not sure he's ever met someone he thinks is as strong as eiji. "when you return. here. at night. or morning."
"i don't want to--"
"please?" the way eiji's hands fidget in his blanket covered lap says a lot to undermine his smile as he adds, "i worry, about you. you know that?"
ash does. and he doesn't. it's dangerous -- knowing this kind of thing, accepting this kind of thing.
and yet is that not why eiji is still here?
because ash already made the decision regarding words like eiji and words like knowing.
when he lays his hand down palm facing up on the bed between them, eiji wastes no time in covering it with his own -- gentle gentle gentle -- and when they interlace their fingers it's as if they've always done so. it's as if they don't know how not to.
"if that's what you want," ash says and means: i'd probably do anything for you. means: at least, i'd try.
when eiji makes the friendship bracelets he knows he's being a little disingenuous calling them that.
he knows --
-- he's a little in love with the boy who cannot love himself.
"it fits." ash says and eiji doesn't miss a beat; knocks his head against ash's shoulder lightly lightly so lightly and says,
"of course it fits. i made it just for you."
but he does want his friendship too, so maybe it's okay; maybe it's...enough.
with how ash stares down at the braided threads -- expression open like an inevitability -- eiji finds himself thinking with that quiet desperate kind of love: it has to be.
someday, ash thinks, running his fingers through eiji's sleep-mussed hair, keenly aware of eiji breathing even and alive and kind and so many ways of holding on:
maybe you will show me the land of the gods.
someday, eiji thinks, arm around ash as ash rests closed eyes to eiji's collarbone and eiji can feel the feathering of his eyelashes when he blinks and the warmth of his tears when he tries not to cry and cries anyway:
maybe you will let me take you somewhere nice; somewhere you deserve; somewhere safe.
land of the gods. land faraway. sky filled with stars until you can't tell the sky from the sea anymore. sea. song of endless days to give you for you to call your own.
world of someday. world of somewhere.
only we know.