When Ash pushes the door of the apartment that night, it’s late and the whole place is dark and silent. The day has been long and exhausting, and Ash wants nothing more than to collapse in his bed.
He tries to be as silent as he can, as he enters the bedroom he shares with Eiji. The lights are off here too, but Ash can discern his friend’s sleeping form in the dark.
Ash walks to Eiji’s bed, a routine he follows religiously. He needs to make sure Eiji is there, alright, breathing.
The Japanese is deeply asleep. His dark hair is disheveled on the white cushion and slow breaths escape his parted lips. Ash smiles at the sight; Eiji seems as peaceful and cozy as he always is when sleeping.
Although he probably had a lifeful dream, because he has kicked the blanket off him, leaving his shoulders uncovered. Ash sees Eiji shudder and curl up on himself to seek warmth, a frown disrupting his previously smooth expression.
Ash grabs the blanket and put it back on Eiji, the motion slow and careful. As he arranges it over his shoulders, his eyes catch sight of something on his own hands.
Blood. Dried blood on his hands.
Ash lets the blanket go like it had burned him and takes a sudden step back, putting distance between his hands and Eiji’s sleeping figure.
Horrified, he raises his palms to his eyes and notices they are shaking feverishly. The hands of a murderer, soaked in red.
Given his life, Ash has felt disgusted with himself on plenty of occasions, but the nausea that urges over him at the sight of his bloodied hands near Eiji’s unconscious face takes him by surprise.
Ash flees to the bathroom to wash his hands, but no matter how much soap he uses, the blood seems to linger. He rubs and chafes with purpose, and his hands hurt under the cold water jet.
He suddenly hears a noise coming from behind him and jerks his head up.
In the mirror, he finds Eiji, hesitating in the door frame. He can’t discern his expression in the dark.
“Ash…? Are you alright?”
Eiji’s voice is full of sleep. He rubs his eyes and turns on the light.
The sudden brightness makes them both blink, eyes adjusting to the new luminosity with a delay.
Ash grabs the sink with both hands, trying to steady himself, to force his body to stop shaking, his breath to steady.
“I’m fine,” he replies, and his voice sounds raspy to his own ears. “Go back to sleep.”
In the mirror’s reflection, he sees Eiji frown, clearly unconvinced. Of course, since Eiji never does as Ash commands, he takes a step closer to Ash instead of going back to the bedroom.
“What happened?” he asks, and he slowly raises his hand to touch Ash, carefully, as if he wanted to allow him the time to see the gesture, and to reject it if he wants to.
Eiji’s touch has never been anything but comforting to Ash. For years, he had thought being hold could only feel like being caged, could only have the purpose of subduing and coerce. But when Eiji is holding him, Ash feels safe, cared for. He doesn’t feel so alone anymore because they are two, united.
But tonight, he can’t bear to touch Eiji. All he can think about is how bloody his hands are. He doesn’t want to taint Eiji with it. He doesn’t deserve to be comforted.
He turns around to face Eiji but dismisses his hand. Eiji gets the silent message and his arm falls back to his side, useless, empty. Ash can see that the rejection hurts him, and he hates himself for being the reason to Eiji’s wounded expression.
“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to…” Eiji continues, his voice wavering slightly.
Ash hadn’t noticed he hasn’t answered Eiji. He doesn’t know what to say anyway.
Eiji doesn’t finish his sentence. He gasps weakly when he notices Ash’s hands, twisting by his sides.
“Ash! Your hands!”
Before Ash can stop him, Eiji has taken his hands into his. His grip is firm but soft, and Ash doesn’t try to withdraw, even so the sight of his bloody hands in Eiji’s own is the last thing he wants to witness.
“I was just washing my hands, no need to get into a tizzy about it.” he mutters, averting his gaze from their entwined hands. He offers Eiji a poor attempt at a smile. “They were dirty with blood.”
Eiji has to know he is holding the hands of a murderer, he has to let him go.
Instead, he caresses softly the skin, and Ash notices just now that there isn’t any blood left on his hands. They are red, but it’s because of the cold water and the strong friction he submitted them to.
Eiji’s hands are warm against his skin and Ash feels his shaking calm down, the distress he felt earlier easing slightly.
“You shouldn’t do that,” he still says, hopping Eiji will understand what he means. “My hands are dirty.”
“They are not.” Eiji replies with the tone one could use to scold a stubborn child; assertive, yet tender. “They are cold, and mistreated.”
Eiji raises his hands to his lips and blows softly on them. His warm breath sends shivers down Ash’s spine.
Maybe Ash hasn’t be clear enough.
“I’m serious, Eiji. You shouldn’t be willing to stay so close to a murderer’s hands.”
It feels ridiculous to have to say it out loud. But Eiji is stubborn to a fault, and Ash feels like he needs to be blunt for him to realize.
Eiji smiles at him, but his eyes are sad and tired, and his expression makes Ash’s heart tighten painfully in his chest. Without a word, Eiji entails Ash to the bedroom, never letting go of his hands.
They sit on Eiji’s bed and the Japanese gently comes to uncurl one of Ash’s hands.
“You say you have the hands of a murderer, but that’s not all there is to see. And you should trust me on this, I know how to read palms.”
That’s probably a shameless lie, but Eiji still looks at Ash’s hand with a serious expression, like he is some sort of expert searching for answers only Ash’s palm can give him. Ash stays silent, curious to see where his friend is going with that.
With the tip of his fingers, Eiji lightly caresses some of the lines etched into Ash’s palm. “I see a very sensitive American,” he begins, tone slow and focused. “An American who hates pumpkins and…”
Ash huffs, interrupting him. Of course Eiji would mention the pumpkins. He does it whenever he can, like the little shit he is.
“That’s not how it works.” he protests, playing along. “These are things you know, not things you read in my palm.”
Eiji smiles, encouraged by Ash’s lighter tone. “I am not done.”
He traces over a line on Ash’s skin, his touch light enough to tickle pleasantly. “This is a line that tells me how dumb you are. As you can see, it’s very long, meaning you’re very dumb.”
Ash can’t help the small laugh that escapes his throat in response. He takes one of Eiji’s hands and searches for the same line on his skin.
“There! You have the same line, so it means you’re equally dumb. Except it seems smaller because you’re so small.”
Eiji pouts, but Ash sees his eyes shine and his lips struggle not to quirk up.
“Exactly. We have the same hands. Remember what I said, once? Same human beings, but different.”
It shouldn’t make sense, but it does to Ash. Eiji has the special talent to remind him he is a human just like him; not a machine designed to kill and please, chiseled by years of training. Not a lynx, enslaved by his animal instincts, knowing only how to destroy.
When his hands are in Eiji’s, they are unable to hurt. Through Eiji’s eyes, they become the hands of a teenager and their only purpose is to link their two bodies together.
“Maybe.” Ash concedes reluctantly. “I still call bullshit on your so-called palm reading skills.”
Eiji’s gentle smile turns into a smirk and Ash knows he is about to get his ass handed to him.
“I will have you know I’m an expert. Here, you want a proof?”
Ash knows better than to answer, but Eiji continues anyway.
“See this tiny line over there?” he runs a finger over a short line up on Ash’s palm. “It tells me how tiny your dick is.”
Ash gapes at him, but the comment is so unexpected it makes him burst into laughter.
“Fuck, Eiji! Way to ruin the moment with your dirty jokes!”
Eiji seems supremely proud with himself.
“Oh? Because we were having a moment?” he asks, tone playfully innocent.
Ash rolls his eyes, blush rising high on his cheeks. But he is thankful for Eiji’s attempt at lighting up the heavy mood.
Eiji chuckles lightly, and it always sounds like music to Ash’s ears, even when it’s caused by his friend making fun of him. He raises his gaze from their hands to look at him, and fondness pangs at his heart when he takes in Eiji’s bed hair, his dark curls adorably mussed by the pillow.
Maybe another day Ash would have taken the pretense of flattening Eiji’s hair to allow himself to card his fingers through the soft locks, like he is now longing to do. Eiji’s cheeks would most likely color with a lovely blush, especially if Ash used the gesture as an opportunity to tease him; and just like that, Ash would be the one to have the last word in the conversation.
He doesn’t feel like he has the right to indulge himself like that tonight.
“Okay, maybe I don’t know anything about palm reading.” Eiji continues, serious again. “I think it is stupid anyway, life and fate aren’t written into people’s hands. They aren’t written anywhere.”
Eiji is still holding Ash’s hands in his own. And now Ash doesn’t want him to let go.
“Thanks for sharing your wisdom with me, onii-chan.” Ash tries to be teasing, but he knows his tone betrays his genuine gratitude. It doesn’t really matter anyway, Eiji has always been good at reading him.
Eiji gives his hands a gentle press. “Anytime. Always.”
When they go to bed, Eiji drives quickly back into sleep, and soon his calm respiration fills the space between them.
In the dark, Ash stares at his hands. He knows nothing about palm reading, but he has still heard some things about it. Like how people are supposed to have a life line and a love’s one. He doesn’t know which one it is Eiji had traced earlier; which one is the tiny one, and which is the long line that cuts his palm in two.
He would like to think the longest is the love line. After all, if someone like him, having endured this kind of life, is still able to experience love, it has to be noticeable on his skin.
It doesn’t matter if the line of life is short. Ash is unable to think too far ahead, anyway.
What’s important is the now. And now is Eiji sleeping next to him, safe and peaceful; and for some reason still not disgusted with Ash.
Eiji, who doesn’t believe in palm reading, because he doesn’t believe in fate. Eiji, who will always insist that Ash is the master of his own destiny. And who will still see Ash take bad decisions again and again, and will still want to be by his side.
Ash has no right to feel comforted by it. If he was strong enough, he would force Eiji the farthest away from him, and never see him again.
But tonight, Ash is weak and Eiji is there.
Tonight, Ash closes his eyes and falls asleep with a smile on his lips because tonight, Eiji still loves him.