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Ash Lynx was a regular at the bar. Every Saturday night, to be exact. And regardless of the number of men and women who approached Ash with enticing, fanciful offers of dinner and drinks and sex—he never accepted.

Ash Lynx also never approached anyone; it was a fact that Shorter was as sure of as breathing, or that the sun would rise. Ash never looked twice or started a conversation with a stranger. He was polite but distant. Shorter wasn’t even sure Ash was aware that there were other patrons, most of the time.

Ash was just completely uninterested.

Which was why when Ash leaned over on a cool, windy night in September and whispered, “That one’s cute” Shorter snorted half his Screwdriver.

Ash patiently waited for Shorter to embarrassingly hack the vodka and orange juice out of his nose, and then continued, “The one sitting by the window—he’s cute,” nodding a little.

And he was; whoever he had come with must have ditched him. He was seated alone at a booth, eyes trained on his phone. His hair was dark and almost curly, with pretty features, all wrapped up in a cute blue sweater.

He was cute in the “probably unironically spends time in art museums” way.

“He is,” Shorter agreed distractedly—he wasn’t sure what Ash was getting at.

Suddenly Ash was standing, looking determined, and Shorter knew he wasn’t that drunk; he grabbed Ash’s arm as quick as his dulled reflexes would allow. “What are you doing?”

“Going to go say hi. He seems lonely.”

As simple and easy as breathing—as assuredly as knowing the sun would rise tomorrow; Ash maneuvered out of Shorter’s hold and crossed the bar to where the man sat. Shorter saw the stranger look up as Ash approached, and something in his expression when he saw Ash almost made him wish he had stopped Ash—because he knew he wasn’t going to come back, now. The soft edges to his smile were a threshold and Ash was lost to it.

He didn’t know how, but he knew.

Shorter turned away, trying to turn his attention back to the woman two seats down from him that he had been about to approach.

Ash was a grown man—who was Shorter to stop him?

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It seemed like every weekend, Kong and Bones found a new way to fuck up Sing’s silk bomber jacket; this weekend it was pure whiskey when Bones gestured a little too excitedly at something one of Cain’s men said.

Sing exited the bathroom for what felt like the fifth time, fingers irritatingly wiping over the wet patch near his heart where he’d washed out the stain of alcohol—which put him at the closest vantage point to see Ash Lynx approach a dark haired man in a booth and try to flirt.

Ash doesn’t flirt, Sing thought. It was unheard of, completely unprecedented—Sing had to see who had gotten Ash’s attention. Who could have finally drawn in the amazing and pompously uninterested Ash Lynx?

Sing pretended to be heading for the jukebox so he could pass their booth. Ash had settled opposite of the person, arms folded on the table and leaned forward in genuine interest. As Sing passed, he saw the way the other man had leaned forward as well, the two easily falling into each other.

How cute. Sing wanted to roll his eyes.

The stranger was dark haired and sweet-faced, smile adorably wide as he laughed at some bullshit Ash had said, too low for Sing to hear. He was a strange contrast to Ash; soft in his dark blue sweater and hemmed jeans, one sneaker crossed over his knee. He was cute, Sing could concede. The type of guy he probably would have sat next to in class and met behind the bleachers.

But Ash had never shown interest in anyone as long as Sing had known him; he was absent-minded towards the whole idea at best. Everyone seemed to flock to the pretty blond like moths to flame, but it kept to a spectrum; Ash either never noticed the way men bought him drinks and women ran their hands over his arms, or Ash used it to get whatever information he needed before slipping out like a double-agent in one of those stupid spy films Shorter loved so much.

Sing slipped a few coins into the jukebox and scrolled through his options for a long moment; he could hear the rumble of Ash speaking just behind him, but the words were lost to the murmur of the Saturday night crowd. Sing had no clue what he had said but apparently Cute Guy had found it hilarious.

Sing finally settled on AC/DC, if only to annoy Shorter who was still seated at the bar and talking up some redhead to his right. As the first strums of guitar started, Shorter looked up and made eye contact with Sing, who was still leaned against the jukebox to watch the weird romcom dimension he had apparently stepped into.

Shorter nodded meaningfully towards where Ash and the Cute Guy sat; Sing nodded back, then simply shrugged.

Ash was a grown man—if he wanted a hook-up at the bar, Sing wasn’t going to stop him. He’d let Shorter worry about that.

Sing finally spotted Yut-Lung, irritatingly mumbling into his phone at the other end of the bar. Figuring his time would be better spent annoying the younger Lee, Sing gave one last look at Ash and the guy before he let it go.

Ash didn’t look up at Sing once.

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Sing was back at Yut-Lung’s elbow, brow furrowed as he watched Yut-Lung hang up his call. In lieu of explaining that his brothers had very strong opinions on his operation in Chinatown and the company he had been keeping recently, he set his phone aside and pointed over Sing’s shoulder. “What the hell is Ash doing?”

Sing shrugged before sinking into the seat next to Yut-Lung. Their knees bumped. “Trying to get laid, I guess.”

“Ash doesn’t flirt,” Yut-Lung pointed out. Even he was aware that he sounded petulant, but Sing rolling his eyes confirmed it.

“Maybe he has a type,” Sing suggested. He flagged down the bartender and ordered a shot of something dark and gross that Yut-Lung knew he could never stomach—so he ordered one as well, just to prove a point. The bartender gave him a once over that seemed to mean “yeah, okay” before shuffling off to grab the bottle from the shelf.

Shorter caught his eye from the other end of the bar, subtly gesturing in Ash’s direction as if saying ‘are you seeing this?’.

“Shorter seems confused as well,” Yut-Lung said. Sing snorted.

“Shorter’s probably jealous,” Sing sniffed.

Yut-Lung had heard one-too-many drunk confessions from the Chinatown boss long after everyone had gone to bed; but a childhood crush on his best friend from nearly a decade ago was the least of Shorter Wong’s problems.

But, even still—“There isn’t anything to be jealous of,” Yut-Lung pressed.

The boy was just pathetically plain—Yut-Lung could tell even from half a room away. Short, dark hair curled around his ears like he couldn’t be bothered to brush it, wearing a dumpy sweater and mom-jeans. A sloppy, poor aesthetic with an uninteresting face.

“What’s Ash even see in him?” Yut-Lung finished, trying to peer around Sing at the way Ash was leaning into the guy’s space like a sailor called to the sea.

Incredible. What the actual fuck.

Sing whipped his head back and forth, assessing the couple and then Yut-Lung, looking incredulous. “You’re kidding, right? He’s pretty cute,” he said.

“You have no taste,” Yut-Lung scoffed. Of course Sing would like someone like that guy—the stranger that was now taking Ash’s hand and standing, that wasn’t letting go of Ash’s hand as the blond led them to one of the empty pool tables and dug some change from his pocket. Ash was actually holding hands with the little cretin—and looked ecstatic over it.

They squabbled over who would pay, elbowing one another like school children and giggling. Yut-Lung wanted to throw up on the ugly guy's sneakers.

Ash eventually pulled the boy over to the cue rack, talking all the while. The boy seemed happy to listen. His expression was completely dopey as he stared up at Ash.

How sickening.

The bartender slid their shots across the bar and Yut-Lung knocked it back in one, trying to fill himself up with the bitter liquid so maybe he could blame the way he grit his teeth on that instead.

“Ha, talk about jealous,” Sing mocked. He tossed his shot back and held up his hand for a second glass. The way Yut-Lung’s stomach burned and made him cough held him back—one poor decision because of Sing was enough.

“You’re just mad that he’s hitting on him and not you,” Sing rolled his eyes.

“Well, duh,” Yut-Lung hissed. “I bet I can find who he is.”

Yut-Lung picked up his phone and began carding through his socials. The bar itself was the quickest way to narrow the search—and it didn’t even take long. A check-in from nearly an hour ago, linked to a girl’s socials. Didn’t anyone hide anything these days?

’Night out with the bestie!!’ the caption read. It was accompanied with a street-selfie, the unattractive boy’s face pressed close to hers with the city lights of downtown glittering behind them. He looked awkward and shy and totally undeserving of someone like Ash.

He followed the user tag to the boy’s page; his picture was an artsy shot of him taking a photo of a river with an expensive camera in his hands, his profile lit in the golds of a setting sun just out of frame. How meta of him.

The photo above it was a candid shot of what seemed to be his family; an older couple, a younger sister, and a golden lab throwing itself into the man’s lap while he looked pathetically overjoyed.

“He’s from Japan,” Yut-Lung told Sing, continuing to scroll through his information.

Sing threw back his second shot and made a disgusted noise that didn’t seem to be entirely from the alcohol.

“God, you’re such a stalker,” he muttered.

Yut-Lung continued to flick through his photos; the man—Eiji, his profile boasted in both Japanese and English—didn’t seem to post much about himself but had album upon album of photography work.

It was all boringly nature-themed; temples and forests and moss-covered statues. His tagged photos were from a university, posing with a group of students for a sports club in matching jackets, and then a couple pictures geotagged in Tokyo of Eiji and a couple other nameless students bowling and playing pool and singing karaoke.

“He’s so fucking boring,” Yut-Lung snapped, slamming his phone to the bartop. “He doesn’t deserve Ash.”

Sing shoved Yut-Lung and smiled when he squawked at nearly falling from his bar stool. “I think Ash can decide that, you dramatic snake.”

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Alex had learned to expect the unexpected in their line of work—especially being Ash Lynx's second-in-command; but this? Maybe he was growing too comfortable with things the way they were.

Kong and Bones were in a booth next to the pool tables, loudly making bets on something, and Alex gravitated to them for confirmation over what he was seeing.

“Is Ash flirting with someone?” Alex asked in complete disbelief.

“Yeah! Seems like the world’s ending, huh?” Kong snickered. Bones proudly slapped a twenty-dollar bill down on the table.

At Alex’s questioning look, Bones explained, “We’re betting on whether Ash will take him home or not.”

“Ash? Our Ash?” Alex pointed at their boss for emphasis, incredulous at the idea of Ash taking someone home. He’d never even so much as winked at another living human being. The man did nothing but work and sleep—sometimes he remembered to eat, but even that was pushing it.

Ash was a workaholic in all the worst ways and the idea of him taking a real night off to get fucked by a cute guy from the bar was a level of insanity that Alex refused to acknowledge. It just wasn’t possible by the current laws of physics.

“What’s so special about this guy?” Alex wondered aloud. Both men shrugged, watching Ash and his friend over Alex’s shoulder.

“Ash seems really into him,” Kong pointed out.

And he actually did; the two were in the middle of a game of pool—the man must be new to the game because Alex couldn’t think of another sensible reason Ash was plastered to the guy’s back, guiding his hands through the motions of shooting the cue.

Together, they sunk the five and the man twisted just enough in Ash’s arms to look at him, smile endearingly wide, and mutter something Alex couldn’t hear. Whatever it was, Ash’s face lit up.

Alex could never remember Ash looking like that; so completely relaxed and carefree and charmed. His expression had a radiance that was almost painful to look at it—it seemed too private for the audience that they had.

The other man seemed equally infatuated; completely doe-eyed as he listened to Ash talk low into his ear. Ash seemed to encourage him to take his own shot, and he reluctantly stepped back to give him some room.

The shot was a little shaky but he hit his mark, straight and true—a little too evenly measured for him to be a novice. If Ash had a similar thought, he didn’t show it; he clapped, drawing the man back to him with gentle hands. Alex couldn’t hear but he could tell from the suddenly peachy-tone to the stranger’s face that Ash’s words must have been praise.

“I think he’s faking,” Alex muttered, dropping into the booth next to Kong.

“Faking what?” Bones asked. Alex saw Shorter watching curiously from the bar and wondered if the Chinatown boss had the same thought—he looked weary.

“Not knowing how to play,” Alex explained.

“Duh,” Kong snorted. “He’s definitely just trying to feel Ash up.”

“I don’t think Ash knows that,” Alex said.

It was a strange thought; that their genius leader, their all-knowing and miracle-working boss, could miss something so simple and obvious. That he could look into this man’s dark eyes and be so easily tricked.

Alex didn’t think he was a threat—just a guy who was trying a little too hard while Ash was watching. They had all fallen into the same spiral at one point or another. Ash seemed to inspire the need to impress in others.

But that was what made it so ridiculous; this was the act that Ash fell for. Not Arthur and his bold-face lies and attacks, not the buyers who tried to out-deal them—but this college-aged boy in a dorky sweater pretending he didn’t know how to play pool so that Ash would wrap himself around him and press his mouth to his ear.

Ash was suddenly the eighteen-year-old dork falling for some dumb story his date told him because he was enamored and it was easy—ridiculous, utterly ridiculous.

The dark-haired boy watched Ash sink his shot—Ash, with his smooth trick shots and steady hands—and cheered when the ten popped in the corner pocket with a little more force than necessary. Ash was definitely trying to show off. Ash rounded the table to stand in front of him and the stranger held up one hand—an unspoken request for a high five.

Ash returned it enthusiastically, grinning in that bright way that made Alex feel like a voyeur, and then subtly twined their fingers together—and they stood like that, holding hands in the middle of the bar and whispering, looking completely lost in each other.

“Oh no,” Alex muttered. Kong and Bones hummed, long-since returned to their card match on the table.

“I think Ash is really into him,” he muttered, feeling almost panicked. Love made you more than blind—it made you stupid and careless, none of which was good in their line of work. Ash was usually so much more careful than this—

Alex watched Ash pull the guy closer by their twined hands, pressing their foreheads together in a way that was distinctly intimate and sweet; Ash was a little glassy-eyed and rosy cheeked, laughing at something the guy muttered.

Oh, no.

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Ash had been taught to live off his gut-feeling; Blanca had taught him how to read a room, read a person—and it had never steered him wrong.

So when he saw the guy across the bar, sitting by himself with his head low, looking like an awkward duckling in the crowded bar on a Saturday night, Ash knew instinctively—I need to talk to him.

There was just this feeling in his gut, something telling him yes as he crossed the bar and stopped in front of the man.

He looked up when Ash approached, and the smile that bloomed on his face was something to behold.

His name was Eiji Okumura. He was from Japan; a photographer here on a student visa. A fellow student had forced him into coming out with her even though places like this weren’t really his type of thing, and he had been ditched within the first fifteen minutes.

“The second she meets a cute guy, she’s off,” Eiji had sighed.

“What about you?” Ash asked.

“What about me?”

“What about when you meet a cute guy?”

“When I meet a cute guy I sit at my booth while he stares for ten minutes before finding the courage to come talk to me,” Eiji laughed, pink-cheeked and oh. Ash liked him.

Eiji was funny and witty and teased Ash; he didn’t seem scared of Ash at all, and it was so refreshing—to simply exist in the basest version of himself. Not Ash Lynx the child prodigy or Ash Lynx the infamous New York gang boss—just a teenager flirting with a cute guy with no expectations.

Ash kept getting a little lost staring at the other man’s eyes; they were wide and dark and completely enchanting. Suddenly Ash realized he had been leaning forward, chasing Eiji’s warmth like a flower seeking the sun—but it was okay, because Eiji was doing it too.

Ash wanted to kiss him, so he asked him to play a game of pool instead.

“Ah,” Eiji eyed the pool table, expression thoughtful. “I’ve never played. Could you teach me?” He looked up at Ash, something vulnerable and soft in his expression that made Ash melt. He’d do anything Eiji asked him, he knew.

He also knew that half the bar was staring as Ash grabbed their cues and racked up the set. Eiji offered to pay for the round but Ash fought him, the two of them elbowing one another out of the way of the coin slot, laughing the whole while.

Ash felt light—like he could drift away.

Eiji’s hands were shaky and he didn’t seem to know where to place them. Ash stepped up behind him, chest flat to Eiji’s back, and guided him into how to hold the cue. Eiji murmured a quiet thanks that lit something in Ash’s chest.

Eiji smelled like fresh water and florals—like he spent the day in the Botanical Gardens. Ash tucked his face a little closer, taken in by Eiji Okumura, and felt Eiji laugh against him.

It took all his willpower to not press his mouth to Eiji’s neck, or tuck his hands in the back pockets of his atrocious jeans. Everything about Eiji Okumura was so alluring.

Eiji made his first shot on his own, and Ash clapped for him. “Nice shot, that was really good,” he praised—and not even just to watch the way Eiji blushed. Everything this man did felt like watching magic unfold—something sacred for him to keep.

Ash took the next shot, a clean corner pocket with a little more power than was really necessary, and when Eiji reached for a high-five Ash couldn’t resist twining their fingers together. A second later, the thought dawned on him—was that weird? but Eiji just grinned up at him and squeezed his hand and his dark eyes did this thing that made Ash’s knees weak.

An absolute menace—that’s what Eiji was. It had taken Eiji twenty-two minutes to completely unmoor Ash, like a siren drawing him to the rocks. And Ash would happily go if it meant seeing that smile.

“Think you can take me in a real round?” Ash laughed, their hands still clasped between them and pressing their foreheads together in a way that was probably too familiar for two strangers.

Eiji’s expression fell deadpan and it was still somehow one of the most beautiful things Ash had ever seen. “You’re on,” he told him, all confidence.

He was gracious enough to rerack and allow Ash to break, but Ash didn’t stand much of a chance after that; Eiji sunk three striped balls, one right after the other, with clean impressive shots. He missed on his fourth shot and returned to Ash’s side, having the decency to look chagrined.

Ash didn’t realize his jaw had dropped open until he began to speak. “Did you play me?” He accused, laughing. “Did you just hustle me, Eiji Okumura?”

Maybe he should have felt put-off, or embarrassed, or just anything other than the sheer elation that drew him to Eiji’s side—but Eiji was running a hand through his hair, face flushed and stuttering to explain.

“I, um—wanted an excuse?” he tried, face darkening even further.

“An excuse?”

Ash wanted to make him say it; wanted to know how red his face could get. He wanted to hear that Eiji wanted him as much as Ash wanted Eiji.

Eiji struggled to find the words for a long moment before finally settling on, “I like having you against me.”

Ash was sure his brain short-circuited to hear Eiji say it so plainly. Ash wondered if he felt that draw the way Ash did; if he had seen Ash sitting at the bar and felt the yes like how Ash’s instinct had drawn him to Eiji’s table.

If he felt how much deeper this connection ran than simple attraction.

He didn’t know everything going on in Eiji’s mind right now, but Ash did know that Eiji was sweet and funny and interesting and adorably clever and he needed to kiss Eiji Okumura like he needed air.

But it was Eiji who led him outside to the shadowed side of the building, who pressed Ash against the old brick and claimed his mouth with an enthusiasm that drew some animalistic noise from Ash; he groaned against Eiji’s mouth, winding one hand in his dark curls and the other into the attractive curve of his hips and pulling.

Eiji whined against his mouth, opening like a flower in bloom under Ash’s attention. The kiss was sloppy and aggressive in a way that was needy and Ash could feel Eiji press against him through their jeans.

Ash turned them in a quick step that ended with Eiji’s back pressed to the wall instead, a little more forcefully than he intended—it drew a pleased gasp from Eiji, the shorter man twisting his fingers in Ash’s shirt to pull him in and roll their hips together.

Ash felt the moan more than he heard it—and then realized it had been him. “Fuck,” he muttered. Eiji had wrecked him so easily. “Want to take you home,” he confessed, pressing the words into Eiji’s open mouth. Eiji drank it down, rolling their hips together one more time and whining against Ash’s tongue at the friction.

It seemed to pain him to pull away.

For Ash, Eiji putting space between them felt like losing a limb.

“I’m not really the hook-up type,” Eiji confided in a whisper, panting.

“Neither am I,” Ash muttered, pressing a chaste kiss to the corner of Eiji’s mouth. The man closed his eyes and grinned, looking joyous as Ash moved his mouth down Eiji’s jaw, his neck—biting at his collarbone and hoping it would bruise as a memento.

Ash sunk his teeth a second time into the gentle curve of Eiji’s neck and savored the soft skin that gave so easily; felt the way Eiji’s head fell back, a strangled “oh” escaping him as Ash’s hips pressed against his and pinned him to the wall.

He wanted to take this man home, ruin him for hours in any way Eiji could possibly want and hold him after, talking about nothing as the hours ticked by. He’d make him breakfast in the morning and kiss him goodbye and take him on a proper date.

He’d buy him flowers and kiss his forehead and beg him to stay because something inside him was telling him this is where he was supposed to be

Distantly, a woman called, “Eiji?”

Eiji huffed, placing his hands on Ash’s shoulders and pushing him back. He looked pained, and rumpled, and somewhat irritated—god, even like this he’s cute, Ash thought.

At Ash’s stare, Eiji muttered, “That’s my friend,” looking for all the world like he wished it wasn’t.

“Eiji?” came the call a second time.

Ash only pulled away far enough to straighten; Eiji pressed his forehead to Ash’s, eyes closed. “She has the worst timing,” he swore.

Ash laughed, pressing a kiss to Eiji’s temple. “I understand,” he told him, softly.

Eiji shoved his hand into Ash’s front pocket, fumbling for his phone. He held it out for Ash to put in his passcode and Ash didn’t think twice—he was sure somewhere inside the bar Alex wanted to strangle him and didn’t know why.

“There,” Eiji whispered, turning the phone for Ash to see. He’d put his number in under “Eiji” with a heart emoji and fuck if he wasn’t going to marry Eiji’s cute ass someday. “Text me, okay?”

“Promise,” Ash said. He pressed one more kiss to Eiji’s mouth, the two sighing against one another, before Eiji seemed to remember himself.

Eiji stepped around him, muttering “Ja ne” with that small, secretive smile before disappearing back around the corner. Ash’s knees felt weak and his chest felt weird—it was suddenly much colder without Eiji there against him.

Eiji was gone by the time Ash regained enough brain function to make it back inside the bar, feeling lonely and downtrodden. How ridiculous, to be so easily transformed by one man’s presence.

It had been forty-three minutes since he had laid eyes on Eiji Okumura, and somehow it felt like he had known him for lifetimes. It wasn’t enough—it could never be enough.

Alex, Bones, and Kong were all seated in a booth, deep into a round of 500. They watched him enter, and Ash floundered for a long second—what was he doing again?—before deciding it would be a good idea to sit.

He collapsed into Alex’s half of the booth, sighing dejectedly.

In lieu of an actual greeting, Alex simply muttered, “oh no” as Ash hid his face in Alex’s shoulder. Kong and Bones echoed the sentiment and Ash tried to hide the way his face reddened in Alex’s jean jacket—his crew wasn’t stupid, but it was embarrassing regardless.

Bones slid Kong two twenties across the table and Ash pretended not to notice; nor the way half the bar was watching him in what seemed to be amazement.

On a typical day such blatant staring would end with Ash threatening the room—but all Ash could think about was how Eiji had felt against him, how sweetly he had sighed against his mouth and pulled him closer.

“Pathetic,” Alex laughed, as if hearing his thoughts. Ash punched his arm half-heartedly. It seemed impossible to be angry when all he could think about was Eiji’s soft laugh and big, dark doe-eyes. God, he was a menace.

“Shut up,” Ash whined as his crew laughed. “You’re all fired.”

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