With the dawn comes weightlessness. In the first moments that pure golden light shimmers through the skyline, everything is illuminated and the ghosts that haunt Ash are a bit less insistent. The edges of the windowsill where he sits fuzz, hazy and out of focus as he allows himself to drift for a moment, and in that time, he knows some modicum of peace.
He hasn’t slept enough, but that’s a problem he’ll deal with later. His hair catches on the old wood of the frame as he slumps lower, shoves his foot up against the opposite side to brace himself as his eyes shut. If he tries, focuses, he can hear Eiji’s soft breathing from the bed just a few feet away. It’s the deep, even breathing of someone who’s able to give themselves up to the knowledge that as long as they’re where they are, they’re safe.
Anyone who’s laid eyes on a trapped beast knows that being close is dangerous, and yet…
Ash sighs. The sun heats the side of his face with fingers of palest yellow, warm and kind and so unlike the days that are ahead of and behind him. His fingers knit on his knee, and when Eiji shifts in the bed, Ash glances over to see him tucking both hands below his chin with childlike innocence.
At least someone here has that left.
With Golzine, his men, everyone else, there was never time to sit and enjoy the sunrise. He was put away before it graced the horizon if he was lucky, and on days he wasn’t, they’d take him in broad daylight. Their hands would skim over his skin and they’d tell him to Look, pretty, memorize this, because what good is a living toy that doesn’t remember how to satisfy its masters?
The sun creeps inch by inch over brick and steel as Ash blinks slowly, his words of last night rising to the forefront of his mind. It’s not the first time he’s said it so bluntly, and it won’t be the last, but instead of the violent hurt or melancholy understanding that so often accompanies the honesty, Eiji’s face was blank.
It wasn’t a scared or horrified blank—Ash knows those looks all too well. It was something deeper and yet at once simpler, a wordless invitation for Ash to fill the space between them with stories of anger, of hurt and powerlessness that should have killed him long ago.
Somehow, Ash can’t find it in himself to be worried about the fact he’s desperate to do so, and that’s the scariest thing of all.
Eiji stirs again, the sound he makes so soft it’s nigh unbearable, and grumbles something unintelligible into the pillow. He’s still got a ways to go before waking up fully, though, and so Ash lets his head rest against the window frame and watches. It’s funny, that someone like him could integrate so well here.
With someone like Ash.
One side of his mouth tugs up as he remembers the unbridled joy in Eiji’s laugh, his body bent in two as he pointed and teased about calling Golzine to tell him there’s no need to hire help anymore, a pumpkin patch will do.
Eiji’s so bright, and Ash is torn between the worry his blood-soaked hands will tarnish that and the need to hold him so close that no one else has the chance, either.
As the seconds tick away into minutes, the city begins to hum with activity. Up here, overlooking the rooftops, one can imagine they’re above the hustle and bustle, that they’re not a slave to the coming and going of daily life. In the city that never sleeps you have to carve out your own space and your own calm, lest the busyness eat you alive. Here—this moment, these rooftops—is Ash’s peace. It’s a moment he doesn’t have to worry.
Pigeons coo lazily from their perches, balancing out the twittering of sparrows and angry shrieks of gulls to add to the soundtrack of New York.
If this were another life, if Ash wasn’t who he is, who he’s been made into—
(He doesn’t like to dwell on the fact he’s made himself into this beast.)
—then maybe he’d be enjoying this view without comparing it to the view from hotel windows after a night of servicing another politician, another socialite hell-bent on getting him to scream, cry.
Since meeting Eiji, he can’t seem to stop crying. Even now, unbidden, tears rise in his eyes to make the sun on glass shimmer brighter, almost enough to blind him. He looks to the sky above, but he doesn’t pray. Sometimes he wishes, wonders what any other life would be like, but today, knowing Eiji’s with him and more than willing to be his solace, he lets each tear track hot down his cheeks.
They say a boss would never, but Ash knows different. He knows Shorter cried, has held his wet face to his shoulder on nights when the weight of his sins was too much to bear. He’s sure Sing does, too, Yut-Lung and probably Cain Blood and all the way up to Golzine himself.
The human conscience can only take so much, after all.
There’s been enough killing.
Did Golzine ever cry after using him? Sometimes he wonders, his mind wandering to places he knows it shouldn’t. But he’s safe here, and he’s already breaking, so he allows it to happen. Papa Dino… It’s not as though he’s an actual father, but Ash wonders if that would stop him. Does blood relation make a pet undesirable, or would its tear-streaked cheeks be more attractive than those of a young boy fresh off the streets?
Ash lets his eyes slip shut, his brow furrowing in thought as he listens to Eiji roll over in bed. Fuck, he hates the sound of sheets rustling, but there’s no reason to dwell on that today. He doesn’t need to hate here—he can let that leaden weight sink low in his stomach, cover it with hope for a better future and the gentleness he’s beginning to learn comes with love.
Eiji moves again, then whispers, “Ash?”
“Mm.” It’s not that Ash doesn’t want to speak, or even that he’s worried his voice will crack, it’s more that he doesn’t feel he needs to. Talking will disturb the moment, and he’s not ready for that yet. He crooks his fingers, tips his head to the window where seagulls wheel above the alley below.
“You’re crying again,” Eiji says softly as he pads over to sit on the sill. He makes no sudden moves, no judgements, and Ash is grateful.
“Hard day yesterday,” he says, as though it was only a rough day at the office. What must that sort of life be like?
“I miss him too.” Eiji’s forehead taps against the glass, his eyes tracking the birds as he tucks his bottom lip between his teeth. “I’m sorry.”
“We’ll get over it.”
“I’m not sure I want to,” Eiji says, and that’s that. They watch the city together, Eiji’s foot tapping against Ash’s on occasion as he fidgets. “Do you always do this in the mornings?”
Ash shakes his head. “Don’t usually have the time,” he murmurs, peering over. “Why?”
“Because you look peaceful,” Eiji says.
Eiji raises a hand between them, hesitant until Ash lowers his head in acquiescence. Fingers skim across his forehead once, twice, before Eiji cups Ash’s cheek in a warm palm. “The light, it…” He pauses, unsure as he attempts to figure out his phrasing. “You’re...gentle?”
“Gentle,” Ash says, followed by a half-laugh as he twists his face up to grasp Eiji’s index finger between his canines. Eiji at least has the decency to look a little nervous. “Is that what you want from me, gentleness?”
Pulling his finger free, Eiji shakes his head. “I only want you to know what gentleness feels like, without any expectations.” His eyes are so earnest that Ash feels his own well up once more, and there’s a moment when he considers running away from any further vulnerability before Eiji leans down to rest his chin on Ash’s knee. “If I’m not good enough to survive in your world, then let me be kind when it’s too much. I can do that much, at least. Let me be that for you.”