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Towards the Eve

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Laying atop the covers in a shifty, sex-smelling motel, Eve found himself right back where he started. Living off his body, since his brain was no use. It all came full circle—like one of those Greek plays Heath had talked about.

Or maybe it was Italian? 

Eve didn’t know. Eve never knew anything. He was stupid, like that. Everyone told him so. If there was one thing he could be certain of, it was that. One, simple word. Even someone like him could remember that much.

He was okay with being stupid. He was okay with people laughing. It was funny. His entire being was funny. 

Facing the cracked, peeling wall, Eve smiled. 

He smiled as he gathered crumpled bills from the stained carpet. 

He smiled as he tugged his shirt back on, and found the buttons ripped off. 

He smiled to the bruises in the mirror—smiled to the chapped lips and tired eyes. He smiled to the hair he hadn’t cut since leaving Heath. He smiled to the life he’d never have again.

Eve smiled, because if he couldn’t smile, he was nothing. 

He stuffed his cash into his boot, like Heath had shown him years ago. It was bundled securely against his ankle, and he was happy. Why not be happy? He had the money he so desperately needed. He could finally afford a decent coat—after God knows how many weeks of winter. 

The lady at the front desk waved to him, as he descended down the staircase. A wave goodbye, or a greeting? He nodded in response. They’d gotten quite familiar now, with how he frequented the hotel. 

She was nice, a lot nicer than most. She always acknowledged him, even when he could hardly recognize himself in the mirror. And he always returned her gestures, hoping she knew how much it meant to him. 

He even prayed for her, when he found the time to pray. 

That was only on quiet nights, when he would slip Heath’s rosary from around his neck. He’d hold it in his hands instead, keeping it safe from the bitter streets. Over and over, he’d run his fingers over each of its little beads. He’d count them, again and again, until his hands stopped trembling. 

There were fifty-nine of them. Fifty nine beads—each for a prayer, he assumed. He couldn’t think of that many prayers though, no matter how hard he tried. He always got too lost after ten. 

It was afternoon now, so he wouldn’t pray. He had slept through the entire morning, somehow. Either his john had booked the room for the entire day, or the staff had taken pity on him again. He was grateful, either way. 

42nd street was a bit emptier than usual. The sun was still up. The creatures of the night—the people like him—naturally slunk away. Some were still out, though. Someone was always working the curb. Someone was always desperate, just like he was. He walked past them, head ducked down. 

God , it was cold. 

Too many faces on this street had become familiar to him. It was only the especially desperate ones that were already out. The hungry, the addicted, the abused—all born of the city’s wretched underbelly. 

Typically, he’d turn away. Eve wasn’t in a position to help anyone else—hell, he could barely help himself. That’s how it was—everybody fending for themselves, thrown to the sharks. Outside the idle conversation by the street corner, nobody tried too hard to be civil. 

So he walked quietly, trying to put some distance between himself and the district. He walked, and walked, and walked—and then his foot caught on something, and he was sent tumbling. 

Maybe walking with his head down hadn’t been the wisest. His eyes drifted up from the uneven asphalt, and to the culprit of his fall. A young boy sat on the curb, with one leg stretched out and the other bent up to his chest. 

“Watch where you’re walking.”

Eve met his eyes, and nearly laughed. This was just a kid—acting all tough. 

“Maybe you should watch where you’re sitting.”

“What’s wrong with where I’m sitting? You’re the one walking around like a blind grandpa.” 

“You’re awfully rude, y’know.” Eve pushed himself up off the ground. He frowned down at his hands—they had gotten slightly scraped up in the fall. “What are you doing out on this street?” 

He rolled his eyes. “What do you think?” 

“I don’t think anything. It’s just that you’re awfully young.” 

“I need money.” The boy spoke hollowly—with a forced annoyance that thinly shielded a profound exhaustion. Eve was familiar enough with that. 

“To eat?” 

He sent Eve a rather irritated look. “No, to burn for heat.” 

Eve grinned broadly in response. “Well, I don’t know about starting a fire, but I’ve got enough for a meal. Wanna join me?”

The boy narrowed his eyes, as if trying to read his mind. They were green, Eve realized. Not any old green, either. A striking pale green, like those pretty little stones he saw on necklaces in shop windows. He’d been certain it was something man-made—no way could nature make a green so different from the one of grass and leaves. 

“Why would I go with you?” 

“Well,” he shrugged, digging his hands into the pockets of his worn denim jacket. “I just got paid. And having been around this block a few times, I can tell you for sure you won’t be getting business this early.” 

The boy turned his eyes away, as if insulted. “What makes you so sure?” 

Eve laughed, rocking back on his heel. “No one’s brave enough to pick up a child in broad daylight.” 

“There’s no shortage of stuck-up creeps with no fear.” 

Eve supposed he was right. There’d always be someone. But even if there was, it wouldn’t be anyone good. It wouldn’t be anyone a kid should hop in a car with. He’d learned that lesson himself, a few times. No good came out of risking it. 

“Yeah, sure.” He dropped down to the curb, now at the kid’s level. “But listen—if I can tell you’re new around here, so can everyone else. You’ll only get yourself in trouble. And you can’t make any more money if you’re in trouble.” 

“Whatever,” the boy grumbled. “I’m already in trouble, anyway.” 

Eve could only guess what he meant by that. Probably that he already had a pimp, or something of the sort. He wouldn’t ask, though. He knew his place well enough, and he wasn’t one to press on sore sports. 

“Then why not get a bite to eat with me?” He held his palm out, and met the boy’s gaze with as gentle a smile as he could muster. “I haven’t gotten a meal with anyone in a while—it’s no fun eating alone, y’know?” 

The boy’s eyes furrowed. His stare felt like cigarette burns across Eve’s skin, burrowing into the sensitive flesh of his exposed neck. The marks already there were aflame again, leaving his skin raw. He tried to ignore it—tried not to flinch. He didn’t want to scare the child off. 

“Fine,” he finally huffed. “But only because I’m hungry.”

Eve folded his hand over the kids, securing his hold with a firm squeeze before beginning to walk. Now that he had him, the kid wasn’t really protesting much. He walked by Eve’s side, placing foot after foot down as he walked along the curb. His balance was instinctual—a bit like a cat’s. 

They walked to the end of the block, before Eve led them down a small little street. They walked down cracked sidewalks and roads that probably hadn’t been repaved in decades—and the boy stayed diligently at his side. Eve had been worried he was new to New York, a runaway drawn in by the city’s magnetic field. Now, that didn’t seem like much of a concern.

“Do you even have money to spare?” The boy suddenly asked, voice clear and bold against the noise of the street. 

“Not really—not much, at least.” He stepped over a pothole, and guided the kid around it. “All I really want is a coat, though, so I’ve got more than enough.” 

“Oh,” the boy responded mootly. “What’s your name, anyway? All I know is you’re a hustler.” 

He laughed, shaking hair into his eyes. “I’m Eve. And I could see the same for you, kiddo.” 

“Ash.” 

“And how old are you, Ash? I’m eighteen—I think.” 

He frowned. Was he still eighteen? He wasn’t sure exactly when his birthday was—just knew it was sometime in May. Not that he’d ever really celebrated it, until recently. Indian had told him to assume it was on the fifteenth, as a happy medium. Eve was satisfied with a happy medium. 

May was still a long ways away. 

“You think?” 

“I think,” Eve repeated. 

“Okay.” Ash glanced back down to his shoes. He looked away out of flat indifference, rather than any semblance of shyness. “I’m thirteen.” 

“That’s pretty young.” 

“Or you’re just getting old.” 

“Nah.” He swung their linked hands as they walked, savoring the subtle warmth. “I think I’m plenty young.” 

---

Eve ended up bringing Ash to his favorite restaurant. It was a dinky little Italian place, with few seats and even fewer guests. 

During daytime hours, that was. He knew they got quite a few guests in the drunken hours of the night—when the world spun, words spilled, and garlic began smelling like heaven. They kept their doors open with whiskey shots and draft beers. 

Regardless, Eve liked the place.

More than anything, he liked its warmth. He liked the familiar voice of the owner, and the gentle wave of the overworked waitress. He liked the way they always let him overstay his welcome, and sent him home with the day’s leftovers.

Eve had always had a talent for finding the good in the worst. Star child, Jane had called him. He brought out the good in people, apparently. Too bad his luck had never held up. 

“Eve? That you again?” The owner’s voice boomed from behind the counter, where he stood by the displays of desserts and sandwiches. 

He grinned, leaving Ash at the front as he ran up to the front. It had been around a week since he stopped by—he felt bad, constantly leaching. Not that anyone said anything about it, anyway. Tony was always just fine with giving him scraps. 

“Sure is.” He hopped up onto one of the bar stools, leaning over the counter. “Miss me?” 

Tony snorted, and reached a hand out to rustle his hair. “Nah, get outta here.” 

“Don’t feed stray dogs if you don’t want a pet.” 

“Mm, that’s got a nice ring.” Tony drew his arm back, and crossed it with the other over his chest. “Who’d ya hear it from?” 

“Can’t remember—prob’ly someone smart.” 

Eve let his eyes wander up to Tony’s face, as he considered. He had a mean looking face, but kind eyes. Everything was in the eyes, Eve supposed. He’d met plenty of nice faces with mean eyes. 

“You’re plenty clever yourself.” The older man smiled warmly. “You just use it a little different.” 

“Well—” He hopped up onto his knees to lean into the bar,  “I can’t be all that clever on an empty stomach.” 

“You sure have a way of getting your way, don’t you?” Eve could already see Tony shuffling around his kitchen, despite his words. “By the way—who’s your little friend?”

“Oh! This—” His head whipped around, towards the kid still awkwardly standing in the back. Eve waved his hand, beckoning him to the counter. “This is Ash.” 

“Another stray dog, then?” 

“Mhm,” Eve hummed. “Picked him up right off the curb.” 

“Well, I suppose I’ve got a new friend.” Tony set two glasses of coke down in front of them, letting each click loudly against the wooden surface. “Paninis?” 

“With chicken.” 

The man raised a brow. “Are we being picky, now?” 

He nodded firmly. “I can pay today.” 

“That’s damn sweet of you—” Tony rose from where he was bent over the counter, rolling his shoulders back to stretch. “But you should save it.” 

Tony sent them another one of his signature smiles, before ducking into the kitchen.

“Well,” Eve started, settling back into his seat, “that was Tony. We’re close enough.”

“Yeah,” Ash muttered. “I noticed.” 

The boy stared at his coke, wearing an expression that could be anything from boredom to anger. Whatever he felt, he hid it awfully well. Not with a smile, like Eve liked to—but with mean eyes and meaner words. 

As mean as a kid could manage to be, anyway. Eve didn’t find him all that intimidating, with his scuffed converse and too-big jeans. 

“You fucking the guy or something?” 

Those words dragged Eve up and out of his thoughts. 

“What?” 

“You heard me.” Ash was looking down again—kicking at the table leg. 

“Of course not.” Eve spun around in his chair, to face him. “Why would you even say something like that about Tony?”

“Why wouldn’t I? That’s how the word works.”

“No—” Eve insisted gently, keeping his voice soft and his tone softer. “No, it’s not. That—that’s my job. And I’m doing that because I’m stupid, and it’s all I can do. It’s not the same as my actual relationships.” 

The boy only scoffed in response, and it took all the patience in Eve’s heart to not raise a hand to slap him. 

Actual relationships? You believe in that bullshit?” 

Eve pressed his lips together, to keep his mouth from hanging open. That was a bad habit of his—showing everything on his face. 

“Don’t you—don’t you have any friends , Ash?” 

“Bullshit.” 

Huh. He must’ve really liked that word. 

“Really? None besides me?” 

“You aren’t my friend,” Ash grumbled. 

“What am I, then?” He reached out slowly, and brushed the boy’s hair back with a gentle hand. “I consider you my friend. An annoying  little friend—but still a friend.” 

Eve breathed out a small laugh, when Ash turned his head away. 

“You’re just a momentary acquaintance.” 

“Oh? Those are some big words,” he quipped. “Went right over my head, I’m afraid.” 

The boy refused to look up after that—or reward him with a response. He only reached for his drink, and took a rather loud sip. 

This was insecurity—Eve recognized it well. It wasn’t the bold, self-deprecating sort of type most would notice. It was more akin to fear—a quiet anxiety born of chronic distrust and routine hurt. It was subtle and hidden deep, shielded by layers of self defense manifested into arrogance. 

God, the kid must have been so scared. Scared and desperate—because he wouldn’t have still been around otherwise. And Eve knew that feeling entirely too well. It was intimate to him, deeply seeded in the cold of winter, and blossoming with the warmer months. 

More than anything, he wished he knew what to do about it. He wished he was faster, stronger, smarter —wished he could offer something more than a street whore’s advice. 

“Listen, kid—” 

“I’m not a kid.” 

“Kid,” Eve repeated. “The world isn’t all bad. It can be good—and that goodness isn’t lost to people like us.”

“Oh?” Ash’s smaller hands tightened around his drink, leaving clear smears on the foggy glass. “That sounds like delusional optimism.”

Delusional. Another good word. 

“Are delusional optimism and pessimism really all that different? I mean—” he grabbed his own glass, and tried to order the words in his head. “You must have something to live for, right? If you’re still around—there’s something you want from the future, isn’t there?” 

“No.” 

“Well—I did, at least. All my life, I dreamed of seeing California.” 

“Yet here you are.” 

“Yeah,” Eve conceded, “here I am. But I did make it all the way Houston—and met someone who gave me the best two…almost three years of my life.” He couldn’t help but laugh, after saying it aloud. 

“When I came back here with him, it was nothing like the New York I knew, Ash. I met these wonderful people—all of them tried so hard to help me. They fed me, housed me—even taught me how to read and write. One of them even let me work for her—even though I’m useless.” 

“And?” Ash was looking up again, with an awful, bitter sort of expectation in his eyes. “What happened?” 

Distantly, Eve felt his teeth sink into his bottom lip. Distantly, because he couldn’t quite seem to focus on anything physical. What did happen? It was obvious, wasn’t it? He just had bad luck with life—always messing everything up. 

“I ruined it.” 

Ash glanced away. You ruined it?” 

“Yeah,” he smiled. “I ruin everything. But that doesn’t mean you will.” 

Ash drew back, bangs falling back over his eyes. “But how’d you ruin it?” 

Eve twirled his straw in his drink, as he struggled to put together a response. He was scared to say the wrong thing—to crush any measly hope the boy might have had. Because if he knew anything—it was how pathetic he was. 

“I’m a coward,” he finally whispered. “I wasn’t brave enough to reach for what I really wanted, or face up to my own feelings. I ran away from it all—and ended up back here.” 

“Oh.”

“What?” Eve joked, “Not gonna make fun of me?” 

“I wouldn’t do that,” Ash mumbled. “I ended up here by running away, too.”

“Running away isn’t bad.” Eve nudged the boy lightly with the edge of his foot, in hopes of another gripe. “You just need to run towards something, next time.”

---

“Do you not know how to use the fucking slushie machine?”

“Well, I—” Eve released his hold on the handle, exasperated. He’d spent a whole minute pushing and pulling on it, as Ash laughed his ass off at his side. “I’ve never really done this before.” 

“But this is like— obvious .” Ash burst into another fit of giggles, before reaching out himself. “You just turn it, like this.” 

“You should’ve done it yourself to start with, smartass.” 

“Well, I’m doing it now— dumbass. ” 

Eve stepped aside, with his very little pride further chipped away. Not that he really minded—he found the whole situation funny. Ash himself was pretty funny, particularly when he wasn’t trying to be. He had this sort of overconfidence to him—a seriousness that looked comedic on a scrawny tween. 

Eve had never really acted like that. He’d always lived in the moment, and tried not to think too hard. Tried, if the situation permitted. Fate wasn’t always—wasn’t often—so kind. 

“Do you want blue, too?” 

“Yeah, get blue.” 

Ash filled the cups with only slightly disconcerting efficiency, and snapped each of the tops on in a similar hurry. Eve didn’t want to think too much about the way he moved—he just wished the boy would’ve been a little clumsier. 

“How’s an idiot like you even alive?” 

“Dumb luck, maybe?” 

“That’s some sick luck.” 

“Sure is.” He shrugged his newly purchased Salvation Army coat over his shoulders, and reached back to pull the hood up for good measure. “Ready to go?” 

They were halfway through the doorway by the time Ash hummed in affirmation, lips hooked around his straw. His own coat—a little too big, despite being the smallest size they could find—hung loose off his shoulders. 

“You should at least zip that up, y’know.” 

Ash shrugged. “It’s fine”

“No,” Eve huffed, “it’s not.”

There was a bit of friction when he pulled the zipper up, metal a little chipped and worn from previous years of wear. But it looked pretty nice otherwise, with no stains or rips. And it fit well enough when it was zipped up, all the way up to the kid’s chin.

“There we go. Isn’t that better?” 

“No,” he mumbled. 

Eve chuckled at the kids pout, and took his free arm by the sleeve. “Come on, it’s getting dark.” 

Ash looked up. “Come on to where?”

“I’m showing you where you can find me,” he responded easily. “You were planning to work the street, right? I can’t really make you not—and I can’t offer you all that much—but I still want you to be able to find me.” 

“So you’re—” the kid’s eyes narrowed, “you’re taking me to the corner you work?” 

“Yeah, pretty much.” 

In retrospect, it didn’t sound like the greatest idea. Eve’s ideas were never all that great, though. All he ever did was try. He forced his way through life, always wavering on its edge. Never quite warm, never quite safe—and it stung even more, now. It hurt to know what he was missing—to know what he could've been, had he been anyone else. 

And now, here he was, dragging Ash down with him. Taking Ash to exactly the kind of place a kid shouldn’t be, all because he was too weak to do anything else. His own guilt tumbled around in his stomach, swallowed down with bread and cheese and flavored syrup. It stung fiercer than stomach acid ever could, traveling back up his throat and numbing his tongue.

The rosary weighed heavier than before, each little bead pressing too hard against his skin, and the cross itself practically burning in its pressure. He felt the urge to slip it out from under his shirt—just so the feeling would stop—but that wouldn’t be honest. And he wanted to be honest. If he could be anything, he could be honest. 

Because above all, Eve was shameless. He knew exactly what he was and who he was, and lived his life like it didn't bother him. He didn’t have the time for it to bother him—he had to keep moving, keep working, keep living. Now, with Ash in his hand, he was forced to stop. He was forced to actually think. 

What could he do?

“Actually…” Eve’s feet stumbled to a stop, rubber soles of his boots scraping against the sidewalk. “That’s a bad idea. I know somewhere better.”

He looked over, gauging Ash’s reaction. The kid didn’t look awfully happy about the change of plans—probably didn’t like not being in the know. 

“It’s really not too far off, I just want to introduce you to someone.” 

Ash protested through grit teeth. “I don’t want to be introduced to anyone .”

Eve bent his knees a little, matching Ash’s eye-level. “It’s just someone that can help you, I promise.” 

Those big green eyes stared right back at him—still untrusting. They were stormy in that pretty way he imagined the ocean would be—with warning in their stillness, and a foamy sort of softness left behind as a memory.  

“You don’t think I’ve heard that line before?” 

“I swear to you,” Eve insisted earnestly, with two hands clenched around Ash’s sleeves and a plastic cup now abandoned on the ground. “It’s someone who helped me before—he works the same street, even. And I won’t just leave you, okay?” 

Ash’s gaze wavered. Only a little—but it was something. 

“I’ll run, y’know. I’m fast—” Ash pulled slightly at Eve’s hold, yanking his right hand away. “If you try anything, I’ll run.” 

“I know,” Eve breathed out. “I’d hope you would.”

---

“Is this it?” 

Despite the forced apathy in his voice, Ash was glancing around with the wonder of a child at an amusement park. If he was familiar with the seediness of New York, it must have been something entirely separate from the nightlife Eve was so intimate with. Each shining light caught in the reflection of his wide eyes, dancing and blending until the neon became almost natural.

“It’s that theater right there—” Eve pointed, knowing full well Ash’s eyes were anywhere else. “By the massage parlor.” 

He made sure to keep a tight hold of Ash’s hand as they walked, keeping him away from the swarming crowd exiting through the rows of double doors. Eve needed to keep distance, but not so much distance that he’d start missing things. So he kept a lookout—scanning the crowd for a certain blonde-headed actor.

He must’ve not been keeping a good enough lookout, because it found him before he found it.

It attacked from the back, with a pair of strong arms wrapped around his shoulders and a brightly colored bouquet shoved against his face. It attacked with a familiar voice and a warmth he’d just been starting to forget, all tied up neatly with a murmur of his name. 

“Eve.” 

“I-”

“Oh my god—” Alex spun him around in his hold, and Eve just barely managed to keep his grip of Ash’s jacket. “It’s really you. Holy shit, it’s really you.” 

“Alex, I’m-” 

“Do you know how fucking worried everyone is? With the way you just disappeared like that—shit, I need to get you to Indian—”

“Alex.” Eve’s voice was practically begging now. “You don’t need to get me anywhere. I only came here for him. ” He tilted his head to the side, to where he held Ash against his hip.  

“Eve, you’re…” Alex took a step back, and his gaze followed Eve’s gesture. “That’s a kid.” 

“Yeah.” He spoke gently, hoping Alex would match his tone. “I met him on 42nd, a few blocks down.” 

“That’s—” Alex ran a hand through his still-long hair, tugging slightly at the roots. “So it’s like that?” 

Eve nodded, then looked back to Ash. “Buddy, this is Alex—introduce yourself.” 

Ash only gave him a wary look in return, refusing to look in Alex’s direction for longer than a second. Eve understood that—Alex was a stranger. This wasn’t an old friend to Ash, like it was to Eve. But still, he’d been hoping the kid would at least go through the motions. 

“Not much of a talker?”

He shook his head. “Just careful.” 

Alex raised his brows in a quick gesture of acknowledgement, before kneeling down. And with his knees on the pavement, he looked up at Ash with a small smile on his face. “I’m Alex. What’s your name, kid?” 

“Well,” Ash finally spoke, thin voice coming out gravelly with annoyance. “I’m not a goddamn toddler, so you can stand the fuck up.”

Alex snorted. “That’s quite a vocabulary. What are you then, twelve?” 

“Thirteen,” Ash growled out. 

“Mm, thirteen. I hardly remember being thirteen.” Alex stood up, a low laugh in his voice. “Y’know, I first met Eve when he was fifteen. And I thought he was the smallest thing I’d ever seen, back then.” 

“What’s that gotta do with me?” 

“I’m just saying—” Alex shrugged. “All kids look pretty damn young to old hags like me.”

Ash looked him up and down, digging deep into any inch of him. Eve swore if the kid glared any harder, he’d start seeing skeletons.  

“Ash.” 

“Hm?” 

“That’s my name.” His gaze dropped. “Ash.” 

“Oh, right.” Alex forced a smile, and plucked a flower from his bouquet. “Here.” 

Ash frowned, but wrapped his smaller hand around its stem. “Why?” 

“It’s a special sort of daisy. Matches your eyes, don’t you think?”

Ash brought the flower closer to his chest, barely glancing down at its petals. “I guess.” 

“And here—” Alex’s grin broadened even further, as he pulled another flower from the arrangement. This one was yellow—with little petals that looked soft enough to sleep on. “A marigold for Eve.” 

Alex turned back to Ash once Eve took the flower, playfully tilting his head. “That one suits him, doesn’t it? With that bright blonde hair of his.” 

Ash furrowed his eyebrows at that, and looked between the two. “I guess. We’re all blonde, though.”

“Nah, I’m just a bottle blonde. You two are the real deal.” 

Alex tucked the bouquet back under his free arm, letting it perch against the crook of his elbow. His hair had gotten longer in the months they’d spent apart, and if he squinted, Eve could even see the light brown growing back in. 

“We shouldn’t stall here too long—y’know what kind of place this turns into once they switch the setlist to porn.” 

Eve was a bit mournful to part so soon, but he tried to keep it out of his voice when he spoke. “You two should get going.” 

“Us two?” Alex met him with a look of disdain. “You think I’m letting you run off again? Heath is going fucking crazy without you.” 

“No—” Eve finally let go of Ash’s sleeve, and took a few stumbling steps back. “I can’t see Heath.” 

“Are you kidding me? I’m not letting yourself be reckless over some unresolved feelings.”

“It’s not—” 

“Did you ever bother to talk to Heath about it? Ever wonder how he’d feel about you running off like that?” Alex took a step forward, mirroring Eve. “He’s an asshole, sure—but I know he would absolutely fucking lose it if anything happened to you.” 

“I was just a burden to him. Besides—I started doing this a decade ago.” A choked laugh left his throat. “I can handle myself, Alex.” 

“You shouldn’t have to, Eve. Not when we’re still out there.”

“I was a burden.” 

“A burden?” Alex was particularly shouting now, and all of a sudden the busy street became a blessing. “What about the burden you’re putting on my mental health? You ran away with a fucking bullet wound, Eve. How am I supposed to know if you’re okay? I doubt I’d even find out if you died. ” 

Alex’s bouquet dropped to the ground, pink wrapping plastic crinkling as a stranger’s foot kicked it away. The rainbow assortment flickered away in the crowd, lost too soon to the pattern of hurried footsteps. All Eve felt was guilt, watching it. 

“When you came home with a hole in your shoulder—do you know who watched over you? Who made sure you stayed breathing? That was me, Eve. I know how rough these streets can be—I’ve seen young men like you die—so for god’s sake, just do me a fucking favor and come home.” 

Eve ducked his head, blinking his watery eyes in hopes the tears would leave. “But I’m—” 

He was interrupted by a tap to his hand. “What about me?”

Eve turned away from the younger voice. He focused on the sidewalk, the street, the people—just anything else. 

“You said you wouldn’t just leave me. And what are you trying to do now?” 

“That’s different.” 

“Is it?” Ash stepped around him, forcing himself into Eve’s line of sight. “You really want me to leave with some random guy, when you’re not even going yourself? Because I’m telling you right now—I’m not doing this shit.” 

“You don’t get it, you’re young—”

“Young?” Ash’s voice lowered, and for the first time, Eve could really hear the deeper tone of early puberty. “You said it’d been a decade, right? Then we started at the same age.” 

There was no way Eve could respond to that. He could already feel his knees bucking—his voice cracking before a single sound left his mouth. He was weak, pathetic, and chronically a runaway. It was second nature to him. It was all he could do, no matter who he hurt or left along the way. 

“You won’t abandon me, right?” Ash’s voice softened, and it hurt. “Did you really spend all day convincing me to trust you, only to leave me with some weirdo?” 

“Ash, I-” Eve finally looked up, once again losing himself to that swirling green. “I’m sorry.” He wiped the tears from his cheeks with the slightly tattered end of his sleeve, pressing his eyes firmly shut. “I lied to you—I’m sorry.” 

“Just come with us,” Alex begged. “Just spend the night—just so I can make sure you’re not hurt.” 

“So I have time to run,” Ash pinned on. 

“Just one night?” 

“Yes.” Alex took his hand in a careful hold, replacing Ash’s lingering touch with his own. “One night. You can leave after that if you really want to, okay?”

Eve rubbed his eyes raw, and forced his red eyes back open. “Only for Ash.” 

Alex let out a sigh—a breath that almost sounded like relief. 

“Let’s go home.”