Warning: minor oblique reference to Garden of Light
Also, many thanks to Aori for beta-ing!
Eiji was never Ibe-san's assistant - that had merely been an excuse for Ibe-san to bring Eiji along with him to America, away from all the concerned, sympathetic looks Eiji had been receiving following his injury - and he had never had any interest in photography either, too consumed by pole vaulting and the weightless moments above the crossbar to have time for anything else, but sometimes on a quiet night or a beautiful morning, Eiji would look at Ash and think he understood the appeal.
Ash gave Eiji permission to bear witness to him, to be the one person that would remember Ash even if the entire world forget. As long as Eiji was alive, Ash Lynx would never truly die.
It was flattering, most of the time, that of all the people Ash knew and could have chosen, he chose Eiji to remember him, that even though Ash didn't want to be remembered because he didn't think he was worth remembering, he would still let Eiji do it because Eiji thought - he knew - that Ash was worth it. Eiji loved that Ash trusted him, and took pride in that.
Sometimes, however, it felt as though Eiji's task was too great for him alone. Eiji found himself staring at Ash sometimes, desperate to catch every moment of him lest he missed something, or sometimes just too entranced to look away.
"What is it?" Ash had asked after the many times he caught Eiji staring, and Eiji smiled sheepishly and swallowed down the words "You'd make such a great picture", "I don't dare look away lest you disappear", "I don't want to miss a single moment with you", because between the both of them, they already knew, and some things don't need to be spoken if they were only going to weigh them down.
"It's nothing," Eiji said, because the wind had been brushing Ash's hair back and his blond strands glowed so bright under the sunlight, it was incandescent like the sun itself, and between that and the gorgeous background of Ash's hometown, the only alternative answer was, "You're beautiful". Eiji didn't think Ash would appreciate any comments about his appearance, sincere with no strings attached or not.
Ash looked at him then, the way he did sometimes like Eiji was a puzzle, even though Eiji had to be the most open, large-print book that Ash had ever had the pleasure of encountering, before slowly nodding. "If you say so. Tell me if anything's wrong, alright?"
Eiji nodded, because everything was fine, as long as he got to stay by Ash's side.
Ash figured it out a month later anyway, because he was smart, Eiji was an open book, and he knew Eiji far too well, and tossed something in Eiji's direction. It was a good thing he chose to do this as they were preparing to go to sleep, since Eiji fumbled with it out of surprise and dropped it.
"Ash…" Eiji said, when it landed with a thump on the soft surface of his bed, thankfully unharmed, and he finally saw what it was. "A camera…?"
"Do you like it?" he asked, crossing his arms with a small self-satisfied smirk at the doorway. "I asked Ibe for a recommendation, and he said that's good."
Eiji's gaze fell onto the camera, before he finally picked it up, feeling the weight of it in his hands. "I wouldn't know, to be honest," Eiji admitted. He turned it this way and that, examined it, and decided he liked the way it felt in his hands. "But I think I like it."
Ash smiled, self-satisfied smirk curled to something much softer, and Eiji's breath caught.
"Well," Ash said, cocking his head to the side, "go on." When Eiji just blinked at him, Ash sighed and muttered something under his breath about oblivious Japanese, before finally nodding towards the camera. "You can take pictures of me, if you'd like. Just don't expect me to pose for you."
Eiji's lips parted, but nothing came out. He didn't know what to say or how to express this warm feeling unfurling within his chest and suffusing his entire being. He wanted to point out that Ash hated photos, but there was no point. No one knew that better than Ash himself, and yet Ash gave Eiji permission, gifted him a camera, and handed him his trust on silver platter like it was nothing.
It was everything, and both of them knew it. Eiji didn't know what he did to deserve it, only that he would protect and treasure it with his everything.
And both of them knew that too.
A smile gradually filled Eiji's face. "Come here," he said, waving Ash over, and Ash uncrossed his arms and went, sitting on the exact spot of the bed next to Eiji that he patted at. Eiji powered the camera on and turned it around so the lens were facing them. "Say 'cheese'!"
"Are you sure it's centered correctly?" Ash asked, giving Eiji a skeptical look.
"No," Eiji admitted sheepishly. "But we can take as many as we want, right? Until we figure it out."
And if he got to take lots of pictures of Ash, all the better.
"Right," Ash said, lips quirking in a way that said he was onto Eiji. "I hope you improve fast then, or we'll be here all night."
"I'll practice everyday," Eiji promised, before turning his attention back to the camera. "Now say 'cheese'. My arm is getting tired."
Ash rose to his knee on the bed and moved behind him, leaning forward until his steady arm was right beneath Eiji's, supporting him, and his hand overlapped his, just like back when he was teaching him how to shoot.
Eiji could feel Ash's warmth against his back.
"Cheese," Ash monotoned like he was bored, but he was cheek-to-cheek with him; Eiji could feel the upward pull of Ash's lips, and the growing, mirroring movement of his own.
Eiji was smiling when Ash pushed the shutter, glad that Ash let Eiji take his picture, that he let himself be remembered with something more permanent beside Eiji's memory, and at the thought that maybe it was finally settling for Ash that he was worth memorializing, worth everything.
The world may know Ash as a leader of a group of gangs, the successor of a criminal empire, but Eiji will always remember Ash by these moments when they were just kids, carefree and weightless, like the moment above a crossbar.
And now, Eiji thought, years later when he put Ash's photo up in the gallery, the world will remember too.
Ash Lynx, beautiful and graceful and with a smile so bright, and Eiji Okumura, his photographer.
Just excuse me while I cry at the thought that this way, the Ash that Eiji knows will never die, and they will be memorialized together.
A mild divergence from Garden of Light, because the picture Eiji chose in the manga was Dawn, symbolically fitting and depicted Ash as beautiful and vulnerable when he was with Eiji and was most himself. In this fic, Eiji just want to remind the world that they were kids when everything in Banana Fish happened to them, and for all Ash's reputation, he was only eighteen when he died. Eiji remember him not by the cloud of violence and crime that followed Ash all his life, but by his boyish smile when he was with Eiji and was most himself.
And now the world remember him like that too.