“What the fuck did he want anyway?” Crandall asked. He frowned at the door, glad the vampire left, but curious as to why he had seemingly no purpose to his visit.
“I wasn’t born male,” Ash said softly.
Crandall’s gaze snapped back. Anxiety fled as anger took its place. “I’m sure you are,” he said. His gaze wandered roughly down Ash’s body, judging, probing, and then returned to meet his eyes. “Don’t speak in riddles. I hate riddles.”
“And hedging, and beating around the bush, and anything that’s not blunt,” Mike said.
“Fuck you, Mike.”
Mike ignored Crandall’s retort and said, “Just say it how it is, Ash. It’s the best way with him.”
“I’m transgendered.” Ash hung his head, hugging his knees to his chest again.
“Trans-what?” Crandall tipped his head, staring at Ash, waiting for an answer.
Dragon stepped forward. His voice low but respectful, he said, “Ash was born in a female body, but inside, he’s male.”
“I don’t get it.” Crandall turned to look over his shoulder but stared at Dragon’s knees instead of his face.
Dragon appeared to be considering his answer as he watched Ash for a reaction. Ash spoke up, startling Crandall, and drawing his gaze back to him. “Like a birth defect,” Ash said softly. “I was born wrong.”
Crandall studied the man huddled on the floor for several moments, digesting his words. He looked back to Mike who nodded with a shallow motion, his expression the same pleading one he wore when Crandall’s mouth was on the verge of getting him in trouble. Crandall frowned at him. Sure, he said things like they were, but he wasn’t an asshat, and Mike looked at him like he expected him to be one and hoped he was wrong.
“Fuck you,” Crandall said to Mike, and then knelt in front of Ash and put a hand on his forearm. “Fuck them.” Ash’s brow wrinkled and he frowned at Crandall. “Why the fuck are you letting some dead Fang make you embarrassed about that? You can’t help how you were born. Nobody can. Fuck that. Don’t you dare be fucking ashamed of it.”
Mike gasped, but then Crandall could hear the smile in his words as he said, “Crandall’s right, you know.”
“I know.” Ash looked up at Mike and nodded, and then lowered his gaze to Crandall’s. “I try not to let it bug me, but I’ve lived my whole life not feeling right in my own skin. It gets to me sometimes. And how did he know?”
“I don’t care,” Crandall said. When Ash didn’t respond, Crandall sighed and corrected himself. “I don’t care if you have tits or a prick. If you want to be ashamed of something, then work on that pretentious streak of yours.”
Mike snorted and Dragon laughed. Ash smirked, but couldn’t fight it for long, and after a brief three seconds of control, he chuckled and shook his head.
Crandall rose to his feet and then offered his hand to Ash. Ash took it and let Crandall pull him up. Crandall awkwardly patted his shoulder and said, “We all have fucking secrets, but that doesn’t make you a piece of shit for that Fang to kick around. Now tell me how this works. Are you… did you get a prick surgically?”
Ash waved Mike’s objection off. “Not yet,” he said. He shifted his gaze to Mike. “You can explain later.”
With his hand still on Ash’s shoulder, Crandall stepped into his personal space and kissed the corner of Ash’s mouth. “You’re alright,” Crandall said. “A jerk sometimes, but mostly alright.”
“What was that?” Ash shoved Crandall back. “You think because I’m a girl you can kiss me?”
With a snort, Crandall fixed Ash with his overly-direct glare. “I tried girls. I don’t like them. I kissed you as a peace offering.”
“You’re gay and you’re flirting with me?”
Crandall shrugged and crossed his arms briefly before dropping his hands to his side. “Not flirting,” he said. “I have a boyfriend.”
“Who?” Dragon asked.
“He’s just as ashamed of his secret as you are.” Crandall sighed in annoyance. “So, keep it to yourself and forget I said anything.”
“Crandall, I don’t think…” Mike trailed off as Crandall turned to frown at him.
“You don’t get it,” Crandall snapped, “so stay out of this conversation.”
Mike paused, licking his lips. Crandall didn’t like the betrayal in his eyes, and had no idea what put it there. Mike said, “Being in the closet doesn’t equate to embarrassment or shame, Crank. It can be a practical decision too.”
Crandall didn’t reply and his hard glare didn’t flicker from Mike’s face.
Up Next: Peace Offering