Ash looked up from his mug, his lips pressed tightly together to keep them from trembling. The night was catching up with him quickly, and Crandall’s suddenly harsh tone didn’t help.
“That cocky version of Ash isn’t sexy anyway,” Crandall said, apparently unaware of Ash’s reaction. Nothing new, Ash thought; he’d always thought Crandall was a bit self-centered, even if tonight he’d already revealed there was much more to him than those first impressions.
“No one is perfect, and you pretend you are. Fucking Karate Kid. While you’re too depressed now to see it, and you’ll probably deny this, it’s a fucking relief to see that you are a real person.”
Ash snorted and looked away. He reached deep down and forced up some anger at Crandall’s mini rant. He’d rather be offended than mopey and depressed any day.
Crandall waved a finger in his face, forcing Ash’s attention back to him. “Don’t fucking argue with me either. Yeah, you’re in the wrong body — I get that — but you’re cute, and you’re smart, and you’re damn fucking quick when fighting. Fuck, Ash, you’re alright, and I’ll help you figure out what to do about the girl shit.”
“You don’t have to help with that. It’s an expensive dead end right now.”
“I don’t have to sit here eating cookies and drinking instant chocolate either, but we’re friends, and that’s what friends do.”
“We’re friends?” Colleagues, yes, but he hadn’t realized Crandall thought of him as a friend. It wasn’t like they’d had any heart-to-hearts before tonight. Well, Ash cocked his head thinking, they’d both come out after that incident with the blond vampire. That didn’t really count though, did it? Crandall didn’t give a fuck about being out, it was Mike he’d been protecting.
“We’re not?” Crandall actually sounded hurt.
Ash laughed, but in a friendly way. He had to let the sudden release show somehow, so it was laugh or cry. Crandall scowled at him, so he quickly explained. “Yes, we’re friends,” Ash said. “I wasn’t sure that’s how you thought of us.”
Ash waved a hand between them, and then relaxed enough to try a cookie. He’d been watching Crandall dunk his in his hot cocoa, but Ash’s stomach churned at the idea. Now, having dumped some of his stress on Crandall, he found the idea delicious, and quickly finished one and grabbed a second.
“Marry me,” Crandall said.
Ash dropped his second cookie into the mug. Chocolate splashed over his hands, his shirt, and the table. He stared wide-eyed at Crandall, who didn’t look like he was joking. “Excuse me?” Ash asked. “I don’t think I heard you right.”
“Marry me.” Nope, he heard right. “You’d get on my insurance. You’re legally a girl, so we could, and my insurance covers therapy. I don’t know about the hormone meds or cutting you up, but I’ll check that.”
Ash stood. His legs shook. He grabbed onto the back of his chair. His mind reeled with the sudden and strange change in conversation. “That’s nice, Crandall, but we can’t.” He briefly wondered if Crandall really was teasing, but both Crandall and Mike had said Crandall didn’t make jokes. Heck, half the time, he didn’t catch the sarcasm and jokes passed around the Pit. He wouldn’t kid about this. Would he?
“Sure we can. You’re already living with me.”
“And your boyfriend.”
“Shit, Mike’s more your friend than I am. He’d be fine with it.”
“I don’t think so.” Besides it was wrong, but Ash didn’t think that’d be an argument Crandall would consider. “Gays can marry in this state. Shouldn’t you marry Mike first?”
Crandall snorted. Ash frowned. He’d seen Crandall and Mike in a couple of uninhibited moments since they’d come out to him and Dragon. He was certain they were very fond of each other, probably even in love, so the attitude didn’t make sense.
“Trouble in paradise?” Ash asked.
“Huh? You mean me and Mike? Hell no. It’s not perfect, but I wouldn’t trade him for anything. Not even a music deal.”
Ash smirked. It was close enough to a compliment. “But you don’t want to marry him?”
“Marriage is for people who doubt their relationships. Lock it in. Put it on paper. Fuck that shit. I know Mike loves me. I don’t need some judge to approve it.”
“Justice of the peace.”
Ash fished the cookie out of his mug and ate what he could as it disintegrated into a mushy mess. He took all the extra towels and wiped up the mess. “Mike’s a bit of a romantic,” Ash said. “You should talk to him about this.”
“It makes sense, Ash. Don’t argue.”
Ash looked up and met Crandall’s intense stare. “Talk to him. I refuse to consider anything until you two talk about this. I don’t think Mike will like it, and frankly, it’s weirding me out.”
Crandall shrugged one shoulder, and then took several more cookies out of the bag. “So where in Boston do we buy boob binders?”