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Embracing the Unknown

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Jay was quiet.

It was as if their moment in a small, back room of Korakuen Hall had required every drop of courage he possessed and borrowed more from somewhere else. With each step they had taken away from the building, Jay had become more and more withdrawn. Shrunken in on himself. They had walked side-by-side to his car - close but never touching. He didn't want to push Jay too far but at the same time, Tetsuya knew he needed to reassure him somehow.

How did he even explain how badly he wanted to keep him?

Were those words that Jay was even ready to hear?

But then, not Jay but Jamie.

It was definitely a softer sounding name. More delicate. And until it had been shared with him, it wasn't a name that Tetsuya had ever heard in regards to Jay. He was probably too aware of things related to Jay White than he necessarily should be but never once had that name come up. But Jay had offered it to him - shared something he obviously kept private.

Jamie suited the hesitant yet warm smile he had been allowed to see. The trembling body he had held carefully held in his arms. But when Tetsuya tried to reconcile Jamie with the Switchblade mask he sometimes wore, that was when it stopped making sense. Whose idea had that been? Had Jay decided on his own to take that gentle warmth and transform it - or at least try to - into a ruthless coldness? Why, though?

Back at Korakuen Hall earlier, there had been something terrifying about turning around and seeing Jay shove that mask into place. Watching the light in his eyes purposefully fade away. The only thing Tetsuya had been able to do was go to him. Pull him away from anyone that might see him and wrap him up in his arms.

He didn't need the mask. Not with him. Never with him.

All that time Jay had been away, Tetsuya hadn't been able to stop thinking about him. Talking about him to BUSHI had taken a few months, though. Eventually, a bad night and a little bit of alcohol had worn him down and he had said Jay's name out loud - unable to keep the deep wistfulness out of his voice. Ever since, BUSHI had been reminding him that Jay would come back eventually. And once that had happened, he had been encouraging him to reach out. To try.

So tonight, that was exactly what he had done. Tetsuya had taken a chance on the longing he felt still being there in Jay's eyes. And it was. Yearning mixed with warmth and softness and affection. A tentative, barely there caress that he could still feel against his skin. There weren't words for how right it had felt to hold Jay close. He had dreamed about what he would feel like in his arms far too many times. The sorts of dreams that left him flushed and embarrassed in the morning because of how gentle and intimate they were.

And now the subject of those dreams was sitting beside him in his car.

Jay was looking out the window - silent and stiff. The glimpses Tetsuya caught of his face weren't much better. His expression was so closed off and it worried him. Was this too much? Had Jay not really wanted to come with him? Or did he just need a little more? A little more reassurance. A little more to hold onto.

I thought you would forget me.

It still hurt that Jay had assumed such a thing. He had changed so much inside of Tetsuya's own heart and he didn't know it. His fear and uncertainty had caused that - made Jay feel unwanted and unseen. That was what he had left him with - what Jay had carried to America with him. The knowledge that this longing was his and his alone.

And it wasn't something that could be swept away by a few minutes of closeness.

He needed to stop at a traffic signal and it was as good of an opportunity as any. Tetsuya reached over and gently laid his hand on top of Jay's.

"Cosa dulce… "

That seemed to be all that was needed to shock Jay out of his stupor. Those eyes darted down to their hands before looking up at him and meeting his gaze. And the emotions there. Fear and hope and nervousness. The urge to pull him into his arms was dangerously strong. Was that going to keep happening? Would this strange part of himself that just wanted to hold him ever relax? But Jay had fit so perfectly there in their embrace and he wanted to know that sensation over and over again. Even long after it had been engraved into his bones.

"You need to go, Naito."

Jay was gesturing at the road in front of them and the light had indeed changed. With a quick squeeze of his hand, Tetsuya continued to drive and tried his best to focus on the road. But he couldn't quite resist one more thing.

"That's a shame. I like looking at you."

He knew without a single glance that Jay was blushing but the soft chuckle was entirely unexpected and went straight to his heart.

"You can do that at dinner. It'll be safer."

And now he couldn't help but laugh lightly in return. Tetsuya could feel Jay's eyes on him and it was a far better feeling than knowing he was morosely staring out the window. As he drove on, Jay's gaze shifted back to the road and the window but he could see him still smiling softly out of the corner of his eye.

---

Jay ordered the exact same thing he did.

It wasn't a language issue - his Japanese was slower but steady and clear. And it didn't quite seem like they miraculously had the same favorite order. Tetsuya wondered again about that shyness. Was that what this was? A fear of revealing even the slightest thing about himself? It wasn't off-putting, though. In fact, it was the opposite. Tetsuya found himself intrigued yet further. Drawn in even more. He wanted to be allowed to see past even that Switchblade mask and into the things Jay had long since kept hidden. Wanted to be given that type of trust. To earn it.

Weaving his way across the floor, Tetsuya sat at a table in the corner. He usually just plopped down in the first open seat but he hoped that Jay might be more comfortable with a little bit more privacy. But if he was, Tetsuya couldn't quite tell. His eyes were darting about - taking in every detail of the room - but never looking in his direction. His food was in front of him, completely untouched. And he hadn't said a word.

So Tetsuya took a few bites of his sandwich in hopes that Jay would at least start eating too. But nothing happened other than Jay adding an occasional quick look down at his hands into his survey of the room. He had felt his warmth - held him close - so Tetsuya was almost sure that the problem wasn't him necessarily. But he did want to fix it - draw Jamie back out from wherever he was hiding.

"How's the food?"

Their eyes met and Jay's went comically wide. He looked so embarrassed at being asked such a simple question and Tetsuya almost wished that he could take it back. Jay glanced down at his untouched sandwich, gingerly picked it up, and took a single, small bite. And for some reason, he found himself nearly fixated on the movement of those lips as he wondered if they were as soft as they appeared.

It wasn't the first time that he had thought about kissing Jay White but never while he was so close. Never after holding him in his arms and never during a late dinner together. He was staring - he knew he was - but kissing him seemed like an actual possibility instead of a daydream and his heart wasn't quite sure how to handle the perception shift.

"It's good."

His voice was so quiet - like he was trying to take up as little space with it as possible. It wasn't necessary and it hurt to hear. Just how much had it taken out of him to stay in his arms back at Korakuen Hall?

"Yeah? It's my favorite."

It was such a little thing to share - the members of his familia had long since memorized it - but it felt a little different to share it with Jay. But he had given him Jamie and that had far more weight to it. But perhaps not to Jay. His gaze had softened and Tetsuya was almost certain that some tension had faded away from his shoulders. And there was that warm smile again, making his heart skip a beat.

Had something so small helped?

"Really?"

Jay's voice cracked again and that urge to pull into his arms was back once more in full force.

"Really." He didn't bother trying to hide his smile as Jay took several more small bites in quick succession. "I'm glad you like it."

They both sat and ate in quiet companionship for a few minutes and it was hard to not just sit there and stare at Jay. He was so focused on trying to eat the sandwich as neatly as possible. His eyes kept darting up to meet his in a way that Tetsuya could only find adorable. Why was that? It matched that odd feeling in his chest so it couldn't be a bad thing.

"You're staring, Naito."

There was this slightly reddish tint to his cheeks and it took Tetsuya a minute to realize that Jay was blushing.

"You said I could."

Jay started to withdraw again before he even finished the sentence. Arms pulled back closer to his chest and his head dipped as he looked away. Was it just shyness or was there something more there? Time passed and neither of them said anything else. Tetsuya took a few more bites of his sandwich - he really was hungry - and hoped that maybe the extra space would help Jay unwind a little more.

But nothing like that happened.

They both quietly ate as Jay seemingly refused to look up from his sandwich. There had to be something that he could do. Tetsuya wanted to hear more of his sweet voice. Anything that Jay wanted to say. Anything that he wanted to talk about.

"Cosa dulce…" Jay's eyes tentatively met his gaze. "What's wrong?"

Tetsuya saw him swallow as he reached up to rub the back of his neck almost nervously. And that urge to hold him close was back again - strong enough this time that his fingers twitched. Rather than fight it, he brushed the back of his hand against Jay's forearm, lingering but eventually pulling away. Trying to strike a balance between giving him room to breathe and giving him physical reassurance.

He had no idea what he was doing and it was frightening. He didn't want to get this wrong. Definitely didn't want to hurt him. Jay was right there and pushing him away - taking the wrong risk - was something that he was unwilling to contemplate.

"I… it's…"

There was this tiny grunt of frustration as if he was reluctant to even let that escape and it was almost painful to hear. Jay was fighting with himself, trying to speak and trying to be open. Would it help him to hear that he was overwhelmed too? Or would it be better to just be supportive - never giving away his own inner turmoil? What was the right answer?

"Take your time." Those eyes briefly squeezed shut and his heart decided for him. "This is a lot, isn't it?"

His voice trembled more than he wanted it to but Tetsuya suspected that if he were to reach back out, he would be able to feel Jay's entire body shaking ever-so-slightly. But there was something encouraging about his slow, careful nod.

"It's you." Something in him tried to panic but the wonder and longing in Jay's voice easily chased it away. It was unlike anything Tetsuya had ever heard before and it was meant for him. "I haven't been on many first dates… let alone with the person I…"

There were some random hand gestures that Tetsuya assumed were supposed to mean him and Jay's feelings for him but his mind was completely incapable of puzzling them out right now.

First date.

Those two words kept tumbling around in his brain over and over again, almost painfully colliding with the side of his skull like he had been spiked onto the ring apron head first. That's what this was, wasn't it? This was their first date. He had asked Jay out to dinner and he had said yes and here they were.

BUSHI was going to be so irritated that he had taken Jay to Subway. He could almost perfectly picture the headshake of disappointment.

Tetsuya didn't date. Not ever. Casual encounters to satisfy a single need but that was all. There were no dinners, no embraces, no endearments. Nothing that had ever come close to gripping his heart like this handful of moments with Jamie. Sometimes, he didn't even know the name of the person that he was with - it wasn't necessary - but Tetsuya knew beyond a shadow of doubt that he would be able to hear Jay telling him that his name was Jamie for all of the rest of his days.

And Jay had called this their first date as if he assumed - or hoped - that it was the only the first. Like he wanted them to have more moments like this one. More shared meals and more time together. Tetsuya wasn't even sure what exactly people did on dates. Maybe he could take Jay to a Carp game sometime. That might count as a date. Maybe? He'd have to ask BUSHI.

The whole idea was equal parts frightening and exciting. Something brand new which created its own type of fear but the idea that there could be more of this was almost overwhelming to him. This already felt like nothing he had ever known. What would it be like as they became closer? As they had spent more time together and there was less hesitation between them? And as scary of a thought as it was, it was just as appealing. He liked the vague image of Jay sitting beside him weeks from now - with an easy and unhidden smile. Or the echo of the sensation of holding him even closer than he already had - an embrace with no fear or doubt.

"I haven't been on any first dates." Jay's eyes widened in disbelief and it made him a little self-conscious. His voice was softer and quieter as he continued. "Am I doing okay?"

But that disbelief quickly faded away and Tetsuya watched as an unfamiliar warmth took over every single one of his features. It was there in the light of his eyes and the softness of his smile. Even the rest of his body relaxed and unfurled as he leaned closer. Somehow, it felt like the only thing stopping Jay from holding him in his arms was their surroundings. And there was that odd feeling in his chest again.

"Yeah." The nod of his head was matched by Jay carefully resting his hand on top of his - that warmth tangible and real. "You're doing great, Naito."

Tetsuya.

What would his name sound like coming from those lips?

And he needed to know. It was a moment that he could be patient for but he wanted to hear it so badly that his heart ached. Tetsuya had no idea if he should ask. Tell him - removing any doubt - that it was all right to call him that. But he didn't want to push. Ask for too much. Even this quiet comfort and reassurance was so unexpected and so sweet that he wasn't quite sure what to do with it.

He had his familia but this was something different. This was the beginning of the road to the sort of intimacy that he had never known. But the fear was a familiar thing. Tetsuya had felt it before - looking into the bright eyes of a Young Lion standing across from him in the ring. A jolt of understanding and connection that had terrified him back then.

It would be easier to listen to that fear. Pull away and back from Jay. Leave the unknown behind. But at the same time, it would be impossible. Jay was Jamie and he was adorable. Shy and sweet but trying so hard to be something that he wasn't and that was a task that he was painfully familiar with. Capable of soothing him with a simple touch - with a hand that was still resting lightly on top of his.

"So are you." A grimace quickly marred his gentle expression and Tetsuya hated it. "You are." His bravery mattered - his courage to fight past his doubts. "You're doing so good, Jamie."

And just as quickly, that tender softness returned to his face. He could be soothing too. A source of comfort. Such a simple idea only strengthened that tightness in his chest. Only reinforced that urge to hold him close once more. Tetsuya turned his hand just enough to squeeze a couple of Jay's fingers.

"You said you were hungry. You should eat."

He was. He had napped through lunch again and it had been a terrible idea. Or at least, it had been until his rumbling stomach had given him the chance to ask Jay to join him for a late dinner. And the warmth in Jay's gaze was full of concern and he oddly didn't want to disappoint those wide eyes.

Their hands separated and Tetsuya went back to eating, keeping a careful eye on Jay the entire time. It took another minute or so but he continued to eat as well. The silence that surrounded them wasn't full of expectation or wrongness. Instead, it felt like they were the only two people still awake, side-by-side and content with only each other for company.

Maybe Subway hadn't been the worst place for a first date, after all.

-fin-