Chapter Eighteen

Ian rested his chin upon his palm, switching off the x-ray vision in his scope with his free hand. He had been posted in this spot since his ride left him earlier that afternoon; shaking his head at the rookie's utter lack of observation. He would have to talk to Sam about being more perceptive, to notice things. He'd hoped today's spying would yield him some answers, but it appeared that the brothers had a normal conversation without any indication of what Ian was actually looking for.

"Phooey," he muttered. He sat up, breaking down his rifle to fit into its carrying case. After a few moments, he stilled.

"Why are you interfering with my personal duty?" he then asked aloud, slow and annoyed.

"Why are you interfering with something that ain't your business?" was the return reply from his right. He scowled.

"I am merely performing civilian services for protection until I am for certain that the Underworld will abide by their promise in leaving this dude alone," he complained. "Something about the case is fishy because Dorsal went missing. It was fishy right from the very start with problematic details."

He glanced over in the direction the voice came from, pigeons startled into panicked flight away from them. Before he could close the case, he withdrew his scope, setting it into thermal imagery and focusing in that direction. All he saw was an outline of a hazy shape.

"This isn't no duty because you're normally a two man operation with that thing, and I don't see Byrons anywhere. This is something else entirely. This is you being a nosey asshole," came the annoyed answer. "If that thing allows you to look at details behind the clothing, I'm going to bitch slap you."

With a chuckle, Ian released his uniform camo, revealing himself to the other with a slight shimmer. He reached up to release the facemask that had covered him from chin to forehead, tucking the material into the collar of his uniform with a few adjustments. "I'm kicking myself for not bugging the place."

"You are such a conniving girl, Peters," Samsara said in disgust. "Following that kid around has no merit to the situation that guy's under. It's like you latched onto a piece of gossip and you want the bigger scoop. Why aren't you part of the paparazzi with these useless skills?"

"Why are you so concerned over what's going on in that house? It's not like either of you have any more business with him, right?" Ian asked him, looking over the ledge of the building to a nondescript car with tinted windows parked in front of an ice cream shop. "Did Dorsal really escape your clutches, or are you looking for something else?"

Samsara snorted, allowing himself to be seen. His black clad form shifted into a lazy lean against the nearby building wall, propping himself up as he surveyed the area from the rooftop. Ian studied him, imagining the features that he knew were hidden behind the mask. He knew the superbly trained athlete had something resembling fatigue and annoyance there, and he wondered if the injuries taken since the train station incident had completely healed over.

"You need to waste your time doing something else. What's the point of me delivering messages to you if you aren't doing something about it?"

"I got the message, and it's covered," Ian muttered. "Just hand over the guy responsible for it, it's only a matter of time until Intelligence gets the full story from him to actually fix the problem."

"Dorsal is about as half assed as his hairstyle. Besides, that matter is something I wasn't fully informed of, so it's your duty to take up the slack of it."

"So…why didn't Yoshida just remove it herself?"

"Because we're not the terrorist tool removal group."

"I'm aware that it'll cause…considerable harm to the person the virus attaches to, which is why Intelligence is trying to draw the one with the cure into temptation to carry out the attack completely. But if one of you could just remove it…it'd be a clean spot on their conscience that a group like yours is capable of doing something good."

"That person must be that much of a threat to you, Peters, to even consider, without any empathy, to the damage that could cause. Hey, I'm the bad guy here," Samsara insisted, gesturing at himself with a thumb, "that should be my line of thinking. You're supposed to be the good guy."

"When it comes to saving quantity over quality…"

"This isn't any type of civilian protection services, this is you being invasive."

"How dare you insinuate I'm spying upon my… 'friend'."

"I don't understand what you're looking for."

"I'll know it when I see it."

Ian exhaled heavily as Samsara kicked him lightly, the move sending him wheeling back a few feet. By the time he straightened and regained some of his breathing ability back, the East Sider was gone. He stilled and allowed his own senses to gain some insight of the area; he heard children and traffic all around him, felt the hot breeze of Santa Ana winds against his exposed eyes, and felt nothing of the excited chill he always felt knowing that Samsara was nearby.

With a sullen frown, he grumbled over missed opportunities and radioed in for release of radio silence.

: :

"Here you go," Jamie said cheerfully, handing over the small bag. Ken took it with a frown, gear shifting around him as Paul spat onto the sidewalk, surveying the transaction with a studious air. Jamie hated how small he felt standing amongst those in uniform. "I couldn't remember what brand it was, so I just found something similar."

"I told you you didn't have to," Ken muttered, opening the labeled box.

"What'd you get me? This is a packaged deal, asshole. You get him somethin', you supposed to get me something," Paul asked Jamie, kicking his shoe heel.

"I'm so sorry, Paul, I couldn't find the bubble bottles."

"If you were smart, you'd know bubbles would've kept me entertained for hours, but since you ain't, guess you'll just have to buy me the more expensive birthday present," Paul muttered, shoving him before stomping off to ask Nathanial if there was something wrong with his eyebrows.

Jamie had learned of 43's location once Ken called him from a public comm line. He was nearby anyway, filling in applications for the city paramedics. He'd also completed a couple of general shopping trips, and found it harmless to make a quick visit with the unit before they moved on with their duties. Seeing them only made him yearn for his position back—he missed what he had, and felt some shame and discouragement in his discharge.

Ken examined the watch, tossing the box aside. Jamie bent to pick it up and throw it away, returning to say, "I can have it sized."

"No… it's fine."

Jamie examined his expression, finding it somewhat mystifying that this man would have feelings for him.

"Anyway, what you doing out here?" Ken then said, tucking the watch into one of his pockets behind his vest so he wouldn't lose it.

Jamie told him, and then looked at his comm as it buzzed with an unread message. Since everyone he knew was on the field, he was puzzled as to who it was texting him. The number read as 'anonymous', which made him anxious. Recalling Sam's threat, he wondered if this was Adam reaching out first. He was bothered by knowing he'd feel disappointment if it wasn't, and disappointment that it was.

He couldn't let that show on his face with Ken around, so he ignored the message.

"Also, I'm having dinner with my mother in a few hours," Jamie added, wearing a morose expression. "I wanted to get loaded before then, but I've been sober for awhile. Temptation is mighty."

Ken glanced around himself to make sure that they were still on break. Everyone else was busy talking to each other over their meals. He then studied Jamie, and found that the former medic was wearing a lighter expression, as if a weight had been lifted from him.

"What you doing this Saturday?" he then asked, unable to resist reaching out to punch Jamie's arm, just so he could feel the warmth of his skin against his.

Rubbing at the spot, Jamie answered, "I…haven't really planned anything."

"Well then, let's go out. Paul found this place."

"I'd…rather not," Jamie said awkwardly.

"Why? You said you haven't any plans. Or is that just some cover for saying you're meeting up with that guy?" Ken asked, frowning.

"I'm not meeting up with anybody," Jamie said evenly, moving to back away. "I just wanted to give you that watch."

"Christ. Fine. Thanks," Ken muttered as he adjusted the fit of his SMGs within their holsters. He turned his back to him and walked off to join his brother without another word to Jamie.

Jamie turned and walked off down the sidewalk, feeling embarrassed about the situation. He glanced at the unopened text still flashing over his comm, but wasn't ready to open it just yet.

Later that day, he found himself wishing he'd bought a can or bottle before meeting his mother for dinner. He'd been tense since he'd arrived, waiting for her arrival with his hands clutched atop of the table. He glanced around himself with an expression of distaste, finding himself a little out of place within the establishment. Everyone around him wore the air of those who enjoyed blowing through their money on expensive and extravagant things.

"So what have you been doing with your life, lately? Have you found a job, yet?" Jeannette asked briskly once she arrived, frowning deeply as she surveyed her son. She took to her chair grandly, wearing expensive clothes and with the air of some expensive perfume. They both ordered light plates, not intending on swallowing food and words that were difficult to swallow.

She wished he'd cut his hair; she wished he dressed neater, as his shirt was wrinkled, and in a deep burgundy color that played up a faint sunburn across his cheeks and nose. While attractive, he dressed in colors that she didn't agree with. Women glanced at him but didn't linger; she felt discouraged in that he didn't hold their interest long, making her wonder what was wrong with her son. He was attractive, he was built, and he had aspirations for a respectable profession. She didn't understand why he wasn't settled down yet. There was something he was doing wrong to be stand-offish. She knew it had to do with his alcoholism.

It made his eyes look old, for his features to look a little more weathered. She didn't remember seeing those wrinkles around his mouth before. She wished he'd pay more attention to the sun damage he was getting, spying the freckles over his nose. She wanted to take him with her to a salon to fix up the age strains, but realized it was only her own cosmetic concerns with his aging that pointed to her own.

"I applied for a paramedic position," Jamie replied tightly, feeling stressed as he observed her disapproval. Despite the fact that he knew what her thinking was of him, he wished he had done something to make her happy. He imagined that she saw his father in him. "City, independent wise. I'm looking for another apartment."

"What's wrong with the one you have now? Aren't they paying for it for the trouble they'd caused?"

"It's a nice neighborhood, it's just…I would rather something closer to base."

"It's not like you have any reason to be nearby. You don't have a position there," Jeannette seemed to remind him bitterly.

"Maybe to be closer to Sam."

"Sam," Jeannette muttered, feeling a flare of bitterness for the younger male she'd met a few times. She'd been bothered by how similar the two looked, how close their relationship was; the younger male had been born out of a cheating relationship, and it pained her as a living reminder as to how she'd lost her first husband. She didn't like that Jamie was so fond of him. It was as if Jamie had chosen Frederick over her. She felt isolated and lonely, angry at her son for not siding with her.

"Sam and I are close," Jamie said tightly, hearing the tone she'd used. "I would hate to lose what I have with him."

"I wouldn't understand why," Jeannette said, automatically bristling at his tone. "Considering he's a product of your father's philandering."

"Get over it. You have Ed, now."

She jabbed at her salad with her fork, taking a deep breath. For a few moments, both of them bristled over each other's comments, picking at food they didn't feel like eating. She cleared her throat, reaching up to make sure her hair was still in place.

"Well, are you still drinking? Maybe you should consider taking a twelve-step program. I hate waking up to early morning phone calls, Andrew. Ed's been complaining, as well."

Jamie didn't care what Ed thought of him. He didn't feel like pointing out that he hadn't been drinking and making those phone calls in some time. "Yes, I've considered those."

"Are you seeing anybody, now?"

"…No," Jamie muttered. He wondered how she'd react if he'd finally told her he had been seeing men, and that the last one currently had him in knots.

"Why not?"

"I mean, I've been busy. A relationship isn't at the top of my list," Jamie answered. "Hard to meet people when I got all this…stuff happening."

"I was just asking you a question. I didn't ask for any smarty comments."

"I'm sorry."

Jeannette scanned the small crowd that took up the restaurant's space. The place was busy for the dinner hour, and she looked at her watch to note how much time she had to make her hair color appointment. She was disappointed at how cold her son was to her, feeling disappointed that even with the choices he made she still wasn't happy with them. She felt anger in that he'd been discharged from the service, humiliated in having to explain to her friends that he was now a civilian; though no fault of his own. She wished their relationship were closer; she felt jealous over those her friends' had with their boys, bitterly regretting that her only one had pulled away from her long ago.

"How are things with Ed?" Jamie then asked, struggling to keep the conversation amicable.

"They're fine. I'm going to have to cut out early. Can't miss my appointment," Jeannette said, setting her utensils aside and reaching into her wallet for a few bills she laid out over the table. After a moment, she glanced at him. "You can keep the change."

Jamie dropped his fork in exasperation.

"Call me when you are settled in your new place. Maybe we'll have lunch, if I have the time. And maybe you'll leave your bitterness home." With that, Jeannette snatched up her purse and left the table with some fuss over her hair. Jamie looked away from her in disgust, looking at his watch to note they'd spent exactly twenty-five minutes together. He glared down at his plate, then looked apologetically to the waiter that took the bills and cleared away her side of the table.

Jamie wondered how Adam interacted with his parents. He imagined him bulldozing them with his commands and orders, and imagined them going along just because they enjoyed what time they had with him. He felt jealous of his relationship with them. When Adam had said he was close with them, speaking of them affectionately, Jamie wanted that. He wanted to meet Adam's parents. Mainly to see this relationship for himself, to see where Adam came from.

He picked up his comm and contemplated opening the message he'd received earlier. After some heavy consideration, he slid the text open to read, "I have Tuesday off. Let's talk somewhere neutral."

Jamie furrowed his brow, running through various negative emotions all at once. Being told and being asked were different things, and he set his comm aside, wearing a heavy expression. Part of him wanted to send the message back and apply a block; another part of him considered how awkward Sam would feel after all his interference. Jamie did want closure for himself, despite the fact that this text said everything he thought would happen. Was he ready for being bullied into thinking he could accept Adam's apology?

Part of him wanted to see this supposed suffering for himself; but he imagined that it was only Adam chasing after a solution that would make himself feel better, without any consideration to Jamie's feelings.

He wiped at his face with impatience. Ugh, make a decision, you pussy, he told himself sternly. What the fuck do you feel?

Aware of the diners around him, Jamie touched the screen for a response. "Is this n ordr?"

'If I ask POLITELY, you won't show.'

Jamie considered this response, absolutely positive Adam was in his head somehow because he could hear him say this. The waiter deposited the change onto the table and hurried off. Jamie considered the remaining bills and decided to let the waiter have it. The words did make him think of the silent confrontation between Adam and Yoshida that night. It still struck Jamie as how strange it was that these two could be on first name basis with each other so familiarly when most units barely managed a sight or two of them in a raging street fight. Add to that Samsara's revelation…something he couldn't exactly talk about…

He rubbed his chin, frowning at the response. Why the hell am I surrounding myself with pushy people, he had to wonder with bewilderment. Glancing around the restaurant again, he considered the nervousness and anxiety he felt in actually accepting the gesture. The only argument that felt reasonable was seeing Yoshida's half shaved head turning away from Adam with a flounce. The efforts made in retrieving him from danger – so perhaps he should show up with some sort of 'thanks'.

Apprehensively, he answered, "I don't wnt to be ordrd around, nemore. I don't hve to be. : ( If this convo just bout u, then forget it."

He was marveling over the automatic update of his emojis when Adam replied, "Fine. I'm sorry. It's not an order, I just want you to show up. I just want to talk."

Jamie hated himself for the immediate perk he felt because he was that eager for some type of a resolution. He covered his face with both hands, giving a sound of frustration. Rising up from his chair as others glanced at him with curiosity, Jamie huffed. He impatiently shoved his chair underneath the table and headed out, not noticing the people that followed at a safe distance.

: :

That Tuesday, he faced Adam as the other man plopped down into the chair opposite him. The bar and grill Adam had told him to meet him at had a light crowd, and the pair of them could sit down at a table near the back and talk without being overheard. Jamie had finished off a couple of beers before Adam had arrived, feeling annoyed with himself for showing up too early and for indulging after weeks of sobriety. His mouth felt tight as he watched Adam settle uneasily in the chair – uncomfortably taller than most of the men in the room and clearly out of place.

Jamie didn't want to start the conversation first, sure he'd just maneuver himself into a wall; his game plan was to stand his ground stubbornly, to prevent Adam from blaming him for everything. He was set on it. As he waited for Adam to speak, he had to wonder what Sam meant by "suffering" – Adam looked well rested and healthy as ever. Meanwhile, Jamie had been agonizing over his aged skin and pulling at his overgrown hair, contemplating a haircut; he'd spent most of the night thinking about the secrets he was keeping, his job status, and why E! Network had changed their nightly line-up to discontinue a show he had been counting on.

He stubbornly held his jaw as Adam finally looked at him, face set in steel as he looked Jamie over. Jamie could hear Felicia Passage warning him in that Adam would murder him to protect his secret, and for the first time, Jamie wondered if the kid actually knew the man better than he did.

Now that he was here and had the other man in front of him, Adam felt at a loss as to what to say first. His mind went uncomfortably blank despite his own tenacity in finding a resolution to a mess that had plagued him since it started. Anxiety made him jittery, throat clogging with unexpected humility as he found himself staring intently at Jamie before realizing he was staring.

Seeing that Jamie was resolute with keeping his mouth shut, an uncomfortable admittance that this was all on Adam's shoulders, Adam had a hard time coming up with a proper greeting or introduction to the things he needed to say. He ended up looking uncomfortably at the table between them while diners around them enjoyed their meals and company noisily, the holosets on the wall blaring out various sports or news channels.

Jamie started to sweat because the urge to talk and interrupt this heavily awkward silence was making his anxiety rise to uncomfortable levels.

"I want to fix things," Adam finally stated firmly. He caught himself with a grimace, to take his tone down and be open to negotiations. But he looked at Jamie again, determined to make sure the other man had clear understanding about his words and actions.

For a bewildered second, Jamie wondered what 'fixing' meant. It caused a confusing tumble of words and emotions that were easily rattled by the statement, not expecting it. It was clear Adam wasn't comfortable expressing himself; something Jamie wasn't used to.

He reached for one of the glasses of water sitting nearby, inwardly wondering where a waiter was to interrupt this awkward air between them. He sipped at the cold liquid and frowned at the taste of tap. He shoved it aside and wiped his hands on his shorts. "Um, well, I think —"

"Do you think we could start over?" Adam interrupted, giving Jamie a look that dared him to object.

Bewildered, Jamie found himself utterly blindsided by the request and couldn't stand properly with his own set resolution. He'd come prepared for an aggressive attack on his character, his choices, and a demand for him to apologize – not this. He struggled to formulate a proper response, but Adam then spoke over him.

"Because it would be awkward," Adam continued. Clearing his throat, he said quickly, "For Sam, to know what he knows now. If nothing is fixed."

Jamie stared at him silence, feeling his thoughts reflecting on his face as he wondered why Sam's comforts were being put into the conversation.

"I don't know how to say or do things that'll make you stay," Adam continued, feeling awkward. "All I've done with other men was fuck 'em and leave 'em— but this matter is…different. I mean…it has to be, I just…I had every advantage in this situation to just leave and not look back but I can't actually make that choice…"

Since he wasn't expecting the conversation to go in this direction, all Jamie could do was stare at him in frozen silence. His preparations and battle plans were interrupted, and all he could think now, in a panic, that this was why he'd never been considered for a leadership position. He couldn't see all the variables that could exist in a matter, and had not once considered that Adam would venture into this direction; all those words and things that happened that night had convinced Jamie that Adam wanted nothing more to do with him.

But he wondered in a panic if this was just wool over the eyes thing where Adam creatively led him into a quiet corner and permanently kept his secret with a removal of Jamie's existence. He'd have Peters help him hide the evidence. Jamie swallowed tightly, aware that his own thought process was a tad dramatic.

Adam exhaled heavily. He started to relax slightly, feeling as if he made Jamie understand where he was coming from. He felt relieved that he said what he wanted without turning it into a verbal bulldozing. But looking at the other man told Adam that this wasn't what Jamie was expecting. So he froze in response, backtracking through his words to see if he had made a mistake somewhere.

"It's…it's not like I'm asking for a relationship," Adam then said carefully. "Just to be clear, but…I want to see where this goes. Where this can go. I'm open to—to whatever. I realize I lack certain things, and…I'm used to getting my way, but…it's these things that are things that I need to work on."

Jamie struggled to come up with a response, incredulous to the way this conversation was going and uncertain whether or not he truly understood what was being said. He shut his mouth once he realized it was hanging open, reaching up to fiddle with the collar of his shirt with nervous hands. After a few moments, he uttered dumbly, "What?"

"I mean," he stuttered hastily, flattening his hands on the table and glancing around without really seeing anything. "This was not what I was expecting to hear. I don't know…I don't know how to…"

Another inward flood of relief hit Adam, and he felt himself start to relax. Seeing the way Jamie looked at him, Adam felt secure and confident. He glanced around them, noting that nobody was attracted to their conversation. Everyone was too engrossed within their own groups to even bother seeing that these two men were working something out, and he was grateful for that. He knew he presented an awkward picture in sensitivity, so to know that only he and Jamie could be engrossed in a conversation between them was a relatively comforting thought.

He reached up to fiddle with his hair, checking the state of his gel. "Yeah, I…"

He trailed off, unable to secure his train of thought now that it had left the station. Now that he had his foot in the door, how would he push it open without relying on his strength to do so?

"I guess you weren't expecting that," he mumbled. "Considering…all the shit I've said and done. Yeah, it's…it's out there, now. This. I mean, this conversation, not that…I want it discussed with other people, not that I'm out," he added forcefully, tensing up all over again. "Not that I'll relax in any way because of my job – "

"I don't know what you're asking for if you're still going to think you have to watch over your shoulder," Jamie murmured, feeling relieved for a topic he was familiar with. He straightened his shoulders. "What, now that I'm not on base anymore, this is safe for you? I'm not asking you to out yourself," he then added just as forcefully as Adam made to speak, "but I'm not even comfortable where I am just yet. Like you, I had to hide myself for years. Just because I'm not doing what I used to doesn't mean I'm going to, like, unleash it all now that I have a chance. And I'm not just some convenient person you can use now that it feels safe for you."

"First off, that aspect had never even crossed my mind until you brought it up," Adam admitted, crossing his arms stubbornly. "I just assumed…that obstacle would be considered once it came up."

Feeling more assertive now that there was some ground Jamie felt confident covering, he said, "I admit, I wasn't prepared for this to go this way, but as much of a pushover as you think I am, I'm not going to just…roll over and let you dictate where anything goes. I don't know if you were expecting me to be happy, or whatever, but…I'm confused. Because I still remember some of the shit you said that night, and none of it was…"

"I know what I said, and I can't…" Adam trailed off, picking idly at one sideburn with agitation, finding it difficult to look the other in the eye, "half that shit is my shit I have to deal with. Maybe you don't remember a whole lot, but…I do. Not that it has any weight with the decision I decided to make in extending a peace offering because…of what happened…? But overall, I find it very difficult to let this thing go, so this was the only solution I came up with."

"And that's not being said lightly," he added quickly while Jamie's eyebrows pulled together with immense confusion, "because, like I said, I had a very clear advantage in leaving it behind me, no matter what was said. Because, yeah, like you said, it's easier with you off base and what not, but that's not why I'm pursuing this option…"

Jamie felt overwhelmed. He looked down at the table, swallowing tightly. He felt completely flattered and fiercely overjoyed in the assurance of Adam's intentions towards him. But he felt insecurity and frustration hit him over his previous emotions.

Adam felt his face shift once he read Jamie's facial expressions. Anxiety hit him.

"I don't know what to think right now," Jamie then stammered, staring at the table. "I wasn't…this was not what I was expecting when I came out."

Adam felt troubled because he thought that what he was expressing was something similar to what Jamie could be feeling. If the other man wasn't feeling it, then the possibility of him expressing himself with such a vulnerable subject could put him back into the place he'd lived in for most of his life. So he clammed up, looking around them for any possible distractions while at the same time admitting to himself that he was too overconfident.

Stupid, he then thought of himself.

Adam then cleared his throat and reached out to mess with the melting ice cubes in his water. "I'm starving. Are you ready to order?"

Jamie looked at him as if he'd suggested they start making out in front of everybody. "I'm in no condition to eat, dude. I'm still…fumbling with what you've slammed down on the table."

"Well, I mean, you can think about it, but I'm hungry."

Jamie waited for him to order, and rejected the offer for another beer. The pair of them then sat in uncomfortable silence – this confrontation alone had the weight of an intense street battle between them.

After some time, Jamie then mumbled, "What really changed your mind? All this time since we started hooking up, you made it a huge deal to keep me at a distance. So what's really going on, here?"

"I mean, yeah, I did. I felt like you wanted to expose the pair of us so bad on base, and…I don't know," Adam then said uncomfortably, studying some of the people that were lingering near the bar as they watched various sports on the wall, "but somehow, through all this mess I just…started thinking differently. NOT that I'm going to be open about shit, but…it's been exhausting trying to keep a certain face on when there's so much bullshit going on. And having all that happening just…opened my eyes to my friends and I'm…tired."

Incredulously, Jamie couldn't think of a response. Was it really him as a catalyst to these things, or was it Adam's own exhaustion in keeping face?

"Plus, being exposed to certain people makes me feel like they got some power over me, and that isn't something I'd like to have in their hands," Adam then added with uncertainty, causing Jamie's forehead to furrow.

He then pictured Yoshida Smith's easy relinquishment to the negotiation that happened that night, with Dorsal in their custody. Pictured their easy going, first-name basis and casual drop of personality quirks that couldn't be obtained that easily from the battlefield.

"So," Jamie uttered slowly, "because you're in a corner, you find it easier to admit that it isn't just me that threatens to out you – it's them. Those kids."

Adam wasn't sure how to confirm this without being an asshole, but he felt frustrated that part of his own reasoning was that he still had some affection for the other man. Neither of them were easy to admit. Then he caught the plural in Jamie's words.

"What kids?" he asked skeptically.

Jamie then backtracked with a caught expression, fiddling with his napkin and ripping that up into pieces before saying hastily, "Y'know, those…Smith. I meant Smith."

Confused, Adam knew Jamie well enough to know that he'd let his tongue slip. This was something he wanted to point out with exasperation, but the older man was rattled by the mistake. Because it wasn't quite relevant to the conversation, Adam decided to pack that away for another time.

But he fiddled with the set of utensils on his side before saying low, "Look, just…take my word for it. It's pretty much out there already, people…should have an idea by now, I'm just…really tired of denying and fighting it when the picture's clear. Especially with Wintour being in your head, it's just…a matter of time before I'm directly confronted about it. I already know the attitudes and thoughts from my friends, and at this point…yeah, I'll probably lose a lot, but…maybe I'm tired of hearing all the hate because I'm…someone that prefers men. There's shittier people in the world right now, and – it should be my attitude that gets picked on, not only because of whom I prefer."

"And all of this is something you suddenly decided on because…?"

Giving an impatient exhale, Adam answered, "I feel suffocated being who I'm supposed to be in the eyes of my friends. I've been in near death situations before, but this time was different. This one was me making sure that you came out of it, too. And I'd…never felt that, before. It was always my…family, my friends, and now…you, too."

Jamie didn't know what to say, but he definitely believed him because Adam's attitude spoke just as much as his mouth did. The other man really did look in disbelief to this admittance, and he'd lost his confidence level in that same moment. It was unexpectedly uncomfortable witnessing this type of vulnerability because Jamie hadn't seen it directed towards him, before.

Exhaling uncomfortably because he could hear his own tone, Adam fiddled with his hair once more. He couldn't bring himself to look Jamie in the face because he wasn't ready to see what was there. He was practically stripping himself bare in front of him, knowing that anything could happen, and this was something he couldn't use force or gun on.

The waiter brought Adam his food, overwhelmingly cheerful to break through the tension hanging around them. Adam didn't move just yet, watching his steaming plate of food with a sort of frozen expression.

Able to get some thoughts back into order, Jamie thought about his original request. He felt a mixture of caution and frustration in his gut – he wasn't sure how to sort them out, but the overall message he got from this was that he didn't have to be lonely.

He said, "Start over?"

Adam looked up at him warily, struggling to remember what this thread was. Once he realized it was one of the first things he'd said so far, he answered, "Yeah. Redo."

Thinning his lips, Jamie glanced at him. "So…occasional texts at your comfort?"

Adam thought about how hostile he was in the beginning – not wanting to be caught in the middle of something he'd had secret for years. But he also recalled how nervous and excited he was to finally connect with someone that crossed the line from convenience to comfort. If they had to start over, then he had to change that method to something more acceptable.

He exhaled over his food. "Slowly…I want to do this slowly. But…surely. I do want to do this a right way. Not just…my way, I suppose."

"I mean, if you can't," he then stammered, shrugging his shoulders, "then I'd…then just tell me. Straight out. I'm not playing games with you. But…I'll work on my attitude."

His hands went to his rigid hair with strength as he struggled to communicate these things without making them into some type of command. "Just…give it some thought. If you can't…I get it. Just tell me."

Jamie couldn't recall having a man practically beg for his company, so he was stumped as to how to answer. He sat in his seat with a frozen look to his face, looking for an obvious sign of a trap. He wasn't even sure how to answer – usually men ran from him like a fire was lit underneath their feet. Father included.

Despite his feeling, he heard himself say, "Okay, I'll think about it."

Forehead on one palm, Adam glanced at him to read his expression. Jamie looked as stumped as Adam felt, but at least the man wasn't telling him 'no'. So it felt like half of his leg had managed to ease more space between the doorframe and door. Awkwardly, he straightened up from the table, feeling appeased. He wasn't actually sure what it felt like to pursue a man, considering all his one night stands, so this was new for him, too. All he knew was what he wanted, and he couldn't deny wanting the man in front of him.

Jamie felt like his head was in a daze, and he needed to think about his spoken decision thoroughly. "I'm going to go," he said slowly. Unable to add anything more than that, he left the table.

Adam stared down at his food, feeling irritated the feelings left behind. "Dumbass," he muttered of himself, leaning onto the table with his elbow and glaring at the bar. He was mortified of his vulnerability, and disgusted with his own whirlwind of feelings. It still surprised him how physically attracted he was to the other man.

There had been moments where Adam had wanted to reach across the table to touch him, to kiss the stretch of Jamie's neck and to inhale deeply of his scent. His attraction to the man was intense; he wanted to spend more time with him, to have more chances to touch and speak with him. Even now he wanted to call him so he could get a straight answer right now, but he held himself back.

He was satisfied that he was about to get out the things he couldn't imagine himself saying before, but the feeling left behind was so dreadfully heavy and foreign because he wasn't used to feeling insecure and open. Things were still unresolved. He didn't even have time to bring up that night. He supposed he'd now have time to think and reflect upon that later.