(A/N: This is the final update for Chapter 22, so there won’t be an update on Weds, April 12.)
Reconciliation came easy between Louis and Mitch, as it always did. Conversation stayed light, as did the occasional -entirely warranted- ribbing. Eventually, Desiree collected Louis, leaving Mitch to his own devices. “Call Sandy,” was Louis’ departing comment.
Mitch waved him off, assuring that he would. He spent a little extra time nursing his seltzer alone, hunched in a way that hopefully communicated to the rest of the room that he wasn’t interested in socializing. A few instances occurred where he and Nate made eye contact from across the bar and exchanged small waves with one another; other than that, he kept his head down. Too bad he’d never be able to hit it, considering how much he could use a bigger guy to throw him around for a night.
The longer that Mitch sat there the more that his disorientation elevated, and he wondered if one of the bumps from the match didn’t land quite right. He decided that he needed a cigarette, but his pack was back at the school. Sliding off the stool, he braced himself for the cold and headed outside. Though his hair mostly dried since the shower, the remaining damp strands froze once exposed to the air.
On the walk over, he called Sandy and got sent to her voicemail. It was probably better that way. A robotic voice instructed that he leave a message after the tone, and he sucked in a breath, unsure what to say. But a text didn’t seem right, either, so he talked. “Hey, it’s Mitch. You don’t have to call me back, but I wanted you to know that I am sorry. Should’ve ran it by you guys first, and it was shitty that I didn’t. I’d really like to make it up to you, maybe go get some ramen in Cambridge or something? No pressure though, it’s fine if you need some space.” He paused, then swallowed hard. “Love you dude. And again, I’m sorry.”
By the time that the call disconnected, he reached the school’s door. Thankfully it was still unlocked, confirmed by a tug on the handle.
“Mitch!” Nate’s voice called out, stopping Mitch in his tracks. He turned to watch him jog over, noting a flush that darkened his cheeks, presumably from the combination of drinking and running. “Are you leaving?”
“Not yet,” Mitch answered. “Probably soon, though. Bars aren’t my scene these days.” Nate’s mouth formed a circle, and Mitch raised an eyebrow. “Why?”
Nate blinked a few times as though the question rendered him mute, then he cleared his throat. “I uh- I wanted to talk.” The last part of that sentence was punctuated with a huff and smile. His large frame shrank, and clearly saying that had cost him something. After sizing him up for a moment, Mitch shrugged.
“Sure,” he smiled, and allowed Nate to hold the door open for him. “I’m getting my stuff, come walk with me.”
“Alright!” Nate perked up and trailed closely behind. They cut through the staging area, now so clean that little evidence existed of any event taking place. The place was eerily silent when devoid of people, and the echoes of their footsteps ricocheted off of the tall metal walls. For someone that wanted to have a conversation, Nate stayed quiet for the duration of the trek. Not that Mitch minded any.
Finally reaching the locker room, Mitch collected his duffel bag and slung the strap over his shoulder. He tapped out a cigarette from the pack, twirling it between his fingers, and cast a glance upwards at Nate. “So what’d you wanna talk about?” he asked, curiosity at last getting the better of him.
“Um, well,” Nate looked off to the side, tucking a stray piece of hair behind his ear which Mitch intently watched. Several scratchmarks from the earlier match now marred his forehead and jawline, cleaned up since then but the blood had barely yet congealed. Across the room, water dripped from a leaky faucet, the plops louder than gunshots and interrupting the silence. Somehow, it synced up perfectly with a twitchy fluorescent overhead light that was in desperate need of being replaced.
An eternity passed until Nate spoke again, and the words raced from his mouth like a dam that burst. “Would you ever consider going out sometime? Uh. With me?”
“With you?” Mitch teased with a sly smile, as a way of covering up his shock.
“Like a date,” Nate clarified, a little desperately. Maybe it was a little cruel to draw it out, but when Nate was flustered, Mitch found him quite charming. And maybe -just maybe- Mitch got off a little on making bigger men sweat for him. “I’d really like to take you out.” Nate brought his hands together and stared down at them as he spoke.
“Is that so?” murmured Mitch while he gauged the situation that unfolded before him. Recently, he begged the universe to grant him someone kind and understanding, that adored and respected him. Realistically, was there a better option than Nate, who was always so very sweet? Who spent the last few years presumably summoning the courage for this exact moment, even if the setting was a gross men’s locker room?
It made sense. Out of anyone, Mitch could see himself growing old with Nate, riding with him on his motorcycle and adopting pitbull mixes from animal shelters. Getting fed a lifetime supply of Eastern European pastries.
Nate was as nice as he was hardworking, the specific type of guy that’d earn everyone’s approval. This could be Mitch’s chance to prove that he was a stable adult that didn’t need pity or to be babied. That he could make good life decisions. That he wasn’t a hopeless slut that’d end up in a gutter sooner rather than later.
Besides, he couldn’t have exactly what -rather, who- he wanted. Assigning another human being the role of a consolation prize felt utterly wrong, but for whatever it was worth, Mitch did like Nate. A lot. Might have not fallen so hard for Avi if he had any certainty all those months ago that this could be an option in the future.
Mitch took a step forward, shrinking the gap between them. His hand rested on Nate’s forearm, causing Nate’s eyes to flick up. “I think I’d like a date. With you,” Mitch confirmed, amused by Nate’s facial journey from skepticism all the way to elation.
“Yeah?!” Nate searched Mitch’s face for any signs of insincerity; it was the same expression a mortal might give if Apollo offered the sun to them, all the reverence and the disbelief. Mitch inched even closer, until they were almost flush with one another, and a stuttery little noise from Nate went straight to Mitch’s dick.
“Although,” Mitch started to trail his fingers from Nate’s forearm to up his bicep. “It’s a bit late to go out now, obviously.”
“Right,” Nate nodded sharply.
“But there’s a couch in the break room. Any interest in heading over there and, y’know, staying in?” He hated how easy he already presented himself, but if Nate could be courageous and forward, Mitch knew he should do the same. Nate’s eyes were as wide as saucers, because he played a pennyslot and walked away with the casino’s grand prize. And Mitch didn’t even have to push up on his tiptoes for a kiss, Nate made the effort to lean down, engulfing Mitch with his arms and pressing their lips together, a little whimper escaping and making Mitch go insane.
There was no game nor rules to follow, just real want and real heat, and Mitch couldn’t remember the last time he had any of that without strings attached. He dragged Nate into the breakroom while still remaining attached at the mouth, then turned off the light and locked the door behind them.