“Here I come!” Mitch shouts from across the ring, voice echoing in the otherwise empty building. His body is coiled and about to spring forward. Nate prepares himself: body lax yet still on edge, knees bent, and arms in front of him. They’ve rehearsed this a handful of times already, but what’s one more?
Incorporating the lift from Dirty Dancing started out as a joke, something private between the both of them back when Mitch dragged Nate on stage for karaoke for a rendition of (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life. Some of the roster might get it, but the audience sure won’t.
(“It makes sense for our characters,” Mitch insisted, and Nate couldn’t possibly argue, let alone deny him.)
Mitch moves gracefully, though he doesn’t believe it when people tell him this. Nate knows that he did track in high school, and he mentioned something about dance in college; it all comes through when he wrestles, even if he’s still a bit green.
As he rushes to close the distance between them, there isn’t a hint of hesitation, and it does something to Nate’s insides. He’s proud of the both of them: of Mitch, because of the self-confidence that he’s showcasing at long last, and of himself, because all of his hard work over the last 5 years makes him trustworthy among his peers.
And maybe it means something that -specifically- Mitch trusts him.
Mitch is a few feet away now. He’s going to crouch, then push off of the balls of his feet and leap into the air. Nate’s fingers twitch with anticipation and he watches for his cue, focused on this moment though his mind spins its wheels while it recalls the last few weeks.
It was late in the evening, and Nate should have been asleep because he had to open the bakery in the morning. But Mitch sent a text asking if he was up and if they could talk, and of course he said yes. He didn’t expect the phone call that followed seconds later, or Mitch’s broken voice, or the horrible, horrible news of what happened. “I’m not suicidal, but I don’t wanna be around. Does that make any sense? Like if a bus hit me…” Mitch choked out with a manic laugh.
“Are you alone?” asked Nate, worried.
“At Jodie’s,” Mitch replied.
So Nate did what any good friend would do, which was ignore how many hours of sleep he could get if he passed out right then. He picked Mitch up, and took him to Denny’s at 1am. Mitch rambled on and on, blindsiding Nate left and right about the absurdity of the whole situation. “I can’t talk to Jodie about this right now, not with Rosa having just passed,” he explained sheepishly.
Thing was, he had other friends. Even without Jodie, he could have gone to Louis or Gia or Arin, but he chose Nate. And Nate wore that as a badge of honor. After they checked out, Mitch slathered on his gratitude thickly, and Nate told him that he’d be there anytime, he meant it. He did, he really did. So Mitch kept talking to him. Not that they hadn’t talked before, but certainly not this much, not with this depth. The texts started out dark, usually intrusive thoughts that needed untangling, but he also started revealing more of himself. Little things, like about his hobbies and his job, and how he missed Juno, his dog that lived with his uncle and aunt.
Nate hung onto every word, every “goodnight” text tucked deep within his heart for safekeeping. “I’d treat him good,” he whispered to himself in the way that some people recited the Lord’s Prayer before sleeping. “I’d treat him so good.”
Nate grabs Mitch’s waist as he jumps, and he uses the momentum to lift him high above his head. The expression on Mitch’s face is pure rapture followed by relief, and his eyes fall shut as he stretches his arms out. It’s the second time that Nate’s seen him that he didn’t look weary; the first was at karaoke that night, about a year ago. If his arms didn’t start cramping up, he would have kept Mitch up there forever, anything to keep him weightless and free.
But Mitch seems to get the hint, and his hands rest on top of Nate’s shoulders as he’s lowered. They get chest-to-chest, and his arm hooks around Nate’s neck for more stability. Due to the proximity, the lemon after-shave balm he favors wafts from off of him, smelling so good that over time it’s become Nate’s favorite flavor.
Then, without thinking, Nate grabs onto Mitch’s thigh and hikes it up, pulling a surprised reaction from him; he’s just as surprised, never once so bold until now, and tries to play it off by saying, “Like in the movie? They do this, right?”
“I guess?” Mitch breaks into a soft grin, but he doesn’t seem displeased. If anything, he appears curious and continues to stare, his eyes searching Nate’s face for something. Nate’s heart hammers as he’s far out of his depth. In his arms is Mitch, pliant and patient, without phone screens and miles in between them. It’s real -very real- and Nate realizes that though he wants to, he’s never kissed a boy. He hasn’t kissed a lot of girls, either, but his parents know that he’s at least had girlfriends.
They don’t know that he’s thought about dating guys. They don’t know that he’s fantasized about dating this particular guy, who they’ve never formally met outside of Monster Mash events. They don’t know what this guy does to him, how much he likes him.
They don’t know. And he doesn’t know how to explain it to them. He lives with them, after all. How and when and where do you bring that up?
And really, he’s not even certain if Mitch actually likes him back, because Nate doesn’t usually have a lot of luck in that department, either. Could just be loneliness that’s gotten them this close, and the idea of finding out if that’s all this is terrifies him.
“Y’know, this is the most fun I’ve had in a long time,” Mitch’s voice hovers above a whisper. The tips of their noses brush and his fingertips grazing Nate’s back. It feels incredible.
Yet, Nate lets him go.
He sees the flash of dejection in Mitch’s eyes. The grin falters, shifting into a reserved smile. All of the openness he once displayed is gone as his defenses go up and the weariness from before returns.
“Me too,” Nate says, stupidly, because he recognizes that the moment is gone. He desperately wants to explain that he can’t take advantage of Mitch when he’s vulnerable, but doesn’t, because what if he took offense to that? Then again, who is Nate to determine someone’s emotional state, and what they can or can’t handle? It doesn’t matter, Mitch has already broken away and doesn’t meet his eyes anymore; instead he rubs his arm and stares down at the canvas.
Nate wants to kiss him, and he can’t, and now he won’t be able to due to all of the uncertainties surrounding the both of them. But there are things that he knows.
He knows that he isn’t brave enough to clarify anything, and that he won’t tell his parents.
He knows why Mitch starts to get distant. He knows why he doesn’t get “goodnight” texts anymore.
He knows he’s not to blame when Mitch returns to his awful boyfriend about a week later, although he can’t help but feel guilty.
He knows that he could never live up to his bold assertion that he’d be good to Mitch.
And after they win the tag team tournament, and are presented with the options to either pursue the tag titles together or split up right then and fight one another for a future world title shot, well.
He can take a guess as to why he gets a kendo stick to the back of his head.