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Joe forgot sometimes.

Tsutomu didn’t really expect him not to; everyone did, at some point. And Joe wasn’t doing it on purpose like some kids at school did. So when Joe turned his head away when he was talking, or covered his mouth so Tsutomu couldn’t read his lips, he didn’t hold it against him.

And Joe made up for it. In the dark of the theatre, with Joe holding his hands and rapidly signing into his palm so he could follow the movie’s dialogue – not something anyone else had ever thought to try before – Tsutomu felt a warmth in his chest that had nothing to do with the tentative romance playing out on the screen. Carefully, during a lull when Joe had stilled, he closed his hand for just a moment, catching Joe’s fingers and knowing that this was exactly what he wanted.

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This wasn’t what the newly implemented “Bedroom doors stay open when you have company” rule was meant to prevent, but Junior wouldn’t have known it from Joe’s reaction. He jerked back, his hands jerking in Tsutomu’s grasp, and turned bright red. Tsutomu, for his part, just looked over at Junior curiously.

“Dinner will be ready in ten minutes,” Junior told them, waiting until he got a confirming nod from Tsutomu and making a mental note to check the sign later himself. He sent a glance at the boys’ joined hands, Tsutomu clearly in the middle of guiding Joe’s hands into the proper shape, and added, “Come down whenever you’re done.”

Joe made a small strangled sound and said, “It’s not what it looks like?”

Junior blinked slowly, letting his amusement tinge his expression. “Tsutomu isn’t helping you learn sign language?”

Joe hesitated, his face turning even redder. “It’s exactly what it looks like?”

“I wouldn’t have thought otherwise.”

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I’m scared.

He shouldn’t have felt anything, in this frozen moment. Maybe triumph, as the rebel cyborg was barely his match. Except the memory of a kind smile and a shared meal kept edging to the front of his mind. Not all of the warmth from the time was from the fresh bread.

I think I love you.

Because that smile was the best thing he could remember. It made him want to do better. And that made something in his stomach clench, when he thought about how easy it was to throw away everything he’d been told in the labs. To give everything he had based on five minutes of kindness.

I think I love you and I’m terrified.

If he was going to die, he could think of worse feelings than being a little in love.

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“But what if he doesn’t like it?” Joe looked back around the doorframe at the lone person in the library.

“It’ll go fine.” Francoise followed his gaze. “You won’t know unless you try, right?”

“I know, but…”

Jet snorted, pushing away from the wall to clap a hand on Joe’s shoulder. “You’re not going to find out just standing here staring at him.” The supportive hand turned into a firm shove. “Go on, lover boy.”

“We’ll wait for you by the side door,” Francoise called, and the two of them were gone down the hall.

“Traitors,” Joe muttered after them. He turned back to the library, only to see he’d gained some attention. “I, uh. Hey Tsutomu.”

Tsutomu waved in greeting, motioning an invitation towards the chair opposite him. Joe shook his head slightly, making sure he was facing Tsutomu as he spoke.

“Thanks, but I can’t stay long. Junior’s picking us up soon. I just wanted to, uh, give you this.” He dug through his backpack and tried to ignore Tsutomu’s surprised look when he slid a red envelope across the table. “And, uh.” He could feel his face flush as he carefully signed the words Mr. Kozumi had helped him learn before turning and darting out of the library. “Okay, see you tomorrow!”

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September 2017

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