"Here we are," Jay says, after a few seconds of unsuccessfully trying to jam the key into the lock. Tim considers offering to help, but that seems kind of... demeaning. The guy isn't helpless, he's just frightened.
The door swings open airily, and they step in. It opens out into a wide room that just has to make up most of the apartment. There's a kitchen in the right hand side corner, enclosed by the faux-marble counter, and the walls - a nauseating mint green hue - are devoid of pictures.
The main part of the room, however, is evidently made up of the factors that Jay was able to choose. The walls and kitchen design may have been like that when he'd arrived, but the living area is full of expression: a G Plan 2-seater and armchair; a sideboard that wasn't a flat pack piece of shit; an Ercol coffee table, long and elegant in the centre.
All of it is buried under books.
"Jesus Christ," Tim says, picking up a leather-bound novel and flipping open the cover, "how do you move around with all these bein' everywhere...?"
"I guess I'm just used to it," Jay shrugs. "Some of them are from work, 'cos Dot wanted me to value them... Some of them are mine, though."
Tim's intrigued. He's never been in a place with such obvious examples of organised chaos; Jay seems to be so familiar with his surroundings that he can weave in and out of the towers with ease.
"Are you gonna tell me what's going on?"
Maybe that was too blunt. Jay visibly flinches.
"Is this about that guy who won't leave you alone?" Tim asks sharply, "is that it?"
"No," he mumbles, but Tim calls bullshit instantly.
Suddenly, Jay explodes. "What do you want me to say, Tim?! Do you need me to give every single detail about the psycho that's following me around? Oh, but only when you're ready," he mocks, and then switches back to his normal voice: "well, somebody had better damn tell me when I'm going to be ready! Three months ago when you started hanging around in the book room? Last week in the auction house restrooms? Oh, maybe tonight! Is tonight good enough for you?!"
He stares on, stunned, as Jay continues to flare up at him. He's pacing the floor; Tim isn't even sure if Jay is addressing him directly anymore. "I shouldn't have told you anything. I shouldn't have told anybody anything! They're not even trying to fix any of this. All they do is butt in wherever something remotely interesting is happening. How does that help anybody? You all just want to know about it, and everyone thinks I'm incapable, like it was my fault he turned out to be a manipulative douchebag - well, I'm sorry to be such a disappointment, in the end," he spits, "but I can actually help myself, here, and I don't... need to be looked... after!"
"Shhhh," Tim murmurs to him. "Sit down... and for Christ's sake, breathe."
Jay had stopped pacing, his chest heaving. The patches of skin across his cheekbones were flushed with furious defiance; he nodded noiselessly, closing his eyes, and let himself collapse onto the sofa. Tim takes a seat next to him. He's careful to keep his distance.
"I know that you want to take care of this yourself," he reasons. "And I bet you don't want to get the police involved, if this asshole is as bad as you're trying to say."
"But, Jay... You gotta know that I want to help you out. For real. I can't fix this for you, but I can't stand by and just... watch. You deserve better than that. Way better. So if there's anything I can do... drop you home, let you stay at mine if you need, stuff like that... Tell me when you need. Okay?"
Jay nods again, and exhales. "Okay," he agrees, and then, "sorry."
"That was a long time coming. And I probably deserved it, I was way too blunt with you... But you gotta stop saying sorry for things, seriously. "
There's a pause as Jay searches for a response other than another apology. "...You're right," he settles on.
"Just let me know when you need somethin'."
"You could, uh..."
"You could stay and watch badly-dubbed martial films with me."
Tim stays. The film is a little complicated for him to follow ("What's happening now?" he asks. "Oh," Jay responds, pointing, "Tang Lung is fighting the mafia. They're targeting his uncle's restaurant...") but it certainly has entertainment value. He even tries to look for when Jay's interest is particularly obvious, so that he can ask about what's going on, and in return, receives a muted, excited version of the dated cinematography.
It seems to cheer him up.
They switch over to TV channels when the film ends, punctuated by the crack and hiss of soda cans and talk of work. Jay sits cross-legged on the sofa and leans his head back; Tim takes the opportunity to wander around the living room. The interest he has in his surroundings distracts him from the interest he has in the guy who lives here, so he idly flips through a few hardbacks from the various novel towers. The bookshelf, ironically, is the only piece of furniture in the room which doesn't contain any books; it's crammed with DVDs and CDs, presumably to use in Jay's degree. Maybe he just really likes work and college, but Tim wonders if the other man owns any stuff purely for fun.
"This one of yours?" he asks, picking up a book from the pile closest to the window. It's plain, with simple red, yellow, and blue writing; neon against the grey background, it reads 'A BRAVE NEW WORLD', and is by an 'Aldous Huxley'. Tim vaguely remembers glossing over it in high school, but didn't ever feel capable enough to read it properly. Hell, he barely scraped his way through his seventh grade literature classes. Novels were... usually a little out of his league.
"Yeah, it's mine," Jay says, embarrassed, "but I haven't finished it yet. It's Aldous Huxley, it's pretty easy to dislike him. I don't know, like, as a person. But maybe it was just his time. He writes really well, though... I do like it. A lot."
Jay clears his throat awkwardly, as though he thinks he's said too much. He goes to take the book from Tim, who is still staring blankly at the blurb - but Tim doesn't move a muscle, which results in two cold hands brushing over his.
Tim freezes, and both of them remain still.
"Um," Tim says, as Jay's hands curl around his own. It's pleasant, and nerve-wracking, in an unfamiliar manner that lies heavy in his ribcage.
They don't move.
"...Uh," Jay says, very quietly. "I, uh. Sorry. Seemed like... a good idea."
He retracts his light hold, stepping backwards, and the chill his palms had left on the backs of Tim's hands dissipates almost immediately. In fact, he nearly doesn't notice the book sliding through his fingers until it hits the ground at his feet. "Wait," Tim interrupts, disregarding the noise, "no, it's, it's fine, really."
He steps back into Jay's personal space, slipping their hands together again. The temperature difference is even more evident now, but it only briefly registers, because Tim inhales, moves his hands up to the sides of Jay's face, and screws up every ounce of courage he has.
When he presses his lips to Jay's, he realises just how timid and uncertain Jay's mannerisms are. Their noses gently bump together as he tilts his head slightly, and hard, warm lips slide over his fluidly. Jay's teeth catch his bottom lip, and the spot tingles. He can feel cool hands through the fabric of his shirt, where they'd come to rest below his shoulder blades.
'A Brave New World' didn't seem like so much of a challenge anymore. Tim feels like he can do anything now.
This is not the end.