Going into the closet is the equivalent of slamming a door in his own face.
He's never been anything but open, about himself or his sexuality. He'd never felt a *need* to. It was what it was, and he was gay. Who cared? There were so many more important things to worry about.
And there are good things about hiding his relationship with Jayden. Stolen moments in the hallway, brushing shoulders in public in silent support. Exchanging grins and knowing *exactly* what Jayden's thinking, and knowing that it's the same for Jayden. It's a special, private thing just between them. Living in a house full of people who are constantly in each other's space, it's nice to have something precious, something that's just theirs and no one else's.
Jayden barely has time to make a muffled noise of protest before Antonio has him pinned against the wall, lips pressed together, hands pinning Jayden's wrists to keep him from instinctively attacking. For a moment Jayden is unresponsive; the next he's tilting his head and relaxing his shoulders. By the time Antonio has finished mapping out the inside of Jayden's mouth his hands are on Jayden's hips, a knee pressed between his legs, and Jayden's arms around his neck, fingers buried in his hair.
"What was that for?" Jayden murmurs eventually, sounding breathless.
Antonio shrugs a shoulder, trying to look casual. "You looked at me."
Jayden gives him an exasperated look. "I looked at you an hour ago. And this morning. And last night."
"Stop looking at me, and I'll stop having to kiss you," he returns cheekily, laughing as Jayden rolls his eyes and gently pushes him off.
But there are bad things, too. Like the end of a battle, when Jayden has been hurt and all he wants to do is fuss over him. When Jayden is silent and brooding, and he can't give him a hug or even lay his head on his shoulder to remind him that he's not alone. When he's entirely too serious, and he wants to tickle him and cover his face in kisses until he laughs.
"Antonio - ha ha - Antonio, stop! I'm trying to read!" Jayden argues, pushing at him ineffectually as he laughs.
Antonio smirks into Jayden's bellybutton, pushing his shirt up higher and adjusting himself more comfortably over Jayden's legs to keep him pinned to the bed. "Oh, am I distracting you from your oh-so-important book?" he asks innocently, ghosting a breath across Jayden's stomach. He's rewarded with another laugh and more squirming. "I'm sorry. Perdóname."
Another burst of laughter. "Ah - Antonio, *quit it*!"
Jayden has a great laugh.
It's not that he doesn't understand why they need to keep it hidden. Jayden has already lost so much to the Nighlock. Is it really so much to ask to keep them a secret?
"It wasn't a big deal, Jay - " he tries, and immediately knows it's the wrong thing to say.
"Not a big deal?" Jayden repeats, spinning around to stare at him. "Antonio, you could have *died*. Do you understand that? If Mike and Kevin hadn't been able to defeat the Nighlock, you would have never woken up. Do you even - " He cuts himself off abruptly, and it's obvious from the pinched look to his face and the way he can't stop pacing exactly how worried he was.
"Hey," he tries softly. "I know. I'm sorry I worried you. But everything's okay now. I'm fine, I promise."
He reaches out, moving to lean against Jayden's shoulder and hold him close, but Jayden is already pulling away.
"I can't - " Jayden shakes his head, turning toward the door. "I can't, Antonio. I'm sorry."
Not that he can't take care of himself. He knows that, and he knows Jayden knows that. It's not about strength. It's about loss, and whatever small things he can do to prevent Jayden from being hurt again.
"You can take breaks, you know."
"I know." He doesn't look up.
He can hear a soft sigh, and suddenly Jayden is crouched in front of him, gently pushing the Black Box in his hands down to the table. "Antonio. No one's expecting you to solve this overnight. You know that, don't you?"
He blinks for a moment at the abrupt derailment of his thoughts before smiling genuinely. "But that doesn't mean I can't try. The sooner this is completed, the sooner you'll be able to use it and the stronger we'll all be. Right?"
There's another sigh, and Jayden shakes his head before cupping Antonio's face in his hands and leaning their foreheads together with a smile of his own. "Don't drain yourself just for my sake."
It's too easy, and he can already feel the smirk growing on his face. "But I like when you wear me out," he protests, batting his eyelashes innocently, and laughs when Jayden groans and pulls away even as he blushes.
It's for Jayden.
And that's what he reminds himself every day.
"Ooh, Antonio come see! Come see!" Emily calls eagerly.
He joins the others with a friendly grin. "What's up, amigos?"
"You haven't seen the pictures of Jayden and Mia's wedding yet!"
He freezes, and everything around him seems to have become muffled and cold.
Distantly he can hear Mike insisting "Jayden and Mia's *fake* wedding. It wasn't a real thing! I don't get why everyone's so excited about it."
His eyes fall to the pile of pictures: frame after frame of Jayden looking solemn and dignified in his Tuxedo, and Mia glowing beside him in her white gown.
"Wow, these are awesome," he forces himself to say, trying to smile as his stomach clenches and it feels like someone has stabbed him through the heart.
Part of the problem, he knows, is Ji. Ji has never liked Antonio, and likely never will. They get along well enough now, and Ji has come to at least appreciate, if not respect his skills. But there are still moments when he can feel Ji's eyes on him, narrowing in disapproval. Or Ji gives him a look, silencing him from whatever he'd been about to say.
"I'm not sorry."
Ji pauses, but doesn't look up.
The kitchen is empty except for the two of them. The others are in the living room, well out of earshot. He was supposed to be making lunch for everyone, and Ji had just poured himself a cup of tea.
He's not sure what made him say it now.
He pokes at the vegetables he's making with a spoon, trying not to look at Ji to judge his expression. "I know ... I know I'm not what you wanted for Jayden. As a companion," he adds, and the words feel thick on his tongue. He wonders who he thinks he's fooling. "But I'm not sorry. For any of it."
The silence lingers for several minutes.
"I didn't expect that you would be," Ji says at last, taking a long drink.
But this is for Jayden.
"Are you all right, Baby? You sound winded."
He laughs into the phone at his mother's suspicious tone, wincing as his ribs throb in response. "Está bien, Mama."
"As if you'd tell me if anything was wrong," she grumbles, and he can practically hear her rolling her eyes.
He carefully winds the gauze around his chest to cover the burn from the hit he'd taken for Jayden earlier. "Don't worry so much. Everything is great," he assures her, and it is, because Jayden is fine and no one was seriously hurt.
His life has become a series of moments, he thinks. Of moments with Jayden, holding him close or kissing him until they're both breathless. Moments in battle, when he feels like everything he's fought and struggled for, everything he's sacrificed for, is right here, in this moment, in this fight. Moments after the battle, watching the people of Panorama City and knowing that they're safe because of *him*. Moments watching Jayden, and having to hold himself back even though it hurts.
"Thanks for the assist, Antonio." Jayden's smile is pleasant, but closed off in a way that it only is when the others are there.
He hates that face. It makes him want to throw his arms around Jayden, spinning him around in circles until he starts to laugh because he has no idea why they're doing this. To grab him by the shoulders and shake him, reminding him that he's not alone and they'll figure this out together. To throw an arm around him, bump their heads together, and tease him about needing some time to thank him personally.
Instead he presses a hand against his heart, closing his eyes with a forced dramatic sigh. "It's nice to be needed."
It's not always terrible, or even hard. There are days when it's a precious secret, knowing that Jayden is all his and there are parts of him that no one else knows. Days when Jayden smiles at him, warm and open, and his heart feels full enough to burst.
He stops at the first empty spot he finds, both to give Jayden a chance to breathe and to give himself a chance to see how badly he's injured and if the poison has progressed any further. "How are you feeling? That Nighlock didn't do anything else to you, did he?"
" ... You came."
He pauses, blinking. "Huh?"
Jayden looks up slowly. His smile is blinding. "You came for me."
He can feel his face heat up under his helmet. "Course I did," he manages after a moment, putting a hand behind his head awkwardly. "I'll always come when you need me."
Something in Jayden's smile softens slightly. "I know you will."
And then there are days when Jayden pulls away and closes himself off from him, from everyone. Days when Ji's stare condemns him where he stands. Days when the rest of the team doesn't take him seriously, and he has to smile and pretend it doesn't hurt.
His temper finally snaps, and he spins around to glare at them all. "You don't get it. I almost got *eaten*! By a *cat*!"
"Calm down. It's okay," Mia soothes, coming over to wrap an arm around his shoulders.
In the distance, he can hear Kevin hiss "It's *not* okay! He's officially lost it!"
"I'm a fisherman who's afraid of fish," he murmurs to himself, feeling worse than ever. "I can't use my Baracuda Blade."
He freezes, raising his head in horrified realization. "I can't be Gold Ranger anymore."
Jayden's silence condemns him even more.
But it's okay. Because Jayden does love him, even if he can't say it. Even if they have to keep it a secret. It's all going to be worth it when the Nighlocks are gone.
He's heading for the patio to start up the grill when he catches sight of Mike and Emily outside and instinctively stops.
Emily is sitting on the bench, playing her flute and staring into the distance with a dreamy expression. Just behind, Mike is watching her with a soft expression of his own. It's hard to say if Emily knows Mike is there, or if Mike knows the look on his face, but clearly neither of them have noticed him.
Something in his stomach clenches, and he decides to fry up some fish on the stove instead.
And he's very, very careful not to let anything slip, because he knows how important it is.
"Take my hand, let's do it together ... Shake it up and dance ... Take a, Take a chance ... It's gonna last ... forever and ever ... "
But it's okay.
"Well, he's my best friend. And technically? I'm not a true Samurai like all you are. So. I'm going after him."
"I really need to be alone," Jayden mutters.
"Fine. Be alone," he agrees, feigning indifference as his heart aches. Since when do you need space from me? "But only after I return with some grub," he adds triumphantly, because at the very least he needs to be sure that Jayden's taking care of himself. "I'll be right back."
But by the time he returns, Jayden is already gone.
Is going to be -
"Antonio ... " Ji looks at him solemnly from the doorway. "There's something I need to speak with you about."
And then he realizes: It was never about the Nighlock.
It's for the best, he tells himself. For all of us.
He keeps his smile in place as the others share their own plans. It gets harder when Mike admits his plans to go with Emily and Mia grins at them like she's known all along. He smiles wider to keep it in place, forcing himself to congratulate and tease them.
Because he is happy for them. They're his friends, and he wants them to be happy.
He just ... wishes he could be happy, too.
"So. What are you guys gonna do?"
"Haven't really thought about it. I mean, for the first time in my life, I'm done with my Samurai duties." Jayden laughs awkwardly. "For now anyway," he amends.
And then they're all leaving, and he's the first to head for the gate even as he raises his fishing pole high and cheers "All the best, you guys!"
Would it be better if I was a girl? he wonders as he walks to the dock. If I was able to give Jayden the baby his family wants, could we have had a happy ending then?
Maybe it's better if he never knows.