He was finally alone. When he emerged from the shower, there was no one around, no other duffle bags, rollaways or backpacks outside of his own. A quick check of his phone, and he found a message from Kofi. ‘Waiting for you in the bus,’ he read, and Punk texted back, ‘Be there soon,’ before throwing it back into his open bag.
His body still ached as he dressed himself. This week’s beating on top of last week’s took its toll. It was getting harder to hide it from others. His elbows cracked like his knees. His muscles, from his back down to his feet, all told him to rest—really rest. And his mind was as messed up as that contusion on the back of his head.
Even after that long shower, he felt dirty. Unclean.
Fuck. He bent over to pack his bags up. Fuck you, Jericho. His hands shook as he stuffed the duffle up. You won’t break me. He then turned to his rollaway, blindly reaching for his things, his breathing quickening. You can’t.
“You’re letting him get to you.”
Punk jerked up, looking over his shoulder. On the other side of the room, stepping through the door, was the last person he expected or wanted to see. “What do you know, John Boy?” He turned away to finish packing. “Just do me a favor and shut your mouth. You’ll only injure yourself more.”
The door shut. “How about you do us both a favor and shut yours.”
He snarled, zipping up the bag in jerky movements, then straightened himself. “I don’t need this.” He pulled the handle up.
“Wait, Punk.” A hand settled on his shoulder. “I’m sorry. I didn’t come here to fight.”
Punk whipped around, shoving that hand off him, as he came face to face with John. “Then what are you here for, uh? In case you haven’t noticed, I don’t have an ugly haircut or a sword tattooed on my chest.”
John stepped back. Wide eyes searched his face, lips silent searching for words, and then, “I wanted to check up on you. See how you were doing.”
“I’m living, aren’t I? Now get out.”
Just as he turned, that hand grabbed his forearm and yanked him back. “I mean here.” John patted his chest, over his heart. “What you said tonight—”
“Meant nothing.” He jerked his arm out of John’s hold. “It’s between me and Jericho.”
“If it was nothing, you wouldn’t have said it.”
Punk turned his back to him. He busied himself with the usual post-show routine: duffle bag hooked to the rollaway, the belt secured inside, and last, checking the backpack for the essentials, phone, wallet, and anything else left behind.
He almost forgot about John until he heard a loud sigh a foot away from him. “Look. I’m not here to give you some sort of pep talk about Jericho, or his head games, or any of that crap. You don’t want to hear it, and I don’t want to do it.” That hand came back to rest on his shoulder again, and it squeezed firm—strong enough to imply its purpose, gentle enough not to bruise. “I’m here for you,” John said, and his voice came close, lowering to a whisper, “Because of you.”
The urge to shrug it off again came and went. Sitting on his haunches, his backpack at his feet, Punk closed his eyes, his hands clenching into fists on his thighs. An ache builded in his chest, one that matched the ache his body felt for weeks now. Except it hurt somewhere else. Somewhere deeper.
He breathed hard through his nose, bending his neck. His lips thinned into a line.
John’s hand didn’t let go. It stayed.
Fuck. Punk forced his throat to work and spat out, “I don’t need your fucking pity.”
“It’s not pity, Punk, or sympathy. It’s concern.”
The hand loosened. “I know you don’t believe me. I’m not here to convince you otherwise.” It slid off and away. “So, humor me, and tell me how you’re doing.”
“How do you think I’m doing?”
“Tch.” Punk pushed himself up, grabbing his backpack and slinging one arm through a strap. He kept his back to John as he slipped his other arm through the second strap, securing it over both shoulders. There, now go, he wanted to say, but he stayed quiet, holding the ends of the straps. Tell him to go, dammit. He got what he wanted, now get out of here. But his legs stayed in place. His body didn’t move. In his mind, jumbled words haunted him in echoes, taunts and jeers that hurt like kicks to the face. Just like your father, end up like your father, this one’s for your father—and over all that, there was John. I’m here for you. Because of you. He let go of the straps. For you.
Punk pressed a hand to his forehead, rubbing it back and forth. He didn’t recognize his voice when he whispered, “I can still smell it.” He let go a long sigh, rushing out, “I don’t care when others drink. I don’t give a shit. It’s their choice, not mine. But…” A growl escaped between his clenched teeth, his hand tightening into a fist, knuckles pressing into his skin. “Shit.”
“It’s okay. I get it.”
“No.” Punk loosened his hand, running the palm down and over his face. “You don’t.”
“Not personally, no. But, I get you. What you’re saying.”
“Yeah.” He slapped his hand onto his thigh, then turned on his heel, finally facing John in all his green glory. “That it?”
“That’s all you came for, right?”
“Oh.” He nodded.
“Then get out.”
John nodded again. He took an awkward step forward, an equally awkward arm coming up to embrace him, but he recanted in one fluid move, turning away with a small, pathetic wave of his hand. “See ya.”
He watched John cross the room to the other side, picking up his bags near the door, and the way he handled them wasn’t normal. His movements were deliberate slow, void of the insanely annoying bounce-and-step Punk grew accustomed to. He didn’t look sad, or hurt—it was John, he wasn’t supposed to be sad or hurt. Probably didn’t even know what that meant. But Punk realized what was off, as he watched him head to the door: for once, John the Superman looked like John, a man. And it was a enough of a galvanizing thought for him to take action and cross the room too.
“Hey.” Punk stood in front of John, eye-to-eye, and he offered a hand out with a small smile. “Thanks.”
John didn’t smile back like he thought. He did take his hand, their hands did clasp, but Punk wasn’t ready when John pulled him in and whipped his free arm around his shoulders.
They pressed together, chest-to-chest, cheek to cheek. John’s lips next to his ear, and Punk heard his whisper loud and clear.
“Don’t let him win. You hear me?”
The emotion in John’s whisper blindsided him. He swallowed hard, fighting for words as the ache in his chest reaching a breaking point. “I won’t.”
John squeezed his hand. “Good.”
Their hands let go. Punk stepped away—and his mind went blank when John pulled back, only to kiss his lips; quick in, quick out, but Punk felt the warm pressure on impact.
He watched John step out through the doorway, giving him a parting look and parting smile. “You’re the best. Not him.”
The door shut with a loud click.
Punk stared at it.
A moment later, he finally found the ability to breathe again as well as move. His mind stayed blank as he turned back to grab the rest of his things and head to the bus. But in the silence of the dressing room, and the silence of his head, he felt strangely better. The taunts and jeers were quiet, for now. The aches and pains of the last few weeks felt subdued. It was the shock working its magic, and most likely later, once it wore off, all that bad shit would be back at the forefront. But as Punk left the dressing room, he felt and thought nothing, except for a tingling on his lips, and that was much more bearable than anything before.
And he realized later, while he lay back on his bed and stared at the ceiling, it was probably all John’s intention in the first place: to make him feel better… and to probably kiss him too.
Dammit Cena. He smiled, chuckling to himself. You dork.
He slept easier that night than he had in weeks.