Paige shouldn’t be this torn up about it. She shouldn’t be this torn up about it when Brie isn’t hers, never was and never will be, but she’s still hurting all the same. She lost AJ last year. And now she’s losing Brie.
She finds Brie somewhere backstage, and thankfully, she’s alone. Paige doesn’t want anyone else to see her like this. Brie catches her eye and smiles, beckoning her over.
“I can’t believe you’re leaving,” Paige says by way of greeting. Maybe it isn’t the right thing to say, but Brie’s retirement is at the forefront of her mind, even more so than tonight’s win is.
“Sometimes, neither can I,” Brie tells her. “Feels like the right time, though.” She’s still smiling, and Paige wonders just how she can be smiling, but of course it’s not like Brie realises these feelings are there. Even if she did, she probably wouldn’t notice just how strong they are. Paige knows she shouldn’t be selfish, because of course Brie wants to leave, wants to have some time off, wants to do other things, but it’s difficult to push those thoughts from her mind.
Paige swallows, hard, and she must be frowning, because Brie does too, her brows knitting in concern.
“Are you OK?” she asks.
“I’m fine, I just–”
“Come here,” Brie says, and she wraps her arms around Paige, pulling her into a tight hug. It’s warm and it’s genuine, and because it’s Brie, it’s even better for Paige than a hug from Bayley, which is really saying something.
Paige presses her face to Brie’s shoulder and tries to breathe deep, in and out. She wishes that she could stay here for hours, wishes she could spend the night in Brie’s arms. She can’t have that, though, so she has to take what she can get: a farewell hug based on friendship and nothing more.
“Thank you so much.” Paige can’t help but let at least that out, the words muffled against Brie’s shoulder. “Just – thank you.”
“Hey.” Brie pulls back from the hug to look at Paige, a hand still soothing on her shoulder, stroking up and down. “You’ll still be able to see me, y’know? It’s not like I’m saying goodbye forever.”
“I know,” says Paige. “I know, I just–” She has to lift a hand to her face to rub her eyes. There are definitely tears starting to prick up, hot and wet and unwanted. She hoped she wouldn’t actually cry in front of Brie. Hoped she could save it all for being in her hotel room alone, but–
“Oh, Paige.” Brie pulls her in for another quick hug. “What brought this on, huh?”
Paige just shrugs. Her throat feels like it’s closing up, like there’s some heavy weight growing inside it that’s stopping her from saying anything without letting out some of the tears.
“I don’t normally–” She can’t find the words to finish her sentence, so she gestures vaguely at her face, hoping the movement says don’t normally cry like this, or cry at all, really, and Brie nods, understanding.
“I know you don’t. It’s OK, yeah? But I… I never thought that me retiring would have such an effect on you.”
Paige manages something that sounds close to a laugh at that. Brie doesn’t know the half of it, the most of it, the all of it. She doesn’t know any of it.
“I look up to you, all right?” Paige tries to sound fierce, like she’s got this and she knows it, though she doesn’t know if she can say much more without it all spilling out. Brie can never know. No-one can ever know. “I might not have always shown it, but – but I do.”
“Yeah,” says Brie, nodding. She reaches a hand up into Paige’s hair and strokes, gentle. Paige wants to melt to her touch. “That means a lot to me, y’know?”
And you mean a lot to me, Paige wants to say, but it goes unspoken. It will always go unspoken. She’ll go back to her hotel room alone, fall asleep alone, and carry on the routine she’s been cycling through for the past two years: home to airport to car to arena to hotel to car to arena to airport to home.
Except now, she has to do it without Brie there for any of it.