Hotels, AJ thinks, have always been in-betweens. She might have spent most nights of the past four years in them, sometimes even going back to the same ones when WWE passes through the same cities again, but they’ll still only ever be that: a place she can rest her head between arenas and hire cars and airports.
And so, it goes without saying that the things that happen in hotels aren’t real. Not to AJ, at least. Hotel rooms are whole worlds of their own, worlds that end when you check out in the morning, when housekeeping comes in to make the bed after you’re gone. What AJ does in these rooms – these worlds – with Brie isn’t real, no matter how often it crosses her mind that she might like it to be.
It can’t be.
It starts, of course, at Survivor Series.
It starts with the kiss, broadcast to millions across the world through the network and on pay-per-view and on who even knows how many illegal streams online. People saw it, is what matters. People saw it, but they’ll never get to know what comes after. No-one will.
No-one will know about a dozen more angry kisses in the sanctuary of Brie’s hotel room, about Brie’s lipstick on AJ’s skin, about the way AJ’s fingers grip at Brie’s hair when she comes. AJ isn’t even sure how it this is happening, just knows she approached Brie after the match, fuming and without a title belt in her arms. It turns out that not having a championship to hold makes it harder to resist stepping forward to relive earlier’s embrace, on her terms as well this time, not just Brie’s. Who would have thought?
AJ’s letting out all her fury about that joke of a match into the sex, and she knows that Brie’s frustrated, too – she can’t have forgiven Nikki that easily, no matter how the twins might try to make it appear. They’ve both been robbed of something: AJ of her title, Brie of her choice to stand alone, against Nikki. Maybe Brie will try again now that Nikki has the title, something to take, but AJ can’t see it happening. Besides, she’ll have the belt back in no time.
The night ends with AJ leaving, a bruise on the inside of her thigh, luckily high up enough that her shorts can cover it. It’s still there, though, evidence of what should be a night that only exists in memories.
(AJ knows she should be trying to forget, but her eyes keep wandering to it, her fingers keep tracing over it, and she thinks about how easy it might be to get Brie to press a matching mark into her other thigh after RAW tomorrow.)
(She doesn’t get it then, but after Smackdown the next day. Still, maybe it’s best not to come on too strong. She has learned just a little since 2012.)
They carry on like this until TLC. It’s still rough and biting and just plain hateful, but there are flashes of other things underneath all that, things that AJ can’t even begin to explain – things that shouldn’t be there, on both their parts.
They hardly speak outside of hotels, outside of when they have to in the ring, but Brie wishes AJ good luck before her match with Nikki and it doesn’t sound sarcastic, and that’s – AJ doesn’t know what to do with that. She just knows she has to win.
She doesn’t. She doesn’t win, and that means she’s – out of the title picture for the first time in a year and a half. She has to go, has to disappear. If she isn’t around, then she can’t be anything other than exactly what she wants. There’s no-one around to see her break.
AJ waits until March to return. It’s a new year, and she vows not to get involved with Brie again, but oddly, a few months do nothing to put out whatever was beginning to blaze between them. Whatever sparks were beginning to fly. Somewhere in the mess of it all, she discovers that she actually likes talking to Brie, that she’s smiled more in this nondescript room that hundreds of other people have slept in before than she has in the last week.
When they fuck, it’s almost – gentle. Soft. AJ hasn’t been soft since Kaitlyn, and that was years ago now. She’s spent that time sculpting herself, sharpening the edges, not only the parts that other people get to see but everything else, too, and yet, right now, everything is soft. The sheets are soft and the pillows are soft and Brie’s skin is soft against hers and somehow, AJ herself is, too. Her fingertips are feather light and her kiss is tender. It’s like someone different is inhabiting her skin, someone she hasn’t seen for a long time.
Someone who can only exist on the road, in hotel rooms.
It’s not long before she decides she has to leave altogether, has to retire – partly because she can’t be this, partly because she’s tired anyway. She’s done everything she came here for. Let it be someone else’s time and turn, though she knows no-one can ever live up to her.
She doesn’t make it a big deal, just quietly bows out, saying goodbye to a select few. Mere months ago, she never would have imagined that would include Brie, but it does. Of course it does.
AJ tries to give some parting advice – turn on Nikki like she did to you, challenge her for the title and take it – but Brie shakes her head with a sad smile. She can’t, she won’t. AJ expected as much, but still. If it ever happens, she’ll know it was her influence.
And finally, she’s done. Done with wrestling, done with everything she’s grown so used to because of it: no more hotel rooms, no endless cycle of travelling and matches. No more Brie.
Just AJ, as whoever she wants to be.