There was a moment when Bobby realized something was wrong with his tag team partner.
He was worried that the bump on the head that the other had taken from Taven may have done something, but the trainer on staff had deemed him ‘fine’. But the way his steps faltered every so often and the fact that he had to lean on something every few minutes or else he’d lose his balance and stumble didn’t seem ‘fine’.
Twenty minutes after the match, Kyle was still sweating. That’s not abnormal in and of itself, but it’s copious and persistent. Bobby grabbed a thin towel from a passing aid and slung it around Kyle’s neck.
“Thanks,” the slighter man muttered, using the material to wipe his face and neck.
“What’s going on?” Bobby asked, offering a bottle of water, which the other readily took. Kyle uncapped it and downed half of it before speaking;
“M’ sugar’s just a little low,” Kyle answered with a dismissive wave of his hand.
“Maybe you should eat something,” Bobby suggested, finally having calmed down enough from the match to get ready to take a shower. He leaned against the cool plaster wall and watched Kyle searching his gym bag for something, vaguely aware of others passing them, moving around backstage and paying them no mind.
“Yeah, I’ll do that,” Kyle answered, giving up on his search and flinging his still-open bag to the ground in frustration. “Go ahead and shower,” he suggested, “I’ll join you after I get a snack.”
Bobby was reluctant to let him go off on his own. The other had looked light-headed and unstable on his feet, but in the end he let him go. He trusted the other man to know when his health was truly at risk and to ask for help when he needed it. Beyond that, if it was worse than he’d thought, there were plenty of others milling about who would see if something went wrong.
It would be a few weeks before he found out how wrong he’d been.
At first, Bobby had entertained the idea that Kyle had gotten into drugs. The other had been quieter lately, and just a tiny bit paranoid – always taking his bag with him everywhere and actually buying a lock for his locker (no one used those, the roster was a tight bunch) and checking to make sure their shared hotel room door and windows were locked at night before even being comfortable enough to take a shower. Not to mention he stopped showering at the arena. But after googling the signs of low blood-sugar, he threw that idea out the window. Besides, they were almost never apart. When would he have had the time to procure or consume any sort of drug? He did listen to really loud music during his unusually long showers, but the bathrooms never smelled of anything other than old sweat, mildew and soap when Kyle had finished with them, so if he was doing any sort of drug, it wasn’t one that required any burning to ingest.
Bobby started carrying peanut butter crackers on him for Kyle’s sake, as the bouts of dizziness associated with the other’s low glucose levels were starting to become a concern. He’d yet to mess up in the ring, and seemed hyper-focused on work, but as soon as that focus was broken, Bobby would have to reach out and grab Kyle by the bicep to keep him from falling over.
“You should really see a doctor about your sugar levels,” he’d said one day as he took Kyle by the shoulder when he gasped and braced himself against the nearest wall.
“Why?” Kyle asked, his voice cracking. He cleared his throat and gave an awkward little chuckle. “Am I gaining weight, or something?”
“No,” Bobby answered, though he had noticed that the other’s face seemed swollen some days, but overall the man seemed to be getting thinner. “If anything, you’re losing weight.” Kyle seemed pleased at his partner’s observation, which made Bobby raise a brow.
He remembered catching Kyle in the restroom about half an hour before a match they were booked for, spreading hemorrhoid cream on his cheeks and under his chin and almost asked if he’d gone crazy. But, Google was an infinite, convenient source of knowledge and Bobby came to find out that this was a technique some people used to make themselves look thinner, so he let it go.
One night, under the harsh light of the arena bulbs strung up to accent every little detail perfectly, Bobby found himself standing stunned in reDRagon’s corner as what should have just barely been a tap from Kenny King cost Kyla a tooth. The little bit of bone went flying and bright blood gushed from his mouth, and even Kenny looked shocked for a moment as Kyle grabbed at his face in pain. Bobby leaned out further over the ropes than he ever had before, fighting the urge to just jump in the ring and see if Kyle needed medical attention because he wasn’t certain if the other would actually seek it or not at that point. Kenny took Kyle by the hair and, slipping back in character even as he was worried that he’d seriously hurt the other, threw him into Bobby’s corner. Bobby made the tag and watched for a second as Kyle rolled out of the ring, touching his tender jaw. An aid was out with a cloth and an icepack before Bobby turned back to his opponent; Kenny had switched out for Rhett.
Afterward, Bobby sat with a groaning Kyle and a concerned Kenny, who would not stop apologizing. Rhett bobbed about, asking if Kyle needed anything, to which the slender man would groan and shake his head, repositioning the icepack on his jaw. When the ANX finally wandered off, Bobby started rubbing Kyle’s back and the other huffed out a soft sigh into the cloth around the icepack.
“Wanna make smoothies tonight instead of going out for food?” Bobby asked.
“No,” Kyle mumbled, “I just wanna go back to the room, shower and go to bed.” With that, he stood to get his bag from his locker. “Shower if ya want. I’ll be outside.”
Kyle went to bed after a surprisingly quick shower, shaking in his sweats and thin sweater. Bobby worried about the other’s blood sugar, but let it go. Kyle didn’t sleep much that night, and neither did Bobby, glancing over to the other bed on occasion to find Kyle staring at the ceiling, huffing out a quiet sigh every few minutes.
In fact, Kyle didn’t sleep much for the next three nights. Instead he dozed lightly on the plane trip after those restless nights, still popping painkillers every few hours. Bobby considered taking away the pills, as the pain had to be down to a bearable level at that point, but he relented, as the pills were a legit prescription and Kyle’s performance hadn’t appeared to be affected. Yet, anyway.
After another show, in a small arena with a rather quiet crowd, things would finally become clear for Bobby what was going on with his best friend and tag team partner.
Kyle couldn’t seem to stop smiling after, and Bobby could barely see the little gap left by the missing tooth, which made him smile in turn. It was weird to see Kyle so happy, and even reach out to rest his hand on Bobby’s arm like he used to do only a couple months prior. His hands were wrapped way more than they used to be, but that didn’t matter at the moment. The mustached man finally felt like he had his best friend back and let relief pour over him. They decided to grab a six-pack of beer and order pizzas and just head back to their room and shit-talk the news while they ate.
After putting away an entire pizza by himself, Kyla announced that he would be taking a shower. He was still smiling as he lifted his shirt to show Bobby how swollen his stomach was from all that food. Bobby felt his face heat, wanting to touch the tiny little paunch. He could admit to himself that he was attracted to his partner, but would never voice his opinion, not wanting to cause any unnecessary tension between the two, as Kyle was clearly uninterested. There was a deeper bond they shared than a passing fancy, and Bobby treasured that more than any potential moment of awkward pleasure he’d later regret. But the cute little smile and the way Kyle held up his shirt to show off his ‘food baby’ gave him some thoughts he decided to humor while his partner was in the shower.
Bobby could quite seem to get into it, however, a little put off by his partner’s sudden mood shift. Something had to be up. He waited a few minutes after the shower started, after Kyle had taken his bag in with him and locked the door, checking three times to make sure it was locked behind him. Bobby heard the small portable radio blasting a local rock station and approached the door. He put his ear to it and felt absolutely foolish. I should trust him more than this, he thought, but a small sound wiped his mind free of his self-depreciating thoughts. Was that… gagging? Did the dumbass eat himself sick?
Against what he believed to be his better judgement, Bobby took his glasses repair kit from his bag and removed the screwdriver from it. He picked the lock as quietly as possible and sat the tool on the counter near the door. He held onto the handle for a moment and considered his options, almost chickened out.
Much later, he’d be glad he opened that door, but at that moment all he could do was stare in horror.
“Kyle?” he asked, right after he turned off the radio. The thinner man choked on his fingers before yanking them out of his mouth to wipe them on his shorts. He looked like a deer in the headlights, staring up at Bobby, a trail of saliva down the left side of his mouth and over his chin. He backed up against the tub, away from the commode, hunching his shoulders and drawing his legs up just a bit.
Bobby’s first reaction was the desire to start yelling, but he knew that wouldn’t help either of them in the long run, so he bit down on it. Instead of saying anything, he sat down on the tile floor and leaned his right side against the cabinet. His thin cotton shirt didn’t do much to ease the way the wood dug into his skin, but that wasn’t even a thought for Bobby.
“Eat too much?” he asked, loosely crossing his arms.
“Yeah,” Kyle rasped.
“It tasted really good,” Kyle answered, wrapping his arms around himself, turning his head toward the wall.
“Then maybe you should take it slow and enjoy it instead of stuffing yourself really fast, huh?”
Kyle only shrugged in response.
The two sat in silence for several minutes, Bobby watching varying levels of fear, sadness and anger wash over Kyle’s features. Kyle’s mouth opened and closed on a few words that wouldn’t leave his throat before finally finding his ability to speak;
“You’re going to leave me now, aren’t you?”
“You know, report me to the medical staff and push me off on someone else, some counselor or something, thinking they’ll help me, or whatever,” Kyle said with a shrug of his shoulders, still staring at the wall even as his eyes glazed over with tears.
“No, Kyle, I won’t,” Bobby said, reaching up to grab a few squares of toilet tissue. He folded them over and knelt up to wet them from the faucet. When he reached out toward the other, Kyle flinched away. “I’m just wiping off your face. Relax,” Bobby said, cupping the clean side of his partner’s face. Kyle looked toward the ceiling while Bobby made quick work of the spittle staining the slimmer man’s face. He tossed the tissue in the toilet and put the lid down before flushing it. He had at least a dozen questions he wanted to ask, but decided he’d give the other a few minutes to see if he wanted to talk.
Instead of saying anything, Kyle pulled his knees up to his chest and put his head between them, sighing heavily.
“Go ahead and say whatever you want,” Kyle rasped.
“I-“ Bobby started, but stopped and pursed his lips. “It’ll be ok.” Kyle laughed weakly at that. “Kyle,” Bobby scolded lightly.
“Sorry,” Kyle whispered. He flinched away when the other’s hand rested on his arm. “I can’t believe you’re willing to touch me right now,” he said with a sad little laugh, pulling himself away from the touch and trying to fit himself between the toilet and the bathtub.
“Why wouldn’t I be?” Bobby asked, his brow scrunched.
“Because I’m disgusting,” Kyle answered, refusing to make eye contact.
“You are not disgusting,” Bobby countered.
“You say that like most pe- people don’t find purging to be something absolutely disgusting,” Kyle said, his face, which had finally returned to its usual pale from the stressed red it had been when Bobby had first entered the room, reddened again at the way his voice cracked.
“Well, people react badly to things they don’t understand,” Bobby offered, moving closer to the other. “I’m not disgusted by it, but I’m worried for your health.”
Kyle gave a derisive snort.
“Kyle, I-“ Bobby stammered again and the other looked at him, tears pooling on his lower lids, eyebrows raised in an attempt to be defiant. “Look, I love you, ok? You’re my best friend. Let- let me help you so no one else has to know, alright?” He held his left hand out to Kyle who simply stared at it for a moment.
“I dunno,” Kyle said, sounding distant. “What if whatever you’re planning doesn’t work and you get tired of my shit? A-are you going to tell someone then? I’ll lose my job, Bobby.”
“You trust me in the ring, don’t you?” Bobby asked. Kyle’s eyes shot to the other’s, this topic slightly more comfortable, but confusing.
“Of course I do. No one more.”
“You trust me to drive the rentals when traveling, don’t you?”
“Well, yeah,” Kyle said, his tears slowly fading as confusion started to drown out his fear and sadness.
“You trust me to pick up the dry-cleaning before we have a show to be at, right? You trust me to make sure you don’t drink too much and wind up doing something stupid, yeah?”
“Yeah, but I don’t see what that has to do with this,” Kyle shot back, his head tilted curiously.
“Well, you already trust me in so many other areas of your life, I don’t see how this is any different,” Bobby said, reaching out to take Kyle’s hand. He noticed how thin the fingers had gotten as he continued; “If I have a problem, I’ll come to you. If you have a problem, well, I hope you’d feel safe coming to me.” He ran his thumb over some teeth marks on Kyle’s knuckles and fingers. “You know you can come to me, right?”
“Y-yeah,” Kyle whispered, shaking slightly.
“Why don’t you get a quick shower then we’ll sit down and talk, huh?” Bobby suggested, getting to his feet, pulling the other with him. Kyle didn’t feel like he’d drift away in the wind yet, it seemed, so he was very briefly glad he’d caught this as soon as he had. His ribs couldn’t be seen yet for the muscle there, but the cute little love handles he used to have were gone entirely and his stomach was just starting to be concave under his abs. His thighs had whittled down to just muscle, but it the muscle didn’t seem to be wasting away yet. Kyle still performed well at his job, so Bobby assumed that he was at least keeping down protein shakes and vitamin supplements.
“Yeah, alright,” Kyle said, taking his hand from the other’s grip. He stared at Bobby for a moment. “You just gonna stand there?”
“You act like I haven’t seen you naked before.”
“I- I just- I feel disgusting right now, ok? I’d prefer to shower alone.”
“Alright, I’ll be out in the room when you’re done,” Bobby offered, taking the radio with him. He closed the door behind him and packed up the screwdriver for his glasses. He sat at the end of Kyle’s bed until he heard the shower shut off with a screech, laughing without any humor at how it had been running since Kyle went into the bathroom.
“Hey,” Kyle said quietly when he came out.
“Hey,” Bobby responded. He patted the bed beside him, and Kyle sat.
“Can I…?” Kyle asked, moving like he was going to lay his head on Bobby’s shoulder.
“Sure,” the bigger man answered with a slight nod. “How are you feeling?”
“I didn’t get it all.”
“Does it hurt?” Kyle seemed to think for a minute. He then shook his head.
“No. Not really. My throat is a little sore,” he admits.
“Hold on a sec,” Bobby said, easing the other away. Kyle watched as Bobby went to his bag, taking out a small bottle and returning to the bed. “This will help.”
“What is it?”
“Chloraseptic. I carry it with me when it starts getting cold out. It’ll numb your throat a little.”
“Ok,” Kyle says, obediently opening his mouth.
Bobby can feel the bridge of his nose turning red, but ignores it, tilting Kyle’s head back a bit with one hand and giving him a spritz of the spray with the other. After swallowing a few times and smacking his lips, Kyle gives a small smile.
“It feels better already,” he said.
“Can you promise me that I won’t have to whip this out for at least a few days?” Bobby asked, holding up the bottle to drive his point home.
“I’ll try, yeah,” and that’s that.
Kyle was surprised that Bobby didn’t push him to ‘talk about it’ like the nameless aid who found him in the bathroom one night had, but he was grateful. He spent the rest of the night sitting what he thought had to be uncomfortably close to Bobby as they shit-talked the rest of the news and infomercials until he fell asleep. After slinging a blanket over his best friend, Bobby finally got a decent night of sleep himself.
The next morning, Bobby finds that Kyle had already left before he got up, having left behind a half-eaten breakfast. There’s also a bag of food for him with a note attached that simply reads “Thanks! See you at the airport!”, and Bobby took it as an improvement.
It appeared that Kyle stuck to his word and didn’t purge himself of anything he ate for three days. But, Bobby noted, he ate very little. Nibbled on some peanut butter crackers, snacked on a large bag of almonds he’d bought for ease of carrying in his travels, ate a couple pieces of fruit and drank a few protein shakes, but it didn’t seem like enough. On the third day, they went to an all-night diner after a show. Kyle ate all four sausage patties on his plate, but picked at everything else. When Bobby slipped one of his sausages onto the other man’s plate, he was greeted with an indignant huff. Then Kyle proceeded to eat the meaty treat anyway.
The fourth day after the bathroom encounter, some kind soul organized a spaghetti social for the entire roster, including all the help. Bobby couldn’t imagine the sheer amount of pasta needed to feed seventy to eighty men and women who made their living off of running around and burning carbs, but gladly piled his plate high anyway. He, of course, sat next to Kyle, Kenny and Rhett sliding into place next to them – they’d become fairly close since the lost tooth incident. They gossiped over their food and Bobby drew no attention to the way Kyle stuffed his face with meatball after meatball. When Kyle excused himself, Bobby waited about five minutes before doing the same, messing up Rhett’s hair as he passed to turn his dishes in and run off to find Kyle.
When he wasn’t in the restroom, Bobby found himself confused. He checked another restroom on the opposite end of the building and stomped around, puzzled, when he found nothing.
“Hey,” he heard behind him, and spun around.
“Kyle,” he addressed, taking a step toward the other. “How’re you doing?”
“I’m alright. I didn’t- I didn’t get rid of all of it,” he admitted with a little shrug.
Bobby wanted to ask how he could know that, but instead gave a warm smile and patted Kyle’s upper arm. “That’s good,” he said, receiving a weak smile in response. “Wanna ditch this place and go do something fun?”
They wound up going bowling. Much to their surprise, the All Night Express had the same idea and joined them about an hour into tearing up the lane. They had a couple pitchers of beer and trash-talked each other for a few rounds. Right before they left, Kyle tipped back the half pitcher of beer that was left and drained it to the sound of Rhett and Kenny’s whooping.
“You’re going to make yourself sick doing that,” Bobby said once they were both in his car. When Kyle didn’t respond, it dawned on Bobby; “but that’s what you’re going for, isn’t it?”
“Sorry,” Kyle mumbled.
“Help me understand this,” Bobby said, not taking his eyes off the road.
“Doesn’t- doesn’t binging hurt?”
“Sometimes,” Kyle said, his voice growing small. He reached over and turned on the heat. “I guess… I guess the pain gives me an extra level of relief when I finally get it out.” He sounded a bit unsure of himself.
After thinking about it for a moment, Bobby nodded. “I can see that,” he said. “How does it feel to eat just a normal meal?”
“It’s uncomfortable. I can feel it sitting in my stomach, and that acid starts churning and it’s just gross. My, uh, my body doesn’t really like to have that much food anymore.”
“You seemed alright for the past couple of days,” Bobby noted.
“I had diarrhea until this morning,” Kyle admitted quietly.
“You were dehydrated.”
“Yeah, I was,” he said and paused for a moment, “and I know the beer isn’t doing anything to help. I’m sorry.” He sounded so small that it almost physically hurt for Bobby. He wanted to look over, wanted to reach out and take the other’s hand, but he couldn’t yet.
“At least you see it,” Bobby said.
“I have to warn you,” Kyle started, “I’m going to throw up when we get back to the room. Alcohol and car rides don’t mix well with me.”
Once they reached their room, Kyle headed straight for the bathroom. Bobby followed hot on his heels, keeping the other from closing the door behind him.
“It’s gross,” Kyle whined, trying to get his partner to leave. He dropped to his knees, lifting the lid and seat.
“Shh,” Bobby instructed, kneeling by Kyle’s side. He rested a hand on Kyle’s back as the other gripped the edge of the porcelain bowl and leaned forward. Tears welled up in the younger man’s eyes as he started retching. He brought his fingers to his mouth, but Bobby snatched up his hand and held it. “Let it come naturally. Don’t force it,” he cooed. Kyle whined. “You’ll be alright,” Bobby said, letting the other’s hand go to push the young man’s hair out of his face.
“My hair isn’t long enough to get into it,” Kyle weakly joked, but turned his head into the petting anyway. After a few minutes of shallow breaths, Kyle pitches forward and heaves into the bowl. Bobby found himself without the ability to look, so he kept rubbing Kyle’s back. He did look when Kyle kept vomiting, and wished he hadn’t. The spew is yellow, and it assaulted his senses. He had to fight the urge to gag himself.
Kyle panted for a few minutes, but soon got his breathing under control. He wiped his mouth with toilet tissue and tossed it in the bowl before closing the lid and flushing it.
“Sorry,” he mumbled after a minute, leaning his head on the cold, plastic lid.
“You’re alright,” Bobby promised. “You’re alright,” he repeated, leaning his head on the other’s shoulder. “Wanna wash your mouth out and go to bed?”
“Yeah,” Kyle rasped, but didn’t move.
“C’mon,” Bobby said, offering his hand. Kyle took it and stood. He washed his mouth in the sink and followed Bobby to the sleeping area. They changed into night clothes, and when Bobby moved toward his own bed, Kyle made a noise in his throat, then grimaced at the pain it caused. “Oh,” Bobby said, “sorry.” The older man grabbed the spray he carried and offered it to Kyle, who once more obediently opened his mouth.
“Sit with me for a bit?” Kyle asked, climbing under the covers.
“Sure,” Bobby obliged, sitting by the other’s head. “How’re you feeling?” he asked, reaching down to place his hand on the other’s stomach over his soft cotton shirt. Kyle squirmed under the touch.
“It’s a little uncomfortable,” Kyle admitted. He made a soft sound when Bobby started rubbing small circles. “Ah, dude, don’t make this awkward.” Bobby only snorted and pressed just a little harder. “But, well, that actually feels kinda good.”
They fell into a comfortable silence, Bobby just rubbing his palm over Kyle’s upset stomach, the younger man sighing contentedly on occasion. He started to doze off, but suddenly opened his eyes a little bit. He looked up at Bobby.
“Hey, can you promise me something?” Kyle asked.
“That depends,” Bobby said, raising a brow. “What is it?”
“Promise me that, when you find someone to share your life with, that we’ll never stop being this close.”
“Oh,” Bobby breathed, the request making him feel like his stomach had left him and his heart had stopped. Kyle looked so unnaturally, abnormally vulnerable in that moment, staring up at him with drooping eyes and raised brows. “Yeah,” Bobby answered breathlessly. “Yeah, I promise.”
Kyle fell asleep shortly after with a smile on his face. Bobby sighed and ran his fingers through the other’s hair once, noting how hot his forehead was when his palm brushed it. He hated being in love with his best friend and groaned out loud at the painful realization.
“You’re almost forty,” he said to himself, “get ahold of yourself. Middle-aged men don’t have crushes.”
With a heavy sigh, he headed over to his own bed and wound up laying awake most of the night. He drifted off as the sky started to lighten.
Another few weeks would pass before Kyle’s bad habits brought him back to a dark place, what with Bobby his near-constant shadow. He only found Kyle leaned over a toilet on a couple of occasions.
The older man would casually place his hand over Kyle’s if he was eating too quickly, and would offer him small bits of the foods he’d observed to be the other’s favorites. On calmer nights on the road, he’d only order one pizza, which made Kyle less likely to binge, and got tea instead of alcohol or even soda. Kyle stopped sweating so profusely after matches and the slight swelling in his cheeks went down. He found his voice for promos again and the two could hit the gym together like old times.
That’s when he noticed a new destructive habit the other was forming.
Kyle would run on the treadmill for what seemed like hours. Bobby found himself ready to hit the showers before Kyle even racked his first weights, but stayed around to spot the younger man. He noticed that the weights the other was capable of lifting had dropped a bit, but didn’t call him on it. He did, however, take on a subtle tactic of whining – complaining that Kyle was taking too long with his cardio to move him on to something else. He couldn’t for the life of him figure out where the younger man got the energy from. Surely pushing himself that hard was eating his body up from the inside.
One morning, the two went out for a jog after a breakfast that Bobby was proud of Kyle for finishing. The older man kept track of their distance as they ran around the block several times.
“Alright, alright,” Bobby said, slowing down until he was just walking. “Three miles is fucking plenty for a morning warm-up. Let’s go back to the hotel, rinse down real quick and pack up.”
“Go ahead. I’m gonna go just a little more.”
“Be careful,” Bobby said and offered a friendly pat to the other’s shoulder. Kyle nodded in response.
Bobby got a quick shower and changed into jeans and a T-shirt. When he was packed and ready to go and Kyle still hadn’t shown up, he started to grow concerned. He grabbed a few tissues from the box at the bedside stand and stuffed them in his pocket, as well as a couple bottles of water and headed off in search of his wayward tag team partner.
A panting, red-faced Kyle had just turned into the parking lot as Bobby was about to start down the sidewalk.
“Hey!” Kyle gasped. He eagerly took the water he was offered and started gulping it down.
“Easy. Sip. You’ll make yourself-“ and he grimaced when Kyle turned himself to the side and started retching “-sick…”
“Sorry!” Kyle gasped out, dropping to his knees. He held the water bottle out and Bobby took it, kneeling at his side. “Sorry,” he said again and braced himself with one hand. He hurled, coughed and hurled again, his eyes burning with tears. “I didn’t mean for this to happen, I really didn’t,” he cried.
Bobby took the tissues from his pocket and wiped Kyle’s face clean. He tossed the soiled tissues aside and wrapped his arms around the sobbing young man, rocking him back and forth, paying no mind to the fact that they were in a parking lot in broad daylight.
“You’re alright. You’re gonna be alright,” Bobby promised.
That night, Kyle was binge eating again. He had a bag full of burgers and another just for fries. He looked almost fearful when Bobby snatched it away.
“Hey, yourself. You’re going to get sick,” Bobby said, folding the tops down on the bags and tossing them over on his bed. “Your body can’t handle that again right now.”
“But I- I’m hungry,” Kyle admitted, sounding almost ashamed.
“Pace yourself,” Bobby said.
“I bought those, ya know. I can’t let them go to waste.”
“If they don’t digest, they will go to waste,” and Bobby immediately realized that was the wrong thing to say as soon as the words were out of his mouth. Kyle’s face was turning red and his eyes started to gloss over with tears.
“Fuck you, ok? Not everyone can eat junk food and have a perfect body like you,” Kyle snapped, wiping at his eyes with his fingertips to shoo away the tears before they spilled.
“Shit,” Bobby muttered under his breath. “I didn’t mean-“
“No, you’re right! You’re fucking right!” Kyle shouted, standing up. He flipped the mattress of his bed and slapped his soda off of the nightstand. It splattered on the wall and ice and brown liquid poured out over the carpet. He made to storm past Bobby out into the cold night without a jacket, but the older man caught his wrist. Kyle went dangerously still at the contact. After a long, tense silence he muttered; “I don’t see how you can stand to touch me.”
“I love you, Kyle,” Bobby said quietly, still holding the other’s wrist. “Please listen to me, and if, after that, you still want to leave, please wear your jacket.” Kyle sniffled and looked over at Bobby, trying to look as displeased as possible. “I’m sorry. It just came out. I wasn’t thinking. I was just worried because you’d already vomited earlier today, I didn’t want it to happen again so soon. Everything seemed ok lately. What changed?” Bobby asked, slowly letting go of Kyle’s wrist. The other rubbed it with his off hand, looking off toward the mess he’d made in shame.
“I- I dunno. I just- I just,” he paused to sniff, “I just wanna feel small, ok?”
“Oh, Kyle,” Bobby breathed. He took the other’s hand again and held it up against his own. Kyle’s fingers were downright skinny compared to his. “You don’t feel small right now?”
“It’s not enough,” Kyle said with a shake of his head. “I just…” he gave up on trying to explain and held his hands up in an exasperated manner.
“Come here,” Bobby said as he walked toward his thankfully unflipped bed. He kicked off his shoes and crooked a finger at Kyle when he didn’t move. Kyle hesitated for a moment longer before shucking his shoes and moving closer to the older man. He eyed him warily. “Sit,” he said after clearing the food bags from his bed. Kyle did as told and looked up at Bobby, his eyes widening when the other cupped his cheeks. “God, I’m so sorry,” Bobby said, and Kyle could tell that he was crying by the sound of his voice. “I’m sorry, it just scared me, Kyle. It’s fucking terrifying to think of the things that can happen to you if I don’t push you on this.
“So far, you haven’t messed up in the ring, but if this starts to affect your performance, it won’t be a matter of me telling someone, it’ll be a matter of thousands of people witnessing something tragic. Not only is this dangerous to your health, it’s dangerous to the rest of us. What if you get dizzy and your timing is off? You could break your own or someone else’s neck.
“I’m so fucking scared that I’m going to lose my best friend to this… this. You’ve got to understand that I’m not trying to be an asshole, and I really do love you. I’m just scared.”
By the time Bobby is done talking, Kyle is sobbing, clinging to the older man’s arms and choking out broken apologies.
“What can I do, Kyle? Please, tell me.”
“I- ah- Make me feel small,” Kyle blurts and Bobby blinked away his tears and sniffled, confused.
“I dunno! Just-“
Bobby pushed Kyle back on the bed and loomed over him. He ran his fingers through the younger man’s hair and let the weight of his body press down on him. Kyle clung tightly to the larger man and looked up at him with wide eyes.
“You are small, Kyle, and that’s what’s scaring me.”
The two sobbed and shook and clung to each other for several minutes before Kyle let out a relieved-sounding breath.
“I’m sorry,” he said, giving a soft, sleepy smile, “I’ll try harder to get better… Stay here until I fall asleep? Please.”
“Yeah,” was all Bobby could say in response. He moved into a more comfortable position, boxing the younger man in as he curled in on himself.
“Your mustache tickles,” Kyle muttered with his last coherent thought of the evening.
Life progressed from there for the tag team, a similar incident occurring every week or two for several months. Bobby had a love-hate relationship with those moments. He was so happy that Kyle was trusting him when he was at his most vulnerable, but bitterly disappointed that he couldn’t pepper the stubbled jaw with kisses and show the younger man just how beautiful he thought his body was.
They were given the titles again in the spring, and Kyle’s episodes were coming fewer and further between. The younger man was becoming more social, and with his color returning, he was starting to catch the eye of women again. When Kyle brought one back to their shared room, Bobby felt like he’d been kicked in the chest, but vacated the room before the other could see the emotions clearly displayed on his face and ask what was wrong.
The next time Kyle wanted to feel small, Bobby clung to him harder than usual.
When Kyle started going steady with a woman, Bobby had actually considered subtly pushing him back into his destructive habits to have the other be dependent on him again. He hated himself for it. When Kyle was out with his girl, Bobby drank himself stupid with the boys and depended on Kenny to get him home safe. He laughed and cried as his body purged itself of the excessive alcohol. “What a terrible example I am,” he’d muttered.
One night, while Kyle was resting with his head on the older man’s shoulder, he suggested that he meet his girlfriend. Bobby chewed the inside of his lip raw, but agreed anyway.
“You’ll like her,” Kyle had said. Bobby doubted it.
When he finally got around to it, Bobby hated admitting that the woman, one whose name he wasn’t going to bother remembering just yet, was absolutely perfect for Kyle. Strong and vibrant and healthy, she took good care of herself and encouraged the same behaviors in Kyle. She didn’t even question or care that Kyle would lay his head on Bobby’s shoulder on occasion while the three of them were spending time together. She had a degree in something-or-another and refereed at a small promotion in the same city as her college. After a few months, Bobby found himself not hating her, but growing to hate himself more and more. As Kyle’s dependence on him dwindled, he started to feel useless. Kyle was still physically affectionate, but it felt tainted in a way.
Bobby had thought he’d done a fairly decent job of hiding how he felt, but when Kenny and Rhett cornered him before a show one evening, he realized he hadn’t. They mention how much he’d been drinking lately, how he almost never seemed happy and offered their ears if he needed to talk. He plastered on the fakest smile and assured them that he was fine, and went off in search of Kyle.
One night on the road, Kyle showed Bobby a box. He knew what was in the tiny, fuzzy box and his heart sunk. Kyle was going to marry some girl, then they’d get a house and have kids and the younger man would never have time for him anymore.
“I’m happy for you, man,” he said, drawing Kyle into a tight hug. He pulled back and looked at Kyle, wanting to burn that smiling face into his memory.
He immediately went out and bought a bottle of liquor.
Bobby stayed in their room while Kyle went out with the guys, showing them the ring. He imagined all the others congratulating him and bemoaned all the fake smiles he’d have to produce in the future. His jaw hurt just thinking about it. Not to mention his heart. As he put the bottle to his lips, he felt foolish. He took it away and looked down the neck of it.
Kyle had always said that he could come to him of he had a problem, too, but Bobby wasn’t about to ruin his partner’s happiness with his ‘bullshit’. Bobby could see that he was behaving foolishly. He thought that if Kyle could see him right then, he’d wonder why he ever let the older man take care of him. So, with a heavy, pained sigh, he capped the bottle, chucked it in the waste bin and pulled out his cellphone.
He wanted to be happy for Kyle. Wanted to be honored to be the best man at his wedding. Wanted to write a toast to the lovely couple and subtly convince them to name their firstborn son after him. Or daughter, since Bobby can be a girl’s name, too.
He decided to take the initiative and take Kenny and Rhett up on their offer.