Johnny was used to being called 'pretty.' Aunts and cousins had often said it and strangers had come up to his Mom all the time and talked about her pretty little boy. His Mom had always smiled and thanked them. Johnny had smiled because he'd liked how people had smiled at him and how his Mom had too and it was nice that people thought he was nice. He thought his Mom was prettier though, which was what he started telling people once he could form words.
That made people ruffle his hair and smile even more and tell him how cute he was. His Mom laughed and hugged him and it was something Johnny got used to really quickly; like getting muddy in the park and kicking a ball about and having to remember to wash his hands before dinner. It was part of daily life.
Things changed once he got to high school. The words didn't, but the people who said them and the tone they used, did.
“Aren't you pretty?”
“You're too pretty.”
There were sneers now, not smiles. Johnny talked back and his friends did too but he soon lost his smile. Because it just didn't stop. Every day there was someone laughing about it to his face, sneering or smirking and twisting words he'd used to enjoy. He tried to laugh it off or tell people to stop but they didn't, because they liked hurting him, they liked his reaction. It was so weird to him. Who liked hurting people?
It was the humiliation – standing there and people laughing or pretending they weren't but actually were. It was so many people thinking that being pretty was something stupid and low, like they looked down on Johnny because of it. So many people. It was just too much. Being pretty had always been something good; something he shared with his Mom. Now it was something that everyone liked using as a weapon and it made him feel sick and tense.
Johnny hated that feeling; he carried it in his stomach for years. Even as he got older and looked in the mirror and liked what he saw, any time someone complimented his looks, his smile froze in place. He thanked them and changed the subject. He knew that he had to have a thick skin in the wrestling industry, especially if he wanted to be good at it and go anywhere far. Johnny wanted to and so, when opponents called him 'pretty boy' in their promos, he tried to use the sick feeling, the tension, anger and upset he felt when he got in the ring.
There were more than enough awesome people in the industry anyway. He made some amazing friends and got to wrestle all over the world and have fans tell him they loved his work and that he inspired them. That helped more than anything, knowing he was doing something good. He held onto that and tried to let go of the tension and sickness he always felt when talk turned to his looks. He never could though; it always rushed up and he was fifteen and so mad and upset again.
It affected his dating life sometimes – people thinking he liked being sneered at or called pretty, like his response was a reason to be worse, like it meant something it didn't. Not to Johnny. He always got out quickly when that happened. Truthfully, Johnny didn't know what he liked yet, not completely. He was busy with wrestling and he didn't have time to really explore, except to know what he really didn't like. His skin crawled whenever anyone called him pretty and talked about how nice his mouth looked and wouldn't he look gorgeous all messed up?
Johnny's heart went fast and he froze and he wanted to hit out. He only did that when someone didn't take a refusal. Johnny never understood that either.
There were people he enjoyed kissing and more and it really wasn't all awful. He wanted more of that, making people happy and finding happiness himself.
The whole thing with Tommaso surprised him. He never expected to fall for his tag team partner but Tommaso teased him, though never about his looks, and looked out for him and shared dinner with him and looked at him like Johnny was amazing. And well, one night, a couple of drinks in, at their apartment after an NXT taping, one thing led to another and Tommaso tasted like cheap beer and beef jerky and the sex was good. They hadn't actually talked about what it meant beforehand, like was this a one-time thing or not, but Johnny didn't care. He thought the sex could be even better if they did it again and he knew how he felt about Tommaso but he wouldn't make things weird or ruin what they had as a team if Tommaso wanted to keep things casual. Having Tommaso in his life and succeeding together, that was the most important thing.
Things only fell apart the next morning when they were in the kitchen, making coffee, wearing sweats, sort of smiling but not saying anything yet. Then Tommaso grabbed Johnny for a kiss like he was hungrier for that than breakfast and Johnny smiled because Tommaso was hard against his thigh and Tommaso muttered into his lips.
“You're so fucking pretty.”
Johnny froze, every part of him going still and numb. His hands, buried in Tommaso's sweats, went clawed and his stomach dropped right down to sick and rolling and oh God, not Tommaso.
Johnny pushed him away. He had to move, he had to get to the bathroom.
“Get off me, get off me! I have to-.”
Johnny bolted – Tommaso let him, frowning – and got into the bathroom, locking the door. His heart was hammering fast and, fuck, he needed to throw up. There wasn't much in his stomach but Johnny emptied it all into the toilet bowl anyway.
Johnny braced himself against porcelin and tried to calm his thoughts. Tommaso didn't know, Tommaso wasn't a jerk. He had a temper and he said stuff he regretted without thinking but he didn't, he wasn't mean to people. He was always more action than words anyway, as someone who preferred throwing a good punch than an actual argument. Tommaso wasn't mean-spirited. He didn't humiliate. He didn't.
He wasn't crowding the bathroom door, wanting to know what was wrong with Johnny. He was giving Johnny space. It meant Johnny could breathe but he couldn't stay in here forever. Right. Okay. Gargling and spitting mouth wash first and with his heart hammering, Johnny unlocked the door slowly and ventured out. Tommaso was still in the kitchen, it smelled like he was making coffee, only he was braced against the counter, staring off somewhere, his whole body tense and this terrible look on his face.
Johnny swallowed and entered the room. Tommaso looked up immediately and his hands tensed even more but he kept his distance, his eyes searching Johnny's face and his mouth so bitterly screwed up. Fuck. Johnny hated that.
“Thanks,” he said quietly, hands balled up in his sweatpants' pockets. “It's um...hm, it's not you, it's me?”
Tommaso's frown deepened and Johnny hurried on, hating the sick feeling rolling again and how fucked up they both were now. He'd ruined them.
“Pretty, it's that. Anything like it. I've always been...people have used it as an insult for a really long time and then for some reason, some people think I like it as an insult and want it and other stuff and I really don't and I just...I can't hear it.”
Johnny dipped his head, embarrassed at his own storm of words. But Tommaso wasn't shouting or leaving, he was still looking at Johnny. Johnny really wanted to look back.
“Who the fuck did that to you?”
Tommaso's voice was, whoa, even deeper and just complete fury. Johnny's gaze shot up and yeah, Tommaso looked seriously mad as hell. He rocked a step towards Johnny and then forced himself to stop. It melted some of the sickness locked around Johnny's heart. Tommaso was still Tommaso. He wasn't like...he wasn't like that.
Now Tommaso's voice went quiet and sort of molten, it matched his eyes, “You are so fucking...I don't know what to fucking say now, I don't want you looking like that again.”
Johnny smiled helplessly and felt tension begin to seep gladly out of him. He moved a little closer, close enough that their sleeves touched and he could feel the heat of Tommaso's body. It'd felt good before, Tommaso's body, Tommaso's mouth, everything about Tommaso. Johnny, God, really wanted that again, that goodness. It was almost a bigger force than the one still swirling through him sickly.
He took a deep breath, “You don't, you don't make me feel like that. It's the words.”
He nudged himself closer and touched hands, then squeezed Tommaso's fingers. He didn't want Tommaso to look or feel so guilty. This was all Johnny.
“I like the way you make me feel.”
Tommaso's mouth twitched but he didn't lose his frown yet. Instead he turned so that they were facing each other, Johnny's back against the countertop, the two of them close. It felt...good, safe. Johnny could feel more tension leaving him, the heat and nearness of Tommaso a balm to the sick sticky feeling that he never seemed to be able to leave behind, no matter how much he wanted to.
“You don't deserve to feel like fucking running,” Tommaso said, low and intense. “Just because...”
He cut himself off, visibly and audibly frustrated, like he didn't want to say the wrong thing. And that, that was everything. Johnny could count on one hand the people who'd made that kind of effort, who'd been affected like Tommaso was right now. He was in the right place; in Tommaso's arms. He snuggled closer and felt Tommaso relax a fraction too.
“This is, this is good?” Tommaso asked, sounding way too tentative.
Johnny nodded, looking into Tommaso's eyes, seeing the want that'd brought them together in the first place. More than that, yeah, the feeling that'd warmed Johnny for months now. This was Tommaso; he didn't want to hurt Johnny. His actions weren't lying.
“This,” Johnny squeezed Tommaso for emphasis. “This is good.”
He didn't know how else to say it; his own words and actions had done enough damage already. But Tommaso now had a calculating look on his face and his hands slid down to cup Johnny's hips, like a question, and Johnny couldn't help catching his breath at the touch. The previous night really had been great.
Then Tommaso suddenly dropped to his knees, right there in the kitchen, the smell of brewing coffee still thick in the air, and tugged gently at Johnny's sweatpants, looking up with an expression that made Johnny's heart twist. Tommaso's offer was wordlessly clear. Johnny's fingers slowly touched Tommaso's face, like he couldn't believe it. The warmth inside of him was hotter just from the look in Tommaso's eyes – lust, care, a depth of affection that tightened Johnny's throat. It was pulling him away from thinking about other things. Yes. Actions were always better than words.
Johnny nodded and Tommaso pulled down the sweatpants and didn't spend long staring at what he'd revealed. Instead he got close, apparently giving Johnny the chance to run if he needed to, and then wrapped his lips around Johnny's cock. Johnny's hips jerked forward and he gasped, the warm wet heat and suction feeling like it had a grip on the very core of him too. Tommaso determinedly sucked and swirled his tongue and kept up a steady stream of fantastic distracting pressure.
Johnny gave all his weight to the countertop behind him, his mouth open, unable to keep quiet. If this was everything Tommaso felt he couldn't say now, it was...it was amazing.
Johnny swallowed, a gesture that became a splutter when Tommaso tugged at Johnny's hips, encouraging him to move. Johnny did and Tommaso took it without complaint. The heat from his mouth felt like it was part of Johnny now too, heating his skin into a deep flush and steaming his every breath. Better than words. No sick feelings at all, just...just goodness. Adoration.
It was incredible.
Johnny's hips stuttered again and he fumbled a hand to Tommaso's shoulder. “I'm gonna...”
Tommaso eased off and used a hand so that he didn't get a mouthful and he was in exactly the right place to catch Johnny when his legs weakened before his reflexes kept him upright. Johnny's legs were really sticky now and so was Tommaso's hand but Tommaso sort of folded Johnny into his arms easily and kissed his temple with a released breath like it might have been a shudder too. There was still a lot of warmth left inside of Johnny; he could feel it sparking at the touch of Tommaso's breath.
He nosed into Tommaso's chin. “Thank you.”
For everything he couldn't say. Tommaso tilted Johnny's chin and kissed him; like he wasn't looking for words anyway, and like that wasn't just for Johnny's sake either. Yeah. Yeah, that was Tommaso. This wasn't...this wasn't magic. Johnny didn't expect the sickness to stay away forever, but sitting with Tommaso, surrounded by him, it felt like he had a chance, at something.
The relief Johnny felt, he couldn't put that into words either. There might have been a sob breaking out of his chest though. Tommaso tasted it on his lips and then kissed Johnny's clavicle and his neck, working over Johnny's skin in endless silent syllables.