Dolph hasn't gone to work in a few weeks. He'd won the US title, and then abandoned it within 48 hours. It weighs on Zack, the title still important to him, his first singles win and something that used to mean something to both he and Dolph. He finds himself in the tournament for it now but, between having to face Mojo next week, and how Dolph seems to look through him more often than not, he's not that enthused over the entire thing.
He rocks back and forth on his feet, not surprised that he's watching fireworks alone. Dolph's been distant, not willing to explain himself, so things have been tense. Quiet. He hates tense and quiet. It's unusually chilly in Florida currently and he digs deeper into his jacket, closing his eyes for a moment to see the flashing lights against his eyelids, and then opens his eyes with a soft sigh, leaning closer to the railing to see clearer. Each burst of fireworks reflect off of the water and he smiles vaguely, impressed by the view. Twists his wedding ring and hopes that Dolph could see this with him.
Lifts a shoulder up in a weak shrug. "Ah well, Happy New Years to you, Zack," he tells his reflection, his gaze painful. He's still staring down when the water ripples, and another form eases up next to him. He stares at it, speechless, the long muddy blond hair and slouched shoulders familiar. He turns to gape at Dolph and exhales shakily, relieved to find that he hadn't been hallucinating or something. "Hey, bro."
"Hey, kid." Still not very talkative, but it's a few minutes into 2018, and they're together, so Zack thinks things could be a lot worse than this. He reaches out tentatively and wraps his fingers around Dolph's, lightly squeezing. Dolph doesn't say anything, but he does tighten his grip a bit, and Zack smiles, his gaze wavering as emotions well up within him.
He misses Dolph more than he'd care to admit, yearns for how they used to be so comfortable and easy around each other. This feels like a step in the right direction and he's careful not to wreck it by moving faster, or doing something that he thinks Dolph isn't ready for. They're still standing there when Dolph lets go and Zack bites back a protest, certain his husband is about to turn and go back inside, leaving him alone once more...
When Dolph grips his jaw and angles his face over, easing his fingers against Zack's beard. "Happy New Years, kid," he breathes out, pressing a warm, toe-tingling kiss to Zack's lips. Zack clings to him, head spinning when Dolph doesn't break it immediately, instead parting his lips and licking lazily into Zack's mouth, smirking when Zack digs his fingers into the railing behind him, to keep him in place.
Breaking the kiss abruptly, he groans and presses his face into Dolph's shoulder, before looking up once more. "Happy New Years, bro," he says, voice low and husky, eyes blown when Dolph reclaims him in a sharp kiss, his hands trailing lower and pulling Zack closer, the fireworks dying away overhead as they remember why this all matters, why they stay through good and bad times. "I love you," he mumbles, eyes gleaming as Dolph rests against him, humming under his breath.
"I love you too." His hands rasp over Zack's lower back before he tilts forward for another kiss, rubbing lazy circles against his spine.
Spud's first month back with his memory somewhat in tact. Ethan sighs and looks down at him as they wait outside for midnight, his hair gleaming in the faint light coming from street lamps nearby. He's missed him more than he realized, the true scope of his yearning for the other man dawning on him when he'd opened the door to find Spud on the other side, a look of recognition in his soft eyes as he'd looked upon Ethan for the first time in months. "How could I forget you?" he'd asked incredulously, shaking his head.
Ethan's never understood it, no, but he doesn't blame him, even when the lack of Spud in his life had sent him down an ugly spiral of day drinking and texting Robbie of all people his darkest, ugliest moments. Spud had been hurt a lot by Ethan and his family, so it's not that big of a surprise that, at first opportunity, Spud's mind would wipe itself clean to protect him from the awful memories of the last few years. But now he's back and that innocent, youthful look that had been in his eyes is gone now, replaced by the familiar, dark shadow of former pain. Even so, Spud seems perfectly content to be standing here with Ethan, counting down to the new year. "I missed you," he says suddenly, surprising both himself and Spud. "I, I..." He fumbles, flustered, as Spud stares at him.
"I missed you too, sir," he says quietly, the tips of his fingers teasing against Ethan's until he exhales, reaches over and clasps his hand warmly. "Even when I didn't remember, I knew something pivotal in my life was missing." He smiles wanly. "It was like this aching emptiness deep inside that I couldn't understand."
Ethan closes his eyes. Reflects on how he could understand the chasm in his own chest, deep in his soul, that life without Spud ended up being. Wonders what could be worse- feeling that emptiness and knowing where it originated from, or experiencing it without a clue to the reason why. Turns and hoists Spud up abruptly, standing eye to eye with him as Spud gapes and sputters, gripping his shoulders. He'd been so careful not to move too fast or startle Spud since his return, but now... now, he can't keep it in any longer. Can't not touch Spud for another moment. Hugs him and breathes him in, before kissing him hungrily. "I've missed you so much," he repeats, feeling tears filling his eyes and not even caring as Spud tilts his head, parts his lips and- Ethan moans, holding him tighter, chasing that tangy flavor that is just Spud, his fingers tracing over the spot where the horrible head injury had been that had taken him away for those horrible days, weeks, months.
"Thank you for coming back to me," Ethan breathes against his neck as he lightly kisses the flushed skin there. He hasn't touched a drink in days and had even ignored champagne tonight, wanting to keep a clear head for this moment, here, with Spud, midnight striking without either of them realizing as they remain focused only on each other.
"I always will, sir," Spud promises, his eyes gleaming softly as he leans in for another kiss.
"I dunno, man, I'm worried. Rhyno's this big former ECW wrestler. I ain't got it in me to be that tough." Heath smirks warily at Wade. "Ya know me, I'm a lover, not a fighter."
Wade rolls his eyes, trying not to spit take on his favorite kind of beer. "Oh please, ginger. You were in the Nexus with me, I know you can be brutal when you want to be." He trails a hand down Heath's arm, watching with a smirk as he shivers. "I doubt Rhyno will be too tough on you, anyway. You worry too much." Besides, he knows if Rhyno did go too far, he would have to have a word with the man, remind him of what can happen to people who go out of their way to hurt Heath. Even though they haven't worked in the same company for about a year, Wade will always have an eye on what's going on, figure out some way to make things easier for him if he can. "You'll be fine."
"I hope so," Heath mumbles, resting his head back on Wade's shoulder to stare back up at the stars and wait for midnight. He smiles as Wade starts to play with his hair, parting it this way and that. "Hey, Brit?"
"Thanks for always havin' my back. I know it ain't always easy."
Wade smirks. "Not as difficult as I assumed when we got together all of those years ago, I suppose." Heath's teeth flash as he grins, leaning in to kiss Wade. He kisses him back before pulling away, resting his head against Heath's. "Can you believe it'll be seven years since that night you barged in my hotel room and kissed me in a couple weeks?"
Heath tilts his head, thinks a minute, then shifts, Wade moving quickly to brace him as he eases over to straddle Wade on the lawn chair. "Yeah, actually," he says, smirking against Wade's lips. "I knew from the moment I kissed ya that we'd be long term." Runs his fingers through Wade's hair, eyes shining with affection and love as he continues to kiss Wade. "Here's to another seven years, huh?"
"And many more," Wade mumbles, kissing him back.
Guilt. A feeling that Seth never let himself feel when he'd betrayed his brothers. Or when he'd put Dean's head through cinder blocks. Not once... Well, maybe- when Jamie and Joey had been decimated by Brock. He'd let himself feel it then, but not since. Not before. Until now. Replays the moment he'd leapt out of the ring and impacted with Sheamus, Cesaro- and Dean, who'd hit wrong and made his arm even worse. He exhales grimly, seeing his breath turning misty in the frigid Iowa temperatures. He'd suggested they go to Arizona but with the events in Chicago, Dean had insisted they go to Seth's home so Seth wouldn't have as far to travel to get back to Dean after Raw. So now they're here during one of the worst cold snaps Seth's seen in the Midwest in quite awhile.
He sighs, kicks some snow away and paces in front of the door. Dean's asleep, the drugs from surgery and generally everything else, leaving him down for the count. Which is fine, he needs the rest, and it gives Seth a chance to think about his part in all of this. Wonders if, perhaps, he hadn't pushed Dean so hard to forgive him if maybe Dean's arm would've been fine. But no, he reminds himself. There's no reason to think like that. Something else could've done him in without you there partnering with him, maybe something worse. He slams a hand on his knee, feeling the surgically repaired joints shifting. "'Sides, it's not like an unexpected injury is new to you, Seth," he mumbles to himself.
He's still standing there, slouched against the cold wind, when the door clicks open, then slams shut behind him and he jerks, turning sharply to find Dean standing there, raising an eyebrow at him. "What are you doing out here?" he drawls, sleepy and ridiculous in a tank top and jeans. The only relief Seth finds is that he has boots on, and his sling, but the rest of him...!
"Dean!" he half yelps, half snaps, immediately pulling off his coat and throwing it over the other man's shoulder's, zipping it up before Dean can wiggle free. "What the hell are you thinking? This isn't Arizona! This is Iowa! It's below freezing!"
Dean's smirk grows as Seth pulls him closer, hugging him against his body to share some warmth. "Dunno, it feels pretty good to me right now."
"Idiot," Seth breathes out against his hair, kissing his temple. "Come on, let's go inside."
"Nah," Dean refuses. "I wanna see what your area does at midnight."
Seth groans, exhaling sharply. "Look, we can... do what you suggested earlier. Alright? Just let's go in for a few minutes, get you dressed properly. Alright?" He looks Dean in the eye. "Please?"
Dean mulls it over. "You better mean it, Seth." His eyes light up when Seth nods reluctantly. "Well what the hell ya waiting for then?!"
Seth groans, pausing long enough to put a pot of water onto the stove to boil before heading into the bedroom. He finds a thick sweater, helping Dean pull it on, and helps him trade his jeans for thick sweat pants, that they then pull his jeans over. "Happy now?" he mumbles, flapping his good arm against the piles of warm clothing now covering his body as Seth buttons up a coat over everything else.
"For now," Seth nods, smirking as he leans in and kisses Dean softly. They only pull away when he hears the pan on the stove bubbling. "Come on, it's ready." He grips the pot by the handles and leads the way outside, Dean standing eagerly. "You prepared for this?"
"Do it, Seth," he says, hopping up and down a couple of times in excitement... just to stand stock still as Seth throws the contents of the pan towards Dean, both of them watching as the water hits the frigid air and turns to a silvery streak of ice in midair before cascading down against Dean's bare face and hands. He stands there for a few moments before laughing, eyelashes and hair saturated in soft, crystal beads of ice.
Seth lays the pan down and walks over to him, lips quirking up. "Was it worth it?" he wonders, wrapping his arms around Dean and humming as Dean kisses him, lips coated with ice that quickly melts between them.
"Yeah," he murmurs. "Thanks for doing that. I know you didn't want to." He had been bugging Seth to do it all afternoon but Seth had been bundled up and warm, and didn't want to leave the house in this weather. Until his guilt had gotten to be too much for him, laying next to Dean and replaying that moment in his head over and over again.
Seth shrugs. Smiles a little. "It's the least I could do, huh?"
"Now maybe you can stop feeling so guilty," Dean says dryly, smirking when Seth gapes at him. "I know that's why you were out here. You only stand outside in bad weather when you're thinking too much, or feeling things too hard." He rests his forehead against Seth's and blinks up at him through ice encrusted eyelashes. "I'll be fine. This has been a long time coming, honestly. I was lucky to push injury back this long. It's not your fault."
Seth struggles against his emotions then, and Dean tsks at him, brushing the tear trails off of his cheeks. "Sorry, I just... I was determined to make this partnership work, to keep you safe, and it just... backfired in so many different ways."
"But it was good in a lot of other ways too. I was able to completely forgive you, after all," Dean points out. "And we were able to reunite the Shield, if only for a little while. It wasn't all bad."
"I guess," Seth exhales, squeezing him gently. "Wanna go inside now?"
"In a minute," Dean says, tilting his head and turning to look as fireworks wash over the skyline. He smiles. "It's after midnight. Happy New Years, Seth."
Seth blinks and stares at him as the lights reflect off of his skin, smiling slightly. "Happy New Years, Dean."
Even Florida is cold. Ricardo huffs and rubs at his arms, hating the weather, annoyed with himself for not realizing that it's too chilly to be walking around, sweat from training people all morning into the afternoon drying on his skin in the cool weather and eventually leaving him there shivering. "Ughhhh..."
He jumps when warm arms wrap around him, tug him back against a familiar chest. He chuckles and tilts his head as Alberto greets him. "Hola, mi valiente."
"Hola." He rests his head back against Alberto's shoulder and exhales softly. "It is almost 2018." Alberto nods against him and he hums. "Who could've guessed..." It hadn't been an easy year. Loss, and injury, and so much bad mixed with the good. He rests his hands over Alberto's and squeezes. "I'm thankful we both made it."
"Me too," Alberto murmurs, kissing the side of his face. "I'm thankful for you." Something he proves every day, but still makes Ricardo smile when he says it.
"And I am equally thankful for you, El Patron." He chuckles when Alberto drapes a jacket over his upper body and closes his eyes, tucking his arms into its warm folds. "Gracias. I didn't think it'd be this chilly right now."
"I doubt many of us did," Alberto sighs, kissing his forehead. "Come, let's go home and I'll warm you up properly."
Ricardo barks out a laugh before shrugging into the jacket and turning to follow him. "Well then-" His words are swallowed by a sudden kiss from Alberto and he hums into it, sighing into Alberto's mouth before they pull away, Alberto taking his hand and leading him quietly towards the car, both men smiling as they look towards the New Year.
Both of them have changed in the last few months. Cass is more like his old self, focused more on rehabbing his knee than blaming every bad thing on Enzo. Enzo... Enzo is watchful, quiet when he's not boasting or trying to get the Zo Train to do his bidding. It had been a slow change, Enzo's move to 205 Live both good and bad because it'd given Enzo a direction, but it'd also given him more of an ego as he'd won his first belt, had main evented a number of Raws and turned things around slowly for the show, Ariya, Drew, Noam and Tony following the money for as long as they could before Enzo's pride and their own injuries had diminished their numbers.
Cass knows the change is because of him and, as much as he sometimes misses the wide eyed, loud mouthed Enzo he knew in the past, he thinks the change isn't entirely unwelcome. There's a confidence about Enzo now that there wasn't before, makes him go after what he wants, and usually gets it. A swagger that just leaves him breathless sometimes, in awe of what his former tag partner has become in the months they've been apart. So when he comes home on New Years Day, sick as anything, and looking angry that WWE wouldn't clear him to compete against Cedric like planned, Cass knows he's going to have to do some quick talking before this night goes entirely off of the rails.
So he ignores Enzo's complaints. Pushes him into bed, tucks him in as best as he can around the flailing arms and breathless insistences that he could've wrestled Cedric twelve times over and won each time, then ducks out to get cold medicine and some soup. Enzo doesn't eat well when he feels like shit, it takes a lot of effort just to get him to swallow down half a bowl of the soup and drink some of the tea Cass makes him, but he manages, slowly. "You're not passing out again on my watch." Enzo in the hospital, hooked up to IVs and almost delirious with dehydration, had reminded Cass way too much of his concussion and all of the mess that had come of that. "Just had to check yourself out AMA, didn't you? Stubborn fool..."
But Enzo is Cass' stubborn fool and he sighs tiredly, pressing his hand to Enzo's jaw, feeling the fever rage under his skin. "WWE did the right thing," he tells him. "You don't want to see it, but they did." He leans in and kisses him. "In the meanwhile, I'll take care of you. It's gonna be ok."
Nia Jax has been sniffing around but she still thinks Enzo's in the hospital, and there's no way she'll find them here, so, with a small laugh, he sprawls out next to Enzo, rests his head close to him on the pillows, and half-watches Raw until he drifts off into sleep, large hand resting protectively across Enzo's chest as they breathe in sync with each other. Not the way Cass had wanted to bring the New Year in, but they're together. Things could always be worse.
The room is toasty warm. Fireplace burning merrily, wine bubbling from three glasses on the table. With practiced ease, Dalton cradles all three in his hands, walking over to his Boys and handing over their drinks before crawling up the bed to them on his knees, the mattress dipping and smoothing out under his weight at random intervals. He settles between them and sips from his wine before resting his arms over both Boys' shoulders. "So what do we want to do this fine New Years Day?" he asks, smiling as the Boys exchange glances, then look over at him.
"Movies!" Brandon says, Brent eagerly seconding his twin. Dalton's not surprised- both have had a rough few months of it, spending it cramped in a tiny, cold crate being shipped from here to there, and...
He grimaces, remembering the fear when he'd opened the box, finding them shivering and huddled in a corner, looking traumatized and malnourished. He had helped them to eat, drink, carefully washed them off in the showers at the arena, and then held them until they'd started to respond to his voice again. They had come to quickly at that point, realizing it was the night of Final Battle- of Dalton's title win. Getting them into their gear, helping them to feel comfortable around the other Boys, had all been rewarding- both professionally and personally. Dalton's Boys are the glue that holds him together, and he was lost without them for those terrible weeks.
So he had been hoping they would suggest a night in bed, watching movies, and even has the first one selected already. Clicks the remote and settles back as the sights and sounds of Timecop fill the room. Both Boys chuckle and Dalton smirks at them before tugging them closer, kissing first Brent, then Brandon. "I love you both, my sweet Boys," he all but coos at them, feeling them shiver and sigh against him.
"Love you too, Dalton," Brandon murmurs against his lips as his brother echoes the sentiment against his shoulder.
"I was so lost without you-"
"We don't have to think about that any more," Brent says, cradling Dalton's face as he turns him towards him. "We're all here, home, in bed with you, where we belong. And you're champion. It's going to be a beautiful year."
Dalton's eyes flutter. He nods, kissing Brent's palms. "Yes it is."
"I'm sorry." It's meek, Robbie almost thinks he's hallucinating it until he looks up to find Zema lingering nearby, an awkward kind of sadness about him. "I, uh. Keep wrecking plans of yours, and now we can't even have a fun New Years because you have to stay here and babysit me while my neck heals." He lifts a shoulder up and grimaces. "You deserve better."
"You deserve better, Zema." Robbie frowns. "I get it, bro. You like to entertain the masses by flying high, being riskier than most. And it's fine until it's not. You've been injured a lot this past year, and now people think it's ok to steal from you, and I just... I'm sick of it. All I want is for you to take better care of yourself. I want you to want yourself to stay healthy as much as I do." He falls quiet, scrubbing his hand roughly over his face, before turning and walking into the kitchen, staring aimlessly into the fridge before pulling out one of his frozen meals, pressing buttons to reheat it almost viciously, the microwave beeping with each hard press of his fingers.
He's still standing there, watching the food spinning slowly to heat evenly inside, all too aware that he's too frustrated and angry to actually be hungry, when Zema approaches him hesitantly. "I... I'll try," he says quietly. "I'll try to be more careful. It's just... my wrestling style. It's what I know. I can't unlearn it right away."
"You almost died," Robbie says blankly. "In Mexico. I wouldn't have been able to fly out in time to..." He exhales, voice trembling. "I wouldn't have been here to say goodbye if things had gone south. If that surgery on your colon had failed. So I lay awake and I imagine that. Try to picture a life without you, and it's just so empty and bleak. I told myself you'd slow down, you'd take care of yourself when you were back on the road, but no. Of course not. Barely two months and you injure your neck. Do you know how this feels? That we might never partner up again, that you could really, seriously, injure yourself- or worse, and you just don't seem to care?" He shakes his head. "I don't understand it, bro. If things were different- if it was me, and I kept worrying you, I'd take a hard look at things and see what I could do to keep myself from getting hurt every time I turned around."
"It's wrestling," Zema says wearily. "I can only do much to protect myself. I mean, guys get hurt on the most innocent moves-"
"But you're the one getting hurt on needlessly risky offense," Robbie insists. "I know you think you need to do all of this to pop the crowd, but Zema, come on- isn't our life together more important than a few extra cheers?" He sighs. "People will love you with or without the high risk. You just need to trust in that more sometimes."
Zema doesn't say anything for awhile and Robbie's starting to think he's left, unwilling to look away from the nonstop spinning of his meal.
"I know you're right," Zema breathes out. "It's just... I hate not being able to do what I've based my career around for so long. I'll need... time to figure all of this out." He twists his hands together before looking Robbie in the eye. "My new years resolution will be to take better care of myself so I can be the boyfriend you deserve. "How's that?"
Robbie waits until the microwave beeps that it's done, pressing a button to both shut it up and to let his food sit for a minute. Once done, he turns and wraps his arms around Zema's shoulders, staring into his eyes. "That's really all I can ask for, bro." He smiles when Zema grins for the first time since Robbie had flown in to spend the holiday with him, some of the tension easing between them. "I love you."
"I love you too," Zema exhales, leaning in and kissing him.
The email comes while TJ is letting Pugsley and Cupcake have some fresh air before the fireworks begin later in the evening. Neville stares at the alert on TJ's phone, tilts his head and pinches his nose, not that surprised, but yet. He thinks about how to say it when TJ comes in, grinning and hair all over the place, the pigs tumbling in after him. His pleasure eases when he sees the look on Neville's face. "Hey," he says, coming closer and carding his fingers through Neville's hair. "What is it?"
He sighs. Picks up TJ's phone and hands it over to him, watching his face closely. The expected happiness, yes, then relief, and... a dawning realization as he peeks up at Neville through his eyelashes, gnawing at his lip. "Time for you to hit the road."
TJ had taken some time off after losing to Rich Swann, and losing, and losing again. His clean sweep loss in their two of three falls match had shattered his confidence, left him scraping to build himself back up from the ground up. Had angled for an intercontinental title shot, but the company wasn't interested in him leaving the cruiserweight division, so he'd remained at home. Tried to find the inner strength to return to the company after being smacked down in so many different ways, and without the added benefit of Neville being there to challenge him, keep him focused. Somewhere between Rich wrecking things for himself, and the 205 Live tour being announced, he decides to give it a go. With flight details confirmed by the company, this means they're more than ready to stop paying him just to sit at home as well, so. Here we go.
Except that this means he'll have to leave Neville at home for the first time since talks with WWE fell through for him, and he'd decided to leave the company. He sighs and puts the phone down, cupping Neville's hands and smiling weakly down at him. "Will you be alright? I mean, it's an awfully big house for you to have to yourself..."
"To myself," he scoffs. "Your pigs over there will probably have me sleeping in the backyard before you've even hit the airport." He squeezes TJ's fingers. "Don't worry about me. Go back there and kick some ass for both of us."
TJ's teeth flash and he leans in, kissing him. "Well, until then," he says softly, "we have tonight to spend together..." He grimaces. "But I think we're going to spend most of it making sure the pigs aren't completely freaked out when random people start shooting off fireworks at midnight..."
"Great," Neville mumbles.
TJ beams at him. "I think I have a way to make sure they stay calm though." The wary look Neville throws at him makes him laugh as he kisses him again. "I think you'll like it. Or at least not entirely hate it."
Hours later, they're sitting facing the windows, pigs tucked in blankets that are currently cradled in their arms. Neville has Pugsley, who is already fast asleep, and TJ is keeping a close eye on Cupcake, so easily startled by everything, her snout wet against his neck as the seconds tick by. "Thirty seconds," Neville informs TJ, keeping an eye on the clock on his phone. "Midnight."
"Happy New Years, Nev," he manages to spit out before fireworks light up the air in the horizon over where he lives. Pugsley sleeps through it but Cupcake starts making these distressed noises, her little hooves scraping against TJ's arm through the blanket as she struggles to get away, frightened by the noise outside. He tucks her in tighter and whispers to her as the display continues on and on, his arm getting scratched up worse and worse with each volley of light and sound.
Finally Neville scoots over and rests a hand alongside TJ's, soothing her, grounding her. Between the three of them, they make it through, and Cupcake grunts a time or two more before collapsing in TJ's arms, fast asleep. TJ's laugh is exhausted as he presses a quick kiss to Cupcake's forehead, placing her back in her pen. "Come on," Neville tells him, firmly but gently gripping his hand and pulling him back to his feet once Pugsley is safely in his as well. They walk quietly to the bedroom and Neville ducks into the bathroom to get the first aid kit, running brisk, soothing fingers along the scratches up and down TJ's forearm. He's gentle, disinfecting the wounds, then putting antibacterial cream over them, and bandages along the two that were deep enough to bleed.
The entire time, TJ watches him with a soft, besotted kind of smile on his face, the sort that makes Neville turn an interesting shade of pink when he looks up and sees it. "What?"
TJ shrugs. Examines Neville's gentle handiwork before locking eyes with him again. "Just thinking about how much I love you."
Neville's blush only deepens as he places things back into the first aid kit, getting to his feet to toss the trash scattered around them. He hesitates at the doorway and peeks back. "I love you too. Happy New Years, Teddy."
Sleep hasn't come easily for awhile. He finds himself outside more often than not, concrete chilly under his feet. At least, he thinks, Florida is typically warm enough that one can get away with this. If they'd been living a bit more north, well,... yeah. No. Ciampa sits and stares, watches Johnny from here. They don't interact, Tommaso arrives, observes him, and then leaves before daybreak, before Johnny goes back to what used to be their apartment. He hasn't even touched him since he'd attacked him at that Takeover all of those months ago. His injuries had been slow to heal, the surgeries an unfortunate necessity after all of those years of beating himself up on the indys just to get to this stage.
Ciampa should've expected Johnny to come here too, because there's not much to do with NXT and Florida that's his alone. It was always theirs, including this dumb little park they'd gone sometimes when frustrated or just needing a break from the apartment. So one night, when he could go far enough after his knee surgery, he'd come here, just to find Johnny sprawled out on the wall facing where they used to skip rocks across the lagoon across the way. Blind, redhot anger that he couldn't even have this moment without his former best friend doing something to fuck it up had eased into disdain, then quiet concern when he'd realized that Johnny was asleep there. Looked thin, gaunt, exhausted, even in sleep.
I did that to him, he realized at the time. Not that he was the picture of perfect health then either, hobbling around on a crutch, shoulders tense over their own surgeries in the months to come.
But through the surgeries, and the dull anger still simmering at the edge of his consciousness, watching Johnny struggle to regain traction in his career after Tommaso's betrayal, just to spin it into a NXT championship opportunity, they still find themselves here. Johnny asleep on this wall, Tommaso watching over him. Holidays aren't important to Ciampa, haven't been for years, but he's aware that it's New Years, that Johnny is still laying here, in this chill, various celebrations happening around town, invitations to dozens of them probably being ignored just so Johnny could lay in the quiet of nature and get some sleep, away from the apartment, the worst of the memories of them. Returning to find Ciampa's things gone, only a key left behind to show of their friendship. He looks better physically, yeah, but Tommaso thinks there's still a fragility about him. Most wouldn't see it, just a flicker in his eyes sometimes when certain things are said, or after some moves used against him.
He stares at the time on his phone. Ticking ever closer to midnight and Johnny is still sleeping like it's just another day, just another hour, like they're not about to slip between one year to the next. He remembers- 2015 ending with them about to start this huge journey together, two unknowns coming together to make a kickass tag team and... the calm earnest in Johnny's eyes as they'd traveled to Lasalle, Illinois to tag together to prepare for their NXT careers, leaning in at midnight to kiss him quietly, how his voice had been low, deep, as he'd wished Tommaso a happy new years, Ciampa so startled he couldn't find the words to reciprocate. The start to 2017 going a bit more smoothly as Ciampa responded, kissed him back, hungrily, carding his fingers through Johnny's hair and holding him in place, before telling him the words that had evaded him so thoroughly the year before, Johnny's wide grin making it all worth it.
So tonight, 2018. He paces. Counts the seconds down and then, as fireworks light up the sky overhead, he walks purposely over, ignores the twinge from his surgically repaired knee as he kneels down against the cold cement and presses his lips to Johnny's, holding it as long as he dares, wishing for a wild moment that it could be more, part of him hoping he could stay, but he can't. He's chosen his road, decided to replace Johnny before Johnny could do it to him, rehab and single handed determination to come back better, more vicious than before, taking the place of Johnny and of DIY's goals. He pulls away and searches Johnny's face. "See you soon," he says in a dark promise, getting up and dusting his hands off before walking off with a sure stride.
He doesn't notice Johnny sit up with a glassy look in his eye, touching his lips as he watches Tommaso disappear from sight through the park gates.
The only good part of not being used on the road as much, Mike thinks, is he gets to stay at home more often. Can see Taven more than before, at least. Yeah, he likes wrestling, and he misses it right now, but he knows he'll be back to it some day. Somehow. But getting to spend the holidays with his other half, well, what more could a guy ask for? The look on Matt's face when he leans in and lands a kiss on him while he's leaning in to get some water from his fridge for both of them is worth it, his eyes darkening as a smug smirk grows. "Well what was that for, Mike?"
"Can't a guy kiss his best friend without questions?" Mike laughs, hands digging low into Matt's back and drawing him in, their bodies flush against each other. "And maybe do it again..." Which he does, gripping Matt's jaw as he hums against his lips, exhaling when Matt melts into him, finally allowing him to deepen the kiss. "I missed you."
"I missed you too," he mumbles, shivering as Mike's fingers graze over the shorn parts of his hair, tugging on the longer strands. "ROH isn't the same without you."
Mike smiles. "At least you have Vinnie and TK, right?"
"I guess. Don't get me wrong, they're really good guys, I'm glad for them always having my back and everything. I just feel like this conspiracy against us wouldn't have gained traction if you were still by my side," Matt admits grimly.
Mike taps his fingers against Taven's shoulders thoughtfully. "I know what you mean, but we have to accept it. And I imagine we'll be able to partner again some day." They stare at each other, both feeling a sharp curl of hope.
"I'd like that."
"So would I, as I'm sure my twitter account hints," Bennett laughs as Taven leans up and kisses him slowly, eyes fluttering closed. "Here's to a great 2018 for us both," he whispers once he can talk again.
Matt grins. Clinks his water bottle with Mike's in agreement. "Here's to us."
"Wrestle Kingdom 12," Shinsuke offers in his hesitant English. "Are you ready?"
"When am I not?" Okada shrugs, as always the definition of calm indifference. "I am not worried. I walk in champ, I walk out champ. Easy enough."
Nakamura laughs at him, eyes sparkling as he stares at the screen showing his best friend. "Thank you for sending me the magazines about WK12. Interesting articles."
"Hai," Okada says, pausing before returning to English with a sheepish grin. "Are you ready for the Rumble?"
"Eh, it is impossible to prepare for such a match, but I suppose I am as prepared as I can be." He makes a motion with his hand that could mean any number of things and Okada grins at him, teeth flashing in the faint lamplight coming from somewhere in front of him.
"I miss you." It slips out when neither are expecting it, shattering a comfortable silence where they were just regarding each other with small smiles. Okada blinks hard at his own voice before looking away, clearing his throat sharply. "Ah, I mean-"
Shinsuke is unfazed, however. "I miss you as well. I wish I could have been there with you on your birthday, for one."
Okada flushes at this, casting a coy glance back at Shinsuke. The tweet sent to him, with a kiss emoji, had been the best birthday message he'd received all day, and he smiles weakly. "I wish you had been as well."
Nakamura's eyes are barely open as he smiles at Okada. "Perhaps for the next one, hm?"
"Hai." They sit for a few more seconds before Okada glances over. "It is midnight now. Gedo will be wondering..."
Nakamura nods knowingly. "Happy New Years, Kazuchika."
"Happy New Years, Shinsuke." They smile at each other before Okada clicks a button and the screen goes dark. He sighs regretfully, getting up to find his mentor and join in on the celebrations bringing in 2018. He's not even made it to the door when his phone beeps in his hand, lighting up with a text message. One emoji- another kissy face.
He laughs, face pleasantly warm, as he walks outside to join the cluster of partying people. Pausing in the doorway, he sends his own emoji- heart eyes- back before melting into the wave of people celebrating the new year.
Tag champs together. Then partners. Then nothing. And now Jason is partners with Seth freaking Rollins, and Chad is struggling to make something click with Shelton. "Nothing's going right," he mumbles, burying his hands in his pockets. He stares up at the stars with something close to disdain in his dark gaze, remembering the glee on Jason's face as he'd lifted Seth's hand in victory. Anger bites at him, reminding him all over again that on top of that, Jason couldn't be here with him on New Years Eve because USA Network required them to be live this year on both holidays. He rocks back and forth on his feet before casting a glance over his shoulder, Jason coming out of their apartment with a small smile on his face.
"You should go back to bed," he says, hands warm on Chad's hips as he stands at his back, resting his jaw on the shorter man's shoulder. "My flight is still a couple hours away, you don't need to drive me. Just get some rest-"
"Oh please," Chad scoffs, unhappiness pouring off of him in waves. "You expect me to sleep right now?"
Jason's smile immediately fades away and he slowly turns Chad around in his arms. "What's wrong?"
"Shouldn't the question be what's right?" he spits. "The answer to that is not much." He glowers up at Jason, whose face falls even further. "I hate seeing you with him. I would never keep you from spending time with your father, but... why did he have to pull the rug out from under us like that? I know things were strange with our team for awhile, but... it's not fair... and it was all just to put you in a partnership with Seth Rollins? Really?"
Jason gnaws at his lower lip, then rubs up and down Chad's arms briskly. "This is why you've been so angry lately?" He'd noticed the change in Chad, how bitter and angry he seems every time something goes just a little bit wrong for himself and Shelton, but wasn't sure how to broach it in the limited time they managed to spend together. "Trust me, it wasn't ideal for me either. I've... I've been floundering without you," he admits quietly. "I try, and I try, and I try, but I just kept losing and... trying to put on a brave face to my dad, to keep him from losing faith in me or my abilities, but it was so impossible, and I know everyone was seeing straight through me. My entire career, I've been defined by my partnership with Tye, and then American Alpha... to compete alone, to have no one watching my back, I don't know how to work well like that."
Chad's eyes soften. "Jason..."
"Look, you've always been better between the two of us at this independence thing, not needing anyone else to kick ass and take names. I'm still finding my footing, and yeah, this thing with Seth probably won't last for long, since we can't stand each other, but for now..." He exhales roughly. "For now... it's the only thing that I've got going for me."
Chad feels awful, for both not knowing that Jason's been hiding all of this self-doubt and worry beneath his bluster and stubborn insistence that he could win if given one more chance. "You're stronger than you realize, JJ. You always have been." He cups Jason's face and searches his eyes, smiling sadly. "You'll find your way. I have no doubt in you." It hurts, he's still brimming with anger, but it's not Jason's fault. He'd been thrown into the deep end as badly as Chad, if not worse, when Kurt had taken him from Smackdown. "We'll make it work. It'll be ok." He leans up and kisses him. "I'm sorry for getting angry. We don't have a lot of time left before you have to leave for me to waste it on such petty nonsense. Will you forgive me?"
"Already done," he laughs breathlessly, tangling his fingers in Chad's soft hair and holding him in place as he kisses him back, hoisting him up and holding him close as Chad wraps his legs around him, like they used to after a win, Chad always enjoying the few extra inches of height Jason holding him like this always provided him. "I love you."
"I love you too," he murmurs, resting his forehead against Jason's and smiling softly. "Now, what should we do to properly say goodbye to this year until it's time to go?" His fingers are dancing against Jason's collar, down his chest, and Jason laughs, eyes darkening as he reclaims Chad's lips in a heated kiss. "So sick," he mumbles, the familiar words and feelings sending heated pleasure down both of their bodies as they cling to each other.
"Why are you out here?" Lana demands, leaving the warmth of her house behind to look out, locate Tamina. The woman shrugs, staring out over the trees dotting the property of her and Rusev's house, before Lana sidles up behind her and curls her fingers against Tamina's, listening to her breath change. Her nails dig into Lana's palm, but the Russian barely blinks at the pressure inching this way towards painful.
"Just curious," she says quietly. Lana waits, knowing that Tamina will explain in her own time, in her own way. "The difference between Hawaiian evenings and Tennessee," she says after a moment. "If the stars are visible, if it's quiet. If you can hear wildlife."
Lana blinks. "Can you?" she whispers, suddenly feeling like it's disrespectful to break the peace. Glances around and hopes she could see things the way Tamina does, her dark eyes searching out the heavens for something.
"Yes," she finally says. "It is different- the stars are positioned differently, and the animals aren't the same, but... they're there." She casts a solemn glance at Lana, who hums. "Isn't Rusev missing you?"
She shrugs. "He is talking with Aiden about Rusev Day. It gets tedious after awhile. Don't ever tell him I said so."
Tamina's lips quirk up in a small smile. "Our little secret," she promises, a pleasant kind of warm spreading along her side as Lana rests her head on her shoulder, their fingers slipping apart just to reunite a few moments later once Lana stops shifting around.
"Do you know any constellations?" she asks and Tamina shakes her head, eyes trailing from star to star, curious and wondering if she's missing out by not knowing. Lana hums, lifting her free hand and pointing from one cluster of stars to the next, her accent drifting and fading entirely as she speaks, telling this myth and the next, love and loss, destruction and pain, all commemorated in the stars overhead, and Tamina finds herself captivated by the woman's passion for the stories. "My horoscope is Aries," she says with a faint laugh. "The ram. Stubborn, temperamental things that we are."
"Capricorn," Tamina offers when Lana stays quiet, obviously waiting for some response. "I only know a bit about astrology."
Lana laughs softly, searching Tamina's face. "Rusev is also a Capricorn," she says quietly. "Websites say Capricorns are disciplined and a bit condescending."
"Fair, I suppose," Tamina says, unable to argue against it too much.
"They also say a relationship between an Aries and Capricorn is difficult at best. But I don't believe them," she says, voice turning light, easing away from the tension in her shoulders as she relaxes. "The two closest people in my life are Capricorn and I like to think we get along very well."
"I think so," Tamina agrees, blinking when Lana runs a finger down her palm, sending interesting sparks of sensation down Tamina's arm. She does so again, smirking when Tamina shivers subconsciously. "Lana..." It's getting late, the night sky showing signs of it by being a fair deal darker than it was when Tamina first settled in out here. "We should go inside," she says quietly. "It'll be midnight soon, and New Years-"
But instead of pulling away to stand up, Lana eases closer, staring into Tamina's eyes, gauging her response as her fingers ease up Tamina's wrist, resting on her pulse point. She smirks at the racing beats there, tilting her head as her breaths brush against Tamina's nose, her lips. "I'm not sure I ever thanked you for coming to my rescue so many times over the last few months? When I was struggling to get better as a wrestler. When I was cornered by Sarah Logan. When things were going wrong and I needed a shoulder. You even forgave me for giving you that makeover you didn't care for." She laughs softly, eyes flickering from Tamina's lips to her eyes. "It's difficult to trust people in this business. Even Rusev has hurt me in the past, but you... you are steadfast. Calm in the worst of situations."
Her fingers are warm as she wraps her arms around Tamina's waist, holding onto her. "Lana," Tamina breathes out, head spinning by this. "Rusev-"
"Has Aiden English. He will be fine," she says, pressing a finger to Tamina's lips and searching her eyes as slow understanding dawns on her, cheeks flushing a ruddy pink as she realizes what Lana's getting at. "Will you be?"
Tamina swallows as Lana holds her phone out, the clock showing that it's about five minutes until 2018. They watch quietly as time ticks away, neither bothering to move as they share breaths, Lana stroking Tamina's back with her free hand while they wait. Finally it's time and she raises an eyebrow at Tamina, laughing softly when they move as one, meeting in the middle in a calm, soft kiss to mark the new year. "I am more than fine right now, trust me," she murmurs, smiling as Lana chuckles against her lips, kissing her again.
"She's here! She's here!" James' daughters chant as they rush the door to greet Carmella, and James laughs, snagging them and spinning them around. "Step back," he says softly. "it's cold outside, little ones." Which is confirmed when he pulls the door open and lets a flood of bitter coldness inside. He quickly draws Carmella in before shutting the door loudly and laughing to find her already buried in his blanket when he turns around.
He makes hot chocolate for his girls, shooing his daughters off to go play so Carmella can decompress. Settling down next to her, he wraps an arm around her and kisses the side of her head. "How are you?"
She shrugs. Rests her head on his shoulder. "Miss you," she mumbles into her marshmallows, and he sighs softly. "It's not the same."
"I know. Trust me, I do." He watches her on TV, the lack of life in her eyes without him by her side obvious. She'd claimed to take him clean out of the world of the WWE, but since then, her creativity, her fight, seems to have withered away and died a slow, sad death. She's realigned with the Welcoming Committee, which now consists of Tamina, Natalya, and Lana, but you can tell it's just out of necessity to keep afloat in the ever changing climate that is the Smackdown women's division. It hurts to see. She puts her mug down and buries her face in his chest, settling as he hugs her tight, running his fingers through her hair, down her neck. "It's going to be ok."
"No, it's not," she breathes out. "I can't even get close to Charlotte now with Ruby Riott and those other ridiculous women always around, how the hell am I going to cash in my briefcase before I run out of time?" She has until June, which feels far away, but he knows with limited opportunities before then that she's understandably feeling the pressure. She's shaking in his arms, tears of anger and bitterness pouring down her face. "I need you, Jimmy. Why... Why did they take you from me? Even if we didn't work directly together, it would've been nice to know you were there for me..." She sobs harder and he hugs her closer, kissing the top of her head.
"I'm so sorry," he breathes into her hair. "If I could change things, I would. You know this."
She nods into his chest, pulling away and wiping at her eyes. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't be laying all of this on you when you're struggling too. It's just..." she sniffs. "It's hard."
He brushes her hair out of her tear-soaked eyes, wipes the trails of mascara away, and pulls her closer, searching her eyes for long, tense moments. "You don't need to censor yourself around me. I want to help you, even if I can't do anything but listen to you. Alright?"
She closes her eyes. Blinks them open once more. "There is one more thing you could do." He tilts his head in confusion and she brushes her fingers down his scarred jaw, along the unusual planes of his chin. "Kiss me."
He sits quietly for a few moments, gaping at her, and she starts to sink into disappointment, thinking maybe she was wrong- he didn't feel for her like that anymore, maybe he was just friendly with her because- A warm pressure against her lips distracts her thoughts, sends pleasant warmth curling up her body, all of the way to her toes. She whimpers against James' mouth and holds onto him, parting her lips and feeling a deep, possessive sense as she shifts, deepens the kiss and digs her nails into his scalp, scratching there gently. He groans into her mouth and she sighs, only pulling away when she remembers his daughters in the next room. Wiping at the gloss staining his lips a sparkly pink, she laughs and rests her face in the crook of his shoulder. "That was..."
"Wow," he mumbles and she chuckles.
"Yes, that." Easing up, she stares into his eyes. "James..."
"I love you, Carmella." He says it so simply, so earnestly, she knows it's the truth.
Her eyes soften and she kisses him again. "I love you too, Jimmy." She smiles softly at him and he exhales, hugging her tightly. They may not work together anymore, and she's not sure what she's going to do about her briefcase, but they're ringing in the new year together, his daughters struggling to stay awake for the ball drop even as they drift on a pile of pillows and blankets James had set up on the living room floor, Carmella and he exchanging knowing, amused glances, and there's not much else she can ask for this evening.
"Well, I'm guessin' this means we're spending New Years together." AJ's voice is dry, professional but clearly with the anger just brimming under the surface. Shane considers briefly letting him just stew in his own complaints and come back later when maybe his anger's cooled off some.
"Seems so," Shane says, not rising to AJ's bait. He has a calm, half-smile on his face, and AJ's anger only seems to grow as he looks at him. He knows he deserves AJ's frustration- had cost the man his match against Kevin the week prior, though it definitely was not done on purpose. And he had apologized, so he's not sure what exactly AJ wants or expects from him. For him to get down on his hands and knees and beg forgiveness? Yeah right. Shane's a McMahon, and even he has his pride.
"Wipe that look off of your face," AJ mumbles, everything rankling at him right now, his loss still weighing on him. "It's annoying."
"Oh come on," Shane laughs mirthlessly, shaking his head. "It's almost a new year. You know I didn't mean to cost you that match on purpose. Can't we put it behind us?"
AJ rolls his eyes, steps closer to Shane. "I know no such thing," he informs him tensely. "How do I know all of this isn't some slow burn revenge for my beating you at Wrestlemania? You McMahons have a lofty opinion of yourselves, I can absolutely see something like this being your motivation."
Shane pinches his nose. "Maybe, before, I would've considered something like that," he admits. "But come on, AJ. Our match at Wrestlemania- I gained respect for you then but more importantly I thought I gained your respect that night, and what Kevin did to my father, and Sami constantly helping him to cheat to win, far outweighs any lingering tension there may be between us. I seriously just wanted to help, but it was impulsive and not well thought out, and yeah, it backfired on me. Unfortunately you were caught in the crossfire so I'm going to apologize one more time, and if this isn't enough for you, then I don't know what to tell you. I'm so sorry for costing you your match against Kevin Owens, it's seriously the absolute last thing I wanted to happe-" Shane's words die away, are swallowed, by AJ's lips on his, warm and a little chapped, but solid, fitting perfectly against his.
"You talk too much," AJ informs him with a smug smirk on his face. "Happy New Years, Shane." Grabbing his bags, he turns and walks into the elevator, a still-frozen Shane standing there as the doors close to finally take AJ up to his room.
"Does that mean he forgives me?" he wonders dazedly.
His face is broken. Bruised, with vague cuts here and there that Jack thinks must've been a cause of Hideo's boot laces. He knows in the ring he's been straightforward, showing no sympathy for Brian, but away from it all, when it's just them two, he can't help but dwell on how unfair it all is. He'd enjoyed partnering with the man, learning from him, becoming a more brutal competitor on his slow path of hopeful redemption to gain more opportunities at the cruiserweight title. He's still staring when Brian stirs, shifts, and reaches out for him. His eyes are swollen shut too much for him to see, but he still finds Jack's hand and trails his knuckles over Jack's palm, tickling him.
Jack exhales sharply, curls his fingers over Brian's hand to stop the creeping itchiness trailing up his fingers and down his wrist. "Good morning, Mr. Kendrick."
"Morning," he says groggily, shifting his head back and forth while struggling to open his eyes. Jack's touch stops this, however, and he exhales roughly, memories returning to him. "Right, Itami," he mumbles.
"That's right. Itami." There's frustration and ugliness in Jack's eyes as he gazes over at his umbrella, plans half-formed and stinking of desperation. So unbecoming for a gentleman of his degree. "Brian, if you could pick any weapon to hide in an umbrella, what would you select?"
Brian tilts his head towards Jack. Licks his lips, unaware of Jack's eyes tracking this motion. "In an umbrella? I suppose a nice, thick pipe would do the trick." Jack considers this for a few moments, his smirk growing as he nods, appreciating the suggestion, and the damage it could bring if implemented correctly. "Jack?"
"Yes?" he asks, somewhat perplexed by the worried frown on Brian's face. It smooths away as quickly as it appeared and Brian turns his head towards the left.
"Do I smell scones?" he asks, teeth flashing when Jack confirms that is exactly it, gripping Brian's hand and guiding him to a table on the side of the room.
"I figured it would be a decent New Years treat before I have to leave for the WWE events this week," Jack says. "We can at least have a nice breakfast together to say good riddance to 2017 I suppose."
Brian smirks and waits while Jack prepares the scones for him, and pours him tea. "Well, it smells fantastic," he says quietly, relieved that at least he can eat most of it with his fingers, only sloshing the tea a little when he misses his mouth the first try. To his credit, Jack is patient with him, neither in any real hurry. "When's your flight?" he asks after swallowing, aware of how important proper etiquette is for Jack.
"Later, mid-afternoon." Jack lounges lazily, searching Brian's face. Memorizing every bruise and swell, so he can try to recreate the visual on Itami's own flesh later on. "You'll be alright by yourself for awhile, yes?"
"Of course. I'll just..." He hesitates. "I don't know. I'll think of something." Without vision, he can only do so much, especially while he's supposed to rest.
Jack stands up and digs around in his bag before returning to Brian's side, pressing something cool into his hands. "I found a few of these, perhaps you will like them," he says, settling back down in his chair and watching as Brian's fingers ghost over the cases.
"Audio books. It will at least give you something more intellectual than ridiculous daytime television to listen to while I am gone."
Brian's face softens, and he grins. "Hey, thanks. That's... actually a really good idea."
"I do have them now and again," Jack says dryly, sipping from his tea to hide his own pleasure. They sit quietly for awhile until Jack gets up and collects the dishes, throwing away what can be and rinsing out their mugs. "So about this pipe," he says, settling back down across from Brian and getting back to business.
When it's time to leave, Jack hesitates at the door and looks back at Brian, sitting there all but blind and tracing circles in the cases of the audio books with a grimace on his lips. He blinks a few times and puts his bag down once more, walking purposely back over to Brian's side. Brian looks up, brows furrowing. "Jack? Are you-"
Jack moves before he can lose his nerve, careful to avoid the bruising and swelling as he grips Brian's jaw and presses a kiss to the side of his mouth. Brian's face relaxes, then he swallows and reaches out for him, digging his fingers into his forearms, holding him in place as he shifts and kisses him back.
Once they pull away, Brian laughs weakly. "I've been waiting forever for you to do that," he mumbles, brushing a finger over his lips.
Jack stares down at him, so many things that he wants to say on the tip of his tongue. But his flight is soon, and he has to leave now, so he tugs lightly at the loose ponytail held at the base of Brian's skull and stands, grabbing his bag once more. "Happy New Year, Brian." He straightens his spine and walks out of the door, lips twisting as he replays that moment, eyes narrowing as he forces his focus onto Itami, a blatant disrespect towards the man and a hunger for revenge warring for dominance within him as he walks down the hall, holding his umbrella against his shoulder as he approaches the elevator.
With Enzo sick, it leaves Ariya and Drew to hold things down. They get Enzo's cruiserweight champion locker room, his fancy champagne, some hor devours spread out for a New Years celebration for the three of them. For a brief, wild moment, they can't help but be thrilled when they walk into the fancy spread set aside for him here. They exchange glances and, although Ariya seems at home here, Drew is still confounded. "Come on, man!" Ariya exclaims, pausing only long enough to do the fist bump that ends in the loud "CHOO CHOO!" that had taken them an embarrassing amount of time to perfect. They beam at each other, all tension from the last few weeks draining away as they look around. "No wonder Enzo wanted to be here so badly," Drew mumbles, reaching out to taste the crackers.
"Too bad he's so sick," Ariya mutters, helping himself to the champagne, memories of their friend freezing mid-step in the hallway of the hotel before crumpling to the ground, Drew moving quickly and catching him before he'd completely hurt himself. Dehydration caused by the flu being the culprit, but neither had known that when they were kneeling with him, trying to get him to regain consciousness, talk to them. The drive to the ER had been frantic, the only thing keeping them from calling an ambulance being that Enzo's breathing and heart rate was normal, if a little elevated, and the knowledge that they'd get him there faster.
So after the diagnosis, Enzo had encouraged them to go on ahead without him, that he'd join them later, but WWE doctors weren't allowing it, afraid that he was contagious and not wanting him to wrestle while ill anyway. So his match against Cedric had been postponed, and... this leaves Ariya and Drew with a tag match later, but not much else to do in the meanwhile. "Damn, it's quiet," Drew finally says, both of them unsettled without Enzo's constant running commentary.
"Yeah," Ariya sighs. Some find Enzo beyond annoying but they're both used to his chatter by now, and Ariya gets amused by the circles Enzo's mind goes in, how he can twist a phrase to make it work for him in his insults towards opponents, or in his freestyles. He genuinely likes the crazy man, Enzo definitely keeping things more entertaining wherever he goes.
Drew looks glum without him as well and Ariya pours him a glass of champagne as well, handing it over. "Oh no, I shouldn't," he says, waving it off. "Our match later-"
"It's in a couple hours," Ariya insists. "Plenty of time for you to feel the buzz of good champagne and then come back down to earth to plan what we're doing. Come on, live a little, Drew."
Drew looks frustrated at this, his brows furrowing as he searches Ariya's face, but finally he takes the glass and sips it. He immediately pauses, eyes widening.
"Good, huh?" Ariya chuckles, used to such extravagances before Enzo, but finding them even more bountiful since alligning himself with the man.
"Yeah," Drew mumbles. "It's very crisp." He has his glass finished before Ariya's even half done with his and then stares at the bottle, debating with himself if he should have more or not.
Ariya smirks. "Here, but let this one breathe a little this time." He pours Drew half of a glass and settles back, watching as Drew drains this in moderation, mulling over something as he chews on some more crackers. "What's on your mind, man?"
He shrugs, the champagne clearly kicking in as his words drift together a little, his gaze distant. "Enzo and Cass. Even after everything they've been through, they found their way back together at some point? I dunno. Enzo's really quiet about all of that."
Ariya blinks. "Well, yeah. It's his business, I'm not about to open that can of worms unless he brings it up."
Drew smiles. "You're a good friend, Ariya. I mean, I'm his best friend, but-"
Ariya rolls his eyes. "Drew? Shut up." Drew shuts up and they sit there silently for awhile. "I just know if I was involved with someone and they'd passed out in the hallway of some random hotel, I'd want to know." His first instinct in the hotel, before calling an ambulance, was to call Cass. Had walked in on a few Skype calls between Cass and Enzo the last few weeks, putting the pieces together. Somewhere between Enzo's title run, and Cass' surgery, they'd repaired things enough to give their relationship another go, which explains the added spring to Enzo's step that Ariya's been noticing lately, how readily he is to throw money at things. More so than usual.
A happy Enzo is a very beneficial Enzo for all of them. But it's not all about the money, Ariya's heart had skipped a beat when Enzo passed out on them, so many fears running through his mind in that moment before Drew had snapped at him to check his wrist, and Ariya had felt his pulse thrumming stubbornly beneath his fingers, leaving Ariya breathing a little easier before he'd dove for his cell phone.
So now they're here, eating Enzo's food, drinking his champagne, and Drew is apparently a introspective drunk while Ariya tries to rid his memories of that all too clear visual of an unresponsive Enzo in Drew's arms. "Hey, Ariya? Are you ok?"
Something must show on his face and he curses himself for being so transparent. "Yeah, Drew, I'm fine, just-" He quiets when Drew leans towards him, eyes wide and earnest as he touches his arm.
"It's going to be ok, Ariya. Enzo'll be back, and Zo Train will continue speeding down these tracks. Little bump in the road, that's all." Between Nese, Dar and now Enzo himself, there's been a lot of those lately, but Drew looks so sincere, Ariya finds himself nodding, staring deep into Drew's eyes, unsure why he's looking at him like that. It's abrupt and a little awkward when Drew suddenly presses forward, kissing Ariya determinedly, fingers curling around his neck.
Ariya gasps, gripping Drew's wrists and for a moment, he considers pushing him away, blaming the alcohol and moving on with their evening, but he can feel Drew's pulse under his fingers, slow and steady, and it calms him too, grounds him in this simple, quiet moment. After so much tension and uncertainty from earlier in the afternoon, this is... this is nice. He likes the feel of Drew's lips on his, surprised by how disappointed he is when Drew pulls away. "Sorry," the man mumbles, his breath cool against Ariya's face. "I've... kind of wanted to do that for awhile and I guess with the champagne and everything, it seemed like a good time, but-"
Ariya exhales, wondering wildly what Enzo will think of this development before digging his fingers into the ridges where Drew's neck meets his skull. "Shut up, Drew," he mumbles, pulling him in until their lips meet in another kiss.
Stepping out of his apartment at a quarter to midnight, Aleister Black stares out at the cold, misty sky that's so unusual for Florida. Things have been unusual in a number of ways, but now he thinks they're starting to click back into place. "I know you're there," he calls out. "Velveteen Dream." The name that was so ridiculous, so obnoxious that he hadn't spoke it until after he'd wrestled the man. Until Dream had gained his respect in his ability, his determination. Not just some flashy show, the guy could actually go. So Aleister had said his name to give the guy something to hold onto despite his loss, but then Dream had disappeared and claims were that he was injured. Black hadn't meant to actually hurt the guy, just wanted him to back the hell off on the stalking shit, and in the weeks that had followed, the performance center had felt empty, somehow.
Dream left this vibe behind, even if you couldn't see him, it was obvious when he was nearby. Like a subtle warmth in the air around him, curling around Aleister's tattoo'd skin, easing his anger, muffling his aches after a rough match or brutal work out. But without Dream, he'd been forced to experience all of it first hand, and... yeah, he doesn't really understand how or why, but it'd rankled at him.
So he stands there until Dream eases out of the gloom, stepping up close to him. His bandana seems to offer more protection from the elements than the ridiculous fringed shirt he has on, even now the man unwilling to dress properly, and Aleister rolls his eyes, burying his hands in his pockets to keep from either throwing his jacket over Dream's bare shoulders, or strangling him for being absolutely ridiculous. "Heard you were injured," he says after a few minutes, the silence frustrating him.
Dream doesn't respond to this, Aleister unable to see his eyes through the shades he's wearing even now. "You said my name." His voice is low, silky, and Aleister exhales, his breath misting before his face.
"Yeah." He wonders if maybe he shouldn't have, perhaps encouraging this guy was a bad idea, but he remembers the challenge Dream had given him, actually left him floundering a few times, close to losing, and. Yeah. If anyone had deserved something for that, it was Dream. So now they're here, standing side by side as 2018 looms before them, and Aleister can feel that calming sensation coming from Dream, easing his conflicting thoughts the longer they stand here. He breathes in slowly and glances over at Dream again, not that surprised to find Dream staring back at him.
Dream reaches up and pushes his glasses up on his head, allowing Aleister to get a good look at his eyes, mischievous and dark, and Aleister finds himself lost in thought as seconds tick away, midnight hovering between them like a physical entity. Superstitions surround the new year, people doing so many things to bring good fortune, some absolute nonsense, others with some truth behind them, despite the magic behind each action fading with every passing generation. Despite that knowledge, there's an energy in the air, as if the power behind these superstitions have condensed right here, drawn by his and Dream's opposing forces.
They stand there quietly as midnight strikes, fireworks lighting up the sky before them, neither man flinching. Aleister enjoys the display for its loud violence, and he figures Dream is captivated by the showmanship of the colors flashing against the starry sky, muffled by smoke billowing up between each explosion. Once it all fades away, the world returning to quiet and mundane, he turns towards his apartment. Dream watches him as he walks up to his door and hesitates. "Come in, then," he says, pausing at the doorway until Dream steps past him into the living room, Aleister looking up as he takes in Velveteen Dream standing among his sparse amount of furniture and personal effects. First footing, he thinks, wondering what exactly this will bring for his year ahead as he steps in and shuts his door behind them.