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Johnny was so bored. He hadn’t thought the knee was so bad that he couldn’t even attend the taping but when he’d started to crutch his way over to the shuttle two Performance Center trainers looked like they were about to tackle him. The place was spooky empty like this; everyone except the genuine rookies usually went to the tapings just for the offhand shot of getting their face on screen and even the group too junior for that were mostly gone this time of night. It would figure the one time he’d have the place to himself would be when he was too banged up to take full advantage of it.

Johnny pulled himself into one of the practice rings and rested his head against the turnbuckle; the head trainer gave him a look but he just waved back, hoping it was clear he didn’t plan on perfecting any one-legged moonsaults. After about another half hour or so things should be wrapped up enough to call Tommaso for a run down. He could last another half hour.

Johnny drummed his fingers against the bottom rope. Or five minutes. Five minutes was probably good too.

Tommaso didn’t pick up the first time Johnny called, the phone ringing until voice mail answered. Maybe Johnny had jumped the gun a little bit. He waited a few minutes and tried again, but this time the call went straight to voice mail, like had Tommaso had turned the phone off. Or had just hit ignore. So that was…weird.

Johnny forced himself to wait through that initial half hour and beyond, a little knot of worry tightening in his stomach. If Tommaso just hadn’t picked up, that would be normal, it would mean he was either in the ring or prepping or in the showers. Hell, even if it had gone straight to voice mail both times it wouldn’t have registered as anything being up, lots of guys shut their phones off at shows although Tommaso usually wasn’t one of them. One then the other without a call back, that was strange.

Johnny shook his head. He was seriously overthinking things, when he got bored sometimes he went looking for trouble. Tommaso got intense at crunch time, probably Johnny had caught him at a bad time and he wanted to make sure he could focus. This was the first time he’d tried to call Tommaso at a taping after all, usually he was right there too. Johnny thought back and realized this was probably the first NXT taping they’d been separated for since teaming up, what a strange anniversary that was. “Don’t get used to it, buddy,” he said to no one in particular.

Once he’d successfully talked himself down Johnny tried calling again, more than enough time had gone by now. He was relieved when Tommaso picked up one ring before the voice mail. “What?”

“Well, that’s friendly.” Even with just the one word Johnny could tell Tommaso sounded exhausted. Johnny couldn’t remember who he’d supposed to be matched up with but it must have been a fight. “How’d things go?”

“Fine. Nothing special.” That sounded…not true at all, but before Johnny could press Tommaso said, “Look, I can’t talk right now.”

“Um. Okay. See you at the hotel---“ Tommaso hung up before Johnny could even finish his sentence, leaving Johnny to stare at his happy panda background. “Well then.” Maybe Tommaso had lost. That always put him in kind of a mood, Johnny knew that first hand.

Johnny was halfway through figuring out how to maneuver himself out of the ring without actually bending his knee when his phone rang. Johnny grabbed for it without looking, expecting it to be Tommaso apologizing for being such a grouch but was surprised to hear Rich Swann’s voice instead. “Johnny boy! Heard you were still grounded, we missed you back here tonight.”

“I missed being there, believe me. They’re putting me through my paces.”

“Hey, whatever gets us back in the ring, right?”

“You know it. How’d things go tonight?” He should have called Rich first, Rich Swann was the best kind of gossip: friends with everyone, talked to everyone, knew every little thing that was going on. True to form Rich launched into an enthusiastic run down, from Nakamura celebrating his big win to Bobby Roode starting trouble with Jose. About half way through Rich faltered. “Hey, you talked to Ciampa, right?”

Everyone was acting weird tonight. “Yeah, of course.”

“Oh, good,” Rich said, relief obvious in his voice. “Glad to hear he’s okay then.”

“Why wouldn’t he be? He said everything went fine.”

Rich hestitated a few seconds. “Look, if that’s what he said….”

“What’s going on?”

“I just…the number the Revival did on him, I got worried. The trainers wanted him to take a ride over Regional but he wouldn’t have it.”

“What number the Revival did on him? The hell happened tonight?”

Rich swore softly. “You said you’d talked to him.”

“I did. He didn’t say anything about the Revival doing anything. What happened?”

Johnny could hear Rich choosing his words. “I don’t want to get in between…this is a you and him thing, y’know…?”


Rich sighed, then Johnny heard him moving, the background noise dropping as he seemed to find a quiet room. “Okay. You know I like to review my matches right away, I don’t want to wait for TV. I got one of the security guys taping my matches for me but I know he tapes some other matches here and there too. If he did, I’ll send it over. Just don’t tell Ciampa I’m the one that snitched, okay? Your boy hits like a truck.”

“Don’t I know it. Thanks, I appreciate it.”

“Remember, if Ciampa decides maybe he should knock your head off your shoulders this time, you didn’t hear any of this from me.”

Good as his word, about fifteen minutes later Johnny heard his email alert chime and saw something new from Rich Swann. He clicked on the attached file and settled back against the turnbuckle, maximizing the shaky cell cam footage as much as possible. The sound was muddy but the angle was pretty good and anyway, Johnny didn’t need to make out Tommaso’s promo to read the look on his face when the Revival came up on either side of him.

If Johnny was honest he knew he would have at least tried to talk his way out of it. It probably still would have wound up in a fight, but maybe he would have been able to get himself into a better position. That wasn’t really how Tommaso’s worked. Johnny winced when he opened up with a hard elbow that send Wilder reeling, just enough that it looked like he might get out of things, but then the Revival regrouped and threw him into the commentary table. Tommaso was one of the toughest guys Johnny knew but two on one was two on one; Johnny clenched his jaw as he watched them drag Tommaso to the ring to keep beating on him there, kicking him hard in the ribs. Johnny was almost relieved when Dawson and Wilder kicked him out to the floor.

Right up until Tommaso dragged himself back into the ring and started daring the Revival to keep going. “Oh come on,” Johnny said, torn between trying to get Tommaso to back down with the power of his mind and amazed at how ridiculously badass that was. The badass part was winning, Johnny had to admit. It didn’t make a difference, the Revival gave him a Shatter Machine leaving him curled up in the ring anyway and Johnny shut the video off so he could fully commit to seething there in a frustration. He should have insisted on going. He could have…hit Dawson and Wilder with his crutches. Completely gotten in the way. Probably screwed the knee up further, because that was exactly how his luck had been running lately.

That line of thinking didn’t do much to improve Johnny’s mood as he woke his phone back up and hit send on Tommaso’s name. When Tommaso picked up Johnny didn’t let him get a word in. “You have a really messed up definition of ‘things went fine.’”

Tommaso was quiet for a second, then let out a heavy sigh than ended in an audible wince. “Who talked?”

“It doesn’t matter! You should have talked.”

“Stop overreacting. It happened, I handled it. It’s got nothing to do with you.”

“It does have something to do with me because we’re a team. The bare minimum there is that you at least tell me when things happen.”

“I don’t know why you’re making such a big deal out of this.”

Tommaso sounded like he was working hard to keep his words steady. “Sw---“

“There we go.”

Johnny winced. Sorry, Rich. “It doesn’t matter who told me, is it true they wanted to send you to the ER?”

“Well, they didn’t. Look, are you gonna be like this when you get here? I’m not up for this tonight.”

“Maybe I will be!”

Then Tommaso hung up on him. Johnny stared at his phone in disbelief for a few seconds, debating on whether he should call back and start the argument back up again. Assuming Tommaso didn’t just turn his phone off. Johnny tapped his nail against the side of his phone, trying to figure out what to do. Maybe he should get his own room tonight.

Hell, maybe there were good reasons he’d never really been in a team before.

Before Johnny could spiral too far into that his phone rang again, Tommaso’s picture on the display screen. Or maybe he really was overreacting and Tommaso hadn’t meant to hang up at all, that was possible too. “Ready to apologize?”

Tommaso sighed like he regretted ever knowing Johnny, which Johnny guessed he deserved a little bit. “When are you getting back?”

“I kind of got the feeling you didn’t want me back at the room tonight.”

“I never said that.” Johnny heard Tommaso moving around, his breath catching like it hurt a whole lot. “So when are you getting back?”

“Why? What’s up all of a sudden?”

It took a few beats before Tommaso answered. “Ican’tgetoffmyshirt.”

Johnny burst out laughing. “What?”

“Do not put this on twitter. I will kill you.”

“I make no promises, this sounds really funny.”

Tommaso whimpered half under his breath, Johnny didn’t know because he was beat up or because Johnny was being the worst possible person. “Just get over here.”

This time Johnny hung up first, only partially because he wanted to let Tommaso hang a little bit. He begged one of the trainers for a ride back to the hotel; Tommaso had been doing the driving since Johnny’s knee made that hard but it sounded like he’d had a bad enough night to forget about that and Johnny didn’t have heart to even tease him about it. At least not tonight. Twitter retribution was always a possibility for the future.

When Johnny hobbled into the room he found Tommaso sitting on the edge of one of the two beds, hunched over with his arms crossed over his midsection in the universal wrestler shorthand of oh God my ribs, fuck. He was in his shorts but still had his shirt on and a mean little part of Johnny was disappointed he hadn’t walked on Tommaso tangled up in it, which Johnny felt immediately bad about because he’d been there more than once. Tommaso looked up when Johnny closed the door, putting every ounce of intensity he had into the glare. “You took your time.”

“Eh, you were a jerk.”

Tommaso shook his head. “Just help me, alright?”

Johnny walked over and started easing Tommaso’s shirt off, stopping halfway when Tommaso hissed in pain and braced against the edge of the bed. “Easy, easy,” Johnny said. “How high can you lift your arms?”

“Yeah, that’s not gonna happen.”

“Gotta make things difficult,” Johnny started to rub his back but stopping when that made Tommaso wince too. “All right, time for take two.” This time Johnny went very, very slow and managed to peel the shirt off without making Tommaso pass out. “Yeah, you’re fine,” Johnny said, poking Tommaso with the least force possible in his wrapped up ribs. Tommaso groaned and flopped over sideways on the bed, leaving enough room for Johnny to stretch out next to him. Johnny didn’t know if he’d done that on purpose, but after a minute or so of silence he didn’t tell Johnny to move. “You should have just told me you got jumped.”

Tommaso sighed, then hissed in a breath like he regretted that a lot. “I figured you’d get upset.”

“Of course I’d get upset! I should be upset, that’s how this is supposed to work.”

“I mean ‘cause you weren’t there.”

Now it was Johnny’s turn to stay quiet for a few minutes. “Yeah, well. It’s not like you were gonna stop that happening, either.”

“Don’t. I picked the fight.”

“No, you threw the first punch. Elbow, whatever. They picked the fight.”

“Oh, so you saw it too, not just heard about it.”

“…Maybe.” Johnny really hoped Tommaso didn’t kill Rich Swann. He liked the guy. “Gotta say, you look way more badass getting beat up than I ever do.”

Tommaso almost managed to laugh at that. “It’s a gift.”

“So how bad are the ribs?” Tommaso’s back was a mess of welts and bruises too, but Johnny could see for himself how bad that was.

“Bruised. Maybe cracked, who knows.”

“There are ways to know that for sure.”

“They can’t do anything for it either way, so I didn’t see it point.” Johnny almost pointed out that they didn’t have to tape themselves up after bad shows and hope for the best anymore, but he knew deep down his instincts would point the same way. “How’s the knee?”

“Coming along. Y’know, you really didn’t have to go get yourself beat up so we’d be out at the same time.”

“That’s how dedicated to this team I am.”

“You’re gonna make me have to step up my game.”

“So, the fight looked okay?”

Johnny smiled. Tommaso hid it better than most but Johnny knew he was as vain as anyone about how he came off on TV, even when it came to things like getting beat up all over the arena. “I wasn’t kidding when I said you looked way more baddass getting beat up than I ever have. Probably more than I ever have not getting beat up, even. You looked great.” Johnny paused for a second. “I didn’t mean it like…okay sure, maybe I do.”

“Sweet talker.” Tommaso was starting to sound a little hazy and Johnny hoped he’d be able to get to sleep. Maybe Medical had given him something for the ribs. “I’m used to dealing with this kind of thing by myself,” Tommaso said after another few quiet minutes. “It’s easy to fall back into old habits.”

Johnny let out a long breath. “Yeah, well. I probably would have done the same thing, if I’m gonna be honest. I’ll check you on stuff like this, you check me, okay?” Tommaso nodded. Johnny traced just the edge of one of the bruises on Tommaso’s back. “I really am sorry I wasn’t there tonight.”

“You’re here now.”

Well, that was unexpected emotional punch in the chest. “Now who’s the sweet talker,” Johnny said, trying to brush it off and not succeeding at all. “You should get to sleep. Am I crowding you?”

“No.” And Tommaso sounded pretty final about that, too. Johnny watched the minutes click by on the clock for the second time that night. When Tommaso’s breathing went deep and steady Johnny carefully eased him back from the edge of the bed, moving them both over to give Tommaso more room. He told himself he kept his arm snaked around Tommaso’s shoulders to keep Tommaso from rolling off in the night but, well. Even he didn’t really believe that. “I’ll be there next time, too,” he whispered to himself, letting the helpless guilt of watching that video work its way through him. “Can’t have you showing me up like this twice.”

Then he texted “Sorry” to Rich before turning off the bedside lamp. The least he could do was give the poor guy a warning.