Title: Breathless Author: Kate Rating: PG-13 Warnings: Mild language, emo-ness, implied m/m relationship Summary: Motivations get misinterpreted and accidents happen.
Author's notes: For those who don't follow the ROH product, you should! / End Cheerleading The short version: Jimmy Jacobs spent the last few years as the leader of The Age of The Fall, one of the most emo-riffic stables in wrestling history. Tyler Black was a member of the stable before eventually breaking away, turning face, and gaining a ton of momentum and popularity. Jimmy and Tyler have been friends and partners and employer/employee and opponents and rivals and pretty much every other relationship permutation they could have gone through. The rest of this stuff, though, I completely made up. Completely unbeta'd, so I apologize for grammar errors.

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The moments Tyler likes best are the ones when Jimmy forgets to be Jimmy.

He's fighting it now, glaring at the waitress as she plops two unordered mugs of coffee on the table in front of them. She doesn't seem to notice, wiping her hands on her skirt as she shoots a sympathetic smile toward Tyler. "You all looked like you could use the help this morning."

Tyler beams gratefully at her and she turns to leave, exiting earshot just quickly enough to miss Jimmy's disgruntled huff. "Yeah, yeah, shove some coffee at the freaks and maybe they'll leave sooner," he gripes, but the bitterness is forced and he reaches for the coffee anyway. Tyler hides his smile behind his own mug.

Jimmy takes two packets of cream and no sugar in his coffee, a fact known to everyone but Jimmy himself. He sips it black, as always, makes a disgusted face, as always, and reaches blindly for the cream packets that Tyler has learned to slide across the table to him. Originally, Tyler took it as a signal of how scatterbrained Jimmy was before his first caffeine jolt of the day, but by now it's become part of their routine, just like the way Jimmy pulls the covers over his head when the alarm goes off, regardless of the time.

The waitress returns, takes their orders without comment, and vanishes again. Tyler knows better than to start any conversation before Jimmy is ready to talk in the morning, so he amuses himself by watching the other diner patrons. Jimmy does the same, but the scowl on his face implies that the conclusions he's reaching are a lot less charitable than Tyler's.

Tyler is just about to succumb to curiosity and ask what Jimmy is thinking when the waitress returns, bearing an intimidating plate of Belgian waffles in addition to their order. She smiles at both of them as she sets it in the middle of the table, and Tyler half-expects to hear the wood groan under the weight of the monstrous amount of whipped cream covering the dish.

"We didn't--"

"The cook saw two growing boys out here and whipped it up special for you," she explained casually. "Put some meat on them bones and all."

"Are you intentionally itrying/i to ruin my diet?" Jimmy snaps, but Tyler can tell by his tone that he's more surprised than angry.

The waitress doesn't seem particularly concerned either way. "Sweetie, you diet any more, you're just gonna blow right away," she soothes. "And that'd be a shame, because it ain't often we get cute strangers in here."

Jimmy's eyes narrow, but he hesitates before snapping at her. Like most wrestlers, he's used to being instantly rejected or adored, and the art of everyday conversation still eludes him sometimes.

"You have pretty eyes," the waitress adds casually, and that's enough to convince Jimmy that he's being mocked.

"Yeah, I wear eyeliner, call the sheriff," he snorts. "I didn't know it was a crime for a guy to express himself around here."

"My son wears it, too, but he doesn't pull it off as well as you. Do you use liquid or a pencil to put it on?"

If Tyler had a camera on him, the image of Jimmy's stunned silence would be framed on the wall of his apartment. "Liquid," he finally manages softly, as if he still wasn't quite convinced the waitress was being serious. "The pencil kind of, um, smudges, and..."

By the time Jimmy grabs the make-up in question from his gym bag to demonstrate, the waitress has pulled up a nearby chair and started patting Jimmy's spiky hair inquisitively. The ensuing conversation includes Jimmy and Tyler's destination, their careers, their ring attire ("That's indecent!" the waitress gasps as Tyler displays his trunks, but her smile indicates that she wasn't entirely put off by the mental image.), and their goals, but the highlight for Tyler is watching Jimmy slowly relax under the attention. He lets himself getting increasingly animated as he talks about wrestling, his hands whirling in the air as he tries to explain the mechanics of his Contra Code to the bewildered waitress.

"You must be really talented," she finally tells him. "Am I going to see you on my TV any time soon?"

It's a question they've both faced dozens of times before, but to Tyler's surprise, this time Jimmy nods happily. "I've actually got a tryout with the W--" His words screech to a halt and he looks at Tyler, eyes wide in panic. Tyler stays frozen, fork halfway to his mouth, and Jimmy swallows hard and continues. "Um, with the WWE, which is the company on TV all the time," he explains to the waitress. "So if all goes well..."

The waitress frowns at his sudden shift in attitude, shooting a concerned look at Tyler, who barely manages a shrug. "Well, good luck to you, then," she states awkwardly, getting back to her feet and gathering up the dishes they had emptied during the conversation. "I hope you knock their socks off."

"Thanks," Jimmy mumbles, reaching for his wallet. Tyler hasn't finished his eggs, but his appetite has suddenly disappeared, so he adds a few bills to the crumpled wad of cash that Jimmy had thrown on the the table and follows him out the door.

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They drive through four more towns before Jimmy breaks the silence.

"I was going to tell you," he blurts. "It was kind of a surprise."

Tyler keeps his eyes on the road. "Like a 'Hooray, let's celebrate' surprise or a 'I left a note on the dresser' surprise?"

Jimmy frowns in confusion, but then his eyes widen. "Holy ifuck/i, Ty, I'm not ileaving/i you! Is that--" He swallows and tries again. "Is that what you thought we were doing? Hooking up until one of us got into the E?"

There's no way Tyler's going to let Jimmy be the victim this time. He grips the steering wheel tighter and focuses on keeping his voice level. "You tell me. You're the one who's headed for the big-time."

He expects Jimmy to yell, but his jaw snaps shut instead. Planting one black boot in the middle of the dashboard, Jimmy wraps his arms around his knee as he thinks. Finally he shakes his head. "If you're asking me what I want, I want you. I want this job. I want you to be happy for me."

"I iam/i happy," Tyler insists. "I just think it's going to be really hard to stay together if you're on the road with them all the time." That prediction is answered by silence, and Tyler steals a glance at Jimmy out of the corner of his eye before offering, "I'm willing to try if you are."

"Really?" Jimmy brightens, eyebrows lifting hopefully. "I mean, the way I see it, it might be hard, but it's never really been easy, you know?" That earns a chuckle of acknowledgement from Tyler, and Jimmy presses on. "Anyway, it's really a temporary thing. I mean, they're obviously going to snap you up any day now. And yeah, sometimes we'll be on different schedules or different shows or whatever, but surely we'll find some time together sometime, right? I'm thinking long-term, like a ten, twenty year career, so--"

"Jimmy, I'm thinking the rest of our lives."

Jimmy grins, letting his foot slide to the floor as he leans back in his seat. "Then we got plenty of time."

"Exactly."

Two miles later, Jimmy adds, "I haven't even got the job yet, anyway. I might bomb the tryout next week."

Next week. That's sooner than Tyler was hoping, but he pushes that thought aside. "You won't. They'll love you."

Jimmy just nods, turning to stare out the window. Tyler knows that expression; he's already putting together the match in his mind, and from the small grin he's wearing, it's going to be a good one.

"Hey, Jimmy?"

"What?"

"I'm really excited for you." He's lying through his teeth, but it's worth it to see Jimmy's answering smile.

"Thanks, man. Me, too."

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"Hey, Tyler, got a second?"

"Yeah, absolutely," Tyler agrees, letting Austin Aries steer him toward a less-crowded corner of the backstage area. "What's up, man?"

"Hey, you're working with Jimmy tonight, right?"

Austin looks even more ridiculous than normal, wearing the bottom half of his ring attire and the top half of his street clothes. He hasn't even bothered to lace up his boots yet, and they look in danger of falling off, but Austin's serious expression stops Tyler from pointing it out. "Yeah, as part of a six-man. Him and--"

"It might be your last time around. I heard through the grapevine he's looking to get a WWE tryout soon."

"Next week," Tyler admits. "We already talked about it."

"Yeah?" Austin looks surprised, but recovers quickly. "That soon, huh? You're lucky. It's always hard working with the guy you're seeing."

Tyler shrugged. "Jimmy and I manage."

"Yeah, but, wrestling is wrestling, man, which means politics. As long as you're in the same company, you have to deal with fighting for airtime and spots on the roster and shit. Trust me, I've been there."

Tyler tries to look sympathetic even as he shakes his head. "We don't do that shit, though. Hell, we're looking forward to working together again as soon as I get a tryout of my own."

"Yeah?" Austin hesitates for a moment before responding. "You know, I was really kind of surprised that they didn't ask for you, honestly. You're..." He pauses again, letting his eyes scan Tyler's body. "...a little closer to what they usually look for."

"Bigger?" Tyler supplies.

"Yeah. And more muscle. And more clean-cut. Less baggage."

"Jimmy will do great," Tyler tells him decisively, and Austin nods in agreement.

"You're right. Hey, have a good match out there, OK?"

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It isn't like Tyler isn't itrying/i to concentrate on the match.

The fact is, though, that he's been in the ring with Jimmy so often that he doesn't particularly need to pay attention to know where Jimmy's going next. Keeping up with him is another matter; Jimmy seems determined to pack as much into this match as he can, so Tyler has to stay on his toes to balance out Jimmy's quickness.

Fifteen minutes into the match, Tyler can feel that the pace is taking its toll. He's not quite gasping for breath, but he's definitely winded, and Jimmy shows no signs of slowing down. Tyler considers tagging in one of his partners to catch a breather, but there's a part of him that's reluctant to step out of the ring, not knowing when he'll get the chance to face Jimmy again.

He shakes his head under the guise of selling a punch to the face, trying to push that line of thinking away. It's bad enough that Jimmy's having to carry him physically; he doesn't need the added weight of an opponent who's distracted by nostalgic musings.

Tyler puts his game face on, catching Jimmy with a surprise arm-drag and taking control of the match. He's always been able to match paces with Jimmy, and he's not going to ruin that record on their last match.

Jimmy hits the ground rolling, and is quickly back on his feet. iToo/i quickly, a voice in Tyler's head complains. He's not taking time to sell. But before Tyler can warn him, Jimmy's launching at him with a flying forearm and he takes the bump.

The crowd seems to recognize Jimmy's determination in this match, or maybe they've heard rumors of his tryout, because they're popping for him much louder than usual. Much louder than they are for Tyler, for instance, and suddenly, lying there with Jimmy raining down punches on him, it clicks into place.

Jimmy's stealing his heat.

He's been wrestling a straight babyface match, characters be damned, and deliberately using aerial moves that he knows are guaranteed to garner cheers. Tyler shoves Jimmy off of him, and when Jimmy runs in for a shoulder tackle, Tyler pops him with a quick DDT, buying some time to think.

There's no way around it, though. Jimmy's putting himself over as the high-flying babyface superstar in this match. And he's doing it well. No wonder the WWE came calling, Tyler tells himself.

Then blinks. And blinks again.

How long has Jimmy been doing this? Tyler can't remember a match that Jimmy didn't come off looking like a million bucks. He had assumed that was because Jimmy was talented, and admittedly, he might have been a bit biased, but...

What if he was just stealing people's heat? What if that's why he has a WWE tryout and Tyler doesn't?

As if to prove his point, Jimmy is already on his feet, apparently finished selling the DDT, and he's starting to climb the ropes on the far side of the ring, in preparation for what is sure to be another crowd-popping move. Tyler tries to control his anger as he pushes himself off the ground. He still has a match to wrestle, after all, and maybe there's another explanation. Jimmy's never played the political game, and he's never indicated that he was jealous of the push Tyler was getting.

But on the other hand, he iwas/i leaving. Would it be so bad to stay in Ring of Honor with him? Would it be ithat/i horrible if he didn't make it to the--

Jimmy's scream of pain finally silences that thought, and Tyler freezes in panic. Jimmy had seen him get up and had launched himself off the top in a twisting moonsault, expecting Tyler to catch him. When he saw Tyler wasn't moving, he tried to compensate in midair, but came down heavily on one side, his right knee twisting up under him.

"You fucked up! You fucked up!" the crowd starts chanting, and Tyler suddenly finds he can't breathe.

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When the alarm goes off the next morning, Jimmy doesn't dive under the covers.

Tyler rolls over to find the smaller man awake, staring blankly at the ceiling as if he can't hear the insistent beeping from his cell phone. "You OK?" Tyler wants to ask, but his tongue is still asleep, and the question seems pointless anyway. He stumbles out of bed instead, turning off the alarm on his way to the shower.

The water wakes him up gradually, and every memory of the night before makes Tyler want to return to bed and slip back into unconsciousness. The only thing that stops him is Jimmy, lying there awake and unspeaking. If Jimmy isn't sleeping, it's because he's thinking, and Tyler genuinely does not want to know what Jimmy is thinking about.

Instead he finishes the shower, brushes his teeth, and throws on some mostly-clean gym clothes. He has to leave the bathroom to grab his tennis shoes, and he pauses momentarily as he spots Jimmy, curled up on one side now, eyes still wide open.

"I'm going to the gym," Tyler announces softly, half-whispering despite the fact that they're both awake. "You want me to wait?"

Jimmy stares at him silently before returning his gaze to the wall. "Don't think I can," he mumbles. "Knee feels weak."

Of course it does. The tendon was ruptured; they both know it even if neither of them will say it. They've both been around enough injuries to read the signs. "Well, ice it or something. Maybe it'll feel better," Tyler suggests. It won't, but at least it's something Jimmy can do. Tyler leaves without waiting for a response.

He returns an hour and a half later, after abandoning a largely useless workout. He couldn't get in the zone, and his mind was too cluttered to do his body any good. He finds Jimmy out of bed and dressed, although his hair is more sleep-matted than spiky. He's stuffing clothes in his gym bag when Tyler walks in.

"Going somewhere?"

"Home." Jimmy only glances at him for a second, but it's long enough for Tyler to register the redness of his eyes. "I've already called Pearce and cancelled the next month of shows."

Tyler nods, dropping heavily onto the edge of the bed. "Gotta do what you gotta do," he says, and is annoyed the cliche immediately. Jimmy goes silent, finishing his packing, and Tyler can't take the unasked questions any more. "What about the tryout?"

"Well," Jimmy says matter-of-factly, and Tyler knows he only gets this tone when things hurt too much to let himself feel. "I could go and half-ass it, wrap the knee and try to stay grounded, but there's no chance of me getting hired like that. So I figure I'll just blow it off, and hopefully they're interested enough that they'll reschedule it for me as soon as I heal up."

"Yeah. You can't be the first to have this happen, right?"

"Right." Jimmy yanks the zipper on the bag and turns to Tyler, brown eyes red-rimmed but steady. There's too much distance between them, but Jimmy's knee hurts too much to walk extra steps on, and Tyler feels glued to the bed, watching helplessly. He sucks in a breath to apologize for the match, but he can't. They've dropped each other before, they're professionals, things like this happen. There are no apologies in wrestling.

"I'm sorry," Jimmy says, and Tyler exhales sharply.

"Shut up."

"No, seriously," Jimmy insists, holding his gaze. "I know you were as excited as I was about the tryout. I didn't mean to fuck everything up. I shouldn't have done that stupid move."

"Or maybe I should've actually been there to catch you. Jimmy, I--"

"Don't. Nobody knows my moves like you do. If anybody could've caught me, you would've. I just didn't set it up right."

Tyler shakes his head, but he can't deny that without confessing everything, and the air is trapped in his throat. Tears blur his vision, and he's only dimly aware of Jimmy limping towards him, wrapping his arms around Tyler's neck.

"It's OK," Jimmy whispers, and his breath is even hotter than his touch. Tyler feels like he's about to catch flame. "I'll be back as soon as I can." He pets Tyler's hair, then adds quietly, "I love you."

"You too," Tyler forces out, but he can't make himself move as Jimmy pulls back. A disconnected thought in Tyler's brain tells him that he should help Jimmy with his bag, but after what he's done, the idea seems laughable. Instead, he holds his breath and waits for Jimmy to leave.

Even after the door clothes, it takes a long time for Tyler to breathe again.