Miz sat on the locker room bench, cradling his aching head in his hands. The pounding headache had hit him out of nowhere a few hours earlier, and so far none of the painkillers he had taken in that short time had even touched it. It felt like something was in there, beating his brain into pulp with a hammer. The claw end of a hammer.
He stretched, trying to work out the soreness in his muscles. Must have been hitting it too hard in the gym, negative body image and all that. Having to be around guys like John Cena and Randy Orton didn't help much with that. At least he didn't have to deal with Morrison's bedazzled abs anymore. Thank god.
The movement didn't help either his muscles or his pounding headache. He buried his head in his hands again, debating whether or not the risks of potentially OD-ing on Tylenol outweighed the possibility for relief. None of the pills he had taken already had done much more than take the edge off. Another two or three (or four or five) pills probably weren't going to do anything.
He winced as someone banged through the locker room door; how in the hell could he wrestle like this?
John walked into the locker room, only to come across Mike sitting on the bench with his head in his hands, looking like the end of the world. Feeling concerned for the younger man, he sat down on the bench next to him, hoping like hell no one had died.
"Mike, is everything okay?"
Miz slowly raised his head and dropped his hands between his knees, meeting John's eyes.
"Yeah. I just… I have a headache. It's no big deal." He tried to smile, but it felt weak and unconvincing.
John didn't answer right away, just stared levelly at Miz. He didn't look good. That was something of an understatement; he looked terrible. John didn't want to press the younger man, but he couldn't help himself.
"Are you sure?"
"It's just a headache, John. What are you, my mother?" Miz snapped. John flinched back, slightly stung by the harsh words. He held up his hands, palms out.
"Chill, man. I'm sorry. I'm just worried about you."
Miz's expression softened; he hadn't meant to get all snippety.
"Sorry… it's just… my head hurts." He smiled again, a trifle sheepishly. It was nice that John was concerned for him, but he was a grown man, and he could take care of himself. Wondering how to alleviate the other man's worry, a white lie occurred to him.
"I just took some Tylenol a little while ago, it should be kicking in soon. I'm fine, man."
John nodded, still not entirely convinced, but willing enough to leave the other man alone. He got to his feet, and headed across the locker room to parts unknown. Miz watched him until he turned a corner and was out of sight. He shook his head ruefully (and carefully, truth be told). John Cena. Of all the men on the roster to fall irrevocably in love with, he finds the straightest damn arrow in the quiver.
It made the wrestling enjoyably awkward, you could say that. It definitely had its moments. Wrestling could get quite personal, and more than once he had John (or John had him) in some seriously compromising positions. Of course, knowing wrestling was all he was going to get out of John was rather depressing.
Miz sighed and checked his watch. A little less than an hour and a half before he had to be in-ring. Probably a good time to change clothes and start conserving energy.
He stood up, and as he did, a wave of grey washed through his head and over his eyes. As his vision darkened, he scrabbled for the locker, trying to grab on to something to steady himself. His fingers skidded over the cool metal surface… and then everything went black.
John was on the other side of the locker room, wondering if there was a tactful way to tell Mike to take the night off. He didn't look well at all, and the last thing he should be doing was getting in the ring and wrestling. It was only a house show; taking a night or two off wouldn't be the end of the world.
He was more or less in the process of changing his clothes – all he'd managed thus far was getting his shirt off – when a strange scuffling noise from elsewhere in the locker room caught his attention. A moment later, as he was debating whether or not to investigate the sound, a loud, sickening thud echoed through the locker room.
Recognizing the sound for what it was, he was on his feet in a flash and rushed around the corner. At first, the locker room seemed empty, until his darting eyes focused on what seemed to be a discarded pile of clothes. He hurried closer, only to discover Miz in a crumpled, awkward heap in the space between the lockers and the bench he had been so recently sitting on.
John squeezed into that narrow space behind Miz, rolling him over on his back and pulling him partially upright, holding him up with one arm.
"C'mon, Mike… wake up…" he murmured, gently tapping the unconscious man's cheek with his fingertips. His skin was hot. Changing tactics, he pressed the back of his hand against Miz's forehead. Strike hot; he was burning.
The locker room door banged open, followed by chatter and shouts of wresters, probably drawn by the sound of Miz's body hitting the tile floor. They surrounded the two men in a loose semicircle.
"Would somebody get some help?" John glanced up and around at the faces staring down at them. Dave met his gaze, nodded and slipped back into the arena, probably to find the paramedic on standby.
"What happened?" Cody asked, sounded more eager than concerned.
"He fainted. I think he's sick."
Miz stirred in his arms, groaning deep in his throat. After a moment, a trembling hand rose up a few inches and dropped back down. John stroked the younger man's cheek with his free hand.
"Wake up, Mike… come back to Earth."
The paramedic hurried through the door, jostling the gawking wrestlers aside. They backed off reluctantly. The paramedic, a young man in his thirties and bearing a nametag reading Scott, was quick to take charge.
"All right everybody, back up, I need some space here." He glanced at John, holding Miz up with one arm. John gazed back coolly, and with a firm set of his jaw indicated that he was going nowhere. Scott was unperturbed.
"Can you tell me what happened here?"
"He passed out. He was complaining about a headache a few minutes ago, and he feels pretty warm."
The paramedic nodded and set about checking over the semi-conscious man cradled in John's arms.
"Looks like he's got a touch of the flu. Probably passed out due to exhaustion, maybe dehydration. We can give him an IV and some oxygen in the ambulance. He doesn't need to go to the hospital, but somebody ought to stay with him, keep any eye on him. Is there anyone you can call?"
Scott looked around at the men congregating nearby; none of them spoke up, either to claim him or produce knowledge of someone who would.
"I'll do it." John spoke up.
Several wide pairs of eyes turned his way. John either didn't see these looks or chose to ignore them.
"All right. Let's get him into the ambulance, we'll take care of him in there until you're ready to go. Let me go grab a stretcher."
John nodded his agreement and Scott headed back towards the door.
Miz groaned again, slightly louder and his eyes fluttered open. They shut again almost immediately as the bright fluorescent lights hit them. He raised a weak hand slowly, and pressed it to the side of his head.
"What… happened?" he asked hoarsely.
"You passed out. They're going to give you an IV in the ambulance, and then I'm going to keep an eye on you for the rest of the night. Is that okay?"
Miz's eyes shot open, and he grabbed John's wrist with a surprising amount of force.
"No hospital, man. Just the ambulance, okay?"
His eyes closed again, seemingly calmed.
"Stay awake, Mike. The paramedic is bringing you a stretcher. Can you try to stand?"
Moving slowly and carefully, John helped Miz to his feet. He swayed, too unsteady to stand on his own. After a moment, he plopped back onto the bench. John joined him, allowing the younger man to lean on him quite heavily.
It was here John realized half the roster was watching the entire proceeding. Avidly.
"Why don't you all get on out of here, this isn't a show."
The crowd dissipated, some men leaving the room and heading back into the arena, others merely migrating to other regions of the locker room. Some murmured kind words to Miz as they passed, others walked away grumbling.
Scott returned with the stretcher. He and John helped Miz onto it, who was still just barely conscious. The paramedic caught John's look of worry and smiled reassuringly.
"He'll be fine."
John watched as the two men exited the locker room. With a great whooshing exhale, he sat back down on the bench as a delayed-reaction adrenaline rush flooded his system. He clenched his hands together to keep them from trembling. He'd seen a lot, done a lot and experienced a lot in his field, but the sound of the younger man's body collapsing, the pitiful twisted shape of his unconscious body sprawled on the floor were somehow one of the worst.
Eventually his trembling stopped, and he ran his hand over his face, figuring it was probably time to start getting ready.
John managed to hold his focus well enough to not injure himself or his opponent, but he would be lying if he said the match had held his full concentration. Nor could he say that it was his best match ever.
Thoughts of Miz kept creeping to the forefront of his mind, no matter how hard he tried to ignore them. The way he'd looked, unconscious and helpless. His strong grip and the fear in his eyes when he'd said no hospitals. The heat rising off his fevered skin.
John shook his head as he tried to stop these strange thoughts. They didn't mean anything; he was just worried about the younger man. Anyone would be, if they'd been there instead of him. That's all it was. Concern.
He changed quickly into his street clothes and tossed the dirty stuff in his bag. After a moment, he grabbed Miz's bag too, left forgotten on the floor. John hurried across the arena to the parking lot, and to the ambulance where Miz was waiting.
The young superstar was propped up in the stretcher, awake and mostly alert. He smiled when he saw John.
"How are you doing?" John reached out and carefully touched the other man's arm, feeling unbearably relieved to see him awake, although he still did not look well.
"I'm okay… mostly just tired."
John met the eyes of Scott, standing nearby, to get his opinion on the matter.
"His temperature is a little high, but there really isn't much we can do for him here that can't be done at home. Or wherever you guys are staying."
John nodded and turned his attention right back to the man in the stretcher.
"What do you say… do you think you can walk?"
Miz looked surprised at this discourse. He barely remembered anything that happened in the locker room.
"Are you… am I… what?"
John chuckled at the younger man's startled look.
"I guess you don't remember that. I offered to keep an eye on you tonight, to make sure… nothing happens. If that's all right with you." Miz did not respond. "Of course, if that's too weird or something, they can take you to the hospital, you just shouldn't be alone. Whatever you want to do, Mike."
"No hospitals," Miz said, looking scared. "But… I don't want to be a burden, either."
"Nah, you're not a burden. I'm just watching out for you."
"But… do I really even need a babysitter? All I'm planning on doing for the next sixteen hours or so is sleep." His gaze switched back and forth between John and the paramedic. While on one hand, he really, really, really liked the idea of having John all to himself for the rest of the night – even though he had no energy for anything more than sleeping – the rest of him was terrified at the prospect. What if he said something stupid? What if he did something stupid? What if he talked in his sleep?
John met his worried gaze calmly.
"I would feel better," he said quietly.
"So would I," Scott chimed in.
Miz, who really couldn't believe he was arguing against the case, asked, "But what if I'm contagious?"
John tossed up his hands in exasperation.
"Either get up out of the damn stretcher, Mike, or I will let them drag your sorry ass to the hospital, and you'll be miserable. It's your call, man."
Miz ducked his head meekly. He knew when he was bested.
"I can walk," he squeaked out.
John laughed. "Good man. I already got your stuff and my car is parked just out back, so you don't have to go very far."
Scott went about removing the IV from Miz's arm and bandaging it.
"Drink plenty of water and try to eat. Even if it's just some chicken soup."
He helped the man to his feet. John stood nearby in case the younger man needed help. Miz wobbled on his feet for a moment, but seemed steady enough and able to walk.
John shouldered both of their gym bags and met Scott's eyes.
"Thank you," he said. He couldn't remember the last time he felt his thanks so deeply.
"Just doin' my job," Scott replied with a smile. He watched as the two wrestlers made their way to the parking lot, very slowly. He wondered if there was something going on between them… if they even knew there was.
By the time they made it to the hotel, Miz was looking noticeably exhausted, nearly asleep on his feet as they entered their room for the night. He collapsed on the twin bed nearest the door, not even stopping to take his shoes off. John dropped the bags on the floor, and looked at Miz's prone form, half smile on his face.
"Do you at least want to take your shoes off?" John asked, sitting down on the other bed.
"Mmmmph," Miz mumbled into the pillows.
"Okay then. I'm going to go take a shower… do you need anything?"
Miz's only response was a light snore. John chuckled lightly before standing up. And then, not sure why, sat on the bed next to the sleeping man. After a moment, he ran his hand down his back, nape to waist. Miz murmured and shifted slightly, but did not wake.
Suddenly feeling disturbed, almost dirty, John hurried off to take a shower. A long shower.
The bathroom was thick with steam when he exited the shower; it must have been quite a long shower indeed. He toweled off, and dressed in a plain white tee and cotton pants. Normally he just lounged in boxers, but he didn't want to put Mike off by walking around in his underwear. Even if he was just going to be asleep the whole time.
He walked back into the main room. Miz had moved, if only slightly, to get under the bedcovers. And, John was amused to notice, kick off his shoes, which were piled haphazardly at bedside. The younger man appeared to be sleeping deeply, only the top of his head (and absurdly purple tuft of hair) visible outside of the blankets.
John sat on his own bed and watched Miz sleep for a few moments. Peaceful. He glanced over at the TV, wondering if anything good was on. And then wondering if the TV would disrupt Miz's sleeping. As exhausted as he was, probably not.
He switched on the TV, making sure the volume was low, and channel surfed. Nothing really shot out and grabbed his attention, but he was content to let his mind wander as the colors shot across the screen.
But not too far. His thoughts wanted to wander to the man asleep in the other bed, but as soon as they started taking on a shape more than just "friendly concern", he reined them in and pointed them in a different direction.
It was hard work.
Eventually the stresses of the day caught up to him and he drifted off to a fitful sleep, the TV still on in the background. His dreams were dark and unpleasant, more memory than anything else. What really happened and his worst fears twisted around and around in his head, turning the day's events into an unrecognizable terror.
John awoke with a start some time later. The room was dim, the light kaleidoscoping from the TV and painting the walls. His heart was pounding from his unpleasant dreaming, but the dreams themselves faded quickly. All that was left was the memory from earlier today… and his confusion.
He sat up, leaning against the headboard, thinking idly about getting a glass of water when a strange noise caught his attention. Assuming it was the TV, he scrambled through the bedclothes for the remote and pressed mute. The noise continued unabated. Suddenly fearing the worst, he hurried off his bed and sat next to Miz, who was an unrecognizable lump buried in the bedding. He was whimpering.
"Mike, what's wrong? Are you okay?" John reached out and touched what looked like the younger man's shoulder through the blankets.
"'m cold," he mumbled. A shiver wracked his frame and he curled into a ball.
"I think there are some extra blankets in the closet—" John started to get up, but Miz's hand wriggled out from under the covers and grabbed his arm.
"No, John, don't go, stay, please."
John settled back down, nonplussed.
"Then what do you want me to do, Mike? Crawl under there and cuddle with you?" he asked, not really expecting an answer. Miz's answer was suitably shocking.
John's breath froze in his body. Surely… Miz had no idea what he was asking. He was sick, running a fever. Not in his right mind. If he could even be said to have one when he wasn't sick.
He tried to force a natural laugh out of his chest, and attempted levity.
"I don't know, man. We work together. It could get awkward in the morning."
"Not going to survive until morning if I freeze to death," Miz muttered.
"You're not going to freeze, your temperature is probably over 100, you're more likely to spontaneously combust at this point."
"Don't worry, I don't have the energy to take advantage of you."
"What?" The word dropped out of his mouth in a hushed whisper. Miz opened his eyes slowly; John was staring down at him, wide-eyed, jaw slightly agape.
"Whoops." He smiled sheepishly, closing his eyes again. "Cat's outta the bag."
"Mike… what are you talking about?" John couldn't get his voice above a whisper.
"I never understood what that meant… cat? Bag? What? Makes no sense."
"Just like you right now." John sighed, exasperated. "I can't tell if you're delirious or if you're just screwing with me."
"Get under here before I die, and I'll tell you."
Telling himself that it was a bad idea, not to mention weird and potentially awkward, he lifted up the blankets, slid under the covers and laid down on his side, facing Miz. The younger man wriggled over and snuggled into the warmth of John's body, pressing his face into the other man's chest.
"Mm… you're warm. And you smell really good."
It wasn't as weird as he thought would be. Seemingly on its own, John's hand reached over and started stroking Miz's back, occasionally rubbing the back of his neck. His skin was still hot; he could feel the heat even through the thin cotton of his t-shirt.
"Thank you, John, that's very kind of you to say." John could practically feel the younger man's smirk.
"You are dicking with me."
"I told you already, I don't have the energy for that right now. You're very persistent."
"For somebody who's supposed to be sick, you're talking a lot of shit."
"No, I'm just delirious."
"I think you're just having fun at my expense."
"Yes, I am. I intentionally got sick and passed out for the sole purpose of getting you into bed with me since nothing else I tried had worked. Because I'm madly in love you, John."
John froze for a moment before assuming this was just another example of Mike screwing around. He smirked and looked down at the younger man, but seeing the shocked, almost frightened look on his face, John's cheeky smirk faded.
"I… should not have said that. I'm sorry. That was… I didn't mean to say that." Miz scooted towards the other side of the bed and rolled over, missing the other man's warmth but not wanting to see the look on John's face when he realized Miz was, in fact, not fooling around. He waited for the blast of cold air that would hit him when John flew out of the bed after realizing he'd been cuddling with a… ugh. Stupid. Maybe John would just blame it on the illness, assume Miz was delirious.
Instead of a rush of cold air, a warm hand touched his shoulder. Miz shrank away from that hand, but it was relentless.
Miz didn't move, his cheeks flaming in the darkness, the fever have little to do with the heat he could feel burning across his face. Stupid, he thought to himself. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
"Mike… look at me."
He really didn't want to. The insistent hand on his shoulder began to move, fingertips dipping down across his chest, tracing along his collarbone. He closed his eyes as the fingertips slowly slid across his neck, tickling faintly under his chin, along the line of his jaw, before resting lightly on his cheek.
"Mike… please?" John's voice was barely above a whisper. Unable to resist the naked emotion in the other man's voice, Miz slowly rolled over on his back and turned his head to meet John's eyes.
"Do you really… feel that way… about me?"
Miz nodded, words spilling out of his mouth before he could stop them.
"John, I'm so sorry, I never meant to tell you, I never wanted you to know. I don't want things to be weird, I promise we can forget I ever said anything and—"
The hand that had been cradling his cheek moved, and the flow of words was stopped by the gentle pressure of John's thumb against his lips. Miz watched, wide-eyed and unbelieving, as John leaned in close to him, noses nearly touching.
Having delayed long enough, John leaned forward that last tiny increment and replaced the pressure from his thumb with his lips. Just a gentle brush at first, watching with delight as Miz's eyelids dropped, and then with a little more force. A tiny noise worked its way out of Miz's throat, and John pulled back, unable to contain his grin.
His confusion had dissipated.
"Why… did you do that?" Miz sounded rather out of breath.
"I finally figured something out. You should sleep; you need your rest."
"If this is a fever dream, it's a hell of a good one."
"It's real, I promise. Sleep, Mike."
Miz curled up on his side, not sure how he was supposed to sleep with all this elation ballooning in his chest. After a moment, John slid up behind him and wrapped his arms around him, holding him tight.
Eventually, they drifted off to sleep.