Notes: Remember when I said I was done with this at part three? I lied. I have a fourth part here. And guess what. Extensive planning has already begun for a prequel. And a sequel. Yes, that's right. NF, DB is now the MIDDLE of this whole arc. And I know you are going to want to know what happens after this, but you need to know what happens before, first. So keep an eye out on my author's profile page for updates on those progress of those two fics. No particular warnings for this chapter. The thoughts and actions contained herein do not accurately reflect the thoughts and actions of their real-life counterparts.
After a moment John reached up to take hold of the icepack, his hand brushing over Mike's. His fingers were cold against his palm and John lingered for a moment, trying to impart some sense of heat. But before he could do more than cover the cold flesh, Mike pulled his hand away and stepped back. John closed his eyes in defeat and readjusted the ice on his face to better cover the worst of the swelling. Between the vicodin and the ice, he felt something approaching normal again. He couldn't help a little sigh of pleasure as the pain faded to a dull throb.
When he opened his eyes again, Mike was sitting on the tile floor across from him, his back against the wall and his knees drawn up to his chest. He stared up at John, seated on the closed toilet lid, his eyes wide and clear and bright. There was something so odd about his attitude now, his posture, even the look on his face that John couldn't stop the absurdity even as it rose to his lips.
"Are you okay?"
Mike blinked. Slowly one corner of his lips curled into the slightest smirk, although there was nothing threatening about it this morning.
"Am I okay? I'm fine, John. Shouldn't I be asking you how you are?"
He shrugged with one shoulder. "I've been better. I've been worse. I'll probably live. If Vince doesn't kill me."
At this, Mike's gaze shifted away from John's face and he became strangely interested in the bathroom floor. "I told you—"
"I know what you told me. And I don't understand why you would do that. Last night you couldn't have cared less, and this morning you're offering to take the blame. Is this some kind of a game, Mike? Because if it is, just tell me now."
"What? No. John, listen." He paused and glanced up at John before taking a deep breath and directing his next words to the tile floor, or perhaps the grout. "I can't… defend my actions last night. I have no excuse for what I did and what I said. And I… I'm… the least I can do is take some of the blame. If it wasn't for me, you wouldn't be in this situation. It's my fault and I'm going to take the responsibility for it, okay?"
It was John's turn to blink dumbly, staring down at the top of Mike's lowered head. He had known Mike for nearly three years, and had been intimately acquainted with him almost from the very beginning and thought he had known Mike as well as he could ever know anyone. He had seen him laugh at stupid jokes, had heard him rap, watched him struggle, watched him achieve his dreams at his side, watched him fall and get back up, watched him nervous before a match and celebratory afterwards, seen him aggressive, angry, and yes, even violent. He had never once in all that time seen Mike like this. The only thing stopping him from sliding to the floor and wrapping his arms around this complicated man was the fact he wasn't entirely sure it wouldn't provoke him in some way, and the last thing he needed was a black eye or a broken nose to add to his list of not-quite-explainable injuries.
So he fought the urge to hold the man he loved, swallowed back the question if he was alright, and merely said "Okay."
Mike looked up at him again, still with that wide-eyed look that seemed to drop ten years off his face, if not more. His lips quirked into a quick smile and he echoed a soft "Okay."
John returned the smile as best he could, although it hurt one side of his face even under the ice and painkillers. "So…. We were practicing. I mistimed a move and ran into your elbow. And then crashed face first into the mat. That should explain all this, right?"
He took a moment to consider and then Mike nodded. "Well enough, I guess."
"I could just tell him I fucked up a Starship Pain. You don't even have to be involved in this at all."
"John." Mike's eyes flashed, and for a moment he looked like the wild, unpredictable man from the night before. But the look faded quickly and John released a breath he hadn't realized he had sucked in. He held his free hand palm out in a "hey, peace" gesture.
"All right, all right. I don't understand it but I'll go along with it. It's really no big deal though. I mean, I'm a grown man, I can take my lumps—"
He threw both hands in the air this time, although one was still full of damp towel and partially melted ice. Mike glared at John for a long moment and then his expression faded into one much harder to read.
"I wouldn't expect you to understand. It has a lot to do with my… my father." His voice was barely loud enough to carry the short distance to John, and he continued to stare down at the tile floor. John didn't respond, but watched Mike with a cautious gaze. As a rule, Mike rarely ever talked about his past and his family. He had made various offhand references to his mother and stepfather, had taken days off work to go to their wedding and his step-sister's graduation, but never said anything about his father. After a while John had just assumed his father was either dead or had not been part of the raising of his son at all. But watching the myriad emotions flicker across Mike's face - anger, loss, betrayal, sadness, replacing each other in turn so quickly he could hardly recognize them – John realized there was a great deal about Mike's history that he simply did not know.
"Your father," John said, struggling to keep his voice gentle but not patronizing. "I understand a lot of things, Mike. Try me." He had to clench his free hand into a fist to keep from reaching out for Mike.
Mike raised his head and propped his chin on his knees, staring up again at John with eyes so wide and guileless that he was again struck, almost disconcerted by the effect; he was sitting in the bathroom with a complete stranger.
"I don't want to talk about him. My whole life I told myself I would never be like him. I made myself a promise. And now… I think…." He trailed off, his voice wavering slightly on the last few words. In spite of his control and all his hard-learned knowledge, John could no longer help himself, and slid to the floor, kneeling on the cold tile beside Mike. The icepack dropped unnoticed to the floor as John reached out, touching Mike's shoulder and then his face.
"Mike, talk to me. Please. You can trust me. Whatever it is, you can tell me."
He watched as Mike closed his eyes and pressed his forehead to his knees, his shoulders shaking with the force of his breathing. John readjusted his position beside him, carefully draping one arm over his shoulders and curling one hand around the nape of his neck, all the while trying to steel himself for a potential violent outburst.
"Please. Talk to me. Let me… let me help you." He pressed a kiss to his temple and Mike shivered under his hands, moving almost imperceptibly into the comfort of John's arms.
From the bedroom, an electronic tone blared. Both men jerked in surprise and John cursed under his breath. Mike fell still as the tone repeated.
"Your phone is ringing," he whispered.
"Ignore it," John muttered as the ringing stopped mid-tone. A loud beep followed a moment later, signifying the caller had left a message, and the room fell silent. He ran his fingers through Mike's hair, struggling to recapture the moment when, it seemed, Mike was finally about to let him in.
The phone rang again.
"Damn it." John whispered through clenched teeth. He tried to ignore it but he could feel Mike pulling away, both physically and mentally. "Mike, wait."
"Go answer your phone." His face was still pressed to his knees, his voice flat and dull. John pulled his arms away and rose to his feet, intent on finding his phone and reading the riot act to whoever was on the other end of the line.
He hurried out of the bathroom and located the crumpled, half inside-out pile of his jeans at the foot of the bed, his phone ringing from the inside of his pocket the entire time. Without bothering to check the call ID, he flipped open the phone and barked, "What!"
"John?" The person at the other end replied in a small voice.
"Melina?" John blinked in surprise, and then glanced guiltily over his shoulder at the open bathroom door.
"Don't you check your caller ID?"
"What's going on? To be honest, I wasn't expecting to hear from you again. Ever."
"Listen John, I'm really sorry for the things I said, they were out of line and there's no excuse for that, but—"
"Yeah, no shit." John glanced at the bathroom door again; he could almost feel Mike listening to him.
"But something's… something's happened and we need to talk."
"We are talking."
"I mean face-to-face."
"Can't you just tell me now? I really don't want to see you again."
"No, this really isn't something we can talk about over the phone. I'm in LA right now, maybe we can meet for lunch somewhere?"
"Melina—" John closed his eyes and squeezed his temples with his free hand; he could feel the makings of a throbbing headache, beating in perfect counterharmony to his aching jaw. She interrupted him before he could continue, speaking quickly. John fell silent and listened, his eyes growing wide as Melina rushed through her story. He resisted the urge to ask several biting, angry questions and made plans to meet her for lunch two hours hence. With numb hands he ended the call and took a deep breath. How had everything gone so wrong so fast?
He grabbed his jeans from off the floor, pulling them rightside out and slid them on, tucking his phone back in his pocket. His shirt was on the other side of the room and he tugged it over his head, absently smoothing out the wrinkles, and looked toward the bathroom again. He forced himself to move, doing his best to prepare himself for the confrontation he knew was waiting.
Mike had taken his place atop the closed toilet, hunched over with his elbows on his knees and his lead lowered.
He raised his head sharply and cut John off. "Was that Melina?"
"Yes. Mike, I have to go."
"What did she want?" With growing unease, John watched as Mike's eyes became sharp and cold, his face carefully blank. The emotionally unstable man he had just been sharing the bathroom was rapidly slipping away, the façade of cold indifference rising like a curtain. Or a wall.
"I… I can't tell you. But she needs me right now and I have to go. I don't want to leave you, but –"
"Get out." Mike seemed to bite the words off, and he turned his head away.
He took a few steps further into the room, being careful not to get too close to Mike.
"I'm so sorry. If it wasn't something extremely important, I wouldn't leave. But she needs me… this is bigger than both of us."
"I don't care. Go away. Get out."
John took a deep breath and ran a hand through his hair. He had no idea why he felt the need to try and explain himself to Mike; he wouldn't listen and he wouldn't care, no matter how much he tried to justify it. But neither could he just leave without an explanation. Not when he had nearly succeeded into seeing beyond the walls Mike had carried around for so long. He would never get another chance.
"All morning you've been talking about responsibility, how you were going to take responsibility for… for what happened last night. Now it's my turn, I did something and now I have to take the responsibility for it."
Mike raised his head slowly and looked over at him. A cruel smirk twisted across his face and John took an instinctive step back; he was knocked by the sudden and hellishly complete transformation Mike had made.
"What'd you do, John? Knock her up?"
John glared for a moment, but lowered his head and made no effort to reply. The smirk on Mike's face disappeared and dropped into a gape of surprise.
"Oh… my… god. You have got to be kidding me. I cannot believe you. I know you fucked her, but Jesus Christ, John! Have some fucking responsi—oh wait." The smirk returned to his face. "Well, better late than never, I guess. Gonna do the right thing and marry her? Buy a little house in the suburbs with the picket fence and the golden retriever in the front yard? And anyway," he added with a sly sideways gaze, "What makes you so sure the kid's yours?"
"Shut the fuck up."
Mike threw his head back and laughed, the sound harsh and jagged. "Please. Don't try to defend her honor now. It's no secret she was off fucking Batista and god only knows who else most of the time you were dating. I'm pretty sure if it was on the roster and it had a dick, she's fucked it."
"You son of a—" John stopped midsentence, taking a closer look at Mike's face. The smirk across his face now had a knowing quality to it. Almost as if…. "Oh my god. You didn't."
"Only once," he said nonchalantly. He paused and then lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "And trust me, you are a much better lay than she is."
John slumped against the bathroom countertop, his mouth opening and closing a few times in shock. For one of the few times in his life, he was absolutely at a loss. None of this seemed real; Mike's rapid changes in mood in the past twelve hours, Melina calling him after two months and telling him she was pregnant, Mike's offhand confession…. With a low groan he raised his hands to his face, barely feeling the pang echoing across his jaw as the heel of his hand grazed it.
"So…" Mike's voice, dripping with false consideration, echoed in his ears. "If you're really gonna go through with it, does that mean we have to stop fucking?"
John raised his head and glared across the room. "What is wrong with you? How can you even… what about Maryse? You're engaged, for fuck's sake! At least I had the common decency to tell you about Melina first. I didn't find out about you and Maryse until I walked into RAW and saw the fucking congratulation party!"
"What about Maryse?"
"You fucking hypocrite." John watched with a bitter sort of triumph as the cocky smirk slipped off Mike's face, replaced with a look of complete disbelief, complete with his second gaped jaw of the morning.
"What?" His voice was hushed with incredulity. "What did you just say to me?"
"You heard me. You're a fucking hypocrite. You talk all morning about responsibility. That you fucked up and you were going to take the responsibility for it. You were all about doing the right thing, so how dare you give me shit for trying to do the same. Was it all just an act this morning? Another one of your little mind control games? I bet you're full of shit about your father, too. What story were you gonna feed me about him?"
Mike was on his feet, his hands fisted in the already wrinkled cotton of John's t-shirt before he could even suck in a breath after concluding his speech.
"You don't know shit, so why don't you shut your fucking mouth?" He growled, pushing him backwards, the unyielding edge of the counter digging into his lower back. John grabbed Mike's hands, prying his fingers off his shirt and pushing him away hard enough to knock him back a step.
"What're you gonna do, Mike? Huh? Gonna hit me again and then pretend to feel bad about it? Break my nose this time? Come on. Go right ahead and do it. Come on, you fucking liar. Come on. I dare you."
Mike's hands clenched into fists at his sides and his lips, pale and bloodless, pulled back into a snarl. He made no move forward, however, and John couldn't resist goading him just a little more. He spread his arms wide, inviting whatever action would follow.
"Come on. Come on, Mike. I won't stop you. I won't even fight back. Prove me wrong, Mike. Come on. Prove it."
He stood with his arms out, the blood pounding through his veins, the rage he was feeling the only thing that seemed to make sense in this whole fucked up morning. When Mike still made no move forward, he dropped his arms back to his sides with a thump.
"That's what I thought."
Some of the fight had gone out of Mike; his hands had unclenched and his shoulders dropped. The change was so slight that, if John had not spent the previous three years acclimating himself with Mike and all his subtle physical clues, he might not even have noticed. At the sudden, albeit subtle, change in mood, John felt his own anger begin to subside. Mike looked beyond shocked by John's words, and he wasn't sure if he felt pleased with himself for finally causing such a reaction, or horrified that he could have been so thoughtlessly cruel.
"Mike—" he started, not even sure what he was planning to say.
"Get out of here. I don't ever want to look at you again." His voice was soft, almost uninflected but for the tension John could hear running through it. Mike was always at his scariest and most unpredictable when he was quiet; loud was his natural state of being. Quiet was not.
For a long, tense moment they stared across the small space at each other.
John paused a moment longer, but the look on Mike's face brooked no argument. There were no more words, no excuses, nothing left to be said. The last vestiges of this strange unnamable urge that couldn't even be properly called a relationship shattered to the floor around them, John's hysterical words still hanging in the air.
Without another word, he turned on his heel and left the bathroom, pausing in the bedroom long enough to yank his shoes on his feet and heading for the door. He did not turn around behind him, telling himself the furtive noises behind him were in his imagination. Mike had not moved from the bathroom, staring in wide-eyed disbelief as John walked out of his life without so much as a goodbye.
The doorknob slipped through John's weak grasp, but he finally managed to pull the door open and slide into the hallway. He closed the door behind him, hearing the soft thunk of the wood against the doorframe, the click of the latch as it caught and locked. The handle slipped from his grasp and John stood in the hallway, the enormity of what just happened catching up to him. He lowered his head, his hair in his face, his chest heaving for air. A door had locked behind him, more than just oak and metal hinges; three years of his life was now suddenly behind him. Could it have really been so easy? Such a small movement, and yet nothing would ever be the same again.
Before he could stop himself, he reached for the doorknob, forgetting briefly that the door had locked behind him. But no. He had made the decision and there would be no going back. Slowly, slowly he lowered his arm. Was he really just going to… walk away? Just like that? Walk away from the strange, difficult man whom he had loved, had lost almost everything for, had hurt and been hurt, had walked away from time and time again, only to return? Was this really the last time he would leave? Would he, as insane and unthinkable as it seemed to him, really not come back?
A soft scraping noise came from the other side of the door, interrupting his thoughts, and his heart leapt into his throat. Maybe Mike had changed his mind; it had happened before, maybe things weren't so far gone as to be irreparable, after all.
But a minute, two minutes, five passed and there was nothing. No sound. No further movement. With a deep, unsteady breath, John turned from the door and walked slowly down the hallway and towards an uncertain future. He had promised Melina. She was all he had left now.
Mike left the bathroom a moment later, hearing John scuffle for his shoes and then leave the room. He followed John's footsteps through the condo and heard the door latch shut a moment before he reached the landing. He hadn't even seen him leave. Was that it, then? John had finally listened to him, had finally left. There would be no turning back after this. Not anymore. Not with all the things that had been said, unable to be recalled or taken back.
His legs were shaky, a residual effect from all the adrenaline that had just been flowing, or so he assumed. The door, one and a half inches of solid oak sat solidly in its frame, a barrier between so much more than just his apartment and the outside world. He stared at it, waiting for it to open, waiting for John to come crawling and begging back, as he always did. For some reason, this idea did not fill him with loathing as it normally did. John had listened. He should be pleased. How many times had he told him to go? He should be thankful that John had finally taken his advice. He didn't have to worry anymore. There would be no more embarrassing lapses like the one that had taken place less than an hour earlier.
He reached out for the doorknob, rationally telling himself he was only going to check to make sure John had really left and wasn't loitering in his hallway like a creeper. His fingers ghosted over the handle, and then the wood of the door itself. No, he decided. It would look weak if he were to open the door. Even if John had left, it would look weak. It would feel weak.
Oddly enough, it felt like his legs were going to give out – goddamn adrenaline rush – and he changed tactics, leaning his back against the door. That wasn't enough to hold his weight, however, and he slid down to the floor, his bare skin skidding against the wood. The floor was cold against his legs and he brought them up to his chest, wrapping his arms around them. The chill still seeped into him and he began to tremble. He hunched a little further into himself, turning his head and pressing his cheek to his knee. He'd get up in a minute. Just as soon as the rest of the adrenaline worked its way out of his system. He had stuff to do.