AJ was sitting on the floor of her newly booked hotel room when her phone began to ring. She'd been curled up against the bed for about an hour now, practically catatonic after running out on John. She had been doing a fairly good job of completely ignoring her feelings so far, but seeing Punk's name pop up on her screen brought it all crashing back.
"No, no…" she muttered miserably. "Not yet. I'm not ready." She shook her head, putting her phone down on her thigh. With her breath held, she watched as it went to voicemail… and sighed heavily as Cult of Personality began to play again. There was no escaping it- she knew Punk. He would keep calling until she answered, all night if he had to. He was a persistent man. Taking a deep breath, she put the phone to her ear. "Hello?"
"AJ!" He sounded relieved. "I'm… I'm glad you answered."
"Really?" she whispered.
"Yes!" he blurted out. "Um… Where are you? We need to talk… face-to-face."
AJ almost didn't tell him. She didn't think she could face him just yet, after all that she had done… but his voice tugged desperately at her heartstrings. She had to see him. She needed him, whether she was willing to admit it again or not. "I'm back at the hotel," she replied after a long pause. "Room 702."
"Oh, you're here?" he asked. "Great! I'm a couple of floors down. I'll be there in a few minutes."
Already? she nearly squeaked, but she managed to keep the thought to herself. "All right," she said. "I guess I'll see you soon." She sprang up from her spot on the floor, pacing back and forth so frantically she nearly tripped over her suitcase. What could she even say to him? Should she apologize? Should she make him apologize? He hadn't even arrived yet, and already the immeasurable shame that had been building up was already back, heating up her cheeks. Her heart was beating a mile a minute.
It seemed much faster than a few minutes. Before she knew it she heard his tell-tale, sing-songy knock, and automatically she began to bite her nails. "Not yet," she muttered again. "Not yet." But she couldn't just keep him waiting there, just beyond the door. Trying to keep her composure, she inhaled sharply and opened the door. There he was, tattoos, battered jeans, and an Avengers shirt. He was the same old Punk he'd always been.
"Punk, I… I…" She swallowed hard. She'd been trying not to cry, but that endeavor was hopeless. Arms curled against her chest, she was already sobbing again. She wanted desperately to reach out and touch him, but somehow she couldn't find the nerve to.
"It's okay," he said quietly, entering the room and closing the door behind him. "It's okay." He gathered her into his arms, pulling her against his chest. His heartbeat thudded loud and strong against her ear, a constant reminder of his presence in her life.
"But I did something awful, Punk!" she cried, her tears pouring out against his shirt. "Just awful! You'll hate me for it, I know you will!"
"I could never hate you," he said firmly, stroking her hair. But his stomach was already starting to tighten. He didn't want to hear what he knew she had to tell him.
"But I…" she sputtered. "John and I… We… I…" She couldn't say it. Just thinking about it brought fresh tears to her eyes, and fresh wounds to the surface.
He felt his heart skip a beat. He'd known all along; from the moment he saw them together, he knew it had happened. But hearing it from her made it real. "It's okay," he said finally. "It's okay."
"No, it's not okay!" she cried, pounding his chest angrily with her fists. "Nothing is okay! For months, it hasn't been okay! All this back and forth, the lies, the secrets… It's insane!"
To his own surprise and hers, he laughed harshly. He couldn't help it; the prospect of the situation, still fresh in his mind, was still incredulous to him. "It gets better," he assured her. "Want to know who was behind the whole thing?"
"I'm not sure I want to know," she muttered, looking up at him.
"Well, I'm gonna tell you," he said. "It was Paul."
"What?" she shrieked, stepping back from him in disbelief. "Paul? The whole thing?"
"Sort of," he answered. He was secretly glad she found the idea as horrifying as he did. "I'm pretty sure he didn't have anything to do with the latest little scandal, but he's the catalyst that started it all. He put Beth up to writing the letter in the first place."
"No way." She shook her head. "There's just no way. I always knew he was a snake, but he was like a father figure to you… He always looked out for you, since day one! That's just…" She bit her lip, stepping back into his embrace. "I'm so sorry, Punk. I know how much he meant to you."
He just sighed. "He really did," he muttered. "But I'm not here to talk about him. I'm here to talk about you and me."
"You and me?" she whispered, pulling back from him uncertainly. "After everything that's happened… You and Eve, me and John… Is there still a you and me?"
A small smile appeared on his face. "Tough question, isn't it?" he agreed. Her mentions made him think briefly to his night with the diva's champion, of AJ's night with John, but he pushed them away. It wasn't the time to agonize over the past. It would take them both time to heal, to move past what they had for and in spite of each other, but not now. "I want there to be, if you'll still have me."
"Oh, Punk…" She automatically bit her nails again. "Really? After everything I've done to get back at you for things that weren't even really your fault in the first place, you… You still want this plain, geeky chick from New Jersey?"
He took her firmly by the shoulders, bending his neck to see her at eye level. "AJ, listen to me," he said. "I'm no hero. I'm not a white knight. I'm not the guy your mother's always wanted for you. I can't make you a bunch of promises, of a white picket fence and three little rugrats running chasing your dog around the backyard. But I can tell you that I love you. It may sound stupid, and I sure as hell feel stupid saying it, but I think I loved you from the very first time you kissed me and then pushed me through a damn table. I loved you then, I love you now, and I can say with pretty damn near certainty that no matter what happens in the future, I'm always gonna love you. That's what this inked-up, punk kid from Chicago can offer you."
Her fearful expression slowly turned up into a smile. "I think I can take that offer," she said quietly, "because I loved you from the first time I kissed you, too." She looked down for a moment, her smile dropping slightly. "But Punk? There's one thing you do have to promise me if we're going to give this thing one last shot."
He grinned at her. "And what's that?" he asked.
"No more games."
"No more games," he agreed. He pressed his lips to hers, sealing their promise with all the love he could.
And that's a wrap, folks! Man, this one was fun to write. Big thanks to everyone who stuck by me during this wild ride, you guys are awesome! I'm going to be coming out with a sequel to my other story, End of Heartache, very soon (possibly tomorrow), so keep a look out for it! I hope everyone enjoyed Games We Play. Until next time, guys!