Once Upon a Vegetarian Deli

Disclaimer: I own nothing associated with the WWE.

Summary: AU. Oneshot. An "Equilibrium" side story. His dream had been a failure... at least until she hurried through the door at closing time. Daniel Bryan/AJ Lee.

Characters: Daniel Bryan and AJ Lee

Pairings: Implications of future Daniel Bryan/AJ Lee

Rating: K+

Genre: Romance

Author's Note: Just a fun little oneshot focused around one of the minor couples in my longer AU story, "Equilibrium." It isn't necessary to read that one first since this one can stand on its own, but there may be a couple references here and there that would be clearer if the other story is read. But, this is just a fun little oneshot delving into their relationship a little bit more with how they met three years before the events of "Equilibrium." With that said, feel free to read and review, just no flames please. Thanks and enjoy :)

That day had been slow just as all the others had been since he had taken over his father's family-run deli. Bryan Danielson sighed heavily as he finished putting the last chair on top of the few freshly cleaned tables that stood in the lobby of the restaurant, passing a hand over his face as he looked around the empty room. He remembered coming into this same deli as a child to help his dad after he got out of school every day, and it was always filled with the familiar, smiling faces of the regulars who frequented the place on a daily basis for a late lunch.

But since his father had retired and handed the deli down to him to continue running a couple months before, it hadn't drawn nearly as much business as it had before. Bryan had been a vegetarian since he graduated from high school, and it was one change he had made to the menu when his dad had transfered the ownership to him. This change hadn't been the most popular decision, however, for unlike how busy it had been when his father and grandfather had owned the place, the number of customers he got had decreased dramatically, often amounting to a few stragglers a day. And since he wasn't bringing nearly as much money into the restaurant, his fear was that after a couple more weeks, which he knew he could still afford, he might have to shut the place down. Running the family deli was what he had wanted to do since he was a kid, and he didn't want to have to face the disappointment of those who had run it before him if he caused its closing. But he knew he may have had no other choice.

Bryan turned off the radio that was playing on the far side of the room, and after doing a final sweep to make sure everything was locked up and clean for when he came back on Monday, he slowly made his way to the front door to turn off the brightly lit "open" sign. But then, his light eyes narrowed slightly in confusion when he saw a petite, slender young woman running as quickly as she could toward the deli from across the dark street. He opened the door slightly when she approached and bent over to catch her breath under the awning to get out of the light drizzle that had started.

"Um, can I help you?" he asked.

The woman straightened up, tightening the messy ponytail that held her brown hair behind her head. "Yeah, I was just hoping that I could grab something really quickly," she answered.

Bryan pointed to the sign that displayed the deli's daily hours. "Sorry, it's seven," he told her. "I'm just about to close."

"Could I just grab something to go then?" the woman pressed, speaking a bit quicker. "I promise I won't be long. I just got out of a long meeting with my editor, and I haven't been grocery shopping yet this week, and I have about an hour and a half before my next meeting, and you were the closest place..."

"All right, all right." Bryan chuckled quietly. But then, the slight traces of his smile vanished. "Uh, this is a vegetarian place, just to let you know..."

But the woman just shook his warning off. "Ah, that's okay," she said. "I'm not the biggest meat eater anyway."

Bryan felt the smile start to return to his face as he pulled the door open a bit wider so she could walk inside. "Uh, here, have a seat," he replied, hurrying over to the nearest round table and lowering the two chairs back to the floor. "And, uh, I'll turn this on..."

The woman laughed a little as she watched him rush over to the radio across the room and turn it on just loud enough to provide some background noise. "You don't have to do all this for me," she muttered, setting her green and black plaid shoulder backpack with a skull and crossbones design on it on the floor next to the table he had quickly gotten ready for her. "I'll just get an order to go if it's easier for you."

However, Bryan ignored her as he pushed through the swinging door behind the counter, grabbing a clean glass and pouring some ice in it before filling it with water. He picked up a straw and a pack of silverware before he stepped back into the dining area and walked over to the table where his last-minute customer was sitting and set the water down in front of her. "Nonsense." He gave her a friendly smile. "It's no trouble. Besides, it sounds like you've had a busy day, and it'd be good for you to get the chance to relax for a little bit."

"Well, I appreciate that," the woman said, returning the look.

Bryan nodded, his smile lingering. "So, what can I get for ya?" he wondered.

"Um..." The woman lightly bit down on her bottom lip as she squinted slightly to read the menu that was hanging above the counter. "I'll take... one house salad with ranch and a green tea, please."

"Hot or cold?" Bryan asked.

"Uh, cold."

"Coming right up." Bryan walked away from the table and back into the kitchen, humming quietly along with the radio he could still hear through the swinging door. As he grabbed a bowl and the lettuce from the cooler, he chanced a glance through the round window at the young woman sitting at the table by the window, who had taken a sketchbook and pencil out of her backpack. She certainly was interesting, wearing shorts, an off-the-shoulder red t-shirt, and a pair of black and yellow Converse. He quickly washed his hands and slipped on a pair of gloves before breaking up the lettuce from the bag in the bowl before making his way back to the cooler and grabbing a tomato, a carrot, a cucumber, an onion, an egg, and a container of ranch dressing before setting them on his cutting board. He pulled a knife out of the drawer next to him and cut a couple slices of each and added them to the bowl, carefully tossing the ingredients to mix it up a little before adding a touch more lettuce. He then poured a little dressing on top to start off with before hurrying back into the cooler one more time to put everything back and to grab a bottle of green tea, bringing that, the salad he had made, and the container of dressing back out into the dining area.

"Here you are," Bryan said with a smile, setting her meal down on the table. "Is there... Oh, wait!" He hurried back into the kitchen and opened the hotbox he kept across from the cooler. He reached in and pulled a sesame seed bread roll out of a bag, sighing quietly when he felt that it wasn't nearly as warm as he usually served them since he had unplugged it a couple hours before. Thinking quickly, he grabbed a small bread and butter plate and set the roll on it before setting it in the microwave and warming it up for a few seconds. Once that was finished, he took a couple small containers of butter from the cooler and walked back out to the other room, setting them on the table as well.

"Sorry that took a little longer," Bryan muttered with a quiet chuckle as he slipped the gloves off and stuck them in the back pocket of his jeans. "I warmed up the bread since I had already unplugged the hotbox."

The woman smiled up at him after she took a sip of her green tea. "Are you sure that this isn't any trouble?" she asked.

Bryan returned the look. "No, none at all," he answered. "Um, if you need anything else, let me know. Otherwise, enjoy!"

"I will, thank you," the woman said, moving her sketchbook to the side a little before she took a bite of her salad.

His smile lingering, Bryan walked across the room and sat down on the stool behind the counter, taking a deep breath as he started to look over that day's newspaper. He had only gotten about halfway through the front page story when he felt someone's gaze on him, and he looked up at the woman. "Yeah?"

She smiled slightly in return. "You don't have to sit all the way over there if you don't want to, you know," she muttered. "I mean, you did take down the other chair here."

Bryan chuckled quietly. "Is that an invitation?" he wondered.

The woman's smile broadened slightly. "It is if you want it to be," she replied. "Though I feel bad eating in front of you..."

"Well, I'll just grab a roll." Bryan folded up the paper again and stood from the stool, walking back through the swinging door into the kitchen. He grabbed another sesame seed roll from the hotbox and set it on a plate to put it in the microwave for a few seconds before walking back into the lobby and sitting down across from his customer. "I typically don't do this."

Still smiling, the woman shrugged. "I found our seating arrangement just a tad awkward since it was only us," she muttered casually, setting her sketchbook on the floor to give them more room. "You don't mind, do you?"

Bryan shook his head as he pulled his roll into two halves. "No, I don't mind," he told her. "So, uh, everything okay with your meal? Anything else you need?"

The petite woman quickly shook her head as she took another bite of her salad. "No, everything's fine!" she said. "This is really good, by the way. Nice and crisp."

"Good, good." Bryan smiled as he took a bite of his roll. "Oops, forgot to get a drink."

"Oh, here, just take my water," the woman offered, pushing the glass he had given her first across the table. "I haven't touched it."

Bryan nodded as he took the straw from her proffered hand. "Thank you."

"Well, thank you for letting me eat here when you were closing," the woman countered. "I know you were probably looking forward to getting off of work and going home being Saturday night and all..."

But Bryan shook his head slightly as he took a bite of his roll. "Don't worry about it. I have off tomorrow, and I only teach my self-defense class Monday through Friday."

The woman looked at him curiously. "Really? That's interesting," she muttered. "Where do you do that? Is it nearby?"

"Not too far," Bryan explained. "Just at the gym a few blocks away. Definitely doesn't take an hour to get there once I close here."

"Fair enough." The woman put a little more dressing on her salad before taking another bite. "So, how long has this place been open? I've never heard of it before."

Bryan's smile faltered as he opened the straw and took a sip of water. "Well, my dad and my granddad owned it, so it's been passed down through the years," he explained. "But when I got it, I changed it to a vegetarian place. And... well..."

The woman tilted her head curiously. "What?" she wondered.

A minute passed before Bryan shook his head with a chuckle, taking another bite of his roll. "Nothing," he said. "It's just a decision I made since I've been a vegetarian myself for quite a few years."

"And was it a good decision?" The slender woman took a couple more bites of her salad before cutting her roll in half and buttering it.

Bryan was silent for a couple minutes, finishing one half of the bread he had gotten for himself as he leaned back in his chair. "I'm still wondering about that," he muttered.

The woman smiled slightly as she took another sip from her green tea bottle. "Well, I certainly like this little place you have here," she told him. "Whenever I find a new restaurant or whatever, I post it on my blog. Want me to give ya a shout out?"

"No, you don't have to do that." Bryan laughed. "It's not necessary."

"Suit yourself, then." The woman smiled as she continued to eat her salad.

The rest of dinner passed relatively quickly with a lot more small talk, and Bryan took the empty dishes to be washed once they were both finished. He pushed the swinging door open with his foot and stepped into the kitchen, putting them in the dishwasher along with the ones he had used to prepare the meal, setting it on low before he walked back into the dining area. He was surprised to see that the woman was still sitting in the chair by the window, once more focused on what she was doing in her sketchbook.

"So, may I ask what it is you're drawing?" Bryan wondered curiously as he stopped next to the table.

The woman smiled up at him. "Well... okay, but you can't tell anyone," she said.

Bryan arched an eyebrow. "My lips are sealed," he replied with a slight smile.

"Okay. Well, I'm a comic book artist," she explained. "I moved here to Chicago from Ohio a few years ago to attend art school. I've drawn for a couple different things already, but this is a new project I'm starting with a comic writer who happens to be a good friend of mine. We're plotting out the series out together, and I'm fortunate enough to be able to draw for it."

"No way!" Bryan's smile broadened. "I'm a huge fan of comics. I'll have to keep an eye out for it."

"Well, if you pick it up when it gets published, I hope you like it." The woman chuckled. "That's where I'm heading after this, actually. Have to meet with our publisher."

Bryan nodded. "Well, I wish you luck with that," he muttered. "I look forward to reading it."

The woman smiled in return. "Thanks, I appreciate that."

"My pleasure." Bryan then glanced behind him when he heard a quiet beep from the dishwasher signaling that the few dishes he had were done. "I'll be right back," he said as he turned and made his way back into the kitchen. He hummed quietly to himself when another upbeat song could be heard from the radio, and he started to move to the tune a little as he put the plates and silverware back in their proper places.

When he walked back into the dining area, he saw that the woman was standing next to the table with her phone out, also moving slightly to the catchy tune. Bryan chuckled quietly as he crossed the room, and she smiled when she saw he was doing the same motions she was. She set her phone down on the table when he got closer before she turned to face him, moving a bit more in time with him as the song continued. Bryan's smile broadened as he took her smaller hand in his, twirling her a couple times as they kept on dancing. The petite woman returned the look and set her other hand on his shoulder as they spun once together.

The song soon came to an end, and they both laughed as they parted after one final twirl. "Ah, that was great!" the woman said, her smile lingering as she turned and picked up her phone. She lightly chewed on her bottom lip as she quickly typed something before looking up at Bryan. "So, how does this sound for your shout out? Good food, friendly people, relaxed atmosphere, and sometimes dancing."

"Well, I think I recall saying that you didn't have to do that," Bryan replied with a chuckle. "But after tonight, I'd say that sounds pretty accurate."

"Okay, good. That'll go on my blog then." The woman quickly posted the update before she smiled again. "I know I don't have to, but I really like this place. It's homey."

"Thanks for saying so," Bryan muttered. "And thanks for posting that. I'm glad you like it so much."

"No, thank you," the brunette countered. "Not just for letting me eat here when you were closing, but for the chat and the little dance too. I had a great time after my busy day."

Bryan grinned. "Well, I couldn't turn a pretty girl away," he told her. "And sometimes a dance is the perfect cure for a stressful day."

A slight blush graced the young woman's cheeks, and she quickly closed her sketchbook and picked her backpack up off the floor to put it away. "So, um, here's twenty," she muttered, pulling a twenty-dollar bill out of the front pocket and handing it to him. "It's all I've got at the moment. Keep the change." She then slipped her backpack over her shoulder and turned to completely face him again. "You sell like sandwiches and stuff too, right?"

"Yeah, I do." Bryan stuck the money in the back pocket of his jeans to add to the register. "Why do you ask?"

"Oh, I was just thinking of stopping in here for lunch on Monday," the woman said, brushing a loose strand of her dark hair behind her ear. "If that's cool with you, that is."

A smile returned to Bryan's face. "Yeah, that's definitely cool," he replied with a nod. "I'd like that. Feel free to stop by whenever you like."

The young woman returned the look. "All right, I definitely will," she assured him. "Hopefully you won't get sick of seeing me."

"Unlikely." Then, the light-haired deli owner chuckled quietly. "I'm sorry, where are my manners? My name's Bryan."

"Nice to meet you, Bryan." The slender woman firmly shook his proffered hand. "Oh! Here, you should have this too." She reached into the front pocket of her plaid backpack again and pulled out a bold purple card with loopy white lettering and a skull and crossbones on it. "It's got my website on there. That way you can check out any of my previous works or look out for my new one if you're interested."

Bryan quickly read it over with a small smile. "April Mendez, huh?" he muttered. "Well, Miss April, I will definitely check this out. I'd love to see your work."

April smiled again as well. "Well, thank you." She then reached forward and brushed a small piece of lint off his maroon t-shirt. "By the way, people usually just call me AJ. See you on Monday!"

"See you Monday," Bryan agreed with a nod. AJ then turned and left the deli, and he stayed by the door, chuckling quietly as he watched her walk briskly away until she was out of sight. He stuck her card in his front pocket, shaking his head slightly as he turned off the brightly lit "open" sign.

The End

Author's Note: Well, that's it! For those reading "Equilibrium," you know how the stories of both Bryan's deli and the relationship with April progresses, lol. For them, anyway, they have a happy ending. Thanks for reading! Your reviews are much appreciated. Thank you!