Author's note: Hey everyone! MyChaosTheory back with another #AJPunk for all of you. This time, I'm trying an AU (alternate universe, which means it is set outside of the wrestling world) story with our favorite couple, as well as the boys from The Shield. I hope everyone enjoys it!
"Well, I guess we're done for the day," AJ announced. She shrugged out of her coat, turning to hang it on the hook labeled with her name. Sighing heavily, she leaned back against the wall, tucking her hair behind her ears and straightening her T-shirt. Her hands were still slightly shaky, as they always were at the end of long days like today.
"You did the right thing, Dr. Mendez," the receptionist assured her. "That dog couldn't have been saved. Putting him out of his misery saved him weeks of more pain and suffering."
"I know," AJ lamented, "but I was really hopeful about this one. The owner's little boy was so excited to take him home… only to hear from me that his puppy wasn't coming with him after all." She sighed, forcing a smile. "Thanks, Kathy. I'm going to head out. Are you closing up?"
"As soon as I finish filing these records," Kathy replied. "You go on. I'll see you bright and early Monday morning. Have a good weekend, Dr. Mendez."
It was a brisk, windy September evening in Chicago. AJ sat straight at attention as she drove; she'd only begun working at the Downtown Animal Hospital a few months ago, shortly after she'd moved here, and much of the city was still unfamiliar to her. She had her route to and from work fairly memorized, but today a traffic obstruction caused her to have to take a few detours.
"I think this is it," she muttered as she turned onto a familiar road. As she went past another block, it was confirmed- she was nearing her neighborhood. She pulled up to a red light, tapping her hands lightly against her steering wheel as soft music rolled in through her open window. Glancing to her right, she saw the source of the sound- it was drifting through the open door of a bar. She recognized the place, having passed by a few times.
Screw it, she thought. I could use a drink. As soon as the light changed, she pulled into the parking lot without a second thought. While she didn't plan on getting tipsy enough that she wouldn't be able to drive, this place was close enough to her apartment that she would be able to walk home if she needed to. With a brief sigh, she got out of the car and headed inside.
"This shit is great, Punk," Dean said with a grin, knocking back another shot. He winced, swallowing hard. The amber liquid burned his throat on the way down. "I don't know why you don't try it!"
"You know why, asshole," Punk replied lightly.
"Because you're an arrogant prick?" Seth guessed, prodding Punk with his empty beer glass.
"Of course I am, but that's not why. The reason is tattooed on my stomach!" Punk shoved Seth playfully, leaning back in his chair. "You guys are jerks, you know that?"
"No more than you are," Roman reminded him.
Punk laughed. "Yeah, but-" He frowned at the sound from behind him, turning away from the table to face the bar. His eyes landed on a clearly distressed young woman. She was inching away from a much older man, whose posturing suggested he was preying on his next lay. "You guys be good. I'm gonna go check something out."
"Quit being a bleeding heart!" Dean called after him, but Punk just waved him off.
As Punk got closer to the bar, his earlier suspicions were confirmed. "No, thank you, I'm really not interested," the young woman insisted, scooting back on her barstool.
"Come on, baby," the man jeered, leaning closer. "Just give me a chance." He reached out to touch her cheek; she slapped his hand away.
"Hey," Punk interrupted. "You got a hearing problem?"
The man shot Punk a searing glare. "Back off," he growled. "This is none of your business."
"I believe I heard the lady tell you she wasn't interested," Punk snapped. "Now either you back off, or we're going to have a real problem." He rolled his shoulders back, standing up as straight and as threateningly as he possibly could. The man regarded him for a moment, as though sizing him up and weighing his options. Finally he slipped off his stool.
"Whatever," he spat, slamming his glass down on the bar. "Bitch ain't worth it, anyway." He turned around and stormed off.
"Thank you," the woman blurted out gratefully. "I thought I was in trouble for a little while there."
"No problem," Punk replied. "I hate scum like him." He was about to walk back to his table, but he stopped as the woman turned toward him, and for the first time he got a real glimpse of her… and what he saw nearly took his breath away. Long waves of brown hair, sun-kissed skin, shimmering eyes the color of chocolate. He couldn't just walk away from this woman. Biting back a gasp, he slid onto the stool. "So… what's your name?"
"AJ," she replied with a smile, extending a hand for him. He gladly accepted it, and shook it; her hand was small, but it fit neatly in his.
"AJ," he repeated with a small smile. "That doesn't sound like a girl's name." He cursed himself silently for saying something stupid. What if he offended her?
But to his surprise, she chuckled. "It's a nickname," she explained. "My first name is April and my middle name is Jeanette. That's what I've been called ever since I was a little kid." She stirred her drink for a moment with her straw. "You?"
"Punk," he answered.
She laughed again. "Oh, come on," she said. "You make fun of my name, and then you give me something like that?" She flicked a strand of hair out of her face. "Let me guess- nickname?"
"Sure is. I've been a punk my whole life, so that's what they call me."
"Well, what's your real name?"
He smiled. "No one gets that on the first meeting," he told her. "It's a tightly kept secret, you know." Then he straightened up. "So what are you doing in a place like this, anyway? I usually don't see pretty girls like you around here."
"I had a rough day at work," she admitted. "I'm a vet. I work at the Downtown Animal Hospital. I…" She sighed. "I just needed to unwind a little."
"There are better places to do it," he said, just as the bartender reached them.
"Can I get you something, man?" he asked.
Punk shook his head. "No thanks," he replied. "I don't drink."
"Don't drink?" AJ echoed as the bartender left them. "Then what are you doing here?"
He turned in his chair. "See those guys?" he asked, pointing to the table where Dean, Seth, and Roman were laughing jovially amongst themselves. "Those are my best friends. They always drag me with them when they want to go out and have more than a few drinks. Since I'm straight edge, they know I'll always be sober to drive them all home."
"That's really nice of you to be there for them," she said with a smile.
"It's one of the few nice things I do," he added with a chuckle, and her smile broadened at him.
AJ didn't mean to spend her entire evening at that bar, but she found herself too captivated by this man-Punk-to tear herself away. Time slipped away as they talked, his bright, inviting green eyes never leaving hers. She was so engrossed in her exchange with him, she didn't even touch the rest of her drink. They didn't breach below the barrier of surface topics, and this sort of light conversation was exactly what she needed to unwind after a rough day. She quickly learned they had all sorts of things in common- their love of comics and superheroes, gritty action movies, even baseball (even though they differed on teams; he was a diehard Cubs fan, while she was a lifelong Yankees supporter).
But all good things had to come to an end. Shortly after one in the morning-God, had they really been talking for so long?-the blond-haired man from Punk's table called over to them. "Hey! Hey, Punk! Punk! Can you hear me over there?" His speech was slightly slurred- it was clear he and his friends had been drinking for most of the night.
Punk rolled his eyes good-naturedly before turning to glance over his shoulder. "Yes, Dean, I can hear you," he replied calmly, as though speaking to a child. "Is everything okay?"
"Yeah, I just…" The man-Dean-frowned, as though he were searching for the right words. "Can you, um, take us home? I think Seth's falling asleep."
"Am not," the man with the two-toned hair grumbled, but his head was slipping from where it rested on his elbow even as he spoke.
The third man laughed, shoving Seth's elbow and causing his chin to strike the edge of the table. "Now you're awake," he teased.
"Damn it, Roman!" Seth snapped.
Punk sighed, turning back to AJ. "Looks like duty calls," he said, sliding off the barstool. "Sorry to cut our conversation short."
"That's okay," she assured him, ducking her head slightly to hide her amused smile- his friends were quite entertaining. "I should probably be heading home anyway."
"Here, I'll walk you to your car before I fetch these assholes," he offered. "I wouldn't want you going out there by yourself. It gets a little seedy around here this late at night."
She smiled broadly. What a gentleman, she thought. "Thanks!" She pulled her wallet out to pay for her drink, but by the time she unzipped it, she saw he'd already thrown some cash down onto the bar. "Oh, you didn't have to do that!"
But he just waved her off. "Don't worry about it," he said. "Come on, where's your car?"
They weaved their way through the remaining patrons, finding their way to the parking lot of the bar. She led him over to her modest Toyota, which she wondered if he noticed still had New Jersey plates on it. "Well," she announced, "this is me." She leaned back against the driver's side door; she didn't want this night to end yet. She hadn't felt this relaxed in awhile, and she wanted to get to know him better.
He smiled, his devious little grin sending a shiver down her spine. "So I guess I'll… see you around sometime?" he asked hopefully.
She smiled back. "Yeah, I'll see you around," she replied. "Goodnight, Punk." It wasn't until she'd already pulled out of the parking lot and was on her way home that he'd probably been waiting for her to offer him her phone number. How stupid could she have been, not to pick up on that signal? Was her radar permanently broken? Cursing silently, she turned around to head back to the bar, wondering if there was any way she could still salvage this. But as she rolled back by the lot, she saw Punk helping his three buddies over what she could only assume was his car. How desperate would it look to run back up to him waving her number while he was dragging his drunken pals out of the bar?
She sighed; she couldn't believe how easy it was for her to screw up what could have turned into something great. I blew it, she thought miserably, turning the car around to head home. Maybe I'm not ready for this after all.