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Square One - Kate
PG13 - implied m/m slash, language
Characters: Christopher Daniels/AJ Styles
Summary: Chris and AJ keep ending up right where they started.
Disclaimer: We own neither the characters nor the individuals who portray them. Written solely for our own enjoyment.

This is ridiculous. Not to be vain or anything, but who does this kid think he's dealing with here? I've been barraged with an impressive number of insults over the course of my career, but "oblivious" has not been among them. Christopher Daniels is anything but naive.

AJ Styles, on the other hand...perfect, innocent little AJ Styles. If that was an act, I have to admit, he was good at it. It was a bit over the top, though. I could almost understand the ridiculous pandering to the crowd, I even swallowed his nauseating deference to the veterans backstage. But for Christ's sake, the kid would not let up! Who was he trying to impress?

Well, me, perhaps. He certainly took every opportunity to rub his good deeds in my face. But I'm not yet convinced that he is capable of that type of duplicity. AJ sees the world in black and white and always makes the right choice. The easy choice. I was stunned he made it all the way down from his moral high ground to my locker room in the first place.

I had just seated myself when he knocked on the door. Our match had ended hours before, but I had been pacing across the small locker room in my ring gear. I was trying not to let my injured knee stiffen, but I was also too infuriated to stop. I finally decided to shower back at the hotel. Sitting on an uncomfortable folding chair, I unzipped my bag and reached for clean street clothes.

Then he knocked.

If I had known it was him, I would've ignored it. As a matter of fact, I'm not entirely certain what possessed me to get up and open the door at all. Curiosity, most likely. It's always been one of my few weaknesses. I couldn't imagine who could possibly be knocking on my door so hesitantly, even though the arena was mostly abandoned by that point.

AJ looked as surprised as I felt when I pulled open the door. "Sorry," he stammered. "Thought you were already gone."

"Then why were you knocking on my door?"

Surprise melted into confusion, but was gone before I could press my advantage. He's always been quick on his feet. "I came to see if you were all right," he announced, tilting his head back defiantly.

"I see." I leaned back slightly, then had to shift the weight off my stiffening knee before he noticed. "I do hate to disappoint, AJ, but as you can see, I'm perfectly fine. You'll have to try harder to injure me next time. As for tonight, since you don't appear to have brought a weapon to this little ambush--"

"It ain't an ambush," he interrupted.

" 'Ain't' it?" He winced, and I couldn't stop myself from smirking.

"It isn't," he muttered resentfully. "I just came to see how you were."

"How thoughtful of you. But didn't you just say you thought I had already left?"

My smile grew as AJ struggled with that one. He dug his hands into the front pockets of his jeans and sighed. Then, to my amazement, he returned my smile. "Yeah," he admitted. "I kind of thought I'd just miss you. That way I could tell myself I tried."

"Nobody forced you to come," I told him. "Do you swing by the locker rooms of everyone you wrestle or something?"

"Just the ones I'm worried about. Can I come in?"


Another sigh. "You sure? You should probably get the weight off that knee. I think I accidentally twisted it."

" 'Accidentally.' You 'accidentally' grabbed my leg with both hands and wrenched it in the wrong direction?"

And God Almighty, he laughed. "Yeah, like that. Accidentally on purpose. Look, Chris, I don't go out there to hurt people, I go out there to win. But there are more important things than winning. I just got a little mad, that's all. I still like you and everything."

" 'Still?' I'm sorry, did I miss the part where you started liking me?"

I had more to say, but his wounded look stopped me. "I always liked you," he insisted. "I like the way you talk and the way you dress and the way you fight and the way you believe in the X-Division. And I know we disagree on a lot and we fight all the time and I still think you're wrong on a lot of it, but hey...maybe that's OK, right?"

"Maybe that's OK," as absurd as it is, became our first inside joke. I rolled my eyes when he said if after tasting my favorite wine. He beamed when I offered it up as World War III was breaking out over his Hank Williams cds. When Jeff Jarrett showed up in a particularly hideous pair of pants and I told him, "They make your ass look fat...but maybe that's OK," AJ laughed for three days.

" 'They make'...'they make your'..." AJ dissolved into helpless laughter again as I wondered if I would need to pull over and administer CPR.

"Breathe, AJ. It wasn't that funny."

"No, it was the look on Jarrett's face," AJ giggled. "It was perfect." Gulping a deep breath, he tried again. " 'Hey, Jeff, those pants make your--' " Once again, he cut himself off laughing.

"The next word was 'ass,' I believe." I caught his eyes in the rearview mirror. "You seem to be having a little trouble getting it out."

"I can say it," AJ insisted. "It's just a word; it doesn't bother me." I remained silent, so he continued. "Ass," he stated firmly, staring at the road. "As in, 'Jeff Jarrett has a fat ass.' See?"

"Well done," I fought to hide my smile. "There's hope for you yet, kid."

AJ rolled his eyes, looking all of about fourteen years old in his oversized sweatshirt. "I ain't a kid. And I ain't as uptight as you seem to think I am."

"Then why do you walk around with a stick up your ass all the time?" AJ flushed and turned away. "I thought the word 'ass' didn't bother you."

"It doesn't. It's just...there's a difference between talking about Jeff Jarrett's ass and mine."

"There's a huge difference between Jeff's ass and your ass, I agree."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"For Christ's sake, AJ, I was agreeing with you! I'm not trying to start a fight here. Tag team partners, remember? We're going for the belts next week and--"

"I'm not talking about the stupid belts, Chris!" I waited in surprised silence. Finally, he continued more calmly. "You wouldn't like it if we were talking about your ass."

"There's not much to discuss," I laughed, hoping to lighten the mood.

AJ gave me a sidelong glance and a slow half-smile that would've been much more familiar in my mirror than on his face. "I think there is."

I almost drove off the road.

I've always had an aptitude for analyzing first impressions. I can usually read people fairly accurately within five minutes of knowing them. Here are a few of the things that I failed to perceive about AJ Styles:

-He wears socks and shoes around the house. Mostly, I suspect, to prevent unscrupulous people like me from using his shockingly ticklish feet to our advantages.

-He is not above using my favorite movie to lure me onto the couch so that he can seduce me into two-hour makeout sessions.

-If he thinks no one is looking, he sits six inches from the TV screen watching some of my old puroresu tapes.

-He is at least five minutes early to everything. Always.

I really should've seen this coming.

"Just tell me where you were."

"I told you. I thought you could handle Bobby Roode by yourself."

"And Traci?"

AJ sighed and stared at the ground. "I forgot about her until it was too late."

"You weren't even watching the match, were you? What were you doing?"

AJ finished packing his bag and set it on the locker room bench. "I lost track of time, OK? Can we talk about this later?" He glanced at the handful of wrestlers in the room preparing for their own matches.

"No. And you never lose track of time."

"Maybe you didn't notice, but I had a title match tonight. A title match that I won." Pointedly, he spread the X-Division belt across his bag.

"I did notice. In fact, I was there to help you celebrate. Or to have your back, if need be."

"I didn't ask you to do that," AJ muttered, staring down at the belt.

"You didn't need to. AJ, you told me once that partners were--"

"We can't be partners."

"Excuse me?" I really felt like I was losing my mind.

He swallowed hard. "Not in this. Partners are great and all, but when it comes down to it, there can only be one champion. Didn't you say something like that one time?"

"And you told me there were more important things than championships. Repeatedly."

"Yeah." He looked away and I felt physically ill. When he turned back to me he was smiling. "Come on, Chris. We're both done here. Let's skip out early and go celebrate."

I nodded mutely and started packing my bag.

The clock says 9:00 am, which means I've been staring at this wall for seven hours imagining hypothetical scenarios. I still haven't found an acceptable solution, although I do know that if this was part of some giant plot in AJ's mind, I should've thought of it first. Really, it was moderately clever. We had been feuding over the X-Division championship, so he simply distracted me with the tag belts until he had the opportunity to grab the X-Title.

Or maybe he didn't. It is possible that he genuinely believed that we should be partners, and then something changed his mind. He listened to me talk one too many times, perhaps. Maybe my very presence makes people more cynical, more opportunistic.

Of course, wondering about AJ's motivation is nothing more than the indulgence of my curiosity. Regardless of his reasoning, my next steps are clear. He was right when he said there could only be one champion. It's unfortunate for him that I've decided it should be me.