Today had been awful.
He had made one mistake after another and he couldn't stop beating himself up about it. Hiding in the tiny locker room he shared with his fellow Young Lions was an escape from his surroundings but there was no getting away from the neverending litany inside of his own head. Jay was so irritated and frustrated with himself. A single simple mistake could be excused but he had kept making them.
A mistimed dropkick - a move he had been using for months now.
An ice pack applied in the wrong spot to the wrong wrestler - something he would be lectured about for months now.
Worst of all - being completely out of a position as a wrestler had collided with the barricade, resulting in a far more painful landing than they should have endured.
And no matter what he tried to tell himself, the fact that said wrestler had been Tetsuya Naito made it that much worse.
Their eyes had met in the aftermath and the pain in Naito's eyes had only served as yet another reminder how unworthy he was. Someday. Someday, Jay would be good enough for him to finally notice. To finally see. But that was most certainly not today. Today was only for surviving and tomorrow was for trying to make up for everything he had gotten wrong.
Tonight was for doing his best to not let his dreams wander away from him again.
Jay had no idea when his feelings about Naito had changed from admiration to something else. There were no words to describe his own thoughts - let alone his emotions. He just wanted. Sometimes it felt like his skin was on fire any time they were close to one another. A crush was a thing that he could deal with - maybe - but this was different. Naito was constantly teasing him outside the ring - poking at him and demanding things of him. That really wasn't a solid basis for anything except making him look forward to the attention like a dolt.
But that wasn't the only thing.
Naito made sense to him. Every move, every taunt, every gesture. It was like he was speaking a language that Jay somehow understood. And more than anything, he wanted the skill and the words to be able to answer him. He couldn't. Not yet. But someday. They would stand across from each other and be able to hold an entire conversation that wouldn't make sense to anyone else. And that crush - that affection - wasn't something that would ever be reciprocated but it would be all right if Naito understood him too.
What wasn't all right was Naito sitting down right next to him.
There was absolutely no reason for him to be in this locker room. The expression on his face was completely unaffected but there was this tiny hint of warmth in his eyes that made it impossible for Jay to look away. And now they were just staring at each other. Jay didn't have a single clue as to what Naito wanted or why he was here - of all places - but he couldn't make his mouth move.
Young Lions were supposed to be humble and timid. Something that was both far too easy and far too difficult for him.
Besides, if he said the wrong thing - or anything at all - Naito might leave and that was the absolute last thing he wanted. They were almost close enough to touch and it felt like a welcome sort of invasion. Apparently, his heart and his mind were made of equal portions of ridiculousness. And for all that he understood Naito in the ring, this moment was a language he didn't speak.
But Naito didn't seem eager to talk, either. He was just staring at him - that cool, blank look firmly in place. Was he waiting on an apology for his fuck-up earlier? That actually would make sense and be an actual reason for him to seek Jay out. Why else on Earth would Naito have come looking for him of all people?
Jay opened his mouth to try and apologize but as soon as he did, Naito moved closer.
Casually and deliberately, he shifted closer until he was leaning against Jay's shoulder.
And that definitely didn't make any sense.
It took intentional effort to force air in and out of his lungs. What was Naito doing? What was he thinking? His head was facing forward now so Jay was just staring at the side of Naito's head, trying to breathe. Was he supposed to say something now? How was he supposed to string a sentence together with Naito touching him like this? The warmth between them was nothing like the fire that liked to burn beneath his skin, even though it should be. Instead, it was the most disconcertingly familiar sensation that Jay had ever experienced. It felt as if they had been this close a hundred times before and he wanted it to absorb into his skin so deeply that it settled into his bones.
Carefully - so he didn't dislodge Naito - Jay leaned only his head forward so he could possibly catch a glimpse of the expression on his face.
And that was even worse.
His eyes were closed and he looked relaxed.
What in the fuck was he supposed to do with that?
Naito was resting against him like he was someone that could be trusted. Like they were more than what they were. It was impossible and his heart was singing and his mind was screaming. He needed to do something. There was no way that Naito was actually sleeping. But what was he doing?
That was all that this was. Another one of Naito's tricks on him.
But even that bit of understanding didn't dampen the warmth at all. It stayed just as it was so Jay did the same. He couldn't look at Naito - definitely couldn't push him away - so he just focused on the wall across from them and sat as still as he could. Out of the very corner of his eye, he could see Naito's fingers twitch from where they were resting on his thigh and a flash of insanity shot through him. It would be so easy - such a short distance - to reach over and place his own hand on top of Naito's but Jay couldn't even imagine doing it. Taking that kind of risk - doing something so brash - was beyond his ability to even contemplate.
Besides, this was enough just as it was. To ask - or want - for anything more was pointless.
The moment would pass and Naito would move on but he would stay in it as long as he could.
It hadn't been that long but everything looked different.
Or maybe he had just gotten used to arenas in America.
Jay wished that it felt good to be home but he didn't even know where that was any more. New Zealand seemed like a different lifetime belonging to a different person. America had been nice but it wasn't right either. And Japan? The only home he had here was a feeling not a place.
Not that it mattered.
That feeling was something that only he knew. Jay had carried it across an ocean and all over an unfamiliar continent like some bizarre mix between a crux to bear and a good luck charm. It hadn't faded over time but instead, it had only grown stronger in all these months apart. With all of this distance between them.
Sometimes, he wondered what it would take for his heart to stop thinking of Tetsuya Naito.
Not even watching from afar as Naito had chosen Hiromu Takahashi to complete his precious familia had done it. Knowing that he had been forgotten and abandoned. Understanding that the language he thought he had been to read wasn't something he was ever supposed to know. None of it had been enough for him to let go.
He needed to let go.
The vignettes had already started to air and Jay knew who he needed to become. It was a work-in-progress. A mask that had to become his new face. Something he wore without having to think about slipping it on. His crumbling heart almost needed the Switchblade and maybe it wouldn't be so bad. Maybe it would be better if no one could see the tears that he couldn't ever let fall.
Everything he had learned - every skill he had gained - had a purpose other than just trying to get Naito to see him, after all. He was going to be a champion. He was going to be great. Undeniable and inevitable. If each of his actions spoke louder than a thousand words, then he couldn't be ignored.
Why did it matter if that mindset felt uncomfortable inside of his own head? Like a jacket that was a size too small.
Jay rubbed his hands against his arms, trying to warm them up. He wasn't supposed to be here yet but he had wanted to spend some extra time to get used to Japan again - the food, the culture, the places - and to see all of it with eyes that were no longer a Young Lion's. He had completed his excursion and now it was time for everything to finally begin. Even if - at moments - he wanted to go back to the beginning and experience things for the first time again. But then there were things it felt like he waited forever for.
Things like this. Things like seeing Naito again.
And against everything that he should be doing, Jay felt a smile curving his lips.
It had been too long if that was all it took to make him smile.
Jay knew he should let go of this quiet joy. This connectedness he felt. It was almost as if he had been guided here in order to arrive at this exact hallway junction at this exact moment. That warmth he still dreamed about was there in Naito's eyes and Jay couldn't stop his heart from wondering if it would deepen when he turned just enough to realize who was standing across from him.
That was possible, wasn't it?
It was still possible. It had to be.
The Switchblade couldn't smile at Naito but Jamie could. He could be both if he had to be. If Natio smiled back at him. He couldn't have forgotten him completely. Their paths had crossed once while he had been on excursion but they hadn't truly stood across from each other. That was all it would take for Naito to remember. Maybe he should say something but it would only take a second or two more for him to be seen.
But in the moments in between those seconds, Jay watched as Naito became surrounded by that familia of his. Nothing could be glimpsed past that circle of togetherness and there was no space in which he could be seen. Everything had been shut away from him. He could hear laughter and happiness and it was more than he could bear.
What would the Switchblade do?
An image of arrogance lifted his chin and pulled back his shoulders. Each step was purposeful. Each stride meant to be as menacing as possible. Nothing mattered. No one around him mattered. Each person was only an obstacle in his way. Everyone - there was no such thing as warmth to be found in unspoken language. The only words he needed now were his own. The only thing he needed was himself.
A handful of steps took him right past Naito and his hanger-ons and it was the first real challenge of this new persona of his. Jay - Jamie - wanted to stop. Maybe if he waited long enough Naito would see him but that wasn't who he needed to be. The Switchblade would prove himself in the ring. Naito wouldn't be able to escape him forever. He was going to be everything.
So he kept walking. He needed to let go, after all.
The leader of Bullet Club.
It was a title that still didn't fit quite right but it was his. For a month now, it had been one he had worn and someday, Jay knew that calling himself that would feel right. The same disconnect had been there when he had become the Switchblade so it was just a matter of time.
Time and events and actions.
Everything hadn't been worth it - not yet - but it would be. The day was coming. His skills improved every single time he stepped between the ropes and now he truly had people that would actually watch his back. Like everything else, with time, they would have their own bonds and laughter.
Nothing else - no one else - mattered.
And he still wished that his heart would understand that.
Why couldn't he just forget?
But he couldn't forget Tetsuya Naito. He was simply there - embedded so deeply within his own heart that it seemingly didn't matter how many times he clawed at it. Every word, every action, every betrayal. It all should have made him go away. Jay wasn't that pathetic Young Lion any more. He wasn't Jamie any more.
He was the Switchblade.
It was more than a mask. It was who he was.
And the Switchblade didn't have a heart that always felt like something was missing. The Switchblade embraced the coldness of his skin and turned it around on his enemies. Nothing could get past that. It didn't matter that sometimes that coldness was the cold sweat he woke up drenched in after another nightmare. It didn't matter that on those nights, the only way he could fall back asleep was remembering that single stupid moment so long ago now. The sensation of Naito resting against him after a bad day.
And like all the other things he kept trying to force himself to forget, the echo of that warmth still lingered under his skin.
It was such a foolish thing for his heart to hold on to.
Jay just needed to keep going. Continue down this path. One day - soon - he would stand across from Naito and show him that they were meant to be rivals. That moment was the last thing he needed for everything to finally be complete. Naito would finally see him then. He would know that he should have chosen him. He should have seen him. And Naito would know that it was too late. Jay had his own family now.
But in this moment, Naito stood alone. And he was looking right at him.
They must have come around the corner at the same time and it was the sort of collision that Jay was unprepared for. They hadn't touched at all but his heart was brightening anyway. Stupid, pitiful thing. Their first real interaction was supposed to be on his terms, not on fate or Naito's. He had earned that right.
It took more effort than he would ever admit but Jay forced himself to look at Naito through the Switchblade's eyes. And there was no reason to stay here. The gentle smile that had quietly formed on Naito's face was just a deception. The softness in his eyes was simply an attempt to get him to lower his guard. That would never happen.
But it was the tentative brush of fingertips along the back of his hand that required all of his self-control.
Because there was that warmth. That fire he couldn't forget spreading beneath his skin once more. The cold dissipated with a terrible and impossible swiftness - deserting him when he needed it the most. Naito was touching him with a careful tenderness - such a tiny thing - and the Switchblade started to crumble at the edges. He desperately needed to hang on to it and he dangerously wanted to let it go.
How long had it been since anyone had been gentle toward him in even the smallest measure?
It would be so simple to return the motion - to match Naito's reach. But it would defy everything he had become. Everything that he had done. Did he stand firmly enough to finally try and answer Naito in his own language? Was he enough to do something like that?
To absorb that softness. To believe that Naito was seeing him. That this moment was real.
It hadn't even been a single minute but the longer they stood there, the more Naito smiled. It was the one Jamie remembered and he hated it. His memory of it was perfect. It was just like he knew it to be. Naito's mouth opened and Jay wondered what he could possibly want to say.
A distant voice called his name and it was all the Switchblade needed to reform itself. Cracked - as always - but back in place.
He pulled his hand away with emphasis and ignored the aching sense of loss that immediately took up residence inside of his heart. That was fine. It could do what it wanted. He would tear it to shreds later anyway. It didn't belong there. He didn't belong here.
Jay was a part of Bullet Club. He was the leader and he had no need for the pathetically contrived concern in Naito's eyes. It wasn't real. That was the thing that he needed to remember. Everything else was to be forgotten and left behind. Baggage that was unnecessary to carry with him any more. Those days were done. That weakness was gone.
It didn't matter what Naito was going to say. That language of theirs was extinct.