I need a spotter at the gym.
It was such an odd text message to get from a random number early in the morning. And Jay was relatively certain that he was translating the Japanese correctly. It was tempting to ask Tetsuya to look at it but he was currently engrossed in a phone conversation of his own with BUSHI - or so he thought. He was using a rapid-fire mix of Spanish and Japanese that Jay assumed was some sort of ungovernable shorthand.
They had both dozed off on the couch at some point in the night but it seemed like the extra sleep had done both of them good. Except for their slightly sore necks. Waking up with Tetsuya's arms around him had been an entirely new experience and it made him hopeful. Maybe he would be able to fall asleep in a bed like that without panicking. Without becoming overwhelmed.
But first, Jay needed to decipher the text message.
It wasn't from a number he had saved in his phone. However, he didn't receive that many messages in the first place. Tetsuya's long run of them the day before had been so out of the ordinary for him that it had taken him some time to get used to the constant activity on his phone. But each message had made him smile. A reminder that Tetsuya was thinking of him and wanted to interact with him. To know him that much better.
He had contact information - underused but possessed - for the other members of Bullet Club so this wasn't one of them. Not that any of them would reach out to him in the first place. Jay had exchanged brief strategic texts with Yujiro during the G1 but before that… it had been far longer than it should have been since he had been in regular contact with the people that he was supposed to have been leading.
That had nothing to do with this text message, though. Bullet Club was tomorrow's problem - literally. Maybe the message was from Shingo? That would make a sort of sense, really. But how had he gotten his number unless Tetsuya had distributed it to the other members of his familia. Which, honestly, would also make a sort of sense. The man had to spend a lot of time at the gym, if nothing else.
"Is everything all right?"
How long had he been staring at his phone?
Apparently, it was long enough and intently enough for Tetsuya to finish his conversation and for him to not notice. But at least he would know if the text was from Shingo. Holding out his phone, Jay walked over to where Tetsuya was standing.
"Is this from Shingo?"
"Can't be. Not enough emojis." Why was that incredibly unsurprising? "You don't know who this is from?"
Jay shook his head and went back to looking at the short message on his phone. Which was enough of a distraction for Tetsuya to sneak around behind him, wrap his arms around him, and rest his chin on his shoulder. It felt so domestic that he knew that he immediately started to blush. There was such tenderness in every way that Tetsuya touched him and all Jay could do was let himself lean backwards ever-so-slightly into the embrace.
"I don't. I'm not sure who would…" Jay didn't quite want to get into how infrequently he actually talked to other people right now. It was as if he needed a slight break from such conversations - even if he knew that Tetsuya would be nothing but kind about it. "Not that many people even have…" He felt the echo of pressing a piece of paper into a palm and suddenly, he knew exactly who the message was from. "Fuck. It's Ibushi."
Giving him his number had been an odd moment of visible compassion. Of trying to be more than the Switchblade had ever allowed him to be. But Jay had given it to him just in case Ibushi needed something important. Like someone to make sure he got to a doctor or something like that. Not this.
"Ibushi has your number?"
Quiet curiosity laced Tetsuya's words and like before, that made it so much easier to actually speak.
"I gave it to him after your match. He was in pain and alone." The image of Ibushi slumped over up against the wall was bright in his mind. "I've been there."
Tetsuya nuzzled against his neck in a way that made him glad he had already pulled his hair back into a ponytail this morning. Each gentle kiss along his skin was soothing - even if the ache was old and something he thought he had gotten past.
"My sweet Jay."
He wanted to protest the adjective in the worst way. That wasn't who he was. It just wasn't. But he also knew that Tetsuya would disagree with him. And maybe it would be okay to try to be the person he saw when he looked at him - Tetsuya's Jay.
"I'm trying to remember how to be."
"And you're doing so good, mi cariño. Don't let your brain tell you otherwise." Each line of praise was something that Jay just wanted to soak in. Absorb it and repeat it in his own mind over and over again until it became truth. "You should go."
"But…" They had so little down time before everything began again. Before battles had to be fought. "It's our last day before…"
"I want more than just these few days with you, Jay. I want…" Tetsuya's hesitation dove straight to his heart. Still so careful with him. "... I want so much more than that."
"So do I."
It was only Tetsuya's soft gasp and the way his hold on him tightened that told Jay he actually said the words out loud. He had thought them but he had assumed that that was how they would stay. But there they had been. Spoken softly without doubt or fear.
"See? Brave and sweet." The lingering kiss to a spot beneath his ear sent a tingle all the way down to his toes. "Tell him you'll go. It's okay to make a friend." Who was the last person he could call such a thing? Finlay or Juice maybe - a lifetime ago now. "You don't have to be alone any more."
Ibushi could outlift him and Jay couldn't decide if he should be irritated or impressed.
He probably should have known that this was going to be an unusual trip to the gym when his ride dropped him off and he realized that the weird guy hanging from the light post outside the building was actually Ibushi himself. There didn't seem to be a pattern to what they were doing that Jay could see so he was mainly just taking it easy, focusing more on volume and form than anything else.
They hadn't talked too much but it wasn't a painful sort of silence. Weirdly enough, it didn't feel awkward really at all. Maybe Ibushi was just glad to have a little bit of company, even if it was him. Needing a spotter - ostensibly for safety - was obviously an excuse of some kind - the light post stunt had quickly shown that. But Jay had given him his number and Ibushi had used it. Such a tiny, tiny thing but no one ever took him up on offers like that. So it didn't really matter what they did or what Ibushi's reasoning was. None of it felt nefarious and spending time with someone who wasn't Tetsuya or a member of his familia without worrying about his place was too much of a novelty from Jay to question it.
And Ibushi's variation on a basic bench press - pausing at both the top and the bottom of the movement - was something that he was definitely going to add to his own routines.
The way Ibushi just seemed to decide at random what exercise or lift he was going to work on next was different - Jay was usually very deliberate when it came to putting together a routine - but it wasn't annoying or off-putting. It was actually kind of nice to have someone to workout with. Their chatter was light but focused on what they were doing. Both intense while actively lifting but relaxed in between.
But it seemed like they were finished lifting as Ibushi headed over to some mats that Jay had seen people use for stretching. That probably meant conversation and he honestly wasn't sure how to do that. He was woefully out-of-practice at something so mundane as talking to someone casually. Tetsuya had told him that it was okay to make a friend but how did that work? Fuck, it felt like something that you weren't supposed to forget but he completely had. This was different from trying to talk to Tetsuya - there was so much between them - and that relationship was something else besides. And talking with his familia wasn't quite like this either. In that case, they had common ground - Tetsuya himself.
As for him and Ibushi, they had the ring, he supposed. Failure and defeat. A rivalry - if Ibushi even thought of him like that. But that seemed too deep of a conversation to have while trying to make sure that their hamstrings didn't cramp up.
"Are you feeling any better after that match?"
Ibushi's eyes widened in slight shock but Jay wasn't sure if it was because he startled him or from the question itself. There was something kind of stupid about it. There was no way that Ibushi could have completed that entire workout if he was injured. Or at least, Jay didn't think he could have.
"Sore still. But I took a day and slept for ten hours and stayed up for fifteen. That helped."
There was something not quite right about that math.
"That's 25 hours."
And for some reason, that just made Ibushi smile. It was still slightly disturbing. Jay was far more accustomed to the other end of that expression looking either blank or murderous.
"Exactly." He looked so pleased that Jay couldn't help but smile back at him. However, Ibushi's head tilted just a little to the left like he was something that he didn't understand. "Your face looks funny like that too."
It wasn't an insult - Jay knew that - but his instincts were still intact. Honed into a deadly sharpness by the Switchblade. To lash out and mock and deride. To fight back, even though there was no battle to be fought. To go on the offensive. But he didn't want to. He was tired of it. Being like that was as exhausting as trying to change. Or remember.
"Like I said, I'm out-of-practice."
Ibushi simply nodded like there was nothing bizarre about being rusty at smiling at people.
"You need more reps."
With another nod, Ibushi went back to his stretching routine and Jay went back to his. It was definitely something else that they did differently. If there was a logic to Ibushi's routine, he could not figure this one out either. But they maneuvered next to each other rather easily - never bumping into the other or seemingly getting in one another's way. Another nice thing.
There was a series of stretches that he did to keep his pathetically weak wrists limber but Jay had no intention of doing them. That was a bridge too far. It was a literal weakness that he didn't even know how to begin to let anyone see. There was a part of him that was well-aware that the only reason that he had even felt comfortable breaching the subject with Tetsuya was the fact that he had seen that ice pack on his wrist. He hadn't even done that particular stretching routine in front of Tetsuya - something that with the nights and mornings they had been spending together was probably going to cause him issues in the days to come.
Although his current issue was trying to understand why Ibushi was twisting himself up into a pretzel. Jay guessed it was a stretch of some kind but it looked more like it was one of Zack Sabre Jr.'s submission moves that Ibushi was applying on himself. His body - for all of its flexibility - did not move like that.
"What is that stretch for?"
Ibushi rolled over and Jay had no idea that an elbow could safely bend like that.
"It keeps my tongue fireproof." Somehow, Jay had a suspicion that Ibushi wasn't referring to a highly developed spice tolerance. "But you're already more protected from being burnt than I am."
That was news to him. The bottles of sunscreen he had gone through each winter as a kid begged to differ.
Jay had no idea how Ibushi was managing to nod from that position.
"All that hair protects your brain from being burned. It's probably why you're so cunning."
And now Jay had no idea how to react. Ibushi made no sense except maybe to himself. His brain couldn't be sunburned - he knew that - but Ibushi had his logic and maybe that was enough for him. Jay liked it - liked how Kota Ibushi was Kota Ibushi with no uncertainty as to that definition. And at the end there - that had been a compliment. The blush spreading across his cheeks wasn't necessary. He barely tolerated doing that in front of Tetsuya.
"Thanks, man." It was only polite to offer a compliment in return. Or at least, he thought that was how such things worked. "And… uh… that stretch looks like it's good for the lower back too."
Ibushi inexplicably nodded again and started to untangle himself. As he flowed into another stretch that looked physically impossible, Jay figured he might as well do some of his favorite yoga poses since apparently he had the time. There was something cathartic about moving slowly through gentle movements like this. Forcing his mind to focus solely on precision and breathing. For something that was a daily practice for him, he hadn't done this in days and that wasn't good either.
Be patient with yourself, mi cariño.
Jay had spent so much time by himself that he was really unaccustomed to having to adjust his life around other people. But he could add things back in as he felt more on solid ground and less shaky in his own existence. He knew that Tetsuya wouldn't balk for a single second if he told him that he needed to take a few minutes to do some yoga. After all, how many times had he tried to remind him that he wanted to know him?
"I don't want your title."
Of course, Ibushi would say something like that while he was in the middle of downward dog - using the pose to stretch out his calves. His ankles weren't as weak as his wrists but they had a tendency to give him trouble sometimes too. Maintaining his flexibility around that joint was a key to keeping that from happening too often.
"I have the right to challenge you for it." Somehow, that had slipped his mind but Ibushi was right - by beating him in the G1, he could challenge him for his title. "But I don't want to be the NEVER champion right now."
There was an assumption there that really, really didn't sit right with Jay. It reminded him of being ignored and dismissed so easily by both Naito and Ibushi leading up to Wrestle Kingdom. Just because he had failed before didn't automatically mean that Ibushi would be victorious this time. Again. And the remnants of the Switchblade were right there for him to command.
"What in the fuck makes you think that you would win?"
But the harshness in his voice and in his words were as easily dismissed as he had been.
"You can't win right now." There was something shocking about such a thing being so plainly said that he could no longer hold the pose and crashed to the mat more than a little unelegently. "Not when you need to re-learn your identity between the ropes. You're going to lose a lot."
His voice was pathetically soft but Jay hoped that Ibushi wouldn't judge him too poorly for it. Because he knew exactly what he meant. He had felt it the last time he had been in the ring. Trying to face Ibushi with his whole heart - no Gedo interference and no attempts to cheat - had been beyond him. Exhausted and heartsick and uncertain, he'd lost. Fighting with spirit was something he hadn't done in such a long time.
And remembering how? Standing and fighting like that was something that was going to take time. He needed to be patient with himself.
There wasn't any malice on Ibushi's face. That was concern there - if anything at all. And he was out-of-practice at seeing such a thing too. But there was this weird sort of hope inside of him. Tetsuya and his familia. Ibushi. Maybe - just maybe - he really didn't have to be alone anymore. And that reminded him of how they had both ended up here in the first place and recognizing that same loneliness in the way Ibushi had been crumpled up against a wall.
"Why don't you want the title?"
Ibushi's face went wistful, only there were these layers of a deep, deep worry behind it. That urge to comfort him was back and although Jay managed to not put a hand on his shoulder this time, he still found himself scooching just a little closer.
"I can't be tied down." The title didn't mean that - Jay had taken it with him to America for an entire summer - but maybe they viewed such things differently. "Someday soon he'll…" His voice trailed off and for a moment, Jay wasn't sure if he'd continue. "I don't want him to be alone."
And that was a longing that he was painfully familiar with. An ache he knew better than he wanted to. It was the same thing that was there in their embrace every time Tetsuya pulled him close. Jay wasn't positive but it seemed like it could only be Kenny Omega that Ibushi was talking about. People's personal lives weren't something he usually cared about. Bullet Club had kept theirs from him all this time and he had done his best to avoid thinking about all of the people Tetsuya must have charmed into his bed while he had laid there in his hotel room sleepless and alone.
But he did keep track of other promotions and other wrestlers. Omega was the AEW champion but he had become consumed by it - obsessed and unhinged. Ibushi had to be concerned about him. He didn't necessarily like Omega but nobody liked him and Tetsuya still cared about him so that wasn't the point.
"I didn't realize that you and Omega were still…"
There was no way to put that delicately.
"We're everything and nothing."
At first glance, it sounded like overdramatic nonsense. It really did. But the more Jay thought about it, he realized that he knew exactly what Ibushi meant. Or at least, he thought he did.
"Bound together by a cord stretched thin but never really apart."
Ibushi's eyes widened in sadness and joy in equal measure. And that was all it took for Jay's hand to end up on his shoulder again.
"Exactly, Jay White."
There was something a little broken in Ibushi's voice and it was a little painful to hear, oddly enough. If he recalled correctly, Ibushi and Omega had been tied together for years and years. Being so far from someone who held your heart had to be beyond difficult. Like you had lost your favorite reason to smile.
"Jay. You can just call me Jay." Ibushi nodded again but something about him seemed lighter. "On that day…" He still wasn't sure how to say things like this but he wanted to say them. "... if you need help getting to the airport or anything, let me know. I'll be there."
Ibushi's smile was soft and genuine.
"Your face still looks funny."
And his own smile only grew.
"So does yours. Do you want to get lunch after this?"