MJF: Smells good, babe!
Kevin: Thanks, babe!
MJ has her phone out, and she’s filming a slow walk through the apartment.
MJF: So we’re expecting company tonight. My wonderful boyfriend, in the midst of job hunting because the poorly run establishment where he was a shining star in the kitchen decided to shut down early, wanted to do something nice for my partners before we had to go back to work.
She stops at a mirror, at which point she gives a quick hair and makeup check before moving on through the main hallway and into the kitchen. At the stove, a young man of about 25 or so is busily stirring a pan. He’s got two day stubble and a bandanna wrapped around his head: tools of the trade are never too far off.
MJ steps up to him and films the pan.
MJF: So what’s for dinner?
Kevin: Mushroom risotto on the stove…
He adds a ladle of broth to the pan and continues to stir.
Kevin: Prime rib in the oven…
She backs up and takes a shot of the impossibly small oven.
MJF: Maybe a secondary rib?
Kevin: Ye of little faith. I can fit a whole turkey in here.
MJF: You might need ta prove that in a few months.
She backs up. Kevin continues to stir, but also reaches for an open bottle of Brooklyn Lager on the windowsill.
MJF: So, this is my man. I’d like to dedicate this little glimpse into my personal life to John Sektor. Whether you’re tellin’ me that I need to ditch the dude and focus on my career, or whether you’re gossiping like a little bitch with Scottywood that I clearly possibly maybe slept my way to the top of the last company I worked for…
MJF: Through all of it, Johnny… you’ve had your pornstache way, way too far into my personal business. So, on behalf of myself, my boyfriend, and the entirety of the Best Alliance… please… get off my dick.
MJF: Did you wanna bring anything with you?
Lindsay Troy shakes her head and holds up her hand.
Lindsay Troy: No, kiddo. Absolutely not. We are stuffed and since we’re all headed back to Tampa in a few days, it’d be wasted.
Lindz and her husband Tyler Rayne are the last two to leave Kevin’s apartment after their team building home cooked meal. Actually, there wasn’t much talk about the match to come (that took place days ago at the Pub); this was a night where five wrestlers (+Tyler Rayne, -Dan Ryan) reminisced over twenty years of work, entertained the new guy (Kevin) with stories too outlandish to be made up, and reminded MJ of things that happened when she was just a tiny tot that she might have forgotten.
Even Eric Dane and Tyler Rayne, two people with no love lost for each other, were on their best behavior.
Lindz gives MJ a hug, squeezing her tight and whispering in her ear.
Lindsay Troy: He’s a good one, kiddo. Keep him.
MJ smiles at the sentiment and they linger for a moment. Kevin holds out his hand to shake, but Lindsay shakes her head.
Lindsay Troy: It was good to finally meet you.
Kevin: Likewise, Lindsay.
Lindz gestures to MJ.
Lindsay Troy: Her mom, she’s a pacifist. I’m not, so please make good choices.
Kevin’s eyes widen. MJ’s eyes roll. Lindsay winks one.
MJF: Get home safe, guys. See you in Tampa in a few days!
Lindsay Troy: Absolutely.
MJ and Kevin watch from the door as Lindz and Ty disappear around the hallway corner. They linger for a moment before turning around to close up for the night.
MJF: Dude. Did we just pull off a dinner party?
Kevin looks deep in thought, and side – eyes her.
Kevin: We sure did. Up high.
High five. MJ leans her back against the wall and bends over, unzipping her boots.
MJF: And now we go for maximum comfort before cleaning up.
She walks into the kitchen while Kevin returns to the living room where the table was set up. Stacking cups and plates, he’s clearly well – practiced at carrying a lot of dishes at once.
Kevin: There’s one creme brulee left, did you want it?
Not willing to continue to shout, he walks into the kitchen with his arms loaded with dirty dishes… and he stops.
And he stares at MJ, gnawing away on an extra piece of prime rib.
And he laughs.
Kevin: …Well, I was gonna see if you wanted the extra dessert, but you’ve gone for the extra dinner.
MJF: Hell’s no, I’ll take both.
He laughs again. And MJ pretends to be indignant.
Kevin: You can’t be trusted unsupervised around the food, so help me clear?
After he puts the dishes in the sink, she gently hip-checks him into the wall as she passes.
Kevin: Your friends are interesting. Very cool, but… interesting.
MJF: Yeah they are. I don’t know that I’d call ‘em my friends, but they’re definitely good people.
That gives him pause.
Kevin: Call me crazy, but they seemed like your friends to me.
She considers this. Stacking some more plates, she bites her lip as if she’s considering the right words to use.
MJF: I mean, they are but they aren’t. I don’t really know Aunt Lindz’ husband or Ms. Mayweather really at all, but Jack, Aunt Lindz, and Dan Ryan who didn’t come were all Daddy’s friends. Or allies, at least. Me, they first met me when I was this big.
Her hands full, MJ lifts up her leg until her thigh is straight in front of her, knee bent, about two feet off the ground.
MJF: So I mean, until we actually get into it at War Games, unless and until I really wow ‘em, I’m still probably just gonna be their old co-worker’s kid.
They arrive in the kitchen and stack more dirty dishes.
MJF: That’s… You could see it, right – that little bit of ‘what’s going on there,’ between me and Dane because I had his back when we hit the cage, I got him to and from the hospital, all that MJ – and – Eric stuff about having a sub-alliance inside the Best Alliance.
Kevin: Is that what that was? I thought that was about Lindsay’s story about you running away crying from the dude in the bear suit.
MJF: I don’t remember it that way, but I was like three or four years old, and shut up.
MJF: Can I finish?
Kevin: By all means.
He starts to wash the dishes while MJ packs leftover food into Tupperware containers.
MJF: Dane and my dad had no relationship t’speak of at all. In a way that made it easier – he sees me as a co-worker and a peer before anything else. It’s small but it makes a difference, ya know?
She keeps one piece of prime rib out – the one she was previously chewing on – and puts the rest of the food away.
MJF: I figure, if we win War Games – especially if I survive – that’ll be a sign of the things ta come. Until then, it’s just a matter’a my own confidence in what I can do –
Kevin: And my confidence in you.
She smiles and gives him a half – hug, sacrificing neither the integrity of her snack or the dishes in the sink.
MJF: I appreciate that. I know what I can do but it’s still all conjecture to everyone else until the day.
Kevin: You’ll impress.
He grins at her.
Kevin: You always do.
Doesn’t matter, though. MJ Flair wakes up with a start and a gasp, momentarily disoriented on where she is.
All she knows is that her head is filled with terrible memories. Her music is playing and she can’t find her boots. She’s at the curtain, but there’s no opening for her to enter the arena.
Someone hands her a microphone and nothing but little bits of yellow legal pad paper fly out of her mouth.
They’re all familiar dreams; she has them from time to time but they get more specific and far clearer on nights like this.
Before a performance.
Behind her, playing the role of the big spoon, Kevin breathes deeply in his sleep. MJ does her level best to avoid waking him, slowly lifting up his arm and dropping it down behind her as she eases out of his embrace and bed.
Wide awake, MJ looks at the clock display across the room and sighs. She picks up a tank top and pair of shorts from the floor and eases out of the room.
On the way, she grabs her phone. The apartment is dark, but ambient light from outside gives her enough to see by, and MJ tiptoes her way to the kitchen.
Window up. Ass, slid out.
She climbs the fire escape three stories to the roof.
It’s a clear night; not a cloud in the sky and not a hint of smog or air pollution. Looks like dozens of stars shining. MJ walks to the middle of the roof and listens to the rest of the world mostly melt away.
Back to the edge, and the world returns.
MJ looks over the lip of the roof and a smile spreads across her face.
“Do you hear that?”
“Even this late, the City never sleeps.”
Now that we know what she’s referring to, we can definitely pick out the sounds.
“I like it up here. Not necessarily this specific building, but being on the roof’a any building in the City. It gives me perspective.”
MJ angles the camera down to the street below.
“There’s the general population. Like the wrestling business itself; that’s where most of us exist. Street level, clamorin’ for someone t’pay attention, ya know? Down there, our voices blend into a chorus’a white noise that ya usually can’t pick apart, one from another.”
And she angles up.
“This is where we wanna be. Above the noise. Above the crowd. Right now, I could talk as loud or as quiet as I want; if you’re payin’ attention, you can hear me.”
“This is the dream.”
“Too fuckin’ often, it’s someone else’s nightmare.”
She walks again to the middle of the roof, and props the camera/phone against a vent of some sort so that it’s angled right at her.
“I’ve been focused so far, when I’ve been focused on War Games, on John Sektor, Scottywood, and Halitosis. It’s not that they worry me or that I need t’make sure I get one over on ‘em, but because those three are easy.”
“No offense intended, especially not to John’s John, the one that gives him his medicine.”
“I’ve focused on those three because, no matter how good they are in the ring, no matter how good they’ve been or will be… the cracks are there. The weaknesses bleed through. Halitosis is an insecure former Champion that’s tryin’ so hard to convince us – mainly himself – that he hasn’t peaked. Scottywood is an insecure Hall of Famer tryin’ so hard to convince us – mainly himself, again – that he hasn’t peaked. And John Sektor…”
“Pornstache has peaked. Sorry, fuckhead.”
MJ allows herself a few moments of laughter.
“But I’ve been avoiding the difficult conversation. Cecilworth Farthington. Max Kael.”
“The actual Champions.”
“I was raised with certain values as it relates t’this sport, one of ‘em being that’cha don’t tear the Champion down when you’re iminently facin’ off with ‘em. It devalues the Championship, the Champion, and – if you win – your victory.”
“I’ve done my best t’not do it.”
“But here we are, with War Games just around the corner, and I’m realizing that I don’t have to worry about lowering the Championships’a High Octane.”
“The Champions did it for me.”
“I made a point a few days ago, about jammin’ econo as opposed t’puttin’ out a carefully crafted promo with a budget and a script and a ton’a special effects. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with it, until ya use it as a crutch.”
“And, like clockwork, both Cecilworth Farthington and Max Kael showed me that they need a cast.”
“Funny stuff, Cecilworth. For the record, though – I play guitar, which is a completely different instrument than the bass. People think the bass is easier because it’s got less strings, but that’s an easily made mistake. Next time ya wanna script ‘n shoot a parody, give my caricature a mandolin or a ukulele. They both make a better point.”
“Or better yet… ditch the budget and the script, and just be fuckin’ real, man. Nobody outside’a social media gives a fuck about your dad.”
“Or about your admittedly creative attempt t’cast both teams into a terrible PBS miniseries.”
“You’re tryin’ so hard, Cecilworth, t’be the wittiest guy in the room that ya forgot that you’re a fucking champion. You’re s’posed’ta be an ICON or some shit, and when the chips are down and you’re expected t’act like it?”
“How dare we come to your almighty High Octane Wrestling. How dare we try t’make our mark on the place.”
“As if Cecilworth Funnyman didn’t do the same when he walked into a company that has hosted literal deathmatches and said ’Let’s Make Murder Fun Again!’”
“Fuck outta here with your hypocritical bullshit.”
“You say you want High Octane t’die, rather than be a testament to our pathetic egos, Cecilworth? What’s that say about you? You’d rather it be a testament to your pathetic ego?”
“That’s all it is, Cecilworth. That’s all it’s ever been.”
“How else can you reconcile your claims that you’d rather see this company die than have us influence it in any way, and in the next breath remind us that as a zero-times World Champion, you’ve got the most to gain and therefore, we assume, you’re the most dangerous?”
MJ looks up, rolling her eyes.
“Either ya hate this company and ya wanna see it burn, or ya love it and ya wanna see it thrive, Cecilworth. Ain’t no in between. And the in-between you’re tryin’ to legitimize?”
“’This company is only worth existing if nobody that’s newer than me does well.’ That leads t’dead fuckin’ companies.”
“Like High Octane Wrestling before this year. Like High Octane Wrestling after War Games, if we hadn’t shown up t’inject some energy.”
“The worst part, Cecilworth? You don’t need t’be doin’ all this shit. You’re an incredible wrestler, and you bring the people in. You could win War Games ‘n be the World Champion after it’s all over. You could tread water ‘n hold onto the ICON Title. You could be the first guy eliminated on the losing team and you’d still be held in higher regard than most.”
“But ya sit there in your estate with your Championship belt and your kinky old man, and ya stagnate. Because anything that involves change is more work for you. And all you’ve shown me in the time I’ve been here is that despite your talents, despite your skills, despite the fact that you’re the best fucking wrestler on your War Games team… you’re fuckin’ lazy.”
“And lazy don’t make the world go round.”
She angles the camera up and watches a plane fly across the sky.
“You’re even more disappointing, Cecilworth, than Max Kael. Despite his obviously bigger budget, he’s skimped out on the sets, the scripts, and the talent.”
“For someone who apparently has an entire country named after him, Maxopotamea seems significantly less like an impressive fortress of solitude and more like the third rate hideout of a sixth rate villain from a tenth rate James Bond ripoff.”
“Never say Never again, again?”
“How’d it happen, Max? How’d you go from being the pro-High Octane guy to the anti-High Octane guy? Was it like Cecilworth, where you decided you didn’t like things that were different and if it’s not your party anymore and you can’t cry if ya want to, cry if ya want to, the party’s over?”
“Did it happen when you got the metal implants? Is it like a computer, did someone run a magnet over your face and you lost your damn mind? I bet it was Harold the Herald. How else could he get such a bullshit job?”
“You and Cecilworth, Max. You’re s’posed to be the best of High Octane. You’re s’posed ta be up here.”
She spins the camera around the rooftop, fast enough to cause some blur but slow enough to avoid nausea.
“And yet, you’re tryin’ your best to get back down there.”
And she angles the view over the side of the building. On the corner, two apparently drunk men look like they’re about to start punching. MJ wisely pulls the view back to the roof.
“Jesus fucking christ, I’m the youngest one in this match. Anyone has an excuse ta be immature, it’s me. Why is it I’m actin’ more the Champion than the two assholes that are actually going into this match with belts?”
“Here’s the point, gentlemen. Here’s the bitter truth that you’ve gotta swallow harder than Scottywood tryin’ta break into my dad’s bathroom. You, Cecilworth, and you, Max – ya say we represent a High Octane Wrestlin’ that you don’t wanna be a part of. That’s cool, you’re allowed t’say that and t’act accordingly. But ta act like you’re automatically good for the place and we’re automatically bad for it?”
“Shit don’t work like that, assholes. What’s good for professional wrestling is change. Growth. Competition. You say you’d rather see the place burn than see the Best Alliance have influence in the future direction of High Octane? We don’t influence where it goes, this company stagnates and dies anyways.”
“What’s it say that the Best Alliance – the five athletes that High Octane Radio described as ’the five best wrestlers that never appeared here before’ care more about the future’a High Octane than the athletes that’ve called it home for years?”
“I blame you for this, Max. And Harold the Herald. And Cecilworth Farthington. And Pornstache Johnny and Scotty the Stalker.”
“I don’t blame Halitosis… sorry, kiddo – you’re collateral damage.”
“And I don’t blame Mike Best, either.”
“Does that surprise you?”
“I did. I thought Mike Best was an arrogant, power – hungry tool that wanted total control for his own nefarious purposes.”
“I was right about the first part.”
“I’m not shy about sayin’ I’m wrong about the second. Mike, just like Lee – he wants High Octane to survive. Thrive, even. I respect that. I just think he’s going about it in the wrong way.”
“The funny thing is… he knows it.”
“Mike’s team is made up’a five disparate athletes that all wanna shine on their own. Scotty wants ta be relevant. Pornstache wants ta be all up in my boyfriend’s grill. Halitosis wants ta be respected.”
“The two Champions, they wanna be layin’ their titles down on the charred husk’a High Octane Wrestling.”
“The ultimate irony is that the best chance High Octane has’a survivin’ to the next decade is in The Best Alliance’s hands. Troy. Ryan. Harmen. Dane.”
“The eMpire, they talk about the money we’re makin.’ About the ’takeover’ that we’re apparently plannin’.”
“It’s not about money. It’s never been about money. It’s not about power, or braggin’ rights, or who gets t’wear the Big Gold Belts, if it’s an option open to us.”
“It’s about bein’ wherever we are, and makin’ it the best it can be.”
MJ focuses the view on the street again.
“All of us, all ten of us. We started down there.”
And she angles it to the sky. There’s barely a glimpse of the moon, but the stars are still out in force with no clouds to cover them.
“War Games, two of us will be up here.”
“Cecilworth, you asked us who has the most ta gain in this match. Being the only one of us that has never held a World Title anywhere, you implied it was you.”
“Respectfully, I disagree.”
“Eric Dane. Dan Ryan. Lindsay Troy. Jack Harmen. MJ Flair. We’ve moved into High Octane and have called it our new home. And we’ll defend this home against anyone that threatens it.”
“Who has the most ta gain?”
“The ones that actually give a damn.”
“Like Lindsay Troy said, we’re goin’ into War Games as the Rebel Alliance. You know who wins wars?”
“The side that’s fighting for something.”