“Run it again. Fuck it.”
His voice echoes through the expanse of the nearly empty gym, as a scowl stretches over the face of Michael Lee Best. His face is a roadmap of exhaustion— the dark bags under his eyes accentuate the bloodshot around his pupils; the once grey FiveTime Academy t-shirt clinging to his body is nearly black now, soaked through so throughout with sweat that you could ring it out like a sponge.
He hasn’t had a full night’s sleep since ICONIC.
He bends down, adjusting the bandage beneath his already braced knee. Whatever twisted version of cartilage that had survived a decade of throwing knees for a living had been utterly destroyed by Lindsay Troy over the last eight weeks— well, Lindsay Troy and kicking a chair way too hard right before she threw that knee bar onto the mysterious and majestic El Hombre Blanco.
“Buddy,” a consoling hand falls upon his shoulder. “Let’s call it a day. I think we all need a break.”
His name doesn’t matter. He is one of many— while the sign on the door says “closed for renovations”, the truth is that the Chicago branch of FiveTime Academy has been working around the clock for weeks. Trainers, medics, and coaches surround the #97Red apron around the training center’s ring, watching the patriarch of their academic dynasty burn himself out like a painkiller stuffed lightbulb.
“You’re right.” Michael sighs, staring at the floor. “We could all just use a break right now.”
You can almost hear it before you see it. The open palm of the dual Hall of Famer connects with the bridge of the trainer’s nose as though it were a wooden board, and the snapping noise that follows is just as similar. The nameless trainer— let’s call him Brian— hits the sweat soaked mat like he’s been shot, and immediately trainers and medics alike slide into the ring to break up the ruckus.
“ANYONE ELSE NEED A FUCKING BREAK?” Michael snarls, throwing his arms out like an emperor issuing a challenge. “Get this piece of shit out of here. Clean him up. Fire him. I don’t give a fuck what you do, but I don’t ever wanna see his fucking face again. Got it?”
With the roar of a wounded beast, the Son of God drops to the mat, slamming his closed fist against the unforgiving canvas. And again. And again. His knuckles are rubbed raw, leaving bloody residue in their wake– like waves against the ocean, his repeated violent outbursts throughout the last several weeks have worn them down.
“Now fucking set it up again.” He near-whispers, violently. “No one goes home until we’re finished.”
But the problem was that they were never finished.
First it was the tapes. Tearing through old PRIME matches first, taking notes, and then doubling back to take notes a second time. When they ran out of PRIME, they went DEFIANCE. From DEFIANCE to CWF, so on and so on, until all they had left was bullshit clips on YouTube.
And they took notes on that, too.
A staff meant to serve dozens, all re-purposed and conscripted to the Patriarch of FiveTime Academy. Students were told to head to Tampa or hit the bricks, left to the skeleton crew who stayed behind when HOW left Florida. Those who complained were fired, and that’s what happened to the lucky ones.
After not stepping a single foot into his own wrestling school for so long that he didn’t even recognize the staff anymore, Michael Lee Best suddenly found himself sleeping in his own office. Taking his meals on the toilet, so as not to waste time twice. Since ICONIC, he’d barely been on Twitter, barely been on television– even in his solitary appearance, it was only to groggily don a headset and decidedly not put in his best work on commentary. All of his time, all of his energy, and all of his sheer force of will had been focused on one sentence:
Weight bearing leverage and a fistful of tights.
That’s how Lindsay had described it, of course. Weight bearing leverage and a fistful of tights– the method that the Son of God had resorted to in order to get a desperation win at the biggest show of the year. Thirty three minutes and twenty two seconds of unstoppable force meeting immovable object, and yet even in the moments following ICONIC, all that anyone could talk about was the final three seconds.
Weight bearing leverage.
And a fistful of tights.
“Somebody get in the ring.” Michael barks, pointing at the opposite corner. “I can run this on a fucking bag all day and it isn’t gonna make a fucking difference.”
A worn out dent and a distinct center tear define an otherwise brand new Everlast bag slumped against the opposite ring post. It’s posture almost resembles the rest of the staff– tired, sad and overworked. It hangs lifelessly against the ropes, as desperate to go home as anyone else.
No one is volunteering to get into the ring.
“Did I fucking stutter?” Michael snaps, pointing again at the punching bag. “Somebody clear that fucking thing out of my ring and TRY TO FUCKING DODGE ME! She’s not gonna be just FUCKING STANDING THERE!”
He can feel his heart trying not to pound out of his chest.
The truth was, he’d bitten off more than he could chew with the Group of Death, and he knew it. Michael could scream at the moon all goddamned night about being undefeated since his return to action, but everyone and their mother saw the kind of competition he’d been up against. A clocked out Noah Hanson, a pre-retired Scott Stevens, a Brian Hollywood who was about to go back to fucking wrestling school— Lindsay Troy was the first real test he’d had in 2019, and while he’d technically passed, he did it with a fucking 65.
He did it with weight bearing leverage and a fistful of tights.
“Fucking Christ.” Michael grumbles, shaking his head in equal parts frustration and disappointment. “I will give five hundred dollars to the first person who gets into this ring and helps me work on this fucking move, and if no one fucking does it, I will fire every last person here and REPLACE YOU WITH FUCKING TREADMILLS, YOU USELESS PIECES OF ACTUAL GARBAGE!”
The boss might be an abrasive, dog shit human being, but the perks of the job were worth not losing it. Immediately, there is a scuffle at ringside as a few potential human dummies decide amongst themselves how much $500 is really worth these days.
Finally, a contender appears.
Tall and blonde, with the demeanor of a person who hates that women are always described by their appearance instead of their qualities, she slides under the ropes and takes the corner with an agility beyond her years. She can’t even be old enough to rent a car, but it doesn’t matter— any potential attractiveness is not the reason that Michael Best is eyeing her like a piece of meat. He looks her up and down as she slides the punching bag out of the ring, taking its place in the corner.
“How much do you weigh?” Best asks, quickly and flatly.
“I, uh–” she begins, “Excuse me?”
Already exasperated, Michael Best closes his eyes, rubbing at his temples. For a moment, he wonders if he asked the question in English. He must have– as outlined several times under direct questioning about the identity of El Hombre Blanco, Michael has confirmed that he does not speak Spanish.
“HOW… MUCH…” he begins, slowly and patronizingly. “DO YOU WEIGH? How tall are you? Come on, hurry the fuck up, go go go. Height and weight.”
He snaps his fingers, over and over, being the fucking worst because he is the fucking worst.
“Uh, five foot eight.” the volunteer answers, finally. “Probably one fifty five? I don’t know, dude. And my name is Savannah, by the way.”
“Did I ask your name?” Michael’s eyebrows furrow, his jaw tightening. “Did I ask for a fucking headshot or a brief autobiography? I asked your FUCKING HEIGHT AND WEIGHT. And you’re too short and too fucking small. The angle is wrong.”
He begins to wave her out of the ring, but the young wrestler holds her position. She grabs onto the ropes on either side of her, stretching out her arms.
“Jesus dude, just do it.” Savannah sneers. “Don’t be a pussy.”
It’s possible that he’s never been so angry in his entire life.
With the force of a running train, albeit one that hasn’t had a full night’s sleep in weeks, he charges into the corner like a man possessed. Leaping off of his feet, he pulls his knees high toward his chest, extending them like a weapon and barrels directly for Savannah’s face…
Let me set the scene for you.
Close your eyes. “Jump” by Van Halen begins to play, as if from nowhere. The rocking synth pounds in time to the flashbulbs going off across the arena as flies through the air, almost in slow motion. They’re screaming his name, as his knees collide with the jawline of Lindsay Troy— it’s all surreal and violent and yet somehow serene. Lindsay can feel the collision reverberate through her skull as David Lee Roth hits that first high note, and in a moment it’s over.
No grabbing the tights.
No shifting his weight.
No lingering questions.
It’s the fucking Raynes of Castamere. .
The same Raynes of Castamere that has worn down and destroyed heavy bag after heavy bag in the cold confines of the FiveTime Academy, as he’s tried in agony to get it right. The same Raynes of Castamere that has watched a million times, on a million different tapes, making a million different notes. The same Raynes of Castamere that has been his point of obsession from the first time someone smirked at him backstage for beating Lindsay Troy by grabbing her fucking tights.
The same Raynes of Castamere that beat Dan Ryan.
He sails through the air, knees blitzing like a middle linebacker with a chip on his shoulder. This is it– weeks of training, weeks of studying, weeks of working himself to the bone, but it was all about to be worth it. The collision sends a jarring shock throughout the entirety of his injured knee, but it’s all worth it to feel it connect with the hard steel of her fa–
Hard steel of her face?
He fucking missed.
The freight train of fury explodes into the steel of the post, lodging his leg and knee awkwardly in between two of the turnbuckle pads. The sound that abruptly leaves his mouth is less like a war cry and more like a battle whimper– it is the sound of a trapped animal, as he feels his already fucked knee get just a little bit more fucked.
How the fuck did he miss?
Hours, maybe days, of tape. Drills on bags, drills on dummies, fucking drills drills drills yummy yum yum I love drills. But for three weeks, he’s tried to hit a live opponent, and for three weeks, they’ve gotten out of the fucking way. What’s the secret? How the fuck does she do it?
Why is this so goddamned difficult?
Strangely, he can’t even feel the pain– maybe he snapped his whole leg right off, and it’s just gone now. Maybe he’s a cripple. Maybe he’ll get awesome parking spots for the rest of his life, but right now he doesn’t care– it’s the same thought, over and over and over again.
Weight bearing leverage and a fistful of tights.
Weight bearing leverage and a fistful of tights.
WEIGHT BEARING LEVERAGE AND A FISTFUL OF TIGHTS.
“It’s… it’s fucking impossible.” Michael shakes his head, as he slowly untangles himself from the post. “Why the FUCK can’t I hit a DOUBLE FUCKING KNEE? WHAT THE FUCK IS SO SPECIAL ABOUT A DOUBLE FUCKING KNEE?”
With a grunt, he grabs the ropes and slowly hops up onto one foot. The shock of the bone against the steel post was a lot worse than the aftermath, and it could have been a lot worse. When you’ve had a certain number of injuries in your life, you eventually get pretty good at telling which ones are going to be a problem, and this one wouldn’t be a problem.
He only had one problem right now, and she was the Mother of all problems.
“You wanna try it again?” Savannah asks, snapping him out of his dream world.
“What?” Michael shakes the cobwebs off, but doesn’t turn around. “Do I wan–? No. Fuck it. It can’t be done. No one else in the fucking universe can throw Lindsay Troy’s fucking double knee, and I’ve wasted three fucking weeks of my life to find that out. Three weeks. FUCK. FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK IT’S IMPOSSIBLE. IT CANNOT BE FUCKING DONE!”
Slamming his hands against the ropes, the eternal manchild has perhaps hit his breaking point. No one had bothered to ask why it was so fucking imperative to him that he master the Raynes of Castamere, but he preferred it that way– because the truth was that he was desperate. A million different times, in a million different ways, Michael Best had proudly called himself a cheater. Proudly announced his love for kicking a man in the dick, or using a steel chair. Proudly bragged about breaking the rules and getting away with it, all because he wanted to.
Because he wanted to.
So he rolled Lindsay Troy up by the tights. Who gives a fuck, right? He’d once relieved a man of his own head with a gardening shovel– what’s a shitty roll up, in the grand scheme of things? He’d come to the ring with a lion. Yes, a real, live, actual lion. Lions are legal in standard wrestling matches, probably. Shit, he’d once faked an arm injury so that he could use his solid gold cast as a weapon, and he was proud of it. Because he wanted to do it.
But this time, he didn’t cheat because he wanted to.
He cheated because he had to.
Because she took it all, and kept coming. Because she matched him at every lockup, every hold, and every desperate strategy. Because he threw everything he had at Lindsay Troy, for thirty three minutes and twenty two seconds, and it hadn’t been enough.
And it was eating him fucking alive.
“Nothing fucking rattles her.” Mike grunts, his forehead falling to the ropes for a moment. “I fucking won the match– I WON THE FUCKING MATCH! Why isn’t this her standing in a fucking gym, in the middle of a three week meltdown? Why doesn’t anything fucking BOTHER her? Why is she so fucking cheeky and smirky and too cool for fucking school?”
He slowly lifts his head, staring at the back wall of the academy. The rather captive audience is watching more out of morbid curiosity than emotional interest, but he doesn’t seem to be talking to them, anyhow. He doesn’t seem to be talking to anybody.
Thirty three minutes of hell on earth, and he couldn’t get the job done. For the first time in his entire career, he hadn’t made the choice to cheat– he’d cheated because if he didn’t, he would have lost. Lindsay Troy was right, and now he needed to prove that he could beat her decisively. He needed something that she’d never see coming. He needed the secret weapon to end all secret weapons– a piece of brutal offense that not only ended the match on the fucking spot, but would prove to Lindsay, and to the world, that anything she could do, he could do better.
He needed the Raynes of Castamere.
And now he’d wasted three weeks, for nothing.
“Look, dude.” Savannah begins again, still talking to the back of the Son of God’s skull. “All you have to do is—“
He doesn’t even give her the chance to speak.
“All YOU have to do,” Michael spits, his mouth full of misappropriated venom. “Is shut the fuck up and get out of here. Now.”
His eyes are filled with fire now. He’s never been one to deal with his own failures, and now it was time to do what he’d always done so well— he was going to take it out on her. Verbally. Emotionally. Maybe physically, depending on how he felt. Slowly, he turns around.
And is dropped to the canvas.
With a picture perfect double flying knee.
Immediately, the ring fills with trainers and coaches, who pull the wily young wrestler to her feet and yank her backward from Michael Best. He’s laid out like a fisherman’s bounty, his eyes glazed over as he half-consciously stares up at the lights on the ceiling. There are hands all over him, helping him to his feet, as he staggers around in a punch-drunken stupor. That’s CTE for sure, no doubt about it. That’s five years off his fucking life.
“Are you alright?” someone asks, from somewhere. He can’t tell. “Mike, are you okay?”
People are talking. Voices. It’s impossible to discern, like the grown-ups talking on a Peanuts holiday special. Wah wahhh wah wahh wahh. All he can hear is the sound of his own screaming brain. Why are people touching him? Did he tell someone to help him up? He can’t remember. He swings at anyone unfortunate enough to be close by, shoving them off of him as he stagger-steps back to his feet.
The fog begins to thin, as he stares across the ring at the defiant young wrestling who just embarrassed him in front of his entire staff.
“Everyone who isn’t the little blonde douchebag, get the fuck out of my gym.”
He doesn’t have to tell them twice. A legion of employees, desperate to go home, immediately start beelining for the showers, pouring out of the gym at a speed that would make you think the fire alarm had gone off. The Son of God and the woman who knocked him the fuck out soon stand alone, in the middle of an empty wrestling ring.
For a moment, there is silence.
And then, he speaks.
“Remind me, because I didn’t care before.” Michael asks, “What the fuck is your name again?
She looks around nervously, not sure if she’s about to be complimented or literally murdered by a man who has done literal murders before. Or maybe both.
“Savannah.” she says, flatly. Her eyes dart around, never staying in one place. “Savannah Wilde. I’m a guest trainer.”
He nods his head, slowly. There is a thought brewing in his head, though it may very well just be the beginnings of a concussion taking hold. Sometimes, in the world of a man who once believed himself to be Jesus, it can be hard to tell the difference.
“Well, not anymore.” Michael smiles, extending his hand. “Effectively immediately, you report directly to me. Can you teach me how to do that before Saturday night?”
He asks the question with enough confidence to hide the desperation in his voice. Or at least, he hopes that he’s managed it– her eyes don’t give anything away.
“Please.” Savannah smirks, as she shakes his hand. “I can teach you how to do it better than she does.”