During Azula vs. Dresden
Eli Dresden’s heart raced in her chest as she put every ounce of her being into keeping Xander Azula’s shoulders to the canvas, the itch in the back of her mind driving her to dig her nails into whatever she could as if it meant the difference between success and failure.
The war between the fans and the jeering members of the Eternal Circle as they tried to will the man they followed into kicking out, into avenging the loss that he suffered the last time he stood across the ring from the atheist who had re-acquainted him with the GDI in spite of his best efforts… but Eli held firm and, as Hortega’s hand slammed into the canvas for the third and final time?
Just like every time she claimed victory for herself before, time froze.
The feeling of grass beneath her feet tickled, but Isaiah’s laugh was what brought her own giggles forth.
Her legs were scratched up from wading into the wild blackberry bushes, but she didn’t care about that–not when the five-gallon bucket Isaiah carried was threatening to overflow with the literal fruits of their labor. Surely they’d be able to bribe forgiveness since they didn’t ask for permission–
Reality didn’t fade back into existence so much as it slammed into her at all once, the concussive force of it knocking her back to a vertical base before she could even fully register that it was over
It was only instinct that drove her into motion, the victorious fox outrunning the Hell hounds–Discordia hounds? Who fuckin’ knew for sure, and who cared?!–to get lost in the crowd that cheered her for snatching victory out of Azula’s tainted hands. Eli was dimly aware of how she thrust a middle finger in the air in defiance of the cultists’ failed attempts to punish her for defying their leader’s delusions, how the fans formed a protective barrier between herself and the Eternal Circle… how she was eventually herded backstage by HOW Security in a flurry of activity that only ended when the door to her locker room closed and she was alone.
The silence held her for all of a second before all Hell broke loose with a jagged sob and a fist lashing out at a brick wall that gave nothing in return when it was struck.
No scream of pain like when she ripped the relationship between herself and her brother to shreds with her bare hands.
No wince of reaction like when she left her parents in the rearview mirror for refusing to see past one sibling’s panic to even acknowledge the other’s fathomless loss.
…and no way back to the golden moment that was ripped away too soon mere minutes before.
As Eliza raged and roared and ultimately did more damage to herself than she did to the uncaring locker room that was unfortunate enough to hold her, time slowed to its usual crawl. There wasn’t enough pain being felt, enough adrenaline pumping through her–there simply wasn’t enough to break free of the sedative that seemingly flooded the air around her. Not even those three seconds had been enough to allow more than a glimpse of what she sought so desperately, what got her through days and sometimes weeks of the world moving in slow motion.
Just like everything else, even that wasn’t enough.
Gulping in a deep and ugly-sounding breath, the sob that wanted to seize the opportunity to express itself was shoved back at the last possible second as the blond slowly climbed up from the undignified mass she didn’t quite remember collapsing into, shaky steps carrying her to the sink. The task of washing the blood off her hands–not to mention the sting of the soap–brought a clarity with it that boiled down to one sentence.
I have to up the stakes. It’s the only way back.
It wouldn’t be until she saw the card for Refueled -number- that she realized that she’d inadvertently done just that by paying Jeffrey James Roberts a visit.
You’re used to your opponents tellin’ you that you don’t scare’em by now, ain’t you Jeffie?
I’m sure that you think I’m just as full of bullshit as Hollywood or Zion–or, shit, just about everyone you’ve come across since you even came to HOW.
When I say it, I mean it.
That wouldn’t have been true when I was younger, of course–Hell, if this had been booked a few years back? I woulda’ been shittin’ myself at the thought of even lookin’ you in the eye, much less boopin’ you on the snoot as I promised you that I’d be takin’ a literal hunk out of you. That’s still happenin’, by the way. By hook or by crook, you’re gonna lose the flesh that you felt you were entitled to take out of my neck… plus a little extra.
Call it me chargin’ interest, though I don’t think you understand how it works.
There’s a lot of things you don’t understand, come to think of it.
You don’t get why the smallest member of HOW’s roster isn’t afraid of the idea of facin’ you for the HOTV Championship… Hell, why she’s confident in her ability to be the one who puts an end to your winning streak while takin’ the title for herself. You don’t get why my reaction to bein’ a victim of one of your bites made me bolder instead of makin’ me cower. You don’t get why my response to your attempt to pull mind games on me–the very same ones that have been so effective on damn near everyone else–was for me to boop your nose the same way I would do to a toddler havin’ a tantrum when the truth’s right there, starin’ you in the face without flinchin’ the same way I have.
You’re not just restrained by that jail cell, Jeffie.
You’re just as much a prisoner of your limited imagination.
I know, I know–I already had the gall to stand firm in your presence, to not bat an eyelash at you as you raged and roared at me in a threat display that, by all appearances, you’d just got done with before I walked my hot little ass into the room to inspire its sequel. Now I’m insulting your intelligence? Golly gee whiz, it’s almost like I have a death wish or somethin’!
…probably because I do.
That’s not me jokin’, Jeffie–that’s the God-nonexistent-honest-truth. Death doesn’t scare me anymore.
It started out small, this deathwish of mine– just like your kills did, I imagine.
…and just like that, I know how to explain this to you in a way you’ll actually understand.
Goin’ off what I know–which is about as much as I know about that whole bogus religion thing Xander Azula believes in–serial killers in the makin’ all start out with trauma, right? I’m not gonna bore you with mine, but we’ve both got boatloads of that. Different flavors, sure, but we’re not worryin’ about the Pain Olympics here. Me shovin’ a mic down Deepthroat Davidson’s gullet when he thought that stealin’ a win from me is all the more you need to infer what a big hunk of mine was, though I’ll give you a hint as to some of it.
Now replace your small animals, toads, bugs, and the like, with slowly going over the speed limit, then disregarding it entirely. I know, I know… such a hardcore deviant, right? But remember that this is just the beginning. Nobody gave a shit about you killin’ insects or other nuisance critters. Shit, no one probably even noticed.
Movin’ up to stray cats and dogs, maybe the errant bird if you got your hands on one? That lines up to me signin’ the dotted line here in HOW. I’d wrestled before, sure–even had a couple wins here and there–but if I have to explain the difference between your garden variety wrestling promotion and one where the reigning World Champion literally crucified the man he took the title from, then you’re really beyond help. Shit, HOW’s had a literal death match here, and Max Kael was a great deal older and more experienced than me.
You’ll note how that wasn’t a deterrent. If anything, it made me sign the dotted line all the faster.
Neighborhood pets! For me, that was literally pushing the engine in my beloved Frankentruck to its breaking point and then beyond it when I was preparing myself to take on everyone’s favorite purveyor of Scientology Lite. Had a different piston blown, then my ass would’ve died. As it was, the truck thing was apparently the last straw when it came to my brother thinkin’ he needed to derail my career by any means necessary because he knew I loved my truck… and when he heard that I was in the market for a motorcycle just like Isaiah’s? It almost makes it understandable that he committed a felony as a last-ditch effort to save me from myself.
Good thing HR doesn’t actually exist in HOW, huh?
The drifters and the prostitutes were the fights I got into at red lights with men twice my size and larger, the scraps that left me patchin’ myself up in the bathroom since the speed wasn’t doin’ it for me anymore without the fights… the men and women I fucked and forgot about in the name of findin’ somethin’ anythin’ to bring back the feelin’ of freedom that I was chasin’ after.
None of it worked.
That whole period of me fuckin’ up match after match after match was in there somewhere–me comin’ up against what kept me from what I craved most. Somewhere in there, I figured out that I spent so long drownin’ in adrenaline that it stopped workin’ like it shoulda’. Now the world runs slow like a sedative, to riff off a song I heard the other day. I was in a tailspin, tryin’ to name what was formin’ in my head… and then Cancer decided he needed to steal from me and everything clicked into place, bringin’ me back to form and snappin’ everything into sharp focus.
Much to his and Xander’s regret, not to mention yours soon enough.
Doin’ what I need to do in order to get those three seconds of bliss… it’s become easier.
I’m sure that’s a feeling you’re familiar with, eh Jeffie? It’s what got you in that nice orange jumpsuit, after all. Not being able to stop it like you couldn’t help takin’ a bite out of me the last time we faced. Speaking of, we’ve now reached the pinnacle of my metaphor.
The big, shiny, public target that people will miss.
The deadliest prey.
Jeffrey ‘Jeffie’ James Roberts.
(Sorry not sorry for the nickname.)
The star of your very own crime documentary, the sympathetic (at least, in your opinion) villain that is the protagonist of your story. The man that can literally end me because hey, you’re behind bars for life. What’s the worst thing they can do–add another life sentence? No bullshit, you’re the biggest threat I’ve ever faced in my life period… and between you and me?
I’m excited at that prospect.
Shit, I’m gonna welcome you tryin’ to make me into a corpse because whatever violent goodbye you’d visit upon me would give me the chance to feel what I’ve been so desperate to feel again on the way out. And me puttin’ you down for the count, bein’ the first to beat you as you bleed the same way you made me bleed…
Oops. I can’t go givin’ away too much now, can I?
Much better–your attention’s now centered back on me instead of my plans.
But anyway, as a final thought before you go back to your classical music and those same four walls; I knew there were monsters under your skin, clawin’ and snarlin’ and bayin’ for my blood even before I neatly cha-cha-slid my way under it by pointin’ out the obvious about you bein’ trapped behind bars–y’know, the place your actions put you–but I did it anyway.After all, you’re not the only one that’s haunted by things that can kill someone else.
Far from it.
You can doubt me all you want… but when the bell rings and our match begins, you’ll find out the hard way that I’ve been tellin’ the truth since Jump Street. And I know that I can’t set you loose on the world at large even if part of me is just cacklin’ at the idea of you literally killin’ your way through a Black Friday crowd, I can relieve you of your obligations as HOTV Champion, and that? That’s somethin’ I’m not only capable of, but it’s exactly what I’m gonna do.
Call it a gift, Jeffie–a taste of the freedom you’re no longer able to have.
Your very own three seconds of the feeling I refuse to be denied even if it’s not the same now.
Right from me… to you.