Dan Ryan looked down at the ICON Championship resting just inside his packed bag. He picked up his cell phone, gave it a quick glance, then slipped it in his back jean pocket. He zipped the bag and slung it over one shoulder, taking one last look around the dressing room to make sure nothing had been forgotten.
One step out into the hallway and he could hear the fans still reacting to what was going on inside the ring.
He ignored it and kept his head down as he headed for the back of the arena where a car would be waiting to take him to the airport.
Unfortunately, there was a bank of monitors near the exit, and something caught his attention.
Mike Best threw himself into the corner, his knees aiming at Lindsay Troy’s head, but she dropped down out of the way and he crashed hard into the corner.
Ryan stopped his full attention on the monitor, feeling something between annoyance and concern, frowning as he watched Troy try to gather herself. The cameras caught Mike Best sliding out and frantically searching around at ringside near the guardrail.
“Son of a bitch….”
Ryan didn’t wait. He dropped the bag and within moments was on a dead sprint toward the curtain.
With less than twenty feet or so before reaching it, he heard it — a loud metal clang and the collective “OOOOOH” of the crowd. Several staffers who were hunched over more monitors near gorilla position cringed, one letting out a “holy shit”.
Ryan didn’t see what happened, but he didn’t need to.
He had a passing sense that others were running down to the ring also as he burst through the curtain, but his eyes almost immediately focused on Mike Best as he was standing with his trainer near the ring barricade.
In a moment, their eyes locked, but only for a moment, and Best pushed his way into the crowd to make his escape.
With the chances of reaching Mike Best slim, Ryan turned his attention to the ring and slid underneath the bottom rope. Lindsay was there, eyes closed, clutching at her head. He kneeled next to her and her eyes opened, trying to focus on the familiar hulking figure looking down at her. His face still held a frown, however, and he said nothing.
I used to be better at this.
I used to be better at closing off the distractions around me and focusing on what I needed to do to win — no matter what that need ended up being.
I didn’t give the slightest damn about anyone or anything that wasn’t relevant to my goals, and it served me so well.
I desensitized myself on purpose. I liked the result. I liked that I was able to break a man’s bones and not feel anything. I liked that I could pick up Bronson Box’s girlfriend and break her neck, just to get to him… and not feel anything about it. I liked it.
Lindsay’s gonna be fine. I stayed with her just long enough to make sure she was in good hands — not long enough to have a conversation with her. I’m still in no mood for that. I don’t even want to look at the text messages.
It was instinct, though.
I knew what was about to happen as soon as I saw Mike pick up the chair.
To be honest, I can’t fucking believe she didn’t see it coming. What did she think he was gonna do with it, set it up for her so she could have a seat and take a rest?
But it’s there now, that new instinct.
I let her worm her way into being family. She introduced me to her sister. This is all her fault, this ridiculous plan of hers to tame me somehow – to help me — to make me a better person.
I don’t fucking want to be a better person.
I wanna be the monster again.
That used to be my instinct. See, kill, destroy.
The monster didn’t give a fuck.
He didn’t care if everyone was getting along or if anyone liked the way he did things. He didn’t think twice about ending careers, about ruining lives, about tearing apart the very fabric of entire companies with his manipulations, if it meant standing on top of what was left. He didn’t care.
And now I care too much.
And I hate that.
There has to be some sort of reconciliation between the two. I miss the vicious don’t-give-a-fuck side of myself, but I’m not willing to give up what I’d have to give up to get there. I’m stuck here in this middle-of-nothing, trying to figure it all out, and floundering, pissing myself off with my own crisis of conscience.
There has to be more than just two choices. There has to me more than either being a family man, or being a killer. I have to find the line and edge right up to it. I can’t be bothered to care anymore about things or people who can’t help me get there, though. I can’t. We all need to put it out on the table and see where our loyalties truly lie.
The anger is too much. The lack of anger, the lack of desperation… from the others is… too much.
I need to burn this all away and see what’s left. It’s the only way to make sense of all of it.
See, this is exactly what I’m talking about, Jack.
WHY…. are you so fucking calm?
Stabbed, an eye almost cut from your head… and you’re all…. Meh. Guess that’s just life. Meh. Guess I’ll be in a wheelchair someday. Meh, guess we have to fight. Meh, someone find me a nice white room so my blood contrasts nicely for the camera. Meh, funny jokes, wink wink. Oh look, Scooby-Doo!
Hey Jack, let me give you a pro tip.
We are not having a beer after this match.
We… are not…. having…. a beer.
Here’s the deal, man. You think Mike Best is playing us against each other? You’ve got it all wrong. We already played ourselves a long time ago.
And why the ever-living fuck are you sitting in a room wearing furry white pants and covering up the coolest thing about you with a towel? You have some real fucking battle scars right now, some really gnarly ones, yet you cover up the wounds and make us look at those fucking Sonny Bono fur-tights? Mike and Cecilworth get to look over at Max and see a fucked up cyborg warrior — we got you, babe.
You’re more excited about your sudden newfound ability to pull off a realistic Two-Face cosplay at Comic-Con than you are about anything that’s happening around here.
We’re not getting played. We’re playing ourselves, because we’ve been going through these wars with the eMpire and then everyone’s like, ‘Cool, let’s have dinner and shit. What’re we doing next week, mi compadres?’ I’m trying to pull some real fucking emotion out of you and as far as I can tell, the one thing you’re most upset and offended by is that time we went ice skating without you.
Your big motivational complaint is that you were left out of a social gathering like this is fucking Mean Girls. Did you go home and pour out your heart to Mary-Lynn over a bowl of rocky road ice cream? Did you go home and write about me in the BURN BOOK? Why don’t you wanna go see Ladysmith Black Mambazo with your parents anymore, JACKIE?? WHO ARE YOU??
You’re scootin’ around in your PJs all carefree whistling 50s sitcom theme songs. Is there no limit to your nonsense??
Oh wait, I forgot….
THE LIMIT DOES NOT EXIST! THE LIMIT DOES NOT EXIST!
For Christ’s sake, Flyer.
You never had to cover up your need to get some revenge on me with all of this window dressing bullshit.
Just come and fight me, man. I can’t tell you how fucking bored I am with all of this phony-ass bullshit. We have to start getting really fucking real around here right now or we’re done.
I’m so sick of listening to you drone on about your feelings. I’m so incredibly fucking sick of it. Stop saying you don’t wanna fight me. It’s BULLSHIT.
You want to fight me so badly, you can hardly stand yourself. No one believes your ‘no offense, but I’ll do whatever it takes to win’ routine, you hackey old dinosaur. I know everything I’ve been saying to you is pissing you off and you think I’m handing you some Christmas gift to ‘unleash’.
That would be fucking PERFECT.
I don’t want to see you, Jack, putting on your blood and guts show to try and keep up your reputation as a seeker of joy and violence. I want to see you fucking angry. I want to see you furious — at the eMpire, at all of the losing, at me — lash out sincerely, Jack and do some real goddamned damage around here.
You’re a goddamned legend, Jack. Start fucking acting like one.
I can’t bear to watch any more of this bland nursing home version of Jack Harmen. I can’t stand by and watch you limp your way into some sad retirement. I refuse to stand by and watch that happen.
I’m gonna make you stand to heel and be the Jack Harmen you once were.
I’m gonna hit you hard and often, and I’m gonna keep doing it until it either awakens the fire inside of you again or you wilt and limp away back to your little white room, put on your fluffy pants and stare at your pool some more.
Either way, I need you to stop everything you’re doing here and start getting real, because what you’ve been doing is fucking insulting, and I’ve had enough.
I’m not interested in a spirited and friendly athletic competition anymore. It’s too late for that. I’m keeping this championship by taking every opportunity I can to destroy you because if you can’t hang in that world, your presence in HOW is absolutely fucking pointless… and I want no part of it.