“Nix the fruit baskets, Jack. We’re covered.”
It’s perhaps the understatement of the century– as Michael Best ends the call and jams his phone firmly into the pocket of his slacks, he is staring out into a veritable sea of fruit. An amount of fruit that any rational person could call “a lot of fucking fruit”. In fact, it’s arguably reasonable to describe it as too much fruit.
Picture a lot of fruit.
It’s more than that. By a lot.
Michael’s hands find his hips, as he stares out at his bounty like a proud fisherman. Getting twenty seven large fruit baskets loaded into the company car was no small feat– The RS 5 Coupe is great when you want the world to know you have a very large penis and access to your daddy’s money, but it isn’t the best for storing large quantities of produce. That he’d made it here in one trip, in one piece, and gotten them all into the reception area of the marketing department (without suffering a career ending injury) was perhaps the last great bit of JesusMagic™ left in the Son of God.
The smile on his face reeks of first world accomplishment.
“Any calls, Ellie?” Michael asks flippantly, as he heads toward the glass door of his office.
“Not your assistant.” Ellie Kallisten sounds annoyed, not even looking up from her computer.
She gives the man who is technically her boss a quick little salute, in lieu of a middle finger, and quickly goes back to frantically typing at her computer. He shrugs his shoulders– on any other day, an interaction like this with Ellie would have put him into a funk for the rest of the afternoon, but not today.
Not fruit basket day.
Today was a cause for goddamned celebration– it wasn’t about the fruit, so much as the implication. By this time next week, those twenty seven miserable fucking fruit baskets would be out of his life forever, and in their place would be the one thing he’d ever cared about in High Octane Wrestling more than himself.
The HOW ICON Championship.
Dan likes being the ICON Champion. He’d just as soon keep being ICON Champion. He’d rather I not become the ICON Champion. The sort of lukewarm words that would make you spit them out, if you sipped them out of a glass. It wasn’t Dan Ryan’s fault that these words felt so damned “room temperature”– over the last twenty years, he’d been running up and down the roads, collecting titles like playing cards and rolling them around in a wheelbarrow. Porn stars fuck, farmer’s farm, and Dan Ryan wins championships– to him, it’s a belt. This is what he does. He’s won them before, and he’ll win them again.
For Michael Lee Best, this wasn’t a belt.
It was his legacy.
It was the name on his fucking wrestling school. It was the achievement that hung on his mantle, and defined the early years of his career in HOW. While he’d go on to win more HOW World Championships than anyone in the history of High Octane Wrestling, it was the big white belt that he saw when he closed his eyes. It was the big white belt that he was holding over his head, staring out into the sea of haters. It was the big white belt that meant… everything.
Lukewarm doesn’t retain championships.
His fingertips push in on the glass door, as he makes his way back into his office. So much work to be done before Saturday night. Boxes to unpack, trademarks to file, and paperwork to update, and yet none of it feels like it matters. It’s trivial nonsense. The trappings of business, when all that he can think about is how good it would feel to hoist that championship over his head one more time. He saunters back toward his desk, the grin on his face widening.
Nothing could mess up a day like this.
Except maybe for that.
His body goes stiff as a board, his motor skills failing utterly and completely as he collapses to the hardwood floor of his office. He doesn’t even feel the barbs go in– he can only feel the overwhelming, excruciating physical pain of the electrical current as it overwhelms every inch of his skin.
The next ten seconds may as well be an eternity.
He tries to scream, but he’s stifled by the fifty thousand volts pulsating through his body– his muscles spasm and contract at their own horrific whim. He seizes and writhes along the floor, his nervous system on fire.
And then, mercifully, it’s gone in an instant.
The thing about being tased is that as soon as it’s over, it’s over. His body unfolds like a cheap accordion, as his useless meat body sprawls across the hardwood. His arms flop around like a fish out of the water, as he struggles to get his bearings. Now that his brain is able to comprehend anything but the word “FUCK”, Michael takes a deep breath and tries to roll over onto his stomach, so that he can push himself back up to his feet.
And that’s when the world goes dark.
The Son of God’s fingers claw desperately at the hard wood, trying to dig in as the rotten stink of old burlap fills his nostrils, the bag encompassing his entire head in a must shroud. His legs kick reflexively, but slowly he tries to slow down his breathing.
He’s being kidnapped.
Sadly, he’s now been kidnapped enough times in the last decade to know that he’s being kidnapped. Seriously, there have been so many kidnappings in HOW. Like, a number of kidnappings that any rational person could call “a lot of fucking kidnappings”. In fact, it’s arguably reasonable to describe them as too many kidnappings.
Immediately, his brain defaults to playing amateur detective. Is this about money? Lee Best would never admit it, but he’d probably pay the ransom for Baby Boy Best in a heartbeat. Money is the best case scenario– nobody wants to kill the hostage if they have money on the line.
A wild flailing of his boot catches his attacker somewhere, maybe the stomach.
But it’s just a glancing blow.
It’s more dangerous if it’s about revenge. Some pissed off motherfucker with a machete doesn’t give a shit how much money Daddy Warbucks will pay for his son’s release. Who has he pissed off lately? MJ Flair isn’t the kidnapping type, but what about Harmen? He’s been threatening to be a knifey boy for like, four months now– did the double cross at Refueled push him over the edge and send him to the bad place?
He tries to stiff his kidnapper with another boot, but it’s a wild swing and a miss.
The arid chortle of his laughter.
The raspy wretch in his throat.
“Son of a bitch.” Michael grumbles, as he lets his body go limp. “Max?”
The Son of God thrusts himself up off the floor, ripping the burlap sack off of his head. It wasn’t the first time that his brother had ever tried to forcibly abduct him, but it was certainly the most unexpected.
“What the fuck, dude?”
He wipes his hands across the front of his slacks, trying to dust himself off in the wake of being tased and assaulted by the Lord Supreme Dictator of North Kaelrea. It’s only then that he finally notices the warm, wet, dark patch down the front of his crotch— he must have lost control of his bladder whilst being violently electrocuted.
“Jesus, man.” Michael shakes his head, incredulous with disgust. “I fucking pissed myself. I have to work for the rest of the day in this shit, man! What the fuck is wrong with you?”
Max fixates his singular eye on those of his adoptive brother, his face a mask of contempt. If he is anything but indifferent toward the urinary plight of his not-quite flesh and blood, he isn’t showing it.
“You are being kidna-..er.. Mikenapped!.” Max states, seemingly unwavered. “Refrain from squirming or fighting back please or this might get.. Unpleasant. Like olives in potato salad.. Just the worst.”
Reaching back down to the office floor, Max picks the taser up and begins to reload the cartridge. For a moment, it’s just… quiet. Nothing but the sound of Max fiddling with the stun gun, trying to get it ready for a second shot if the situation should become necessary.
Fifty five thousand volts worth of necessary.
“Why are you–” Michael doubles back, taking cover behind his desk as he peeks out at his brother. “You’re not fucking– GODDAMNIT, PUT THAT FUCKING TASER DOWN, MAX!”
“Language! Get that bag on your head!.” Max gestures toward the burlap sack, pointing at it with the taser. “How am I supposed to stay in character if you won’t play the part of the unwilling abductee?! You’re just Pissy Pants Michael and it’s just really hard to stay focused so.. You know.. Bag on Head.”
The Son of God opens his mouth to speak again, but Max steps forward aggressively, pointing the taser directly at this heart. Michael isn’t quite sure if a taser does more damage if it hits you in the heart, but he definitely doesn’t want to find out.
He slowly steps out from behind the desk, hands up in the air.
“Max.” Mike begins, slowly. “I really, really don’t have time for a kidnapping right now. Can we do this next week? I’ll wear the bag and everything.”
For a moment, Max begins to lower the taser.
“Fiddlesticks.” His scowl turns to disappointment. “Well, I mean if you’re busy, I don’t want to— wait, WHAT? Put the God damn bag on your head, Michael, or I’m going to give you the Shocker and I ain’t talking about a war hero! Do you not understand Mikenapping? I know it might not sound very threatening, but THIS does!”
He aggressively thrusts the taser forward again, brandishing it menacingly. Michael once again jumps backward— having just experienced vague physical and psychological torture, he’s really really hoping to avoid it a second time.
“Let’s just talk, Max.” Mike speaks slowly, and carefully. “No bags. No creepy vans. No tasers. Just have a seat and we’ll talk.”
“It’s as I feared.” Max lets out a wheezing sigh. “Listen, I don’t negotiate with terrorists. So as the man says, I’ll teach you the Electric Sliiiiiide.”
And with that, he fires the taser a second time.
Some Time Later…
“Wake up, Michael.”
There it is. The smell of sour burlap.
The Son of God tries to pull the stinking bag off of his head, but he can’t— his arms are secured to the arms of the chair that he can’t remember sitting down in. The world is fuzzy and distant— he must have hit his head on the way down.
“Come on, hurry up.” Max Kael snarls, impatiently. “It’s kidnapping. Not actual napping. You’re taking this TOO literally now.”
With a swift flourish, Maximilian Kael rips the bag off of his brother’s head, briefly blinding him under the cheap fluorescent lighting. His eyes struggle to adjust to the light, as a groan escapes weakly from his throat.
He’s sitting in his own office.
“I have duplicated your office to the most minor detail!.” Max waves his arms around the room as his blue eye stays locked on Mike. “Don’t ever say I’m unreasonable, dear brother. I studied this room for a full month and.. And.. Okay, I’m lying, we’re still in your office. Call it a staynapping. You know, like a stayca—“
“Yeah, I get it.” Mike grumbles. “What the hell are you doing, Max? If this is about the whole Lindz thing… man… I told you. You really need to check your group texts. It’s all there.”
His head is pounding.
Could have been the fall. Could have been the awful smell of the burlap infusing into his brain. Could have been being tased by a one-eyed Dictator twice in the span of three minutes– hey, your guess is as good as anyone’s. But as the eyes of Michael Lee Best finally finish adjusting to the light, he can see the item in Max Kael’s hand is not a cell phone.
It’s a clipboard.
It’s the clipboard.
“SIXTIME ACADEMY.” Max reads the words aloud, with disgust in his voice. “An application to formally change the name of the brand. Curiously, only the second most interesting document that I’ve perused today. Care to take a guess at the first?”
“Fuck.” Michael sighs, his head dropping toward his chest. “The Best-Kael Acc–”
“THE BEST-KAEL ACCORDS!” Max raises a finger, triumphantly. “The legally binding, signed in blood contract outlining the terms and conditions under which the party of the first part, henceforth known as YOU, and the party of the second part, THE SUPREME LORD DICTATOR OF NORTH KAELREA, may do… what, Michael?”
For a moment, Michael considers telling his brother that this document was neither legally binding or signed in blood, but he quickly realizes that this will only end in him being made to bleed. Potentially profusely. Besides, perhaps the only thing worse than the smell of the burlap sack is the rancid breath of Kael himself, as he leans in closely toward the face of his brother. He stares a dagger into the eyes of Michael Best, awaiting his response.
It was not a rhetorical question.
“Max…” the Son of God struggles to find the right words. “I… I was gonna tell you.”
“MAY DO WHAT, MICHAEL?” Max repeats with a harsher, more aggressive tone.
He bares his teeth, the jagged metal so close to Michael’s face that he can practically see his own reflection in them. The same teeth that once ate their way through a steel chain. The same teeth that would take his nose clean off his face, if Max chose to take a chomp out of him at this moment.
You never fucking know with Max Kael.
“…may compete for the ICON Ti–.” Michael begins, softly.
“MAY COMPETE FOR THE ICON TITLE!” Max proclaims directly into Mike’s ear jabbing a thin, spider-like finger against the clipboard. “Why on EARTH would you be changing the name of the Academy to SIXTIME? Five is the number of times you won the ICON Title, Michael, same as I. Five is the number of ICON Championships at which we agreed to never compete for it again, and the number of times which we agreed to… is five.”
HOW’s Chief Marketing Officer struggles against the bonds holding him to the chair– from the looks of it, a heaping load of mangled duct tape. He wiggles his wrists back and forth– the man has seen action movies, and knows that it’s at least worth a shot. But this isn’t Max Kael’s first kidnapping– the bonds do not budge.
Truth be told, he’d forgotten about the Best-Kael Accords.
Long before the Group of Death, or even the eMpire, the wars between Michael Lee Best and Maximilian Kael were so unbelievable that these days, no one even remembers what was true and what wasn’t. The battle for supremacy over the ICON Title Division was the peace treaty that ended those wars– both men would cease to chase the ICON Title, forever tying the all-time record at five. From the ashes of the war came FiveTime Academy. FiveTime Entertainment. FiveTime t-shirts and water bottles and fucking Best Of DVDs. This match with Dan Ryan on Saturday was the first violation of the Best-Kael Accords in over seven years.
So long ago, he can’t even remember the punishment.
“I know, Max. I know.” Michael nods his head, trying to keep an even temperament. “But I deserve this. You’ve gotta take what you deserve in this life, Max. Nobody’s gonna give it to you.”
“…what?” Max’s eyebrows raise, as his expression turns disgusted and perplexed. “Who the fuck told you that? That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. You don’t take what you deserve, Michael. You take what you want. Like right now? I WANT you to respect the Best-Kael Accords. And I’m going to get what I want. Because I am going to take it.”
Turning abruptly away, Max Kael bends down and begins to rummage through the filthy rucksack that he has dragged into the office. He throws various implements of destruction out onto the floor, one by one, in his quest to find what he’s looking for– there is a small chainsaw, of course. And a bonesaw. A lot of saws, really. Various knives, hammers, and even a decent sized shovel. A bloodstained shovel.
A shovel that should be very familiar to the Son of God.
Max snatches the shovel, along with a second clipboard, from within the depths of the bag.
“Max… you don’t have to do this.” Michael’s voice changes in pitch, as any semblance of bravery abandons him. “Come on, buddy. Brother?”
Max blinks out of his one blinkable eye, several times. He looks first at his brother, and then down at the shovel hanging mindlessly from his hands.
“Max, c-c’mon.” Michael stammers, as he feels the sweat rolling down toward his eyes. “Okay, I fucked up. I admit it. I violated the Accords. I broke the rules. I betrayed our friendship, and our brotherhood, and whatever else you think I betrayed… I did it, okay? I fucked up.”
The shovel drags across the hardwood floor, as Max Kael takes a knee in front of his brother’s chair. He seems ready to burst at any moment, and it’s terrifying to a level that Michael Best didn’t realize he could still feel terror.
The Son of God tries to swallow, but all the moisture has left his mouth.
“I NEED THIS, MAX.” Michael pleads, choking on his own dry mouth. “Okay? Look at me– what the fuck else do I have going on right now? Everyone looks at you guys, and they see this unstoppable fucking force and this immovable fucking object, and what about me, Max? Who gives a single, solitary FUCK about the THIRD wheel, much less the fifth? I keep saying all these fucking words… unsanctioned. Architect. Mastermind. And no one fucking buys it, Max. They’ve forgotten who the fuck I am. Shit, I’M forgetting who I am. I’ve been back for six months and I haven’t done a fucking thing. Just give me this. You guys have everything, Max. You have EVERYTHING– please don’t hit me with that fucking shovel. Please don’t hurt me. I am begging you. Please give me a pass, just this once.”
It’s only then that Michael realizes that the look on Max’s face isn’t anger.
“Hit you with a–?” Max glances down at the shovel, nearly bursting out laughing. “NO! You thought I was going to… what’s wrong with you?”
Max drops the shovel to the floor with a violent clang, leaving a noticeable dent in the hardwood.
“Silly Michael.” Max hisses beneath his mask with a sense of sinister mirthe in his robotic voice. “I just need you to sign your written warning. Don’t you remember the rules? First offense, written warning. Blah blah blah, legalese, I’m now allowed an ICON Title shot of equal or lesser value against you or a future champion, blah blah blah, your first born child, blah blah blah. It’s all right here in black and white, brother.”
The relief washes over the Son of God in the same wave as the embarrassment– if he hadn’t already urinated all over himself once today, he would have certainly done so by now. Max aggressively shoves the clipboard into the lap of his profusely sweating brother, tucking a ballpoint pen into his bound hand.
“If you’ll just sign here.” Max points to the paper. “And initial there… aaaaaand… there.”
In a moment that in hindsight will perhaps be just as stupid as having signed the Best-Kael Accords in the first place, Michael Best quickly scribbles his name and initials onto the document upon the clipboard. Max snatches it back, aggressively, and looks over the various paragraphs with some audible “mhmms”.
“Alright, then.” Max nods. “Everything is in order here. Appreciate you being such a good sport today! Don’t forget, we’ve got dinner tonight with the new trainers from Five Ti– I’m sorry, SixTime Academy. Let’s hope they last longer then the last batch, hmm? Heh-heh.”
Nearly as quickly as he unpacked them, Max begins tossing his various implements of destruction back into the rucksack. He carefully places the signed documents and their corresponding clipboard on top of all of the weapons, before zipping it up and slinging it over his shoulder.
“Anyway, Brother Mine, I must away! Big plans for next week’s end of the Lee Best Invitational, you know, the thing you flunked out of?” Max gives his brother a little wave, as he makes his way toward the door of the office.
“Wait!” Michael cries out, still tugging at his restraints. “You didn’t fucking untie me!”
With a frown, Max glances back at the rucksack over his shoulder.
“Sorry, I don’t remember seeing that in the Accords. I’m sure you’ll be fine. After all, you’re gonna be the only SIX TIME ICON CHAMPION in history, right? You don’t get what you deserve, you TAKE what you want! I BELIEVE IN YOU!”
Max points at his single eye before winking, or perhaps just blinking at Mike.
And with that, Maximilian Kael disappears through the doorway, leaving his brother bound to his chair. He yells back from the reception area, his voice still beaming from a Mikenapping well done.
“I’M TAKING ONE OF THESE FRUIT BASKETS, BY THE WAY!”
Michael lets out a long sigh.
Ellie is going to enjoy every fucking second of this.