“…the weak fuckin’ link.”
The roar of the former Rosemont Horizon is still in full swing, as deadbeat dads and their fat children shuffle mindlessly toward the merch tables, desperate to go home with a t-shirt, a foam finger, or some other meaningless bauble to prove that they’d done something with their Friday night.
While elsewhere in the arena, Maximilian Kael is about to have his life forever changed at the hands of Jack Harmen, the screaming chaos of hashtag typical wrestling fans falls on deaf ears for Michael Lee Best. His mind is elsewhere, as he crashes furiously into the door of the eMpire locker room. The doorknob punches a hole directly through the plaster as it smashes into the wall, but it doesn’t even register on the face of HOW’s bastard son.
“Come on home, son.” he huffs, slamming the door violently behind him. “You and your false fucking titles.”
Without a moment of hesitation, the Son of God grips the plate of the HOFC Championship and hurls it across the locker room. Narrowly missing the head of Cecilworth Farthington, it crashes unceremoniously into the wall next to the trash can. His face contorts in disgust– he can’t even throw away his fucking garbage properly.
Tonight was supposed to be a night of celebration– the calm before the storm, as the eMpire entered into the new year holding every piece of championship gold in High Octane Wrestling. So much gold, in fact, that Michael had been forced to drag one up from the grave. For five consecutive shows, the bastard son of HOW had defended the technically unsanctioned HOFC Championship successfully. The same number of times the HOW World Championship had been defended all fucking year, and he’d done it over the course of a single pay-per-view period. And tonight, he’d gone out and done it all again in a brutal match against Brian Hollywood.
He should be celebrating.
Tonight should have been a fucking celebration.
“Buddy…” Cecilworth speaks, after what feels like an eternity of silence.
He wants to say more, but they’re the only words he has. What else do you say after you watch your best friend get emasculated by his own father on live television? Hey pal, sorry that you got cucked by your Dad, want to go grab some Applebees?
The Son of God had survived a lot of things over the last decade in High Octane Wrestling. He’d survived a chainsaw to the chest at the hands of his own brother. He’d survived Chris Kostoff in the yard. He’d even survived a powerbomb through the floor of the Roman fucking Coliseum. For all the years that Lee Best had spent off-and-on trying to destroy his own son, the final evisceration had ironically come not just by his own hand, but by the microphone within it.
It had not been for the faint of heart.
“He was right.” Michael mutters, his back falling against the door frame. “He was right about all of it.”
He slides down against the door frame, landing meekly on the carpeted floor. He isn’t sure if the tears in his eyes are the result of anger or humiliation, but the salt stings against his cheeks, rubbed raw from the brutal beating he’s just taken in the ring. The two brutal beatings, if he’s honest with himself– he usually isn’t, but it’s hard to deny on this night, even for him.
For the moment, there is nothing but silence.
It’s perhaps the quietest this locker room had ever been– 2019 had been the Year of the eMpire, and seemingly every week had been a party. With three combined losses on the year, the trio of Michael Best, Max Kael and Cecilworth Farthington had been near unstoppable. That was the line they kept repeating, over and over, at the top of their lungs. The three of them had been near unstoppable.
But it was a lie, wasn’t it?
The last of the silence evaporates into the walls.
“You’re better than me.” Michael swallows hard, as the words catch in his throat.
He’d thought those words a million times, but he’d never stopped to consider how he’d feel when he finally said them out loud– they hurt worse than anything that Lee Best ever could have said to him. The harshest truths are the ones that we admit to ourselves.
Farthington doesn’t speak. In all of the years that the two men had been best friends, both inside the ring and out, it is perhaps the first time that Cecilworth doesn’t know exactly what to say. In truth, though, he doesn’t have to– this isn’t about the HOW World Champion, and he knows as much. Michael sits sullenly in the corner, working it out the best way he’s always known how– by talking it to death.
“The eMpire doesn’t in-fight.” Michael snorts, disgusted with himself. “I’ve said for so many years that I wouldn’t fight you because I didn’t want to. That’s what I’d tell them… zero interest. And I’m so fucking happy for you man, you deserve those championships. You deserve the spotlight. You deserve everything you’ve fuckin’ got right now, because you earned it. You earned it a long time ago, and I’m so fucking proud of you. But it’s not just that I don’t want to fight you, Cecilworth.”
The unsanctioned champion rests his head against the wooden door frame, as his eyes finally rise into the room around him. Decadent filth– champagne, overpriced bullshit snack foods, and gaudy decor litter the dressing room like true nouveau riche trash. There is an actual fucking ice sculpture of the eMpire sitting on a fucking card table– Michael stares at his own melting effigy, and the slightest hint of a laugh escapes him.
Talk about art imitating life.
“Truth is…” the Son of God takes a deep breath, delaying the inevitable. “I’m afraid to fight you.”
He rubs at his eyes, running his hands over his face. The usually well-coiffed swoop of platinum blonde hair is matted and stuck down to his forehead– he sweeps it out of his eyes, trying to maintain some semblance of outside composure. With every passing word, the silence feels more uncomfortable, which just causes him to say more words.
Which just makes the silences more uncomfortable.
Which just causes him… well… you get it.
“Max…” Michael goes on, throwing his arms over his knees. “Max and I have had a million wars. Maybe we’ll have a million more. We’re brothers. We fight. That’s what brothers do. Maybe we do it a little bit more violently than most. Shit, he’s maybe the best he’s ever been right now. Batshit crazy and fucking dangerous. But I’m not afraid to fight him.”
He looks up at Farthington, this time intently.
“But I’m fucking terrified of you.”
The HOFC Championship sparkles under the fluorescent lights, as it lies wounded against the wall. Half-cocked against the trash can, it’s golden plate stares the unsanctioned champion directly in the face– it’s a mocking reminder of what he’s apparently wasted the last ten weeks of his life on. War after war, week after week, so that Lee Best could blow up his spot on national television and reveal to the world that Mike Best was a fraud. A man carrying a title around because it was the easy road.
Because he quietly couldn’t stand being the only one without a title.
Because he couldn’t beat the men who carried the ones that mattered.
Because he was the weak link in the eMpire.
Physically and mentally drained, Michael struggles to pull himself up from the carpeted floor– it’s the hand of Cecilworth Farthington that finds his own, and helps him to his feet. This wasn’t just the way of the eMpire, but the way of true, real friends– something that Michael Best hadn’t had a lot of over the course of his career. Something that he tried very hard not to take for granted.
Even still, there is a tension in the air, as their eyes lock.
“Do you trust me?” Michael asks, not releasing his arm. .
There isn’t a moment of hesitation from the HOW World and ICON Champion, who nods his head straight away.
“Of course I do.” Cecilworth nods, without hesitation.
“No.” the Son shakes his head, pulling his arm in harder. “I mean really, Cecil. Do you really fucking trust me?”
The man fondly dubbed “Ceciopath” had been largely thought of as an idiot for the bulk of his career, but the truth was becoming ever more obvious every week that he was not an unintelligent man. His answer comes confidently, but not without many year’s worth of certainty behind it.
“Yes, yes, I trust you.” Farthington narrows his eyes. “Now fucking tell me why I need to. Because no one asks that question and doesn’t immediately say some untrustworthy type nonsense.”
The corners of his temples ache– the pulsating almost makes him forget the agony the rest of his body is in. A kneebar at the hands of Lindsay Troy, two crashes through the guardrail… a fucking stun gun to the chest. Refueled had been a full-scale assault on his body and his mind, and the last fucking thing he needed was a bunch of bullshit Lee Best mind games to round it all off.
And make no mistake, it was a mind game.
A ploy. A trick to make the eMpire eat itself, and the father knew the weaknesses of the son in a way that perhaps no one else in the world ever would. Max was perhaps too unpredictable, and Farthington perhaps too loyal… but not the Son.
Lee Best could break the Son.
Releasing his grip on the arm of his would-be-brother, Michael steps past Farthington. He bends down, picking the discarded HOFC Championship up from the floor.
“I made this.” he holds the belt up in front of Farthington’s face. “I made it matter, and I did it without Lee, and for that, he’ll hate it forever. He’ll belittle it, and say it doesn’t mean a fucking thing. It’s the same with the eMpire, buddy. We fucking made it. And it’s bigger, it’s badder, and it’s better than the Best Alliance has ever been. The only thing that can destroy what we’ve built is US, Cecilworth, and he FUCKING KNOWS IT.”
He throws the HOFC Championship onto the leather couch in the dressing room, where the HOW World and ICON Championships have been carefully laid out. Michael’s words are pained– whatever he’s getting at, it isn’t easy to admit, and it’s even harder to say out loud.
“My father is a vicious motherfucker.” Michael sighs. “He will spend the next two fucking years prying this team apart with a crowbar, and he will use every ounce of my insecurity to do it. Because I’m weak. Because my pride has gotten the better of me for my entire life, and he knows it. I will never betray you. I will never fucking swerve you or turn on you or make you regret putting your trust into me. But I need you to trust me, no matter what happens. Trust that I have a plan.”
The bond of friendship had been the thing that had truly set the eMpire apart from everything else in pro wrestling over the last year. No squabbling. No in-fighting. No bullshit. An unstoppable force that had toppled every other stable, every other team, and every other individual that they had come up against. This team was pure. It was successful. And most importantly, it was fun.
But sometimes in a moment, everything changes.
“Because I think we need to fight.”