Bzzt. Bzzt. Bzzt.
The sound of Eli Dresden’s cell phone vibrating against the bench she was sitting on was pointedly ignored–Hell, she’d even be ignoring it if the ringer was on at full volume, though the chances of it being spiked against the nearest wall would’ve gone up.
Bzzt. Bzzt. Bzzt.
As it was, though? It was damn close to being smashed regardless.
The blond knew full well who was calling–even if she wasn’t as intelligence-driven as a lot of the members of her family, she knew that her brother would be the type to call and rub her nose in how her first match had gone. Elijah would twist her holding her own in spite of not getting the win into yet another example of why he was right about how HOW was too dangerous for her. Shit, by now?
Bzzt. Bzzt. Bzzt.
She’d be lucky if he hadn’t made the drive over to their parents’ house to get them to join in on the hand-wringing.Dad would roll his eyes, she knew, but Mom… it wouldn’t take much for the Dresden matriarch to topple right over that edge of worry and with Eli’s luck? Those apron strings she fought so hard to escape from would tie themselves into a noose around her neck.
Bzzt. Bzzt. Bzzt.
She swore she felt her neck snap at the thought of her mother pleading for her to come home where it was safe, history repeating–
Sweet, blessed silence.
“Fuckin’ hell.” The murmur was a quiet thing, softer than most would expect Eli capable of. Even if she’d only just made her debut, she was fairly confident that she’d come across exactly as she intended–as being unwilling to fall into whatever convenient stereotypes the men around her wanted to be. Why else did Jace lose his shit when he was faced with the very same treatment he’d heaped onto women over and over again? It was kinda’ funny, seein’ his head damn near explode when he was on the receiving end of that bullshit–
Bzzt. Bzzt. Bzzt.
Snatching the phone up without bothering to look at the caller ID, the blond didn’t speak when she answered so much as she snarled, tone sharp as a Vorpal knife and just as cutting. “What the fuck do you want?!”
Silence… then an unfamiliar, decidedly feminine giggle.
“Is that how you always answer the phone when a lady calls you?” Shit, that voice sounded familiar–but where did she know it from? Shit, why can’t she place it? Who had she given her number to? Think, damn it Eli… think! Mercifully, the caller didn’t take too long to give her a solid hint. “I mean, unless Butcher and the Rye isn’t the best place to get dinner in Pittsburgh after all.”
It was a wonder that moment of realization didn’t actually generate any sound in the world beyond Eli’s mind, something she was infinitely thankful for.It was going to be hard enough being smooth with that shitshow of an opener, but if there was one strength that the smallest member of HOW’s roster had going for her?
“Oh, no–it is. I was just expectin’ someone a lot less beautiful to be callin’ me, is all. How ‘bout you meet me near the exit in, say… half an hour or so, Madison? Gimme enough time to get a shower, make a coupla’ calls.”
It was stubborn-as-Hell optimism.
Lemme guess… this is where I’m supposed to be humbled, right?
Where I’m supposed to act like a single loss to a dickhead that had to take a cheap shot before our match even started is the end of the world, like my career’s over when there’s not a single fuckin’ legend in HOW–shit, in professional wrestling at all!–that hasn’t had to pick themselves up off the canvas after talkin’ shit. We all talk shit, and we all get hit. It’s just the nature of the beast but because my dick takes batteries, I’m supposed to act like it’s all over for me. Curtain’s closed, lights are off, game’s over.
Haaaaah… to Hell with that.
I know I’m blond and all, but I’m not fucking stupid.
I can hear Jace talkin’ up the fact that he beat me now with that smug, vacant Stepford-lookin’ grin on his face, vomitin’ up hundreds after hundreds of his usual dull-ass ego strokes. He’s gonna be spendin’ an awful lot of energy doing all he can to downplay the fact that I had him sweatin’ bullets for most of our match. Not only did he have to work like Hell to actually get his hands on me, but he didn’t know how to handle how easily I burrowed my way under his skin and right into his mind. If he hadn’t felt the need to cheapshot me before either of us got to the ring, why, I’d lay money that I would’ve had him eatin’ that mat the way he shoulda’ been–
No thinkin’ about her right now.
You gotta focus, bitch!
Anyway–ahem–when it comes to men like Jace? How hard they have to work to save face in a situation where they don’t really need to just gives it all away. After all, I’m a nobody in his opinion–a ‘replacement pussy’, right? Just another token member of the roster to keep up the status quo. But yet in spite of the fact that he wants everyone to believe that beating me was nothing… well, reality says otherwise. Reality says that I pushed all the right buttons to make him throw a temper tantrum live on air. Reality says that even though he won by the skin of his fucking teeth, my tiny little ass left a massive impression in his head. Reality says that no matter how much he protests–and trust and believe, he’s gonna run his mouth ‘til we’re all blue in the face for havin’ to listen to him!–I have him shook.
Sound familiar, Clay?
(That’s right, ladies and gentlemen–time for target practice!)
Now I’m not sayin’ that you’re shook at the idea of facin’ me–that’d imply a level of awareness that I’m pretty sure got bred out of the Byrd family a couple generations back. I was more talkin’ about how what goes on in your head and what happens out here in reality doesn’t really match up the way it should. Yeah yeah, I know that I’m the pot callin’ the kettle black here to a degree, but there’s a world of difference between me tellin’ Jace that I’m gonna steal his girl and beat his ass… and you tryin’ to step up to the Son of God hisself like you’re not gonna throw the same exact shit at him that he overcame last time. Literally nothing changed between the two times you stepped into the cage with a man whose entire career has been proof positive that evolution is vital to makin’ it in this business. I don’t fuckin’ remember who said it, but doin’ the same thing over and over and over again while expectin’ different results is the definition of stupidity.
…or is it insanity?
Same shit, different name.
That unwillingness to admit that maybe, maybe reality’s got a point doesn’t just start at Mike Best, either. How many times have you choked when the LSD Championship was on the line again? How often did you talk yourself up to be this unstoppable juggernaut only for someone way smaller’n you to yank the helmet-cleverly-disguised-as-a-cowboy-hat and knock you the fuck out? And I know, the same thing technically happened to me on the last episode of Refueled, but somethin’ doesn’t become a pattern from happenin’ once. No, it takes numerous instances to make a pattern..and wouldn’t you know it, but you’ve got one goin’ that Lee Best could see from space.
Besides, you and me are nothin’ alike.
See, unlike you?
I’m just like Mike–woo, there’s a throwback!–in one critical way.
I learn from my mistakes.
Do I regret fuckin’ with Jace’s brain? Not at all–but there’s a better way to do it. See, it’s so much more… effective when I let my good buddy reality help out. And for all the shit I gave him, as I was diggin’ through HOW’s archives in the name of gettin’ ready for the next time I reach into his head and have a rummage, I found somethin’ interesting that matters here. Now I’m not sayin’ that he’s still capable of it but at one point? He did one of the many things you just can’t seem to manage.
He beat Mike Best.
Y’know, the guy you’re so obsessed with that I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t have some creepy-ass shrine dedicated to him in your closet next to your shit-stained cowboy boots. Or maybe you’ve got one of those life-sized body pillows of him to cuddle up to at night, one with suspicious-looking stains right around the dick and balls area.
…wonder if the audio guy would change your entrance music to Goodbye Horses if I flashed’em some tiddy.
Somethin’ to consider later.
Anyway, since I’m pretty sure I’d need crayons and construction paper to explain it to you if we were in the same room, let me put this as simply as I can for you. A man who has done the very thing you are obsessed with doing, a man with numerous titles and accolades to his name while you can’t even get hold of one, a man who you probably took the same side on in War Games to avoid because you didn’t want him to beat your ass the way that Teddy Palmer has over and over again… had to bust his fuckin’ balls to beat little ol’ me.
Now I’m not sayin’ that you’d be less of a challenge for Jace than I was, but then again….
And now that thought’s stuck in your craw, between your teeth where you can’t pry it out no matter what angle you try. I think that’s why the word ‘dumb’ gets thrown around a lot when it comes to you, bucko. I know I’m billed as bein’ from Pittsburgh, but I lived in the middle of Amish country when I was younger. You know what you remind me of? This big ol’ bull that got somethin’ stuck in his teeth. No big deal, right? I mean, he was huge.
But you know what happened to him?
That teeny weeny little bit of hay or corn or, well, whatever it was that got stuck caused an infection that eventually rotted out half of his Goddamn head. When the farmer went and finished him off with a sledgehammer, his skull literally collapsed in on itself like a Halloween pumpkin that’s been left out for too long. I think that’s what happened to you, Clay–and lucky me, I’m more than strong enough to cave your head in with one well-placed GDI. So go ahead, sweetpea. Bring your lariats and your one-size-doesn’t-actually-fit-all offense that won’t even come close to touchin’ me. Do the exact same thing that only works when certain things are true… and that can’t apply to me no matter how hard you try.
I look forward to becoming yet another opponent you just can’t beat.
Bye bye, Byrdie.~ ♥
“So how pissed is Jace gonna be, anyway?” Eli’s question giggled itself free of her lips as she rolled onto her side, hair a mess and make-up even moreso. Hell, it was hard to tell if it was her cosmetics or Madison’s that was smeared across flesh and sheets alike, streaks of crimson obscuring the bruises that Jace had left behind. Getting that #97RED lipstick off of her pillowcases was gonna be a bitch and a half, not to mention the streaks of purple from Madison sweating out her hair color… but then again, replacements were cheap enough if she decided to bother.
Shit, if only all my problems were so easy to solve.
“At what–me spending the night or not being invited to join us?” Madison’s own smirk was bright as she reached out, idly twirling a strand of the other woman’s hair around her fingers. Even if Eli wanted to take all the credit for the hazy sort of happiness in her companion’s eyes, the truth of the matter was simple–there was only so much any mere mortal can do in comparison to top-shelf liquor and Steak Diane.
“Whatever part involves it bein’ with me.” Eli rolled her eyes, though the moment’s mock-annoyance didn’t last long, not when the mental image her brain summoned had her chuckling to herself. “I thought his head was gonna spin around like that girl in The Exorcist when he saw me shootin’ my shot.”
“So what if he is? It’s not like he owns me… or like you do.” A well-manicured nail tapped the blond on the end of her nose.
“Hah, like I’d ever dream of tryin’ to tie a woman like myself down.” Eli paused before shifting her arm beneath herself a bit more, giving her the upper ground as she did her very best villainous grin. “I mean, maybe if you ask me nice enough–”
Bzzt. Bzzt. Bzzt.
Of fucking course.
Eli groaned, flopping onto her back. “Seriously, even this late he’s tryin’ to lecture me?”
“He? Who’s he?” It was Madison’s turn to smirk teasingly. “…is he hot?”
A scoff. “Not unless you find stuffy pencil-pushers appealin’.”
Bzzt. Bzzt. Bzzt.
“Okay, okay!” Slapping about on the top of the bedside table nearer to her, Eli’s hand finally landed upon her phone–a phone that turned out to be still and quiet. A brow raised as the blond lifted it up just to be sure she wasn’t seeing things.“…wait. That’s not my phone.”
“Oh, it’s probably Jace calling me.” Behind her, Eli could hear Madison going for her own phone, the buzzing falling silent all of two seconds later. “I’m sending it to voicemail. He can call me back in the morning.”
“…yep, he’s gonna want to kill me even more now. Stealin’ his manager’s one thing, but makin’ her skip his calls?” Rolling back onto her… well, back, Eli put the back of her head in overdramatic fashion. “O, tragedie!”
Madison laughed, the sound bright as brass as she took the opportunity to roll over, settling in close to Eli’s side. An arm draped itself across the other woman’s chest, chin resting on Eli;s collarbone. “He’s not that bad, y’know. If you gave him a chance–”
“After he tried to say that I’m nothin’ but a replacement for a woman that had to name herself queen in order to be one?” Eli scoffs.” Thanks, but no thanks.”
“Really, Eli. Just–” An aimless gesture of Madison’s hand. “Give him a chance at some point.”
“…you just want both of us in bed at the same time.”
“Am I that transparent?” The grin that tugged at Madison’s lips earned a laugh from the blond serving as her pillow, though that mirth didn’t last long. “Besides, you gotta survive Clay Byrd first.”
“Yeah, yeah…” A wave of her hand. “Somethin’ to worry about later.”
“I know you being flippant is part of your charm and all, but Clay’s probably as pissed off as a wet hornet after being the first man eliminated at War Games.” A pause; Madison’s eyes averted themselves as if what she was about to say was going to summon the man whose name she mentioned. “And then losing to Mike Best last week.”
“You just can’t help yourself, can you?” A scoot upward and Eli’s lifting her head, managing to meet Madison’s gaze with her own. “You’ve just got to be the manager with everyone.”
“I mean, it’s obvious you need someone to remind you that you can’t just snark your way to a win.” This time, the tap that Madison used on Eli’s nose had a bit of force behind it. “I want you to show these boys that women are nothing to fuck with, and you can’t do that just by humiliating them with your words. You’ve got to beat their asses in the ring, too–and you’ve got to do it big.”
The silence that reigned afterward was brief, but it was obvious that the manager’s words sunk homejust as intended. For a moment, Eli’s brow furrowed, and it almost seemed like she was going to offer up some sort of witty comment to try to bring things back to the sort of lighthearted escape that she’d needed for so long… but ultimately?
“…too big for’em to spin.” She’s nodding faintly before settling back down, an arm curling around Madison’s back.
“See? I knew you’d get it.” Leaning up, Madison stole a quick kiss from the blond before she was sitting up properly, hands balling up into fists over her head as she stretched. “Here, give me the remote. You’ve got a FireStick, right? Let’s watch some matches, get some strategy stuck in that brain of yours.”
“There’s a joke to be made about lickin’ a stick here–“ Laughing at the look Madison gave her, Eli rolled onto her side to snag the remote before she offered it to the other woman.
“Thanks.” Madison’s eyes shifted from the blond to the TV at the foot of Eli’s bed, the screen flickering to life as she brought up the YouTube app. The cursor moved quickly across the screen, controlled with an ease born of practice. “Now, as I’m getting this loaded up, let’s start with the obvious. Clay got choked out last show, then kneed in the head by one of the hardest knee strikes in the business. His skull’s gonna be a weak spot.”
It was hard to say just what connected together in Eli’s mind at that bit of commentary, her gaze floating up toward the ceiling involuntarily as a memory shook itself loose. Without conversational autopilot kicking in, she wouldn’t have made so much as a peep. “…uh huh.”
“Are you even paying attention?” And of course, Madison noticed. Before she could get too irritated, though, Eli was turning to look at her, focus alight in her eyes.
“You know what that reminds me of?” Eli couldn’t help but to chuckle all over again when Madison gave her another of those ‘Oh now what?’ kind of looks. Both hands rose in a mea culpa sort of way. “No, really. When I was growin’ up, there was this bull…”