Features: Undertaker (Mark Calaway)
Rating: NC17 for language
Usual disclaimer - own nothing but my original characters, all the other people own themselves, WWE owns the trademark names, I'm doing this to exercise my creativity and for the sheer pleasure of writing. Ask my therapist!
As always, comments and feedback are warmly welcomed!
The beeping of her alarm woke her with a start two hours later, and she reached for the table lamp next to the couch as she sat up. Shivering a little in the cold of the airconditioning, she rose to her feet and went to the doorway of the bedroom. She could hear soft snoring from the bed as she waited for her eyes to adjust a little to the light from the living area, and then moved around to turn on the light on the opposite side of the bed from where Mark lay.
Coming back to his side, she reached out to shake his shoulder gently, her voice soft. "Mark? You need to wake up now."
Mark muttered thickly in his sleep and one big hand came up to brush hers away. She ignored it and shook him again, a little more firmly. "Mark, wake up!"
Gradually, he opened his eyes, peering up at Harley in the low light. "Whassup?"
Progress, she thought. "Mark, do you know where you are?"
He blinked a little as he came more awake. "Yeah, the hotel." His mouth felt dry, and he fumbled for the bottle of water.
Seeing his hand move, she picked the bottle up and took the cap off, handing it to him. "And why are you here?"
Taking a long swallow of the water, he handed the bottle back to her. "Because I got my damn bell rung."
She put the cap back on the bottle and set it down on the nightstand again. "I'm guessing that's wrestler-speak for having a concussion?"
He lay back against the pillow with a little nod. "Yeah."
"Do you need some Tylenol?" she asked, thinking how absurd it seemed to offer him something so innocuous after he'd had his head slammed into a metal strut.
"Nah, I'm good. Gonna go back to sleep, okay?"
She nodded, moving around to the other side of the bed to turn the light off. "Okay, Mark."
He murmured a sleepy thank you as she left the room, and she sighed tiredly as she sat back down on the couch, wrapping the blanket around her at the chill in the room. She'd managed to get the bedroom to a reasonable temperature, but nothing seemed to work out here. Setting the alarm on her watch again, she tucked her feet up and tried to go back to sleep.
She felt like she'd only just closed her eyes when the alarm woke her again. She shivered, keeping the blanket wrapped around her shoulders as she went into the bedroom, turning on the light beside the bed as she reached out to shake Mark's shoulder.
There was no reponse this time, and she shook him more firmly. "Mark, come on, wake up."
His hand came up to hers, and his eyes opened, looking up at her as his fingers touched her skin. "You're like ice, Kate," he said sleepily, blinking a little at the light.
She shook her head a little, pulling her hand away. "I'm fine, just the air conditioning."
Mark looked up at her, taking in the blanket wrapped around her shoulders and her shivering. "Well that ain't right. Look, this bed is plenty big enough, and I promise, I'm in no shape for any funny stuff."
She could help but look at the broad expanse of the bed beside him. It was a damn sight more comfortable than the couch, and at least she'd be warm in here. He didn't miss the look.
"And you won't have to go far to wake me up in two hours either," he said, dangling it like a carrot in front of her nose.
She hesitated only a minute, long enough to set the alarm on her watch again and turn off the light beside the bed. He could sense her in the darkness as she felt her way around the bed, and he felt the barest movement as she got in under the covers on the other side. His eyes were already slipping closed again when she whispered a thank you. He reached out to pat her shoulder, his hand instead touching her hair before drawing back.
Harley snuggled into the bed, shivering even more, but knowing that soon enough her body heat would warm the space around her. Mark's hand on her hair had startled her a little, but he was snoring again almost as soon as his hand had withdrawn. She felt herself drifting off to sleep.
The alarm on her wristwatch woke her two hours later, and she reached out to turn on the light on the nightstand before turning over, feeling more than a little awkward as she found herself face to face with Mark. She reached out to touch his shoulder, and was startled when he spoke.
"I'm awake, Kate."
It was her turn to blink a little. "Do you know where you are?"
"In bed with you."
She stifled a grin. "Okay, wise guy, why are you in bed with me?"
"Beats the hell outta me - I didn't even think you liked me."
He sounded sleepy, but his thought processes seemed to be working fine. "You need any Tylenol?"
"If you're fixing to use the headache excuse, you're the one who should be asking for Tylenol."
"Shut up and let me go back to sleep, Kate."
She took a moment to set her alarm again before turning the light off. She was snuggling into her pillow when she heard another sleepy thank you, which she returned in a whisper.
When the alarm woke her the next time, the room was light, and she turned over to see Mark looking at her.
"How's your head?" she asked.
"Still aches, but I'm okay," he said.
"That's good news."
Okay, this was pretty awkward. Damned awkward, in fact. She scooted backwards out of the bed and stood up, trying to pretend she hadn't been sleeping right there beside him. It helped . . . a little.
Mark looked up at her. She was wearing a long nightgown in some silky stuff, in a deep burgundy colour. She'd been true to her word about keeping an eye on him during the night, and though he'd never admit it, he was glad she had. Despite his bravado for the doc, the fact that he'd been so out of it had worried him. But he hated hospitals with a passion, so he'd been prepared to risk it alone in the hotel just to avoid that. Thanks to her offer, he'd had another option.
"Um, I'll go in the other room, give you some privacy to get up."
Harley reached for the spare blanket she'd discarded on the chair by the bed in the middle of the night. The living room was likely to still be cold. Mark watched her and then shook his head, pleased that it hadn't made his head ache too badly.
"Kate, get back in here."
"What?" Harley's eyebrows raised.
"You think I don't remember how cold you were last night out there? Just . . . keep you head turned, okay? Really fine physique and all, you know," he grinned at her.
She couldn't help but grin in return as she sat down on the edge of the bed. "If I had a spare pillow, I'd beat you over the head with it, concussion or no."
"Luckily the spare pillow's on the couch out there in the cold."
Pulling her feet up and snuggling back under the covers, Harley snorted laughter. "I really don't know what's with this place and the arctic temperatures."
"Another damn good reason for you to keep your head turned. Now shut up and look away, Kate."
She wasn't quite sure what he meant, but gradually his meaning sank in as she felt the bed shift as he stood up. She couldn't help the little giggle that escaped her, quickly pressing her face into the pillow. But damn it, his concerns about cold . . . shrinkage . . . and that damned song by Christina Aguilera were conspiring in her head with some very lewd mental images.
As Mark made his way to where his case sat, he saw Harley cover her head with the pillow. The woman had toured with rock bands, most of them notorious womanizers by all accounts, and she was paranoid about maybe catching sight of him in his shorts? He shook his head again and headed into the bathroom to dress.
When she heard the bathroom door close, Harley finally let out the laughter that she had been holding in, her shoulders shaking as she hid her head under the pillow. She was pretty damned sure that Mark wouldn't have much to worry about, even with cold shrinkage. And that was dangerous territory, right there. She'd learned a very hard lesson about getting involved with the talent some years back, one she had no intention of repeating.
She forced her mind away from those images and focused instead on her job for the next few days, taking her head out from under the pillow and staring off at the drapes covering the window. She didn't even hear the bathroom door open, and Mark's voice from the end of the bed startled her a little.
"Kate, I'm decent. Gonna call the travel people, see when they can fly me home, okay?"
Nodding, she sat up, throwing back the covers. "Sure thing, chief."
She scratched her head and then stood up, going over to her case to take out clothes for herself as Mark went out into the living room of the suite. She used the bathroom and came back into the bedroom in her usual cargo shorts and black crew t-shirt, sitting down on the end of the bed to put on her socks and her workboots. She was bent forward, tightening the laces on these, when Mark poked his head in.
"I'm on a 10.00am flight, which leaves me plenty of time to buy you breakfast. What do you say?"
She glanced at her watch. The load out wasn't likely to be finished until later this morning, which meant she had a few hours before she had to be back at the venue. And she had to eat, after all.
"Breakfast sounds good. But you don't have to buy it for me - they do pay me to work here, you know."
"Yes, chief?" she looked up at him, still bent forward tying her shoes.
"Shut up. I'm buying you breakfast."
Her chin came up, and she remembered what Bob had said about watching them try to out-bully one another. He was dead right - she was so used to thinking that Mark was trying to bully her that she couldn't recognise when he wasn't anymore. What the hell was wrong with him buying her breakfast? Why did she automatically object?
Mark thought by the set of that chin that she was going to fight him on it, and so he felt the wind taken out of his sails when she simply nodded instead.
"I'll check in with Troy, make sure there's nothing that needs my attention, although I'm pretty sure they've got it under control."
He was half-expecting to have to wait while she fussed in the bathroom a little longer, so he was pleased when it appeared she wasn't one for that sort of thing. She did take a few minutes to toss some stuff into her case, in preparation for checking out after breakfast, but then she simply grabbed her keycard, wallet and phone and headed for the door.
The hotel's restaurant was quieter than it had been the last few mornings, after the exodus of most of the roster. Harley excused herself for a few minutes to check in with Troy and the other crew, confirming that everything was okay, before coming back to join him at the table he'd chosen and picking up the menu.
The waitress poured them both coffee and took their orders, and Mark watched Harley as she picked up her cup. Her hands were . . . capable-looking, he thought. Nails sensibly short, no jewelry. She had what looked like a burn mark on the back of one of them.
"So, how did you get into pyrotechnics?" he asked.
She gave him a quick smile. "Not your usual occupation for a nice Southern gal, huh?"
He laughed. "Now that you mention it, no, not exactly! I'm just curious - I mean, we've had other pyro techs who were women, but you seem to know about a lot more than just pyros."
She nodded. "I have a degree in electrical engineering. And I supported myself through college working for a pyrotechnics company. Started as a real powder monkey, learning to pack shells and tubes. It was about the time they started going more into computer controlled detonation, rather than manual stuff, and I got interested in that side of things too. Once I graduated, I tried the consultant engineering thing, and discovered I really wasn't cut out for the office stuff. I needed to be doing things, not just planning or designing them. So I went back to the pyrotechnics company as an engineer, working in manufacture and design."
"How did you go from that to touring with rock bands?"
Chuckling, she set down her coffee cup. "I was doing outdoor displays, had a real flair for that. And it was a lot of fun, designing new airburst shells and stuff. But hell, everyone was doing that and it was getting tougher to be innovative without just going bigger and bigger. A guy I used to work with was doing some interesting stuff with close proximity pyros, and I kinda shifted focus. Suddenly, I was getting calls from stage managers wanting not just a one-off display, but real creative input into the shows. It was a short step from that to touring with the bands and supervising the set ups."
"You miss the outdoor stuff?"
She shrugged. "Sometimes. I mean, there's a limit to what you can do with close proximity stuff. Even adding in the flame effects. But Bob tells me that your big gig, Wrestlemania, is in an open air stadium next year. That's somewhere we could do some really spectacular stuff . . . " Her voice trailed off as she remembered that, by that time, she wasn't likely to even be working for the company any longer.
Mark didn't miss her hesitation, but the arrival of their breakfast covered the silence a little. He had to say something, though.
"Oh yeah - I'd love to see what you could come up with for that. I haven't said it enough - I've been really blown away by the stuff you've done for my entrances. I've always felt like a good entrance was half the battle in winning the crowd, and you've really helped me come up with memorable ones. Hell, that lightning bolt - the whole arena felt that, and the energy that gave the match was awesome."
Harley shot a look at him as she dug into her hash browns. He seemed sincere about that, but it wouldn't be the first time someone had blown sunshine up her ass to get what they wanted. She just nodded.
He got the feeling she wasn't buying it, and sighed to himself. He'd got no-one to blame for that but himself - he'd been hard on her for so long that she wasn't about to believe anything he said to her. He decided to stick to neutral subjects.
"I've always wondered with fireworks - how do you make sure that people at outdoor shows don't have stuff falling all over them from the explosions?"
"They call it debriless manufacture - the idea is to make sure that everything in the shell or tube will be consumed by the pyrotechic reaction. As in totally burned up, with no residue," she said, finishing a mouthful of her breakfast.
"How do you work out what's going to be good for that?"
"Research, mostly. It's about knowing what the yield will be from the reaction, and the fuse and power applied to the compounds. You need just enough to set off the charge and destroy the packing as well."
His eyebrows raised. "And a degree in electrical engineering helps with that?"
She shook her head. "I had to do post-graduate studies in chemical engineering and physics."
"Damn, Kate, you've got some serious smarts there. Bob was right when he said we were lucky to have you."
She shrugged. "If you say so." She realized that was just being churlish - he was trying to be nice, after all. "I've enjoyed the work with Bob. It's like a mini-show for every member of the roster - that's a challenge, coming up with different things for everyone."
"Not to mention dealing with everyone's ego as you do. We all want to be have the best entrance, and we'll just about lie, cheat and steal to get it," he grinned at her.
She couldn't help but chuckle. "Well, now that you mention it . . . "
"Hey, I'll admit, I do it. I've made it tough for you, I know," his tone was serious, even though he smiled.
"You've given me some challenges, yes," she said. "And I know I've been less than gracious about accepting them, sometimes."
He nodded, and said the only thing he could think of at that point. "Truce?"
She wasn't expecting that. It was probably too little, too late, especially since she hadn't been the big enough person to offer, but it was something. She smiled and nodded. "Truce."
They ate in silence for a few minutes before she spoke again.
"So, how long has the doc put you out for?"
He grunted. "A week."
What was it she'd heard Glenn Jacobs say to him that night, when he was grouching about something in Catering? Did she dare? "Who's a grumpy 'Taker then?" She guessed she did.
He shot a look at her, surprised to see her grinning, and laughed in spite of himself. "Okay, I had that coming!"
She laughed. "Sorry, it just slipped out." Her tone became more serious. "I'm sure the doc is just wanting to make sure you're okay - you are kind of a big deal around here."
He nodded, aware of the ache in his head. "And I probably could use it - I'm not a kid any more, I don't bounce back like I used to."
Harley gave him a sympathetic look. "I hear that. My days of partying hard after a show, working all night on the load out and then bouncing out of bed at sun up to drive a truck all day are long behind me."
Mark chuckled. "You don't look that old to me, Kate."
She gave a wry chuckle. "Let's just say all that booze has probably had a preservative effect. I reckon I'm probably about your age, Mark."
His eyebrows raised. Then he remembered how she'd known about bat utility belts, circa the TV show, and how many women younger than him could quote from A Streetcar named Desire - and get Blanche duBois's accent just right?
"Well I'll be damned. You're just full of surprises, Kate."
"Not intentionally. I'm pretty upfront about most things," she said, pushing her plate away from her and nodding at the waitress, who appeared with the coffee pot.
He accepted a warm up of his own, and leaned back in his chair, sipping his coffee. Harley glanced at her watch.
"You need a ride to the airport?"
He shook his head. "Nah. I'll take a cab. You've still got work to do."
She shrugged. "We'll get the trucks on the road this afternoon. Then we've got a few days to catch up to them."
"Do you get to go home this week?" he asked.
"I could, I suppose. Doesn't seem much point for only a few days. Besides, I've got plenty to keep me occupied with paperwork."
He began to see why Bob needed his vacation. Signalling to the waitress for the check, he took out his wallet. Harley set down her coffee cup and ran her fingers through her hair, and he noticed the dark shadows under her eyes.
"I appreciate you . . . well, taking care of me, last night," he said, handing the waitress his credit card, scrawling a tip on the check for her with a smile.
Harley gave him a little smile. "I'm just glad you're okay this morning." She held up one finger and reached into the pocket of her shorts, handing him the envelope containing his treatment record and the packet of Tylenol that the doctor had given her the night before. "You might need those, although hopefully you won't."
He took them with a nod, slipping them into his own pocket. They rose to their feet as the waitress returned with Mark's credit card, and were silent as they went back upstairs to the suite. Mark collected his bags and gave Harley a smile.
"Okay Kate, I'm gonna get out of your hair. Thanks again - really," he smiled.
She nodded. "Happy to help. I guess I'll see you next week?"
He gave her a wave as he left, and she closed the door after him. She was bone tired, and, if she were honest with herself, just a little upset. How much nicer it would have been if she and Mark had been able to call a truce six months ago. But what was done was done. It was time to move on. She made sure she had everything packed before leaving the suite, taking her case down to the truck before going to check out.
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