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!
Mark hadn't mentioned visiting his ink guy again, and Harley was beginning to think he'd forgotten. Not that it really mattered, but just talking about tattoos again had gotten her interested in getting another one. They had arrived in Sacramento, and had a full two days for the set build for Monday's show. She had been up a ladder working on one of the pyro rigs on the Titan-tron, and was just coming back down when she spotted Mark heading towards her. She jumped down the last two steps and gave him a smile as she folded the ladder and picked it up.
He was struck again by how capable she was as she carried the ladder over to the edge of the stage and carefully lowered it to the arena floor. "Hey Kate."
She bent to her toolbox and lifted a pyro cannister, kneeling at the edge of the stage to screw it into its brackets. "Busy day?"
He shrugged. "About usual. Got any plans for tonight?"
She looked up at him, her hands pausing in their work. "Nope - why do you ask?"
He smiled. "Thought we might go grab some dinner and then I'll take you to meet my ink guy."
Grinning, she nodded. "Sounds good. What time you want to get together?"
"Six o'clock in the lobby too early for you?"
Harley glanced at her watch. "That's fine - thanks, Mark."
"I was thinking that maybe you'd forgotten," she said, and he chuckled.
"I never forget when it's about ink, Kate. I'll see you tonight."
The heatwave had continued, and Harley hoped Mark wasn't planning on anywhere fancy for dinner as she dressed after her shower. She teamed a tank top with a pair of capri pants and sandals, slipping her room key and wallet into her pocket. She took the elevator to the lobby, and seeing she was a few minutes early, she took a seat and waited for Mark to arrive.
There were various other members of the crew and roster coming and going through the lobby at this hour, and when Mark emerged from the elevator a little after six o'clock and walked over to where Harley was rising to her feet, there were more than a few knowing looks and glances. Harley missed them all as she smiled at Mark, who was dressed similarly casually in jeans and a t-shirt.
They walked out of the hotel together and the doorman hailed a cab for them. Mark turned to Harley as the cab pulled away.
"Hope you like Italian - there's a terrific place a few blocks from where we're going later."
She nodded. "Yeah, that would be great."
The bistro Mark had chosen was small and quiet, and the food nothing short of exquisite. Harley had wondered what they might find to talk about over dinner, but it didn't end up being an issue, surprisingly. They started with tattoos as the one thing they had in common, and the conversation seemed to flow from there. Places they'd had great tattoos, places they'd been, places they'd had great food - between the two of them, they'd travelled extensively and with a fair amount of overlap.
They swapped tour exploit stories, and Mark was astonished to discover that she had, indeed, ridden the top of a moving tour bus, and on more than one occasion. After a glass or two of red wine, he'd admitted his dabblings with drugs early in his career, and she'd confessed her own issues with with both drugs and booze at various times. They'd both shared embarrassed laughter over the "supervised collections" under the Wellness Policy, which applied to both crew and roster.
She'd refused dessert in favour of a glass of the owner's homemade grappa, and her wide smile at its fresh taste and her hesitant "Molto buono!" earned her a torrent of excited Italian that she understood not a word of. She explained with a laugh that she'd holidayed in Friuli during a break from a European tour and gotten very familiar with grappa, and that she thought his brew was as good as any she'd drunk there.
Mark just chuckled as their coffee was poured, the traditional caffè, dark and strong in tiny cups.
"You'll never want for good service here again, now Enzo knows you like his grappa."
"I don't know that I'd mind what kind of service it was - the food is incredible. Thanks for bringing me here, Mark."
It was the second time today she'd actually called him by his name rather than the more usual "chief", and he smiled.
"The company was good too, Kate."
He thought he could see a little blush on her cheeks as she sipped her coffee. It had been a terrific evening so far, he thought, picking up his own cup, which almost disappeared in his hand. Their waitress smiled as she lay the check down at his elbow, and he reached for his wallet.
Harley was about to object, and Mark shook his head. "Enzo would never let me darken his door again if he thought I was doing something as crass as letting my lady friend pay for her own meal. I invited you, Kate, so it's my treat, okay?"
She chuckled and nodded. "Okay, Mark. Only because I'd hate to be the cause of you being banished from Enzo's table."
As they left, Enzo, who spoke perfect English, kissed both of Harley's cheeks with a big smile, and said something in rapid fire Italian, looking from her to Mark, who ducked his head with an embarrassed look. Harley looked puzzled, and their waitress grinned.
"He says that Mister Mark should bring such a lovely lady back again, because you make him laugh and smile and that is good for him."
Harley blushed a little herself, and decided not to try explaining to either Enzo or his waitress that she and Mark were only, well, colleagues. It was a bit soon to even refer to him as her friend, she thought, and Enzo held the door open for her. Mark stepped out beside her, giving her a grin as he chuckled.
"Enzo's got a big mouth - and Rosa should keeps hers shut if she wants a tip in future."
She laughed, shaking her head. "I think they mean well. And despite their assumptions about our relationship, they were right about one thing - we have had a lot of fun so far tonight."
He nodded, gesturing up the street. "You're right. Now if you'll just come with me, we'll go meet my ink guy and see if we can't have some more."
They walked together up the street in companionable silence, until Mark stopped outside a storefront with a simple sign that read "Steel Quill".
"Okay, this is the place." He opened the door and smiled at her. "After you, Kate."
She smiled and stepped inside into a simple waiting area, with the walls containing some simple framed sketches rather than being plastered with flash art. A discreet buzzer sounded as Mark let the door close behind him, and a middle aged man with a goatee and wearing simple gold framed glasses stepped into the waiting area, a broad smile on his face.
"Mark! Good to see you, man!"
Mark grinned and hugged the man. "Hey Denny."
Denny looked at Harley, his eyebrows raising. "This is a new one, Mark - you've never brought a lady friend along before. Losing your nerve, big fella - need someone to hold your hand?"
Harley couldn't help her laughter, any more than Mark could.
"This is Kate, Denny - I brought her here to maybe get a tattoo."
Denny stepped forward, holding out his hand to her. "Hello Kate."
"Hi Denny," Harley said, taking his hand.
"Kate, tell me now - is this big lug trying to talk you into a tattoo just because he's running out of places for me to tattoo on him?"
Shaking her head, Harley laughed again. "No, he isn't. I want to maybe add something to my own ink, and Mark said you were good."
Denny gave Mark a speculative look and then turned back to Harley. "Then why don't you come on in back, and we'll talk."
He ushered them into his working area, which was clean and brightly lit. The walls here contained some flash art, but Harley noticed the thick books on a shelf that quite obviously contained the bulk of Denny's real 'stock'. As she passed in front of him, Denny smiled, seeing the tattoo on her shoulder.
"Now that's very nice - you've got good taste, Kate."
Harley smiled over her shoulder at him. "Thanks, Denny."
Denny arranged what looked like a seated massage chair in the centre of the room, and then handed Harley a towel and pointed to a folding screen in one corner. "Why don't you take your top off behind there?"
Giving him a quick smile, Harley moved behind the screen and took off her tank top and bra and then stepped back out, holding the towel against her breasts with one arm. She straddled the chair, having been on dozens like it over the years when having her tattoos done. The towel was really only a modesty shield, and she wasn't all that worried about that. Mark gave her a quick smile.
"You mind if I take a look? I haven't seen the whole thing," he said, and she nodded, taking the clip that Denny offered her and pinning her hair up off her neck.
"Sure, go ahead."
Denny was already standing behind her, carefully running his fingers over her tattoo, which Mark could now see covered most of her shoulderblade.
Moving a tray with a pair of mirrors on it close to Harley's side, Denny arranged them so that she had a view of her back as they talked.
"You've had some talented inkers work on you, Kate."
"Thanks, Denny. I've been choosy, I'll admit."
Denny's fingers traced part of the vines up on her neck. "Mind a suggestion?"
"Of course not - suggest away," Harley said, watching his fingers moving over her skin.
"Even if you get nothing else done tonight, I think that it might be worth doing some touch up work here - these look like they're around the oldest ink, right?"
"There's just a little fading, and I'd like to see them brought back to the quality of the rest of the work. Which is just beautiful - it's so organic, almost like it's alive."
Mark had to admit that Denny was right - seen as a whole, you could almost think that she had planned it right from the start. He moved around to take a seat on one of the chairs against the wall, in front of Harley. He could still see Denny's fingers tracing over her skin in the mirrors beside her.
"Do you have any idea what you might like to add, Kate?"
Harley smiled. "Yeah, I do. I think I'd like a quill."
Denny chuckled. "Like my sign that much, huh?"
Mark laughed and extended his right arm, rotating it to show the wizard holding a quill. "I think she had in mind something more like this, Denny."
"You wouldn't mind, Mark?" she asked. Copying someone else's ink could be considered bad form if you didn't ask first.
He shook his head and sat back. "Not at all. I mean, the way you were describing your ink to me the other day, it certainly sounds like it's writing your story for you. Seems natural to put a quill in there."
She nodded her head. "Which is why I thought of it when I saw your wizard."
Denny had gone over to his books, and brought back one of them back, held open to a page of flash featuring feathers. Harley's eyes lit up and she immediately pointed to one showing a plain feather with a swirled ribbon around it.
"That's what I want - a quill with my vine around it! Only not that feather." She scanned the page and pointed to a much more stylized feather, which could be best described as a delicate tribal design. "That one. But about this long." She held her fingers perhaps three inches apart.
Nodding, Denny went to a file cabinet and brought out a stencil of the feather, ran it through the copier in the corner, and standing behind her to use her existing tattoos for reference, sketched an elongated coil of vine around it. Using the copier again, he reduced the image size, then showed her the result. The feather was just over two inches long on a diagonal, with the vine a delicate tendril around it.
She nodded. "That's exactly what I want. It's perfect."
Mark had to agree. Denny moved back behind her, folding the page so that only the image was showing, holding it against her skin. "We just need to decide where to put it."
Harley watched as he moved the image over her skin, fitting it against her existing ink. There were two spots it might go - one more to her right side, and the other closer to the centre of her back. She chewed her bottom lip as she considered it. Finally, she nodded.
"There, Denny. In the centre, but perhaps down a little." He shifted the image a little, and she nodded. "Yep, that's where it's meant to be."
Nodding, Denny came around to look into her face. "Okay Kate, you know what I'm going to ask now, don't you?"
She chuckled. "How many sessions do I want to do this over?"
"That would be the one. Don't shine me on, Kate, tell me the truth."
She looked at the design in his hand, and then back at her reflection in the mirror. "We can do this in one sitting, Denny."
Mark's eyebrows raised. He would easily have agreed to one, but he had thought she might go for two, given the detail of that feather, and the vines. Apparently, Denny thought so too.
"You want to think about that some more?"
Harley shook her head. "Nope. Look at the design - it's mostly outline. There's no big blocks of colour to be done, just the vines. I can easy take this in one session. I mean, if you wanted to do it over two because you think it will take too long, I'll do it that way, but if you want to know how long I can tolerate it, I've easily sat through a four hour session."
Denny chuckled and nodded. "Okay, let's shoot for one session then! I'll do the new work first, okay? That way, if we do run out of time or tolerance, it's only the touch up stuff that still needs to be done. And you can get that done anywhere, realistically."
"Sounds like a plan to me."
Harley wriggled a little in the chair, getting into a comfortable position. She crossed her forearms along the top of the chair and rested her chin on them. Denny nodded in approval and began mixing his inks, and she smiled at Mark.
"Didn't really think about how boring this is going to be for you."
Mark grinned. "Hey, I like watching Denny work. And there's nothing stopping us talking while he does."
She gave a little nod. "True. What of your ink did Denny do?"
He lifted his left arm and pointed to three of the more elaborate skulls. "These are Denny's."
"They're good. You're good with shading, Denny," Harley said, without moving her head.
"Thanks, Kate. Okay, you ready for me to start?"
She nodded. "Go for it."
He began with washing, shaving and drying the area where the new design would go, and where her old work needed touching up, and then applied the stencilled image of the new tattoo to her skin. Laying his hand on her back to hold the skin slightly taut, he began the outlining, raising an eyebrow when she barely flinched at the first touch of the needles. Mark watched in the mirror as Denny worked methodically along the stencil. Harley gave a little chuckle.
"I don't want to hear either of you utter an 'Ooops', okay?"
Denny laughed and Mark grinned at her. He stretched his legs out in front of the chair and crossed his ankles. She looked so calm sitting there - she was obviously like him, someone who grooved on the whole process, not just the finished product. Looking at her, he thought back to seeing her after the Pay-Per the week before, with the lead singer of the band.
"You wanna talk about the band, Kate?"
She looked at him and then nodded a little. "Picked up on something, did you?"
"Bob thought you might quit to join them on the road."
"Nah. That wouldn't be a good idea."
"I kinda got that feeling myself. Something about the lead singer, right?"
She gave a little sigh. "Yep. But the story starts before I even met him."
"It was maybe seven years ago. I was touring with another band then. The lead guitarist . . . well, we'd been out on tour less than a week before he was putting the moves on me. And I knew he was married, but I was . . . well, I wish I could blame it on being young and stupid, but it was mostly just being stupid. I swallowed the lines he fed me, and ended up sharing his bed. I'm not going to try and tell you it was love, because it wasn't. And it wasn't even great sex. It was just . . . convenient, I guess."
Mark nodded. "Yeah, I've done that myself from time to time. Not proud of it, but . . . "
"I think the thing that I regret the most . . . well, the lesson I learned was to never make someone your priority while you remain their option. I was pretty low on his list - the guy who kept his guitars in tune and the guy who got his blow for him rated much more highly than I did, and yet I'd drop everything when he crooked his finger at me. Like I said, stupid."
There was no bitterness in her tone, she was quite matter of fact about it.
"Anyway, his wife - well, I don't know if she got wind of what was going on, or if she just knew what kind of snake he was, but she decided to join the tour without warning about six months in and she bird dogged me within the first hour. And I guess he got the message - either I went, or she'd make his life hell. So I got handed my walking papers. Man, did that hurt my pride. Fortunately, the tour manager was pretty cool and whenever anyone asked why I'd left, he made it real clear that it had nothing to do with my skills, just that it was a 'personality conflict'. And he skated over that as much as he could, so it didn't really stand in the way of me getting a new gig."
So that's why she had been ready to quit - he guessed having another job end due to a 'personality conflict' wasn't something she wanted on her resume.
"What happened then?"
"I picked up a tour that was on the home leg, finished it out with them and then looked around for the next gig. That's when I met JT. And he was wild to have me come on board, and hey, I was keen to do it. The guys in the band were cool, and we got on really well. And the tour was a blast - we had so much fun, it probably should have been illegal."
Her smile was genuine and he nodded and smiled back.
"I guess we'd been on the road for eighteen months. We'd been in Europe, even down to Australia. We'd came back to the States and we had a few weeks down time. I was planning on going home, but instead, I let the band talk me into going to Vegas with them for a week. It sounded like fun - just the four of them and me, buds, you know, kicking back in the party town. And for the first few days, that's exactly what it was like. But then one night, the other guys went on to some club, and it was just him and me. And damn, we had the best night. We laughed and danced and stayed up most of the night talking. We were all staying in a suite at one of the casinos, and when the other guys came back, they found us asleep together on one of the beds. Nothing had happened, we'd just been lying there talking when we fell asleep, but the guys ribbed us about it for two solid days. And just to give 'em something to rib us about, he started flirting with me."
She gave a little sigh then.
"And we all treated it as a joke. Only he wasn't joking. He'd started to have feelings for me that went beyond friendship. And all the while, I was flirting right back, thinking it was just part of the joke. This went on for maybe six months, until finally one night he cornered me in a parking garage in Denver and told me in no uncertain terms that he wasn't kidding around, that he cared for me, that he wanted me. And I freaked. After being booted off that earlier tour, I'd decided that rule number one was, don't get involved with the talent. And rule number two was, see rule number one. All I could see was this blowing up in my face again. And so I bolted - quit the tour on the spot, told JT some cock and bull story about a family emergency and I took off."
Mark just shook his head. He'd been right - that song had been written about her.
"He called me, day and night, begging me to just talk to him. When I finally did get up the nerve to call him, it was too late. I'd hurt him far too badly for him to forget, or really forgive. But he still cared about me, even though I'd done nothing to deserve it."
"The other night, after the concert, when I said we had to go . . . the bass player said it would be better if you left then."
"Yeah. I kinda figured that we weren't far off that point where he'd . . . sometimes, when he gets drunk, he calls me. And all he can do is beg me to tell him what was so terrible about him loving me that I wouldn't let him do it. It always makes me feel about two inches tall, and a perfect asshole to boot. I guess the guys have had to hear something similar on occasion, about me leaving."
"I'm sorry to hear that, Kate. I don't know what else to say, though."
"There's nothing to be said, Mark. He's a great guy, and I made a huge mistake in running off and not at least talking about it. I'm just lucky we've gotten to a point where we can be friends again."
She seemed about to say something more, but Denny picked that moment to tell her she could take a stretch break as he lay down his stylus, and she shifted a little in the chair, looking over her shoulder at the mirrors, taking in the new work with a satisfied nod before rising to her feet and stretching luxuriantly, if one-handed as she kept the towel pressed to her bare breasts.
"You've got great skin, Kate," Denny said, and she smiled. A part of her wondered just when she'd gotten so damn comfortable with being called 'Kate' that she'd actually let herself be introduced to someone that way.
"I've been told that before. I do know it takes ink really well, for which I'm grateful," she said, stretching from side to side before straddling the chair and settling herself again.
Mark shifted on his own chair, leaning forward with his forearms resting on his knees, watching as Harley and Denny spoke. He'd seen the blood welling on her skin as Denny worked, and yet she'd not even moved. Tough and then some, it seemed.
It didn't take long for Denny to finish the new work on her back, and then Harley needed to keep her head bent forward as he touched up the vines on the back of her neck. It was a position that didn't make it easy to talk, and they instead sat in silence. Mark watched as Denny re-worked some of the older tattoos, using his perfectionist eye to correct fading that probably no one else would spot.
Harley's breathing was deep and even and, with a chuckle, Mark realized she'd fallen asleep. It wasn't anything he'd done himself, but then he'd never exactly been in comfortable positions to do so when having his tattoos done. Denny appeared to be used to this phenomenon, and as he wiped her skin down with a final antiseptic wash, he gave her a little nudge, and she raised her head, blinking a little.
"We are indeed. Take a look," Denny said, rising from his stool behind her.
Harley turned her head to look in the mirrors, a wide smile spreading over her lips when she saw the new tattoo. "Denny, it's beautiful - thank you!"
"My pleasure, Kate. I'm going to take some pictures, if you don't mind?"
"Sure, go ahead," she agreed easily, propping her chin on one hand as she sat in the chair.
Denny used a digital camera to take shots of the work he'd done, and of the whole design of her ink. Setting down the camera, he applied a light film of antiseptic cream to the new tattoos and then covered them with sterile dressings. "You know how to take care of these, don't you?"
Shivering a little at the cool cream, Harley nodded. "Yep."
He patted her shoulder. "Why don't you get dressed and then we'll settle up?"
Harley rose from the chair with a nod and stepped behind the screen, putting the towel down. As she reached for her clothes, she shook her head, laughing to herself. Good place for a tattoo, but it would mean going without a bra for a few days. She left the bra on the stool and slipped her tank top on - fortunately she wasn't overly well endowed, so it wasn't going to be too bad.
Holding the bra folded in her hand, she stepped out from behind the screen, smiling at Denny, who was sitting at the desk with a printed set of instructions and a tube of aftercare cream. "You need some antibacterial soap too?"
She shook her head. "I use it all the time - work with my hands, so I'm always getting nicks and scrapes."
"That might explain why your tattoos look so good even now."
Laying her bra down on the desk, she signed the credit card slip and took the receipt Denny offered her, and then filled in his customer card, adding her email address so that he could send her the pictures he'd taken.
"Thank you, Kate - it was a pleasure to work on you. Next time you're in Sacramento, you come back and see me," Denny said with a smile.
"I'll do that for sure, Denny - thanks," she replied, picking up the instructions and putting away her credit card.
Mark and Denny said their farewells, and she and Mark walked out onto the street, waving down a cab to take them to the hotel. Harley sat sideways on the seat a little to keep pressure from her back, which had the usual stinging sensation she experienced with any of her tattoos. She looked over at Mark, smiling.
"Hey, it was my pleasure," he said. And it had been, he thought. What the hell, maybe they really could learn to get along.
When they arrived at the hotel, he took her hand to help her out of the cab, and neither of them noticed the looks that got from those of their colleagues who were around at the time. They entered the elevator together, and Mark bid Harley goodnight on her floor. It was only as he reached into his pocket for his key that his fingers encountered the lace of her bra, and he shook his head. He'd picked it up with the aftercare cream, because he figured he had bigger pockets to carry them than she did. He had meant to give them to her in the elevator, but he'd forgotten.
Oh well, he thought as he opened his door, he could just give them back to her in the morning.
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