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Fireworks (17/?)

Fireworks
Features: Undertaker (Mark Calaway)
Rating: NC17 for language and sexual situations
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!

Thanks so much for the feedback so far - so glad to know people are enjoying the story! After a little . . . detour . . . I'm happy to say that things are now moving in the right direction again! Told you to trust me, didn't I? On with the story! 

###

She packed the next morning before going down to meet Ben for breakfast in the hotel's coffee shop. She chose another of her new purchases to wear, a short sleeved eyelet embroidered shift in lemon, and carried her pyrotechnics manual and a schematic pad with her.

Ben was already waiting for her, dressed in a crisp white shirt and tie, his own manual beside his plate, making her laugh as he leaned in to kiss her cheek. They spent an hour over breakfast, going over ideas, refining them, coming up with alternatives. The excitement of creating something new, something that hadn't been tried before, was inspiring them both. This would be a new standard in close proximity pyrotechnics, if they could make it work. And that might revolutionize the field, something both of them were keenly aware of.

Finally, they had a list of possible formulas for Ben to manufacture and test, and a proposed detonation model that also needed refining and testing. Harley sat back in her chair, sipping her coffee.

"Ben, this has been . . . thank you, for the opportunity to work with you on this."

"Hey, pleasure's all mine, Harley. I look forward to bringing you some samples to test in a month or so."

After breakfast, Ben left for his office, and Harley went upstairs to collect her bags to check out of the hotel. She took the next shuttle leaving for the airport, and headed for the check in counter, not really noticing anyone else, until a familiar voice spoke from behind her.

"Morning, Harley."

She turned and saw Glenn smiling at her. "Hey Glenn."

"I haven't seen you on this flight before," he said, pushing his sunglasses up onto his head.

"Perhaps you haven't been looking closely enough," she winked.

He grinned. "So you're stalking me, are you?"

"That's right, Glenn. I'm not satisfied with just 'Taker and the Legend Thriller any more. I'm looking to add the Big Red Machine to my stable."

He burst out laughing.

"Oh good, you don't believe me. The hunt is so much sweeter when the prey is unaware." She regarded him coolly, her blue gray eyes serious.

He stopped laughing, and looked at her a little warily. She couldn't help herself then, grinning widely and shaking her head.

"Glenn, and I say this with the greatest of respect, you are way too gullible!"

He narrowed his eyes at her, and then grinned himself. "Hey, you're taking on 'Taker and Hardy - who the hell knows what else you're capable of!"

She could only laugh, shaking her head. Once they were both checked in, they headed for the departure lounge, where Harley explained that she had, in fact, been flying out a day earlier and back a day later to Knoxville, because of her work with the crew, but that now Bob had kicked her upstairs, she'd probably see Glenn more often on flights.

"But I thought you lived in North Carolina?" Glenn looked puzzled.

"I do. In the mountains outside a little place called Cullowhee. But it's a lot closer to Knoxville than it is to Charlotte, so that's why I fly from Knoxville."

"Ah, gotcha."

Because they'd checked in together, Harley and Glenn were seated together on the plane, and she enjoyed the chance to spend some time talking with him. He had a dry sense of humour, although he insisted he wasn't funny. She begged to differ, as she wiped tears of laughter from her eyes for the umpteenth time. As they waited for their luggage in Knoxville, Glenn was curious.

"So, how do you get home from the airport?"

"My truck's in the long term parking lot. It's only 60 miles or so, if I go through the national park."

"That must be a royal pain in the ass, Harley."

She shrugged. "It's not so bad. I mean, sure, there are times I wonder why I don't live closer to an airport. But then I wake up in the mornings in my cabin, and hear nothing but birds, and see not another living soul, and - well, I figure if that's the price to pay for that, then I'm pretty okay with it."

He nodded, and they parted at the exit of the terminal. Harley headed for the long term lot, unlocking her truck and lifting her case into the backseat before getting behind the wheel. She had four days before she had to be in Idaho, and she thought as she drove home that she could use every one of them. She really was tired. Not working load outs was going to be a welcome change.

###

Back on the road later that week, Harley had to admit that having nights off wasn't the trial she'd thought it would be. It was surprisingly easy to get used to briefing her crew and then leaving after a show. Of course, there were the downsides - once she wasn't working load outs, Bob had offloaded a large chunk of his paperwork onto her shoulders. But that was easily coped with - instead of catching up on her sleep on flights, she caught up on paperwork instead, leaving her nights free.

True to his word, Mark had invited her to join the semi-regular poker game. She'd been hard put to hide her grin the first time she'd played - there were one or two of the guys who were almost oinking at the prospect of her being a soft target because she was a woman. They weren't quite so pleased when she turned out to be far from the easy mark they'd assumed.

The games weren't really about the money anyway - the buy in just made it interesting. And given the intensely competitive nature of the roster, a concrete pay off for winning was pretty important - even if it was only a hundred bucks. Oh, and of course, the bragging rights that went along with it.

Mostly, the games were about kicking back and relaxing. A few beers, good natured bitching, ranking one another out. Harley got the feeling that they toned down the off-colour humour and the likely juvenile speculation about the female members of the roster on the nights she sat in, but it wouldn't have bothered her either way. But she did refuse the invites to play occasionally, just so they could let their guards down thoroughly.

Some nights, she hung out with Jeff. They'd crash in either of their rooms and watch movies, or just talk. Sometimes, they'd get together with others - Matt and Amy, Shannon, Greg Helms, even Rob van Dam. It was a fluid group - they'd congregate in someone's room and talk.

One night, the group were in Jeff's room, and Harley noticed Jeff's guitar leaning against the wall in the corner. He travelled with it sometimes - she'd heard him play a few times, although mostly he kept his music for himself. She leaned over and tapped his arm, pointing at it.

"You mind?"

He shook his head and reached out to pick it up, handing it to her. She was sitting cross legged on one of the beds, and she settled the guitar over her lap, chewing on her bottom lip as she placed her fingers on the frets and hesitantly picked out the notes in a chord, and then moved to do the same for a second one. A little smile played over her lips and she continued to play, her fingers moving with increased confidence over the strings.

Jeff was about to say something when she began to sing in a very soft voice:

They painted up your secrets
With the lies they told to you
And the least they ever gave you
Was the most you ever knew

And I wonder where these dreams go
When the world gets in your way
What's the point in all this screaming
No one's listening anyway

Your voice is small and fading
And you hide in here unknown
And your mother loves your father
'Cause she's got nowhere to go

And she wonders where these dreams go
'Cause the world got in her way
What's the point in ever trying
Nothing's changing anyway

They press their lips against you
And you love the lies they say
And I tried so hard to reach you
But you're falling anyway

And you know I see right through you
'Cause the world gets in your way
What's the point in all this screaming
You're not listening anyway

{Acoustic #3 - John Rzeznik}

She finished the song with a soft strum and then rested her hand on the strings, stilling them. Looking up, she realized the room had fallen silent. Jeff looked at her with a puzzled smile.

"You never told me you played.

She shrugged, setting the guitar down carefully. "It never came up. And I don't really play - two chords hardly counts as playing."

He leaned back in his chair, sipping his beer. "So where did you pick up the two chords?"

"Where do you think?" she grinned at him.

"Ah. More tour stories, huh?" he grinned back.

"You did ask," she chuckled, reaching for her own beer.

"Well some of us haven't heard your tour stories, Harley," Matt said. "So, where did you learn to play?"

"Colorado. About six years ago. I'd joined a tour that was on the home leg, didn't know anyone real well. One night, kinda late, I went out to the loading dock, and the lead singer was there. There's something about the air in Colorado at night - it gets cold and crisp, and everything just seems so clear. And he was playing that song. Just him and the guitar. And it sounded - I dunno, better than anything I'd ever heard."

Jeff smiled. This wasn't a story he'd heard before, not that he would have minded if it was.

"Anyway, I told him so, and he said anyone could play it. And I laughed, and said I'd bet him fifty bucks I couldn't. He said he'd take my money, and he sat me down beside him, and he taught me the two chords. Took him, I dunno, half an hour? And then I played it and he sang." Her face had a faraway look. "It was kinda magical. Only time I've ever felt part of the music, yanno?"

There was silence. Jeff wanted to hug her close - that one statement made him see their business from her side. She travelled with them, she made the shows happen, she could talk about it with them all night, but she wasn't a wrestler. She wasn't part of it. She'd spent her whole career not being a part of where she worked. How did she stand it?

"Best fifty bucks I ever spent," she said quietly, looking down at the beer in her hands.

Matt suddenly chuckled, breaking the silence that followed her words. "Well you play better than Jeff did when he only knew two chords. Of course, he still only knows two chords - he just likes to pretend he knows more."

Everyone laughed, and Harley handed Jeff a pillow, which he hurled at his brother with a grin.

Later, as the group disbanded, Jeff and Harley were left alone. She picked up empty beer bottles, tossing them in the trash, while Jeff restored the chairs and table to their usual places. He sat down on the end of one of the beds and reached out to catch her hand.

"Sit with me a minute?"

She sat down beside him with a smile, and he wrapped one arm around her shoulders, hugging her gently.

"What was that for?" she asked, leaning against him.

"Just because."

Chuckling, she patted his leg. "Thanks Jeff."

"Anytime, Harley. You sure you're okay?"

She smiled. "No reason not to be."

He hugged her again. "I didn't mean to pry earlier. Or to bring up a sad memory."

"It's not a sad memory, Jeff. It just is what it is."

"You never wanted to learn to play more?" He couldn't really understand that.

"You know what they say - grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." She sat silently for a moment. "I'm not a musician, Jeff - I can't change that. I learned something by rote, that's all. And I've accepted it. But hey, for all those guys can make music, none of them can create a pyro display worth a damn, right?"

He had to laugh at that.

"You wanna crash here tonight?" he asked.

They hadn't been lovers since Vegas - it appeared that the mood no longer existed, and they were both a little relieved to realize that. They did occasionally sleep in the same bed though, if only for companionship. She shook her head with a smile.

"Nah, but thanks for the offer. I've got an early meeting with Bob tomorrow."

He nodded and kissed her cheek. "Sleep well then, Harley."

She smiled at him as she stood up. "You too, Jeff."

###

Touring took on a new rhythm - she'd fly in, sometimes with Glenn, and meet with Bob and her crew. They'd set out the work plan and she'd let them get on with it. She still worked on the set builds, but more often she was involved more in the design than the actual build, preferring to do some of the final tweaking herself. She worked with members of the roster who wanted to update their entrances, but was very definite about not taking on the whole "design me something new" challenge for everyone who asked. It caused some less than mature reactions on occasion, but Harley had been dealing with Lost Boys long enough not to let temper tantrums sway her.

She usually worked the board at shows, giving Bob the chance to have some real time off at night. She didn't mind - she was still a bit of an adrenaline junkie when it came to the shows, loving the atmosphere of the live performances. Which also meant briefing the crew for the load out, but Bob had a great team, and mostly they knew what to do without her telling them anything.

Then it was back to the hotel for poker, or movies, or even just a good night's sleep. She was right - she almost didn't know herself once that started happening. The dark circles that had been etched under her eyes for more years than she cared to think about started to fade. She started to feel like she could party all night and drive a truck all day again, until she reminded herself that was a sure way to put the dark circles back.

They were in Colorado this week, for another Pay Per View weekend. Two days of house shows in Boulder, the Pay Per View, RAW and then Smackdown in Denver, back to back. Harley was also expecting Ben to fly in, for a test of the fire rain pyro. She had stayed in close contact with him - he'd sent her video clips of the tests they had done on the new pyro, which gave her the chance to play more of a role in the development.

Given the work to be done between the house show in Boulder and the Pay Per View the next day, Harley assembled the Pay Per pyros while her crew worked the load out, and came back to the hotel in Denver with the last of the trucks at about three in the morning.

Fortunately, her body was predisposed to forgive her for this, as she had been stocking up on sleep. Still, by mid-morning on the set build, she was dragging, and she took herself off to Catering for a coffee. She was sitting at a table, sipping her second cup and waiting for the buzz to hit when Bob came in.

"Everything okay, Harley?"

She nodded. "Just catching a breath - it was a late night with the load out from Boulder, but the build is coming along fine."

"So I noticed. Ah, I thought I should be the one to warn you though."

"Warn me about what?" she aked.

"The Burchills will probably be here for the show tonight. Technically, they're not due back at work til tomorrow, but the higher ups let them fly in a day early for Axxess."

"Oh."

"Any sign of trouble from either of them and I want to know, Harley," Bob said seriously.

"Absolutely, Bob. You have my word."

As he left, she fought the urge to sigh. She'd managed to put that whole unpleasantness behind her quite nicely, until Bob mentioned them again. She'd just have to hope they weren't holding any grudges. She finished her coffee and went back to work.

Jeff arrived at the venue just before lunch, and immediately went looking for Harley. He had seen Burchill at Axxess, and the man looked positively smug at being back. He wanted to make sure Harley knew about it - he didn't like the idea of her being confronted with him out of the blue. Or worse, his sister.

He found her in the loading dock, lifting crates of pyros onto a dolly. She glanced up and gave him a quick smile.

"Hey Jeff."

"Hi Harley. How's it going?"

She lifted the last crate up and then tilted the dolly back to begin wheeling it inside. "Going okay, thanks. How was Axxess?"

"Yeah, it was good. Ah, Harley?" He put his hand on hers, stopping her.

"What is it, Jeff?" She looked puzzled.

"The Burchills are here."

She nodded. "Bob told me they were coming in today."

"You're okay with that?"

Shrugging, she kicked the dolly over again and continued on down the hallway. "Well it's not like I have much of a choice, is it? I mean, they're under contract, they were going to come back to work eventually. I'll just do my best to stay out of their way."

"Promise me you'll tell me if they give you any problems?"

She smiled at him. "Of course I will. But let's not borrow trouble - they've probably forgotten all about it by now."

After taking the pyros out to the entrance stage, Harley and Jeff headed for Catering. Sitting with Matt and Amy, Jeff frowned a little as Harley subsided into silence after a few minutes of toying with her lunch. He wrapped an arm around her shoulders, leaning close to her.

"Hey, what's up?" he asked quietly.

She smiled, patting his hand. "Just a little tired, that's all. Had a late night in Boulder with the load out." She was, but she was also a bit subdued thinking about the Burchills. Not that she would ever admit that to Jeff.

"I thought you weren't working load outs any more?" Matt said.

"Well, technically, I was assembling pyros while the crew did the load out. These Pay Per Views in western time zones are the pits - we got to get a lot more done by much earlier in the day than we do back east," Harley explained.

"You gonna catch a nap later?" Jeff asked, his hand lightly rubbing her shoulder.

"Probably not. The up side of a Pay Per View here is that it's all over by nine o'clock, so I can get an early night afterwards."

He nodded and went back to his lunch. But her own appetite was gone, and she excused herself not long afterwards, bussing her tray and heading back out to the arena. Perhaps if she could get the set build finished early, she could relax.

She had her crew working on the pyro displays while she assembled the rig for Mark's fireballs under the entrance stage and then taped out the no go areas on it. The other thing she took personal charge of was his lightning effect, mounting one of the tallest ladders they used to adjust the positioning of the laser in the overhead lighting rig before rigging the flare and flash pot on the Titan-tron.

Soon enough, she and Bob were meeting with the techs in the truck and the stage director, going over the run sheet and confirming the cues and timing points. The Pay Per View as usual consisted of high caliber matches, featuring most of the big names on the roster. Activity backstage was ramping up as show time neared, and Harley was wearing her headset, keeping up with the station checks.

She did a final check of the stage pyros, finishing up just as the first members of the audience started streaming into the arena, bringing with them an excited buzz. She was nodding her head to the music coming through the arena's sound system as she ran lightly down the stairs of the Titan-tron, feeling the adrenaline of the night starting to build.

At the foot of the stairs, though, she found herself face to face with Paul Burchill, and she stopped on the spot as he smirked at her. His eyes crawled over her in that uncomfortable way, and she had an idea he was about to speak to her when a booming laugh sounded from down the hallway as Paul Wight, better known as the Big Show, came towards her, waving one massive hand in greeting.

Burchill simply turned and walked the other way, and Harley held onto the railing beside her as she blew out a sigh of relief. Fortunately, as show time neared, it was easy to stay well within sight of other members of the crew and the roster. Whatever Burchill wanted to say would have to wait for another night, or preferably, never.

###

Ben flew in to Denver on the morning after the Pay Per View, using his company's credentials to get permission to carry the half dozen crates of carefully packaged pyrotechnics charges.

Harley had been at the venue since early morning, getting her crew started on the work of set break down and re-build for Raw that night, and had already had the over-ring lighting rig lowered, and she and Ben worked together to attach the charges, laid in a flexible non flammable half tube, to the rig. Once they were in place and the fuses set, the rig was once again winched up into position.

There was a palpable air of excitement in the arena, where a number of the wrestlers, apart from Glenn, had gathered to see what the new pyro looked like.

The pyro needed not only to look spectacular in the arena live, but also had to be be able to televised. To test that, they had cameramen around the ring and arena - they were set up to be able to view the footage on the Titan-tron immediately after the display was fired, to make sure it televised well.

Glenn, Bob, Ben and Harley climbed into the ring, along with a cameraman, and Ben handed the remote detonator to Harley with a smile.

"Ready?" she asked Glenn, as her finger hovered over the trigger.

"As I'm ever going to be," he replied, looking eager.

She lifted her headset into place, checking readiness with the techs and the truck, and then counted the detonation down.

"Triggering in three . . . two . . . one . . . "

The initial detonation launched a shower of red sparkle in a curtain right around the ring with a simultaneous detonation. No sooner had that begun to fall and the first of the succeeding curtains began, gold sparkle in a slow wave detonation, followed a few seconds later by an alternating red sparkle curtain. The red and gold sparkles chased one another against the steady curtain of red sparkle, all of them dying out gradually after a display lasting some forty seconds.

There was awed silence in the arena broken at last by an excited shout from Glenn, who grabbed Harley around the waist, lifting her clear off the ring and spinning her around to a round of applause from the gathered wrestlers and crew.

"It's fucking fantastic!"

Laughing, she clutched at his massive shoulders to steady herself. "Put me down, Glenn!"

He hugged her tightly before setting her down gently, a broad grin on his face. Bob shook his head in amazement as Ben and Harley grinned at one another.

"By God, that looked spectacular! Let's see what the footage looks like!" he insisted eagerly.

Harley was way ahead of him, already talking to the techs in the truck, who cued up the first feed and broadcast it on the Titan-tron. To Harley's delight, the effect looked almost as good televised as it had done from her vantage point inside the ring, and she grinned at Ben. Glenn grabbed her up in another huge hug, grinning in absolute delight.

"Harley, you did it! You made it rain fire from the ceiling!"

His enthusiasm was infectious, and she hugged him back, grinning. "Wasn't all my doing, Glenn, but thank you!"

Setting her down, Glenn advanced on Ben, holding out one hand, still grinning. "Man, thank you so much!"

Ben shook his hand with a grin of his own. "My pleasure - anything that gives me a chance to work with Harley hardly feels like work at all."

Bob had been checking with the crew who'd been gathered around the ring during the detonation, all of whom reported that the sparkles had more than met close proximity standards, and he could already see from the footage that the effect would televise brilliantly. He approached Ben and Harley, smiling.

"You've done it - this is cutting edge for detonation and close proximity. Not to mention looking fantastic. Now I think it's time for us to discuss the important stuff, like how much this particular effect is going to cost me everytime we use it."

Chuckling, the three of them moved off to Bob's on site office to discuss pricing, while Glenn stood in the ring, shaking his head in amazement as he looked at the footage on the Titan-tron. Mark was one of the first of the gathered wrestlers to reach the ring. There was a part of him that had envied Glenn the freedom to hug Harley in thanks - for a variety of reasons, he seemed to have been robbed of that opportunity with everything she had done for him. The fact that he'd done the robbing himself made it even harder to accept.

Putting those feelings aside, he grinned at Glenn.

"That's gonna be pretty damn spectacular - I get the feeling I might be about to lose my hold on the championship belt, once the higher ups see the effect you can use when you win it."

Glenn laughed. "Maybe! But hey, I'm sure you'll take it back sooner or later!"

Paul Burchill, who had been sitting in the audience to see the new effect, shook his head and seethed inwardly. It appeared that, thanks to that fucking pyro chick, the title belt he'd been eyeing rather covetously, was going to be exchanging hands only between that big bastard she was banging and his buddy. Even the lesser belts weren't safe from her clutches - he'd heard Hardy saying yesterday that she'd promised him something new too, another sign to him that she was somehow influencing these decisions in favour of her lovers.

###

Ben and Bob had hammered out a deal for the new pyros that made them both happy. It included recycling the half tubes for re-packing, and co-authorship of a journal article on the manufacture, which would benefit Ben's company and the WWE as the originator of the idea.

Once the negotiations were done, Ben and Harley headed for Catering for some lunch before Ben flew back to Vegas. They chose an empty table and sat down, Harley chuckling a little.

"It's no fancy restaurant to celebrate the deal, sorry."

Ben shook his head with a smile. "Hey, that's not important. What's important is that we achieved something terrific today."

She couldn't help her own smile. "That we did."

They ate in silence for a few moments, and then Ben looked at her seriously.

"Harley, you've got a real genius for research and development, and it really was a joy working with you on this."

"Thanks Ben - I have to admit, I enjoyed it myself."

"Enough to come and work with me full time?"

She stared at him, her mouth open. "What?"

"I want you to come and work with me in Vegas in research and development."

"You're kidding, right?"

"Not in the slightest. I'd give you a few months to settle in, learn who you're working with, and then I'm prepared to make you head of R&D. You can structure your team however you want. And it goes without saying I'll pay you whatever you want." His face was serious.

Putting down her fork, she looked at him and then shook her head. "I'm flattered by the offer, Ben, but I have to decline."

"Why?"

She chuckled. "I'm not cut out for office work and managing a team."

"But it's your creativity I want, Harley - hell, you don't have to manage a team if you don't want to!"

"Don't you see, Ben? It's not my creativity. I wasn't the one who wanted it to rain fire from the ceiling - that was Glenn's suggestion. I just tried to work out a way to make it happen. That's what I'm good at."

Ben sighed, then looked at her with a grin. "Then how about you work for me as a part time consultant?

"Doing what?" she chuckled.

"Just what you said - making things happen. We can have a partnership - work together on whatever new stuff you want to come up with for these guys, and if I have an idea that needs a creative approach, I'll come to you."

She thought for a moment. "Well, that might work. So long as you continue to be reasonable on the prices for new pyros, in recognition of the volume of business that's coming your way."

"Deal!" he agreed instantly, holding out his hand to her across the table.

She took it, shaking it with a laugh. "If only everything in life was that easy to arrange!"

Raw went off with the usual post-Pay Per View energy, and after briefing her crew on the minor set break down she wanted done before the build for Smackdown the following day, Harley headed back to the hotel. Glenn caught up with her in the lobby and insisted on taking her to dinner at the hotel restaurant to thank her for his new pyro. Try as she could to decline, he refused to take no for an answer, all but dragging her into the elevator with him, while she laughed helplessly.

As usual, she enjoyed his company, and they moved on from dinner to have a few beers in one of the bars. A few too many, probably, as they were both giggling a little drunkenly when they called it a night, finding one another's inebriation very amusing as they made their way to the elevators. Glenn wrapped her in a big hug as they waited for the elevator, calling her his 'little peach', which had more than a few eyebrows raising, but which only made Harley giggle more. His clumsy goodnight kiss made them both laugh, and Harley wandered down the hallway to her room, fishing out her keycard as she did, unaware that they had been closely observed by at least one person who didn't find it amusing at all.

###

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Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
utssq
Aug. 1st, 2008 08:45 pm (UTC)
haha stupid Burchill. I am seriously hoping there's an ass-kicking of major proportions in store for him and soon!
nephthys_abode
Aug. 1st, 2008 10:16 pm (UTC)
I am seriously hoping there's an ass-kicking of major proportions in store for him and soon!

Would I ever disappoint you, hon? -winks-
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )