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!
There's probably a word of explanation required for this chapter, before I'm accused of over the top self-insertion. I had this story plotted out months ago, and it was always intended that, at some point, Harley was going to end up somehow injured or hurt, thereby giving Mark an opportunity to look after her as she had already done for him.
I tossed about various methods for harming our plucky heroine - from another fall off ladder, a concussion of her own, an electrical shock. None of which particularly grabbed me, until the scene with Jeff and Harley wrote itself for me, complete with dialogue. It's been sitting in the notes for this story since that point, some 8 weeks ago.
Now, in one of those "what the fuck" moments, I came to this point in writing the story just as I was about to go into hospital for my own surgery. It kind of freaked me out a bit, I have to say. My surgery wasn't even contemplated when I plotted this for the story, and suddenly the two were coinciding.
I will say, having recent abdominal surgery as the writer does give me some notes of realism to interject for Harley. But that's where the similarity ends.
And now that I've said all that - on with the story! In which there is hurt and comfort - overused plot devices, I know, but hey, whatever works, right? ;-)
Jeff hadn't seen Harley all afternoon, and so he took advantage of a break in his afternoon schedule to go and look for her.
He found her working with a few other techs on an electrical board, all of them clustered around it. Harley held an amp meter in one hand, and was testing various circuits. As she reached into the board with the probe, there was a sudden crackle of electricity and sparks, and everyone stepped back.
Harley made a disapproving sound. "Naughty, naughty - bad circuit!"
The other techs just grinned, and one of them did his best Adam Savage impersonation. "Well, there's your problem!"
That caused general laughter, and Harley finally noticed Jeff standing nearby. He smiled as she came over to him.
"I wondered what had happened to you at lunch."
He thought he caught a blush on her face before she turned away. "Ah, well, the pyros took longer than I thought, and then we discovered this board had gone screwy. Been pretty busy all afternoon."
"Okay. Well, wanna try to get together for dinner?"
"Sure, that would be great. Am I still okay to catch a ride with you guys to Houston tonight?" Most of the roster and crew planned to drive to Houston after the show, which would give them an easier time of it in the morning with Axxess and work leading up to the Pay Per View.
"Absolutely. Catch you later, okay?"
In between the faulty board and the general workload that accompanied even a house show, Harley was busy up until the end of the evening. Which was a blessing, because it meant she didn't have time to be dwelling on what had happened earlier with Mark. It was only when she and Jeff were sitting together in the back of the rental car, with Matt and Amy talking in the front seat, that she even considered it, staring out into the darkness thoughtfully.
Jeff noticed how quiet she was and shifted closer to her, keeping his voice low.
"Hey, what's up?"
She turned, giving him a quick smile. He really was her best friend, and if she couldn't talk to him about this, well, she couldn't talk to anyone. She sat sideways on the seat, facing him, her voice likewise kept low.
"Something weird happened to me."
His forehead creased in a frown. "What?"
"Oh, nothing bad, honestly. Just . . . " She couldn't think of how to explain it. "Mark . . . "
"What about him?"
"He kissed me."
Jeff blinked. "Really?"
She nodded. "Yeah, really. Twice, actually."
"Whoa. Like, pecks on the cheek?"
"Hell no! Serious kisses."
Jeff grinned. "Well, tell me more! I gotta hear how this happened!"
Harley shook her head, grinning back at him. "Last night, I ran into him in one of the bars. He'd had a few drinks, and you know what he's like, he insisted on seeing me to my door. Well, before I know it we're arguing - he'd gotten some weird idea about me and Randy Orton, if you can believe it - and then boom! He's kissing me. A serious kiss, the kind that makes you weak at the knees. And then he was just gone!"
Jeff's eyes widened. "Holy shit!" He'd been right - Mark was interested in her!
"I know! I kinda figured that it was just cos he'd, you know, been drinking. Only this afternoon, he came looking for me at the arena."
"He kissed me again. To prove it wasn't because he'd been drinking. Said he was completely sober."
"Well, did he say anything else? I mean, about why he did it? Not that I don't think you're worth kissing, Harley, but - well, you know."
She shrugged helplessly. "I know what you mean, but no, not a word, either time. He did say we needed to talk, but that was it."
"Wow." Jeff was silent for a long moment. So Mark was interested in Harley, but Harley couldn't see it. And he was still betting that she might be interested in Mark too. No wonder she looked confused - Mark wasn't a Lost Boy, not by a long shot.
"I know." Harley was likewise silent.
Maybe he needed to nudge things along for her. He had an idea she and Mark could be good for one another.
"You know, this might explain some things," Jeff finally said.
"Such as?" she asked.
"Well, it was Mark's idea to have that match against Burchill, to pay him back for what he'd done to you. And last weekend in Topeka . . . "
He didn't get any further than that, as Harley's eyes widened and she held up her hand.
"Whoa, hold up a minute. What about last weekend?"
"I was worried when I couldn't get any answer from your room, and Mark came along and said you hadn't showed up for poker. Then Trish told us she'd seen you in a bar, and Mark told me he'd go get you."
Harley dropped her head into her hands. Mark hadn't just happened on her in that bar - he'd known she was there, and he'd come looking for her. Probably because he remembered what she'd told him about her battles with the bottle that night in California. He understood her, and he still wanted to help.
"I must have seemed like the world's most ungrateful bitch the next morning, when I threw his help in his face," she muttered.
"Harley, the man's kissed you since then - twice. I think he might have forgiven you." Jeff rubbed a hand over her shoulder.
"Let's get this in perspective, Jeff. First he called me a cradle snatcher, then he kissed me, twice. And then he walked away with barely a word. Maybe he's just messing with me."
Jeff had to admit, he hadn't considered that possibility. But his instincts were telling him that Mark cared for Harley. He did the only thing he could think of - he put his arm around Harley's shoulder and hugged her. They spent the rest of the trip in silence, lost in their own thoughts.
Harley opened the door of her hotel room early the next morning to a smiling Jeff.
"Hey Harley. Ready for breakfast?" They'd made plans to get together the night before, as they were checking in. Except she was only half dressed, still barefoot, and her t-shirt was hanging loose over her cargo pants.
"Ugh, don't mention food."
Jeff frowned. "What's wrong?"
Harley turned away, going back into the room. "I feel nauseous, and my stomach hurts."
"Harley, you have to eat - maybe some toast would help?"
She shook her head. "Not going to happen."
Jeff was about to insist, when she rushed past him into the bathroom, slamming the door behind her. He was about to knock when he heard the unmistakable sounds of retching. His frown deepened, and he moved to sit on the end of the bed, waiting for her to come out.
When she did re-emerge, her face was pale, and his concern grew.
"You were okay last night."
"And I'm obviously not this morning - can we not talk about this any more please? It's just making it worse."
"You want me to stay here with you?"
She groaned. "Jeff, honey, sweet as that offer is, I really don't want an audience for this. I'll be fine in a bit, I'm sure, so I'll see you at the venue later."
He didn't really want to leave her alone, but she hustled him out of the room pretty quickly. He didn't like it much, but he couldn't think of anything else to do.
Harley stepped off the shuttle at the venue, trying not to think about how lousy she felt. Despite her reassurances to Jeff, things hadn't really improved - she'd had a temporary respite maybe half an hour earlier, which is when she'd decided to come to the venue. But just in the last few minutes, the pain was back, and if anything, it was worse now.
She figured that she'd just picked up a nasty dose of stomach flu somewhere. First port of call was going to be the trainer's rooms - surely the EMTs would be able to give her something to settle her stomach.
Jeff and Matt were waiting for their spots at Axxess, sitting on trunks in the loading dock, when they saw Harley get off the shuttle. Still concerned about her, Jeff was heading towards her when she doubled up with a moan. He crossed the remaining distance at a dead run, with Matt at his heels.
He caught her around the waist as her knees buckled, looking at Matt helplessly.
"I'll grab one of the EMTs," Matt suggested, taking off into the building as Jeff helped Harley over to the trunks where they had been sitting.
She was leaning against him, still doubled over, when Pete arrived with Matt close behind him. He set down his kit beside Harley, peering at her, and then laying the back of his hand on her forehead. He didn't hesitate then, taking the walkie talkie from his belt.
"We need to get her to a hospital," he said to Jeff, before requesting an ambulance to the loading dock.
Jeff's arm tightened around Harley's shoulder. "I'm coming with her."
"Aren't you supposed to be at Axxess?" Pete asked, trying to make a preliminary exam of Harley while he waited for the ambulance.
Matt shook his head. "I'll let them know, I'm sure it will be okay."
Pete had Bob fax Harley's employee card to the hospital as the paramedics were helping her onto a gurney. He gave them a brief on the symptoms he'd observed, and then clapped Jeff on the shoulder.
"Jeff's a friend of Harley's, he'll be riding in with her."
Sitting in the ambulance, Jeff had never felt so helpless as he watched the paramedics examining Harley enroute to the hospital. They were asking him questions about her symptoms, and all he could tell them was that she had been well the night before, and then in pain and throwing up that morning.
At the hospital, Harley was whisked into a treatment bay, and nurses quickly removed her clothes while a white coated doctor listened to the rundown of symptoms from the paramedics, nodding as he gently palpated her abdomen. Jeff's hands clenched into fists as Harley moaned.
"Pronounced guarding. When did these symptoms first present?" the doctor asked, as he pushed more firmly on Harley's abdomen, making her cry out.
The paramedics nodded to Jeff, who answered the doctor. "This morning. She was fine last night when I last saw her."
"Rebound tenderness as well. Draw blood, please - I want CBC, electrolytes, BUN, creatinine, LFTs and amylase lipase." He looked up at Jeff again. "Is there any possibility she could be pregnant?"
Pregnant? Jeff's face paled and he counted back quickly - it had been eight weeks since they'd been together in Las Vegas. She hadn't wanted him to use a condom, so he'd assumed she had birth control covered. Still . . .
"It's possible," he had to admit.
"Add a pregnancy test as well. I want a rush on the results, and get me a surgical consult STAT."
As the nurses worked on Harley, Jeff found himself ushered into a small waiting area inside the ER. He couldn't sit, pacing the small room restlessly, glancing out towards the treatment bay. The thought that wouldn't let him go was the possibility that Harley might be pregnant, and that something was wrong as a result. It seemed forever before the doctor appeared at the waiting area. Almost before he began speaking, Jeff could see Harley being wheeled out on the gurney.
"Okay, the pregnancy test was negative, but her white blood cell count is through the roof. That's indicative of appendicitis - she needs surgery immediately."
Jeff all but sighed with relief - Matt's appendectomy the year before meant he was at least familiar with it. He thanked the doctor, and one of the nurses took him up to the waiting area for surgical cases. While he waited, he called Matt to let him know what was happening.
Mark was beginning to think that Harley was avoiding him. He'd barely seen her the night before at the show in Austin, and she'd not come to breakfast at the hotel in Houston, and he'd come in from his home to have breakfast at the hotel hoping to see her there. When he arrived at the venue for his morning session at Axxess, she was nowhere to be found.
He wasn't sure if this was a good thing. He didn't think she was the type for playing hard to get, but perhaps he had come on too strong for her. He'd have to hunt her down and try again.
It was Glenn who heard the news that Harley had been taken off in an ambulance, and Mark was stunned when he was told.
"What's wrong with her?" he demanded.
"I have no idea. I just know that she was sick enough for Pete to call for an ambulance, and Jeff went to the hospital with her," Glenn explained.
At least Jeff was with her, Mark thought. He could trust Jeff to look out for her.
The next news they received was that Harley was in surgery, most probably to have her appendix removed. Mark wasn't the only one who was waiting on tenterhooks to find out how she fared. Sessions at Axxess at least provided a distraction, and Mark was coming backstage from there at the venue when Jeff arrived from the hospital.
Jeff gave him a smile that was a pale imitation of his usual expression. "She's okay."
Mark clapped him on the shoulder, nodding. "Glad to hear it. So was it her appendix?"
"Yeah. Doctor says the operation went fine."
"I'm sure she'll be glad you were there for her, Jeff," Mark said kindly.
"I didn't do much. Felt kind of useless, if you want the truth," Jeff admitted.
"Maybe. But you were there with her - that's going to count for a lot."
Jeff nodded and then turned to walk away. He hadn't gone more than a few steps before he stopped and turned back to Mark.
He'd had a lot of time to think while he waited through Harley's surgery. And he'd realized just how much Harley meant to him. He loved her - not in a romantic sense, perhaps, but she was way more than just a friend to him. What hurt her, hurt him.
"Harley told me what's been going on with you two. If you're just messing with her, then you and I are on a collision course. I just wanted you to know that."
Mark's first reaction was amusement. The cub had teeth! But a closer look at Jeff's face showed him that this wasn't the case - he was deadly serious, and he wasn't a cub any more, either. Not for the first time, Mark regarded Jeff with respect, nodding slowly.
"I'm not messing with her."
Jeff considered this, and then nodded. "Good."
It was close to midnight when Mark left the venue following the Pay Per View. It had gone well, overall. His match with Glenn had been the main event, and they'd managed to pull off an exciting match that had great crowd reaction. By the time December came around, the time would be ripe for Glenn's championship victory.
And he'd be happy to hand it over, at least for a short time. Holding the belt meant a lot more appearances and matches, and he could use the break. That didn't mean Glenn was going to have it all his own way for long, but that was months away yet.
He got into his truck, heading out of the parking lot to go home. Apparently his subconscious had other ideas, because he found himself turning into the parking lot of the hospital fifteen minutes later. He wasn't even sure if they'd let him in to see Harley, but he got out and went in anyway.
Luckily for him, the clerk on duty at the main reception area was a wrestling fan, and she called ahead to the nurses' station to smooth over the fact that he was arriving without a security pass. The halls were deserted as the nurse led him to Harley's room, pushing the door open quietly.
"She's probably sleeping, but you can sit with her for a little while if you like."
He nodded, entering the room as she stepped aside. A soft light above the bed revealed Harley, dressed in a surgical gown. She was pale against the white sheets, and her eyes were closed. But an expression of pain was etched on her face, and Mark turned to look questioningly at the nurse.
"She's in pain?"
"She has an abdominal incision, they always hurt, unfortunately. It will ease over the next few days, and we are giving her pain medication - she's probably almost due for the next dose."
He moved towards the bed, and the nurse brought a chair up to the side for him. He sat down and reached out to touch Harley's hand where it lay on the sheet. He noticed a small dressing on the back of it, and then realized that the other arm was hooked up to a pair of IVs hanging over the bed. Gently, he lifted her hand and held it between his.
"Aw hell, Kate. This wasn't quite how I pictured spending this evening with you," he murmured very softly.
Harley's eyes fluttered open at the sound of a familiar voice. "Mark?" Her voice was raspy.
He patted her hand gently. "I'm here, Kate."
Her eyes focused a little more as she looked towards him. "You still bein' my keeper?"
He chuckled quietly. "Nah, Jeff was looking out for you today. I just dropped in on my way home to see how you were doing."
She nodded a little, then licked at her dry lips. "I've been better."
"I'd bet the farm on that. But they're taking good care of you - this is a great hospital."
"I'll take your word for it," she murmured, her eyes drooping shut.
The nurse came back into the room, carrying a chart and a syringe. Mark stood up, giving her a quick smile, still holding Harley's hand in his. He looked down at her, and then reached out to brush her hair gently from her forehead, his fingers lingering in her hair a moment longer. Those pink streaks seemed somehow defiant against the pale face and starched sheets.
"I'll come see you in the morning, Kate, before we head out for Dallas."
He got no answer, not that he really expected one. He lay her hand on the bed, patting it gently one final time before he left. The nurse had quite the story to tell later in the break room, about the big man who was so gentle with their patient.
At the hospital the next morning, there was a queue of visitors outside Harley's door. Bob Threadgood pulled rank as her boss and got in to see her first, reassuring her that he'd supervise her crew until she was well enough to come back to work.
Matt and Amy snuck in with Jeff, who had arranged to check her out of the hotel and had brought her luggage to the hospital for her. Jeff was pleased to see her looking better than she had been the afternoon before. Theirs was a flying visit before an appearance in Huntsville, and Jeff leaned in to kiss her cheek before they left.
They passed Mark and Glenn in the hallway, and Jeff met Mark's eyes. Mark had to admit, he admired Jeff's stance when it came to Harley. The true measure of a man was his willingness to stand up for a woman. He had no intention of treating Harley in a way that Jeff would find objectionable. Of course, his plans were completely derailed by Harley's illness, but he would figure something out.
As he went into her room, Glenn was leaning over to kiss her, handing her a bunch of flowers from the hotel florist, even as she protested.
"What? You honestly think I could come see my little peach in the hospital and not bring flowers?" he winked at her.
Looking around the room, Mark could see that Glenn wasn't the first one with that idea - there were flowers everywhere. Harley smiled up at Glenn, holding the flowers across her lap.
"They're beautiful, Glenn, thank you." She noticed Mark in the doorway and gave him a little wave. "Hey chief."
One of the nurses came in carrying a vase, and Harley handed her the flowers as Glenn sat down beside the bed. Mark noticed that the IVs were still in her arm, and that she looked pale, although perhaps a little less so than she had the night before. He was content to listen as she and Glenn chatted, not for the first time envying his friend's easy closeness with her. So it was that he caught the flicker of pain that crossed her expression, and he leaned down to lay his hand on her leg, patting it gently.
She looked at him, a little startled, but then she smiled, nodding in thanks for the gesture. Glenn said his goodbye, getting up from the chair by the bed, and he clapped Mark on the shoulder.
"We gotta get moving, buddy."
Mark nodded. "Let me say goodbye to Kate, be with you in a minute."
Glenn headed for the door with a wave at Harley, and Mark smiled at her gently. "I'm glad to see you looking a little better."
"I didn't dream it, did I? You really did come and see me last night, didn't you?"
"Yeah, I did. Just for a minute."
She smiled at him. "Thanks."
"Stopping by - last night, and this morning. I appreciate it."
He came to the side of the bed then, reaching down to take her hand. "Least I could do for a friend, Kate."
He wouldn't push her, not now. But he did want her to know he hadn't forgotten they had unfinished business. She gave his hand a small squeeze, smiling.
"You have a good show tonight, champ. Watch out for Glenn though, I think he's gunning for that belt," she winked at him.
He laughed and nodded. "You may be right! You need anything?"
She shook her head. "I'm good."
"Well, if you do need anything, you just holler for me," his eyes met hers.
She nodded. "Thanks Mark."
He didn't even think about it, leaning down to kiss her forehead gently. "Get well soon, Kate."
Not waiting for an answer, he patted her hand gently before letting it go and heading for the door. She watched him go, her expression unreadable.
Mark turned his truck into the hospital parking lot on Wednesday morning. He was on his way home from Fort Worth after the Smackdown taping the night before, and thought he'd check in to see how Kate was doing.
Jeff had kept everyone updated with how she was doing over the last few days, but he figured that a visit might be welcome. With the whole show having moved on to Dallas two days ago, being stuck in hospital in a strange place had to be kind of lonely.
He was about to walk into Kate's room when he heard her voice, and he paused, not wanting to intrude.
"Jeff, it's okay, really. No, I understand. I'm sure I can work something out. I'll talk to you soon. Bye."
Mark waited for a few moments, then tapped lightly on the door.
Harley brushed a hand over her face. "Come in."
She smiled a little when she saw him, laying her cellphone down on the tray table. "Hey chief."
"Howdy, Kate. How you doing?"
As he came closer to the bed, he could see tear tracks on her cheeks. He sat down in the chair next to the bed.
"Pretty good," she said.
"Want to try that again, Kate?" he said gently.
Damn it, she thought, as another tear trickled down her cheek, even as she brushed it away. Mark leaned over, laying his hand on her leg gently. Did he have to be so kind? She snatched up a tissue and blotted her eyes.
"Nothing to be sorry for - what's up?"
She shrugged helplessly. "They aren't keen on releasing me because I don't have anyone to go home to. I tried calling Jeff, to see if I could crash with him for a few days, but he's got appearances and he's not going home for a few days."
He felt for her - he hated hospitals himself, and couldn't wait to get out of them. He usually lied and told them he had a live-in housekeeper - well, it was only half a lie. He did have a housekeeper, but she didn't live in. She could and would give him a hand, though, if he needed it when he was at home and laid up. Suddenly, he had an idea.
"Then why don't you come home with me?"
Harley stared at him, wide eyed, and then shook her head.
"I couldn't do that!"
"I wouldn't want to impose," she stammered.
He looked at her. "What other option do you have? I mean, say they do let you go - how are you going to get home?" He had an idea she'd already been thinking about that.
Her shoulders slumped. "Well, my truck's in long term parking at Knoxville, but I don't know that I'd be up to driving it sixty miles to get home. I'd have to fly into Charlotte, there's a Greyhound depot near the airport. I could get the bus to Cullowhee . . . " her voice trailed off. Even as she articulated it, she knew it was impossible.
Mark rubbed her leg gently through the covers. "That's what I thought. Look, Kate, I've got a huge house, with plenty of room. I'm half an hour from here, and my truck's in the parking lot. You can stay with me until we're both due back at work next week."
She looked at him helplessly. "Mark, how can you even offer this?"
He chuckled. "Who offered to look after me when I had that concussion?"
"Mark, inviting someone to stay in your home is a little different to offering to share a hotel suite overnight!"
"Says who? You want I should call you a mule? Would that make you feel any better?"
She darted a look at him, her eyes twinkling a little. "Maybe. If I can convince myself you've bullied me into it, it might be easier to say yes."
"Fine," he laughed. "Kate, you're a mule. Shut up and say you'll come home with me."
She couldn't help her giggle, even though her hand went to her side to ease the pain that movement caused. "Bully."
"Now, will you come home with me?"
She nodded, smiling a little. "Thank you Mark, yes, I will."
"I guess my next question is, when will they let you go?"
"Today. The only thing holding me up was the whole 'having someone to go home to' bit."
"Well, best you let 'em know that you now have that someone, while I give my housekeeper a call and get her to freshen up the guest room for you."
Harley frowned. "Mark, are you really sure about this? I don't want you to have to go to any trouble."
He shook his head. "It's no trouble - Lizzie is always complaining I've got a house that's too big for one person. She'll be in her element if I tell her I have a guest staying."
Mark would hear no other argument from her, taking out his cellphone and walking out of the room to call his housekeeper, while the nurse that Harley summoned went over her discharge instructions. She brought Harley's case out for her, and Harley dug through it to find a t shirt and a pair of sweatpants that would be loose around her still-tender tummy and dressed. She sat down to put on a pair of sneakers, wincing a little at the pressure on her tummy as she bent forward to lace them.
Finally, after completing the paperwork for her insurance, she was free to leave, even if she rolled her eyes at being required to sit in a wheelchair to do so. Mark took charge of her case and chuckled at the face she pulled as she sat down, and the nurse pushed her down the hallway. They had asked her if she'd like to take any of her flowers with her, and she had instead suggested they be distributed to patients who had none of their own. Mark liked her more for the gesture.
At the front door, Harley rose from the wheelchair, and Mark was at her side, offering her his arm as they crossed the parking lot. He opened his truck, putting her case in the backseat, while she was pondering how to climb up into the front seat, knowing it was probably going to pull on her tummy. Mark watched her for a moment and then stepped close to her.
"Hold on, Kate," he said as he bent to pick her up.
Harley barely had time to clutch his shoulders before he was setting her on the front seat of the truck. She smiled her thanks at him, and he nodded, closing the door of the truck for her. He came around to the driver's side and climbed in himself, giving her a quick smile.
Nodding, she reached for the seatbelt. "As I'm ever going to be."
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