(And a huge thank you to panthology and her mad skillz for this graphic!)
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!
Once again, it's been a long time between updates - blame that nasty old beastie RL! And the annoying need to work for a living - the world would be a much nicer place to be if I could just write full time! ;-)
Thanks for reading and remember - feedback is love . . . /end obligatory attention whoring!
And since it has been such a long time between updates, and to save you trolling back through the archives (although I have helpfully tagged all the chapters!), you'll find links to all the earlier chapters here.
The blessing of an early morning flight was that it allowed her precious little time to think in the rush to pack and be downstairs in time to take the shuttle to the airport. And no one thought it odd when she eschewed conversation for sleep, her restless night having left her exhausted.
The arena was a hive of activity by the time she and Bob arrived from the hotel, and she was pitched headlong into work first thing. More of the endless reports and paperwork, as she and Bob separated out what she would need for her stint as second crew chief in Florida.
They were in Catering late in the morning, taking a break for coffee and going over some last minute details for the inferno match, when Mark arrived. He couldn't help his smile, seeing the bent head with its now familiar multicolored streaks, including the spunky pink, and walked past her table to say hello on his way out.
Harley had given him that quick distracted smile that said her head really was elsewhere, and he settled for patting her shoulder gently and going on his way.
Lunch was a noisy affair - the roster were in their usual high spirits for the end of their working week. Mark paused just inside the doors to Catering, surveying the crowded tables. He was tossing up the idea of just coming back later when a hand rested on the small of his back.
As he looked around, Harley smiled up at him, her hand caressing him gently. He smiled back, his own hand coming up to rest on her shoulder. He was on the verge of asking her to join him for lunch, and to suggest they grab something to go and find someplace quieter, when Jeff stood up and beckoned to them with a grin.
They exchanged glances, and Harley was bemused when the decision was made to accept Jeff's invitation without a word being exchanged. She put that down to Mark's talent for conveying a wealth of meaning in a single expression.
Mark's arm settled around her shoulders and she nestled comfortably into his side, her own arm around his waist, as they chose their lunches and joined at Jeff at a table with his brother, Amy and Shannon Moore among others.
Amidst the general laughter and conversation at the table, Harley picked at her salad, still obviously a little preoccupied. So preoccupied, in fact, that she didn't register that the plate she was filching french fries from didn't belong to Jeff, but to Mark.
The first time that she did it, Jeff felt a funny little pang. Part of him wanted to protest, oddly jealous that Harley's relationship with Mark had grown so comfortable so quickly.
That was, until he saw the look on Mark's face. Surprise, plain and simple. Jeff stifled a snicker. It dawned on him that Harley didn't even realize who she was filching from, especially when she did it a second time and Mark's eyebrows all but climbed into his hairline.
Shannon shot him a quizzical look, and he gave a quick jerk of his head towards Harley, mouthing, "Just watch."
With rather typical absent-mindedness, Harley reached out to take another fry, much to Mark's amusement. Not that he was eating them himself - they were a standard accompaniment to most of the meals, and he usually left them untouched. And he actually kind of liked the easy familiarity of Harley's actions.
But he couldn't resist the opportunity to tease her. The next time her hand approached his plate, he cleared his throat rather pointedly. Harley froze, and gave him a guilty look, belatedly realizing what she was doing, and just who she was doing it to.
Mark grinned. "Not that I mind you eating from my plate, Kate, but the very least you could do is pick something so that I can return the favor!"
He reached out and picked up a lettuce leaf from her salad, looking at it with feigned distaste and dropping it on the side of his own plate.
Jeff burst out laughing - it really was funny, seeing Harley busted that way. Shannon tried to hide a snicker. He wasn't quite as sanguine as Jeff about making fun of the Undertaker and his woman.
Harley glared at Jeff, even as she tried to hide a smile, and then turned to Mark, looking contrite. "Sorry chief. I won't do it again, I promise," she said, her eyes twinkling.
"Ha!" Jeff laughed. "Don't listen to her, 'Taker. She's promised me that time and time again and never kept her word!"
Mark just grinned. "He's got you there, Kate. And I have to say that you don't look all that sorry to me."
Harley chuckled. "But I am sorry, Mark - honestly!"
"Sorry you got caught, maybe, but not at all sorry for stealing in the first place!"
Harley blinked in surprise, and Mark chuckled, tipping her a wink. She wasn't the only one with a familiarity with old Southern movies, although he'd never admit that to anyone either.
"You, sir, are no gentleman!" she responded, exaggerating that Southern accent again, rather delighted at this revelation.
His grin just grew wider. Bless her, he thought, for being his vintage and getting the reference without the need for endless explanation. He chucked her very gently under the chin with another wink. "And you, miss, are no lady. See me complaining?"
Aw hell, thought Harley as her cheeks colored as prettily as any Southern belle's ever did, that was so not fair! How dare he use charm on her, like a Lost Boy! And damn it, that was just a double whammy - his undeniable appeal as a man, combined with that hint of flirtation, however rugged it might be.
Luckily, he took pity on her, patting her hand gently with another wink. "Eat all the fries you want, sweetheart - I really don't mind. I'm just funnin' with you."
She couldn't help it - her chin came up, with a stubborn little pout. "I don't want them now."
He just raised his eyebrows, although the look he gave her was very fond. "You're a goddamned mule, you know that?"
There really was only one response to that. She stuck her tongue out at him, and Jeff almost fell off his chair, laughing at her. Mark just grinned and turned his attention back to his conversation with Matt and Amy.
As everyone dispersed after lunch, Mark took Harley's hand and drew her with him along the corridor and around a corner into a deserted part of the arena. Once they were alone, he pulled her closer to him with a whisper, "I missed you, sweetheart."
Harley made a tiny sound and hugged him, her face nuzzled to his chest with a soft sigh. "I missed you too."
Before either of them could say anything else, a voice came from behind them. "Ah, sorry to intrude, Harley, but Bob's looking for you."
She gave another sigh, this one of frustration. She didn't bother looking up, though, as she spoke. "Okay, tell him I'll be there in a minute."
Mark's arms tightened around her for a moment before he patted her shoulder very gently with a sigh of his own. "I better let you get back to work, Kate."
"Yeah," she said, giving him a little smile as she stepped back from him. "Thanks for lunch, though."
He had to chuckle at that, pointing a finger at her. "Yeah, seein' as how you ate most of mine!"
She giggled and grabbed his finger. "Thought you weren't complainin' about that?"
He pulled her back into a hug, laughing. "Sweetheart, I got no complaints about you at all. 'Cept that I have to let you go back to work."
Nodding, she stepped away from him again. "See you for dinner?"
"Sure," he smiled.
She nodded again and walked away, while he did some quiet cursing to himself before going about his own afternoon's business.
Dinner was a bust, despite their best intentions. There were too many interruptions, too many people wanting Harley's attention leading up to the show. Finally, she gave it up as a bad joke, kissing Mark's cheek briefly before hurrying away to deal with the latest in a series of minor crises that had popped up.
His own evening had gone less than brilliantly itself. He had a match mid-card, and had planned on grabbing a shower and then waiting out the rest of the show until Harley had finished work.
Unfortunately, he'd instead ended up wading in to separate two newer members of the roster who'd decided to throw down over some stupid damn thing or another. Egos being what they were, they and brawn were never a good combination, particularly not in this business. He and Paul Levesque, who were pretty much the leaders in the locker room, had gotten the combatants separated, and then it had been down to them to do the reading of the riot act.
They could have handed it off to the bookers, of course. But that would have meant the whole issue escalating to management, and they preferred to deal with this kind of thing at the locker room level. That wouldn't always be the case - the wrestlers in question got one for free, and a stern warning. The next time, it would be management's picnic, and that was when suspensions and loss of pay got handed out. And nobody liked that.
Which left him here, at the end of the evening, still in wardrobe, still unshowered, feeling just a bit . . . grumpy. There was way too much of a crowd in the locker room, thanks to an eight man tag match and the main event participants, so he settled for dragging off his tights and hurriedly donning his workout clothes from earlier in the evening. Packing his bag, he left the locker room and went in search of Harley.
He found her in Bob's office, doing a last minute check on the paperwork in a temporary file cabinet. She gave him a quick smile and a 'one minute' gesture and returned her attention to the files, a moment before one of her crew arrived at the office with a dolly.
"Ready, Harley?" he asked, and she nodded, locking the cabinet up and slipping the key into her pocket.
"Yeah, thanks Josh. Make sure this goes on the truck heading for Florida, okay?"
Josh, who had been in the general area when Mark had charged into the fray earlier in the evening, bit back on the wisecrack he'd been about to make, given the fact that the Undertaker himself was standing there, arms crossed and unsmiling. He just nodded instead and wheeled the cabinet out of the office.
Harley ran her hands through her hair with a sigh. Bob and the rest of the crew might be sanguine about the idea of having both crews working in different places, but she was unaccountably nervous about her upcoming stint as second crew chief. Although that was largely because of the inferno match, and she was wise enough to know that once she'd had a chance to actually set the rig up and work with it, she'd feel less nervous.
She turned to Mark. "Sorry - last minute stuff for Florida."
He nodded, and she looked at him curiously.
He gave her that hint of a smile that she was coming to truly adore, the barest quirk of his lips accompanied by a crinkling at the corners of those extraordinary green eyes.
"Ain't been the best of evenings, sweetheart. But I'll be fine once I get back to the hotel and get showered. Any chance we could get together a bit later?"
She nodded, smiling back at him. "I think that can be arranged - but I could use a shower and change of clothes myself." She glanced at her watch. "How's an hour sound?"
He stepped into the office then, walking over to where she stood, reaching out to stroke her hair gently before bending to kiss her forehead. "Sounds perfect, Kate. Your room or mine?"
Giving a soft sound of pleasure at his touch, she smiled up at him. "I'll come to yours. But I better get finished up here first."
He nodded. "I'll see you back at the hotel then."
They were both smiling as they parted.
Harley stepped out of the shower in her hotel room and reached for a towel. As was usually the case at the end of the week, she was physically tired but mentally wide awake from the adrenaline of the live show. Sleep would be out of the question for a few hours. Especially given her nerves over the trip to Florida.
After she dressed, she grabbed her keycard and headed out of her room. She was all too conscious of being away from Mark tomorrow. She was already missing him, especially after the evening they'd had. Just spending some time with him was all she wanted.
She knocked on the door to Mark's room, and he opened it a few moments later. Like her, he was dressed casually in sweats and a t-shirt, and his hair was damp - from the shower, she assumed. He smiled at her.
"Come on in, sweetheart."
She stepped into the room, waiting until he had closed the door behind her before she spoke.
"No, thank you," he smiled, wrapping an arm around her shoulders and bending to kiss the top of her head.
Her arm went around his waist, hugging him. "For what?"
He led her to the sofa. "Coming here. Taking pity on me when I was missing you."
"Hey, you weren't the only one feeling miserable," she looked up at him. "Which is crazy, since we've been seeing one
another all day, almost."
He sat down on the sofa, drawing her down to sit beside him. "It's not quite the same thing, sweetheart. Here, I don't have to share you with anyone else - I get you all to myself."
She smiled at him. "I have to admit, I like the sound of that."
He lay his arm along the back of the sofa as he leaned back, and she moved closer to him. They sat in companionable silence, Mark stroking his fingers through her hair. Harley was quietly amazed at how comfortable she felt with him.
It was Mark who broke the silence. "Have I told you how much I like these pink streaks in your hair?"
She looked at him, a little surprised. "I remember you telling me you thought they were spunky - is that what you mean?"
He shook his head, smiling. "Well, I do think they're spunky, but I like them because you got them just before that weekend in Texas. The weekend I was planning to see if I couldn't lure you into my bed."
She laughed softly. "And I screwed up your plans by ending up in hospital - yeah, remember it well!"
He chuckled. "Not screwed up, sweetheart - just changed a little. But I was looking at you differently that weekend, and these spunky pink streaks were part of what I noticed."
"Looking at me differently?" She turned on the sofa to look more at him.
He brushed one finger along a pink streak, smiling. "Noticing you more as a woman, I guess. Rather than just as a friend."
She chuckled. "As I recall that weekend, I was still really embarrassed about what had happened in Topeka the week before. And I was doing my damnedest to stay away from you as a result. That must have made it hard to notice me!"
"When I picked you and Glenn up from the airport in San Antonio, you were wearing a blue workshirt. It brought out the colour of these pretty eyes." His finger brushed her bangs from her eyes as he spoke. "And you had these new spunky pink streaks. And when Randy Orton put his hand on your shoulder at the venue that afternoon, I wanted to put him through a wall."
Her eyes widened. "That's how you got that idea about me and Orton? You saw me talking to him?"
He nodded. "Told you, I was noticing you more as a woman. A woman I wanted. Seeing you with another man . . . yeah, I over-reacted."
She shook her head, chuckling softly. "I don't even like Randy all that much! But, at least it . . . got you moving. When you kissed me that night, I thought I was gonna pass out in the hallway."
"Thought you said we should just forget it ever happened? That's what you told me the next day in Austin," he smiled.
Chuckling, she leaned up to kiss him lightly. "Well of course I did! I thought you'd only done it because you were drunk. Didn't mean it wasn't one helluva kiss."
"Really?" He leaned in to nuzzle his cheek to hers. "Tell me why."
She looked into his eyes. "Well, let's see - you had me pulled in close against you and you felt so good. And you smelled . . . fantastic. It's the cologne you wear, I think - at the time, I didn't know, or care. And the way you kiss . . . I swear, my knees were trembling."
"All that just from one kiss, sweetheart?" His voice was low and husky.
Her hand came up to caress his face. "You bet. You're a great kisser, Mark."
He couldn't help his grin. "Nice to know I'm appreciated. For a second there, I was worried!"
She grinned back. "But speaking of being worried . . . "
"Worried?" His face showed momentary concern.
"Relax," she smiled. "I was going to say that given what you can do with just a kiss, I'm a little worried about what might happen when we do make it into bed together!"
Now his expression was one of relief. "First time I've ever had someone think I might be too good in bed! I was afraid you might be worried about . . . size."
"Size?" Harley was puzzled.
"I'm a big man, sweetheart," he said gently. "Sometimes, that's a concern."
She still looked confused. "Ah, I know you're a big . . . oh!!" Her eyes dropped almost involuntarily to his lap and her cheeks coloured as she brought her gaze back up to his face. "Oh - that kind of . . . uh, yeah."
He reached out to caress her face, meeting her eyes. "I'd never hurt you, Kate - you have to believe that."
She felt her heart constrict at his words. Now that she had got to know him, she could honestly say she had seldom met a gentler man, and yet from the look in his eyes as he sought so earnestly to reassure her, there had obviously been times when women had regarded him with, if not fear, then at very least trepidation.
How many times had he had to say those words? She imagined him as a young man, learning what had to be a painful lesson about his size, and wanted to weep for him. Instead, she wrapped her arms around him, hugging him tightly, her face buried in his chest.
Her reaction took Mark a little by surprise, but his arms came up to hold her a moment later, smoothing over her back gently. "Kate?"
Her voice was quiet, and a little muffled as she nuzzled her cheek against him. "I trust you, Mark."
And she did. Completely. Another surprise. No flip-flops in her stomach this time - just a rock-solid certainty. That was a turn up for the books.
Mark seemed as startled by this pronouncement as she was, taking some time to find his voice. "I'm glad."
His arms tightened around her and she cuddled in close to him with a soft sigh of contentment. He rested his cheek against her hair, his hands continuing to rub her back gently. Once again, he was struck by how just being with her could be so relaxing, feeling the cares of the day flowing out of him.
They were silent for a while, and then Harley shifted position a little beside him, her head now resting against his shoulder.
"Heard there was some kind of brouhaha backstage tonight," she said.
His hands barely paused in their stroking, but all he said was, "Uh huh."
She couldn't miss how he had tensed up at her words, nestled in against him as she was. She patted his chest gently.
"Want to talk about it?" The way she'd heard it, he'd been pretty pissed. She figured it might do him good to offload about it.
Now it was Mark's turn to be surprised. It had been a while since anyone had volunteered to be a sounding board for him - Glenn usually drew that short straw, if only by the default of travelling with him. He kissed the top of her head.
"You sure, sweetheart?"
She lifted her head to smile at him. "Wouldn't have offered if I weren't, chief."
He smiled back, and gently guided her head back to his shoulder, nuzzling his cheek to her hair before he began to speak. "It was Brian Kendrick and Carly Colón."
She nodded slightly, her hand resting against his chest. "What was it about?"
He gave a wry chuckle. "The usual. Brian was pissed that Carly's getting more TV time than he is - reckoned it was because he and his brother have been tossed into the storyline with the Bella twins. Carly got pissed that Brian was suggesting that it was because of the Diva factor rather than his wrestling talent and hit Brian with a low blow."
"He hit him?" Harley sounded surprised - that hadn't been the story she'd heard.
Mark chuckled. "A verbal blow - Carly told Brian that if he wasn't so obviously gay, maybe he'd get a Diva storyline of his own."
"That's what started it?"
"That's when Paul and I got in between them, to stop it from starting. We take a dim view of violence backstage," Mark's tone was firm.
Harley was now the one who tensed up. She sat up away from Mark, looking at him with a slight frown. "What about that thing with Paul Burchill?"
"That was different."
Her puzzlement was obvious. "How was it different? The man ended up with a broken nose and you weren't getting in the way to stop that - hell, you punched him yourself!"
Mark forced himself to stay calm, looking at her steadily. "For starters, Burchill wasn't just starting a pissing contest over TV time - he was being deliberately offensive about a woman. Another thing we take a dim view of."
She looked skeptical. "Mark, please - you think I haven't heard the guys talking about women before?"
His tone remained even. "There's a big difference between that kinda stuff and what Burchill was saying."
She had never asked Jeff exactly what Burchill had said, and now she wasn't sure she ever wanted to know. It had to have been bad, to rouse both him and Mark to violence, especially with what Mark had just said. But then a thought occurred to her.
"You said 'for starters'. What was the other reason?" she asked.
One big hand came up to cup her face gently. "He was saying it about you, sweetheart."
Her eyes widened.
"I can't speak for what Jeff felt, Kate. But when Burchill said what he said about you, I saw red."
"But," she managed to stammer, "we weren't even . . . "
He brushed his thumb gently over her cheek, looking into her eyes. "No, we weren't. But I guess I was already starting to think about you that way. Never mind what was going on between you and Jeff at the time."
Harley remembered then what Jeff had said about how the match against Burchill - the beating - had been Mark's idea. She swallowed hard. "You did that . . . for me?"
"Why?" she whispered.
"He put his hands on you, Kate. He hurt you," was his simple response.
"And for that you risked a suspension, got a fine?" She remembered that part too, from the following day.
He shrugged. "It was worth it."
She looked at him helplessly, and he realized that he was going to have to come clean about this completely. His hand went back to her face, and his eyes held hers.
"Kate, I wanted to kill him. The match was the only way I knew to keep my temper in check."
Her eyes widened again. "Mark, you can't mean that!"
"Can't I?" he said. "Kate, he touched you. Wanted to force himself on you." His hands wanted to clench at the very thought, and she could feel it in him.
"But we were just friends . . . at least, we were working at that," she protested. Even if, deep inside, she felt a dark thrill at his reaction.
"That didn't matter, sweetheart. Bottom line was, he hurt you. Wanted to hurt you. For that, he had to pay." His eyes darkened, looking at her. "No one does that to my woman. Ever."
The minute he said it, he was afraid it might force some of those intimacy issues. But it had to be said - he needed Harley to know how deep his feelings for her ran. Perhaps it was the fact that she was going away the next day, that he wouldn't see her for almost ten days, which seemed an eternity. He just had to hope he hadn't made a mistake.
She sat very still, her eyes locked to his. Just when he thought he'd definitely blown it, said the wrong thing, that she would bolt, she blew out a shaky breath.
He brushed his thumb across her cheek, very lightly, and she nuzzled her face to his touch. This was more of that "all man" stuff, she realized. Scary? Hell yeah. But also somehow comforting. But only because she knew she could trust him with this. She closed her eyes and didn't resist when he gently pulled her back into his arms, snuggling into him almost on instinct, her arms going around him.
They remained that way, neither of them speaking, for long moments. Gradually, they both relaxed again, and Mark's hand once again stroked gently over Harley's back. She gave a sigh of pleasure, nuzzling her face against his chest, inhaling his scent.
"We good, sweetheart?" he asked quietly.
"Yeah, we're good, Mark," was her equally quiet response, and he pressed a kiss to the top of her head gently.
She was silent for a moment, and then gave a quiet chuckle. "You really are the damnedest man, you know that?"
He chuckled himself. "Why do you say that, sweetheart?"
"I notice you don't deny it, by the way!" She sounded very amused as she patted his chest.
"I've been called worse, sweetheart, and by far less attractive people," he said mildly.
Harley gave his chest another pat. "Thank you, chief. As to why you're the damnedest man - just when I figure I'm starting to get a handle on you, you toss me a curve ball! You like keepin' me on my toes or something?"
That sweet Southern drawl was back in her voice, and that playful tone too. Warning bells were sounding in his brain, because he knew how this might end up, but he found he didn't actually give a damn. He slid his hand down her back and patted her hip with a grin.
"But you look so cute when you're on tiptoes, sweetheart."
"How else am I gonna get a kiss, Mark?" She looked up at him from under her lashes, a smile curving her lips.
"So it's kisses you want?" Those alarm bells were getting louder.
She walked her fingers up his chest. "Maybe . . . "
He fought the urge to moan, instead placing his fingertips under her chin and tipping her face up to his. "You're just the cutest little trick in shoe leather, aren't you, sweetheart?"
Harley made a helpless little sound. "You varmint!"
Mark chuckled, stroking his finger along her jaw and leaning in closer to her. "Something wrong?"
"I'm still waiting for my kiss," she pouted.
"Oh, I see," he smiled at her, touching a fingertip to her lips lightly. "You should be kissed and often, and by someone who knows how."
Damn him! He wasn't playing fair again. Time to quit messing around here. She grabbed two handfuls of his t-shirt and pulled him closer. "That certainly sounds like you. So kiss me already!"
Mark was only too happy to oblige.
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