(Again, 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!
This chapter's for faithinfire - cos I got two words for ya . . . inferno match! Enjoy!
Thanks for reading and remember - feedback is always appreciated. I'm writing for the love of it, but I'm publishing to hear the opinions of others.
And since it has been such a long time between updates, and to save you trawling back through the archives (although I have helpfully tagged all the chapters!), you'll find links to all the earlier chapters here
All too soon for Harley's liking, it was show time. After seeing her parents to their seats and quietly making sure that the event staff knew they were VIPs and to keep an eye on them, she headed backstage.
With no specific duties other than the inferno match, Harley pitched in where she could, more to keep her mind occupied than out of any real need.
She and the inferno match crew did their final check of their equipment, which was stacked backstage. There was a lengthy promo package that would be shown prior to the match, with the ring lighting dimmed, so they would have time to assemble the rig.
The fire marshalls had been leery of that idea, but Harley and her crew had been practising in low lighting, and when they could demonstrate that they could indeed assemble the ring in near darkness, the fire marshalls had agreed.
Dressed in black jeans and a black crew t-shirt, with a black bandana tied over her hair, Harley was as anonymous as any of the other ringside crew. Resisting the urge to pace, she instead found a quiet spot amid the usual backstage chaos.
More than one of the bands she'd toured with over her years on the road had flirted with Eastern philosophies and meditation practices.
Calling on some of those now, she sat with her eyes closed, taking slow, even breaths. When one of her crew came to find her, she felt calm and ready.
Bob watched, with not a little pride, as she gathered her inferno match crew around her.
"Okay guys - we know what we got to do, and we know how to do it. So let's go and get this thing done, make it the showstopper we know it's gonna be."
At Bob's direction, the crew moved out swiftly and as quietly as they could with the dollies holding the rig, uncoiling the gas lines as they went.
Harley followed with the sniffer, checking for gas leaks as her crew did the heavy work of assembling the fire bars that made up the actual rig, and manouvering her motherboard into place.
Once they'd completed the build, Harley did her safety inspection, using a mini flashlight and the sniffer to check every connection, and hand-testing the rig's stability.
Once that was done, she took her place at the motherboard and sent it live, testing the gauges and reporting readiness sotto voce to Bob via her headset.
His affirmative response got a nod, which was relayed by the stage director who watched the action in the ring as Bob focused on video, lights and pyros from the big board.
The video package ended, and the arena lights remained dark. After a long pause, during which an expectant hush settled over the audience, the sharp crackle of a lightning bolt rent the air, and a white laser speared out of the darkness to trigger the Undertaker's lightning effect, followed by the deep gong that heralded the entrance of the legendary Phenom.
Once he'd reached the ring, and raised his hands to bring up the lights, the hair on the back of Harley's neck was standing on end. Though she'd cued the lights dozens of times from backstage, it was remarkably eerie out here at the ring.
There was enough of a pause to show the Deadman that his baby brother was playing his own mindgames, and then the stage exploded in a blaze of red flames and even Harley jumped as Kane made his entrance.
Given the inferno rig, safety dictated Kane would have no ring post pyros to set off. Instead, he stood outside the ring and raised his arms, bringing them down sharply to ignite the stage once again.
What nerves Harley had been feeling now evaporated. She and her crew were as ready as they could possibly be. As she knew Glenn and Mark were. Now, as she'd told her crew, they just needed to make it happen.
And they did. From the moment when she set the ring alight as the match stipulation was announced, drawing a loud "Oooh!" of appreciation from the crowd, to the simultaneous clotheslines that concluded the match, it went precisely as they had planned.
In fact, as Mark had suspected, Harley had been caught up in the adrenaline that the intense audience reactions provoked, and pushed the flame effects to their limits.
Including the one that accompanied the move that saw Glenn forcing him back over the ropes. He clearly felt the flames at that point, much more than he had in rehearsal. Which in turn fed his own adrenaline, as fire was wont to do, and he launched himself at Glenn with a clearly audible growl.
That was exactly what they needed, because once he stepped up the action, Glenn rose to meet him, and the double clothesline landed them damn near perfectly. He'd only had to shift his foot fractionally to bring it into the flames that shot up as they landed.
As the flames subsided, there was a roar of reaction from the crowd at seeing both of them with a boot alight.
What looked like bedlam at that point was, as everything else had been, thoroughly rehearsed.
Mike Chioda called frantically for the bell, and as Harley shut down the rig, her crew rushed forward with fire extinguishers to douse the flames on Mark and Glenn's boots. Not before time, to Mark's relief - flame retardant gel and the new boots notwithstanding, his foot was starting to feel pretty toasty.
They both got to their feet, glaring at one another from across the ring as Mike "viewed the video playback" and then declared it too close to call. Because it was impossible to determine who had been set alight first, the match was declared a no-contest, leaving the Undertaker still the champion, and Kane seething with frustration.
"Security" were called to make sure that didn't erupt into further violence, and as Kane left the ring, Mike Chioda handed the belt up to the Undertaker, who held it aloft as the PPV went off the air.
Once the broadcast ended, and to the audience's delighted reactions, Mark returned their acclaim with a raise of his hand, then exited the ring himself, carefully avoiding the still-hot fire bars, and went backstage, where the first thing he did was congratulate Glenn on a great match. A sentiment Glenn returned in kind.
The next thing he did was look for Harley.
She and her crew made the rig safe, and then she left them to stand watch over it, at least until the audience had cleared the building, not wanting to take the chance of anyone, even other crew, coming into contact with it while it was still hot.
It would be disassembled later in the night, but that and breaking down the used pyro shells would be the only work done. RAW the following night was in the same venue, so the set re-dress was minimal and could be done the next morning.
Harley congratulated each of her crew for a job well done, and then went over to where her parents were still in their seats.
"Well hell, snooks! That was a show and a half! And you were right there in the thick of it!" her father was fairly beaming.
"Thanks, daddy - it was a good show, wasn't it? Did the inferno match look good?"
"Oh my goodness!" her mother chimed in. "That was frightening just to watch, worrying about your friends getting burned!"
Allan chuckled and patted her hand. "Relax, momma - that's why Katie was there, to make sure that didn't happen. Helluva spectacle, I got to say, even if it wasn't my little girl making it so."
Harley smiled - there was pretty much nothing could beat praise from a girl's daddy to make her feel good. "Thanks, daddy."
Allan nodded. "Guessing you had a hand in the opening fireworks too?"
"Well, I designed the display, but my crew put it all together for the show," Harley said.
Mention of her crew reminded Allan that his daughter was still at work. "We best let you get on with your crew, then. Will we see you back at the hotel?"
"I'll be along pretty soon," Harley said. "Just need to wrap a few things up here, first. You sure you don't want to wait and let me drive you back?"
Allan thought of his conversation with Mark that afternoon, and shook his head. "We'll be fine grabbing a cab, snooks." He figured his daughter needed space to touch base with her beau, and she didn't need them hanging around for that.
Before his daughter or his wife could say a thing, he was hustling Clare towards the exit with a wink and a wave to Harley.
Chuckling to herself, Harley pulled off her bandana and ruffled her hair with both hands as she headed backstage. Once there, she took off her headset and left it in its usual place near the big board.
She and Bob spoke briefly about the show, and she was just as pleased by his praise as she was by her father's. There wasn't much to beat the satisfaction of a job well done, but the praise Bob relayed from management was very welcome too. Especially when she'd been so worried at not being able to pull off this particular event.
Mark and Glenn weren't far away, surrounded by a knot of other wrestlers and management. Congratulations were coming thick and fast, which Mark had to admit was always nice. They knew they'd impressed the fans - audience reaction had told them that. Knowing they'd also impressed their peers just made it better.
He also had to admit the accolades of his peers fed the adrenaline that was still rushing after the match. So when he spotted Harley, he made a beeline for her with a grin. Glenn, seeing where he was headed, was hot on his heels a moment later.
Reaching Harley, Mark gave a polite nod to Bob before bending to wrap his arms around Harley, lifting her clear off her feet in a huge hug, remembering at least to be gentle with her.
With a broad grin at her, he turned to face the rest of the group. "And this is the lady who made it all possible!"
At the loud applause that followed, Harley hid her face for a moment in Mark's shoulder, holding on around his neck, although she didn't think for a moment he was going to let her fall. He patted her back with one gloved hand, and she raised her head, chuckling at him. "Me? Hell, all I did was play with fire!"
"Don't I know it!" Mark laughed. "Woman, I had moments when I wondered if you'd decided to trade me in for a younger model! Or at least prove to yourself I could move my big ass quick enough to suit you!"
Harley took his face in her hands, grinning. "Oh, I ain't done with your big ass yet, chief. Not by a long shot." And just to prove her point, she leaned in and kissed him. Public display of affection, oh yeah, fine and dandy by her.
Mark tightened his arms around her, returning her kiss with a smile.
Glenn gave them a moment, a fairly long one, and then pointedly cleared his throat. "Ahem? Other guy in the match here. You think I could get a little of that?"
Mark didn't release his hold on Harley, though he did turn to raise an eyebrow at Glenn. "You want me to give you a kiss and a cuddle, too? Man, and here I thought all those people on the internet who insist you're gay were crazy!"
Harley snickered at that, but she thought Jeff might hurt himself with how hard he was laughing. He wasn't the only one.
Glenn was grinning from ear to ear as he reached out to cuff Mark's shoulder, none too gently. "You want to remember that most of those nutjobs seem to think that you and I make just the cutest couple, buddy! Now, hand over the pyro chick and no one gets hurt!"
Mark set Harley down gently, though both of them were laughing, and Glenn immediately scooped her up in a hug of his own. "Thanks for not roasting us!"
Harley hugged him back, with a grin. "You're welcome! Is now when I warn you about keeping your mitts off my man?"
Glenn gave Mark a slow look up and down, and heaved a long suffering sigh. "Well, if you insist . . . " he lisped with a wink.
Mark snorted laughter. "Swear to God, someone's going to catch you on camera doing that shit one day, and you'll never fuckin' hear the end of it!"
Setting Harley down carefully, Glenn suddenly tossed back a mane of imaginary hair, very much the way Mark did in the ring, and grinned. "Man, they've been watching you do that shit on camera for years! Don't seem to have impacted on your reputation much!"
Mark just grinned, while Harley laughed.
As the group dispersed, Mark looked over at Harley. "You want to grab a beer back at the hotel?"
It only took her a moment to agree - as hyped as she was after the inferno match, sleep was out of the question for now.
When Harley arrived back at the hotel, she headed for the shower. She dressed casually in jeans and a t-shirt, and was grabbing a bottle of water from the mini-bar when the door to her parents' room opened and her mother looked out.
Taking in the change of clothes, Clare frowned. "Katie? Are you going somewhere?"
Harley nodded, taking a long swallow of water. "Just out for a beer, momma."
Clare glanced at her wristwatch. "At this hour?"
"It's not that late, momma," Harley chuckled to herself. Some things never changed.
Hearing the voices, Allan joined his wife in the doorway, giving Harley a grin. "Gonna paint the town red, snooks?"
Seeing her mother about to truly object, Harley chuckled out loud. "You know what's really gonna happen? Bunch of us will get together, declaring we're all wide awake and the next time we're gonna want to sleep will be next month. Maybe. One beer later, the adrenaline will wear off and everyone will be yawning."
Allan gave his wife a nudge. "See?"
Clare wasn't convinced. "Katie Quinn, I've heard your stories about partying all night!"
Crossing to her mother, Harley kissed her cheek. "I'm sure some of the younger guys will party on til the wee small hours, but trust me, one beer's pretty much gonna do it for me."
"Then why go out at all?"
Harley shrugged. "Momma, right now I really am wide awake - adrenaline always does that to me. I'm not going to be able to sleep yet, so going out for a quiet beer with my friends is a way to pass the time. We'll talk about the show, about what's coming up - it's a debrief, I guess."
Allan put his arm around Clare's shoulders. "And Katie's a big girl, momma - she can make her own choices." There was a note of finality in his voice that Harley recognized from her teen years - the one that said no further discussion was going to be entertained.
As Harley checked for her wallet and keycard, Clare frowned again. "Katie, you can't go out without a coat!"
Patiently, Harley smiled. "Not like I'm going any further than the hotel bar, momma."
Allan nodded, firmly drawing his wife back into the room. "See? We'll see you in the morning, snooks."
Harley took the hint and got while the getting was good.
Later, downstairs in the bar, Mark and Harley were seated together in one of the booths. His arm was draped casually around her shoulders and she leaned against him, one hand resting on his thigh.
Like most of the group they were seated with, they were drinking beer, and as she'd told her parents, one seemed to be pretty much everyone's limit.
Apart from the fact that most of the guys were serious about their diet and fitness, generally shying away from the empty calories in booze, the adrenaline was receding and fatigue was setting in.
Getting together for a beer was as much about keeping the good feelings after a successful show going as it was about unwinding.
While Mark and the other wrestlers discussed technical details of matches that went straight over her head, Harley sipped her beer thoughtfully. Up until now, her relationship with Mark had been largely private, apart from the occasional public display of affection at work. This was the first time, save for the poker game in Minneapolis, that they'd been "out" together as a couple with their colleagues. Of course, the relationship was hardly a secret, but certainly it seemed that people were comfortable with it.
Which was good - in the relatively short period she'd been with the company, she'd seen more than enough friction over relationships. Generally among the younger crowd, though - there seemed to be a few of the Divas who were working their way through the roster, and there were inevitable flare-ups over that.
With a blink of surprise, Harley wondered if there might not be folk who thought she should be tarred with that same brush. After all, the rumour mill had had her moving from Jeff to Glenn and then to Mark.
She set her beer down, a frown creasing her forehead.
With barely a pause, feeling the sudden tension in Harley's shoulders, Mark excused himself from his conversation with John Layfield and leaned closer to her, murmuring, "Everything okay, Kate?"
And that was exactly why she didn't need to worry, she thought with a smile, leaning more into him as she whispered back, "Yeah, thanks Mark."
He gave her arm a gentle pat, feeling some of that tension leave her, and went back to his conversation.
For all that he'd played up to the rumours at various points, generally speaking, most people took Mark very seriously. He commanded a lot of respect. So if he indicated, either with words or by his actions, that the relationship building between them was no joking matter, then that was the end of the story.
For everyone, including herself. She was no insecure little girl who needed the approval of the crowd, for God's sake! She was a grown woman. The only opinions that mattered were hers and Mark's.
With a blink of surprise, she realized she'd turned a corner. From being astonished at even the possibility of a relationship, she was now treating it not only as a reality, but quite a public one. And that wasn't the scary prospect it had once seemed.
The group was already breaking up, she realized as she turned her attention back to them. Oh yeah, they were all such complete party animals, she thought with a chuckle to herself. Herself included - she was already feeling pleasantly relaxed.
Mark nuzzled gently at her hair as she covered a yawn with one hand. "Ready to call it a night, sweetheart?" he murmured.
She nodded, and they rose to their feet together, bidding the rest of the group goodnight as they left.
Outside the door of her suite, Harley looked up at Mark. Until that moment, she hadn't really thought about spending the night apart from him. Now that the prospect was upon her, she found she didn't care for it one little bit.
His eyes were locked to hers as they stood together in the hotel doorway. She reached up, caressing his face with one hand, whispering, "I don't want you to go, Mark."
He tucked her hair behind her ear with a gentle touch, his own voice low. "And I don't want to leave, Kate."
She curled her hand around the back of his neck, drawing him down as she rose on her tiptoes to kiss him. He wrapped his arm her as he bent to her kiss, holding her close to him.
As their lips parted, she whispered, "Stay with me. Please."
He pulled her into a hug, bending his head over hers. "I'd be happy to, darlin'."
She dug into her pocket for her keycard and opened the door to the suite, and then reached for his hand. He took hers and followed as she led him inside.
They closed the door quietly and crossed the suite's living room, pausing only long enough for Harley to turn off the lights her parents had left on for her, before going into the bedroom together.
From across the living room, Allan watched this with a bemused expression. He'd always been a light sleeper, and the habits of raising three children never really left a man. He'd always known what time his kids got home at night, and it was second nature to get up and check on them when they did.
His daughter had been true to her word, he thought, glancing at the clock. And it seemed that sparking was pretty serious.
But she was old enough to make her own decisions about that too, he thought as he went back to bed.
In a routine that was becoming pleasantly familiar, Mark and Harley took turns in the bathroom and then climbed into bed together. When he opened his arms to her, she came into them with a smile, cuddling in close to him.
He made a sound of contentment and kissed the top of her head. "Before I forget to tell you, thanks for keeping me safe tonight, Kate."
She patted his chest gently. "Thanks for trusting me to do it, Mark."
His voice was sleepy. "Always will, darlin'."
As she drifted off to sleep, she was smiling.
Mark woke the next morning with the usual aches and pains that reminded him he'd been working with Glenn the night before. Ramped up a notch or two because it had been a Pay Per View.
It wasn't at all that Glenn was unprofessional. Far from it. One of the joys of working with Glenn was his skill in the ring.
But he and Glenn always got heavily physical with one another. Even safely landing moves could hurt. Throw in their sizes and a hefty dose of adrenaline and yeah, he was definitely feeling it. And he had no doubt Glenn was too.
Plus, he wasn't a kid anymore, as he'd told Harley before. Those aching muscles after a big match were the price he paid for doing this as long as he had.
On the plus side, having Harley snuggled into his side, while it didn't diminish those aches and pains, made him far less worried about dealing with them.
The impact she had on his mood was rather remarkable, he mused, as his hand stroked lightly over her back. Both good and bad. She could infuriate him like no other, but she could also make him feel surprisingly contented. Which was something he would have thought impossible a few months ago.
She made a sleepy sound against his chest. A not-quite-awake sound. He was reminded of her father's name for her - right now, "snooks" sounded about right for that softer, more vulnerable side of her that seemed to only be shown when she was sleeping.
He wanted nothing more than to cuddle her close to him for a few hours. And while a part of him might be tempted mightily by that prospect, he knew that his aching muscles wouldn't thank him for it later. He needed to get up and start moving around. A long hot shower would help too, and then some time in the gym before tonight's show.
His resolve was tested when she lifted her head and gave him a sleepy smile. "Hey Mark."
He smiled back. "Mornin', Kate."
Lifting a hand to stroke her hair, he winced a little at the stiffness in his shoulder and she frowned.
"Are you okay, Mark?"
He nodded. "Just a bit stiff and sore, darlin' - it'll pass."
She leaned up carefully to kiss him. "Anything I can do?"
Cupping her face with his hand, he smiled. "You just did."
As she settled back beside him, her arm wrapped over his chest, he was right back to never wanting to leave this bed, or her. Just to prolong this feeling of peace.
They talked idly for a few minutes, until Mark could no longer ignore the twinges and aches as
they really began to set in.
Mindful of her parents in the other bedroom, Harley donned a hotel bathrobe as Mark dressed.
Sitting on the edge of the bed as he put on his shoes, he looked up at her. "Can I take you and your folks to breakfast, Kate?"
She smiled. "I'd like that. Thanks."
He rose to his feet and pulled her gently into his arms, bending to kiss her. "My pleasure."
She leaned up to his kiss, and they remained in a hug for long moments after their lips parted.
Harley walked him to the door of the sweet, smiling as he kissed her goodbye, then quietly closing the door behind him. She was about to go back into the bedroom when the door to her parents' room opened, and her father came out.
"Is the coast clear, snooks?" he gave her a wink.
She chuckled and nodded. "You do realize I'm a little old to be busted for something like that, daddy."
Allan just shrugged. "Wasn't busting you, snooks, just didn't want to intrude on a private moment. But, unless he's the early bird to end all early birds, I'm assuming he spent the night?"
Harley gestured to the sofa in the living room and took a seat on one of the armchairs. "Time I came clean, huh daddy?"
Taking a seat opposite her, Allan smiled. "I watched you with him yesterday afternoon, Katie - kinda already figured out there was something going on. Is it serious?"
"It's still early days, daddy," she paused for a moment. "But I think . . . maybe it could be. Eventually." That was a surprising admission, and it spooked her a little. But she was determined to hang in there and see.
Allan nodded. "Then I got nothing more to say about it. 'Cept to hope it turns out well - he seems a nice enough fella."
She smiled. "That's for sure, daddy. Um, he's offered to take us all to breakfast - would you and momma be interested?"
That gave her father pause for thought himself. It was one thing to be introduced to them, quite another to actually invite their company. That spoke of seriousness right there. But he wasn't about to let on about his conversation with Mark the day before.
"That'd be right nice of him, snooks, so yes. Best I go get your mother up, so she can get ready."
He rose to his feet, and Harley did the same. "No rush, daddy. I'll call Mark and let him know."
Given that she had the day off, Harley had plans to take her parents sight-seeing before seeing RAW with them that night. Not for the first time, she realized why her parents had retired here, as she dressed in a crisp white sundress topped with a cropped jean jacket with three quarter sleeves - that was pretty nice for November. The hot pink flat sandals were an impulse purchase while she'd been here in Orlando, but she couldn't resist them. She caught her hair back with a barrette, and was looking for her car keys when the knock came at the door of the suite.
"I'll get that, snooks," said her father, and headed for the door, greeting Mark with a handshake and inviting him in.
After a long hot shower, and some stretches, Mark was feeling less stiff and sore, and was looking forward to a pleasant meal with Harley and her parents before an appearance and then work later in the afternoon.
But when Harley stepped out of the suite's main bedroom, Allan and Clare didn't miss the delighted expression on his face.
With a smile, he headed for Harley. "Sweetheart, you look just as pretty as a picture."
Harley felt a faint blush color her cheeks as she took Mark's outstretched hands. "Thank you, Mark."
He made a soft sound and bent to kiss her cheek, giving her hands a gentle squeeze. As he
straightened, he drew one hand through his arm, addressing her parents, "Are you ready for breakfast?"
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