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(Again, a huge thank you to panthology and her mad skillz for this graphic!)

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!

Another shoutout - this time to Charles Robinson (@CRobinsonWWERef) and John Cone (who apparently has since deleted his Twitter account, unfortunately!), hard-working WWE referees, who've shared some great behind the scenes info about the work of the crew via Twitter.

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




###

Clare Quinn, who unlike her husband, had no idea their daughter was involved with her friend until that morning, played catch-up in a hurry. Mark's greeting, and his behavior towards Harley, proclaimed rather loudly that the two of them were developing a romantic attachment.

Still, he was unfailingly polite to her and her husband, and his manners were impeccable, although she'd expect little less from a fellow Southerner. Even if he was from Texas, where they had a tendency to be more brash and rough-and-tumble. He held Harley's chair for her, and rose to his feet when either she or her daughter did.

From the easy flow of conversation, it seemed he and Harley knew one another quite well. Down to him knowing how she took her coffee, even. And he was quietly self-assured, though not so gregarious as some of the other people they'd met so far this weekend.

But what really sold Clare was the obvious affection in which he held her daughter. His expression when he looked at Harley invariably softened, and he didn't hesitate to show his affection physically - gentle touches on her shoulder, or her hand, as they spoke. Not in a grabby, hands-on way - just occasionally. Almost as if he needed the contact to underscore something he was saying. Or feeling.

And it certainly seemed Harley enjoyed that. Where her sons had settled down after going to college, moving into steady relationships that eventually led to marriage and family, Harley had never been one for that. She'd had boyfriends, but none that lasted long enough to become serious.

Then of course, she'd gone off with those rock bands. It certainly seemed the life agreed with her - whenever she'd come to visit, or to family gatherings, she'd seemed happy enough. Full of stories and anecdotes, but always eager to get back on the road. Her father said she always seemed to be chasing something, although he didn't know what exactly. Excitement, perhaps. She certainly didn't seem inclined to settle down.

Now? Perhaps she was done with chasing the elusive whatever. That edge of restlessness was gone. She obviously enjoyed her work, even the unending travel - she and Mark were flying to Tallahassee the next morning for another show. Clare couldn't quite put her finger on it, but if pressed, she'd have to say that her daughter was . . . calm. In a way she hadn't been before.

She had been ill recently, it was true. That might have slowed her down a little. But Clare suspected strongly that this new calm was at least in part due to the man who sat beside Harley. For all his size, and the strength they'd seen displayed at the show the night before, he was surprisingly gentle with her daughter.

It wasn't as if this were one-sided either. Her daughter certainly seemed to be as fond of Mark as he was of her. Harley wasn't by nature a flirt - she was generally too level-headed for that. But the smiles she gave Mark, her reaction to his touch, were a clear indication of her feelings towards him.

As Mark spoke in glowing terms of Harley's skills with lighting and pyrotechnics, Clare began to see what they had in common in that flair for showmanship. Catching sight of Mark's heavily tattooed arm as he reached for his coffee cup, Clare thought her daughter's somewhat unladylike fascination with marking her own body was another thing they had in common.

Allan was doing his own share of observing while engaging in conversation with Mark.

There was enough familiarity in Mark's behavior around his daughter to tell him this wasn't being put on as a show following their conversation the day before. No, Mark was treating his daughter respectfully, and affectionately, because that's how he was accustomed to treating her.

And his snooks certainly seemed as if she liked that, which was good.

His wife had always been baffled by Harley's unwillingness to settle down. For his part, he thought that maybe he could understand it a little.

Growing up with two older brothers, Harley hadn't just been a tomboy, but she'd developed into quite the tough little cookie as well.

He remembered her, barely eight years old, begging and pleading to be allowed to go hunting with him. He'd taken her along, convinced that she'd be bored and unable to sit still and that would be an end of it.

But she'd proved him wrong. And after that first time, she'd shown far more interest in it that either of his boys. From being barely tall enough to hold his rifle as he dealt with deer carcasses to learning to field dress them herself. He could still remember the startled reaction of a Wildlife Services ranger, coming across them one year, finding Harley up to her elbows in the belly of a fine buck, her hair in pigtails and a smear of deer blood on her cheek. She'd been all of eleven that year.

The year she'd been able to apply for a youth license of her own, she'd been as excited as she'd ever been come Christmas time. Hunting had been generally poor that year, and she'd not managed to bring down a thing.

Undeterred, she'd spent the next year practicing and had bagged a fourteen point buck the first day of hunting. He still had the license, punched out to show she'd bagged her limit that year.

Then she'd gone off to college, the only girl in her entire engineering class. Which hadn't phased her one bit - she was just as comfortable drinking beer with the boys as she was in a gaggle of girls.

Was it any real surprise, then, that a fierce independent-minded woman hadn't been willing to fall for the first line of smooth talk and romancing that came along?

All he'd ever hoped for Harley, unlike his wife who perhaps still clung to unrealistic dreams of a husband and grandchildren, was that she was happy. Right now, it seemed she was, and that was good enough for him.

More than that, she was comfortable. Well, as comfortable as she could be, sitting there with her new beau and her parents for the first time, given they were clearly rather on Sunday manners behavior.

He liked that - to him it showed Mark was treating him with respect. So it came as something of a surprise when the man suddenly rolled his eyes with a shake of his head at something he said.

Harley snickered beside him, and it was only then that Allan realized the two of them were looking behind him rather than at him.

Turning his head, he saw the man who'd been in the match last night with Mark, leaning against the doorway of the restaurant, making some gesture that he hurriedly turned into a tap of his wristwatch once he realized he was being observed.

Allan turned back to Mark and Harley - she was still snickering, and Mark was trying not to grin as he beckoned to their waitress.

"What was that all about?" Allan asked.

Harley smiled. "Glenn's a bit of a goof."

Mark snorted laughter. "He's brain-damaged is what he is. Maybe I hit him too hard last night."

"Which time?" Allan asked with a grin of his own.

Their waitress approached, and Mark asked her for the bill. As she left, he turned to Allan. "He's actually here to take me to work, so I need to get going."

Allan reached automatically for his wallet, and Mark shook his head. "It's okay, I got this."

"That's kind of you, but . . . "

Harley chuckled and shook her head. "It's no use, daddy - he won't budge. He's as stubborn as a mule like that!"

Mark gave her a fond look. "Takes one to know one, Kate." He turned back to Allan. "I invited you folks to breakfast, so it's my treat."

Clare smiled. "And it's been lovely - thank you, Mark."

"My pleasure," Mark responded with a smile of his own. He rested his arm along the back of Harley's chair, giving her a gentle squeeze before going on. "You folks have a good day."

Allan didn't miss how his daughter leaned into Mark at his touch, and chuckled. "You know, it's not going to cross our eyes any if you give her a kiss, son."

Mark laughed, hugging Harley again. "That be okay with you, sweetheart?"

She turned to face him, raising one hand to caress his face. "That'd be perfectly fine with me, Mark."

He leaned in to kiss her lightly, very conscious of her parents sitting opposite them.

Looking into his eyes as their lips parted, Harley smiled. "See you later, Mark."

He nodded, collecting his sports bag from under his chair and heading towards Glenn. She followed him with her eyes as he did.

That told Allan plenty about how she felt about the man.

###

It wasn't until much later in the afternoon that Clare broached the subject, while they were sitting in a coffee shop at one of Orlando's larger malls.

"When were you going to tell us you were seeing someone, Katie?"

Harley chuckled. "Oh, I don't know, momma. Certainly before the wedding. Well, probably. Maybe?" She winked at her father.

Clare caught that. "Very funny, missy. I happen to be serious!"

Patting her mother's hand, Harley nodded. "I know, momma. It's just that Mark and I have only been dating for," she paused for a moment, thinking, and her eyebrows went up as she went on, "a bit over a month. And the last two weeks I've been working here in Florida while he's been doing shows elsewhere. I'm only just getting used to the idea myself!"

Clare's own eyebrows raised. "And yet he's already spending the night?" She'd heard the suite door that morning herself.

Allan caught the way his daughter's chin came up at that, and gave his wife a long look. "I think Katie's old enough that something like that should be her own business, momma."

Clare subsided for a moment, but then went on, "Well, should we invite him to Virginia for Christmas?"

Harley looked horrified. "I've been seeing him for four weeks, momma - don't you think that's pushing it?"

As he had been doing since Harley was old enough to dare arguing with her mother, Allan stepped in. "Clare, that's enough. Katie's said it's early days and that should be the end of it. When there's more for us to know, I'm sure she'll tell us. Right?" This last was delivered with a pointed look at his daughter.

Stubborn she may be, but she knew her father's limits very well. Harley nodded. "Absolutely, daddy."

"Good. Now, I for one am just enjoying the chance to visit with you. And while I ain't looking that gift horse in the mouth, just why is it that you're not working tonight? Thought you usually did," Allan asked.

"I've been working without a day off the last two weeks, daddy. I guess I've earned it. But I'll be back in the thick of things tomorrow."

Clare frowned. "You're sure you're not over-doing it, Katie?"

Harley smiled. "Right now, me being in the thick of things amounts to doing all the paperwork. I usually run the lights and pyro during the shows though, but that's just me keeping my wits about me and following a run sheet."

"See, momma? Ain't hardly anything taxing about that for our bright girl!" her father chuckled.

###

The evening's plans were that Harley and her parents would have dinner at the venue and then take in RAW from backstage.

As they drove to the venue, Harley's father said, "Kinda looking forward to seeing behind the scenes, snooks. I'm sure that's real interesting."

She chuckled. "I guess. What is impressive is watching the crew break the set, or build it."

"Why's that, Katie?" her mother wanted to know.

"Well, when we're on the road, momma, we build the ring and the set in about six hours. Then after the show, we break it down in about half that time, so we can load the trucks and drive everything to the next town. And do it all again. It's pretty frantic at times."

"You do all that?" Clare asked.

Harley chuckled. "Not anymore, momma. It was good when I first started here, helped me learn about absolutely everything. But I been kicked upstairs now - I let my crew do their work and I just manage from a distance. Like my hotel bed, so I sleep while they work!"

"Now how can you manage them while you're sleeping, snooks?" her father asked.

"Daddy, my crew been doing this way longer than I've been around. They know their jobs better'n I do. They really don't need much managing like that. Mostly, I take care of the paperwork now, and the design stuff - that's why I was hired in the first place," she explained.

After parking at the venue, Harley arranged for visitor passes for her parents, and showed them around the backstage area, which was busy with crew and support personnel scurrying around in preparation for the live show.

At first glance, it appeared to be complete chaos, but Allan could soon see that everyone had a purpose, and they were remarkably good at staying out of one another's way. Surely a sign they had this down pat.

Harley pointed out Bob Threadgood, currently in discussion with the stage director and the head of TV production. "That's usually my job."

"What's he doing, Katie?" her mother asked, fascinated.

"Going over the running sheet for the show, momma. When there's matches, when we're showing video or interviews. We have to know when to set off certain pyros or lighting effects," Harley explained.

"Oh, you mean like that lightning bolt last night?" Clare exclaimed. "That half frightened the wits out of me, I swear!"

Harley grinned. "I designed that one, momma."

Allan's eyebrows went up - he knew all too well his daughter's feelings about lightning. "You don't say, snooks?"

"Oh, it wasn't my idea - Mark was thinking how he could use lightning for his entrance and I figured out how to do it for him."

"You do that kind of thing for everyone then?" her father wanted to know.

"If everyone had their way, it'd be all I did!" Harley laughed. "They all want something special so they can stand out! But it's mostly the top guys who get the really special stuff. Mark, for example - he's a pretty big deal, you know?"

Allan didn't know how much of a big deal Mark was to the company, but as they sat with him and Glenn at dinner in Catering later, it was pretty clear the man was a big deal as far as his daughter was concerned.

It was no wonder they formed such close friendships, he mused later, thinking over what he'd seen backstage. They stayed at the same hotel and spent most of the day and night together before travelling together to the next town for more of the same.

They'd stayed a bit after the show, and as he'd watched the crew breaking the set, just as Harley said, the ease with which they did spoke volumes on how well everyone knew one another and their jobs. You didn't work that well together without being friends, he knew that from his own experience.

To his surprise, Mark hadn't come back to the hotel with them.

Waiting until Clare's attention was elsewhere, he leaned in to Harley. "We spoiling your evening plans, snooks?" he asked quietly.

Harley chuckled softly and shook her head. "He wanted to catch up with Glenn about an idea he had for tomorrow night. He'll be along later."

###

At the airport the following morning, Allan saw another side of the relationship growing between Mark and his daughter.

The man had shown up the night before, unapologetic at spending the night, although once again he'd left early. But that was mostly so that everyone could pack and be ready to leave after breakfast.

He'd even come back, his own bags in tow, to carry Harley's bag for her. Allan definitely gave him points for that.

Over breakfast, he'd been a little more forthcoming, good naturedly answering Clare's questions about himself and his family.

Once at the airport, all of them had checked into their flights, and Allan saw his daughter looking at the car keys in her hand.

Mark chuckled and nudged her shoulder. "Time to give the Hummer back, Kate."

Harley looked up at him with a little pout, and a playful twinkle in her eyes. "Aww, do I hafta?"

"They're not about to let you take it on the plane as carry-on!"

Allan clearly saw the stubborn set of her chin, but Mark was already laughing. "You are such a mule!"

She just grinned. "Takes one to know one!

That amused Mark even more, and his eyes followed her as she went over to the rental car counter.

After bidding her parents goodbye as they boarded their flight, Mark and Harley made their way to their own gate, to Mark's relief. It wasn't that Allan and Clare Quinn were in any way bad people, but he was looking forward to the chance to be alone with Harley again.

Which wasn't happening any time soon, unfortunately. Between a crowded gate lounge and plane, the best they could accomplish was some discreet hand holding. Public displays of affection around their colleagues was one thing, but in public, where it seemed everyone had a camera? And where Mark was representing the WWE, because one of the downsides of his celebrity was that he was never "off duty" in public.

Even once they arrived in Tallahassee, it wasn't much better. They caught the courtesy shuttle to their hotel, and Mark took charge of Harley's suitcase as well as his own once they'd checked in. She gave him a warm smile as they reached her room.

"Always a gentleman."

He just shrugged and carried her suitcase in with his, leaving his near the door as he set hers down on the luggage shelf where she could reach it. He turned to her.

"Close the door, Kate."

She did so, and he crossed to her in a few long strides, pulling her into his arms and bending to kiss her. Her arms went up around his neck and she returned his kiss eagerly.

"Nice to do that without an audience," he murmured as their lips parted.

Her only response was to cuddle in closer to him with a soft sound of asset.

His hands stroked over her back as he rested his chin on the top of her head. And he would have been content to stay that was for hours, but they both had to work.

He left to check into his own room, and Harley arranged to ride over to the venue with Bob. As she'd told her father, her time off was about over.

She and Bob spent the rest of the morning catching up more comprehensively over events in the last two weeks. Which also included pre-planning for the next Pay Per View.

Sometimes, it seemed like they barely had time to draw breath after one before the next one was on them. Still, she had six weeks now to plan the set build and pyros, which included Glenn's rain of fire for the first time.

Before that, though, there was the usual round of TV and house shows. The next week's loop actually kept the company here in the south, ending up in Raleigh. Looking at the dates in her planner had Harley thoughtful for a moment, but she put that to one side as she and Bob got on with their planning.

Caught back up in the paperwork for the rest of the day meant little chance to see anyone, and it wasn't until much later in the day that she even laid eyes on Mark.

She was meeting with Bob, the stage director and TV production crew to go over some last minute changes to the show that evening when she spotted him.

He was headed towards Glenn, with a beaming smile on his face. Standing with Glenn was a shorter man who was quite rotund. To her surprise, Mark greeted this man with a warm embrace, and the three of them then laughed at something Glenn said.

Laughter that just increased as a rather high voice for a man reached her ears. "Ohhhhh, yesssss!"

At that, the stage director looked around and chuckled. "Looks like Paul Bearer's joined us again!"

"Visiting? Or back to work, do you think?" the TV production chief asked.

"No idea," responded the stage director.

More curious now, Harley had a few questions of her own, but those changes to tonight's line up meant some pyros and lights needed to be re-set, so she hurried off to get her crew working on that.

She managed to grab a break for dinner, and headed for Catering. She once again spotted the rotund man, this time in conversation with John Layfield. As they spoke, Mick Foley approached them. And now she was confused, because she was sure she'd heard the stage director say his name was Paul. So why was Mick calling him "Perce"?

She found a seat, and leaned on the table as she picked at her dinner. And hoped that her soda would boost her flagging energy before the show started. She was seriously looking forward to having a few days off.

A hand landed on her shoulder a few minutes later, and she looked up as Mark took a seat beside her.

"Hey, sweetheart."

She smiled. "Howdy, stranger."

He chuckled. "Been a bit like that today, huh?"

"Surely has. But that's okay - bein' busy's kept me awake, at least," she agreed.

The hand on her shoulder moved over her back as Mark spoke, "You okay, Kate?"

"Just a little tired, Mark," she leaned into his touch.

"Have to get you into bed early then," he said.

She nodded.

"You running the board for the show?" he asked next.

"Nah, Bob says he's got it. I'm just on trouble-shooting." Which essentially meant being free to jump in at any point if there was a foul-up. A far more challenging job when they were televising live. On SmackDown, they at least had the luxury of pre-taping.

"What about you?" Harley asked, leaning her head against his shoulder. "You and Glenn picking up from where you left off last night?"

Mark chuckled. "Not that I don't owe that big bastard a punch or two, but no. Tonight, we're just doing the dueling promos thing."

"Good."

He pressed a kiss to the top of her head. "You like the way I rock the mic, do you, sweetheart?"
he teased lightly.

"More like I'd be happier not seeing you stiff and sore tomorrow morning," she said quietly.

There she went again, Mark thought. Worrying about him. He wrapped his arm around her and hugged her.

Across the room, Glenn paused in the doorway and turned to the man beside him. "Maybe now isn't a good time," he said.

Bill Moody nodded in agreement, observing Mark and Harley together.

###


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Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
faithinfire
Mar. 18th, 2012 05:50 pm (UTC)
Oooh... NOW what's going on? The plot thickens! O_O
nephthys_abode
Mar. 19th, 2012 07:18 am (UTC)
Ooooh, you're just going to love the next chapter, because it's another one that's all your fault!

:-D
little_saiyajin
Mar. 21st, 2012 02:40 am (UTC)
I WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NOOOOOOOOW!!!!
nephthys_abode
Mar. 21st, 2012 02:54 am (UTC)
LOL!

Well you're just going to have to wait!

But I promise it'll be worth it . . . we're just starting to get to the good stuff! ;-)
little_saiyajin
Mar. 21st, 2012 05:30 pm (UTC)
YESSSSSSSSSS!!!! *Celebrates*
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )