(Again, a huge thank you to panthology and her mad skillz for this graphic!)
Features: Undertaker (Mark Calaway)
Disclaimer: 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!
Rating: NC17 for language and sexual situations
Summary: When Harley met Mark, sparks flew.
Okay, this one's been . . . jeez, over three years in the making! For a reason I can't remember, the lovely faithinfire and I were discussing 'Taker's hat, and how on earth he worked out how to take it off in the ring just the right way.
I did a little experimenting with my own Akubra, and all of a sudden this chapter was "born"! Been waiting what feels like forever (over three years, honestly!) to be get to this point in the story and be able to point at faithinfire and say in a loud, steady voice, "It's All. Her. Fault!" -snickelfritz!-
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 updating's a bit sporadic, 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.
The show was approaching the halfway mark. So far, Harley's contribution had been nil.
She'd found a spot to sit to the side of the entrance stage, and was watching the ring. John Layfield and John Cena were heading for the finish of their match. After that, Mark was due to make his usual entrance and begin the war of words with Glenn that would advance their feud.
Her eye was caught by someone approaching and she recognized the portly man who she'd seen earlier with Mark and Glenn. Even so, she flicked a glance to make sure he was wearing a pass that allowed him to be there.
Satisfied that he was, she gave him a quick nod. She was about to turn her attention back to the ring when he spoke.
"We haven't been introduced - I'm Bill Moody." He extended his hand with a smile.
Harley shook his hand and gave him a smile of her own. "Harley Quinn - nice to meet you." She paused a moment. "Ah, I thought your name was Paul?"
He laughed. "I guess most people know me as Paul Bearer. That's the name I worked under here for years."
"You were a wrestler?" Harley asked.
"I was, but that was under another name, a lot more years ago. Percy Pringle."
Ah. That probably explained why Mick called him "Perce" then. "What did you do as Paul Bearer?"
"I managed the Undertaker, dear!"
Harley suddenly caught on the play on words of his name and laughed. "Now why didn't I think of that?"
Bill grinned. "Back in the day, his gimmick really was more of a mortician. He even carried men off in body bags. So 'Paul Bearer' was quite the joke," he explained. He didn't have to be told Harley hadn't been around long - her lack of recognition of him told him that, even if Glenn hadn't already explained it.
Harley turned a little more to face him. "So you've know Mark a long time, then?"
He nodded. "Oh yes. Almost right from when he started wrestling." He smiled. "He and Glenn and I have been around the traps together a lot of years."
Harley hadn't heard that expression in a long while.
Bill went on, "Those boys mean the world to me."
She smiled. "I can tell just by how you talk about them."
"The stories we share," he shook his head with a grin. "The best ones can't be told, but they're some of my fondest memories."
"I know that feeling," Harley smiled.
While they'd been talking, the match in the ring had concluded, and now the lights dimmed. There was silence for a long moment, and then the gong sounded and blue light bathed the arena as the crowd erupted.
Just as she had the night before, Harley shivered. That entrance, and the crowd reaction, really was amazing, she thought.
Beside her, Bill chuckled and leaned in closer to her, his voice low. "Look at this," he said, holding out his arm.
Even in the low light, she could see the hairs on his forearm standing up.
"You too?" she asked, showing him her own arm, similarly goose-fleshed.
"Even after so many years?"
He nodded again.
Watching Mark approach the ring as the Undertaker, his measured pace, a tall imposing figure in black leather and black hat, he was a completely different man. She shivered again.
But Bill suddenly chuckled beside her, as Mark mounted the ring steps. She turned to look at him curiously. He gestured to the ring, where Mark raised one hand to hold his hat in place while climbing through the ropes.
She was still puzzled, but he tipped her a wink and she smiled - even on short acquaintance, he was a likeable person.
They stood in silence then as Mark delivered his promo. And to Harley's amusement, they jumped in unison when the stage erupted in flames for Kane's entrance.
Harley seldom had the chance to watch any of the shows, but she found herself spellbound by the story Mark and Glenn were telling in the ring. She knew it was acting, but even she was amazed by how good they were at it.
The confrontation ended with Kane exiting the ring, taunting an enraged Undertaker that this wasn't the time or place. "But you'll know, big brother - oh, you'll know!"
"Oh bravo, my boy!" Bill said quietly beside her.
The Undertaker remained in the ring, staring after his baby brother before making an unhurried exit through the ropes, one hand again going to his hat to keep it in place.
Bill again chuckled and gestured to the ring. "Just remembering how much trouble he had learning to manage that hat when he started out!"
"Oh yes!" Bill grinned. "In the real early days, you see, he'd take it off before he got in the ring and hand it to me. Things changed, and it took only once almost losing the hat when he climbed in the ring to remember to hold it in place. But making it look natural took a bit longer." He paused, then snickered. "You know that move, where he takes the hat off and his eyes are rolled back?"
Harley shuddered. "I hate that eye thing! It's just so damn creepy!"
"Precisely why he does it, dear!" said Bill. He darted a glance around and stepped closer to her. "He's a proud man, so he finds it hard sometimes to ask anyone for help."
Harley could only nod, because she knew only too well how that went from her own experience.
"Now, he's probably going to cuss me out for telling you this," he winked at her, "but it'll do him good to let off the steam!"
He beckoned her closer with a conspiratorial grin, and she leaned in to him.
'One day, I went to the locker room he was using - I forget even where it was now, it was so long ago. And he's in front of the mirror, practicing taking the hat off."
Harley could only stare, and Bill went on.
"Now we were always keen to play up the mystique of the Undertaker character, and of course, that eyes rolled back thing comes as much more of a shock when you can't see his face first."
"So he'd figured out he needed to have his head bent forward first, before he took his hat off. And it did fit with that whole grave, actual undertaker persona too, you know?"
"Uh huh," she said, caught up in the story now.
Bill snickered. "What I saw was Mark discovering that once he bent his head forward, he couldn't see his reflection! Poor boy, he actually tried a couple of times too!"
Harley clapped a hand over her mouth just in time to muffle a giggle, but Bill wasn't done yet.
"I know - I love him like a brother, but yeah, that day? Not too bright, you know?" He snickered himself. "So then he gets the idea to turn side on to the mirror and I swear, I felt like I should applaud him at that point!"
Still snickering behind her hand, Harley gestured for him to go on, which he was only too happy to do.
"Okay, now he can look out the corner of his eye and see how it looks when he takes the hat off, so he does that a couple of times til he's happy with it. And I'm kinda hiding behind the door watching him still. Then he turns to face the mirror again and I'm wondering what he's up to - I mean, he'd already worked out he couldn't see himself do this that way! Anyway, I figured this was a good time to make my presence known, so I pushed the door open and went in."
"And what happened?" Harley asked eagerly.
"Well, he turned to me and said, 'Paul, I got a problem here.' And of course I couldn't let on as I'd been watching him, so I went, 'And what's that?' "
She looked at him expectantly.
Grinning, Bill went on. "He says to me, 'I want to see what it looks like when I roll my eyes back.' And I realized what he'd been doing standing there - trying to work out how to see himself while he was doing it!"
Harley's eyes widened, and she put both hands over her mouth, laughing. She'd seen photos of Mark from back when he'd first started out, thanks to Jeff, and she had no trouble picturing it, because she had no doubt he would have been very earnest in asking Bill for this.
She was in danger of truly losing it, and Bill took her elbow to guide her backstage, where she collapsed against a crate in the corridor, giggling helplessly.
"That really happened?" she managed to gasp out between giggles.
Bill nodded with a grin. "No word of a lie, dear. Happened just like I said."
Mark met up with Glenn just past the gorilla position, and congratulated him on his promo. They'd know the outline of what they wanted to say, but the best promos just came straight from the gut, unscripted. Kane's chase for the championship, and his frustration at being denied it, made for a brilliant promo from Glenn, who could - and had - poured his own heart out.
Glenn was long overdue for a championship, and Mark was delighted his friend was finally getting it. After last night and tonight's promo - there was no doubt he deserved it.
But then he saw something that made his blood run cold - Harley, laughing fit to bust, with Bill standing beside her, grinning.
Glenn frowned as Mark came to a dead stop, and then followed his gaze.
" 'Uh oh' is right. What do you think he's telling her?"
Glenn chuckled ruefully. "He's got over a decade of stories to choose from, but I guarantee you it isn't anything good, the way she's laughing."
One of the wardrobe hands appeared at Mark's side, and he gave the girl a grateful look as he took off his hat and handed it to her. The ring lighting was bad enough when he was wrestling, but in the hat and his leather coat it felt even worse. Even if all he was doing was standing there holding a microphone.
He stripped off his coat next, and gave a sigh of relief as the wardrobe hand bustled off with it and his hat.
He looked over at Bill and Harley again, and squared his shoulders. "Guess I better go and face the music."
Glenn laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. "Better you than me! But I'm gonna tag along, see just how bad he's managed to embarrass you."
Mark shot him a deadly look. "Ever occur to you that he's got plenty of stories about the two of us together? Remember that night in Hidalgo?"
This time, it was Glenn who stopped dead in his tracks. "Only too well, unfortunately." He darted a glance at Bill and Harley himself. "He wouldn't, would he?"
"Only one way to find out," Mark gestured towards them and started walking.
At his side, Glenn muttered, "If he has, first round at the bar's on me."
Bill had spotted the two of them heading towards him, and he pointed this out to Harley. "Speak of the devil, and he appears."
At that, Harley truly lost it. One night in Cameron, she and Jeff had sat up watching movies, and he'd introduced her to what he called "the other candy man".
The name had of course reminded her of that Christina Aguilera song, which meant she'd enjoyed the movie even more. Bill hadn't said his name five times, but it was enough to have her doubled over laughing anyway.
Bill was delighted, although he was giving his story, tame as it was, credit for Harley's amusement.
He greeted Mark and Glenn with a wide smile. "Seems like you boys haven't missed a step - that was some damn fine work out there just now."
Mark came to a halt beside Harley, eyebrows raised, while Glenn grinned at Bill.
Gradually, Harley pulled herself together and looked up as she straightened up, wiping her eyes. "Bill and I were just getting acquainted."
Chuckling, Mark draped his arm around her shoulders. "He was telling tales out of school, wasn't he?"
Bill looked comically outraged. "Would I do that?"
Glenn nodded emphatically. "In a heartbeat!"
Bill grinned. "True. But a lady would never giggle and tell, would you, dear?"
Harley gave the men a sunny smile and shook her head. "Of course not!"
Mark regarded the two of them and then turned to Glenn. "We're screwed."
Glenn laughed. " 'We'? Just hold on there, kemosabe . . . " he paused, and looked at Bill. Then he nodded. "You're right - we're screwed."
Harley giggled, her arm going around Mark's waist in a hug. "No you ain't. I been screwed and it don't look nothing like this."
"Is that a fact, sweetheart?" Mark asked, chuckling.
She nodded earnestly.
"Okay, I'll bite," said Glenn. "Just what does screwed look like?"
"Kinda more like, 'Who are these people, and where is my underwear?' usually!" she grinned.
Glenn covered his face with one hand as Mark exploded into laughter. "Shit. He did tell her about that night in Hidalgo."
Bill grinned. "As a matter of fact, I didn't. But if you think I should . . . "
Harley was hanging on for dear life around Mark's waist, laughing, as Mark and Glenn frantically shook their heads.
Two things occurred to her as she pulled herself together. Again. The first was that her hand was unconsciously stroking over Mark's back. The spandex of his singlet just emphasized the muscle beneath it.
Which was somehow even more of a turn on than having her hands on his bare skin. What little of it she'd been able to actually get her hands on so far.
The second, and it was colored with real regret, was that she was supposed to be working, not standing here fondling her man. She gave Mark's side one last pat and stepped away from him.
"I better get my ass back to work."
Mark let his hand fall from her shoulder and nodded. "Catch up with you after the show?"
She smiled. "You bet." She turned to Bill. "Nice to meet you, Bill."
"Likewise, dear," Bill smiled.
Once the show was over, Harley checked in briefly with Bob as they confirmed plans for next week's shows, and then she went looking for Mark.
Despite what she'd said earlier, now she was thinking she should beg off. She didn't know how often Mark got to spend time with Bill, and she certainly didn't want to get in the way of that.
Even if she wanted nothing more than to crawl into bed with him, snuggle close and basically be unconscious for eight hours or so.
She headed towards the locker rooms the wrestlers were using, hands in her pockets, pondering this quandry, unaware that Mark had already seen the dilemma and come up with a solution. He was dressed and waiting outside the locker room, and he smiled as she approached.
She smiled back. "Hey Mark. Listen, about tonight . . . "
He stepped closer to her and raised a finger to her lips. "Tonight, I want to end up in bed with you, Kate. But I'd also like to catch up with Paul for a bit. I think I got a way I can do both, if you're interested?"
She pressed a kiss to his finger, then reached up to take his hand, giving it a squeeze. "Oh yeah, I'm interested."
He raised his other hand, stroking it over her hair. "Come back to the hotel with me, to my room. You can go to bed, because I know you're beat. I'll go grab a beer or two with Paul and Glenn, and come back a bit later."
She considered this, and then smiled. "I like it. Can we make time to stop by my room first? I want to grab my pjs and brush my teeth."
He nodded. " 'Course we can, Kate."
She yawned, covering it with one hand. "You gonna be disappointed if I'm dead to the world when you get back?"
Smiling, he leaned in to kiss her forehead. "Darlin', so long as I can climb into bed and find you in it, I'll be happy. And you'll be awake in the morning." He leaned in closer, his voice low. "So I can make up for the kisses you'll miss tonight."
Oh yeah, she was really liking that idea.
At the hotel, Mark didn't have to wait long for Harley, again blessing that she was a woman who wasn't one much for fussing. It took her only a few moments to grab her pyjamas and toothbrush and she was back in the hallway again.
They went to his room, and once inside, he deposited his sports bag and took her in his arms, bending his head over hers. She snuggled in close to him with a contented sigh.
"I'll wait while you change," he murmured, inhaling the spicy scent of her shampoo.
She stepped back a fraction and looked up at him with a smile. "Why, Mark?"
He stroked her hair gently. "So I can give you at least one goodnight kiss before I go, sweetheart."
Winding her arms up around his neck, she smiled again. "I wouldn't dream of making you wait on me, not while you're wanting to go catch up with Bill. I'll be happy with a goodnight kiss like this."
Sighing, he wrapped his arms around her and held her close. "Aw darlin' . . . "
He seemed about to say more, but instead he bent and kissed her gently. A sweet kiss that had her melting against him. They remained in their embrace for a few moments, and then she stepped back from him.
"See you later, chief," she smiled.
He nodded. "You surely will, Kate."
After he left, she had a moment's awkwardness at being in his hotel room alone, which she dismissed almost immediately. One hotel room was much like any other, and it wasn't the first time they'd shared one. She left her clothes folded neatly on one end of the sofa, and climbed into the bed. Left side, as she faced the headboard. She wasn't sure why that had defaulted to being "her" side, but she didn't much care one way or the other.
She was asleep almost as soon as her head touched the pillow.
A couple of hours later, Mark eased open the door of his hotel room and slipped inside. In the faint light from the hallway, he could make out Harley's form in the bed, and he smiled, closing the door quietly.
The time had flown by in the bar with Bill and Glenn. It didn't matter than he could pick up the phone any time he wanted and touch base with Bill. The chance to sit and have a beer or two and just reminisce with him and Glenn was far too rare to ever pass up. They'd covered a lot of miles, and a lot of years, together and he counted the two of them among his closest friends.
He had a late flight in the morning, so he and Bill were going to catch up again before then. And no doubt, there'd be some questions about Harley that Bill had refrained from asking tonight in front of Glenn, simply because he'd view them as a private topic of conversation.
As he changed in the bathroom, he wondered just what he'd tell his oldest friend about this woman who was fast becoming more important to him.
With the lights out, he approached the bed and climbed in as quietly as he could - he knew how tired Harley was, and didn't want to wake her. He settled back on the pillows, aware suddenly of how weary he was himself, at the end of a busy weekend. His eyes were closing when Harley rolled over and snuggled into his side.
He blinked in surprise and was about to say something when he heard the soft snuffling sound she made, and realized she was still fast asleep. Carefully, he wrapped one arm around her, and sighed with contentment as his eyes slipped closed.
Harley woke the next morning with her head on Mark's chest. Again. Man made the best pillow, she thought with a smile as she snuggled closer to him. Fortunately, it seemed like he didn't mind being used as such.
She hadn't heard her wristwatch alarm go off yet, so she was content to semi-doze a little longer. Her flight wasn't crazy early, for which she was grateful. But thinking about flights had her thinking about next week's dates. House shows in Atlanta and Greenville, then Raw in Charlotte and finishing up in Raleigh with SmackDown on Tuesday. And Raleigh was practically in her backyard. True, she was planning to fly to Atlanta, and then back to Knoxville from Raleigh, but still, definitely home turf.
Mark gave a lazy stretch and wrapped his arm around her more, murmuring sleepily, "Mornin', sweetheart."
She smiled. "Good morning."
His hand stroked lazily over her back. "What time's your flight?"
Nuzzling her cheek against his chest, she answered, "Nine. When's yours?"
"Not til eleven. Was planning on meeting Bill for breakfast before that, though."
She lifted her head and smiled at him. "I been thinking about something."
Raising an eyebrow, he chuckled. "Should I be worried?"
"I hope not! Look, next week's shows finish in Raleigh - I was wondering if you'd like to come back to my place in Cullowhee for our days off?"
Mark looked at her. They'd talked about her maybe coming back to Houston with him, but this was out of the blue. "You sure, darlin'?"
It was her turn to chuckle. "My place ain't as big, or as fancy, as yours but it's comfortable, and it's quiet. And yes, I'm sure."
He leaned up to kiss her lightly. "Then I'd be happy coming home with you, Kate. But you better send me your flight details, so I can get mine changed as soon as I get home."
"I can do that," she murmured against his lips.
He wrapped his arms more firmly around her, pulling her up to him. "Now that's settled, I seem to recall promising you I'd make up for lack of goodnight kisses last night."
She smoothed his hair back from his forehead, smiling. "That's right, you did."
His hands slid under the top of her pyjamas, resting against her warm skin of her back. "Plus, I think I might need a few more to tide me over the next few days without you."
She wriggled against him, pressing her lips softly to his. "Oh, I think I can manage that."
And that was all the invitation he needed. Moving slowly, he turned on his side, carrying her with him. She wrapped her arm around his waist and tipped her face up to his.
He caught her lips with his, kissing her slowly. Her tongue flickered into his mouth, then traced delicately along the inside of his lips, making him shudder against her.
His arms tightened around her, holding her against him as they kissed. This was what he was really going to miss - just having her close. He understood why she needed to go home, to rest, but he was damn sure going to miss her while she did.
Funny, he thought, even as his hands continued to caress her back under her pyjama top, the time apart had actually done wonders for toning down the sexual frustration - at least, it had for him.
He didn't miss that. Oh, he certainly still wanted her - that was a hunger that wasn't going anywhere. God only knew what it would be like on their next days off, in her cabin together.
He'd cross that bridge when he came to it, he decided. Worst case scenario, he ended up doing a little self-satisfaction in the shower to take the edge off. And he'd do it without embarrassment. He certainly wasn't about to rush her into something she wasn't ready for.
That decided, he gave his attention over to laying in that supply of kisses.
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