November 1999

Stephanie McMahon rolled over in bed, narrowing her eyes towards the door of her hotel room. The knock repeated itself and she groaned and punched her pillow. Who the hell was at the door at this time of night? Jesus. It was – she glanced at the digital clock – fucking two in the morning. As she pulled on a robe and made her way through the room, she didn't bother to extend any sort of pleasantry to whoever this unwanted intruder was. They absolutely deserved to wait since they woke her up. Hell, she hoped they were getting as irritated as she already was.

And it wasn't just the insistent knocking that had irritated her. Not at all. Her life was practically in shambles. She was engaged...and while that would make most women happy, she found herself wishing Andrew would just break things off with her. He seemed nice enough but he just didn't get her. The vast majority of the world – her family included – had no idea of the raging beast that lurked below the surface of her pretty blue eyes. If they only truly knew how much she resented a great number of things they'd done. She craved revenge that she had no idea how to get. Andrew merely commended her on her maturity and how she was such a "good girl" for forgiving the wrongs of the McMahons with never-failing regularity. The one time she mentioned the idea of getting even, she'd posed it as a joke to test his reaction. To be blunt? He wasn't in favor of the notion and found it a much better choice for her to let it go.

Humph. Let it go. More like continue to be their fucking doormat.

Stephanie yanked the hotel room door open as the intruder was preparing to knock yet again.

"Took you long enough."

Stephanie wrinkled her nose at the complaint, but didn't say anything at first. Because there stood the only person that knew all of her and didn't judge or criticize her for the darker parts. And if she were to be honest with herself, he'd become yet another reason that she wasn't the least bit excited about marrying Andrew. At this point she just didn't know how to get the hell out of that upcoming disaster without blowing her facade.

She sniffed audibly and frowned. "Hunter, have you been drinking?"

"Maybe."

"Oh my God," she said with a sigh. If he was actually drunk, she imagined that he'd be a little less discreet than usual. Nothing monumental had ever happened between them, of course. But considering he was pretty damn candid and blunt when sober, she had no idea what he'd say or how loud he'd say it, when intoxicated. She grabbed his arm and tugged him inside before anyone could overhear their conversation. She'd have a very difficult time explaining why he was at her door at all, let alone at this hour.

"Hey! That hurt," he said with a pout. Stephanie rolled her eyes when he actually rubbed the spot she'd grabbed.

"Are you crazy?" She asked seriously. "What are you doing here? If someone sees us-"

"No one saw me. This place is like a ghost town. Besides, you're the only one special enough to have been booked on the penthouse level."

Her cheeks flushed red at that fact. Her family wanted her involved in the business...that was fine as she truly did love it. But she wanted to be bond with them as if she was merely a peer, even though she was technically going to be a boss. Her father did his best to undermine her efforts: forbidding her to date wrestlers, constantly making sure her room was one of the nicest in the hotel meanwhile everyone else shared a room with the least amount of amenities. It sucked. Everyone saw her as a spoiled little princess, incapable of doing anything on her own. They didn't respect her. They tolerated her. At some points felt sorry for her when her family was being especially shitty.

Hunter noticed her reaction and quickly said, "I didn't mean it like that."

No, he didn't. Hunter liked being around her despite her unwanted privilege. He'd tried to his damndest to escape his Greenwich upbringing. He hadn't been unsuccessful. Nowadays people saw him as a ruthless degenerate as opposed to a trust fund baby. Maybe this was why he actually understood her.

This was crazy. Her life was crazy. Her family hated him and vice versa. He'd be dead last on the list of people she thought would befriend her in this company. But that's exactly what happened on an otherwise uneventful night in Chicago. Instead of waiting outside as he was meant to, Stephanie's limo driver was nowhere to be found when she exited the arena. She'd rolled her eyes as she made the call and was shocked that he'd been in a car accident. A relatively minor one, sure. But the thing was that he wasn't supposed to be out joyriding the hell around. She was both pissed off and cold, the bitter wind whipping her hair in every direction possible.

A cab was her next option, but she'd been interrupted by Hunter sneaking up on her to make a flirtatious comment about giving her a ride home. When she turned around, his face didn't blanch as she'd expected from any employee. Instead, he'd laughed at her misfortune...but made a good point in saying that riding back to the hotel with him was safer and more comfortable than a cab.

It was fucking freezing and she was ready to go. And Hunter actually seemed sincere, so she took him up on the offer. Somehow, they'd ended up stopping at a cafe along the way. She'd enjoyed herself tremendously. Hunter was a smartass and still had that bad boy, jerk edge to him. But underneath it he was chivalrous and thoughtful. They'd hung out off and on and in secret. It seemed unnecessary to verbalize why their friendship needed to remain hidden. And though they'd never kissed or done anything other than hang out and occasionally chat about ways to ruin her father, something about it still felt romantic. Even though she continued to see other people and he continued to...well, mostly have random hookups with other people.

"And I'm not crazy," he added. "I'm slowly getting there, though."

"Why?"

He pointed a finger at her in accusation.

"Me? What did I do to you?"

Finally, this conversation was happening. It had been eating him alive for months. Stephanie seemed to legitimately not have a clue how enchanting she was. As if her looks weren't stunning enough, her personality was a little bit of everything all rolled into one. He enjoyed her wit and sarcasm just as much as he enjoyed hearing the deeper stuff that she told very few people. He felt lucky to be in her, "in crowd" even if that fact had to stay hidden from everyone. But he wanted more and there was no sense in denying that any longer.

He wasn't good with words when it came to stuff like this. Hell, for the most part he hadn't needed to learn the skill. Most women he came across meant nothing to him. Steph was different. He'd happily never even stare at another woman if he could have her. "Don't marry Test."

"What?"

"Andrew," he corrected immediately since that's all Stephanie referred to the guy as. "Whatever, he's Test to me. Just...don't marry that fucking guy. Okay?"

Stephanie lifted an eyebrow for a moment and shook her head slowly. However strange their pairing was, she and Hunter were good friends. But she blindly took orders from no one and she damn sure wouldn't be starting tonight. "You can't tell me what to do, Hunter. I know you don't like him-"

Hunter snorted loudly to interrupt her. "Understatement of the century," he muttered.

The brunette eyed him strangely. Either he was that convinced that Andrew would ruin her life or he was jealous. Hunter Hearst Helmsley did not seem like the kind of man to allow such an emotion to overcome him. But if that was the case, she was highly curious as to why. It's not like he'd properly asked her out or treated her as anything other than a platonic friend. But as she turned other possibilities over in her mind, she found that she kind of wished he did care about her in that way.

"What is your problem exactly?" She asked, resting a hand against her hip.

Hunter sighed and allowed himself to flop down onto the leather couch behind him. He scrubbed his face with his hands, seeming to struggle with what he wanted to say or do next. Instead of pitching a fit, Stephanie sat down as well, leaving more than a few comfortable inches of space between them.

"I'm not good at this shit," he admitted without looking at her.

"Which shit would that be?" She asked teasingly.

Hunter lifted his head and rolled his eyes at her. "Very funny, Steph," he said dryly before turning to stare ahead again. "I'm not sure if your sarcasm is helping or making things worse right now...but your sense of humor is one of the things I love most about you."

"We banter." Stephanie shrugged casually but because she was beginning to feel that this conversation was the opposite of that, she reached out and touched Hunter's shoulder. She felt like mentioning that he could tell her anything. That seemed awfully lame, considering he must surely know that by now. Instead, she remained silent, but gradually moved her hand up and down his arm.

His eyes nearly slipped shut at the prolonged contact, despite the fact that it was a harmless touch. That's what Steph didn't get, though. Everything that she said or did around him meant something. She meant something. And if he didn't let her know that soon, he may lose the proper opportunity as she'd be married to someone else. Test didn't deserve her, goddamn it. The man didn't even know who she truly was. He could never make her happy. Hunter didn't have a lot of experience with relationships but he figured that actually knowing and accepting the person you wanted, helped out a lot.

Slowly, his fingers inched out until he had her hand clasped in his. Stephanie didn't say anything, but the next breath she took in was very much audible. He adjusted himself on the couch so that he was facing her. His thumb stroked the back of her hand and he was pleased that she didn't pull away. Instead, her blue eyes connected with his and somehow she transmitted her permission for what happened next. He leaned in and grazed her lips with his. It was hardly a kiss; he didn't want to press his luck in case he'd been mistaken in thinking that she wanted this, too. But when Stephanie leaned into him for more, he eagerly obliged her.

Their lips glided together smoothly and soon, Hunter massaged her tongue with his. His grip on her hand didn't waver. He wanted to touch as much as her as possible in this moment. It was with great reluctance that he allowed Steph to break the kiss. It was either that, or die from breathlessness...although kissing Stephanie McMahon would have been an awesome way to go out.

"My problem," he began in answer to her question, "is that the woman that should be mine is marrying another guy."

"I can see how that would be a problem," Stephanie answered simply. True, she knew what he was getting at. His obvious dismay ever since he showed up here, plus the kiss gave her the answers to her questions. But she still needed to hear him say it. If Hunter wanted her to call off the damn wedding, he needed to get past this fear of being open about how he felt about her. She wouldn't play guessing games...even ones where the solution was obvious.

Hunter looked down at their joined hands. "I'm not good with words," he reiterated.

"You don't have to be good; just be honest with them."

"I don't want you marrying Test-Andrew," he said bluntly.

To herself, Stephanie nodded. She used her free hand to grab Hunter's chin and make him look at her again. "Hunter, my wedding is in 2 weeks. Half of the world doesn't want me to do it. But if you have a reason that I shouldn't, I want to hear it."

Hunter sighed. She was really going to make him verbalize the full extent of his feelings. Christ. Other than to family and close friends, he'd never uttered the words. Never needed to, really. Not only was he never in danger of losing his object of interest, but he'd also never felt this way about anyone. It was thrilling because it was new and the prospect of a happy life with Steph made his heart soar. But it also terrified him to enter this uncharted territory...he was supposed to be all about his wrestling career. Relationships were a distraction that he didn't want but somehow all the time he spent with Stephanie seemed like anything but. She got and shared his passion for the business. Beyond that, he knew that she was worth it and that he was quickly running out of time to let her know without it being utterly selfish and chaotic.

"I love you. How's that for a reason?"

Stephanie appeared to mull it over for a moment before she answered. "It's not terrible."

He pouted and said, "You're such a jerk!"

"Oh, be quiet!" She laughed. She knew he was kidding with his insult, but she'd be damned if she wasn't going to insult him right back while also being real about their current predicament. "You pop up here, clearly buzzed, talking in riddles and whatnot...then you go all mushy with holding my hand and kissing me and I literally have to drag the words out of you. Can a girl get a bit more romance?"

"I can learn some...stuff," he declared without any trace of certainty on where to begin. Literally every last one of his friends was worse at this than he was. He'd make new friends if he hadn't alienated most of the roster with his callousness. "Only a woman who felt the same would be worth all the research, though."

Stephanie laughed again, pecking him on the lips quickly. "Of course I love you."

Hunter tucked rebellious strands of hair behind her ears. A bashful smile from her was all it took before the urge to share another kiss became unbearable. This time he was the one to pull away first. "Marry me," he whispered against her lips.

Surely, she was hearing things. It had taken a good fifteen minutes to get the guy to even admit that he loved her. Was it seriously possible that he was that convinced of his feelings for her? "What?" She asked with wide eyes.

Hunter shrugged. He'd already made himself vulnerable and risked rejection several times tonight. If Stephanie was prepared to spend her life with someone she didn't actually love, then it shouldn't be a hard decision for her to tie the knot with him instead. "Marry me," he repeated. "We know and love each other. And it'll piss your family off, so you get your revenge, too."

"I..." she trailed off with a shake of her head. For fuck's sake. She'd been asleep. Dead to the damn world for the night. None of this had even seemed like a possibility a mere two hours ago. And now her entire life was changing while she was dressed in a Sleeping Beauty tank top and shorts, barely covered by this stupid robe. Which was getting quite hot to have on, by the way. She wanted to say yes. Really, she did. But the fact that it was sometimes difficult to get him to open up was causing her hesitation.

If Andrew called off their wedding, she wouldn't care. She'd probably down several shots to celebrate, actually. On the flip side, she could marry him and be fine with it, because her reasons were practical and largely unromantic. Andrew couldn't break her heart because she didn't love him. She wasn't sure if she could break his, but her gut had always told her that the answer was no.

The idea of marrying Hunter filled her with dread solely because this man did have the ability to break her heart to pieces. "Hunter, are you sure about this? I mean we just figured out our feelings. And we'll have to come up with some sort of plan within the next two weeks and-"

"No," he stated as if she'd offended him greatly. "I didn't just figure out that I loved you. I only just figured out that I needed to tell you before you ruin both of our lives."

From anyone else, she'd be pissed off by that comment. But this was Hunter. He was honest, even if it stung just a little. His bluntness wasn't always an indication of his underlying feelings. He just had zero idea how to making things sound...sweet.

"Tonight I realized that I loved you ever since I saw you standing there stranded in Chicago. Almost a year of having you as my friend when I wanted more. Months of wishing – for the first time ever – that I could trade places with Test."

At this, Stephanie felt her resolve crumble to pieces. She lifted their joined hands and pressed her lips to them. "You shouldn't have wished that. What he and I have...had," she amended, "isn't real."

"I've loved you this long, even though I thought I couldn't have you. I'll love you forever, Stephanie. Marry me," he repeated.

"Yes," she whispered shakily. She was going to attempt to say it clearer, but Hunter grabbed her to him in a tight hug before she could get it out. His hands traveled down to her waist and settled there. Meanwhile she pressed her face into the side of his neck and attempted to commit this moment to every part of her memory. One arm was wrapped around the back of his neck. With her free hand, she wiped at the lone tears that had involuntarily leaked from her eyes. She was so happy she feared that she would burst.

Hunter didn't have a ring. Obviously the spontaneity of him wandering up to her room from a bar left no room for that. Her relatives and most of her friends had no idea she even spoke to the guy on a regular basis. There was no one he could've tapped for help with picking a ring or getting her size. But she didn't care. All she needed was him, really. And she was fairly certain he'd want to rectify the ring situation sooner rather than later anyway. The underlying blueblood in him wouldn't stand for anything else.

"I have one request," she said as they pulled apart. Hunter nodded eagerly and she smiled in return. "Warn me if forever starts to end."


All right! So I've summarized a flashback of this sort somewhere back in "Borderline." Rather than stick it into "Brink" randomly and unnecessarily at some point, I decided to use it as the beginning of a new fic.

About a week ago I saw a chick tweet a small conversation she made up. The guy told a girl he'd love her forever. Her response is that last line of Stephanie's - and it's been bugging me ever since. I've done a lot of stories where Stephanie manages to get Hunter to transform into total mush. While those are cute and fluffy and squee, I wanted to leave him mostly as the same asshole she fell in love with. I decided to kill three birds with one stone and write this. I'm not planning for this to be more than 5 chapters. Originally, this one had more to it, time-jumping us into mid-2005. But I decided to split it off and put it in the next chapter instead. If you guys are interested, that is...let me know! lol.