It was a typical Monday night and Jeff Hardy was in a typically restless mood. He'd just got off the phone with his brother, who was preparing for his Smackdown debut the next night. Matt was depressed as usual and it troubled Jeff to see his normally confident brother so down. Shawn Michaels and Matt had been flirting the last month or so and Matt seemed very content about it. But when Shawn came back from a party at Chris Benoit's, his playful banter with Matt seemed to cool and he'd been spending most of his time backstage on the phone with Lance Storm, currently playing a favorite heel on Smackdown.

The older Hardy was heartbroken and Jeff didn't know how to help him. But when word came around that Lance and his Un-American team members, Drew, Jay and William Regal, were coming to Raw, Matt really took a turn for the worst. Actually, they were debuting tonight. When the writers toyed with the idea of splitting Matt and Jeff up temporarily, Matt encouraged it and even threw in the bit about going to Smackdown. Jeff was shocked and disappointed that his brother would leave him behind, but he understood the need for Matt to get away and the writers didn't want to pull Jeff away from a brewing feud with Ron Van Dam. So Jeff hid his uncertainty from Matt and did his best to support him. Besides, an old Omega buddy was coming in from Smackdown and Jeff couldn't wait to catch up with him. Shane Helms was a great friend who Jeff hadn't been able to see in a long time due to varying scheduling requirements. He was hoping they could travel together now that Matt wasn't there. Shane was like Matt in some ways: easy to room with, easy to talk to. When he found out Shane was coming, Jeff's mind had eased a bit.

Jeff was now trying to psych himself up for a match against Tommy Dreamer. That guy was another good friend. Jeff enjoyed working with him. He stretched his shoulders and adjusted his baggy pants when he felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned and found himself looking into the friendly gaze of Randy Orton.

"Hey, Jeff," Randy greeted him. "I just wanted to wish you luck out there tonight."

"Thanks, Randy," Jeff smiled in return. "Your promo go okay?"

"How hard can it be?" the other man scoffed amiably. "Hold up the bandaged shoulder, act conceited and ask for get well e-mail from girls. No danger of having to get cleared by the trainer with that agenda."

"Don't worry, they'll put you back on the active roster soon."

"I know, and guess who I'll be associated with."

This piqued Jeff's interest. "Who?"

"Triple H."

Jeff's eyes bugged out. "Triple H? That's some push you're going to get."

"Some of the other guys are jealous, though," Randy sighed sadly, leaning his lean, muscular frame against the wall. "I think they think I haven't paid enough dues to get the chance the company's throwing me."

Jeff felt sorry for the third generation wrestler. It couldn't be easy to get such a push in a locker room full of competitive and experienced talent now that WWE was the only widely televised wrestling company around. He could imagine what Randy was going through backstage.

"Don't let anyone tell you that you don't deserve the push," Jeff advised seriously. "They pulled that shit on me and Matt even before there was only one company. Jealous people like scapegoats. If the management didn't think you were up to the task, especially working with the champion, they wouldn't give it to you. Plain and simple."

"But a lot of guys have busted their asses for years without this kind of break."

"Then they're not up to the company's expectations," Jeff shrugged. "It's not a wrestler's decision how the company will use him, unless you're a verified legend like Flair or Rock. The writers make the storylines and you have to follow what they want to be successful. It's the first thing I learned when I got here. Eyes and ears open, mouth shut."

"That's unexpected coming from the extreme and unique Jeff Hardy," Randy grinned.

"Yeah, well, I had to earn the right to control my wardrobe," Jeff laughed. "They had me and Matt in bright, colorful tights for a while before we convinced them that black would be better for the New Brood. After that, they let us have more say. But you have to play by their rules to earn their respect."

"That's what my father said," Randy nodded. "Granddad, too."

"Well, then I can't be wrong if two legends said it."

"Jeff!" a stage manager's voice called. "You're up in five!"

Jeff looked over his shoulder and nodded then returned his eyes to Randy.

"Good luck on the match," the other man smiled again. He seemed to do that a lot around Jeff lately. It was a nice smile, too.

"Thanks," Jeff shot back a grin of his own. "Catch you later, man."

"You bet."

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Shane Helms glanced at his best friend worriedly. Matt hadn't said much of anything since he sat down with Shannon and Shane and the Hurricane portrayer couldn't understand why. Shannon had attempted to lighten the mood with tales of his antics in OVW, which had Shane chuckling, but not one word out of Matt, who sulked in a corner of the booth they sat in. Finally, Shane couldn't take it anymore.

"Matt, you're bringing me down on my last night out with my Smackdown pals," he admonished. "What's wrong?"

"Sorry," Matt's cheeks colored. "I guess I just miss Jeff."

Well, that sounded sincere, but it didn't really compute. According to Jeff, Matt asked for the transfer. Shane knew he'd have to ask now or go away wondering. It would be a while before he was able to see Matt face to face again. Shannon silently watched them from his seat next to Shane.

"Why?" Shane asked quietly. "Jeff said you wanted to come here."

Matt looked up at Shane sadly and nodded. "It was," he said stoically. "I thought it would help both our careers if we got a little distance. The writers said they'd taken our tag team as far as it would go for now and I knew they'd only push one of us at a time if we were on the same show. I didn't want our bond to suffer from any hard feelings."

Ah, now that made sense. Shane found himself nodding to him in agreement. But Matt's sad demeanor seemed a little strong for someone who just missed his brother. Shane was feeling a little down himself having to leave his own "little brother" now that Shannon and he were just reunited. He hoped that the writers didn't relegate the small blond to the bottom of the cruiserweight herd. He had a lot of talent and fan potential.

"I know how you feel," Shane said looking next to him at a fidgeting Shannon. "I'm so used to traveling with this guy, I'm not sure what's waiting for me over there."

Shannon looked up and offered a wan smile. It was obvious he didn't know what the future held for him either without Shane around.

"Don't worry about him," Matt said suddenly. "I told them I wanted to have a storyline with someone I knew I could work with," he gestured, indicating Shannon. "And they dreamed up this whole mentor thing with him, so he'll get about as much TV time as me."

Shannon gave Matt his most grateful smile and Shane lifted his glass of beer in a silent salute of thanks. "Thanks for taking care of my 'little brother' for me, Matt!"

"Don't mention it," the other man replied. "Just keep an eye on Jeff for me."

Shane nodded. Oh, Matt didn't need to worry about that. Shane found himself doing that even from Smackdown. He didn't know why he was actually looking forward to seeing Jeff again. Sure, they were friends, but not as close as he and Matt. Shane just figured he was bored and looking for a change. His most recent girlfriend, of only a few weeks, had just broken up with him citing neglect. What did she expect from a guy with his schedule? He'd warned her in the first place that it wouldn't be a conventional relationship, but she didn't complain at first. Another one bites the dust. Maybe he should date a girl from the business, but there weren't many women on Smackdown. Raw had some more, though. He'd have to check that out when he got there.

Shannon lifted his own glass for a toast and Shane and Matt followed suit. "To a new era of extreme!" the small blond said loudly. They both laughed and clinked his glass before downing a few swallows. Maybe these changes really would be for the better, Shane thought.

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NOTE: And so it begins! (JAWS theme music playing in the background.) Poor Shannon doesn't see what's headed his way. And Shane's unaware of what awaits him, too! How do you like the beginning of the prequel?