Disclaimer: I do not own these characters, do not have permission to use their names. No disrespect is intended.

Down To the Top

No one came to the building this early. Dave had bribed the road crew to set the ring up first before they started on the rest of the giant extravaganza that always signified this was World Wrestling Entertainment, not some fly by night promotion. Without the added warmth of thousands of screaming fans, he felt the chill as he stripped out of his sweats. He wanted to work, and make it seem real, so he had dressed out in full blown ring attire even though it was still the better part of a day until showtime.

He stood center of the ring. What was it Hunter told him...visualize? He closed his eyes, head bent as he concentrated on hearing the roar of the crowd. Funny how they always stretched his name out into three syllables. Slowly he shook the kinks out of his arms, his legs, and with his head still bent he charged forward. The solid cable across the back still took his breath away. Eyes open he allowed the momentum to carry him to the other side and he turned just in time to feel the solid crunch again.

And then he stopped. It was hard to visualize when he was alone in the ring. There were always the drills, the countless squats and drops that he had learned back in Allentown with Afa, and perfected over the years until he arrived at the time when he felt it was all trivial and unnecessary. But it wasn't. He wasn't getting any younger, and the matches weren't getting any easier. If he wanted to make a go of it, he was going to have to get back to basics. Back to his roots.

He turned, walked to the ropes again, tried to imagine an opponent. He knew that the only opponent he had ever had that had wrenched greatness from him was Hunter. As he closed his eyes and tried to imagine how the match would start he knew that the reason their chemistry had worked was because they had truly respected one another. Perhaps the opponents he had faced recently, with the exception of Rey, had not gained his respect, and likely never would. The truly worthy ones were few and far between.

Shoulders to the gut, spinebuster, powerbomb. His repertoire was narrow. Each big move was sandwiched on either side by glaring, and stalking. The days were past when he had any quickness or agility. He had toned down, tightened up, but it still made him wheeze to leap over the ropes or move with any greater level of speed. A few imagined lockups and he coughed.

"Damnit," he groaned under his breath. Sweat dripped into his eyes but he ignored it, turned and brought his foot down hard against the canvas. Muscles flexed, and before he closed his eyes in an effort to bring back the vision he caught a movement out of the corner of his eye. Motionless, he watched as the lights way up in the rafters played off the blonde highlights in the younger man's hair. A trickle of sweat slid down the side of his face as he saw who it was.

Brian Kendrick, an oblivious Brian Kendrick with the white cords of iPod earbuds snaking out of his ears. From where Dave stood he could just make out the muffled sounds of Brian singing along. Dave wasn't sure if Brian was completely oblivious, or if he was just ignoring him until he looked up, smiled and saluted before flopping down in a ringside seat. He propped his knees up, the iPod held firmly in one hand, the other tapping a rhythm on his knee.

Dave turned, reached up to run the back of his hand over his eyes. Ordinarily he didn't mind if he was watched, but this was desperation time, and this hardly seemed the audience he wanted. At last he turned and looked over his shoulder, found Brian's eyes locked on him.

"Fuck." He pushed off from the rope, and setting it shaking he turned and stalked over to the edge where Brian sat. He waited, eyes narrowed, watched as Brian mouthed the words of his song, beat on his knee until at last he sat forward and pulled the earbud out.

"You want something?" he said, his voice a little loud as the music continued to pour into his ear.

"No Kendrick, I wondered what you wanted," Dave growled.

Brian punched the iPod and pulled the other bud from his ear. He sat forward, forearms resting on the barrier. "I was waiting for you to finish," he said. "Usually no one is here this early, I was going to run through a few drills before the boys showed up." He cocked his head to the side. "I sure as hell didn't count on finding you here."

Dave turned, spat out toward the floor, and raised his upper arm to wipe the sweat from his brow. "Why's that?" he said as he flexed his muscles.

"Lighten up big guy," Brian said. He stowed the iPod in his gym bag and stood up. Easily he hoisted himself over the barrier, came to stand right below Dave. "When they told me someone was already in the ring I assumed it was one of the lower card guys trying to look good for the brass. What I meant was that I didn't expect to find you here practicing drills." He smiled a lop-sided smile. "You're already in that elite top group."

His arms resting on the ropes, Dave leaned forward. "If I'm in that ...illusive top group you're talking about then why the fuck is that a problem? You think I don't deserve it, that I haven't worked hard enough, haven't paid my dues?"

"Don't get all defensive on me," Brian said, hands on hips. "People like you don't have to earn their spots, not like people me."

"Bullshit. Just say what you mean instead of talking in riddles."

Brian threw his hands up, "Look, it's too early in the morning for this to all make sense." He arched a brow as he put a hand up on the lower rope.

Understanding, Dave nodded and backed away, watched as Brian levered himself into the ring with ease. Brian climbed into the ring and shook the hair out of his eyes. Seemingly unafraid, he walked close enough that he didn't have to raise his voice.

"Look, Dave," he said, his head tipped back so he could meet Dave's eyes, "It wasn't a slam to say you're in the elite top group. Not everyone makes it there, most of it depends on the fickle fans. You've got them in the palm of your hand, got them by the purse strings so to speak. You earned your spot, and you deserve it." He shrugged. "I wouldn't expect to find you here because you got a lot of check marks in your plus column. McMahon likes you, the fans like you, you got the strap back, and you put butts in the seats. It's not a struggle day in and day out facing the changes of the business. Not like it is for me."

Dave tightened the muscles in his upper arms as Brian spoke, watched the nuances on his face as he talked. There was something about the hushed air of the nearly empty arena, some implied intimacy, the words blurted out before he could stop himself. "But it is a struggle."

A frown creased Brian's brow. "How? Seriously Dave, how could it ever be a struggle for you?"

Head bent, breathing nearly back to normal, he murmured, "Because I don't have it like I used to have it. I haven't had a good match..." and then he caught himself, lips clamped together.

Whatever reaction Brian had was all neatly contained, only betrayed by a slight widening of the eyes. He stepped even closer, and said softly, "All it takes is someone who knows how you work. Someone quick to play off the contained power you have. You don't need some lumbering giant who doesn't know his head from a hole in the ground. You need someone like me."

"You?" Dave couldn't keep the surprise from his voice.

With a cocky smile, Brian nodded. "Me. I've seen you work with people like Jericho, Christian, even Hunter. That's where your chemistry is. When you have to chase someone lighter, smaller, quicker than you...that's when you really pull it off, step up your game, whatever. You need someone's gonna keep you on your toes." He straightened his kneepads then stood up straight. "It's not that I don't like working tag matches with Paul, I do. But I'd love a shot at the big time too. I'd work with you, not just to make you look good, but make both of us look good." He winked, "Bring the fun back."

"I could crush you like a bug Brian Kendrick," Dave said, one fist cradled in his hand as a promise.

"You could, but which would you rather? Standing O's and genuine cheers, or the half-assed reaction that people have to the way you stink up the ring with Khali?"

"Jesus Christ on a fucking crutch," Dave said, his fist slammed into his palm. "You're either as crazy as you look in the ring or--"

"Or I have a point that you're not willing to admit to." Brian bounced back and forth on the balls of his feet. "I think it's a point I have, not the crazies."

Dave flexed again. "All right then, tell you what. Why don't you prove it to me?"

Brian circled his arms around as he finished loosening up. "You're on." He backed across the ring and bounced on the ropes. "You ready big guy?"

Hunkering down into a fighting stance, Dave growled his answer more than spoke it. Brian inched forward warily, hand extended. Dave stepped forward long enough to take Brian's hand in his and then he edged away. Brian nodded. Although Dave hadn't spent any time in ROH he acknowledged the code of honor that Brian still tried to adhere to.

Formalities out of the way they circled one another in earnest. When Dave lunged forward, Brian darted away. As Dave spun in agitation, Brian leaped into the air and landed a missile drop kick, which caused Dave to stagger and fall into the ropes. He growled as he righted himself and lunged forward again. This time he made contact with Brian's hand and landed a running clothesline.

"That's it," Brian said as he rolled to the side and stood, "That's what I'm talking about."

They traded back and forth, and in some intricate ballet they called to one another as they worked they pushed the moves between them, each fall punctuated by a grunt, each pin was counted until the one on the mat pushed up at two.

Finally, out of breath and panting, Dave's punctuated by the telltale wheeze, Brian held up a hand to call for a stop. As he gasped for air he laid out his finishing move. "I run toward you, you lift me up, feet on the ropes, flip over, and you land on the mat." He reached up to push the hair out of his eyes. "And then you know what to do."

Dave nodded, his feet planted firmly on the mat. He leaned into Brian as he caught him, and fell flat on his back. Head arched back slightly he watched as Brian turned to scramble over to pin him and in the nick of time he rolled away, and with more agility than he'd felt in a long time he rolled to his feet. Brian played up the frustration of the botched move just as Dave reached down and closed his fingers through Brian's hair.

"Ahh," Brian groaned loudly as Dave shoved his head firmly between his legs, reached down and locked his hands under Brian's midsection, hoisted him up, and with a groan of his own slammed him down in what Cornette used to call the Demon Bomb. Just like a real match he rolled back and pinned him. Somewhere out in the darkened hall someone counted three.

They rolled apart and stood. Brian shaded his eyes to see if he could discern who had been watching, but whoever it was was long gone. He turned back to find Dave had rolled up and stood. He sauntered back over as this time Dave extended his hand first.

"Hell of a match." Sometimes Dave's voice was deceptively soft for such a big man.

"Sure was," Brian said. He released Dave's hand and stood back. "You believe me now?"

"I always did," Dave said, hands on his hips. "But you know nothing will come of it."

"If hell froze over it would," Brian said. He slipped from the ring, and turned to look back up at Dave. "But I do think you're wrong." He winked, "I think something already did come of it." He hoisted himself over the barricade and picked up his bag. Without looking back he slung it over his shoulder and walked back toward the locker room.

Dave took a deep breath and expelled it all at once. As he slipped from the ring himself he turned Brian's words over in his head. Maybe he was right.