A/N: Before we get this story rollin', I just wanna say that it's been awhile since I've really felt like writing anything at all. When my good friend Reece approached me with the idea of doing something together, I was a little doubtful, but willing to give it a shot. What you will read in this story is the result of that spur-of-the-moment decision that we made, and I hope you all enjoy it! OH, quick PS - the title comes from a song called 'The Story' by ThirtySecondstoMars, who's album 'A Beautiful Lie' is the inspiration for my portion of this story.
In the Middle of Nothing, At the End of Everything
"If you don't sit down, I'm gonna put you down. Permanently."
Cutting my eyes across the corridor, I shoot my tag partner a murderous look. Being the son of the Million Dollar Man apparently gives you the Million Dollar Mouth, like some sort of package deal or something. I hardly ever appreciate the comments, or the less-than-whimsical barbs that he throws my way, but today? Today is really not the day to be talking down to me.
However much I would love to deny it, I am pacing the floor like Jesus is comin' and my pants are around my ankles. Look, today is a big day for me, okay? I haven't been this nervous since seventh grade, when Ina Sanchez pulled me into a closet to play 'Seven Minutes in Heaven' and tried to give me a hickey. NOT on my neck. Suffice it to say that I ran out, screaming like a little girl. And if you look real close, you can still see the scars where she tried out her Jaws impression on me. Try explaining that to someone new in the throws of passion. Jesus.
Having said that, I'm pretty sure I'd rather take old Ina on in a naked mud wrestling match instead of walking into the writers' room this afternoon. I got the message earlier today that Stephanie and the rest of the team wanted to see me, although the messenger neglected to tell me what for. Way to give a guy a hernia over stress.
Of course, I could be worrying over nothing. That last time I was summoned to the domain of Creative, it was to tell me that I was teaming up with Teddy-boy, and that's worked out great. In the months that we've been together, I've had exposure and title gold like I'd never experienced before.
Originally, they thought it was a good idea to to stick me with that old loser, Hardcore Holly. Talk about a bad attitude. Acting like he's God's gift to the business and we're all fools for not following his example. Call me crazy, but acting like a bitter has-been and taking your frustrations out on the rookies doesn't really strike me as a healthy way of making friends in this business.
And let's be real. I think calling Holly a has-been may be a little took ind. He's more like a never was. Not that I'd say that to his face. I like my nose as it is, thank you very much. Besides, I already have my own hero in the company.
Randy Orton. Of all the superstars, past and present, that I've met and watched? He's the only one that has me in awe. Look at his achievements: Youngest World Champion. Ever. Multiple-time WWE Champion. Part of one of the greatest stables ever. Some of the most memorable feuds of the last ten years. He's the guy that's running with the ball right now. And he's the guy I want to be ten years from now.
Ya know, bein' off with an injury is a pain in the ass, but sometimes? Coming back is just as irritating, ya know? I mean, at least at home, I could chill in my backyard and smoke a cigarette in peace. But in this, my first day back to work after months off, I have yet to finish one without some jackass pokin' his head out the door to ask me a question or tell me to be somewhere. And I've tried four times in the last three hours. Jesus.
"Yeah?" I squint against the sun and turn my head to the place where Hunter's floating head awaits my response.
Running one hand through his blond hair, he thrusts his thumb over his shoulder. "Steph wants to meet with you in about ten minutes," he nods as though I'm gonna stamp my cigarette out and go running. Just because he jumps without asking how high every time his wife snaps her fingers doesn't mean that I'm going to.
"Kay," is all I say when I realize he's waiting for me to say something else.
But instead of taking the news back to his master, er, wife, he rolls his eyes in my direction. "Dude, they got big plans for you, man," he assures me, as though he has some insider information that I should be begging for. As though I haven't heard that shit before. So I shrug, and I think it pisses him off. I can't really tell, though, because Hunter looks pissed off seventy percent of the time, whether he actually is or not. "Whatever. Just finish up and then come to the writers' room," he finally rolls his eyes and pulls his head back into the building like a turtle in his shell.
I do as I'm told, finishing my cigarette and surveying the empty parking lot. In a few hours, thousands of fans will filter in this place, and they'll chant for their heroes, and there will be this palpable energy in the air. I'm anxious to breathe it in, to feel it washing over me again. Course, it's different when you're just hangin' out backstage. When you're not on the card, nobody's chantin' your name in the crowd. Nobody really remembers you when you're not around, ya know?
It's weird because most fans will get sick of the same guys bein' shoved down their throats all the time, i.e. Cena, but they don't really even think about us if we're not there. I mean, Steve Austin once said that even he was just a spoke in the wheel. He's one of, if not the single biggest draw this company has ever seen, and even he knew that the show went on without him. Think about it: Triple H became The Game because Austin and The Rock were both fading out of the landscape, right? When Triple H decided to take some time out in 2005, from July to October, Cena came over and stood in the gap. And when he got jacked up late in 2007, I got my shot at being the Champion. The bus never stops rollin', ya know? It doesn't really matter who's at the helm.
Maybe that's depressing, I don't know. Sometimes my friends tell me that I overanalyze and think about shit too much. I guess I've had a lot of time to think about it over the last few months, though. I mean, I was gonna dump the title to Triple H at One Night Stand anyway when my collarbone broke, but I was gonna get it back again after that. That was my time in the spotlight, ya know? My time to shine. The Age of fucking Orton. And I felt like my world ended when I heard that crack on the floor. But even more painful was the fact that I knew nobody else's world was ending.
Batista got a chance to be champ again. CM Punk. Jericho. The wheel just kept turning, and I started to think about a lot of things. I mean, there's not much else to do when you're laid up with a broken fuckin' collarbone, ya know? You watch a lot of television while you're waiting for it to heal. And you step outside the whole business of being a superstar and just watch. You see these young guys comin' up, and you remember what it was like when you could get away with a Cross Body off the top rope in every match. When you could roll up in the corner of the ropes and then Monkey Flip into a Roll Up that would impress the hell out of a crowd even when they don't wanna like you. And you watch Kofi Kingston execute a Drop Kick, the one that you're supposed to be the best in the world at, and you realize something: You're not an up-and-comer anymore.
We're not all that different, me and Orton. We're both naturally tall and lean competitors. We both have a penchant for old school type moves, and we're both legacy kids. Dusty, of course, out-shines Cowboy Bob any day of the week, but I know Randy understands what it's like to be in your father's shadow. And if I can achieve a tenth of his success, I'll have more than made it I think.
I would say all this to his face, but truthfully, I completely puss out whenever I'm around him. Last year, when he had that mini-feud with my Dad, I could barely look him in the eyes. And when we took it to the ring, I was more than happy to let him kick me from pillar to post. Do you have any idea what kind of an honour it was for me to get my ass handed to me by Randy Orton? Teddy says I'm whipped, and I suppose I am in some ways, but then a little hero worship is healthy, isn't it? It's always good to have goals and aspirations. Being the next Randy Orton is just one of mine.
I'd much rather be in the ring right now, working out some of this frustration. I'm on the card tonight, and it would be good to get a little practice in, but it's not going to happen. The techies were still setting up last time I looked, and then the diva's called it first, so they'll be practicing. And they take forever to get out of there, let me tell you. I know a lot of the guys will go and sit in the stands and watch, maybe even offer some constructive criticism.
I won't. I don't feel like I've been around long enough to be advising anyone on how to wrestle properly. And besides, I'm not much of a watcher. I prefer to just do. If I did correct one of the girls, I wouldn't be able to resist the urge to get in the ring and show 'em how to do it properly. Again, Hardcore Holly School of Wrestling. So I'll just stay back here and pace, maybe kick a few crates around to work out the frustration. The suspense is really killing me now, though.
I've been in the WWE for the better part of a decade, and while I don't really feel like old hat yet, my rookie days are behind me. What's in between promising new talent, and respected veteran? Is there anything? Because in the last couple of months, I've realized that's where I'm sitting. Right in the middle of everything, yet not really fitting anywhere. I'm not exciting and innovative and mysterious like the newer guys are. But I'm not established and admired like the older guys, either. It's a really weird place to sit, I think. I'm not really sure what to do with it.
Fortunately for me, I don't have to worry about what I'm going to do. That's what Stephanie McMahon and the other writers are for. So I knock on the door to their make-shift office for the evening and hear the invitation to enter. With a water bottle in one hand, I run a hand over my nearly-shaved head and offer a small wave to the guys around the table. Some of them stand to shake my hand, and a few spout out a 'welcome back' greeting. Stephanie just motions for me to sit in one of the chairs around the table.
"How ya feelin', Randy?" she asks, her expression is filled with interest. At first glance, it looks like concern, but Steph's only worried about one thing. Because Stephanie knows that people forget, and merchandise doesn't sell as well when her top-tier guys aren't around. She could care less if I hurt or not, as long as I can push through the pain. And I guess that sounds kind of bitter or whatever, but it's not that. I understand it. It's just part of the gig at this point.
I just nod and twist the cap off of my water bottle, tilting back in my chair. "Doctors say it'll be about another month before I can get in the ring, but I feel good, ya know?" I explain with a nod. Vince called me, like, the very night Cena busted his neck up and asked me if I would be willing to come back early. He said I wouldn't have to wrestle yet, but he wanted my face on television again.l I guess it's flattering, in a way. I mean, it's good to feel like they need me for something. He promised me that Stephanie would fill me in on the details of their plan when I got here.
Not that it matters what the details are - I'll be expected to follow through with whatever. You learn pretty fast around here that you don't make the rules. You just show up, strip down, and do what you're told. Truth to tell, most of the time it doesn't bother me. I mean, in the past I've shown I'm not the most adept at making my own choices anyway, so I don't mind having someone plot out my course. In the beginning, I didn't much like following directions, but I've grown up a lot in these last couple years. Being as I'm rounding the 'veteran' corner, I guess it's about damn time, huh?
"So what's the plan?" I finally ask when everyone else seems content to just make some small talk.
Just one clue. That's all I'm asking. One small tidbit to help settle my fears and I'd be able to calm down. I don't think anyone's about to pull me up on anything at least. Everybody I talk to says my performance is getting better. My moves are tighter, and the matches are becoming more fluid. And I know nobody can comment on my conduct outside the ring. I've been really careful to stay professional at all times. My dad always taught me that a wrestler was equally marked in the ring as he was outside of it. Don't make waves, he said. Be a gentleman and keep it in your pants, and you'll go far. Good advice, I guess.
Stephanie smiles and folds her hands over a pile of papers. "We're thinking that it's time to form a powerful stable. One with a strong, formidable leader. Something to establish some younger talent," she spoke as if this was a completely original concept. Like Evolution hadn't just done it a few years ago. And as if they weren't a rip-off of The Four Horsemen before them. This idea, while proven successful, was not 'new' or 'unique.'
Raising an eyebrow, I tilt my water to my lips and shake my head. "I already did the stable thing, Steph," I remind her. Not that it wasn't great for my career. Evolution got me noticed. It put my name on the map and established me as a real player. But it's almost five years in the past now, ya know? What's the sense in moving backwards?
"Not as the leader," she returns, matching my eyebrow with one of her own, and I know that the decision has already been made. When she, or Michael Hayes, or whoever else, says 'we're thinking' it doesn't mean that there's an option on the table for discussion. It means that whatever they're about to tell you is happening, and you better just strap in and enjoy the ride. "We're in a place right now where we have a lot of young, second-generation guys on the roster. And you," she smiles in that way that says she thinks she's being flattering, that she thinks I won't notice she's buttering me up, "as a third-generation superstar, are the perfect choice to lead them into their own."
I gotta say, I've been in some shitty angles and feuds during my seven years around here. Not every idea hits the way this 'think take' of geniuses assumes it will. But this idea? Me and a bunch of second-generation guys fighting to make a name for themselves, outside of their fathers' shadows? It's actually not bad. In about thirty seconds, I can see a handful of possibilities. "Do I get to choose my team?" I ask, even though I know the chances are slim.
Flipping a lock of dry, blond hair over his shoulder, Michael Hayes leans back in his chair and rests his folded hands over his paunch. "We've got some ideas in mind," he starts.
But I just shake my head and hold up a hand. There's one guy on the roster that's been impressing me for awhile now, and I want him on my team. Another one seems to have a lot of potential, and they're the only two that I can see flanking me on my way down that ramp. And while this company is not a democracy, I think they'll listen to me. I hope that's what the look on Stephanie's face means, anyway. That she's intrigued.
"I want Priceless," I say before anyone can interrupt me. "Give me Rhodes and DiBiase."
There is a nod of concession and some smiles, and I can tell that they were already thinking that. "And Manu," one of the guys I don't recognize says. it's not weird to me that I don't recognize him - they're always kicking people out and bringing new ones in before we get a chance to say 'hello.'
I begin to disagree, but Stephanie crosses her arms over her chest. "You need an enforcer," she reminds me.
"Because Evolution had one?" I challenge. I know that my opinion probably isn't going to change their minds, but sometimes I have a hard time containing my it. Especially when it's something that I feel strongly about. "Let me try it with three. If it just doesn't work, then we'll bring someone else in. No arguments," I promise, because letting them know that you're just trying to help is always better than making demands.
I'd finally decided this pacing was wearing out my sneakers and taken a seat on the crate next to Teddy when the messenger appeared again. I don't know the dude's name, and to be honest, he reminds me of a rat. All beady-eyed and wiry, wispy hair. His nasal voice could drive you to murder and I pity the people who have to work with him.
"Rhodes," he whines through his nose, "creative will see you now."
And just like that, I'm summoned. To face whatever it is Stephanie and the other writers have in store for me. I gulp, the sound echoing in the corridor and I notice Teddy shaking with silent laughter next to me. A swift slap across the back of his head silences him.
"You're next DiBiase," the rat adds over his shoulder, "don't go too far."
Now it's my turn to laugh as Ted is left in stunned silence. Grinning to myself, I'm on my way to the unknown.
The office is another area that's been set aside for the creative team for the evening. The Rat Man knocks before opening the door and telling me to go inside. I hesitate. I wasn't given permission to enter. Do I just walk inside?
Stephanie puts me out of my misery and tells me to come in. I cringe, and do as I'm told, as Rat Man stands there shaking his head. As if I'm just going to walk in because he indicated for me to. Hell, he may be their monkey boy and I suppose he'd been given leave to just do that, but I still think it's less than courteous. But then what do I know? I'm just a rookie.
There is a long silence in the room, broken only by a timid knock on the door. Stephanie extends another invitation for entry, and I see Cody Rhodes pop his nervous-lookin' head into the room. He's welcomed in, just as I was, and I smirk to myself. Everyone says that DiBiase reminds them of a young Randy Orton - which makes me the old one, I guess - but I don't know. I see more of myself in Cody, to be honest. He's dynamic, but he's technically sound. Mic work needs some shaping and developing, but so did mine back in the day. There's a world of potential in that kid, and I think we'll work well together.
A quick glance around the room, and I already feel my stomach turning over with nerves. Suit after suit after suit. And perched at the head of the table, a predator's smile on her lips is Stephanie McMahon. Don't get me wrong, she's not hard on the eyes. In fact, she's pretty damn fine. But the way she can look at you sometimes? Well it's not often that I feel like I'm someone literally wants to eat my face, but she always has that effect on me. I'm pretty sure she does it on purpose.
She motions toward a seat, and I take it, sinking down. I fight down the irrational urge to apologize, because I know I've done nothing wrong. But just being here makes me feel an irrational guilt. "Steph. Guys." I say weakly, hoping my voice won't break on either word.
"Thanks for coming Cody," Stephanie smiles, a hint or warmth there now, "just so you know I'll be speaking to Ted after you, but I thought it best to talk to you one at a time. To get your individual thoughts, y'know?"
I nod, smiling weakly. Oh, god. This is really it. She's totally going to fire me. I want to beg, plead and insist that I'll work harder, that I'll train more and be better on the mic. I don't want to leave the company, really I don't. And then I manage to give myself a mental slap. Play it cool already. You haven't done anything wrong so quit with the guilty conscious crap.
So I sink back into my seat, resting my hands on my stomach as I wait. Stephanie takes her time, sipping at a cup of coffee that she cradles between her hands. I watch the curl of steam halo her eyes and bite down onto my bottom lip. Why can't she just get it over with already?
"First of all Cody, I wanted to let you know how pleased we've been with your work since joining with Ted in Priceless." I blink rapidly. I certainly wasn't expecting that. "You two work well together, and I can see you're really developing in the ring and on the mic. However," Oh god. Here is really comes. Thanks, but no thanks, Cody. "I think as a tag team, we've pushed you as far as we can. Now it's time to capitalize on what you've built, and get one of the more established stars in to take you to the next level."
I picture Hardcore Holly's face and wince. It didn't work the last time, why should it this time? Then again, Holly was more a dumping ground for me I suppose. I surprised everyone by floating instead of sinking in his company. I decide to hold back on the predictions of doom until Stephanie's finished, as difficult as that is for me. I have such a confidence issue, but that's a story for my therapist.
Stephanie smiled over the rim of her Starbucks coffee cup. "What would you say to that, Cody? Do you think you and Ted would work well with a third?"
I slowly nodded, locking gazes with as many of the writers as I could. I may be a rookie, but I do know that this isn't a question. They've made their minds up, and they're just telling me how it is. "I think that's a really great idea, Steph. I'd like the opportunity to work a more established star, to learn from them."
The crack of a water bottle in the corner made me jump. Turning toward the far corner, I spot Randy Orton. There is a faint smile on his face, and I hope it isn't because I've made a fool of myself in front of him. My throat closes and my mouth is suddenly devoid of moisture. Thank the Lord I managed to finish my sentence before I noticed him. How the hell did I miss him when I walked in the room for crying out loud? I didn't even know he was at the arena tonight, or back at all. It's time like these that I hate my mind for being so damn slow. I've got the components of the sum right there in front of me. Me, plus the writer's idea of teaming with an established star equals…what?
"I'm glad you feel that way Cody," Stephanie smiles warmly, "and I hope you'll be pleased with our choice of Randy..?"
Stephanie trails off, and I feel my head nodding furiously. I would self my left leg for the chance to team with Randy. I know I'm grinning like a person with learning difficulties, but I can't force the corners of mouth down. If anyone has noticed I'm childishly excited by the prospect, they don't say anything. In fact I'm so lost in the idea of teaming with Randy, I miss most of what Stephanie says next, barely catching the end.
"..I feel this is a great mix of talent, a real potential for success, if you will."
By success, I know Stephanie means PPV buy rates, merchandise sales and fans at the arena, but I don't care. Biting down on my bottom lip, I can't seem to tear my gaze away from Randy's face. He's looking elsewhere, but that doesn't bother me. Am I really about to get the chance to work with my idol? Holy spare underpants time, Batman.
I watch him as Stephanie introduces the idea of teaming up with myself and DiBiase in a stable of second-generation stars, and I see the enthusiasm radiating from him, I can't help getting a little bit excited myself. Who the hell knows if this whole legacy team thing is even going to make it out of the gate? In this business, you can never tell. But what the hell can it hurt to give it a shot?
I settle back against my chair and let Stephanie's words wash over me. I'm listening so intently, that I don't really hear anything. All I can think about is the prospect of being close to Randy, learning from him and being his team mate. I'm sure my face is glowing with excitement, but I really don't care. This is easily the best day of my life. And if Ted moans about it, I'll kick his butt till he agrees. No-one in their right mind would turn this down, I'm sure.
Randy Orton and Cody Rhodes, together. I practically lose bladder control the thought. This, I'm sure, is going to be amazing.