Out of all the characters in this story, AJ is the most AU. Even though the others are also, I still tried to keep various aspects of their personalities/gimmicks/etc involved but just twisted a little into other-than-wrestling type things. So…I hope no ones too upset about this b/c I do realize this AJ is really not much like real AJ. But again, it's AU. The Ric Flair father reference comes from this almost crack!theory that some of my lovely friends and myself came to the strange conclusion of. So anyway, thank you all for reading/reviewing. Here's the next chapter. We get closer to our destination.
Leaving North Carolina had never looked so damn good. AJ sighed as he fixed his sunglasses, for the moment ignoring the non-stop chatter of the silver haired man sitting next to him in the back seat of the cab. Right now AJ was focused on the scenery. He leaned on his elbow and watched the dusty, pink-and-gray toned land rush by. Here and there dark green shrubs dotted the landscape, clinging low to the ground. As the hills rolled steadily upwards, the greenery became more abundant, crowning the gentle peeks, back dropped by a sky that seemed brighter than any AJ had ever seen before. Maybe it was just because he was away from his father, than things suddenly seemed brighter, and that now suddenly he could stop and take in these details.
"AJ, are you listening to me?"
AJ turned his head a little and looked over the tops of his designer shades at Shane, his boss, his friend, and a lot of other complicated somethings. AJ worked for one of the top wrestling promotions in the world and Shane McMahon was its owner. Not only did AJ work for the company, but he was the company. AJ was top dog, and Shane's biggest draw. That fact allowed AJ to get away with a lot of things backstage that would send most other employees packing. He was known for his temper tantrums, stemmed mainly from dealing with his father: Ric Flair.
When AJ wasn't busting his ass for Shane's company, he was at home not catching the rest and relaxation his overtaxed body and mind needed, but instead taking care of his senile old man. He wouldn't have minded after all, as Ric's son it might have seemed only right for AJ take up the mantel of responsibility, had his father actually been a father. Ric was gone so much of AJ's life, the road taking up most of the time that could have been spent between father and son. AJ saw his father more on television than he did in his own home. His mother had left before AJ was even old enough to know her, and his parenting and guardianship was left to various nannies that Ric hired, fired, and slept with on the rare occasion that he was home—and who usually allowed AJ his way in everything, simply because so many of them felt sorry for him. It was odd to be raised by strangers, without any sort of connection. Growing up AJ had often felt like some space traveler whose ties to his ship had been severed, and he was left weightlessly floating in some dark, vast, cosmos that gave no answers as to why it was so cold.
The most AJ had ever spent with his father was when Ric declared his various retirements—only to break them again and again. Ric's son grew up angry, and only continued to spiral deeper into that pit. When he was old enough, he left to train for a life of wrestling. He was expected too after all, having half of that legends blood running through his own veins. On some deeper level he had also hoped that the venture into his father's world would gain that mans attention-finally. He was right in that thought, but it wasn't the love and affection he had so long craved. He found himself embarking onto a path into another nightmare. This was Ric's passion, Ric's life, and Ric appointed himself as the best to ever step foot into a ring. Thus, nothing that AJ did was ever good enough. No matter how hard he trained, how much he strived for perfection, there was always something for Ric find wrong with what he was doing. When AJ worked his ass off to further his career, began to win gold, and finally became one of the biggest names in the industry—it still wasn't good enough for the one man that really mattered, out of the millions of people that watched him perform each week. The stacks of fanmail, art, e-mail, Tweets, and everything else did nothing to fill the void in his heart because of one man. AJ found himself being crushed under the gargantuan burdens of being at the top, wearing his family name, and dealing with a man who called himself 'God' and slipped further and further into his own distorted mind.
AJ's tantrums and binges were out of control and spilling over like a running faucet into the work place. His ring work and promos were getting sloppy because he was to the point of not caring anymore. Breaking his body and pushing himself to the excellence that had got him where he was today wasn't enough to gain a simple pat on the back from his father, or God forbid—'I'm proud of you, son'. AJ had decided there was nothing he could ever do to be of worth in that man's eyes, and that revelation had left him broken in a luxury hotel room. Bottles littered all over the plush carpet, and endless tears stained his pillow, broken only by periodic screaming and punching at the unoffending object. He'd no-showed the next two events and left his phone unanswered when it rang and rang, Shane's name flashing against the screen. Shane had been the last person he'd wanted to talk to, as if he could offer any help. Shane was not much different from AJ's father, it was all rejection, it was all the same. Just like Ric—Shane was never going to love him, either.
Shane gave up trying to talk to AJ. Instead, he turned to his Blackberry, checking some dates and messages. He groaned at the first message in his inbox, coming from his 'second in command' basically, who he'd left in charge while he was gone with AJ on this retreat. Shane was informed that another of his top talents had came into his office, informing the staff that Stephanie had offered him twice what Shane was paying him—as if said employee wasn't already one of the highest paid in Shane's company anyway—and that if he couldn't reach a better agreement with Shane's company, he was going to be leaving for the rival team when his contract expired in a few short months.
"Fuck." Shane mumbled under his breath. It was both the best and worst of times for him to take this break. If not for AJ, he'd still be back in his office tugging his hair out in attempts to keep his company on top where it belonged. He'd never even planned to go this far into the business. Infact, he'd left WWE because of disagreements between he and his sister, and decided it was time to pursue other venues. All of those other avenues had proven to lead him to less than successful ends. He'd finally been able to find his place in the grand scheme of things when he bought out TNA, kicked out most of the old stock Hogan and Bischoff had brought in, and loaded the vacancies with fresh, vibrant, new stars who by rights should have been under the spotlights. Matches were improved, less shenanigans, overly gimmicked-gimmicks were trimmed, and fans were given something that was able to take them back to attitude and actual wrestling without having to give them recycled, out of date, product. The promotion was now called 'Total Nonstop Wrestling' and that was what Shane strived to deliver.
Meanwhile, Stephanie was working her own sort of magic on her father's company and killing the A show with her idea of sports entertainment. Shane's following grew rapidly, as so many fans were disenchanted and bored with the thing Stephanie had twisted their entertainment into. Some of Stephanies talent even showed up at Shane's door, wanting to get back to something that WWE was now delivering less and less of. Most of the big names however, stayed loyal to the company that had put them on top—but things had came out just right enough that everything hung on by a thread. Shane was able to give his sister fit competition now. The arguments they used to have behind closed doors in WWE offices spilled out onto t.v. screens and was now waged between two battling empires, not just two battling siblings. The popularity of wrestling had spiked again and it was an amazing time for the business all around and for fans.
Along with all of that however, came an amount of stress that would have turned every hair on Shane's head silver had it not already been there and done that. The constant rivalry, and attempts by both McMahons to woo talent away from the other, took a heavy toll. The new schedules for TNW athletes pushed them far beyond their previous one. There were now three taped shows a week to compete properly with WWE's Raw, Smackdown, and Superstars. The tension backstage due to overworked and frazzled employees was sometimes so thick Shane felt as if he couldn't breathe when he weaved through the corridors.
Then, there was AJ.
Shane's top star was ready to implode in on himself. Shane had offered him time to go home and relax on multiple occasions, when he'd seen AJ clearly hanging on at the end of his rope. An injury would account for his absence, or some creative twist in a storyline, and Shane would send AJ packing for a few weeks or even months to get things together. Those leaves seemed to be helping less and less however, and AJ would often call Shane early begging to let him come back in work, sometimes in tears, sometimes in enraged shouting. Home meant Ric, and AJ couldn't handle long doses of Ric, but it was getting to the point that he couldn't handle the gold either. Shane had to take care of his top talent, too much was riding on all of this for any of them to fall apart right now, until he could find the right budding talent to follow in AJ's footsteps, he had to keep the gold pinned on him as much as possible. Despite AJ's low self esteem and his insistence that he wasn't good enough—he was a damn fine wrestler, one of the finest. Shane knew that even if Aj didn't and he needed that man in his ring. There was no way around it. So, AJ got what he wanted, the rules were bent for him, and Shane ran around in circles trying to please him and keep some sort of piece backstage with the rest of the talent who were more than tired of such things. It was a must, just like this retreat was a must.
AJ had come to Shane's office after no-showing two shows, and returning none of Shane's calls, and had a meltdown that was nearly worthy of a free pass to the nearest mental hospital. Shane let AJ wreck his office, scream, cry, and at last collapse onto him sobbing. For the longest time Shane just held him awkwardly, stroking his back, until AJ quieted a little. His tearful eyes had looked at Shane in a way that seemed pleading. They white parts were red and pink, the pupils clearly distorted by lack of sleep, and the kinds of perils that this business often drove sane men to—popping anything just to try and deal with it all. The alcohol was strong on his skin and breath, and even more apparent in the shouted words and curses AJ had just earlier slurred as he'd taken his frustration and anger out on everything in Shane's office. After he'd quieted down, Shane walked him to the overstuffed leather couch in his office, and lowered him onto it. The throw draped over the back had the TNW logo on it, along with AJ posed in a mean looking fighting stance, his mouth open in a silent, threatening roar. Shane had dropped the blanket over AJ's curled body, and used the corner to wipe the tear stains from his reddened cheeks. AJ had sniffled, and asked in his emotionally and chemically impaired state:
"When's Daddy comin' home?"
After some hesitation, Shane answered:
"Soon." And left it at that.
He'd left AJ on the couch and found his cell in a corner, the screen busted and the back missing. AJ had thrown it in his rage, and it was now useless. With a small sigh, Shane stuck the small device into his pocket, and picked up his desk phone. It too had suffered the abuse, but when he plugged it back in, it still worked. He dialed one of his assistants and told her to get order an extra ticket for that retreat Shane was going on. If they were already sold out, then she was demanded to get a hold of Morrison himself and offer him ridiculous amounts of money to make an extra spot for Shane's top star. AJ needed to be away from all of it, or he was going to break so badly that there would be nothing left to fix. Shane hung up the phone, and pulled the newest John Morrison book from one of the drawers. This was just what AJ needed, Shane hoped, to straighten out his mind.
So now here they were, their taxi ferrying them from the airport, to the restaurant they were all instructed to meet at. Someone from the Guru's team was due to meet the select retreat members there, and take them to the location where they'd spend their week. Shane reached over, and patted AJ's thigh. He just hoped a week was enough time.