Paying The Piper

1996

The fire flickered in the hearth, giving a warm dancing glow against the paneling in the den. Roddy had been seated in his favorite chair earlier, but had sense moved to the floor and a loud ruckus of laughter and shrieks had usurped the quietness of the room. All four of his children were climbing on him, ganging up on him, and they created quite the formative stable. Even the dog was making a heel turn and joining in on the fray, his bark excited and frantic as he pawed at Roddy's hair and tried to lick at his face which Papa Piper kept turning this way and that as he lost himself to a fit of laughing, finally opting to burry his face into the carpet to keep the seeking slime-swathed tongue from lathering his face. The dogs cold nose snuffled against his ear, and then the tongue invaded, filling his ear with goo.

"Gaaaah son of a-!"

His kids found this amusing. His youngest daughter was shrieking in a shrill cry that belonged only to her, as she pulled his hair in an attempt to bald him before his time. Someone was on his back tickling his sides unforgivingly, and another was kicking him in the bum, a fine target as it were, but it was a dirty tactic. The fourth had tugged his shoe off and was now yanking on his sock, undoubtedly in a plot to unleash another tickle-attack, this one on the pads of his feet. He meant to shake them off but as soon as he pulled his head out of the carpet, the dog went to work managing to probe his tongue right into Rod's mouth as the Two Ticklers were inducing him with a new bout of laughter that he couldn't hold back.

"Dog! Bleh! Ack! Get offa me, Dog!" The kids shrieked louder, they were on the dogs side, apparently. Like an ostrich hiding its head in the sand, he planted his face back into the carpet, coughing as he got a throat full of dust and whatever else might be lurking within the microscopic world of carpet fibers. He really should have vacuumed in here like Kitty had told him to this morning. She was always right.

Over the noise and confusion a new sound was singing. It took him a few moments to hear it at first, what with all the racket and one ear that didn't do him much good anyway, and then another moment for him to realize what it was. The phone was ringing. It gave him a perfect excuse for an intermission, and maybe by the time he was done talking (which might be a while, his wife told him that he liked to talk more than she did) the kids would forget about their attack.

Maybe when he came back they'd be doing something less rowdy, like sprawling themselves all over the couch in odd positions that only children find comfortable, as they watched a movie. But then again, they were his children, so they were bound to be filled with more energy and noise than others. With a monster like 'rawr' he arose from the pile of offspring. Three of them immediately attacked again once he was stood up, but he gently nudged them away, citing the ringing phone which had yet to be answered. He hurried to it, nearly tripping over his stolen and then abandoned shoe, and pressed the receiver to his ear.

"Hello?" He ran a hand through his hair, relieved to feel it was still there after all that tugging. His gesture sent it standing into spikes and swirls, but it was no worse than it had been when his daughter had finished her pulling.

There wasn't an immediate answer, just a jagged sort of breathing that Rod quickly recognized as crying. With a sinking of his heart he knew exactly who was calling him without the caller having to speak a word. He'd heard this too many times before in hotel rooms across the country, over phone lines, sometimes in his dreams. Rod closed his eyes for a moment, and let out a sigh.

"Ric." He turned away from the children, who had redirected their assault to the Dog. "Ric, baby what's wrong?"

There was a sniffle followed by a small sob.

"Pipes…" Ric's voice hitched with his crying, and Rod could see him in his mind so clearly. Ric's face scrunched with the release of his depression and drenched in his tears was an image Rod wished he had never once had to see, and one he had always tried his best to soothe away. He could taste the wet saltiness as he kissed the streams rolling over Ric's cheeks, and the scent of Ric's cologne and shampoo as he held him close and loved him. The only problem was that he wasn't doing any of that.

He and Ric were miles apart, he was here at home on a mountain in Oregon and Ric was a needle in a haystack, a pin on a map, in some hotel room. Rod missed Ric when they were apart and his longing to see him again had spawned several reappearances in the ring. Sometimes Rod had gone back when his career as an actor had hit a dry spell, but most times he went back because he needed to be with Ric again. He loved the man as much as he loved his wife, and Kitty was a good woman who had always supported Rod in everything, even this. She and the kids loved Ric, the family had him out for Christmas every year. Now was one of those times where his heart ached to be with Ric again more than ever.

"I can't take it anymore, Rod." Ric confessed through his tears. Rod could see him with the plastic of the hotel phone pressed to his ear as he sat with his knees pulled close, one hand covering his face now as he wept. "I can't take 'em anymore. They're breakin' me down Rod, they're breakin' me down."

"Who?" Roddy's lips set into a thin line as his anger began to bubble, a spark flickered into his eyes and sat them in a hard, narrowed gaze at a knot in the paneling. Ric was crying harder. "Ric—listen sweetheart, ya gotta tell me who. You tell me Ric, and I'll—wait…it's Hogan again, ain't it?" Rod's grip tightened on the phone and it was a wonder that knot in the paneling didn't begin to smoke from the glare it was receiving.

Rod hadn't kept a real close eye on the wrestling world since he'd last left it, but he did keep in contact with his wrestling buddies. When he spoke to them on the phone they usually made it a point not to talk shop, but he had heard last he'd spoken to one of them that Hogan might be packing his bags and heading over to the WCW side of things. Ric had left WWF because the harassment he was receiving there from various individuals was getting to him too much. The number one offender had been Hogan, who had bothered Ric many times over the years which only added to the on and off camera hate between Rod and the bastard.

Hogan had tried to muscle in on Ric from day one, and when that route seemed to fail he'd resort to bullying and picking on him, more than once forcing himself onto Ric and receiving a rain of hell from the Piper in payment. Even the bravest man wouldn't want to keep prodding the protective lion that was Roddy Piper. Only a fool keeps poking a stick into the cage, trying to gouge the animals eyes. Sooner or later the fools arm is due to be bitten off, no matter how many inches his damn pythons are. The Hulkster's bald head might even be a dessert, should he get close enough to the snarling, snapping teeth.

"Ric?" Rod spoke his name softly, after a long period of silence which was only minutely punctuated with Ric's breathing.

"Yeah. But not just Hogan." Ric sniffled. "I'm sorry I called ya Roddy, botherin' you when you're at home with your family. I oughta-"

"Now Ric, you just wait a minute!" Roddy interrupted. "Don't you ever think you're botherin' me, Ric Flair. Don't you ever hesitate to call me, and don't you dare let me hear ya 'pologize for it no more."

"I know, Rod. I know—just lemme finish before I start blubbering like a baby again, alright?" Ric took a deep breath, and then continued. "I oughta be able to take care of myself. I do most times, it's just…they…they know how to get to me, Roddy. People find my weakness and then they don't stop 'til I'm broken down again. I feel like I'm nothin' here, Roddy. I'm a piece of garbage. They don't treat me right as far as the job goes, but that's only one part of it. It comes back to the same old thing…man I'm tired of people harassin' me, usin' me…but I let 'em use me. I don't know why I just…I get so lonely and I think maybe I can find somethin' nice to hold onto for a while but the majority has me pegged as the company whore. Hell, the industry whore! I used to be that guy when I was younger, and fuckin' stupid. I thought sleepin' with anyone and everyone I could in this industry was a big deal, made me some kind of a big man. After a lot of years I finally changed my mind, but people can't let me be somebody else. They can't let me be a person with feelings, Roddy. They just…take. If I don't give it to 'em then they just fuckin' take it." Ric's voice dissolved into sobs once more.

"Ric, don't ya worry about a thing." Roddy soothed, over the long, long distance of telephone wires. His next words came out in a tone that was less soothing and more solid, one of assurance, the sound of a promise being made that would be kept at any cost. "I'm gonna call Eric about a contract. I've been away too long."

-.-.-.-.-.-

Earlier that day

Ric's shower had done wonders to ease up the kinks and pains of too much in-ring abuse. Maybe it had been the hot water cascading over his form, the steam filling the shower and fogging the glass doors, maybe it had been the thoughts of his far away lover which had seemed to lift a weight temporarily from his shoulders, or it could have been the shot of Crown he'd sucked down before stripping. In any event, emerging from the shower and dabbing his platinum hair with a fuzzy towel, Ric felt immensely better than he had for quite awhile. A bottle of his favorite drink was still just where he'd left it, on the night table next to his bed. Often times he'd hit the night life scene but on this particular night he was feeling less raucous and what really sounded wonderful was a night spent in a good bed, bare of clothing (in Ric's mind one should be free as often as possible), watching some t.v. and letting the Crown Royal slip deliciously down his throat to warm his insides.

He was much looking forward to it, and with a grin tossed the dampened towel onto the floor and strutted over to the bed. It was a king size, decked out with satin sheets and many pillows. It was just the thing to comfort him and he rolled onto the bed with a sigh of approval as the silky sheets and downy pillows caressed and hugged his body like a lovers gentle touches.

He reached for the bottle of Crown and it felt like a familiar hand linking with his. He screwed the top from the bottle and tilted it to his lips. The strong, smooth, taste of the fine Canadian Whiskey slid like velvet over his tongue and blossomed like a hot kiss against the back of his throat and in the depths of his belly. He closed his eyes and imagined another taste so perfectly complimenting the Crown, lips that he'd not felt for such a long time but had thought of often, always made that warmth double its siege of his body. There was nothing like being drunk off of those lips, not even the best alcohol could provide the same feeling.

He was only visited by such blissful states in his dreams as of late, dreams where a voice that managed to be both growly and soft, whispered things to him that were not selfish, lewd, requests, but were passionate declarations of the heart. In those midnight fantasies as his body slept but his mind awakened, he could feel the soft hair beneath his hands, the scent of leather touched his nose, the strong muscles and curves of Roddy's thighs slid beneath his stroking hands, flexing, warm, damp with sweat. Their chests pressed together as breaths came quicker and laced with need, their hearts thumped together in a special staccato which was driven not only by lust but by a love so strong and beautiful that it had often brought tears to blue eyes. He could hear in the distance, the bagpipes softly playing, and the rhythm of footfalls that belonged only to one man, walking back into his life and ready to hold him again.

He was startled by the knocking on his door, and the fuzz of his longings drifted to the back of his mind. He realized that he'd had yet to turn on the television but that he didn't much care. The show playing in his mind had been much better than a re-run of M*A*S*H or Cheers could possibly be. The knocking continued, and Ric's fingers gripped harder to the bottle in his hand. He was afraid of who might be at the door, and at the same time was attempting a pep-talk, prodding himself into believing that his fear was irrational. His tormentors were probably not at his door. Maybe it was Arn…or anyone other than the two he really suspected as being the door-bangers. And that isn't all they wanna bang…

Ric rolled off of the bed and made his way warily to the door. Once there he peeked into the peephole and his fears were confirmed. Standing outside his door was Eric, one hand was on the hip of his faded blue jeans, the other held onto a duffle. He tossed his head to shake a tuft of shoe polish black hair off of his forehead. His dark eyes peered toward the peephole in the door but of course from the outside Eric couldn't see in. His lips were set into a flat line, but managing to look almost pouty, while his eyes seemed void of any sort of expression. No matter how the man tried he couldn't seem to look tough; the leather jacket didn't even help much.

Eric just looked like a sissy trying to be a punk. His look wasn't only unconvincing but it was deceiving, because Eric really was bad news. Bischoff was manipulative, selfish, power-hungry, arrogant—and he was good at making sure he got exactly what he wanted by any means necessary. Talking to Eric about business was like talking to a rock, because he would rarely listen to any opinions other than his own. Ric was sure his ego and unwillingness to budge off of his own agenda, would one day be his undoing, but for now Eric was still a man who held a lot of other men's balls in his hands, and he wasn't shy about giving any of them a good hard squeeze to remind them so.

Eric had company on the other side of the door, and it was this man who was knocking: Terry, better known to households world wide as 'Hulk Hogan' although the golden days of his career had surely seen their peak and now their downward spiral. Hulkamania was no longer running so wildly, but some people in the business had yet to get the memo and still treated Terry like the top prize that he no longer was.

His bald head was covered like a bad tattoo, a black bandana hiding Terry's pet-peeve from the world. Too bad the world already knew that he was bald, and what good a bandana would do to persuade anyone otherwise, Ric didn't know. He ran his fingers over the handlebar curves of his moustache and spoke to Eric.

"Maybe he's gone." Terry said, his voice muffled by the door that separated predators from prey.

"He's not gone, he's hiding like the pussy he is." Eric smirked, his eyes beady and showing a gleam of deviousness in them as he took over the knocking, and managed to make it even more annoying than it had been when Terry was doing it. "Come on out, Pretty Ric. You've got some company, don't ya wanna play with the big boys? Hmmm?"

Terry smiled under his mustache, apparently he found this amusing.

Sweat popped out on Ric's forehead and the trails crawled slowly down the sides of his face. He no longer felt clean and refreshed from his shower, but dirty and disgusting as his skin began to crawl with thoughts of either man touching it. He imagined that they had super hearing and could some how tune in on his breathing, which seemed as loud as a storm wind whipping around in his own ears with his panic. Be quiet, they'll go away. Be quiet, they'll go away. He repeated it like a mantra, like some sort of prayer he was taught to utter in times of distress, although he had never really had enough faith to believe in the words.

"Come on brother, open up." Terry piped up, making his voice louder. The door handle jangled and to Ric's dismay it rattled more than it should have. His throat and mouth seemed to go instantly dry as his wide eyes took in the frail knob on the verge of submitting to the attack. He grabbed the knob with his free hand, and the shaking stopped. Terry's voice again, but softer. He was speaking to Eric once more. "He is in there, I think he's holding onto the knob."

"Only knob he's going to be holding is mine," Eric said, making sure it was loud enough for Ric to hear it. "And not with his hand, either."

The knob began to rattle again, and to Ric's dismay his side of it fell off, leaving no defense against the men on the other side. The door swung open and Ric made a dash for the bathroom, hoping to lock himself in there. Before he could make it he was grabbed from behind by Hogan. He fought as best as he could, trying any dirty tactic and doing his best to live up to 'the dirtiest player in the game' because if any time called for a low blow or something as instinctive as teeth sinking into flesh, it was now.

However he couldn't maneuver himself to grab at Terry's package, that lovely was pressing into Ric's rear, the denim rough against his naked cheeks. He couldn't thrash around enough to free himself, or find anywhere to bite onto Terry's over-tanned hide. The more he fought, the tighter Terry's hold became until his ribs ached with the pressure of Terry's strong arms squeezing him, compressing his chest until he could barely breathe. His platinum hair stood wildly form the thrashing, his face was twisted in rage and deeply reddened from the struggle, his blue eyes were giving up their feral fear to a realization of defeat. Eric was watching, relishing the slow departure of defiance from the object of his lust—Ric could see it, the gleam in Eric's cold eyes—they were the eyes of a shark that has just scented the first drop of blood.

Eric held the other side of the doorknob in his hand, and tossed it carelessly onto the bed. It rolled off the corner and onto the floor, beneath the dresser, as if it yearned for a place to hide from the scene that was sure to take place. Eric moved towards Ric leisurely, an odd, playful bounce in his step as if this was all some macabre game that he enjoyed. He was a sneering, slinking, cat crawling out from the dark shadows to play with an injured bird, plucking its bright feathers one by one with needle-like claws, taking its sweet time with the thing it would eventually kill and devour. Eric's clammy fingers touched his cheek. The cold sweat of Eric's caress mingled with the hot sweat of Ric's attempted escape, and made Ric's skin crawl. Eric's lips turned up at the corners, it was a smile that enjoyed the misfortune of others in a perverse way that eluded most human beings.

"Ric…" Eric clicked his tongue, as if disappointed in Ric's behavior. "You never learn, do you? This would be so much easier if you cooperated, baby." Eric leered, his eyes twinkling. "But maybe you like it this way, hmm? I mean, you must know your struggles aren't going to get you out of this. You remember who holds the strings, Ric, and that's me. At any moment of my choosing I could drop them, and you'd be left nothing more than a discarded puppet. I know what you love, Ric…I know what you need…it's that ring out there, those lights, those people, you need them to feel like your worth something." Eric laughed, and he leaned in closer to Ric, his eyes boring so deeply into Ric's blue ones that Ric was sure Eric could uncover any thought he had ever had, and it made him shudder within the arms that encircled him.

"You're not worth shit Flair, but if you work with me a little…you know, I'd be happy to allow you to keep claiming that illusion. You know I'm right. I am so fucking right. And who would pick you back up if I dropped you? You're no legend, you're not even original! You're some poor reincarnation of Buddy Rogers and Gorgeous George. Those men were innovators, you're nothing more than a copycat…you probably couldn't be anything of much significance on your own, could you? No one really paid attention to you until you stole some flash and sizzle from someone else…and sucked a shitload of cocks, spread your legs nice and pretty for anyone with a dollar." Eric shook his head dismally, an expression on his face of faux pity. "And you're not even that pretty anymore, Ric. You're old news, you ought to be kissing my feet and humbly thanking me for keeping your nearly useless ass on my roster. Luckily, your ass isn't completely useless, is it?"

Eric's every word cut into him like knives, like pieces of glass being wedged beyond his flesh and into the deepest, darkest parts of his being. The worst part of it all was that Eric was completely correct in everything he said. He knew Ric's weaknesses, he knew the things Ric thought about late at night when sleep was illusive, and the Crown was all gone. He knew the things that had driven Ric into bouts of depression during various points of his career. This man with his awful black hair and boring, rat-eyes, knew him in ways that seemed so invasive it was like a rape of the psyche. His mind was raw and bleeding with it, his eyes empty and sheened with tears that would fall at any moment. Eric seemed to be staring at his lashes, just waiting for the first drop to fall and give him another dose of his twisted pleasure.

Ric's stomach turned with a horrible nausea, Eric had trampled over any scrap of pride Ric had been able to retain during his stint in WCW. It had been a hard fought battle, as he encountered the same situations he had tried to get away from by leaving the WWF. His past followed him wherever he went, and even when Space Mountain was closed, men fought at the front of the line to shove through and break the locks down, to steal their ride, no tickets necessary. Ric's gaze fell away from Eric's, and cast down to the floor. His head dropped, he felt completely like the piece of garbage he really was. His fans were too kind, gushing and assuring him of his epic status in their worlds night after night, but they didn't know him but from a gimmick in a ring…and as Eric so kindly pointed out, even that wasn't his to claim. He was so torn down and buried under the heavy rubble of his fragile and shattered self-esteem that he wouldn't have even notice Terry releasing him, but for the pain the ability to breathe better.

Eric was reaching into the duffle he'd brought with him, his mouth agape and grinning in a way that a drooling wolf might smile as it meticulously circled what would become its dinner. Something small caught the light, and a white fabric peeked from between Eric's fingers as he tugged it free of the bag. Ric immediately recognized the wink of light as that of a sequin, and as Eric revealed the fabric more sequins flashed and glimmered and he knew exactly what it was. Behind him, Terry laughed lowly, and trailed his fingers down the indent of Ric's spine. Terry's hand came to rest on Ric's hip, and Terry's fingers stroked the skin in a way that completely repulsed him.

"Let's see you in all your glory, Ric." Eric scoffed, holding up the robe and giving it a little shake. "Put it on." He opened the robe in an offering alike a gentlemen holding a ladies coat, the gesture so contradictory to the situation that it was ludicrous. Ric's bare feet stayed planted to the carpet, a sense of shame coming over him as he sense the events that Eric had planned in his warped mind. He glanced back at Terry, as if searching him for some sort of help but he knew this too was a joke.

And who would pick you back up if I dropped you?

It was that thought that made him step forward, but it must not have been enough because Terry shoved him from behind, towards the opened robe. He turned and shrugged into the robe, his cheeks heating as he felt Terry's eyes roam over his front, over his chest, down his abdomen, to rest at the limp flesh that was between his legs. In most circumstances Ric enjoyed showing himself off, but not now. Not like this, because these were not on his terms, and these men were creeps who had bad things in mind. He pulled the flaps of the robe around himself to hide, like a turtle sinking back into the protection of his shell. Eric's hands gave his slumped shoulders a squeeze, and he could feel those hands moving to trace the sequined letters spanned across the width of his back Nature Boy.

"Give us a strut, oh mighty peacock of the ring. Show us your proud display of feathers!" Eric jeered, circling. "Tell us about all your fucking jets and your pretty Caddies where you let the masses fuck your used ass in exchange for fame! I hear you talk, Ric. You can talk about all the sleezeball promoters you've met during your years in the territories, but you still gave your ass up to 'em didn't you? So what does that make you? You know what it makes you, the whore of this industry. That's your only claim to fame, and I know it. You know it. How does it feel, Ric? How does it feel to be a cum rag for the dirtiest bastards in the darkest places?"

Ric hung his head, feeling anything but regal in the extravagant robe that usually made him feel like a king. Whatever crown he had worn atop platinum hair had fallen, and Eric had smashed it to bits with his words—and they were all true, that was the worst part of it. He hadn't always understood that, he'd been naïve enough to even be proud of his sexual escapades. After the dark reality of the things he had done had finally caught up to him, they'd ate at him during long, sleepless nights. He fought away the demons of his misspent past, but sometimes they just wrapped their dark arms around him and pulled him down. Eric was like one of those demons incarnate, a fleshly monster with sick eyes and a tongue as sharp as a sword blade.

They mocked him, the shoved him back and forth from one man to the other, Hogan's too-tanned hide feeling like some sort of alien skin rather than human, Eric's lips against his neck making him cold. They touched what they wanted, they opened his robe and roamed their dirty paws over his body, pointing out harshly how it was not as young, and not quite as toned as it had once been, although their words were as harsh as stones cast from expertly wielded slingshots. They rubbed every flaw in his face and punctuated them with their brand of indignities. The final blow was the feel of Eric's fingers wiggling into a dark, tight, space, invading it.

Ric shut down, his body felt like nothing more than a numb, empty shell. He lay limp on the bed, no longer hearing their words, their grunts, whatever it was spilling out of their mouths, as they both took their turns and had their fill of his dirty body and easy hole. He didn't look at them, he couldn't, and he didn't want to. He picked a spot on the ceiling and stared at it until it blurred beneath tears, and the warm trails fell steadily down the sides of his face as they did their deed to him. For many moments, he hadn't even realized that they were gone. Their absence finally registered in his mind as it began to function once more, slowly unwrapping itself from the safety of shutdown that had taken it over when the emotional pain became too much to bear.

He sat up slowly in the bed, the movements painful as his numbed body much like his mind began to stir back to some form of perception. The wide sleeves of his robe still wrapped around his arms, giving him something familiar to feel just slightly comforted with, but the moment he looked between his legs, even that bit of comfort was torn away from him. The beautiful white robe was stained and soiled with the mess they'd made of him; with dirtiness. It would never come clean, nothing could take it away.

For the longest time, he just sat on the bed in that defiled, once beautiful robe, and sobbed. He wasn't sure he could ever stop the weeping or the cries that shook his body. He wrapped his arms around his torso, seeking just a shred of comfort but in some deep corners of his heart, he wondered if he even deserved that. He turned his dripping eyes to where he'd sat his bottle of Crown before all of this had raped his peaceful night and twisted it into knot of darkness. The bottle wasn't there, and very vaguely a snippet of memory came to him, like a ghost acting out a residual haunting he saw the faint form of Eric picking up the bottle, placing the glass lips of it to his own sneering ones, and drinking from it as he left—Hogan was holding Eric's leather jacket.

Ric curled himself into a small ball on the bed. His eyes fixated on the phone next to the bed, and although he hadn't touched it, he could hear a voice, a familiar one. He closed his eyes, and took a deep breath. He was ashamed to call his far away lover in the state he was in, but he was also afraid not to. The depression that always seemed to be lurking around the edges of his psyche had descended and weight upon him the way the mass of the world must have born down onto Atlas's muscled shoulders. The world on Ric's shoulders was dark, and through the gray-clouded stratosphere he could see faces and ghosts of faces, all of them sneering and leering like Eric. He couldn't hold it up much longer, at any moment, his back was going to snap like a dry twig, and the cumbersome globe that roiled with demons was going to crush him beneath the burden of its mass.

_._._._

One Day After The Phone Call

Rod had secured his new contract with WCW. He had learned how to talk well over the years, he'd found it was a must in the world of wrestling, and it was a skill he was lucky to have been gifted with. Though a quiet man in his youth, this world had quickly honed him into a man who wasn't afraid to speak up—you had to talk strong and back it up—or people would not just walk all over you, but they'd stomp and they'd wear spiked cleats to do it with. He was not a man who allowed himself to be subjected to such treatment, not even from the big kahuna himself: Junior, as he referred to the fat leech that was Vincent Kennedy McMahon. Eric was no better, but Rod wasn't about to let that dirtbag and his forked tongue fool him. He made sure he had the upper hand from the moment Eric picked the phone up, and he kept it throughout the whole conversation until Eric finally agreed to sign him back into the realm of ropes and canvas.

Apparently, the arrogant little prick was secure enough in his own creepy skin to think that Ric wouldn't or hadn't said anything to Roddy about the disgusting, abusive, games that were being played with him. Maybe Eric had only figured that once Rod was here in the flesh, that he could jerk his strings around just like he did with anyone else but he was in for one hell of a surprise if he was really stupid enough to belief that. No one jerked Roddy Piper around. He knew his worth to the wrestling world these days, he'd paid his dues and in turn he now demanded the respect he had earned.

He was often called a prima donna by co-workers or bosses who thought he was just arrogant and bitchy, but the facts were that Roddy was a man who was aware of his status in the industry and was not afraid to stand up for himself. Lots of guys talked the talk, but when the time came for them to stand before the big mans desk, their balls dropped off and they bowed to him like subservient nothings and went along with whatever crap angle or storyline was pushed at them, or obediently signed their names onto contracts which were crafted not to their benefit, but to the benefit of The Man. If he was to be labeled a prima donna for having the balls to demand something more, then so be it. No one wrapped Rod around their little fingers, or their little cocks. Not even Eric Bischoff.

If Eric wanted to think otherwise in his twisted head, then so be it. If Eric wanted to think he had some high power over Rod that would keep him subdued in the face of such monstrosities, he could think that too, but thinking was as far as it would go. Bischoff would soon be introduced to the truth, and it would come in the form of a hard right to his smug, disgusting, weasel-face.

Rod wasn't yet scheduled to make his in-ring debut back into wrestling, but he was going to make a debut nonetheless. His bags had been packed, his family kissed goodbye, and an airplane and taxi ride later, he was where he needed to be. He made his way backstage as that nights show began to climax, and entered into the locker room. His plan was simply to wait there for Hogan or Bischoff to show up—if other men were around, he hardly cared. He doubted many of them would take up for Hogan or Bischoff but still, he wasn't a stupid man. He planned to keep it cool, ask one or both of them out into the hallway for a little talk, and then he'd say the words with his fists. There was no use riling the whole roster up into a brawl if it could be avoided. The bastards he wanted to get his hands on numbered only two.

His shoes tapped against the tile as he moved over to the bench near the center of the room. Bags, clothes, shoes, and personal items were strewn around the room, a couple of lockers were ajar—someone was either in a hurry or put far too much faith in his fellow wrestler not to rummage throw his things or plant some sort of joke into the locker as a rib. Rule numero uno of the locker room: You don't leave your locker open, or things unattended.

Rod gave a little stretch, sighing at the crackle in his back which felt compressed after sitting in a plane for so long. His eyes roamed over the floor and the various items haphazardly dropped or tossed onto it, following the socks, bags, shoes, cans of deodorant—the sound of water running? Rod had assumed he was alone, he hadn't seen or heard anyone when he'd entered, but he might have been wrong in that assumption. He passed by the lockers and rounded the corner that opened up onto the bathroom and shower area, and a sad sight greeted him. Ric was standing in front of one of the mirrors, his shoulders slumped beneath one of his beautiful robes, and the face in the mirror was sullen and weary. Ric shut the water off, and brought a folded piece of damp paper towel to is eyes and wiped them, giving a little sniffle. Rod cleared his throat a little, hoping to alert Ric of his presence without startling him too badly.

Ric whirled around at the sound, and pressed himself back against the sink, immediately afraid that he would see Bischoff or Hogan leering at him, but it was neither. For a moment he wondered if his broken mind was not playing some sort of horrible hoax on him—was this some mirage that would float away if he blinked? Would the form in jeans and leather jacket cease to exist if he dared to speak, dared to move, to breathe?

"Ric…" Roddy took a cautious step forward, his boots squeaking softly against the tiles. He was aware that Ric wasn't himself and after all, he had every right to be terrified after the things he'd gone through. "Hey, s'okay. It's me…Pipes." He offered Ric a small smile even though he felt like anything but smiling. He closed half the distance between himself and Ric and then stopped, giving Ric some space. Rod had never dealt with an issue such as this one before and would have hoped never to have to, but he figured Ric might shun away even his touches for awhile, so he left the gap and if it was to be closed, then it would be because Ric was comfortable enough to do it. Roddy stuck his hands into the pockets of his leather jacket.

"Just want you to know that I'm here now. Nobody's gonna hurt you anymore." His fingers twitched inside his pockets, instinctively wanting to reach out and hold Ric close, to stroke his cheek, to comfort him, but it wasn't his choice and a good intentioned gesture of love could make things worse rather than better if Ric wasn't ready for any of that.

Ric made no movement to come closer to Roddy, but his sad lips did curve up into a small smile.

"I'm really glad to see ya, Pipes. So glad…" Ric leaned back against the sink, and let out a sigh of pent up emotion. He dragged his fingers through his short, platinum hair.

Anything more Ric might have said was interrupted by a chorus of raucous voices and the slam of a door. Ric hung back in the restroom area and Roddy made his way back out to the locker room. Some of the guys greeted him, excited to see the return of a respected colleague and friend, while others ignored him; either way, it didn't matter to him much. He made idle chit-chat with some of his old buddies while he waited for either Eric or Hogan to show their ugly mug around. When they finally did, they both came in together, chattering to each other about something and taking little notice of their surroundings until the realized that the bustle of the locker room had gone silent. Both men looked up from their conversation to see Rod standing in the middle of the room with his arms crossed over his chest, his face in a serious mold of lines and downward curves. The look in his eyes was intense enough to make Eric squirm where he stood.

Rod's stance seemed almost threatening and everyone in the room was watching him, waiting for him to speak as if molten gold would flow from his sharp tongue. The agape crowd of wrestlers waited frozen in various stages of undress for the foes to make a move—it was like two old rivals in the Wild West meeting on the dusty main road in town and standing poised to draw guns and battle it out to the death. Above their heads a washed-out blue sky watched to see who would drop first blood onto the parched ground, to witness the victory of one man and the fall of another—his bones left to be a late night hobby for the undertaker who would bury him in a shallow grave under the pale face of the wide white moon.

"Hey there Hogey, Bischoff…just the fellas I's wantin' to see. I heard they've got a soap about you two goin' on now, I think it was called 'The Bald and The Not-So-Beautiful'. But enough with the pleasantries, I think the three of us…" Roddy sided up to Eric, and straightened the NWO hat that had gone crooked atop Eric's head. "Need ta have a little chatty-poo." He motioned towards the door, hung his arm over Eric's shoulders, and steered him towards it.

"Hey! Don't touch my-" Eric began, but his words were cut off as he was less steered and more shoved out the door.

"Hey! What's this all about, Piper!" Terry called, stomping after them and emerging into the hallway with the other two.

"Oooh well see, I signed a contract. I'm comin' back here soon and-"

"But you're not supposed to be here yet." Eric pointed out, and his eyes narrowed.

"Well ya know what they say, Eric…the early bird kills two worms with one stone."

Terry's brow knitted in confusion, and Eric just laughed with an air of superiority.

"I think you jumbled up about three proverbs there into one mess that makes absolutely no sense, but then that's the way you speak, isn't it Hot Rod?" He patted Rod's shoulder.

"Naaah…makes perfect sense." Roddy responded with a smirk of his own. Eric thought he was some uneducated, rambling, fool, but the only fool was Eric and the bastard had no idea what was coming to him. He glanced around the hallway, still busy with people, and then back to Eric and Hogan. "Why don't we take a little walk? I thought we could talk about buildin' up somethin' with me an' Hogan when I come back. I mean, we got all that niiiice history an' everything. I just love the guy."

Terry rolled his eyes, and then settled for a glare with his pythons crossed over his chest. Rod began to walk, knowing without having to check that the other two would follow. He rambled to them about nonsense as they walked, interrupting Eric and Terry anytime they tried to get two words in just to be an annoyance to them. Eric kept trying to question just where exactly they were going, and Rod would avoid the question by spewing off about nonsense. His conversation was losing them about as much as the walk was—it was a conversation about nothing and everything. The thoughts were scattered all over the place, like the topsy-turvy speech of a child who's substituted his Ritalin for a bag of cotton candy.

Roddy was finally satisfied with where they were. He'd found a part of the arena that wasn't swarming with people who would overhear things that weren't their business, or who might try to break up or get in on a good brawl. By now he was seething. He'd hardly heard the words that had been coming out of his own mouth during their trek. He'd been internally distracted playing over Ric's phone call to him, his crying, the sound of despair in his voice, the way he looked and acted in the locker room, if I don't give it to them…they just take. His fists where clenched at his sides, the short nails biting into the tough flesh of his palms, the strong muscles of his arms bunched and trembling with the surge of his anger.

Eric sensed the change, and for the first time looked unnerved. It must have finally occurred to him that Rod might have something on his mind other than a poorly constructed storyline. Rod watched as a hint of fear flashed over Eric's features, but the dark haired man quickly masked it. Terry still seemed oblivious, though annoyed, he hadn't yet had that light bulb spring on over his head. That bulb was probably burned out for good anyway.

"Now…let's really talk." Rod said lowly, his voice coming out in a menacing growl. He took a step forward, planting his toes nearly on Bischoff's, their noses almost touching. Rod's hazel eyes burned like a dark fire into Eric's wavering gaze. "Oh no, you son-of-a-bitch, you fuckin' look at me!" Rod took Eric's chin in one of his hands and griped like a vice, forcing Eric's eyes to stay locked with his.

"Hey! Piper—don't you touch him!" Hogan jabbed a finger into Rod's shoulder, and the spittle of his shouting dotted Rod's cheek.

Roddy turned his head slowly, his eyes disengaging from Eric's and meeting that of Terry's. He blinked at the blond man, and tilted his head slowly, his lips coming back from his teeth in a snarl.

"What was that you said, Terry?"

"I said don't you fuckin' touch him, brother!"

Rod let go of Eric's face, and grabbed the collar of his shirt, twisting it in his hands. The whole time he kept staring at Terry with a look in his eyes that danced around some internal snapping point.

"Don't touch 'em?" Rod snorted. "But I looove touchin' Eric! I love puttin' my hands on him Terry! Don't touch 'em? I'll touch him alright, I'll do more than fuckin' touch him…I'll beat the shit outta his sorry ass and then I'll use the backbone he keeps in back a' his closet to beat you with you scum! I'll beat that over-tanned leather you call hide right the fuck offa you, Terry! I'm gonna touch aaaaaaaall over both of you maggots an' they ain't gonna be soft an' sweet neither…since it seems to me you two don't have no kinda problems with touchin' all over other people, do ya?"

Eric was flailing and attempting to shove Roddy off of him as the words came shouting out of his assailant's mouth but Rod just wound the fabric bunched in his hand tighter until the shirt was in danger of ripping completely off of Eric's torso. Terry shoved Rod but only managed to knock him a step or two back. Rod's feet were planted pretty firmly and he was so charged and ready to go that he felt the strength of a man five times his size. He steadied himself and set his feet like stones. Hogan would not move him again, would not fucking move him once more. Eric had stumbled forward with him, yelping a bit when the collar of his shirt tightened around his neck. He whined pathetically.

"Terry—Terry, do something! He's choking me!" Eric's slimy little fingers grappled at Roddy's closed fist trying to find some sort of purchase or place to pry his clenched fingers away but there was nothing. "Piper, I'm gonna fine your ass! You just wait—I'll fire you! I'll put you in the bread line for this!"

Rod laughed, and patted Eric's cheek.

"Son, if you think I'm afraid a' you then you've lost your damn mind. I've wrestled a bear, went down in a plane, been stabbed three times...you ain't a pimple on my ass!"

At that Terry lunged for Roddy, like a trained dog attacking on his master's command. Rod's free hand snapped out quickly and caught Hogan hard on the jaw. Pain prickled into the joints of his hand but it felt so good. His fist felt like an iron sledge and his arms felt like pistons. It was on, and it was going to be messy.

He kept on Terry and Terry kept on him as well as he could. Roddy was faster and the rain of his rage poured down onto any spot of Hogan's body that Rod could connect with. He wasn't picky, any spot of flesh would do. Terry yelled and cursed as he battled back, getting a couple in on Rod when he was concentrating more on pounding the hell out of Terry than blocking his own face and body from blows. Eric was dancing around from foot to foot, some sort of odd cheerleader in the background, urging Terry on while conveniently keeping himself out of the fray. The two of them moved down the hallway as they fought, and Terry's frustration began to show through in the escalation of his curses and the sloppiness of his defense. In an effort to get Rod off of him for good he went for a tackle, throwing all of his weight. Both of them went down hard, the back of Rod's head clunking audibly off the floor.

Roddy seemed not to be phased by it, he kept snarling and spitting, roaring like a lion that has been provoked one too many times. He wrapped his legs around Hogan's torso to help hold him from getting up and pounded his fists into the sides of Terry's disgusting head until a sticky warmth blossomed and smeared against his knuckles—one of Terry's ears was bleeding. Terry finally managed to pulled himself away and stumbled backwards, clutching at his ear. Rod was still on the floor, his back on the ground, panting with his boiling anger and exertion but he wasn't ready to stop yet. He picked himself up and gave his head a shake to clear the cobwebs. His brown hair stood wildly, but his eyes were even wilder.

In an effort to keep Rod from coming at him again, Hogan whipped his head around frantically searching for some sort of weapon. He took a couple steps back and saw a trashcan against the wall. He pulled the plastic top form it and tossed it at Rod who was approaching once more, readying for another go. Roddy batted the hurled lid away as if it were no more than a fly, not even breaking his stride towards Hogan.

Eric grabbed Terry's arm.

"Come on, let's get out of here—he's lost his fucking mind!"

Roddy wagged his finger as he came closer, closer, closer, his lips pulled back into a gleeful-sick grin.

"Hu-uh, you ain't goin' nowhere! That's jus' like you Eric ta run off with your tail between your legs, but I ain't done yet!"

"Fuck off, Piper! Fuck the hell off!" Hogan snarled, backing away. Eric gripped onto Terry like a frightened little girl clinging to her man for protection.

When Rod threw himself at Terry, Eric took off, his hasty footfalls echoing down the corridor. Terry was now abandoned and due to pay the Piper on his own.

The fight picked back up. Terry brought his arms up instinctively to defend against Rod's fist. It was now Terry whose back was against the floor. His arms were being pelted and beaten with the mallets of Rod's fists and a couple of times they got him in the face, the blows seeming to rattle his skull and send explosions of pain through his entire face. He scrambled away from Roddy and picked himself up. Roddy just kept coming like some sort of machine. Terry would have run too, taking a cue from Eric, but his head was fuzzy and he could do nothing more than stumble over his feet. He found himself once more looking for a weapon. There was no ring to dive under and fish out a preplaced chair or table, there was only his surroundings and despite being called 'Hulk' he wasn't quite strong enough to heft up the Coca Cola machine and heave it at Rod. His hands grasped at the wall as he inched back, awkward footstep over footstep.

"Come on Rod, come on man, settle down! We can talk about this like men, come on brother, come on!"

"We maybe could do that but one of us ain't a man, not by none a' my standards, so I guess you're fuck outta luck."

Terry's fingers roved over a picture on the wall. He glanced at the display he'd been backed into. It was a display of some local college basketball team or something—he didn't care what it was. He yanked one of the framed photos away from the wall and smashed the smiling face of a college All Star over Rod's head. Glass shattered and littered Rod's mop of hair like needles of snow. The shards and pieces fell onto the shoulders of his leather jacket, slid off, and crunched under the heels of his heavy boots. A thin ribbon of blood trailed down from his hair and mingled with the sweat popped out on his forehead. The bead of blood traced down his face and disappeared into one of the heavy lines that curved from the edge of his nose to the corner of his mouth. Usually those lines framed a big goofy smile, but just now they bordered a wolfish sneer.

Without speaking, Roddy made his point. Still advancing on Hogan, he too grabbed one of the pictures from the wall display and Terry cringed, putting his arms up for a block, but his head was not the intended target. Rod busted the picture into his forehead, sending more daggers and needles of glass flying. He tossed the warped frame and bent photo over his shoulder and now the fear in Terry's eyes rocketed up to higher degree. Bits of glass stuck into Rod's forehead, blood dripped down over his brow, into one of his eyes, and he seemed not to care. He seemed not to even notice.

Terry dropped any last shred of dignity, and took off. Rod chased him down, and shoved him into the nearest open doorway which led into a female restroom. The door swung open, the door swung shut. With a roar of annoyance Hogan grabbed Rod by the shoulders and tried to plunge him head first into one of the tiled walls. Rod was quick enough to put his forearms up in defense and the blow did little damage but to knock down a fold out changing table that was hung on the wall. With a roar easily topping Terry's, Rod tackled the other man into one of the sinks. Terry's bared head slammed into the large pane of mirror that was hung over the rows of yellowy sinks and the reflective surface cracked. Fissures radiated out from the center of impact like a spider web, and Terry groaned. Rod's fists began to pummel again, whamming and slamming into the broad shoulders and weak back of Hogan.

Terry pulled away slowly, and straightened to face Roddy who was still coming at him with punches. Now both men wore crimson masks and fought each other through ruby veils. Hogan struggled with Rod, trying again and again to get enough space between them to mount up his own offense. He finally went for the last option that must have crossed his mind. His big hand found the crotch of Rod's jeans and he bit in hard, for all he was worth. A choked howl of pain, filled the restroom, and Rod sank to his knees, his breath forced from his lungs as the pain exploded in that sensitive area and radiated outward. Before he could get his breath back or even gather his wits to attempt movement, a heavy boot like an anvil connected to the side of his head. His cheek connected with the cool tiles of the floor, a scent of mold and cleaner mingling sickeningly to greet him. His own blood dappled the dingy tiles and his head spun from the blow.

For a moment he was knocked into such a sense of confusion that he thought he was back in '83, nearly fifteen years younger, in a ring with Greg Valentine at the first Starrcade. It was a dog collar match, both he and his opponent wore thick leather collars strapped to their necks, joined by a heavy chain that Greg had taken to using as a weapon. The stout blond was known for wrestling stiff and he wasn't letting up any. The chain was looped into that meaty fist, and the bludgeoning object connected squarely to Roddy's ear. He went down immediately, his world turned unstable like the raging waves of the sea amid a hurricane. His balance was completely gone, but he struggled through wobbling and hobbling as if the blow had softened his legs to spaghetti: and he won the match.

But this wasn't then. This was now, and Valentine wasn't in a ring, there was no ring. His head began to piece itself back together. He was in a restroom and words were coming to him. He averted his gaze upwards. Terry was standing smugly over him, blood smearing his face, prideful, ridiculous words sprouting out of his mouth as if he had won this battle. Rod watching that ridiculous mustache waggle, and he just couldn't take it. He couldn't take the images that Ric's phone call had burned into his mind, and he couldn't imagine the kind of pain that ate at Ric because of the actions of two power and sex hungry douchebags.

He got to his knees and struggled to his feet. The world was on that unsteady level again, but he would make it work. He had to. Terry's hand grabbed his shirt and twisted.

"What do you think you're doin', Piper?" Terry snarled. He slammed Rod's shoulders up against the closed door of one of the stalls.

"Nothin'…I'm jus' goin' to lick my wounds." Rod swiped some of his sticky, clotted hair away from his cut forehead. "Some toilet paper…gonna clean up." He squinted one eye shut as a drop of blood leaked into it.

Terry laughed.

"You're gonna need more than some toilet paper to clean that mess off of your face!" He let Rod go, slowly untwining his grip from the cotton material. "And don't you ever touch me or Eric again, you little prick."

Rod pushed the door to the stall open, nodding to Hogan.

"Don't worry, I don't think I'll hafta do this again…" With a quick reflex that for a moment managed to surpass the wooziness, he snatched the thick lid from the back of the toilet, and before Terry could react the heavy lid shattered into large pieces over his bald head. He slumped forward, into Rod's arms, nearly out on his feet. Rod slapped his cheek lightly. "Wakey, wakey, Terry."

Rod plunged Hogan's head into the water and piss filled toilet bowl, gripping into the slight amount of hair left on Hogan's head for purchase. Terry sputtered and coughed, and Rod let him up. Hogan slouched back against the metal wall of the stall, fighting for consciousness. Roddy bent over him, and slapped his cheek lightly. Terry's eyes fluttered open, though with effort. Rod reached over and unhooked the roll of cheap toilet paper from the caddy and dropped it into Hogan's lap.

"You're gonna need more than some toilet paper ta clean that mess off a' your face…oh wait…that is your face. Yeck—well good luck with that ugly mess ya got there. Oh…and Terry? Don't you or Eric ever touch Ric again, or I'll use one a' these…" Rod picked up a big shard of the busted toilet lid, and gripped it in his hand. He scraped the point lightly over the skin of Terry's cheek. "And I'll carve my initials into you and Eric's ballsacks…that is if ya've got one big enough between the two of ya's to fit two letters on 'em…and I doubt it."

Rod dropped the porcelain knife.

He walked out of the stall, leaving the shit behind where it belonged.