Vengeance, 2002

"I have to do this. We can't be together." Hunter told her, sincerely.

"If this is about me lying, I'm sorry. I realize I never apologized for it," Stephanie admitted. "I just...I was so angry I wasn't thinking straight. And now we're..we're here!" She exclaimed, gesturing wildly to the confines of her office, the presence of the conference table that separated them. The documents that would end their marriage of nearly 3 years.

Sadly, he shook his head. "I don't care about that. What I care about is..." he trailed off, a little unsure of how to word the complex thoughts that had swirled in his head recently.

"What? Me teaming up with Jericho and trying to ruin you?" She asked, with bright eyes. She could fix this. If he would tell her why they couldn't try again, she could convince him otherwise. She would fix it. Fix them. "That was my temper. I'm sorry." She flinched back when the look on his face became outraged.

"Stop saying you're sorry, Stephanie! That's the fucking problem," he pointed at her chest. "That right there."

Stephanie looked down, not comprehending what the hell he was talking about. Did he have a problem with her outfit? Her breasts? She didn't understand.

Still too stunned to speak, she simply lifted an eyebrow quizzically and pressed her lips together in thought.

When he had calmed down considerably, his tone was gentler. "Your heart."

A sigh escaped her lips and she looked down at her hands. Uncomfortably, she fiddled with the rings he had once given her as a symbol of his love. After their relationship went downhill – or was blown up, in her estimation, she stopped wearing them. In public, anyway. But when she was blissfully alone, she wore them. By her own doing, she was unable to have the man that she loved. If she couldn't...touch him, being able to have those symbols against her skin, calmed her. Comforted her. Got her though the night. In front of everyone else, her husband included, she was a woman ruthlessly seeking vengeance. In reality, she was simply a woman whose heart was broken.

Now, she understood. In his mind, they couldn't be together because he thought she was black hearted. But, that wasn't true. Everything she did, that ultimately ruined their marriage, was to try to keep them together. Her actions after he'd left her high and dry were simply to mask the pain she was in, the anger she felt at herself. And, of course, she couldn't deny that she'd been angry that after months of Hunter alienating her, he didn't lift a damn finger to aid her attempts to repair the crack in their relationship.

But, she was more mature now. She wouldn't blame her decision to fake a pregnancy on him. Even if, in the back of her mind she knew it took two people to ruin a marriage.

Deciding to take the risk of rejection, she reached across the table and grabbed his hand in hers. "I have one, I swear, to you. I'm more mature. More responsible. I'm," she struggled for a word that described her transformation since being kicked out of the company. "I'm a better person."

"I know that, I can see it, plain as day." Instead of rejecting the contact, he relished the feel of her soft hand on top of his. He used his thumb to trace back and forth over her knuckles. This was so hard. But, he had to do it. There was no way they would ever work out. "And that's why we have to end this marriage. You're not the same woman I married."

A few moments of absolute silence passed as she tried to work out what he was saying. When they married, she was egotistical, power-hungry, vengeful and manipulative. Hell, she was damn evil. She and Hunter could be complicated people but they had married for two utterly simple reasons: likeness and lust. But, after his injury both of those things seemed to dissipate on his end. She assumed that the injury gave him time to reflect on how everything that he had worked so hard for, could come crashing down in an instant. She thought it had humbled him and turned him into a genuinely nice person or something.

During the Invasion she had masterminded along with her brother, she and Hunter bonded again. Even though he was still working hard on his rehab, he made more of an effort to see and talk to her. When her Alliance was beaten and disbanded by her father, things went south again. Maybe it was an issue of proximity. It was never brought up by him and she didn't press for explanations.

So, she didn't get why he seemed to think it was a bad thing that she'd changed. Everyone had complimented her on how much she'd grown. People genuinely respected her, rather than just feared what plots she'd conceive of, if they crossed her. "Isn't that a good thing? She asked.

Hunter shook his head. "We're incompatible now," was his simple reasoning.

The sound of Stephanie's laughter echoed off of the walls in the room. "We were incompatible before," she pointed out. "All the fighting we did, especially towards the end. Me, faking the pregnancy and driving you away."

A twisted sort of smile crossed Hunter's lips. It wasn't one that struck fear into her heart. It wasn't menacing. The smile was one that he only used when he had played games with some poor schmuck and they had yet to realize it. Was she that schmuck?

"It was...entertaining. I did it to spice things up." He watched, carefully as the realizations dawned on his estranged wife. That he hadn't actually been mad at her, hadn't actually intended to divorce her.

"Why?"

"When I got injured, you changed. You...tended to me a lot. Like a good, normal wife should."

Both of her eyes widened and she half-snarled at him. "And that's a bad thing?"

"No, but it wasn't you. The Stephanie I married was vicious and selfish. I mean, yeah, with me you were sweeter and that was fine. But, I had to watch, as all that rage drained right out of you. All you cared about was helping me recover. It made me sick to see that you'd been reduced to that. I could hardly stand to be around you...all the...fire, the passion, the thirst for power was gone and you were just some ordinary woman. I got my old Stephanie back when you and Shane tried to run your father out of business. And I loved it. I loved every minute of it."

His eyes darkened as he let the memories invade his mind. Watching Stephanie screw people over, was the thing that turned him on the most, where it concerned her. And, before he got injured, that's what she was constantly doing. In that pretty little head of hers, there was always some plot, some hit-list being formed.

"Then your team lost and you were...that other person again." Really, he didn't have a better way to describe it. He could go on and on about all the ways she had changed from heinous vixen to doting housewife. But, that was pointless and a waste of time.

"So you...started fights with me for it?" She asked.

"Yes. I wanted to drive you over the edge, Steph. Make you so frustrated, angry, sad...whatever would have worked, that you'd go back to your old self."

Slowly, she shook her head. What she was hearing was that her husband willingly shut her out and destroyed their marriage to amuse himself. Did he not have any idea how much pain he had been causing her? Judging by the twinkle in his eye as he proudly recalled what he had done, he knew what the outcome was. He'd intended it.

Almost as if he sensed her thoughts, he shrugged. "It worked," he pointed out. "I was so happy you went with faking a pregnancy. I got to pretend my happiness was because of the supposed baby."

"You...before the tape," she sputtered. "You knew I was lying? Before the tape?"

"Of course. Who do you think sent Linda the tape?"

"Why?" She exclaimed. "Why in the hell didn't you just tell me you knew the truth? We could have just talked about it and moved on," she shoved her chair back and stood up. She was furious. "There was no need for things to go down how they did. And fuck, you weren't even angry with me for lying, you wanted me to. So why did you leave me?"

Hunter sighed. The old Stephanie would have picked this up quicker. The fact that she was still confused and apparently hurt, reassured him that they definitely couldn't be together again. He stood up and extended a hand to her face, letting his index finger trail along her cheek briefly. "I wasn't leaving you. Not really. I was," he tilted his head from left to right in consideration. "I was lighting a fire under you, so to speak. I was unleashing who you used to be. And that worked, too. I never meant to actually sign these papers today."

With that, he pulled a pen from his pocket, hunched over and rifled through the set of papers, signing as needed. When he was finished, he straightened his posture and looked at Stephanie. "I knew you would find a way back into the company...you would be too motivated not to. But, when you came back as the General Manager, you had changed. You're...good now. And I don't see even a flicker of the things I used to love about you. That's why I can't be with you. I'm still me. I'm still dastardly."

Stephanie stood silent. This was all too much. Yes, his stupid plan to...turn her evil again, had worked perfectly. But, when he had forced her out of the company, she had nothing better to do with her time than be introspective. She had come to the conclusion that she needed to overhaul certain aspects of her behavior in order to get her life on track. Yet, the man in front of her was looking down on her for it. Thought of her as weak and boring because she was a decent human being. Well, screw him. She wasn't going to pretend to be something she wasn't, to get him back. If he didn't want her for who she was now – a person she was proud of – he could go straight to hell. Him and that abyss known as his soul. She blanked her face of emotion and signed the documents quickly.

More than ready to get the personal stuff out of the way and get down to business, she asked one final question before she walked out. "Who's gonna love you now?"

Hunter frowned after her, as he watched her leave.

Present Day: Saturday, October 18, 2003

A knock on his hotel room door woke him up from his light slumber. Alcohol tended to make him a restless sleeper, but it was better than no sleep at all. A couple of drinks a night to take the edge off wasn't that bad. He just couldn't take looking at the shit he saw on Smackdown every week. He couldn't take seeing his ex-wife so helpless and unwilling to do what was necessary to protect herself.

He cursed, groaned and threw on a robe as he made his way across the suite and to the door. Violently, he tugged it open and greeted the unwelcome visitor with a, "What?"

"Hi."

His hazel eyes blinked in shock. What the hell was his ex-wife doing at his door in the middle of the night? He opened the door wider and stepped aside to let her in. After closing the door, he flipped the lights on and turned around to face her. What he saw before him, made his body tingle with desire. Stephanie was furious and there was no mistaking the glint in her eyes. She was out for revenge.

Hunter eagerly listened as Stephanie summarized the situation for him. She had finally decided that being the good girl wasn't going to get her anywhere with her father. He'd been forcing various, large superstars to beat her to a pulp and was cavorting around with his whore, Sable. This weekend was the culmination of all that had gone down. Vince McMahon would face his daughter Stephanie McMahon in a submission match. If Vince won, Stephanie was to resign. If Stephanie won, Vince would retire.

And she wanted Hunter's help. She wanted to beat her father in all the ways that counted. It made him...nostalgic.

August 1999

Stephanie entered the lounge, her heels clacking noisily against the floor. She couldn't have been more angry if she tried. So Andrew was now in cahoots with her father, all set to do the old man's bidding. In return, he had permission to marry her. What a fucking crock. She wasn't some damn possession that Vince could trade away, in return for having a lap dog.

Hell, the only reason she had ever accepted Andrew as a partner was because he wasn't a lap dog. He was a rebel, but not so much that he would mistreat her. He was a man with a mind of his own, but not to the point that she couldn't get her way. Andrew wanted her and pursued her, despite the fact her brother, Shane had already determined that any member of his posse would be best for her.

From what she now knew, she surmised that Daddy Dearest had come to the conclusion that she was going to do what she wanted, when she wanted. And if that was the case, he might as well capitalize on the situation by turning the man she was going to do it with, into his bitch.

She approached the bar, smoothing down her black, mid-thigh skirt, before sitting down on one of the stools. She ordered a vodka lemonade and settled in with her drink when it arrived.

From across the way, she heard a chorus of laughter. She picked out female and male voices, but one in particular caught her attention. Intrigued, she watched Hunter Hearst Helmsley interact with some scantily clad blonde woman. She couldn't stop herself from being ridiculously amused and pleased when Hunter inched away from the woman, pulling her hand from his chest.

Hunter. He was handsome, he wasn't afraid of her father. He would probably rather die than become anybody's bitch. Without a doubt, he was one of the most sadistic people she had ever encountered in her life. And in a business like theirs, there wasn't a short supply of assholes. But, Hunter was so much more.

She watched him say his pleasantries before maneuvering his way from their booth, walking past the bar, towards the bathroom. The way his clothes clung to his body did not go unnoticed by her. A man with that kind of physique should never be allowed to wear anything.

Then it hit her: she wanted him. Right here. Right now.

She downed the rest of her drink, threw a twenty on the counter and went in the same direction that he had. Quietly, she slipped into the men's restroom. It was empty and Hunter stood at the sink washing his hands. He hadn't seemed to even notice her presence yet. This was perfect. She reached behind her and locked the door.

That got his attention. Hunter's head snapped up and he prepared to curse out whatever sick man had decided to lock himself in the bathroom alone with him. What he saw in front of him, stole his breath away.

Stephanie McMahon. And she wasn't in one of the Virgin Mary outfits that she usually wore. She looked...sexy, he decided. "What are you doing McMahon?" He queried, with one brow lifted.

"Hopefully, you."

That was all it took. He met her halfway and they locked in a wild, passionate embrace. It was the most exhilarating experience Hunter had ever had.

An hour later, they stood in the mirror, tidying themselves up. "I can't believe no one has tried to get in here," Stephanie breathed out raggedly, while she attempted to...make it look like she hadn't just been having wild, crazy sex.

"Maybe they heard you moaning and knew to stay away," he joked.

Stephanie rolled her eyes and shrugged. "Maybe so. Doesn't matter." She looked at him, scanning his face for how he felt about what they just did. He looked pleased and spent, but somehow apprehensive. She could ask why. And he probably wouldn't answer. But it was then that she decided two very important things: Hunter would help her get back at her father. And Hunter would be hers, whether he liked it or not.

She didn't wait for him to speak. He probably didn't want to. Not after the slow, devilish smile had spread across her lips. "We're together now. Right?" She asked.

Hunter chewed his lip. "Uh, Stephanie..."

"Save it. Look. You're mine, now," she informed him. "You can do that painlessly. We'll probably have a lot of fun and a lot of sex along the way. Or, you can be mine unwillingly."

The woman was off her rocker. Nobody told him what to do. But, what the hell, he was going to ask. "And what's the second option entail?" He grinned in amusement.

"I'll tell my father that you forced yourself on me."

At this, Hunter's jaw dropped. What the hell was she playing at? "You came on to me!" He exclaimed.

Stephanie nodded and continued. Thoughtfully, she pouted her lips. "But who's he going to believe? The leader of DX, who hates him, tortures him and masterminds attacks on people? Or is he going to believe his sweet, innocent, darling daughter who happens to be dating another man?"

He set his jaw. He was outraged. She was blackmailing him for something he didn't do. And he didn't get it. He knew he had pleasured the hell out of her tonight, but that surely didn't warrant this outcome. "Why?"

"Easy. You and I are going to take over the industry together."

Visibly, he relaxed. This wasn't so bad. Fuck over Vince, have sex with a hot chick regularly. Where was the harm in that? "You should have began your pitch with that."

She shook her head and purred, "Silly rabbit. That's just something to consider any time you think about not doing as I say. No charges would be pressed. I wouldn't want that media buzz and neither would Vince. Nor would he want to fire you. He'd punish you and let me have input on exactly how. We would end your wrestling career in the ways that matter most to you."

This woman was the devil, in human form. He'd never met anyone so calculating, cold and manipulative.

Yet he had never been so turned on. Roughly, he grabbed her arm and yanked her over to him. "Let's seal the deal with a kiss," he proclaimed before capturing her mouth in his. Hopefully they'd make it out of the damn bathroom. Someone would have to use it, eventually.

Over the next few months, they enjoyed the roller coaster that was their relationship. It evolved from being a secret affair, in which he still had to suffer through seeing her in Virgin Mary outfits, to a public relationship in which she wore and did whatever she wanted.

She hadn't had to dangle her threat over his head to get her way, either. He enjoyed every minute he spent with her and their minds worked in similar ways so he had no problem with the things she wanted. Truth be told, in his own, twisted way he knew he was falling hard for her. But it wasn't until after he had admitted his love for her after the Trish Stratus misunderstanding, that the tables began to turn.

Technically speaking, she had forgiven him the day after the incident, but insisted that he apologize publicly because he had scarred her pride. That was his clue. He was able to hurt her. She was in this just as much as he was. He'd apologized in public, true to his word, but weeks later he just had let her know he was onto her. Just to scare her, he told her that he wanted out and watched, delighted as she dangled the empty threat in front of him.

He had put his hands on her shoulders and informed her that he knew she wouldn't do that and revealed that he knew her secret. From then on, their relationship had been a tug-of-war, with no one wanting to fully admit how much they needed the other. It kept things pretty interesting.

Then he had gotten injured and Stephanie stopped playing games. She smothered him with attention and waited on him hand and foot. That was the beginning of the end for them.

Present Day: Saturday, October 18, 2003

"When he's gone I'll find a way to take over the entire company," Stephanie declared.

For Hunter, it was such a turn on to watch her scheme and connive. He had to have her now. He eyed her seductively, paying special attention to the gleam in her eyes and way her lips moved while she continued her plans.

"He'll learn not to fuck with me, once and for all. Even if I've got to take away what he holds dearest, to-"

Stephanie went absolutely still when she felt Hunter's lips crash down against hers. What the hell was he doing? All she wanted was to stick it to her father. She didn't come here looking for a kissing session. She pushed him away and slapped him hard across the cheek.

Hunter stared at her, rubbing the spot that was probably turning into a welt. The fury in her eyes was only convincing him that what he was doing was right. "Don't you see it, Steph?"

"See what?"

"You're...you!" Excitement dripped from his words and accompanied the dopey grin he wore. He buried his face in her hair. "I love you...and I've missed you so much."

"You sound completely crazy right now." But, she got it now. They were exactly where they had started four years ago. Only, this time she knew two things that she hadn't known then.

The first: this time the power of the McMahon-Helmsley era would be absolute and legally cemented.

The second: being this wicked came natural to her.

It had nothing to do with being hurt or angry. This is who she was. Her transformations into a "better" person had been caused by her wanting to play the roles of attentive wife, good daughter and upstanding citizen. That other person was who Stephanie thought she should be. Hunter was the only person who had ever accepted and loved her for exactly who she was. Even though she'd forced him into their relationship initially, she knew he had loved it.

The dominance, the trickery...was as almost vital to their relationship as air was to their lungs. Hell, those personality traits were essential to who she was entirely. And for the first time, she understood why Hunter had set fire to their relationship and divorced her. Because she hadn't been true to herself and he couldn't stand to see her fake her way through her life and their marriage.

And she recalled the question that she'd asked Hunter last year. She'd quizzed him about who was going to love him. Who in their right mind would love such a crafty, cunning, deceitful man?

A woman that was equally as underhanded.

She would love him now. If she was honest with herself, she knew she had loved him always.