Love is a Battlefield
Wednesday, Sept. 17
WWE House Show
Prairie Capital Convention Center, Springfield, IL
The angry roar of the name of WWE's C.O.O. came bellowing out of the mouth of the now-former WWE Champion Randy Orton as The Viper barreled into Triple H's office, to the surprise—and annoyance—of The Game and the look of indignant anger from Stephanie McMahon.
To their side, all three members of The Shield—the volatile Dean Ambrose, the wily Seth Rollins and the silent, but imposing Roman Reigns—ceased their conversation with the two top-ranking WWE executives—each eying Orton with a warning glare.
Orton was upset. No, he was beyond upset. No, he was angry. Furious.
Surely what he had heard whispers about just now couldn't be true. Surely he had been hearing things, or this was a misunderstanding. Because there was absolutely no way in hell on top of losing his precious WWE Championship to that ugly little gnome Daniel Bryan that Triple H and Stephanie, his supposed business partners, would add this slap in the face for him to deal with on top of all this other crap.
Hunter shook his head wearily. He really wasn't in the mood to deal with another one of Orton's infamous temper tantrums. "What is it now, Randy?"
"'What is it now?' Don't play dumb with me, Hunter, you know I know what's going on!" Randy snapped rudely. "I don't know what's worse: the fact that my title, MY WWE title, is being help up vacant thanks to that pathetic little Daniel Bryan, the fact that you allowed that decision to stand in the record books as a stain on my record instead of erasing it like you have the power to do, or-and I can't believe I had to hear this from one of the tech flunkies, of all people-but apparently, you're talking to CM Punk now? Seriously? What the hell is that about?"
Hunter stood up, raising his hands in a placating gesture. He had always known that Orton was a hothead with a short fuse, and had learned long ago how to temper and channel that anger to Randy's advantage, or to Hunter's, back when he was grooming the kid during their Evolution days. "Look, kid, calm down. You're getting things mixed up. Look, contrary to popular belief, I can't alter a referee's decision. Those rules were set a long, long time ago before either one of us set foot in this company.
"Second, I did you a favor. By taking the WWE Championship off of Daniel Bryan and holding it up, I cushioned the blow to your record, okay? That loss you suffered at Night of Champions is now mired in controversy. It's tainted, Randy. That's what people will remember now, instead of the fact that you were pinned and lost the title to Daniel. Now, when you win it back, you'll be recognized as the rightful champion while Daniel will be written off as a fluke. You, on the other hand, will look legitimate. No one will be able to question your place as the face of this company, my company. You'll look stronger than ever, kid. And perception, in this business, often equals reality," Hunter reasoned as he laid out his game plan.
To his chagrin, Randy found himself at a loss for words when it came to Triple H's plan. There was a lot of upside in The Viper's favor if this all went off according to plan. And Randy had known Hunter long enough to know that The Game would plan out every step, every detail look at every nut and bolt to make sure his plan went off accordingly. Smart and cunning as Randy had become over the years, he knew Triple H was one of the most brilliant and diabolical minds the business had ever seen. It'd be hard to bet against his plan.
But still, there was one detail, one thing that still irritated the man once known as "The Legend Killer." And he aimed to get to the bottom of it.
"Alright…but what about this thing with Punk? What's this about you handing him a business card? Since when are you two buddies?" Randy demanded. "Didn't that loser throw you, Vince and Stephanie under the bus a few years ago with that damned 'pipebomb' segment? Huh? He's no friend of yours, why are you suddenly so interested in him?"
To the side, Dean stayed silent, but kept his cool blue eyes on Orton. He never liked that guy.
Dean may have had a bit of a temper of his own, and he was known to fly off the handle, but he liked to keep mostly to himself, except for the small circle of friends-brothers, really-that he had made with Roman and Seth. Even now that he had become sort of a big deal backstage, Dean really didn't like the idea of throwing his weight around. Wasn't his style. But that's all that he had ever seen Orton do, even when he was putting on the phony "good guy" routine a few months past. Frankly, it was starting to bug Dean. All he was looking for was one excuse to do something about it…
"Hey!" Stephanie snapped, not appreciating the former champion's entitled tone. "Who the hell do you think you're talking to?" Pointing to her husband. "That's the C.O.O. of the WWE." Pointing to herself. "I'm one of the principal owners of this company. What we do and what we plan is our business, Randy, and don't you forget-"
At that, Hunter gently raised his hand, signaling for Stephanie to cease her scathing rebuke of The Viper. Reluctantly, the Chairman's daughter backed down, knowing that it was important for the underlings to see Hunter in a position of strength.
Calmly, Hunter resumed eye contact with his former protégée. "Randy…listen. Sometimes, in business, to keep the wheels rolling, you have to make deals that other people don't understand. And I don't expect you to understand what I'm doing. But I'm looking at things from a business perspective. Yeah, I've had issues with Punk…but I've had worse with you." The Game's eyebrow arched as he dug a little deeper into their history. "After all, weren't you the guy who once kicked my father-in-law, brother-in-law and my friends in the head, handcuffed me to a ring and made me watch while you beat the shit out of my wife and laid a kiss on her unconscious body?"
Despite his scowl still etched on his face, Randy had the good graces to look away. He knew Hunter would go there.
"Still," Hunter continued, "Look at us, here we are! Because at this time, at this juncture, you and I doing business…is what's best for business. And that's all this is. Business. Look, you don't need to worry about me and Punk. I've got that taken care of, that's my business. You need to worry about getting that title back in three weeks at Hell in a Cell, because that's when you'll get your title rematch with Bryan. We'll be announcing it on the website tomorrow. You worry about beating Daniel Bryan, and I'll handle what I have to take care of with Punk."
Despite the news of his impending title match, Randy did not like the sound of the idea of Punk and Triple H being on the same page. Or reading the same book, for that matter. Orton had never liked Punk. Not since that guy set foot in the company eight years ago. He was always so damned sure of himself, so self-righteous, always talking back, shooting his mouth off, never knowing when to shut the hell up. And top it off, Randy had never forgiven Punk for not only costing him a WWE title shot against, of all people, the Miz, years ago, but for targeting his now-former wife all to lure Orton into a trap before their WrestleMania 27 match years ago. In Randy's eyes, it compromised the cold, emotionless exterior he had worked so hard to cultivate over the years; Punk made him look weak, and weakness was not a thing any wrestler could afford in this cutthroat business. Randy had been waiting ever since for the opportunity to pay Punk back for that, with interest.
And now I may end up having to work with that piece of crap? Not a chance, Randy thought angrily.
"Look, I'm stating for the record, Hunter, that I cannot and will not work alongside CM Punk," Randy stated emphatically. "That's not happening. No way. Not in this lifetime or the next. I cannot stand him, never did, and I never will."
"Hmmph. At least we agree on one thing," Stephanie muttered quietly, though not low enough to escape Hunter's hearing, the multi-time world champion turning to her and eying her sternly.
Sighing, Hunter rubbed a hand across his face before continuing, his face becoming less placating and more stern. "This isn't about feelings, Randy," he said frankly. "It's about business. The two are completely separate. If and when the time does come where you and Punk have to work together, then that's what you're gonna do. We all have to do things we don't like to make money. I've done it all the time, that's why I'm a rich man. We're not here to be friends. We're here to make money. And if we think that you and Punk somehow working together will make all of us money, then that's a price that I'm willing to pay…and a price that I expect you to pay. And if you have a problem with that, then I wish you well, Randy. After all, like Stephanie said to you days ago, while we'd love to have you…it's not like we can't find a new face of the WWE."
Randy hesitated at those words, looking taken aback for a moment. Off his stunned body language, Stephanie saw the opening to end this argument and she pounced on it. "Well, I think that should pretty much wrap things up. Thank you for your concerns, Randy. I believe you know the way out." A smile that was less friendly than it was ominous spread across her striking features. "Unless, of course, you'd like to be escorted out."
At that, she subtly cocked her head towards an unamused Dean, arms folded across his chest, a smirking Seth, who looked rather eager to get physical, and Roman, who flashed a cool smile before cracking his knuckles in warning.
Realizing the odds were not in his favor, Orton scowled at the deadly trio before turning back and heading out of the room. But he swore silently to himself that this was not over. Not by a long shot. He wasn't sure how just yet, but he was going to show Triple H and Stephanie that they certainly had no need of a piece of trash like Punk while Randy Orton was on their side. Even if that meant taking Punk out himself, Triple H's "business" be damned.
"Can you believe the nerve of that guy?" Seth chuckled later to Dean and Roman after a short meeting with Stephanie and Hunter following Randy's exit. "I mean, seriously, who the hell does Orton think he is, giving the bosses guff like that?"
Roman shrugged, not really bothered by it as much as he was amused. "Hey, you know Orton, that guy's been a prima donna for years, everybody knows that. Guess that's what happens you're protected by the company from the day you start; you think you're untouchable."
Seth scoffed at the notion of Orton being untouchable. Frankly, he didn't get what the big deal was on Orton. "Yeah, yeah, he was hot shit 6,7 years ago but he's yesterday's news. He's old and past his prime. Right now, I'm better than he ever was. Hell, any one of us could be in that spot if we had the chance."
"Eh, that's for them to decide. We've got a good thing going right now, let the boys up top worry about all that," Roman waved it off. Not much really got to Roman. There was no need for it. Everyone knew who his family was, what they meant to the business. And while that would be enough to put a ton of pressure on most people to succeed, strangely, it didn't really bother the tall Samoan. He was more concerned about enjoying the ride, seeing where things would take him, like his famous cousin, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, advised him to do when he was first starting out.
There were times he wished his buddy Dean would take that advice, he realized, as Roman spotted the pensive Cincinnati, Ohio native silently taking off his vest, emptying his gear into his travel bag. He loved the guy, but as of late, Roman had been noticing Dean get distant lately.
Roman noticed that the normally fun-loving Dean wasn't quite himself whenever the three of them would head out drinking, and he hadn't been in the mood to hit the clubs, either; he just took to staying in the hotel room, aimlessly watching football games or flipping through channels. He'd been like that ever since he broke up with Renee Young a few weeks ago. The thought of that made Roman shake his head. He knew Dean had really fallen for the new girl, and the way they had fizzled out after starting so passionately seemed to change something in his friend; and it wasn't a good change.
"Hey, Dean-o, what's your take on all of this?" Roman asked, trying to engage him.
"Hmm? Oh, sorry, what were you guys talking about?" Dean replied, absently, without looking up from his bag.
Taking no offense to it, Roman merely chuckled. "Well, back here on planet Earth, where you seem to have left for a little while, we were talking about Orton being a prissy little bitch and one of us being the top guy someday."
Shaking his head, Dean shrugged. "Uh, yeah. Prissy bitch. Orton. Totally. Yup, got it," he replied, but his body language clearly showing that he was not really into this conversation.
Seth, on the other hand, was less understanding of…whatever the hell it was going on with Dean lately. They were so close to the big time he could practically smell the limelight. Success, fame and fortune were beckoning them—calling to him, specifically—and he was not about to blow this because one of his teammates couldn't get their head out of their ass.
"What the hell is with you lately, man?" Seth questioned Dean, tiredly. "You've been moping around ever since you broke up with that blonde bitch-"
"Hey," Dean's eyes flashed warningly as he looked up from his bag in almost-whiplash speed. As much as he loved these guys, they weren't allowed to go there. Nobody was. "Watch your mouth, Seth."
"What? I'm just pointing out the obvious," Seth replied defensively. "Everybody can see it, am I right, Roman?"
At that, the long-haired Samoan raised his hands, backing away. "Woah, man, don't bring me into this."
"Oh, come on!" Seth protested. "You said it yourself that Dean's been acting weird lately. I say we get to the bottom of this now." Turning to Dean. "Dude, forget about that chick. She ain't worth it. If it's just about needing a good fuck, hell, there's a couple of Divas around here that'd-"
"I don't need to fuck, Rollins," Dean snapped, getting tired of this line of questioning. Why the hell was everyone so damned curious about his love life lately? Couldn't they just leave him alone for a minute without getting the third degree?
"Then what the hell is it?" an impatient Seth threw his hands up.
"Dude," Roman barked at the Davenport, Iowa native.
This was heading down a bad road, Roman knew that, one where they'd all end up kicking the crap out of each other, and while brothers fight, there was really no reason to if they didn't have to go there. This was where he'd have to play the role of "big brother" and step in; Seth and Dean were fairly explosive guys, so control was usually something that escaped them, so that's where Roman's cool, detached demeanor would be a saving grace for the trio.
Dean sighed, realizing that Seth wasn't going to let this go. Deciding that he should just come clean, he relented and posed the question that was on his mind for a while. "Do you guys ever…do you wonder if we're doing the right thing lately?"
The question clearly wasn't expected, judging from the surprised looks on Roman and Seth.
"What? What the hell are you talking about, man?" Roman asked with a small chuckle.
"Us. This," Dean gestured around him. "The Authority. Daniel Bryan. All of it. I mean, don't get me wrong, the extra money has been awesome. The bigger matches and the higher pay, awesome, I get it. But don't you guys, I don't know, miss being able to do what we wanted to? Just us against the world, backs to the wall, coming out swinging, nothing but our fists, feet and each other? Not just taking orders, jumping whenever Hunter and Stephanie point, being errand boys?"
That was at the core of what had been eating away at Dean lately. Renee pointed that out to him for weeks before they broke up, how Dean wasn't quite enjoying things like he used to and, in hindsight, she was right. Dean was a free spirit, cut from his own cloth. He needed to be free and call his own shots, be his own man. Sure, there hadn't been a heck of a lot of money involved in that before Hunter and Stephanie called him and the boys up with this job as the enforcers of The Authority, but at least he was living his life on his rules. He could be more than happy with that. In the last month, he'd seen his pockets start swelling with the extra cash the McMahons had been giving him to stand as roadblocks to the WWE title and avenging angels against those who dared defy them, and he couldn't complain about the perks…
…but he wasn't happy. Not really. Something inside him, that wild, untamable part of himself, the rebellious, restless side of him that longed to be free, bucked and raged at the idea of being ordered around like a dog, even if the bowl he was being fed in was made of solid gold. Something in Dean Ambrose longed to be on his own again. Free again.
He didn't expect Seth to understand, and he wasn't surprised when his teammate looked at him like he had grown two heads. "What are you, nuts? Look at how much money we're making now! Look at where we are on the card! Taking this job was the best thing that ever happened to us, man. If we play this right, we could be in line to be world champions someday, Ambrose, and what, you're willing to throw that away because you your need to be the rebel loner badass? Huh?"
"Hey, man, chill," Roman placated, stepping in between the two. "Look, let me handle this." Turning to Dean, he looked him in the eye. "Hey, man. Look, I know you, dude. You're feeling shackled, frustrated, I get it. And yeah, it was….kinda nice doing our thing back in the day…"
"Back in the day?" Dean scoffed. "You make it sound like it was 20 years ago and not just three, four months back, Roman."
Ignoring that, Roman continued. "But we're getting rich, man. You've seen those checks now, they're no joke. This thing with Triple H and Steph won't last forever, but it doesn't have to. It just has to last long enough for us to make a name for ourselves. Then the world is ours. You really want to go back to barely making a living, having to look at the bank account and staring at it shrinking, wondering how you're gonna pay for your next meal? Or do you want to make some serious money?"
Shaking his head, Dean wasn't so convinced. "It's not always about the money, Big Man. I'm a simple guy, never had much to begin with. Money? Not a big deal to me. Some things are more important."
Seeing through to the heart of it, Seth laughed as he realized what was eating Dean. "That's what broke you and Renee up, isn't it? She wasn't cool with you working for the McMahons and she split. That's it, isn't it?"
Off the dangerous gleam in Dean's eyes, Seth raised his hands in a gesture of peace, shrewdly deciding to change his tactics. "Hey, hey, look. I get it. I get it. You got thrown a curve ball by a nice piece of ass, and now you're starting to question everything. I've been there. But like Roman said, Dean…we're gonna be kings. We're making money hand over fist right now. Yeah, we gotta baby-sit that creampuff Orton, and sure, we have to take some orders, but so what? We've been waiting for this for years. This is our moment. We play our cards right, and soon, we'll be the ones giving the orders. We've got it made, Dean. We just have to wait and ride this out."
A grumble was Dean's response. He still wasn't really feeling this arrangement. Someone like him wasn't meant to follow orders—probably why most of the teachers hated him in high school—but at the same time, he wasn't about to let Roman and Seth down. Those boys were like his family. They were…brothers. Hell, they were a lot closer to him than some people in his blood family were.
And if this dream of theirs meant the world to them, Dean wasn't about to stand in the way of their goals just to sate his own need to be free…no matter how much he longed for it.
"Alright, alright," Dean sighed, shaking his head. "Ok, if you boys are in, then I'm in. All for one and one for what's best for business, or however that stupid saying goes."
Laughing, Seth slapped his on-edge Shield brother across the back jovially. "Awesome! Ok, let's forget about this shit and go get a little plastered, huh? A little booze, a few ribs, we'll make a night of it!"
"Long as you're buying," Dean replied, a small smirk on his face that he forced on for their benefit. That drew a laugh from all of them as they headed for the door, looking to make a beeline to their rental car in search of a nearby bar. Yet as he walked with them, though he still made a good show about talking shop with Seth and laughing at a joke Roman made, Dean couldn't help but to still ponder if he was doing the right thing. Yeah, the money was good, yes, his friends were happy…but was all of Authority crap really him? Was what was best for business best for Dean Ambrose? Deep down, he wasn't quite so sure.
Despite the newfound life Dean was showing in their conversation, Seth was not fooled. He had known Ambrose long enough to know when he was faking and when he was really interested. Normally, Seth wouldn't really give a shit. He knew exactly what he was doing when he got this group together years ago. While Roman and Dean were more interested in bonding and being "brothers" and all that touchy-feely Three Musketeers crap, Rollins saw this group, The Shield, for what it was—a chance to get noticed. A chance to make money. His shot at the big time. He knew that he would have an uphill battle to climb by himself if he stuck it out alone, so he hooked up with a powerhouse in Roman and a budding, though unstable star in Ambrose and with a few proper beatings and an innovative entrance…boom! His ticket to the big time was born. But it wasn't enough to be noticed. Seth Rollins wanted it all. He wanted to stand where Orton was. He wanted to eclipse the CM Punks and John Cenas and Daniel Bryans of the world and prove that he was the future of the industry. But the timing wasn't right yet. The odds still weren't in his favor…yet. But they would be. Seth was always the thinker of this bunch, he knew that, always planning out the next steps so he'd be 10 steps ahead of everyone else. All he had to do was keep in Triple H's and Stephanie's good graces, and the world would eventually be his. But for now, he needed both Roman and Dean on his side. He wasn't ready to cut them loose…not yet.
But if Dean kept going on this rant about wanting to be free or whatever, he would force Seth's hand. Mentally, Seth made sure to keep an eye on his teammate. After all, Seth mused with a dark smile, Niccolò Machiavelli had the right idea: keep your "friends" close…and your enemies closer.