They rode in silence through the streets of Indianapolis, Indiana just twenty four hours before the pay-per-view. In the wrong city, late at night and Mark Keaton was irritated. He and Xander had defeated Mancini and Wren like they were told. They had won! Finally, it had taken weeks but they’d put the puzzle together and yet Justin didn’t offer them a congratulations. Far from it. It was like they’d just failed again. He offered no celebration, no cheers or even a thank you.
“Where are we going?” Mark said, his arms crossed while he looked out of the window at the streets. The sun was setting and it offered a warm glow of orange which reflected off the glass windows of the various shops and houses as they travelled.
“I have some business to attend to,” Justin replied. “Like I told you before.”
“I know that but where is this business? What is the business? Why do I have to come?” Mark groaned, adding a big huff at the end of his complaint.
The driver up front paid no attention to the bickering in the back. He was paid for by Mr. Banks and didn’t speak. Mostly gestures and an odd grunt was his form of communication. Justin was weary of what was said around anyone supplied by Banks. They may not speak to him but they surely spoke to Banks and that was worrisome.
“You’ve grown slack whilst I’ve been away, Mark. Lazy. I shouldn’t have to babysit you at this point however here we are. Maybe hanging out with me for a couple of days will fire up whatever competitive spirit you’ve got left,” Justin said, his head slowly turning to face Mark as he did so.
The car came to a stop and immediately Justin fixed his suit jacket up, checking his hair in the mirror, before exiting the vehicle. Mark followed, his outfit a stark contrast; black leather jacket, his hair a wild mess of golden locks, his socks different colours, his pant legs different lengths and no shirt.
“No,” Justin said in a raised voice, his hand pressed against the chest of Keaton. “You can stay in the car. I wouldn’t want you messing this up. Seems that’s what you’ve mastered more than actually wrestling effectively as of late, isn’t it?”
The frustration had been building for days for Mark Keaton. Finally, he just couldn’t hold it in any longer and he screamed out loud. A swift punch connected to the car door, hurting his hand more than the door itself, but his adrenaline was pumping so he struck it again.
“We won! You saw Xander and I beat those two chumps on Ascension. We smashed ‘em and it wasn’t even close. What more do you want me to do, Justin? I’ve done everything you’ve asked. I can’t change the mistakes. The team didn’t work for the first few weeks, I get it. It took some time to get everyone on the same page but now we’re there. A little appreciation would go a long way, dude!”
As he let out a loud sigh, Keaton looked around and saw they were out the front of a hospital. Justin slowly adjusted his sleeves as he stepped towards Mark and stood inches away from him.
“Will this do?” Justin answered whilst slow clapping. “What did you want from me, Mark? A big celebration because you beat Tony and Wren. Congratulations but I’m afraid to tell you that I expect you to beat the likes of them. I expect you, of all people, to know that half assed performances are not acceptable to me.”
“I never half assed anything,” Mark shouted.
“Either you half assed it or you’re a god damn idiot!” Justin said, his eyes locking with Mark. People turned to watch but neither man cared. “That’s your options, Mark. There is no reason you, having spent all this time with me under my guidance, should be losing to Kagura or Vee. Do you understand that when you lose it makes me look bad? My name gets dragged through the mud and I have enough ignorant sheep to deal already; the likes of them glossing over my legacy as it stands without having to clean up after you every week.”
“It may not have been perfect but the best thing for the team...”
In the blink of an eye Justin struck Mark across the face with a slap. His hands grabbed Mark by the inside of the collar of the leather jacket and pushed him up against the side of the car.
“Listen to me, carefully. I don’t give a fuck about the team when my World Championship is at risk. I don't care about the team when you start damaging my legacy! I care about me! You hear me? I am the World Champion, Mark. You were there when I won it and I am forever grateful but don’t think that means you’re somehow untouchable. The team has struggled and when it struggles it points to me and puts me at a disadvantage. I will not be at a disadvantage because that could lead to me losing what I worked six years to get.”
“We won’t mess up, Justin.” Mark replied, meekly. “I promise.”
A smirk came over the face of the World Champion as he let go of his protégé. He traced his index finger on the area of the smack, which now glowed bright red, and then offered Mark a soft kiss on the forehead.
“Oh, I know. You won’t be around to screw up. I don’t want you, Xander or Andrew anywhere near my match tomorrow. Get out of the freaking building for all I care. Just stay the hell away from me. You lot will prove your worth to me by winning your matches before I let you anywhere near me while I’m defending the World Championship. Got it?”
He was angry, furious even and yet he felt somewhat guilty. Justin was the man who had given Mark everything. He had guided him through thick and thin and now, as he looked into the eyes of the man he called brother, he didn’t recognise the man. He had been hit by Justin before but this… this was different. It was all about him.
“Take a seat in the car, Mark.” Justin said. “I shouldn’t be more than an hour. Find some ice for that. It’ll stop the swelling. Nasty stuff. Accidents do happen though. Unfortunate but hopefully you’ll learn for next time, brother.”
Justin turned and walked away, entering the hospital with a smirk on his face and the WZCW World Heavyweight Championship in his hands. Through the halls of the hospital Justin walked confidently, he knew where he was going as he had called earlier to confirm the room and nothing had given him more glee than to find out the condition hadn’t change. After a few minutes of navigating the hospital, Justin reached the room he was looking for and had to suppress his excitement as the doctors left the room upon his arrival.
“Good afternoon,” Justin said. “Busy day?”
One of the doctors held her clipboard tightly and nodded.
“Nearly finished. Been here since three in the morning. Friend or relative? He hasn’t had many visitors lately.”
Justin pretended to look concerned as he approached the bedside table of the patient. Carefully Justin brushed the patient’s hair, pulling a chair closer to the bed with his other hand before taking a seat.
“A friend. Long time friends. I haven’t seen him for a long time, I must admit. I called yesterday and they said his condition hasn’t changed. Anything new today?”
“I’m afraid not,” said the doctor. She gave a weak smile before leaving the room, closing the door behind her to the private section of the hospital.
The room was silent except for the sounds of the machines in the room. Nobody else was there, the doctors had done their rounds and now it was just the two of them. Justin stood up and began pacing around the room, never getting out of reach of the bed, his hand always touching the soft blanket covering the patient. He observed the fan art, drawings by children of their hero with the World Championship, get well letters and flowers all over the room.
They loved him.
“But I hate you, Michael.”
There in the hospital bed was Mikey Stormrage. His body still broken. His back nearly shattered, unable to walk still after all this time and his eyes were closed shut. Put to sleep to save him from the pain however he often drifted in and out of consciousness due to the sudden strikes of pain in his back. Every muscle in his body sending a sensation like needles to his back whenever he was awake.
“Nobody been to visit. Some friend that Matthew turned out to be, aye? Nevermind, I’m having my own problems with my best friend at the moment. Such a delicate thing friendship. One minute you’re bond is so strong you can take on the world, the next it’s that friendship which costs you the world.”
Justin sat down next to Mikey, pulling the chair even closer as he tilted his head to look at the fallen World Champion.
"Doctor... is that you?" Mikey whispered, his fist clenching for a moment before relaxing.
“It seems so long ago that you and I were two titans fighting over this,” Justin said, his hand brushing the World Championship on the table next to him. “Now look you. You can’t run, you can’t fly… you can’t even walk. I know you can barely talk back, can’t even open your eyes when you want but from what I understand you can still hear me. You can process who I am and if that’s true, I want you know that you were right. I am the villain. I always was and you saw through it. You were the only one and if only they had listened, you might still be able to walk. You always saw through me, Mikey.”
"Out... not him... please... help," Mikey forced out from within his unconsciousness.
Reaching over to the table, Justin grabbed the title belt and placed it on his lap.
“This is a sweet sight, Mikey. The satisfaction that I’m feeling right now could only be outdone if it had been me that put you here. In some roundabout way, perhaps I did. It was my protégé that broke your back but I would’ve loved to be there in person to feel your bones crack. I hate you. You nearly ruined everything for me… unfortunately for you, I’ve always been one step ahead and that’s why I keep this title unlike you. That’s why Flex Mussel doesn’t stand a chance, Mikey.
Flex isn’t much like you. He thinks he knows who I am, that I’m some brash guy who just talks a lot but you’ve always known better. It’s why you were the hardest to put down. Flex enters the ring assuming what I am but you actually knew. You saw through all of it and saw the raw dealings of a villain. If only Flex could see what was standing in front of him rather than boasting about beating an old man at Kingdom Come or a second rate bitch, your former bitch. Remember Eve Taylor? Remember when she left you?”
A smile grew across his face and Justin stood up, walking around the room and began pulling fan art off the walls and ripping them up. He tossed the pieces up into the air and spun underneath as they fell like snow, his laughter echoing across the room.
“Fans are a fickle bunch, Michael. You remember how they cheered me even after you warned them? They cheer Flex Mussel, to his credit, even though he doesn’t want them. He should embrace them, though. It’s at least something he can take with him because you know as good as I do, that only a handful belong in the main event and many more are simply visiting. Flex Mussel is without his greatest weapon, did I tell you that?
It’s wonderful, Mikey. I convinced the Board of Directors to ban his Mussel Bomb. A bunch of schools kids rather than businessmen. They bended to my will faster than anyone else have ever done. Flex will cry and moan about the decision and that will be his downfall, Mikey. Excuses, excuses, excuses… they all have ‘em and yet none connect the dots that when you wrestle me excuses are a dime a dozen. Everyone has to have one because I can’t be that good. Oh no, it cannot be that Justin Cooper is the greatest wrestler alive! It’s never that!”
Justin suddenly approached the bed and leaned forward, only inches away from Mikey’s face. Mikey began to cough, a jug of water next to the bed was within reach so Justin grabbed it and a plastic cup next to it, pouring the jug into the cup and aided Mikey in having a drink of water. All the while Mikey Stormrage never opened his eyes.
“Because Flex will blame it on the referee,” Justin chuckled. “He’ll blame the stipulation when he should be blaming himself. He should be thankful that I have given him the chance to share the main event with me. I have put this company on my back, Mikey. I have done everything they have asked of me and all I want in return is recognition. I want what is owed, I want my place in the Hall of Fame and if beating Flex gives me than so be it. He doesn’t stand a chance. He and I are different. We are fighting for different things. He steps into the ring to fight simply for the World Championship and to many that is life itself but to me, I’m fighting for legacy. I’m fighting for what he and all the others could only dream of fighting for. You see, I’m fighting to be known as what I’ve always said I was, believed I was and will prove I am… and that’s the Greatest!”
Nothing changed for Mikey. He was still and silent as Justin traced his brow with his index finger. It was wet from sweat, Cooper grabbed a towel from the bedside table and patted down Mikey's brow. His face shining with glee at the sight of his fallen foe.
“In twenty four hours Flex will became a distant memory for me. He’ll be defeated, knocked back to the undercard where he belongs and I’ll continue to be the man in WZCW. I’ve already forgotten about Garth. Yet, here I am with you. You draw me back, Mikey. I just can't let you go. I toss and turn at night thinking about you and it drives me insane. Sometimes I think it’s just that my hate is so strong but then I picture your final moments and it makes me sick… that it wasn’t me. I should’ve been the one to break you. I'd have given everything, take the title, take it all if I could have been the one to break that back and put you here. Oh, I’d end this world before I lost the title now but if you told me before I won it, before I felt the leather beneath my fingers, the golden nameplate, the jewels around the sides, if you told me pre-Kingdom Come that I could only have one. I could either win the World Championship or I could break you, leave you unable to walk, I’d gladly give the world to feel that pleasure. A dream unfulfilled much like what Flex will experience tomorrow. His dreams are dead just like your career...
And her. Your mother. She’s dead. When you lay there, filled with painkillers, is it to subdue the pain of your back or the fact that your mother is still dead no matter how many World Championships you win in her name? I want you know that after I finish with Flex, after I retain my World Championship for the third time, I’m going to pay the cemetery a visit. I’m going find your mother’s grave.”
"M-m-m-mother," Mikey mumbled.
Justin put his lips right next to Mikey’s right ear.
“When I find it,” Justin whispered. “I’m going to spit and piss all over her grave because she’s as worthless as her son. I’m going to kick her gravestone over, smash the flowers and anything else I damn well please. The best part? You can’t do anything to stop me. Try, Mikey. I know you can hear me. Wake up! Your mother is dead! She was weak. Pathetic just like her son and every moment that you stay in this hospital is just confirmation that she was failure and her bastard son is every part like her. I’m right here, stop me. Defend your dead mother, Michael.”
"I hate you," Mikey said, unable to sustain consciousness for any longer than a few seconds.
The World Champion shook his head looking a little disappointed. He picked up the World Championship and put it over his shoulder. With an air of arrogance, Justin headed towards the door and threw a look back to Mikey before leaving.
“I’ll ask them to put the show on tomorrow so you can at least listen. I’ll even dedicate my victory to your mother, what was her name again?”
With a vile laugh Justin exited the room and walked down the hallway of the hospital. Meanwhile, back in the room the body of the former World Champion remained still. His eyes shut. The room a mess, fan art torn to pieces… but the most telling thing? A single tear falling from the left eye and running down the cheek of Mikey Stormrage.