CH. 02 – Love You Forever, Like You For Always (Origins Revisited)

By: James Raven

Writing Prompt: Yes

Date: 21st Nov 2021

TORONTO, ONTARIO, CANADA
NOVEMBER, 1990

10:42 PM

A storm rages outside of tightly latched windows, gusts breaking branches from the canopy and hurling them to the grass like javelins as the thunder cracks and lightning rips overhead. The air is bitterly cold, the first droplets of an oncoming downpour turning to sleet long before they reach the earth to wash away the day’s misdeeds. 

She sits comfortably in a wooden rocking chair, swaddled in a cashmere robe and resting near a rattling radiator inside the nursery of her seven month old son. She holds him, nestled into the crook of her arm, and whispers him a lyricless melody as she rocks gently in the antique seat. 

He coos as she smiles down at him, and her heart melts in spite of the night’s frigid winds. He was beautiful. He was going to drive a lot of people wild when he got older, she could already tell. If he inherited even an ounce of his fathers inexorable charm to go with those eyes he was going to be a superstar. He giggles softly as she leans down and kisses his forehead gently. 

She notices the shadow of her husband standing in the doorway. 

“I have to head back to the office and take care of something for the morning,” he informs her in a soft voice. 

“Okay,” she whispers back agreeably, looking into his eyes as he tries to stay hidden in the darkness of the hallway.

“I’m not sure how late I’ll be,” he continues, “Don’t wait up for me, I can sleep on the couch when I get home, or stay at the office if it goes too late.”

She nods her head slowly and looks down at the baby before glancing back up to her husband. She says nothing as she studies his outfit. He’s not dressed for work. He’s not even trying to hide it from her anymore.

“Are you guys OK?” he asks her, a stolen glance at the baby.

“He’s almost asleep,” she tells him, “Go if you’re going, and take a taxi. I don’t want to smell some floozy’s cheap perfume in the car when I go for groceries tomorrow.”

She turns away from him and looks back down at her son, smiling through the lump in her throat and taking a deep breath to ease the subtle heave in her chest. Her husband says nothing, and after a long moment turns away from the nursery and disappears with little more than faint footsteps down the hallway. She can hear their car door slam a few moments later and the engine roar to life before firing down the driveway. 

She sits comfortably in her robe, rocking gently in her chair, listening to the rattle of the radiator and staring at her son. He was beautiful. He was going to move mountains someday. He was going to conquer the world. 

He basks in the warmth of her glow.

“Do you want a story?” she whispers through the choke of her tightening throat as she dutifully wipes away the tears forming in her eyes, “Let’s read a story.”

She stands from the rocking chair and makes her way to a small waist-high standing shelf. She kneels carefully, baby still nestled in her arm as she thumbs through nursery rhyme collections and Shel Silvertein volumes until she finds the book she’s looking for and slips it out carefully with her thumb and forefinger. She heads back to her seat, adjusting her robe before settling back into her familiar position. 

She had been sitting in that chair a lot lately. She had read this same book so many times over that she probably didn’t even need to look at the pages to recite the words anymore. She had been left alone with her children on plenty of chilly nights these past few months, and she and her baby boy were making a ritual out of it.

She opens the cover, careful not to move too abruptly and jostle him, and she begins to read.

“A mother held her new baby and very slowly rocked him back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. While she held him, she sang:

“I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always,

As long as I’m living,
My baby you’ll be…”

She continues to read to her son, never stopping the gentle rock of her chair. The illustrations in the book were comforting to her, and the parallels to her own situation did not go unnoticed. They were only parallels, though. Nothing more. Her life was not as simple as a children’s book, and her marriage wasn’t exactly something chronicled in fairy tales. 

She would figure things out, though. 

She would give young James the best family she could to grow up with. 

“I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always,

As long as I’m living, 
My baby you’ll be…”

She meant every word of it. Even when he grew up to be the leader of men that he was sure to be, and even when he was a superstar adored by the masses… as long as she was living, her baby he’d be. She would protect him, she would look out for him. She would make sure he never felt alone in the world, like she had. 

“I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always,
As long as I’m living,
My baby you’ll be…”

Martha Raven died before her son made it to ten years old. 

She would never see him move the mountains she had dreamed of. 

He was nobody’s baby anymore… and he felt alone for a long, long time after that.

-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-

Was I everything you thought that I’d be?

Be honest with me, it’s OK. It’s probably a literal impossibility for my ego to get any more inflated at this point, so you don’t have to worry about that. Just tell me the truth: When I made my FIGHT! NYC debut a couple of weeks ago and steamrolled Alison just like I said I was going to, did you all look at each other with slack jaws and wide eyes and begrudgingly acknowledge that I was one of the best you’d ever seen?

Awwww shucks, thanks kids. You’re gonna make me all warm and fuzzy.

My silver tongue may weave a lot of words, but they all ring true. I have always backed up my claims, and it’s nice that a roster full of new faces have had the opportunity to finally bear witness. There’s a REASON I’m main eventing in my second match, there’s a reason why I made more Blood Money than you did in my first appearance on the card, and there’s a reason why the biggest names any of you have ever worked with have already set their sights on me. 

Ask Damon Riggs.

Ask Vincent or Vhodka Black. 

Ask Dane goddamn Preston. 

I shouldn’t be surprised to see you, Dane. It only makes sense that you get the opportunity to white knight on your high horse and make me pay for all the meany-pants things I said about your wife. That’s not at all hypocritical, is it Dane? Not after all the meany-pants things that you’ve actually done to her.

Ouch. It’s low hanging fruit, I know, but it still needs to be picked. You subjected us to more relationship drama in one season of FIGHT programming than Ross and Rachel did in ten seasons of Friends. I’m not going to ignore that just because the company changed the color scheme of their website and told us Ascension was the start of a new chapter. Let me ask you something, Dane… why are you trying to avenge her loss now? Why didn’t you defend her honor in the week before or after she fell short against me? I was saying all of the same things. Hell, I was saying them on social media and still you watched her get mocked and embarrassed, but now… all of the sudden… 

All of the sudden there’s something in it for you. A win over The People’s G.O.A.T. would go a long way in wiping some of your recent failures from everybody’s memory. Playing the role of protective husband for once in your life might make people forget about the selfish and manipulative partner you’ve always played in the past.

I see you for what you are, Dane. 

You blame Joe Montouri for trying to sabotage your marriage, but YOU sabotage your marriage each week that goes by where you flaunt Sahara in front of your wife’s face and keep her around like a souvenir from a vacation you once took alone. You sabotage your marriage by ignoring any counselor’s advice and continuing to chase your own selfish goals rather than slow down and work on yourself for Alison. 

You leave her alone, her mind wandering and anxiety building, fears of you and your tag team partner unalleviated and driving her to irrational action. You allow cameras into your home and use her insecurity and pain to generate viewership for yourself and become a driving point of FIGHT programming, turning Denzel Porters talk show into your own fucked up Jerry Springer episode.

YOU are the cancer, Dane. Not Joe Montouri. He was just a shoulder for her to cry on and a dick for her to swallow.

How did Damon Riggs let any of this happen? He is the one pulling all of the strings, right? Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t feel like you will. We’ve all heard the jokes about him giving you his daughter as a down payment to get you out of that underground fighting pit and into the ring, and we’ve all watched him dictate your career like he’s got you under personal contract and micromanage your marriage like he’s a third party that shares your bed with you.

We already knew you were a man of weak moral character. I shouldn’t be surprised that your spine disappears around your father in law too. 

This isn’t season one, where you can roam around unchecked. There are new wolves in your henhouse, and I’m going to expose you to everybody else. You won’t be able to get by racking up wins over the same people incestuously and then try to claim a spot at the top of the roster because of it. Teaming with Joe Montouri, working against him. Teaming with Sahara, fighting against her. Standing with your wife, and lining up in opposition. None of that means anything anymore.

I’m not like the evils that you’re used to dealing with. 

I’m not here to play footsie with your crush or brag about boobplexing anyone. 

I’m here to hold you upside down by your ankles and shake the Blood Money loose. I’m here to flatten you before you ever get a chance to challenge Dickie for the Empire championship. 

I’m here to prove I’m still the best one around, and to do Alison the favor of widowing her.

Fear the Raven… Forevermore.

-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-

BUFFALO, NEW YORK
NOVEMBER, 2000
11:39 PM

The wind is bitingly cold, nipping at the exposed ears and noses of the two young brothers as they stand outside the arena in the parking lot. Vapour clouds escape their lips and swirl upward as they chatter excitedly.

“And remember when he climbed up to the top rope?!” the younger of the two shouts, waving his arms frantically, “And then did the backflip out to the floor?! He took EVERYBODY out!”

The older brother plays it cool, arms crossed over his chest as he leans against a light pole and scans the lot for any signs of the night’s performers leaving the venue and leaving for the next town. Nobody. It didn’t matter to him, there was only one person he wanted to see come through those doors…

“TJ!” the younger brother shouts in frustration, “You’re not even listening!”

“Of course I am,” the elder child mutters in frustration, eyes still locked into the distance, “You’re talking about the moonsault. It was cool, but it was reckless. It worked for him tonight but he won’t be able to get it done against the top guys, I promise you.”

The younger brother’s smile fades, excitement noticeably depleted in an instant. He could feel his cheeks grow hot as his naivety showed. TJ was probably right. He was usually right about things, especially wrestling. 

“Besides,” the older brother continued, “He’s only been winning the past couple of weeks because his tag team partner and their friends have been helping him. It’s weak. He can’t stand on his own against the best of the best and eventually he’s going to have to try, and he’ll fail.”

The smaller child kicks at a few loose chunks of asphalt, working up the nerve to challenge his brother’s assertion.

“What if his friends just keep helping him, though?” he finally asks, “What if they all just keep winning, and, and, and they all just get so successful that nobody can stop them as a team?”

TJ chuckles quietly. If one of his own classmates had said that, he’d roast them with no remorse… but James is a child, and he’s fragile. It had been a rough year for the both of them. The older brother chooses his words carefully. 

“That’s not how the world works, buddy,” he finally whispers, “You just can’t put that much trust into anyone. Someone will always get jealous, get greedy, or get their feelings hurt… and when they do they’ll drop you, or stick a knife in your back. You’re better off as the lone wolf. Look out for yourself, and don’t worry about anybody else’s feelings. Take what you want.”

“Are you still talking about wrestling?”

“… Yeah.”

The two brothers stand in silence for a long while, watching the vapour clouds drift from their nostrils. TJ continues to stare at the arena, waiting for the one face he was hoping to see. Still nothing. 

What if he never showed? What if they waited in the blistering cold for four hours, and he just said no? It’d be pretty shitty man, he was like TJ’s idol, he wanted to grow up to be just like him and liked him more than most did… 

A large semi truck rolls across the lot in the distance and stops in front of the door, blocking it from their view. The company logo is painted in a bold blue on the side of the trailer. 

X
W
F

Several members of the production crew hop out of the cab and hurry around to the back to slide open the door. The two brothers can hear shouting as the crew members coordinate the equipment they’re about to load onboard and haul to the next show. James sighs. He’s beginning to get impatient. The show ended over an hour ago, and nearly all of the cars were gone. Their father was nowhere to be seen to pick them up, and the odds that TJ was going to get any sort of face to face with his hero seemed slimmer by the second.

“I’m going to wrestle for them, someday,” the older brother mutters, never taking his eyes off the company logo. 

“I know.” the younger brother affirms. 

“I’m serious. It’s not a joke.”

“I know.”

They stand in another pained silence, watching as more members of the crew have reached the truck with milk crates of electrical wire and hard plastic cases with camera equipment on dolleys. They haul it all inside. 

BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP!

A car horn sounds in the distance behind them, and the two brothers turn to see their fathers car drifting slowly across the lot. TJ panics, looking back towards the truck blocking the arena doors. No. Not yet. They couldn’t leave yet. The crew members pile out of the back of the truck, pulling the trailer door shut and standing around the back for some small talk. 

“Noooo,” TJ groans, “Move the truck, please, just move the truck…”

Their fathers car pulls up beside them, the passenger seat occupied by a woman neither of the brothers had ever seen before. She rolls down the window, their father leaning over her to speak to them… his hand firmly latched to her thigh. 

“Hop in,” he tells them, “I met this nice woman that needs a ride home. I’m going to drop you both at the hotel, and then give her a ride.”

The two adults in the car look at each other and chuckle at the innuendo. The younger brother’s heart sinks, and the eldest looks back at the XWF truck where the crew have begun to pile back into the cab to leave. 

“Let us stay here, dad,” he pleads, “Come back whenever, we’ll be fine.”

“I’m not fucking around with you, Tyler,” the father snarls, “Get in the goddamn car. You’re lucky I brought you two across the border to see the show. I’m not leaving you alone to take care of your 10 year old brother in a strange city overnight. Get. In.”

The younger brother has heard that tone before. He knows the sort of chaos that can follow it, and the juice just isn’t worth the squeeze or arguing with him. James makes his way around the car and opens the back door, sliding silently into the seat. 

He missed his mother. 

The hurt wasn’t getting any easier to deal with. 

TJ opens the rear door on the opposite side, and slides in next to his brother. Someday he’d get them out of this. He’d travel the world with the XWF, and he’d take James with him… hell, maybe the kid could even wrestle a bit when he got older. 

The semi truck rolls away from the arena, and leaves one man standing alone outside the door with a bag in his hand as he prepares to head for his car. TJ rolls down the window excitedly, screaming at the top of his lungs:

“FUZZ! HEY FUUUZZZZ!”

Their father begins to pull the car away and across the lot as the XWF star scans the darkness and notices the head sticking out the window. 

He throws up a peace sign. 

Jubilated, TJ pulls his head back into the car and looks at his little brother. 

“That’s the kind of guy you need to be, James,” the older son whispers, “The lone wolf. Out for yourself above all others. You can’t trust anybody.”

“In wrestling, right?”

“… yeah. Hey, remember that book that mom used to read us?”

“Please dont…” James groans, trying to stifle a crack in his voice and blink away a tear that forms in his eye.

“I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always,
As long as I’m living,
My brother you’ll be.”

TJ Raven died just after his brother’s 18th birthday. 

He was able to say he lived his dream and made it to the XWF. He was a lone wolf.

When he died, he made his little brother one.

-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-

JUST DOING THIS
… doesn’t make your line more clever…

 

Oh, I’m sorry Dane, did you think we were finished?

Alison and the Montouri was just too obvious, I wanted to get that out of the way since I was sure you and everyone else would want me to address it somehow. Now we can get down to your real failures, the REAL reasons that everyone with a bit of gambling prowess is betting the house on the G.O.A.T. this Monday night. 

You claim establishing FIGHT as a top company is your ultimate goal, your priority, but what have you done to accomplish that? We’ve already covered the fact that you were obsessed with chasing Joe around like a jealous school boy, and that you took one for the team and shoved something in Saharas mouth to shut her up for three minutes… but did any of that really benefit this new company or raise its profile?

Did forcing your way into a share of the Islands titles and then promptly imploding with your teammates and losing them help anything, other than to pad your resume?

Did losing match after match that you were favored to win, and then buying your way into an Empire title shot that the contenders who beat you could have had, drive merchandise sales or generate pay per view buys or add a 0 to anybody elses pay cheque?

Fuck no, Dane. 

Do what you want, but own who you are at the end of the day. You’re not a team player and you’re sure as hell not a leader just because a couple of mid carters with their roots showing are behind you with their noses sniffing around your asshole. 

You’re a selfish fuck and you’re on the decline, Preston, whether you admit it to yourself or not we can all see that you’re not the same competitor you were in years gone by. 

You got rolled up like a chump by Ricky Rodriguez on the same night that your actions against The Dynasty forced #NSQ to band together and become the dominant force you’re now trying to survive with. You fell to Brandon Moore and Apathy two weeks later despite your good luck charm Sahara being there to rub your nuts before the bell rang, or whatever you two do for good ju-ju. You lost the Island titles, and nearly lost your wife… You lost to Ashlynn fucking Cassidy, Dane!

Are you starting to see the fucking pattern here?!

Are you really about to try and convince people that you and I are the same breed? I don’t know that I’ve lost three times all year, and I just rattled off a handful that you took last quarter!

Dickless, downtrodden, desperately deteriorating Dane. Now available from FIGHT toys. 

I’m not saying anyone needs to be undefeated to be relevant, we all fall down eventually, and I’m not even saying you can’t have a bad stretch and still come back to be a top star… but I don’t see the fire from you that someone like Shawn, Dickie or I would have if we went down as many times as you had in the last couple of months. 

There’s no intensity, there’s no rage, there’s no determination to really get everyone back… just a weasel that just keeps crawling along with his underbelly in the dirt.

What’s wrong, Preston? Low testosterone or something? Feeling a little sluggish, lately? Be honest with yourself if not the rest of us; could you feel it as it was happening? Could you feel yourself lose a step and feel the interest in this business slipping away? No need to be ashamed, I’ve seen it happen to better men than you; a desire to stay in the spotlights lingering glow just a little bit longer, coupled with the waning drive to step into a gym or a training ring. A need to stand on your soapbox and tell everyone how much you know, paired with a refusal to swallow your pride and learn anything new. 

The ride is almost over. When it comes to a complete stop, please exit in a quiet and orderly fashion so that someone like me can have my fun. 

You claim to want FIGHT! NYC to be one of the top company in the world? Then sit down, shut up, and let me and my friends take it there. Roll over for me like you have for everyone else, and accept that Dickie is keeping that Empire championship safe and sound for us. You had your last stand at Ascension. You said your family and your stable were your everything… your priority. You said you’d do ANYTHING to protect them and their future. 

You fucking failed.

You got eliminated with everyone else, and cost your team their key and their right to exist in the company you all called home. 

 

IT HURTS TO LOSE YOUR FAMILY
… it hurts a lot more to lose to James Raven…

 

… or some dumb shit. 

I’ll see you on Monday, Dane. 

Season one the Montouri took your wife away from you. 

Season two, The G.O.A.T. is taking your fed.

-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-

NEW YORK, NEW YORK
NOVEMBER 18, 2021

12:17 AM

He stares out the window of his Tower suite, a light frost dusting the sill as the city bustles underneath him despite the late hour. His laptop sits open on the couch in the middle of the room, the smirking face of Dane Preston paused on the screen. He had spent far too many late nights studying Prestons old matches and rants; countless late hours searching for weaknesses like needles in a haystack. 

His eyes are bloodshot, a nearly empty crystal glass in hand casually at his side. 

He wasn’t sure about New York. It was the most densely populated city in North America, but the nights when he stayed here he felt the most alone. Luckily he was deeply adept at handling his loneliness. He drains the rest of the amber liquid and turns to walk the glass to the kitchen, where he deposits it carefully in the otherwise empty sink. He turns on the water to rinse it clean before making his way back to the living room to get back to business. 

He collapses into the couch and picks up the laptop, resuming the video and watching Dane Preston face off with Shawn Warstein in an Islands title match. 

New Status Quo had already snatched the stable titles away from Preston and his brood, and the win at Ascension had really put Dane behind the 8-ball to start season two. There was a lot of pressure on James heading into Venom. He had a chance to put #NSQ’s boot on Dane’s throat with another win, an opportunity to continue their dominance heading into his Empire title match with Dickie Watson and make him little more than a paper contender. It shows everyone in the company that James was everything he claimed to be, and capable of beating their best… 

A loss? That would be devastating. 

It shatters his reputation. It’s a reason for everyone to point fingers and laugh at him, to treat him as a B-team player to Shawn or Dickie or anyone else. It would make him the stepping stone that legitimizes Dane heading into a clash with Watson.

James had told Alison before their match that he was nobody’s slump buster. He would prove it to her husband too. The mercenary could take out another target for team #NSQ. 

He closes the laptop.

He would take out anybody the team needed to; they were all he had these days. He needed Betsy more than anyone realized, and there was a unity with Dickie, Aiden, and Kasey that even he hadn’t anticipated. And Shawn… well… Shawn was Shawn. James would follow him into any battle.

“I still can’t believe you replaced me with Fuzz,” a voice mumbles from behind him. 

James spins around on the couch looking for the intruder, but he finds nobody. The voice chuckles ethereally around him. He groans and melts into the cushions, pulling a small throw pillow over his head. Not this again. Not now. 

“A decade looking for someone that could stand in as your older brother,” the voice continues, “A decade looking for mentors to guide you and protect you as you figured out who you were inside the ropes and out of them. Aidan Collins, Centurion, Big Shank… and you ended up hiding behind Fuzz. The lone wolf. Mister out for himself. The man who never shook a hand that he wouldn’t spin around and stab in the back.”

“Shut the fuck up, TJ,” James murmurs from underneath the pillow. 

“Oh, grow up,” his older brother chides, “I’m envious. He was always my favorite. Just don’t be a frog and convince yourself that a scorpion is your family. You’re better off running with that LC kid you’ve been working with. He seems too dumb to try and pull a fast one on you. You could take the lead spot if you worked with him too… which you deserve.”

“I don’t need a lead spot.”

“But it’s what you deserve,” TJ continues with his disembodied whisper, “None of this backseat driver bull shit. Why are you the one the company is trying to feed to Dane before his title match? Why is Shawn the one plastered on every single promotional graphic in the company.”

“I’m not doing this.”

“The deferential act won’t last forever,” the older brother says through a laugh, “A win over Dane, and maybe one more? You’ll be craving the attention. You’ll want championship gold of your own and all the attention the rest of NSQ gets. You’re the G.O.A.T. Stop pretending you’re not and stop pretending people like Aiden and Kasey are your family or stand ins for me and mom. You have a family. It’s in your bedroom right now.”

James says nothing, but the voice doesn’t continue. The living room is silent as James slowly pulls the throw pillow off of his head. He looks around the room but he’s still alone. 

The bedroom. The bedroom, right. 

James stands up from the couch and crosses the living room slowly to the hallway, tip-toeing down to the bedroom door and peering slowly inside. His son Tyler lays in the bed, sleeping peacefully, his mother having allowed a rare trip across the country to see his father perform. James smiles, tension melting from his shoulders and thoughts of loneliness chased from his mind. 

He steps slowly into the bedroom, making his way to the side of the bed carefully so as not to wake his son. 

He was beautiful. He was going to move mountains someday. James would make sure he never felt alone.

“I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always,

As long as I’m living,
My baby you’ll be.”

James Raven wasn’t dead yet. He was still the hottest name in FIGHT! NYC. and he was still the People’s G.O.A.T.

He wasn’t invincible, and he wouldn’t be around forever…

… but Dane Preston sure as shit wouldn’t be the one to get rid of him.

FADE  TO BLACK