CH. 04 – Opt Out (Origins Revisited)

By: James Raven

Writing Prompt: Yes

Date: 27th Dec 2021

Fa·vor·it·ism
The practice of giving unfair preferential treatment to one person or group at the expense of another.

Fa·vour·it·ism
The practice of favoritism, but with a “u” in it because I’m Canadian.

You can only ignore the buzz words for so long, right?

At a certain point the whispers you’re hearing have to be real, and not just the tricks of a howling wind. You have to recognize that accusations are being lobbed around behind your back by people too cowardly to say any of it to your face, and fingers are being pointed in your direction by people without the muscle tone or will power to actually do anything about it besides whine and write blogs about you. 

I know, I know.

We’re not supposed to read the dirt sheets, those are for Brandon Moore to sleep on… but sometimes I can’t help myself. Sometimes I like to peek behind the curtain and see what the so-called “insiders” are saying about our fine sport, or get a feel for what the water-cooler sentiment on #NSQ is… We’re not supposed to read any of it, or take any of it to heart. You don’t need to tell me, I’ve already been lectured on it by every mentor I’ve ever had. Why should I let the opinions of some morality deprived scumbag who’s looking to stir up controversy with clickbait dictate how I feel about what my friends and I are doing in FIGHT?

Because I’m sensitive, and I want you to love me. Fuck off. 

Sometimes you see something so ridiculous that you can’t shake it off, though. Your eyes scroll over words like “bias” or “pedestal” or “preferential treatment”, and the one or two friendly faces in the locker room try to warn you that discontent is festering like an open wound left untreated. The roster is becoming infected, poisoned with a unifying hatred of you and your friends, born out of an unfounded belief that everything you guys have achieved was unearned and maliciously stolen from their grasp.

They say it to soothe their own egos when they don’t measure up, they say it to discredit our resumes because theirs look so fucking sparse. 

“Oi! Fuck tha cunts! None of ‘em know what we’ve been through on the come up! Did any of ‘em ever have ta box a kangaroo for the last piece of marmite?! I don’t bloody think so! They’d be frozen in they’re tracks, but for me… that’s just Thursday…”

… Aiden? Is that you?

“Damn straight, partnah. You didn’t think I was going to let you steal valuable screen time from me this week and not get maself some exposure in a James Raven promo, did you?”

I… I don’t know how I feel about this.

“Don’t worry about it. You’re doing fine so far. Keep doin’ what yer doin’ and just pretend I’m not even here. I’m just a backup… just a hype man… just a forgotten about second fiddle… the Austin Ramsey to your Todrick-“

Alright. That’s enough of that. We need to get back to business, and address the elephant in the room… sit down Enforcer, nobody cares about your lumbering ass. 

I am DONE having to smile through gritted teeth every time someone like Dane Preston tries to pull me aside backstage and appeal to my sympathies by telling me my arrival stole everyone else’s thunder. I’m THROUGH pretending that I don’t hear Brandon Moore’s sniveling or know about Joe Montouri’s absolute terror when I came to town and he went running to the one company he knows I’d never chase him to. I’m FINISHED tip-toeing around the fact that I draw numbers, generate interest, and WIPE the FUCKING mat with LAZY, GREEDY, ENTITLED, SELF INDULGENT EDGE LORDS with a practiced ease that most of you can’t even wipe your ass with. 

“GOT ‘IM!”

Don’t you dare try and blame FIGHT for any of this. Don’t try to pin the fact that I can talk circles around you and grapple fuck you against the canvas for an hour on any sort of hidden advantage. 

WE ARE what the hell we say we are, kids.

WE WIN because we live and breathe this industry in ways that you can’t comprehend. We were household names before anybody knew who the fuck most of you even were, and we’ll be around long after you’re all gone.

Your bosses brought foxes into the hen house, but they knew what they were doing. When FIGHT launched, they hired a bunch of goddamn killers… you want to be salty about that? You want them to apologize and bend the knee or something? They were under no obligation to keep this place an isolated and insestuous roster for people like Moore and Montouri to lord over. They didn’t have to show up with cupcakes for the locker room and ready to sign John Blade, Liam Davies, and Lil Petey as cannon fodder just to stroke the egos of Sahara and Miss Michelle… they did what was best for business, what would put FIGHT on the map, and they brought you all some competition and watched in shock and horror as you all wilted in the face of adversity. 

“WILTED, MATE! LIKE SOME OLD LETTUCE YA FIND IN THE BACK OF THA FRIDGE!”

FIGHT isn’t recognized by the media as one of the best companies of 2021 because of anything Brandon Moore has done for them. People like Dane Preston and Vhodka Black aren’t being exposed to wider audiences and finally appreciated for their talents and years of hard work because of their work with Paul Montouri. 

People like Brandon and Paul don’t lift a finger unless it’s self serving, and despite all their time looking out for nobody but themselves they’ve managed to build NO empire, amass NO wealth. You’re beggars in a kingdom you claim to have more ownership of than I do… just another lame death-match meat donor with shitty tattoos and a Harlequin romance novel cover boy with a closet full of Pantene Pro Conditioner; matching entitled attitude and a staunch refusal to try and adapt, better yourselves, or rise to the occasion without telling everybody how impossibly stacked the deck is. 

I am not a bad guy because I’ve stopped this company from being your personal playground like you’d hoped it would be. You are not being cheated because I generate more money and people actually fucking like me. 

You’re just trying to make excuses as you claw your way out of a slump; the guys that whine because #NSQ was put in a match against the entire company, won it and exercised our rights to restrict the rest of you as we saw fit and as you would have if you’d had the power. You’re the guys that bought a title shot neither of you deserves, banking on someone other than the company’s top star stepping in to fend you off… but you get me. The People’s G.O.A.T. The ace up the sleeve of the group you all can’t stop bitching about.

You’ll never destroy the New Status Quo. 

Any attempt to replace us establishes a New Status Quo. 

The more you tear us down, the more you’re fighting to become us… to assimilate… to claim a slice of what we have. 

Brandon Moore and Paul Montouri will never tear me down.

They have no idea how much time I’ve spent trying to do it myself. 

“… wait wut? Come on, mate, that’s a bit dark…”

~ – ~ – ~ – ~ – ~ – ~ – ~ – ~ – ~ – ~ – ~ – ~ –


PART 1
“CHRISTMAS PAST”
SILENT FIGHT!
THREE WEEKS AGO

He charges through the backstage area, racing down corridors and slamming into walls as he barreled around each corner at a near sprint.

This was bad. He should have seen it coming before now, he should have been there sooner… 

He had just been so goddamn frustrated after his “match” with Sahara that he had lost his focus, and what should have been obvious has slipped past him. Those FUCKING elves. They didn’t belong here, they were out of place, and he had seen them snickering and pointing at him near the catering tables earlier in the night…

JAMES RAVEN
OUT OF THE WAY!

He screams as he hurtles through a hallway of production assistants, nearly crushing a young woman carrying electrical papers when she dives away at the last second. He windmills his arms frantically, motioning for everyone to clear his path. 

The curtain. The curtain. He needed the curtain. He would breathe once he could see it, once he could burst through it and onto the entrance ramp and know that he was there to help keep his friends safe… but he was still too far… 

He should have been there sooner.

“You’re already too late, James. Just turn around and head back to the locker room, before you get yourself hurt for no reason.”

James grits his teeth and ignores the soft voice that echoes in the back of his mind. Shawn and Dickie were in the ring with Brandon Moore and Dane Preston right now, and if Raven’s suspicions were correct that group of elves was planning on making their presence felt. Who knew what sort of numbers Brandon and Dane might have behind them, recognized stable or not… #NSQ needed all hands on deck.

CRAAAAAAA-AAAAAAAAAAAAAAA-AAAAAAAAACK!

A two by four swings out from around a corner as James arrives, catching him clean across the skull and dropping him instantly in a heap. Blood trickles from his hairline and runs across his temple and into his face as he gasps softly on the floor, eyelids fluttering and vision swimming. 

JAMES RAVEN
… uggggGGHHHHHHHAAAAAAA

A haunting groan escapes James’ lips as he writhes on the concrete floor, fingers curling and muscles spasming as his body malfunctions. The two by four drops to the floor next to him, his assailant driving several heavy boots into his midsection and doubling him over as he continues to mentally short-circuit. 

JAMES RAVEN
OOOOOOOOOhssssshhhhhhhhhhhppppp…

His tongue sputters and saliva sprays from his lips before he finally goes completely limp.

At best, he’s concussed. At worst… 

The crowd explodes inside the arena as Dane and Brandon pull their swerve on Dickie and Shawn. Chaos follows. Every available stage-hand and roster member floods to the backstage monitors to watch the carnage, and James is abandoned in his unattended hallway. 

“… oh, well this is interesting…”

James twitches. 

“… all those defenses you had built up, all of those careful measures that were supposed to keep me at bay…”

James twitches again.

“They’re gone now.”

There’s an eruption of celebration somewhere backstage when Dane and Brandon return from the ring, and are congratulated on escaping the wrath of #NSQ and showing them up so brilliantly. 

His friends pick up the pieces and lick their wounds back in the ring.

KASEY WINTERBORN
Where the fuck is Raven?!

It’s a simple question, but a complicated answer. The tendrils of TJ Raven begin to seep through a cracked skull, slow-dancing with James’ woozy brain and before laying it down and tucking it in for the night. TJ had been waiting months for this moment; a sudden weakness in the garden wall. All he needed was to plant a single seed, and wait for a single sprout… then the weeds would spread like wildfire.

KASEY WINTERBORN
Where the fuck is Raven?

The question hangs unanswered in the air. James’ eyes open, and he tries to fight through the static and carnage inside his mind. He doesn’t know what just happened. He doesn’t know where he is. The world feels like it’s underwater.

He sees his assailant standing before him, and looks up through cloudy vision.

JAMES RAVEN
… A- Austin?

Another boot slams viciously into his face, sending him back to the shadow realm. 

KASEY WINTERBORN
Where the fuck is Raven?

James can’t help them. 

James should have gotten there sooner.

He was going to regret it for a long time…

“Ha ha… hahahahaha… HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!”

~ – ~ – ~ – ~ – ~ – ~ – ~ – ~ – ~ – ~ – ~ – ~ –

Hey there, Paulie… how you doin’?

You look like you’re living your best life every time I see you, out here with the tight pants and leopard print blouses billowing in the wind with that Fabio-esque hair. We’ve heard all about your dominance in season one. We’ve been told how much the ladies fawn over you and how you’re the hottest commodity in New York in more ways than one.

I wanted to like you. I thought there was a redeeming story somewhere in there; the overshadowed brother excelling against expectation and putting his stamp on the wrestling world. It’s not an original story, admittedly, but when well told it can be enthralling. I wanted to find the similarities between us and-

*cough*

AHEM!

*cough*

I’m sorry. Was anybody else starting to get bored there? I sure was. The false modesty and transparent “good cop” facade… amateur hour. We’ve all heard that broken record before, and as a Christmas gift to all of you at home I’m going to take the reins and spare you tonight. This is the People’s G.O.A.T. we’re talking about after all! Are any of you really buying the “we’re not so dissimilar” act?

He’s NOT like you, and he needs to stop pretending that he is.

Do you need me to explain to you why? We can break this shit down to phonetics and crayons if we need to, you semi-literate mono-syllabic ball-lasering fuck bois. He’s not like you because he’s never seen a star come into his company and worried about whether or not his spotlight was in Jeopardy instead of welcoming the challenge and the opportunity to build his #Legacy. He’s not like you because when the chips were down and his back was against the wall he went all in and came out swinging, while you start crying like a bunch of baby-back-bitches about how unfair the world is because it doesn’t cater exclusively to you.

He’s not like you, Paul, because he would never take the “if you cant beat ‘em, join ‘em” approach and teamed up with Brandon Moore after he pinned your ass in the Toxic Tag semi-finals. Sure, Shawn and Dickie were there, but YOU took that fall to Brandon and have to swallow that fact every day now as you look at him on the card next to you and “yes sir”/”no sir” his House of M bull shit because you’re too big a pussy with too small an army to do anything about #NSQ yourself.

Enjoy riding bitch in the sidecar as Brandon Moore wheels you into the arena at Countdown. Maybe he’ll let you borrow that spooky mask of his so that you can hide the face paint, you fucking clown.

“Hey James, everythin’ good? Seems like… uh… seems like a real tonal shift has occurred here.”

Oh, the Australian is still here.

“Well, let’s not be hurtful. We’re partners this week, and I see you’ve adopted my Christmas past/present/future motif. Good, innit?”

Shut the fuck up and stay out of my way, Aiden.

This isn’t a Christmas Carol or whatever goofy shit people expected out of us when they saw us representing the group. This isn’t even a holiday movie. This is the opening scene of “Belly”, and you and I are Nas and DMX strolling through the club in slow motion with heavy heat strapped underneath our jackets. This is swirling neon and blacklight, strobes blinding the unsuspecting marks as we

KICK IN

THEIR FUCKING

DOORS

And open fire. This is muzzle flashes and blood curdling screams. This is dollar bills floating in the air and cocaine billowing as it’s knocked from tables in the bedlam.

This is where we

FUCK

SHIT

UP

And leave bodies in our wake, garroted and disemboweled, kneecaps smashed and achilles tendons severed by nothing more than the verbal lashings I can hurl down upon them like a flesh-melting acid rain. I can break someone like Paul Montouri. I can hand him a serrated blade and berate him until he scalps himself and offers me his mangy mane as a prize to get me to stop.

“… uh, but in reality we’re going to beat him within the confines of a wrestling match, and nothing more… right?”

This is personal, Paul.

The GOAT and I? We don’t forget things, and maybe you were hoping that enough time had passed and it would be water under the bridge… but I remember your first interaction with James Raven.

I remember you and Joe taking potshots on social media when people hailed my brother as the greatest. You called him a joke. You threw crying emojis his way when he offered to take you both on sometime and prove himself. You were too fucking blinded by your own narcicism to realize what you were doing, to understand that the industry was bigger than the corner of the kiddie pool you had always restrained yourself to. There were sharks circling your pond, and you mocked the most dangerous one of them.

You thought you were safe. You thought James was too occupied with his GM position in OCW to ever make his way over and throat fuck you with your own words. You thought he was content coasting on old wins, too nervous to risk his profile and come shove his fist up a Montouri brothers ass and starting a club with Allison Riggs-Preston afterwards.

Joe was smart. He saw the shit storm coming and hightailed it to the XWF, knowing that was the shadow land Mufasa warned us never to return to, but you stuck around and get to face the music.

Call James overrated again, now that you’re face to face.

Tell him man to man that you think he’s being treated unfairly and given anything he didn’t personally beat from the limp body of someone like you.

You can’t, you fucking cuck.

You already wasted all your best material against Dickie to end season one. Remember that? Pepperidge Farms remembers… and then Dickie tagged you as Paulie Penis Envy, called out your opportunist bullshit behavior, and systematically broke you down with the haste and accuracy of a trained sniper mowing down your weak ass “underground” (irrelevant) stable before it ever even gets started.

You failed to capture The Empire.

You’ll fail to capture the Islands.

Damn son, you failed to beat Apathy.

Fuck you, Paul. You two-faced, slandering, self hyped, whiny-ass twat. You’re the softest wannabe hardo I’ve ever seen, and I’m going to enjoy listening to cry when it comes time to pay the tab you’ve run up by speaking our fucking names.

Now bring me your Soviet comrade, and bring all your House of M minions to watch.

I’ll show them all that it’s not that hard to slay a dictator.

“Yikes. That’s gonna be a big fuckin’ yikes from me, dawg.”

~ – ~ – ~ – ~ – ~ – ~ – ~ – ~ – ~ – ~ – ~ – ~ –

PT. 2
“CHRISTMAS PRESENT”
CHICAGO, IL
ONE WEEK AGO

His body STILL ached from his clash with Seb at Horizons, his mind and soul emptied as he scraped the bottom of the barrel to come up with enough to squeak out the win. He was coasting on fumes, and he wasn’t himself.

He had attacked Austin Ramsey backstage on a hunch, on a vague memory of a foggy face while he lay concussed on the floor… but what if it wasn’t him? What if Magic Mike had been nowhere around when the attack happened, and Brandon Moore had recruited some other low life to do the dirty work and keep him from evening the odds for #NSQ?

He hadn’t looked into it at all. He hadn’t even asked anybody any questions.

He had just attacked.

It wasn’t like him. He NEVER did that. People were starting to murmur whenever he entered a room, and give him a wide berth in the halls. He wasn’t endearing himself to people like he normally did, he was making himself the enemy… and he didn’t have the heart to try and swim against the current anymore.

Shawn Warstein sits across the living room in a leather chair, a crystal glass of bourbon balanced on his knee as he eyes a sprawled out James Raven on the sofa.

SHAWN WARSTEIN
You look awful.

JAMES RAVEN
… I know.

Shawn furrows his brow in concern. No biting comeback? No lightning quick retort? This may be worse than he had originally assumed. He takes a sip of his drink.

SHAWN WARSTEIN
What’s wrong? Besides the fact that you nearly lost to Seb?

JAMES RAVEN
I should have been here sooner.

SHAWN WARSTEIN
Shit, you’re still hung up on Silent Fight? You can put that cunty little baby to bed right now. We told you a dozen times, we all got caught off guard. Nobody is holding it against you because you didn’t come out to help us.

JAMES RAVEN
No. Not Silent Fight. FIGHT in general. I- I don’t know why I waited for Ascension. I don’t know why I didn’t come here right after Project Honor went south with the rest of you. I should have been here from day one, and maybe if I had been… maybe things would be different right now.

Shawn is quiet for a long moment, considering his response carefully.

SHAWN WARSTEIN
How? We already have the Islands belts, and we have the Empire championship. We won Ascension. What are you beating yourself up over? Do you really think you being here earlier to rack up a few more wins and earn some extra blood money would have endeared us to anyone?

JAMES RAVEN
No… but… maybe I could have smoothed things over or eased the tension before it hit a boiling point. You know I’m good with people.

Warstein shakes his head dismissively and takes another sip of his drink.

SHAWN WARSTEIN
You were never going to change Brandon Moore’s attitude or teach ARP to give a compelling speech. You know that. You didn’t hurt us by waiting until you were ready, James… you need to let go of that.

James straightens up on the couch before planting his elbows on his knees and hunching over, head hung in his hands.

JAMES RAVEN
I’ve just been thinking about it. That’s all. I regret not being here earlier, I regret it a lot…

Shawn says nothing.

“Tell him the truth, James…”

James says nothing.

“Tell him why you really regret not coming to FIGHT sooner. It’s because you’re jealous. It’s because you’re stuck playing third wheel in an arms race between Watson and Warstein, cleaning up whatever crumbs you can as you constantly defer to Betsy, and you know in your heart that if you had come here instead of taking your time away and then working with OCW, you could have been ahead of all of them by now!”

James stands up from the couch, making his way across Shawns living room to the window and looking out at the view.

“YOU could have been Empire Champion. YOU could have the Blood Money and dictate who gets to challenge for what, or call the shots on behalf of the team. Instead, you’re the late comer, the collateral damage that gets taken out whenever someone wants to go for #NSQ’s big dogs… but nobody wants to go for you, because you have nothing of value to offer them as a prize besides your goddamn name.”

TJ had already found the cracks in the armor. He was already inside the gates. James had already lost control. He just didn’t know it yet.

SHAWN WARSTEIN
A word of advice; stop living in the past. You need to start worrying about what’s happening in the present. All this talking about regret and maybe and what if… there’s no weight to any of it. You spend too much time in your own head.

JAMES RAVEN
HA!

SHAWN WARSTEIN
You were exactly what we needed, when we needed it. You are exactly what FIGHT needs, whether the roster acknowledges it or the staff appreciates you or the fans tell you. You just need to focus. Get your shit together and tighten up. You’re all loosey goosey right now.

James smiles half heartedly.

SHAWN WARSTEIN
Calm down, Jimmy Fallon. Now you’re all giggles and hilarity, huh?

James turns away from the window.

SHAWN WARSTEIN
You need to relax. Eat something, and get some sleep. Stop worrying about what could have been, and worry about what is. Brandon Moore and Paul Montouri at Countdown. They’re hungry, they have something to prove, and I’ve beaten both of them… so now would be a really bad time for you to fumble the ball and lose our titles, agreed?

James nods his head, but doesn’t speak.

SHAWN WARSTEIN
Aiden will hold up his end of the deal, so you’ve got nothing to worry about there. Lean on him if you need to, just do some goofy shit in the week leading up and people will love it, then don’t try and do too much in the ring if you’re struggling. The worst version of you can get this done as long as you don’t start sabotaging yourself.

JAMES RAVEN
Sounds like a challenge.

SHAWN WARSTEIN
Shut up. I’m serious. You have a chance to end season two as possibly the most feared name on the roster. There’s not a champion in the company that would feel confident against you.

“Do you think he counts Dickie in that group?”

James swallows uncomfortably and nods his head.

JAMES RAVEN
Right. Out of the past. Into the present. I got’cha. From here on out, it’s #NSQ. Starting today, and tomorrow anew.

Shawn Warstein eyes James from his seat in the armchair, finishing his bourbon and setting the glass down on a small side table.

SHAWN WARSTEIN
I hope so.

He continues to eye Raven.

“He’s onto us.”

~ – ~ – ~ – ~ – ~ – ~ – ~ – ~ – ~ – ~ – ~ – ~ –

Fuck you, Brandon Moore.

Fuck The Faded Star, and Fuck the House of M.

Fuck your weak ass chin that can barely support Michelle as a beard. Speaking of which; your whole look is a little different, or is it just me? If I had to put my finger on it I’d say you lost about fifty pounds, cut your hair, told a parkinson’s patient to take a tattoo gun over your existing ink, and just generally said “fuck it” before leaving the house one morning.

New diet?

Taking sustenance from nothing but your own bull shit and finding yourself suddenly nutrient deficient? Some friendly advice, go back to whatever you were doing before. The loss of bulk in your shoulders has that head looking a little pea-like, and one swift F.Y.S. superkick might send it flying into the front row. I don’t care if you have an armored bunny mask as a last line of defense or not, you look like the hunter from Beetlejuice.

Did you ever consider that we’re not actually your enemies, Brandon? Did you ever think that there was room in FIGHT for all of us, and just because NSQ ate well didn’t mean that the rest of you had to starve?

Did you ever question if you’re actually as good as you think you are?

I didn’t think so. It’s so much easier to point fingers at cry when the big dogs start barking, after all. It’s so much easier to find some way that you were fucking cheated instead of looking at yourself like an adult and acknowledging that you came up short and can do better the next time.

Putin would be ashamed of you, you yellow bellied fuck. Don’t try and wave Russian colours and boast some dangerous past as part of your heritage when you’re not about that fucking like, Brandon. You wouldn’t last a night in the Gulags, fingernails peeled from your hands and teeth ripped from your jaw as a simple warm up to breaking you. I rolled a tank into your town, and you shelled up and started making excuses before the battle was even waged!

Maybe if, just once, you had put some real effort into something you wouldn’t have found yourself in this situation. Maybe if you hadn’t been too busy staring at your own mask in the mirror for the past six months while you jerked it, you’d have realized that your one dimensional style wasn’t as unbeatable as you thought it was, and the landscape was changing in ways your outdated move set wasn’t equipped to compete with.

Maybe if you weren’t a quivering PUSSY and tried to adapt like the rest of the roster is, you’d have made some headway before it was too late.

But no. Not you.

You’re Brandon fucking Moore, the man who would rather rant and rave like a lunatic just so that he can tell us “we don’t get him” or “we don’t give him a fair shake” when his pleas fall on deaf ears. He’d rather come across as abstract and non-sensical because he knows that he’s incapable of carrying a coherent through line from beginning to end of a promo… and we can’t judge what we don’t understand, right?

He’s the unknown. He’s mysterious. That makes him edgy and dangerous.

GET FUCKED YOU WEASLEY BITCH!

You’re a .500 wrestler who wants the world handed to him. You’re a guy who felt he paid his dues and was about to be catered to by Vincent Black, and instead found yourself outgunned when FIGHT launched because suddenly your light tubes and thumb tacks and played out blood shed act didn’t scare anyone when there were REAL monsters afoot.

STOP trying to blame NSQ for stealing your shine, Brandon.

STOP trying to push the narrative that we took everything that should have belonged to you and the “originals”.

You’re not some unstoppable force being unfairly fed to us, Moore. Let’s talk about how things could have looked without #NSQ in the picture. Dane Preston pinned you clean in the Toxic Tag finals, you dumb bitch! You got flattened by Bam Miller at Ascension and he’s awful! YOU LOST TO CHRIS FUCKING PAGE and that guy is like forty five with burnt up lungs and the lung capacity of a hundred and thirty year old!

We are NOT the root of your problems, Brandon, because even if you take out Shawn and Dickie punking you and the rest of the squad having you shaking in your boots, you’re just another shitty midcarder fighting tooth and nail to keep a Top 5 ranking and pull together the Blood Money for another unearned contendership and hoping your wife can keep your name in the spotlight while your star continues to fade.

“BLOOD MONEY?! You mean dollary doos!”

Pack it in, Aiden. We’re through here.

This raving psycho has nothing to offer us, anymore. Let him keep shouting in the shadows and sprawling his shitty graffiti M’s over everything, eventually he’ll tucker himself out. He knows as well as the rest of us do that he has no legs to stand on in this argument. He hasn’t beaten anyone impressively since Graham Clauson, and that shit was five months ago… and also Graham Clauson. He’s been limping for survival ever since.

The House of M is in ruins. The masses are starting to realize what invitation to your little club means. It means a vow of fealty to you, and acknowledgement that you’re their central figure and that by simply including them you’ve publicly branded them as someone you see below yourself. Subservient.

They don’t like you, Brandon, more than they don’t like us.

They don’t believe in you, Brandon, not as much as they know they can believe in us.

Do us all a favor, and bite your tongue before I slice it out of your mouth and hang it on my wall next to your mask and watch Betsy dance around naked with what was once Michelles championship.

Don’t go crying that the game was rigged against you… it’s been rigged against you from birth you ugly, fetal alcohol syndrome suffering, sticky to the touch, driveling twat. It’s time to stop blaming the rest of us, and learn to play the cards you were dealt.

The fading star is extinguished.

Long live NSQ.

#AndStill

“Yeah. What he said.”

~ – ~ – ~ – ~ – ~ – ~ – ~ – ~ – ~ – ~ – ~ – ~ –

PT. 3
“CHRISTMAS FUTURE”
THE TOWER
RIGHT NOW

He sits alone with Betsy Granger for what feels like the first time in a long time. She nestles against him, her warm hands wrapped tightly around his fingers as they soak in the quiet. Sometimes when weathering a storm, you could catch a moment of calm.

You have to try and enjoy them.

He shivers, inching closer to her for heat. He hadn’t slept properly in days and his body trembled as a result, muscles quivering and aching for relief. He couldn’t sleep yet, not until he figured everything out and could ensure that he was on the right path…

He leans over and kisses Betsy on the forehead.

“She’s poison for you. You’re wrong for each other.”

JAMES RAVEN
You’re going to win, you know. You’re going to be the champion.

She turns to him and smiles. She nuzzles her head on his shoulder.

BETSY GRANGER
I’m going to give it everything I’ve got. Michelle isn’t someone to take lightly, but-

He holds up a hand to cut her off, shaking his head adamantly.

JAMES RAVEN
No. You don’t understand. You’re going to win. I felt Michelle out at Ascension, and I don’t think she brings anything you haven’t seen before and learned to counter. The Trans-Atlantic got snatched out from under you, but it’s your time. You’re going to be the champion, and you’re going to wow them all.

She beams at him.

BETSY GRANGER
Thank you, beloved. I’m sure you will too. You always do.

He says nothing, eyes staring blankly ahead. She senses an edge to him and pulls away, sitting up to look him in the eyes.

BETSY GRANGER
What’s wrong? Are you… are you actually nervous?

JAMES RAVEN
No.

BETSY GRANGER
Then what is it? Is it the rest of the roster? You know that it doesn’t matter if they like us. They’ll learn to, or they’ll adapt, or they’ll leave. You can’t carry that around like some kind of albatross and make it a personal crusade to change all of their opinions.

JAMES RAVEN
It’s not that.

She shifts uncomfortably inside the tower suite, eyeing him cautiously. She moves her hand from his, sliding it to his knee for a reassuring touch.

BETSY GRANGER
You know you can talk to me… about whatever it is…

“Talk to her, James… let her in on the inner workings of this nutty noggin of yours…”

He opens his mouth to speak but a dry tongue fails him, and he takes a deep breath before trying again.

JAMES RAVEN
I feel like… like I’m being pulled in different directions. Too many people want too many different things out of me, and I don’t even know what I want out of myself right now. You know? Does that… does that make any sense? I have all these rules and guidelines that I’ve lived by, and this voice inside my head telling me week after week to throw all of that away and watch the world burn… I… I don’t know what to do. I don’t know who to listen to.

She looks on in concern, trying to mask the sadness on her face as she listens to him struggle to explain his anguish.

JAMES RAVEN
I just… I just wish I knew where all of this was heading… I wish I could know that I’m doing the right things here…

BETSY GRANGER
… do you want to use Excell-

He holds up a hand to cut her off, shaking his head adamantly.

JAMES RAVEN
I’m not looking for some sort of time hop. That opens up its own can of worms, and I don’t have the capacity to handle it right now if something goes wrong.

She nods her head in understanding, contemplating their options. She takes a deep breath.

BETSY GRANGER
Close your eyes. Lean back.

JAMES RAVEN
I’m not sure a blowjob is going to fix things right now, but I guess-

BETSY GRANGER
Shut up. Just do it.

He follows her instructions, hesitantly, and after a minute feels her fingertips press softly against his temples. He can feel shadows dance in front of his eyelids, the soft and gentle murmur of her voice melting away into the distance.

Suddenly, he’s no longer in the Tower Suite.

He’s standing in the ring at Countdown, Aiden Reynolds prancing around the ring victoriously as the referee thrusts the Islands titles into their grasp. Their foes lay vanquished, piled in a bloody and mangled heap as the sparkle in their eyes faded and they realized that they had been wrong all along… he WAS the GOAT, and NSQ WAS FIGHT. The crowd roars as Raven throws a triumphant fist into the air.

He opens his eyes and pulls away from Betsy in horror.

JAMES RAVEN
What the fuck was that?!

BETSY GRANGER
Relax.

JAMES RAVEN
What sort of Jedi bullshit did you just do to me?

BETSY GRANGER
James; relax. Look at whatever you’re being shown. Maybe you’ll find some answers.

He hesitates.

He never pretented to understand the magic that was The Impossible Traveller, but he trusted her.

JAMES RAVEN
… can… can you see it too?

She shakes her head.

BETSY GRANGER
It’s just for you.

JAMES RAVEN
… is it… is it the future? Like, what’s actually going to happen?

She shakes her head again.

BETSY GRANGER
It’s not an exact science, beloved… but it could happen.

He nods his head slowly and slides back underneath her touch, closing his eyes uneasily and waiting as the shadows dance in front of his eyelids once more.

It’s 2022, and Brandon Moore is gone from FIGHT, rage quitting after his loss to NSQ at the New Years pay per view. The once proud star had faded and now lingers on the indy circuit, praying some local upstarts might want to take on a washed up name in a death match for some clout. He couldn’t adapt. He couldn’t evolve. He couldn’t keep up, and he took his ball and went home rather than even try. The House of M lays in ruin, a concept more than construct and a ship that failed to launch…

Paul Montouri followed Joe’s example when season three began, changing all of his social media profiles to “dumpster” and running to the salvation of the XWF to team with his brother “trash can” and attempt to resuscitate a fragment of the hype and potential they used to have in FIGHT… before they chose to act like children when the real competition showed up and asked them to back up all the shit they’d talked.

Betsy is the champion, standing triumphantly over the body of Michelle. Dickie is a champion, bowing over the limp visage of Dane Preston. Aiden Reynolds and Kasey Winterborn hold the Islands titles high over their head as the entire roster looks on with envy.

James blazes the way for all of them, a hail storm of flying knuckles and broken jaws everywhere he goes. For too long people mistook his kindness for weakness, for too long they got comfortable with the sexy thirst trap and forgot WHO THE FUCK HE WAS. The nice guy act could go out the window, and anyone that didn’t like it could sit and spin… he’d provide them with the peg.

His beard is thick, his eyes sunken into his cheekbones and rimmed with dark circles. Broad shoulders stretched and strained as biceps flexed underneath his blood stained tee shirt, sweat running over his collarbone as he panted heavily. He had hacked and slashed his way through the entire FIGHT roster and become the uncrowned MVP. He had begun to take what he wanted. He had begun searching out the dragons to slay. He had crushed the entire old guard, and become the most feared member of the new breed.

He sees himself hammering a motionless Chris Page with right hands, ignoring the crowds pleas for mercy. He sees himself snapping the arm of Ricky Rodriguez and shredding the knee of Austin Ramsey. He could be their villain.

He sees himself standing with a foot atop Shawn Warsteins lifeless body, planted in the center of his chest as glassy eyes stared up at the rafters through a blood masked face. His limbs are twisted, James’ eyes cast down coldly as he raises his arm triumphantly.

He sees himself as the Empire champion.

He sees himself leaving no doubt that he’s The GOAT…

He pulls away from Betsy again, gasping wildly and shocked by the vision.

BETSY GRANGER
James? Are you OK?

He says nothing. He can’t speak. He’s terrified, he’s revolted… what the FUCK was that? What had she shown him?

BETSY GRANGER
… James? What did you see?

JAMES RAVEN
I- uh- you didn’t see any of that? That was just, like, a dream or something?

She shakes her head.

“You wanted to know that you were on the right path, James. You wanted to know that the actions you’re taking are leading you where you want to go. I think you know that now.”

JAMES RAVEN
Shut up! Shut the fuck up!

BETSY GRANGER
I didn’t say anything.

“I’ve been telling you this the entire time, James! You’ll never be what you want to be with Shawn in your way! You’ll never be who you deserve to be if you keep trying to make everyone else happy!”

James shakes in his seat.

“You’re the GOAT! Start acting like it! Make everyone else start reacting to you instead of allowing yourself to become another Vincent Black. LET. ME. DO. MY. THING. Do you hear me, James? Are you listening?”

James says nothing.

“… blink twice if you agree…”

James blinks twice. TJ has him on the hook.

It’s time to watch the world burn.

“Season three is going to be fuuuuuun… if we all opt to stick around for it…”

Fear the Raven… Forevermore…

and

FADE
TO
BLACK