“TO THE DEATH!” – THE TRIALS OF THE EMPIRE CHAMPIONSHIP: A DEATHMATCH

By: Dane Preston

Writing Prompt: Yes

Date: 27th Dec 2021

It’s a snowy Christmas Eve, the Riggs clan has opted to stay at Parts Unknown for the Holiday instead of going to Bent Fork with the rest of The Pack. It’ll be the first time in a decade or more that The Pack isn’t all together for Christmas festivities. We had just finished exchanging gifts and Jenna was helping Allie and Bella get the twins to bed. Damon was off BSing with Shane and Jason, Deej and JJ were off setting up their PS5 and Xbox Series X. So I took the opportunity to hop in my Demonhunter and take a drive to the far side of the property, where our private cottage was located.

Our cottage sat atop a small hill, nestled in the trees in a small pocket where two larger hills met. Snowpack adorned the cottage roof, icicles dangled and dripped from the eaves. A set of stairs led up to the front door, another set of stairs led down to a private lakeside dock from the back of the cottage. It was here that Allison and Bella would bring me when I had a mental break about a year ago. It is also here that we are able to indulge ourselves without having to keep our voices down or worrying about someone barging in on us. I decided to go down to the lakeside dock, and get warm next to the firepit. I could see Damon and Jenna’s house on the opposite side of the lake, so I knew that Allie and Bella would be able to see the fire without me having to let them know I had left for the cottage. I knew I had some time to kill before the girls got here, so I leaned my back against the dock’s snow covered rail and stared into the fire, allowing myself to get lost in my thoughts for a time.

Almost instantly, I was transported back to the times just before the FIGHT! NYC rebrand and the move to Manhattan. Back when we were still known as Outlaw Pro Wrestling. An unpolished promotion, chock full of potential and raw talent that went on to become what we now know. Back in OPW, I’d become something of a joke, having been injured twice, taken out of active competition for roundabout nine months. I was subjected to Xavier throwing insults and slurs about Allison at Damon, unable to stand up to him and silence him. But before that, I was bringing the FIGHT! to any and all comers. And I was riding high, well on my way to contention for the World title, but that all went away after the first injury. By the time I was well enough to climb back into the ring, my wife had agreed to tag up with Joe Montuori and together they captured the OPW Tag titles, which went onto become the Islands Championship when the rebrand went down.

Those were some pretty dark days for me, because I had to watch the woman I love parade around with a clown like JMont. Deep down, I always knew that he had an ulterior motive, but never in a million years did I expect rumors, gaslighting and manipulation to drive a rift between my wife and I. Along the way, Joe and I wound up thrown together as a tag team in the Toxic Tag tournament. Joe and I went on to win that tournament in dominant fashion. We blew all the competition outta the water. I ended up becoming the third member of the FIGHT! Islands Champions. While that title run ended about as well as I hoped it would, sadly it slapped an L on both Allison’s record as well as my own. But to go backstage and watch Joe, left to fend for himself against a full NSQ team ready to pick him apart, was simply priceless.

That all culminated in a match where the loser would walk away with Joe’s Queen’s Championship. Essentially the Loser’s Championship. And that was one helluva fucking war between Joe and I. Whether anyone wants to admit it or not, from beginning to end, we were the hottest thing going in this business. Joe, Sahara, Allison and me. There ain’t a soul on Earth capable of disputing that. But at what cost? My marriage? My career? Both? I was in a helluva war, all to keep my family together and safe. Because contrary to the lies Joe had spread throughout the industry, I love my wife and refused to give up on what we have. All the while, NSQ was slowly coming together.

Now, when I tell the world that I don’t know the meaning of the word quit, it’s not some shtick, it’s an absolute fact. I made a promise to the world that I was going to take everything away from Joe Montuori and bring my wife back home to me and our family. I delivered on that promise in a big fucking way. I did exactly what I said I was going to do. But the thing that chaps my ass, is that what Allison and I endured is now scrutinized and mocked at every turn. Hell, James Raven really got under my fucking skin with the trash talk he had to say about what Allison and I went through. He fancies himself our trauma bond. One can only wonder what would happen if someone tried to pull that shit with him and Betsy. I’m willing to bet that he would change his tune pretty damned quick.

It feels like I’ve gone through the NSQ gauntlet, having brawled with Warstein, fought Reynolds, Raven and Dickie already. It feels like Xavier wants to see me softened up leading into the Empire Championship death match. Why he would side with NSQ is something I have yet to figure out. I never wanted the title. Not until recently. I was perfectly content sitting back and letting my Blood Money pile up, without the need for trinkets and baubles to signify my success. I’ve been in this business for almost fifteen years, and aside from some midtier titles and tag team championships, I have yet to win THE BIG ONE. Miss F reached out to me after the Ascension event had wrapped up, and considering I was one of the last people to get eliminated before Paul Montuori, I guess she saw that as reason enough to strap a rocket to my ass and shoot me up to the Main Event. But I still didn’t want the additional stress added to my plate. I was trying to rebuild my marriage and figure out what comes after JMont. I guess Xavier and Miss F had other plans for me.

I don’t know where the lines have gotten crossed, but something must be in the water here. We’ve all got different accounts of what happened that contributed to NSQs rise to power. Hell, maybe I was too busy warring with The Dynasty to pay attention to what NSQ members were experiencing. But while I was in the middle of one war, there was another war brewing that I was not a part of. The aftermath of that war IS NSQ. I remember one night at Venom, it was a three way war with The Cure, The Dynasty and FYA. We were so busy fighting amongst ourselves that none of us noticed the formation of NSQ. There were a handful of the now NSQ members and one Amari Kent backstage watching the battle on a monitor. I recall something about us being referred to as PATHETIC PARASITES. Thinking back, it was at that moment that the spark was lit. And little, by little, with every exchange and interaction with NSQ members, the spark grew and grew. I tried to deny it, I did my best to befriend each member of NSQ, because they’re my peers and co-workers. But a little voice in the back of my head was nagging at me, reminding me of who I am and what I was capable of.

Prior to Ascension, all I saw was three teams going to war, while another one was forming in the shadows, content to watch us do all the work so they could come in and pick at whoever was left standing. A faction of cowards and opportunists. A group of disillusioned twats with delusions of grandeur. They dominated on their way to the top in the Ascension match. There is no disputing that fact. But when I had a chance to make my feelings known, I did so. And I rightly warned the upstart faction that they did NOT want a war with the collective might of FYA and the Dynasty combined. I maintain that opinion to this day. If we grouped together some of the hardest hitters in OUR circle to go up against NSQ, there never would have been such an unbalanced, unchecked shift in power. And what the fuck Xavier was thinking with this whole one stable bullshit is beyond me. I never could wrap my head around it. But right now, I may as well call myself The Dread Pirate Roberts as I’m en route with my group of misfits to liberate my Buttercup from the clutches of Prince HumperDickie and we’ll damn sure…

HAVE FUN STORMING THE CASTLE!

Speaking of storming the castle, who remembers Bastille Day? Who remembers what it commemorates and honors? Anyone? Well, allow me to refresh your memory. Bastille Day is a day of remembrance, it represents the day common folks turned revolutionaries stormed the Bastille, which at the time was the seat of power for the royal authority in France. Bastille Day celebrates the French Revolutionary war. Now, what does this have to do with Dickie or NSQ? It’s simple really, NSQ represents the French Monarchy while I, alongside a loose collective of fighters here in FIGHT!, represent the revolution. One sadly forgettable season has been wasted on this little experiment of Xavier’s. NSQ failed to deliver. They were supposed to be this all powerful faction that would silence all their critics, and destroy all opposition. The only thing they have done is keep us divided so they can stay in power. While at the same time crying about being targeted by the same people they have kept apart for an entire season.

Back in 2017, a little team by the name of Pro-Con ventured forth into a promotion called EWA. Just two men, the Main Man hisself MDM, and yours truly. They tried to keep us relegated to the lower and midcards, but soon found out that was not how we played the game. In a matter of weeks we were going head to head with a 5 person stable, known as the House of Hate. Sahara was one of them. I know for a fact that she’d attest to how we rode into town and proceeded to bring the fight even though we were outnumbered 2.5 to 1. If it wasn’t for mismanagement running the promotion into the ground, I would have claimed the EWA World’s Championship. While I failed in my first attempt, the entire world took notice that Dane fuckin’ Preston was the real fuckin’ deal. We didn’t cry and whine about being targeted. We didn’t complain about hit and run attacks. Murph and I went in there and did our fucking jobs, and proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that we were capable of taking over. I even suggested bringing The Pack in to Murph. He said no. He wanted us to do it ON OUR OWN. And we fucking well did just that. This is exactly why Sahara wound up here in FIGHT! She knew what we brought to the table, and she brought it just as hard as we did then, and still do now. She wanted to be part of whatever we were going to do next.

Fast forward to today, I’m getting real sick and fucking tired of hearing about how great these NSQ people are. I went to war with James Raven and only narrowly to him. I have beaten both Dickie and Aiden. They’re not as all powerful as their reputations made them out to be. Are they damn talented? Abso-fuckin-lutely, there ain’t a doubt about it. Are they invincible? Absolutely fuckin’ not. See, I know how to do my homework, I know that they have tried this same hostile takeover tactic in a previous organization. It didn’t go so well for them, hence why they’re here. They went back to the well again, to see if they could get what they wanted here in FIGHT! What they were met with, was several factions at war with themselves. What better way to conquer a nation or organization, but when they are too preoccupied with infighting? But now? Now is the time for the revolution, for We Who Came Before, to remind the world who the fuck we are, and to find out who really runs FIGHT!. Because it damn sure isn’t NSQ. At Countdown, it starts with a Wrekt & Worthless reunion relieving NSQ of the Islands Championships and it continues with me taking Dickie’s head from his shoulders with the 1SK before I walk away with the Empire Championship slung over my shoulder. The question is, do I really…

THINK IT’LL WORK?

You’re Godsdamned right I do. I hope Dickie wasn’t trying to make a statement or an impact with his Death Match in a Cage stipulation. I really don’t think he thought this all the way through. Before I broke into the wrestling business, I was discovered by one Damon Riggs, as I was bouncing around the country’s illegal cage fighting circuit. Before that, I spent five out of a ten year bid behind bars in San Quentin. I had to literally fight for my life on a daily basis. How I wound up in prison, I was convicted in the death of another human being. Before prison, I was well on my way to a professional MMA career. So there isn’t a doubt in my mind that I am more than capable of destroying Dickie Watson inside a cage. As a matter of fact, it seems to me that Dickie did me a favor more than anything else.

But when it comes to FIGHT! relevance, I beat Dickie in our first encounter, having had no prior experience with him, no tapes to study. Now though? I’ve seen first hand what he and his ilk are capable of. I’ve experienced it. I’ve witnessed it. I’ve done my homework. I’ve taken all that I’ve learned into account and spoken with many of my peers, and we’ve all come to the same conclusion. Dickie Watson has been weighed, measured and found wanting. He thought that he would challenge me to a match in an environment that I am more than comfortable in? He thought that he would find me shaking in my boots with his proclamation that he is DYING to face me in a match like this. Well…

IT’LL TAKE A MIRACLE…

For Dickie to SURVIVE this match. It will take an act of the Gods for him to come out of that cage in one piece, let alone with his Championship reign intact. If I had anything to say about it, the Gods will be sitting back, drinking spiced mead and pulling for me to win this battle. What is it that Sahara always likes to say? Victory or Valhalla. The Gods will look back on this battle with pride and know that I went primal on Dickie. I can’t see them, but I can hear the hum of their little propellers, and I knew the eyes in the skies were fixated on me. I knew they were there and precisely what for.

What the fuck is your head, Dickie!?! I shouted into the cold Wisconsin air. Are you really that daft, that you think you have any chance of retaining your Empire Championship in a fucking cage match with me? I mean, did you do any fucking homework on me at all? Not just a cage match, but a fucking DEATH MATCH in a cage? With me? Are you fucking serious? By the Gods you are dumber than I am. And this is coming from a guy that will gladly walk into a fight outnumbered 2-1 or 3-1. But this, what you’re doing, to me this is career fucking suicide on your part. There is absolutely no way in Hell I am going down against you in a match of this magnitude. You must really have a death wish, dying to face me in a match like this? Your death at my hands, is a very, very real possibility in a match as brutal and violent as this. I hope you know this, Dickie. I really and truly hope you do. But I’ve gotta know Dickie, just what in the fuck was your motivation for laying out a challenge like this? I mean, I’ve already beaten you, and if we’re looking at experience alone, this kind of war is something that is firmly in my fucking wheelhouse. I have already taken someone else’s life. I went to prison and had to fight to survive on a near daily basis. I have fought giants inside cages, for the sheer bloodthirsty enjoyment of wealthy elites. I have trained in MMA years and I have trained with and run operations with a Black Ops team. Phoenix Squad, well documented. Ask around. The point that I’m getting at here, is that you’ve bitten off far more than you can chew. Success is my only motherfuckin’ option. FAILURE IS NOT. You are in way over your head and you haven’t even begun to realize it yet. Here’s an unsolicited piece of advice for you mate, whoever it was that planted the concept of a deathmatch in a cage against me in your head, I’d highly recommend that you sever all ties with them post haste. Because they clearly did not have your best interests or safety and well being in mind when they made that suggestion to you. Or, maybe that’s the point of why they made that suggestion to you in the first place. To get rid of you.

Spinning around, I leaned my forearms against the railing. It took my eyes a minute or two to adjust to the darkness after staring into the fire for so damn long. It was so cold I could see my breath coming out in short, shallow bursts. My heart is racing as I continue…

I’m gonna switch gears for a moment. Looking back on this past year, if I could go back and change any one thing in particular, I would have put you in the ground in our first encounter. I can see it in my mind’s eye, clear as fucking day. “Here Lies Dickie Watson, thee Would Be Emperor of FIGHT! NYC. Put to rest by Dane motherfuckin’ Preston.” Would it have stopped you from running and getting your friends to come and fight your battles for you? Probably not. But it would have rallied We Who Came Before to stand up, and realize the threat that was looming in the darkness before you had a chance to mount your little insurrection. If I’d known then, what I know now, I would have choked the life out of your scrawny, fucking body, if that meant maintaining the status quo as it was and as it should still be. Nothing, and I mean nothing, will change the fact that you came in here and got lucky that we were all preoccupied fighting amongst ourselves. Because if we had been able to focus all of our attention on you and your little Empire, the landscape would be very, very different right now. Wrekt and Worthless would have been Islands Champions months ago, while I, or someone other than you and yours, would have the keys to the Empire in hand, and the trinket that goes along with that responsibility. We would have been Champions OF the people, FOR the people and BY the people.

My single biggest regret since FIGHT! NYC became a reality, is that I couldn’t separate my personal vendetta against JMont, from my duties as a representative of all those who were here before FIGHT, before any of you, long enough for me to put you down right from the jump off. I know that Xavier feels I got lucky against you the first time. He feels that way because I didn’t put forth the effort he had expected me to. He knows good and godsdamned well that I can go with damn near anyone at any given point in time. But he and I also know, I was not as invested in our first encounter as I was with destroying Joe Montuori. However, that is not the case this time around. This time, you have my full and undivided attention, Dickie. And I can promise you Dickie, that’s not a good thing for you. Hindsight being 20/20, I learned from my mistakes from our first encounter. And I’m not about to make those same fucking mistakes again. No, this time I leave no doubt in anyone’s mind, Dane Preston is superior to Dickie Watson and the record will show 2-0, when I raise the Empire Championship over your broken, beaten body.

Remember Dickie, you and yours waltzed right the fuck into my company like you owned it. The front office announced your arrival with all the fanfare and bravado they could muster. You all came here with your reputations, name recognition and star power to go along with it. And you cry that you were attacked from all sides. Did you think you were walking into a company full of idiots? The instant the lot of you made your appearances, you had a target painted on your back, plain as day, bright as the sun for all the world to see. You represent a proverbial meal ticket to superstardom, a victory over any one of you meant that we were in a whole new tier of competition. And I was the very first one to dish out a loss to one of you. Ironically enough, when I beat you Dickie, I sealed our fate to one day meet face to face for the Empire Championship. It seems as though the Fates have always had something more in store for you and I, whether either of us wished it or not. So stop bitching and complaining that everyone in FIGHT! hates you and is attacking you. It doesn’t stop until someone restores some semblance of balance in this company. And who better than us? Who better than ME? And while I touch on the subject of an ‘us’, allow me to be very clear about what I mean here; I have peers much like you do, some I am on good terms with, others, well, others would sooner take my head from my shoulders than align with me in any capacity.

But we recognize the larger threat that had previously gone unchecked. You. NSQ. It didn’t need to go down this way. But somehow, you amassed it all; the right to form a faction, a tag team, titles and their associated bonuses, and a fuckton of Blood Money. Do the math, Dickie. You have become the 1% in FIGHT! You are the Monarchy. You are the oppressors. While the rest of us are expected to toe the line, and be content with the scraps and paltry Blood Money payouts, and not have anything to say or do about it. What do you take us for, docile sheep? I’ll have you know, that my family and friends and I would go from organization to organization, looting, pillaging and conquering despite the opposition AND the opposition’s staff. We never had the staff siding with us, and against the people who BUILT THEIR FUCKING EMPIRE FOR THEM. That, in and of itself, is a betrayal of epic proportions that I will address with Xavier, face to face, when I have the Empire Championship in my possession and his company’s balls in my hand. You see Dickie, you and your brethren are nothing more than wild hyenas, sure, against gazelle you represent a threat. But I come from a family of Wolves and Lions. And we eat hyenas for breakfast and shit them out before we even get started with our daily routines. I want you to sit and ponder how things could have been. Had you come out and said, ‘we support your right to form your own factions and tag teams, come let us talk and discuss terms.’ But instead, you remained quiet. You waited until the last possible moment to use that card. Too little, too late, the damage has already been done.

I will admit that I’m very curious Dmitri, what will a person who claims not to want a war of attrition have to say about me, that hasn’t already been said by his allies? What is there to say? I lost to Raven? What of it? He’s a fucking legend and I gave him a run for his money. There is honor in that. And both you and your Ozzy mate Aiden have lost to me, so pointing out that I have lost to someone else when you’ve lost to me, well, that would make you both look rather weak, I’m sure you’d agree. Then of course there’s the giant pink elephant present in every common area in the Tower, how I allowed my wife to sully herself with Joe Montuori and how I slept with Sahara. Something that everyone, including James Raven himself, uses as their go to. Let me be very clear about this Dmitri, I don’t give a fuck if it’s trending on Twitter, on the front page of TMZ, the New York Times, the Washington Post or the San Francisco Chronicle, where I choose to park my cock is my business alone, NOT YOURS. What you should be more concerned about, is the fact that I fully intend to park one foot up your ass and the other down your throat. As pertains to Allison, she’s a big girl capable of making her own decisions. We both violated our vows. And we chose to stay together and work past our respective transgressions. When it comes to my family, my marriage, my women, my children, not a single word about one of them has any business escaping your lips. Do I make myself clear, Dmitri? If you think that I’m no threat to you and your reign here and now, I want you to imagine an unhinged version of me, who cares nothing for rules or the sanctity of human life. I want you to imagine, if you can, what it feels like waking up in a cell everyday for five long years, knowing that you have a target on your back every time you step into common areas with the other inmates. I was an aspiring MMA fighter, I may have mentioned that once or twice. But worse than that, maybe worst of all, was that I was the brother of a police officer with ambition. And word had gotten out within the first day of my imprisonment. Now, I’m sure you’re sitting there scratching your head, wondering any of that has to do with you. Simply put, fight or flight response. This match, this deathmatch of ours, it takes me back to the mindset I had while I was locked up. Kill or be killed. Survival of the fittest. Prison didn’t kill me, Dmitri. Training under Damon Riggs, Kal X. Wolf and Candice VooDoo Black didn’t kill me either. What makes you think you can? Or that you will? Sheer will to survive? You’ll need far more than will and gumption, I can promise you that.

I am not fighting for my survival alone, Dmitri. I am fighting for the survival of We Who Came Before. It hasn’t been outright spoken to me, but the feeling is there. Each and every time I speak to one of my peers who were here before any of you, I get the feeling that they are counting on me to get the job done. They want me to obliterate you in every sense of the word. And despite you and the rest of your NSQ brethren being his shiny new toys, deep down Xavier wants to see one of his own topple NSQ and put the entire wrestling world on notice. Sending a message loud and clear, far and wide, FIGHT! NYC is the real fucking deal. Dane fuckin’ Preston is the real fuckin deal. He won’t admit it to me, and he damn sure won’t say it to any of you. But deep down, in his heart, Xavier wants me to win this fight, no. No. Xavier needs me to win this fight. Because my victory will serve as a catalyst. It will attract more star power. More fighters with reputations and renown all their own. And he will have no further use for the lot of you. But I want to make one thing very clear, when Wrekt and Worthless take the Islands Championships from your friends Reynolds and Raven, and I liberate the Empire Championship from your clutches, I don’t want any of you tucking your tails and heading for the hills. No, I want you to stick around to see how a TRUE Champion comports himself. How a TRUE Champion represents the people who surround him. That is the major difference between you and I, Dickie, Dmitri, whatever you wish to call yourself. I have real friends and family supporting me, motivating me, backing me up all the way to the top. While you have people paying you lip service one moment, hiding the dagger with which they will stab you in the back the next moment. Here’s looking at you Shawn. I see you, waiting in the wings. The anticipation stealing your breath from your lungs. You cannot wait for me to take Dickie down anymore than I can. Because then you are free to chase the trinket that you have been denied the entire time it’s been in Dickie’s possession. I see you. And I welcome you to stake your claim as THE NEXT CONTESTANT. But for now, I must stay focused on your ‘friend’ Dickie, and sending him to the depths of Hell.

I hear the soft thud of car doors closing on the other side of the lake, moments later headlights turn on. I know it’s merely a matter of minutes before my ladies join me for a peaceful evening before we head back to the main house for Christmas morning. Only now do I realize how cold it really is, pushing myself away from the railing, I blow hot air into my cupped hands and rub them together as I take a seat by the fire.

My motivations are simple really. It isn’t out of personal want, or need or greed. It isn’t desire, but duty. Stepping into the cage, a fight to the death, I am doing what is required of me. The end goal is restoring balance to FIGHT. Balance that has been denied to us since NSQ rose to power. By taking your trinkets from you, we mitigate your Blood Money earnings to some degree. By denying you glory, we chip away at the armor and defenses you have built around yourselves. By raising our hands high, the Empire and Islands Championships in our grasp, your will shatters into millions of jagged little pieces. And you are reminded that this whole thing could have been avoided had you been the Champions and faction this company needed you to be. But instead, you chose power and greed, the coward’s way. I didn’t want any of this. I was content, enjoying life with my twins and my bevy of beauties. This responsibility was thrust upon my shoulders because of my pedigree, not my blood pedigree, but because of who broke me into this business. It’s out of duty and honor that I stand across the ring from you. I have to be the savior I had no desire to be, to save this company from ruin at your hands, Dickie. And just like Inigo chasing down the six-fingered man, I want you to hear me loud and clear as we draw closer and closer to battle…

HELLO, MY NAME IS DANE PRESTON
YOU STOLE MY COMPANY
PREPARE TO DIE.

HELLO, MY NAME IS DANE PRESTON
YOU STOLE MY COMPANY
PREPARE TO DIE.

HELLO, MY NAME IS DANE PRESTON
YOU STOLE MY COMPANY
PREPARE TO DIE.

Imagine me giving chase after you as you run through FIGHT! Tower, screaming that at the top of my lungs, each and every time I am within an arm’s reach of you. Knowing that the moment you stop running and I get my hands on you spells the end for your title reign. The end of your Reign of Terror in FIGHT! I know that you and your friends fancy yourselves the good guys in all of this, but the reality is that there are no good guys, there are no bad guys. There are winners and losers. Those who get the job done and those who the job is done to. It is said that there are two wolves inside of us, two halves, one light and one dark. Ever tipping from one side to the other, begging the age old question of which side will win out? The optimist will say whichever side you feed, but the realist will tell you that neither side wins or loses. It will always remain a game of balance. Some days you feed the dark wolf, some days you feed the light wolf. But on our day, Dickie, I will feed you to both wolves and watch them feast, just as I feast in celebration with my peers.

I hear car doors close, much closer than before. My ladies have finally arrived.

Know this, Dmitri “Dickie” Watson. You are a tremendous talent and a skilled fighter. For two entire seasons you have carried the Empire Championship with you into battle. No one will ever be able to take that away from you. I never disliked you, any of you, personally. I’ve been clear and honest about that with you all from the get go. It’s my hope that after the smoke clears and the dust settles, that we can rebound from this, taking FIGHT! to even higher heights than before. The Gods know I can’t do it alone. But Season 3 is going to be unlike anything any of us could possibly imagine. The future is bright for all of us, but most of all for those of us wearing ten pounds of gold around our waists…

The sound of approaching footsteps could mean only one thing, I stand up ready to embrace my wife and girlfriend, but instead a baby is placed in my arms by my ex-fiancee, now sister in law, Jordan.

JORDAN
Merry Christmas, Uncle Dane…

I look up, confused as Allison and Bella wrap their arms around me, my brother Dylan beaming with pride at the sight before him. Turning my attention back to the bundle of joy in my arms, a tear rolls down my cheek, quickly wiped away by Bella.

BELLA
No crying on the babe. I can see a twinkle in her eyes as she looks down at my…

DANE
Boy or girl? I ask as my eyes search between Dylan and Jordan.

DYLAN
A boy. Donovan. After mom’s father.

DANE
Hello little Nephew, Donovan. Here… I hand him off to Bella and shoo them all inside the cottage. Get the baby inside before he catches a cold.

Bella, Allison and Jordan ascend the stairs to the cottage, Dylan starts to follow them up the stairs until I reach out and grab his arm.

DANE
Not you. You stay. We need to celebrate. I make my way over to our built-in fridge and grab a couple beers, tossing one to my brother. Man, you two waste no time. I didn’t even know that she was expecting.

DYLAN
We were unsure how to tell you, given your history and all that. I popped the caps off our beers before we clinked bottles and took a drink. Having children together was something the two of you always wanted…

DANE
Dill, you can’t keep dwelling on that. We’ve all moved on. I’m happy for the both of you. But you don’t need to worry about my feelings. This is a huge blessing.

DYLAN
I debated on waiting until after New Year’s to break the news to you. What with the biggest match of your career just a couple days away and all…

DANE
I’m glad you told me now. This news gives me even more reason to fight.

DYLAN
I’m proud of you little brother. I don’t know if that counts for much, all things considered. Just know that I am proud of the man you’ve become, and the life you now lead.

DANE
That means a lot, big brother. Truly. What happened, happened. You didn’t need me weighing you down. I see that now. You spent your formative years looking after me. You needed to look after yourself for once. I forgave you a long time ago.

DYLAN
I thank you for that, it means a lot to hear you say it out loud. We sit in silence for a few minutes, sipping our beers. So, this is what you call home? Don’t you think that cottage is awfully small for three to four adults and twin toddlers?

DANE
What, the cottage? It suddenly dawned on me, Dylan and Jordan have only been to The Compound in Jersey and our home in Woodside. Crap, that’s right, you haven’t been to Parts Unknown. No, this isn’t our home. This is our private cottage for private things if you catch my meaning.

DYLAN
A love shack?

DANE
Don’t you dare start calling it that… I chuckled. But yeah, for lack of a better term, a love shack.

From the cottage we hear the girls giggling and fawning over baby Donovan, Dylan walks over to the rail of the dock, digs his beer into the snow on top and leans against it.

DYLAN
You know, I remember watching you fight before you went away. I walked over and leaned against the rail, holding my beer loosely with three fingers as I listened. Nothing made me more proud than when I was watching you win your amateur fights. I knew you were destined for greatness, little brother. When you went to jail, I feared that your future was doomed. I threw myself into work so that I could help you when you got out. When you got into the cage fighting scene, I acquired a couple videos of you fighting and sent them into Damon’s agency. I hoped that one of those videos would get to him. I was there the night he approached you. The night you broke that seven footer down after getting your ass kicked half the fight. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect you to live a life like this. Married, a father, a business owner, and a professional fighter making high six figures a year…

DANE
Nines, big brother…

DYLAN
Hmm? he inquires mid sip of beer.

DANE
Nine figures a year. I give him a wink as I rub my thumb and forefingers together, symbolizing money, with a playful smirk on my face.

DYLAN
Well, excuse me Daddy Warbucks… he said before he slugged me in the shoulder.

DANE
With a smile I rub at my shoulder. Damon told me some years back that you had something to do with him ‘discovering’ me and taking me under his wing. I just never brought it up because I thought you wanted it to be a secret. I know I was angry with you for a few years after I got out. But once I was on my feet and providing for myself, realizing how hard it was just looking after myself, I had a newfound respect for you looking after your kid brother and yourself at such a young age.

DYLAN
And here you are going after the biggest title in the fight game. I guess I did some things right. I hope you’re ready to go to war. I’ve watched you since FIGHT! went mainstream, now I can actually catch the shows on cable when I get home from work. You deserve to be in the Main Event, little brother. I’ve known this since the first time I watched you light that punkass kid up on the schoolyard. Even then I knew you were destined for greatness. I want you to go out there at Countdown, and light Dickie’s ass up brighter than a Christmas tree. If I can be cheesy for a moment, All I Want For Christmas is to see the name PRESTON on the Empire Championship.

DANE
I’ll do my best, Dill.  But if I’m being honest, I didn’t want this fight in the first place.

DYLAN
What changed your mind?

DANE
Duty. Honor. Obligation to my peers that have traveled the roads with me these last couple of years… I will fight for all of them this time around. Not just for myself and the glory…

DYLAN
Noble quest if I say so myself. But you know, deep down some part of you is burning to get your hands on that title to call your own.

DANE
I’d be a liar and have no business in this business if I told you I didn’t. At our very core, we want to be the man. Emphasis on THEE.  Not to mention the front office coming to me practically begging me to bid on the fight.  I refuse to lose, big brother.

DYLAN
So go out there and get after it.

DANE
That is the plan, big brother. But let’s put that aside and get inside and love on baby boy Preston.

We polished off our beers and I took both bottles up with us as we made our way into the cottage. As Dylan went inside, I tossed the beer bottles in our recycling receptacle before turning my gaze to the moon, hidden by a blanket of clouds. Blowing into my hands for warmth, I wonder what this view will look like in a few days time. More importantly, how I will feel. Will it change? Depending on whether I win or lose? Feeling a tap on my shoulder, I turn and see Allison smiling, her hand extended to me. Taking her hand she leads me inside and I pull the door closed behind me.

#D4L