“That’s what people never understand: They see us hard little pretty things, brightly lacquered and sequin-studded, and they laugh, they mock, they arouse themselves. They miss everything. You see, these glitters and sparkle dusts and magicks? It’s war paint, it’s feathers and claws, it’s blood sacrifice.”
― Megan Abbott, Dare Me
Stumbling through the door, it was only then that Amber realized she was missing a shoe.
Double vision had been deceptive and the faint waft of something sickly sweet and wickedly intoxicating on her breath only stood to confirm it. By the time they’d gotten the door closed, the left strap of her dress had already fallen by her elbow and the lacy scalloped edges of her bra peeked further over the sinking neckline.
She didn’t care though, she was in love.
Or at least the closest approximation that people like Dominic and Amber could muster.
Dominic was still laughing as he sprawled over the couch edge- it was easy to forget how fucking extravangant this room was, how they’d wined and dined all night on the ill-gotten takings of their underhanded natures. Marble counters topped mahogany cabinetry while the faint scent of leather lingered in her nose as she stalked by the couch clumsily. Silk sheets caressed bare skin as Amber flopped onto the king bed, sprawling out as the room shifted around her.
“I told you Red!”
Dominic was yelling despite the fact he didn’t need to, perhaps they could just blame it on the exasperation of getting tangled in his jacket sleeves as Amber slowly managed to roll onto her stomach, watching through the open doorway with an idle, albeit blank smile.
Deep down, she knew a place like this was beyond her means- successes in the wrestling ring were mounting, but they were slow and the receptions lukewarm to a champion that seemed to be scraping by. Part of her wanted to admit that her achievements would never see her in a place like this again, that all the pride she took in how far she’d come wouldn’t amount in a tangible way while the travel chewed viciously through the little she was saving.
Dominic would never let her forget it, if she did though.
“I told you things would work o--- ugh. Out.”
Caught off guard by some momentary reflux and finally free of his restraint, Dominic unsteadily leaned in the doorway- the lurid path of his eyes almost offset by the level of intoxication in her veins. She knew she’d never really be any more than a plaything, an object of convenience and comfort that could readily be replaced when her usefulness ran its course- while they were still scrapping and scrounging for handholds, he needed her.
Nights like this though were proving that their days were numbered- for now though, for now they were the closest to being in love that either of them could manage.
“That fucking prea-- preacher has more money and he knows what *hic* to do with. Besides, if money is the root of all *hic* evil then maybe we’re doing some of God’s work on our own and liber-*hic*-liberating him from his sins.”
Dominic laughed at the ineptitude of his own speech, marred by pathetically little hiccups that left him looking surprised and slightly embarrassed. Amber wasn’t really listening though, just allowing the coolness of the silken sheets to graze across bruises that bloomed in increasingly sickening purples and greens. In the grander scheme of things, they hadn’t really done that much- a little skimming off the top and a little more networking to cut out proverbial middle dealers and find their own extra slices of an already heavily divided share…
It was almost easy, if they could ignore the ever-looming mousetrap of reality that dangled over their heads.
Amber knew she’d be fine though, if things went south.
Cut and run. She still had wrestling after all, maybe it wasn’t quite as lucrative- but be damned if it didn't make her happy. Far happier than she was here.
In an attempt to be sexy that just bordered on sheer incompetence with fine motor skills, Dominic ended up flopping down almost on top of Amber as she writhed distractedly in the midst of a pale lustrous sea of sheets. His hands found hers as his lips grazed her neck leaving an almost inaudible laugh to dance across her skin, fingers entangled as he struggled to find purchase.
“We deserve this, you know…”
Breathlessly, the words tingled and set every nerve on edge.
“Everything we’re doing and everything *hic* we’ve done Red, is for this. Is for us. You and me against all those *hic* fuckers who’d rather see us beg and crawl on our hands and *hic* knees for scraps.”
There was an intensity that sobered her slightly as his knee slipped in between hers and the dress front tumbled a little further.
“Soon, you won’t have to *hic* mess around with that stupid wrestling shit. We’ll be *hic* royalty. We’ll show everyone…”
Amber allowed herself a smile as his lips messily found hers, though there was nothing passionate in the way his tongue hungrily entwined. Going through the motions while pretending like either of them felt anything genuine, like maybe if they kept trying they’d finally understand what it actually felt like to care so deeply about anyone else.
Pulling away for air, Amber found herself locking eyes with the young Del Gado, as they both panted lazily.
“Maybe I like that ‘stupid wrestling shit’. I happen to be pretty decently good at it, remember…”
Despite the playfulness of her tone, Dominic’s expression soured as he pulled back further. It wasn’t as though he could feign anything beyond his disappointment from this proximity, crestfallen as though she’d told him that she had a headache. Silently his fingers left hers, although somehow they remained interlocked by their own inseparable pride.
“Are you fucking *hic* kidding me. Do you even listen to yourself sometimes, Bambi?”
Bambi. He knew he wasn’t allowed to call her that- only ever doing so when looking for a rise, a reason to fight and drag her back down from whatever vantage point she might have quietly settled upon. Staggering away frustratedly, Dominic scowled as she sat up- pulling the straps of her dress back into a place of relative decency.
“What is your problem? Why are you so fucking offended by the fact I actually have something to be proud of- honestly, is it really that threatening to you that I have a this modicum of success while you’re struggling to get out from under your Daddy’s shadow?
Grow up Dominic. I’ve worked just as hard as you and gotten half as far for my efforts- would it kill you to be supportive, just once?”
Rage was replaced by something far more primal by the time the last syllables left her lips, her eyes clouded with venom and vitriol as Dominic’s expression softened. Not so much in realizing that he was wrong, only that he knew it was a battle to be strategically lost in a greater war of wills.
“I won a goddamn title, I have defended it on international programming. Why can’t you just appreciate that I did something good and be proud of me?”
Pitifully, the words hung in the air. She’d been champion for nearly 4 months now- and yet it meant nothing to anyone, but her it seemed.
“I *hic*, I apologize. I got carried away with what we’ve achieved that I forgot that it's not the only thing worth celebrating. You are worth celebrating.”
Insincerity dripped from his tongue, however by now she’d accepted it as the closest thing to the real thing that she might ever experience. Gently, he loomed back over her and took her hands within his- both of them falling back amid the mess of sheets lustily as Dominic sought to resume where they’d left off. Amber found her investment waning though, her ability to just smile and pretend lessened to the point it was becoming septic in her heart.
It didn’t escape her either that in all the bullshit and bluster- that he’d never once said that he loved her.
That he cared.
About her, or about anything she’d achieved in a ring.
… and that was okay, cause in the end it was what both of them knew they deserved.
“How did we all get to this point?
Some might argue that it's hard work and perseverance, years of blood and sweat lost to an unforgiving canvas that finally pay off in some tangible way. They might speak of the good and the bad, and of the way the flames of every level of hell have licked at our heels. Dedication to a cause, regardless of how it might have gotten us admired and ostracized despite never changing our stance.
There are others who would call it a fluke- a mistake that never got the correction it required to resettle the status quo, that every subsequent achievement was built upon a shoddily constructed foundation of lies and hypocrisy. They’d say we were never supposed to get here, that we don’t deserve the accolades to our names- someone else had been robbed for our benefit and now we walk on borrowed time like we own it.
In all honesty, the truth always lies somewhere in between.
Ask anyone and they’ll give you a vastly different perspective on the same problem.
In the same breath that someone might say I have earned and deserve my place as Bombshells World Champion, another will be quick to speak on the fact that some of my victories have been less than definitive- as though they might have done any better in my position. In the same breath that some might call Alex Jones a true and just World Champion in his own right, there will be others who say he got lucky and scraped by against an opponent who misjudged and miscalculated a called shot.
What no one would ever dispute, except perhaps the person in question, is the question of just how the fuck Christina Rose got herself back into the World Title picture.
Of course, the answer is really quite simple.
You drew in her contendership match with Roxi. Fate destined this to happen, the planets aligned and the Earth’s jagged, molten jaws will surely open up and swallow SCW as we know it whole… Ah fuck, my bad. That's the wrong world ending. I’m thinking of the apocalypse- you know, the one that happens when I eventually lose this title.
Back to Christina though… I mean, it's an answer right?
Sure, but it’s also wrong.
No one will claim that you haven’t done a lot of extraordinary things- I mean it really is, all those world title reigns with a missing chromosome. Unheard of. Besides it's not like you’re ever going to let anyone forget that you won this title that I took from you a record breaking five times… Yet somehow you’re the least convincing challenger walking into this match. That's why you’re fighting and not wearing the stripes sweetheart- this is your last chance to give anyone a reason to care that you’re involved beyond who gets to beat you first.
Five times you’ve held this title, and you squandered the chance to do anything with it everytime. Instead of using your influence to improve this place- you turned it into your own little paparazzi playground to document the far-from-scandalous familial existence you lead.
Let’s be real here Christina- it's not success that gave you a big fucking head, it was years of consistent inbreeding. Gotta keep those genes pure, right? For scientific purposes maybe.
You have made being a multiple time champion into a goddamn joke, what you have managed to do in five I have eclipsed in one- and yet I have no doubt that you’re gonna come into this match talking about momentum and being determined to do better this time.
No, you had your chance to do better over six months ago.
Now, you’re just the third wheel to the biggest fucking rematch this company has seen since High Stakes 2020. Yeah, I’m that fucking conceited cause I’ve earned the right to be and I have no doubt that Roxi would agree with me- right before she vomits from swallowing that bitter, bitter pill.
You’re a squeaky auxiliary piece in a puzzle that didn't need fucking sound effects, the anchor on a team that should otherwise freely sail onto victory and conquest at High Stakes.
I mean, have you actually considered for a second that this match means something to anyone else besides you?
I’m a riot.
You, Christina Rose, are the reason your team is gonna walk out onto that stage at Climax Control and fail before you ever touch that canvas. You are the reason that Jack Washington gets to fight an uphill battle to reclaim his momentum after you scupper it for your own selfish motives… and just like last time, you will be the reason that I'm the champion walking out of a Supercard main event.
See, if I were a smart boy like Jack Washington- I would do anything I could to keep you from tagging into this match. At least then his odds might be closer to 60/40 rather than a 95/5 and that's only predicated on whether or not I can show some self-restraint and not get myself disqualified for just removing you from the High Stakes picture entirely.
Hell, Roxi might even approve.
… and to think, we could have saved ourselves so much trouble last year if only she’d told me.
Yeah, safe to say that communication never was the strongest part of our relationship, Hero.
Can you actually imagine it though- Jack Washington actively trying to avoid tagging you on Climax Control just so that he stands a sliver of a chance of winning. Man, that's really fucking depressing, isn’t it? That even the top mens contenders don’t think you fucking belong…
You’re the only one in this match Christina still trying to prove their way into their match- and I’ll be honest, I’m going to do everything within my god given power to make sure you don’t make it to the main event- not because you’re a threat, but because it's not your fight… and you don’t get to make it yours just cause you think you deserve it.
What you deserve is at the end of my arm. What you deserve is everything you’re going to get in this match. What you deserve Christina- like everything else that comes out of your mouth- is completely irrelevant.
No honey, you don’t get to dictate the rules of engagement cause you don’t like the font.
Last week at Climax Control 314- I didn’t need to send a message against your wife, although I’m sure you expected me to cause I’m that predictable or something equally absurd in retort. Nah see, you’ve already beaten and degraded her enough without my help. No, I was saving that message for this week… for this match… for you.
See, the thing is that nothing seems to sink in when it comes to you- so I’m preparing to speak a language that you might begin to understand. It's not one draped in gold and glory though, nor is it the fairytale ending where you get to slay the beast and reclaim a prize that only you seem to devalue by wearing it.
It's blood and it's fury. It's everything I’ve worked for and everything that you threaten to cheapen by proximity. It's the venom that I swallow time after time watching you prance around like you’re gods fucking gift to this division- when all you do is create existential dread in those worried they might be compared when their stock falls too far.
When it comes to Bombshells, Jack Washington drew the fucking short straw and nothing he can do changes that- the stank doesn’t just wash off, no one gets to just rid themselves of that kind of juju without a good ole fashioned seance.
Without ever stepping into that ring, you’ve cost yet another person an opportunity to do better.
It's such a shame as well, cause we’ll never really know if Jack Washington could have won this match for you… and it's all cause you’re too stubborn and selfish to just stand on the apron, hold the tag rope and contribute nothing. You’ll be determined to pull your weight, only it's your partner that takes that strain- and as capable as I’m sure he is, there's no counterbalance to the self-centeredness of Crystal Zdunich.
You’ll wanna prove that I’m wrong, and in doing so… you just keep proving me right.
Personally, I’d be happy to watch the guys slog it out between themselves cause I’m confident that Alex Jones is more than an overwrought fluke. Besides, he beat my husband and it's not exactly easy for me to overlook such transgressions. I’d happily stand on that apron and watch Roxi practically tearing her hair out. All the while Christina, she can’t do anything more than wait for your jealousy and ego to ruin all of this for everyone involved… and more importantly, she can’t save you once you step in there with me.
Kinda the same thing by now, isn’t it?
Fact of the matter Christina is that the last time we met- I beat you clean. I beat you fair. You brought your best and tried to tear me down at every opportunity before hand while proclaiming loudly for justice- and I made you eat every syllable before walking away with MY World title. I fought you in the main event of a Supercard and I let you walk away with the remains of your dignity...
This time… I’m going to fucking make sure you don’t get there to begin with.”
Undisclosed Downtown Bar
Good fucking god, she should have left four or five drinks ago.
Somehow the sight of her husband's back as he passed through the neon bathed doorway and out into the night had sent Amber’s legendary levels of spite and determined self-destructive tendencies into overdrive. Mac had quietly cited the fact he had a flight to Port Arthur to catch in the morning, although Amber couldn’t bring herself to argue for fear that he might have already told her that earlier and she’d simply drunk way too much to remember- or worse, to care anymore.
Part of her had wanted to scream and shout till her throat ran hoarse, however the hypocrisy left a certain bitterness on her tongue knowing she’d used the other more distracting aspects of her life to distance herself from what the real issues were.
Now Mac was doing the same thing and she couldn’t help, but almost hated him for it.
Hate him, or hate herself.
That was becoming a thinner line by the day.
… and so she drank. Alone and with malice. With every intention of numbing all the things that she otherwise couldn’t bring herself to confront, until it simply crumpled into a toxic submission that she might kick under the bed for a little longer. Resting her head in her hand, Amber’s eyes lolled lazily while her free hand swirled a near full glass of whatever the bartender had recommended, watching the fluoresced liquid kiss tenderly at the edges.
It wasn’t as though she didn’t care, if she thought there was some simple way to solve all of life's problems for a man who’d given her more than she ever deserved- then she’d have done so without a moment's hesitation. However things weren’t that simple and it was tough to make a difference to someone who refused to admit there was a problem to begin with.
In any other skin, Amber might have been a target. With the cascade of red tumbling over her shoulder as she propped herself back mostly upright against the table, and the slightly distant glazed over expression as her thoughts wandered in hopes of finding a semblance of sobriety to cling to- she knew she was being watched.
That had come with the territory from day one- on the carnivals they’d turned fragile masculinity into a showcase headlined with shoots against those who orated most loudly and vulgarly towards the then 16 year old. As she got older, Dominic had always tried to utilize her ‘feminine wiles’ to honey negotiations and distract from what otherwise brought them to the table- bat her eyelashes on cue and smile like she was interested in anything but straining the pureed remains of the younger businessman's skull through his fucking buttonholes.
Coming up in mixed competition- she’d spent her career fending off crude offers and stigmatized commentary, using her gender to cut them off at the knees instead of a crutch to find purchase in the slippery slopes of success. Not that it ever stopped anyone, it just ended up being that she just became an exception instead of the baseline for a rule…
Now, even in spite of the rings on her finger, she couldn’t escape the virulent gaze of a couple of men trying to scrape enough testosterone between them to approach… for the fourth time. If she weren’t so thoroughly ticked off with the repeated intrusions, Amber would have almost been amused by the group of four white collars- persistent perhaps, however they had far too many tickets on their potential to begin to impress.
Fuck, all she wanted was to just get obliterated in peace without the threat of self-invitation.
How was it that everything seemed far more difficult when Mac wasn’t around?
With a frustrated sigh, Amber took another sip from her glass leaving a lipstick residue while a little bit of the liquid dribbled carelessly from the corner of her mouth. Somewhere in there was a joke about being impossible to miss such a big target, however that soon diffused into the musty body odour and liquor fumes as the group once again made their approach- trying badly to flank while appearing as non-threatening as a group of four men approaching a woman could be.
One of them settled himself at the table, resting easily across the surface which prompted Amber to withdraw her own arms reflexively. She didn’t come here for this- whatever it was becoming- nor was she intending to find out.
In an effort to step away, the two closest on either side shifted further towards her as though subconsciously blocking the exit without physically doing so- meanwhile the one she presumed was the ringleader of this particular walking circus smiled and clinked his own glass messily off hers, admiring the faded crimson stain.
“Come on now sweetheart, we just wanna talk… You know?”
Amber knew exactly, as intoxicated as she might have been, however her tongue stayed firmly inside her head as her stare hardened. In response to the body language shift, the ringleader threw his hands up in mock offense.
“Now, take it easy, girly. Just trying to make friends… ain’t that right?”
A murmur of varying stages of agreement hummed around Amber as she gently curled her fingers.
“Besides, a young lady as pretty as yourself… Well it seems criminal to be sitting here drinking by yourself, especially at such an establishment. Let us get you another, we’ll call it even on the sudden intrusion.”
“No, thank you.”
Through gritted teeth she could taste liquor in the back of her throat, a little reflux setting off her adrenaline as her cheeks flushed slightly. Disappointedly, the spokesperson frowned as though not anticipating rejection on a fourth occasion while his glass continually lingered around the edges of hers.
“Not exactly the friendly type, huh? That's alright, I wanted to compliment your lip colour but I think it’d look far better wrapped around---”
Amber slammed her hand down into the tabletop before the last syllables could fall luridly from his lips causing all the men to startle, two of them laughed it off while the spokesperson and one other found themselves wearing some of their own drink splatter. Wrinkling her nose, she mustered the most vicious snarl she could in hopes that maybe she might simply bluff her way out- that a sudden unexpected act of ‘violence’ would be enough to drive them off.
Hell, she could see the front door in her peripheral- 15, maybe 20 feet depending how well she could keep a straight line trajectory.
“You know what…”
Brushing himself off, the ringleader took a couple deep breaths before reaching slowly across the table as though looking to caress Amber’s cheek- however she pulled away enough so the best he might manage would be to graze her shoulder.
“You’re just lucky you have such a pretty little, fuckable face sweetheart. Tell you what, why don’t we just leave now, yeah? You can show me in your own fiery way how sorry you are for that little outburst and I might even let you enjoy it…”
Static. Like a fucking jolt of electricity, the edge of his finger gently grazed against the exposed skin of her shoulder and she felt her whole body momentarily seize. Every synapse firing at once, the explosion of adrenaline and fury surging through her veins so hard they might have torn asunder from the pressure- before she could regain any form of bodily control, the table had already been shoved aside and her white knuckled fist found the cartilage of his nose.
A spray of blood splattered across the both of them as he tumbled backwards with Amber still wildly throwing everything that she had bubbling under her skin into the man's bloodied maw. All that self-loathing, the hurt and determined suffering that she’d been harbouring, the expectations of being world champion that she kept raising- it rained down in a flurry of blood and bone.
It didn’t fucking matter that a couple jagged and broken teeth cut her knuckles raw, or that he seemed to stop trying to defend himself in a matter of seconds. Several sets of hands tried to pry her away, the man's cohorts now completely bewildered and aghast at the turn their night had taken quickly gave way to something else… primal… fearful.
They were scared of her.
Oh god, why did it feel good?
It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered. Swinging wildly, two of the men trying to contain her found themselves unable to keep their grip as her blood slicked forearms sunk deep into the midsection of one and into the ribs of another- something crunched and gave way slightly beneath her fist as an exhaled groan echoed soundlessly in the ruckus.
Freed from their grips and the merciless rage she’d been overcome with, Amber fell backwards into some of the table wreckage, tasting blood as she found a cut on her swelling lip from a hit she had no recollection of taking.
People were screaming. Staring. Realization washed over her like she’d been dumped by a wave, cold and heavy. Scrambling to her feet unsteadily, she tripped and skinned across knees protected only by a few strands of torn denim as her legs seemingly operated remotely to the rest of her body. Behind her, one of the men finally found that testosterone he'd been looking for earlier and called out as she stumbled hurriedly through the doorway and out into the night.
“Fuck you bitch, you’ll get whats coming to you.”
Sucking down the deepest breath she could manage, blood dribbled down her chin slowly. Metallic and viscous. Nothing else tasted like blood, nor did it chase down the mixture of alcohol and bile that had collected in the back of her throat.
Noisily, Amber almost crawled towards the nearest gutter and vomited her feelings several times over, trying to ignore the iron-esque acrid smell of blood that wasn’t hers lingering on the front of her shirt and Jackson Pollocked across her cheeks like dripping red freckles.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
She didn’t mean for any of it to happen.
Why couldn’t they just have left her alone…
Rolling onto her back, the concrete pavement digging uncomfortably into her back as the sound of distant sirens punctuated the night air- one thought lingered long after the rest faded into a fuzzy half-recollection that she'd have to deal with later. Consequences be fucking damned, she was a World Champion after all- that had to mean something...
Still, that didn’t explain why it felt so good…
Why she almost enjoyed it.
… 'you’ll get what's coming to you’ ...
A stranger's less than nuanced threat after the fact shouldn’t have held so much weight, and yet it repeated back on her worse than the reflux. It had truth, although she’d dare never admit it as Amber haphazardly got halfway to her feet before stumbling sideways, grazing her arm on the pavement and very nearly smashing her head on the concrete. With thanks to some very last minute situational awareness, she averted tragedy and dutifully, albeit very drunkenly, noted that the sirens were getting closer now.
Finally getting to her feet and roughly brushing herself off, bloodied and blissfully aware of the chaos she’d wrought, Amber staggered off into the night knowing that maybe…
Maybe she was just getting everything she deserved.