“MJ, your mom’s on TV!”
Shannon Joseph Stevens shouts from his perch on the king-sized bed in the Union Bank Inn. From the bathroom, MJ Flair swallows her annoyance: she made these hotel reservations when the tour was first announced, not knowing at the time that her sixteen year old pseudo-cousin would be tagging along. It’s not that she doesn’t like him - Shannon gets her better than anyone else in the world, if nothing else, because their respective parents literally traveled the same roads. Their proximity - she lives in New York while he lives in Florida - is likely the only reason they didn’t grow up as best friends or more.
Still, at the moment, the young CWF World Champion, combing the knots out of her drying hair, looks back on the halcyon days of three weeks ago when she didn’t have to share her hotel room with anyone.
MJ pulls an oversized, stretched - out Black Flag shirt out of her bag, as well as a pair of exercise shorts, and leaves the spacious bathroom for the hotel room proper. The television is now on a commercial.
MJF: How much did they get wrong?
Shannon: The usual. Tour postponed, personal reasons, rumor mongering about someone going to rehab.
He takes a bite of his chicken sandwich.
Shannon: I get it, but your mom’s insistence on a full media blackout isn’t helping.
MJ takes a deep breath and shrugs her shoulders. She joins Shannon on the bed while they stare, somewhat blankly, at the television.
MJF: If uncle TJ doesn’t want his mom’s medical problems to be part’a the public record, that’s pretty much that, man. Not a bunch we can do about it.
They sit in silence for a few seconds; the three years’ difference in their age seems to be an insurmountable chasm at the moment, as MJ is a globetrotting World Champion, while Shannon is more or less an average high schooler. The difference, of course, is that while all of their parents are free spirited entertainers that set their own schedule, MJ’s mother is the only one still actively pursuing her craft full time. Her father is fully retired from professional wrestling and splits his active life either minding the bar or going on the road as Angel’s chief of security. Shannon’s mom, the incomparable Ivy McGinnis, juggles multiple business ventures - all of which, by the way - from the accessibility of her telephone. His father, former multi-time World Champion ‘Triple X’ Sean Stevens spends most of his working hours overseeing a chain of gyms in the Orlando area, his wrestling career now cut back to semi-annual tours of Japan.
He’s on the second week of his final tour of the year, and, with McGinnis tending to the needs of Valerian’s Garden, this is why sixteen year old Shannon has hit the road with his ‘cousin,’ MJ Flair.
MJ flips the channel, and CWF Church vs State After Hours fills the room, with the pair showing highlights from, and commenting on the matches from Evolution 34.
Shannon: You had a really good match tonight. That stuff looked really tricky, how did you learn it all so fast?
MJF: I mean, Knox and Cally showed me the basics, but the rest was just… natural, y’know? And I’ve been crossfitting and running since I was twelve; that part was already done.
Shannon: You’re lucky. My dad got me a weight set for my birthday a few years ago, but I can’t seem to put on any bulk. Doc said my metabolism is too high for the gains to be noticeable.
MJ looks at him: it’s true, he’s skinny as a rail. It helps him out with the sports he does participate in: track and swimming, but, compared to his wrestler father and tough-as-nails mother, the only physical resemblance he has to his parents is his blonde hair and heterochromia - he has one of his father’s blue eyes and one of his mother’s green.
MJF: That doesn’t really matter… body types are body types, man.
Shannon: Yeah, but that’s easy for you to say. You got your mom’s body size and your dad’s muscle tone.
The statement is ridiculous on the surface: Angel is a five foot short, one hundred pound stick of a Goth singer, while Eli Flair is a near seven foot, three hundred pound mountain of a man. But MJ understands what he means: she’s muscular without being bulky and classically feminine without appearing weak.
MJF: It was a struggle; my dad pretty much forced me into the gym when I was in middle school.
Shannon: Really? How come?
She hesitates. Some things are meant to be private amongst family, but the tl;dr version should be fine.
Shannon: I’m confused.
MJF: My boobs and my butt were far too curved when I was like twelve or so, so Daddy insisted that I start exercising and muscle - building so I could appropriately defend myself when the boys came for me.
MJ winks, and Shannon looks at her with full sincerity for a few seconds before he busts out laughing.
Shannon: That’s not true… is it?
MJF: Who knows? Daddy did insist that I keep myself in really good physical shape, and to that end I’ve never been intimidated by a guy, ever.
Shannon: That last guy hit you.
MJF: I hit him first; still, I wasn’t intimidated in the slightest.
Their focus shifts to the television, where Charles State is talking with an image of MJ herself behind him. MJ hits the volume button immediately.
Charles State: “...uccessful defense against Jimmy Allen, we’ve learned that MJ Flair will be defending the CWF World Championship against yet another member of the Hostile Takeover at Evolution 35, Tobias Devereaux.”
Blake Church: “That makes all three members of Hostility’s insurgency in a row; you know James Milenko has something up his sleeve. Will we see him assert himself in this match? Will Loki Synn use it as a chance to send a message?”
Charles State: “Your guess is as good as mine, par--”
And MJ hits the mute.
Shannon: What, is he tough?
Smile. Laugh. MJ looks at Shannon and sees him for what he is: a wrestling fan who doesn’t give a monkey crap about wrestling politics.
MJF: He’s… It’s complicated.
Shannon: I’m here.
Yeah, yeah he is. And MJ considers it. Shannon gets her, better than anyone else in the world, but he’s been well and completely sheltered from the bullshit of professional wrestling to this point in his life, and has enjoyed just being a normal kid.
On one hand, it’s not fair to him to unload all of the issues of being a professional wrestler. On the other… MJ is already looking out for her family by taking Shannon in for a few weeks… it’s only fair.
MJF: You wanna know the deal, man?
He nods again.
MJF: We need drinks.
”Every relationship is an agreement.”
“I sign with the CWF, I agree to wrestle to the best of my ability in whatever setting the CWF decides.”
“I win the CWF World Championship, I agree to defend the title against all contenders, top to bottom, and to carry myself with dignity and respect befitting the Championship.”
“My business relationships are easy. I have to respect myself, respect my opponents, and respect the sport. I don’t owe anyone any favors, and I’m not in anyone’s back pocket. There are no restrictions on my defending the CWF World Title to the best of my ability.”
“Tobias Devereaux… it’s not quite as clear.”
“You’re part of the Hostile Takeover, which means, to some extent, you’re beholden to The Great Milenko. Which means, to some extent, you’re obligated to sell the lie.”
“Milenko. Jimmy. Loki. I’m sure you’ve said something about my integrity somewhere along the way, about how I’ve compromised myself by fighting fire with fire and not allowing myself to be victimized.”
“Because in a match with no rules, I’m at fault for swinging a heavy piece’a metal at my opponent after she introduced the thing. Because, after gettin’ my hair pulled and my eyes raked, I’m the villain for unwittingly elbowing my opponent in the balls.”
“Because somewhere along the way in this sport, integrity got wrapped up in a ball with bein’ a dupe.”
“Pop quiz, Tobias: if a Champion falls to the Hostile Takeover and nobody’s around to see her play within the lines… who fucking cares?”
The front door opens, and Shannon takes a step back.
Shannon: You know what, you get a car, you do your thing - and you come get me when it’s here.
MJ looks at him, the cold air already putting color in her pale cheeks underneath her black knit hat.
MJF: You and your thin Florida blood… dude.
She lets the door close on his face and walks to the valet station. There’s one attendant standing there, well bundled, drinking a cup of something hot. He looks at her approach and immediately snaps to attention.
Attendant: How may I assist you, ma’am?
MJF: Hi, I called down earlier for a car to the airport? Name is Flurstein?
Attendant: Absolutely, sweetie. Your car is waiting for you down below. Can I help you with your bags?
MJ shakes her head no, but drops a tip in his container. She gestures to Shannon, safe in the hotel lobby, and he bundles himself up to brave the cold. He picks up both their bags and pushes through the front door, handing MJ hers while they walk down the steps towards the waiting car.
Shannon: Thank you.
The attendant nods a cursory nod towards the young man, and Shannon notices the focal point of his gaze. He does a double take, and quickly catches up to his cousin, who is talking to the driver.
MJF: Airport, please.
Driver: Absolutely, buddy. Let me get that for you.
He takes the bag out of her hand and puts it in the trunk of his car. Shannon expectantly walks up with his own bag but the driver is already opening the back door for MJ. Shannon waits a moment, then puts his bag in the trunk and closes it, climbing into the back himself.
The inside of the vehicle is marginally warmer; MJ takes off her hat but keeps her hands inside her hoodie’s pouch. The driver pulls away from the curb and turns the radio up a bit, lost in the rhythm of the road.
Shannon: That valet guy was totally staring at your ass.
MJF: I know.
The baldness with which she says this surprises Shannon. He starts to reply, and starts again, and starts and fails a third time.
MJF: That’s life, man. You can’t change it, so you live with it.
Shannon: But--that’s not right!
MJF: No, it’s not… but what can ya do? I get into a heated, righteous debate with the guy, I don’t change his mind, I get labeled a bitch, and we miss our flight. Your mom’s given me some really good advice on dealing with tiny brained men out in the world.
Shannon: C’mon, she’s never--
MJ gives him the side-eye, and you can almost see the rose colored glasses fall from his face. You can’t blame him; it’s his mom, dude.
MJF: Both our moms’ve dealt with a shitton’a sexism in their spots, no matter how much they tried t’shield us from it. You, you’re easy: you’ll never really see it. Me?
MJF: Count the number’a opponents I’ve had that haven’t referred to me at least once as ‘little girl,’ subtract the actual women I’ve wrestled, and you’ll come up with a big fat zero.
Shannon: That’s so fucked up.
Driver: Honestly, buddy? There’s nothing wrong with a pretty girl being treated like a pretty girl.
MJF: Listen, man. There’s an extra twenty in it for you if you shut the fuck up for the rest’a the drive. Can ya do that?
He looks like he wants to fire back, but wisely, the drive keeps his mouth shut. MJ relaxes a bit, and turns back to her cousin.
MJF: You can’t change the world all by yourself, man… the best I can do is do my best t’change the conversation.
Shannon appears to consider this.
Shannon: That sounds really hard.
MJF: It’s the least I can try t’do for any girls that’re two or three years away from bein’ where I am, t’help’em get here.
Again, the driver looks like he wants to say something, but he wisely stays silent.
”I’m a selfish Champion.”
“And I mean, I march to my own drum, cliche though it sounds. I don’t like t’join up with one group or another because the subtext is that I’ll conform t’the identity that the group wants me t’be.”
“That’s not to say that all groups are bad. The Forsaken support each other and back each other up. The Glass Ceiling, funny as it is t’say… have a vision that all the members agree on.”
“The Hostile Takeover… I dunno about that.”
“James Milenko is a simple creature: he ran Hostility into the ground so now, in order t’desperately try t’remain relevant, he’ll try to take over another company. I mean, I guess that’s a positive… his obsession with me ain’t personal: he wants my CWF World Championship and he doesn’t care who gets it for him.”
“But his team should care.”
“Jimmy Allen openly mocked the Great Milenko at Evolution 34, called him a means to an end. I mean, their association got Jimmy a shot at the World Title, you can’t really deny that Milenko was effective.”
“Loki Synn? She just wants to watch the world burn, and I’mma assume that the Great Milenko is okay with that: if he can’t control the CWF World Title he’d be just as happy if nobody can.”
“And then there’s Tobias.”
“Playing a role.”
“Are you cool with that, Tobias? Are you cool with being put in the ring with the World Champion, and your benefactor doesn’t give a fuck if you win?”
“I mean, if ya win… cool. But if ya don’t? The Great Milenko has you playin’ the same role Jimmy Allen was: find a weakness. Build your intelligence file for Loki Synn’s inevitable next-shot.”
“And that’s where the Hostile Takeover breaks down, Tobias.”
“The Great Milenko wants t’have the CWF World Title under his control. He doesn’t care which’a you does it, but he’s got his eggs in the Loki basket. Jimmy Allen claims he took me to infinity and beyond like a failed space ranger, you think he wouldn’t like another shot?”
“Therein lies the rub, Tobias: when you’re the World Champion long enough, when you’ve defied the odds long enough, it’s no longer good enough t’be the CWF World Champion.”
“No; you wanna be the one that defeats the CWF World Champion. And will Jimmy allow you to be the one to take the belt from me when he wants to? Will Loki allow anyone but herself t’take her pounda’ flesh?”
“More than takin’ the CWF World Title, everyone wants t’take the CWF World Title from Emm Jay Eff. And I know it’ll happen someday… but today? You feelin’ lucky?”
“Will your posse allow it t’happen here?”
Snow falls outside the Westin in Calgary, but behind the floor - to - ceiling windows, MJ Flair, Tara Robinson, and Shannon Stevens are protected from the cold. Tara and MJ are sitting opposite each other at a small table, while Shannon looks out the window with great interest.
Tara Robinson: Awesome. Just one or two more, if I can.
MJF: Ab fab, my dear.
Tara Robinson: Assuming you’re able to get past Tobias at Evolution 35, who do you see yourself facing at Northern Crown?
MJ crosses her legs and slouches a bit, taking a deep breath.
MJF: Honestly? I beat Tobias, that’s all three Hostilities knocked down in a row… but I never pinned Loki. I think that’s a chapter that needs revision. But… but.
She stops Tara, and takes a sip from the short glass in front of her.
MJF: That’s getting ahead of myself. Tobias isn’t someone t’be taken lightly.
Tara Robinson: Any thoughts on your strategy?
MJF: Survive, Tara… survive.
The reporter laughs.
Tara Robinson: That easy, huh?
MJF: Simple; not easy.
Tara Robinson: There’s a difference?
The Champ arches an eyebrow.
MJF: Absolutely. The second you start watchin’ someone else’s match and say to yourself ‘Okay, I know who they are and what they do,’ you’re totally fucked. I can sit here after survivin’ Loki and beatin’ Jimmy and say, “I wrote the book on the Hostile Takeover,” but if I’m smart, I throw that book away and I take each moment as it comes. A leads t’B leads t’C. I start thinkin’ that I know what Tobias is gonna do before he does it, I’ve disrespected him and I’ve handed him the CWF World Title.
She leans forward.
MJF: And I’m not about t’hand that title over to anyone… he wants it, he’s gonna have t’take it from me.
Tara makes a few more notes, and she nods her head in agreement.
MJF: We good, chickie?
Tara Robinson: We’re good, chickie.
She puts her notebook and her tape recorder away, and shakes MJ’s hand. After six awkward hand pumps, the two women hug with a smile and a laugh.
MJF: You wanna hang for a drink or something?
Tara Robinson: No, I need to get to work. Unlike you spoiled athletes, we support staff need to be at work, even when the cameras are off.
MJF: What can I say, man - there are stars and there aren’t stars.
Through it all, Shannon watches the women banter with an ease that baffles him. He’s hung back, out of the way, but he’s listened intently. Tara packs up her back and puts her coat on and walks up to him, hand outstretched. After a moment, he shakes.
Tara Robinson: Nice to meet you, Shannon… looking forward to seeing you at Evolution.
Shannon: Likewise, thanks.
He catches himself watching her leave for a moment, but snaps out of it and turns his head back to MJ, who laughs.
MJF: You’re not a creepy guy, Shannon - you can look if ya don’t leer. C’mere.
The door closes, and Shannon walks to the table where MJ sits - she pours another glass for him.
Shannon: Is this okay?
MJF: You’re on vacation, right?
He nods his head and shrugs at the same time.
Shannon: Sort of?
MJ shakes hers.
MJF: You’re officially on tour, man, and ya don’t need t’perform - that’s vacation. Have a drink with the Champ.
Shannon takes the glass from her, they clink glasses, and he sips.
And he immediately regrets it. MJ chuckles at the face he makes as she takes a sip of her own.
MJF: Wow, you really never did this before, huh?
Shannon: I’ve been to plenty of parties with drinking, MJ… but I never liked whiskey.
MJF: Fair enough. But you can survive one finger, right?
Before he can answer, MJ holds up her hand.
MJF: That’s the amount I poured you, not a weird kink - don’t worry.
Shannon sits down and tentatively takes another sip - prepared for it, he doesn’t make the face.
Shannon: I don’t know how you do it.
MJF: Do what?
Shannon: Talk to her like that.
MJF: Tara? She’s an old friend, it’s easy.
Shannon: No. I mean - yeah, but no. I mean, every time you defend your title you’re chancing losing it, but you’re calm as ever. How do you keep your cool?
MJF: I dunno - I just do. Listen, Shan… everyone who wins a title knows they’ll lose it some day. If that’s at Evo against Tobias, I’ll fight, ‘n kick ‘n scream the whole way, but if he can do it he can do it. That’s the way’a the world. Jacehole didn’t want me t’take it from him. Colton didn’t want me t’win the vacant belt - it was just my time.
She drains her glass.
MJF: But he’s not doing it for the right reasons, and that’ll be his downfall.
Shannon: How so?
Instead of responding, MJ stands up and walks to the bed where both their bags are laying. She unzips the top of hers and pulls out the CWF World Championship title belt, and lays it down.
MJF: This right here. This means my career ain’t my career. You know why my dad never really liked bein’ a World Champion?
The blank stare that Shannon gives her is her cue to continue.
MJF: He liked doin’ his own thing. I mean, it’s not really a secret that Daddy wasn’t a prototypical Champion, and sometimes when he held the big gold belt the people in charge tried to mold him in a certain direction; that worked about as well as you can imagine.
At this, Shannon laughs.
MJF: I’m not quite as inflexible, I can work with the office and I can go where they need me and do the interviews and do the public appearances and the whole dog’n pony show - and I can do it while still bein’ me. But I can’t fully be myself when I’ve got this belt, because I’ve got a responsibility t’the CWF at the same time, that I’ve gotta carry the title with the dignity that befits a Champion.
Shannon holds up his hand.
MJF: Seriously, we don’t need to raise hands.
Shannon: I just didn’t wanna interrupt you. Isn’t that what the Hostile guys are saying you didn’t do?
Smiling, MJ points at her head.
MJF: That’s their narrative; I dunno what they expected me t’do when there’s no rules, or when I can’t see because my opponent raked my eyes. But, by the definition’a who they are, the Hostile guys can’t carry the belt with dignity, cause their whole existence is based on bein’ not-the-CWF.
She holds out her hands like scales, one clearly ‘weighing’ more than the other.
MJF: It don’t balance.
In response, Shannon drinks more of his whiskey. It’s going down a bit more easily now, and he (probably) foolishly pours himself a bit more.
Shannon: That’s way too convoluted for me.
Staving off a potential disaster, MJ takes the glass from him and downs it.
MJF: It’s way too convoluted for me, my friend… that’s why all I can do is do the best I can and hope it’s good enough t’survive for the CWF one more day.
With that, she picks up the bottle and returns it to the minibar, despite her cousin’s protestations.
After all, she’s actually starting to enjoy herself and she wants to make sure he’s allowed to tour with her again.
”So what’s it come down to, Tobias?”
“I’m not gonna run ya down personally… I don’t know you well enough t’do so. I appreciate, however, the fact that, after Hellbound, you were alone in the Hostile Takeover t’recognize that clockin’ Loki Synn across the face with her own scepter had nothin’ t’do with dignity or integrity: it was a matter’a survival.”
“But you’re still thrown in with a group’a interlopers that wanna change the narrative.”
“You want the Hostile Takeover t’be the rulin’ factor in the CWF; in fact, I’m sure if you asked The Great Milenko he’d be down t’change the name’a the place from the CWF to Hostility.”
“And forget your personal protestations; if you’re on his team, you’re fightin’ for his cause. That’s just the nature’a the beast.”
“So you wanna be the World Champion; you - that is, the collective ‘you’ - want the CWF World Championship t’be controlled by The Great Milenko and the Hostile Takeover. You want that t’change the narrative from you three as the outsiders t’you three as the main course.”
“There’s just one problem, Tobias.”
“I’ve already changed the narrative.”
“I’m an outsider to the CWF, just like you. But instead’a insisting that the CWF conform t’the identity I want it t’be, I entered the stream.”
“I became the stream, then I overcame it.”
“Therein lies the biggest lesson I can teach you, Tobias: the strong will enter the system and assert their personality, and create a new narrative that incorporates both.”
“The weak? They preach isolationism. Nationalism. The narrative doesn’t work because ya don’t understand it, won’t try t’interpret it, and can’t control it. The goal’a the weak is t’destroy the narrative in favor’a the one that they’re already part of.”
“The strong create. The weak destroy.”
“And let me let you in on a little secret, Tobias.”
“Y’need t’be strong... t’be the CWF World Champion.”
“And I’ve been creatin’ a new narrative for almost a year.