Justine Calvin makes her way through the backstage area following the conclusion of her first-ever singles match on the national stage. Tomorrow her muscles will feel every minute of that match, but for now she is content to coast on the surge of adrenaline still coursing through her. Despite the recent injuries to it at the hands of the Love Convoy, the left arm held up okay. All things considered, it’s been a pretty good day.
Then she hears it. Justine doesn’t recognize the lyrics or the song, only the voice. The drawl is unmistakable.
“You were a bright light, you were a fist fight…”
At least, it was a pretty good day.
Another surge of adrenaline hits her system, the fight or flight instinct taking over. Paxton Ray weighs twice as much as she does, and stands a good foot taller. That he’s a terrible singer is the least of her concern.
Still, her hands ball into fists. A snarl curls the corner of her lips. Fight it is, then.
The Bayou Butcher sees Justine stop and he rolls to a stop as well, landing a few feet away from the tag champion.
Paxton Ray: Hey there, champ. Nice match.
Justine scoffs, then spits on the ground at his feet. It’s fortunate that her mother doesn’t watch every week, or there would be a lecture in her future.
Justine Calvin: You. Don’t. Belong here.
Paxton nods, reaching up to rub his beard.
Paxton Ray: I see why ya think that. I ain’t as dumb as they say, ya know. I know what I did ain’t right.
He looks back briefly to find a nearby wall and leans against it.
Paxton Ray: But at the end’a th’ day, I am here, belongin’ or not. And if I’m here, I’ma keep doin’ the thing I love. Sorry if it makes ya feel bad.
He’s not sorry.
It’s the ease at which he carries himself that draws her ire.
Justine Calvin: The hell you will. I don’t know if you realize this, shithead, but there’s just one of you, and there’s a whole locker room full of us. You think everyone’s just going to forget about what happened to Jon and let you go on with your life? You think everyone’s going to forget about what happened to Mark?
She flexes the fingers on her right hand and rolls her wrist. She hasn’t been around long enough for people to pick up on it yet, but it’s her tell.
Justine Calvin: So yeah, you’re here. Now. But I wouldn’t fucking get comfortable if I were you.
But he does look so comfortable right now. His boot dances on and off the wall as he looks down at Justine.
Paxton Ray: Is that right.
Justine doesn’t answer. Paxton leaves his perch, launching himself back into full posture. He takes a few steps towards her and smiles.
Paxton Ray: Well if it’s all of ya versus lil’ ol’ me, then y’all are more than welcome to make me leave any time ya like. But ya won’t.
He continues to close in on her.
Paxton Ray: ‘Cause ya can crow all day long ‘bout what’s right an’ wrong, but talkin’ is easier than fightin’. People can hurt ya. Make ya bleed. Drown ya in fuckin’ chocolate.
At the last word, Justine’s face cracks briefly, though her snarl returns quickly as Paxton leans in.
Paxton Ray: And ya never. Fight. Back.
A torrent of memories flood her mind, the horrors of the last few months replaying themselves on a loop. Twice her partner’s life was threatened, and twice she was unable to do anything to prevent it.
Justine Calvin: (hissed) Fuck you.
Her punch is clean, solid. The height disparity between them means she has to reach more than she’d like, sacrificing power for precision. Her father was a boxer. She grew up with three older brothers. Learning how to throw a punch was taught early on in the Calvin household, the most important item on the list behind first words, learning to walk, and potty training.
Paxton rears back, his hand going straight to his jaw. He rubs the spot a little and finds a bit of blood coming out of his lip. Looking away for a moment, he turns back to his assailant with a smile.
Paxton Ray: Oh, Jussy. I was so hopin’ ya would do that.
He quickly lunges forward and grabs at her.
Paxton is hit by a blur of blue and white, the impact hard enough that he’s sent careening into a nearby stack of crates. The blow is strong enough to break his grip on Justine, who is dragged down with them. Before either she or Ray can react, Sykes is back on his feet, grabbing Paxton by his shirt and driving him into the nearest crate.
King Blueberry: Hey, Paxton. Been a while.
The first thing that catches his eye is a cart a few steps away, upon which is stacked a pile of folded chairs. It’s the sort of thing the production crew would use to move seats in and out of the floor area of the Grand Garden Arena. In this case, it may as well be a weapons locker. Sykes picks up the topmost chair, hefting it in his hands, testing the weight. The first swing connects. A jolt of electricity rockets the length of Paxton Ray’s spine, and a surge of energy is released from the gathered faithful.
It all happens so fast that only now does the broadcast team realize what’s happening.
Nick Stuart: Pandemonium has broken out backstage!
Richard Parker: Call it whatever you want, Nick. As far as I’m concerned this is justice.
A second shot connects, and then a third. A fourth follows.
Justine Calvin: Jared, what the fuck are you doing?
She stumbles to her feet, her body still sore from the last few months of hell now only compounded by being minutes removed from her match. She moves to intervene and only just escapes being clipped by the backswing on her partner’s fifth shot with the chair. The blow is hard enough that the weapon bends, and the back section breaks free of its solder and flies across the length of the space.
Sykes looks at the broken frame he holds, turning it over in his hands. He casts the bent metal aside and calmly picks up a replacement. Justine takes a step towards him, desperate to bring the situation under control. This isn’t the boy she grew up with. It’s not the man who brought her to PRIME and opened a door for her career. She searches his face, looking for some hint of that person, but the expression she finds causes her to freeze.
There isn’t one.
Justine Calvin: (softly) Jared?
A second chair is dented and bent against the body of Paxton Ray.
Nick Stuart: Fans I’ve just been told that security has been made aware of the situation and are on their way to try and break this up.
Richard Parker: If they decide to stop by the casino first I won’t complain.
The third chair isn’t swung, but rather unfolded and thrown like a crude javelin. The fourth chair mercifully misses its target, but is swung hard enough that it punches through the wooden wall of one of the production crates and lodges itself there.
Justine Calvin: Jared, come on, that’s enough!
He doesn’t stop. A fifth chair is pulled from the stack, and turned sideways. The swing that follows is the most brutal, as it’s wielded like an axe and swung with two hands so that the impact isn’t taken flat, but rather along one rigid edge.
The Bayou Butcher rolls onto his side, arching his spine and grimacing through clenched teeth. Before he can catch his breath he’s forced onto his back. The air is driven from his body as the crossbeam between the folded legs of the chair is pressed against his throat. All two-hundred pounds of Jared Sykes leans against it. The anger now pours through the rips in his mask. Anger, and a hint of regret.
King Blueberry: Don’t… you… ever…
The words are all but spat at the trapped brawler. Between gasps Paxton tries to push free, but he is caught in the teeth of a Turkish kangal, jaws locked tight around its prey.
Justine snakes her arms around her partner’s waist and plants her feet. Despite the fact that she’s giving up almost eighty pounds, she has to try.
Justine Calvin: Stop! Just stop! Jared, please!
Fortunately for Justine, someone’s there to help. His name is Sid Phillips, and he usually only knows powerbombs. Tonight, though, he’s there to use his considerable size to take hold of one of Jared’s arms and pull him back. It’s almost like he’s fighting the tide, though, and even he has trouble keeping Jared held back until Joe Fontaine comes in to grab hold of the other side.
Coral Avalon: Whoa, there! That’s enough!
Coral Avalon puts himself between Paxton Ray and Jared Sykes, right into the eye of the storm. He keeps his head on a swivel, keeping both of them in his sight. Jared could always break away, somehow. Paxton might not be as dead as he looks. He stands ready to fight both of them to get them to stop, even if it means he’s the one sent to the hospital for it.
Coral Avalon: Sorry, Jared, I’m afraid the lady asked for you to stop.
In between heavy breaths, Jared relents.
King Blueberry: Alright… alright… fine.
He lets his muscles relax, letting the tension bleed away. Jared allows himself to be led back a few paces, and while his posture has eased the grip on the chair never lessens.
King Blueberry: Fine.
For his part, Paxton doesn’t move. Within the hour, a post will appear on Reddit counting the amount of times he was leveled with a chair in the space of the last few moments. The final tally will be twenty-six.
Justine Calvin: (whispered) What the fuck.
King Blueberry: It’s cool. I’m fine.
Coral Avalon: I’m glad that it’s cool and you’re fine. Can you put down the chair now?
The next few seconds seem to drag on forever as Jared stands steadfast, still white-knuckling the leg of a ravaged folding chair, before his fingers release and it clatters to the floor.
King Blueberry: There. It’s done.
His eyes never leave the still-prone Paxton.
Justine Calvin: Okay, I think we need to talk. Now.
With the Winds there for support in the event Jared has a change of heart, Justine is finally able to pull him away from the scene.
The last thing the camera sees before transitioning is Paxton Ray sprawled out on the tile, a smile curling across his lips.