LEVEL OF EFFORT
Like, deep backstage. So backstage that it’s practically the parking lot.
On most nights, you’ll find Jared Sykes in one of a few places. Most of the time he keeps to himself in the locker room he shares with his partner Justine Calvin, at least when she’s in the building. Depending on the plans for the night, he’ll also be in the ring for an undetermined number of minutes. And then, on the nights that go sideways, he’ll be a regular in the medical area.
But on nights where something major is at stake, when there are actual tangible consequences for the outcome of a match, you can find him at the loading dock. It’s an old habit, one that he picked up in the early years of his career. It tends to be a quiet place, since any activity that would happen there needs to wait until the end of the show before it can begin.
The usual course of action is to find a few crates that offer some light shelter, pull up the hood, put the headphones on – over the ear only, never buds – and space the fuck out. Sometimes he’ll close his eyes and try to lose himself in whatever music seems appropriate for the evening. Even knowing the danger that a place like PRIME has posed over the last few years, that last part is a hard habit to break.
So there he sits. Feet up. Relaxed. Eyes closed.
“Was kinda hoping you wouldn’t be back here for once.”
Jared’s trance is interrupted, even through the noise in his headphones. With a shift of his neck over the shoulder, he spots the figure of…
…ah hell. You know who it is.
The Event Horizon stands tall on the concrete, in the usual black slacks and black button up, duffle bag in hand. He stares hard at Sykes, but it’s not necessarily born of malice. It’s born of decisions made at UltraViolence, yes, but also of a palpable anxiety.
Jared pulls the headphones down around his neck, and takes the hood down from over his head. A mop of brown and pink is finally released from its cotton blend prison, the latter color not very far off from the shade of vibrant neon that’s peeking through the collar of his sweatshirt.
Jared Sykes: So just pretend I’m not.
He slides his hands back into his pocket, and turns his attention away from Hanlon and back to the middle distance. Outside the doors of the loading dock, a light drizzle begins to fall in the warm Nashville air. He doesn’t look at Hayes when he speaks next, but despite the recent animosity between the men Jared’s voice remains calm, even.
Jared Sykes: Might wanna get that under control… the nerves, I mean. Seems like the sorta thing your new boss or whatever might key-in on.
The Comeback Kid smirks with a light snort, his ‘stache lifting in the corner of his mouth. Somewhat surprisingly, he drops his duffle to the loading dock’s concrete.
More surprisingly, he steps forward, and sits next to Jared at the dock’s edge.
Hayes Hanlon: My new “boss” can key-in on whatever he wants. It won’t stop me from tossing him around like a ragdoll.
Hanlon tugs at the rolled-up cuffs of his shirt, and settles in with a long breath, watching the light rainfall.
Jared Sykes: Right. Okay. Sure.
His eyes dart towards Hanlon, but only for a second, and then he’s back to staring out into the night sky.
Jared Sykes: You can make up whatever story you want for me, bud. I think we’ve pretty well established that it doesn’t matter what I think, yeah? But you’re out here in a place where you didn’t think there would be people to watch you try to get a handle on things, so can we just skip the whole part where you feel obligated to fucking posture? You’ve got the jitters. It’s fine.
Hanlon responds with a shrug.
Hayes Hanlon: Maybe.
And he follows with a sharp glance to the Dragon Slayer from the side of his eye.
Hayes Hanlon: And maybe I just wanted to chill out somewhere quiet. And maybe I learned that from someone.
Jared Sykes: Well, like I said, just pretend I’m not here.
He crosses one foot over the other on his equipment crate perch.
Jared Sykes: But give me a heads-up if you change your mind and decide you wanna hit me with a brick, or something. No one ever does that. It’s always just, “Surprise! Brick!” Might be a nice change of pace.
Hayes Hanlon: Not my style…
The former Universal Champ swings his legs over the loading dock’s edge, and grinds his teeth.
Hayes Hanlon: …but your “woe as me” victim bullshit is wearing pretty thin, man.
Jared Sykes: I’m sorry, should I have gone with a different object? How about, “Surprise! Chain!” or “Surprise! Crowbar!” What about my personal favorite, “Surprise! Chocolate!” I figure those are probably all more relevant given the history here, but my brain thought “brick” and so brick is what I went with.
He pulls the phone from his pocket and kills the audio being sent to his headphones, because this is now clearly going to be one of those interactions.
Jared Sykes: It’s funny though… You’re acting like I don’t know that I press buttons sometimes. And when you do that as often as I have, yeah, there are consequences to it. I told you before that I know who I am, Hayes. And that means all of it.
He slides the phone back into his pocket.
Jared Sykes: For the record, I didn’t actually expect death by brick, or whatever. And the only proof that you need is the fact that I’m still sitting here, I haven’t moved except to shut my music off, and we’re having this conversation. But hey, since we’re here now, what is your style?
Hayes Hanlon: You know my style. I’ve never been shy about it.
He cracks his neck, and resets his posture.
Hayes Hanlon: Everyone knows, including you. I’m here for gold, man. We’re both here for gold. You still gonna tell me otherwise?
Jared Sykes: I don’t think you’d understand why I’m here. Or maybe you would, I dunno. But I think we’re pretty well past the point where I start sharing what those reasons are.
Hayes Hanlon: (nodding) Cool. I get it. Keep it all close to your chest or whatever. But I gotta ask…
The Event Horizon shirts his head, turning his deep, dark gaze toward Sykes.
Hayes Hanlon: …if you beat Jiles tonight, and earn that shot down the road…then what does that mean to you?
For the first time in this conversation, Jared turns his full attention towards Hayes. Their eyes meet, and the muscles in Jared’s jaw begin working as the knowledge that he just stumbled dick-first into a trap starts to settle in.
Jared Sykes: Feels like a loaded question.
Hayes Hanlon: It’s an honest question.
Jared Sykes: Sure it is.
A glare behind the brow.
Hayes Hanlon: You really don’t give a shit, do you? About earning a shot? Or about winning this tournament?
He holds the glare, for a painfully long time.
Hayes Hanlon: Do you.
And at last, Jared breaks.
Jared Sykes: Do you know how long I’ve been doing this? Over twenty-three years. Twenty-three years, man. Do you know how many opportunities I’ve had at something like this over that stretch? Two. Ever.
He straightens a bit, leaning forward and resting his elbows on his knees. He doesn’t leave his spot on the crates, but his posture is far less relaxed than it was a moment ago.
Jared Sykes: And I’m not talking about the whole “fight the entire roster and win a shot” bullshit. I mean that in all that time – over the half my life spent in the ring – I have had exactly two chances to become a world champion. Two. Yeah, Cal and I had a hell of a run with those tag straps, but let’s be honest with ourselves – no one gives a shit. Outclassed a whole division, and no one cares, because that’s not how success gets measured. Am I proud of it? Goddamn right I am. But this is something else. If I lose tonight then what’s the next hurdle I have to clear? Do I even get to be part of that race, or do I make my peace with the fact that just ain’t meant for me? Does that prove your point? Maybe. I don’t know. It’s not the reason I get out of bed every morning, but sometimes it damn sure keeps me up at night. Is that what you want to hear?
With a hard, steely gaze, Hayes maintains a deadlock on Jared’s fiery eyes.
Hayes Hanlon: Yeah. It kinda is.
Jared Sykes: Great. Fucking fantastic, even. So you’ve got what you want? Now what?
With a heavy snort, and the slap of his hands against the loading dock, Hayes pushes himself gently to his feet, and stands up tall.
Hayes Hanlon: I know you hate me for what I did. For breaking your tag streak.
He turns his eyes away, stretching his shoulders to dull the air’s tense grip.
Hayes Hanlon: But honestly? Now? I just want you to give a fucking shit.
Suddenly, a trigger sets off, and Hanlons’ nostrils start to flare. His fingers pumping inside his fists.
Hayes Hanlon: You know it’s like you’re spitting in my fucking face, right?
HIs face visibly starts to redden, the breaths coming a little quicker.
Hayes Hanlon: Because I gave EVERYTHING to be here. Everything for my shots at that belt. EVERYTHING! And this “holier-than-thou” shit, this “better-than-gold” SHIT? This shit doesn’t keep you up at night. No. No WAY it does.
Hammerin’ Hayes breathes heavy and fast through his nostrils, shifting foot to foot.
Hayes Hanlon: If it did, you wouldn’t be such a sorry-ass hiding in the loading docks. If it did, you would’ve cracked me over the head backstage with a chair WEEKS ago!
He braves a step forward, forearms taught. Jared tenses, by hold strong to his seet.
Hayes Hanlon: If it DID, beating CANCER, and earning a shot at the Universal Title, would put some freakin’ FIRE in your belly! FIRE! And if it really doesn’t?
In an instant, Hanlon collects himself, allowing a dozen deep, heavy breaths through the nostrils to settle the rage within.
Hayes Hanlon: Then man, just hand that shot over to me if you’re that fucking gregarious.
Jared Sykes: You think I hate you because I lost a match? Buddy, are you out of your goddamn mind right now? I don’t hate you for that. Do you know why? Because I do give a shit, Hayes. But my priorities are a little different than yours. Two-hundred and eighty days. Six defenses. Wire-to-wire, bell-to-bell, start-to-finish and you think it’s MY streak I give a fuck about?
He swings his legs off his makeshift throne and hops down to the ground, the facade now broken.
Jared Sykes: Nah, what I hate is that we were a goddamn afterthought for nine months. But I did something you couldn’t, Hayes. I brought someone on the ride with me. She and I made something and no one ever gets to take that away, whether or not there’s a division to celebrate it.
He takes a step forward of his own.
Jared Sykes: But you wouldn’t understand that, because you can’t see an inch past that ‘stache. Acting like the goddamn be-all, end-all here like I should be pissed because of UltraViolence. Like I should want to tee-off with a chair because of it. You know why I haven’t? It’s because I’m finally – FINALLY – starting to realize what Brandon saw when he christened Nate as “The Next Diamond”. It’s why you won’t get a damn thing from me if I walk out of here tonight with that Golden Ticket. What I should have seen in the weeks that led us to Chicago…
He leans in, ever so slightly, and keeps his voice low. It’s an old trick, but one that’s proven effective over the years. If you talk softly, then it forces the other person to listen.
Jared Sykes: You’re just not worth the fucking effort.
With a curl of his lips behind that ‘stache, and a few deep breaths from the chest, Hanlon stalks forward.
Hayes Hanlon: Nate can squat down and kiss my ass.
Another step forward, and another flash of heat through his nose.
Hayes Hanlon: So can Youngblood, and so can YOU.
And yet another heavy, pregnant pause, shared between burning-eyed men-at-odds. Not even a soul in the background daring to make a peep.
Hayes Hanlon: Fuck Diamonds. Fuck Towers. FUCK Dragon. Slayers.
And every so suddenly, Hayes has nearly come nose to nose with Sykes, lurching over, sharp bursts of air shooting forward.
Hayes Hanlon: I’m going to beat Cecilworth tonight. And man, I hope so bad that you can find the guts to beat Cancer.
Knowing full well the weight behind those last five words, Hayes rears up, lifting his chin to the Heart of PRIME, taking a step back.
Hayes Hanlon: DAMN I hope it’s us at Colossus.
Having stepped back to where his duffle bag had landed, Hayes grips it from the ground, and gives Jared one last glance before turning away, his steps echoing through the loading dock.
As soon as Hayes is out of sight, Jared exhales the breath he’d been holding. He leans forward, bracing against one of the crates with both hands, before rearing back and slamming his right hand against it.
The camera takes us elsewhere.