Brandon Youngblood haunted in the halls of the MGM Grand Garden Arena, perching himself against a wall near the PRIME communal locker room. His manner was stark; the show had ended over an hour before, yet he was still in his ring attire. Slung over his shoulder was the 5 Star Championship. FLAMBERGE’s 5 Star Championship. With the patience of a sentinel, he waited, his expression stern and focused. The door opened. A smile crept across his face. “Save any hot water for the rest of Vegas, or you worried you got Rezin stink on you?”
Nate Colton gave an uneasy laugh; he was having a hard time with “Brandon Youngblood” and “cracking jokes” in the same thought. “Nah, I was just grabbing a shower before I go outside. Feel like I always have to, with as hot as this town gets. Guess it’s just a habit now.” He brushed his hand through his damp hair, looking up and down at the Tower of Babel, lingering on that shiny gold belt. “Help you with something?”
“I have something big to ask you.” Brandon eased from the wall, drawing closer to the young man. He tried to mask his wince as best he could, but given how hard Scott Gratesburgh had low blowed him, it was impossible. “You and me got some major business we need to finish in a few weeks.”
“I want you to listen to me for a second, alright?” Brandon started, his eye narrowing as his shoulders tensed. “Darin Zion and the Halls? This is very important. Alright? Very important.” His hand clasped Nate’s shoulder bracing against him as he found the words needed to say. “I need something from you, alright?”
“Name it,” Colton replied. “Whatever it takes to stop these psychos.”
“I know you have the chops. I know you have the talent, the skill. But right now…what you are…what I’ve done…as single competitors…it doesn’t matter. We’ve never wrestled together. Zion and Jonathan? They’be been doing it less than a year, and they’ve got an advantage on us.” His grip tightened around the young man’s shoulder like a vice. “We can’t lose to them, Nate. We can’t. You got any plans for the next two weeks?”
“Nothing too important. Couple of talks with the ACE Network people, but I bet I can do that over the phone. Why?”
“I got a guest bedroom at my home up in Eau Claire. Maybe we try and shave down as much of that teamwork advantage as we can? I ain’t putting a gun to your head, and I ain’t going to think less of you if you say no. But it would mean a hell of a lot to me.”
“Wow.” Nate almost agreed automatically, but the sheer magnitude of the request gave him pause. Brandon Youngblood–BRANDON. YOUNGBLOOD.–wants to train with me? At his house?! He tried to process the idea for about thirty seconds, noticing too late that the Ace of the Revival was still waiting for an answer. “I–of course! Yes. Hell yeah, I’m in.”
All he could do was nod in gratitude. “I appreciate it. I’ll get everything squared away, plane tickets and everything.” A deep sigh. A heavy weight lifted. “Thank you, Nate. I’ll pay you back for it somehow.” He began to turn, but within moments, he was facing the young man again. “By the way, can you do something else for me?”
“Sure, what’s up?”
“Let your father know I said hi.”
[July 2004, Chicago, 2CW’s Summer Slaughter.]
The fliers said:
PEACEMAKERS [c] vs. JAKE COLTON & BRANDON YOUNGBLOOD
FOR THE 2CW TAG TEAM TITLES!
But they didn’t tell the whole story.
They didn’t bring up that it was Jake Colton’s match after the birth of his fourth child…and a certain surgery that ensured there wouldn’t be a fifth.
Or that Colt Smith of the Peacemakers had been a bitter rival of Jake’s since the moment they met, seven years prior. They’d fought dozens of times all over the country, from New York to Hays, Kansas, bringing the best–and worst–out of each other
They certainly didn’t mention that, for last month, the “Sheriff of Sexy” had been talking about Jake’s vasectomy. Publicly. Or how that made Jake want that loudmouth bastard go limp in the Colton Clutch more than he wanted the titles.
His choice of partner came as a surprise to…pretty much everyone. Jake had a lot of friends in the business; any one of them would have his back, especially for the chance at a championship.
But when he went over his options, there was one name he kept coming back to.
He’d done some shows up north a while back, and ran across this prospect. “Green as goose shit,” everyone said, and they were right, but Jake saw something else. Something underneath the rough edges and unfocused rage.
After some asking around, he learned that Brandon Youngblood was back in the Wisconsin area, and made the offer.
Brandon jumped at the opportunity, but not without confusion. “Why me?” he asked.
“‘Cause I think you got it in you to be one of the greats, kid. Hell, you might blow away anything I ever did. And ninety-nine guys out of a hundred would use that as an excuse to step on your neck. But if I learned one thing from havin’ kids, it’s that you gotta do everything you can for your family.”
“Family,” Youngblood replied, the word tasting like ashes in his mouth. “
Jake laughed. “You’re a talented kid who’s mad at the world. In this business, if that ain’t family…fuck, who is?”
Eau Claire, Wisconsin
November 7, 2022
Nate had heard stories of Brandon’s training regime. It’s madness. Pushing toward failure, everyday, for hours. It had to be horseshit. Pure embellishment.
He was learning just how real the rumors were.
The outdoors was their gym. Their equipment were simple tools. A five mile run with a finish of four tours up and down twenty flights of stairs at the slope of Phoenix Park. The fifty pound weight vest and high altitude mask made his legs burn as badly as his early days on the mats in Bloomington. Hindu squats. Flipping monster truck sized tires downfield fifty yards and then back.
And then there was the ax.
For over forty minutes, the two had been hacking at the thick trunk of the oak set up in the backyard. Thirst. Hunger. Lactic acid pooled in his joints. Dark clouds drooled winter mix. His pace began to waver. The head of his ax fell to the ground. An agony after spending half a day churning through the throes of Hell. Brandon’s eyes darted toward him, his own palms having grown raw. He tried to keep momentum as he watched his partner start to shut down. “Five more minutes Nate,” he choked out in a muffled gasp. “I need five more minutes. You can do it. You can do it!”
Nate yanked his mask away, fresh air filling his lungs for the first time in eternity. There was no clock. No scoreboard. So why didn’t he stop? Why did he pull the handle of the ax back up, grunting, groaning, roaring as he tried to swing through the trunk? He could have been in comfortable Las Vegas, made over by Ace Network representatives as they took pictures of him for their billboard advertisement campaign. He could have flown back home and been with his family, maybe even tried to sneak one last fishing trip in with his father and brother Blake.
“You’re a machine! A fucking machine!” Youngblood’s voice carried with it a wavering desperation. “Just a little more! Come on! They’re laughing at us. They’re laughing and honking at us!”
Accountability. Determination. Will. Nate could see the Darin Zion’s smug smirk, could hear him carry on about how, because of something he did years before that nobody remembers, that he was going to smash the both of them.The world’s ultimate badass. Honk. Honk. All this carrying on, trotting about the ring amongst a pile of bodies laid out not by skill or ability, but by cheap shots and cowardice. “I got you!” he yelled back at Brandon. “Finish strong!”
You don’t get diamonds without pressuring the coal.
ReVival 17. Bobby Dean pirouettes. Jonathan Christopher-Hall grunts, grabbing the back of the ‘Beautiful’ eGG from Honalee. He tries with all his might to lift him, but despite his Ken Doll muscularity, he is met with failure. His eyes streaked with tears as struggle to find his Hallmark Sociopath. “He keeps trying to do it all himself,” Nate observed, his shoulders wrapped in ice. The basement of the Youngblood home was spartan, but thankfully, there was a leather recliner near the television. Why Brandon let him sit in the chair, he didn’t know, but he was grateful given his soreness.
Youngblood sat in a metal folding chair close by, a cigar in hand. He nodded as the smoke bellowed from his nostrils. “Unsure of himself. He’s looking for affirmation. He doesn’t know if what he’s doing is right.”
As Darin Zion swoops in to make the save, Colton can’t help himself from speaking. “There’s no plan. It’s all Vickie. It’s literally all Vickie. And JCH, he’s so fried he doesn’t even trust his own instincts.”
“That’s not the boy I wrestled in the Almasy. He’s a beaten dog. Not even a year later, and all he is now is some blunt tool.” The thought made him chuckle. “Guess I should feel bad.”
A blatant lie.
Suddenly, and in unison, both of their phones went off. Perplexed, they dug into their pockets. A royal decree via text alert. Colossus. Madison Square Garden. 5 Star Championship Match. FLAMBERGE. Rezin. Nate Colton. Brandon Youngblood. A scorcher of a match-up if ever there was one.
Nate was stunned, his jaw dropping. “Oh…shit.”
Brandon howled. He ashed the cherry of his cigar, putting his phone back in his pocket. “Mister Colton would love this.” An eerie calm spread through him as he redirected. “They might not have the brains, but they’re resourceful and dangerous. We have to make…”
Everything had changed. Try as Nate might, Brandon’s words were mere tinnitus. Every other thought in his head had turned gray; weak and insignificant against a dream about gold.
Sleep was impossible for Nate given his racing thoughts. Seeing FLAMBERGE take the 5 Star leap hurt. How couldn’t it? The two were rivals, yin and yang, and he’d been the one to come out on top. And to be lapped? Rezin had already been weighing on his mind. Now, he was sleeping in the home of a man he’d also have to go through to become a champion for the first time in PRIME. Unsettled, he left his bed, going to the kitchen and grabbing a glass of water. The was only a solitary nightlight in the hallway of the guest bedroom. He opened the door, flipping the light switch, and he realized he’d made a mistake. He’d come acrossa makeshift office. Bundles of fabrics and thermoplastics laid in the corners, as well as a computer desk with a laptop.
His tired eyes found renewal once he looked at the workbench.
There sat the 5 Star Championship.
He was mesmerized. He’d been this close before, when Rezin held the title. The Goat Bastard’s name was still emblazoned on the nameplate. It was so close. But just to the left was something else that caught his eye; a ruby satin jacket, neatly folded, with white stitched cursive along the breast. COL. He ran his fingertips over its softness, taking it into his hands.
Dropping the jacket before turning, he saw Brandon in the doorway. “Yeah. Was a bit restless and got myself a drink.”
Youngblood nodded, trudging into the room. “Think we pushed it a bit hard today. Or maybe I’m just not the man I used to be…”
“No,” he started, trying his best to roll his shoulders. “If that’s how you train, then that’s how we’re going to do it. No need to ease up.”
Brandon rolled his eyes. “Today was just a test. We did a week’s worth in a day…and now I’m not going to be able to lift my goddamn arms tomorrow.”
Colton’s smile was warm. “You and me both.”
“Yeah, well, the…” Youngblood trailed off as he walked to the workbench. “Well. Shit.”
“Nothing. Just…back when I was Universal Champion, I got this wild hair up my ass. Was looking at the new generation of wrestlers coming into PRIME. And I wanted to help some out. Ones I believed in. And I’d narrowed it down.” He reached to the side of the table, grabbing the jacket before unfurling it. Over one breast was the name ‘Colton’. Across the other? ‘The Ruby’. “I had Amy make this before laying out to you and someone else my idea. Sure. it’s not as important as your varsity jacket, but hey.” Grimacing, he put his hand on Nate’s shoulder. “I’ve known your father for a long time. He ever talk to you about Chicago in 04?”
“Just that that’s the night he knew you’d become a force.”
Brandon’s shoulders sunk. “Yeah? Guess some folks said that. Went out there, fought the world. Mister Colton, he kept trying to rein me in. But I never was one to depend on anyone else in the ring. And after I suplexed the Peacemakers all over the Pavilion, I gassed out and refused to tag him in. Some people call that star making. Me? That ain’t how I remember it…”
Summer Slaughter. The aftermath.
The match results read:
Peacemakers [c] d. Colton & Youngblood by pinfall (18:41)
But they didn’t tell the whole story.
There was no mention of Jake screaming for the tag, or the wave of despair that brought him to his knees when the bell rang, or the rising bile in his throat as Colt Smith peacocked around the ring with his title belt, yelling in front of God and everybody that Jake “wasn’t a real man no more.”
Jake managed to bottle the seething rage as he stormed back to the locker room, not even looking to see where Youngblood was.
As soon as the door closed, he let it out. “MOTHERFUCK!”
Jake threw his wadded-up ring jacket at the ground, hoping it would somehow make a dent. God, he was mad. He hadn’t been that mad since…
…well. Not going to talk about that.
He wasn’t even looking when Brandon finally entered the locker room, but he heard the door open and guessed who it was. Colton whipped around, ready to unload all of his frustration…until he saw his face.
Jesus Christ, he looks like someone just shot his dog. He looks like…
…like Nathan did, when he broke that picture in the hallway while he and Benny were horsin’ around.
Jake thanked the Lord every day for his kids, but he made sure to thank Him twice that night. Because if it weren’t for them, he never would have been able to handle this moment.
“Mister Colton, I’m so–”
Jake raised a hand to cut him off. The silence weighed heavy on both of them, but Jake needed to clear his head before he could speak.
“Brandon,” he started, “you had one hell of a fight out there. I picked the right man for the job tonight.”
Youngblood’s mop of dirty blonde hair flinted as he cowered. A holdover from the man who called himself his father. His future wasn’t here. But in the last few months, from the moment he came to the midwest on the dime of Reed Young and Action! Wrestling, there was one man who didn’t look at him with beady eyes. Who took him in for no reason other than the kindness of his own heart. Out of all the wannabe mentors, Jake Colton was the only one who was real. “I thought…I could…”
Jake waved him off. “Never mind that. You got almost all the tools, kid. The talent, the skill, the passion…that was all there tonight. But I feel like the focus wasn’t. Wanna tell me what that was about?”
The coal’s head hung as he slumped into a seat in. “They want me in Charlotte. Made the call a few days ago. And Reed said if I made a statement…that he was going to be his hand picked guy to be his future Bantam Champion. And it’s all I could think about. Going against Max Danger and Jeff Garvin and Coral Avalon. I…I never meant to…I’m so sorry. And now Colt is going to keep…”
Jake put a hand on his shoulder. “Hey. Shit happens. You can beat yourself up for it if you want, but I’d rather you learn from it. You’ve got a bright future ahead of you. I know you’ll more than make up for it.”
Such warmth was foreign. In the future, he’d fail and disappoint so many countless more times. But in this moment, it didn’t matter.
He wrapped his arms around Jake and hugged him for dear life.
He put the jacket back onto the table. “Our father retired soon after. And honestly, Nate, I might be too. This year…I’m struggling. For weeks, all that’s been on my mind is the Convoy. I thought anger would help, but then…all that did was make Scott great again.”
Colton nodded, quietly noting Brandon’s reference to “our father.” “I understand, man. You’re carrying a lot. But I don’t think you’re anywhere close to done, not by a longshot.”
“Nate…the woman I love, people have a lot of feelings about her. She made a lot of enemies. But she also made friends. Meaningful ones. Like Jonathan. She was at Katie Malick’s funeral, consoling him. They once were real close. And then there’s Jared…”
“So that’s why this is so important.”
“She watched someone she loves get tortured. We were just relaxing after my son’s football game. Those pieces of shit…we watched it all happened. And then I watched her spiral. She had a full blown panic attack. And I’m half a country away. I could have stopped them if I was there. Could have hit that ring and–”
“But you weren’t,” Nate interrupted, “and you never can be. Hey, that night got to a lot of us…me, Coral, Hayes. Tom…we all could have done more. But we can’t win that fight now. The moment’s passed. All we can do now is make sure it never happens again.”
That response hit with the force of a crowbar. “Jesus Christ…what is it with you Coltons and making sense?”
“Guess you haven’t been around Benny enough…”
Brandon laughed. “Lindsay gave me the choice. You or Coral. And I’ve known Coral for a long time. Brought a side out of him that no one has seen since, even when he damn near bled out in the ring. He’s someone I admire. I didn’t hesitate in picking you. Not just for your talent, but because I see so much of your father in you. He raised a good man. Someone I’d trust with my life.”
Nate exhaled slowly as the full force of what Brandon said weighed down on him. He had been in plenty of high stakes situations before–the National Championships, the Belmont Classic, his match against FLAMBERGE…even the training session he just had with Youngblood.
This was real pressure.
He steeled his nerves and mustered his confidence, hoping he would live up to the challenge. “I got you, man. This is gonna get done.”
“We’re going to humble them. Humiliate them. Destroy them. Jonathan is going to look at that bitch and piss himself knowing…knowing…she’ll never forgive him because we ruined her precious journey. And Zion?”
“We’re going to break that steering wheel into pieces and shove them down his throat.”
“No looking ahead?”
Colton allowed a smirk to cross his lips. “Only at their list of excuses.”
Brandon did likewise. “You’re smooth, kid.” His next motion was surprising; he grabbed at the plate of the 5 Star Championship, pulling it close to the young man. “If I’m honest with you, that belt should be on your waist. Hell, you want to put it on, be my guest. Could even snap some pictures to piss off FLAMBO.”
Nate stared down, his eyes laser focused on the items on the table. One in particular. He thought about the texture against his fingers, the weight in his hands. About what it would mean to wear it for real, and how much he longed to feel that sensation.
“You know what? I think I will,” he said, his smirk growing. He picked it up, letting it hang loose in his hand before slowly wrapping it around his muscular frame…then, when it was fully in place, he turned around to face the Tower of Babel. “How do I look?”
Brandon smiled back, admiring how the red satin hoodie looked on his eventual opponent and fellow diamond.
“Like the future.”