If there's one thing people can't accuse me of (and believe me, they've accused me of everything else), it's not being dedicated to wrestling. When I’m not wrestling, I’m watching wrestling or talking wrestling or on my way to another wrestling show. I think about wrestling every time I eat and every time I get dressed, the second before I fall asleep and the instant I wake up.
So I was, I think, understandably annoyed when the ringing of my cell phone dragged me away from the only non-wrestling-related thoughts I’ve had in recent memory a semi-lucid early morning dream involving an attempt to stop Christina Aguilera from destroying all the peanut butter in the world. “Somebody better be dying,” I growl into the receiver.
Shawn. Fuck. There goes the idea of going back to sleep. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. Is this a bad time?”
It’s 3:42 am. Sometimes I hate this guy.
He continues without waiting for an answer. “I can’t sleep, so I was watching TV, and I caught ‘Casablanca’ on. Remember how much you liked that movie? I don’t get the ending. He could’ve done so much more.”
I slide out of bed and into the bathroom, shutting the door behind me carefully to prevent waking Stephanie. “Shawn. Did you really just call me to discuss movie preferences?”
A heavy sigh and a long pause later, he apologizes. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have called. I know you’re with Steph and I…I really just wanted to hear your voice. I’m sorry. I’ll hang up.”
“Don’t.” I pour myself a glass of tap water and take a seat on the toilet, bracing myself for a long conversation. “What’s on your mind, Shawn?”
“Did you see my last match?” His words are rushed, and he sounds like he’s on the verge of tears. Whatever he’s upset about, it’s got him pretty shaken up.
“Think about who you’re talking to.”
“Right.” He forces a short laugh. “Of course you did. What, uh, what did you think?”
“It was brilliant, Shawn. Like it always is.”
“It felt good. My knee was fine and my back held up and the crowd was hot and everything was just…good.”
He sounds like he's actually crying now, and I swallow hard, feeling sick to my stomach. “Shawn, please…spit it out.”
“I couldn’t move the next morning.” The admission is quiet, and I can hear in his voice how much it hurts him. “I tried to get out of bed and everything locked up and I couldn’t move.”
“So we’ll get you surgery. I’ll talk to Vince and get you the time off and we’ll figure out what’s—“
“No, Hunter! You’re not listening!” He’s about two words away from a full-blown temper tantrum, and I have to bite my tongue to keep from yelling back at him.
“I’m listening,” I finally manage. “Talk.”
"I can’t do this. Even when everything goes right, it nearly kills me. I go out there and all I can think about is whether or not I’ll be able to make it back to my hotel that night. I’m looking for shortcuts in the ring, and I can’t…if I can’t do what I need to do, I don’t want to be out there.”
“So…what are you saying?”
“I want to retire.”
It isn’t exactly a surprise, but the sentence still knocks the wind out of me. I open my mouth to try to reason with him, but “no” is all that comes out.
“ ‘No?’ Hunter, what the fuck does ‘no’ mean?”
“It’s not the right time. You can’t go now.”
I expected him to yell, but when he finally speaks, the softness in his voice tears me up. “Hunter, do you have any idea how much I want you to be right? I've come up with every reason to stay. This is the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do. But I just can’t. I just physically can’t anymore. I’m so sorry.”
“Wrestling still needs you.”
“It didn’t the first time I retired. It doesn’t now.”
“I still need you, Shawn.” I glare at my reflection in the vanity mirror as soon as the sentence leaves my mouth, but it's too late to take it back.
“You don’t, either. You already know everything I can teach you about the business.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“Hunter, you’ve got a wife now. And so do I. One I’d like to be physically capable of holding in the near future.”
That image annoys me more than it should, so I decide to ignore it. “Sounds like you’ve already made up your mind.”
“So call Vince. Nothing I say is going to matter anyway.”
“I wanted to talk to you first. I need a favor from you.”
Of course he does. “What?”
“One more match. One more really great match I can retire on. Please?”
As if I could say no to that. Still, maybe if I blow him off, he’ll forget about this whole stupid idea. “When?”
“Absolutely not. Shawn, you know I’m already booked.”
“So change it.” Simple as that.
I grit my teeth, trying to maintain a reasonable tone. “I’ve got the belt, Shawn. We’ve already built up me and Cena. You can’t just throw away a title match two weeks from the show.”
“That’s why I need you,” Shawn insists. “With our history, we don’t need a build-up. Just let me go over Cena next week so I earn the title shot. The fans will buy it.”
“And then what? I can’t lose a title match to you if you’re leaving.”
“Sure you can. Then you grab a sledgehammer and go after my back, and I’ll forfeit the belt back to you.”
Forfeit? What the fuck? “There’s no way we’re going to bounce around the belt like that, Shawn. Look…how about a 3-way with Cena? That way you can get the pin without getting the belt.”
Silence stretches on, and I almost wish he’d start crying again. “Are you trying not to put me over in my last match?” Shawn finally asks.
“What? That’s not even—“
“Holy fuck, Hunter, how political can you get? Just because you’re screwing the boss’ daughter doesn’t mean you can’t do a favor for a friend.”
“ ‘Political?’ You selfish motherfucker, I can’t believe you of all people, just accused me of that.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Oh, I don’t know, Shawn. Why don’t you ask Bret Hart about you playing politics?” That was a little low, but I’m too pissed off to care right now.
“What the fuck does Bret Hart have to do with this?”
Stephanie knocks softly on the bathroom door, so I concentrate on lowering my voice. “Or ask Marty Jannetty. Or Shane Douglas. Or any of the hundreds of other people you fucked over to get and protect your spot,” I growl out.
“Right, right, and why bother fucking over all those people when I could’ve been like you and I just fucked one?” he snipes back. “Did you wake the Princess up, by the way? Is that why you’re whispering all of a sudden?”
Son of a bitch. “We’ve been over this before, Shawn,” I inform him as reasonably as possible. “I married Stephanie because I love—“
“Your career more than me,” he interrupts. “Yeah, Hunt. I got that the first time.”
Holy hell, why is he being so damn stubborn? I don’t even want to argue this anymore. “So what, Shawn? What if you’re right, and it was all an elaborate political game? Shouldn’t you be congratulating me? Hell, it was your idea to begin with. ‘Rule one: Look out for number one,’ right?”
And praise Jesus, he doesn’t seem to have an answer to that. I take advantage of his silence to open the door and gesture for Stephanie to go back to bed. She still looks worried, but I wave it off as I close the door again. I’m just about to ask if Shawn’s still on the line when he finally speaks.
“OK,” he starts, then swallows. “OK, maybe you’re right, Hunt. Maybe I am the asshole everybody thinks I am, and maybe I taught you more than I should have. But Hunter, please…I really need your help here. I need to go out with a bang, or I’ll never stay away. I need one more great match, and nobody brings the magic like you and I do.”
There are a million possible meanings to that sentence, and I can’t disagree with any of them.
“Please,” he presses when I remain silent. “Honey, be the bigger man here. Give me this match and I’ll never ask you for anything again.”
“I’ll think about it,” I finally manage. “OK? No promises.”
“Thank you,” he responds gratefully, and the warmth in his voice almost does me in. He sounds like he thinks I’ve already agreed, and my stubbornness is the only thing stopping me from capitulating completely.
“No promises,” I reiterate firmly. “Shawn, I’ve got to get some sleep now. Are you going to be OK?”
“I really think I am. Love ya, Hunt.”
Bastard. I stare at the phone for a few seconds after he breaks the connection, then shake it off and return to the bedroom.
“Shawn?” Stephanie guesses from under the blankets.
I kiss her forehead without answering. “I’m going to the gym. I’ll be back in a few hours.”
“You’re going to the gym again?” X-Pac demanded, eyes wide. “Jesus, Hunter, you might as well take a sleeping bag and just stay there.”
Hunter shrugged, clearly embarrassed, and Shawn jumped in to defend him. “We’re wrestlers, Kid. Working out is part of the job description.” He glanced at Kevin and Scott’s blank expressions before adding, “Some of us think so, at least.”
X-Pac started laughing, but Kevin shrugged agreeably. “Hey, I’m sure there are good reasons for going to the gym. It could be on the way to the grocery store, for example. Or you could go to check out the guys in the shower.”
“Sounds right up your alley, pervert,” X-Pac teased. “Why aren’t you going with them?”
Kevin’s gaze locked on Scott’s, and he smiled slowly as he replied. “If I thought there was any way one of those gym rats could compete with what I’ve got here, I’d be there already.”
Scott smiled in response, leaning over the table to whisper into Kevin’s ear.
“Gross,” X-Pac declared as Kevin’s grin widened. “I hate when they do that.”
Hunter shrugged again. “It’s kind of sweet,” he offered noncommittally, still watching the oblivious couple.
“Kind of retarded,” X-Pac corrected. “Of course, you’re no help. You and Shawn are every bit as revolting as Scott and Kev. I swear, one day I’m going to walk in on you four listening to Elton John and weaving promise bracelets or some shit. I gotta get a new set of friends,” he concluded with a sigh.
Shawn laughed out loud. “You know you love it, Kid,” he teased, standing up and stretching. “Come on, Hunt. Let’s go get that workout in.”
“I need to grab my gym clothes—“
“I had a different kind of workout in mind,” Shawn cut him off, eyes sparkling. “No clothing required.”
“I seriously want to hurl,” X-Pac announced to the room in general as Hunter scrambled out of his chair.
Three nights later. Three in the morning. And my phone is ringing again.
"I'm changing my number,” I tell Stephanie as she presses a pillow over her head. Sighing, I grab the phone and snap it open. “What?”
“Champ!” Ric Flair is more awake than any man has a right to be at this hour. “Got a second?”
“Ric…why aren’t you in bed?”
“Should I be?” Sometimes I swear this guy needs a babysitter. “What time is it?”
“Don’t you have your watch?”
“No…it’s in my pants pocket.” I start to ask where his pants are and then catch myself. I don’t really want to know. “So, hey, what’s this I hear about you and Michaels?”
“That depends. What did you hear?”
“H, you and I both know you’re the man around here. But Shawn’s been a good friend to me, and he’s telling me you’re fucking up his retirement match, and—“
Anger brings a rush of energy, and I shove the blankets away, getting up and immediately starting to pace around the bed. “He told you that?”
“He didn’t have to, Champ, he was sitting around looking like somebody shot his dog. I dragged the story out of him and he told me how you were trying to politic your way out of losing the belt to him.”
“Naitch...it’s got nothing to do with politics and you know it. It’s just bad business to give a belt to a guy who won’t be around to defend it.”
A pause, then Ric asked, “You don’t think he’ll give it back?”
Of course he will; Shawn respects the title almost as much as I do. “That’s the point. Even if he does, it means two title changes in a day. It devalues the belt.”
Ric sighs before answering. “I’m an 18 time World Champion. That means I lost the belt 18 times. Title changes don’t devalue championships. Politics do.”
“This isn’t about politics—“
“Of course it is, so stop taking it so personally! Shawn was one of the greatest competitors ever in the ring. As a wrestler, you owe him this.”
“I don’t owe him anything.” I’m trying so hard not to growl at Ric, the statement comes out flat.
Ric seems to realize he’s touched a sensitive spot, and pulls back a little. “Look, I know you two have got your history. But that doesn’t change the fact that this is the right thing to do. Aren’t you the one who’s always telling me to listen to the crowd? That if they’re making noise, I’m doing something right?”
That was another lesson from Shawn, actually, but Ric doesn’t need to know that.
“You don’t think they’ll pop for Shawn going out on top?” he presses.
Fuck it. It’s one match. If it’s that important to Shawn…”OK. I’m in. I’ll call Vince in the morning and tell him.”
“You’re the man,” Ric immediately responds. “Now get some sleep, kid. I gotta go figure out where I left my pants.”
I may have lost the argument, but I can’t stop smiling as I hang up the phone.
“You’re so fucking gorgeous,” Hunter whispered, reaching up to brush Shawn’s long hair back over his shoulder.
Shawn grinned down at him, his breath hitching as he increased the motion of his hips, riding Hunter hard enough to leave them both gasping.
Hunter’s fingertips dug into Shawn’s hips as he fought to retain control. “Holy fuck, Shawn.”
“No kidding,” Shawn agreed breathlessly, the last word ending on a moan. Pitching forward suddenly, he caught Hunter’s mouth in a kiss as he ground down hard against Hunter’s cock. “Gonna come,” he murmured softly, shivering as his erection slid between their sweat-soaked bodies.
Hunter pushed deep, wrapping his arms around his lover as he exploded. The heat was overwhelming, and Hunter followed him into orgasm almost immediately.
“Holy fuck,” Hunter repeated weakly, staring at the ceiling as he felt his heart rate slow.
“You said that already,” Shawn chuckled, his stubble scraping against the side of Hunter’s neck. “But it’s still true.” Pushing himself back onto his knees, he smiled at Hunter again, before moving towards the bathroom.
Even through his post-orgasmic haze, Hunter saw the pain flash across Shawn’s face as his weight shifted onto his bad knee. “I’ll get it,” he said quickly, pushing Shawn back into bed and rushing to the bathroom before Shawn could object.
Hunter returned almost instantly with a damp washcloth, which he offered to Shawn as he climbed back on top of the covers. “Are you OK?”
“I’m fine, Hunter,” Shawn said tightly, using the cloth to wipe off the semen cooling on his stomach.
Hunter remained silent as Shawn finished cleaning, trying to remember the matchups planned for that night’s show. “Are you still fighting Davey Boy tonight?” he finally asked.
Hunter blinked innocently. “I was just asking.”
“You were not. You were gearing up for that same old argument where you say I need time off to rehab my knee.” Shawn slid off the bed, picking his jeans up off the floor and pulling them on. “And I’ve told you I’m fine a million times.”
“But you’re not fine,” Hunter insisted stubbornly. “And not even surgery is going to fix it if you keep tearing up that tendon in the ring.”
“Jesus, you sound like my doctor,” Shawn complained.
“Shawn, listen to yourself. Every doctor you go to is telling you to stop. Do you really think you know anatomy better than them?”
“I know my body better than them. And what I’m capable of. And what I’m willing to live with. These doctors act like a little arthritis sometime in the future is going to bother me more than walking out on my job in the prime of my career!”
“If you get the operation now, you’ll be out six months max,” Hunter argued. “If you don’t, you’ll lose years of your career.” Shawn looked unconvinced, so Hunter switched tactics. “The fans will understand, Shawn. Wrestling can live without you a couple months.”
“Well, maybe I can’t live without it,” Shawn snapped, eyes blazing. “I would give up six years of my life for six months of performing at the level I’m at now, so don’t act like I’m making a big fucking sacrifice.”
“You can still perform!” Hunter yelled back, venting his concern as frustration. “We’ll get you in on commentary or as a manager or something. Stop being such a prima donna and—“
“I’m not a fucking manager! I’m a wrestler, Hunter. That means I wrestle. And when I can’t wrestle anymore…” Shawn’s arms dropped to his sides as he exhaled heavily.
Shawn wiped his eyes quickly before answering “I don’t know,” he admitted quietly. “I don’t know what else to do.”
Hunter stood silently, not trusting his own voice.
“I know that sounds really dumb to you,” Shawn finally choked out. “I just…I just feel like this is my own shot. And if I have to give up everything I’ve got to make it happen—“
“You won’t,” Hunter promised, stepping forward to embrace Shawn. “We’re in this together, right?”
Shawn simply nodded, wrapping his arms around Hunter as tightly as he could.
Thirty minutes to showtime. I’m halfway through my pre-match stretching rituals, just starting to tape my wrists when the locker room door opens.
Shawn smiles apologetically as he slips in, closing the door behind him. “Heard the music, and I didn’t think you’d open the door if I knocked.”
I turn down the Motorhead song on the stereo. “Shouldn’t you be getting ready?”
“I’m ready,” Shawn responds, holding out his arms to display his ring gear. “I’m as ready as I’m going to be,” he amends quickly when he sees me raise an eyebrow. “Look, I know you need your quiet time, so I’ll leave you alone, but I just needed to come by and say thanks for doing this. It really means a lot to me.”
Shawn’s eyes were darting all around the room, and I relax a little. Shawn always put on his best matches when he was a little nervous. “Sit down.”
Shawn sits, watching my hands as I resume taping. Without the music it was quiet enough to hear crowd react to the in-ring action. “They’re loud tonight.”
I shrug. “How could they not be? The want to see you with the belt one last time.”
“I was thinking about that.” Shawn’s eyes meet mine, and he continues earnestly. “I was thinking about what you said, about hotshotting the belt, and I think you’re right. Vince says he’s OK with it either way I want to do it, and I think you should retain.”
That’s…unexpected. “And you’d be OK with that?” I ask. “Sitting at home watching while I defend the belt against the next contender?”
Shawn exhales hard and drops his eyes, but then nods. “I can’t promise I’ll be able to watch at first, but I know you’ll be fine.” He hesitates before adding, “I’m really proud of you, Hunter.”
He straightens up and rolls his shoulders backwards as he says it, the pain in his back preventing him from remaining in one position too long. For some reason, the motion brings the reality of the situation crashing down on me. Shawn’s really leaving. Forever. “Why?” I manage to ask as my mind reels.
He seems surprised by the question. “How could I not be? You’re the Game. I gotta tell you, Hunter, some of the promos you cut leading up to tonight…I got chills. It was that good.”
“I really meant some of it,” I admitted. Most of it, if I’m being honest, but Shawn already knows that.
“Didn’t I tell you once that the best acting is when you don’t have to act at all?”
Of course he did. “Shawn, I’m not…” I’m on the verge of saying something very stupid, so I swallow hard and try again. “Are you sure about this?”
He smiles and leans in close, and I shiver as his hair brushes my bare shoulder, but he kisses my cheek and is gone before I can pull away. “See you out there, babe,” he calls as he heads out the door.
Halfway through the match, both wrestlers knew it was a classic.
Shawn’s elbow drop was picture-perfect, and the cheers morphed in “HBK” chants as Shawn rolled across the canvas, selling the effects of the move. He turned his face away from the camera just long enough to give Hunter a quick wink before springing to his feet.
The wink was a private code of theirs, meant to reassure one another without talking. It had already been employed heavily that night, thanks to an unexpected barrage of high-flying moves from Shawn to open the match and a particularly dangerous stunt off a ladder.
The ladder spot had been discussed beforehand, included as a tribute to Shawn’s ladder matches with Razor. They had incorporated some of Shawn’s most famous spots throughout the night, everything from breaking a plate glass window ala Marty Jannetty to ripping off whole sequences of Shawn’s WrestleMania match with Austin. Some of the fans understood, some didn’t, but Shawn and Hunter were both caught up in the story of the match, working smoothly together without needing to say a word.
Shawn was calling for Sweet Chin Music now and Hunter staggered to his feet, catching Shaw’s kick in midair and dropping into an ankle lock. Shawn screamed in pain before managing to roll out of the move, both of them winding up on their feet for an exchange of punches.
Shawn took the lead, backing Hunter against the ropes with a couple well-placed chops. “I’m sorry, Hunt,” he murmured too quietly for the cameras to catch as he whipped Hunter across the ring.
Confused, Hunter stumbled, and was immediately knocked off his feet by a flying forearm connecting hard with his jaw. The move bounced the back of his head solidly off the canvas, and he was still fighting to get his bearings as Shawn grabbed his legs and flipped him over, sitting back in what Hunter suddenly recognized as the Sharpshooter.
Hunter’s head snapped up as he felt his lower back torque, his wide eyes instantly focusing on Vince McMahon standing up from behind the commentator’s table. “Shawn, what the fuck?” he asked out loud, but his words were drowned out by the ringing of the bell.
“I can’t believe this shit!”
I stay silent, sitting in front of my locker as Stephanie rants. I’d really rather be just about anywhere else right now, but I’m still trying to work up the energy to change back into my street clothes.
“Where do they get off, doing something like that to us? You’re Triple H, for God’s sake! You’re my husband!” She stops pacing long enough to stamp her foot for emphasis just as the locker room door swings open. “And how dare they not tell us about it!”
“I believe that’s one of the components of a screwjob, my dear,” Vince explains, clearing his throat uncomfortably in the doorway. “The person getting screwed is usually caught unawares.”
“You son of a bitch!” Stephanie shrieks at him. “How could you do this to us?”
“What your language, young lady,” Vince tells his daughter sternly. “And give me a chance to explain. This will work out to all of our advantages in the end.”
“How?” Stephanie demands skeptically, but Vince turns to me for the first time before answering.
“Hunter? Are you all right?”
He won’t leave unless I say something, so I force myself to speak. “I don’t want to talk right now,” I manage, staring at my gym bag. It looks half-empty without the belt. “Just leave me alone.”
Vince frowns in concern, stepping closer to me. “When we did this to Bret, he took it all very personally. Shawn and I were confindent that you would be intelligent and professional enough to recognize an opportunity to—“
“Please. Go. Away.”
Vince hesitates, and Stephanie grabs his arm. “Let’s talk about this outside, Dad.”
He pats me on the knee before allowing himself to be steered out of the room. “We’ll discuss this more later, Hunter,” he promises.
I manage to unwind my wrist tape before I hear a soft knock on the door. I whisper, “Go away, Shawn,” but he either doesn’t hear me or doesn’t care. Probably both. He at least has the decency to look nervous as he ducks into the room.
“Hey. I, uh…pre-dialed the number of a local hospital into my phone, so if you could just press ‘Send’ after you’re finished kicking my ass, I’d really appreciate it.”
He holds his cell phone out to me until I drag my eyes up to his face. “I’m not laughing, Shawn.”
“Yeah,” he sighs, dropping into a seat across from me. “Me neither. So…this is awkward, huh?”
“Get the fuck out of here.”
He doesn’t even flinch at that, launching into his explanation like he’s played this scene before. It makes me sick to my stomach when I realize that he has.
“Hunter, you have to understand that I wanted to tell you. We all did, but we couldn’t. And babe, I’ve already seen the tape, and your expression was fucking priceless. Just made for highlight reels. And we really needed this angle to be convincing because…you know, I really am going to retire someday, probably pretty soon, and we never got to do any sort of closure between me and Bret, so we thought we owed the fans that. Now they’re going to be dying for our rematch, you know?” He pauses, waiting for some reaction from me.
“Closure. For the fans.”
“Exactly. You didn’t think it was personal, did you?” I don’t answer and he leans forward. “You don’t think I’m still mad about you fucking Stephanie or anything?”
We’ve had this argument so many times, my response is automatic. “I’m not ‘fucking’ her, Shawn. We got married.”
“Yeah.” He smirks at me then, tilting his head to one said. “Not working out for you exactly the way you planned, is it?”
I lurch to my feet, unsure if I’m planning to punch him or rush to the bathroom. Shawn stands up, too, reaching out one hand to stop me. “Look, babe, you’re the one who said I played more politics than you did. You can be mad if you want, but you can’t honestly act like you’re surprised by this.”
And honestly? He’s right. I can’t. I stare at the ground for a minute before shouldering my gym bag. I’ll change later. “I need to go,” I say quietly, brushing by him on my way to the door.
He watches me leave, arms folded across his chest. “See you tomorrow night,” he says to me back as the door closes behind me.
For his sake, he better pray that he doesn’t.