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Unrealized Potential - Kate
NC-17 - language, m/m slash, mild angst
Characters: Raven/Punk, John Cena
Summary: Losing the potential for something special is harder than losing the thing itself.
Disclaimer: We own neither the characters nor the individuals who portray them. Written soley for our own enjoyment.
Notes: Most of the action takes place in 2003 in Ring of Honor, during the Punk vs. Raven feud.

“OK, so first off, I really just want to say that I’m glad you decided to come, and I know a lot of the boys are really excited to work with you, and we—“

“You can stop the verbal blowjob anytime now,” Raven snorted, gulping down the last of his water and tossing the empty bottle against the wall, hitting the center of the “RING OF HONOR” banner draped just below the ceiling. “You know I just came because I love the name. Ring of Honor. How about the Octagon of Chivalry? Or the Trapezoid of Scrupulousness?”

“I’m not entirely convinced that’s a word,” Gabe Sapolsky, head booker of ROH, stated doubtfully.

Raven shrugged. “Who the fuck knows? So who am I supposed to be working in this Conical Prism of Archaic Ideals?”

“Well, that’s been the matter of some discussion. Samoa Joe’s our champion, and we’d like for you to run an angle with him, maybe after you got some wins under your belt to build you up in front of our audience.”

“I came to do something interesting. Beating a whole bunch of indy kids is decidedly uninteresting,” Raven demurred, eyes wandering over to the group of wrestlers chatting in the ring in the back of the training room. “Are these people I should know?”

“They probably think so,” Gabe quipped. “The one in the FUBU is Samoa Joe. Come on, I’ll introduce you around after we get this contract signed.”

Raven ignored him, narrowing his eyes at the wrestlers. “Who’s the kid with the look?”

Gabe sighed deeply. “What kid with what look?”

“The skinny dirty blonde white boy look. The one that makes you want to punch him in the face.”

“CM Punk,” Gabe replied automatically, without looking over. “And yes, everyone wants to punch him in the face.”

“Can I?”

“I don’t think that’s a great idea. He’s still kind of new, and he’s a little hard to work with,” Gabe explained, steering Raven towards his office.

“I’m hard to work with, too. We’d be perfect together,” Raven protested. “I get the Punk part, but what does CM stand for?”

“I don’t know, the Cylinder of Magnanimousness or something. Can we just get this thing signed?”

“See, now you’re just making words up.”

“Dude, he’s totally staring at you.”

“Would you stop it?” Punk complained, swatting at Colt Cabana with his baseball cap. “Jesus, what is this, high school?”

Samoa Joe laughed, leaning over the ring ropes to continue watching as Raven followed Gabe into his office. “He’s right, man, and he wasn’t just staring. He was leering.”

“Oh, maaaan,” Homicide snickered. “You totally gonna get fucked, Punkers!”

“What the fuck does that mean?”

“It means you better watch your ass, is what it means,” Joe explained, his laughed fading. “For real, man, you know Raven’s got that reputation with guys he’s working with. If he comes on to you or something…”

“You want me to call you to come take care of it?” Punk snorted. “And I thought he was supposed to work with you anyway.”

“Yeah, but I can protect myself.”

“Or maybe Gabe just doesn’t think Raven wants a piece of Joe’s fat ass,” Homicide added helpfully. “Yo, even junkies got standards.”

“Seriously, Punk, watch yourself. He’s got issues, and I don’t want him hurting you,” Cabana stated firmly, brow furrowed with concern.

“Yeah, yeah. Can we just get back to practice now?”

“Not half bad, kid.”

Raven’s tone was condescending, but his grin was genuine enough to make Punk smile back.

“Thanks. For an old man, you can still go. At least when you’ve got enough garbage in the ring to play with.”

Raven’s eyebrow twitched, but he didn’t rise to the bait. “Now that I know you’re not just going to stand up there with your thumb up your ass, we can plan out something kind of cool for our rematch. Let’s talk about it.”

“Tonight?” Punk asked, pulling a sweatshirt over his head. “I was just going to go home and crash.”

“Crash later,” Raven told him. “Your buddies said we’re hitting the bars tonight.”

Punk considered, finally nodding. “I can hang for a little bit. I’ll call in sick for work tomorrow morning.”

“I thought you didn’t drink. You still go to bars?”

“I’ll go for the company. I thought you were back on the wagon.”

“Yeah, but nobody’s perfect,” Raven admitted with a wink, grabbing his arm. The casual touch sent an alarmingly intense jolt of electricity down Punk’s spine, which he immediately chalked up to residual adrenaline. Raven didn’t seem to notice at all. “Let’s go.”

The good news, Punk decided, was that he didn’t have to deal with Raven coming on to him. The bad news was that he didn’t really have to deal with Raven at all.

He had wasted five hours now watching Raven throw down shots with the boys and tell road stories, and to be honest, he was getting really bored with this scene. Even now that all the other wrestlers had thrown in the towel and headed for bed, Raven was ignoring him, chatting with the bartender and watching the baseball game on TV.

Pulling on his windbreaker, Punk stood up, clapping Raven on the shoulder. “I’m taking off, so—“

“Sit down.”

Punk blinked. “Excuse me?”

“Sit.” Raven pointed at the stool next to him, and Punk slowly seated himself. Raven checked his watch, then smiled at Punk. “3:30 AM. I’m impressed. I didn’t take you for the patient type.”

“I thought you wanted to talk about our storyline.”

“I did. And I’m impressed that you actually care. Most guys just end up telling me I can do what I want with it.” After a moment’s reflection, Raven added, “Actually, that usually works out for the best. Do you want to go ahead and tell me that now, or after I’ve worn you down with script changes and revisionist history?”

Punk smiled and shook his head. “No go. This is kind of important to me.”

“Yeah?” Raven asked, sipping his whiskey. “Why’s that?”

Punk shrugged. “It’s my shot, you know? I feel like there’s a lot of shit I can do that I haven’t had the opportunity to show yet, and if—“ A yawn suddenly crept up on Punk, and he shook his head. “Sorry. It’s late. Maybe we should get to writing the storyline.”

Raven waved a hand dismissively. “The story will come as it comes. I’m more interested in the characters. You were saying?”

“I just don’t want to blow this. I’m not going to get another chance like this, because the longer I work, the more my new stuff’s going to get compared to my old stuff. But this is my chance to do something fresh, something I haven’t done before. And Gabe’s so stressed about financial shit he’s kind of letting us steer this thing, so I was hoping I could have a hand in writing it, too. Basically, I want the perfect storyline. I know I can work, I know you can work, I know I can talk, I know you can talk, we’ve got the time we need, we’ve got the right crowd, and we’ve got the book. There’s really no excuse for fucking a situation like that up.”

Raven considered that, his finger tracing the edge of his glass. “The perfect storyline,” he repeated.


“No such thing.”

“You sure about that? Just because there hasn’t been one yet doesn’t mean there won’t be. And there have been 5 star matches, why not a 5 star storyline?”

Raven shook his head and firmly stated, “There is no such thing as perfection. In matches, in storylines, in people, in life.”

Punk shrugged, looking around uncomfortably. If Raven was just going to get maudlin drunk, he should probably get home. “Maybe, maybe not, but you should at least aim for it.”

“No. Striving for perfection is absolutely the worst thing you can do.”

Punk frowned. “How do you figure that?”

"Look," Raven explained, tossing the contents of his shot glass down his throat and firmly placing the glass upside-down on the bar. He swallowed against the burn of the whiskey, leaning closer to the shot glass and staring at Punk. "This is it. This is the only perfection you're ever going to find in life. If you want everything to be perfect all the damn time, this is all you're going to get."

"Empty whiskey glasses?" Punk asked, disdain evident in his voice.

"No," Raven snapped, glancing apologetically at the bartender before continuing more quietly. "Well, yeah. Kind of. The important thing is not the whiskey, though. The important thing is it being empty."

Punk folded his arms in front of his chest, and Raven had to stop himself from asking whether Punk was making the 'X' deliberately or out of habit. "I don't get it."

Raven sighed, his eyes dropping back to the overturned glass. "Forget it," he finally muttered, reaching to push the glass back towards the bartender.

Punk was quicker than Raven, though, uncrossing his arms and reaching forward to lay a hand on Raven's, effectively stopping him. "No, I want to talk about this," he pressed stubbornly. "Is it nothing? Nothing's perfect, is that what you're trying to tell me?"

"Exactly," Raven blinked, a little surprised. "Except not the way you're thinking. You're thinking that there isn't anything that's perfect, which isn't true. Nothing's perfect. Emptiness. The void, you know? It's not an absence of things, it's a thing itself. And it's perfect." He paused for a few seconds to let that sink in, but the confusion remained on Punk's face, so he slid the glass closer to them. "It's like this. There's nothing in there. But because of that, anything could be there. I could look at it and see oblivion. I can see salvation in it. I can see forever. You can look in it and see the strength of your personal convictions. Or your worst fucking nightmare. It could be empty because it's waiting for a refill, or it could be empty because you threw it out. It could be anything, because it's nothing."

"It's a mirror."

"It's exactly a mirror. But as soon as I turn it over, it has to pick a side. You could throw it against the wall, or I could order another drink, or we could fill it with coins or whatever, but it has to be something. It can't be everything anymore. It can't be what we both need." Punk nodded, and Raven switched tactics. "What's the best move to start a match?"


"Starting a match. How do you start it? You've got two guys in there, they're face-to-face, they've got history, the crowd's hot...what do you do?"

Punk rubbed the bridge of his nose thoughtfully, leaning back on his stool. "You could do anything."

"You could," Raven agreed, "but most of them would suck. So what do you do?"

"Lock-up?" Punk guessed.

"That's just stalling. You've got this guy, and you want to hurt him, so how do you do it?"

"If you really hate the guy, I guess you've gotta just punch him in the face," Punk finally decided.

Raven snorted. "That's it? He killed your dog and you're just going to punch him in the face? How lame is that?"

"Well, you can't start out with a finisher, because--"

"Obviously," Raven interrupted. "I don't know why you'd throw some weird wrestling move on a guy out of anger anyway."

"So what's the answer?"

"There isn't one. There's nothing you can do that's going to excite the crowd more than you standing there doing nothing. It's the potential of the violence that's exciting, not its actuality. That's what I'm saying. When you're just standing there, you could do literally ANYTHING to the guy. That's exciting. A punch to the face? A kick to the thigh? A chinlock? A bodyslam? Not really that fascinating."

Punk laughed. "You're a wrestler who doesn't like wrestling. Your career is finally starting to make sense." Raven grunted, but didn't rise to the bait, so Punk continued, "So what, do you want Ring of Honor to be 3 hours of staredowns a night?"

"Hell, no, because then the potential is gone again. Everyone knows you're doing nothing but staredowns. You have to wrestle. But unless you pull a gun out of your tights and shoot the guy in the head, your first move is going to disappoint the crowd. So you work with that. You get them excited, then you bring them down. Then you build them up again and bring them down again. And when you're done playing and you've got them built up as high as they're going to go, THAT's when you go for your finisher."

Punk nodded slowly, his eyes focused on the empty shot glass again. "But even if you do that, the match won't be perfect."

Raven grinned at him. "Right. It stops being perfect when you do that first move. Because it can't be everything." Flipping the glass over, Raven signaled the bartender for another shot. "It might not be perfect, but's better than nothing, right?"

The kiss Punk leaned forward and claimed right then wasn't perfect either, but was, he decided, pretty damn close. He caught Raven off-guard with it, forcing him to tilt his head back at a slightly awkward angle until he adjusted, placing a hand on Punk's thigh for balance. The warmth of the touch soaked through the denim of Punk's jeans instantly, spreading quickly across his lap and into the pit of his stomach. The whiskey taste in Raven's mouth burned Punk's tongue, and he recoiled slightly, shivering as Raven's tongue took advantage of his retreat, sliding in to caress the roof of Punk's mouth.

It ended as abruptly as it began, with the bartender slamming Raven's refilled drink onto the bar. The heavy thunk jarred them both, and Punk looked up to see the man's angry glower. "Look here..."

Raven cut him off with an easy laugh, digging some cash out of his wallet to throw onto the counter. "I think my friend's had a little too much to drink," he explained, secretly enjoying the scowl Punk shot him. "I'll get him a cab." He downed the whiskey on the bar in one gulp, simultaneously sliding off his stool and grabbing the waist of Punk's jeans, pulling him towards the door.

"I don't need a cab," Punk pointed out as the bar door closed behind them. The night was warm, but there was a muggy breeze in the air hinting at a late night shower. "You're the only one who's been drinking, and anyway, my hotel's about 4 blocks from here."

"Mine's not," Raven countered, pulling Punk closer to him, "and I think we should head back there tonight." He leaned in for another kiss, but Punk wrenched himself away, nose wrinkling at the alcohol on Raven's breath.

"You're drunk," he accused, folding his arms casually as he leaned back against the brick exterior of the bar.

"Not even close." Punk's hands came up as Raven deliberately stepped closer, but Raven easily captured both wrists, pinning them to the wall. Punk considered kneeing Raven in the stomach, but hesitated, enjoying the feel of Raven's body pressed against him, blocking the wind. "Correct me if I'm wrong," Raven continued, a note of satisfaction at Punk's lack of resistance in his voice, "but you're the one who decided to make the first move in there."

Punk forced a shrug, avoiding eye contact. "Seemed like a good idea at the time."

"Did it?" Raven started to say more, then suddenly dropped Punk's wrists, stepping back just in time to flag down an oncoming taxi. He leaned in to tell the driver to wait, then moved back towards Punk, pulling in a deep breath of the night air. A siren sounded a few blocks away, but rapidly faded into the thick silence settling over the city. "This is one of those empty moments, you know?"

Punk frowned. "Like the shot glass?"

Raven nodded. "Just waiting on a decision to fill it."

Punk inhaled deeply, shoving both hands into his pants pockets. "So what are my options?"

"The same as mine. We can just leave it at this and go back to our rooms. We can find another spot in town and kill some more time, waiting for each other. Or we can go back to my place and see where it takes us."

"Let me guess which one you're voting for," Punk commented, smirking.

"I'm good with options 1 or 3, actually. I think we've stalled enough, don't you?"

Punk nodded slowly. "And option 1 kind of kills the potential, doesn't it?" Raven waited silently. "So that only leaves us with option 3."

Raven shrugged, impassive. "You've always got another option."

"I don't think I want one," Punk admitted quietly. Without a word, Raven opened the taxi door, letting Punk slide across the seat before he climbed in himself.

Even with the decision made, Raven moved slowly, fingers brushing softly against Punk's side and back as he kissed the younger man. Punk moaned as Raven's hand slid fractionally higher, lifting both his t-shirt and wifebeater inch by inch. Frustrated, Punk pulled back, stripping the offending articles of clothing off and flinging them to the floor. He yanked Raven's t-shirt over his head for good measure, just to speed things along.

Raven laughed, pushing Punk onto his back and straddling his waist, regaining control of the situation. His hands slid down Punk's chest with a speed that Punk could now recognize as less "cautious" and more "deliberate." Their eyes met and Punk squirmed in frustration, whining insistently as he pressed against Raven's weight with his erection.

"Shh," Raven scolded, leaning down to nip at the side of Punk’s neck. "No reason to rush."

"Oh, really?" Raising an eyebrow, Punk slid a hand between their bodies, gently squeezing the bulge in Raven's jeans. He smiled as Raven sucked in a sharp breath, resting his forehead on Punk's shoulder. "This isn't a good enough reason?"

"All right, kid, you convinced me," Raven announced, sitting back on his heels to give Punk the room to unzip and push down both of their jeans. Punk reached for his cock again, but Raven batted his hand away, choosing instead to slide further down the bed. He peeled Punk's jeans and boxers the rest of the way off as he went, and Punk barely had time to adjust to the cool air on his bare skin before Raven's mouth was on him. He bucked up hard, and Raven grabbed his hips to force him back down, pulling off just long enough to nip admonishingly at Punk's inner thigh before returning his attention to the wetness already forming at the head of Punk's cock.

Raven looked up as Punk groaned, making eye contact as he started to descend, forcing about three quarters of Punk's shaft into his mouth before pausing and pulling back. Punk fisted his hands in the sheets at his sides, sweating with the effort of resisting the temptation to shove Raven's head back down. Raven seemed to get the message anyway, though, pausing only long enough for a few wet licks before letting Punk slide down his throat.

Punk blindly grabbed a pillow, pressing it over his face to muffle his moans as Raven pushed his thighs farther apart, bobbing up and down rhythmically. After a few minutes of this treatment, Raven slowed the pace, letting the warm steel of his tongue-ring rest on the underside of Punk's cock. Punk shuddered hard, reaching down to push Raven's head away, but Raven ignored him, sweeping his tongue in a slow circle. Punk shouted wordlessly as he came.

When he could force his eyes open again, Punk watched Raven finish stripping his own jeans off, fishing a condom and some lube out of the front pocket before tossing the garment aside. His spent cock twitched in anticipation as Raven climbed back onto the bed, settling between his thighs. "Done this a lot, huh?" Punk asked, stalling for time as he tried to squash his nervousness.

Raven paused, hearing the waver in Punk's voice. "Done what, exactly?"

"With the guys you're working with," Punk clarified, staring at the ceiling. "I'm not saying it's a bad thing. Actually, what you just did was kind of great."

"Mmm," Raven acknowledged noncommittally, letting his thumb trace the curve of the ‘S’ tattooed on Punk’s stomach as he considered his response. "I like working with guys with talent. I like fucking guys that interest me. The two don't correspond as often as you'd expect." Punk stared at him, but Raven only shrugged, meeting his eyes. "You haven't done this at all, have you?"

"Fuck." Punk's head twisted to one side, watching the light rain drizzle down the window. "No promiscuous sex. It's one of the straight edge things."

"You weren't going to tell me," Raven pressed, eyes narrowing.

"Maybe afterwards. Look, I don't want to be treated like some fucking virgin, OK? I know what I want."

Raven looked like he might argue, but nodded instead. "And what do you want?"

Punk sighed, shivering as Raven's hand crept closer to his cock. "I want you to fuck me," he finally admitted, his heart racing at the gleam in Raven's eyes.

If Raven's movements had been slow before, they were excruciating now as he slicked Punk's entrance with lube. By the time he had worked a third finger into Punk's hole, Punk's cock was swollen and erect again.

Punk barely managed to choke back a scream as Raven slid into him, moving incrementally deeper with every thrust. The burn was unbelievable as Raven picked up speed, and Punk wrapped his legs around Raven's hips to prevent the dull ache that followed every time Raven pulled back. Raven responded by pressing deeper, the blunt head of his cock rubbing against the bulge of Punk's prostate and sending him over the edge a second time.

Watching Punk writhing below him was enough to send Raven spiraling down into orgasm, and he barely managed to pull out of Punk before he collapsed. "You OK?" he muttered, trying to concentrate on slowing his breathing.

"I'm perfect," Punk responded immediately, grinning as he nuzzled into the side of Raven's neck.

“Dude,” Punk called from the bathroom. “What are you, half-vampire?”

Raven finished tying his boots and wandered over to the bathroom door, watching Punk scrub furiously at the angry-looking bite mark on his neck. “Well, rubbing it raw isn’t going to help.”

“I always have lunch with Colt and Joe the day after a show,” Punk explained, looking genuinely worried. “There’s no way they’re going to let this go. Maybe I can convince them it’s a mat burn or something.”

“Better idea,” Raven offered, unbuckling the black leather collar around his neck and looping it around Punk’s, obscuring the injury.

“Man, I can’t wear this,” Punk protested, touching the leather softly as Raven fastened it.

“Sure, you can. Black goes with everything.”

“But…it’s yours. I mean, it’s OBVIOUSLY yours. How am I going to explain that to people?”

Raven shrugged. “Tell them you won it in a bar bet or something, I don’t care.”

“That could work.” Punk studied his image carefully in the mirror, tugging at the collar to loosen it. “Kind of tight, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, but it makes this easier.” Spinning Punk around, Raven grabbed the collar, yanking the taller man down into a searing kiss.

Punk grinned as he pulled back. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you did this on purpose just to have an excuse to get me collared and claimed,” he teased.

“Nah, if I wanted to see you tied up, I wouldn’t need an excuse,” Raven retorted.

Punk rolled his eyes, but his self-assurance changed to nervousness as he noticed the odd expression on Raven’s face, his thumb still running along the edge of the collar. “I’m not sure if I should be worried or excited about that look. What’s on your mind?”

“Dog collar matches,” Raven murmured distractedly.

“Say what now?”

“Dog collar matches. Back in the day, they used to settle feuds like this, feuds about disrespect for another’s lifestyle and—“

“I know what dog collar matches are,” Punk interrupted. “I’ve seen the tapes. But Ring of Honor doesn’t—“

“We’re doing one,” Raven told him, nodding decisively and heading back into the bedroom to search for his notebook. “I’ve got some details to work through, and then I’m calling Gabe. Give me a call when you’re done with lunch, and we’ll talk about it.”

“Was I right about the Clockwork Orange match?” Raven demanded.

“It was good,” Gabe conceded grudgingly.

“And was I right about the dog collar?”

“The dog collar was fucking great. But listen, I just don’t think--”

“You have to give him more promo time, Gabe. I’m not asking you, I’m telling you. Did you hear all that shit about his dad?”

“It’s just that,” Gabe paused, fidgeting in his chair and trying to get his thoughts together. For the first time, he wished more of his employees followed Low Ki’s example, locking themselves alone in dark rooms hours before the show. Instead, here was Raven, fully dressed and ready for his tag match, wanting to argue storylines instead of letting Gabe do his job. “It’s just that our fans like wrestling. You know, good old-fashioned in-ring action. I don’t want to burn them out with hokey storyline stuff.”

Raven looked as if he was knocked speechless for a moment, but Gabe was never that lucky. “ ‘Hokey storyline stuff’? You dumb motherfucker, this is wrestling! There’s nothing ‘hokey’ about the fact that Punk’s dad was an alcoholic. There’s nothing ‘storyline’ about the fact that I’ve put more chemicals in my body than dead Egyptian pharaohs. There’s—“

“Well,” Gabe interrupted, scratching the back of his neck nervously. “I mean, there kind of is.”


“It’s storyline, man. I mean, I’ve heard how much time you and Punk are spending together. And don’t get me wrong, I’m happy about it. I mean, I’m a little worried, yeah, that you’re going to…never mind. The point is, I just think it’s ridiculous to try to sell how much Punk hates you as the truth when we both know he likes you. A lot.”

Warning signs were flashing in Raven’s head, so he opted to table that discussion. “Look, here’s how wrestling works: You take something true, something that the crowd can identify with, and you simplify it. You present an opposing argument, and then they fight it out. Whether Punk hates me or not, he does hate the way I live. The crowd can feel that. That’s where he’s got to draw his emotion from.”

“And he’s made that point,” Gabe insisted stubbornly. “They know how he feels about drugs. What else do you want him to say?”

“I want him to tell them why. Because not everybody feels the same way he does about drugs, not everybody feels the same way I do about them, but everybody has issues with the way they were raised. Everybody can identify with that kind of pain. So they know why he’s fighting.”

“But what about the next feud? Why would he ever fight someone who’s not a drug user?”

Raven ran his fingers through his hair in exasperation. “That’s why you have to let him keep talking, so he can tell you! Let him talk about getting picked on in high school. Everybody has baggage from high school.”

“And then what? Raven, if you keep pushing that every feud has to mean something to him personally, what happens when he finally runs out of emotional baggage? What happens when he becomes champion, and is supposed to be happy with life? You can’t base a career on being fucking miserable.” Raven shot him a look, and Gabe laughed. “Well, maybe you can, but come on. Do you really want Punk to be as unhappy as you were for his whole career? Even if it means some kickass promos?”

Raven hesitated. The brief silence was interrupted by a loud scream and a flurry of activity just down the hall, and Gabe jumped to his feet. “Sorry, but it sounds like one of the new kids walked in on Ki, and I’ve gotta go—“

Raven waved him off, but remained in place, sitting alone next to the curtain.

“So what happens next?” Punk asked, still dripping from his post-match shower. He rubbed a towel against his hair briefly, but didn’t bother covering himself as he wandered back towards the bed.

“I already told you. Steel Cage match,” Raven reminded him, casually leafing through the Bible he found in the bedside table.

“Yeah, but after that. We’re not really ending the feud, are we?”

“Of course we are. I’m getting my win back and sending the fans home happy.” Raven turned the page, refusing to meet Punk’s eyes. “Punk, listen to the crowd sometime. You’re over. I can’t help you anymore than I have.”

“All right, cool, yeah,” Punk agreed, nodding to hide his confusion. “Plus, if we don’t overdo it, we can always go back to it later and build on our history.”

Raven flipped another page, which Punk decided to interpret as agreement.

Climbing onto the bed, Punk wrapped an arm around Raven. His hand slid automatically under Raven’s shirt, but Raven ignored his touch. Punk shrugged it off, accustomed to Raven’s moodiness. “So what happens next?”

Raven shut the Bible with a snap, dropping it onto the table. “Did we not just have this discussion? I could’ve sworn we did.”

“Not with us, with you. Who are you feuding with next? Can I see your notebook?”

“There’s nothing there.”

Punk squeezed him impulsively. “You always say that, and there’s always something usable in there. Let me see it and we’ll see how we can make it work.”

“I mean, there’s NOTHING in there,” Raven repeated. “This is it.”

“Oh. Well, Gabe really wants you to do something with Joe, but I was thinking if you wanted to transition to Cabana, we could work out something where—“

“Holy fuck, Punk, how are you not getting this?” Raven exploded, shoving Punk’s hand away and stalking over to the window. “I’m done here.”

“Here…with me?” Punk asked, his voice tight.

“With this angle,” Raven corrected. “With Ring of Honor. And yeah, with you.”

“Oh.” Punk opened his mouth to argue, but nothing came out.

Finally turning away from the window, Raven dropped into the nearby armchair, staring hard at Punk. “You’re not going to argue?”

Punk shrugged. “If you want to leave, I think you should leave.”

Raven shook his head. “It won’t matter anyway. If you want to yell, go ahead. It might make you feel better.” He waited, but continued when Punk didn’t respond. “I’ve already thought of every argument against it. I don’t really want to leave, you know.”

“So don’t.”

“Give me one example of a wrestling couple that really worked and I won’t,” Raven challenged.

“That’s not a fair argument,” Punk noted. “Even if it’s never happened, it doesn’t mean it won’t for us.”

“Actually, it does. The reason it hasn’t happened yet isn’t a coincidence. It’s because of who we are. Punk, the reason I can promo like I do is because I’m fucked up. The reason you can work like you do is because you’re fucked up. And no matter how tempting it is to think that we’re perfect for each other because of that, it’s just not true. There’s not a house big enough for all our baggage.”

“So what? So what if we won’t be together forever and ever? Can’t we just enjoy it while it lasts?”

Raven sighed, shifting in his chair. “Punk, I’m sorry, OK? But listen for a minute. You’ve got talent. And more importantly, you want to succeed. There was a time I had that desire, too. And I used it to air out all my dirty laundry and I threw myself into my work and I cut these great fucking promos…great enough that I got snapped up by WCW. And then by the WWF. And to be honest, it wasn’t the politics and it wasn’t the exposure and it wasn’t the writers that killed me. It was the fact that I didn’t need it anymore. I had made it, and there wasn’t anything else to fight for. So I gave up. Now you tell me. If we keep going with this, and you get all your baggage out in the open, and Gabe sees how good you are, and we stay together, exactly how hard would you fight to leave it all behind and go on the road with the WWE? Would you even leave if they offered?”

“And that would be a bad thing?” Punk demanded. “Wanting to stay here with you and my friends and being satisfied with my life?”

“Unbelievably bad,” Raven insisted. “Because you’re too talented for that. It’s not fair to you, it’s not fair to the fans, and it’s not fair to make me at least partially responsible for that.”

A heavy silence spread over the room, and Punk had to struggle to break it. “Is this one of those moments?” Raven frowned, so Punk continued. “One of those all-or-nothing moments? With the potential too high for us to live up to? Is this where I’m supposed to say that giving it a shot would at least be better than nothing?”

Raven shook his head slowly, getting to his feet. “Perfection is unattainable. The closest we can come is getting out at the right time. For what it’s worth, I AM sorry.”

“Just go,” Punk demanded, refusing to turn and watch as Raven did.

Punk wasn’t the only person in the gym, but he might as well have been.

He ignored the early morning gym rats flexing in front of the mirrors, their eyelids still drooping. He slipped past the pair of soccer moms on the step machines, yawning as they discussed the upcoming day. One of them smiled at him, but he pretended not to notice. Three in the morning was far too early to flirt.

An hour later his legs were shaking with exhaustion, but his adrenaline was still peaking. After a moment of passionate internal debate, he decided to go off his routine and do an extra set of bench press. Already knowing how much he would ache the next day, Punk began loading up the weights in an effort to make the set worth the pain.

“Jesus, man, you’re gonna decapitate yourself,” a familiar voice laughed after three reps. “You know better than to max out without a spot.”

Punk dropped the bar, sitting up to find John Cena standing about him, in workout clothes with a light sheen of sweat. “Keep going, I’ll spot,” Cena encouraged. Punk nodded, lay back down, and finished the set.

“What are you doing here?” Punk asked as they switched places. “It’s four in the morning.”

“I could ask you the same,” Cena pointed out. “I couldn’t sleep, and I’m trying to get in shape for my comeback. I was in town to visit you guys, and I thought I might catch one of you here. Looks like I lucked out, huh?”

“Not very many people consider it lucky to wind up talking to me,” Punk noted wryly.

Conversation lagged as both men focused on their workouts. By the time they retired to the locker room, they were both exhausted.

“You looked stronger out there than when you left,” Punk commented. “What are they feeding you?”

“Well, the recipe’s a secret, but Mom makes a kickass meatloaf. I’ll bring you some, sometime. Nothing like home cooking.”

“Ain’t that the truth. You get to spend time with the family while you were out?”

“Of course,” Cena grinned. “They’re my rock, man. My motivation.”

Punk’s jaw tightened, but he kept his tone casual. “So let me ask you this. As happy as you are with them, as many people as you have around you unconditionally loving you, you never just want to say ‘Fuck it’ and stay there?”

Cena frowned. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, why do you come back? If home’s so great, if you’ve got nothing left to prove, why do you still wrestle?”

“Because that’s what I do, man. That’s who I am, and that’s who they love. I mean, sure, someday I’ll stay at home, but my family supports me, Punk. They don’t hold me back. They’re the reason I want to be better than I am.”

“Simple as that, huh?”

“Dude, are you OK?” Cena asked, looking at Punk with concern.

“Yeah, it just sounds…a little too perfect, you know?”

Cena laughed in disbelief. “Are you kidding? There’s no such thing as too perfect! I’m on top of the world right now. I’ve got a job I love, and people who love me, and nowhere to go but up. It doesn’t get any better than this.”

“John, could you do me a favor?” Punk asked impulsively, sitting down next to Cena on the locker room bench.

“Anything. Name it.”

“Could you talk to Vince a little, see if maybe we could feud when you get back to work?”

“You want to, uh, feud with me?” Cena asked, wide-eyed. “Like, for the title?”

Punk waved a hand dismissively. “Doesn’t matter. I’ve just got some…things I want to work out, and I think they might make for some pretty good material for promos against you.”

“Yeah, sure, I’ll ask him. Did I…are you mad at me for something?”

Punk laughed, but cut himself off short. “Yeah, I am, but not for anything you did.”

“Oh. Well, Vince doesn’t normally like feuding babyfaces, but I’ll tell him—“

“I’ll turn heel,” Punk offered. “Really. I want to.”

Cena’s eyes got a little wider. “But the people love you, man! They look up to you! Why would you want to throw that away?”

“Because I need to say some things that aren’t going to sound right coming from a babyface. Look, I appreciate your help. I really need to get out of here, though.” Punk finished zipping up his gym bag, zipping his bag closed.

“Yeah, no problem,” Cena responded automatically. “But, Punk, listen. If you ever just want to talk stuff out, or you’ve got a problem or anything, you know you can call me, right?”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Punk promised, smiling tightly as he turned to leave. If this feud turned out as well as he thought it might, he’d have to remember to send Raven a thank-you note.

“Hey, Punk?”

He turned slowly, almost laughing at Cena’s worried expression. “What?”

“ I just…I don’t know. Nothing, I guess. Sorry.”

“No problem.” Punk tilted his head to one side, watching John lace up his shoes, avoiding eye contact. He was a little too shy, maybe, but nothing’s ever perfect. “John? You want to go out tonight? After the show, I mean. We could talk about the story or just maybe…hang?”

Cena’s head snapped up, his eyes wide with hope. “Really? Dude, that would be so awesome!”

Punk grinned. “Cool. I’ll call you later and we’ll set something up, OK?”

Cena nodded enthusiastically. “Perfect.”

“Perfect,” Punk echoed as he turned and left the room.