what doesn't kill me (makes me want you more)
PAIRING: Orange Cassidy/Original Female Character
SUMMARY: Orange Cassidy lived his life a quarter mile at a time. He did just enough to get by. He wasn’t one to put much effort into things, but for her? For her, he was willing to try.
CHAPTER NINE: we got history
The managers meeting neared the end as Tony Khan went over the last few notes of the session. They had finished out another great Dynamite broadcast, but needed to comb through a few points for the next couple of weeks. Jericho’s cruise had been in the works for a while now. A few matches would be held during the four-day cruise and shot for Dynamite. Wrestlers and crew would have a special section of the cruise ship where they could bring their families and friends, enjoy the trip when not scheduled to appear for signings or wrestle. In addition to the wrestlers who were working, there were quite a few others who wanted to go on the trip simply to enjoy themselves. Overall, it meant a lot of coordination between Claire and those attending. She would work the four days on the high seas, ensure that the talent made it to the meet and greets, and generally keep a schedule for the talent who were working. They had already sent out the notes on which crew would be working the cruise, and set a tag match next week that would establish the number one contenders that would challenge for the SCU’s tag team title belts. It would be Proud and Powerful, Best Friends, Young Bucks, and Kenny and Hangman.
As the match was announced, Claire’s eyes flickered from the Bucks to Kenny. The trio were closer than close, but a chance at the titles made things complicated. Especially when they factored Hangman into the mix. It had been clear for a few months now that Adam hadn’t been mixing well with his Elite brothers. He had been fighting with Matt, even fought with Kenny a time or two. Not that Claire could blame him on that one. Claire watched as Kenny’s gaze moved over to meet her own, a nervous look in his eyes. They hadn’t made much progress since the night the news of their connection broke. The air often turned cold when they were alone together. If it wasn’t for the weekly meetings, Claire wouldn’t willingly choose to be in a room that long with him. The grudge she had held before AEW had ignited once more. Only this time the flames had grown wilder and it was nearly impossible to get Claire to stay long enough for Kenny to get a word in.
When the meeting wrapped, Matt leaned over in his seat, motioned for Claire to stay in the room. Knowing the Bucks would be on the cruise helping run the show, she stayed in her seat and waited, assuming there was more work to be done. She watched as the room slowly emptied until the Bucks, Kenny, and herself remained. Back instantly straightening in suspicion, she watched as Matt closed the office door. Kenny had taken a seat across the table from her and Nick moved to take a seat at the head of the conference table. Matt rolled a chair over to his brother, took a seat beside him.
“Alright, you two,” Nick sighed, leaned back in his seat to look from one sibling to the other, “Let’s bury some hatchets.”
“Claire…” Kenny began to say.
“Please don’t tell me you recruited them for this,” Claire said, as she stepped out from the table, “Because it’s a waste of time.”
"It's only a waste if you let it be," he replied.
"Big talk from the guy who put us in this situation to begin with."
"I'm not the one who did it, Claire."
Claire blew out a breathy laugh as she rose from her seat and collected her things. She was quick to stick her notes into her bag, trying in vain not to listen as Kenny continued to speak. Nick and Matt sat where they were, watched with heightened interest at the scene that was unfolding. She moved to leave and made it to the door before Matt casually rolled his seat across the room, blocking her exit. For as lovable as he could be, Claire really wished she could shake the oldest Jackson brother in that moment. Matt grinned up at Claire, motioned for her to turn around and continue the conversation.
"I know I haven't given you much reason to think otherwise,” Kenny insisted, “But you need to know it wasn't me. I wouldn't do that to you."
"I'm having trouble believing that,” Claire confessed, as she turned back to face Kenny, “But you're right about one thing: You haven't given me much reason to think otherwise."
"Because it's just so hard to reach out to you, Claire,” he replied, “I can't get within a few feet of you without you shutting down. Even now, you can't even stand being in the same room with me. I don't even know where I could begin to fix things with you. Not when you're like this. Not when you resent me the way you do."
The words had stung. They weren’t meant to.
Kenny watched as Claire’s eyes hardened slightly. This whole meeting had gone downhill fast.
“I don’t have time for this,” she told them, “And I have no interest in being forced to bury hatchets by two brothers who are ridiculously close to one another and do not understand what it’s like to fight with your sibling.”
Matt opened his mouth to argue her point, found a firm finger pointed in his direction instead.
“Wrestling with your brother does not count,” Claire quickly added, pointing to Nick when he began to open his mouth to speak, “And wrestling out our feelings is not happening either.”
“Damn,” Matt said.
“I mean, we weren’t not going to suggest it,” Nick added, “It kinda settles most fights in this business.”
Claire ran a hand in frustration through her hair, settled her eyes on Kenny.
“These are the two you decided on having this intervention with,” she noted, “You would’ve done better with Adam.”
“Why?” Kenny asked, “Because he makes a good drinking buddy?”
“No, because he understands what it’s like to have to deal with you. You and your need to be right at all times, to fit everything in the perfect narrative you created in your head. Did it ever occur to you that maybe I’m hard to reach out to because you made it impossible to feel close? That maybe I shut down around you because it’s the only thing I know how to do when it comes to you? So yeah. Maybe I can’t stand being in the same room with you, but know this… I’m this way because of you, big brother. I’m resentful because you made me that way.”
The words had stung. They were meant to.
Claire worked to keep her expression blank as she turned to leave once more. This time Matt had moved and let her pass. Even as she said them, Claire had known it might be a touch too much. Kenny’s words hadn’t meant to hurt, but they did. He had hit every reaction she had to him, knew exactly how she felt, and it touched a nerve. Retaliation had been the only thing she had reached for. It wasn’t a good look on her. Claire made it out of the conference room and into the hallway before she let out a slow breath. She made her way through the bustling backstage area towards her work station. She kept her eyes forward, unable to meet anyone’s eyes as she moved. The night of broadcast was over and for the first time Claire was itching to leave. She tried to shake the conversation from her mind as she reached her station and began to collect her items, but her body threatened to betray what her mind wanted to hide away. Her face felt hot, her breaths were shaky, and her vision blurred with the tears that had begun to form. Keep calm. Keep it together. Claire kept these emotions at bay for a good reason. She had her reasons for keeping Kenny at a distance and she wasn’t going to be guilted into thinking otherwise. No matter how much she tried to remind herself of that, there was still a pit in her stomach that would not go away.
She jumped slightly and was pulled from her thoughts as she felt a hand touch her lower back. There was an ease that quickly came with knowing it had been Orange and that he was near. In the midst of all of this, Orange had been the constant. Claire was so thankful for it. Orange had changed out of his gear, sporting a pair of black jeans and a black long sleeve. His trademark sunglasses sat on his face. Though she couldn’t see them, Claire knew his eyes held a look of concern in them at the sight of her.
“I’m okay,” Claire said, “I promise.”
Orange tipped his sunglasses down, eyed her over the rim. He brought a hand up and let his thumb brush against her cheek lightly, wiping at the stray tear that had fallen against her will. When he dropped his hand from her face, Orange stepped towards her. They had always kept their interaction relatively subtle at work. Kept it down to hand holding or a subtle hand on her back at AEW functions when others were around, allowed themselves a little more when they had a moment to themselves. Orange never seemed like the type to be heavily into PDA. Perhaps he looked at her and considered the moment called for it. Whatever the reason, Claire felt Orange’s hand reach out and graze her hip softly. He bent down and in one fluid motion swept her into a kiss. His lips were gentle, reassuring, and warm. However, like all of his kisses, they held a hint of temptation. That temptation had been all the more potent since New Year’s Eve. The smile on his face when he broke away let Claire know that Orange thought the exact same thing she did, which was that one kiss would never be enough.
It would be Claire’s hand that took Orange’s and marched off with him in tow. They had toured to many cities, performed in enough arenas. Some of the spaces may be different, but there would always be an area where the crew would store giant plastic crates that needed to be loaded onto the production trucks at the end of the night. Claire ducked behind a stack of crates with Orange following close behind. When she was certain they were out of sight, Claire spun around on her heels and took Orange’s face into her hands. She rose up onto the tips of her toes and claimed his lips as her own. This wasn’t something they usually did. They knew when to be professional and when to be personal. Just a moment though. A small reprieve. That was what she needed. He gave her exactly that and gave it away with no hesitations. His arms wound around her body, held her close. Nothing in the world could tear her from him in those few seconds. She was his. He was hers. Nothing else mattered. Claire sighed peacefully as she dropped her head down, broke the kiss, and pressed her forehead to his shoulder.
“You ready to go?” he asked her, softly.
“More than anything.”
“Greg and Dustin wanna order in and play video games tonight.”
“That sounds amazing.”
Claire tilted her head back just enough to meet Orange’s eyes. She smiled softly as she nodded.
“Absolutely,” she told him, “I like spending time with you and your friends. Some takeout, video games, a bottle of wine. It sounds perfect. Just as long as I don’t have to think about--”
A loud voice echoed through the hall and broke through their moment. The voice was slightly slurred and completely recognizable. Orange watched as Claire stepped away, curiously moved out from their area and into the hallway. He followed and watched as they approached a wandering Hangman. The cowboy wrestler stumbled slightly down the hallway with a half-empty bottle of water in his hand. It was Kenny’s name that Adam repeatedly called out. Claire moved to step in Hangman’s path, stopping him from continuing on with a hand on his arm. She stared up at Hangman’s slightly glossed over eyes. The strong smell of cologne only masked the smell of alcohol that was on his breath. The look in his eyes was a mix of hurt and guilt.
“I think…” Adam began to say, confusion on his face. “I-I think Kenny left without me. He was supposed to Uber us back to the hotel.”
“You don’t have your luggage either, cowboy,” Claire carefully pointed out.
Orange watched as Hangman nodded solemnly, mumbled about how he needed to find his things and find Kenny. His eyes moved to Claire. She had been silent for a few beats, her mind at work with the situation. Her lips -- once smiling and pressed against his own lips -- were set in an unhappy, straight line. There was a faint crinkle in her brows as she seemingly and silently came to a conclusion. Her expression softened slightly as her eyes turned towards him. Orange didn’t need words. He already knew what she planned to do.
“Do you need help?” he asked her.
“I think I got it,” Claire replied, “I’ll meet up with you and the guys at their room after.”
Orange took a beat to look at Hangman, though his words were directed at Claire.
“I’m sure. Go play video games and drink wine. I’ll meet up.”
Orange nodded. There wasn’t much else he could do other than that. He smiled as she stepped away from Hangman and moved towards him. His hand came to brush against her hip as he leaned forward to kiss her goodbye. It was Hangman’s eyes on them when they parted, an indescribable look on his face. The two men exchanged looks as Claire turned to step back over to Hangman. Though they both remained silent, there was no question the looks in their eyes. Orange knew. He knew what had happened between the cowboy and the girl he was currently dating. Hangman wasn’t sure how much he knew, but he knew... and Adam didn’t know what that meant for any of them. He tore his eyes from Orange when he felt Claire’s hand on his arm. As she began to usher him towards the locker rooms to find his bag, Hangman chanced a small look over his shoulder. Orange remained where he stood. Watching. Then, slowly, he retrieved his sunglasses from where he hung them on the front of his shirt and slipped them on. Even as they disappeared around the corner, Orange would remain there a moment longer. Claire was just doing her job. She was a good friend. A good person. That should be something that spoke to one’s character. All of that and more was true. It was one of the things he liked about Claire. Still… The sight of her walking off with Hangman brought a strange twist of his gut. He and Claire were together. That was that. Nothing was going to mess with that.
At least that was his biggest hope.
Claire had tracked down Hangman’s luggage, called them a Lyft, and somehow managed to get him into his room. The feat wasn’t easy. As time passed between leaving the arena to the hotel, she worried that he would be dead weight and impossible for her to maneuver. Whatever he drank -- or however much he drank -- had fully taken over by the time Claire had gotten him though the hotel room door. She dropped his suitcase and her bag by the bed. Adam’s arm had been wrapped around her shoulder for stability and dropped away from her as he stumbled onto the mattress. Claire moved to flip on the light, and heard him groan slightly as she did. This was not the first night Hangman had gotten drunk. Hell, it wasn’t even the first time Claire had dropped a drunk Adam off at his room. There was a sadness in him that night though and it permeated the air between them. Claire reached over and helped as Hangman slowly tried in vain to properly climb into bed.
“Wait,” she said, stopping him, “Your boots.”
Claire reached down and helped pull his boots off. When he moved to unbuckle his belt and shimmy out of his jeans, she was quick to turn around and make herself busy. She placed his boots down by his suitcase and retrieved his room key from her pocket. She heard the rustle of clothing being removed and tossed on the floor nearby. It wasn’t until she heard the sound of bedsheets moving that she risked a look. Adam had rid himself of his jeans and buttoned shirt, and had laid flat on his back beneath the bed sheets. He had a hand on his face and a groan on his lips. He will have a rough morning tomorrow. Claire grabbed her bag and rooted around inside until she found the small travel aspirin she carried for emergencies. She grabbed a bottle of water from the mini fridge and moved to sit on the edge of the bed.
“Take these,” she told him, “And drink the whole bottle.”
“C’mon, cowboy. You can do it.”
Claire was careful to take his hand as he sat up, placing two aspirins in his palm. He took the pills and downed the bottle of water under her watchful eye.
"You'll thank me in the morning," Claire told him, as he tossed the empty water bottle onto the bed beside him.
Despite being drunk, Hangman still managed to fix her with a raised brow and a small smile.
"I've heard that before, darlin'."
"Yeah, well, I wasn't wrong then and I'm not wrong now."
"You never are,” Hangman told her, his tone sobering slightly, “You're one of the good ones."
"So are you," Claire pointed out.
"Doesn't feel like it," Adam said, his voice barely over a whisper. There was a beat of silence, then his voice came through again. Broken. Pained. "He forgot about me. Kenny. He… He forgot me."
Claire felt her chest tighten at the words. She hadn't lied when she spoke about Adam understanding when it came to Kenny. He might be the only one who ever could. She took a shaky breath, turned her gaze downward. The saddest part was that -- despite all of it -- there would still be a part of them that yearned to forgive. That still wanted not to be forgotten. Claire turned her eyes back to Hangman as she watched him bring a heavy hand to his face, scrubbing over his weary eyes before he ran fingers through his messy curls. He reached for his wrist and found it bare where he’d usually have a hair tie. With a soft ‘here’, Claire took a band from her own wrist. She reached over and carefully collected his long hair in her hands. She ran fingers through soft curls and twisted it into a small bun at the base of his neck. He watched her closely as she leaned in and secured the band around his hair, locking it into place.
“You didn’t have to help me tonight.”
“I wanted to,” Claire told him, “Friends help, right?”
Hangman sat quietly for a moment. He swallowed thickly, nodding at her words. His eyes on Claire, he took a moment to look at her. Really look at her. The woman that sat beside him looked the same as the one he had met years ago, but she was different in other ways. When he met her, she had a chip on her shoulder and a taste for acting out. There was a warmth to her now that she didn’t have before. Or at least a warmth she didn’t share with others back then. They were different people now, but some of their issues remained the same. She still had a bit of that chip, but there was a softness there. An understanding. Adam couldn’t help but admire her.
“Right," he finally said, his voice just above a whisper.
Claire began to move off the bed to leave, but stopped when she felt Hangman’s fingers touch her own. His hand found hers and -- hand cupped to her own -- held onto it for a moment. Though his hand was soft in hers, Claire noted the sadness in his light eyes. Like he desperately needed the interaction. Like he wanted to hold on for dear life. He didn’t pull her closer. She didn’t move towards him. They simply let the moment come and go. He clung to the little bit of kindness that was afforded to him. A small reprieve from the heaviness in the soul. Claire gave his hand a small pat before she pulled away and broke the hold. She moved to collect her bag, flashed Hangman a small smile as she prepared to leave.
“I’ll call you in the morning,” she told him.
“You don’t have to check up on me,” he replied.
“I know I don’t have to,” Claire honestly told him, repeated the words she had told him moments before, “But I want to.”
Hangman smiled at the words. He had no choice but to accept the kindness.
“Get some rest, cowboy.”
Orange laid out across the small hotel couch, watching as Trent and Chuck were in the middle of their fighting game. He tried to focus on the game, on the casual conversation, on the wine he drank, on anything really. His mind was elsewhere though. Chuck and Trent both knew it. How could they not? Trent shot a quick glance from Chuck to Orange, silently beckoning his friend to step up to the plate. Chuck paused the game and tossed the controller to the side. Orange didn’t even notice. The two men turned their full attention to their friend.
“Don’t worry about that dude,” Chuck told him, “He’s old news.”
“I heard a rumor that the guy has a huge dong. Like huge,” Trent offered, earning an eye roll from Chuck, “Sorry.”
Orange looked blankly at his friends. Clearly this was not helping. Chuck decided to go with a more direct approach.
“You trust her, right?” Chuck asked him.
“And you’re crazy about her?” Trent piped in.
“Yeah,” Orange said, his voice softening slightly, “I am.”
“And things are good?”
“So stop worrying about that monster-dong-having-ass-bitch,” Chuck pointedly said, “You and Claire are good. No one is going to mess with that.”
Orange cracked a smile, unable to hide his amusement. His friends had a way of putting everything into perspective. No matter how weird they went about it. He watched as Chuck and Trent went back to their game before he retreated back into his mind once more. Orange had no reason to worry. Everything he told his friends was true. Things with Claire had only gotten better. It felt amazing being with her and he knew she cared for him the same way he did for her. So why did he feel the twinge of worry over Hangman? The question hung in the back of his mind and was left there when Orange heard a knock at the door.
Claire had dropped her own luggage at the hotel room before she ventured off to meet Orange. Best Friends were a floor above and she could hear the muffled sounds of their gaming as she approached the door. She knocked and waited. Despite knowing she was going to see Orange, Claire still felt the heaviness of the night. The exchange with Kenny earlier in the evening and the moment with Hangman after that had drained a bit of her over time. It was a tired smile that greeted Orange when he answered the door. They both stepped towards the other, hands out to touch. Claire’s hand found their way around Orange’s waist, moved in close. Orange’s hands reached out to brush through soft hair, trailing down her back. He dropped a kiss to the top of her head and felt his eyes close a he simply held her. She took a deep breath, face pressed into his shoulder.
“How’d it go?”
“About as well as it could,” Claire replied. She shook her head when Orange began to let go, sighing as she felt him wrap his arms around her. “It’s hard, you know? The feeling of being forgotten by someone you care about. It’s hard trying not to relate as much as I do when I know it’s the same person who’s causing all of this pain.”
Orange kept his hands on Claire’s hips as she took a small step back, tilting her head up to meet his eyes. Though she smiled up at him, Orange could tell the smile didn’t quite touch her eyes. The thing with Kenny was years in the making. It was something Orange knew he couldn’t truly understand, but still wanted to try and fix. Some sort of aid. Anything to set things right. Whatever was needed to be done to make her happy again.
“I know there’s a lot to unpack,” Orange said, carefully, “But there’s one thing that’s different for you. Kenny… he’s still reaching out, you know? He still wants to make things right.”
Because he could feel Claire tense at the words, Orange stepped forward to close the small gap between them. His hands rubbed encouragingly at her back, his eyes soft as he locked gazes with her.
“Just tell me you’ll think about it,” he added, “I don’t want this to be something that makes you sad and drunk, like Hangman.”
“I don’t think there’s anything in the world that could make me that sad or drunk,” Claire told him. She looked up at Orange and saw the small arch in his brow. A hopeful look. “I’ll try to think about it. It’s just… a lot to unpack, like you said. But I’ll try.”
“Thank you,” he smiled. Orange slipped his hands from her hips as he leaned against the frame of the hotel room door. “Dustin got a room on the Jericho cruise. You’re working those days, right?”
“I am,” Claire replied. She reached out to take his hand when he held it out to her. The smile on her lips was clear when Orange tugged her forward, pulling until her body was flush against his. “But I’m sure I’ll be able to find a few free hours for you. Maybe I’ll be generous and share the bed in my room with someone special.”
“Yeah,” Claire nodded. She leaned up, brought her lips close to his. “Do you think Trent would accept? Maybe I should ask him.”
Claire playfully moved to walk into the room, but Orange’s arm was quick to snake around her waist once more. He drew her back, a smile on his face though he rolled his eyes dramatically. Claire laughed as she leaned up to kiss his lips. She could joke all she wanted, but Orange knew the truth. His lips were still on Claire’s as they stumbled slightly into the room, the door closing behind them as they moved. Orange risked a glance further into the room, smiled when neither of his friends seemed to notice them. He stepped forward, forced Claire to move backwards until her back was pressed to the door of the room. She softly gasped against his mouth, hummed against his lips when she felt Orange deepen the kiss. Her body rose up to brush against his and all signs of space between them was quickly closed as Orange pinned her body to the door with his own. His eyes were warm when he broke from their kiss and locked his focus onto her.
“It’s not Greg you want in your bed,” he whispered.
“Nope,” she whispered back, “It’s not him or anyone else. I just want you.”
Orange smiled as he bent down to press a small kiss to the tip of her nose. Whatever worry he had melted away as Orange felt Claire wind her arms around his neck and pull him into a slow kiss. No matter what his mind might conjure up, there was one simple fact that kept Orange grounded. At the end of the day, it was him that she chose. It was his kiss that she wanted. His embrace she moved into. His heart where she had found a home. Knowing that would subside any worry that threatened to come his way. Everything would be okay as long as they had each other.
“You two sex monsters need to get a room.”
"A different room. Not this one though. This one is ours."
"Unless you two freaks are into that kinky voyeuristic stuff."
"We won't be taking part in that though."
They laughed as Chuck and Trent's voices called out to them. Orange sighed as he took a step back and peered into the room. He found Chuck and Trent smiling in their direction. Claire’s eyes were shining in amusement when he looked back at her. She watched as he held a hang out towards her. Orange smiled as Claire laced her fingers with his and gave his hand an affectionate squeeze. Her eyes followed as he lifted her hand to his lips, placed a soft kiss to her knuckles. He led her to the couch that he previously occupied. Though this time he wouldn’t sit on it alone. Claire cuddled close as they settled into the seat. Chuck reached over and grabbed the empty glass they had set aside for her, handed that and the bottle of wine they had opened to Orange. She smiled as Orange poured her a glass, handed it to her with a small wink before he reached over to set the bottle down on the small table beside them. His arm moved to wrap around her shoulders as she took a small sip from her glass, their eyes focused on the screen as Trent and Chuck continued their game. Orange held her close, her body fit perfectly against his own. Her head tilted back to rest against his shoulder, Claire let her eyes fall shit with a satisfied sigh. This right here. This was all she needed.
This was perfect.