It's a surprising alliance, so Dana doesn't expect to feel anything but strange. She needs someone standing beside her more often than not, or she's not sure she's entirely there. But for some reason, it's Mickie James, six-time women's champion, legend of wrestling and unmistakable icon, Mickie goddamn James, who's chosen to stand next to her.
At first, Dana endeavours for independence: she doesn't want to fall again. She sits alone in the locker room, Sasha consoling Bayley after yet another loss, the two of them once again forgetting about her existence outside of a six-woman tag match. The other women are solitary: Nia Jax barely glances up from her phone, Alexa Bliss holds her face in a permanent sneer, and Alicia Fox seems appears only when there's a boy around the ring. Dana listens to her pump-up playlist and manoeuvres around her headphones as she changes.
Mickie sits beside her, puts her hand on Dana's shoulder, and asks if she likes country music; and if she does, she should check out her album.
"I'm more than just an ass kickin' beauty," she laughs, and Dana's echo is polite and unsure.
Mickie is kind. That's the first thing she notices, after the dizzying starstruck feeling starts to fade. Mickie doesn't talk at her, or through her, or down to her. Mickie talks to Dana like she's a person. Like she's worth more than being mocked. Mickie smiles at the servers in the cafeteria, exchanges pleasant small talk with every one of her make-up artists, and even pats Dana's shoulder as she enters the locker room, asking her how she's doing these days.
Mickie is patient. She guides Dana with calm words and firm holds when they warm up together, reminding her time and time again to stretch out everything she'll miss if she's ever to lose it. Mickie's touch is strong, supporting Dana's back as she lifts ten pounds more than she thought was possible.
Mickie is more than Dana deserves. From the way she touches her arm or kisses her cheek or whispers softly that she's going to be fine, if she just believes in herself and keeps working hard, Dana can feel how much Mickie wants the best for her. But she can't figure out why. In every place where Emma faltered and Charlotte retreated, that's where Mickie sees potential. She's said as much, smiling her knowledgeable smile that might mean more than Dana can understand; and Dana wants to understand, wants to see what Mickie sees.
So, she goes back to the gym. Arrives early to the venue every week and smiles more often, at the people who aren't superstars but are just as important. Trains more than she ever has in her life. And in the evenings, when Dana collapses into another hotel bed, muscles aching with the dull throb of exertion, she pushes past the pain and into sleep. She wants to be worth the investment of Mickie's time and expertise. She wants to be enough to make Mickie stay.