Rob was hurt, and it wasn't just his ribs. They were bad enough, and Bubba didn't think anyone would have looked down on him if he took the night off. But he wouldn't. Not just because Rob was being stupid, but because he was hurting so much inside that he didn't know what to do. Even Bubba saw that much.
Right now, Rob was pacing up and down in the locker room. If that didn't say how upset he was, Bubba didn't know of anything that did, this was Rob `implacable' Van Dam that he was talking about, normally so laid back that he was horizontal.
Bubba knew he was hardly the voice of reason himself, and he knew he was supposed to be pissed off at Hunter for one reason and another, and he was, but it was hiding deep inside his head behind the pounding he was reserving for Flair.
Bubba couldn't see it, Flair being some sort of love's dream, but Rob never was exactly orthodox in anything, least of all love.
It had been awkward, no one knew what to do with themselves when Flair was with Rob, because Flair was, well is, a wrestling hero to most of them, and there he was with Rob. So how should they have spoken to him, they way they felt they had to, with deep respect and formality, well, as formal as they ever got, or as an acquaintance through the whole relationship thing.
Actually, that was the one thing no one was certain of, whether they were together, in the biblical sense, or if they were just good friends. Rob wasn't ever the showiest of people when it came to emotions, and it had got worse since he got to the WWF. Bubba supposed that like the rest of them, Rob had had to learn hard and quickly that this wasn't Phily any more and they did things very differently here.
That didn't seem to matter to Rob, because Rob liked Flair, really liked him, enough to forgo his beloved stretching exercises just to talk to him. Not just talk like he would to the rest, in between movements, and whenever he had a breath, but sitting down sort of talking. It must have been love.
That was half of the problem, Rob was far too trusting. He trusted someone who everyone warned him was a little slippery, not to be let too close and always to have a watchful eye kept on. But Rob didn't care, or if he had done, he never showed it to the rest. He just carried on, treated Flair like a bosom buddy, even when everyone else was going through the hoops of awkwardness. Bubba figured it went with the laid back thing, and that Rob was one of those happy people. The trouble is, happy trusting people are always the ones who get hurt, and despite everyone's best efforts and everyone warnings, so had Rob.
Rob could feel Bubba's eyes on him, feel the waves of compassion trying to reach him, and he didn't want any of it. He just wanted Ric back. Back and explaining how Unforgiven was just a ruse by the dirtiest player in the game, some devious plan to trap Hunter. But it wasn't, he knew that from the moment he'd looked into those lizard like eyes, this was for real. Hunter had once again out thought everyone.
It should have been obvious, everyone had a weak point, be it Spike for Bubba, Ric's damned pride that would let him ever come second in anything to anyone, or Ric for Rob. Hunter had taken everyone and ripped something inside.
And it hurt, oh how it hurt.
Rob couldn't feel the sledgehammer blow, not when his soul bled so much. He knew his ribs were hurt, and hurt bad, the doctor said, but somehow it didn't matter, it didn't hurt, it just was, the same way he just was.
Just one impact had shattered his world on Sunday, and shattered it had stayed, in the same way that his ribs had.
Rob knew he shouldn't have loved Ric, but there was nothing that he could do about it. There was something about Ric, whether it was his voice, his looks or his attitude, maybe it was the slow and methodical way he did everything, it appealed to Rob because he couldn't abide a rush.
Maybe it was Ric's choice to keep his quick fire brain wrapped up under the ideal of what everyone wanted him to be, some sort of eccentric uncle. Or the slightly odd laugh that followed those jokes that no one could follow. There was one punchline at least that Rob never saw coming. Maybe he should feel happy that his head wasn't paranoid enough to see that threat before it emerged, however much it hurt now, the lack of fear had let him have some good times, really good times.
Whatever had gone wrong, Rob blamed Hunter. As far as Rob was concerned, it wasn't Ric that did that last night, it was the mighty Flair bandwagon, it was the dirtiest player in the game wanting to come out and play for one last time, and he could see how Ric had been pushed into it.
Everyone saying that he was passed it, mentally pensioning him off into that uncle role, when he wasn't. He probably could have shown most of them a thing or two, and had definitely shown Rob how to get under Hunter's skin. Rob told him to attack him where it would hurt, and the only place Hunter was vulnerable was his professional pride.
It was only now that Rob could see how much of a self-portrait Ric had painted. Maybe he had tried to warn Rob, and Rob was too dense to take it in. Rob wanted to believe that Ric didn't really want to hurt him at all, that he only wanted to shake everyone else up, and that the minute he had got everyone's respect back, Ric would come out of that wall of hate he'd built around him and say sorry.
Yet, while Rob may have wanted to believe that, some part of him, the part that he was usually able to gloss over, told him to forget it, Ric had done everything with such deliberation that he must have wanted rid of Rob, and hurt him into the bargain.
Rob knew what had caused all the problems, Hunter pouring all that poison in Ric's ear, about not looking up to him any more. That would have hurt Ric, Rob knew, because he looked, well, not up to Hunter, but along to him, having placed Hunter in that select groups of peers and equals, showing him respect and expecting it in return.
So Ric had done something to shock them, to show them that not only did still waters run deep, old water ran the deepest of all.
And that was what hurt, Rob thought he was worth more than to be a pawn in a dark game between Hunter and Ric to see who was the worst. It wasn't like there was any doubt, because Hunter didn't know what he'd let himself in for starting this up, he really would come to regret it. Rob hoped he did, he hoped it came back and bit Hunter twice as hard as it hit him, if that was possible. Rob wasn't normally a vindictive man, `shit happens so you might as well go with the flow' was his usual style, but things like this would make anyone hold a grudge.
As usual, someone had the television on showing RAW, it meant you didn't have to be hyper keyed up for the whole two hours and that you knew when you were due on. So Rob could hear it when Ric started to speak, and all the filth that came out. He didn't know what made him stand, he knew he should have let it go, that it would mean nothing if he didn't respond. But he had to, he had to show Ric how it felt, even if it was only one tenth of what he felt.
As Rob charged towards the door, his momentum was blocked by Bubba.
"Don't Rob, he's trying to wind you up." `And succeeding, but Bubba didn't say that. "No one's seen Hunter so he's probably hiding out there, waiting for you to get angry and stupid and storm out there like you're about to do now. Then he'll hit you from behind in a sneak attack like he always does and you'll not be able to fight."
Rob knew that what Bubba was saying made sense, but he wasn't in the mood to take it in. "So what! There's nothing more of me to break. Let him take his best shot." Rob pushed Bubba out of the way and went to try and wring something out of Ric in the ring.