Rey gripped the strap of her bag tightly as she gazed up at the imposing building with wide, anxious eyes.
Universal Championship Wrestling – Performance Centre
After years of working her way through the independent wrestling circuit, watching her friends move on without her to bigger and better things, Rey Jackson had finally been offered a try out with the biggest wrestling company in the world. Two callbacks and it was finally her turn.
For some people, professional wrestling was just something fun. It was all sparkles and spandex, ‘fake’ fighting and over the top storylines, but for Rey, it had become so much more. Watching those characters on TV had become her escape as a child, a way to believe that something better was possible. The older she became, the more the idea stuck.
She didn’t learn the ‘right’ way, as many others had. The cost of wrestling schools around the country was simply too high. Instead, Rey turned up to shows, badgering the wrestlers there to teach her. In return for helping load the ring in and out of the venue, putting out seats, handing out flyers, some of the guys let her work out with them and it wasn’t long before they had her working the shows. She paid her dues and finally having a chance to perform in front of a paying crowd was her reward.
It’s how she met most of her closest friends and it was a bittersweet feeling watching them go off and get sighed while she still slogged it out as a weekend warrior. She’d work minimum wage jobs behind bars or in coffee shops during the week to pay her rent while donning her lycra spandex outfits at the weekend.
She smiled to herself, remembering that giddy feeling when the fed-ex guy delivered her contract and she sighed her name on the dotted line, agreeing to the 3-year development deal with the company. From this day, UCW would mold her character, give her real, proper training. If she played her cards right and did as they asked, they could make her into a star.
Sucking in a sharp breath to steady her nerves, she pushed her way into the building. It looked like a huge warehouse near Hell’s Kitchen, New York, but it was immaculate and bright. Six full-size wrestling rings were set up, each with people working in them. Some were running drills, others were working on grappling and some were learning new moves and testing them for safety.
She was approached by a huge man, his white vest doing nothing to hide how hairy he was. He wore a surly expression except for the sideways smile on his face. He crossed his arms over his chest, looking her up and down.
“Rey Jackson?” he barked. She nodded.
“I’m Charles Baker but everyone calls me coach Chewie,” he said, extending his hand to her. Rey reached out to shake it, marveling at how much larger he was than her, “I’m going to be your head coach here at the performance center. Let me show you around and we’ll get you settled with a locker,”
“Thanks,” Rey said uncertainly, gripping the strap of her backpack tighter and following the large man through the building.
“Obviously in here is our main training area,” he said, indicating the rings, “Each ring is 20-foot square. The same size you’ll be working on the shows. Everyone’s training timetable is different, if you’re on tour, you’re not required to train although you are, of course, more than welcome,”
He moved on and Rey followed behind him loyally, taking in the sights as they walked.
“In here we have our state-of-the-art gym and weights facility,” he said, stopping in the doorway of the huge gym.
Rey grinned. There was every kind of machine she could imagine, as well as rows of free weights, kettlebells, battle ropes and medicine balls.
“You’re finally here!”
A familiar voice called across the room, dropping his weights and skipping over to her. Rey smiled so wide her cheeks burned, throwing her arms around her friends’ neck, not caring how sweaty he was.
“Finn, it’s so good to see you!” she cried. He beamed down at her proudly.
“I knew you’d make it here eventually!” he said, “You’re too good not to have on this roster. Poe, Rose and Paige are around here somewhere too!”
Rey felt giddy, thrilled knowing she would finally be working along with her friends once more. It wasn’t that she didn’t see them, or that they didn’t keep in touch, but when your closest friends were quickly becoming international wrestling superstars and touring the world, it made getting together difficult.
But that didn’t matter anymore, because now, Rey was going to be one of them.
“Old friends huh?” Chewie commented, “That’s good. It’ll help the settling in process, they can keep you right,”
She waved to Finn, telling him she would see him later as Chewie continued his tour.
“Down that hall there are our sports therapy and trainers’ rooms. You got an injury or an issue, you can head in there and they’ll see you right,” he said, “And these rooms here are the offices of our general managers…”
“Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa!” Rey interrupted with excitement. She was yet to meet either of them since neither were there for her try out, but they were both legendary names in the wrestling business.
In his day, Luke Skywalker had been one of the greatest Intercontinental champions of all time while Leia Organa was the first ever woman to compete in an intergender match against a man. There wasn’t a wrestling trainee alive who didn’t know their names. Chewie smirked.
“That’s right. Big fan?” Rey blushed sheepishly.
“I…well, I mean…”
“Don’t worry about it kid!” Chewie laughed, “Everyone is the same when they first come here!”
They walked to another set of rooms, Chewie pointing to the door on the left.
“This is the women’s locker room,” he said, “You’ve been allocated locker and cubby number 21. Keep your training things in there. We won’t have you doing too much today, get yourself acquainted and come to me when you’re ready,”
Rey nodded in thanks, pushing her way into the room. The excited smile had yet to leave her face as she looked around. Every numbered section was decorated and personalised by whoever it belonged to and she realized with glee that her section was directly between Paige and Rose.
Unzipping her bag, Rey began to hang up her things. Her boots, her knee pads, her wrist tape. Inspecting each item, she wrinkled her nose. Everything was in working order, but it was all so old and worn. Wrestling gear was expensive and if it was the choice between new boots and a hot meal, the meal had to come first. She was in the process of unpacking some spare training clothes when she was caught off guard.
“Well, look what we have here,”
Rey jumped, turning to look at the person standing leaning against one of the lockers. The woman was far taller than Rey was with short blonde hair and a quizzically amused expression in her blue eyes. Her arms were crossed in front of her nonchalantly, looking Rey up and down.
“Hello…” Rey greeted carefully, “I’m…”
“I know exactly who you are,” the woman said, pushing herself to a stand and wandering closer to her, “You’re that new signee everyone has been talking about. I’ve heard you’re very popular on the indies, Rey J Kenobi,”
“That’s just my performance name…well, my actual name is Rey but…” the woman rolled her eyes, waving her hand to cut Rey off.
“I literally couldn’t care less what your name is, performance or otherwise,” she snapped, “If you’re going to survive in this locker room, you just need to know one thing…I’m not just women’s champion because it’s in the script. I’m the best in this company and I didn’t work my arse off only to have that taken away by some little…”
“Back off Gwen!” Another voice snapped from the locker room doorway, “She’s just in through the door, maybe save being a bitch for the cameras?”
Gwen smirked, looking Rey over one last time.
“Oh, don’t you worry little Rosebud. I was just ribbing our new recruit. Welcome to the team, love,” she said, turning around and walking from the room.
“Who the fuck was that?” The smaller girl walked into the room, her face softening from its scowl.
“You’ve not been watching, recently have you? That’s Gwen Phasma. Ever since the writers decided to put the belt on her and make her women’s champion, she’s been a nightmare. Her and her little gang that she runs around with,” Rose sighed, “Anyway, doesn’t matter. What matters is that you’re here!” She squealed, hugging her friend tightly.
“Have you met everyone yet? Has coach Chewie shown you the place?” Rose asked. Rey nodded.
“He’s given me the tour and I saw Finn in the weights room, but I haven’t seen Poe or Paige yet,” she said, “and I haven’t met anyone else,”
“Well I’m so happy you’re finally with us. Holy shit, this is going to make tours so much more fun now I won’t feel guilty for leaving you alone!”
As much as Rey tried not to let it bother her, there had always been a residual feeling of resentment towards her friends. She loved them and wanted the best for them, she wished them all the success in the world but it was hard not to feel a little hard done by when they were performing in front of sold-out arenas around the country for a good wage while Rey was stuck once again in a high school gym in some backwater town and would be lucky to make gas money from the promoter.
Rey finished putting away her things and followed Rose out, listening to the girl as she pointed out people working in the rings.
“So obviously you know my sister, Paige. The girl she’s in with is Jessika, she hasn’t been training as long as us so she’s super green but she’s really nice,” she turned to another ring, “The guy with the red hair? That’s Hux, he’s part of a tag team with the other guy with dark hair, Mitaka. I don’t know how much you’ve been keeping track of the storylines but they’re in a faction with Phasma called ‘The First Order’,”
“Hmm. Heel faction I take it?”
“Total heels. They get booed out of every arena we go to,” Rose agreed, “and they hold all the championships between them. It’s a good thing though, you know the faces should always be chasing for the titles. Means when it’s time to finally have them drop, the crowd will go nuts for it!”
Rey nodded. It was a sound wrestling storyline, tried and tested. The bad guys would hold all the power, cheating to win and getting away with it time and time again. It drove the audience mad, the boos each night getting louder with anticipation that eventually the plucky, underdog heroes would beat the odds and dethrone the villains.
Of course, it was all just storylines.
The door to the facility opened, Rey and Rose, turning to the sound out of interest. Rey’s eyes widened taking in the figure who walked in. He was huge, even by wrestlers’ standards, standing well over six foot with a broad chest and shoulders. His dark hair hung messily around his angular face, his full lips turned in a scowl.
“Oh my God…Rose, who is that?”
“That’s Kylo Ren…he got signed a few months ago after doing all those tours out in Japan,” She said, “He get’s here and within a few weeks, they’ve already got him carrying the heavyweight championship! I’d like to say it’s just cause of his family but…he’s actually really talented,”
“He is…so handsome,” Rey said, mainly to herself but Rose heard her and rolled her eyes.
“Yes, I especially love his smile,” she quipped, “Seriously, he’s a total asshole. You know how with some heels it’s all for storylines and they’re actually really nice? Yeah, not in this case…actually, that goes for everyone in the First Order. Just stay away from them, they’re not worth your time,”
Rey’s eyes continued to follow him. He purposely ignored most of the other wrestler who was working, only acknowledging his First Order teammates with the briefest of nods. Not once did he smile.
“You said he has family here…who is that?” Rose smirked.
“He’s Leia Organa’s son!” she replied in a hushed whisper. Rey’s mouth fell open.
“Holy shit, she has a son?! I didn’t know that!”
“Nobody did, it was all quite the scandal back in the day,” Rose said, “But that’s all I know! Anyway, come on, let’s get in the ring and get you moving again!”
Choosing an empty ring, Rey climbed onto the apron, wiping her feet and stepping between the ropes. She bounced slightly, feeling the familiar ground under her feet and the way the padded wood moved above the metal bars.
Testing the give of the ring, she slowly began to run, counting her steps between the ropes and turning to receive the bounce that would propel her in the other direction. The size of the ring was larger than most on the indies and it would take some getting used to, but it was the most professional set up she’d ever experienced, and her body was thriving.
Under Chewie’s instruction, Rey ran through her drills. She practiced her bumps, landing on her back safely, her front, her sides and flipping in a somersault over to land on her back without her head touching the mat.
“Remember guys, if you can’t protect yourself, how are you going to protect your opponent?” Chewie reminded, “Good work ladies, those bumps are looking tight. Move onto your rolls please,”
Listening to her coach, Rey began with basic forward rolls, then backward rolls and onto the left and right arm shoulder rolls, gracefully coming to her feet each time. It was the second most important thing she had ever learned as a wrestler when it came to protecting herself from shoddy moves.
If in doubt, roll it out.
“Alright, that’s good. That’s enough for today,” Chewie said, “Luke should have your travel itinerary ready by tomorrow in time for these new stories starting. The rest of the afternoon is yours,”
“Umm coach?” Rey called, “It’s been a while since I’ve had a ring like this to myself. Can I stay behind a little to practice some things?” Chewie shrugged.
“Sure, that’s what this place is for. Just be careful,” he warned. Rey nodded, giving him the thumbs up.
“Rey, we’re going to go wash up then how about we go somewhere and get dinner?” Rose called, pointing to the back, “We can catch up!” Rey nodded in agreement with a smile.
Hopping down from the ring, she grabbed one of the large, foam crashmats, pushing it inside and placing it in the center of the ring.
Of all the things Rey had learned, flying was the thing she loved most. She had been obsessed with the Mexican luchadores as a child. The rush of adrenaline that spiked through her blood as she would leap from the corner turnbuckle to flip through the air at her opponent. If they were larger, and they could hold her weight and act as her base, then it was even better.
Since Rose and Paige had opted to hit the showers and Finn and Poe were nowhere to be seen, Rey decided that some solo practice was best while she waited for her friends. The split legged moonsault was a move she had been practicing for years but could never quite master. She would stand on top of the turnbuckle, her back to the ring and drop into the splits, the back of her thighs hitting the top rope to flip her body over to land on her stomach on the mat.
Sometimes she would land it. Other times she would land on her head.
She climbed, holding her breath to steady herself before dropping, the back of her legs glancing from the ropes and she fell, landing in an unceremonious heap on the crash mat. She growled in annoyance, righting herself to a sit and rubbing the back of her head.
In determination, she stood again, grabbing the ropes and climbing herself to the top. This time, without giving herself the hesitation, she dropped, only to find herself in the same landing position.
“You’re doing that wrong,”
Rey looked up with a scowl, moving her hair from her face. Kylo Ren was standing at ringside, his arms crossed over his large, vest-clad chest. She had thought him handsome from a distance but up close, she could now see the finer details in his looks. How his skin was speckled with beauty marks, the angular shape of his strong, stubble-covered jaw and, finally, she could see just how dark his eyes really were. Something was bothering her though; his expression was one of boredom, indifference, and it immediately made Rey bristle.
“Yes, I’m quite aware,” she snapped, “Otherwise I wouldn’t be sitting like this would I?”
Kylo raised an eyebrow, taken aback by her sharp tone and Rey wondered if anyone had ever spoken back to him.
“When your legs hit the ropes, you keep leaving your hands by your sides and looking down. Your body will never turn that way. When you drop, tilt your head and throw your arms up so the momentum takes you over,” he explained, his voice just as bored and uninterested as his face suggested.
“And what would a six foot whatever the hell you are heavyweight know about lucha libre wrestling anyway?” She said, looking him up and down disdainfully, “You’ve hardly got the build for it,”
“Don’t you know who I am?” Rey snorted, picking herself up and rolling out of the ring to face him, marching up to his chest in irritation. The height difference was laughable, but his manner was pushing her buttons. How rude was this guy? Hadn’t he ever heard of humility?
“I do actually but right now you’re coming across as one of those arrogant arseholes who think that just because they’ve got a belt, they’re actually important!” she said, “Wrestling isn’t fake, but it is fixed or have you forgotten that?”
Kylo regarded her carefully, his brows knitted together over his dark eyes until suddenly he smirked, the corner of his mouth lifting in what might have passed for amusement. Rey felt rooted to the spot under the scrutiny of his stare, but she dared not move. Her pride wouldn’t let her give in to such a conceited man, even if having him so close was making her light headed.
She hoped it was just her previous landing.
“Just do as I say,” he said darkly, “You might just learn something,”
Rey watched, speechless, as he turned and walked away from her, her eyes fixed to the muscles in his back as he moved, and she screwed them shut, sucking in a breath. He was attractive, too damn attractive, but he was still an arrogant piece of work and she repeated that fact over and over in her head like a mantra.
Grumbling under her breath, she climbed back into the ring, sorting the position of the mat and climbing the turnbuckle again. Fine, she thought, she would try his suggestion and that would prove that the egotistical, beautiful bastard had no idea what he was talking about.
She dropped, keeping her head tilted back and throwing her arms upwards. In a perfect rotation, her back arched and she landed square in the middle of the crash mat.
From her perfect landing position, Rey groaned, flopping forward and burying her face in the foam.
Stupid arrogant son-of-a…