The morning after the night before.
Although it is barely morning, it’s not morning by a long stretch, the curtains aren’t covering anything other than darkness outside.
Ruth blinks into the darkness, wondering why her body has just shaken itself awake as though a fire alarm was going off.
There’s a quiet snore next to her, and Ruth freezes, before remembering… oh fuck, all of that really did happen.
Sam is in her bed. And she is wearing… she checks herself…. exactly zero clothes. Great. Great. Good job Ruth.
Her first thought is; Debbie is going to be furious with me.
Her second thought is; I’ve cheated on Russell, what the fuck is wrong with me?
Her third thought is; pretty sure the order of those two thoughts should have been reversed…
But it is the thought of Debbie that reveals to Ruth why she’s just jolted herself awake. Debbie is flying today. This morning. Early this morning. Ruth doesn’t know how early counts as early, but she knows full well that if she gives fate the slightest opportunity, the more likely it’ll be that Sam will leave her room the moment that Debbie is leaving hers.
Her sleepy brain toys with the idea of letting Sam stay in her room, in her bed, until it is no longer early morning. But even if Sam avoids Debbie that way, there’s no way he’ll manage to avoid being seen by another of the girls on the corridor, and Ruth knows exactly how that’ll play out. Not a chance of it staying secret.
Nope, no, there’s no way around it, Sam has to leave now.
”Sam? Sam. Wake up.” Ruth reaches out cautiously towards him, hoping to find a neutral place to poke him. She encounters his shoulder, and taps him.
“Sam? Wake up. You have to leave.”
Sam grunts, and then groans, and then says “Wha?” Ruth sighs, and turns away from him, reaching for the side lamp and flicking it on.
“Sam. You have to leave. Before… you just have to go. Back to your room. Bed.”
Sam mumbles something inarticulate, and then half sits up. He blinks around himself, and then says “Where are my glasses?”
They’re on the side table next to Ruth. Ruth passes them to him, and then pulls her sheet up around herself, suddenly self conscious at how naked she is.
Sam rubs at his eyes, and then pushes his glasses onto his face. He stifles a yawn, and then manages a half grin at her.
“Hi. Good morning. Um.”
Ruth nods a little at that, because um indeed.
“Sorry to wake you, but you should really go now, before people start waking up and see you leaving…”
Sam scratches at the back of his head, and says “Sure, that’s not something that should happen… christ, it’s not even five am yet? How early do you think people wake up?”
“No, I know, it’s just, I don’t know how early Debbie is leaving to get her plane, and I really don’t think that you bumping into Debbie is a very good idea… please. I’m sorry.”
Sam sighs at her, and then looks down at himself, anxious.
“Okay, but I’m not… my clothes are not on my body, they are on the floor, and-”
“I’ll look away” Ruth says abruptly, and promptly rolls onto her side.
She hates how vulnerable she feels, how naked she feels… she wishes that she’d had the presence of mind to put some clothes back on afterwards.
It’s just Sam, Ruth tells herself. It’s just Sam, who is surprisingly sweet, and surprisingly gentle, and nice, nicer than Debbie even gives him credit for…
Ruth can hear him moving around, picking up his clothes and dressing himself. After a few moments Ruth feels the bed shift, as Sam sits on the far edge of it with a grunt.
Ruth looks back around, and then, finding Sam fully dressed, she moves into a sitting position, gathering the bed clothes to her until she probably looks like a comforter with a head.
Sam clears his throat.
“This… probably shouldn’t have happened. From a professional point of view, this is… probably not good.”
‘Not good’ sounds like the understatement of the year. Ruth laughs slightly. “Yeah, um. I am… I’m still with Russell.”
Sam raises his eyebrows, as though he hadn’t even remembered about Russell. He grunts in recognition. “Yeah, there’s that. And uh. I’m pretty sure Debbie might have some things to say.”
Ruth rolls her eyes, irritated that her own irrational focus on Debbie’s feelings have been passed on to Sam.
“Debbie… doesn’t have anything to do with this.”
Sam smiles slightly at that, and then shuffles a bit closer to her.
“I had a good time though. I… I can cope with the professional fall out, if you ever… if the situation with Russell ever changes.”
“I’ll…” Ruth rubs her hands over her face. “I don’t know what I think about that, right now.”
“That’s okay.” Sam smiles cautiously at her. “I just wanted you to know where I stood. I like you. I think we could be good.”
Ruth smiles back at him.
“Okay. I’ll… there’s no rush.”
“Okay. I’ll just be going then.”
He makes to get up, but Ruth reaches out to him suddenly, and puts her hand on top of Sam’s. Sam takes it immediately, and brushes a kiss across her knuckles.
“You are… really something, Ruth Wilder. I enjoyed last night, very much.”
Ruth grins shyly, despite herself.
“Bye Sam. Try to be quiet.”
The next week is exhausting.
And it’s not just the physical, although the physical is exhausting.
Ruth is due to do her first fight in…two days. Forty eight hours, until she’s in the ring for the first time since Debbie grabbed her foot, and twisted too hard, too far-
She isn’t wrestling with Debbie though. It’s Cherry that she’s facing down, in a weird fight over…something to do with whether or not Black Magic can do actual magic. Zoya is a philistine, unsurprisingly.
“So, your plan for keeping Liberty Belle as evil can be magic, you want to have her under constant voodoo, whereas Zoya can be all-” and here Ruth adopts her Zoya voice- “No, an empire cannot be built on little tricks and foolish magics, we must win Liberty Belle over, hearts and minds: I will deliver to her lecture, on the triumphs of Communism, then she will convert, and poof no more magic required. Empirical data only.”
There’s a loud guffaw of laughter, and when Ruth turns around she finds Sam standing at the edge of the ring, grinning at her and pointing.
“That’s funny. That’d be funny. Someone write that down; Zoya gives Liberty Hell lecture on the finer points of Communism. Debbie… Debbie… hi, yes, good morning… write this down will you; Zoya lecture on Communism.”
Sam turns back to Ruth, and grins at her. Over his shoulder, Ruth can see Debbie look around herself in disbelief, share a dark look with Sheila who is on the training mat next to her, and then sarcastically mime writing something on the palm of her hand with an invisible pen.
She drags her attention back to Sam.
“You like that idea?”
Sam nods, glancing between Cherry and herself. “Yes. Very much. You managed to be funny. Good job.”
Ruth smiles back at him, because it is so hard not to, not when Sam is like this, excited and passionate about their show.
Sam walks away after a moment, having lingered slightly too long, clearly hoping Ruth would say something else. Ruth watches him go, feeling… oh, too many things.
But then she accidentally catches Debbie’s eye. And then all the positivity turns sour, because Debbie grimaces slightly, and looks away from her.
Ruth sighs, and turns back to Cherry, who has been watching all of this with a judgement free gaze.
“You ready to go again?” she asks. Ruth nods.
So like she says; exhausting.
But it does feel great to be wrestling again, and Ruth is feeling so good that she manages to be more excited than nervous, as the hours tick down.
The match is in thirty six hours, and then twenty four hours, and then twelve hours, and then six hours, and then she’s in full hair and make up, and it is one hour until curtain up.
She goes to find Sam. He’s in his makeshift office, chewing on the end of a pencil as he runs his fingers down a sheet of paper that contains the cues and order of the show. He’s wearing a sweater that Ruth remembers from before, and he looks good. Focused.
Faced with a lack of door, Ruth knocks on the table nearest to her instead. Sam looks up, and when he sees her, he smiles momentarily, positively beams, before arranging his face into something slightly less radiant.
“Oh. Hello. Are you good to go? Zoya ready to make her grand return to the ring? You look good, the fight you’ve been choreographing with Cherry looks great.”
“Thanks… I just wanted to come and say… thanks, I guess. For not firing me, after I broke my leg. Because- god I’m so excited to wrestle again, and I wouldn’t have been able to if you hadn’t, you know. Rearranged things for me. So thank you.”
Sam puts down his pencil, and rubs at the back of his neck.
“Well, I mean, shit. You are one of the best wrestlers. I’d have been insane… also, what kind of boss would I be, firing you because you broke your leg?”
Something turns sour in Ruth’s mouth when Sam says ‘boss’, because that is true, that is what Sam is to her, and things can only turn out badly, if she allows this to go any further.
Sam smiles softly at her after a moment.
“Besides, you didn’t break your leg.”
Ruth turns away, tuning her ears to the muted sound of the crowd building up.
“Anyway. I just wanted to say thanks. I appreciate it.”
Sam nods at her.
“Have fun. You’ll be great.”
She almost doesn’t remember to notice the show.
God, she’s too busy, remembering this cue, and that cue, and when to yell in exaggerated pain, and when to spit insults at Cherry, and when to jeer at the crowd…
Debbie’s fight is only a short one, and is halfway through the running order. The Toxic Twins bring out Liberty Hell as back up when their fight against Fortune Cookie and Beirut starts to go south. The script means that they still lose, and Liberty Hell has now pledged allegiance to Fortune Cookie. The crowd are horrified, and cheer madly when Machu gathers the remaining faces in the ring, swearing to undo the wicked deed that has left Liberty Belle on the side of evil.
It’s the kind of terrible scripted storyline that wouldn’t even make it past pilot season, but it works here, somehow, with the lights and the gasps of shock and the spluttering incandescence of Bash.
Liberty Hell and Zoya gesture furiously at each other as Liberty Hell leaves the ring and Zoya enters. Because Debbie and Ruth decided, what feels like a long time ago now, that they still wouldn’t be on the same side even if Liberty Hell was evil.
Zoya wins her fight against Black Magic, and then swears to the skies that she will capture Liberty Hell, force her to convert to the glories of Communism, whilst the boos ring in her ears. Welfare Queen appears, right at the very end, to clothesline her and give the crowd something to cheer about, and then that’s it. The end of the show.
It’s not until the moments after the show that all the emotions come crashing into Ruth, because now that she isn’t concentrating so hard she can appreciate the noise of the crowd, the energy-
She gets picked up in a hug by Cherry, and Tammé deliberately squashes her hair down flat and says “good to have you back in the ring Zoya” with a laugh.
All the girls give her little gestures of congratulations, whether it is rubs on the back or slaps on the butt or smiles and words. Ruth feels incredible, and just joyful, that she gets to do all of that again, tomorrow.
Debbie approaches her last, when Ruth is by the sinks in the changing room, slowly trying to wash her make up off.
“Hey. You did great. You were really good.”
Ruth laughs a little self consciously, and then says “You were too, I’m obsessed with Liberty Hell, I love how you are playing her as a drunken frat boy.”
Debbie snorts, and then says “Oh, you spotted that? Yeah, I only have about three characters.”
“Well” Ruth says with authority, “It is a triumph. I’m obsessed.”
Debbie makes a small noise, and then when Ruth glances across to her in the mirror, she realises with a shock that Debbie’s mouth is working in the way it always does when Debbie is trying not to cry.
“Hey… hey, are you okay?”
Debbie grips at the sink in front of her, and then wipes something away from her eyes.
“Yeah, I’m just… god I didn’t realise how relieved I’d feel, to see you wrestle again, it was-” Debbie stops, and then gulps a little. Ruth reaches out to her, rubs a palm over her shoulder.
“It’s fine… I felt fine” she says. Debbie nods at this, and then straightens herself up, in a movement that takes her away from Ruth’s hand.
“No… I’m just-” Debbie flaps a hand vaguely, and then sighs. “I’m … missing Randy, I guess. I’m going to go visit him, in the gap between this show and the next one. And I’ll be able to stay longer, because I’m not wrestling in the next show. And thank god, because every time I call him I end up speaking with Susan, who keeps telling me how cute he is, and I’m having… my emotions are going in every direction at once.”
Ruth smiles, wanting to ask more.
“How’s Randy doing?”
Debbie laughs helplessly.
“Oh god, he’s… Mark has taught him how to wiggle. If you sing to him “row row row your boat, gently down the river, if you see if polar bear don’t forget to shiver”, and then Randy will-”
Debbie starts rocking her body back and forth, shivering, and Ruth laughs at her, before clutching her hands to her chest.
“Aw, that’s so… can I see him? When I fly back? If you uh-” Ruth hesitates, wondering if she’s made an assumption too far, but Debbie just smiles, and shrugs.
“Of course, if you would like to.”
It has become a pleasant, easy moment, and Ruth wonders yet again (and how many times exactly is she going to wonder this?) whether she had just been imagining the tension between Debbie and herself. Whether the feeling of vague worry is now such a learned reaction that Ruth will never be able to throw it off.
Debbie clears her throat, glancing around the changing rooms.
“Um. Did you want to get a drink after this? I’m… not just me, I was doing something with Sheila, and Bash, if you wanted to join?”
“Yeah, yeah, I’d like that, um… Sheila and Bash, huh? That’s an unusual set of people for you to be hanging out with.”
Debbie shrugs, looking around herself cautiously. “I guess so. Um. About eight?”
Ruth nods, feeling happier than she has felt in a long time.