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We have a gift for you
There weren't any wake-up times for wrestlers. They had nights that could last until morning.
Alistair awoke, clad only in a thin sheet draped over his frame. He still harbored sensations from his recent escapade a few nights prior. His initial night out had been marked by discussions with a mystical man, listening to tales, and ended in a warm embrace.
A knock sounded at Alistair's door. He hurriedly approached, scarcely managing to cover himself with the sheet, and peered through the peephole, finding no one. Only a note had been slipped beneath the door.

Note read:
- Second match
- Location:  Busted
- Time midnight
- Type:  Bare Knuckle
- Ask for your gift

“What the fuck is with the notes. I guess this is their thing.” Alistair grumpily murmured after he had tossed the note on the island in his kitchen. Alistair had become accustomed to quirky wrestling promotors and patrons.  He had once wrestled privately for a man in a cemetery. Wealthy benefactors had their kinks and peculiar interests, so a note was not much of a shock.
The mention of a gift had intrigued him and stayed with him. Ever since his previous match, he had heard whispers about a gift, a certain reward that was only given to a select few.

Alistair had been new. What gift could he have possibly earned? He hadn't put much thought into it, dismissing it as just another wild tale that filled the world of wrestling. But after reading its mention in the note, his curiosity had been piqued.

Before every match, Alistair had followed a strict routine. While others might have looked at him and thought he had just rolled out of bed, ready to fight at a moment's notice, the truth had been far from it. Alistair had prepped on fight days with set routines.

Alistair had started his late evening prematch ritual by taking a long, warm shower. However, he had been a bit distracted. The water cascading down his body had reminded him of a recent passionate embrace and the tales from the mysterious man. He had tried to shake off the memories, focusing instead on the upcoming match.

But a nagging thought had lingered: How would I find her again? The thought of her carnal passion had made blood rush through his body. The only clues she had given him were some places she frequented and something about being in entertainment. 
Also running through his mind had been thoughts of what the man at the bar had told him. Not so much what, but how it had made him feel. The man had filled Alistair with a twinge of doubt and fear.

"What could the gift be?" Alistair had thought out loud.

With too many thoughts, Alistair had shut them down with one large exhale.

After the shower, Alistair had moved on to his breathing ritual. He had knelt at the end of his bed, wearing only his loosely worn towel. He had begun heavy rhythmic breathing, meditating up and down his body. He had to have every inch ready to fight. At a moment's notice, he needed to call on anger, summon hate, and pure damage. Alistair had focused on every part, tensing and releasing with each deep breath.

Next, he had gone through a visual process of the fight. He had pictured himself walking to the ring, the smell, and sights of the room. Imagining looking across at his opponent. He had imagined the first time he would be punched. It had helped him relax, feeling the pure pain from a shot to his chin.

After a premade meal of nuts, seeds, and orange with a palm of sliced chicken, he had dressed. Every piece of his clothing had been thought out. From his socks just at his ankle level, barely covering his perfectly taped ankles, to his black 5-inch seam shorts, athletic undergarments keeping his manhood locked in place, and the tight black zipped hoodie he'd worn to the ring, everything had been in place.

The last thing he had done before his fight was tape his hands. He had performed that ritual in the locker room with a towel draped over his head, as he meditated on some Catholic prayers from his youth wrestling days with Father Antonio. Though not Catholic, he had grown up attending mass with the other boys he had wrestled with because their coach had made them. He had sat there as men in holy robes repeated ritualistic prayers, then went into a little room to vulnerably confess to a Priest about his wayward thoughts from the previous week.

There had been a depth to Alistair that no one looking at him could have possibly seen or known existed.

Alistair had finished preparing himself and the time had come to head to the venue.
There had been no ropes; only an elevated concrete square ring had stood one foot off the ground. It had been stained with red that the surface wore with sadistic pride.

Bloodlust crowds had pressed close around each side of the ring. Collectively, a trance had controlled a mass of people after a night of partying and gambling. Each person had some skin in the game. Everyone had a stake, whether a little or a large amount of money. But with every bet, the Russian Mafia had gotten their cut. With every bet, the Russian Mafia had won even when the house lost.

For every dollar spent, a portion had gone into the pockets of the Mafia. Every ounce of liquor, plate of food, and paid-for services by the ladies intertwined in the crowd had only cemented the fact that the Mafia would win. Every solicited act had taken with it a secret, and more information had been collected to be used to benefit the family. These ladies had been agents of pleasure and espionage. Dark areas of the building had been filled with wandering hands and whispers. The Mafia had won because of the ecosystem the club had built around it. Mr. P's wealth had been made by taking advantage of the human depravity that needed its unquenchable hit. These clubs had become vital to their continued power and dominance. 

The deafening noise of the crowd had come to complete silence to the ears of Alistair. Alistair had stood suspended in time, exposed in the middle of the ring. He had been in a battle. This fight had been like no other fight he had been in before. The opponent would not take damage as if he had been a machine possessed by something. Alistair had stood suspended, knowing what was about to happen. He had missed a right hook to his opponent's face, leaving his right cheek fully exposed to his opponent. Though only a second had passed, that had been more than enough time for his opponent to unwind his body; first, his right leg, knees, hips, unwinding his torso as a trailing left hook had plowed through Alistair's face. The impact had sent Alistair's head cocked back as his eyes had rolled back into his head. Blood and spit had flown out of his mouth. In a moment, Alistair had been looking at the ceiling, and his night had been done.
Warm water had been a close friend as Alistair had stood in the corner of a large shower area. Other fighters from the different combat rooms in the club had bathed nearby, each in varying states of post-fight bliss or misery. The room had been filled with warriors. Naked men, stripped bare, not just of clothes but also of their egos. Fighting can do that to a man. It can strip them of any pretense that they are in control. Reality often came in the form of a fist. All men had quietly contemplated their outcomes from the evening as the smell of soapy lather had filled the air.

Only hours before, during his prematch ritual, he had also stood under a shower, his mind filled with images of a dark-haired beauty curling her finger for Alistair to come and beg—the imagery of dominating his opponent in an easy victory and traces of mystery from a stranger. But now, the shower had served as a moment alone to lick his wounds. The water had warmed his bloody, bruised, and defeated body. A hard stream of water had covered his head, draping his body like a soft silk veil.

Streams of liquid had fallen from his hair to his brow, revealing exposed flesh from combat. Each water droplet entering a wound had sent a twinge of pain down his spine. The water had washed off seeping blood and dirt. It had flowed down his body, over his swollen bloody lip, and over his chin, which bore a swollen bump lightly covered with black stubble. Further down, the water had trickled, touching his achy and weak body warmly. With each breath, he had winced from the body shots he had sustained. Water had dripped down his hips, displaying exposed bruises. Every inch of him had been in pain. His body, while chiseled from years of hard training, was in this moment, used. He had spent every resource he had on that night's match, only to lose in a knockout.

Alistair had stood with silent resolve, replaying moments he could remember. A nagging feeling had consumed his mind. Something had been off with this fighter. He hadn't seemed human and had inflicted torture Alistair had never experienced before. Who was this man, or better yet, who had sent him?

Alistair's cell phone had started ringing in his bag. By the time he had reached his phone, the signal for a voicemail had been flashing. As he  listened to it, a familiar voice had pierced his ears, saying, "Terrible match, Alistair.  Let me make you feel better.  I have a little gift for you. I have a car outside for you waiting. You need to visit Kallisti. Let your eyes enjoy a show. We also need to talk business." Mr. P. had said, followed by a deep Russian laugh.
[Continued at All She Wants To Do Is Dance (Kallisti)]

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