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Gracie's Gym
Continued from A Fine Line

Connor looked up at the sign and then at the card in his wallet. Gracie’s Gym. The words looked faded, the sign cracked and dirty. The door was propped open and he could her the slaps of fists on punching bags, the echoing grunts of people, and the background noise of music coming from a crappy speaker, high and tinny.

It fit his mood. The last week or so had seriously sucked. He just went through the motions of life. After that first day, that first run, he hadn’t felt any better. He didn’t see Ayden again that night but he wanted to. He missed her. He barely knew her but he missed her, wanted to go to her. But he just couldn’t. Every time he thought about walking to her door and knocking, he just felt tired. Whenever he thought he heard activity out in the hallway- talking or a door closing- he would feel a stab of anxiety. Work helped a little. Being busy- having the help coworkers, track down bugs, or find answers to questions occupied his mind. But he didn’t joke with the guys really. At lunch he just ate and sat around, while Vlad and the other guys talked and laughed. He went out a couple nights but it was meh. Didn’t stay out late either. Came home, had a drink or 5 and then went to bed. Next day, start all over again.

He did see her once one evening 4 days later as he was walking down the hall. The elevator doors opened and there she was in waitress uniform, grocery bag in one hand while the other fumbled getting a ribbon from around her neck. She looked tired but when she looked up and saw him she smiled a beautiful warm smile, eyes bright. His heart leapt in his chest and started racing. He kept walking but his eyes were on her only, on her face. Almost, almost he ran to her, almost threw his arms around her to pick her up and hold her close to him and kiss her. But fear paralyzed him.

As they got closer together- his heart pounding- she said “Hi”
in a quiet and tender voice. Her smile stayed on her face as she just looked at him.

was all he could say, a weak smile on his face. He swallowed. “Well…uhh. I have to go.”
He walked past her to the elevator and pressed the button. It opened immediately and he went in. When he turned around and pressed “Lobby” he saw her watching him from in front of her door. Mercifully, the doors closed. He was shaking inside. Maybe he would move. But a part of him rebelled at that thought. He just couldn’t do that. He was caught. Scared to go to her. Scared to get away from her.

After a week, he knew this couldn’t continue. He’d promised Hayden. He needed something to do with his time. He needed to get out of his head. He needed to feel something again.

He walked into the gym and was met by the smell of sweat and rubber and leather. There area was open, with light streaming in from a propped open back door. There were 2 rings, one of which had a couple guys boxing in protective gear. A couple punching bags hung from the ceiling along one wall and were tied to the floor. On one of them a girl in a sports bra and black shorts was repeatedly kicking one of the bags with her shins, sharp grunt each time her leg connected, while a man in a tank top held it firm. Connor’s gaze continued taking in the room, seeing a couple tables and folding chairs, some old weights and benches in a corner, mirror along one wall. Posters of various fights, some old and faded, adorned the walls. A few screens scattered around the room showed some fights, though the sound was off. He saw a guy with close cropped dark hair and a pretty good build walking toward him. He had an odd look on his face with an inquisitive smile. Must not have a lot of walk-ins I guess. “Can I help you?”

The man stopped in front of him. They were about the same height but thought the main was probably in his late 20s. “Yeah, uh, a guy I met told me about this place. Said I might get to do some fighting or something.”
He shrugged a bit. He wasn’t nervous, just ready to do something new. It would be nice to do something, move and feel something other than lethargy.

The guy was still looking at him, smirk on his face. What’s so funny? he wondered. “You ever do any boxing or MMA? Martial arts?”

“Uhh….did some boxing when I was younger. Never really got into it. Wrestling in high school. And you know, occasional fights and stuff growing up. Nothing big though.”

The guy kind of smiled. “Heh….so you wanna pop your cherry here, then? Yeah, I think I can help you out.”
Odd way to put it, Connor thought. The guy pointed to one of the signs that showed the rates. Daily, weekly, monthly and annual. It was a bit steep, given the look of the place. But what the hell. He decided on the weekly, along with trainer sessions. See how it went at least for a while.

when the waiver was signed and the fee paid, the guy went on. “I’m Charlie. One of the trainers. So, what do ya wanna learn?”
, he asked, nodding to another sign mentioning the different styles of fighting. One caught his eye.

“I guess that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu one.”
He thought he’d seen it once before. The guys were dancing around like crazy, landing painful blows. Looked kinda fun. A small part of him kind of liked the idea of hitting. And strangely, he found the idea of getting hit not bad either. Weird.

The man smiled at him. “Hah! That’s one of mine. Alright.”
He appraised Connor pretty quickly. “Good build on you . Good shape. Bit older, but that’s ok. You will feel it tomorrow, though. Just gotta warn ya.”

Connor laughed. “I don’t mind. That’s kinda why I’m here.”

“All right. Well, get changed I’ll see you out back out here,”
he said, nodding to a hallway that must have led to the locker rooms. When he went back there, he saw that they were in the same older state as the front area. But he wasn’t interested in a meat-market gym. He wanted to fight.

He came back out and Charlie looked him up and down again. “So, let’s do some warm-ups to get the blood flowing. Then we can spar a bit and I can assess your skill level.”
They ran through a few sets of pushups and jacks and stretches and standing jumps. By the end of 10 minutes, he was already covered in sweat, heart racing. But he didn’t say anything. It felt good to have his mind on nothing but the workout. “Ok, let’s go the ring,”
Charlie said, pulling out some gloves. He wondered about the head-safety but didn’t ask. Don’t want him to think I’ma pussy, he thought. He sort of laughed at himself for thinking that.

“So try to block me. I’ll go slow, but I wanna see how you move.”
Charlie moved slowly all right. By a very strange definition of the word ‘slow’. Connor wasn’t sure if the man was trying to show off his skill or scare him but he was successful in both. He barely fended off most of the blows, though in truth they didn’t hurt that much. Strangely, though, the exhilaration and rush of adrenaline was amazing. He didn’t have time to think about anything but keeping the man’s hands and feet away from him. He was not successful a lot of the time. He lost focus for one moment and then next thing he knew he was on the mat, head spinning, a painful throbbing beginning in the side of his head.

He looked up to see Charlie over him, giving him his hand, big smirk on his face. “Heh….I thought your friend was the one interested in me.”
Then he laughed. “Shouldn’t’a called me ma’am buddy.”
His laugh wasn’t malicious though and he helped him up.

Connor just stared at the guy blankly and then a name floated up to his addled mind. “Charlene?”

Edited by Connor Kent, Jun 20 2014, 08:36 AM.
Connor looked at Charlie and, for the life of him, he just didn't see it. He shook his head incredulously. He barked a laugh. "Well don't look like a ma'am then."

Charlie laughed at this. "Hey sometimes you just gotta be yourself, and not care what other people think."

"That's true,"
Connor said. "By the way, I think you're using the word 'slow' wrong."

Charlie laughed. "Hey, I had to have a little fun. You're a big guy. I knew you could take it."
He paused for a moment. "So....your friend. He seeing anyone? He kinda had the earnest guy look."

Connor laughed. He still felt pretty shitty- the exhilaration from the fight having worn off. It had only lasted moments anyway. "Honestly man, I had not idea he liked guys. I guess in retrospect it makes sense. A straight guy's usually gonna respond when a woman walks out of a room in a short shirt and not much else."
He thought about Aria for a moment and felt a twinge of guilt. He tamped it down. He didn't want to think about Ayden. "Anyway, come on man. I wanna fight."

Charlie laughed at him. "Heh...Well, I guess that makes sense."
He took his gloves off and got the pads. "Dude, you're not ready to fight yet. Hah! You do remember getting knocked to the ground, right? No. We're gonna start off with the basic movements and then you are going to practice them until you don't have to think about them. When I think you're ready, then we'll go on to more advanced stuff."
He looked Connor in the eye and added, "This is some powerful shit I'm gonna teach you. You will not learn it in a day."
Then he smiled to take the sting out. "I thought all you old guys were all about patience and shit. Well, settle down buddy. I'm Miyagi and you're the kid, got it?"

Connor took the words to heart, but he felt a bit disappointed. Which he shoudn't. The guy was right. So he focused and followed the directions. But, as he expected, the repetitive movements led to thinking. And thinking led to feeling tired of it all, of the whole situation and the lack of any solution. It was why running wasn't working for him anymore. That brief moment, during the sparring, was the only time he'd really been able to completely forget about it, having to focus on not getting his ass kicked. And when they'd finished the training, Charlie was willing to go another round. Perhaps in irritation at Connor's impatience, Charlie didn't back off either. But then again, Connor didn't want him to. Once again, it was all he could to do keep Charlie's fists or feet away from him.

It didn't work too well that time either. He had a split lip and a bruise on his cheek and ribs. But even so, the hits made him feel....alive somehow. It was visceral; primal; male. It wasn't complicated or nuanced. It wasn't compassion or understanding. It was raw immediate emotion. And for just a moment, it was like a circuit had closed in his heart and life had surged into it, just pure unadulterated life and searing, screaming, fight-or-flight emotion. And he loved it.

When they were finished, Connor toweled the sweat off his face, glad of how it ended. Charlie was giving him some pointers on how to improve his reactions and reflexes. Connor listened, but also looked around and saw the occupants from before replaced with new ones. The hour had gone by quickly.

He felt a strange feeling, an urge for something different. He dropped his voice a bit. "Listen, uhh...I'm gonna keep coming in for training. I do want to learn this. I wanna get as good as you. But,
" he paused, feeling kind of like he was exposing some shameful desire, "I, uh, I really just want to fight right now. Those two times we sparred were amazing and I want to feel that again. I want to feel that rush again."
He wondered if Charlie understood. Maybe he did, Connor wasn't sure. "Do you know of any fight clubs? You know, just regular guys getting together to beat the hell out of each other?
" Charlie looked at him blankly. Damn, he wasn't getting this. "Look, you've seen the movie Fight Club, right? I know it's like super old, but it's a classic. You know what I am talking about?"

Charlie continued looking at him for a moment. And then he nodded slowly. "Yeah, I know it."
He looked Connor up and down for a moment, as if sizing him up. "Ok. Yes. I do know of one. In fact we meet not far from here. I don't advertise it because then you get a lot assholes showing up for the wrong reasons. This is a special thing for us."
He looked at Connor, thinking. "But I think you get it. I think you know what it's for. So yeah. In fact, we're gonna get together tonight. Meet me here at 10 o'clock and I'll take you to it."
He smiled at Connor and added with a laugh. "You do know the first two rules about fight club, right?

Connor laughed. His heart raced with anticipation. He couldn't wait. "Yeah yeah. You do not talk about fight club!"
They shook hands and then Connor went and changed and went home. The adrenaline lasted for most of the trip but by the time he got to his building, the listlessness was back.

Mercifully, he didn't see Ayden as he made his way to his apartment. But he looked at her door as he walked past it. That tired feeling was there, the confusion and lethargy. Trapped. Can't make myself get away from her. Can't make myself go to her.

He was really hoping that tonight helped him.

Edited by Connor Kent, Jun 20 2014, 01:10 PM.
Connor walked across the street to the door of Gracie's Gym. The doors were closed, though, and the there didn't seem to be anyone there. He looked at his watch- he was a little early- and leaned against the wall to wait. It was crisply cold out, but he didn't notice much. He was too keyed up to really care.

A car came around the corner and pulled alongside the sidewalk. The window went down and Connor saw it was Charlie. "Hey Connor. Get in."
Connor got in and Charlie took off. It was quiet for a bit until Charlie said, "So, you ever been to one of these before?"

The light from the lamp-posts and signs hypnotically threw light onto the dash of the car. Connor's nerves were tight, but the fact that they were moving inexorably to their destination only served to heighten the tension. He looked over at Charlie and answered, "Nope. Haven't been in a fight, really, since maybe high school."
He laughed at he memory. "Got suspended. You know how it is. 'Fighting isn't tolerated. I don't care whose fault it is.' Stuff like that."
He paused. "I've only ever given into my rage once before. It wasn't the same."
He shied away from the memory. It was not the same thing at all. "This,"
he said, "this is for me. I just need this."
Looking at Charlie, he asked "What about you? How long you been doing this?"

Charlie was quiet for a moment. "Couple years I guess. I used to go as often as possible. Now maybe once or twice a week."
He looked at Connor. "It's 2045, but even now there are some fathers who aren't very accepting of men like me."
He waited for Connor to nod before he went on. He laughed a little bitterly. "I wasn't always this specimen of masculinity you see before me."
Connor laughed softly. "I got picked on a lot by some of the guys. Called names. I guess they thought that because I liked men or dress up, that I wasn't a man."
He shrugged. "I don't know. That messes with you I guess. I began to over-compensate, work out a lot, learned various fighting styles. Got into lots of fights."

"Did that help?"
Connor was curious.

"At first it did. Found out about the fight club and was going every night."
He laughed, seemingly at the memory. "Had to change my line of work. People don't really like being served by a bartender with missing teeth or black eyes."
Then he laughed even harder. "Kinda ruined my look when I went out on the town as Charlene, too."
Connor laughed out loud. Though He hadn't noticed any missing teeth either.

"You must have a hell of a dentist."

"Hahaha...yeah I do."
Then he went on, "Funny thing though. The fighting stopped being about the rage and resentment and insecurity. It just became about men being men. No matter if I liked to dress up or liked guys. I was one of them. When we were fighting, as brutal as it was- And it hurts like a son of bitch, I hope you know. You better be ready,"
he added looking at Connor. Connor shrugged. He was ready. He wanted this. Charlie went on. "It became....I don't know. It's hard to describe it. It became almost spiritual. We became brothers. When it was done, blood in your mouth, eye can barely see through the swelling, you just hug the guy. You feel that adrenaline, like you are proud to be a man, to have this power. Like you have given each other permission to be men and accepted each other completely."
He breathed. "It's just the greatest feeling in the world.."

Connor hungered for a connection like that, something to fill this ache, this empty void inside him. He needed it badly. "That's what I want man. To feel alive."
He went on in a whisper. "I do."

The car slowed to an abandoned building, maybe 10 other cars and trucks parked around it. The doors were closed, but he could see from the small windows that the lights were on inside. "Alright. Well, you're going to get it then. You're the new guy, and the new guys always fights. But I think you'll like it."

The got out of the car and walked to the door. Connor's was at a fever pitch now. This was it. His heart pounded, he felt so alive, felt so much.....everything. Charlie knocked on the door and spoke the the man that opened.

Then, they both walked in the building.

Edited by Connor Kent, Jun 20 2014, 04:40 PM.
The building seemed dark despite the lamps that threw light over everything. Maybe it was the shape of the backs of the lamps. The light poured out like cones, only illuminating small circles on the floor. The walls and corners were shadows. The walls were old brick. He wondered what the building had been. It nothing specific stood out to identify the room's former function. No chairs, no benches. Just black walls, lights and 14 men standing around cheering in a loose wide circle while two men punched each with heave platts and sounds of grunts.

One of the men- Crewcut looking like he had just had it done this morning- had elbowed the other one in the face and blood few from his mouth. The other guy- Connor thought of him as Stringbean because he was so wiry skinny, veins and muscle striations visible in the shadowed light- reared back and head butted Crewcut in the face and his nose crumpled, blood fountaining down his mouth and chin. Stringbean kicked momentarily stunned Crewcut in the side of the leg and Crewcut went down. Connor watched, somehow cheering inside despite not knowing or caring who won. Crewcut was now being hit in the face, the back of his head slapping the the ground with each blow. Just as Stringbean was about to hit him again, he yelled "Stop!", spewing blood all over Stringbean's face and chest. Stringbean immediately scrambled off Crewcut's body as Crewcut rolled over and tried to get up. Eventually he was standing up, though clearly in pain.

What amazed Connor, though, was the look on both their faces, the light in their eyes. They looked alive, as if they had been through a brutal liturgy and had just tasted communion, the power of God soaring through their veins. Much later, Connor would learned that Stringbean had been left by his wife and lost his kids in a divorce just last month. He'd lost his job at a bank and had been forced to accept part-time work as a janitor. Crewcut was a public servant who worked in the Comptroller's office. He later told Connor that he hated telling people what he did for work because they forgot five minutes later, it was that boring. But in the ring, win or lose, he was a god, as was Stringbean.

The cheering died down and Charlie introduced Connor simply by saying, "All right guys. This is Connor. He wants to fight. End of story. Who wants to go against him?"
A few of the guys raised their hands, but one guy in a blue suit stepped forward.

he said, taking off his jacket, tie, shirt, belt and shoes. After a moment, he pulled the ring off his finger and put it in his jacket pocket. He was not heavily muscled but rather had the doughy physique of someone who sat at a desk all day and then didn't go home and try to make up for all that sitting around.

"You too Connor," said Charlie, so Connor took his jacket, shirt, belt and boots off. It seemed like it would be an unfair fight, really, but Connor was the new guy and kept his mouth shut. Besides, the blood was pumping now, the adrenaline. And strangely, in the back of his mind an anger was building slowly, building pressure, anger at the universe that had conspired to take everything from him, that judged him unworthy of anything that might make him happy, that stole that happiness or poisoned it, making it a lie.

Desk came at him much more quickly than he expected, but he fended him off with a blow. His thoughts one by one closed off as Desk came at him again and again, like Connor had something he wanted. Connor only focused on blocking but some of the blows hurt. Desk became more enraged and his hands and feet and body moved even faster and Connor was focused on just defense, time slowing, the sounds of the cheering men fading until there was only himself and Desk. And then Connor himself attacked, body moving on instinct, as if inside him there was a primate that still remembered what it meant to survive.

The fight became the thing, the sharp pains in his ribs, the arm around his neck choking, the sweat and the blood and the mouth bleeding. He was a symphony of physical sensation and pain, as he both received and inflicted what it meant to live- the struggle against all odds, the fight, the complete and utter unwillingness to stop or give up.

Desk was on his back on the ground, Connor being held in a choke hold and the heat and the stuffiness of the room was growing, even as he flailed and tried to break the hold. But Desk was like a vice, weazing as he held on, as if he could pop Connor's head off. Connor began to feel light-headed, as if the movements of his body were being performed by someone else. Everything in the room seemed to both get darker and more indistinct and yet crisper and more vibrant, as if his mind were picking up details he missed but now that time was slowing he could see it all, even the cracks in the mortar of the bricks, the smells of the the blood and sweat, the sheen in the eyes of the onlookers, spittle flying from their mouths and they cheered, the feels of the hairs on Desk's arm against his throat, and the feel of the air struggling to get down to his lungs, as it fought and he fought, sweat dripping from his chest and head, beads moving slowly and purposely, until finally the room dimmed even as he felt every emotion and sensation that had been heightened slowly extinguish....

He awoke to the feel of the most refreshingly cold floor and the sweetest air he'd ever smelled, as if he'd had the single greatest nap of his life, as if he had been reborn. The air was filled with cheers and the onlooker's faces were beatific. Desk was over him asking him if he was ok, a look of rapture and complete peace on his face. Connor took his outstretched hand and was helped up, every nerve in his body on fire and feeling everything around him.

He felt as if he had been reborn as a god. Desk grabbed him and gave him a great bear of a hug, this soft doughy man who was a warrior inside, who despite his job and looks and anything else he or the world hated about himself, this god who for those few minutes had showed that he would not go quietly, would not shy away from the battle even if the other man was bigger or strong, who would fight until he had won. It felt like Connor had given him the greatest gift in the world. This was his brother and he hugged the guy back, mouth smiling despite the incredible pain, the cheers and laughter resounding in his ear.

He was so very alive now, all the deadness and confusion somehow gone. Nothing had been solved, no answers given, no epiphanies experienced. But at the same time, somehow, he felt connected to what he was on the inside. It didn't matter than he'd lost. There was no winning or losing. Life was about experience, the raw visceral bloody pain and pleasure and struggle and refusal to go quietly in the night.

Connor had found a new home.

Edited by Connor Kent, Jun 21 2014, 01:52 PM.
For the rest of the week, Connor felt pretty good. He'd gotten a few questions at work when he showed up with a black eye and a swollen lip. He played it off and seemed his usual self to them. After the last week or so of seeming down and withdrawn, the return to his regular self masked any real concern about why his face was beat up or that he moved with some obvious pain. Charlie had been right about that, no question there. And he wasn't a spring chicken either.

Between work and actually training at Gracie's Connor wasn't home much, and that was fine with him. Charlie and he and few other guys from the gym might go out for beers too, which was a lot of fun. He didn't feel that tired dead feeling much, not when he was busy. He was doing alright. Mostly. At night, well, it was a different story. He'd come home after a night out, especially when he had been drinking, and walk down the hall, getting closer to her door. He might even stop for a moment, suddenly overwhelmed with all kinds of emotions. He wanted to knock, would raise his hand to knock, He couldn't. He'd walk to his apartment, go inside, and sit on the couch watching TV until he fell asleep.

As the days went by, it all started to pall. He liked Charlie fine and thought they were becoming friends. So that aspect was cool. But all the rest, the carousing and keeping busy, after a while it just felt so empty. That listless feeling returned and he thought about Ayden.

He still had her keys. Sometimes he got them out and just looked at them. For some reason, he didn't think of them as marks anymore. He thought of what they represented. A life, a lot of life. And she had just given it to him. He'd seen her waitress uniform and groceries. So she was working somewhere. She was doing something. Part of him wanted to believe it was permanent. But the other part...the part that lived deep inside him that remembered, that saw life and universe constantly taking things from him, that part didn't trust. It was afraid to trust.

By the end of the week, he was back to where he was before. He was going to have to hit the club again. But the guys at work roped him into going to a bar not far from where he lived called Chesterfields. It was a really nice upscale bar and grill, very open and earthy. He liked it a lot. Felt like a place he could spend some time in. The uniforms looked nice, though slightly familiar. Then again, uniforms sort of always all looked the same.

Charlie had come out along with Vlad and the other guys and soon they were laughing and ordering shots. Seemed like maybe he wasn't going to need to go to the club after all. He was with his boys.

They'd been there maybe a couple hours and by then they were thoroughly under. Waitresses were dutifully flirted with, dirty jokes told, buddies ragged on, sports teams railed at: all the usual stuff.

"Check her out,"
said Stan, nodding his head to another table while holding his bottle in the other hand. Connor looked over, but it wasn't the woman at the table that caught his attention. The waitress had her back to him, fiery mass of red hair tied back, but he knew who it was. His heart lurched and dropped into his stomach. Suddenly, all of what he had been feeling came back to him and he put his drink down. He needed some air.

"Give me a sec, guys, Ok?"
He threaded his way to the doors and walked out into the cold night, the chill sharp in his nostrils. Looking up, he saw mostly clouds, though a few stars peeked through open patches. The silver glow of the moon emanated behind the edges of one cloud. God....what am I doing?

Edited by Connor Kent, Jun 22 2014, 08:34 AM.
<small>((with Ayden))</small>

Ayden had seen Connor sitting with a bunch of guys when her shift started. She smiled but quickly slipped past the entrance without being noticed. The last time she'd seen him he seemed nervous. The last thing Ayden wanted was to make Connor uncomfortable. But it was going to be awkward if she got his table. Thankfully looking at her duties for the day she didn't. But that wouldn't stop him from seeing her.

As Ayden turned from the table she was at she saw Connor leaving. She frowned. He'd seen her and it got uncomfortable for him. She felt bad, but at the moment there was nothing she could do. She put on a smile and started working again. Ayden said a small prayer of hope that he'd come around one day, but it didn't look like it would be any time soon. But Ayden could still hope!

As usual, the heavens were silent. There would be no answers. The night suddenly felt overwhelming. He felt like he had no direction, being buffeted by the onslaught of emotion that hit him. She was everywhere. You have to decide, Connor. That was what she said. "You need to choose. But for what it's worth, I want to be the person you could love. And it'll be my goal in life to reach that pinnacle."
Was that what she was doing? Was he willing to take a chance with her? The decisions she had made in the past, what she was willing to live with doing, what did that say about her? That's what it came down to, really. And he didn't know. He needed to get out of there.

He went back inside, saw her look at him for a moment and then turn around to go into the kitchen. Part of him wanted to follow her. He went to his table, ordered and downed two shots of whiskey. To Charlie, he whispered, "Is it going on tonight?"

Charlie looked at him. Quietly he said, "Dude, you're not in a condition to fight. And it's not the right reason."

Connor fixed him with a stare. "I have reasons. That's all that matters. And I need to work them out. I need to get clarity again."

Charlie looked irritated at him, shook his head. "It's your life man. But I think this is about running from something. That's not what the club is about."

He laughed. "Are you kidding me? That's all it's about. It's about running away from the life that's been forced on us, from our inadequacies, and feeling like we have control."
Charlie looked hurt, but Connor wasn't in the mood to care. "Look man, I'm not trying to piss all over everything. But I just gotta do this. If you wanna come, fine. If not, well, that's your choice."

He got up, told the guys he had to leave, and then walked to the door. He heard someone call his name and turned around.

Edited by Connor Kent, Jun 22 2014, 03:08 PM.
<small>((with Ayden))</small>

Ayden saw that Connor was leaving. He looked pretty beat up. Her concern for him rose to a crescendo and she had to ask, even if he hated her, she had to ask. He was at the door by the time Ayden caught up to him. "Connor"
. He turned around and she saw his face closer and it hurt that he was hurt. She started to reach for his face, to caress the injuries, but she stopped before touching him. "Are you okay?"

His heart dropped in dread and yet surged to life as he watched her come to him. Fueled by drink, his emotions bubbled just under the surface, loss and fear and hope and desire. She was a walking storm and she still had his heart. He wanted it back.

She reached out to him and he shied back. He couldn't let her touch him. He would lose himself then. This wasn't working. None of it was. And yet he couldn't get free. He hated this, hated himself, even hated her. "I'll live."
He wanted to hurt her. Almost....almost he said 'It's just a bloody lip. You've seen blood before haven't you?' Almost. But as addled and turbulent as his emotions were, his desire to drive her away, those words would not come out. In the back of his mind he remembered the shift of the bed; arms around him; tears. She was better than that. Filled with self-loathing and anger he turned to go.

Ayden spoke quietly, mostly to herself, but loud enough he could have heard. "I'm sorry."

He heard her but walked out the door. He was losing it. The desire to go to the club overwhelmed him. He headed to the metro, heart pounding in his chest, lost in an emotional fog.

The train ride calmed him a bit, the hypnotic clacking of the wheels on the rails, the slight rhythmic rocking of the car, the piped in air, the muffled sounds of the tunnels. For a while, he lost himself in it. Nothing changed. But it was another respite, another place to get away.

And then the train stopped at his destination and he left that safe cocoon and ascended back up into the night. The area around the the metro entrance was quiet. He could only hear sounds in the far distance. The building he sought was only a couple blocks away. He started walking and was strangely reminded of when he was walking home that night he met Jensen. Come to think of it, he had been in the same emotional state back then. The thought flooded him with depression. So pathetic. You refuse to let yourself be happy. He shoved that thought away. It wasn't the same. That was very very different.

The salvation he sought was across the street. There were only 2 or 3 cars tonight. Not busy. His heart began to pound. What he needed was inside. He was so tired of running.

He went inside the building and there was a fight in progress. He took comfort in the sounds, in the smells, in the noise of the cheers. He felt relief. Here was home. One of the guys looked over when he came in and then came to him. Before the man said anything, Connor said, "I'm a friend of Charlie's. I joined up last week."
Friend. He'd left his friend at the bar. But Charlie was wrong. Odd that he didn't see what this place was for.

"All right. Name's Gunter,"
he said, sticking out his hand. "You're the new guy here, so you gotta fight."

Connor shook the man's hand- he was a beefy man, Germany thick on his tongue. He shouldn't be surprised how many men here were foreigners. "That's all I'm here for."
Almost all.

The fight ended with one guy tapping out, blood fountaining from his mouth. Connor felt impatient rather than connected to the men who were fighting. But that would change once the fight started. Connor took his shirt and shoes off, as well as his belt. Gunter introducted him to everyone and then, to his surprise himself preparing to fight. Gunter was a big guy, but Connor didn't mind at all. It wasn't about winning or losing. It was spiritual. And he needed this badly.

The fight began. Gunter was fast and Connor took a few hits. But he also got a few solid ones of his own. The feel of the impact of muscle and bone and fat on his fist traveled up his arm to his shoulder. When he swung, he could feel the power of his torso flow through his arms and out his fists. But it wasn't happening, the hyper awareness, the feeling of connection, the relish of pain. The pain hurt! As he took a blow to his jaw, he laughed at that realization. The pain hurt. Duh! But it was something new, something different now. He didn't want just the hurt. Anger was growing inside him. Anger at God; at the universe; at himself. At Ayden.

He rushed Gunter at the waist and lifted him up onto his shoulder and then spun around and let the momentum throw him against the wall. Stunned, the man had no time to respond as Connor laid into him, bashing his head against the wall. His anger flowed, his rage and fear and hatred and everything else. For a moment, he flashed back to the man in the room with the little girl. The fire inside him burned even hotter.

He lost himself in the fight. His eye throbbed, ears burned, head ached, ribs on fire. The fight had gone on forever it seemed, the rooms stifling and hot. He and Gunter flailed at each other, both refusing to back down, both staggering slabs of meat. But Connor wasn't going down first. Not until he got what he wanted, what he needed. Why wasn't this working?!?! Why am I not feeling it like before?!?! The desperation clawed at him. I need this! It was the only way. Ayden's face flashed across his mind. He surged at Gunter with an emotion fueled energy and was finally able to bring the big man down. Gunter moved but wasn't able to get up. Finally, finally it was over.

Connor sank to his knees, exhausted and in agony, finally aware of all the cheers surrounding him. The men seemed happy and were helping Gunter , who had a slight smile on his bloodied face.

Connor felt empty. Nothing. Cold. The alcohol induced haze was still there and he felt himself sinking deeper. There was no way out. None. He wanted to weep. No way out.

The sound of the door caught his attention and his bloodied mouth dropped open, struggled to work, to contain the shock. What was she doing here?
Ayden tried to work, but her mind kept drifting to Connor. What was he getting himself into? Was he running off joining his friends in saving the world again? It was difficult to pretend not to be preoccupied. The other girls asked her repeatedly if she was okay. Her reply was always the same. "As best as I can expect to be."
Even Mayor acknowledged that she was out of sorts. Even asked her if she needed to go home. But that was a cop out. Ayden kept working, kept trying to do her job to the best of her ability.

A pair of regulars were sat at one of her tables, they were usually in earlier, and usually very rowdy and their tips sucked, despite the what the girls always had to put up with. Ayden frowned, she didn't want to deal them on top of things. Sasha, asked if she wanted to switch tables, but Ayden declined again. At least they'd keep her mind off of Connor, even if it was fending off their gestures.

Sasha wished Ayden luck as she went to their table the first time. Mudak 1, as Sasha had neatly nicknamed the pair, looked her up and down with a grin and tried to pull Ayden into the booth next to him. Ayden smiled down at him but stood her ground, pulling her hand free. "Welcome to Chesterfields, I'm Ayden, I'll be your server tonight. What can I get ya'll to drink?"

Mudak 2 laughed at her. "Seems we got ourselves an American Redneck!"

Ayden laughed, which was actually fairly accurate, but they weren't being ovetly funny, more deeming, but Ayden let it roll from her.

"Can I get you anything to drink?"

They both ordered their usual. And Ayden walked away with Mudak 2 slapping her rear. She rolled her eyes and let it be this time. But if they did it again, Ayden was likely to fry a few hairs on their pretty little heads.

Edited by Ayden, Jun 27 2014, 02:16 PM.
It had been a few days since Aria had been with Dane, much less felt his presence in her vicinity. Even though she had experienced what her upstairs neighbors repeatedly emoted from upstairs, Aria wanted nothing to do with their rabbit like mating ritual. She wondered if something had changed in their relationship, the moments of anger were less but she cherished those moments. They were almost as intoxicating as the pain from the peeping-tom that Takeo had sent after her. She left to hunt monsters, her savior or something else to feel. Since that night with Dane Aria wanted to feel the negative emotions of life - pain exhilarated her, anger and fear were intoxicating.

The few days she's spent since that night she could feel her own self returning, but Aria choose to push everything away. The guilt was too much, she didn't want anything to do with it. If it had hurt instead of weighed on her soul, depressing her, it'd have been alright. She'd crossed that line, and she knew she was never going to be able to go back. Whatever her God said, she couldn't forgive herself, how would He forgive her? The intensity of the emotions felt while slicing the reporter made Aria shiver. Killing Takeo's man was more relief from his enduring pain, but the pain, she relived in her dreams.

Aria wandered the streets of Moscow, hunting. Hunting pain, her savior's flavor of anger, or a monster. Her senses were extended to her farthest reaches. Time passed, Aria didn't care, really she preferred the night time. She didn't know when she felt the pain and exhilaration. It wasn't far from her, at first she couldn't exactly tell, but it was more than one person which perplexed her, it was many. A gathering around pain. Sports had never really interested her, but this was not a sport, even boxing wasn't this.

It lead her to an abandoned something, Aria couldn't tell what it was from the state of the building or the faded paint. The door was unlocked when she tried it. The pain drew her in. A group of men, sweaty men from the smell stood and sat in a circle. Aria could feel the pain as a punch landed. She smiled. She'd seen the movie, Moscow's own fight club.

The door squealed as it closed behind her. Few glanced her way, but one person caught her attention more than the others. Fancy seeing him again. At least this time he wasn't rushing head first into danger to save a bunch of strangers. Though Aria did wonder if Connor was looking for trouble or telling more secrets. Her ire rose,but the pain here was too intoxicating. She pushed her own anger away and focused on her depressed 'friend', he was still harboring pain, different this time. She closed her eyes and savored the new flavor. She wondered what his deal was this time but it didn't matter, not really.

Aria stayed in the shadows and watched Connor and the other men. Connor seemed to watch her as if he were trying to figure her out. Good luck there! Aria smiled, he'd seen her no need to be rude, she was glad to see him, but definitely not in a good way. His pain was all to real the closer she got. Physical pain and whatever else was bothering him.

One of the men turned around and saw her he completed his turn and stepped in front of her "I don't think so missy."

Aria laughed and ran un-gloved finger across his chest, she didn't send him fear, but she could have. She could have easily made him cower before her. She smiled sweetly up at him, she remembered the night with the reporter, how she'd made her want Dane, she pushed the same feelings towards the man. She still hadn't learned to control the strength, she hoped it was not too much, she'd hate to have a puppy dog for a while. "I only want to watch."
Though that really was a lie. She would rather hurt someone right now, it would be wonderful just to not care. But Aria didn't think any of these big strong men would fight a girl her size.

The man smiled at her and put his arm around her shoulders. Too much. Aria pulled away from his embrace and moved towards Connor. He looked almost worse than he felt. She touched his face lightly, running her finger over the newly formed bruises. "That looks like it hurt."
She smiled at him.

Aria had changed. Even through a mind clouded by alcohol, despair and repeated blows to the head, he could see that. Something about her was different. She watched him for a moment, smiled. She touched one of the guys who tried to stop her and suddenly it seemed he was into her. Connor shook his head and regretted it immediately as a knife pierced through his brain. He gritted his teeth- and immediately winced as a strong sharp pain lanced through his jaw. His whole body ached so that even breathing hurt. Gunter had been strong and the fight had lasted a long time.

Aria came over to him. There was a cat-like quality to her walk. The no-nonsense Aria he remembered, the one who seemed so stiff when she walked- he remembered following her back to Jensen’s apartment- that Aria was gone. Somehow, there was a predatory way she walked up to him and looked up into at his face, the way her hands went up to lightly touch his face. He winced as she traced her fingers over his swollen eyebrow. "That looks like it hurt."
And she smiled up at him.

The fog was hard to fight through. The physical energy he’d had had leeched out of him quickly. And inside, in his mind, he was tired, he was numb. Despite every agony that vied for his attention, deep inside, he died. Hope died. There was never going to be a way out for him. The salvation he’d sought was gone. There was nothing left. The emptiness overwhelmed him. All the while, he just looked at Aria until finally he asked wearily. “What are you doing here?”

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