Subject: The Lion’s Share This story features characters from the book BEARDING THE LION, by J. Mercury Jones and Sween McDervish. It is an entirely fictional work of adult erotic fantasy, copyright BoyMercuryX and BroodingMuscle 2018 (aka Mercury and Sween). BEARDING THE LION is available at Nifty depends on your donations! Please give at fty/ donate.html You can find us on tumblr at boymercuryx.tumblr or broodingmuscle.tumblr To be added to our mailing lists sign up at https://www.subscribepage/jmercuryjones ite/webforms/landing/d5g7t6. Your email will never be shared or sold. Talk to us – we love to hear from you! ——————————— THE LION’S SHARE by BoyMercuryX and BroodingMuscle PREFACE: Dear Readers; To get at the truth is a constant battle. This week I lost the fight, and I have failed you and many others. A promotion published yesterday came from an early draft of an article, rather than the version I intended. It was an accident that this was published. What was not an accident was drafting the first version without having yet done my work to properly inform it. This was not my only lapse. It may be that Mixed Martial Arts fighting, or MMA, is indeed a dangerous and irresponsible activity. It may also be that it is appropriately regulated and a legitimate sport, or even an art. I am disqualified from saying, because I have lost my critical sense. I let my pride obscure a conflict of interest that should have barred me from writing this story at all. This embarrasses me, and to demonstrate the seriousness with which I regard my actions, I am leaving *Zeitgeist*. This publication should not be tainted by a poor choice that was mine, and mine alone. I apologize to you, and to the fine people at *Zeitgeist*. I apologize also to Ken Kelly, owner of the Triple Hit, who invited me into his gym and whose good faith I squandered. Lastly and most of all, I apologize to Connor Ryan, the MMA fighter who generously shared his time with me. Nothing in the published promotion came from Mr. Ryan or from my time shadowing him. My story has besmirched his honor, and that of the other fighters at the Triple Hit and MMA fighters in general. For the record, Mr. Ryan is as good and noble a soul as any I have known, and I have no doubt the same is true of many of his peers. I regret my errors, and the harm done. Sincerely, David Levy 1. “You come around any more, I’m charging dues,” Ken Kelly tells David, cracking his thick neck. The reporter isn’t sure if the gym owner is joking or not, given Kelly’s perennial scowl. But he does have a point. Since quitting his job for the newsblog Zeitgeist, David’s spent more and more of his time at The Triple Hit. And given the story he accidentally ran denouncing Mixed Martial Arts, he can hardly expect a better reception at Kelly’s MMA gym. But hell, it’s been months since the story and his very public resignation and apology. It was Kelly’s nephew, Connor Ryan, who took the lion’s share of damage from the story, and if he could get over it why can’t the rest of them? As if in answer to his own question, David’s eyes wander to the center sparring ring in the Triple Hit, where he and Ryan had their first after-hours fuck following an inordinate amount of tequila. He can remember it vividly. “I wanted you to see,” Ryan said that night, “how soft my ass is.” David remembers pawing the muscle there and moaning, “Yeah right, soft. Fuck, that’s the hardest ass I’ve ever touched.” Ryan looked David in the eye and smiled. “Not on the inside.” Ryan dropped to his knees and began unzipping David’s fly. “*t’s been forever since someone took my ass.” “I’m the lucky guy?” David asked, in disbelief. “Other guys, they look tough, but it hides a lot of insecurity. You got in the ring with me, even though every guy here watching was against you. I knocked you down four times that first day. I was sure you’d bail after the first one. But you got up each time and came back for more.” He smiled. “You’re no wimp even if you dress like one.” David scoffed and planted a foot on Ryan’s chest to knock him on his back. He made a circular “roll over” gesture with his index finger and the fighter smiled wickedly, then flipped onto his stomach like an excited puppy. He drew his ass up into the air, wiggling those perfect mounds. “Fuuuuck…” David groaned. “That’s the idea, bro. Get in me already.”* Kelly clears his throat impatiently, bringing David back to the present. “If I start paying dues are you going to spar with me a little?” David asks, nodding to the center ring. He’d once let Kelly in on what happened there, and he can’t resist rubbing it in. Kelly’s eyes narrow in response and his tough-guy jaw rolls. David smirks a little, knowing he landed a solid one. He runs a hand over his skinny black tie. You have to be able to give as good as you get, after all, even if it’s just power moves. Still, he tries to not get too smug, knowing Kelly could blow him out of the water if he really wanted to. Kelly reaches forward toward David’s tie. As he takes it in his thick fingers, David’s eyes drop to scope out the sculpted muscle of his arm. “You think you throw me off with that shit–” Kelly starts. Suddenly his forearm swells as he closes his fingers into a fist. David jerks forward, dragged down a few inches by his own tie, so that he’s looking up into Kelly’s keen blue eyes. “–but you got no idea what I seen in my life.” David gulps. What could he mean by that? He nods silently and Kelly releases him. He clears his throat and tries to re-establish a dignified posture. “I was only kidding. Just dropping by to get Ryan.” “Yeah yeah, what else is new?” Kelly yawns and stretches, then turns to head back to his office. It’s the convention at the gym for guys to go by last names, like Ryan or Kelly, or by a nickname. In David’s case he suspects that if he’s talked about at all, it’s as *That asshole reporter*. Ryan has his own name for him, dating back to when the fighter saw David’s glasses-wearing for the reporterly affectation it was, forcing David to admit he only needed them for driving. It started mockingly, but it’s grown on him. “Driver!” he hears, and turns to see Ryan in one of the sparring rings, cocking his head in greeting. David nearly grunts at the sight of the handsome ginger fighter, in his loose trunks and a sleeveless white cotton t-shirt that shows off his muscular arms. As much as his eyes like to rest on those arms and shoulders, it’s the red-gold of Ryan’s hair and beard stubble that tugs at David’s balls, and the fighter’s boyish grin that catches the breath in his chest. David adopts a loose posture and waves casually, as if he doesn’t half melt every time he sees the fighter. “Gimme five,” calls Ryan, cocking his head again. David just nods in response. It goes against his natural punctuality to arrive later than they had agreed. But no matter how tardy he forces himself to be, Ryan always manages to be just a little bit later. If David must wait, there are worse places to kill time than the Triple Hit, especially with the parade of hard-muscled jock bodies passing by. The air is thick with testosterone and sweat, and the sound of flesh on leather. Even after David learned that a lot of the swagger and machismo covers some surprising insecurities, the facade still appeals. A story opening forms in his thoughts. *The Triple Hit MMA gym is humid, and with every blow of skin on leather you can sense the spray of sweat, humidifying the air yet more. Loud rap music plays, matching the rhythm of muscular bounces and jabs. Most are tattooed to enhance a menacing appearance, or to express what can’t be easily said in words. A standout is young upstart Connor Ryan. The affable fighter doesn’t ink his skin, more wary than most of broadcasting anything to anyone in a match with him. He plays his cards very close, this one…* David catches himself, and as he alerts his eyes land on the one person who might look more out of place at the Triple Hit than himself, Kelly’s lady Jameelah. As she approaches, David notes that as usual she’s impeccably styled, today in grays and rich shades of plum, wheeling a single carry-on travel bag that looks more expensive than most full luggage sets. If she were anyone else, he’d say she was a lucky lady to have landed Kelly. Even in his fifties he’s a good-looking guy, a blond version of Ryan with another fifty pounds of muscle and the kind of quiet confidence and self-awareness you can feel in his presence. But this is Jameelah, equally self-possessed and regal, and as handsome as her man. If either could be described as lucky, it’s in that they were able to each find someone as formidable as themselves. “Jameelah,” David says with a nod of deference. “Mr. Levy,” she responds, her voice as thick as honey. “Take good care of our boys. I’m back in three weeks.” David feels a warm surge at hearing “our boys.” The acknowledgment that Ryan is his, not just casual friends but something more, something like she and Kelly, fills him with a satisfaction he doesn’t dare to invite on his own. Whatever they are, he and Ryan, has eluded naming so far, but if Jameelah can see it, it must be real. A strong hand claps his shoulder, and David hears a deep voice in a warm East African accent say, “Good news, my friend.” David turns to see Chad, one of the few regulars at the Triple Hit he’s gotten to know a bit. His smile is dazzling, and his physique is one of the most impressive at the gym. He’s more powerfully muscled and more cut than almost anyone else, Ryan included. Gentle as a lamb outside the ring, but a force to be reckoned with when the punches fly. “I am now a driver for Uber and we cannot both be Driver. So you must be Levy now,” Chad says, twirling his car keys around his finger. “Hey awesome,” David says, patting Chad on the shoulder, noting the brick wall of muscle under his snug polo shirt. “Good for you!” It stings his conscience a bit that the driving job is so important to Chad. They’ve both been unemployed, but David’s had the comfort of his trust fund. It’s not enough to live on in perpetuity, but enough to cover rent and living expenses while he figures out his next move. It feels like a dirty secret when he thinks about someone like Chad making his own way, and that makes his own indecision about what to do next so much more of a ridiculous privilege. “If I did not have to go I would spar with you,” Chad says with a smile, putting up a fist half as big as David’s head. It goes without saying he’s joking, as the full hundred fifty pounds of David’s 6’2″ frame wouldn’t make for much of an opponent against a physique like Chad’s. “Too bad,” David replies, holding up his own lanky arm with a barely formed fist, “but on the other hand, I’d hate to send you to the Emergency Room on such a nice day.” “I will take my chances,” Chad laughs, throwing his fist in a slow-motion jab by one side of David’s face and then the other. “Hey!” David ducks and twists out of the way of Chad’s easy blows, enjoying the playfulness of the moment. He’s learned a trick or two from Ryan, and wonders if the fighter is noticing him put them to use. “Not bad, Levy,” Chad offers, picking up speed as David works harder to stay in sync. As has been happening more and more often lately, David’s mind wanders and his eyes scan the room. He sees the ginger fighter just as Ryan reaches into the hem to pull his sweaty muscle shirt up over his torso. *Holy fuck*, David thinks, when the lifted shirt exposes the curling copper hairs running from his chest down his belly and into his shorts. In a lustful daze, he barely registers the shadow of Chad’s fist before it smacks into his face. “OWW!” David yelps, staggering back. He feels a hand covering half his face, and he tries to peel it off until he realizes it’s his own. He backs into someone and steps forward again, but everything is a blur and his heels can’t seem to hit the floor. “WHOA! I’ve got you buddy!” says someone – Kelly? Did he call David *buddy*? There are strong hands against David’s sides and his long legs slide out from under him, and then he’s resting on something flat. It must be the floor, but what’s he doing there? One eye cracks open and he sees Chad and Jameelah standing over him, looking down with shocked expressions. Behind them he can see the sky through one of the massive industrial skylights installed for ventilation when the gym was a factory. “You’re okay, kid,” says Kelly, moving into David’s line of sight. Suddenly Ryan is there as well, looking down at him with his green eyes. “Driver?” “Hey handsome,” David says, overcome with an irresistible giggle. He looks past their faces at the blue and white beyond. “Why are the clouds spinning?” 2. “You’re fine,” says Jameelah, after studying David seated on the heavy oak desk in Kelly’s office. He’s no longer giggling, an ice pack over his eye. “Just a contusion, and a mild one at that. The worst damage is that black eye.” “I have a black eye?” David asks. He whips his phone out of his pocket and flips the camera app so he can see his face. There’s a purple map spread over the right side of his face, a darker shade of purple than Jameelah’s lips, and centered on his puffed eye. He snaps one photo and then another, turning to get the best angles. “Holy fuck!” “Not the worst one of those I’ve seen here,” she says shaking her head. “Not that I don’t appreciate your legal counsel,” David says without looking away from his phone, mesmerized by his first black eye. “But I kinda wonder if I should see a doctor.” “Mmm, if you want to waste your day at the ER,” Jameelah responds, stepping back to her full majestic height. “But I am a registered nurse.” “Really? A nurse attorney?” David asks, turning away from his phone. “Yes Mr. Levy,” she answers. “Once upon a time I thought nursing would be a good way to help people.” “Whoa, really? I just assumed you went straight into law. You seem so… lawyerly.” “Well, sometimes it takes a little bit to find the thing you’re here on this earth to do. When I realized being a nurse wasn’t going to afford me the lifestyle I wanted, I had some choices to make. I could marry a surgeon, or find a more lucrative way to help people. I prefer making my own money, and as it turns out, I’m very good at this. *Very* good.” David thought he knew what he was good at, he wants to say. Instead he murmurs, “This has been happening a lot.” “Getting hit in the face?” she asks with a wry smile. “Heh no, not that. Getting… distracted. Daydreaming. I wonder if I need a prescription for something.” “What you need, Mr. Levy, is to get yourself a job. You’ve moped long enough, if you ask me.” “Ouch,” David says, “that hurts more than the eye.” “I’m not here to baby you. You had a little self-inflicted injury. There are people with real damage in the world. I represent them every day. And you’re doing better than most.” “No justice for self-inflicted injuries?” David jokes, but Jameelah isn’t playing along. “The system’s not divine, Mr. Levy. It can’t heal the scars, not the visible ones or the invisible ones. It’s the best restitution we can manage, but it’s still only our frail human attempt at justice.” “Well it’s depressing bursa escort when you say it like that.” “Stop feeling sorry for yourself,” she replies. “I get people money. You have a shot at the honey. You know. Love. Friendship. Purpose.” David goes silent. He’s been so good about keeping his doubts to himself–about his work, about Ryan, wanting to understand what they are, what they’re doing. What he’ll do. But it’s like Jameelah can see through him and his carefully curated surface.. “Do you mind if I ask about these?” she asks, as if changing the topic out of pity. She traces a finger over the typewriter font tattooed on his forearms. “Oh yeah,” he says, refocusing, and holds out his arms. “This one on the right–‘rarely pure and never simple’–is Oscar Wilde. It’s the best description of the truth that I’ve ever read. And its mate–‘1/10,000′–is from his ex-lover, Lord Alfred Douglas. He said there’s only one man in ten thousand who will brave the full violence of public opinion.” He takes a deep breath. “That’s the balance I was going for in my writing, scrutiny and understanding. Boy, did I screw that up.” He sighs and shakes his head. He thought he was a writer, but lately he wonders if what he thought was a gift for journalistic writing was only a talent for dogged determination. And with no focus, that’s not very useful. “Get to work, Mr. Levy. That’s my prescription,” Jameelah says, gathering herself up. “Now I need to get to the airport. Kelly and Connor are to sit with you to observe, in case my diagnosis is in error–which it is *not*. But better safe than sorry.” “You asked Kelly to babysit me?” David groans. “He’s gonna love that.” “I told him it’s good risk management,” she shrugs. “Now come tell Chad you’re sorry for getting in the way of his fist. He’s beside himself, and I like my driver to be focused.” David emerges from Kelly’s office and spots Chad, who returns his look with a pained grimace, as if he were the one who got hit. “Does it hurt very much?” Chad asks. “Nah. You should see the other guy,” David jokes, trying hard to make a good show of it with humor, but he can see the idiom is lost on Chad. “Never mind. It’s good.” They give each other a quick manly hug to convey no hard feelings. David is in awe of how broad and solid Chad’s back and shoulders are. He’s lucky to have only gotten a black eye from a punch from this powerhouse, however playful. “You should go,” David says, patting Chad’s solid shoulder. “Traffic might be bad.” Seeing Chad lift Jameelah’s bag as if it were made of paper, he adds, `If it is, you can get out and carry the car.” Chad shakes his head, appeased that David’s unharmed. As he leaves to get his car, David’s focus returns to Jameelah, and his reporter’s instincts bubble up with the questions he wants to ask. “Y’know,” he says, “you’re the only one who calls Ryan by his first name–Connor. You even call Kelly by his last.” “Well,” she says with a wistful look, “I tend to think of people the way I was introduced to them. I’ve known that one since he was a gap-toothed 12-year-old bent on ruining his life. He’s always Connor to me.” “That was a long time ago,” Kelly laughs. “But you call me Mr. Levy,” David says, certain Kelly never introduced him that way. “Mmm, well I suppose I first met you through your byline. Mr. David Levy, reporter at large.” “You read my work?” David asks, hoping this isn’t another of his daydreams. Chad pulls up and Jameelah slides her sunglasses onto her face, glamorous as any classic movie star. “I need to get to the airport,” she says, as Kelly opens the car door for her. “Even first class won’t wait forever.” As he watches the car pull out, David is awestruck. Jameelah read his work? Then another thought bubbles up. *Ryan was gap-toothed?* 3. “I’m really fine,” David insists. He doesn’t want Kelly to think of him as a weakling who needs to be babysat. And even though Ryan has changed into jeans and a thermal shirt, he’s still hot as fuck and David would like nothing more than to drag him home and jump him, if he thought he could walk straight. *In his apartment, Ryan pulls off the reporter’s tie and white shirt, burying his bristly face against David’s slim chest. He lifts David’s arms and runs his teeth along them, tracing his tongue over the words tattooed along David’s forearms. He pulls back, the green of his eyes intensified by lust. He takes David by the waist and spins him around easily. He grasps the waist of David’s pants and pulls, the black material splitting loudly at the seam along the crack of his ass…* “Yeah, well, I’m stuck with you for a couple of hours,” Kelly replies, his voice bringing David back to reality. He reaches into the mini refrigerator next to his desk and pulls out three beers. “Unless you can’t handle this.” He holds up a beer for David to take. “I’m supposed to watch in case you got a concussion.” “I don’t,” David says, feeling confident in Jameelah’s diagnosis. “They say you never forget your first,” Ryan chuckles and pops the top off his bottle. “You had one?” David asks. Both Ryan and Kelly look down and laugh at the question. “My first memory of my asshole father,” Ryan says, rolling his eyes. “He told me to get him a beer from the kitchen. I–I don’t know, I got distracted, took too long. Whatever. He got pissed, and when I handed him the beer, he kicked my legs out from under me. I hit my head on the coffee table. And when I got up–” He giggles, “I was walking wobbly. That’s when my mom knew something was wrong.” “He kicked your legs out from under you?” David asks, astonished. He’d never even been spanked by his parents. “Pfft,” Ryan shrugs. “I told you he was an asshole.” “So what happened?” David asks. “Eh, my mom took me to the hospital,” Ryan replies. Then he giggles again, and breaks out into a full-blown laugh. “But not before Kelly picked him up by the collar.” He mimics Kelly’s tough-guy baritone. “`Don’t you ever hit that boy again or I’ll break every bone in your body!’ And THEN we went to the hospital.” “Wow,” David says. “Did he stop?” “Nah. He got more sneaky after that, though,” Ryan says, soberly. Things go quiet for a moment, but the fighter rallies and laughs again, tipping his beer toward Kelly. “No way did he want to deal with The Irish Jackhammer.” Kelly rolls his eyes and smirks and tips back his beer. After swallowing he says, “Shoulda done more sooner.” “Kelly, tell him the story,” Ryan says, nodding to David. “What story?” David asks. “How he became The Irish Jackhammer,” Ryan answers, already squirming in anticipation. “Nah,” Kelly begs off, but Ryan and David both lean in. “I feel a little dizzy,” David says, feigning weakness. “I’d hate to ask you to take me to the ER, but I think I could settle in if you’d tell me the story.” “You’re a piece of work, aren’t you?” Kelly asks the reporter, raising an eyebrow. Ryan laughs proudly and gently nudges Kelly’s foot with his own. “Come on. We got nothing but time to kill.” Kelly settles back in his rolling wooden desk chair. “So if you go back, I was in a band at the time.” “A band?” David asks. “A metal band,” Ryan interjects. “Kind of skinhead punk. `Punch Drunk.'” “I was the drummer,” Kelly begins again. “Hold on,” David interrupts with a raised hand. “You were a drummer in a punk band?” “It was the `80s,” Ryan answers for his uncle, visibly wound up to share in the story with David. He pulls an athletic shoe box off a file cabinet that looks as old as Kelly and opens it to sift through its contents of old photos. He finally pulls one out and passes it to David. The photo is a candid shot of three guys in a rough-looking band. David zeroes in immediately on one, recognizing a young Ken Kelly. Hell, he looked even more like Ryan closer to the same age. He’s got a tuft of pale blond hair on an otherwise shaved head, a sort of modified mohawk. His grin is really more of a punkish sneer, and he’s wearing a black muscle t-shirt that leaves his thick-muscled arms bare. His legs are in snug black jeans, and he wears a black leather armband on the wrist of the hand where he’s holding drumsticks. “Holy fuck,” David says. He glances from the handsome young drummer in the photo to the rough-hewn gym owner and then back again. “Is this real? How hard did I get hit?” “Am I telling this story here or not?” Kelly asks, plainly done being interrupted. As Ryan and David settle down again, he adds, “You two are hereby under oath. You will never repeat this story to Jameelah. Or I’ll shove my foot so far up your ass you’ll taste my toes for the rest of your lives!” 4. The Secret Origin of The Irish Jackhammer, as told by Ken Kelly I’d been keeping the rhythm on the snare, bass drum and cymbal. I kept one eye on Noah, our bassist and the other on Ritchie, our lead singer and guitarist. Our songs had a formula, sure. Ritchie’d scream a couple of verses into the mike, and each time in the space between I’d go wild pounding on the toms. Yeah, that was my favourite part of drumming, just being able to cut loose like that. The crowd that night was super into it. There was a chick pressed up against the stage in a black shirt. I could see it was one of our band T-shirts, but she’d cut down the front of it so her nice tits would show. Ritchie’d be mad if he saw it, cause that basically cut him out of the picture of the three of us. But it made me look like I was giving the side-eye at her jugs. Kinda like I was doing now. It was our last song of the night, so that meant I’d taken off my shirt. And my pants. The crowd always seemed to like that, even though it annoyed Ritchie. Man, like it wasn’t enough that he was the lead and wrote all the songs, he had to get all the attention too? Fuck that. We’d been performing since we were juniors in high school, though to be honest that was mostly an excuse to hang out and get high. But things were getting pretty serious. We were turning 21 that summer, all three of us. And it seemed like this was what we were gonna do. You ever think we’re all here for a reason? But you got no idea what yours is? I had this energy in me. I was always a toe-tapper. A finger-tapper. My ma said I kept her up at night when she was pregnant, tossing and turning before I was even born. However much energy you were supposed to have, I had surplus. When I was a kid I used to have this fear of what do you call it, spontaneous combustion. Like I was just gonna crackle and go POOF. When I got older I’d hear these beats in my head. Like rhythms. I’d lie awake in bed with it in my head. Bam bam bam bam BAM. So I took up drums. Didn’t get it all out of my head. but they took off the edge. Gave me something to do with my hands. Even at the end of a long gig like this, when sweat was running down my face and my sides and my arms were heavy, I could still pound out a solo, hard. Guess that’s why they called me The Jackhammer. I caught the signal from Ritchie and start building up to the big finish. I could feel the pump in my arms as I pounded like crazy on the toms and banged on the crash cymbals til I could barely hear anything else. I always liked when punk bands break their equipment at the end of a show, so I always kept a beat-up old tom that I got from the dump by my side, and after I would hit the last THUMP on the drums I’d step up on the stool with the tom over my head and throw it onto the front of the stage. That was the cue for all three of us to pump our fists in the air and shout: PUNCH DRUNK! The small crowd cheered and yelled, and I thought “This rocks!” I love that feeling that gets your blood pumping and you got a room full of people losing their shit too. It was a high better than the one you can get from blow. Never liked that shit anyway–I get amped enough as it is. Course, the thing about a high is that you gotta come down sometime. And that was usually after the show, when we got our pay. Ritchie always took the larger share, which was hard to argue against but still sucked. Back at home that night in my childhood bedroom, I emptied my pockets onto the Starsky and Hutch bedspread. I smiled at the five scraps of paper with phone numbers. Jennifer, Lisa, Christy, Janet and Regina. This last name I’d never heard of before, and I kind of blushed when the girl in the homemade crop top introduced herself, since it sounded like… you know. I asked her what the name meant and she said Queen, which seemed like just about right. It’d be great to take Queen out on a date, but I looked at the scant bills mixed in with the paper scraps and scowled. So even with the band I needed extra cash. I didn’t wanna live with my ma forever, I don’t care what they say about Irish guys. And I had an eye for the ladies, and they for me, it seemed. Didn’t know how to say the first thing to them, but if I ever grew the stones to call one of `em, I’d need some bank to buy movie tickets and dinners and stuff. Had to work on that. Right now, the only girl I knew how to talk to was my sister. Most days I thought she was the only person who really knew me. I grabbed the newspaper from downstairs and brought it back to my room to look through the want ads. With a pen I circled one: BOUNCER – Big man with small ego wanted. Calm under pressure, not easily ruffled. Call Hank. That description seemed to fit, and within a few days I had the job at Hank’s Place. It was a classier place than what you’d find here in The Den. That was good because fuck if I knew what I was supposed to do if there was trouble. See, even growing up in The Den I never had much trouble. I was big, kinda naturally athletic. I picked up weights early just for something to do, kinda like drums, and got pretty built. Maybe intimidated some guys, so they left me alone. They didn’t even know it was me who was intimidated. But that was okay. I had it easy at Hank’s. I mostly sat on a stool by the door and screened IDs. I’d watch guys go in and out of the bar in their nice clothes, and I’d see them drive by in their fancy cars. Now and then I’d shake my head and frown at young guys with obvious fakes. That was my *Let’s not do this, okay?* face. No one took me up on it, which was just fine. Then one night came where that wasn’t gonna be enough. These three guys show up at the door and I can see right away they’re trouble. They were loud in that way guys get sometimes. And they were big. One especially. Big corded arms, wide lats that stretched out their shirts. Even their fucking jeans were snug on their muscled thighs. Fighters, I’d say if I saw them now, from the builds and how they carried themselves. I didn’t know then. But I could see they were drunk. Fuck me, if there’s anything I hate, it’s a drunk. I saw enough of that in The Den. Asshole guys who spent too much on drink and took out their shit on their wives and kids. They steered clear of me if they noticed me at all. It was the customers they fucked with, guys going in and out, easy targets for hassle. This wasn’t The Den, right? Guys at Hank’s, a lot were gym-built like you wouldn’t believe, but they never took on a fight in their lives. More *show* muscles than *go* muscles, y’know? I kinda sized them up. This Latino guy turns out to be Ramirez. He’s not the worst of them. Black guy, later I find out he’s Johnston, tall and muscled, but kinda slim. bursa escort bayan And the big fuck, Wojic, blond, a head taller than me and a fucking brick shithouse. Must have have been 230 pounds at least. He’s also got the fucking attitude, bumping into customers pretending like it’s an accident, making like they’re challenging him. So I sidle up to them like we’re buddies, “Hey, how’s it hanging, you guys plan on coming in? On your way somewhere else?” I kinda blow off Hank’s to them, tell them it’s a scene but maybe try Duke’s. “Nah, this looks fun,” Wojic says. He’s sizing me up, I can tell that much, and I’m starting to see where this is going. “Hey man, don’t mess with the customers,” I say. “I got a job to do here.” We’re maybe more alike than not and I’m banking on some, y’know, buddy-to-buddy courtesy. Wojic is laughing like it’s a big joke and then cocks his head to the side, looks right at me and says, “I do what I want, no punk is gonna tell me otherwise.” Fucking bullies. I get more serious, because what else can I do? I get in close to Wojic, talk low so it’s not public, just two guys talking. “Don’t be like that man, I’ll take you to Duke’s later, buy you a beer.” But while I’m trying to be buddy-buddy with my words I make sure my eyes say something else. *You ain’t coming in.* He’s shaking his head, chuckling, “You think you can take me?” “Ah man, don’t be that way–” I say, and before another word is out of my mouth his fist is coming straight at me. I can’t say I saw it in slow motion, but I was like… aware of it, and leaned back hard. All I can think is this bully asshole just tried to sucker-punch me, and when I was being respectful and shit. This is happening, I thought. A real fucking fight. Against a guy bigger than me, and two of his friends. Now, you gotta know what it means to be a big guy. It means you gotta hold back, or else normal-sized people think you’re scary. And I told you about all the energy inside me, so holding back had always been hard. But now, I thought, I can let loose. It’s three on one and they’re fucking bullies. I planted my feet and brought my fists up. I could feel the muscle in my forearms swell and suddenly all eyes were on me. All these gym-built Hank’s regulars with show muscle were about to see what “go” muscle could do. I punched Wojic in the face with my left fist. That was easy enough. So I punched him in the face three more times with the same fist. It was only by that fourth punch that Wojic got his own arms up to block. So I stepped in and with my right I swung around from the side to crush my knuckles into his temple. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was throwing jabs and hooks. I had no technique, but I was fast and had power behind my punches. My right hook rocked him off balance, so I popped a left into the centre of his chest. His feet couldn’t compensate and he fell on his ass. The other two, Johnston and Ramirez, moved in on the sides, so I had to take care of them too. They weren’t as big, or as mean, and their hearts weren’t in it. With Wojic down, I learned something: You can’t fight without your feet. So I swung my shin into Johnston’s leg right at the knee. He buckled and then my right fist bounced him away. I knew Ramirez was right behind me, so I continued twisting my torso around and my left elbow caught him right on his jaw. By the time I’d spun all the way around, all three men were on the ground. Everyone nearby looked kind of stunned and confused, but inside I felt fifteen different kinds of `FUCK YEAH!” I dropped my fists and said casually: “Take your time getting up, gentlemen, I ain’t going anywhere.” The taunt got to Wojic and he launched himself at me angrily from a crouch. He tackled me at the waist, and I shifted my weight instinctively, twisting left. I somehow had a totally sure sense of exactly where I was in time and space. I moved my right hand down to his head and used it to direct the motion of his skull straight into the painted brick of Hank’s facade. At the last second, I kept myself from using too much muscle. Not even one minute into this fight and already I had to start holding back. Oh well. Pain exploded in my back as I felt Ramirez and Johnston pummeling me from behind. I was pushed forward and my crotch crowded right into the dazed face of Wojic. Awkward. I hitched both elbows back, catching Johnston hard, but Ramirez had seen this trick before and dodged. I spun around fast and–no shit–just the hard look on my face made Ramirez back off. For good measure I pumped my foot into his abs and kicked him a good three feet away from the action. I rounded on Johnston, who was down on one knee, and dropped a swinging punch from on high that flattened him like a pancake. I turned to see Wojic on his feet. And he’s pissed. No more joking around, he had his fists raised and his feet planted. Somehow I knocked the drunkenness right out of him and his eyes focussed on me like lasers. My heart was pounding in my ears like you wouldn’t believe. I could see that somehow I was gonna take this big mean motherfucker down. He moved in and it was totally different from before, he punched with precision and power. Slower than me, but when his punches landed, they hurt like hell. In the end I took some hits. But I gave the lion’s share. Finally, I saw Wojic tiring, while I felt like I could go forever. I just let loose, hitting him again and again like his face was a drum. I stopped when I saw he wasn’t defending himself anymore. He kinda swayed on his feet, then fell forward slumped against me, his face running down my shirt front. He dropped to his knees right in front of me. The other two guys were just watching by now. I stepped back, ready to take them on again, but they both shook their head, no. You’d think I’d be relieved. I would have thought it myself. But instead I was let down. I wanted to go again. I didn’t care if I got hit, I didn’t want to ever stop. They pulled their big friend to his feet and led him off into the night, staring back at me a couple of times with this odd look on their faces. I couldn’t even sleep when I went home after my shift. I kept hearing the rhythm of my hits. BambamBAM! Drumming was close to what was in my head, but this was it. This was the real thing. I kept running over it, replaying the fight. How I could have done better, what I should have done, what I’d do next time. Jesus God, please let there be another time. The next night was just a regular night at Hank’s, a Sunday, so kinda slow. I was still going over in my head what happened, choreographing it slightly different each time, when two of the guys showed up, Ramirez and Johnston. I folded my fingers into fists; they still hurt from the night before. But whatever. “No no,” said Johnston, his hands up. “We’re not here to fight, man. We were a little fucked up last night. Our friend was really fucked up.” “So just go somewhere, then,” I said. “Unless you want trouble. `Cause if you want it…” Oh man, it was ME that wanted it. One of the guys extended his hand to shake. “I’m Ramirez,” he said. “We train at The Triple Hit. You know it?” I looked at his open hand in confusion, and a little disappointment. “In The Den?” I asked. I knew it was an old boxing joint I passed dozens of times, in the old warehouse strip. “That’s the one,” Ramirez said. “Man, who taught you your moves?” “Moves?” I said, “I don’t have moves.” “Fuck you don’t, you took on the three of us, and you put Wojic down.” “You were drunk,” I said, blowing it off. “Not that drunk,” said the other guy, extending his own hand, which I also just stared at. No fight, really? “I’m Johnston.” “You should train with us,” Ramirez said. He mimicked my quick flurry of punches from the night before. “What the fuck do you call that?” This wasn’t a joke; these guys were impressed with me, with what I could do. What do I call that? I thought for a moment of how I beat Wojic’s face like a drum. “I dunno. The Jackhammer?” “That’s a gift,” said Johnston. I could feel blood rush into my cheeks, and had to take the focus off me. “So you guys are boxers?” “Kinda,” answered Ramirez. “It’s a new thing: Mixed Martial Arts.” Mixed Martial Arts. I liked the sound of that. “Yeah, I might give it a try.” They say the most important day after you’re born is the day you figure out why, and it’s true. I knew I was done with the drums from then on. I was a fighter. “What happened to your friend, the big guy.” I was suddenly worried I’d overdid it and hurt the big dude in a major way. “He’s, uh…” Ramirez hesitated, “He’s waiting for you. Out back.” He thumbed over his shoulder to the nearby alleyway. “Huh,” I said. I wasn’t stupid, but I figured, if anyone oughta be scared of meeting anyone in a dark alley, it was him that oughta be scared of me. I thought of my Jackhammer pummeling his broad blond mug and the tension came right back into me. Maybe Wojic would wanna get into it again. I waited until the other two left, just to be sure this wasn’t some revenge trap. Then I signalled to LJ that I was going to take a break, and went through the club to the back door that led to the alley. I shoved the door open, hard. A little too hard, cause the autoclose mechanism snapped and the fire door did a 180 and bounced against the brick wall. I caught it sharply on the rebound with my left arm, and quickly turned to stare daggers at Wojic, who spun around suddenly. He’d been expecting me to come from the other direction. He was startled by the noise, like I’d hoped. I slammed the door shut and moved calmly down the alleyway. He had four inches and probably 50 pounds on me, but when I crossed my arms across my chest, his eyes dropped to my veiny biceps and I saw it. Fear. And… something else. I’d intimidated plenty of guys before with my physique, but something about this was different. I mean, the dude was jacked himself. But the look he gave me right then, it was like a wolf exposing his throat to the leader of the pack. I can’t really explain it. But that look of surrender made me hard as a rock. Look, I was twenty, and I got hard when the wind blew a certain way. I can’t really explain it. I felt powerful in a way I’d never felt before. I walked right up to him and stared hard up into his face. “Too tall,” I said. And just like that, the man was on his knees in front of me. He looked up at me, stunned. Like he didn’t understand himself what he’d just done. Like he had a sense memory of his crumpled body sliding down my shirtfront last night. I smirked and with a single finger pulled open the button fly of my 501s, already close to bursting. A bulge of white cotton pushed out and Wojic took a sharp breath. Damn, the look in his eyes when he saw my cock fighting to get out of my BVDs. Now look, I’m as straight as they come; I’d seen a lot in my time working at this club, and nothing I’d seen had made me think I’d ever be into anything with a guy. But I knew in that moment that Wojic was gonna suck my cock and I was gonna enjoy it. Wojic brought his thick fingers up to touch the cotton, but then paused to look up into my eyes, pleading. I nodded, giving him permission to pull down my briefs, and my cock got even harder. Wojic felt my meat growing huge and steely right in his hand. He looked shocked and his voice trembled. “I-I-I’ve never done anything like this before…” “Like this? What are ya doin’? Tell me.” “I-I’m on my knees. Jacking your cock in my hand. It’s so huge… and hard.” “I know. Why are you doing it?” Wojic was silent and just kept staring at my dick sliding in and out of his fist. “I asked you a fucking question.” “B-because you kicked my ass.” That was interesting. I brought my right hand into his sightline, the knuckles scraped from where they’d kicked ass all over his torso and face yesterday. His eyes widened. “What’s the connection?” I asked. I kept my voice flat for some reason, even though I really wanted to know the answer. “I have to… thank you. I was a shithead. I’m… a shithead a lot. And I get away with it because I’m big. I… needed that ass-kicking. Needed to know… someone will keep me in line.” I didn’t think my cock could get any harder, but it did. I started leaking precum like a faucet, and Wojic saw it and swallowed nervously. “You got self-control issues, huh?” I pressed my boot into the big dude’s full crotch. He groaned and his eyes glazed over. “What do I look like, your Daddy?” Wojic gasped, and I swear this 230-pound musclejock looked like he might cry. Yep, those pale blue eyes were getting watery alright. Ah shit. I couldn’t tell Freud from Fred Flintstone, but one thing I can damn well tell you is I could think of better uses for my dick than some kind of magic therapy wand. “So open up and thank me already,” I growled. I figured I had something that’d make his eyes water. He licked the head of my leaking cock like it was an ice cream cone. It was okay, but I’d had better from girls the size of one of Wojic’s legs. “You got a jaw like a moose and that’s the best you can do?” He popped off my dick and panted. “I never done this before, boss.” Boss. I liked that. “So you said. I’m beginning to believe it.” The look on his face said it all. In that moment, I think Wojic would’ve rather choked to death than disappoint me. He screwed up his face in determination and planted his big hands on my quads. Then he swallowed half my dick in one gulp. He blew air out his nostrils and I could feel the back of his throat fold over like he was about to gag. He looked up at me, and I could see his eyes were really watering now. But it felt good now, real good, and I nodded at him and cracked a smile. I thought for sure he’d pull off, but instead his hands left my thighs and palmed my ass. He pulled me in, inch by inch, his eyes locked on mine, until his lips kissed my pubes. “Good job, buddy,” I whispered, truly impressed. Now it was my turn to focus so that I didn’t blow my load too soon. Wojic regurgitated my cock and fell back on his haunches, breathing hard with his tongue out, sucking in air. My hard dick was coated with his slobber, which also ran down his chin. “I want it,” he said hoarsely. “Want what?” “The Jackhammer. Do me good, boss.” Magic words. I stepped forward and planted my hands on either side of his big Slavic skull. Wojic took a deep breath, opened wide, and inhaled my cock again. But this time, I was in control. I pulled my cock out of his mouth sharply, only to plunge it back it just as fast. Wojic was keeping up, making sounds like a dog wolfing down a meal. I thought of my drums and tried to get a rhythm going. I pulled one hand off his head so I could pull my jeans further down my quads. My balls flopped out, fully freed, and the cool air felt good. I hadn’t missed a beat while adjusting my clothes, and kept facefucking the big guy like I was drilling for oil. My balls now slapped noisily against his spit coated chin. Damn this felt good. Wojic’s stark blue eyes bored into me and I think I understood what he was getting at. “Faster? Blink once for yes.” Blink. “Fuck yeah,” I grunted. He wanted the Jackhammer, he was gonna get the fucking Jackhammer. SLAP SLAP SLAP SLAP SLAP SLAP SLAP SLAP SLAP– Oh fuck, I thought. I didn’t know how much longer I was gonna last. Which was escort bursa too bad, `cause I was enjoying this a lot. SLAP SLAP SLAP SLAP SLAP SLAP SLAP SLAP SLAP– Then I saw it–another slow, deliberate blink. You fucker, I’ll show you faster. I’ll set the Jackhammer on Pulverize. SLAPSLAPSLAPSLAPSLAPSLAPSLAPSLAPSLAPSLAPSLAPSLAPSLAPSLAPSLAPSLAPSLAP– “Aw fuck,” I moaned as I approached the point of no return. “Aw fuck yeah, you fucker, take that cock. You’re gonna take my big Irish load right down your gob.” Wojic’s eyes looked like they were gonna pop out of his head. My balls tightened and I could feel the rush as I exploded– 6. “Best story ever,” gushes Ryan, perched on his stool, near wiggling. He reaches out a long leg to nudge David. “Right?!” David blinks and sits up with a quick jerk, jarred by Ryan’s voice and touch. What the hell, he thinks–how hard did I get hit? Straight-as-nails Kelly getting a back-alley blowjob? “Whoa, what did you just say?” Kelly raises a heavy blond eyebrow. “You even listening? Just that that was the day I knew I was done with drums.” His solid jaw shifts side to side. “That I was a fighter.” “You okay, Driver?” Ryan asks, running the toe of his chunky sneaker against the reporter’s flank. He’s so deft in his body that the same leg that can deliver a devastating roundhouse kick can as easily convey such tender concern. “I think I drifted off a little,” David says, wrapping an arm around Ryan’s shin. He tracks back to where he left the story and veered into daydream. He realizes his dick is swollen awkwardly in his jeans, and he pulls Ryan’s powerful leg closer. He can imagine every springy hair on the leg under the heavy denim. “Did you say that was at Hank’s?” David asks. “Hank’s on Elmwood,” Kelly answers, shooting a discreet glance at David’s fingers playing over his nephew’s leg. “Holy shit, THE Hank’s?” David asks. “In the `80s?” “What’s THE Hank’s?” Ryan asks, pulling his leg back. “Just the most infamous gay bar in city history,” David answers, glancing back and forth between the fighter and his uncle. “It got targeted by the homophobic mayor. He couldn’t shut it down, but he could hassle it enough that they gave up and closed. There was a whole exposé about it, years later.” “What?” Ryan asks, shaking his head. “That’s the one,” Kelly says. “Hank’s. Shut down in `88.” “I heard that story a hundred times, you never mentioned it was a gay bar,” Ryan says, caught wildly off guard. “Didn’t seem important,” Kelly shrugs. “Man,” the young fighter reels, “all that time I… I didn’t think you’d be okay with *it*.” Okay, thinks David, clearly Ryan hadn’t heard the same story he had. He wishes he could remember the details, but the dream was already slipping away from his memory. “I ever say anything to give you that impression?” Kelly asks flatly. “No,” Ryan replies. His furrowed brow is pale against his face. “I just… I don’t know. Never mind.” David notes the how Ryan’s ruddy complexion has gone deep red. The young fighter can bluff a lot, but for the cues his skin gives off. “So, uh,” David asks Kelly, trying to give Ryan a little recovery time, “you just knew fighting was your thing?” “Pretty much,” Kelly responds, then laughs. “Boy was Ritchie steamed when I quit the band. But nothing in this world lasts forever.” “Then you opened the Triple Hit?” David asks, easily falling into his investigative posture. “Nah,” Kelly answers. “Bought it from old Joe LaPaglia. He opened it in the `60s.” “How long did you fight?” “As long as I could, kid. Till the day I couldn’t no more. Like I said–nothing’s forever.” David looks around the office. The putty-gray file cabinets, the old basic corkboard, yellow linoleum flooring. It could still be the 1960s. “Love what you’ve done with the place.” Kelly’s eyebrow raises. “Why’re you always such a smartass?” “Just how I am,” David laughs. It’s true too. He’s never been able to resist a challenge, and what bigger challenge is there than Kelly on his own turf? David sits back, satisfied that he purchased Ryan some time to process. More than satisfied, in fact. Proud. It feels to David like the most useful thing he’s done in a while. *I’ve got your back*, he thinks to the still silent young fighter. He turns to the photo of young Kelly again, and into the layers of old photos beneath it, like an archeological dig. There’s Kelly through the years as a fighter, and later as a coach. And with Jameelah, in photos that must be a dozen or more years old. She slays every look, and somehow never looks dated. One photo catches David’s eye, notable for the multicolor balloons framing it. At the center is a homemade cake, complete with a numeric 10 candle. Behind it is a boy grinning so hard he looks like he’ll explode. Even with spindly boy arms, even if not for the telltale red hair, David would know him anywhere. Connor Ryan. His face, his smile, is just the same. But for one thing. At the center of his broad smile is a distinctive gap. And standing over him is a man with the same gap in his smile, the same red hair. Ryan’s father. It has to be. But even though they’re both smiling, there’s a distinct difference. Connor’s is exuberant, but his father’s is hollow. David remembers what Kelly said about Go muscles and Show muscles. It’s a Show smile. There’s nothing under it. He can feel a story coming into place in his head, as he so often does. *The man’s lips were turned up, his teeth bared, in what was only technically a smile. The attention paid to his 10-year-old son rubbed him the wrong way. `Too much attention ruins children’ is a common refrain among abusive parents, who…* Kelly clears his throat, drawing David’s eyes and then Ryan’s away from the box of photos. David senses purpose in the action, and it occurs to him for the first time that he and Kelly have been complicit in managing Ryan’s attention, in distracting him. “If you’re good enough to bust my balls, you’re good enough to go home,” Kelly says, then turns to Ryan. “You want to shut things down?” Wordlessly Ryan rises to his feet to do as asked. But as he turns out of the office door, he pauses and slowly turns to face Kelly. “I guess I could have told you a long time ago, huh? If I’d known.” “I figured you’d tell me when you were ready,” Kelly answers. Ryan takes most of the tension in the room with him, leaving David and Kelly looking at each other, aware of their unspoken partnership. “So,” David says, holding up the birthday photo, full-on reporter now. “Ryan had a gap tooth.” “Guess so,” Kelly answers. “He got it fixed?” “Yup. People do that.” “Yeah, people-people. But not Ryan-people. Doesn’t seem like him to do something… *cosmetic*, does it?” “You should ask him about it if you got a burning question,” Kelly says sarcastically. “But I’m asking you. Because you know how private he is.” “It’s not for me to say,” Kelly shrugs. “Kid never said a word about it to me. But the way I see it… if you look at that smile, where else you see that same gap…” Yeah yeah, his father, of course. David nods. Kelly nods his head yes. “If you were him, knowing what you do about his old man, would you want to see *that* smile every time you look in a mirror?” “I guess not,” David says. He drops the photo in the box, and pulls a heap of others over it, tamping the lid back on after the photo is buried deep. The office clock ticking is the only sound, until the door opens and Ryan asks, “Driver, you ready to go?” 7. As the door to David’s apartment opens, laughter breaks the threshold and Ryan asks “And then he said WHAT?” “He had the guy on his knees, jackhammering his mouth and says `Faster? Blink once for yes.'” David rolls his eyes at himself. “It was just a daydream!” “KELLY got blown? By a GUY?” Ryan howls. “Fuck, Driver, I’ve heard that story a hundred times. I would have remembered a blow job!” He pulls David close and wraps his meaty hands around the reporter’s narrow face, looking into his dark eyes. “Maybe you really do have a concussion.” “I swear, I’m just having these–flights of fancy lately. Daydreams… news stories I can’t get out of my head…” The fighter exhales hot breath through his nostrils as he scrutinizes David’s bruised eye. “What do you think? Is it sexy?” David asks. “Yeah, tough guy,” Ryan snarls, the erection is his jeans pressing up against David’s. “Off the charts.” He dives into David’s mouth and they make out aggressively . Ryan’s hands pull on David’s tie at his neck, sliding the skinny end out of the knot and whipping it out of the collar. “Did my story get you in the mood?” David asks. “Fuck, I’m always in the mood.” Ryan looks like he wants to rip David’s shirt open, like the first time they did this in the Triple Hit ring. But he restrains himself and starts unbuttoning instead, looking into David’s eyes as his fingers work. “You okay though?” “I can take my licks, Ryan,” David answers, prompting a raised eyebrow and a low growl from Ryan. “Try me.” The young fighter pushes himself up against David and presses his full lips against his, plunging his eager tongue in. David can’t help but trace his tongue over Ryan’s teeth, feeling what he already know: no gap. Ryan wraps his hands under David’s ass and pulls him in tighter. David loves the feel of Ryan’s strength, how willing he is to use it. He knows David won’t break. “I wanted to ask about something,” David says, as Ryan grinds their packed crotches together. “Shoot,” sighs the fighter, the veins in his neck pulsing impatiently. “You had a gap tooth?” Ryan’s posture stiffens and David can feel the heat between them instantly cool. He bares his perfectly even teeth. “Yeah it’s such a big gap. Fuck.” “Not now,” says David, warily. “But you did. I saw a photo in the shoebox.” Ryan’s hands drop to his sides and the space between them grows. His face goes red and his jaw rolls from side to side. The fighter who so assiduously refuses tattoos in order to not signal anything about himself to his opponents is so easily betrayed by his own skin. He turns around and heads into David’s kitchenette. David follows and hears the cupboard doors banging. “You got any booze around here?” David enters the small kitchen and squeezes past Ryan, who leans against the counter with his arms crossed defensively on his broad chest. He pulls a bottle of Kentucky bourbon from a low cupboard and pours a dram each into two glass tumblers. As he passes one to Ryan he asks, “Ice?” Ryan downs the liquor in one gulp and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. He stares at David. “Save it for your black eye.” David sips from his glass and returns his angry gaze evenly. “Which one?” Ryan stares back and shakes his head. “Jesus.” He slams the tumbler on the counter loudly and David flinches. “So yeah, I had a gap tooth. Writing a story about dental work, Driver?” Ryan asks, his voice dripping sarcasm. Slowly his mouth widens in a huge grin. David gulps. Even without the gap, Ryan’s smile is the same as his father’s in the photo. A show smile, with nothing like happiness or joy under it. “It’s not a big deal, Ryan,” David says, reaching out to run a finger over Ryan’s ear, feeling the heat just beneath the scarlet skin, trying to draw him back in. “I was just curious.” “Yeah you’re always curious.” Ryan says sharply, torquing his neck to twist free of David’s touch. Ryan’s twist isn’t enough to hurt, but it’s enough for David to feel the strength underlying it. “I don’t need everyone knowing my shit,” Ryan says, each word like a smack in the face. “Hey, I’m not *everyone*,” David snaps back. “And don’t forget who you’re talking to.” “Meaning what?” “Meaning I’m the guy who published my own resignation in disgrace…” “Disgrace my ass,” Ryan rolls his eyes. “Yeah. Disgrace. Total disgrace, Ryan. Everyone knows my transgressions. And in the most public way possible. I just asked about your braces or whatever.” “Well not everyone’s as brave as you, Driver,” Ryan says, backing away and shaking his head. “Fuck you, Ryan. Fuck brave. I’m terrified. I flushed my whole career down the toilet and I have no idea what to do with my life.” The words fall from his mouth without premeditation and his breaths get shallow. “What credible news source would ever have me? I ruined everything.” “Dude, you’ll figure it out,” Ryan offers, softening as quickly as he went angry, nudging David with his broad shoulder. David’s legs go weak like when Chad punched him, and his breath escapes his chest in a deep shudder. “I always thought I was born to do something–to write something no one else ever did. But I’m so afraid… I think I’ve been making a fool of myself.” “A fool *how*?” Ryan asks, crooking a finger in David’s belt loop so he can’t back away. “I let myself think I could do something worthwhile,” David sighs. “Be someone worthwhile.” Ryan’s eyes run over David’s face. “Worthwhile to me,” he whispers. He pulls David in close and wraps around him, and stays there. It’s the kind of thing that would never occur to David, just holding someone. But Ryan is always most eloquent with his body. And efficient. Saying just three words rather than the essay David would deliver. It’s good. The fighter feels solid. Something firm to lean into. Their hips grind together and David runs his fingers through the cropped red curls and thinks how this precious head was concussed when he was just a boy. He senses two paths for Ryan, who wavers between them with such unpredictability, and thinks *Maybe your father isn’t the guy who kicked your legs out from under you. Maybe your real father is the guy who defended you.* He holds onto the fighter and whispers in his ear, “Fuck me, Ryan.” 8. While Ryan sleeps, David stares at the blank white sheet of ceiling over his bed. In his head, the thoughts keep churning. Individual letters collide, forming words and then sentences. Stories. He’s heard them every night for weeks. Maybe longer. Maybe he’s always heard them. If he squints, he can almost see type form on its surface in a clean black font. He carefully slides Ryan’s arm off his chest, and very slowly turns out of his bed. In his absence, the fighter pulls his free pillow close into his chest and wraps around it in a tight coil. He likes to cuddle, that one, and it’s hard to steal away but there’s work to do. David pulls on his loose pajamas and strides softly on long legs to his kitchenette, where he makes coffee in silent solitude. He doesn’t want to wake Ryan, who’s a light sleeper when he’s at David’s place. He’d like the fighter to sleep in. *Sweet dreams*, he thinks to the gap-toothed 10-year-old in the photo. David needs time. An hour or two at least. His handsome black desk, like all his furniture, is a hand-me-down from his parents, but well-made, expensive, passed on early more for his convenience than theirs. It’s an advantage, he notes. So make use of it. The room goes black and white in the light of David’s laptop as he enters his password. He opens a new document and smiles at the sight of the blank white page. He looks down at the words inked into his forearms, illuminated by the laptop screen, trying to feel in himself the balance between empathy and scrutiny, feeling for discernment. *Do the thing you’re meant to do.* At the top of the page he types *1/10,000* and bolds it. Beneath that, *Because truth is rarely pure and never simple*. In a new paragraph he begins, *This is disgraced reporter David Levy. Welcome to my news blog*. END

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