2310: There Must Be Light

Posted: March 16, 2013 by Kelly in league, stories, the world

2310: There Must Be Light

Outside the world goes on
It just keeps on turning
The feeling of being an outcast
Just keeps growing
~Soilwork, “Antidotes in passing”

By the time Walter returns, it is nearing midnight. This time he doesn’t sneak up on me; I’ve become attuned to his comings and goings in the past half year. It won’t be long now, the Southern League is two weeks away. It will be… strange, when he’s gone. Empty.

I lean back in my desk chair and crack my knuckles as he walks into my office. He leans casually against the door frame. “Hey.”

“Hey,” I smile at him. “How did it go?”

He rakes a hand through his dark hair and I can see the half-crusted blood on his knuckles. “Well enough,” he says with a slight smile in return. “Her nose is broken.”

That’s about five years overdue. I can’t suppress a chuckle. “Do you feel better now?”

Walter inspects his knuckles absently. He’s noticed the blood as well, dismisses it, and shrugs. “Would that I could have broken her neck.”

“You could have.”

He nods. “Only then I would have ruined the Southern League for myself. This is better. It was still satisfying to feel her bones break under my fist.”

I regard him quietly. He’s buzzing with a nervous energy that I recognise very well. He needs an outlet. Beating Rune up has started something; his rage is nibbling at the edge of his brain. It’s always there, underneath layers of suppression and self-control. Sometimes it flares up, and he gets aggressive. He’s destroyed some of my equipment that way. He’s gotten better at in the past few months. The rage and the anxiety are still there, but he has it under control. For now. Maybe because he knows it’s ending soon. “Want to beat on something?” I offer.

He nods. There’s something in his blue eyes that might be relief. “That’d be great. Am I not keeping you from your work?”

“Hell, no. God knows I could use a spar after all that administration work I did tonight. Whoever said that having employees is a horrible curse was totally right.” I climb out of my office contraption and join him in the door opening. “Give me a moment to change into something more comfortable, I’ll be right with you,” I say, gesturing to my current outfit. My jeans do not allow for enough freedom of movement.

“Sure.”

I can feel his eyes burning on my back as I step into the dressing room next door to put on some loose-fitting leggings and a tank top. There are days where I never wear anything but this, but today I’ve hardly been in the dojo. The end of the month is nearing and my administration needs to be in order.

He’s sitting on the edge of the boxing ring when I return to the fitness area. His head is bowed and he is looking at his hands. The white light from above reflects on his wedding ring and I ache a little for him. “Come on,” I tell him. “Let’s fight. Show me what you’ve got.” I can usually get him to talk when we’re fighting.

Sure enough, once the first blow is blocked and we’re dancing around each other, testing defenses, he starts talking. “I found her in some shitty pub in Eclat, near her work. She was drinking cheap wine and feeling sorry for herself,” he starts. “She’s training some rich kid. I… approached her.”

I throw an experimental punch, but he just steps out of the way. Lazy. Like I’m moving slowly. I’m not. “How did she respond?”

He’s not attacking, just checking my moves and countering and sidestepping if necessary. I would think he’d be more aggressive. I can feel the frustrated energy crackling around him. Why is he not attacking me? “Almost annoyed. I don’t even recall how the conversation went. I told her about Lannie, and she knew about it but didn’t care, until I asked her how she felt when Milan died. And how she had inflicted that on me.”

I remember how Rune used to look at Milan. There was so much fire in her eyes; so much passion. How she had regarded me; like I could be a threat. I’d seen the vids of her accusing Milan because he’d watched the game with me.

She had always looked at me with that smoldering, suspicious glare, but never said anything to me. I don’t know what I would have done if she would have. We’d probably have ended up fighting. Milan wasn’t even my type, but I don’t really respond well to threatening behaviour. Call it a leftover from a life on the streets in the Dregs. I would have liked to fight her at some point; she wasn’t bad with hand-to-hand. /Heh, fighting over a boy./ I liked Milan a lot, but I never saw why she was so smitten with him. He didn’t even care that way about her; it was obvious that he was just enjoying the sex and attention for as long as it lasted. Milan always kind of expected to die in the Fortress, I think.

Just like I secretly think that Lannie always expected to die in the World League. I’m not telling Walter that, though. Something are better left unsaid. I know what Walter means with that Rune responsible was for Lannie’s participation in the World League. She had wanted to gather the money for the surgery on Walter’s knee. The knee that Rune had destroyed with my weapon. It had been my finger on the trigger, but the bullet had been all Rune’s.

“She’s pretty fucked up over Milan, still,” Walter says, as he twists out of my grip when I try to hook my foot around his ankle. He’s not smiling. Neither is there any inflection in his voice. Just the hollowness that I have grown to know from him in his darker moments. “It’s been five years and that look in her eyes as she recalled his death; well, breaking her neck might have been too kind for her. She fucking deserves this.”

I freeze in the middle of a lunge. /Did he really just say that?/

And then he retaliates. He’s smirking while he expertly swipes me. I lunge at him, trying to take me down with him, but he manages to dodge my grabbing hands. I land on my side and despite the mats on the floor, the collision completely knocks the breath out of me.

He’s pinning me to the ground in the next instant. His weight is heavy and unforgiving. I can’t move. He effectively has me trapped. I know; I taught him the move myself. “Well done,” I tell him once I’m done gasping and I can find enough oxygen to breathe somewhat normally again. My side feels bruised. I’m going to be sore as all hell tomorrow.

“The student surpasses the teacher,” he says with a smirk. His face is so close to mine as he leans over me. There are beads of sweat in his hairline and he smells good.

I should tap the floor, tap him off. I don’t. Not yet. “That’s bullshit,” I say. My breath still feels heavy in my throat. “You’ve always been able to wipe the floor with me, Walter.”

“Not on the mat.”

“In the Arena, where it counts. You would have killed me in the Fortress. I might have been Euroleague champion, but you’re better than me, Walter. You always have been.” A surge of anger makes me tap him off after all. We both sit up, still close together in the middle of the ring. The air between us feels electric. “And you’d prove it too. You’d take the fucking victory if you would enter the Southern League trying to win it, instead of using it as a way to commit suicide. Because that’s what you’re doing, isn’t it?”

He almost visibly cringes. “Saxa…” he starts, hesitating.

“No, shut up,” I cut him off. I’m angry now. I’ve put six months of my life into him. It’s not about that blood debt anymore. It stopped being about that by the time the first month was over. It’s been friendship after that. Friendship and an aching need to be together. To heal him. Help him. Train him to health again. I knew he’d enter the League – that’s what I’m training him for – but what he said now about Rune… he thinks death is the end to the pain he is feeling. And he doesn’t want Rune to experience that escape. He thinks she doesn’t deserve it, and he craves it. He always has. “Why are you not ending it right now, Walter? Why do you want me to train you, why wait for the League? Why breaking my heart when I see /you/ die on the feeds?”

“Oh fuck,” he gasps. As if it’s only now dawning on him. As if he never realised it before. He probably never did. “I am so sorry.”

I imagine him dying on screen like Milan did. Like Lannie did. “You need to win, Walter. Show Rune that you are the champion that should have been. Not Milan. Not me. Don’t walk in there to die.” My heart is thundering in my chest. I am trembling with adrenaline. I feel like I am back in the Arena again, in that last fight where it came down to hand to hand combat because I had lost my rifle and I’d been able to kick the ripper out of Merle Jourin’s hands. The way the blood had pounded in my ears. The taste of that moment. This moment.

His blue eyes are fever-bright. “I don’t care about a victory,” he whispers. “I don’t care about dying, either.” He pauses for a moment while I watch him with growing horror. “No, I lie. Dying would be sweet. It means that this would end. Stumbling about in the darkness. Everything I hold on to is broken glass and I can’t even see the fucking light anymore.” He shakes his head and hugs himself, sitting on his knees. “How did Lannie ever think this would be worth it?”

I wrap my arms around him and there are hot tears burning in my eyes as I hug him tightly. “There is light, Walter. Just wait for better days. I’m here with you. I’ll be here for you.”

He hugs me back just as tightly. The pressure pain on my ribs tells me that I probably bruised one or two of them. I don’t care.

His face is buried in my neck when he says it. “I wish it was enough.”

It takes me a second to realise what I have just offered to him. What he has just rejected. Stunned, I let him go and I cup his face in my hands. We’re both half-crying and I feel horrible and miserable and I’m hurting with him. “I could make it worth it,” I say. I don’t even know what I’m saying anymore. I feel like something is strangling me. “I could…” I don’t know what I want to say anymore. So I kiss him.

Our lips meet and he is surprised. He doesn’t kiss back immediately, but the one second that he finally does is sweet. He tastes good, too, despite the sweat on his upper lip. His lips are so soft.

And then he gently pushes me away. “I’m sorry,” he says, and his blue eyes are clouded over with pain and tears. All of the pained honesty in the world reflects in his voice. “It won’t be enough.”

I bury my face in my hands and try to come to terms with it all. Humiliation and grief battle for supremacy in my heart. I knew all of this. I knew it before I said it, which is probably why I had surpressed those feelings for all those months. Why I never acted on it. Why I never said anything or allowed myself to feel anything. He just lost his frigging wife and here I was, daring to have feelings for him? /It won’t be enough./ Of course it fucking won’t be.

He stands up and walks out of the ring. I don’t watch him go. I focus on my breathing instead. Breathing the pain. It had always worked so well when I was upset on the streets. This wasn’t my first sadness. Not my first heartbreak. And definitely not the first loved one to die. Still, I feel in shambles. I don’t know if I can bear to watch him die.

“You deserve better anyway, Saxa,” he says, before he walks out of my dojo.

I let him walk away.

—–

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