Fighters Sparring Story

Chuck's weight goes back up pretty fast, but the Doc doesn't permit sparring for about three months, just to make sure the scar tissue around Chuck's eyes has a chance to heal. That's fine with Chuck--he just needs the feeling of returning home. He hits the weights with Mix Jeffries, and they pair up for medicine ball workouts. It's a long road from that fight in the parking lot, but Chuck's journey hasn't ended yet.

His dreams still take him back to the alley at Winks, to that night. He wakes with the memory of the punches. He's thought about seeing a shrink, but he can't make himself do that. He decides it's best not to tell anyone about these mental moments.

But he's not going to bars to pick fights, either. Now and then he's tempted to risk it, to be more careful and less impulsive. The added weight seems like an excuse to try again. When he thinks like this, he takes the tattered blue shirt out of his locker and stares at the dried blood until the impulse passes. His dried blood, his pain, his fear...he makes himself feel it again, just to keep safe.

He's got a long way to go.

One night Rusty meets him at the lockers. He's wearing the gym's signature blue trunks, so Chuck's only slightly surprised when Rusty says, "We're sparring today. Get geared up." Chuck just nods. It's time to face the demons, hit and get hit. He's ready for that. He doesn't waste time--he gears up without talking to anybody else, and without really looking at who's in the ring until he ducks under the ropes. He expected Rusty, of course: at 160, he's close enough to Chuck's 155 for it to be reasonable. Chuck doesn't expect Rick Logan (a scrappy 17 year old, 138 pounds) or Mix Jeffries (not yet 21, a solid 154), but they're both there...geared up. And there's no one to ref.

"Who's gonna ref?"

Rusty smiles and says: "We'll play nice. They're not here to spar, they're here to crowd you."

"Then why they got gloves on?"

"Gotta get past it, Chuck. We push it a little, get you feeling present in the ring, no matter what your brain says. That's the goal. Focus on me. Fight me. You trust me?"

Chuck nods. But he can already feel the nerves jangling. Rusty calls out "Guard up!" And all four of them raise their gloves. Right off, Chuck steps back, just a gut response to the threat. "Let's go," Rusty says as he moves in. Rick and Mix leave punching room, but they move in too. Without throwing a punch, Chuck slowly retreats to his corner. Rusty doesn't press the attack at first--he just flips quick jabs and feints with his right a couple times. Chuck can't ignore Rick and Mix--they're not throwing punches, but they're staying loose, adjusting their guards and moving their fists a little. The potential attack keeps Chuck looking left and right. Then Rusty swats him with a right cross. "Me! Look at me. Focus on me. Not them." Chuck grunts in frustration and raises his guard. Rusty yells out, "Throw a punch, damn it!" To punctuate the sentence, Rusty lands a hard shot to Chuck's gut. After that come medium heat blows--hooks to the temples, straight shots to the jaw, more body shots--but Rusty throws one punch at a time. Rusty could do a lot more damage, but that's not the point here. Rick and Mix stand their ground, blocking any escape from the corner. Chuck will have to go toe-to-toe with the gym owner or give up.

Chuck's mind does another of its tricks, rousing the memory of all those guys pounding away at him, grabbing him and slugging him and then passing him on to another violent grip. Rusty must be trying to force this, so Chuck surrenders to it. He flings out a few wild blows, catches Rick on the chin and Mix on the bridge of the nose. Then, as he'd done while sparring with Rick on the first night back, Chuck drops to the canvas and curls up for protection. He screams his frustration and fear in an extended howl. As far as he's concerned, it's over. Time to pack up his locker and go back into exile.

But Rusty won't have it that way. He waves Rick and Mix off, and they return to their corners--they both rolled with the punches, so there's no real physical harm done to them. Then Rusty goes down on one knee next to Chuck. The gym, which had gone quiet for a while, resumes its usual noise. Only Ox and a couple of other guys still watch. No one but Chuck hears Rusty's harsh whisper: "You get up and fight me, or I'll fuck you till you bleed!" Just to be sure Chuck gets the point, Rusty pulls Chuck's gloves apart. Their eyes meet--Rusty's have an angry glare. "Fight or fuck, but you don't leave without dealing with me." Rusty gets up quick, steps back to the center of the ring, and raises his guard.

The picture in Chuck's head flips. He's not trapped in the alley now, he's confronting his bullying brother. He's on his feet in a shot, charging towards Rusty, chin tucked in, fire in his eyes, thunder in his gloves.

Chuck leads with a heavy left jab to the nose followed by a right uppercut to the chin. Rusty lets it land. The impact takes Rusty back a step, but his head stays clear. Then come straight shots and hooks, all aimed towards the head, and Rusty slips or ducks most of it, but he's still moving back. When they reach the ropes, Chuck starts the body work--he gets in close, just off Rusty's chest, and pivots into right hooks to the gut and ribs. The thumps and booms of his punches become the only thing he can hear, but that's partly because the gym has fallen silent again.

Then Rusty launches his own attack, high heat on the power shots and a minimum of jabs. He starts with body blows, countering off of Chuck's work, thrusting several uppercuts deeper and deeper into the gut. This forces Chuck back a step, just enough to allow Rusty leverage to the head. Not everything lands--Chuck manages to slip a few shots, but he feels the heat of friction as the gloves slide by. He blocks a decent amount of shots, but his arms ache instantly from that punishment, almost to the point that Chuck fears one more blocked shot might result in a broken arm. Rusty's right hook goes over Chuck's head, but Rusty follows immediately with a left that almost sends Chuck to the canvas. It's not long before the two men are toe-to-toe at the center of the ring, both leaning in for leverage, bobbing and weaving without giving ground. Chuck's not panicking now, but he's not raging, either. He's looking to stay on his feet as long as possible, to do better than that if he can. Even his head is in the ring now.

Rusty pulls back the attack, leaves himself open, just to see if Chuck has any killer instinct left...or, if he's lucky, to see if Chuck can hit him hard enough to cause the 'disconnect' Rusty's addicted to. Chuck seizes the opportunity, almost as soon as it's offered. His old favorite--two straight lefts followed by a right hook--snaps Rusty's head around. Chuck follows up with a left hook and right uppercut. All of it lands, but Rusty keeps his footing. Chuck keeps the bumps coming: hook after cross after straight shot after uppercut. If he could land as many punches against an average opponent, the guy would've gone down about halfway through the attack. But Rusty's known not only for his high power but also for his ability to absorb punishment. If he wanted to, he'd probably be able to hold his own against Ox, the Russian heavyweight nearly twice his size. Long story short, Chuck's not going to knock Rusty out or even down. Chuck realizes this, and his punches start to lose steam. Rusty knows it's time to end it. When Chuck tosses a slight right, Rusty comes in underneath with a right of his own, full heat. Chuck's head rocks back hard and then leads his body to the canvas.

When Chuck comes to, the Doc's there, and some of the guys help Chuck back to the Doc's office. He checks the damage, but Chuck's not banged up too badly. No blurred vision, no need for stitches, no noticeable swelling (although Doc does put ice on a few suspect spots). He'll be ok. After the Doc's satisfied that Chuck doesn't need a trip to the emergency ward at Mercy General, Rusty sits net to the examination table.

"How's your head?"

"The Doc says I'm fine, but it hurts."

"No, I's your head? You clear now? Just you and me fighting at the end there?"


"Good. So now we know what's next. You lost some power, but your speed's better. Not a bad trade off, but I'd like the scale tipped back even. Have the Doc check you again in about an hour or so. We'll switch up your diet a little, change up a couple routines. You'll be up for the bout in a couple weeks or so."

"The bout? I got a fight?"

Rusty nods towards the door. Ox is standing there, and now he moves to one side and waves for someone else to come in. The guy's changed, but Chuck recognizes him right off--it's Ben, the guy from Alibi, the leader of the gang at Winks. Ben crosses his arms, his newly toned and lean muscles popping for emphasis.

"Chuck, is it? Good to see you again." Ben smiles with a demon's innocence as he holds out his hand. They shake, rough flexing grips from both of them. "Two weeks?" Ben asks Rusty.

"More or less. When the Doc clears it."

"I'll be waiting." Ben blows Chuck a kiss before he heads back out to the gym. Ox follows, but the big guy doesn't seem too invested in either fighter. Chuck turns to ask Rusty a question, but the gym owner speaks first.

"You up for that?"

"Did he find you or did you find him?"

The gym owner waits for a second or two before asking again, "You up for that?"

"I guess."

Two weeks.

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