It appeared that Jack was winning, but then he did throw the first punch. It was hardly fair. He’d been outwitted, proved to be the inferior in the field of verbal repartee. He needed to show his dominance as leader. What better than to turn it into a competition of force?
And violence trumped all other forms of superiority in this world. I’d quickly learned that.
I wasn’t one to stand by and let someone fight over me, however novel a situation it was.
I stepped forward and grabbed Jack by the back of his t-shirt, wrenching him off the now bloodied Tom. His lack of mass came as a shock. I put more force into it than I intended. I was used to dealing with people twice my weight whereas Jack was a good match for me. He didn’t seem to hit the wall behind us hard enough to do any lasting harm, or at least I could assume as much given his instant complaints.
“What the hell? I was winning.” Spittle flicked from his mouth. The scrap had resulted in a scratch above his left eye and a matching bloody nose.
“You were. Well done. But this stops now.” Before anyone gets hurt.
“Hey! Get off him, what the hell are you doing?” Tom snarled at me, “I’m gonna kick the shit out of you. Don’t-”
“Shut the fuck up. You were getting your ass kicked.” I placed myself in-between them.
“I’m not listening to a fuc-“
“Yeah I got that a while back. You’re getting repetitive.” I put a hand out to stop Jack from trying to get around me.
I was expecting it. He was angry, worked up and pissed off and having pretty much lost. Add to the fact that a mere girl stepped in to save his ass…
My reactions took over and his fist never got near my face. It was fast, but laughably crude and so underpowered I could slap it away without even thinking about it.
The gash in my side stung like hell, I couldn’t put all my weight on one ankle and my shoulder ached like a bastard. But in those few moments the pain didn’t matter. It was still there, a warning, but a switch flicked. It filtered out. When I was fighting a mere ache was trivial. I could push my body to its real limits when I was, usually, a single mistake away from death.
Hell, I’d made that mistake a few times and only escaped the situation out of blind luck.
I was used to dealing with drug dealers, police. Trained professionals. I’d been taught, however rushed, by an instructor.
He didn’t stand a chance.
I skipped back to avoid his second punch and spun out my foot in a high kick – not something I can do on most opponents given my stature. I didn’t put much power into it, it was mostly for show. It caught him in the cheek and he staggered. A gentle stamp to the back of his turned knee helped him hit the floor. Normally I would have followed him down, gone for a lock. Maybe just stamped on something soft I could damage. Throat, balls. Broken a bone or similar. Priority to incapacitate.
But this wasn’t a quick brutal fight to land that one incapacitating blow. The goal wasn’t to silently take out your opponent in the most efficient way. I wouldn’t have done a near useless kick to the face if that was the case.
This was a show, that was all. I’d just been sucked into their little game. I needed to beat him, and in the flashiest way I could.
So I stood over him. A position of power.
What now? Words? “Don’t you even think about touching me, you got that?” My body was still shaking from the burst of adrenaline, but I kept my voice steady. I had practice.
I looked up, and was faced with three open mouths and slack jaws.
“That was so cool!”
“Did you see that kick?”
“Can you show me how to do that?”
* * *
Tom sulked in the corner for a while, but after ten minutes he was tempted to give up what remained of his pride and he came to join us.
I was teaching them some of the stuff I’d learned in my classes. The correct way to punch someone, how to turn someone’s grab into an arm lock – not that they really had the strength to break an arm. Why not to try a flashy kick? It was a good distraction.
And I wanted distracting.
* * *
I was used to sleeping on a sofa. For some reason I didn’t really want to go back to the garage, it was too fucking cold. This place would do, and Jack seemed happy to let me sleep here even if he did go home himself.
What was I going to do now? I was lost. I had nothing left.
I suppose I should be feeling something. Regret, hate, sorrow. I had a lot I should hate. That I thought I did, but in reality… no. I couldn’t even summon that emotion.
I just felt empty. There was no drive to do anything. Before, I’d set myself on fighting people because I wanted revenge or just because the thrill made me feel alive.
Could I get that back? Would staring death in the face make me alive? The problem was… I didn’t feel the need to fight. Why bother? If death was the result, what did it matter?
I could tell this mood was dangerous… I knew that I shouldn’t really be thinking these things but I couldn’t gather up enough willpower to stop.
* * *
Jack seemed a little put out by my lack of enthusiasm the next day. That or he recognised my need to be left alone. Him and his little group of friends came and went for various reasons. He was kind enough to throw me a battered sandwich at lunch. I don’t think I had the energy to go try get some food myself.
Just taking off the wrapper was hard enough.
The second day he confronted me. “Hey, Alex. We’re gonna go throw stuff in the incinerator down by Jones’s corner. You wanna come? Sam found some fireworks we’re gonna see if we can blow it up.”
He looked so eager… excited. That me going to watch them throw junk into an industrial incinerator would be the best thing in the world.
“Jack, I don’t really want to. I’m tired.” I didn’t want to put him off… except I did.
“Come on! You were so fun at first…” When… I had something I wanted to do. Getting information, that cop. I had a purpose. A small one. Now I didn’t.
He grabbed my hand and pulled, like an impatient toddler at a parent. I didn’t even flinch at the pain in my fingers, just felt sorry for myself.
“Come on. I’m not going to let you just lie here.” He redoubled his efforts, trying to drag me off the sofa. “I’m not going to leave you alone until you move.”
“Fuck off Jack!” I twisted my hand and opened my palm, breaking his grip.
He looked a little shocked at my sudden outburst. Perhaps I’d let a little too much of my mood leak into it… Then he smiled sweetly.
“Hey guys, let’s see if all of us can take on Alex?” He looked to his friends, they shared a knowing nod.
I somehow doubted they would all have jumped on a girl if they were a little older… But apparently I was fair game. Hell, I was pretty much a boy anyway.
Jack landed first, then I felt the weight of two others land on-top of him. The last one managed to push the sofa backwards. After an agonising second balanced on the back legs it pivoted over, throwing us all into a pile.
I grabbed an available arm and twisted, but it took at least one hand to hold the lock and there were two others capable of attacking me. If I’d been willing to hurt them… then I could have done something that lasted. But I wasn’t, so I was pretty debilitated.
I did manage to push myself to my feet, holding one – no idea who – and looked around for something soft. Oh, what the hell, these kids were like elastic. I lifted him straight off the ground and threw him at a pile of boxes in the corner.
Then one managed to buckle my knee…
* * *
I lay, gasping for breath, sprawled across the floor. The room was trashed. Even more so than its usual state. Everything that could be knocked over had been, and everything that couldn’t had had a pretty good go at it anyway. The crap that was normally artfully shoved into the corners was strewn around, along with Jack and his friends. One was panting, with a head resting uncomfortably on my shin.
I didn’t have the energy to move it.
But… Not like before. I had a smile on my face. It might not last, but it mattered.
Beth could always cheer me up. She always knew what to say, or do to put a smile on my face.
Fuck it. Let’s go burn shit.