|By These Fists Alone
Author: slakalot PM
ATF Story. Follows ARLOR. Vin is still dealing with the events of six months earlier when Victor Lornikov wreaked havoc on him and his team. This time its a different mafia he must escape as the Paolino family seek to bring him down and Chris and the team fight not only against the known criminals, but the FBI as well to get their friend back before his usefulness expires.Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Hurt/Comfort - Vin T. & Chris L. - Chapters: 25 - Words: 163,012 - Reviews: 14 - Favs: 4 - Follows: 4 - Updated: 07-11-12 - Published: 07-01-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8274147
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
DISCLAIMER: The characters of the MAGNIFICENT SEVEN belong to MGM, Trilogy, CBS, and TNN. No profit is made from this fan fic in any way, shape, or form except fun. Thanks to Mog for starting off this universe for M7.
RATING: PG 13 FOR LANGUAGE AND VIOLENCE, some drug use.
Although it's not necessary to read A Requested Lapse of Reason to follow this story, this does carry on six months after it and make reference to the characters and events in that story.
Restless Nights and Lingering Thoughts
Again and again the lone man punched the boxing bag. Punched, kicked, elbowed, kneed until the sweat poured from him, running from his face, flicking spray from his long, wet hair and dripping to the concrete he worked on. The bag itself was slick from his bare- knuckled fists and skin pummelling it again and again, relentless in their onslaught. Pure rage and an almost palpable fury seemed to fuel him on and on, his moves never slowing, his skill, technique and power providing an awesome display for the three sets of eyes that now watched him from a dark corner of the gym.
"How long has he been at it this time?" the lean, blonde man in black asked his fellow spectators. He appeared relaxed to anyone watching him, arms folded in front of him as he leaned against a pillar behind him.
"He's been goin' for longer'n an hour," Speck, a slight, tough looking kid of no more than 14 said without taking his eyes off the man he worshipped as only a teenager of fourteen could.
"Yeah he hasn't stopped or nuthin', he's really goin' for it tonight!" Will, another tough looking street kid of about the same age as his friend said, clearly as equally in awe.
Chris Larabee remained silent at this information. His jaw worked hard, grinding his concern and frustration down until he was able to step forward without exploding.
The two boys now behind him paid him no heed. They were used to his dark moods and knew he was their hero's best friend and not a threat to him, despite his hard expression and glaring eyes. Knowing the show would now be over, they turned and left as quietly as they had come in, just as they had most every night lately to watch and learn and then to go back out into the streets and mimic the moves they had seen.
"Vin." It was softly spoken with no hint of threat or danger in the tone, yet Vin Tanner turned to the source of the voice and barely managed to pull his punch in time to stop himself from taking off the head of his best friend.
Chris, to his credit, did not move an inch. He didn't so much as flinch as he watched the wild look be slowly blinked away as if Vin were emerging from a nightmare and just now coming back to reality. Slowly the bloody fist was lowered and as the adrenaline left the tightly muscled body, it was as if his lungs suddenly realised they needed oxygen and Vin doubled over to gulp air, his hands on his knees and his head lowered, his long, sweat-drenched hair covering his face.
Chris turned and found Vin's towel and water and brought them back to him, draping the towel over his dripping back and waiting patiently until he had his breath before he handed him the water silently.
Vin took the water wordlessly, still panting and rinsed his mouth before gulping half of it down greedily and moving over to the nearby bench. He dropped down onto it, his head still lowered and his chest still heaving as the exertion of the last hour and a half caught up with him. He looked at his watch then, he hadn't realised the time, hadn't been aware of anything at all as he'd taken his demon's on in the form of a large blue bag that still swayed gently with the aftershock of the beating it had received, its tormentors' blood staining its hide the only victory to be had.
Chris knew Vin wasn't going to say a word. This had been happening more and more frequently over the last month. Vin had taken on teaching self-defence classes to the kids in his neighbourhood, so nobody had questioned his leaving to go straight home after work to get ready. Only lately, he hadn't been going home until late and wasn't answering his phone when he did. The boys were all worried and Chris had had enough. He worried about Vin like no other. He was more than a brother to him, he was a part of his very soul… and he missed him. The fact that Vin wouldn't, couldn't open up to him and let him help hurt him to the core. He wasn't about to walk away though. Damned if he'd let Vin succumb to whatever it was that was eating at him.
Vin remained silent, knowing he ought to say something to Chris, knowing he owed him that much, yet not able to put to words the torment that was inside him. Work had been slow the last month. They had been on a research mission of constant surveillance work and investigation that had started six months ago when they had received an anonymous tip off that had led to the confiscation of a crate of automatic weapons. They were almost ready to put the groundwork information they had gathered to use for an undercover operation. Ezra had already set himself up as a potential buyer and was making steady progress.
So much had happened since they had first found those weapons. Vin felt that everything bad that had happened in his life had finally caught up with him. He'd been OK for a while, had immersed himself in work and surrounded himself with his six friends that were more like brothers to him. Eventually, though, he had found their company oppressive. Then the dreams that he thought he had banished back in the hospital had begun again. It was as if something wasn't finished. As he awoke almost every night with the sensation of falling backwards into endless space, he looked up to see the green eyes of one of the most beautiful women he had ever met, her hand reaching out to him, beckoning him, before he watched her face transform into something grotesque, weeds snaking around her pale skin and weaving into her nose, her eyes, her mouth, forever open in an eternal plea for help. Most nights he awoke screaming her name, sometimes he was too tired to do more than catch his breath and make it to the bathroom to wash his sweat-drenched face. And so he pushed himself, harder and harder every night, hoping to vanquish her from his dreams by pure exhaustion, hoping to pummel his demons into the very hell they came from to eat at him, ripping him apart until he found it hard to focus on anything else.
Chris waited still. He sensed a weakening in his friend now, a vulnerability that he had never witnessed before. He prayed silently that Vin finally realised he didn't have to face this alone. If he didn't let him help him soon, he didn't think Vin would make it on his own. Something was going to give in the man.
"Is it Tiana?" He finally said, watching for any sign from Vin that he had heard the softly voiced question.
Vin let out a long, weary breath, still not lifting his head as he debated whether to bother Chris with his problems. Then there came a warm hand covering his, a gentle squeeze of strength and support before it was taken away.
"I see her. Every night I see her. I hardly knew her, it was so fast and yet… I see her face in my sleep, hell… not even just in my sleep any more." Suddenly he stood, so suddenly that Chris moved back instinctively as Vin leapt up and began to pace angrily, his nerves a mess, compounded by lack of sleep and the burden of a relentless dreaming. "I see her when I'm fuckin' awake now! Every time I close my damn eyes she's callin' out ta me." Suddenly he whirled to face Chris. "It's like she wants something from me, like I gotta finish somethin' off for her or somethin'."
Chris studied Vin's face, the stress and fatigue clearly displayed, not held in check as it had been obviously for some time now. Damn, even he hadn't realised how deep Vin's problems were running. There was more than Tiana Lornikov traumatising this man.
"Lornikov's dead Vin."
"I fuckin' know that!" Vin shouted, causing Chris's eyebrows to raise in response. He'd never seen Vin like this, let alone heard him yell like that. He didn't know what to say. He wanted to grab him and yell at him to calm down, embrace him and let him shoulder the pain with him, but he sat still, respecting Vin's need to vent his problem's in his own time.
Vin turned away from Chris is frustration, swiping his hand through his still wet hair. With a sound much like a deep growl in the back of his throat, he returned to the bench and sat down next to his best friend. He looked at him then and his lip curved. "Don't worry, I'm just losin' my mind."
Chris didn't smile in return. "No you're not, Vin. Anyone would be slightly messed up from somethin' like that. Hell, I still see her in the water lookin' at me. It would freak anyone out."
"Yeah… but…" Vin sighed again, how much could he unload here?
"What, Vin tell me." Chris implored. He wanted to know. He wanted to help, he wanted Vin to be alright again, things to go back to normal.
"Sometimes it's not her face I see.. I's too little to remember my ma clearly but.. I think from pictures I have, I've got an image of her and sometimes its her lookin' at me, her face like death itself.. It turns real ugly after that, like a real bad movie…" Vin's voice fell away as he closed his eyes, trying not to picture the images from his dream again.
This time Chris bit the bullet and put his arm around Vin's shoulders. Vin tensed a moment and then shocked them both by relaxing into the hold. He was too damn tired to support himself any more, he needed the strength his friend was freely offering.
"It's gonna be OK Vin, you're gonna be OK."
"I know... damn it's so quiet at the moment I've had nuthin' ta do but think on it I guess. Need some action pard…"
Chris smiled at that. Vin was an adrenaline junkie that was for sure. Hell, they all were.
"Well at least you'll be in shape for the department boxing competition next month," Chris said with a smile. "Don't think anyone's been trainin' like this."
Vin smiled back. "Those boy's are pussy's anyway. Doug Archer's been givin' me little digs for the last few months. He thinks I been outta shape since the Lornikov thing went down."
"I know Brett Leary wants to take you on. Mikey's been houndin' me to make a bet with him on 'our boy's' as he puts it. He thinks Brett's some sorta legend in the ring."
"Yeah, well I aint ever seen him fight so I can't say. He trains with a private trainer. Heard he wanted to go pro." Vin cocked his head and looked at Chris thoughtfully, "Heard he's pretty good."
"Yeah well you keep up all that angst you got goin' at the moment he wont have a chance."
Vin was quiet for a minute. "Yeah but straight out boxin's a different story. It's not my best angle."
"C'mon, lets get outta here," Chris said. "Ezra's comin' in tomorrow to brief us on his progress and we gotta nut out a plan of attack."
Vin pictured Ezra in his million dollar suits wheeling and dealing with the men they were now sure were heading up the transport of weapon's into the country. More importantly to Vin, to his very neighbourhood. It had taken a lot of background work to get as far as they had now, with a definite lead on Guytano Paolino as the head of a family all involved in underground gun trading, amongst other things. Ezra was moving his way in as a buyer. He was slowly establishing a relationship with John Paolino, son to Guytano, and soon to be leader of the decent sized empire his father had established in America.
Vin shivered slightly, his lean frame cooling rapidly as the nights' air dried his wet skin.
"C'mon cowboy, you need to tend to those hands, why the hell you don't wear gloves I don't know… I'll shout you a decent meal then you are gonna get a big sleep or you're not comin' in tomorrow."
This time he managed to grab her hand just before he started to fall backwards, only that meant he was pulling her down with him. "Let go!" he cried. "Let go of me!" He tried desperately to free his hand from her grip but it was like a steel clamp around his hand. He looked at their hands, joined together, and saw that they were not hands, but vines, entwined together, growing and creeping up his arm. He looked back to her pleading eyes and suddenly she laughed. Pain shot into his hand then and he looked back down and saw that there were thorns coming from the vines, growing into his skin, blood beginning to flow from the punctures and drip down their skin. He had to cut the vine before it took over all of him. He reached for his knife to cut the limb, that was an arm no more, at the elbow.
Tiana was screaming now, a shrill sound. He looked at her and yelled back, "I have to do it! I have to cut you free or you'll go over with me!" But she kept screaming, a high-pitched noise when he suddenly realised that it wasn't her voice he was hearing any more. Where the hell was there a phone in this picture? Again and again the noise screamed until his now open eyes blinked and his laboured breathing slowed and he registered the phone next to the couch, ringing shrilly in the now light room.
Chris frowned as Vin's phone rang out. It was 9.30 and although he'd told Vin to get a big sleep or not come in, he'd never expected him not to turn up. Vin was always the first one to the office come fire or flood.
"Check the office again JD," he said as he stopped at a red light and dialled Vin's number again.
JD grabbed his own phone to call the office even though he'd just called five minutes ago, when Chris put up a hand to stop him.
"Vin, you there?"
"Yeah I'm here, what's up?" came the husky, barely awake voice.
Chris let out a breath of relief, he'd had a bad feeling when Vin hadn't been answering.
"You OK?" he asked, hearing the laboured breathing of his friend.
"Yeah…" he said as he sat up and ran a hand through his sleep tousled hair, leaning over and grabbing at the clock next to the phone. "Shit. Shit it's 9.30!" he said, leaping up and heading for the bathroom.
"No shit Vin," Chris smiled, "you been hangin' with Ezra or somethin'?" He cringed as he heard Vin yell in pain then laughed as he heard the choice words he heard him call the wall he had obviously stubbed his toe on.
"…fuckin' bastard wall!"
"JD and me are heading back from a warehouse Ezra told us to check out in your neighbourhood. Looks like it might be where they are storing the bulk of their gear. We're headin' back to the office to meet with Ezra, we can pick you up on the way if you're ready to go in?"
Vin was bent under the bed, searching for where he'd last thrown his towel as Chris waited for a response.
"Vin you hear me?"
"Found it! Yes, I hear you. I'm ready. Pick me up."
"OK be there in five."
Vin hung up the phone and went to jump in the shower, dream forgotten for the moment and glad to have something else to occupy his mind. Hopefully his day would get better, hell it couldn't get worse after the way he'd entered into it, then stubbed his friggin' toe to hell on the wall. He scowled again as his toe gave a throb as if mocking him.
"Got you a doughnut Vin," JD said, handing back a large box to Vin who had just climbed in the back seat.
Vin opened the lid and scowled at the measly doughnut left in a box that had obviously housed many more doughnuts before it'd passed to his hands. "Geez thanks JD, real generous of ya!"
"Hey you should be thankful I left you one I'm still starving!"
"Yeah real grateful. I'd be best not eatin' it, one's like a tease." He grumbled, almost swallowing it whole.
As he pulled away from the curb Chris took in the state of Vin's appearance in the mirror. Although freshly showered, there were still dark smudges evident under his eyes and the strain around them gave him a sharp yet weary look.
"I'm fine, Pard, just overslept is all," Vin said, answering Chris's look of concern. "And I'm hungry," he looked at JD accusingly.
"Jesus we can get more ya know." JD said in exasperation.
"Not the point, ya shoulda-"
Stopped at lights, the door next to Vin was suddenly yanked open and a gun pointed right at his head. A body tried to enter into the car behind the gun yelling, "You're gonna drive me the fuck outta here!" but Vin cut him off with a smashing blow that slammed the gun into the roof and pinned the arm there, the gun dropping to the seat with an increase in pressure on the wrist. Vin followed it up with an uppercut to the man's jaw that knocked him cold.
Chris blinked in shock and JD's mouth was hanging open. Neither of them had had time to even move an inch when it had all been over.
"Ya wanna bet on that?" Vin snarled at the prone figure on the road outside the open door. He leapt from the car and glared down at the teenager who had just stuck a gun in his face and fought the urge to kick him in anger.
Chris and JD were out of the car. JD moved around to check out the body for ID but Chris was more concerned with Vin, who seemed to be wrestling to contain his fury. He put his hand out and grabbed his arm in a reassuring grip.
"You OK, cowboy?"
Vin exploded. "How many fuckin' people are gonna stick a fuckin' gun in my face? People just walk around and wouldn't hesitate to kill you. Is there any normal people out there any more? Is everyone as fucked up as everyone else?"
JD was staring at Vin in shock. An outburst like that was unheard of from Vin. Especially in public.
"JD call it in," Chris said softly, not taking his eyes off Vin who appeared ready to bolt.
JD moved to the car, still staring at Vin, to call on his phone while Chris talked as softly as he would to a spooked horse on his ranch.
"Not everyone's fucked up, Vin. There's a lotta good people out there…"
"Seems I'm only meetin' the bad ones in this life, Pard and I sure ain't come across too many good ones lately."
Chris didn't know what to say. It was true. He knew enough of Vin's life to know how many bad people had had a hand in ruining it for him. He could see how Vin had gotten to this point of losing faith in people. But the beauty and essence of Vin, had always been his ability to rise above the evil that surrounded him. To remain strong and empathetic to all human beings despite his circumstances and negative dealings with people. He understood all creatures of life and had the greatest respect for his fellow man. Hearing him now, dejected and disillusioned nearly broke Chris's heart. He reacted as only he could. He grabbed Vin's shoulders and shook him hard.
"Damn it Tanner, what is this pity mission? You think you're the only one who's had it hard in this world? Everyone's got it rough! People just either deal with it and learn from it, or they take a stance and fight everything that comes at them, eventually becoming just as bitter and angry as everyone and everything that made them that way." Chris took a breath to calm himself. "You can go through life kicking and screaming, knocking into everything that comes in your path, or you can flow with it, accept things, Vin and that's what you have always done. You flow along with things with a grace and calm that people envy… don't give that up, it's what makes you you."
Chris's voice was choked. There was such utter desolation on Vin's face.
"Vin?" JD had only heard the tale end of Chris's uncharacteristically long speech, but he could see the despair in Vin's face.
Vin turned at the pause in JD's voice.
"You can't give in like that. I used to think like that, after my ma… well, I used to think like that but then I met you guys, everything changed then. Having friends like we all got, the family we are together, it's what life's all about you know? If you can be so lucky to have that, be apart of something like this… you gotta be grateful, life can't be all that bad don't you think?"
Vin stared at JD before releasing a breath and lowering his head in shame.
Chris saw the change in Vin's stance and squeezed his hands that were still holding Vin's shoulders.
"Don't do that, Vin. Listen to me. Vin?"
Vin looked up to meet Chris's intense stare.
"You are probably entitled more than anyone else I know to get good and riled about your life. The thing's you've been through, the assholes you've had to deal with… it's ok to get angry about it, you probably shoulda done it years ago, you've got every right in the world… but you can't let it take you over." He dropped his hands to his sides and sighed. "Trust me, I've been there, it's not a nice place to live."
Vin realised then that Chris knew exactly how he felt, no matter the circumstances that had led him to it. He felt suddenly ashamed that he had thought himself the only one to have a reason to be angry at the world. Chris was dead right. He wasn't alone in this.
"I'm sorry, Chris." He practically whispered, his expressive eyes showing his guilt at having indulged in such self-pity.
"Dammit Tanner have you been listening?" Chris said, his voice surprisingly gentle. "You got a right to be angry. You don't have to apologise to me, ever. Just know that I'm here, hell we're all here for you, you don't need to let things get this bad."
"Usually I can find my peace, ya know? Just lately I .. I don't know, it's all off balance." He ran his hands through his hair again, but this time, the movement wasn't tense and coated in frustration. Some of the oppressive weight had been lifted from his shoulders and he even managed to smile a little as he looked at the man still unconscious at his feet. "Guess he walked into that one huh?" he looked at Chris and saw the smile returned in his eyes.
"Yeah he sure picked a hell of a day for it… almost feel sorry for the bastard."
"Hey boys!" Buck greeted them as they entered the office. He turned to Vin, "Takin' a stand on car jacking junior?" he said in amusement.
"Hell he shoulda known better than to knock on my door this mornin'." Vin said back, smiling.
The boys all took in Vin's much improved demeanour with a feeling of relief. Whatever had happened that morning, Vin seemed to have unloaded some of the weight he'd been carrying around lately.
"Ezra in yet?" Chris asked.
"He's on his way up." Nathan replied, still looking at Vin appraisingly. He caught Josiah's eye and Josiah winked at him. Yes, he too could see that Vin was on the up.
"OK, let's get straight to it then." Chris said, walking in to the meeting room.
"Hey Vin," Buck called Vin back when he made to follow. He'd been wanting to talk to Vin for a week now but hadn't wanted to approach him. "You know about the department fight comin' up?"
Vin shrugged like he hadn't thought about it. He knew what Buck was up to and he planned to get money out of him. He had already decided to represent the team, but Buck didn't need to know that.
"You gonna go in on it?" Buck persisted.
"Hadn't really thought about it. Not like there's much reward in it."
"No reward? Hell son there's plenty'a cash to be made! Damn it I'll pay you myself… I know you'll kick ass over them other boys, I plan on makin' a small fortune in winnings!"
Vin just managed to stop his lips quirking. "You'd pay me yourself? Hell that's mighty generous of ya, Bucklin."
Vin moved away to the meeting room.
"Well?" Buck pushed. "I gotta know, get some bets rollin'."
"I'll ponder it a while..."
"Ponder it?" Buck repeated, a frown marring his face as Vin walked off. He was about to push further when he heard Ezra'a voice behind him.
"Your approach was crude and tactless, Mr Wilmington. It lacked flair and innovation of any level."
Buck scowled at Ezra as he too joined the others. "S'pose you'd get him to fight huh?"
Ezra smiled, "Ooh, I do so love a challenge. Yes, I would, and with little effort on my part, may I add... If I was so inclined…"
Buck sighed. "How much, Ezra…?"
Ezra laughed and said just make it a tidy hundred, to which Buck scowled and began to curse, handing the cash over at the same time. He planned to make a lot more than that betting on their boy.
"OK Ez what you got for us?" Chris said as they all settled in.
"I have managed to hold on to my tentative relationship with John Paolino. He has agreed to supply me with the number of weapons we discussed, for slightly more than the price I offered, unfortunately."
Chris scowled. "How much more?"
"An extra twenty thousand."
Chris sighed. He knew Ezra would have done his best to get the best deal. "You'll have it. How long until he gets them?"
"He has informed me that there will be a two week wait on the delivery. I believe he will spend much of that time delving into my background thoroughly. I will not, therefore, be present in the office during that time. I will make contact when I deem it possible to do so."
Chris nodded. That was pretty standard. "Watch your back, Ez. So what can you tell us about the Paolino's?"
"I have yet to be introduced to Guytano, although John spends much time discussing his shortcomings. I fear he has little respect for his father and waits impatiently for the business to be handed to him in its entirety. Until then, however, Guytano still very much runs the operation and makes the decisions for the family. Somewhat of a "Don" you might say."
"Great," Buck said, "We're dealin' with the friggin' Godfather…"
As Buck's mouth opened again to continue the rest of the team protested.
"Please Buck!" JD said, throwing a hand towards his friend's mouth in an attempt to keep it closed. "No bad Brando impersonations, please!"
Buck laughed, "I don't do bad impersonations JD, only good ones."
"Still, please resist the urge, Mr Wilmington, I have had enough of tough-acting Italian's for one week." Ezra implored.
"OK my Goodfella," Buck said with a straight face.
"OK," Chris interjected, cutting off the audible groans. "So he's a little bitter on his dad..." He referred to the report Ezra had handed him when he'd walked in. "We know he goes to Church every morning, Buck and JD have been following him there."
"A devout Catholic." Ezra confirmed. He looked at Josiah, "He attends Mass at St Michael of the Archangel's every morning at eight. He actually managed to gain my attendance on one occasion. His belief is utterly sincere. I was thinking there could be an opportunity there for Brother Sanchez to enter the fray."
"We got some great pics of you entering the Church, Ez." JD said, laughing.
"Shoulda seen your face at that time'a the morning. Looked like you wanted to kill someone." Buck said.
"Indeed." Ezra scowled. "I was more inclined to commit murder than to pray, I must confess."
"What do you think, Josiah, think there could be an opportunity there?" Chris asked him.
"I believe I still know a brother Daniel down at that particular Church, I shall contact him and sound it out." Josiah said.
Chris nodded. "JD and I checked out that warehouse this morning. There were guards posted all round, couldn't get close enough to confirm anything, but did see some boys unloading crates via the alley entrance. They were part of the Coffin Crew."
Vin's eyes widened at that and everyone swore. They all knew of the biker gang that had been pretty much untouchable in that area for a lot of years. It made sense for Paolino to use them. That way, he was including them in the deals and not alienating them. Having their support in the area would be a great benefit. Those boys would be mighty good allies.
"Damn." Buck said. "This things gettin' bigger n' bigger."
"The Paolino's are well established in the territory and have many connections. From what I can ascertain they are very much respected by most Italian underground circles."
"What part of Italy they connected to?" Vin asked.
"Southern. A region in Calabria somewhere. I can't understand much of what they say, it is a distinct dialect."
"Bitt'a Spanish in there I think." Vin said thoughtfully.
They all looked at him.
"Jesus, Junior. What other languages you picked up on your travels?" Buck asked.
Vin shrugged but grinned at their openly curious faces. "Spent some time down in Reggio…"
Ezra rolled his eyes and they laughed. Vin "spending time" somewhere meant he had been involved in some highly classified operation which he would expand on no further.
"That might help." Chris said, still shaking his head slightly at Vin. "How many extra lines did you need when you filled out the "Second languages" part of your application form?" he asked.
Vin was serious for a moment. This was going to keep coming up, he might as well give them some information.
"Never was much for reading, always struggled with it..." he started. "Never got much joy outta it. But I tended to have a knack for languages and sounds. Came easy to me to copy other creatures, human or not. Pretty soon I had a few under my belt. I read once that the government liked people that knew more'n one language and I guess its why I joined up in the first place. Kinda liked the idea'a bein' a spy…"
"We'll be callin' you Bond you keep that up." Buck said.
"Why didn't you tell us?" JD asked.
"Never really came up `til six months ago."
Seeing Vin's face begin to cloud in thought Chris went on, changing the topic back. "So there may be an opportunity with the Bikers."
They were all silent. Breaking into a gang like that was not something done lightly. Famous initiation stories sprang to mind giving each of them pause.
"Vin and Buck, you keep a watch on that warehouse. Find out what you can on that gang. I don't want to pursue that approach unless it becomes necessary."
Buck exchanged a look with Vin. It wasn't an approach they wanted to pursue either.
JD giggled at the thought of Buck in a biker gang.
"What's so funny, kid?" Buck asked.
"Just picturing you in biker leather's Buck, with that moustache you'd look like you stepped out of the Blue Oyster Bar from the Police Academy movie."
"Anything else Ez?" Chris asked as everyone laughed at Buck's indignation.
"You're just jealous kid cos you can't grow facial hair yourself." Buck said.
"Guys!" Chris said.
"The only other information of any interest is a reference that John has made several times about a hobby of his father's. He wants to find him a present for something that is coming up shortly. I am unable to discover what it might mean. It sounds as if this hobby consumes much of Guytano's time though and is worth further investigation."
"We have not seen him go anywhere out of the ordinary." Nathan said, thinking.
"Maybe it's something he does right there at his estate." Josiah said.
"Hell could be putt putt... for all we know, he might collect stamps!" Buck said.
"No.. I think it is much more than that. He mentioned that there was a shortage of talent around and he planned to search until he found something worthy of his father's attention to present to him."
"He got a harem or somethin'?" Vin asked.
"I'm not sure what it's pointin' to, but there is somethin' there." Ezra said.
"OK, Ez good job. See what else you can find out on that secret pastime of Guytano's, and lets hope it aint something totally degenerate." Chris said.
"Probably has sex with goats or somethin'." Buck said and they all chuckled and cringed at the same time.
"JD, keep at the research." He addressed the rest of the team. "JD had a good lead on a shipment that came in to the docks last week. You found anythin' new on where it came from?"
"Not yet, but I'm getting close." JD said, almost wiggling in his chair. He thrived on using his computer skills to uncover information.
Chris grinned at his impatience to get back to it. "That's it then. You all know Nathan's taking off for a week."
"He'll need another week to rest after him and Rain are done up there in them mountains alone." Buck said.
"I'll be back in time for the fight." Nathan said innocently. He'd heard Buck hassling Vin before the meeting.
They made to leave the room as right on queue Buck rounded on Vin, "Vin here ain't gonna let the team down."
Vin smiled and got up, not answering as he left Buck behind.
Buck nudged Ezra forward. "Ez, do your thing."
"At once, Mr Wilmington, let me hasten to do thy bidding!"
Buck frowned, Ez was taking the piss, he just had no idea how to answer him.
"Ah, Mr Tanner, may I have a word?" Ezra approached Vin and they moved over to his desk, out of earshot of Buck.
"Buck sent ya in ta get me ta fight?"
Ezra didn't blink. "Most certainly. I believe, though, we can both profit from that request."
Vin smiled. "He woulda already paid ya Ez."
This time Ezra did frown slightly. "I often forget you rival me in cunning, Mr Tanner. Very well, he has paid me. But to secure my funds I must now come through with the desired result."
"Tell him I agreed to do it for ya if Buck pays me a hundred an' fifty."
Ezra frowned deeper and Vin laughed. "He only paid ya a hundred huh?"
Ezra said nothing as he turned away. "I shall procure your payment shortly."
Too Many Trainers/The Games Begin
Vin groaned as he saw Buck approaching with his daily offering. "Buck, I don't need my stomach loaded down with that Spinach crap the day of a fight," he said.
"Nonsense, my little Dela Hoya, this here's gonna win ya the title."
"I aint eatin' it. I been tippin' that crap out, Buck. You ever seen me eat it?"
Buck frowned. "Damn it Tanner you're gonna eat this! I'm telling ya it'll give ya that boost for the extra rounds. You aint lettin' me down I gotta fortune restin' on ya!"
"No pressure there, Brother." Josiah said, shaking his head as he entered the room. He came up to Vin's desk and placed a plate of his home cooked chilli in front of Vin. "Now don't you be payin' no heed to Brother Wilmington there, this here's the food of champions. It'll put the fire in your belly."
Vin put his head down in his hands in frustration.
"Guys leave Vin alone, he knows what he's doin', he don't need you boys pesterin' him."
Vin looked up. Thank God, Chris would help him out. His eyes narrowed as he saw a container of food in Chris's hands, which he placed on the table. He jumped up.
"OK that's it!" He pointed at Buck's spinach, "I aint touchin' that kryptonite crap so you can take that back and eat it yourself if its so fuckin' good for ya." He pointed at the chilli, "and I `preciate the offer J'siah, but I don't plan on runnin' to the toilet every five minutes leadin' to the bout cos I fell victim to the extra chilli you no doubt threw in there..."
Josiah shrugged, silently acknowledging the truth of Vin's accusation with a grin.
Vin went on, pointing at Chris's container, "...and I don't know what in hell that is but you can take it and stick it – "
"It's the lunch you ordered from the café." Chris said, eyebrows raised. He grabbed the food back, "I was down there and they mentioned yours was ready, so I offered to bring it back. If you don't want it…"
"Gimme my God-damned lunch." Vin said, grabbing the container off him and heading for the door. "I'm goin' to eat MY lunch. The food I want to eat. By myself. Away from y'all pushy, trainer wannabes…." he continued to grumble his way out the door.
Buck threw the spinach in the bin and smiled at Chris's raised eyebrow. "Hell that shit shouldn't be fed to humans its disgusting." He turned to Nathan, "You gonna eat that Chilli?"
"Be my guest, Brother Wilmington, there's plenty to go round."
Josiah turned to Chris who just raised a hand. "No thanks, Josiah, I got lunch already."
Vin could hear the crowd gathering in the gym outside of the locker room and was nervous despite himself. The thought of all those people watching caused a sweat to break out on his skin as he sat letting Josiah wrap his hands.
"You don't focus on that crowd, son. You don't pay `em no mind a'tall. They aint even there. Just you and the bad guy, that's it."
Vin let Josiah's soothing voice calm his nerves. Josiah was frowning at the rawness of Vin's knuckles as he wrapped them.
"You been doin' a bit of skin fighting on the side?" he asked him.
Vin shrugged, "Don't train with gloves."
"Why the hell not?" a sweating, grumpy Buck asked, entering the room from the adjoining toilets.
"Not often you get jumped by guys wantin' ta go a few rounds in a ring with gloves on." Vin said. "More likely they're gonna use their fists bare…"
Buck remained silent at that. Vin had a point. He hadn't learnt to fight to win any prizes or make a career out of it, he'd learnt to fight for survival on the streets.
"You don't look so good, Buck." JD said, frowning at Buck's clammy skin.
Chris took in Buck's stiff stance, which looked as if he was too scared to move too suddenly. "You ate the chilli, huh?" he said.
Buck looked ready to cry in regret. "Dammit Josiah, what the hell'd ya put in that stuff? If Vin had eaten it he wouldn't be sittin' there glovin' up now, that's for sure. Last thing he'd want is his hands tied up."
Vin met Josiah's look then and for a second caught a flash of something close to guilt before it was gone. Had Josiah tried to prevent Vin fighting? It nearly made him laugh at the plan.
"Serves you right, Brother. I tried to warn you when you went for the second plate, if you recall."
Buck contemplated sitting down, but couldn't quite face it. "Well hell, Josiah, if I'd known my stomach was going to be transformed to the very bowels of hell come nightfall, I may have reconsidered my hasty action," he said bitterly.
As Josiah finished lacing the gloves, Chad Hoskin's came in, leader of Team Three and appointed referee for the night. "OK boys, times up, Vin you're up against Doug Archer first up."
Vin took a deep breath and stood, flexing his arms and testing the weight of the gloves.
"Alright!" Buck said, clapping Vin on the back, "Give `em hell Junior!"
The crowd was buzzing with excitement. They knew they were going to witness some skilful fighting tonight. The ATF bureau had some of the most highly skilled people in its ranks. They had heard many rumours about the men fighting, but most had never seen them in a ring.
Vin Tanner and Doug Archer eyed each other in the centre of the ring as the referee explained the rules.
"It's five rounds, so don't hang about boys, get into it. But remember, you win you gotta do it all over again next match. Fight fair or I'll throw you out the ring. Now, fight!" he said loudly and the crowd cheered.
The expectancy of the crowd was so high that it did not know how to respond when the shorter man, with his long hair tied at the back of his neck, ducked and threw an almighty punch the second "fight" was called, clipping the larger man under the chin and sending him to the canvas, out cold.
The silence lasted a few seconds longer before it was shattered by an awesome whoop from Buck who jumped up ringside with his arms in the air shouting, "That's my boy!" and swinging a laughing JD around by the arm.
Chris was shaking his head at the look of almost disappointment on Vin's face as he turned back to his corner while Chad gave the fallen man the count.
Vin climbed out and they threw a robe around his shirtless shoulders before he took a seat by the ring to await his next fight.
"Damn Vin!" JD said, rushing up to congratulate him, that was pure class!"
"I agree, son, I do believe that was the fastest punch I've seen right off the mark." Josiah said.
Even Nathan, who disapproved of boxing openly, could not help but admire the display of skill and reflex that he had just seen.
Brett Leary scowled at the abrupt ending to the fight preceding his. Tanner had ended it in one lightening fast, powerful blow before the crowd had stopped cheering the fight's start. He cut a glance to his trainer beside him who was now looking into the crowd. Following his gaze he noticed a small, dark man staring back with a raised eyebrow. He, too, had been impressed with the display. Damn it all! This wasn't meant to be about Tanner, this was about him! He scowled over at where Team Seven were still jumping about in victory and tensed his shoulders. He had to outshine Tanner. This was his last chance to prove to the men who had finally been convinced to come down to one of his fights, that he was worthy of their employment. He was no longer just in it for the glory. If he didn't make some money fast to cover his gambling debts, he wasn't going to live long enough to be famous. That man in the crowd watching everything with his hawk-like eyes, emphasised by his beak-like nose, was his only remaining lifeline.
Chris caught Leary looking over with loathing on his face. He was taking it all a mite personal, he thought.
"You watch out for Leary, Vin. There's something drivin' that kid. He's got somethin' to prove tonight, I think." Chris said.
Vin looked up and caught the rock hard determination on Leary's face as he entered the ring to face down Brian Worth, a medium-sized man who was renowned for his skills in the ring. He had once been professional, but had chosen not to pursue a career in the sport, having seen too many serious injuries result from it.
Leary knew he had the advantage of being fitter and well trained, but did not discount his opponent's skill. The referee again called fight and Leary stepped in, going for a Vin-style rocket punch right off the bat, but Brian was ready for it, stepping back and closing in for a quick but powerful jab to Leary's left eye.
Brett fought to contain his rising anger, it was getting him nowhere. He danced around a bit and took some deep breaths, moving in again. He sent out a series of jabs that were easily blocked by his skilful opponent. This wasn't going to be over quickly, he realised. He resigned himself to finding a rhythm, testing out his opponent with short jabs and feigns, drawing return jabs and occasional swings of the right arm. Every now and then his frustration led him to throw a punch that fell a little low, winning him no points with the crowd and causing Worth's team to yell at the referee in protest.
It was the third round when Leary pressed his advantage home over his tiring opponent. Jabbing twice with his left he stepped in for a right punch as he had several times during the round, aiming to give Worth a false opening. Playing into it, Worth stepped in to deliver a hard right but was sent to the canvas by Leary, who pulled his right punch and stepped back quickly, ducking under the right glove thrown at him and throwing out a solid punch to the stomach. He then finished by striking upwards with an uppercut that brought the unsuspecting man down. It was a nice combination.
He looked out at the man in the crowd and was dismayed to realise his seat was empty. He swung his gaze to Mike who just shrugged as if to say he had no idea where he'd gone.
The next two fights were fairly uneventful. There were eight fighters in total and a good show of skills, but both seemed to lack energy and the crowd had mellowed some by the time Vin got in the ring for his next fight against Jack Thomas, who had also won his first match. He hadn't drawn Leary yet, but had no doubt that if he got through, it would be him he would be facing in the final.
Vin eyed Thomas as the referee again stated the rules. Jack smiled at him and Vin returned it. He'd worked with Jack before and he was a nice guy. He knew Jack enough to know that he was a good fighter, though and wouldn't be holding anything back. Jack's first fight had been over fairly quickly too, so Vin didn't have much of an advantage of energy.
The referee called it and they both stepped in at the same time, a series of rapid punches and jabs shooting out as they circled each other. The crowd sensed the energy of the match and again grew excited.
Leary watched the fighters circling each other and caught movement from the corner of his eye. The little man had returned to his seat. Damn him! What the hell was going on. He turned to his trainer, "What the hell's happening here, Mike? I thought he agreed to check me out. He fucking well missed my fight! I think he's checking Tanner out!" he whispered angrily.
"Take it easy, Brett. He's back now. He's not interested in Tanner," he lied. He knew damn well he was interested in Tanner. He'd seen the look of blatant interest that the man had thrown him the second Tanner had hopped in the ring and caned his opponent with one punch. But he wasn't about to tell Leary that, the aggressive fool. Lee was loyal to no man, if there was a profit to be made, he would change sides at a glance. Right now, he was already working out how he'd get Tanner on board. He eyed Michael Sciorelli in the crowd and knew that if he wanted Tanner, he'd have him, with or without his help. He wanted to get in on the deal.
Vin ducked as Jack threw another jab at his nose. The bigger man had the size advantage, but Vin was quicker. Every time Vin stepped back, however, a big right was thrown at him, which Vin could not retaliate to as he blocked and weaved. He did not have the same reach. His best bet was to move in close where he was equal, but faster.
As the first round was drawing to a close, Vin threw a combination of punches into Jack's stomach, not doing any real damage and stepped back, setting his opponent up to deliver a right cross. When it came at him, Vin stepped in and again dealt out what was fast becoming his signature uppercut. John staggered but did not go down, glad for the mouth-guard that had no doubt saved his teeth.
Vin, however, was like a predator sensing weakness and pounced on him, delivering punch after punch in a complicated flurry of movement that left the audience dizzy, let alone Jack Thomas, who sank to his knees and raised one hand in surrender. Vin took a step back and calmed his racing heart. He looked down to the man kneeling before him with blood coming from his nose and a gash on his right eye and felt slightly ashamed that he had lost control, even though it had won him the match and really, was what boxing was all about. Still, its not as though this was the world championships or something, there was no need to go that hard and he stepped forward to help Thomas up.
"Sorry Jack, you OK?" he asked around his mouth guard.
To his relief Jack grinned back at him, "No thanks to you Tyson, good fighting."
"Sorry." Vin mumbled again.
Jack laughed this time as Vin followed him to his corner. "You're the only man I know, Tanner, that can beat the crap out of a man and then feel awful about it in the next second. It's what we're here for, buddy! I expected no less in a boxing match. Now get back and sit down so you can tear Leary apart, that cocky kid bugs the hell outta me." He gave Vin a shove back to his corner.
"You're doin' great, Vin, but Leary's got issues, Chris is right." Buck said, eyeing the pumped up man getting ready for the last fight before the final.
"I know, Buck, what do you want me to do about it?" Vin asked the concerned man.
"Just be aware. Maybe you can use it, rile him up a little."
"Last thing you wanna do is rile him up more." Josiah disagreed.
"I don't know, Josiah, Buck's got a point. He might get a little careless if Vin pushes him a little." Chris said.
Vin looked at Leary, bouncing and feigning punches as the referee called the fighters in. He feared Bruce Watson was in for a hiding. He'd barely won his somewhat casual fight with his last opponent. If he wasn't ready for Leary's onslaught he would pay, that was a given.
Leary eyed Watson with pure hate, taking the larger man by surprise with his open hostility. To Leary, Watson was nothing more than an object in the way of solving his problems and he intended to throw him out of his way as quickly as possible. He came at him the second the Ref stepped back and threw everything he had at him. For near on a minute he pounded him until the fight was stopped to address the openly flowing cut on Watson's brow.
"Jesus, he's on a mission." Nathan said, looking at Vin and for the first time since the night had begun growing a little worried for his friend.
"Stop worrying Nate," Vin said calmly, eyeing Leary's moves as the fight resumed. He noted the way Leary dropped his right glove ever so slightly every time he crossed with his left. He took in the way the left glove was a little slow to be put back up after it dealt a punch. Whether this was overconfidence or due to his obvious agitation, Vin wasn't sure, but he would use anything he could.
Despite being outmatched, Watson made it through to the third round before the fight was declared over, the cut over his eye being deemed too severe to continue. There was a fifteen minute break before the final and they returned to the change room.
"He's dropping his guard a little." Nathan offered to Vin who was sitting quietly while Josiah re-wrapped his hands.
Vin raised an eyebrow at Nathan, his lips quirking at the advice. "You got a bet ridin' too, Nate?" Vin asked.
"Don't sass me Vin, that guys got attitude, you're good but I think he wants to win more than you do."
Chris frowned at Nathan. For Nathan to offer advice on how to beat someone up showed how worried the man was.
Vin sighed. "I know, Nate, I saw it. I aint ever walked into a fight overly cocky or not a little nervous." He paused and his face darkened a little. "But I aint ever walked into a fight not prepared to win. To go in any other way will get ya killed."
Nathan studied Vin's serious face and satisfied, let it go.
"Just watch your back, Pard." Chris said. "And watch his right cross, it's a shocker."
"Yeah ol' Watson's gonna have trouble seein' outta that eye for a while," JD said.
"Five minutes boys," Chad said, entering the room.
"Hey Chad, what's up Leary's ass tonight? He on a mission from hell or he always fight like that?" Buck asked him.
"Aint never seen him fight. Heard he's got someone lookin' at him in the crowd, though. I know he want's to go pro."
"That'd explain it." Josiah said. "He's givin' it his all to prove himself."
"And Vin's been showin' him up, he's gonna be mighty pissed off." JD said.
"That's for sure, son you got some nice moves there. A real grace about ya that boy lacks, he just seems to be pure aggression. Gonna be interestin' to see which wins out."
Vin looked at Chad silently. He'd been dealin' with his own aggression lately. Maybe it was time to let go of the control he'd been sorry he'd let slip against John. Maybe Chris was right, maybe he should stop being sorry and move on. Starting with Leary if that's the way he wanted it.
Meanwhile Leary was pacing his own change room. "He's never gonna fuckin' take me on." He said in frustration to his trainer.
Mikey Robson entered the change room and ran an eye over his agitated team member. "Hey Leary you're kickin' butt out there. Now all's you gotta do is sort Tanner out. You lose this I owe Larabee 400 bucks."
Leary took a step towards his Captain menacingly, causing him to take a step back. He didn't need this added pressure right now.
Mike Lee grabbed his trainee and sat him down. "Just settle down, Leary. You get too upset you aint gonna be thinking clearly. That boy's fast, you gotta be clear-headed to anticipate his moves. They're gonna come at ya real quick. He's not too big, though. You gotta use that, don't let him get in too close… you listenin' to me boy?"
Leary was half listening. Lee could talk until he was blue in the face. Tanner had become all that was evil to him. He was gonna do whatever he had to to win. Even Lee didn't know the extent of the trouble he was in. His was a debt that would either be paid in cash, before the week was out, or it would be paid in blood… his.
As Mikey left Brett to his trainer to take his seat outside he passed Larabee and couldn't find it in him to bait him about their bet. He had seen something in Leary's eyes that worried him. He'd seen Leary go off the wall a few times before during the heat of action, but now he seemed almost desperate. He almost said something to Tanner as he watched him move out but stopped himself. It was just a department competition, meant to create a little challenge between the Teams and give the boys a chance to let out a little steam. Leary had to know that, he hoped. Still, that look on his face bothered him as he took his seat.
Vin sat in his corner, waiting for Leary to enter the ring. He was late and someone had been sent to look for him.
Chris was next to Vin, disturbed that Leary hadn't been on time. Something felt wrong about this. He'd known it the minute he'd seen the young agent looking their way after Vin's first win and had felt it even more when Leary had stepped out for his first fight.
Leary got up to leave his change room with Lee and found the door blocked by two men. He didn't recognise either of them, but Lee did. "Something we can do for you boys?" he asked them casually.
"We have a message from Mr Sciorelli. He is not impressed with your fighting so far."
Leary remained silent although inwardly he was fuming.
"There is still one fight to go." Lee said.
"Yes. There is." He paused, his body language casual. He had the power here and he knew it. "He wants you to show him something special in this match against Tanner."
"I will. Tell him not to worry about-"
"I don't think you understand. Either you win this fight, or he will not be taking you on. You win, all your problems are solved, yes?"
Leary clamped his mouth closed hard and narrowed his eyes. "What are you saying?" he almost growled. "What do you want me to do, kill him in front of all these people?"
"Certainly not." The man scoffed like Leary was an imbecile. "Mr Sciorelli just wanted you to know where he stands."
With that, the men left and Leary swore violently, his body shaking in rage.
Lee took pity on him. "Son, you can beat him, but if you don't, you aint finished, Sciorelli aint your only hope for backing."
"Like fuck he's not!" Leary swore, he turned to Lee then, "You got no fuckin' idea the shit I'm in Lee, so don't try and tell me things aint bad."
Lee looked him in the eye. "Don't do nothin' stupid, son, it aint worth it," he said in a low voice.
Leary pushed past him and headed for the ring.
Vin and Chris saw the two men heading from the change rooms and move through the crowd to take their seats. One nodded slightly to a smaller, sharp looking man and they turned their attention to the ring.
"Know them?" Vin asked.
"Nope. But somethin' don't feel right here."
Vin was silent. He felt it too.
Finally they saw Leary make his way to the ring his trainer, some steps behind him, looking flustered. The fury on the fighters' face was obvious.
"He looks mighty pissed." Chris said quietly.
Vin only nodded, not taking his eye off his opponent, meeting his furious gaze calmly. The referee called them to the centre, announcing to the crowd that this was the final match and going over the wins leading to this fight.
"OK boys," he said, lowering his voice when he was finished, "fight fair and make it a good fight. This is the big one, you got ten rounds to come through, pace yourselves. Touch gloves."
They touched gloves and it was on. Leary stepped forward instantly and connected his glove to Tanner's jaw. Vin staggered a step before coming back with a solid left of his own to Leary's cheek.
"C'mon Vin, don't take that crap, get into it!" Vin heard Buck shouting over the rest of his team.
The crowd were all yelling out encouragement. Vin was the smaller opponent and they already knew Leary was a mean son of a bitch from his previous fights. A crowd liked to back an underdog, but they knew Vin could win.
They continued to trade blows, Leary keeping Vin back and stopping him from getting inside his longer reach. It was jab for jab, Vin landing a good hook to Leary's head and Leary coming back with a body shot that winded the smaller man. He pressed his advantage and stepped closer to follow it up but Vin tucked in and came up with an uppercut from the right and a double jab with his left that sent Leary back again.
They circled each other then, knowing the ability to end it quickly was gone and the pace slowed a little, the initial surge of adrenaline subsiding as the fight sort a rhythm. They traded punches evenly until the round ended and they retreated to their corners.
Nathan was there holding water for Vin to rinse his mouth and Buck leapt up to offer words of advice.
"He's tryin' ta hold ya back, Junior. You gotta get closer to him, aim some body shots."
Vin heard him. He knew what he had to do but he wasn't fighting a man just determined to win, this was a man determined to win at any cost. He could see it in Leary's eyes.
The bell sounded and they were again facing each other.
"C'mon you little prick," Leary said lowly, trying to break Vin's calm.
Vin smiled at him around his mouth-guard, infuriating him to throw a wild right that led him to drop his left a little, giving Vin the opportunity to step in and deliver a smashing right of his own. He stepped in close as Leary faltered under the blow, moving him back against the ropes with a combination of body shots.
The crowd was going wild but Vin heard none of it. He wasn't even seeing Leary now, just another man who was out to hurt him. It took little force to make his mind recognise Leary as every bastard that had been out to get him in his past. He became the physical representation of everything bad he had known and given the circumstances, that was a hell of a thing to be.
Leary was faltering under the continued reign of blows that were coming at him, fast as lightening and with surprising strength behind them, not letting up for a second. In a move of utter desperation, he grabbed Tanner's body and turned him to block the referee and dealt an extremely fast, sharp blow below the belt, dropping Vin to the canvas instantly.
There were cries of protest all round. Some people had seen it, other's hadn't. Either way it was suspicious that he had clearly had the upper hand and fallen so quickly to the floor. Of those that had seen it, the ref wasn't one of them. He suspected, but that wasn't enough. When Leary stepped forward to attack he got between them.
Vin staggered to his feet unsteadily, the pain in his groin immobilising him still as he tried to breathe through it.
"That the only way you can win, Leary?" Vin heard Josiah yell. He could see his team from the corner of his eye, all on their feet in outrage.
"You blind, Ref?" Buck yelled.
Chad turned to Vin's corner. "Close it boys or I'll send you outta here." He looked at Vin who was facing up to Leary again, albeit unsteadily. He stepped back, signalling the fight to continue.
Vin was skirting back, holding Leary away, wanting the end of the round so he could get his breath back and come back recovered. Leary had other plans. He forced into Vin's space and got him against the ropes with a hard punch to his chest, following up with several more punishing jabs and a combination of head blows that had blood coming from above his eye and a split lip as the bell finally sounded.
Vin moved back to his corner, winded and holding his chest. Nathan pushed his way in and began to deal with the cuts on Vin's face.
"Fuckin' asshole." He heard Buck say. "You can take him Vin, he can't win this way, he knows he can't do it fight'n fair. He's panicking."
"He's right, Vin." Chris said, watching his friend trying to get his breath back and heal himself all in the next thirty seconds. "He knows you can take him."
"Glad he does," Vin said breathlessly. But he was pissed off now. His breath was coming back and the pain between his legs was bearable. He looked up and met Leary's smug face and smiled back, not looking away as he spat blood to the canvas from his bloody mouth, rinsed and let Chris put his mouth guard back in.
Nathan was rubbing Vin's already bruised chest and scowling at the stupidity of the sport. For a man that spent a lot of his time healing people, it was a senseless pursuit.
The bell sounded and Vin stood up, hurting but refreshed. He was going to end this.
Leary had seen Vin smile at him and swallowed instinctively. The man wasn't going to give up either, he could see it in the fiery blue eyes staring him down, mocking his efforts to bring him down like he was nothing more than a persistent annoyance. He stood and moved to the centre.
"I don't know what that was before but I'll say it again, I want a fair fight." Chad looked at Leary, "I see you hit below the belt, son, its over, you got me?"
Leary gave him a hard look, not answering and Chad waited a second longer before calling them to begin.
This time Vin gave everything he had. He attacked Leary like the demons of hell we c58 re on him. Leary could do little but stagger back as Vin unleashed punches from what seemed like impossible angles, collecting him repeatedly in the head and body. Finally he had Vin in a hold to stop the attack and it succeeded to put a halt on Vin's building momentum.
They separated under the Ref's command and went at it again. Leary bleeding now above his left eye and Vin sent jabs straight at it, opening it further. Desperate, Leary threw several wild punches that missed their mark and Vin was able to knock him to the canvas twice before the round was over.
"You got him now, Vin." Buck said, rubbing his shoulders from behind him.
"Open that cut up again and finish him off." Chris said, smiling for the first time.
When they came back out it was clear the fight was over. Vin snapped several punches at the cut over Leary's eye and when another wild right came his way, he ducked and moved in, delivering a bomb of a right above the left guard that had lowered to allow Vin's punch through undeflected. Leary flew back and landed on the canvas, his mouth-guard flying free and his eyes closed.
Team seven stormed the ring and cheered congratulations at Vin, slapping him on the back and whooping in victory. Vin took a final look at Leary and looked up to see Mike Lee staring at him, smiling. Vin's eyes narrowed at that look coming from the trainer. He wasn't moving to help Leary, just looking at Vin in an almost calculating way. Then he saw him look up to the stands and he followed his gaze up to the men he had noticed moving from the change rooms earlier. They were standing up to leave, looking down at him. A small man in a suit was looking at him with a slight smile on his sharp face and Vin frowned even more when a hand was raised in salute to him, before the man turned and followed the other men out. As Buck grabbed him in a violent hug and swung him around, his bruised chest ignored, he was forced to forget the little man, but a feeling of foreboding stayed with him as they left the ring and eventually headed out to celebrate at the saloon.