A/N: What's good, readers? We'll keep this short and...dare I say it, sweet? Terrible puns aside, thank you for taking a moment to check out this fic. This is my first attempt at a SNK story, and I had a blast writing it. Quick shout out and many thanks to my awesome beta for putting up with all of my shenanigans. Now, onto the story, and enjoy!
Mikasa sat at her cluttered desk and looked out at the rest of the gym through the large windows in her office. Her feet were propped up on the mahogany wood, resting on top of the pile of bills, new registrations, and emails that she had printed out. Surrounding her were pictures; pictures on the desk, on the wall shelving units, on top of filing cabinets. Pictures of her and Eren, her brother, her co-owner, and at one time, her manager. Pictures of her in the ring, right before the fight even started, those during the match, her long, toned arms driving fists into the faces of her opponents, and the aftermath of those shots, standing in the center of the ring triumphantly. The yellowed newspaper clippings hung on the walls, with headlines like, "Ackerman At It Again!" and "The Dark-Haired Demon" only highlighting her impressive career. Finally, hanging behind her head, a pair of black boxing gloves, dangling above the thick, golden belt mounted on the wall.
Mikasa sighed as she looked out the glass. A few rings set up here and there, and fewer people occupying them. There were more than enough heavy bags, speed bags, and work out benches and racks for the meager numbers of people who were working out. She saw Eren training with a taller, brunette boy in the center ring, whacking him upside the head every time he dropped a hand, causing the unidentified male to curse and swing wildly at Eren, who returned the favor by shouting back and cuffing the trainee at the ear.
Despite her career success, her gym was losing money. Fast. People just weren't interested in boxing anymore. There was more glory to be gained elsewhere, more money to be made with rise of other fighting sports, especially mixed martial arts. Those who stuck with the sweet science were left bickering with their MMA fan counterparts at the bars, arguing about which took more skill, training, fitness, and most importantly, who would win in a real fight—an MMA superstar or a heavyweight champ? Paired with the recent studies about boxers who were experiencing medical problems after retirement, folks were too afraid to take up the sport in the first place. Risking their future health to get in the ring and beat the daylights out of an opponent wasn't something the general public seemed to fancy anymore.
Mikasa absentmindedly ran her fingers along the edge of her jaw as she thought. She knew firsthand what boxing could do to one's personal health. Three surgeries, a metal plate and some screws would leave her painfully sensitive to cold, as well as changes in the weather. The deep ache in her jaw that plagued her was a reminder of just what it took to get to the top of the boxing world.
The only way she'd get her gym back in the black was to start training fighters for matches. Just opening it up, teaching a few fitness classes here and there, and open registration to come in and use whatever equipment was available wasn't enough anymore. Eren had already started recruiting and training, but the only way one or two fighters could save the gym was if those one or two fighters went on to win belts.
The door to the office was thrown open, slamming against the wall, pulling Mikasa away from her thoughts. Eren stood in the doorway, sweat darkening his shirt, panting slightly.
"That guy…I swear, if he'd just listen to me!" Eren grumbled as he pounded a fist against the doorframe. He entered the room and plopped down in the only free seat in the room, opposite Mikasa on the other side of the desk.
"Who is he again?" Mikasa asked. She hadn't gotten a very good look at the boxer.
Eren stared at her, dumbfounded. "Jean, Mikasa! The guy who put down a whole year's worth of dues to train here with us!" He leaned back in the chair. "It's not like we have enough fighters here for you to not know the ones that we do have by name!"
The comment stung, but Eren was right. Mikasa needed to get more involved in the gym. She tugged at the red scarf around her neck and looked back out at the gym, watching Jean complete a plyometric circuit.
Eren's eyes softened, realizing the remark had struck a nerve. "I didn't mean—"
"You're right. We need to bring more people in." Mikasa said softly. "I'm just not sure how to do that." She glanced at the clock, realizing it was just about time to close up the place. "Wanna talk about this over a drink?"
Eren grinned, and he too looked over his shoulder at the clock. "I can get them all out of here in twenty. Get ready to go." He stated, jumping up out of his chair and dashing out the door, yelling something about closing time and how everyone needed to get the hell out.
Mikasa set to work tidying up her desk. She sorted the bills and payments into separate folders, pushed the pictures back to their proper places, and with a final parting glance, she turned off the lights and locked the office.
"That Jean! That kid just doesn't listen!" Eren spat before downing another half of a pint. The red tinge spreading across the bridge of the man's nose was more than enough to warn Mikasa to cut him off. "If he'd keep that hand high and didn't lose his temper so easily, man, he could be great!" he finished, taking another gulp of the ale.
The pair sat at the bar, their backs turned to the rest of the patrons. The establishment was run by their good friend Armin, and thankfully for them, the shaggy haired owner was bartending that evening, which meant free drinks. Armin stood in front of them, and he and Mikasa had been talking business before Eren's drunken outburst.
"Don't mind him." Mikasa said, taking a sip of her drink. Armin nodded knowingly. He knew how Eren got, especially when he was drinking.
"So, you're looking for new boxers, huh?" Armin asked. A nod from Mikasa encouraged further questioning. "For what? Just people to use the gym?"
"Nope. Eren and I are going to get into training. Going to see if we can train up a few rookies into big names."
Armin looked at Mikasa with disbelief, then smiled. "Well, if anyone's got the skills, it's you."
Mikasa was about to thank him, but was interrupted by a loud crash. The three spun around towards the source of the noise. A large man sat on the ground surrounded by splintered table pieces and shards of shattered glass. Beer had splashed all over his shirt, but he didn't look angry at all. Instead he jumped nimbly back to his feet and leaned up on the bar next to blonde in a hooded sweatshirt.
"Feisty, eh? I like that in a woman!" The man boomed, his drunken grin taking up most of his face.
The blonde glanced sidelong to the man, clutching her mug tightly in her fist.
"If you touch me again, I won't let you off so easily." The tone bit like a subzero wind. Mikasa was instantly drawn to the voice, intrigued by the woman who threatened the man.
"Why don't you take me home and we can talk this over…like adults?" The man said suggestively. He reached out and wrapped a meaty hand around the small blonde's waist.
Armin started to head over to the scene, but he was not needed. The blonde stood quickly and before the man even knew what was going on, she had gotten into a stance, wound up, and delivered a flawless right hook, connecting solidly with the side of the man's face. His head twisted a little too far, and he flopped lifelessly to the floor, groaning slightly.
The stranger lightly shook out her hand, no doubt stinging from the impact. She looked down at the man who she had just knocked out, and without hesitation, she knelt down and pulled out his wallet. She pulled out the money, then dropped the leather back on the unconscious man's chest. Holding the wad of cash out in front of her, she approached Armin and the others. Laying the bills on the counter, she stared at the group for a moment, her crisp blue eyes looking the three over. They hovered on Mikasa just a second longer than the others, like she recognized her, but before Mikasa could say anything, the blonde turned on her heel and stalked out of the bar.
Mikasa stared in shock. The stance, the form, the placement…everything about that hook was textbook. She doubted if she still had the discipline to throw a punch like that herself. No questions asked, this kid knew what she was doing.
There was a chance that she was already signed on with some other gym, but Mikasa kept up with the world of boxing. She didn't recognize the woman with the steely eyes. There's no way she would have missed her. She had to know.
"Where ya goin'?" Eren slurred as he watched Mikasa get up and follow the mystery woman out of the bar. "Ah well. Armin? Another!" he demanded, but was ignored.
"Hey! Wait up!" Mikasa called after the girl. The chilly night air entered her lungs, clearing her head slightly. She had almost lost sight of her around the corner, but the white hoodie was easy enough to keep in her sights. Mikasa ran to catch up, rounding the corner after the stranger.
She almost ran smack into the girl, who stood in front of her, eyes boring into her own, the icy stare impossibly colder than the tone of voice she had used early. She was surprisingly short, but Mikasa could tell she wasn't one to mess with.
"What." It wasn't a question. It was a challenge.
"Where'd you learn to throw that hook?"
The question made the girl's eyes narrow. It wasn't the question she had been expecting. She wasn't sure if the tall, raven haired girl was toying with her, or what she wanted from her. She knew her from the news a few years back; Mikasa Ackerman, junior middleweight title holder.
"That's none of your business." She turned away from Mikasa and started to walk away.
"Hold on a sec." Mikasa stated boldly. Maybe it was the alcohol talking, but she felt confident she could win her over. Trying a new tactic, she decided to confront the shorter woman head on, by being as forceful as the blonde was cold. And it seemed it was working. The stranger turned slowly, intrigued by the outburst. "I'm—"
"I know who you are, Ackerman."
The comment was clearly meant to throw Mikasa for a loop, but losing her composure now would mean risking losing the ground she had gained with the cold woman. Instead, Mikasa countered with a question. "Do you fight for anyone?"
"I don't fight."
"I would disagree." The girl faced her fully now, sizing her up. "Join my gym. Fight for me."
"Why would I do that?"
"Because I can give you a shot at a title." The cocky retorts fell from her lips before she even had a shot to stop them. Her current approach seemed to have the woman interested in what she had to say; why not continue to ham it up?
"And what if I don't want a title?"
"Then…" Mikasa paused for a moment. She hadn't considered that maybe she wasn't interested in boxing. Maybe she was retired. An old fighter with one too many injuries to continue the sport. But something about her fascinated Mikasa. Even if she didn't want to fight, she wanted to know what her reason was. She had to get her in the gym. "I'll give you access to the gym for free. Just…come work out. Give it a shot."
It was a desperate ploy. She knew she couldn't afford to have anyone join for free. But the offer seemed to peak the girl's interest, as she perked up a bit at the word 'free'. Mikasa held her breath, hoping that just maybe, this girl would fight for her. The silence lingered for a moment longer as the blonde mulled over the options. When she had finally settled on a decision, she reduced the gap between herself and Mikasa, and although she was shorter than the dark haired woman, she held her gaze unwaveringly. She held out a bruised hand.
"I'm Annie. Annie Leonhardt. I'll be there at noon."