Disclaimer: First of all, this story contains sexually explicit content between two consenting adult males. If you find this offensive, then read no further.

Notice: Again, thanks to everyone with all their e-mails of support, demanding a chapter update.† I want everyone to know that I am also starting a group where I will start posting the next chapters first and then on nifty.† I will also have all the updated editions of past chapters posted there as well. I will also have previews for the other stories I have started.† In the meantime I hope you all like this chapter.†


Love's Given Up On Me: Part One

 

By: Cody Lane

 

Chapter Fourteen: World War Me- Part One

 

*LOGAN*

I could feel the soft moonlight falling on my back as it beamed through the open window, the soft, cool autumn breeze as it blew into Ethan's bedroom.† The room was almost quiet, the only sound breaking the silence; a lurid mixture of soft gasps and moans, my gasps, and Ethan's moans.† I looked down at him, lying beneath me; helpless in a white sea of sheets, his eyes barely shut, his mouth open as he took in tiny sharp gasps of air, the muscles of his neck tense as he arched his back, his hands gripping my back and neck tightly as I hovered over him.††

I listened to my own breath go heavy and deep as I shut my eyes again.† I could feel my inhale cut short as my arms began to go weak, my muscles giving way to the bolts of electric pleasure as they tore through my cock and out into my limbs, numbing them and then shocking them into submission.†

Though I wished for it every night, I never thought this would even be our reality, but here we were.† My cock buried to the hilt and deeply nestled between Ethan's heavenly cheeks.† I could feel the veins of my cock throb.† I could feel Ethan's body pulse around me.† He was hot..... †smoldering hot...... and tight.

But FUCK.... did he feel like heaven.

His legs were wrapped around my waist, squeezing me every time his ass muscles convulsed, choking my invader and sending intense lapping waves of ecstasy pulsing through my body.† He felt wonderful around my cock, but I could barely hold myself up.

I held myself still.† My fuzzy nut sack lovingly rested against his ass, my pubes brushing against his hole.† He was stretched to his max, but his face showed no sign of pain.† He let his grip on my neck go slowly, his arms falling above his head, his hands grabbing fistfuls of pillow and sheet.† His eyes still closed, he turned his head to the side, his neck rigid and dampened with sweat.† I brought my lips to his neck, almost touching his skin as I breathed heavily, and finally, biting down on him, laying eternal claim to my mate.

"Ahh....AAAHHA..MMMmmm...." I heard Ethan moan as I felt his fingers clench in my hair, pulling me harder into his neck, as if telling me to bite him harder.

I slowly pulled my cock out of him, his ass instantly attempting to swallow me back in.† The almost cold air shocking my wet, hot, and newly exposed cock as I dragged it from its favorite place.† I felt Ethan moan even deeper, his voice vibrating through his throat and then through my mouth, "mmMMMmm..... yeah.... Ah'....fuck yeah.... fuck me Logan,..AHH, Fuck Me..."

I felt the head of my cock rub and then press past that hard knot deep within Ethan's body, his joy button.† There and then, I felt his body go limp under me, his deep breaths cutting into tiny gasps.†

"A'....AAhhh.'......AAAHHHH'...." I heard him moan in my ear.

"That's the spot, that's the fuckin' spot," I whispered as I brought my moist lips to his ear, licking at his lobe as I pulled out an inch or two and then gently pressed back into him, nothing hard, no rutting, just gliding..... gliding back into paradise.

"I love you Ethan....."

**************************

I blinked open my eyes, my thin, white cotton v-neck t-shirt was moistened to the verge of soaked.† The fine hairs of my chest were matted to my skin.† I could feel the moister on my temples.† I was sweating and still breathing hard.† I was lying on my back, in Ethan's bed, and all that was in front of me was a clear view of the room's dark ceiling.† I got up on my elbows and with the heel of my palm, rubbed the rest of the sleep out of my eyes.† I knew it was too early to be awake.† It had to be before five, or the alarm would have gone off.† I took a quick look out the widow, only the dim street lamp and parking lot lights, the sun wasnít even up.† I looked next to me and found the other end of the sheet and comforter thrown back and empty, where my lover was supposed to be.† I suddenly felt cold.

It was then, before my worries had time to build, that I noticed the sound of running water coming from the bathroom.† I sighed deeply, relived as my left hand still rubbed one eye.†

"It was a dream," I whispered to myself.

I fell back into bed as I stared at the open bedroom door, at the light as it peered from under the bathroom door and trickled into the hallway.† I stuck my hands underneath the pillow, wishing that he was still in bed.†

I didnít quite feel like getting up just yet.

I never liked this feeling of waking up alone, and Ethan knew it.† I wanted to fall asleep and wake up with Ethan in my arms, pressed against my body, safe and warm.... where he was supposed to be.†

I closed my eyes and let out a low deep exhale.† This dream, this is the fourth night in a row I've had it.† The same sex dream, over and over.† Maybe this was my mind telling me that I needed this, that I needed Ethan in that one way, the only thing he couldnít give me.† I rolled over on to my side and stared at the bathroom door.†

I could still hear him, echoing through my head, his voice in pain the last and only time we tried.† But it did warm me to my core that he still wanted me in that one way too.† Maybe in the near future we'd try again.† It was the only way my body would feel satisfied, have him feel me, inside and out.†

I heard a sudden and soft rustling noise, like tangled sheets and skin on skin.† I looked over at the other end of the room; at the darker end of the room; at Terrence and Adam's end of the room.† They were still asleep, one of them gently snoring as the other looked like he was about to fall out of the bed; one arm and one leg hanging off the mattress, most likely Adam.†

I sighed and then chuckled.† Not that I was mad that the four of us had to share a room, but me and Ethan havenít had real sex in almost a week.† I mean Ethan and I werenít exactly voyeuristic, so making an audience out of T and Adam was out of the question.† And Terry wasnít about to sleep somewhere else just to give me and Ethan some alone time.† But on the other hand we were still 19-year-old males, in a relationship, and that meant we needed sex.... and a lot of it.††

I took another deep sigh, this one with a bit more guilt.† I remembered Adam telling me about his home predicament.† I mean he was 'out' when it came to a few close friends of his, and by few I mean Scott and I.† But his family was a whole other story, they werenít what I'd call fanatical Christians, but they were damn near close.† And anyone cloud see that Adam and Terrence's relationship would equal disaster if it ever came in contact with Adam's home life.

I looked over at their bed again, at the two bodies sound asleep.† Adam just wants to be with Terrence, and I know that this is the only place they can be together and not have to worry about all that shit at home.† I guess wanting the room for just me and Ethan left me with a bad, guilty taste in my mouth.† I just wish there was a way for all us to have everything we wanted.

I relaxed one last time before stretching and finally sitting up, throwing my side of the sheet and comforter off my legs.† I yawned as I dragged my heels out of the room and into the hallway. †I stopped just outside the bathroom door, about to open it as I noticed that the water had been running all this time.† I felt a tiny spark of worry bolt down my spine as my instincts whispered that something was wrong here.

....Ethan.†

I slowly turned the knob and opened the door.† I squinted as my eyes adjusted to the light.† Peering in, I saw Ethan leaned over the sink, his back to the door, his hands gripping the edges of the small counter, his head hung in an almost defeated manner of meditation.† The faucet was running but, Ethan did nothing but stand there.† He was still in his sleeping clothes, which now only consisted of a low-riding pair of red basketball shorts, briefs and a well worn, white wife-beater.†

I stepped into the bathroom, barely shutting the door behind me.† I walked up behind him and brought my arms around his waist.† I felt him jump in my grasp, like I had woken him suddenly from a light sleep, his head whipping around to look at me, most of his bangs still in his face.

I jerked my head back, for some reason fearing that he might accidentally knock me out for sneaking up on him.†

"...sorry..." I whispered, as I watched his face and felt his body relax and finally melt into my embrace, my grip tightening around him as he pressed himself back into me.† "...didn't mean to startle you..."

I listened to his uneasy chuckle as I watched him in the mirror.† I was right.† He was worried.† His eyes looked haunted, their usual sparkle looked exhausted.† It was understandable.† Today was the big day, his martial arts tournament.† All that training was supposed to get him ready for the next 12 hours.†

I rested my chin on his shoulder as I let one corner of my lips curl.† He noticed my reflection in the mirror and smiled back.

 

*ETHAN*

He was finally up.† I was wondering when he was gonna realize that I wasnít in bed with him.† I think I was finally beginning to notice that he can't sleep very long without holding onto at least some part of me.† But.... like I'm one to talk.† I've noticed that I need to smell him for me to fall asleep.... like some lullaby that reminds me I'm safe.

"....didn't mean to startle you...." Logan whispered against my ear, his large, secure arms wrapped tightly around my waist.

I stared as his expression in the mirror and then turned my head around to look at him, to look in his eyes, his smile doing a horrible job of hiding his concern.† I rested back against him, noticing that his shirt was slightly damp.† I inhaled deeply, his rich male scent filling my nostrils.† It's cold outside.† Why was he sweating?†

I gave in, letting his warm scent carry away all my irrelevant thoughts.† If I could but only bury myself in his arms all day.†

The faucet was still running, the water doing nothing but going to waste.† That wasnít my intention.† I remembered lying in bed not 20 minutes ago, Logan's arm wrapped around my torso as I listened to his deep and dreamy breath.† I stared at the glowing red numbers of the alarm clock, waiting for it to go off at 4:45.† I couldnít go back to sleep.† In fact, sleep was the last thing on my mind.† I was nervous about the tournament/expo.... well sick to the stomach is more like it.

This would be the first time I actually allowed myself to compete in something this big.† This wasnít a city or a regional thing.† I wasnít 12 years old, doing basic demonstrations like the rest of the green belts.† It was just going to be me, my skills, what I've honed... and.... it completely scared the shit out of me.†

...But it wasnít the worst thing on my mind.

John Walker.†

That name almost made me want to quit martial arts all together.†† It also made me want to curl up into Logan, have him hold me and never let go.† Why?† Why did Chris have to mention him when me and Logan were helping him and Derek move?† Since I found out about how Logan felt about me.... I.... I guess I enjoyed being blissfully ignorant to what had happened not months before; before I met Logan, before I knew that I loved him.... more than anything.

'So you think you'll see John there?' Chris' voice echoed off the walls of my skull.†

No shit Sherlock... of course he'll be there.† He's better than I am.† He's gifted.... mother fuckin' prodigy.† He could kick my ass any day of the week.†

I could hear my mental voice scoff.† Yeah Ethan, everyone thinks you're so great at what you do.† If I'm so great, then how come I've lost every match with Walker.

...Walker.†

Fuckin' prick..... arrogant mother fucker who thinks he can get anything he wants.† Snap his fingers and there it is on a silver platter.† His political dad pays for everything, school, new car, luxury apartment..... He can have anything thing he wants.... but not me.† He can't have me.† I belonged to Logan.

"You ok?" Logan asked, his eyes pleading with mine to tell him what was wrong.† His reflection stared at me as he held tightly to me.†

Logan doesnít need any of this, but he has to know.† I shut my eyes as I thought of the worst case scenario.† One of Logan's jealous outbursts is what I feared most.† Not really for me, but for him.† He's gonna say something to John, I just know it and..... Logan's a big guy but John's not gonna think twice if Logan starts something.† What am I saying?† It'd turn explosive if they just locked eyes.

I nodded that I was Ok, knowing that if I said I was fine he'd hear the lie in my voice instantly.†

John doesnít matter.... If I donít see him, I donít see him.† But if I do see him..... well, lets just hope I donít see him.†

I leaned back into Logan, placing my hands over his as he held my waist.

Donít worry Ethan.† You're safe.

It was too early in the morning for this kind of nervous tension.† I had other matters that needed addressing.† I had a morning hard-on that wouldn't go away and a boyfriend that needed attention.

I reached out and turned off the running water, pulling away from Logan as I did so, his hands lingering on my waist until he let go.† I turned around, facing him as I leaned back against the counter, my hands gripping the ceramic edges at my sides.† I tilted my head to the side, my hungry grin strung across my lips.† I watched his crooked smile sharpen as he rubbed his bangs, scratching his head.† His beard had grown even grizzlier since yesterday, the hazel hairs longer than I had ever seen them.† But at least he shaved it into something presentable.† He shaved his beard so it only grew along his jaw and chin.† He defiantly had the jaw line for it.† But fuck me if he didnít look ten times sexier.† It extenuated his square jaw line and solidified his rugged, lumberjack look.†

I bit my lip as I eyed his revealed chest hair in his v-neck undershirt.† I could see the band of his boxer-briefs beneath his cut-off sweat pants that rested on his hips.† I noticed the hefty bulge in his shorts.† I looked up at him in time to see him reach out and grab my wrist.

"Get the fuck over here," he said, smiling with a playful command to his voice.† He knew his strength, and used just enough to pull me off the counter and back into his arms.† I didnít resist.† He brushed my bangs from my face and leaned in to kiss me.

"No," I said teasingly as I turned my head, his lips going into my ear, his breath warm and rumbling against my eardrum.† He wasnít mad as he left feather kissed on my earlobe and the along my jaw instead.

"No?" he asked playfully as I felt his hands go under my wife-beater, his thick fingers caressing the small of my back.

"No..... I have horrible morning breath and so do you," I said, the deep, sleepy rasp still in my voice as I shut my eyes, smiling as I gasped.† Logan held my ear between his teeth, nibbling softy as he began to grind his hardening tool into mine, his bearded chin scrapping my cheek as I held his waist and shoulder, helping him grind against me, pulling his large body into mine as he pinned me against the counter.† Maybe I should have let him kiss me, then we'd have more time to shower AND get dressed.†††

Fuck... we better get in the shower before we wake up Adam and Terrence.†

*LOGAN*

I donít think there has ever been or ever will be a time where Ethan and I have used the shower just to shower.† After that dream.... God, everything we did felt almost better than the first time.†

Finally clean, dressed and smelling like deodorant, Ethan and I were back in the bathroom, both of us sharing the mirror, Ethan brushing his teeth as I gelled my hair so it spiked forward.

Ethan was dressed in a crisp, almost blindingly white T-shirt.† "Calvert Marital Arts Academy" was printed across the back in bolded capital letters. On the front it had few small Korean characters.† Beats me what they meant.† I remembered almost all of Ethan's wardrobe and I'd never seen him wear this shirt once.† I guess that's why it looked so clean.† But it fit him perfectly.† I smiled to myself as I looked at him through the mirror, concentrating on brushing his teeth.† I liked it, the white against his caramel skin, it just made me that much more hungry for him.

I on the other hand, felt that the expo was a little bit more of a big event, and it was.† So today deserved just a little bit of semi-formality.† I also wore a T-shirt, but I had a nice sky blue button shirt over it.† I didnít wear a tie and I didnít tuck it into my khakis.† I left the top and bottom buttons open while I rolled my sleeves up around my forearms, just below my elbows.† It was comfortable and I knew that I couldnít roll them around my biceps.† I have ripped a few cuffs in my day.† And I decided to just wear sneakers.† Go a little casual just in case I was too formal.

Ethan spit out his toothpaste just as I finally felt satisfied with my hair.† It was then we saw Terrence appear in the mirror, looking like he just rolled out of bed.

"It's almost 5," he said, after yawning, the sleep still in his voice as he squinting under the bathroom light.† He still looked haggard as he rubbed his right eye with his fist.† "You guys should be gone by now."

He was right.† We had an hour and a half drive ahead of us into Phoenix.† If traffic was bad, two and a half hours.

"We're just about ready," Ethan said after rinsing his mouth out.† He wiped his lips with the back of his hand.† "Your car keys on the table?" Ethan asked as Terrence nodded.

"Yeah they're there," Terrence said, pointing towards the dinning room as he walked past us toward the toilet.

"Alright, out. I gotta piss like nothing else," he said as Ethan and I walked back into the bedroom.† The lights were still off, but the hallway light was bright enough to fill Ethan's side of the room in a lurid soft glow. From the view of the window, it was still dark outside.† Adam was still passed out, breathing heavily, laying on his stomach with one arm and one leg still hanging off the mattress.

Ethan pulled his official dojo zip-up sweatshirt out his closet; navy blue with the dojo name embroidered over one side of his chest.† He pulled it over his shoulders then picked his gym bag up off his bed, all packed and ready to go since yesterday.† He pulled it onto his shoulder as he took another look around the room and then at me standing in front of him.

"We're ready, right?" Ethan asked, his nervousness was now pouring into his voice as well as his eyes.† His fingers were twitching, but I donít think he noticed.

I grabbed his hands, clasping them as I pulled them between us.† "Relax," I said, hoping that just telling him would put him at ease.† He closed his eyes, took a deep breath and nodded.†

"Ok," he said, his voice still shaky.

"Come on, something to eat should help," I said as I tilted my head in the direction of the kitchen.

Ethan and I let out a half chuckled as we walked out of the room.† As we rounded the corner of the dinning room and into the kitchen, Ethan stopped in his tracks, surprised as he let out a laugh.† Right behind him, I know my eyes widened as I stopped next to Ethan.†

Jeff and Grant looked busy, the sizzling sound of breakfast filling the kitchen.† Both were still in their sleeping clothes, sweats with worn t-shirts, their tattoos for the most part were now fully exposed.† The only "dressed" things about them were their sneakers.† Jeff was over the stove cooking scrambled eggs, while Grant was leaned against the counter, his arms folded as he waited for something to pop out of the toaster.

"We all ready for the big day?" Grant asked, his grin big and cheesy, his brown eyes looked weary.† I guess they got up extra early to see us off as well.†

"We feelin' ready to kick some ass?" Jeff asked as he pointed at Ethan with a spatula.†

I smiled whole heartedly at them as Ethan laughed and nodded. "Ready."

I walked over to the dinning room table and picked my red pull-over sweatshirt off of one of the chairs.† I walked back into the kitchen and pulled it over my head, the sound of the toaster finally popping.†

"You two better hit the road," Grant said as Ethan and I watched him grab two paper bags off the counter and hand them to us.† Just then Jeff handed us two bottles of orange PowerAde.† Ethan handed me his bottle as he open one of the paper bags.† He looked surprised, chuckled and then looked over at Jeff.†

"A scrambled egg sandwich, pop-tarts and granola bars?" Ethan asked, not sure what to think.

Ethan looked over at Jeff.† Jeff smirked deviously. "For our lil' Street Fighter and his QB Romeo....? Breakfast of Champions baby," He said with pride.

"We ran out of Wheaties," Grant said, trying to sound serious, but it was obvious it was a joke.

I laughed as I leaned over and kissed Ethan on the side of head, hoping he got the idea that his friends were great guys and he should take a kind gesture when it was offered.† Ethan shut his eyes and laughed on an exhale.

"Thanks guys," Ethan said.† He looked back at both of them and asked, "You guys still catching a ride with Terrence and Adam, right?"

"Yup," Jeff said as he reverted his attention back to the eggs.

"Go on... Get the hell out of here," Grant said, pointing at the door for us.† Ethan nodded in compliance as I grabbed his hand and pulled him towards the door.

"Good luck you two," Adam said from the hallway as we were leaving, finally up as he leaned against the wall, scratching his stomach as he waved.† "We'll be there at 10," Adam said as Ethan and I waved back and were out the door.

*ETHAN*

I watched Logan take another bite of his cherry pop-tart as he kept his gaze on the road, his head bobbing to his latest favorite rock CD.† The stars still out as the twilight was just about to peer over the horizon, the light blue tint in the eastern sky reminiscent of Logan's eyes.† The desert still looked black, silhouettes of mountains and cactuses passing us by.† I could feel the cold on my cheek as it burned through the window.† I held my hands out in front of the air vents on the dashboard, my fingers a little cold.† This was one of the first times I could remember using the heater.†

The only lights were the headlights and break lights of the cars around us.... and the neon green glow of the dashboard and radio, making Logan's beard and hair highlight lime in color.†† The freeway was clear, the nearest car was a good 100 yards ahead of us.†

I took another bite of my scrambled egg sandwich as the chorus of the song played over the speakers.† Logan began singing along, not caring if I was in the car with him, or if he was even in tune.† It was a heavy song, nothing negative, but still intense.

Logan smiled as he looked at me, belting out the words, "Donít you know that you are something worth.... sm-i-ling ab-out?"

I smiled at him as I took another swig of orange PowerAde.† Pulling the bottle from my lips, I shut my eyes and shook my head at him.† Logan, always uses the stereo to find the right words to say.

I heard the volume of the stereo turn down, falling into the background.† I opened my eyes in time to see Logan pull his fingers from the radio dial.† He was staring at me, occasionally looking back at the road, a small, content, but fretful smile on his lips, the lights of the dashboard and early morning twilight reflecting in his eyes.† I answered his smile with one of my own, worried with flecks of fear melted in as well.†

I watched Logan reach out with one hand, his fingertips and thumb stroking my clean shaven cheek and then the long hair behind my ear.† His skin was warm in contrast to the chill that seeped through the windows.† It was small gesture, but it calmed my insides.† I felt my nerves loosen, if only just a little.†

"Ethan," his tone was low, penetrating. "You really have NOTHING to worry about."

I sighed as his hand fell from my face and landed over my hand that was clasped over my knee.† I let his fingers interlock with mine as he pulled my hand to his lips.† I should have been a little mad, him treating me more like his girlfriend rather than his boyfriend.† But I guess neither he nor I knew any better.† I was still his first boyfriend, and he was still mine.† But it was a sweet gesture none the less.... I guess I know now why girls liked it so much when I used to do it.†

And yeah, it did make me feel like I was the center of his world.

Logan looked back at the road as he held my hand over the center console.†

"You getting all worked up over this expo reminds me of some the guys on the football team," he said as he nodded his head at me, his smile still small.† "Getting all strung out before a big game."

I smiled as I stared at him.† "By 'some guys' you mean...."

He chuckled as he shut his eyes and nodded.† "You donít need to say it out loud."

I let my smile dim before looking out the passenger side window, at the desert speeding by and then down at my lap.†

"Yeah but...." I looked up at Logan, his face now confused, eager to hear my contradiction.†

I looked back down at my lap.† "...You, Adam, Scott.... you guys are a team.....and...."† I squeezed his hand.† I looked back up at him.† I know I had him worried.† And try as I might not to be, I think I only made it worse.

"....and....you guys win as a team and lose as a team."

I suddenly bit back my tongue, realizing what had just come out of my mouth.† I took a deep, heavy sigh, as I watched Logan look back at the road.

I watched the profile of his countenance flinch slightly, his smile going uncomfortable.† I didnít mean to demean him or his teammates.† He knew as well as I did that the university football team had had a rough season.† And that part about losing.... well, it kind of just fell out.† I know he was good at what he did, and his mentioning football and getting nervous.... he was only trying to help.†

Great, nervousness and guilt donít make a nice combination.

"Logan," my voice was almost pleading as I gripped his hand still in mine.† "You know I didnít mean it like that."

He nodded, still not smiling.† I looked back down, at our hands clasped together.† "I guess the point I want to make is that...... You have a team, Logan.† And me.....well.... it's just me out there."

I looked back up in time to see Logan look at me.† "And if I lose.... I can only blame myself."

*LOGAN*

"...lose as a team..." It rung in ears as it dug into my brain.

The sting was surprisingly sharp as I remembered our less than glorious season.† I know I heard it from other people; Adam, Scott, even Coach Randall... but hearing Ethan say it. For me it was humiliating. Even though I wasnít out on the field, it still hit me hard.† I was on a team whose season ended with a black eye.

My mind flashed with images of back home in Denver; my high school team.† We were undefeated.† We were kings of the state.† And I was their pride and joy.† And now..... well, lets just say that I had no talent for losing, even if I was just a freshman alternate.

I was brought back by Ethan's hand gripping mine rather tightly.† I looked at him, at his eyes pouring out an apology as they glimmered against the morning twilight.† I know me, Scott and Adam had ourselves a shitty season.† But what can you do?†† It's painful, especially when your boyfriend tells you.†

But..... at least he knew what he said, and.... he was sorry.†

I finally smiled at him, a little forced on my part.† "You're awesome Ethan, at...."

I watched the warm smile creep across his lips, making my heart float as I shyly grinned back at him.† "....At everything you do... especially Tae Kwon Do."

My smile finally feeling unrestrained, "You'll kick ass," I said.† "I know you will."

I looked back at the dark road as I heard him sigh, nervous but with a new touch of confidence.† I looked back at him, his head lying back against the head rest, the long stands of his bangs falling over his face, his eyes staring at me.... if I wasnít mistaken, longingly.

"....and....you won't be alone," I said, my voice going softer as I began to caress the back of his hand with my thumb.† "You'll have your 'loser' football boyfriend with you," I said, smiling jokingly at him.† He chuckled as he closed his eyes.†

"Your friends will be there too, so I donít want to hear this, 'I'm all alone' shit," I said with a mockingly stern voice, my face hardened in a playful manner.

He looked down like he was blushing, if not somewhat embarrassed, letting my hand go to take another swig of his PowerAde.† I smiled, content with myself as I turned my attention back to the road.† The now soft music making me hum along with it as I finished off my cold, burnt cherry pop-tart.

"Logan?" I heard him say, my eyes back on the road as I was still chewing.

"Hmm?" I mumbled, as I took a quick glance at him

"I.... I know that you won't be playing football 'til training starts up again, but..." he looked up at me, his contrite eyes doing that gaze that froze me in place; dangerous, no matter when he did it.†

"I...." he held his breath.† "I want you to know that I'm in.... love with..... God's gift to college football."

 

I swallowed as I felt my smile burst to life as I averted my eyes back to the road, blushing in the low light of the car.† I felt my confidence begin to overflow.† I was..... great.† At least I was in his eyes.† I let out a slow breathy chuckle.

"So..." I heard him say.† I looked over at him, still reclined back into his seat.† "How'd you get to be the football god I know you are?"

This time I laughed out loud.† Was he serious?† Why the sudden subject change?

"You want to know..... Really?" I asked, not sure if he was still joking.†

"Yeah," he said cheerfully as he sat back up, his body showing me he had my attention.† "I told you my Tae Kwon Do story.† Now itís your turn."

I bit my lip as I brought my eyes back to the road.

"You sure?" I asked again, just to make sure.† My eyebrows skewed, still skeptical of my boyfriend's request.

"Yeah, you never told me," he said as I felt his hand on my forearm, caressing as he moved up to my bicep.†

I sighed as I looked over at him.† "Ok," I said, reluctantly.† He grinned.

"But you asked for it."

*ETHAN*

Logan was awesome at football.†† I just know it.† And it's not because I'm supposed to believe it just because I'm his boyfriend.†

Here he is, hauling me to the State Martial Arts Expo and all I could manage was to go to a handful of his football games.† Well.... he wasnít exactly on the field but... it was his team.† At least Scott and Adam were on the field.... sometimes.†

...sometimes....

I..... I wonder if Logan and I fell into this relationship a little too fast.† I'm not saying that I donít want to be with him.† I'd rather go blind than live without him.† But... I really donít know anything about his childhood or his family, other than the basic run down, and then the incident that had him breaking down over Thanksgiving.† I know he tries to be the strong, probably more than I try to.† He looks out for me.... he always... puts me first, even when he should be looking out for himself.† I want to know why.† Is there something in his past that makes him the way he is?† I guess me being his significant other, I felt I had a right to know.

I know if he wasnít here or if we werenít together.... this close to the tournament, my nerves would've already put me in a coma.

I watched Logan's expression carefully, not entirely sure if he wanted to tell me at all about his past.† Logan let one corner of his lips curl.† The first rays of the morning highlighting the rugged features of his face.†† I had my hand on his arm, caressing the hard muscle beneath his soft skin, the hairs of his forearm subtlety reminding me of the hairs on his chest.† I loved him so much.... even if he decided not to tell me anything.

"Ok," he said, a tint of defeat behind his voice.† He then grinned deviously at me, his eyebrows jumping up.† "But you asked for it."

I bit my lip and nodded, complying with his terms.† I sat back into the corner of the seat, almost against the door, my seat belt now a little less comfortable.† I grabbed my bottle of PowerAde from the cup holder.†

"Where do I start?" Logan asked himself, scratching his head as the freeway lead us into another small town.† The sun was coming up now, the pale blues and pinks of the early morning were almost gone, the landscape slowing taking on its true earth tone.

I took a long swing of the orange flavored water.† Logan looked over at me, the sun finally reflecting in his eyes; that cool cobalt color, relaxing my nerves as I stared into them.

"Well," Logan started, "My dad used to coach middle school football, even played in college."

Logan looked at me, I raised my eyebrows to show I was impressed.† "Family legacy then," I said, almost toasting my bottle of PowerAde at him.† I got a grin out of him.

"Yeah," he said, almost like he was embarrassed.† "So.... I guess naturally, Matt and Kurt played in high school too...."

"Were they quarterbacks as well?" I asked, pursing my lips at him.

He chuckled to himself.† "No, only yours truly."

I bit my lip and smiled.† "And?"

"Well, Matt and Kurt were good," I said, sighing as I remembered being 12 years old and easily making the cut for the middle football and basketball school team.† I remembered back to when my mom and dad were still together, all of us cheering in the bleachers at the high school home coming game, my face painted with the school colors, Matt and Kurt both on the team and out on the field.

I blinked as I fell out of my thoughts.† "They both loved to play," I commented, smiling at my lingering memories.† "... dad, he uh... taught em' everything."

I looked over to see Ethan tilt his head to the side.

"I mean I like football.... it's..." I shrugged.† "...football's great."

"But?" Ethan asked, knowing there was something else.

I laughed nervously, "Growing up I actually wanted to play basketball.† I was mediocre at best, but out of all sports it's what I enjoy the most."

Ethan smiled.† "Yeah, when we play I can tell you do."

He looked down and then up at me.† "But you're not exactly built for basketball are you?"

I blushed as I watched him eye me.† I loved it when he looked at me with the red hot burn of desire behind his eyes.

I shook my head.† "Nope."

I smiled timidly at him as I watched the glint in his eyes shine at me, remembering that he told me a million times over that if he ever played tackle football with me, he'd only end up in the emergency room.† So we'd always played basketball instead.† Mostly it was just Ethan and I at the high school courts on the weekends.† Terrence tagged along a few times.† Ethan was good, no better than I was, so I guess it was a fair game.† Well... sorta, he was quick, and me being bigger meant I was a tad slower than he was, but my height did help.† Even before we were together, I always had more fun playing basketball with Ethan than playing football for the U.

Ethan's laughter pulled me out of my head.

I shot him a shy smile.† "So, when sophomore year came around, you can imagine the fit my dad threw when I told him I wanted to focus on basketball instead."

"He told me that out of me, Matt and Kurt, I had the most talent by far.† And he wasnít going to let me throw that away."† I sighed as I remembered feeling trapped, my dad telling me that at my age I didnít know what I wanted.†

I looked over at Ethan.† "I wasnít going to argue, I knew it.† My high school coach told me I was meant for the NFL, that I had no time to waste on other sports.† I- I mean, he and my dad barely let me wrestle my last two years."

"But..." Ethan muttered.† "You were the wrestling captain."† He smiled at me.

I sighed through my weak smile.† "Yeah, but I didnít take the wrestling team to state 3 times in a row."

Ethan finally let his frown show through.

I shook my head at myself.† "Sometimes..... I think football is all my family sees when they look at me."

My mind suddenly filled with images of my dad.† My dad telling me how proud he was about having a son that could go pro.† How proud he was of me.† Those memories suddenly shattered as everything flashed to Thanksgiving weekend, to that morning.† Was he scared for me?† Like Matt when he told me, 'being gay ain't gonna make life any easier.'† Dad had such hopes for me.† Being gay and playing football.... that's not supposed to happen..... is it?

I heard Ethan shuffle in his seat as he got closer to me, I felt his fingers in my hair above my temple as he said, "You know thatís not true."

Easily tearing my eyes from the road, I looked at him, a warm smile on his face, one that said 'I love you' a million times over.

"When I look at you," Ethan said.† "I see a thousand things, and just one of those things is football."

I felt that deep, glowing, warm feeling kindle in my chest, and wrap around my heart.† His eyes, smile and touch fueling my fire.

"I love you, you big lug," he said his fingers falling from my hair, tracing their way down my neck, across my shoulders and down my bicep.† Tracing along my skin as his fingers finally found my hand, taking hold as they interlocked with mine.††

"I love you too, you little punk."

I watched his grin widen as I heard his seat belt unbuckle, his hand gripping the head rest behind me as his face got closer.† I licked my lips in anticipation as I felt his hot breath blow across them.†

Ok Logan, remember you're driving...so.... keep your eyes.... on.... on the road.

RING!†

The sound might as well have been a police siren.

Fucking cell phone!† And it wasnít even mine.

Ethan stopped his advance, less than inch from my face.† I chuckled, my disappointment apparent.† Ethan smiled, a little annoyed as he fell back into his seat and began digging into his front pockets.

RING!

Ethan finally pulled out his cell phone, answering without looking at the caller ID.

"Yeah," Ethan said as he looked over at me.

I whispered to him, "You owe me."† I grinned and winked at him.

He chuckled and nodded his head.† Just then I watched his face go serious.

"Oh Morrigan, it's you." His voice surprised.† "Yeah, didnít expect you to call so early."

I turned my attention back towards the road, as I tried to ignore the growing seriousness in Ethan's voice.†

"Uh-huh," he said as his grip on my hand tightened.† "Ok, we'll see you there.† Bye"

Ethan slowly pulled his phone from his ear, taking a big sigh before looking at me.† He looked worried.

"My sisters are gonna be there," he said, his voice troubled behind his smile.

Oh great.... Ethan's family.† I felt my gut gently twist as my grip on the steering wheel tightened.†

Am I ready for this?†

.... Is Ethan ready for this?

*ETHAN*

We got to Phoenix with about an hour to spare.† We pulled into the university amphitheater parking lot and found a parking space close to the front, nestled between a couple of vans.† Even though the martial arts expo didnít start for another two hours, the parking lot said otherwise.†

Logan put Terrence's car into park and shut off the engine.† With the music gone, the silence was now deafening, all I could hear was my breath.† I know I freaked out Logan or maybe just made him feel uneasy, he didnít say much after the phone call.† But I wasnít too talkative either.

I had begun to fidget again, my hands clenching as my breathing went a little labored.† Logan reached out and grabbed one of my fists.† I looked up at him, glad he was there next to me.† I relaxed my hand as Logan interlocked his fingers with mine.† I held him tightly, knowing I was making my palm and knuckles go white.†

"My sister Morrigan is coming," I said softy, letting my eyes fall from Logan's.† "...her husband Bret.... and my oldest sister Avery and her husband Jesse tagged along too."

"They'll be here in about 4 hours," I said, almost coldly.†

I wanted them here, I really did.† I wanted them to see me fight, I wanted them to see me win, I wanted them to see me happy and.... somewhere deep down, I wanted them to meet Logan.† I felt it all coming down on me at once; the competition, my family, John.† And about the only thing I could hold on to was Logan.†

Even though I held his hand in a death grip, I could still feel my hand shaking.† I looked up at Logan as he tried to smile at me, his face telling me he didnít know what to say other than, 'relax, everything will be just fine.'

I watched his eyes smile at me, his emotions swimming in their cool blue color.† I felt my heartbeat slow as I noticed my trembling slowing to a halt.† I relaxed my hand, no longer clenching his.† I watched his brow raise slowly, one corner of his lips curling.

I know I wanted one thing at that moment.† With my free hand I grabbed a hold of his pull-over, just below his neck, and pulled him towards me.† He was surprised at first but as our lips met, he knew I needed this.† He kissed away all my fear, a power I didnít think he knew he had.† His lips rich with his bold flavor as he drugged me senseless.† My brain felt flushed as I pulled away, trying to catch my breath.† I opened my eyes to his smile, his gentle fingers brushing at my bangs.†

"We ready now?" he asked.

I shut my eyes and nodded my head.

We walked into the amphitheater ahead of a few other people, looking like they were here for the show.† We noticed the set-up crews making their final adjustments.† Logan looked in awe as he noticed the large mat in the middle of the room, all the lights focused on that one spot, the ceiling hundreds of feet above of us and the bleachers that looked like they could easily seat thousands.†

"That many people really comin'?" Logan asked while still staring at the bleachers.

"To see guys beat the shit out of each other?" I asked, my eyes searching for Frank.† I looked back at Logan.† "I guess so."

Logan shrugged.

"What?" I asked, smirking.† "You think you football jocks are the only ones that can draw a crowd?"

Logan laughed as he nudged my shoulder.† It felt great to laugh, the expo was right in my face and besides having Logan with me, I had no idea how I was keeping myself together.

When I looked back up, it seemed as if Frank, Steve and Troy just materialized in front of us.† Frank and Steve were both dressed in slacks and wore matching navy polos that had 'Calvert Martial Arts Academy' stitched intricately over their left pecs.† Frank looked almost relieved to see me, sighing thankfully and rolling his eyes from behind his specs.† Steve just grinned, assertive and full of confidence.† But as his attention turned to Logan, I watched him blink, his sharp grin waning as his eyes filled with question marks.†† Logan noticed Steve's inquisitive stare and almost looked like he's shrunk into himself, knowing he was one of my senseis AND Liz's dad.†

Troy on the other hand was dressed-out in his white, Tae Kwon Do gi, smiling timidly at me as I smiled back. His hands clad in jet black grappling gloves as he gently waved.† I then noticed Troy's smile fall off his face, his eyes widening as he looked next me.†

Fuck...

I took a quick glance at Logan.† His head was lowered, almost like a bull ready to charge.† His eyes were hard and his jaw was set tight.† From the look of his face, I knew his hands were balled into fists, his knuckles white from his grip.†

Shit....

I looked back at Steve, his face was now really confused, his jaw hanging open as he folded his arms.† Frank just looked embarrassed.† He knew exactly what was happening.† I felt a wave of relief as Troy definitely got Logan's message, if a little late, and didnít even meet my eyes.† He rubbed the back of his neck as he looked down.† I know if Logan didnít feel threatened, then he'd back down as well.† I might as well wear a badge that said, 'Taken: Property of Kenneth Rian.'†††

I chuckled nervously, shaking all three out of their stupor.† "Am I late?" I asked, a bit apologetic.† Logan seemed to snap out of it as well, his features softening at the sound of my laughter.

"For sign-in," Frank said sternly as he folded his arms, his gruff demeanor returning to his countenance.

My eyes widened as my faced spelt out the word 'Fuuuuuuck.'† I looked at Logan as I ran my fingers through my hair, my eyes wide as my breath began to labor.

I... I was late and I missed sign-in.

Logan began to fidget in place not sure what to do.† Well, he knew exactly what to do calm me down, but obviously not in front of my employer and two instructors.† Logan looked stuck, not sure what he was or wasnít allowed to do.† Hold me, kiss me, or just... let me be.

It must have been a funny sight, me about to bury myself in guilt and panic and Logan almost afraid to touch me.† Steve tried to hide his smile.† Troy looked away as he coughed to try to contain his laughter.

Frank let out a sigh, catching both mine and Logan's attention.† "When you didnít get here in time, which was..." Frank glanced at his watch.† "Fifteen minutes ago."

I shrunk into my shoulders.† Late, everything I tried not to be.† I guess that kiss in the car was what did us in.† Frank saw how guilty I must have looked.† He softened his stare, smiled and pulled a sheet of something off his clipboard.

"...So I registered for you," Frank said as I he held out my number, "67."

I shut my eyes and let out a relived laugh, all three of them smiling at me.† I gave Frank a hard eye, a little put out that he almost gave me a panic attack.† As much work as I put into competing for this tournament, I wasnít about to just quit.... not matter how scared I was.

*LOGAN*

I donít like him.†

I looked fiercely at the guy with the glaring hazel eyes standing in front of me.† The guy in the white karate uniform standing next to Frank.† The guy with the stupid grin on his face.†

If he EVER looks at Ethan the way he did again.† I donít care if he is trained to kill a hundred different ways...... I'm gonna protect what's mine!

I felt the steam rise off of me and then cool as I remembered what happened the last time I let my emotions out of the gate.† I had to mentally tell myself to take a deep breath as I chanted in my head, 'calm down big guy, calm down.'

I looked next to me, at Ethan looking at me with a relived smile on his face.† I guess he was glad that Frank registered for him.† His smile then looked worried, his eyes asking me if I was OK.† I threw everything behind a smile and nodded, my hands in my pockets as I made myself promise that I was going to play nice.† Even with this fucker in front of me looking like all he wanted was Ethan to himself.

I smiled at him, but he must have noticed that it wasnít a friendly smile.†

Troy handed Ethan and then me a program, his eyes looking a bit worried at having to interact with me. Was I making him uncomfortable?† As I gently grinned at myself I felt ten feet tall... Troy, took a step back sighing as he looked everywhere but near me.

Ethan gently elbowed me and nodded, gesturing me to look at the program.† There it was in big black bold letters, 'Tae Kwan Do Black Belt Tournament.'†† My mind switched to Ethan as I know he felt a crashing wave of nervousness hit him.

I felt the urgent need to do something.... comfort him in my way.†

"Arrggmmm..." Frank grunted as he brought his fist to his mouth, clearing his throat.† "Well, Uh... Ethan... why donít we uh... show you where you can change."

I watched my boyfriend pull himself together, nodding as Frank gestured all us towards the back of the auditorium.

Ethan and I followed a few steps behind as we noticed Steve begin to discuss something serious with Frank, the both of them not smiling at all as they nodded at each other.† The distress of it all seemed to grow as the conversation went on.† Frank looked growingly worried, gripping his clipboard before taking a quick glance back at Ethan.† Frank's eyes looked almost remorseful, like a worried father at the end of his ropes.† He then turned his attention back to Steve who looked almost angered in his gestures.† Troy was walking next to them, his arms folded as he just listened.

Ethan's look filled with a deep consternation after Frank had glanced at him.† He was already having trouble trying to tie down his nerves as it is.† That glance didnít help, and even though neither of us knew what it was for, it wasnít a good sign.† Ethan looked at me, his eyes reminiscent of those of a scared kid.† I know he was looking to me for strength, and now he depended on me more than ever.† But the truth was.... it had me just as worried.

"Just tell him!" we heard Steve say to Frank rather loudly in a hushed voice.

Ethan stopped in his tracks, his mouth slightly open, confused and little more scared than he should have been. The urge to touch him and tell him that everything is alright was getting unbearable.† But with hundreds of people in the auditorium, I knew I couldnít.

Steve's unwavering stare on Frank stayed locked, until finally Frank looked down, slumped his shoulder and sighed.† He looked back at Ethan who looked like he wasnít sure, or maybe was too scared, to want to know.

Frank open is mouth, like he didnít really want to have to say something or at least be the one that had to.

Just then, one of the tournament staff walked up to Frank with a clipboard of his own. "Ah, you must be Frank Calvert, Calvert Martial Arts Academy, Tucson, Arizona?"

He was a young man, about 18 or so, with a cheery smile that said, 'Can I help you?'† That broke the situation as Frank threw on a sad excuse for a smile and nodded.

"Yes," Frank said. "That's me."

The young staff member, nodded.† "Ok then," he said as he looked down at the clip board, checking something off with his pencil.† "Your beginning and intermediate students have checked in and I see you have three upper division participants. Tae Kwon Do Forth degree black belt, Troy Preston.† Tae Kwon Do First degree black belt, Ethan Harrison. And.... Akido blue belt, Lauren Keller. Is that right?"

Frank nodded, "Yeah, Troy and Ethan are here, and Lauren called saying she'll be a little late."

The staff member smiled back at Frank. "No problem," he said a he checked off a couple of things on the paper in front of him.† As he put it down he said, "Let me show you to the communal locker-rooms."

He was about to show us, half pivoting when Steve spoke up.

"Wait," Steve said, holding his hand out. "I though we asked for a private room?"

The young man stared at Steve and then took a long sigh. "Yeah," he said his smile waning. "None of the private rooms are available yet."

Steve gave him a hard look, his arms folded as his muscles flexed under his polo shirt.

"They will be soon, it's just cleaning and prep is taking a bit longer than it should."

Steve sighed and nodded, a defeated smile forming on his lips. "Alright," he said, almost spitting the words out.† It was clear he was still upset about his and Frank's conversation.† It looked like even Ethan was afraid to say something to him.

As we approached a pair of double doors, Frank, Steve, and Troy walked through.† But as Ethan and I approached the young man halted me, but not Ethan, stepping between both of us.

"I'm s-sorry sir but... only staff and participants c-can go back until the tournament is over," his voice was slightly shaky as he tried to hold my eyes, his face trying to stay serious.† I guess I still looked like I was on the warpath from my little stare down with Troy earlier.† Even though I know I could have thrown this guy aside, I sighed as I looked up at Ethan, my apology clearly written in my eyes as I let a small smile out.† I shook my head at him.

"I'll go find the guys," I said, my smile just as sorry as my stare. I swear I could see the slivers of hurt in Ethan's eyes as I knew he wanted me next to him up until he absolutely had to be severed from me.† I know.... I wanted to be there to protect him. That was my job... my oath to him, but I'd rather cheer from the bleachers than get thrown out completely.

Ethan finally nodded, the door half open behind him, I could see the white hallway as Ethan said, "I'll find Frank..."

He nodded.† I know that implied that he'd fix this somehow.† I watched him turn and disappear behind the door.

I looked at the guy still standing in front of me, still looking like I intimated him half to death. †I smiled and pointed to the bleachers behind me.

"I think I'll just go find a seat."

I watched him let go of his breath as I took a step back and walked towards the open arena.† Another hour and half until showtime.... what was I gonna do?

 

 

*ETHAN*

The wide white hallway was scattered with martial artists from every field; Men, Women, Kids.....Judo, Kung Fu, Tai Chi.... I even noticed a few weapons specialists, all in uniforms and gi's in a assortment of colors, but most were white or black.† I clutched my gym bag strap as it crossed my chest, watching and then turning from every stare I got in the hallway.† I looked down at the white tiled floor as I wished longingly that Logan was still next to me.

I shut my eyes and contemplated on whether I should throw my sweatshirt hood over my head if not....

I opened my eyes.

I better not, then I'd just be the outcast.† And since Logan, I was pretty sure I put that in the past.† I looked up as couple of female Karate students helped each other stretch.† I watched them smile at me.† I just nodded and smiled back.

And just like before, Frank just magically appeared right in front of me.† I looked up, stopped and stood up straight, surprised that he snuck up on me... again.

"There you are," he said, relieved but then again nervous.† I think it had to be with the 'something' that Steve mentioned.† I wonder what it was, but I also had this twisting feeling in my stomach, like my instincts were telling me I didnít want to know.

"I was wondering where you disappeared off to."† He smiled uneasily as he nodded his head, I just nodded back and smiled.† I listened to him take a deep breath.† The silence between us felt almost like he was stalling.† He then looked behind me, scanning the background, searching for something or someone.

"Where'd Rian take off to?" he asked, the tone of his voice shifting to concerned.

I let my eyes drop to the floor before I said, "He's not part of the staff, so he ran into a little bit trouble at the door."

 

"Not part of the....?" Frank said to himself.† He seemed almost upset that Logan got held up at the door.† He nodded and gave me a reassuring smile, something that felt comforting coming from my friend, boss and teacher.

"I'll fix this," he said. He then pointed to the open hallway behind him, an arm of the larger hallway we were in.

"Why donít you go on in and get change.† I'll deal with this 'staff/Rian' issue, OK?" he said it in way that made me think of my own dad, and how he always tried to ease my fears and worries.

I looked down the hall and noticed that it said 'MEN' painted on the far wall before cornering off.

"Alright," I said, letting a tiny bit of tension creep into my smile. I took my first step into the locker-room hallway when Frank said something else.

"Oh, Ethan."

I looked up to see him blink a couple of times, as it seemed as though they almost couldnít look at me.† What?† Frank is never this.... worried.

He began to lightly slap his clipboard against his open palm when he said, "When you're all dressed out, there's something I need to tell you."

 

This did not bode well with my nerves.† I felt my stomach begin to sink as I watched Frank's face go almost sorry.† Now I really didnít want to know.† If it had Frank this uneasy then It couldnít be good.

But I just nodded, no smile, no words.....just a nodded.† Frank nodded back as he turned and walked back down the hall.† I turned around and headed into the locker-room.

It was bigger than I had thought it would be, much bigger than the one at the dojo.† This place definitely had to have a sauna and a hot tub.† The tile and concrete room had isles, and everyone was lined with bright red lockers and worn brown wooden benches.† As I walked passed each isle, like corridors, there were a few guys still getting ready, but most looked almost done, either tying their belts or putting their bags in the lockers for safe keeping.

I passed them all and walked towards the back. I found a mostly empty isle and pulled my bag strap over my head and threw my bag down on the bench.† There was one other guy at the far end about 20 feet away, he was putting on his sparring boots, completely dressed out but doing some final preparations.† I opened my gym bag and unzipped my sweatshirt, taking it off and throwing over the bench.† I pulled out my official gi, navy blue with Frank's dojo's seal patched on the back.† It still looked clean.† Hell, it even smelled clean.† The fabric was still a little tough, but maybe it was because I was so used to my own broken-in gi. I laid it out over my gym bag as I took off my T-shirt and began dressing out.

Shirtless and barefoot, I pulled by gi bottoms onto my waist, over my jock, tying the draw strings as I heard a locker slam shut.† I looked up and watched the other guy at the end of the isle walk out of sight, the slapping sound of his footsteps growing faint.†

Alone...

I stopped and looked around as I noticed that a lot of the commotion I heard coming in had faded. I turned my attention back to my gi bottoms.† I was finishing the knot on my draw strings when I felt a chilled wave sensation fire up my spine.† It made my head perk up and my senses panic....

....and then I heard his voice.

"Hey Ethan."

It was deep, malignant and almost seductive. Yet calm and contented at the same time.† My fingers stopped what they were doing. My eyes stayed fixed and then I slowly looked up and then behind me.

.....No.....

He stood leaned against the edge of the row of lockers behind me, his arms folded, his red gi matching the locker-room paint job, his sleeves rolled up right below his elbows.† He looked bigger than I remembered; stronger, faster and meaner. His deep brown hair was also shorter than I recalled, buzzed like a prison cut, I noticed now that he had a scar, like a gash right into his hair line.† He had a clean shave and a jaw square.† But he was nothing like Logan; a little more rugged, but not as handsome.†

His eyes looked designing in their intent, satisfied yet vindictive, blue..... but nothing like Logan's, like a threatening, stormy ocean.† He stared at me as I watched a devious smirk form across his face, crooked and intimidating.

I looked away.

"John," I said trying to sound as impartial as I could.† I could feel his eyes on me, and it felt icy, like the slicing winter wind biting through your jacket

I listened to him whistle softly, almost like a cat call.† "Well, well.... arenít we looking fuckin' good these days?"

I looked up at him as I noticed he wasnít looking at my face.† His head was tilted, his lips parted.† I was still shirtless as I watched him scan up my torso and finally look me in the eye.† I felt the numbing chill run into my veins as my breath shuttered, it felt almost dirty.† I quickly pulled my white athletic shirt out of my gym bag, pulling it over my head.†

'Fuck you John' I said in my head as I pulled the white cotton fabric over my torso.† It didnít cover my arms, but at least my core was clothed.

"Awwhhh..." John said, mockingly sounding disappointed.

"You're not supposed to come near me, remember?" I said through a tight lip, still not looking at him as my anger flooded over my face.† I felt my fists clench as I remembered what happened, and as much as I tried to forget and as much as I forgot until now, it was all I could see in my head.

Before I met Chris and Derek at the dojo, I met John.† He was the first new friend I made when I got to Tucson.† And in Tae Kwon Do class, we were inseparable.† When I became friends with Chris, I knew instantly that he didnít like John. In fact he told me so, repeatedly.

At the time Frank was trying to place me in one of the higher classes and he suggested I find an acceptable sparring partner.† John was a friend, two years older and step or two above me.† We had fun.† He wasnít like Terrance, Grant, Jeff, or even Logan.† And now that I think about it, I kind of wanted that foreign feeling in my life.† I know now my instincts were in code red, something about him set off every alarm in my head, but I didnít listen.... though I should've.

"What? Can't a guy say hi to his old friend?" he said it as he leaned off the wall of lockers, his arms falling to his side as he took a step closer.† Yeah... he defiantly was bigger than before.

The large part of me wanted to lash out and beat the shit out of him, but... I know he would beat me to it.† He has always been faster and stronger than I was, and now was no different.† I took a defensive step back, letting my training take over; watching his step, the way he moved, how he looked at me.

John stopped his advance, he folded his arms again.† The grin on his face told me he was beside himself with satisfaction.† He leaned towards me.

"Do I scare you?" he asked, he was smiling but there was nothing friendly about it.

**************************

I remember that evening back in early August, the sun had just set but, the A/C in the dojo was still going.† I remember the droning hum of the cooler, that deep rumble.† I donít know why, but every time I hear it, I try to forget this night.† Everyone was gone; Frank, Derek, Chris.† But Frank trusted John to lock up and we were the only two in the building.

I guess when I think about it, Frank is way too trusting with his students.

"Let's have a little fun this time," I remembered John saying, as he threw his head and chest guard aside, which left him in only his White gi.

I watched him crack his neck, looking at me all prepped with protective equipment, my head, chest, feet and hands, covered with some sort of padding.† His stare stayed on me, his smile was almost daring me to fight him the old fashioned way, simple hand-to-hand combat. No gear, no rules.

I sighed at him and gave him an unsure look.† I groaned, knowing Frank had strict safety rules when it came to Tae Kwon Do and ESPECAILLY sparring.† I know John knew that too, we both had to sign safety agreements to train here.

John did some kicks into the air as he continued to glare at me.† "Come on, I'm not gonna hit ya that hard."

He gave me a grin, something I stupidly mistook for friendly.† I sighed again and brought my fingers to my head gear and loosened the chin strap.

"Atta-boy," John said, nodding his head as he placed his hands on his waist.† I could almost hear the anticipation in his voice.†

I pulled my head gear off and asked, "You sure about this?"

"Yeah, I'll get to see how fast you really are."

That made me a just a bit more calm.† Yeah, this is nothing wrong.† We're just gauging each other.† When I was void of all protection, even my common sense, John said, "Alright, let's get rollin.'"

We took our stances, mine a bit uneasy, a part of me knowing that whatever hits connected, it was gonna hurt.† I didnít even have my gloves on.† John on the other hand looked excited, hopping a bit as he mirrored my stance, rolling his shoulder as he grinned.

I let out a deep exhale and waited.

I watched his left foot twitch, then slowing glide to the side.† It was quick.† He rushed at me. At that moment I remembered his karate belt, the ends flying back as he strode towards me, like two black ribbons. And then there it was, the pain as I blocked his fist against my forearm, his knuckles digging into me.†

What the hell?!† I thought we were taking it easy?

I pushed him back and lunged, a front side kick to his torso which he deflected, but I had a roundhouse waiting for him.

I was sure it would connect.† I spun, knowing my foot would hit him square in the shoulder.† I felt the centrifugal force in the veins of my leg. But what I hit wasnít his shoulder.† I know he caught my foot because I was quickly flung backwards.† As I fell I thought, 'Was that not enough power?'† I wasnít gonna hurt him, a full powered kick would have hurt him and me.

I landed on my back with a hard thud.† I grunted, my vision getting knocked out of focus.†

'GET UP! You can't say down,' I heard my head tell me.

I quickly kipped up back unto my feet and dashed back just in time to see John's foot come down right where my chest would have been.† His foot hit the mat with a loud slap.† Just watching his drop kick slam against the padded floor made my chest tingle, knowing that's where the kick was meant for me.

Whatís he doing?† This is supposed to be practice.

I caught my breath and charged him.† He's gonna hurt me if donít hurt him first.† A punch to the gut should knock some sense into him.† I left my fist fly, throwing more power behind it than my kick before.

Shit!

That was the only thing I remembered saying to myself when he caught my fist in his hand.† I know I was open... and the only thing I could do was wait for him to hit me back.

My eyes and teeth clenched shut as I felt the wind get knocked out of me.† I almost folded in two as the blow to my gut made my legs go weak.† I forced my eyes open and saw my hands gripped around his knee as he still held it pressed into my stomach.† I looked up at him, his eyes were glazed over with a sort of blood lust, like a ancient gladiator. He grinned at me, and for the first time.... I was scared.

He placed a hand on my face, his sweaty palm in my nose and his gripping fingers in my hair.† I heard him grunt as he flung me backwards.† The pain made it feel like slow-motion.† I landed on my back as I lost my breath again.† My head lashed to the side as I tried to roll over onto my knees.† But before I could I felt a heavy weight fall on top of me, holding me in place on my back.† I felt legs on either side of me, squeezing my groin, holding me in submission.† I felt a firm but gentle hand on my face, fingers brushing my temple.

I opened my eyes slowly.† My vision was blurred, slowing coming into focus.† John was looking down at me, his face inches above mine.† His grin still malicious and his eyes still blood thirsty.† I tired to get up.

"Oh no you donít," he said, his breath ragged as he used his other hand to push my shoulder back into the mat.† "You're staying right where you are."

I remember asking myself.†

What just happened?† Why?† Why won't he let me up?

And then I felt a hot pressure against my cock, through my cup, and then a hard grip.† I was looking up into his eyes, the blood thirst was there, but it was clouded with an almost angry lust, his grin was gone as he took in deep breaths.

I donít know how I managed it, but the next thing I knew, I was watching in slow motion, his face snap to the left as my right fist hit him right in the jaw.† I know I was angry, I could feel it in my face.† I saw the blood fly.† I know I busted his lip.† I tried to kick him off me but in that instant, it felt like a truck hit me right in the cheek.† There they were again, his knuckles digging into my flesh.

"There you go," I heard him say, his voice mixing with the smacking sound of the punch against my face.

I turned my head and saw his face, smiling at me again.† His bottom lip, blood dripped from a crack in the left side, but he was smiling.† I felt the blood, hot and thick, land on my cheek and roll off.† I watched his tongue slip from his mouth as he licked the blood from his lip. His grin grew wider.

"Now that's more like it," he said as he grabbed my right hand and held me at the wrist.† He squeezed, my fist falling open as he held my arm above my head.† He clutched my other wrist, guiding my hand to my side. I winced in pain. I know my wrist was now pinned under his knee.† I tried to buck him off me, wiggle if I could.

"No, no, no," he said through clenched teeth. I felt his free hand take hold of my hair behind my ear, getting a firm grip but not pulling.† I tried to buck once more, kicking my legs up, trying to get a hold of him to pull him off me.

I watched his face distort, his lip tightening, his jaw locking.† I saw his head rock back.

...oh no....

The pounding sound echoed though my skull, the deep bang followed by a sharp, throbbing pain in my forehead, the electric kind of pain, the kind that sends a parallelizing shock through your body, nothing moves, nothing listens.... all there is, is the throbbing.

He skull bashed me, the mother-fucker skull bashed me.† I felt dizzy, my vision turned to swirling layers as my eyes struggled to stay open.† My strength was gone, sapped out by the pain and incoherence, and he knew it.

"Agghhh....ggmmm," I struggled to grumble, my eyes trying desperately to focus.† I could still feel my arms and legs, but.... I just couldnít do anything beside maybe shuffle them slightly from side to side.

"Y-uuggm...." I swallowed hard. "yu-you...."

I could barely make out his face.

"Ssshhhhh....." he said, gently stroking my face again, his fingers on my cheek.† "... shh... so pretty."

'Move Your Arm,' I told myself.† I tired my right arm, the one above my head

I felt it move, raise a few inches then fall back onto the mat.

I heard my instincts talk to me, 'OK.... breath... there's nothing you can do.... rest, get it back.... that's all you can do."

I swallowed as I shut my eyes, rocking my head to the side.† I felt John's hand slide onto my neck, holding my head to the left, holding me in place.†

I didnít like this.† What?† What kind of fighter am I?† Gullible?† NaÔve?.... Stupid?!

I know my neck was exposed.† And I donít know why it surprised me when I felt his hot, wet tongue take a long swipe, almost to my ear.† I clenched my eyes shut.† Forget, Ethan. Thatís all you can do.

I felt his deep breath on my earlobe.† I could feel the heat off his skin, the blood on his lip.

"You know you want it," he whispered in my ear.† I slowly opened my eyes.† Want what?

I felt my karate belt loosen, and then his fingers digging into my gi.

"Yeah.... You know you want it," he said as he blew hot air into my ear.

I felt his fingers on my lower abs, going farther, deeper.† This isnít me, this isnít me.... I'M NOT LIKE THIS!

I donít know where the strength came from.† But I felt it run rampant through my muscles, like a boiling shot of adrenaline. And I gave him the first cheap shot that came to mind.† My knee came up right between his legs.

I watched his face flush with pain, like he was about to vomit, and then surprise.† I clenched my teeth as John's fingernails dug into my lower abs.† He took some skin, I know he did. When I saw his uncomfortable smile peer through the pain, I pushed him off, just after he winked at me.† My hands pushed him up just enough so my left leg could hook around his torso.† I pulled him back with one leg as the other kicked him off me completely.

I watched him take a few stumbling steps backwards and then land on his ass, one hand cupping his groin while the other held him up.† He was grinning through his pain, breathing hard and glaring at me.

I crawled backwards on my back, my breath haggard, my head still pounding and my cheek feeling like it was finally starting to swell.† I gave him that frightened look, like I didnít know what to think.† I then looked down at myself, my belt was gone, laying out a few feet in front of me, the drawstrings of my gi were open.† I brought one hand to my neck, feeling the slimy mixture of sweat and spit on my palm.† I noticed the burn of the deep scratches on my abs.

I shook my head at him.... I... I didnít understand.

I slowly got up, staggering to my knees at first before finally getting to my feet, still wobbling while I held my head in my hand, half of my face in my palm.† The sudden movement made my stomach wretch, my head pound and my vision blur.

"...Ughh..." I heard John groan. "...Ethan..."

I looked up and watched him struggle to get up on his knees.

"Stay the fuck away," I said to him as I took my first step towards the door.

"Ethan," he said, his voice now sounding painful. He finally got to his feet.† I saw his lip, the red streak running down his chin, his teeth tinted pink. The blood, why do I remember the blood?† He took a half a step towards me, struggling from the look of it.† I guess I hit him pretty hard, even though I hit his cup.† I watched him come a little closer.

"DONíT FUCKING TOUCH ME!" I screamed at him.

I donít remember driving home, but some how I stumbled into the living room.† By then my head was killing me, and I could barely keep my eyes open. I had a deep purple bruise on left cheek, right below my eye, and it felt like an oversized and overripe peach.

I stood in the doorway, leading against the doorframe. Grant found me first and yelled for the others. Terrance came out of the room, asking me a million questions at about a million miles a minute.† I just shook my head. It hurt too much to talk. He helped me into bed after treating me with an ice pack. And I finally, mumbling in as few words a possible, sold him a story about how I got mugged, some punk snuck up on me with a wrench.† I know he didnít believe me, but he knew that if he asked, he wouldnít get the truth.† Plus, what was I going to say?† I almost got raped?† I was attacked?† No, guys arenít sexual victims.

The only person I ever told was Frank.†

There were no witnesses, no cameras. It was my word versus his.† A middle class half-breed from Nevada, the son of a grade school teacher and an environmental engineer. And John Walker, the only son of a popular and powerful senator.

But somehow, Frank knew I was telling the truth.† Maybe it was the way I was hesitant to speak about it.† Maybe it was my lack of motivation.† Or maybe it was the fact that I didnít show up to class for about a week.† And when I finally did show up, I completely ignored John.† We were supposed to be friends, and everybody knew it.

John acted like nothing happened.† He walked up to me a week later and asked where I had been.† He said he was worried and that he called.† The fucker did call, just about twice a day.

Frank tried to get me to press charges.† But I knew all I would get was a bill from a lawyer.† I knew who his father was, and taking it any farther and I knew my family and friends would have to get involved. I didnít want that.† I'd already made up my mind..... forget, like it never happened.

So Frank expelled him, told him he wasnít welcome anymore.† And if he came near me again, he would press charges, whether I wanted to or not.† It was a blow to the dojo, Frank lost a valuable student, he lost the grants and private support from John's father, and I lost a friend.

And.... forget I did.

*LOGAN*

God I felt like a loser.† Here I was practically pacing in front of the crowding bleachers as I blew a hard sigh, one hand in my hair and other in a fist, clenched at my side.† I was angry.† I felt threatened.† And I was alone.† Angry because I couldnít be with the one person that needed me most right now. Threatened because I was Ethan's boyfriend, and if I had somehow been Ethan's girlfriend, I'm sure they would have let me through.

I caught a few people glancing at me as they walked by, trying to avoid any and all contact with the 'angry pacing football player' at all costs.† They could tell that it was smart probably stay out of my way.† Nothing pissed a guy off more than having to be forcefully separated from his mate.† I wasnít hiding it.† I scratched my head, feeling the hardened gel crush under my fingernails.

But most of all, I felt alone. This wasnít how I pictured this expo at all.† Ethan was gone and so was everyone else from the dojo.† And all mine and Ethan's friends were no where in sight.† I texted Adam and Scott and so far I got nothing back.

I sighed again and plopped down in the bottom row of the bleachers.† I rested my elbows on my knees and hung my head, groaning in frustration as I shut my eyes.

This was Ethan's big day, and I was just as much a wreck as he was.

I stayed like that for a minute or two, feeling the wind as bodies walked by.† I could hear the crowd growing louder.† If I had been paying attention, I would have noticed, the place was more than half full about now.

I was about to give myself a headache when I heard a soft, familiar, female voice.

"Logan?"

Huh? I opened my eyes and looked up at Liz staring down at me from a couple of feet away.† She looked comfortable in her baby-T and jeans, her dark brown hair tied back in a pony tail while her bangs fell forward.† She had a confused but happy look on her face as she smiled down at me.

I never thought I be so happy to see another girl in my life.† I chuckled as I looked back down and slowly got to my feet.† Straightening my shirt out, now I was the one towering over her as I looked down at her smile.

"Yeah it's me," I said, almost ashamed to admit it while scratching the back of my head.† She instantly knew I was upset, for sure.

"Hey big guy," I heard from behind her.† Scott walked up as he shoved his truck keys into his jean pocket.† The white polo he was wearing had to have been Liz's idea.† I know Scott, and Scott was a T-shirt kind of guy.† But not matter what he wore, his red hair still was the first thing I noticed.

Scott gave me one of his goofy smiles as I took him a second to realize that I was not happy.† But as ill-contended as I was, I couldn't contain my smile.† God it was great to see them.

"Well, look at you all dressed up," Scott said, gesturing at me with one hand as his other took Liz's hand.

I groaned at his comment as I looked down at myself.† It was the slacks, had to be.

"Yeah," I nodded and then looked back across the auditorium, at the white double doors. "But.... itís Ethan's big day."

I watched Liz's brows perk as she tried to look around and then behind me, almost as if she was expecting Ethan to appear out of nowhere.† "Yeah, I though you two would be together all day today."

I gestured that I agreed with her.† "That's what I fuckin' thought," I said, letting a slice of my irritation bleed into my voice.† I felt my lips purse in frustration.

Scott noticed it in my eyes, giving me that quizzical look.† "Sooo.... what happened?" he asked.

I looked back down at the floor.† "They told me I wasnít staff so I couldnít go into the back rooms with him."

My voice and face told them that I felt somewhat defeated.

I watched Liz let go of Scott's hand and fold her arms with a hard dose of that feminine ferocity, that kind that shot fear into any guy.... straight or gay.† Scott watched in frightening surprise as his girlfriend's harsh gaze fixed on the congregating staff members guarding the locker-room doors.† I watched with a bit of satisfaction as her stare began firing like twin machineguns.

"That is such bullshit," Liz practically spat.† Well, as close to spitting as a girl can get.† She turned to look at me.† I guess I was no longer the only one pissed at the faculty. "When my dad went to nationals, every year me and my mom would visit him in the locker-room.... all the time."

Scott watched her fume for a few more seconds before wrapping his arm around her shoulder.† She looked resistant for a second, snuffing out a sigh, as if blowing out her anger in her exhale.† She then turned into Scott, letting him resume his role as her boyfriend.† He didnít say anything for a few seconds before looking up at me.

"I'm sorry man you got treated like that," Scott said.† "And like Liz said, it's bullshit."

I sighed as I hung my head, nodding as I looked back up at them.

The next thing we heard was Scott's cell phone chime.† Liz and I looked at him as he pulled his cell phone out of his pocket.† "Ah, Logan," he said as he smiled and showed me the screen.† "Just got your text message."

*ETHAN*

I could hear my own breath and heart beat above everything else.† I watched John's eyes claw at me from a few feet away.† He still had his arms folded, and I could see the cords of muscles tighten in his forearms.† I felt my heart race.† If I had to fight here and now, I wasn't too sure if I'd win.† And I wasnít too sure if I'd put up a formidable fight.

My fists were still clenched as he took a step closer.

"You know that...." I started to say in my most defensive voice when John cut me off and finished my sentence for me.

"...that I'm not supposed to be near you..... Right?" he asked, leaning a little towards me, his cold eyes digging into mine.

I didnít say anything, and I didnít react to his question.† I just held his eyes.

He watched me with intense surveillance as I tried to keep the distance between us, sliding my feet back as he got closer, the sound of my soles as they brushed and slid long the tile floor reminding me of how cold the room was, how cold he was.

"Right," he said lowering his head.† His path had turned and he was no longer walking at me but more next to me, I had to keep facing him.†

"What can I say Ethan?" he asked, not expecting an answer.† "That day I knew what I wanted."†

I felt my stomach knot, the feeling slowing spilling onto my face.† I held the vomiting feeling down.† His steps were slow, almost meandering as he smiled deceivingly at me.† I watched him carefully, hoping I was agile enough to catch any sign of sudden movement on his part.

"Fuck off Walker...." I said, my voice nearly sneering.†

He chuckled as he stopped and faced me, finally letting his hands fall to his sides.† He let out a grin and bit his lip, his eyes feeling me beneath my clothes.† I felt a cold shiver blow over my skin.

I heard my mind remind me.... Only Logan....

He took a small step forward.

"...Stay away," I heard my mind yell for me.

And as the back of my calf hit the wooden bench, I knew I was backed up against the lockers.† I wasnít going to yell for help.† I wasnít that weak.† If it came down to it, I won't let that happen to me again.

John looked absolutely beside himself with satisfaction.† I stepped over the bench, hoping that it would be some kind of barrier between us, something that told him, 'I'm not going to fall for the same thing twice.'

"I know what you're after," I said, shaking my head at him.† "But my personal interests are with someone else.† So just fucking leave now!"

I watched as his cool smile warped into a look of cold confusion, pondering my face as I watched the blue of his eyes grow livid, like the violent waves of an angry storm.† He scoffed.† His gently nodded his head, his lips tightening as I watched his arms flex.

"So," he spat me.† "Who's the lucky girl?"

Girl....

That's right.... he still thinks I'm straight.† Makes sense, at the time.... I was.

I didnít move.† I just watched his face slowly fill with frustration.† His patience with me was winding down.† I watched his jaw set.† I swallowed hard as I braced myself, ready to defend against almost anything he had.

And then all of a sudden.....

"I didnít come here to fight with you," he said as all the hard emotions quickly fell from his face.† The storm behind his eyes dissipated.† My level of panic dropped a notch.

"...And to tell you that.... I'm not sorry for what happened."

Not sorry...? NOT SORRY?!

"Fuck You Walker!† FUCK YOU!" I screamed at him, my fist held out with one finger rigidly pointing in his direction, a sign that I let my rage go rampant.† I could hear my voice echo through the tile room.† "You have no idea what I went through after what you did to me."

He smiled, for sure satisfied that he got something out of me.† "I am sorry you went through that, but I'm not sorry for wanting something."

I shook my head at him, still angry but realizing that I had to control my anger.† My blood began to cool as my mind reminded me to stay calm.† Nothing is weaker than vulnerability.† And anger was one big vulnerability.

"Fine," he said, leaning back and standing up straight.† "Let's make a little deal."

Deal.... My head perked up.† I didnít like the sound of it, and neither did my nerves.

"You and I are gonna fight today...."

Me?.... and..... Walker? ....fight?....† I noticed my breath shudder.† Half of me remembered that August evening and wanted to be as far away from him as possible.† But the other half wanted to smash his face in.

"Donít think I can't make it happen," he added.

That's right; his father, him name, that can get him pretty far.

I watched the malicious smirk return to his face.† "If you win, then I'm out..... Gone.† And you can go back to that little girl of yours."

I watched the blue of his eyes begin to steam.† "But if I win?..."

I took another step back, suddenly kicking the foot of the lockers with my heel.† I felt my heart panic as the cold metal locker doors pressed against my back through my cotton shirt.† I was cornered.† I watched John get closer the space between us reducing to inches. I watched the features of his face harden, like the raging bull from so long ago.† I saw both his hands come up.†

.....and I shut my eyes, clenching them and my teeth as I braced myself.† Is this how you defend yourself Ethan?† Is he really that bad?

The crashing sound of hands beating into metal was deafening.† The echo rung in my ears, I had my head to the side, my teeth clenched, and my hands in fists, balled up against the lockers beside me.

I opened my eyes, turning my head to face him.† He had his hands, pressed up against the lockers on both sides of my head.† I swear I could almost hear the sounds of his arms tighten.† His face was inches from mine, close enough to feel his breath, his lips caught somewhere between a smirk and a look of brutality.† His mouth was open, taking deep but rapid breaths.† His scent was all around me.† He even smelled like he used to.† His cold eyes up close looked even hungrier now.† Cold is what they looked like, and cold is what I felt.

My breath was ragged.† I know my eyes were hard, cursing him with my stare as he only seemed to revel in it. †He tilted his head, one corner of lips rising as well.†

"If I win," he whispered as he inched his face a little closer, his lips closer to mine.† I turned my head.† I felt his hot breath on my neck, and in a softer voice he said, "I get a nice victory kiss."

I watched his eyes scan down my face.† He licked his bottom lip.

"A victory fuck would be nice, but I donít want to ask too much."

Victory.....Fuck.....

I had no idea I had been holding my breath until I heard myself let out a hard, scared and almost disgusted sigh.† Images of John and I fired past my eyes.† And all I could feel was the raw violation and my simple weakness that I felt almost half a year ago.

I shut my eyes and turned my head completely away from him.† Here he was, almost on top of me and I couldnít even get myself to push him away.† If I can't even do that, then how am I going to beat him?.... How?

Logan.... where are you?

"ETHAN?"

The fall from the sinister trance was instant.† The sudden sound of Frank's voice shot straight through me as I opened my eyes.† His deep voice radiated through the room, slowly beckoning my mind back under control.† I slowly turned my head back towards John, face to face.† I didnít smile and I didnít scowl.† My breath was still heavy as I watched him chuckle low and then, slowly and reluctantly pull away.† His malevolent smile still on his lips as he took one step back and then another, his hands falling to his side as his eyes stayed locked on mine.

"Ethan?† You there kid?" Frank said in a loud voice as I could now hear footsteps getting closer.

But neither John nor I did anything.† We just stood there a few feet apart.† I was taking deep breaths, but John looked calm, still smirking at me.

Finally the footsteps stopped.

"Etha-...."

Frank stood there, instantly frozen.† I could see him in my peripheral vision, but my focus stayed on John.

"Walker," I heard Frank mutter in distain and surprise.

"Sensei," John replied, almost coy as his eyes stayed on me.

I could tell Frank was fuming without even having to look at him.† I remembered all the threats and warnings Frank almost cursed at John as he told him to leave the dojo.† And I even remembered some of the more personal consequences Frank said he'd have for John if he ever came near me again.

John finally broke our stare and looked straight at Frank.† John's smile turned to a growl.

"You donít have to tell me twice," John said in a respectful tone, but lacking any behind it.

John turned back to me, his smirk resurfacing as he pursed his lips at me, winked, turned.... and walked away.

"I guess I'll see ya out there," John said, waving with his back toward me.

I listened to his steps grow fainter as I stared at the floor in front of me.† Frank just stood there watching him finally turn the corner, out of the isle, but not out of the locker-room.

That was it.

I couldnít hold myself together any longer.† I collapsed onto the bench.† Almost falling as my ass hit the wood with a loud thud.† My hand gripped the edges of the bench as I listened to my breath go ragged, my eyes still fixed in front of me.† I heard Frank's clipboard rattle as it hit the floor.† He rushed to my side as the trembling began to take over.† I felt his arm around my shoulder.

"I'm sorry Ethan," he said softly. "I should have told you when I had the chance."

He knew... He knew John was here.† That's what was agitating Steve.† So.... Steve must know too.† Figures, I guess he being my forms instructor, he had to know.† I shuddered as I let out a small sob.† I clenched my eyes shut as Frank squeezed me tighter.† I clenched my left wrist, feeling the blood pump in my veins.

John.... you have no idea what you put me through.

 

"Francis! You in here?"

It was Steve's voice, and he still sounded frustrated and impatient.† My breathing had slowed but I was still shaking.† This.... this wasnít like me.† I'm a fighter, a FUCKING FIGHTER!† Why am I scared out of my fucking mind?† Scared of John and †my own weakness....

"Yeah, over here..." Frank said, yelling out for Steve.

I heard him run.

"Oh... Fuck," I heard Steve say to himself, but loud enough for both of us to take notice.

I looked up at Steve, as I could see my own broken reflection in his face.† He looked horrified and then angry.

"Red gi, was that....?" Steve asked as the pointed behind him.

Frank nodded.† I watched Steve's angry begin to steam, gripping his hair with both hands.† "That little fuck!" I heard Steve curse.† "Did he touch you?" he demanded, pointing towards the door as he asked.

"Steven.... No," Frank said sternly, looking up at him and shaking his head.† "You know who..."

Steve cut him off, almost yelling, "I know who his father his."

Steve ran his fingers through his hair, one hand on his waist as he started to pace, shaking his head and mumbling to himself.

Frank turned his attention back to me.† "He didnít do anything did he?" he asked softly.

"No," I said, shaking my head.† "He just...." I swallowed hard.† "He just...."† I squeezed my wrist harder.

"Should I...." I heard Frank timidly begin to ask.† "Should I get Logan?"

My breathing stopped for a second as I slowly turned and looked at him.† Frank blinked at me from behind his glasses.† His eyes were serious, but not hard.

"I..." I muttered.† I looked back down at the floor, shut my eyes and slowly nodded.†

"Please," I whispered.

*LOGAN*

OK... so it was plain M&M's for Liz, a Coke for Scott, Red Rope liquorish for Adam, a Sprite for Terrance, a Dr. Pepper for Grant, a pretzel for Jeff and a Mt. Dew for me.

I tried to do the math in my head as I stared at the concession stand menu glowing above me.† I was next in line as I recounted the one dollar bills that everyone threw at me, thumbing through them as I sighed regretfully.† I guess if I didnít want to be the one hauling all the junk food, then I guess I shouldnít have said anything when I stood up from my seat with a thirst for caffeine and sugar.

It was a bit of an uncomfortable walk back to our little cheering section for Ethan.† I had both front pant pockets full of candy and I had to balance a hot pretzel and cheese on top of four large sodas shabbily placed in a thick paper cup carrier.† All the while dodging bodies and ignoring the comments of angry parents as they tried to record their kid's karate matches.† We were a little less than two hours into the expo and we were still in the 'beginners' section of the program.

At least I was glad that I didnít have to walk up a hundred steps into the bleachers, which was where we would have been seated if it were not for Liz's dad, Steve.† I guess being the daughter of a former North American champion doesnít hurt, especially when he got all of us seats right up front.† But when Liz asked him about my little situation with the staff, Steve said there was nothing he could he do at the moment.† He was agitated about something as he tried to hide it behind his smile.† But he told me to sit tight for now.† I wasnít sure how much he could do, considering he had Ethan to worry about, Frank to work with and about a dozen people constantly hovering around him for an autograph.

"Oh... My God.† They are so cute in their little gi-s," Liz said as she grabbed Scott's arm, which was the first thing I heard as I shimmied past Liz and Scott, sitting back down between him and Adam.† Scott made a funny, nervous face as he looked at the 8-year-olds throwing punches and kicks.

"Finally," Grant said, reaching from behind me with a grin as he grabbed Jeff's pretzel plate and his Dr. Pepper.

I quickly snatched the program from between his fingers in the process.† I opened it with one hand as Adam asked me, without taking his eyes off of the match, "You get my Red Rope, man?"

"Yeah," I said as I dug into my pocket, my eyes scanning the program instead.† I dropped the wadded liquorish in his open hand as I looked down the schedule.

Hmm.... 'Beginners' is just about up, then it's 'Intermediate' and 'Forms,' then the 'Advanced' and finally 'Weapons.'† My eyes fell back on the advanced segment of the program, and right there after the Kung Fu tournament was the Tae Kwan Do Black Belt Tournament.

"You know for little kids, they're pretty good," Terrance said as he bit off a few inches of Adam's Red Rope.

"I know," Liz said, pointing to my pocket for her M&M's.† I pulled the king size bag out of my pocket as she said, "Makes me wonder how the rest of the program is gonna turn out."

She ripped open the candy bag as she said, "I think this'll be one of the better state expos I've been to."

I watched her smile as she popped a red M&M into her mouth.† But as she grinned and chewed, my attention quickly turned to the familiar navy blue polo behind her.† Frank squatted down on the isle steps next to Liz.

"How you kids holding up?" Frank asked as he pushed his glasses up with index finger, his elbows on his knees and his clip board in his hand.† He smiled as us, but I could quickly tell it was a happy mask for something troubling him.

"Oh....hi Mr. Calvert," Liz said.† It was clear he had startled her.

"Hey Frank," I said as I slightly waved, not quite sure what our relationship was.† I watched his smile twitch into a frown as he looked at me.

Liz must have seen it.† "Is something wrong, Mr. Calvert?" she asked Frank, practically reading my mind.† "Is it Marisa?"

Frank let out relived chuckle.† "No, the wife is fine," he said.

"Is it....?" Liz asked as her voice trailed off, not finishing her question and starting to look really worried.

"No, your father is fine," Frank said, Liz finally smiling.† "Steve can take care of just about anything.† He's just still a little bit upset that your mother couldnít be here."

"Yeah," Liz said nodding.† "...work," she added as she shrugged her shoulders.† "But she's been to a million of these things."

Frank nodded as he let his eyes drop.† I watched the fretful smile return to his face as he sighed.† "Sorry to uhh.... disturb you kids." he uttered.† "But I'm really here to talk to.... Mr. Rian."

My eyes widened as everyone else turned their heads, their eyes falling on me.† Frank gestured me to follow him.† My first thought was that I was in trouble.† As I got up I heard Terrence's worried voice.

"Is everything OK with Ethan?"

I stopped and turned my head back to look at Terrance.† He just stared at Frank, not wanting to move until he got an answer.

Frank sighed.† The frown he'd been hiding finally broke free.† "Well, after he sees Mr. Rian, we'll see."

Terrance's eyes shot up to me standing over him and Adam.† It was clear he was telling me to fix whatever it was that Ethan needed.† I needed no one to tell me.† Grant and Jeff give me alarmed stares as Scott and Adam looked fearful to even ask questions, Liz just looked worried.† I felt my stomach go queasy, as I felt my chest tighten, like my heart was on the verge of suffocating itself.† I took a deep breath, knowing if I let it, my mind would drive me crazy conjuring all the possible things that could have happened to Ethan.

It's something small..... it's got to be.

I quickly shimmied my way back into the isle as I followed Frank down the bleacher steps.† He didnít say anything as we briskly walked towards the backrooms and that pair of double doors.† Both of us slid past bodies, saying, "Excuse me," just about every other second.† The announcer was still blaring as the deep roar of the crowd had everyone around us yelling just to be heard.

The double doors got closer as I watched multiple bodies enter and exit without any trouble.† A female staff member approached us as she mumbled something into the headset she was wearing over her tightly tied back hair.† Frank just held up the card that hung on a lanyard around his neck.† She waved at him, smiling but still distracted.† And before she could say anything about me, Frank leaned in, pointed at me and said in a loud voice over the noise of the expo, "He's with me."

She smiled and nodded, giving him the thumbs up and walked away.† Frank looked back at me and opened the door.† He waited for me to walk in before he let the door close behind us.† As the door finally shut, the noise cut in half as I could finally hear myself think.† Frank looked at me as we walked, the fretful smile still pasted on face.

Finally feeling like I had the right to say something, I let my mouth do the thinking.

"What's wrong with Ethan?" I almost demanded.

Frank's walk ground to a halt.† He didnít look at me as sighed, his whole body signaling that he felt..... guilty.... in some way.† He pulled his glasses off, bowed his head and rubbed his eyes.† I listened to my breath begin to shutter as all of a sudden I could hear my heart beat.

What?..... What happened to Ethan?

We stayed there in hall for a few moments, Frank looking like he trying to figure out where to start, and me trying not to let my nerves, my head or my heart go rampant.

"About...." Frank finally started to say.† "A-About five.... six months ago...."

Frank looked away.† He rubbed his eyes again.† I heard a few gasps.

What Frank? Ethan..... what?......

WHAT!?

End of Chapter 14: World War Me- Part 1

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