Disclaimer: This story contains sexually explicit material, situations between two consenting adult males. If this offends you or if it is illegal to view because of your region or age, do not continue. All resemblances to real people are purely coincidental. Please do not use or distribute without the author's permission.

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Loves Given Up On Me- Part 1


By: Cody Lane


Chapter Fifteen: World War Me- Part 2


It was 2:46 p.m. on a Thursday. School was almost out.

I was in Mrs. Watson's 7th grade English class. I was sitting slouched in my desk in the back corner of the classroom, under a black and white poster of Earnest Hemmingway. I had on a royal blue hoodie, half-way zipped up, and a red cap, adjusted low, just above my brow. The school rule was no hats in class, but Mrs. Watson didn't say anything. I think she was afraid that if she said anything it'd just upset me even more.

The hoodie... it was my twin brother, Kyle's. He had gotten it when made the 6th grade basketball team the year before. It had been his favorite jacket. But when our parents decided to finally call it quits and get a divorce after years of yelling at each other, he gave it to me. I guess as a parting gift as he went to live with our dad; one of our older sisters went with him too. Me, and my other three sisters, stayed here in Las Vegas with our mom.

The divorce was clean, but that didn't mean that me, Kyle, or our sisters didn't come out unscathed. My so-called stable life was turned upside-down. I was already having a hard time in school and the family problems only seemed to make things worse. I was seeing the school counselor on a bi-weekly basis, even before my parents signed the papers. Now, I was afraid that I'd be seeing that snotty therapist and his ugly, argyle sweater-vests daily. He'd always ask how I was doing. Such a stupid question... If I was fine, then I wouldn't be seeing him now, would I?

Now, the only thing I looked forward to was Tae Kwon Do class after school.

I was pulled out of my reverie by Mrs. Watson as she was going on into her poetry lesson. She knew of my predicament and chose to not call on me as I doodled with a frown in the back of her class. I missed my dad. I missed Kyle. I put my pencil down and looked at the empty seat next to me. This was only class that Kyle and I had together. And it was the only class I didn't share with Terrence, Grant or Jeff. I looked back down at my spiral notebook, at the drawing of a sword and blood sketched on the lined paper. I opened my fist and looked down at my open wrist.

Wouldn't it be so easy?

"Okay, class, just continue looking at the poem on page 36. And be ready to analyze," Mrs. Watson said as she stepped towards the open door. "I'll be just outside this door so behave."

I looked up as I watched Mrs. Watson disappear into the hallway. The middle school dean was outside in the hall. I looked down and moved my notebook over, revealing my open English book underneath. I guess I shouldn't sulk. Kyle would have told me that it's not good to totally blow off class. If I got any `D's' or `F's,' mom wouldn't let me hear the end of it. I looked at the good-sized poem, debating on whether or not I should even try.

But even if I wanted to... I didn't get to.

"Hey, Harrison."

I looked up, just in time to see a hand fly up and knock my cap up and snuggly off my head. This wasn't a friendly gesture. And the hand didn't belong to any friend of mine. I looked up at the kid, sitting backwards in the desk in front of me. Courtney Hansen, Court for short. He usually sat at the other end of the classroom. And unlike me, Court had hit his big growth spurt years before and it looked like puberty welcomed him with open arms at about the same time. My guess... he was probably already shaving. He was also the hot shot of the 7th grade football team... and an equally big bully... and ever since Kyle left, it felt like he only bullied me. I took my cap off my head and set it down on the upper corner of my desk, my dark hair now falling freely just above my brow. I didn't acknowledge him as I picked up my pencil again and took another look at my textbook.

Court picked up my cap and began examining it. "How come we never hang out, huh, Ethan?" he asked, not looking at me.

I didn't say anything as I tried to read the first verse of the poem and ignore him at the same time. He put my cap back down on my desk.

"You know, I heard you and your brother used to take karate lessons together," he said as he snatched my pencil out from between my fingertips. I didn't do anything as I sighed. I looked around me as I noticed the other students saw what was happening, but with Court's size and stance on campus, I know they wouldn't do anything.

"Tae Kwon Do," I said softly, correcting him as I finally looked up into his cold, glinting brown eyes.

He smirked. "...Tae Kwon Do... right." He got a little more comfortable, leaning forward, intruding farther into my personal bubble. "I just thought, you do... that. I play... ball. They're both athletics. Don't you think so?"

What was he getting at? I finally gave him a look of, `Don't you compare yourself to me or my brother.' I was hesitant to give him a harder stare. He was still way bigger than I was.

He must have seen the look behind my eyes. "I'm just wondering why we aren't friends."

I looked away from his deep stare, afraid that the look on my face might invite something unwanted. I said, just above a mumble, "Like the black eye you and your friend gave me on my way home last week?"

I heard him lightly laugh under his breath. My eyes shot back only to catch his gaze as it locked me in place. "Hardly..." he said behind a grin. "But, uh... I kinda thought your face needed it. I can't just let you go runnin' around school lookin' like some boy band reject, now? Can I?"

I looked back down at my lap and slowly shook my head. "You should just... leave me alone, Court."

"Yeah," he said, the tone of his voice implying that he could, but chose not to. "But that wouldn't be any fun now..."

His eyes turned dark. "... would it?"

* * * * *

Court grew out of bullying me, but he never quite left me alone, even when we got to high school. Why were they all the same?



Save me... Logan... please...


"John... he-" Frank's eyes looked sorry.

I didn't let Frank finish his sentence as I took my first step backwards, slowly shaking my head in deafening disbelief. I felt the icy chill of Frank's words slice into my veins and then slowly trickle into my spine like liquid nitrogen. I listened to my breath as the sounds around me faded until the loudest sound in my ears was the boom of my own heartbeat. Frank's eyes looked scared... and still guilty. He was waiting for me to say something. I looked down as I tried to calm my breathing.


...no,No... NO! This fucker, John... he didn't... HE DIDN'T! He didn't fucking touch him!

"Logan." The way Frank said my name. He was obviously trying to calm me. But as I felt my breath go rampant, short and fast, my eyes tore at every surrounding surface but Frank's face. I knew I wasn't calm. I looked down the hallway. There were only a few people but they didn't seem to take notice of us. I didn't look back at Frank as I began walking down the hall, frantically looking at all the signs on the wall, looking for something that said "Men's Locker-room."

Where is he? Where is he when he needs me...? Something so fucked up happened to him and... I'm stuck here wandering these fucking halls... WHERE IS HE?! FUUUUCCCKKKK!!

"Logan, please." I heard Frank beg for my attention. He was following me as I was still walking further down the hall. I heard him, but I didn't make it known. I know that he could stop me if he wanted to, but I also knew that he understood what I was feeling. I could feel my protective instincts taking over... and I did nothing to stop it. I felt that primal wolf appear in my veins and the excruciating need to protect my mate.

"Logan!" I could hear Frank still yelling for me as I threw open the locker-room doors. There must have been something frightening about me as I couple of guys and a few kids and teenagers jumped at the sight of me. They were changing.

"Ethan?" I yelled, looking at the faces staring up at me. He wasn't among them. I could hear Frank behind me, but before he could reach me I quickly walked down the main isle between the bright red lockers. I looked down each passing isle as the amount of bodies dwindled, the isles becoming emptier and emptier. I noticed the back of the locker-room getting closer and the thought scared me that he wasn't even in here.


The deep authoritative voice calling my name wasn't Franks. I started a jog towards the back of the locker-room. But before I got to the back, I looked down an isle to my left and I froze in my tracks. There, all the way at the end of the bench, I saw Liz's dad, Steve, Ethan's forms instructor sitting with his arm around Ethan. Ethan sat with his elbows on his knees looking at some apparition on the floor. He wasn't fully dressed. He had only a pair of royal blue karate pants and a white sleeveless T-shirt on. Steve was looking up at me and he looked like a scared, angry and protective father. A second later I watched his face soften as he sighed with relief. Ethan finally turned and looked at me, his normally brilliant brown eyes looked hollow and black. He wasn't smiling as his breath sounded ragged... he was terrified. And as I stood there looking at him, I could hear him in my head, begging me to comfort him. "Logan..."

"Ethan!" I rushed past Steve and crouched down in front of Ethan. I grabbed his clammy, cold hands. He wasn't responsive.

"Ethan?" I asked. I felt my hand about to reach up, but then I remembered that Steve was there. I stopped myself and looked up at Steve. He looked at me, almost like he was evaluating me. But his look soon melted into an approving nod as he pulled his arm from around Ethan and with a look in his eyes, told me that I should do what I needed to do. I looked back Ethan and cupped his cheek in my hand. I pulled his face up so he'd look at me. I watched his eyes slowly lock with mine as my other hand brushed his bangs from his face.

"Ethan?" I asked again softly, trying to smile at him from behind my heavy worry. "Ethan, please... I'm here... say something."

I knew Steve was still there but Ethan was my boyfriend, and I was going to give him what he needed. I did what came naturally comforting and reassuring, something that reminded him that I was here. I closed my eyes gently pulled Ethan's lips towards mine and kissed him softly, giving him a little of my breath and little of my courage. I instantly felt his hands tighten in my grip. And as I pulled away I could see he was crying. There were no sobs or sniffles. His eyes were still shut but they were tearing. I brushed his dark hair behind his ears, asking him in gesture to open his eyes.

"Logan," Ethan muttered. I kissed him again as an answer.

He opened his eyes. "You came to save me..."


I fell out of my heavy thoughts and memories as I felt the lingering heat of a kiss on my trembling lips. The memories of school and John instantly seemed to fade... clouding away like drops of blood in a vast tub of water. The distant feelings lingered but as my mind cleared I could see my one wish staring right into me. He had one hand clasped around mine, his other hand on my cheek, his fingers in my hair, his blue eyes flooded with anxiety, fear... and a couple drops of anger. I muttered something, I can't remember what, but I know I must have sounded terrified. And the look that formed on Logan face told me that the only thing he wanted to do was comfort me. And I must have been begging for it, because in the inside I was screaming for him.

I then heard a soft, hushed whisper. Not from Logan, but... from Steve. He was no longer sitting next to us but was standing a ways away.

"Francis... just... give them a minute."

Steve was standing in front of Frank, his stance keeping Frank from entering the locker-room isle. I could also imagine Steve's stare keeping Frank from saying anything. Logan's eyes then followed my line of vision as Frank noticed that we were... done, in a sense. Logan was here and I was calm. Mission accomplished.

As Steve finally, reluctantly let Frank by he said soberly, "Someone should be out there with Troy. I mean, the intermediate tourney is about to start. That means Zach and Danny are up." He was pointing towards the door behind him with his thumb as he started to step backwards. Frank nodded as that was probably what Steve should do, no use having both of them in here when there was a tournament going on outside. Besides, Logan was here now. Both of them could leave and I would be fine.

Logan and I watched Steve's expression slowly turn hostile as I swear he was blowing smoke out his nose. He set his hand on Frank's shoulder to get his attention. Frank turned around.

"If I see that little shit, Walker, out there..." He didn't finish as he shook his head and stormed off before Frank could say anything. Frank just sighed as he turned his attention back to me on the bench and Logan kneeling in front of me.

"Steve will keep his head," Frank said calmly as he took a seat next to me. "He's just... worried about you." Frank set his hand on my shoulder. He then looked at Logan. He didn't say anything but I could tell he was grateful Logan was here. Logan nodded at him, I guess telling Frank, `you're welcome,' in gesture. Logan then got up and took a seat next to me. He didn't let go of my hand as he probably was no longer afraid of what Frank, or even Steve, though of us. If I thought about it too... I guess I really didn't mind either.

Frank sighed, regretfully this time, pursing his lips to the side as he looked at the both of us staring back at him. He took off his glasses.

"Ethan," he said, softly. "Considering your run-in with Mr. Walker, I want you to know that you are under no obligation to compete today, no obligation to me or the academy."

I looked down as I felt Logan's grip on my hand tighten. I was surprised. That entire time that I had John standing no more than two feet from me, coming so close I could smell him, I never considered running away. No matter how much he scared me and in spite of what he did, I only saw it ending in the ring.

"...and if were up to me," Frank continued. "I'd pull your name off the roster..."

I quickly looked up at him, confused, relived and terrified. I must have scared Frank with the look on my face.

I had to fight John... He'd never let me be if I didn't go out there and stick up for myself. I could never give myself fully to Logan if he still held some part of me captive. And even though, in the pit of my stomach, I could feel a thousand ton weight telling me I was going to lose, I had to try. Even if the John in the ring leaves with only a scratch, it was the John in my head that I had to beat.

I was about to object but Frank seemed to know how I felt and he quickly cut me off. "But... that... that doesn't seem fair. And like I said, if it were up to me... although I am your instructor and... your boss... I'm not your father."

I looked back down at my hand, my fingers interlocked in Logan's fingers. I closed my eyes and sighed.

"Uh... also," Frank muttered. I looked back up at him. I could see he had a request but he looked hesitant to ask, or maybe... a little scared. "I..." He started, taking a deep breath. "I feel the need to insist that you inform your family about all this. Because in a way... I feel responsible."

I looked back down as I felt Logan's other arm wrap around my shoulder. I swear, if he wasn't there holding me... I fall to pieces. He was the only person I absolutely needed right then and there. But even he couldn't shield me from the thought of my family finding out what happened and... about me and Logan. I felt my stomach go retched as I remembered that Morrigan, Bret, Avery and Jesse were in the stands, my sisters and my brothers-in-law. I leaned more into Logan as I shook my head. I took deep breaths.

"-n... No," I muttered to Frank. "It's no one's fault. And I'll tell them, my, my family... My sisters are here and I'll see them after my match."

Frank nodded and tried to smile. "Good," he said softly. Frank got up and picked up his clip board off the bench, beside him. As he stood over us he rubbed his glasses on his polo. "Well..." he said reluctantly. "You better finish getting dressed Ethan... your name's coming up pretty quick."

I nodded as Logan and I watched him turn and leave.


We were finally alone. But that didn't make me want to let go of Ethan. And he didn't seem like he wanted me to let go either. I gently pulled his chin up so his eyes met mine. My eyes searched his. They still looked cloudy with tiny flashes of fear, but I could still see the small bolts of courage in them.

"You okay?" I whispered, sounding so worried I scared myself. "Like Frank said... you don't have to do this."

He nodded slowly. "I have to, Logan." The words of valor were there but I could hear that he was still shaken up by all that had happened.

"Why didn't you tell me?" I asked, shaking my head and feeling a little hurt and surprisingly a little angry. This was the kind of shit that was on a need-to-know basis. I know... I know that Ethan has a past that scares the shit of me. It scares me because it's a time in his life where I wish I was there. There's this painful history etched into his wrists that I wish I could undo. And now this guy, John Walker, shows up out of nowhere and my protective instincts uncontrollably shoot up into code red. Just the thought of him made my jaw tighten, my vision redden and my blood pump with rage. It felt as if my blood howled. Like I have this... primal instinct rooted deep in my anatomy. My coaches told me it gave me an edge on the football field. But I feel that it reaches far beyond the sphere of competitive sports. I've come to realize that it makes me crazy... wild-animal crazy when it comes to Ethan. Like some primordial wolf, I have this agonizing, irrepressible need to protect him, from all outside rivals and even from himself. I feel that as long as he loves me... I'll protect him at all costs.

Ethan sighed as he closed his eyes and let his head drop.

"Who is he?" I asked, a little more sternly.

"That-... that was John Walker."

After Frank's expatiation of his and Ethan's history, hearing John's name fall from Ethan's lips was enough to ignite the kerosene in my blood. I shook my head as I let Ethan's hand go and stood up. I faced the lockers, my back to Ethan.


I firmly slammed my fist into the thin, painted metal. It sent a clanging boom through the locker-room. I dented the locker, I know I did. I could feel the tension in my face and muscles. I wanted my fist in John's face. I wished the locker in front of me was him, with my knuckles buried in his nose.

"Why didn't you tell me?" I asked again, letting a little more frustration seep into my voice. I didn't turn to look at him. There were several booming seconds of silence.

"I-I don't know," Ethan muttered dejectedly, like he had tried to give me a real answer but just couldn't. I felt my heart rip in half. On one hand I wanted to kiss him again, kiss him as softly as I could and tell him it was alright. But I was also furious, angry at Walker and angry at Ethan... he should have told me. He should have fucking told me. Ethan, how can I protect you when I'm left out in the dark?

I gritted my teeth as I could feel my emotions melt and then burst.

I snapped at him. "That's not an answer, Ethan!" It was then I noticed my eyes were blurry and wet. My face must have looked as conflicted as my insides felt. All I knew was that I didn't feel like myself. I was fighting, fighting to regain the feeling I had with Ethan in my arms just this morning, a feeling of safety, protection and... our love. No intrusions.

Ethan dropped his head into his hands, his fingers in his hair. He was shaking his head.

"Ethan..." I asked again, even more impatient and increasingly frustrated.

"I didn't do anything!" He snapped back at me, his face shot up, his angelic, brown eyes piercing mine. They were glossy with moisture and I could see he was hurting. His demeanor and voice calmed. "I met him before I met you... he shouldn't matter."

I shook my head, disagreeing with him, my rage not ready to let me go. My primal wolf wanted to make something clear. "He wants you... AND you're MY Boyfriend, Ethan. That's why it matters. He shouldn't even be looking at you!" I wanted to punch the locker again.

Ethan just looked at me, his eyes big and open, like growing gravity wells, and I quickly realized that they were quickly siphoning away all my anger. I shook my head again as I felt my rage beginning to subside, like a receding red tide. I turned back around and faced the lockers. I rested my forearm against the metal and let my head rest against my forearm.

"You're mine, Ethan," I declared, softly but with all the deadly command I could muster. Those words were probably there to comfort me more than him.

I heard Ethan sigh with frustration. "I'm yours, Logan."

I turned my head and saw him looking defeated as he sat on the bench, like a worn-out boxer who'd just lost his title.

"I just thought I could handle this on my own," he said, just above a mumble. "I never thought I'd ever see him again... so... I never..."

I turned all the way around and faced him. "So you never mentioned him," I said, just as softly.

He didn't look at me, he just nodded. Instantly, the rest of my anger washed out of me. I knew it wasn't gone, just buried. I crouched down, eye level to him as he looked up at me. I could see that he was sorry, about John and about keeping me out of it. I suddenly felt like an asshole. Not for being upset about it, but for snapping at him. I wanted to tell him that if I didn't care, I wouldn't have made a big deal over it. With my anger sealed back into a fragile jar I could feel my protective nature take over again, this time untainted by ire.

I brushed his pooling tears from the corners of his eye with my thumb. He shut his eyes and leaned into my touch.

"I'm sorry," I said pouring as much of an apology into those two words. "You know how I can be, and it's no excuse..."

He nodded and slowly opened his eyes.

"It's just..." I said, brushing his long dark hair out of his face. Even with the chaos going on around us, he was still beautiful. I shook my head and I suddenly felt ashamed at having to explain myself... again. "It's just... you don't understand how protective I get when it comes to you. And I know that I've apologized for it before but... I can't help it. I can't bear the thought of you hurt or at his mercy. I just can't. I love you too much. And you've told me that you don't need my protection but..."

I sighed.

"...Just this once, Ethan. Let me keep you safe."

I watched his face as his lips curved into a weak smile. I smiled solemnly back, my hands running through his hair as I watched his smile grow.

"I still mad at you though," I said, letting out a soft, sad chuckle. He still owed me his version of what happened.


I tried to leave out all the details as I told Logan everything. That fateful August afternoon at the dojo, mine and John's falling out, Chris' warning that day we helped him and Derek move, and finally, my face-to-face encounter with the him just an hour ago. As I relived each moment in my retelling, I felt my skin break out in chills and my voice go scratchy. Logan was sitting back at my side his arm back around me, his hand stroking my shoulder. I leaned in closer into him. I could see Logan's nostrils flare and felt his muscles tense whenever I mentioned John even coming close to me. He pulled me close to him... he was trying to protect me. And even though I knew in the back of my mind that John wasn't afraid of him or me, it was nice to feel Logan's strong arms around me, feeling like they could shield me from my past.

"I tried to forget it, Logan," I said as I pulled away from him and looked up into his eyes. "After we met... I didn't want to bring that into our relationship."

I gently took hold of his free hand and slowly interlocked our fingers, watching the way his fingers caressed mine, the way my hand fit perfectly in his. "We were perfect before, Logan... Don't get mad at me wanting to protect that."

I knew that wasn't the answer he was looking for but it was the only one I had. I just didn't want John anywhere near the happiness I had built with Logan. Logan nodded, a sad but satisfied smile on his lips. And without another word from me, he pulled me back into his chest and possessively held me there. I felt his nose and fingers in my hair, his arm wrapped around my waist as I wrapped my arms around his neck and shoulders. I shut my eyes and breathed in the smell of clean laundry weakly masking a scent of sweat, virility and possession.

"I'm gonna smash his fucking face in," Logan mumbled to himself. I know he was letting his thoughts just spill out of his mouth without thinking. The frightening image of Logan in a fight with John made me pull away and look up at him. With our hands still around each other I saw the look of a challenged, territorial beast shimmer from behind Logan's blue eyes.

"You're mine, Ethan," he said, his voice suddenly full of authority. "He has to see that."

Was he serious? If I can't beat him, then what makes Logan think he could? No. I'm not going to let him get into this mess. This thing with John was pre-Logan.

"No," I said shaking my head, bring his nose to meet mine. "I'm not gonna let you confront him... it's my fight," I said trying to sound just as authoritative.

Logan's sudden stubbornness wasn't letting him go. He shook his head at me while running his fingers through my hair. "He's going to see that when he threatens you... he threatens me."

So what are you gonna do Logan? Huh? Beat him up?

He must have read my thoughts in my eyes.

"I may not fight like you guys, but I still throw and take a punch," he said. "I'll show him... I'll show him he can't come in here after what he did to you." I could see his emotions were getting the best of him. He blinked away a few tears as his tightened bottom lip quivered. He instantly pulled my lips into another possessive kiss, halting any protests on the tip of my tongue. I felt everything he felt in his kiss. His need, his possession and even his fear. I ran my fingers through his gelled hair as he tugged at my athletic shirt. I brought my hand to his cheek and the kiss subsided; softer, but still needy and little bit scared. He pulled away.

"He has no right to demand you when I've already claimed you," he whispered.

I grabbed his forearm in one hand and caressed his temple with the other, hoping I could calm and derail him from this stupid crusade for my honor. "This is my fight, Logan. And I know that you want to fight for me in some heroic gesture... but he's never going to let me go unless I go out there and show him that he can't always get what he wants."

Logan shut his eyes as he let out frustrated sigh.

"Please," I begged him softly. This was hard for him. I stroked his arms and neck as I waited for him to nod or say something. A few seconds passed and nothing. I finally sighed. "I'll kick his ass if that's what you want."

That made him smile. He chuckled and finally opened his eyes. My eyes asked him again, Let me fight him for us. He nodded, reluctantly... I could see it.


Only Ethan could stray me off the warpath. As much as I wanted Walker's bloodied face in the dirt. I still couldn't deny Ethan anything, even though I tried to. And I know that if and when I see Ethan and John on that sparring mat, it'll take a hell of a lot of self-control to keep me out of it. I know that my instincts are going to go haywire with an excruciating need to protect him. And despite my machismo, I'm going to stay in those bleachers and hope Ethan hears me when I yell for him to kick John's ass.

I'm going to need all the restraint in the world, and then some.

Ethan was still in my embrace when we heard heavy, approaching footsteps. We slowly disentangled our arms and fingers from each other before Frank appeared from behind the line of lockers. We watched him fold his arms and lean against the lockers, he smiled at us as we shyly smiled back.

"I'm not disturbing, am I?" he asked, his brows raised and his smiled intensified. We shook our heads. That gave Frank the okay to approach. He took a seat next to Ethan. "You feelin' better, Ethan?" he asked, his voice serious and concerned.

"Yeah." Ethan nodded back. "Much better."

"You decided on...?" Frank stalled his question as I watched him try to gage Ethan's countenance.

"Yeah," Ethan said before letting out an uneasy sigh. "Walker needs a few kicks to the head." He said as I heard a sudden shot of courage in his voice.

"Atta boy," Frank said, smiling as he ruffled Ethan's hair. "I came by to tell you boys that Zach and Danny both placed in their divisions, as did Laura."

Ethan nodded. "Nice." He turned to me. "Uh, Zach and Danny are the assistants in the beginning class I teach."

"Oh," I said, glad he cleared that up.

Frank suddenly got back on his feet. "And..." he said as reached behind him and somehow pulled a navy blue T-shirt out of nowhere. "This is for you, Mr. Rian." He offered it to me and I wasn't entirely sure what for. A T-shirt? Why? I unfolded it and held it out in front of me. Calvert Martial Arts Academy, it said in bold white print above a few familiar Korean characters. It was just like Ethan's T-shirt.

I looked back up at Frank, a bit puzzled. "So you don't get hassled for coming back to see Ethan," Frank said sympathetically. "So for today, you're one of my staff."

"Thanks," I said, trying to sound as grateful as I could without over doing it.

The three of us then heard more approaching footsteps. Ethan and I looked past Frank as we saw Steve rounding the corner lockers and walking towards us. Frank and Steve exchanged nods, like something was passed between them... like... information.

"Well," Frank turned back towards us. "You two got 30 minutes." And with that he left us with Steve.


Thirty minutes...

That was no time at all. I could feel my inner self trying to hold on to the bits of courage and self confidence I had managed to gather. John was out there and after an entire semester of trying to hide from him, I was going to settle things... in thirty minutes.

I looked up and watched Steve sit down next to me. I noticed that he had a steel thermos in his hand and two small ceramic cups, very oriental in look and make.

"I'm glad you decided to fight today," he said, barely smiling. "If you didn't, I was gonna fight the little shit myself."

I let out a small chuckle as I felt Logan's hand on my shoulder and his breath in my hair. I could tell this was his way of saying that he wasn't the only who felt the same. Normally, I'd be stiffening up at the very thought of Logan even touching me in front of Steve or even Frank. But after all the shit that piled on me in the past hour... I had little mental space left to worry about what my instructors thought. Besides, Steve and Frank sent for Logan. Frank knew the basics of me and Logan. And Steve was Liz's father and knowing how she couldn't keep anything from daddy, I wouldn't be surprised if he already knew. And I'm sure Logan didn't let much time pass before letting them see our real relationship. I guess when the shit hits the fan... should we really worry about what those around us thought? If they really considered us friends, they would understand.

"If I didn't go out there, then I'm sure Logan here would have," Steve said, taking notice of Logan's less that subtle signs of affection. Logan gave Steve an affirming nod. In gesture saying, Fuck Yeah, I would.

"Don't encourage him," I said, jokingly. It felt good to finally feel some banter... and to finally be open with Steve. He's been my hero since I started Tae Kwon Do in elementary school and over the past couple months he's grown closer to becoming a second father. And Liz has told me on numerous occasions Steve has considered me as the son he never had. So I'm glad he accepted me with Logan.

I watched Steve finally smile whole-heartedly at us as if realizing something and then suddenly shaking it off. "I approve by the way," he said as he reached for the thermos he had set on the bench beside him. "Not that you boys need my approval... just in case you two were wondering."

Logan tightened his hold on me. "We kinda noticed... and really, uh... thanks for being cool about it," Logan said before letting me go and standing.

Logan was looking at his new T-shirt when Steve said, "Some of us just... kick... in a different direction... if you forgive the bad Tae Kwon Do analogy."

I just chuckled at him, glad he made the effort. "Thanks, Steve," I said humbly. "I-I really look up to you and it means a lot... that... that you're fine with us, me and Logan, I mean."

"It's no problem," he said as he smiled, his eyes telling me to shake off all doubt. His face suddenly went fatherly. "And don't let anyone give you shit for it... You're still a man to be reckoned with. Don't forget that." He made it sound like an order. He looked up at Logan. "You neither, Logan."

"Yes, sir," Logan said, just as seriously as I soon noticed that Logan had changed into his new T-shirt. His sky blue, button-down shirt and white undershirt were tossed over my gym bag as I watched him pull the T-shirt down over his torso. Hmm... I guess Frank guessed wrong when picking out the size. Logan was a big boy. And I think the shirt was one size too small. It was stretched over his chest, shoulders and biceps like it'd been spray painted on instead. He looked intimidating... and seeing all his muscles on display made my temperature rise, just a few degrees. Maybe he could protect me after all.

"It's a little snug," Logan said, sitting back down next to me, rolling his shoulders and flexing his chest and arms. Steve and I chuckled. Steve opened up the thermos as steam slithered out in long white ribbons. He picked up one of the small ceramic cups and poured out a gold tinted fluid.

"Drinking green tea before a match is an Eastern Martial Arts tradition," Steve said reverently as I handed me a steaming cup. He poured the other one and handed it to Logan. He cradled it in both hands and looked a little unsure as to why he got one, but he smiled gratefully none the less.

Steve sighed, regretfully. "Ethan, what happened to you today should not have happened. Frank and I tried to keep an eye out for John but he didn't show himself until you showed up and by the time we found him... it was too late."

I watched Logan fight to hold his anger in check as it looked like he was keeping himself from crushing the ceramic cup in hand like it were a Dixie cup instead.

"That's why we asked for a private changing room. Which by the way is still not ready... or they just plain forgot. But... I just wanted to say we're sorry, Frank and I," he said, his eyes filled with apology. "And... I did ask to be filled in on your past with the dojo and with Frank... I hope that was okay?"

"Yeah," I said as I nodded. I looked at Logan and I could see that he was still a little peeved that I didn't tell him. I guess... being in a relationship should have been reason enough to tell him. But I just wanted to protect what we had. And I knew John and what he'd done would just fuck with everything, even if it happened before we met.

"Well," Steve said. "Think about what you're fighting for and drink."

I looked down at the cup in my hand, breathing in the scented steam, feeling the heat radiate through the cup. What was I fighting for? That was a no brainer. I downed the shot of tea in one swift motion. It didn't burn my tongue but I could feel the heat in my belly. I looked up at Logan. He smiled softly at me. And in his eyes I could see his answer. And just a fast, he downed his shot.

It's time.


When you're not sitting the in the stands, the amphitheater did look like a circus. The bleachers were packed with bodies, just like Ethan had told me. There were banners and screams bombarding us in all directions and a few camera flashes here and there to round out the din. The sound was even louder on the floor than it had been when I was sitting in the bleachers, even though it was still intermission between the intermediate and advanced matches. I was standing next to Frank and Steve. They looked stoic in their stances, keeping an eye on their little circle of fighters, a handful of others including Ethan. I watched Ethan talk with a couple of brown-haired teenagers. He was finally smiling as the two teens showed him their medals. Ethan looked eagerly impressed. Those two must be Danny and Zack. Ethan mentioned that they were his intermediate ranked assistants in the beginner's class he taught. I didn't mind Ethan talking to any of other of the guys here. I didn't feel threatened by any of them. Everyone except the other advanced black belt, the one in the white karate uniform, the one with the staring problem, Troy.

That got to me, guys or girls who looked at Ethan in a way that was only reserved for me. Only I could look at him with hunger, lust or need. But what really got to me about Troy and what made him different from all the others, was the fact that he was older, maybe 28, more mature, very good-looking with his perfectly cut hair, his probably perfect body and the fact that he was some brave cop and heroic Army veteran. Yeah, Frank told me all about him. I refused to contemplate that I had rivals for Ethan's attention. I know that it was probably stupid to think like that but... jealousy is a tough thing to control. And coupled with my feelings and the fact that my heart has made up my mind for me, it was even harder to control. The wild animal that raced through my veins was lethally territorial. Ethan was mine, and no one else will do.

I took a deep breath and shut my eyes. This fucking jealousy, it's running rampant and I can't fucking keep it under control. If I don't tie it down... Ethan's not going to like it. He told me to trust him... trust that he's not going to leave me for some cop, who might have more to offer. Fuck! I hate feeling insecure... but it's uncontrollable.

I sighed and looked across our little circle at Troy. I didn't move my head, only my eyes. He was on his phone, probably reading a text message. I shouldn't be so hard on the guy... I haven't even talked to him yet. Maybe this is all in my head and there was nothing to worry about. And since finally being told about John, I had enough to worry about.

Troy hasn't looked at me since I got here. And he hasn't looked at Ethan since either. I guess my glare must have said it all.

I guess... I might as well say something.

My stroll was slow. I had my hands in my pockets as my eyes darted around every other second. He noticed me coming in his direction and for the first couple seconds I could tell he was puzzled. To tell you the truth, I really didn't understand why I was doing this either. If I had to give myself an explanation, I guess I wanted all my hatred reserved for John. He was the real threat... not Troy. And... he did respect my wishes, no matter how harshly I might have got them across.

"Sorry about before," I said gruffly, getting it out before I chicken out.

He turned off his phone and let out a suspicious smile. I guess my face and body language still looked hostile.

"Well, you still look like you want to use my face for a punching bag," he said, forcing a smile under the uncomfortable situation I had put us in.

I let out a sharp sigh and tried to loosen my body and my countenance. "Look," I said my face relaxed but my voice still stern. "I said I was sorry." I shrugged, a little arrogantly.

Troy let his head drop. He pursed his lips as he tapped his phone against his leg. "Ethan never told me he was seeing someone."

Wow, he was being frank. I guess I figured that out earlier enough, if he looked at Ethan that way... he had to be just like me... gay. And for a split second I felt my jealous rage flare, but I instantly roped it back down as I realized he was just being honest and conceding to defeat.

"Yeah, well... he is." I gave him a look that announced clearly, Ethan was mine. And that even if Troy, Frank and Steve were exponentially better fighters than I would ever be, it was my right to protect him.

"Point taken," Troy said, respectfully but in no way submitting to my attitude. Yeah, he was cop alright. "And... It's good that he has you here."

I watched Troy's eyes wander across the mats at another group of fighters standing around, huddled. They all had red uniforms, in stark contrast to Frank's Academy who wore royal blue and white.

"The guy you should be worried about is over there," Troy said calmly. "Watch out for the badass with the scar on his forehead."


As I listened to Danny and Zack retell each of their matches, I laughed and nodded at their animated gestures, reenacting punches, kicks and blocks. I had my cell phone in my fist when I felt it buzz with vibration. I continued to nod as I looked down at my phone and noticed ten text messages and three missed calls. I had left my phone in my gym bag when I was in the locker-room and only just now paid attention to it. The messages were mostly from Morrigan and Avery and a couple from Terrence. I read the first few from my sisters and realized that they were here and sitting across from mine and Logan's friends in the opposite bleachers.

I looked over at the foot of the nearby bleachers and quickly found Terrance sipping on a large soda with Adam whispering something in his ear. Next to them was Grant and Jeff, both were fiddling with a camera Grant had in his hands. Below them sat Scott and Liz. Liz noticed me and waved, Scott following her sight and smiling. I waved back and pointed to were Logan was standing, oddly next to Troy. Hmm... I thought Logan didn't care for him. Logan had his back to our friends, but Liz, Scott and Terrence noticed Logan and nodded. Liz had surprised look on her face. I guess Logan down in the floor with me must be a big deal.

I waved one more time and looked back down at my phone reading my sister Morrigan's text message one more time to make sure I had their seat locations right. I looked at the other end of the amphitheater, at the opposite rows of bleachers. I scanned the faces and couldn't make out one that was familiar. Maybe it's best if call one of them.

I listened to the phone ring a couple times before my sister's voice came on the other end, yelling just to be heard. "Hello? Ethan?"

"Hey, where are you guys at?"

"Is that him?" I could hear Bret asking. I could imagine her shushing him with a look.

"We're sitting practically in the middle of the bleachers on the left," she said. "Avery is wearing a bright pink cap, you can't miss her."

I looked one more time at all the people and still, I couldn't make out anyone's face or a bright pink cap.

"Were are you at?" Morrigan asked after a few seconds.

"I'm down on the floor. Look for the school with the white and blue uniforms," I explained. A few more seconds passed.

"I see the uniforms... but..." she said skeptically. I waved one hand in big arcs. "I SEE YOU!" she yelped. I smiled as I watched the middle section intensely before seeing another waving hand, Morrigan's. I looked at the people next to her; her husband, Bret, my other sister Avery and Avery's husband, Jesse. And Avery was wearing a bright pink cap. How did I miss it?

"Finally," she said relieved. "We were all worried."

Worried? I felt a cold rush of fear blow down my back before I quickly pushed the feeling back down. I know that I told Frank that I would tell my sisters what happened. But there was no way I could tell them without having to explain the `me and Logan' part of it. I didn't want to think about it anymore as I pasted a smile back on my face.

"Well, we brought hugs, kisses and `I miss you's' from mom. And dad says, `Go get `em.' And everybody else at home is cheering for you."

"Thanks," I said timidly.

"Thanks?" she asked back, jokingly annoyed. "That's it? We drove five plus hours to get here..."

I stopped her. "Okay, okay... I'm glad you guys are here. And yes, I'm a little peeved that mom or dad didn't make it down... but I'll survive. And Thanks for showing up, you didn't have to, but you did."

Inside I was happy and scared. I was happy because it felt good to have part of family in the stands. But I was scared because I knew that I had to tell them what was happening. And I knew that I had to say something about the tall handsome guy next to me. Fuck... I hate not knowing how my family was going to take this. But I was more comfortable knowing that I was going to tell my sisters first rather than my mother. At least they could tell me how she'd take it. Oh, god... the thought of my mother knowing. I still didn't know how she'd react, but my gut told me it was not going to be good.

"Okay then," Morrigan said, her voice returning to its upbeat nature. "Have fun and know were rooting for you... we'll see you after you win first prize, bye."

"Bye." I hung up and saw my two sisters and my brothers-in-law wave back at me. I waved one more time before looking around to see my friends. They looked like they were having fun, eating junk food as they smiled and laughed. I felt a firm hand on my shoulder. I turned and found Logan next to me.

"Your sisters?" he asked, his head making a nod to the bleachers behind us.

"Yeah," I said, my voice suddenly sounding noticeably conflicted.

"Did you...?" Logan began to ask, his brow rising.

"NO. No, I didn't say anything," I said as I shut my eyes and shook my head.

Logan's face begged the question.

I sighed. After the emotional rollercoaster that has been today... "I just wanted things with my family to stay the same and be normal..." Logan gave me a skeptical look. "...at least for a few more hours. And when we're done here I'll tell them. I'll tell them everything... not just about him. But also about you and... us."

I felt so close to wanting to curl into a ball. But I wanted him to comfort me even more, right here in the middle of all these people. I wanted his arms around me, his lips opening for my tongue, his breath in my lungs. But I didn't dare say or show that I wanted it. I just... looked at him... longing for him. He might not know this, but he was only thing keeping me from losing my mind.

His eyes were soft as he asked, "Are you sure you're really ready to tell them?" His tone asked me to tell him the truth.

I looked down. "I'll never be ready," I confessed as I shook my head. When I finally sighed and shrugged, I looked back up at him, a small smile on my lips. "But I'd rather tell them because I can't hide how I feel about you."

I watched Logan face turn blissfully surprised, his eyes sparkling as I could swear I could see him uncontrollably happy in those blue of his eyes. But he didn't get the opportunity to say anything back. Frank was suddenly next to us and gripped both mine and Logan's shoulders. His touch pulled us back to earth.

"You boys ready?" he asked, suddenly realizing he was interrupting. I blinked at him as Logan smiled nervously. I could see Logan wanted me to be open with my family as he was with his. Maybe his dad didn't take it so well, but his siblings couldn't be more supportive.

"They're about to start," Frank said clearing his throat and smirking as he left us alone again.


I can't hide how I feel about you.

Ethan's voice was still weaving through my consciousness as I stood next to Frank at the end of a line that consisted of me, Frank, Steve and Troy standing shoulder to shoulder. Ethan stood in front of us, his hands resting behind his back as the announcer was blaring out the introduction to the advanced Tae Kwon Do Tournament. The crowd was quieter, but still loud.

Then the volume of the announcer's voice shot up to deafening. "NOW LET'S HERE IT FOR OUR COMPEDITORS!"

The crowd roared back with applause and screams. He introduced the first school and crowd roared again. If I had to guess there were about a dozen schools with about twenty fighters in total, all of whom looked poised for battle. The announcer got closer to Frank's dojo and even though I wasn't the one fighting, I still felt my stomach drop into the pit of gut in anticipation. As the announcer called out the school next to us I suddenly felt a rush. It all reminded me of being back in high school and hearing my name blared over the bleachers as me and my team ran out onto the football field.

"From Tucson, we have first degree black belt, Ethan Harrison representing Calvert Martial Arts Academy." The announcer sounded boisterous as I let my smile burst at the seams. I listened to the crowd cheer for my boyfriend as he stepped forward and took a respectful bow. I looked behind us and saw all our friends standing; Liz, Jeff and Grant screaming, Terrence, Adam and Scott's fists in the air. I grinned back at them. They noticed me. I turned back around and a saw two couples in the stands across the way also standing and screaming; Ethan's family. They looked happy and supportive with all their smiles. They looked like good people. I know they'd take it well. They had to.

Ethan stepped back as the next school was announced. He looked like he'd just escaped something fatal. He was sweating as his breath went labored. He didn't turn around but I could see his feet twitching and his knees slightly shaking as he twiddled his fingers from behind his back. Knowing Ethan, being the center of attention was the absolute last place he wanted to be. And to make things worse, he just had to stand there. At least if he was in the ring, he could focus on the fight and let that melt away his surroundings. He was only a few feet from me and I could do nothing but stand there until the introduction portion was over with.

"And last but not least..." The announcer's voice suddenly took on an epic tone. "From here in Phoenix, representing Red Dragon Dojo, second degree black belt, John R. Walker."

The crowd was whipped up into a frenzy as I looked down the row of schools and fighters and saw a cocky guy in a red karate uniform walk up, pump one fist into the air and finally take a bow. His bright red uniform only concentrated my attention as I could feel the bloody color wash over my eyes. I could mentally make out crosshairs targeting his head. I must have been pissed, so territorially enraged that I soon felt Frank's hand on my shoulder.

"Keep it together, Logan," he said softly in my ear. "I know you you're upset, we all are."

His voice helped me rein my anger back in and I soon noticed that my fists were clenched and just about every muscle in my arms and face were tense. I wanted nothing more that pound his face into that mat. To that wild wolf within me, the fact that John had touched Ethan was grounds for death. I watched John give Ethan a sideways glance. Even from afar I could see the coveting fire in his eyes as he watched my boyfriend. I clenched my fists as I could feel my finger nails digging into my palms. And it took all my control and some of Frank's to keep it corralled in.

John stepped back, not taking his stare off of Ethan as the announcer blared, "NOW LET'S SEE SOME FIGHTS!" He grinned and I swore he licked his lips.

The crowd roared back into a deafening din. As I could see John's eyes licking at Ethan's skin as Ethan ignored him and turned around. I quickly stepped towards him and put a soft hand on his shoulder. He smiled and I could read that he was happy at my touch. I wanted to say something about John but I could see in Ethan's eyes that saying something would only add to the weight on his consciousness. I soothed my heated emotions, forgetting about John focusing on the man in front of me.


I let out a shaky breath as I flexed my fingers. Being in front of so many people... I hated it; all eyes on me. I looked up into Logan's stare, trying to focus on the shade of peaceful blue in his eyes. I felt my nerves calm, my heart slow and my mind clear. How does he keep me from losing it, when all I have to do is look at him? Funny... staring at him can also make my nerves tingle, my heart race and my mind hazy with lust.

"You okay?" Logan asked once he saw that I was relaxed as could be in the middle of an arena of screaming people. His eyes were now tinted with a soft kind of concern. He must have noticed John. His protective instincts were on alert. He knew the story, me and John, in the ring, that's how it all started. Well... at least I'm not here alone, like last time.

"...yeah," I mumbled as I nodded, trying to will my body to relax just a little bit more. Logan didn't look too convinced. I could see his territorial rage caged behind his eyes, if just barely.

We noticed Frank walking towards us again as he ended a small conversation with Steve and exchanged nods with Troy. He looked at both of us and let out an excited but nervous deep sigh. "You ready?" he asked with a sharp nod and an even sharper smile.

I nodded back, looking down and then shutting my eyes.

I felt Frank's hand on my shoulder. I looked up and noticed that in his stare, he was asking me one more time if I was sure I wanted to go through with this and that this was it, no more exits.

Frank and Steve had poured a lot time, effort and money to get me here. And I know that in the end my safety trumped all the other cards, and I didn't want to let them down. My friends were here, my family too. And then there was Logan... I had to fight. I can't give Logan everything I am when a part of me is still held hostage. I might be bringing a knife to a gun fight, but I sure as fuck am going to give it everything I got.

I felt my muscles and blood preparing for the fight. I felt my expression change as I let out a hard sigh. I looked back up at Frank and I could see that he noticed a difference. He smiled wickedly, as if telling me, `That's the spirit.'

"Well..." Frank said, going back into instructor-mode, pushing his glasses back up on his nose. "Just to refresh your memory, each round is 6 minutes. The judges..." Frank pointed to a currently empty, but very formal looking table behind us. Only Logan looked back, out of curiosity. "...now, they'll be counting how many hits you can connect and if you can pull off each punch, kick or block with proper technique." I nodded in compliance. Frank continued, "Remember, a more complex move does not necessarily mean more points, so try not to pull them off unless the opportunity is absolutely perfect." Frank now had both hands on my shoulder and giving me a hard stare. He was now in coach-mode.

"Just make sure you execute everything with perfect technique, and avoid everything the other guys throw at you." Frank finished, mussing my hair. He stepped back. "Remember everything Steve taught you and you should kick some ass."

I smiled and let out a tiny laugh. Frank gave me a motivated smile before leaving Logan and I alone again. Logan threw an arm around my shoulder. It was nothing that screamed boyfriends. We looked more like teammates to everyone looking, until Logan lips came to my ear and he growled, "You get out there... and show me what you can do."

I could feel his lips smiling against my ear. I really wanted a nice good-luck kiss instead but this will have to do. I turned and saw a raging blue fire his eyes. I wanted to fight for him, for us. And I could feel that every atom in his body burned for me. And if I lived through this, I promised myself I'd melt for him... in every possible way.


It was karma. All those football games that Ethan came to cheering for me, and now here I was, cheering for him, except I'm on the sidelines and not in the nose-bleed section of the stands. The tournament was now well underway and so far Ethan was 5 and 0, about to get 6 and 0. I tentatively watched Ethan hold his fighting stance in the ring as his opponent started circling him, a taller guy in a black uniform. I guess after watching Ethan's fights before, the guy knew not to rush at him. They were both already sweating profusely and for the first time, Ethan was looking like he needed a break. There were only about 3 minutes left of the round and from my calculations, Ethan was already clearly the winner. I didn't know much about technique, as all of Ethan's elegant kicks looked like something out of a classic martial arts movie, but Steve and Frank commented to themselves that Ethan could have used more or less height or force. I didn't listen to them... everything he did was flawless in my mind.

The move was like lightning. The guy in black thought he saw an opening and he took it. Ethan's leg came up, there was a deep pounding sound and then the guy was on the floor, face down. Ethan looked down at him, still holding his stance. The crowd roared as the referee, confirmed it, Ethan's opponent was done.

"YEAH!" I yelled as I did a hop and threw my fist in the air. Steve, Frank and Troy clapped. My man was on a fuckin' roll.

Back on the sidelines, Ethan smiled at me as he sat in a padded, folding chair with me crouched in front of him. I helped him re-wrap his left hand in long, white, fighting sport wraps; around his, wrist, palm and finally around the base of each finger. Ethan mentioned before that they'll help cushion his knuckles under his grappling gloves. They actually looked kind of sexy, in a blood-sport kind of way. I noticed that Ethan's knuckles were already beginning to redden. My smile dropped as I rotated his wrist to look at his knuckles. Being around sports almost all my life I knew they were going to swell later if he didn't get some ice on them. I looked back up at Ethan. He smiled sheepishly at me, his long hair dampened with sweat, his eyes blind to everything else around us.

"I should ask Frank for some ice," I said. But before Ethan could respond, Steve showed up with a bucket of ice chips, sandwich-sized, plastic sacks and gym hand towels.

"Not quite bloody knuckles," Steve said, grinning down at Ethan's hand. Ethan flexed his hand. I guess for martial artists, this was some sort of trophy. "...but you're getting there."

I was about to object, as I didn't like the idea of Ethan and blood. Steve must have noticed as he leaned into me. I watched his eyes get wider. "If you think this is bad, his feet and shins are gonna look worse when all this is done. Tae Kwon Do is all about kicks, Rian," Steve said as he raised his brow at me, turned and left us alone.

"A-..." I looked back at Ethan, his face uncomfortably confirming that what Steve said was true. I carefully picked up his right foot as I watched Ethan's face for any sign of discomfort. His foot was clad in a thin, light pad that covered the top of his foot but not his toes, his soles or his heel. I pulled at the Velcro and took off the pad. Like his hands, his feet were wrapped in white fighting bandages. I didn't unwrap his foot. I took a handful of ice from the bucket and filled up a small plastic bag. I pressed the ice unto the top of his foot. I noticed his toes were redder that I remembered and, like his knuckles, were showing signs that they were going to swell.

Ethan hissed out a relaxed sigh. "That's feels nice," Ethan whispered, looking from the ice to me as he leaned back in his seat. I kept my stare on him as I gently massaged his foot and ankle. He bit his lip and closed his eyes as he let his head fall back. I could imagine his eyes rolling back from behind his shut lids. My fingers worked gently as I swear I could hear him moan, that all too familiar moan, the moan that tells me what I'm doing to him is ecstasy, the moan that only I can drag out of him. Yeah, this felt good.

Frank suddenly showed up, crouching down next to me in front of Ethan. I watched Ethan quickly sit up as I ended the massage and focus back on the ice. It's not that we were ashamed, just maybe not the type of thing to do in front of Frank, not matter how subtle. But Frank did his usual and pretended not to notice.

"Well, kid..." said, looking at Ethan and smiling softly. "You did it. Semi-finals, you're in."

I chuckled, as I repositioned the ice pack to the side of Ethan's foot. "Not much of a surprise, Frank," I said.

Frank gave me less than amused smile. I dropped the chuckle and grin. "...Sir." I replied like I was in the Army. I guess if Frank wants to be, he can be a hard-ass just like Coach Randall.

"You're staff now, Rian. And as an apprentice to martial arts and a well-practiced athlete, you should know that what Ethan has accomplished was not luck, but the product of endless hours of training and hard work." Frank looked serious as he stared at me for a few seconds. Then he cracked. A smile broke through his demeanor and suddenly he was mussing my gelled hair. I let my smile return. "But... I guess you're right, kid. Ethan in the semi-finals... no big surprise," he said.

But soon, Ethan and I watched Frank's face darken. He had his clipboard with him. He looked down at it and I noticed he'd been jotting down the brackets. He sighed like he had bad news.

"You've done amazingly well, Ethan," Frank said as he pointed at Ethan's name and traced his winning path into the semi-finals. But as his attention turned to the other end of the brackets, I noticed that John's name had cut a clear path to the semi-finals as well.

"Fuck," I said under my breath. With all the noise in the auditorium, I hoped no one heard me, but from the look on Frank's face, I think he did. I felt Ethan's foot tense under my touch. I was still pressing ice onto him when I looked up and noticed the caged fear in eyes fighting for release.

Frank sighed, disappointingly. "I was praying that it wouldn't come down to you two in the ring, but-..."

"He's not coming within 20 feet of Ethan," I said, threateningly as I set Ethan's foot down and all of a sudden feeling like I was 10 feet tall.

I didn't mean to cut Frank off mid-sentence, but my anger just seemed to slip out of my mouth without much hesitation. I stood up, feeling all my muscles ripple in anticipation, like I was bracing for a fight. My demeanor was not directed at Frank.

"No fucking way," I said as I turned, looking across the mat at the guy in the red gi. My pupils felt like cross-hairs as they locked to back of John's head. If only looks could kill. I swear I could hear my fists clench, like the sound of tightening leather.

John must have felt my heavy stare on him, because I watched as he turned tentatively. He had to have felt me; my hate, my contempt, the indiscernible need to punch his face in. All if it focused on a single spot on the back of his skull. I watched his eyes lock with mine and I could see that malice in the simple way he stood, the way he shifted his weight, in the nod of his chin, and especially in the evil blue color of his eyes as he lowered his brow at me. He folded his arms; big, but still not in my league. He knew a challenge when he saw one. He might not know what for, but he was defiantly the type of guy that didn't say no to a brawl.

I could feel my biceps twitch. They wanted to punch him just as much as I did.

"HEY!" I yelled, pointing at him and giving him a look that said `die!' He looked confused and suddenly intrigued, yet peeved. I mean, I was a total stranger shooting daggers at him.

I stepped forward. "Walker!" I yelled. He tilted his head, still intrigued but I could see that he was getting annoyed and little pissed. He unfolded his arms, preparing for me to march right up to him and get in his face. And I was about to when Ethan suddenly stepped in front of me, his left hand on my chest. I was still glaring at John when Ethan said calmly, "Logan, please."

He was trying to get my attention. I could feel my body still wanting to confront John as I tried to push past Ethan. Ethan moved his left hand off my chest and brought it around my neck. His other hand was on my shoulder. His chest was pressed into mine.

"LOGAN," he said more sternly, him mouth closer to my ear. I could feel his voice vibrate through me, shaking me out of my blood rage. I blinked a few times and finally looked down at Ethan, his eyes looking up at me, his hand around my neck and his other hand on my chest. How did I...?

Unconsciously I brought my hand to his neck and took a few sobering breaths. The look in his eyes said he had been on the edge of panic.

Did I... did I cause that?


He knew. John knew.

How could he not? As Logan and I walked back to where we were set up, I took a look back. As my head peered over my shoulder, our eyes locked. John was still staring at me, his look mistrusting and impatient. His eyes suddenly felt like drills, like they were trying to bore their gaze into my consciousness. I know he saw us, my hands on Logan, his on me, it was questionable at best. He got a clue as to what Logan and I were, and he was just looking for that ounce of confirmation. I know that at the time of our encounter at the dojo, telling him I wasn't into guys kept some part of him distant from me. The ironic part was that also at the time, I had no interest. I had never looked at another guy and wanted him, not until Logan. But now that he's seen Logan, and he's seen how I look at him...

John... he's not going to let anything go.

I was sitting on my padded, folding-chair, bent foreword and head down, playing with the Velcro straps of my grappling gloves. My fingers had to do something, anything was better than fidgeting. I was biting my lip, ready to curse when I heard someone take a seat next to me. I fully expected it to be Logan. After what happened, Frank decided to have a little talk with his newest employee about the virtue of self-control. They'd been chatting for about 3 minutes and I wanted Frank to be done grilling Logan. I wanted my boyfriend back.

"So what'd Frank say?" I asked without looking up.

"About what?"

That wasn't Logan's voice. More confused than surprised I sat up straight and saw Troy sitting next to me. He was still dressed out in his white gi and perfectly knotted belt. I cleared my throat. "Sensei..." I said. "Sorry, I thought you were..."

He raised his brow, slightly grinning as he waited for to finish my sentence.

"...someone else," I said awkwardly as I watched his face tell me he was not convinced that `someone' was what or who I meant to mention.

He chuckled. "No, I'm not Logan."

I blushed like I was guilty as I looked down and let out a jagged breath. Fuck, Fuck, Fuck. Does everyone at the academy know? Did Frank and Steve really have to go telling everyone on the staff? Or does Troy just... know? I mean... that last time we were alone, he did try to...

"Don't be embarrassed," Troy said as I kept my head down. "If we were all embarrassed, we'd never land a boyfriend now, would we?"

I felt a spark fly up my spine as I sat straight up in response. Did he just say that? Did he just confirm what I thought was just in my head? I let out a sigh as I chuckled and shook my head. "I-I guess I should have known," I said softly as I crossed my eyebrows, like I was calling myself stupid at the same time.

I looked up, Troy was still smiling but he had a tint of confusion in his face, one brow askew as he tilting his head to the side like he was studying me.

"That you were..." I let my embarrassment bleed out. "...like me and Logan."

Troy let out a grin. "Ah," he said throwing his head back a bit. "I guess that the ex-Army, current cop, Tae Kwon Do master thing throws a few people off."

I laughed nervously, shaking my head at myself and mentally calling myself stupid again. I guess guys like us are never stereotypical. I looked back at him... something was different about him, from the first day we met in Frank's office and that day when we had our first practice together. He still looked the same, very handsome, and now that he mentioned it, he had that dashing aura of a brave soldier about him. He was... defiantly more confident. Not the guy I thought he was, the shy guy who I thought had a crush on me.

"You seem different," I said, squinting my eyes, hoping to get a glimpse of whatever it was in his hazel irises.

He smiled again, this time a lot more embarrassed as he scratched his temple with his index finger. "Sorry about before, had I known you were with Logan..."

"Oh... yeah," I said, blushing again, remembering that day at the dojo when Troy was showing me some forms and things got a little steamy between the two of us, nothing bad but I know we both felt something in the air. Even though I know in my heart it was nothing, I still felt I needed to keep it from Logan. Well, you know how he is.

"Not like it's something usually I do with students," Troy explained, suddenly turning serious as he raised his hands, palms out in front of him. "I just moved back into town, broke up with my ex. And a few friends suggested I be more assertive... and then you were there, cute... as hell. I thought I might as well give it a shot." He chuckled again, nervously as he shut his eyes in embarrassment and cringed a bit. "I guess my Go Get `em Army attitude finally backfired."

I blushed again, clearing my throat and hoping he remembered that I was still with Logan. "If I remember correctly... you seemed pretty nervous..."

He took a deep sigh, holding his breath as he nodded. "I was scared... not sure what I was doing..."

I nodded back at him. We looked awkwardly at each other for a couple seconds before breaking our gaze and staring at anything but each other. I guess he felt like it was a mistake too.

The silence was getting to awkward, but I knew talking about this was the only way to clear the air. That and... I really needed a new distraction, until Logan got back.

"How did you know...?" I asked, realizing that it took a little more effort that it should have to force out the question. Troy looked confused but relived to finally be taking again.

"Ah...about me," I clarified. "I mean that day... how did you know?"

"Mmm... It's not like you got it tattooed to your forehead," he said. "Guys like you, Logan, myself, we don't exactly give off some radio wave that broadcasts it. But you gotta understand, I was in the Army, a place where a guy has to me a man's man. And in a place like that... you learn to pick up on very subtle hints."

"Like?" I asked, all of a sudden intrigued and a little scared that Logan and I were leaving subtle hints everywhere we went.

"I'm a good looking guy," Troy said.

I made a face at him that said, `and your point is?'

"And any straight guy would give me a look, acknowledge me and that'd be that. But any other guy would look at me and it'd linger a bit then maybe I'd catch their eyes again trying to steal a peek when I'm not looking."

I nodded, acknowledging that all Troy was saying made sense. That and the fact that he might be a little more vain than I initially thought.

"I'm a little shocked you don't notice it," Troy said, getting a little more comfortable in his seat.

"It?" I asked.

"The look a guy gives when he's interested," Troy said, surprised he had to clarify for me.

"Uh- well..." I shrugged, not sure where to start. "I've never looked at other guys until Logan. And even then, it's just Logan that makes me feel... well, you know."

Troy nodded. "Well, Logan notices it."

I gave him a puzzled look. "Notices what?"

Troy let out a breathy chuckle. "The reason he's so jealous is because he sees all the looks you get. And I know he ignores most of them. He has too or he'd drive himself insane. But you can't expect a red-blooded American boy in love to just sit back and let the world ogle his property."


"You're not a sports car for him to show off."

I was about to cut in again, but Troy had a point to make.

"I guess what I'm getting at is that... he's having a hard time, right now. This guy, the one in the red gi, he has no intentions of being satisfied with just looking at you. Logan can see it in his eyes and I can't really blame him for what just happened. I know Frank is giving him a lecture but, don't be mad at him too. He protecting you the only way he knows how."

I looked down and nodded. I wasn't mad at Logan. When he was about to charge at John, the only thing racing through my mind was him getting hurt. And I couldn't imagine him hurt on account of me. I guess I have to stop and look at it from his point of perspective, just like Troy explained it. I looked up and it seemed that Troy was about to get up.

"You're different, you know that?" I asked, my tone of voice thankful for our chat.

Troy stood up and nodded. "You've got a good man, Ethan. His methods might clash with Frank's but his intentions are pure and unselfish. Don't lose him."

He was about to walk away when I stood up as well. "Wait," I yelled. "You didn't answer my question... sensie."

Troy chuckled. "Let's just say... what you and Logan have, I finally know what it feels like," he smirked as he looked up at the bleachers and pointed to a spot in the stands. I followed his finger. Troy waved and I noticed a handsome young man, still older than me or Logan, in a gray T-shirt and blue jeans, grin and wave back at him.

"His names Gavin," Troy said. "It's a long, complicated, story."

I smiled, somehow insanely happy for him. I watched Troy smile and start his walk back to the rest of the crew. I looked back down and soon heard Troy's voice again, this time raising it to just below a yell.

"Just say the word. And I'll make sure Walker's got the County law all over his ass." Troy's look was dead serious. He nodded once more. "Good luck out there."


I've been reprimanded before. Being the varsity quarterback since I was a high school sophomore meant that I was well aware that when a play falls apart or a teammate fucks up, I get reamed by the coach. But like a good soldier who knows he messed up, I stand tall, keep my eyes forward and accept it. What happened out there with John shouldn't have happened and it was my carelessness for not keeping my emotions locked under a tight lid.

Frank wasn't harsh. I fact he was almost courteous compared to some of my former coaches, especially my current coach, Coach Randall. I think it's because Frank understood mine and Ethan's relationship. I'd like to think he knew what I was feeling and thinking at the moment. Although Frank's lecture started out as a scolding it slowly turned into a talk, like a father talking to his daughter's... I guess in this case, son's, boyfriend.

"Ethan..." Frank shut his eyes and shook his head as he sighed dejectedly. "He can't do all this alone, Rian. You fill a role here that neither Steve nor I can fill. We all can see that Ethan's keeping himself together by a few threads. And... falling apart or not, I know he'd still fight. But you seem to give him strength. And the more time you spend by his side the more strength and confidence he has."

Frank's eyes told me was telling the truth. I gave him a guilty awed look, my expression asking him again, `Really?'

"Ethan may not say much. He likes to think that he can handle things alone. But Walker..." I heard Frank's voice tinge with anger as he said his name. "Walker is something that he can't... and I WON'T, let him face alone." Frank's eyes narrowed, almost scolding me again with their hard stare as he finished his sentence.

"I-" I muttered.

Frank didn't let me finish. "What you did out there could have gotten you kicked off the floor." He pointed back the arena just to emphasize. "And then I'd be sending Ethan out into that ring alone." The harshness in his face soothed into a saddened calm. "He can't fight for me, Rain. He can't fight for Troy or even Steve the way he would fight for you."

I let my guilt fall back over my face. I guess I really almost fucked things up back there. But he had to understand. I was only trying to protect him. And I know it got a little out of hand, but he had to understand. I can fight too.

Frank sighed. "If they ever did ask you to leave, I sure as hell would fight to keep you here." He shook his head, looking as if he didn't want to admit it, but had too. There were no smiles between us but I knew that there still that level of friendship and respect between us. I guess in the end he wasn't just looking out for Ethan, but for me as well.

"I still like you, Rian. You're a good kid," Frank said.

I could tell he was trying to smile as he walked passed me. I was looking down at my feet, letting all he said settle in my mind when he placed a hand on my shoulder. I looked at him. And this time I watched his hard countenance break as one corner of his lips curled.

"You're good for him, Rian." Frank said, nodding before leaving me alone.

I finally smiled.

He understood... he might not approve. But he understood.


"Did you see that?" Adam asked, just over a whisper as he leaned into my ear. I looked at him and nodded, not liking the worried look on his face.

Logan just about lost it, right there in the middle of the arena... given just push and there would have been a full-blown fist fight.

So... Ethan told him. Logan knows about John.

It would have surprised me, but I half expected Logan to charge right up to John and deck him right across the jaw. John...that fucker deserves it, and Logan has every right to give it to him. And from the look of it, Logan was on the edge, just about to. The contentious sparks that were flying out of Logan and crackling against John were almost visible, even from here. Thank god it was intermission and that 99.9 percent of the crowd's attention was elsewhere. That 0.1 percent that did see it was mostly the six of us and oddly Ethan's family across the way.

When Ethan stepped in I could easily see John's body language change. I could swear he wanted Ethan even more after that, like he was the prize after a well earned fight, that Logan was just another obstacle in the way of what he thought was rightfully his. But did he know that Ethan now belonged to Logan?

I looked down at John. He was still stealing glances at Ethan. I hated him... what he did to Ethan, and now what he was doing to Ethan and Logan... all of it was unforgivable. Ethan and Logan are perfect, they don't deserve any of this.

"Who was that guy?" Liz asked, turning around in her seat in front of me and Adam. She was subtly pointing at John.

Fuck, how do I explain this?

This whole John situation was not something that Grant, Jeff nor I liked to bring up, even with Ethan around. In fact it took him a long while to tell us that he wasn't jumped by a psycho with a wrench and even longer to tell us exactly what happened. No coaxing on our part. He just sat us down and said he had something to tell us. Ethan just made it seem that it was better if he just forgot about it. And us bring it up wouldn't be helping any. What John did to him was not something that I thought people, or even friends, should know unless Ethan told them in person. I wanted to ask before if Ethan ever planned to tell Logan about John. From Logan's reaction, I'm guessing he just found out. I don't blame Ethan for not telling. And I don't blame Logan for over reacting.

I looked back at Liz, and now Scott. Both were looking at me. I didn't know what to do. I didn't want to say nothing. That made it clear that I was hiding something. I took a quick glance at Grant and Jeff, who oddly both fell silent. I could feel that they agreed with me. Scott and Liz would know, if and when Ethan decided.

I shrugged, doing my best confused face. "Probably someone who pissed of Logan or hit on Ethan. You know how Logan gets." Well, it wasn't a total lie, but it wasn't the whole truth either.

Scott and Liz seemed to look satisfied with my semi-lie as they resumed their attention back to Logan, getting a lecture, and Ethan, now sitting with another instructor. But when I looked back at Adam I could instantly tell that he knew I was lying or at least hiding something. I quickly took a sip of my Sprite. There was nothing left in the cup as I noisily slurped up the last remaining, watered-down drops. I then felt his large hand on my knee. I looked up at Adam and noticed him softly smiling at me.

He brought his lips to me ear again and I prayed he didn't ask me about Logan and John.

"I think it's great you can keep a secret babe," he said. And I instantly felt a wave of relief wash over me. I even felt my shoulders relax as I let out a sigh. "If it's got Logan pickin' fight's with black-belts, then it must be something..."

I turned and looked into his blue eyes. Something? Oh... it's something alright.

Adam let out a soft chuckle with another smile. "What I'm saying is Ethan and Logan have their secrets... just like you and me have ours."

"Yeah..." I said, closing my eyes, leaning my head into Adam's. Today's long drive and tournament were a welcome distraction. "About that. I-"

Adam cut me off. "Shh," he said into ear. "I know, we'll talk about it later. Today, we're here for Ethan and Logan."

I nodded. I no longer had to handle everything on my own. I know I didn't show it much but the shit in my life takes its toll more often that I like to admit. Adam's life hasn't been any easier but at least now it's the two of us. Fighting on my own just no longer feels like an option.

"I love you," Adam said, nuzzling my ear as I felt his breath in my hair.

"I know," I said, feeling awful that I couldn't say it in return.


"Semi-finals... you boys ready?" Frank asked as he crouched in front of me and Logan. We were sitting next to each other in a row of padded, folding chairs, watching the worry and excitement battle for control of Frank's countenance. I looked down at his clipboard and saw the brackets; me on one end and John on the other.

Logan and I nodded, no hesitation. I know I looked serious but Logan looked battle ready.

"Ok," Frank said as he looked down at the scribbles on his clip board. "Ethan, looks like they got you squaring off against a guy from Northern Arizona Fight Academy, a Dylan Kaneshiro."

I watched Frank eyes look up and over at a group of fighters across the way in all white gis with bright blue trimming. In the center of them was one guy that everyone else seemed to be buzzing around. He was about as tall as Logan, but leaner, an Asian guy, very early 20s, with short black hair and a happy strong laugh. He looked like a total goof off, but if he made it into the semi-finals, he had to be good.

"That him?" Logan asked. I looked at Logan as he pointed to the Asian guy with a nod. Yeah, Logan was in combat mode.

"That's him," Frank said matter-of-factly as his eyes went back to his clip board.

"He good?" Logan asked, his eyes focusing as if there was recon to be gathered from a simple stare.

"Yeah, Rian," Frank said, looking back up from his notes. "He's actually really good."

"Good enough to..."

"Good enough to beat our boy?" Frank asked, finishing Logan's question for him. Logan nodded, defiantly. Frank shrugged. "What do you think?"

Logan paused for a bit before shaking his head once. "Never," Logan said, smirking at me.

"I admire the confidence Mr. Rian," Frank said as he stood up. He looked down at me. "Hope you got enough for two." Frank left us alone as Logan looked at me, worried.

I was trying to keep up a tough front, for both of us but as the tournament wore on it was getting harder and harder to hide my fear having to face Walker in the ring. Every now and then I would fall into a flashback of me dazed and on the verge of unconsciousness, lying there on the mat back at the dojo, him over me, his hands on me, digging into my gi... feeling... groping...

I pushed the thoughts away as best I could but they were getting harder to keep at bay as the possibility of fighting him drew closer. I could feel the cords of courage getting tense in my chest and stomach. I know that we all prayed that John would be eliminated in this round. This guy that was facing John in the semi-finals, he was my last line of defense. If the universe owed me anything... a favor would be nice about now.

"You ready?" Logan asked, standing in front of me his hand extended.

Huh? I looked at him confused.

"They just called you to the ring?" Logan said, crouching down at my eye level.

They did? Shit, I must be zoning out pretty bad. Well, at least I'm not shaking. I quickly nodded as we both stood, putting my game face on. That last thing I wanted was Logan worried about me. If this were Walker I was facing, then he could worry all he wanted.


With the introductions done, I faced Dylan Kaneshiro. He looked happy and excited, all smiles and twitches. I tried to smile but I found it oddly hard to. Difficult when you know that guy who tried to rape you could be your next opponent. And all I had to do to avoid facing him was to throw the fight to this guy. Not a great place to be when I was trying to do my best for Frank and Steve. But at the same time, trying to keep John as far from me and Logan as possible.

"Ok, fighters," the ref said, standing between us. "You know the rules. Need a recap?"

Both Dylan and I shook our heads.

"Ok then." He brought his hand down in a slicing motion between us. We bowed to each other as we heard the crowd roar. We were the only pair on the floor. The other fighting mats were empty. I could hear Logan yelling on the side lines and I could see my family cheering in the bleachers in front of me. Ok, focus on the fight and the rest of my surroundings should melt away.

"I watched your last fight," Dylan said, nodding and smirking. If it were possible, he looked even more excited. "Don't go easy on me... `cause I'm not gonna go easy on you."

And there it was. I smirked. Despite the mess in my head, I was fighter. And nothing makes a fighter smile like a good challenge and a good rival.

"Alright then," I said, nodding, feeling my body shift into battle mode. I cracked my neck and flexed my fingers.

"Promise?" Dylan asked, playfully mocking.


I heard the ref's sharp whistle as he raised a hand-held flag to signal a connecting hit. "Two points, Kaneshiro!"


That shouldn't have connected. I was thrown back by a clean back, donkey kick to the chest. I must have flown back a good five feet. I was lying on my back, groaning as the dull throb in my chest reminded me again why I was on my back. Dylan kicked me right out of the ring boundaries.

I sat up as I heard Logan yell, "Come on Ethan, Get up!" I got to my feet and saw Logan on the edge of the mat. "That's it..." He locked eyes with me. "You got this, Ethan" he said softer as he nodded. I nodded back. Logan was behind me... I could do this.

I strode back up to Dylan in the ring, reassumed my fighting stance as I gave him my battle ready glare. I wasn't angry at him, in fact I was actually enjoying myself. Ever since the match began, John felt like a distant memory. At this point, the only people I was focused on was my opponent, Dylan, and my reason, Logan.

It was match point. The next hit decided the winner. I was ahead before but now it was a close match. Dylan was good and I was having fun, but that didn't mean I was about to lose to him. Besides, I promised. I was going to give him everything I had.

"Ok," the ref said. "Ready, Hai!"

I didn't wait for him to attack. It was my turn to go on the offensive. I rushed in with a punch to his chest. He blocked it- expected. Dylan tried to lock my arm for a throw- expected and averted. Simple punching combo. Blocked, blocked, blocked.


I could hear Steve's voice in my head.

Your best weapon is your head, not your muscles. A match in martial arts can be like a match in chess. The more moves you think ahead the more control you have over your opponent and ultimately the match

Ok, think ahead.

I threw an elbow to his chest. Blocked. Ok, give him an opening... THERE! Dylan took the bait. He hooked his foot over my ankle, a nice trip. I fell to my side, letting my legs fly out from under me. He thinks he's got me. He thinks the trip was all his idea. I landed on my hand, my arm extended, breaking my fall. I watched him begin to drop, intending to drive his elbow into my side. SLAM! The look on his face was surprised and pained as I snapped a kick into his gut. SMACK! My other foot connected. A perfect sideways scissor kick.

He was stunned.


"YEAH!" I yelled, punching the space in front of my face. That's my baby.

BAM! The sound was like a smack as Dylan hit the floor, right on his back, legs in the air. Right after that sideways double kick Ethan pulled off, somehow he spun out of his prone position and tripped Dylan before he could react. Now Ethan was crouched, his tripping leg extended behind him.

"God dammit! That was gutsy!" Steve said, as he finally exhaled, shaking his head, his hands on his hips as he shot a glance and a relieved smirk at Frank.

Frank looked as if he had just averted a heart attack, hands on his knees, looking pissed at Ethan for scaring him. "Please tell me, Steve, that you taught him that."

"A- Well, not that kick exactly... but I think that initial trip was intentional," Steve said.

Was it? For a second it looked like Dylan had the upper hand.

"Plan ahead," Steve said to Frank. "If you want to know. That's what I taught him."

"Hmm..." Frank groaned. "Gutsy... but I guess that's Ethan's style now isn't it."

I looked back at Ethan as he helped Dylan back to his feet. Ethan then held out his fist, looking tentative; a friendly gesture, half of a knuckle bump. Dylan looked down at Ethan's outstretched fist. They were both breathing heavily. Then Dylan smirked and gave Ethan the fist bump he wanted. Ethan smiled as Dylan amiably tapped him on the shoulder.

"Nice job," I could barely hear Dylan say. "But next time..."

He pointed at Ethan, saying in gesture that there definitely will be a next time. Ethan nodded, one hand on his belt as the other rubbed his probably still sore chest. Dylan stepped off the mat as the ref shouted, "Match goes to Harrison."

Steve and Frank clapped while Troy and I shouted.

"Calvert Martial Arts Academy advances to finals!" the ref declared as his voice blared over the sound system. The crowd roared into a screaming frenzy.

Ethan stepped down off the mat, still smiling when I ran up to him and gave him a monster bear hug, lifting him off his feet. He wrapped his arms around my neck and laughed as I spun him around once.

"You were amazing out there," I said, my grinning lips pressed to his ear. I put him down as we parted. "Sorry..." I said, not sure if that kind of closeness was appropriate for us, seeing as we were still in the center of the arena. "Didn't mean to-."

"Nice work out there," Frank said, wrapping an arm around Ethan's shoulder. "Got me scared there for a second... that trip trick you used."

"Oh, that," Ethan said, blushing beside himself with accomplishment. "Well, the element of surprise is what it is... a surprise."

The three of us chuckled.

"Well, why don't you boys take a break," Frank said, suddenly sounding serious as he looked at his watch. "Go grab some grub at the concession stand..."

He handed me a ten dollar bill. He then turned to Ethan and put his hand on each of his shoulders. "I want you to relax." He almost sounded as if he were giving Ethan an order. "Get your boy here to give you a massage." He titled his head towards me and grinned knowingly at us and waited for Ethan to nod. He then pointed us away from the arena. "Go on... get outta here. You got some time before the finals are even announced."

I looked at Ethan. I could see that some junk food and a massage were indeed in order. I didn't want to say anything, but I was pretty sure Frank didn't want Ethan anywhere near John's bout, which happened to be up next. And I'm pretty sure I didn't what that either.


End of Chapter Fifteen: World War Me- Part 2



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