At Tate’s corner, outside the ropes, his coach whistles. “You two get some headgear on. Stat.”
Tate’s lips curl rebelliously, and he looks at me with challenge in his eyes.
I smile back, a feral curl of my lips.
We tap gloves.
I jab. He swings his arm, blocks the hit, leaps back, and I jab again, blocked again.
We space apart and jump in place, shaking our shoulders, loosening up. I pull my gloves back up, narrow my eyes, and he asks, “You think you’re the shit because you’re fast and strong? I got news for you. I’m faster, I’m stronger, and I’m disciplined. Your coach isn’t doing you any favors.”
“He’s in my corner, and that’s enough for me.”
He swings, I duck fast and come up behind him. He straightens and faces me again. “If you settle for that, then you should settle for second place.”
“What the fuck. You want me to win?”
“I want a good fight. I like keeping things real. Reminds me I’m a man. Mortal.”
“I want to be a legend. Legends never die. Even if they die alone.”
He swings again, and I duck, come up, and jab three times.
He blocks repeatedly, then hooks with his right; I deflect. He grins and jabs again. I block, then I duck before he puts me up against the ropes, and I head back to center. He follows.
“To be a legend you need to fall seven times, get up eight,” he says.
I remember a final a few years ago when my father kicked Tate to a pulp. “Or not fall at all.”
He backs up his arm and then smacks the smirk right off me. “Before you stop falling, you need to embrace the fact that you’re going to hit the ground.”
I clean the blood from my mouth, glowering.
We take positions again, and he watches me as if waiting for my next move as we start dancing around, jumping, waiting for the other to strike.
“Do you want the headgear now?”
I lunge and start hitting, and he blocks, deflects, blocks. “Fuck you,” I grit out.
“Getting angry doesn’t help. You control the anger, not let it control you.”
I want to prove him wrong; I loop out my arm and aim for his head.
He ducks and hooks, his knuckles cracking into my jaw. I spurt blood and bounce against the ropes.
I shake my head, wipe the blood away, grit my teeth and straighten, narrowing my eyes. “My turn,” I growl, and I swing. My fist connects: a kidney punch.
He blocks my next hit, frowning in thought. “You’re cocky for someone who just lost yesterday.”
I dive my upper body to the side, evading. “You got to play it to become it.”
“I’m the champion, not you.”
“You won’t live forever, champ.”
He jabs three times, then leaps back, flexes his arm and looks at it.
“Muscle memory. You hit enough times, you fight on instinct; part of your brain works on your assault, the other is focused on the other’s assault. Let your muscle memory work for you and consciously stay focused on your opponent’s eyes.”
I laugh mockingly. “I don’t need your pointers.”
“Go back home to daddy, then.”
“When I’m finished with you.” I punch him, then raise my left hook and connect hard enough to stun him.
He raises his head, shakes it to clear it, and wipes blood from his nose. I catch my breath, satisfied I got some blood. At least I won’t be the only one with an ice pack tonight.
He sees the blood on his arm and looks at me, impressed.
“TIME!” his coach yells out from the corner. “You two won’t have shit for the fight if you keep up this nonsense.”
Tate grins at him, then turns back and glowers at me. “You get enough?”
“Barely warming up here.” I squint the blood out of one eye and raise my gloves. “Come get it, Riptide,” I growl.