Ben almost immediately regretted his decision as he pulled into the parking lot of the fight club. The abandoned warehouse was packed with loups-garous and humans alike, men and some women, eager to watch the carnage and bloodshed. And blood had certainly been spilled on the property recently. The smell hit Ben as soon as he stepped out of his car.
He had only ever been to the fight club once and Ben knew he didn’t want to return. Why he volunteered himself to drag Logan’s sorry carcass back home was beyond his understanding. Perhaps it was the memory of their confrontation from earlier that day, or the way Katey had talked about Logan not being delighted about the idea of having twins.
Loups-garous, just like wolves, adored children and the promise of a continuing legacy. Also just like wolves, they needed to blow off steam every once and a while. Ben wondered if this was why Logan had ghosted on them.
The father-to-be should have been thrilled like the others, but Ben hadn’t gotten that impression since before that morning. Having one baby might have been all he could get excited about. Twice the babies didn’t mean twice the joy to him as it did to Darren or any of the others.
Maybe that was why Logan was here, slamming his fists around like a fool while Katey waited at home, working herself into a nervous fervor. He had promised her not to fight and Ben wasn’t about to let him go back on his word.
The inside of the warehouse had been modified from its original steel manufacturing purpose into something of a bar and fight club combined. The stench of stale beer, sweat, and piss whirled around Ben’s mind as he tried to orient himself amongst the throngs of undulating bodies.
Heavy rock blared over the speakers around the room, sending some of the occupants into a fit of convulsions that might have been an off-handed excuse for dancing. Patches of these punks were speckled all around, oblivious to the caged matches going on in the center of the expansive room.
Along one wall stretched a bar with bottles and tap stations behind it, the patrons of the club drinking their fill and reeling on the leather stools. Women, dressed in clothes suggesting their profession of choice, waited along the walls, calling and propositioning to men who were passing them by.
Ben ignored them all and shoved his way toward the ring. Inside, Logan had his hands full, beating in a man’s face who was nearly twice his size. Blood and snot slicked the floor of the ring beneath Logan’s feet.
When the bell pinged to announce the end of the fight, Logan threw the man down and walked away as the unconscious body of his opponent bounced against the mat. Cheers and chants erupted from the crowd and Ben was pushed aside as a man came through with a detestable cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth and a collection plate gripped between his eager hands. The pot was already brimming as the losing bets were slammed down with the others.
Attendants in black uniforms came into the ring and dragged away the victim as Logan paced around the perimeter, his eyes glaring and challenging as he scanned through the faces of the crowd. Women squealed and tried to reach over the barrier that was set up around the ring, begging to be touched by their favorite fighter. Angry men on the losing side shouted their insults while the bettors who supported Logan cheered for another round, another fight, another knock out.
Ben looked at the bandages around Logan’s fists, bright red from the blood of his adversaries. He shook his head, detesting the sport as a whole. Yes, there had been a time when he boxed in the army camps to get a little bit of extra cash or meat rations, but for Ben, there was a purpose behind the violence.
For Logan, it hadn’t always been about the money. There was a sense of pride and accomplishment when he left the fight club and came home with pockets full of his winnings. Ben had heard the conversation between Dustin and the young loup-garou one morning when he had been out all night. That’s how Ben knew the kind of satisfaction Logan received from these fights.
Sweat and speckles of blood glistened off his bare chest and the jeans he had been wearing that morning now sported tears at the knees, indicative that he had been fighting for more than a few hours.
Ben angled forward, squeezing between two fangirls, and ducked under the rope barrier to approach the cage. Logan turned, even before Ben had a chance to call out his name. An attendant hurried forward to take him away from the cage, but Logan waved him off.
Logan squatted at the edge and gripped the weaved metal of the cage to hold himself steady. Ben waited until the attendant was out of human earshot before speaking. “You need to come home. Now.”
The fighter ran his hand through his short, raven hair and shook his head. “I’m not going anywhere,” he argued, glancing toward the crowd briefly.
“Why didn’t you tell anyone where you would be?” the omega demanded, feeling himself superior in character, rather than by pack rank. He wasn’t the fool on the other side of a cage, beating the brains out of stupid men who didn’t understand what he was. It wasn’t a fair and honorable fight by any means.
“Because I knew someone would try to talk me out of it.” Logan pointed toward the bar. “Do you know how much I’ve earned so far?”
“I don’t care.” Ben casually threaded his fingers through the cage to hang on as well.
“Over five thousand dollars, Ben.” A smile wavered on Logan’s tired face.
“I don’t care if you’ve earned over half a million,” Ben retorted. “You’re comin’ home. Katey’s worried about you. You haven’t skipped out on us in a long time.”
The corners of Logan’s lips dropped into a frown the moment Ben mentioned his mate. “You should have known I’d be fine.”
“How were we supposed to react? You’ve got a couple of babies on the way and you’ve retreated to this hell hole?”
Logan’s eyes were like daggers upon Ben now. “Those babies are exactly why I’m here.”
Ben thought of the whores for hire that stood against the walls and shook his head. “If this has somethin’ to do with regret or one last stab at freedom, you know that—”
A man came up and shoved Ben’s shoulder, but he refused to be moved.
“What the hell are you doing?” the guy asked, popping his gum in such a way that made Ben cringe. Out of all the sounds and smells in the room, he couldn’t stand the way this man chewed on his gum with his mouth open like some toddler. Especially the way his brightly colored Hawaiian shirt hung off his boney frame like it was two sizes too big for him.
“He’s with me, Pat,” Logan said. “Just give me a minute.”
The man didn’t look convinced, but eyed Ben from head to toe and walked away, swaggering like his pants were drooping around his knees. Upon inspection, Ben realized they were.
“One more fight,” Logan said, holding up his finger. “And don’t think I’m leaving just because you’re telling me to. I’m leaving for Katey, so she won’t worry anymore.”
The hairs on the back of Ben’s neck bristled with agitation. Logan stood up and walked away toward a burly man who stood outside the ring on the other side. Ben took a few steps away from the cage, but wouldn’t join the other spectators who bade for more sport.
A thought, dangerous and brazen, entered Ben’s mind as he watched and listened to Logan tell the man that he would take one more challenger and then call it a night. He noticed how Logan was so confident that he would win that next fight, wording his statement as if he were just playing with children. Well, perhaps it was time Logan faced someone of his own caliber.
Taking a quick look around, Ben hustled toward the ring stairs and threw open the mesh door that would permit him into the cage. Logan spun and snarled at the omega as the din of the crowd lessened just a hair.
A man, far from being dressed or prepared for a fight, had entered the arena to face a beast of an opponent. Just as Ben suspected, everyone started putting bets on Logan, multiplying the pot into a considerable amount that would have made the boy’s jaw drop if he were paying attention to the figures that were being calculated from the bar.
“You can’t be serious,” Logan said as Ben began to roll up the black sleeves of his button-down shirt up to his elbows.
“As serious as a heart attack, Logan. You can’t say you haven’t wanted to lick me in a fight for a while.”
Logan chuckled and held out his arms to present his pack mate with the sight of the cage and the club in which they were trapped. “This is my domain, Ben. You can’t possibly beat me here.”
Ben pretended to stretch, though he knew he wouldn’t need it. It had been years since he fought, but the muscle memory was still there. None of them knew his reputation. Even as an infantry man in his Georgia outfit back during the state wars, Ben was known as a bulldog in any fight, on the field or off.
“Just shut your mouth, runt, and listen for that bell,” Ben taunted. “It’ll be the last thing you hear before Katey’s voice tonight when I have to carry you home over my shoulder.”
Finding it all too amusing, Logan laughed and stamped his bare foot on the mat. “You seem so sure it won’t be the other way around.”
The bartender announced the fight and the bell rang, telling the brawlers to commence.
Before he could dodge it, Logan came flying at him with fists raised and eyes blazing with every ounce of resentment and seething hatred he had been holding in his heart toward Ben for all these years. Here in the ring, there was no alpha or beta to keep them from tearing one another apart. There was no Katey to intervene. Here, they could unleash themselves and finally put this unspoken business to rest.
Logan’s knuckles made contact with Ben’s cheekbone, but as he always did, he rolled with the punch and slipped away from the path of destruction the boy planned to lay out for him. Ben grabbed for his arm and twisted it behind his back.
The boy gave a shout of pain as Ben held his arm up, his grip firm and unyielding, until Logan was struggling to keep balance on the tips of his toes. With one flick of his wrist, Ben wringed Logan’s arm until he heard the sickening pop of bones and joints. He could feel the broken pieces move beneath his palm. Logan let out a roar and wildly spun to clip the side of Ben’s ear with the claws that extended from the tips of his fingers.
The sting was hardly anything to be bothered by as blood seeped into his ear canal and down the side of his neck. Ben released him anyway and let him stumble across the mat to get away. Logan shielded his arm from the view of the spectators that roared and shouted their own suggestions of what Logan should do to his cool-headed opponent.
Ben rubbed the back of his hand and wrist on the last remnants of the wound that tickled the fine hairs along the back of his jaw. The gash was healed by now, soft cartilage mended and all. Logan’s arm took a little longer, but as soon as the bones had knitted themselves back together, the youth circled the omega, reassessing his strategy like the true predator that he was.
Ben waited, lazily turning with Logan and keeping his eyes fixed upon him, ready for the next move. One of Logan’s mistakes, though Ben would be an idiot to point it out, was that he let rage and fury guide his attacks. Ben held no such bitterness toward his pack mate, so each move would be carefully calculated to apprehend rather than harm. Though, there was over a century of retribution that was long overdue.
“What are you waitin’ for, Logan? An invitation?”
A wicked grin curled across his lips as he shook his head. “Just waiting for you, princess.”
Ben held up his middle finger and waved it in a beckoning way that sent the spectators into fits of laughter. Against his better senses, Ben was enjoying humiliating Logan.
Just as he predicted, Logan charged one more time and Ben was ready to step to the side and avoid him completely. Logan ran into the ropes and propelled himself back, but Ben met him with a fist straight to the nose.
The unrestrained force in his punch cracked a few of the tiny bones in Logan’s face, as well as probably fracturing a few in Ben’s fingers. Blood shot in a stream from Logan’s nose before it had a chance to heal and some of the audience was losing their confidence in the champion.
Ben shook out his fingers and flexed them until they healed properly while Logan was busy nursing his broken nose. The boy reeled and bent low, letting the blood drip from his chin to join the other dark burgundy stains on the mat.
“Want more, princess?” Ben egged on, now circling Logan just as he had done earlier. “Or should I call Katey to finish the fight for you?”
Whatever he said, it finally spurred Logan into true action. With his arm slathered in blood from his face, Logan leapt upon Ben and pounded him with rapid jabs to his face and shoulders. Ben kept his arms up to defend himself. He held up Logan’s weight as he wrapped his legs around Ben’s torso. The bones in his arms snapped in several places, taking the full brunt of Logan’s close-quarter hits.
After a moment, the pain was too much and Ben grabbed at Logan’s arms and slammed him down into the mat. That didn’t deter the younger loup-garou from continuing his assault. Both pairs of eyes glowed their wolfish gold and breaths came out ragged and guttural as the civilized match turned into a full-out brawl, no holds barred, and as vicious as a true dog fight.
Several agonizing moments passed as their blood mixed together on the once white arena mat and some spectators shouted for a mediator to stop them from killing each other. Even if someone had the courage to break them apart, Ben doubted that it would have done any good. Yet, the crowd’s concern about a sudden death might not have been too farfetched.
The animal that Ben had caged for decades gnawed at the bars, slamming against the fortified walls that he had built to keep the peace. Ever since Vietnam, Ben had pulled back from acting upon the beast’s instinctual need to destroy and kill everything in sight. Darren and Dustin had done a thorough job in training him to suppress the side he had feared and hated since the day he woke up with his golden eyes blazing.
Now, thrashing Logan around the ring with blood stinging in his eyes, Ben couldn’t tell what he wanted anymore. At first, he wanted to humble Logan and show him that he wasn’t just blowing smoke earlier that day when he talked about his hardships during the war. It had developed into something much less personal and more primal.
He could feel the wolf rise, stretching and pressing against his chest and guts, ready to burst with each new blow he received and gave. Yet, it did not. Ben might not have had as much control as someone like Darren, Dustin, or John, but he could hold it back just long enough. He had never tested his limits, tested the strength of the leash he kept his beast upon. But one thing was for sure, if this fight continued, that leash would soon snap, and they would have a bigger problem on their hands than a lost bet.
Despite the risks, Ben continued to fight and resist defeat. He might have been an omega, but he was not weak. He never was.
A lull came in their match and the lack of noise around the cage told him that either the mob had been stunned into silence, or they were waiting with baited breath to see who would finally concede.
Logan was on his hands and knees, desperate to catch his breath after Ben had sent his elbow straight into his sternum. Ben, his fingertips caked in blood and eyes a bright and fierce gold, marched toward Logan and grabbed him by his hair to pull him back up.
There wasn’t much clean skin left on his face, much unlike how he looked before Ben entered the ring. Against the odds, Logan didn’t beg for mercy or reprieve. He simply snarled, nose wrinkled and eyes glaring with such heat. Ben didn’t care anymore. He sent his knee into Logan’s gut repeatedly until the boy was ready to spew out whatever was left in his stomach after the last few times Ben had made him retch.
A woman from the crowd screamed, “Stop it! Just stop it!”
Ben threw Logan down and he looked to the sea of wide eyed stares and gaping mouths. “Is this not what you all wanted?” he shouted. “A little sport? When will it be enough?”
Pat, the man who had approached Ben earlier, was in the front row, the drained cigarette dangling limply from his lips, a smooth stream of smoke curling upwards from the tip. The man neither made any moves to end the fight, nor to collect more bets from the customers around him. Even the men at the bar had turned, their whiskey glasses in hand to watch these two fighters rip each other apart.
He heard Logan rise to his feet and spit out the bit of bile that had come up his throat. “Ben,” he grunted to get the omega’s attention. “Let’s call it a draw.”
Ben wouldn’t let him off the hook that easy. He stalked forward, stepping through the puddles of bodily fluids between them. “A draw? That’s not like you, Logan. Where’s all that big talk?” He held out his hands, opening his body up to another attack if the boy only had the balls to take it.
Logan shook his head and straightened until the overhead lights gleamed off the sheen of sweat and blood on his chest. “I’m done. Let’s just go home.”
“I know you’ve got a little more fight in you,” Ben said, lowering his voice so only they could hear one another. “You always do. What’s gonna happen when Katey needs you and you’re wore out? Will you just throw in the towel? What about your kids? When they’re cryin’ for you, when they need you the most, are you just gonna give up?” Ben came closer, but made it clear that he would not attack. “Your family will depend on you. You can’t just say you’re done and walk away. That’s not what a father does.”
It was genuine advice coming from a man who had learned a hard lesson too late. He wasn’t there for Abigail when she had their son. He wasn’t there to help her raise their child, change diapers, or rock him to sleep at night. Ben had left them, thinking it was for the best of everyone, but he was wrong. He should have stayed, should have tried. He did exactly what he was telling Logan not to ever do. He walked away from the potential of having the best life, and instead, he wandered the wilderness and forsook the world.
Logan met Ben’s stare. A few moments of deathly stillness passed before Logan lowered himself into his boxing stance once more and raised his fists, telling Ben that he wasn’t ready to give up. He hadn’t been licked yet, and judging by the spark in his eyes, Ben knew he never would be again.