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From - The Dauntless Recollections, vol I

 

Chicago is my city, my home.

 

My family have been a part of this city since the end of the American civil war. I was born here, both times, raised here. Went to school here, attended Church here, my first love was here, and my first heartbreak. Chicago is my city, my home, now our home.

 

I have watched the crime and violence grow. Witnessed the death and sorrow from gang violence, drugs. I grew up watching it, at first, then living it as it spread from community to community like a disease. Watched as politicians lied and got rich, while the working men and women suffered and grew poorer. Watched as jobs fled and good people like  my own father were laid off. Watched as mortgages went unpaid and homes were foreclosed, families forced out into the street. Watched as hope drained away.

 

All I could do was watch.

 

Then the Storm happened. Now I watch new politicians doing the same as the old. I see crime soaring to new heights. Gangs holding open warfare in the streets causing chaos and destruction, refugees from elsewhere coming here because we did not have any monsters. But we do it is just that our monsters that were always here, back then they were human, now some of them aren't.

 

All I could do then was watch.

 

Now I can do more.

 

I

 

The Storm had spared Chicago, for the most part at least. Aside from a tremendous lightning storm which caused massive electrical failures across the metropolis and the cold winds off Lake Michigan which carried snow and ice across the empty streets, no monsters rose up to wreak havoc, death, or destruction as had occurred across the states and the world.

 

Chicago stood tall, but still the effects had been felt economically and mentally with what had been happening across the globe. The city untouched by the storms strange transformations became a place of refuge for many fleeing the death and destruction. A haven for those who had nothing left. A place where normal was still, at least on the surface, normal.

 

The population increase had stretched the cities resources. Unemployment, always a problem sored as refugees crowded in seeking jobs, Crime rates rose, poverty rates rose, a bleakness settled over the region. But still people needed distraction needed entertainment and one of those distractions was sports and one thing Chicago had always had in abundance and had embraced was the fighting ring.

 

Six Months After the Storm

 

The girl on the cushioned exam table wearing boxing shorts and a sports top was solidly built if a bit on the small side for a boxer. Normally she was very pretty some would say even beautiful. She had bright blue eyes and her reddish-brown hair was long and straight, but tonight was worn up in a coiled braid.  She held her finely muscled arms up and out as the old man wrapped her ribs. She grunted in pain as the trainer, Manny, pulled the wraps tight. Brigit Moran glared at her trainer, she could barely see him with one eye swollen almost shut, she also had a bad cut on her left cheek and a split lip, both of  which were also swollen.

 

Manny finished and began unwrapping her hands. “Dammit Brigit, you took a helluva beating tonight hun, you have got to keep those hands up and keep your face protected.”

 

She winched as he started on her right hand jarring the shoulder she had fallen on in the ring.

“I can’t just defend all the time Manny, I have to punch, it’s the only way I can get points...”

 

She stopped as the door opened and a tall well-built woman in her late thirties, blond, very attractive, came through a scowl on her face having herd the end of Brigit's statement. “Honey you aren't going to be winning with points from your punches, you hit like a goddamned girl and it isn't cutting it.” Karen Gayle, one of the most prominent female promoters in the Chicago area leaned up against the wall and lit a cigarette, as the trainer and the boxer glared at her.

 

Seeing the look they were giving her, Karen blew the smoke out through tight lips and said, “Oh, come on Brigit, we have been over this, this isn't the amateurs anymore, this is the pros, you don't score by just touching them, your hits have to mean something. That girl tonight Leda Sanchez, you have her by what 20 lbs. and she still kicked your ass. Dammit, look in the fucking mirror.”

 

Manny turns back to Brigit and starts treating her bruised face carefully washing the cut on her cheek.

 

“For Christ's sake Ms. Gayle, ain’t no call for that, Brigit is a goddamned good fighter what she lacks in upper body strength, she more than makes up in speed, stamina, and skill, and she's damned tough, one of the toughest I have ever trained guy or girl.”

 

Ms. Gayle snorts a laugh, “Oh Manny,” she shakes her head, “Jesus this is her 6th loss in a row, that is not a good start to a career.”

 

“Hey!” Brigit pushes Manny back and slides off the exam table, a flare of anger in her bright blue eyes.

 

“Quit talking about me like I'm not even in the fucking room. Look Karen, I'll take a few weeks off and do some crash strength training, I've been letting it slide a little, what with everything, but I can build my upper-body up and get my punches ...what?"

 

She sees both her manager and her trainer exchange looks. Manny speaks first.

 

“Honey, Ms. Gayle has a point, your punches..., your just not built for upper body Strength projection...”

 

“What the hell do you mean I'm not built for it,” Brigit interrupts, “what the fuck is wrong with my body? Fuck!” The young woman was starting to have a hard time controlling her anger.

 

“Brigit, Manny is right, to get your strength up to where you need to be you’re going to have to put on fifteen, twenty pounds and that puts you in the next weight class and right back where you are now.” The older woman was trying to calm her client down.

 

“Brigit, honey, you’re as strong as you need to be its your shoulders and the way your built up top. You just don’t have the build to project the strength you have in a punch, it’s not anything we can correct Bri. Your biggest points Hun are your legs they are strong and fast, Straight-up boxing just does not utilize your strengths well Bri.”

 

Brigit caught the turn of phrase Manny used ‘straight-up boxing' and saw where this was going. She just stared at her trainer until Karen spoke. “Brigit, you’re wasting your money paying me, and I'm losing money promoting these fights. I cannot promote you if you cannot win and you cannot win in the pro boxing ring." Karen drops her cigarette butt and mashes it out with her shoe.

 

"I like you Brigit. You are talented and you have the spirit, your just in the wrong ring, I can get you in the cage Ill even spring for training. Sixth months with Jenifer Marks, and we can get you in some low tier MMA bouts and you will shoot up the ranks like lightning. We both,” she indicates Manny, “think this is the way for you to go.”

 

Manny starts to speak but Brigit cuts him off. “I'm a boxer Karen, I don’t want to be a damn MMA fighter, I want to be a Boxer.”

 

“No, Brigit, your father wants you to be a boxer.” Karen said in a soft voice.

 

 

Sean David Moran was a fifth generation Irish American, born and raised in Chicago, Sean had always wanted to be a boxer, like his father and his father’s father all the way back to Ireland before the civil war. Boxing was in the Moran family’s blood. When Sean turned 18, he enlisted in the Navy, he had already been boxing in youth clubs and he figured he could box in the navy as well as learn a trade skill.

 

He did well in both until the middle of his second year of his enlistment when a shipboard accident left him with a shattered knee, steel pins in his hip, and a medical discharge ending both his navy and boxing careers before they had ever really begun.

 

Sean returned home to Chicago where he got a job with the union, met a girl, a local schoolteacher from a good Irish family whom he married, and six months later had their first child.

 

Brigit Fianna Moran the oldest of four daughters was born August 12th, 1995. By the time she was six and her three sisters had come along it was apparent to her father that there was not going to be any boys in this branch of the Moran family. Sean had wanted a boy. Badly someone he could teach how to box a son who could carry on the tradition that he had failed to carry. But he loved his four daughters dearly and never regretted having them not once.

 

But when it came to Brigit well, she was daddy's little girl, as she grew up she hung on every word, sat with her daddy as he watched the boxing matches and listen to all the family stories about boxing. It was in her blood and She was a tomboy through and through so she became the surrogate son her daddy never had and when she was ten he started teaching her how to box, at twelve she stated  taking boxing lessons at a local gym and at 16 began boxing as an youth amateur.  After she graduated High school Sean convinced His old Trainer James “Manny” Fitzpatrick a Retired Golden Gloves Champion to train her for the pros. In 2015 she went pro She won her first two matches against other first time pros before being taken on by Manager and Promoter Karen Gayle.

 

 Gayle, one of the most Successful Promoters of female fighters on the east coast had risen to fame with the first Wave of Female MMA Fighters in the late nineties and early oughts. She saw the potential for a first-class fighter in Brigit even though she herself didn’t much care for Straight Boxing she figured she would take a chance and  promote Brigit.

 

But Pro Fighting isn't like the amateurs and when Brigit found herself matched against experienced boxers, she found herself unable to clinch a win. She could stand toe to toe round for round, but she couldn't deliver the hits needed to score a win on points.

 

“So, Karen,” Brigit took a deep breath the anger turning inward and becoming resignation, “are you cutting me loose?”

 

“No, Brigit, I'm not, I want you to think about the MMA offer, in the meantime I can get you one more match, I think we can make some money off of. I'll set it up”

 

“What do you mean make money off of? I’m not throwing a fight.” Shoots Brigit back, glancing at Manny who is looking at Gayle obvious questions on his face.

 

Gayle laughs “There has to be an expectation of you winning for throwing the fight to have any value, and I'm kind of offended you would think I'd ever ask that of you. I'm putting you in the ring with Renee Espa.”

 

“What?” Manny shouts drawing both woman's attention to him. “Espa's a fucking machine she hits like a goddamn freight train! She has eight wins all knock outs within three rounds.”

 

“Exactly, Manny, and that plays to our strength. You said it yourself, Brigit is though, one of the toughest fighters I have ever seen especially in her weight class. It’s an eight-round exhibition fight a preview for her big championship fight next month, no one is going to be betting on who's going to win. The bets are going to be on how fast Espa knocks Brigit out.” Gayle explains as she lights another cigarette. “If you go all eight rounds, we can make some serious money, and more importantly it puts you on the map as the fighter that Renee Espa couldn't knock out. And that is a rep that could be gold we could stand could make a lot of money promoting that especially if she gets a knockout in the championship bout.”

 

Brigit doesn’t hesitate only looks at her trainer and her manger and says, “I'll do it.”

 

 

Brigit left Manny and Karen arguing about the Exhibition and caught the city bus home. It was late almost midnight and while her friends were probably expecting her at the pub, she just didn’t feel like it, not tonight. She looked out as the bus drove down what a year before would have been deserted streets and empty lots, now they passed tent cities full of men ,women and children, all displaced by The Storm,  huddled around metal drums containing fires for warmth, These were now the homes for the homeless. She felt a despair she hadn’t felt in, well, in a while.

 

She let herself into the dark house where four generations of the Moran Family had lived. In the living room she found her sister, Keira a sophomore at the University of Chicago asleep on the couch, books scattered on the floor the light from table lamp and the silent tv throwing shadows across her face. Brigit shut off the lamp but left the tv on, then covered her sister with a throw blanket instead of waking her, she didn't feel like talking about her latest defeat.

She went into the kitchen looked in the fridge but didn’t get anything the thought of eating made her stomach flip. She checked the kitchen door to make sure it was locked. They lived in a good neighborhood but where you could leave your doors unlocked before now, thanks to the Storm, that was not a good idea. Brigit made her way upstairs, stopping to look in on the twins, Kathrine and Kelly, seven-teen and seniors in high school. Both were sound asleep.

 

Last she made a quick peek in on her parents’ room. She found her father asleep in the chair by her mother’s medical bed. He was out cold, and from the bottle and glass on the nightstand it was obvious he had drunk himself to sleep. She entered the room for a closer look at her mother.

 

Margret Moran, originally Travers, had been a beautiful voluptuous woman with striking red hair and piercing green eyes, all three of Brigit's sisters took after their mother while she had inherited her father’s darker reddish-brown hair and blue eyes. Now her mother was thin and pale a shadow of who she once was, the cancer eating away at her. Brigit checked the monitors and made sure everything was working and that her mom at least looked comfortable. It didn't strike her as odd her checking in on her family she had always felt protective of her sisters and with dad laid off and mom sick she just naturally fell into that care giver roll and no one else questioned it. Maybe that's why I took the fight, she thought to herself as she made her way to her room forgoing the shower she really needed, we need the money more now than ever.

 

Brigit fell into bed and drifted off to sleep dreaming of money and fighting and of her being strong enough to beat all her opponents, of being good enough to do anything of being the best in the world...

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Chicago at night was lit from below like a challenge to the darkness of the clouds above and lake to the east. The wind whistled through it's glass and steel canyons, rattling the sliding glass-door of Grace's apartment balcony. The clock on the wall blinked 2:14 am, the light of the resting, if the word resting could apply to Chicago, city beyond kept at bay by hanging curtains. The blond Stormer sat curled up on a new chair under a new lamp reading a familiar book between pauses to glance up at at the strange, new walls around her. She'd frown, sigh, and then go back to trying to keep engaged with the plot of her book.

 

It was a losing struggle at the moment, thoughts grinding slowly in the back of her mind.

 

This was what she wanted, space, time, her own place away from the Williams' family homestead, to work on herself in a city that wasn't having active Stormer problems. After her wonderful watershed week up in North Dakota, pushing herself to her limits alone save for a few 'helpers', she found the tense-civility between herself and her parents finally frustrating enough to want a change, any change, a new itch to the cottony emotional cocoon she'd been huddling in since Benin those five and a half months ago. Running in circles on safe trails around the grounds for over a day just didn't cut that need to stretch her legs. Chatting online with those few she considered friends AND didn't freak out too much about her new newness didn't remove a growing sense of staleness.

 

One of those friends who had taken her share of Psych classes at Brown had asked how Grace had stood it that long, wondering if there was a mental aspect to her changes like that super tinker out of Ohio, 'Genesis'. The blond Stormer had glared her friend into silence and cut the call short then and there, but a lot of reflection and research later... But maybe they were right. Things in general hadn't bothered her as much since the Storm. Well, long as she was awake anyway.

 

She shuddered once, closing her eyes and sucking in a deep breath through her nostrils until the surge passed.

 

Grace Williams put the useless book to one side, a scrap of paper torn from notes the afternoon before serving as bookmark just in case her old favorite might serve her better later dealing with the new everything. Said notes had touched on a little of everything, her new Job, the city, the best running routes, potential late night hangouts, other near-by Stormers, anything really to make this a positive change.

 

A search for 'most dangerous neighborhoods' had been aborted even before she clicked search, not quite that ready to follow up on an idle thought that refused to go away.

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Sean looked through the window at the sprawl of Chicago as his plane started its descent for O'Hare. It was only his third time on a plane - if you counted going to and back from Las Vegas several years ago - but this time was a marked improvement. He was visiting Chicago to attend an architectural symposium through work, so Adamson Associates had arranged business class seats for him and his colleagues. A nice bonus for his first ever business trip - despite having been at Adamson's for almost twenty years - and he greatly appreciated the luxurious leg room and no screaming kids.

O'Hare was like a city unto itself but thankfully he had several colleagues to follow so he didn't get lost. They collected their luggage, Sean, having the least, helped Janet with hers, the brunette offering him a a brief, negligent smile. Really, they were only in Chicago for a week and Sean thought all his colleagues had packed too much. Hell, after the symposium, he was being forced to take a month off work off to reduced the amount of PTO he had accrued and he hadn't packed anything extra, having not made any particular plans for the vacation yet, but figuring he pick up anything he needed along the way. His carryon and one moderately sized suitcase was enough for him. It wasn't like they were in the middle of nowhere, they were in one of the largest cities in North America.

The Adamson contingent got a shuttle to their hotel, nicer than Sean would have expected, but it seemed when it was on the company's dime, his colleagues took as much advantage as they could. They checked in, Sean ending up on a different floor from the rest of his workmates,  then expensed a meal at the hotel restaurant before taking an Uber to the Illinois Institute of Technology, where the symposium was being held.
 

Janet and Matt - the blond guy who thought *way* too highly of himself, especially considering the stereotype of a Canadian - weren't with them.

Sean leaned his head against the window of the Uber, and watched Chicago go by. The history of Architecture, the theory and design, was tied deeply to Chicago, and Sean hadn't ever been to a city as... vertical as Chicago before, passing through slices of sunlight and shadow as they traveled through steep canyons of steel and concrete. He'd seen photos of course, design plans and schematics, and even worked on several for high-rises and skyscrapers, but it was different seeing them with your own eyes.

It made Sean feel both small and big at the same time. These behemoth structures towered above them, could crush them completely if they failed, yet they had been designed and built by men, by their grit and determination, and without anything like the super powers of the Stormers. While Sean might have been more interested in residential design and trying for a more modern take on Frank Lloyd Wright's Organic Architecture, he couldn't help be impressed with Chicago's dynamic skyline.

He also couldn't help but frown at the amount of what appeared to homeless people on the street, huddled in alleyways or under the elevated rails of The Loop. Ottawa had its own homeless, but far fewer and far more discrete, in the low and sprawling Canadian Capital, not surprising for the center of the Federal Government. Sean had heard that Chicago had been largely spared the destruction of the Storm,  much like his own city had been, except for the deepening of the Rideau Canal and the giant serpent that had taken up residence in it and Ottawa had bemusedly accepted as a sort of mascot when effects to remove it had failed. 

Ottawa hadn't seen the explosion of refugees Chicago had seen, and with underdeveloped suburbs, had been able to handle them with barely a ripple.

One of the main themes of the symposium was addressing the advent of the Stormers and how structural design had and would adapt to the fantastic and destructive things they could do. From modular designs that could be more quickly and efficiently rebuilt in the case of catastrophe, to different or new materials, or the argument between cheap and easy to replace/rebuild to expensive and more robust, it was a wide ranging affair, and only one of the purposes of the symposium.

 

Sean was interested of course, but really, he looked at it as a paid vacation. He'd been in an aimless rut, for years, working his 9-5, not bothering working overtime, rarely taking time off, and when he did, never going anywhere. He'd rather stay home, play some video games, and once or twice a week, get together with his few friends and play board games or roleplaying games. When he was offered a spot to attend the symposium - and then not so subtly told to use several weeks of PTO after it - he decided to go for a change, even if he'd miss one or more of his usual weekly gaming sessions.

It was a bit nerve wracking at first. He'd taken few trips outside of Ottawa, but never alone. Yes, he was with several people from work, and while he was friendly with them, he didn't consider them friends, never saw them outside of work save by accident. But once he'd landed and checked in to his hotel, the anxiety was easing, and excitement was starting to rise, even if didn't show through his natural reserved expression.

They made it to Illinois Tech, got their passes and signed up for the various panels and discussions they were interested in or the Company required them to attend. The first day of the symposium was light on technical classes and panels and was mostly for networking and after hour events, to help with recovering from travel. Not Sean's cup of tea - not that he drank tea, or coffee for that matter.

Instead, he made sure he was signed up for all the panels and discussions he wanted for the week, especially those with limited capacity, then wondered around campus for a while, wanting to make sure he knew where all the rooms were and how to get to them. He didn't want to be running around like a headless chicken with no clue where he was meant to be if he had limited time between panels or food breaks.

As he strolled through campus with eye to where he was and an eye on his phone, looking at what there was to do and see in Chicago, he couldn't help but notice the students. Most of them were half his age or a little more, their whole lives still ahead of them, attending a school far more prestigious in his field then the one he had attended. He'd been working at the same company for almost as long as they had been alive, yet hadn't gotten much beyond the position he had started in. 

He told himself he didn't envy them, that he didn't regret the choices he had made. And he didn't. But a small part of him couldn't help but wonder what he was missing out on. He moved through the students with barely a ripple, the students, and faculty, barely seeming to notice him. 

He attended one panel that discussed Wright's influence on the field of Architecture and how his Usonian designs might be updated with current and forward looking techniques, then he called it a day, looking for a place to eat before heading back to his hotel. Sean found a pub, Grace Moran's, that actually seemed authentic, or as authentic as anything this side of the Atlantic rather than a chain, and quite enjoyed his meal, making a note to come back.

 

Then he went back to his hotel, watching an episode of Kushiel's Legacy while occasionally peeling his eyes off the intoxicating Eva Zelenka to skim around on the internet, so he could do it all over again the next day.

Edited by Asarasa
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The week that followed had been a usual crappy week for Brigit, filled with drunk assholes at the pub where she worked, and long sweaty workouts at Manny's Gym which left Brigit cranky and sore. Not being able to party and blow off steam did not help any, what with the fight Coming up. She was so concentrated on the upcoming fight that she didn't even pay any attention to the news about this stormer or that stormer or the declaration about some place in Africa being a haven for stormer's or what have you It just didn’t matter to her it wasn’t part of her world.. She was a boxer and the upcoming fight was the most important match of her career. So all that Stormer shit was nothing but background noise.

 

Mid week at Grace Moran's Irish Pub was usually busy during the day at lunch and slower in the evenings. Not so this week. Several conventions and Symposium and a bunch of other 'ums were coinciding and so the place was packed at dinner time and of course they were short handed.

 

Tara Moran pushed the hair back from where it kept falling into her eyes, as she waited for Kai to put together the drink order for the Patrick party and glanced over at the waitress station and her unopened book bag. Not gonna get any studying done tonight. Tara Moran

 

As if reading her mind Connor Moran, the pubs owner and Tara's uncle leaned around the corner. “Tara, gonna need you to fill in for Brigit. Manny is keeping her late so your it babe.”

 

As Tara opened her mouth to reply Connor ducked back into the kitchen escaping the wrath of the redheaded woman. Tara squeezed her eyes shut and stifled the curse she wanted to do. With a heavy sigh she collected her drinks from Kai who gave her that sympathetic grin, and went to serve the Patrick's. Once that was done she noticed several patrons at the front waiting for seating. She headed that way just as Beth led off a fabulous looking blond who appeared to be along. Tara couldn't help but admire the woman as she walked away from her then she turned back to the middle aged man who was next and had been watching the blond as well. Tara blushed realizing that the man had seen her ogling the woman. “Number in your party?”

Just me.,” said Sean Cassidy.

 

The place was busier than it had been the other day and nosier. Much of the noise coming from around a large Television screen showing a boxing match. Sean looked around as he followed the attractive and young, waitress, and noticed a lot of fight memorabilia. He hadn't noticed that before. The arrived at a booth at the same time Beth and the high class blond did.

Tara nodded at Beth who looked panicky. Tara glanced around and saw that every seat, except for this booth, was full even the bar.

 

Well this is embarrassing,” Tara said as she turned to her costumer, “we are usually not this busy in the evening during the week but there's a big fight,” she waved absentmindedly toward the TV. She looks at wide eyed Beth and at the two patrons. I don't suppose since the two of you are alone you wouldn't mind sharing the booth, “ She asked placing just the right amount PLEASE into her voice.

The two strangers both finding the waitress amusing looked at one another and shrugged “Might as well.” They both said at the same time then laughed.

 

As the two slid into the booth across from each other. It was a comfortable booth and spacious, they were far enough away from the single large screen television that the noise wasn't that bad and they would be ale to have a conversation with normal voices should they so choose. The wall was standard Irish pub decorati0ns with an over all boxing/fighting theme. Both noticed that several of the framed pictures were of a young woman boxer who was very pretty. Tara grabbed the menu from Beth and handed it to the woman then she gave the mans his. “I'm Tara and this is Beth and I'll be your server tonight. Would you care for something to drink while you look over the menu?”

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"I'll just have a Pepsi to start, if that's alright?" Sean asked his cute, red-headed waitress, a private wry curve to his mouth. If Tara seemed more interested in who he was sharing the table with, he could hardly blame her.


"Is Coke fine?" Tara replied with practiced habit.


"Yeah, yes, that's fine." 


Sean glanced towards the stunning blonde sitting across from him in the semi circular booth, his stormy grey-blue eyes meeting her gaze to flick away, then back, as though he didn't want to be caught staring. He wasn't up on fashion, but her clothes looked expensive, if understated, to him. He felt slightly underdressed in business casual, dark jeans and a pale blue-grey button down shirt with a corporate logo on the left that Grace saw when he took off his sportscoat.


He was surprised she was alone. She didn't seem tall enough to be a supermodel, but maybe she was an actress? A young executive with connections? Trustfund baby?

Sean tilted his head inquiringly, giving Grace a nod.

"You mind if I cover you dinner tonight, for the inconvenience of having to share a table with unexpected company? I'm in Chicago on business, so the Company is covering it."

Gray eyes flicked up from scanning the menu, the faintest hint of amusement in her eyes.

“Long as you don't mind. Angry Orchard, please?”

Waiting the half-heartbeat as the waitress noted their orders, the blonde Stormer shifted back to face her surprise dinner companion, studying him. “Grace Williams. Pleasure to meet you, Mr..?”

Sean chuckled self-deprecatingly as Tara jotted on her notepad and promised to be back in a moment with their drinks. Even at forty, he wasn't all that used to being called mister. His eyes cut covertly away to follow Tara's behind for a brief moment before returning to Grace.

"Sean. Cassidy, but please, call me Sean, unless you insist on Ms. Williams?"

An invisible mantle of tension relaxed around the blond at his reaction, the faintest hint of a smile forming on her lips. "I'm not quite my mother, not yet. Grace will do. One of the coworkers at my new job recommended here, Sean, mostly as part of an obvious joke. But I could have done worse."

"And what business is the Company? Or will you have to try and kill me for asking?" she continued, in all apparent seriousness.

 

Sean's dark brows furrowed for a moment. Grace Moran's might have had a bit more of a sportsbar vibe than he had initially thought from the first time he was here, but it wasn't like the pub with overrun with soccer or rugby hooligans. That urged him to suspect she had a pretty high-end job. Sales or finance, maybe.


He blinked at her apparent seriousness about the secrecy of his job, then laughed, open and sincere. Grace got the sense he didn't do so often.


"Oh, my, no. I'm an architectural drafter with Adamson Associates. From Ottawa. Canada? I'm down here for an architectural symposium. You know, since the Storm and all the craziness, there's lots to rebuild all over the place, and new things to take into account..."


Sean trailed off, slightly uncomfortable. Six months, and it still wasn't easy to bring that when designing an office building or a residence, you might have to account for King Kong, an unnatural seismic event, or rain of frogs. And that wasn't even considering Stormers like Genesis, who could completely derail the construction industry by herself.


That said, he'd been enjoying the symposium so far. There'd been some very interesting panels, and he'd certainly gotten some ideas he wanted to work on when he got back home.


He snapped his fingers, his storm coloured eyes grinning. "That reminds me, do you like in a house or apartment?"

Grace arched pale brows in curiosity, wondering if this was a way for the man to score an invitation. "Apartment."

"Now we spoke about business, so I can write dinner off as a business expense." Sean wasn't usually this relaxed around strangers, especially those as attractive as Grace, but since coming on his first business trip, he was making an active effort to go with the flow, rather than just letting it happen, and so far, he was rather enjoying himself. "Do you mind if I ask what it is you do, Grace?"

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"Administrative assistant at Gilda's Club, starting this week. Before that, staying out of trouble so as to not annoy my parents," she replied after another blink and pause, chuckling a little darkly at her self-deprecating honesty.

 

This had been a good week, professionally far as she could tell. The local CEO of Gilda's Club had been enthusiastic to help her settle in and brought up to speed under the guidance of the other staff in the office. How much of that was hope she'd bring (another?) donation from her family versus the the PR of a Stormer working with his organization, she didn't know. Might not ever know. It bothered her, but the bigness of the mission her new employer set before it made her feel under qualified. But something important, something she she could sink her teeth into once she got her mental footing and start *pushing*. Next week would tell, the first of public events coming up and showing whether her business degree or the Storm had more to do with her being here.

 

If it was the second and she was still able to help people..? Well, she couldn't really complain too loudly. Chicago had human problems made worse by the Storm, and if a Stormer could help even a little, then she'd put in the heavy lifting. But that was future Grace's problem, so she'd worry about it tomorrow. For now she'd enjoy someone not recognizing her as someone capable of killing everyone in the bar with her bare hands.

 

"I moved here just last week and been learning the city. For all it's problems, I have to say I have high hopes for my stay," she continued after recovering from her little bout of introspection, eyes roaming over the aging collection of newspaper clippings celebrating this so-called Boxing Angel, Moran. Grace Moran the pub. Coincidence? Maybe but not likely. 

 

 

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"Hmm. You're almost as new to Chicago as I am," Sean observed with a wry grin.

With a forefinger, he pushed up the pair of glasses that had slipped down his nose slightly, then followed Grace's eyes to the frames newspaper clippings. The Boxing Angel was quite cute - he was by no means put off by fit girls - though Grace Moran looked young enough in the articles that he felt a little dirty. She might have still been in high school. A closer look, and he noticed the articles were from seven or eight years ago, and he let out a silent sigh of relief, feeling not quite so decrepit.

He picked up the menu again, considering what to have tonight, while using it as cover to use his phone for a quick google search. When he found out what Gilda's Club was, his mouth twisted with rueful self-mockery. He hadn't really thought Grace worked at what had initially to him sounded like a Gentleman's Club.

The man hadn't exactly been stealthy about his phone and Grace had tensed muscles capable of pulverizing structural steel. But when Sean sat aside his phone on the table and glanced at her over the menu, Grace didn't see any new light of recognition in his grey-blue eyes. On the lock screen of his phone, there was a picture of an adorable golden retriever playing on a grassy knoll, white with frost.

"It's a good menu, been working my way through. Always been meaning to visit Ireland someday." He ran a hand though his short, brown hair, a few sparse flecks of grey at the temple, then gave a low chuckle. "Been meaning to visit many places. Just never seem to get around to it."

Tara sauntered back with their drinks, setting them before them, and tilted her head inquiringly, notepad in hand, though she didn't have a pen visible. "You folks ready to order?"

Sean nodded, handing the red-head the menu. "I am. I'll have the Shepherd's Pie." 

Letting Grace have a few moments to look at the Menu, he asked his unexpected but definitely not unwelcome dinner companion, "So, with your days more experience in Chicago, there anything you suggest I go see or do in the City?"

Not wanting Grace to feel pressured, he idly glanced at the articles again, then the crowd, their server, the articles once more, than back to Tara, eyes narrowing in thought as he wondered if he had noted a familiar resemblance. He arched a dark brow at her, then nodded at the articles. "Kin?"

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Seeing that the woman was still looking over the menu, Tara dropped her arms to a position crossed in front of her waist.

 

At the out of the blue semi-question from the man, Tara glanced at the wall display and took a deep breath, of course of all the booths in here the empty one had to be this one. The young waitress forced a smile, "As a matter of fact yes, Brigit is my big sister. She won a few titles in the Junior Boxing League when she was in high school."

 

She glanced back to the section with the big screen TV and saw the crowd starting to break up in to separate groups. She looked back at the man, "As a mater of fact she should have been here tonight instead of me, except she is training for a big fight later this week while i should be home studying for an exam tomorrow." She noticed both were looking at her now, "Sorry, sour grapes and all, are you ready to order ma'am?"

 

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"Yes, I am," Grace replied, closing her menu, "Corned beef mac and cheese, please."

 

Order given, she spared the ghost of a sympathetic smile for the waitress, adding another few dollars to her future tip at meal's end. Life had a way of ripping your feet out from under you despite your best laid plans. She knew that all too well. And the office gossip, when it hadn't gravitated in her direction, had talked about how exciting it was to see the 'champ' back in action before her big bout and not on said champ's challenger. Not even her name really, from what she had overheard before today. Hmmm. Best of luck to her. Talk was definitely cheap, but it could get under your skin and stay there, wriggling and gnawing at you like... Enough.

 

Grace gave the full weight of her attention back to Sean, "The uptown parks are a definitely a bright spot from what I've seen. Pick the right path and you'll come across nearly anything, particularly the lakeside trails. A lot of potential nightlife to explore, pass the time. That's important. I... I'm kind of a night owl."

 

Her expression froze at the near confession, kicking herself mentally as she interlaced her fingers around her cider, "Actually got a ticket to this fight from someone trying to impress me. Anyway, wasn't quite certain if I'd go, but now It has my attention much as boxing has never been my sport of choice."

 

She took a sip of her cider, letting the sweet alcohol wash over her tongue before she could 'be relaxed' her way into more gaffes.     

 

 

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Sean gave Tara a tight, subdued smile and an apologetic shrug as he mouthed, "Sorry." Out loud, he said, tapping his glass, "Could I get a refill, please?"

Sean had a younger sister, but there had barely been any rivalry or animosity between them, except for a bit when they had been young. Rose was the baby and their parents had relaxed with her, so she got away with a lot more then he ever had at the same age. They loved each of course, but just had different interests and different circles of friends. Other than the rare get together on the holidays, or exchanging pleasantries when asking each other something or a favor in their respective professional capacities, they mostly just stayed out of each other's way.

"I'll have swing by the parks then, sometime," Sean said. "Not used to such a, er, tall city. From friends and colleagues who've travelled a great deal more than I have, they always said Ottawa is a very green city. I didn't think much of it, until I came here." He didn't think Vegas really counted for a comparison. "Didn't think I'd miss trees, or nature, that much, but..."

Sean shrugged. He had never joined Boy Scouts or gone to Camp during summer breaks, but he had loved camping as a kid with the family, and later, with high school friends. It could be counted more in decades rather than years since he'd last gone, but he still had a fondness for it, even if he would rather rent an RV or a remote cabin these days.

"Maybe I'll see you at the fight, then, Grace," Sean said in sudden impulse as Tara started to turn away to enter their order. "Last time I went to a fighting event, it was way back, when I was a kid and the WWE was still the WWF, if you want to count that. " And they didn't have anyone like the Divas back then, certainly not anyone as cute as Brigit active in the ring. "Or the several hockey games I've been. Leastwise, if there are any tickets left."

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Tara nodded and said, "Be right back." She turned in the order and got the man his second drink. He was nice not bad looking for an old guy and the lady was hot. She thought about the fight and how nice and accommodating they had been about the booth. 

 

Tara returned with the drink and paused, "The food will be ready in a few minutes, but I overheard you say you might want to go to the fight. I was going to say earlier how lucky you  were," She indicates Grace, "getting a ticket to this fight. It's likly sold out and if it isn't the only tickets left would be either the really really crappy ones or the really really expensive ones."

 

"Why?" Asked Grace as she dug into her clutch for the ticket she had just stuck in willy-nilly, looking at it to verify her memory, "I thought this was just and exposition fight, see."

 

"It is but while it doesn't count for Renee Espa's standing, it does count as a career fight and if she knocks out my sister that ties her with the consecutive knockout record which means the next fight gets her the record which would be historical. So while it is an exposition fight it's a pretty meaningful one and not to brag on my sister or anything but, while Brigit hasn't won many fights since going pro and has six straight losses up to this one, she has never been knocked out." Tara looks at the wall and the articles and pictures, "She is really one tough little cookie."

 

The two patrons followed her gaze and looked at the picture of the young female boxer.

 

"Anyway I was going to say I might be able to hook you up with a ticket if you cant get one yourself and it wouldn't be as expensive as what you can get from the scalpers or the box-office now."

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"Thanks for the offer, but I'll see what I can find on my own," Sean said politely, tapping his phone sitting on the table. Tara gave him a dubious nod and a crooked grin, then went to get their orders put in.

Other than Floyd Mayweather, and then older boxers like Tyson and Lewis, Ali and Leonard, Sean wasn't particularly informed about boxing, let alone female boxing. Wasn't Mohammad Ali's daughter a boxer and TV host or something? But other than Mayweather making stupid money for some reason, Sean thought the popularity of boxing had been waning as the popularity of MMA waxed. He had disposable income. He hadn't minded spending one to two hundred dollars on a Cirque du Soleil show in Vegas years ago, and he couldn't see this event being that much more expensive for a moderately good seat.

Sean and Grace chatted amiably while waiting for their orders to arrive. He'd gone to see Wright's Robie House and Legoland, and meant to go see the Field Museums and Chicago Architecture Center - and likely the Legoland Discovery Center again - once his symposium was over and he was on vacation, when he would have more time to dedicate to them. Grace in kind talked about what it was like working for a charity, which Sean knew nothing about.

In a surprisingly and pleasantly short time, Tara returned with their meals. Conversation put on hold while they started on their food, Sean arched a brow and gave his phone another tap. "You mind if I use my phone for a bit? Just going to check on those tickets."

Grace graciously gave her blessing with a smile and a small wave of her hand, somewhat charmed by the polite request. It wasn't long before, between bites of savory Shepherd's Pie, she saw his eyes widen in disbelief and rising dismay.

 

"Umm..."

He'd been so wrong. He was looking at least double what he was expecting to pay, and that was for nosebleed seats, easy four figures for good seats. He slumped back in the booth, flipping his phone over, as though not being able to see the screen would make the prices go down. He didn't even want to consider what scalpers would be charging outside the arena.

Tara came after a few minutes to check on them, refilling Sean's coke without being asked. He nodded his instinctive thanks as she asked, "Everything good so far? No problems?"

"It's excellent, thanks." It wasn't like how his mom made it, so lacked the comfort of familiarity, but their was no denying how good it was. He gave Tara an awkward grin, rubbing the back of his neck with a hand. "So, uh, about that possible ticket...? Would it be too late and too assholish to ask you about it, now?"

Boy, oh, boy, was he going to leave Tara a large tip.

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Tara almost smirked, set down two new, smaller menus, "That's the dessert menu, if you want to look at them. I'll be right back." As she walked away Sean could swear she was adding a bit of sway to her curvy hips. When he glanced bake at his dinner companion he say a slight smile that indicated that she had seen him looking which brought a little color to his cheeks. He picked up the menu and looked through it mostly to keep busy and avoid any awkward conversation.

 

In just a few minutes Tara returned this time as she came to the table she had a smile which looked genuine and happy, and a cell phone. "You are in luck. What's your name, first and last?"

 

"Sean Cassidy, C-a-s-s-i-d-y," Sean spelled out his last name for Tara.

"Ahem, hello....I'm Irish too," she said with a giggle as she typed in  his name. Then she held the phone up to take a picture of Sean, "Say 'gimme a mocha'."

 

Sean looked at her with puzzlement, "What?"

 

She snapped the picture and laughed. She typed a bit more then asked for his phone number. After he told he she typed and then his phone beeped that he was receiving a text message. It was a digital ticket to the fight this coming Friday, and if he recalled the seating diagram for floor seats not far from the ring. Very expensive seats.

 

"Get there at least forty-five minutes before the fight, show that at the ticket kiosk and you should get in with no problem."

 

"How much?" He was afraid to ask.

 

"Nothing as long as you get there at that time." Sh smiled again, "Now either of you want dessert?"

 

 

 

 

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Friday night came after a long grueling week and with it came the fight.

 

It was not a fight  Brigit had to win, she just needed to last eight rounds and make the big bucks. If Karen were right it would open up other matches of the same type and she needed the money. She had also decided to take Karen's offer and train for Kickboxing. She shared her Daddy's opinion of the MMA but that's where the real money was right now, for women at least, and if she couldn't win in a stand-up boxing match, she at least had a better chance in the cage.

 

At least that's what Brigit Moran was thinking as she entered the ring at Eight forty to face the number one female boxer in her weight class Renee Espa a dark skinned black haired Porto Rican, She had twent-two matches in her pro career and each of them had ended in a KO within three rounds. Just looking at her Brigit could see the power in those shoulders power she knew she would never have. As the bell rang starting the fight Brigit thought, this is going to hurt.

 

Many had been right she did hit like a freight train. The first punches had been feelers but in the second round Espa landed two solid hits that Brigit had to clinch on, they hurt bad, but hadn't done any real damage. The third round started and Espa came out like a hurricane. She had Brigit backing up when a viscous left sneaked past and hit below the rib causing Brigit to drop her guard giving Espa an opening for her right hook which caught Brigit in the left cheek splitting the cut from last week open. That should have been it. That was Espa’s signature bomb blast and it landed solid and everyone expected the pretty little Barbie Boxer to go face down on the mat.

 

That did not happen.

 

The fist had slammed into Brigit’s face popping her head sideways. Brigit felt it and it hurt. She started to black out but then a searing pain drilled into her head bluish white light filled her vision and fire ripped through her body she staggered and Espa hesitated only a split second before continuing the assault. The pain was too much for Brigit, but it also drove her on. Instinct and training took over Brigit clinched again knowing the refs would have to pull them apart which they did, and she staggered back to her corner, her vision clearing as the bell rang signaling the end of round three.

 

There had been no  knockout, Brigit was still in the fight.

 

As she sat and Manny began cleaning the blood and plastering the cut which the ref and doc were examining. Brigit was in pain her head was on fire and her neck hurt with every little movement. She looked across the ring at Espas who was glaring at her. Even though it was not a rated fight it still counted for her record, and now her three round knockout streak was broken. Brigit didn’t like the hatred she saw in those eyes, so she turned her head and looked out at the crowd. It was the largest she had ever fought in front and even though they had not come for her,  it still was amazing to her, to be in front of this mass of humanity. Suddenly, as Manny touched the cut, a horrible wave of pain rolled through her and her eyes went wonky. It felt like her blood was on fire. She shut her eyes and when she opened then she saw a blond woman in the audience, her eyes were drawn to her even though she had never seen her before. She seemed to glow which was weird. With effort Brigit pulled he eyes away from the woman and then her gaze fell on a man in the second row. The pain was still intense but distant like a fire that was smoldering underneath ready to flare again with the slightest encouragement, but for some reason all of that took a back seat for she could not take her eyes off the guy.

 

He was kinda attractive for a older guy, short brown hair (bout an inch long), scruffy beard (more than a 5 o'clock shadow, but hardly more, very dark brown with a few white hairs), grey blue eyes, glasses with thin frames Average build, slightly broad shoulders. All details she shouldn't have been able to make out at this distance but even that didn't enter her mind mostly what she noticed was that he was glowing.

 

Then the bell rang and she was back up and heading toward Espa who looked really, really pissed.

 

The first hit got past Brigit's defense, she was still dazed from last round and the pain, the blow hit the same cheek, followed by a roundhouse from the left. Brigit's head felt like it exploded, the pain a hundred times worse as she staggered back the fire ripping through her a pain so intense. Brigit cried out as Espa angrily waded in, throwing blow after blow at her, trying to knock her out, not knowing how this amateur bitch who had fucked up HER record, was even still standing. Brigit fell back into the ropes her head and body in such pain as to leave her wishing for death, but it wasn't the punches that Espa was raining down on her, they were now more an annoyance than adding anything to the pain. That pain as well as the noise and the light tearing through her was all on the inside.

 

Brigit lashed out shoving Espa away from her.

 

For a moment, the Venue was dead silent as what people saw registered. Espa pummeling Moran against the ropes suddenly Espa flying ALL THE WAY across the ring into the far ropes and through them and into the spectators like a missile. Moran stumbling to her corner and grasping the pole ripping it from its anchoring before collapsing onto the mat.

 

The Bells rang, medics and officials moved into action, the spectators, not panicked, but on their feet, yelling and adding to the chaos and confusion. No one noticed Sean Cassidy a Canadian Architect who had been in town for on a work trip. While not a great boxing fan he had needed a night out and the ticket had been free. Also he had never seen woman's boxing live before. So he had accepted the tickets. A decision which would change his life forever. At the moment of the astonishing action in the ring occurred the sudden Headache and body pains that had started a few moments ago, blossomed into almost sheer agony.

 

Sean Cassidy was the man whom Brigit had seen glowing.

 

Spoiler

You guys can do a recap of the rest of your week as well as your arrival at the fight. While you don't have seats together you could have met up before the fight and know where each other is sitting. you can both see each other from your seats.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Seeing and being seen was part of the game she had been taught growing up by her parents. Particularly seeing and being seen by the right people at the right places. It was all about Reputation. The Williams were no scandal a week tabloid fodder. Or at least hadn't been before Benin and Grace had gotten herself plastered all over the internet punching out inhuman monsters. So tonight was about proving she could play the role, dressed to her best in a cream dress and jacket combo, hair up and 3" heels. As the car pulled up in the designated drop off point in front of the venue, the blonde Stormer could see the flash of cameras as some local famous so and so was spotted by the circling media, and she smiled to herself, knowing it was show time. A few quick presses of her phone took care of her driver plus a healthy tip, nervous as she'd made the man. The man unlocked the door and Grace Williams was off and into her element in a storm of 'Ms Williams!', camera flashes, and the odd 'Apex!'.

 

She heavily suspected that pulling her ticket out of her purse to be scanned was entirely a courtesy on her end, the way a bubble of space formed around her enroute to the entrance, the crowd torn between celebrity fascination and the 'tiger that may or may not decide to eat you later' uncertainty. She paused for a heartbeat in the doorway, turning to smile slimly at the crowd before passing within to the less chaotic but no less fervent interest of those upper crust Grace crossed paths with on the way to her seat.

 

That was an hour ago before the prefight pageantry gave way to intro musics and introductions. Brigit was indeed not bad looking however mixed her record might have been in recent years. The fight itself uncomfortably reminded Grace of flesh pounding into flesh, aggression and controlled violence on display for a crowd that grew steadily more invested as Brigit Did Not Go Down and an easy knockout slipped out of the champion in round after round. The Beninise survivor in Grace couldn't help but note how the champ's expression grew uglier, the blows wilder, superimpose one of the many nightmare faces of Echidna over Espa's own. The look of a frustrated predator expecting easy meat and finding anything but.

 

Then it happened. A sea change as Brigit pushed back with sudden superhuman strength and wrought havoc on both her opponent and the ring. Grace sucked in a breath through her nose and was on her feet in a heartbeat, grey eyes locking on the brunette. Her muscles tensed as she waited to see if she needed to do something to keep the trigger event from escalating further.   

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Tara earned that tip. She wouldn't accept any cash for the ticket, so after taking his time with the caramel banana xango and the company of the striking blonde, the redhead ended up with a 100% tip and well wishes that she did well on her exam. Sean enjoyed the rest of the architectural symposium, even if the week seemed to drag itself out.

When it ended and his colleagues packed up and started to head for their flights home, Sean was a little miffed. They weren't precisely friends, but he'd worked many of time for years and they didn't even seen to notice he wasn't going with them, nor that he was going to be on vacation for a month. Not a single 'seeya around'. Oh well, he had a fight to go see.

He'd never gone to a boxing match before, let alone a prize fight - or whatever you called it - so didn't know what to wear. But it was really just a sporting event, so he dressed casually in jeans, runners, a dark green hoodie, and a charcoal polar fleece vest. It was the beginning of March with spring on the horizon, but still cold and damp. He was from Ottawa and was relatively used to that and would have been fine... except for the wind. They didn't get wind like that often back home and channeled between the high rises and skyscrapers of Chicago, it cut like a knife.

While get cleared for entry at the kiosk, he people watched the VIPs making their arrivals and noticed Grace dressed in white drawing attention like a celebrity, just beginning to realize she might be more than just someone who came from money working for a charity. He also began to have doubts about how he was dressed, when he looked again at just how good his tickets were.

When he got to his seat, Sean felt serious underdressed. Okay, it wasn't everyone, but most in the same area seemed to be dressed in expensive suits or little black dresses or had excessive bling to make up the difference. Or both. And he felt invisible, moneyed eyes looking pass or through the common man in their midst. Good thing he didn't care what they thought. 

Mostly.

He caught sight of Grace again, more than a quarter of the ring away from him and gave her a surreptitious wave, but he wasn't sure if she noticed. He also couldn't help but notice Brigit's promoter standing in her by her corner, a sexy, fit, well maintained blonde he guessed about his own age, who might be taller than he was with her heels. And he wasn't the only one who noticed her. But he forgot about her and Grace and the others he was sharing the expensive seats with as the fight started, the energy level of the crowd rising and growing both wild and focused. There were those looking for Brigit to get slaughtered by Renee Espa. But just as many... weren't hoping Brigit won, but rather that she just took longer to lose.

Sean hoped Brigit won. He watched the fight avidly, even though he winced every time the pretty redhead suffered a hit, unconsciously climbing to his feet with the rest of the crowd as the seconds ticked away in the third round to end Espa's record. When the round ended, Sean pumped an excited fist in the air with a snarled, victorious, "Yes!"

Heart pumping as he sat back down, his eyes suddenly met those of the Boxing Barbie and their gazes locked despite the distance. His lips curved into a crooked smile when with languorous swiftness, a pain lanced suddenly in his head, like someone was shoving an icepick made of absolute zero into his skull. His smile froze, the pain so intense he felt nauseous, weightless, barely able to tell up from down.

He didn't hear the bell ring for the fourth round, was completely unaware he had stumbled to his feet as the others stood up around him, craning for to see every inch of the fight in the fourth. He barely managed to hold on to the seat in front of him, though whether it was to help him to keep his feet or to stop him from floating away, Sean couldn't say.

Bells were screaming, the crowd was surging, and the pain in Sean's head shifted from an intense spike, to a general throb, as though his bones pulsed with each beat of his heart. The pain wasn't as incapacitating, but just barely. His skin felt tight, and he was being jostled this way and that. He was going to puke, he needed fresh air, needed to get out, but he felt like he was moving through jello and could barely tell left from right, up from down...

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From – The Dauntless Recollections, vol I

 

It was the pain, the most excruciating unfathomable PAIN. It was like reliving every punch, every broken bone, every stubbed toe and skint knee I had ever had in my life…all at once.

 

I'm a boxer, my daddy's girl, I been getting punched in the face since I was twelve years old but I’m tough. So, when I tell you the pain I felt when Rena Espa hit me in the third round was the worst pain I had ever felt you sorta know where I'm coming from. And that pain was nothing compared to what followed.

 

She kept coming at me, already dazed, every time she hit me my head exploded. Fuck, it hurt. Then she had me on the ropes, my sight was messed up, I couldn't see anything and at the same time I could see everything all at once. The same with my hearing it was all just one huge noise but at the same time I could hear every single word and gasp and the fire my god the fire, it felt like molten steel was being poured into my bones. And still the hitting. She just kept punching. I felt each hit but it didn't hurt anymore, her hits that is, the fire in my body, that fucking hurt. She, Espa, was just pissing me off.

 

So I shoved her.

 

All I could think was get this bitch away from me, shoved her as hard as I could to stop the punches. And the dam holding all that molten steel in my bones back, broke wide open.

 

PAIN.

 

All of the pain I could ever feel hit me in that single instant.  I was hurting before but this, there is no way to describe it, there are no words.

 

Even with the chaos the medics knew their jobs and they moved. They started to check Brigit out in the ring but at Manny and Karen’s urging put her on a stretcher and carried her back to the dressing room. Most everyone was focused on Espa and so they managed the feat with a lot of grunting. Brigit seemed to be unconscious, but she really wasn’t while she couldn’t move her mind was functional, awake and overloaded. One part of her mind replayed shoving Espa and the other boxer flying across the ring in a detached sort of way. Another part was aware of the paramedics and Manny carrying her to the dressing room, then putting her on the table and covering her with a blanket. She felt hands touching her head and body checking her for injury. She recognized one of the Paramedics he was kind of cute, funny she’d never noticed that before. He was saying something to Manny, she focused in on it. “...bones, don’t see any obvious injuries. Where did all this blood come from?”

 

Manny's voice came from down by her feet, “She's got a cut up there, under her eye there.”


“Where? I don't see anything.”

 

Manny stepped into Brigit’s unmoving field of vision, a real look of concern on his face, but then his eyes widened as he got a look at her face. After all those punches I must really look a mess, she thought. “Ahh shit, umm... the cut was last week, sorry all this has me flustered, this here is from a nosebleed in the second-round must of bled some more in that last one,” Manny said. Brigit, in that same detached way, noticed the odd hitch in Manny’s voice

 

Manny and the paramedic, John, she thought his name was, stood there over Brigit and locked eyes. The two seemed to have a whole conversation without words everything said with the yes. Finally, John, the paramedic nodded, “Well she’s in shock so let’s keep her warm and I’ll see about getting her transport so we can get her to the hospital. The Officials will probably want to talk to you, but they can wait, we need to get her there so we can rule out internal injuries.”

  

As the paramedic left, Karen Gayle slipped in and whispered “How is She Manny?”

  

“I don't know Ms Gayle, She hasn't moved or anything but she doesn’t look hurt aside from being still as death. Her pulse is strong but high, John seemed kind of freaked out and to tell the truth so am I. Look at her cheek, the cuts gone, and that thing needed stitches I could swear” Manny whispered back.

  

Karen's Phone buzzed right then, she stepped away, but Brigit heard her tapping the screen  and saying noncommittal things and a string of curses.

 

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One long held breath later, Grace exhaled again as the potential for more violence fizzled out with Brigit's collapse. Chaos? Yes. The peristaltic quiver of a crowd caught between rubbernecking and panic? Yes. But the violence of a new Stormer lashing out in confusion and panic in a packed private space? Blessedly, no.

 

The worst of Grace's nightmares replayed those burning minutes of her life over and over as flesh and bone and nerve all strengthened just in time for another wave of power stressed them to breaking point again before strengthening again. All to the disjointed background music of weaponized life pecking and clawing and shoving at her, blind fight or flight making her lash out against blurred outlines that might have been predatory monster, might have been fleeing refugee...

 

She hoped Sean was okay in this chaos, if he had made it inside. Have to call him later. The Canadian hadn't been unpleasant as a dining companion, and it had been an easy call to exchange numbers with the architect. She had always been lectured on the value of contacts, and his dream of coming up with Stormer proof architecture while running into Chicago's sole Stormer? Heh. The irony had made her chuckle inside ever since.

 

Any mirth Grace might be feeling was stifled now as she pondered the twin doors Brigit had been carried through by venue staff. Make that second Stormer now if she was any judge of things. And she knew a *little* about superhuman strength. 

 

Well, that decided it. Her honorary sisters in Kapa Alpha Theta would disown her if they ever found out she had left someone in her even smaller new Sorority to suffer without even the offer of help.

 

With an apologetic noise, she started pushing her way gently but firmly through the crowd away from the ruined boxing ring. At some point, a guy she bumped into turned around with a look of anger on his face. He looked down from his bulking 6'5 height. She looked up. Even as she was about to apologize, a look of recognition and fear sparked in his eyes, the blood rushing from his face, "Make a hole! Stormer coming through!"

 

Her progress was considerably smoother and faster from there, drawing off a frisson of the focus away from the huddle around Espa's impact point. A ripple Grace didn't let anything she might have felt at that show, the human spectrum of relief and dread and curiosity background noise to her purpose, her target.

 

"We're sorry, Miss. Staff only from this point on," one of two very tense security personnel told her as she reached the fighter's entrance, duty winning the upper hand for now. Narrowly winning if the bloodless press of his lips together meant anything.

 

"Of course," she instantly agreed, presenting no physical aggression, tone even, "I just would like you to pass a message to Brigit's couch, please. I have an idea what she might be going through if she ever wanted to talk..."    

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Like a piece of flotsam tumbling through white water rapids, Sean staggered through the cacophony and chaos of the crowd. Sounds seemed louder, sharper and more resonant, colours so incredibly vibrant and saturated that everything was nearly a blur, anything or anyone pressing against his tight and itching skin made him shudder. Disoriented and feeling so light and weightless, it felt like he was having to learn how to walk all over again, and was only having imperfect success.

 

Though he was stone cold sober, he was vaguely aware of people looking at him as though he was drunk or high. Having little experience being either, Sean imagined this might be how it might feel, except for throbbing torment. The pain should have been dulled to nothing, shouldn't it?

Somehow, Sean managed to make it outside, the cool air on his cheeks both sharp and soothing, grounding him slightly. He breathed, deep and slow, nausea easing, and rubbed his eyes, though his vision was still blurry. It wasn't as busy as he thought it would be, the press of people distinctly lighter than he had experienced at or near the end of a hockey game.

He figured people hadn't left the fight yet, wanting to hear the decision or see the winner crowned, or whatever. He would have liked to watched Brigit Moran claim her victory, but he just couldn't. He was just wanted to sleep until the permeating pain pulsing through his bones, muscles, and skin went away. He'd would have considered just soaking in a bath, if it didn't feel like it would have been too much effort to run one, and wouldn't have to worry about drowning in it.

Luckily, he was able to flag down a taxi. Some bastard was about to steal his cab, but at Sean's venomous and uncompromising glare, the guy was practically catapulted onto his ass. Sean slumped into the back seat, taking two attempts to tell the driver which hotel he was at. When the taxi dropped him off at the circular drive into front of his hotel, Sean almost wept as he looked up at the edifice towering over him, his bed seeming so far away, too bright lights lighting the exterior wringing tears from his eyes.

He dragged himself into the lobby, feeling heavy now rather that weightless, waving off the offer of help and more fell into the elevator than stepped. Amazingly, he hit the right button for his floor, and more amazingly, got off on the right floor too. It took three tries to get his keycard into the lock but the beep and the light changing from red to green brought a choked gasp of relief from his throat.

Sean wavered forward, instinctively stripping himself free of his clothing, then fell into bed. He never felt himself hit the plush mattress, but just kept on falling and falling... a collage of gorgeous women sweeping passed him and breaking the darkness of his dreams. Brigit Moran, bright auburn hair and blue eyes, powerfully built and beautiful. Grace Williams, slender and elegant and well off with supermodel good looks. Brigit's tall blond promoter. The snarky and teasing red-headed Tara. Even Janet, a younger coworker who had no time for him unless she wanted something. Eva Zelenka, the Stormer Star of Kushiel's Legacy who seemed to know every fantasy in his head even through the monitor. And more

Always self-effacing and unassuming in his life, with only small ambitions, in the somnolent haze before deep sleep, Sean idly wondered what it would take to earn their attention, to earn some of the same attention they received from those around them...

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