Chapter 1: Chapter 1
“Wakey, wakey, eggs and bakey.” Nix drawled as he flicked on the light and nudged Dick’s leg as it dangled off the narrow bed.
“Yep,” Dick acknowledged as he sat up, his hair slightly mussed from the pillow. He took in his best friend standing before him in gym shorts and a hoodie, holding a mug of coffee close to his chest. “Gonna share that?”
Nix snorted. “Not a chance. Come on, tiger, up and at ‘em. You’ve got a three mile run and then on to training.”
Dick sighed. “After.”
“After,” Nix agreed. He smirked, “And if you’re good, I’ll even add breakfast to it.” Then he sauntered back out of the room, chuckling as he went, and Dick was left to contemplate his own bare feet for a moment.
Day two of his new training regimen: his muscles were pleasantly sore, but he could tell he hadn’t really begun to push himself yet. Maybe he’d insist on adding another half mile. And maybe some extra time on the heavy bag as well. That is, if Nix let him get away with it.
Dick had originally been skeptical when Nix offered to help him train for the Philadelphia Golden Gloves qualifying competition, but he’d taken his best friend up on the offer regardless. However, so far, Dick had to admit he’d been surprised by Nix’s enthusiasm and the very fact that he was up before 10:00 a.m. when he didn’t have to be.
Dick stood and stretched quickly, loosening his muscles before he pulled on his shorts, t-shirt, and running shoes. When he exited his bedroom, he found Nix waiting for him at their tiny kitchen table. “Ready?” Nix asked.
Dick smirked “If you are.”
The air was chill and patterns of frost still decorated the windows they passed on their way to the park up the street. At 5:30 in the morning, it was calm and quiet in the park, with the city just beginning to wake up. Dick began to jog once they reached the trail and Nix kept pace with him, the only sounds being their breathing and their shoes rhythmically slapping the sidewalk.
Maybe this wasn’t most people’s idea of a perfect morning, but it was Dick’s. A quiet time when he could think and breathe in some fresh air, without being bothered. Dick valued his alone time but being with Nix was like that, too, only better; his best friend instinctively knew when Dick needed the quiet and when he needed a laugh instead. Time flew by, just as it always did on these morning runs, and soon enough, they were headed back toward the apartment to grab their gear and head into the gym for another intense session of training. But first….
Nix nodded his head toward their favorite diner, just a block away from their apartment. “Come on, my treat,” he said, smiling, and Dick didn’t bother to argue, knowing already how it would play out. So instead, he followed Nix into the warmth of the diner and inhaled the welcoming scent of coffee, bacon, and pancakes. They settled into their usual booth by the front windows and Nix gave a wave to Audrey, the elderly waitress who always worked the morning shift.
Audrey smiled their way and bustled over quickly, pulling out a pad of paper and pen from her apron pocket. “Morning, boys. You want the usual?”
“Please,” Dick said. “But could I get a side of fruit as well?”
“Sure thing, darling.” Audrey said. “And you, sweetheart?”
“I think the blueberry pancakes, today,” Nix said, nodding Dick’s way. “Can’t have him making me look bad with his healthy choices.”
“Blueberry pancakes is not the healthy choice, Nix,” Dick chastised, rolling his eyes.
Nix, of course, just smirked. “It’s got fruit in it, doesn’t it?”
Audrey chuckled. “You two always make me laugh. I’ll have your breakfast up in a minute.”
“Thanks,” they chorused. A minute later, Audrey returned to the table and poured them both a cup of coffee.
Dick took a sip as soon as Audrey wandered away, enjoying the heat of the bitter brew after the chill of the air outside. And he watched, amused, as Nix added a healthy dose of cream and sugar to his own, pleased only that he didn’t add anything else. And as Nix leaned back in the booth and took a sip of his coffee, Dick thought to himself, Yeah, mornings like this are just fine.
Currahee was an older gym, a real mom and pop place that used to have a reputation for turning out great fighters. When they’d moved to Philadelphia, it was the first gym that Dick really liked the feel of, and he’d adopted it rather quickly. The place was small and low-key, but the equipment was well-kept and the place was clean. It had originally been opened by a couple of World War II vets after they’d returned from Europe, and they’d kept the place running for decades with the help of their children. However, about six months after Dick started going there, the owner passed away and his son said that they’d have to sell the place because he didn’t have the time or energy to keep it up. Dick had been heartbroken, as had the other patrons, because Currahee wasn’t just an adequate gym, it was a warm place with good, encouraging people who were dedicated to their art.
Dick had mentioned the closing as a matter of dinner conversation one night at home over a plate of cheap spaghetti, saying that he hoped the new owners were decent people or else he’d have to find a new gym, which he hated to do, because he really loved that place already. Nix had listened in his usual way: dark eyes intent, wheels visibly turning in his head. He hummed sympathetically and asked “How serious are you about this boxing thing, anyway?”
“Pretty serious.” Dick said, around a mouthful of spaghetti. He chewed. Swallowed. “I think I could compete. I want to.”
“Well, then.” Nix said, setting his fork aside and leaning back in his chair. “Let’s keep our fingers crossed that you like the new owner.”
Less than a week later, Lewis Nixon was the proud owner of Currahee Gym, est. 1946.
“Again,” Dick said, rolling his shoulders and squaring up once more. Nix braced the heavy bag with his whole body and nodded. One, two. One, two. One, two, three. Right, left. Right, left. Right, left, right. Spin. Punch. Again. Again. Repeat.
“Harder,” Nix ordered. “Hit it harder.” Dick’s fists were already sore, would need to be iced as soon as he was done. He could feel the heat of the punches, could feel the blood pounding under his skin. He loved it. Loved the sting of his fists landing over and over. “Come on, Dick. One more. Make it count.” When Dick hit the bag, Nix let out a little ‘oomph’ sound and stepped back, rubbing a hand over his middle. “That’s what I’m talking about.”
“So what do you think?” Dick panted, stepping back and running an arm across his forehead, where the sweat had begun to drip into his eyes.
“I think you need to keep hitting like that. You’re lean and fast, which is great, but you’ve also got a great reach. Make it work for you.”
“He’s right,” Harry said, wandering over with a bottle of water, which he handed over to Dick. “A lot of the guys in the circuit are bigger than you, so you have to make it count. Hit ‘em hard and do it fast. You’ve got the stamina to go at least six rounds, I’d say, but if you can knock ‘em out….well. Knock ‘em out.”
Dick rolled his shoulders again. “Right.”
Nix narrowed his eyes. “Your shoulder bothering you? You keep doing that.”
“It’s nothing,” Dick assured. “Just needs some ice.”
“Uh, huh. If you say so.” Nix said, obviously not believing him. “Let’s get you some then while you cool down.” He grimaced. “Then I’ll go deal with the paperwork before we head out.”
“That sounds fine,” Dick acknowledged as he headed back to the locker room where he could shower, change, and ice his muscles.
After Dick was squared away, Nix found himself reviewing the papers for the gym quickly. New memberships. Dues paid. Orders for new equipment. Electric bill. Sign-ups for their next beginners class. He smirked as he read the list of names. “Hey Lip,” Nix called, “we all ready for the next round of classes to start?”
Carwood Lipton, one of their part-time trainers, came over with his usual friendly smile in place. “Good to go, as far as I can tell. We’ve got seven signed up for it. A couple high school kids. Should be fun.”
“Good.” Nix said. “Any problems?”
Lip frowned. “Just the usual. A couple kids came around yesterday looking to start some trouble, but Harry and I ran ‘em off pretty fast.”
“Punks from Lone Wolf, again?” Nix wondered.
“Probably.” Lip conceded. “It’s bad enough that they keep trying to take our patrons, but now they’re starting with the petty harassment.” He snorted. “You’d think they’d have something better to do with their time. Like train.”
“You’d think,” Nix agreed. Lone Wolf was the name of a mixed martial arts gym a few blocks away that fashioned itself the best new up and coming MMA training facility. Guy who owned it was a real douchebag who’d started by trying to steal Currahee’s loyal patrons, and had since moved on to occasionally harassing their members and generally devolving to school yard bullying with name calling and bullshit intimidation techniques. Frankly, Nix thought it was a bit embarrassing for them. Imagine feeling so insecure in your own gym that you had to come harass the patrons of another one. One that Lone Wolf called “old-fashioned, outdated, and irrelevant.” Nix wasn’t really interested in getting into a pissing contest with the ex-special forces guy who owned the place, but still, he had his pride, and he had his priorities. They had bills to pay to keep this place running, and he was determined to keep the place running for Dick. Not to mention it had grown on him, as well. “Are we still running the promotion for new members?” Nix asked.
“Yep,” Lip said, “two weeks of free one-on-one training with a year’s membership.”
Lip grinned. “A couple young ladies, actually. Said they’d like to be able to handle themselves with more confidence. I’ve got one of ‘em scheduled to start training with me for tomorrow.”
Nix smiled. “Sounds great. It’ll be good to have some women here as well. Show that we’re not so old fashioned that we don’t believe in equal opportunities and all.”
“Right.” Lip nodded. “And uh…. There was this tall, skinny, red-headed kid that’s been hanging around outside from time to time.”
“You think he’s another one from Lone Wolf?”
“Nah. I think he’s just too scared to come in, still. I’ll try to talk to him if he comes by again.”
“Good,” Nix said. “The more the merrier.” He reviewed the last paper on the stack. “Anything else?”
“Just Gene’s new supply order. But that’s it. We’re all good here.”
“Great. Keep it up, Lip—you know I couldn’t do this without you.”
“Happy to help,” Lipton assured. “How’s Dick’s training coming along?”
“Good. He’s doing good. He’s his usual stubborn self, you know. I tell him thirty minutes, he says an hour. I tell him three miles, he says four. So I mostly just let him go now, but I’ve had to step in a couple times. He has a tendency to run himself ragged.”
Nix snorted. “Well. It’s my job to make sure he doesn’t do that.”
Lip frowned. “Is it? Your job, I mean?”
Nix shifted his eyes away. “That’s what best friends are for, right?”
“Right,” Lip said, letting it go.
“He needs more time sparring, though,” Nix said, getting the conversation back on track. “Do you have some free time tomorrow?”
“Sure. Whatever Dick needs.”
“You’re a pal, Lip,” Nix said, clapping him on the shoulder and shuffling the signed papers together into a neat stack. “Here you go. Call me if anything comes up.”
And with that, Nix headed to the locker room to fetch his stubborn friend.
I just feel like I need to take this moment to remind everyone about Carwood Lipton's shoulders. Now imagine him boxing. You're welcome.
Babe Heffron took another gulp from his gigantic can of Arizona Iced Tea and leaned a little bit to the left, so that he’d have a better view of the window across the street. The head of dark, soft-looking hair had just ducked out of sight, but Babe knew from experience that he’d be back soon. The man was always busy, apparently. Moving here and there, shifting equipment around, running errands, talking with the other guys. He always seemed so serious about what he was doing, which was usually not something Babe looked for in a person at all—seriousness usually meant a buzzkill in his neighborhood—but something about the guy just struck Babe. Maybe it was his dark blue eyes, nearly black, or his pale skin, his capable hands, his….
Babe was getting distracted again. Look, he knew what this sounded like, okay, but it wasn’t that, alright? He wasn’t a stalker, and he wasn’t stalking the guy. In fact, the guy wasn’t even the reason he was here. He was just… a perk. A really, really nice perk. Like, the most beautiful perk that Babe had ever beheld. But that was beside the point.
The sign above the door read “Currahee” in dark red script, a bit old-fashioned, maybe, but it blended well with the shops around it—a bodega, a nail salon, and a fishing supply store. He’d found his way here on accident, really, a couple weeks ago. He’d been wandering around after work, still pissed that they cut his hours, and not wanting to go back home where he knew Bill would lecture him about getting a better job. He’d been daydreaming, thinking about how restless he’d been lately, how maybe he should take up jogging or weights or something, when he’d looked up and realized he stood in front of a boxing gym. He would’ve walked away but movement inside the gym caught his eye. He moved closer to the window and watched as a small, lean man with a curly head of hair punched the speedbag so fast that Babe could hardly believe what he was seeing, but more impressive than that: Babe recognized the guy. Not because he knew him, exactly. At least, not any more than any other Philly boy his age would know Harry “The Irish Devil” Welsh, who was a professional boxer who’d made his reputation on the streets knocking out much larger men before he’d gone on to win the national Bantamweight title before abruptly retiring a year ago. He was a neighborhood hero, and Babe couldn’t believe he’d just stumbled upon him at a nondescript little gym he hadn’t even meant to find.
While Babe watched Welsh practice, transfixed, another man entered his line of sight. He was much bigger than Welsh, with broad shoulders and a nasty looking scar on his face. He looked like he could be real mean, like he could take a man down hard. The two started talking, laughing, before they headed over to the ring, which Babe could just see a part of from the window. He watched them both put on gloves and mouthpieces, then start circling each other. Babe wasn’t sure what he was seeing: it was obvious that the new guy was bigger, but Welsh was a pro, and Babe had never seen this other guy before. But…whatever he’d expected, he was wrong. The two of them went toe to toe, hit for hit. The bigger guy moved slower but obviously hit harder. Welsh’s strength had always been in his speed and wily nature, the fact that his opponents could rarely catch him, and he had excellent aim once he got within range. But these two… they were almost evenly matched. Maybe they weren’t going at full strength, though. Babe wondered if they were buddies. He’d watched for about twenty minutes, before he’d shaken himself and realized he should head home for supper before it got any later.
The next day, he found himself back there again. This time, Welsh was absent, but the guy with the scar was still there, and he looked to be training someone on the heavy bag. He definitely seemed to know what he was doing, and he looked like he was encouraging the younger man. Babe watched, curious, for a long time.
That night, he turned to Bill over a beer with the tv on and said “I’m thinking of taking up boxing.”
Bill quirked an eyebrow. “Yeah? What for? You know how to fight.” He smirked. “I made sure a’ that. Even if I can still kick your ass.”
“Whatever,” Babe rolled his eyes. “And anyway, I’m not talking about fighting. I’m talking about boxing. You know. As a sport.”
“A sport, huh? No offense, Babe, but you’re not really the type.”
“I could be!” Babe protested, turning fully to face his friend.
“When have you ever exerted yourself when you didn’t have to?”
Babe took a sip from his beer and thought about it for a minute. It wasn’t like Bill didn’t have a point, only…. “I’m serious.”
Bill regarded him solemnly for a moment. “Well, alright. Why don’t you, then? Got something in mind?”
“Maybe. I found a place that looks like it might be pretty cool. They offer classes and stuff.”
“Well, if you’re serious, I think you should do it. It’ll be good for you. Teach you some discipline. And to respect your elders. And tone up your flabby stomach so maybe you can get yourself a girlfriend.”
“Aw, shut up!” Babe hollered, but Bill only cackled while he dodged Babe’s elbow.
That was more than a week ago. And here he was. Still on the sidewalk across the street. He’d meant to go in. He would have, even. He was determined to take Bill’s advice and just do it… when he’d seen the other one. The One. Whatever. And Babe knew there was no way in hell he’d be able to go in there now. Not when there was a guy who looked like that hanging out in there. Babe knew he was tall and lanky and awkward. He didn’t need to add making a fool of himself on top of that. Not in front of the most attractive person he’d ever laid eyes on. So here he was, chugging luke-warm iced tea like a chump, wondering where the hell his balls had gone. He was so absorbed in watching the dark-haired man that he wasn’t paying attention to his surroundings and the sudden voice at his side surprised him.
“So… are you gonna come in today, or are you just gonna stand out here again?” The voice was deep, but not unkind, and Babe jumped, turning wide eyes onto the guy with the scar.
“W-what? I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about.”
The guy grinned and held out his hand. “I’m Carwood Lipton, a trainer at Currahee. I’ve seen you out here a few times.”
Babe couldn’t help the blush that he knew crawled over his face and his neck. “I saw Harry Welsh practicing here a couple times.”
Lipton smiled. “Sure. Harry’s one of our trainers. He works here, but he also trained here.”
Babe’s brows rose. “You mean this is where he trained for the pro circuit?”
“Yep. This gym’s produced a lot of greats. Thinking of becoming one?”
Babe laughed. “Me? Nah. Just thinking of doing something to get into shape.”
Lipton nodded. “Well, if that’s what you’re looking for, you can’t beat boxing. Excellent cardio, muscle training, and personally I find it to be real cathartic. Great way to unwind after a long day.”
Babe nodded. “I bet.”
“So. You gonna come in?” Lipton asked again. “At least let me show you around?”
“Sure,” Babe said, figuring that he probably wasn’t gonna get out of this situation in any other way, at least not with his dignity intact. So with that, he followed Lipton across the street and for the first time, he walked in through the doors of Currahee.
It smelled a little bit like sweat inside, but Babe had smelled much worse, and honestly it wasn’t that bad. The place was clean, organized. Lipton began to lead him around, showing him their equipment. Babe could tell a lot of it was older, but still in good repair. Obviously taken care of. They’d been wandering for about five minutes when Babe said as much.
Lipton nodded. “Yeah, some of our stuff’s a bit older, but Gene takes real good care of everything.”
“Our equipment manager,” Lipton said, nodding toward Gene and waving when the dark-haired man turned toward his name. Gene furrowed his brows and approached.
“You need somethin’, Lip?”
“Just saying hi. I’m showing,” Lipton paused and glanced at Babe expectantly for a minute.
“Babe,” Babe supplied.
“I’m showing Babe around,” Lipton said with a smile.
“Alright,” Gene said, and his brow smoothed. The tiniest smile quirked the side of his mouth. “You thinkin’ of joinin’?” And he was talking to Babe. It was happening. It was really happening, and OH MY GOD, that voice!
“Yeah,” Babe shrugged, “I’m thinking about it.” He was sooo impressed with himself that he’d been able to play it cool with his answer.
“Well, I hope you do. We’re always lookin’ for new members.” Gene gave a little wave. “See you around.”
After Gene had returned to his task, Lipton turned to Babe. “So, what do you think of the gym?”
Lipton grinned. “That’s what I like to hear. You know, right now we have a new promotion. New members get two weeks of free one-on-one training with one of our trainers.”
Babe nodded. “That sounds like a good deal. Who are the trainers?”
“Right now it’s me and Harry Welsh. You can take your pick or work with whoever’s schedule is open.”
Babe smiled, and his heart fluttered as he caught sight of Gene moving in the corner of his eye. “Alright. Sign me up.”
Oh, Babe. You adorable goofball.
Chapter 4: Chapter 4
“Risin' up, back on the street. Did my time, took my chances. Went the distance, now I'm back on my feet. Just a man and his will to survive!!!!”
Harry smirked at the new kid. “Really, kid? Eye of the Tiger? You don’t have anything more original than that?”
Babe blushed and yanked his earbuds out. “Just uh….just warmin’ up like Lipton told me to.”
Harry’s smirk softened just a bit. “Right. Well listen to Lip. He’s our best and he knows what he’s doing.”
Babe nodded. “Yeah. ‘Course.” He blushed again and averted his gaze. “Think you’re probably the best, though. I uh… I used to watch your fights. You’re a real hero around these parts.”
Now it was Harry’s turn to feel awkward. He ran a hand over the back of his neck and huffed a laugh. “Thanks, kid.” He held his hand out. “What’s your name?”
Babe took the offered hand. “Babe Heffron.”
Harry quirked a brow. “Babe?”
Babe shrugged. “Real name’s Edward, but all my friends call me Babe.”
Harry laughed. “No, it’s good. Perfect boxing name, really. The girls would just love you. Big smile, young face.” Harry put on an announcer’s voice, saying: “Edward “The Babe” Heffron in this corner!”
Babe’s face was now nearly as red as his hair. “Nah. I don’t really plan on competing. Just wanna get in shape. Learn some discipline. Work off some energy.”
Harry nodded. “This is a good place for you, then. And Lip will whip you into shape, I promise.”
“Anytime.” With that, Harry left the kid on his own again. As the door to the locker room shut behind him, he caught the soft strains of “hanging tough, stayin’ hungry,” in that off-key nasally voice again.
“Come on, Dick, it’s not that big a deal,” Nix said, storming into the gym after a stone-faced Winters. “At least say something, huh? You’re weirding me out.”
Dick stopped and turned sharply on his heel to face his friend. “It is a big deal, Lew. But I’ll deal with it.”
“We will,” Nix corrected.
“Right.” Dick’s jaw ticked for a minute before his shoulders slumped in defeat. “Right.”
Nix drew close and laid his hands on Dick’s shoulders, solid and bracing. “Why don’t you go get changed, alright? I’ll see if Lip’s willing to go a few rounds with you.”
“Alright.” Dick conceded before he turned and marched into the locker room.
A minute later, Harry appeared at Nix’s shoulder. “What was that all about?”
Nix sighed. “Trouble with the paperwork. They said Dick can’t register for the tournament.”
“What!? What’s the problem? I thought he had everything in order.”
“He did. Far as I can tell, the admin guy just doesn’t like the look of Dick’s face or something.” Nix narrowed his eyes. “He’s a real douchebag. Name’s Sobel.” Nix forced his own shoulders to relax. “Don’t know if it’s personal with Dick or just Currahee. I saw him talking to a couple guys from Lone Wolf. They looked pretty friendly.”
“You think they’re blocking him out so he can’t compete?”
“I think they’re trying. It won’t work, though.”
Harry nodded. “Need me to do anything?”
“No, but thanks. I’ve got it covered.” He glanced at his friend. “Don’t say anything to Dick though, alright? You know how he can be.”
“Yeah, sure thing. Just do what you gotta do.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that.”
In the ring, everything else fell away. It was just pulse and breath and heartbeat. The shift of his feet on the mat, eyes tracking his opponent. Carwood was broader than he was, with strong shoulders that could knock a man out with one hit if he was allowed to land it. Dick didn’t plan on letting him. He moved easily around the ring, flowing, despite the ache in all of his muscles. He needed a good spar to loosen him up. His friend looked different like this too—his eyes were darker and Dick imagined this was how others often viewed him: intimidating, dangerous. But underneath his tight control and good manners, Dick knew he was the same. He could take Carwood. He had a longer reach.
He jabbed, testing Lipton’s reflexes. The other man dodged easily, moving his head back and shifting his feet. Dick jabbed again and his hand was smacked away. Carwood swung this time, barely missing Dick’s head. Too close.
Outside the ring, Babe looked on with awe and just a bit of anxiety as his new trainer Lipton sparred with a tall, red-haired man he’d never seen before. “Geez, they’re both so good,” he muttered under his breath.
“They are, ain’t they?” Babe jerked his head around so fast he gave himself a crick in his neck, but it was worth it. Gene stood next to him, arms crossed, eyes focused on the men in the ring.
“Who’s the other guy?”
Gene glanced at Babe, then back to the ring. “That’s Dick Winters. He’s training for the Golden Gloves. His roommate, Lewis Nixon, owns this place.”
“Wow, really?” Babe asked, looking around as if he could pick the man out.
“He’s the scruffy-looking brunette at the counter.” Gene offered, just a hint of a smile touching his lips.
“Does he fight?”
Babe chewed his lip for a second. “Do you?”
Gene actually chuckled. “Nope. Never really was one for it.”
Babe frowned. “It’s just… you work in a boxing gym.”
Babe ran a hand through his hair, feeling awkward again. “Sorry, I didn’t mean anything by it.”
“It’s fine.” Gene waved a hand as if to brush it off. “I like working here and these are all good men.” They were silent for a few moments, simply watching Lipton and Winters circle each other, occasionally landing heavy-looking blows. “So, you enjoying the training so far?”
“Oh…yeah,” Babe said. “Lipton’s pretty cool. I’ve never really done anything like this before, so my muscles are a bit…sore. But I like it so far.”
“Good.” Gene smiled softly. “Well, I better get going. Shift’s over. See you around, Babe.”
As Gene walked away, Babe sighed wistfully.
The session ended in a draw, which Dick found both reassuring and frustrating. “Thanks again, Lip.” He said as they both shrugged out of their gear.
“No problem, Dick,” Lipton reassured. “Just wish there was more I could do.”
Dick forced a smile. “You do plenty.”
Lipton seemed to think for a moment, before venturing: “I have some friends that are coming to visit for a couple weeks. One of ‘em is a boxer. He’s got a different style from me. Want me to see if he’ll go a few rounds with you?”
Dick smiled. “Sure, if neither of you minds.”
Lipton smiled. “Well alright, then. I’ll ask.”
And if Dick was being honest, he was a bit excited at the prospect.
Chapter 5: Chapter 5
Dick sighed and rubbed at his temple for the second time in five minutes—he’d been fighting off a headache since early that afternoon and it was making it almost impossible to work. He had a three hundred page manuscript sitting in his inbox and it had been a long day. He sure hoped this one was more promising than the last. His boss, Sink, hadn’t minded when Dick said he was going to move—rather than let him resign from his position, he insisted that Dick work remotely, which Dick was happy to do, because it meant he got to live with Lew in a new place, and it was something that they’d both desperately needed. Well, Nix more than him, maybe, but the new start had been a godsend. So yeah, maybe he didn’t love his job, but it could definitely be worse, and at least he got to do his editing from the comfort of his own home, on his own time. Which meant he could spend more time doing what he wanted. Recently, that meant boxing. The thing was, though, Dick wasn’t the kind of guy to pursue anything halfway. He strove. He worked. He fought. It was just who he was.
The glare from his laptop screen sent a piercing pain through his skull again and he pushed it away onto the coffee table and slid off the couch so he could lean back against it and bow his head. If this kept up, he’d have to go find some ibuprofen or something, but he hoped he wouldn’t have to resort to that. He hated having to take pills.
He was in the middle of trying to push away the oncoming misery of a migraine when he felt the couch dip behind his back and the warmth of legs brush against his sides. His heart thumped wildly for a moment, before it settled again. Lew shifted behind him, and then Dick felt his friend’s strong hands settle on his shoulders—he’d been out running errands, and Dick hadn’t even heard him come home. “You’re too hard on yourself,” Lew murmured. Then, “Lean forward. Don’t think I haven’t noticed you nursing that shoulder for the last two days.”
Dick grunted but didn’t bother to protest. He leaned forward and bowed his head against his chest. Nix’s fingers were long, insistent, strong, as they spread out along the muscles of his shoulders and began to massage, moving in deep, deliberate circles, working the ache out.
Dick tried to bite back a groan, but Nix obviously heard it anyway, because his fingers stilled. “You alright?” He asked, voice low and soothing.
“Yeah, fine,” Dick murmured. “Keep going.”
“Alright.” And so Nix started up again, and Dick leaned back, so that Nix’s legs pressed firmly against his sides, and Dick felt the other man’s warmth. “What are you reading now?” He asked.
The muscles in Dick’s neck began to relax. “Um… murder mystery. Private investigator. Guy used to be a Marine or something, then his wife was killed… you know the drill.”
“Sounds riveting,” Nix chuckled. “I don’t know how you do it, Dick. Honestly.”
Dick sighed. “Someone’s gotta do it.” Nix’s fingers pressed tightly on a particularly painful knot and Dick hissed. Nix paused for a moment, then started back up. “Anyway, it lets me do what I want most of the time.”
“I told you that we could definitely make it work if you wanted to spend more time at the gym.”
Dick nodded. “I know, Lew, and I appreciate it. But this is good. I need the balance.”
Lew snorted. “Yeah, I don’t know how you do that, either,” he murmured, self-deprecatingly.
Dick turned until he could look at his friend and Lew’s hands fell away. “That’s not true, Nix. You’re doing so good.” Nix turned his eyes away. “You know I’m proud of you.”
“Well,” Nix said, throat bobbing, “thanks, Dick. It means a lot, coming from you.”
“Good.” Dick said, meeting his friend’s dark eyes. “Besides, I couldn’t do this without you, coach.”
Nix chuckled, and his fingers were back, warm and sure, and soothing all of Dick’s pain away. “Whatever you say, Dick.” But his voice sounded solid again, and Dick allowed his shoulders to relax. Lew had been sober for almost a year, now.
“Lip said he has a friend coming to visit that he thinks might be able to help me.”
“That’s good,” Lew said, “did he say when?”
“No, not particularly. But it’s okay. We have time.” Lew dug his fingers into a particularly tender spot and Dick moaned again. Lew’s fingers clenched, then relaxed. Dick tipped his head back onto Lew’s lap and closed his eyes. God, this felt so good.
“Yeah,” Lew murmured, voice soft, breathy almost. “’Course we do.” His fingers slipped forward, just brushing against the sides of Dick’s neck, before they pulled back and Lew cleared his throat, patted Dick on the shoulder. “But I think it’s about time we hit the sack. Gotta be up bright and early, remember.”
Dick’s heart stuttered as Lew’s warmth disappeared, and he sat forward, somehow disappointed. “Right.” He said, pushing himself to his feet. Lew looked smaller now, sitting there below him on the couch, maybe a tad withdrawn. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Yeah,” Nix said, standing stiffly. “Night Dick.”
“Rising up, straight to the top, had the guts, got the glory, went the distance now I’m not gonna stop, just a man and his will to survive…”
“Oh, God, Nix,” Dick muttered, shuffling into the kitchen the next morning in his running clothes, “are you really singing that song?”
Nix paused with his coffee mug halfway to his lips and chuckled. “Yeah, sorry, Dick. That new kid’s been singing it in the gym and it got stuck in my head.”
Nix rolled his eyes. “Yeah, skinny little red-head that Lip’s been training. You know the one, you’ve seen him.” Dick shrugged, obviously not having paid attention. “Come on, you haven’t noticed him at all? He’s usually either working with Lip, watching you, or mooning over Gene.”
That got Dick’s attention. “Gene?”
Nix chuckled. “Yep. Poor kid. He’s like an overgrown, floppy puppy. Seriously, pay attention next time we see him. It’s actually pretty funny, if not a bit pathetic.”
“Oh, come on, Lew, it can’t be that bad.”
Nix snorted. “It is. Trust me.” He sat his coffee down. “Now, time to run.”
Dick grinned. “Alright, Lew, let’s do this.”
They’d just finished their third mile when Dick got the call saying his registration had finally gone through. He was surprised since the guy, Sobel, had given him so much trouble the morning before, but apparently there had been a miscommunication of some kind. Dick wasn’t sure what had happened to resolve the issue, but he was grateful. When he ended the call, he grinned at a panting Nix who stood clutching his ribs next to him.
“Who was that?” Nix asked.
“Registration. Mine went through. Something about a mistake that was resolved yesterday afternoon.”
“Well, how about that?” Nix panted, swiping an arm across his sweaty brow. “That’s great news, isn’t it?”
“See, I told you it’d work out.”
Dick squinted at his friend for a moment. “You don’t have any idea what might have changed, do you?”
Nix smiled innocently at him. “None.” Then, “Come on, we’ve got one more to go before we hit the gym.” Then Nix was jogging away from him and Dick smiled, exasperated, but followed.