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a kiss with a fist is better than none

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It was almost laughable how easy it was to duck away from the jabs and on occasion kicks of his opponent, but Andrew had lost the ability to laugh years ago, so he didn't.

The spectators that were crammed into the basement of a fitness studio that was quite clearly a front for illegal dealings, were fired up by a commentator that kept shouting into the microphone in his hand. Andrew wished the man would keep his fucking mouth shut for two seconds, because a splitting headache on top of two bruised ribs were no joke and he had hoped to get a few hours of sleep at least.

His opponent tried to land another kick; this time towards his hips, but Andrew was quicker and gave him a savage punch into the face, that made him reel back in anguish. Andrew didn't back away though. He advanced with practiced ease, his naked feet sticking uncomfortably to the gross floor and landed a powerful kick against the man's side, that had him collapse in a heap.

He felt something like satisfaction curse through his veins, but that feeling was short-lived and quickly disappeared behind a mask of indifference again.

He dimly noticed the commentator shout his name over and over to declare him as the winner, but his eyes were trained on the man on the floor, until he was sure that he wouldn't try anything when he turned around.

The cage was opened then, two guys rushed in to help the loser and Andrew didn't spare the people around him another glance, as he disappeared into the crowd and made his way towards a backroom, where he would get some peace and quiet.

The door closed with a bang and then he leaned his head against the hard surface of the metal and took a deep breath.

He could feel that blood had dried around his split lip and he knew that he would have to ice the ribs, but he granted himself those few peaceful seconds until he pushed himself off the door and headed for his duffel bag. He quickly rid himself of the black gloves that shielded his knuckles from the worst of the damage and threw them into his bag without much care.

There was a rusty sink to one side of the room; no doubt used to get rid of evidence on good days and he barely hesitated before wetting an old towel and wiping away the dried blood on his chin and lips.

He didn't even hiss.

Because he was used to the pain by now.

A split lip was almost a constant by now since he was fighting every few days.

Having cleaned his face to the best of his abilities in a dingy backroom of a basement, he stuffed the bloody towel into his duffel, pulled a black hoodie over his body and almost bit into his lip, when he felt a dull stab of pain coming from his bruised ribs, before he realized that that would only make them bleed again and he really didn't want to ruin another hoodie so soon.

Next were his black skinny jeans. He quickly pulled the tight fabric over fading bruises and then stuffed his phone, as well as his keys and pack of cigarettes into the pockets, before lacing up his boots and taking the stairs up onto the ground floor, where he quickly nodded towards the owner of the fitness studio in parting.

The cold air that greeted him when he left the studio was a nice change to the stale air of a basement filled with over fifty people and he felt his fingers twitch in need of a cigarette, so he crossed the street without caring that cars had to screech to a halt because of him and merely flipped a cab driver off, when he began to honk obnoxiously.

He leaned against the side of a coffee shop that had seen better days and pulled out his cigarette pack and lighter.

He quickly lit one and inhaled the acrid smoke almost greedily.

Andrew only allowed himself a few minutes of smoking in peace, before he began his trek home again since he knew what kind of shit happened in this part of the city when the sun disappeared and took all its light and warmth with it. He wasn't in the mood for another fight. Not so soon.

His apartment was in a fairly nice part of New York, that didn't stand out too much or was a frequent scenery for crime and he immediately felt less on edge when he pressed the button of his floor in the elevator and watched with a blank expression as his neighbour called out to him to wait.

Arriving on the seventh floor, he pulled out his keys and jammed them into the lock, where he heard one after another turn until he could enter his apartment. He didn't even take off his shoes before he locked the door again and then threw the duffel into a corner, before kicking off his boots.

A small hall opened into a living room with an open kitchen and Andrew made a beeline for the alcohol cabinet above the stove and poured a generous amount of whiskey into a glass, then he opened the freezer and grabbed some peas to hold against his bruised rips.

He took small sips while he leaned against the counter. His lips stung, due to the alcohol, but he didn't really care and kept drinking. The stinging grounded him in a familar way.

He quickly surveyed his barely furnished living room and then noticed the blinking of his landline and almost sighed in annoyance.

Who even used landlines anymore?

Two people in the entire world had his number and he couldn't imagine either of them reaching out to him on a random Friday night.

He put the glass into the sink when he was done drinking and then almost stumbled over his coffee table on the way to the phone.

Pressing down on the blinking button, he leaned against the wall and then listened to the familiar voice of no other than David Wymack himself.

"I've tried to reach you for hours now, midget."

Andrew couldn't suppress an eye roll at the fond nickname.

"I know we aren't supposed to call you right now, but I gotta talk to you about the case when you got the time, so head down to the bureau and we'll talk."

The message ended then and Andrew made the decision to meet Wymack on Monday.

The old man could wait a few more days.

The entire weekend was spent in front of the TV and Andrew was fairly certain that eating that much ice cream wasn't good for his form, but he didn't really care and continued to eat another pint.

Monday rolled around all too soon, but he was lucky that his next fight wasn't until Tuesday, which meant he could meet Wymack and spend the day at the gym afterwards to practice some more, before he would have to step into the cage again.

The bustling streets of New York were a familiar backdrop to Andrew by now and he was able to barely touch the people around him, since he moved so swiftly between gaps. For once he couldn't curse his short height for something.

The resident agency of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Manhattan was a towering monstrosity of a skyscraper, but he wasn't very impressed as he crossed the threshold and was immediately greeted by Wymack himself.

The old man had a permanent frown etched onto his face and Andrew was fairly certain that Wymack had never smiled around him, but right now was not the time to dwell on unnecessary thoughts like that, so he pushed them aside and greeted the man with a quick nod of acknowledgement.

"I called you on Friday, midget," he said and to anyone else it would have been accusing, but Andrew could detect a hint of worry behind his gruff words. He chose to ignore said worry and merely shrugged in response.

"I was busy."

"Of course you were," the older man rolled his eyes, "Doesn't matter now that you're here."

Wymack turned around then, waved a security guard away when he tried to search Andrew and then ushered the blond into an elevator. They remained silent on the way up and Andrew noticed not for the first time, that their silences had stopped being uncomfortable a while ago.

The elevator doors opened and revealed a floor with some paper pushers at their respective desks and a double door at the back of the room that lead into Wymack's office.

The moment he closed his office doors, he threw a manila folder into Andrew's hands and waited until the blond opened the first page.

On it was a grainy photograph a young man in a grey suit. Andrew couldn't make out his features, since the quality of the photograph was shitty at best and then turned the page around, since he knew that Wymack often wrote onto the backside of them because he couldn't bother to start a new page.

On the back he could see a date and a single name; Hatford.

Andrew knew what that name meant. Everyone that was even a little bit capable of doing their job and worked for the FBI, much like Andrew, knew who the Hatford's were.

As the most notorious crime family, right after the Moriyamas, the Hatfords were feared and envied to equal measures.

The police hated and feared them because they couldn't pin a single crime onto the family even though everyone knew that it was their doing; other criminals envied them for their reach and uncanny ability to get away with everything.

Andrew thought that it was a waste of time to try to put ghosts behind bars so he tried not to waste his energy on the family.

"What do I have to do with this," he asked then, even though his voice gave no inflection of him asking an actual question.

Wymack stepped closer and then flipped through the folder until he pointed onto another photograph. This one depicted the same man as before, his face turned away from the camera, but at a second glance Andrew recognized the sign of the fitness studio he frequented with its fading letters and rusty door.

"When was this taken?"

"Two weeks ago. You weren't there at the time, because of that concussion of yours, but there are rumours that the Hatford's want to turn the studio into a base for a few months until they move on again," Wymack replied with no small amount of smugness, when he realized that he had quipped Andrew's interest.

Andrew focussed on the second photograph again, took in the young man with fiery auburn hair and the grey suit in front of the fitness studio he was meant to operate undercover at to find out what kind of shit went down there and shut it down once and for all.

Andrew was never a liar, so he didn't pretend to be completely unfazed by this turn of events.

He took another deep breath of the cold September air, felt a dull ache throughout his entire body and then pushed the door of the fitness studio open. The duffel bag bounced against his hip with every step he took and he already felt suffocated by the stale air in the building.

A few people were training on the machines that stood scattered around the studio, but he avoided the eyes of those around him. He wasn't here to find friends or cause trouble and the people that frequently this studio usually meant the latter.

He kept his head down as he passed those around him and was just about to descend the stairs into the basement to prepare for the fight later on, when the owner stepped out of his little office.

"Joseph!" he called and then waved the blond over. Andrew had hoped to be left alone for now, but when did the world ever do what Andrew wanted.

He walked over to the balding man, whose name Andrew had never really caught, and barely stepped inside the office, before the man closed the door behind them again.

"I'm gonna cut right to the chase, kid, today some very important people will be around and naturally watch you down there," he said, "I want you to give them the best you've got."

Andrew stared at the man, an unimpressed expression pulling at his features. He already knew that the Hatfords would be here later on. For once Wymack was able to get the correct information from his sources.

But that didn't mean he wouldn't try to get something out of it.

"What's in it for me?"

"You get to keep your head for another night," he replied and if Andrew wouldn't be as jaded as he was, he would have flinched at the implication of that hidden threat.

As it was, he simply raised his hand and gave the man a two fingered salute and then turned around and left.

He had a fight to prepare and a certain auburn haired man to look out for.