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Life of a Fighter

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Lori's firstborn has been a fighter since he fought his way out of her body.

She knows Mike doesn't get it from her.  Maybe he gets it from his own father, who has a violent temper, who had left Lori with a network of bruises on her body, skin-deep, only hinting at the deeper damage to body and spirit beneath.

But he's not his father.  She knows that.  She's never seen him pick a fight that wasn't, in some way, about protecting someone.

In third, fourth, fifth grade, he was the big brother that defends his little brother with his fists.

And she wondered, was she wrong to leave her husband, did Mike need a father to teach him how to channel his aggression properly?

(The fists and feet turned on her with violence say otherwise.  How is that a proper channel of aggression?)

There was a new gym teacher with a suggestion.  They were in Minnesota - hockey rinks everywhere - why not put a pair of skates on Mike, channel the aggression into sports?

She didn't want to admit she couldn't afford the skates.  But somehow, the child support order got enforced - just in time - and she scraped together a set of used gear for her oldest.

She watched him get faster, stronger, more aggressive.  All of the protective instincts he used on his little brother transferred to his teammates, he became known as the one who would "stand up" for them.

He left the temper on the ice, mostly.  At least, she never heard of him mistreating girlfriends.  He'd growl at them and argue with them about all kinds of things, but most of them looked like they would give back whatever he dished out, like they might be anywhere from annoyed to outright disgusted with him but they were never afraid of him.

When he grew up and - literally - fought his way into the NHL, she tried to argue him out of sending his first paycheck to her.  It didn't work - he said it could either be to her or it could be to Tom, care of her, because Tom's still a minor.  She wanted to tell him to at least keep the first one, and if he had to, send the second one to her, because he could lose his spot in the line-up and there might not be a second one.  But what kind of unsupportive mom would she be, telling him that?

So she accepted it but she put it aside and didn't touch it until she knew Mike had his second paycheck.  That seemed like the least she could do.

She didn't always watch his games, didn't always watch his fights.  Tom did, and sometimes he'd drag her into watching with him, as he went from team to team over the years.

Tom had moved out on his own by the time Mike signed with Edmonton, and Lori actually started watching a little more often without Tom's prompting.

She saw the Fitzgerald kid, younger, smaller, looking up at Mike like he looked up to Mike, something like hero worship in his eyes.

And when the cameras were mostly on another player, she saw Mike looking back at the kid, like he was fighting with himself about whether to kiss him till he couldn't breathe or punch him in the face.

She wasn't surprised when the kiss won out.  She wanted to disapprove - Liam's too young, too sheltered, what the hell was Mike thinking?  But she knows Mike, and there would be no way she could make any argument against Liam that Mike hasn't already had with himself a thousand times over.

And it's a good thing, too, as the years go by and Mike's manner of making a living takes its toll.  There was that final hit to the head that took Mike out of the game for good.  There was Liam, trying so hard to take care of Mike, to endure as Mike fought against the idea that Liam should take care of him, that anyone should, but especially Liam, who had all his best years ahead of him.  Mike would be damned if those years got wasted on him.

It took two years for Liam to fight his way back into Mike's life, two more years for Mike to admit defeat and let Liam live at his house more days than not, though he always insisted that Liam keep up his own place, for appearances and so Liam could leave any time he got tired of playing nurse to a has-been tough guy who isn't aging gracefully.

Mike stopped fighting Liam, started realizing he wasn't going to win, especially not when Lori would throw in on Liam's side.

Instead, he fought the migraines, the tremors in his hands, the side effects of the drugs the doctors gave him to fix the side effects of the other drugs the doctors gave him.

He fought for the good days, for the times he could read and cook and play Scrabble.

He lost more of those fights than he won, eventually.  Started listening to recorded books.  Started telling Liam how to make dinner, making fun of him when he messed up, mumbling about how "kid can't cook for shit."

And then he stopped fighting with Liam about his cooking, about his living there, about - anything.  And Liam knew enough to be worried, not relieved.  Started asking Lori if he needed to retire to take care of Mike.

"Of course not, honey," she told him, because she knew the day Liam gave up hockey for Mike would be the day Mike found a way to remove himself from the equation.

And she knew that was why Liam called and asked her, instead of discussing it with Mike.