Mike would heed Dragon’s call every time without question, yet he questioned Dragon’s answer.
“It’s Crandall,” Dragon said. “He’s been here for hours.”
“What the hell is he doing there?” Mike asked. He slammed the car into gear and sped off. Crandall had fought him at every turn to avoid going near the Crane and the lessons the dojo had to offer him.
“Wearing himself ragged. The boy is going to be so stiff and sore tomorrow, he won’t be able to get out of bed.”
“Just piss him off. He’ll leave you be.” The exterior of the Mustang looked like something that should be propped up on cinderblocks in an overgrown backyard, but the motor roared to life when Mike demanded speed and the settled in to the purr of a mischievous mountain cat. Mike relaxed; the power of the engine had that effect on him despite his concern for his singer.
“He’s not bothering me. I told him to go home after two hours. He’s been in the gym since then.”
Mike stared at the dashboard. Crandall had been taking lessons at The Dancing Crane for the past month. Dragon, Mike, and their third partner, Ash, had been taking turns teaching him a variety of self-defense and hand-to-hand combat techniques. They borrowed from a handful of disciplines, sharing what worked best against vampires for the three of them. The dojo served as their cover and paid their bills, but vampire hunting ran through the veins of all three. Four, Mike added; Crandall makes four. Despite the hunter blood running through his veins, Mike nearly had to drag Crandall to the lessons each week. Willing participation had been minimal to none.
“I’m not exaggerating,” Dragon said to Mike’s confused silence.
“Can you even handle two hours, old man?” Mike forced a smile to cover his cavorting thoughts. Crandall wouldn’t skip practice with Inertia Stand just to practice the drills he hated. He hated everything vampire related and only suffered through the lessons because the damn beasts wouldn’t leave him alone. They wouldn’t leave any of them alone; they’d pick a fight with a Blood Hunter every chance they could. It didn’t make sense.
“I could and still whip your ass afterwards, but he’s on the treadmill. I sent Ash home when he decided he wanted to set up a camera to catch the moment when Crandall passes out and is flung off the back of it. He’s redefining obsessive, Mike.”
“Yeah, that’s Crank,” Mike muttered. “I’m on my way.”
Mike stood in the open hall that connected the lobby with the gym. Four men scattered through the sizable room worked out, minding their own business – their bodies. Crandall stared straight ahead, his feet pounding down on the moving belt, and sweat streaming down his face and neck and everything else.
“Here.” Dragon pushed a bottle of water into Mike’s hand and then headed back to the office.
Mike strolled along the line of cardio machines, approaching Crandall slowly. Crandall glanced at him, stumbled two steps, and recovered his stride. “Hey,” he panted.
“Dragon says you’ve been working your ass off.”
With a snort, Crandall rolled his eyes. His words were oddly punctuated as his breath escaped in wounded gasps. “My ass is… just fine…You should… know that.”
Resisting an urge to check the others in the gym, Mike nodded. “Yes, I know. I’m not worried about your ass, though all this running will make your back end sore and I won’t accept any excuses.”
“It’s hard to stake a monster when you can’t move your legs.”
“Fuck. You. I’m. Not fragile.”
“Oh hell no, I wouldn’t call you fragile. Drink the water, Crank. Dehydration doesn’t prove anything.”
As Crandall reached for the bottle, Mike slapped the red emergency bar between the hand grips. The machine shut off, slowing the treads and dragging Crandall’s stumbling feet to a standstill.
“What the fuck?” Crandall gasped.
“Yeah, I get it.” He hit Quick Start and dialed up the speed. Once he hit a fast walk, he turned it back down and then off. “Fuck. I’m tired.”
“Walk, man. You can’t stop suddenly.” Mike turned the dial to a steady walking pace.
“You’re the one that shut it off.”
Mike sighed and looked around. None of the others paid them any attention, but he still felt exposed, which pushed the limits of his calm demeanor more than Crandall’s stubborn determination. He turned his attention back to the redhead gulping down water and dragging his feet through the forced pace of the treadmill.
“Can we discuss this in the office?” Mike asked.
“Can’t. I have to walk now.” Crandall grinned and then tipped the bottle to his lips again.
Up Next: Says the Dragon