Dragon nodded once, and stepped back two paces. He remained tensed, perhaps prepared to pull them apart should Crandall’s temper kick in during their match.
Crandall rolled his eyes. He wouldn’t hurt Mike. Not much anyway. He loved the man, and had for some time, from a time well before they started fucking each other like crazy. Yeah, he wouldn’t want to hurt Mike because Mike liked to hold a grudge, and Crandall would need a different kind of blowing off steam after this so-called meeting.
On the other hand, he couldn’t let him win either.
“When you’re ready,” Dragon said.
As Crandall shifted his gaze from their apparent leader to his target, Mike launched forward. With a quick step and a sweeping kick, he sent Crandall stumbling across the mats. He paused when Crandall cursed and raised his fists. “Mother fucker, I wasn’t ready,” Crandall said. His trademark glare froze Mike in his place.
“Always be ready,” Dragon said. “You will not always have the luxury of mentally preparing to fight.”
“Fuck you.” Crandall flexed his fingers and then gestured with his fists. “Let’s do this, asshat.”
Mike mostly suppressed his smirk, and when Crandall inched forward, moving on his toes, the amusement vanished completely. “Bring it, man,” Mike said. He lowered his chin, his gaze fixing on Crandall’s torso, watching him move. “Good.” Mike nodded, but remained focused on Crandall’s center of gravity. “Listen to your instincts.”
“Shut up,” Crandall said. He charged in striking with a tight, right jab, followed with his left. Mike blocked the first easily, but the second glanced off his forearm, unbalancing Crandall for a brief moment. With his opponent distracted, Mike ducked, and plowed into Crank with one shoulder. They both fell, Crandall with a string of curses. Mike landed on Crank, knocking the wind out of him with a strategically placed forearm. As soon as they hit the floor, Mike fluidly rolled through the motion to leap to his feet three paces away, crouched and ready for retaliation.
“Point,” Dragon said. “Keep your eyes on his stomach, Crandall. He can feint with his eyes and limbs, but the center of the body always leads the true movement.
“Was that even a fair attack?” Crandall sat up and took a shaky breath. His stomach ached from the hit, but nothing felt broken. Not like when those Fangs broke several ribs after a show.
“Everything is fair,” Ash said. “Vampires don’t play by any rules of engagement. They want blood, and that is their only objective.” He offered Crandall his hand. Crandall glared up at him, but his piercing stare didn’t have its usual effect. Ash cocked a dark eyebrow and, hesitantly, Crandall took the offer and let Ash pull him to his feet.
“So I can fight dirty then?”
Ash grinned, but Mike interrupted. “Hell no.” He had his hands in his hair, trying to catch loose locks and return them to the ponytail. “No kicking in the balls. This is just practice, not survival. You can fight dirty with the vampires all you want, but I want to be able to walk out of here.”
“And fuck,” Crandall added.
Mike eyes narrowed but he said nothing. He wrapped the elastic around his ponytail and then rolled his head, stretching his neck. “Just don’t,” he said as he turned away, walking towards the far wall of mats.
Crandall jumped forward, but Ash had an arm around his waist before he took two steps. “Don’t,” Ash whispered in his ear. “Not like this.”
With a low growl, Crandall twisted around, breaking Ash’s hold and putting space between him. “Fuck you, Karate Kid,” he spat. “You’re not the top dog either.”
Ash snorted a laugh. “No one is. If you start thinking you’re the best, or if you let your anger dictate your decisions, then you’re going to get your head ripped off by a vampire.”
“Where do you fit in then?” Crandall curled his fingers into tightly balled fists, but resisted the urge to take a swing at the pretentious dark-haired pretty-boy. He knew he couldn’t – not successfully – and he knew he could learn from Ash if he could find a way past his annoying façade. The man had skills, but he also had attitude that dug under Crandall’s skin like poison ivy.
“I’m good.” Ash’s tone remained neutral – not bragging, not mocking. “I practice often and I know my limits.”
“You have limits?” Mike asked with a laugh.
“Fuck off,” Crandall said. He threw a glare at his roommate. “I’m trying to learn this shit here.”
Up Next: To the Max