See DISCLAIMERS. Jumping back a few months in the timeline.
FIND YOUR LEGS
After Munich. After Ethan. Before the conference.
Denna had weeks of physical therapy ahead of her before she would be approved for active field duty, but the idea of staying in her condo was out. She needed to put it all behind her, and even though she hadn’t lived in her condo for very long before leaving for Europe, all of it reminded her of Munich. Perhaps it was because her recovery had spent in the confines of a place she’d hadn’t spent much time in before.
It didn’t matter. Despite the beautiful interior she’d spent months meticulously decorating, she wanted to leave it all.
In fact, D.C. itself didn’t feel right anymore. Denna knew that she was implementing some sort of scorched earth policy, but she couldn’t go back to the way things had been. She feared staying in Washington, that it would lead to backsliding into her old ways. Every place else she’d ever thought of living felt off, as well, except for one.
No more missed opportunities. [Backrev: this phrase can only appear three times, and one of them needs to be in the hotel room the first time with Katja.]
Unlike much of the rest of the western world, the United States still had use for paper money.
Denna paid cash for a train ticket to New York City.
She had no interest in seeing Ethan again so she steered clear of Washington Square Park, but it wasn’t the only place in the city where she could pick up a game of chess. She spent her mornings in cafes all over Brooklyn and Manhattan, then afternoons playing games around town. Each night, she stayed in a different hotel. All that time, she spent thinking about what she needed to do next. Moving forward, something had to be different.
Denna wasn’t certain what she was looking for, but then one day, she found it by accident.
A random coffee shop on a random street in Brooklyn. [BACKREV: crosscheck this against Day 12] She’d been sitting, enjoying a decadent latte and a surprisingly good croissant when a large man in workout gear walked in stood at the counter.
She’d broken out in a cold sweat. He was a little taller, but otherwise the same build as Roux. Her stomach had turned, and she’d nearly bolted from the room before she’d logically processed that he wasn’t a threat.
He ordered some kind of designer tea, smiled charmingly at the barista, and then walked out the door without noticing Denna at all. She’d watched him cross the street against traffic and enter a warehouse door advertising a martial arts gym.
She’d stared at the door for a long time, some part of her processing this new information. Twenty minutes later, the garage doors opened to reveal mats and sparring areas. Most of the clients were men like the one she’d just seen, but she saw a few women as well – all taped up and preparing for mock battle.
Denna left the half-finished croissant and now forgotten cup on her table, her coffee still warm.
The training program was designed to teach her self defense basics over twelve weeks. She paid for extra classes and private sessions, added training that required her to step outside of the hierarchy the instructions intended, but when they balked, she threw more money at them. The exchange repeated when she asked for weapons training.
One of the instructors, a man with a hard face but kind eyes, took Denna aside and told her the dojo was no replacement for proper therapy.
Denna said she had that part covered, but there were things she needed to do and she didn’t have a lot of time. She didn’t say more. The instructor’s face had changed from concern to wariness and finally fear. Whatever he thought he’d been doing in talking to Denna, he saw something in Denna’s eyes in that conversation that made him back down completely.
He hadn’t approached Denna again.
The first week, her arms hurt so much after training she could barely carry the bags of ice into her new low-rent apartment. New bruises showed up every day and joined the deeper uglier ones two and three days old. The shiners were the worst – all the street vendors looked pitifully at her, suspecting she was victim of some sort of domestic attack.
The second week, she stopped having nightmares every night. Most of them were flashbacks to the beatings, and she’d wake up covered in sweat, hoping she hadn’t screamed loud enough for the neighbors to hear. There weren’t many of them, and they weren’t likely to call the cops, but she was embarrassed anyway. Her weakness was private, and not for anyone else to hear.
The third week, when she was finally able to hold up her arms after the constant workouts, she added more weapons training at a shooting range in the same borough. She found a guy to teach her the basics of close quarters knife work. It was all rudimentary, and she had no delusions that she would become a master of any of these new skills.
That wasn’t her goal. The sharper she was, the more skills she trained, the more she learned, the less likely that any one like Roux would ever get the drop on her again.
She’d been a victim once. Denna would die before she let that happen again.
Five weeks into her new training, she’d learned a lot about her sparring partners. She knew which ones came on Tuesdays and Thursdays and Saturdays. She knew which ones came on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. She knew which ones took the extra classes, and which ones skipped the cardio workouts.
She knew which ones were pulling their punches, which ones felt sorry for her, which ones would expect her to hold her own and would judge her if she didn’t.
She also knew which ones would bring the pain and wouldn’t bat an eye no matter how much she bled.
Bobby Timms was the kind of man her father would have called a bruiser. For all her father’s intellectual pursuits, David Lopez had been a die-hard fan of the wide world of wrestling, and would spend his Saturday afternoons laughing hysterically at the antics of famous wrestlers of his day. Denna would shake her head at his antics, but they made her smile.
After her mother’s death, those were the few times she saw her father happy.
Bobby was easily 6’5” and about two-hundred-fifty pounds of mostly muscle. He didn’t strike Denna as a mean or cruel man – and she certainly had new instincts in that department – but he was all business and didn’t waste time in the gym. He was there to work. His dark eyes didn’t judge, but they didn’t forgive either, and Denna was guessing that he thought that if she was there and fighting him, she knew what she was getting into.
He didn’t pull his punches. He didn’t look at her with pity. He came to fight and expected his opponents to do the same.
The first time his name came up in Denna’s rotation, the instructor stopped the fight before it started and sent Denna to fight someone else. The second time, Denna got her ass handed to her in less than a handful of minutes and the instructor stopped the fight again. Bobby’s name was pulled from her rotation and the instructor didn’t add him again.
Bobby became her new metric.
Denna added workouts outside of class. When she wasn’t fighting herself, she watched Bobby fight other students, trying to learn from what she could observe about his methods, his tells, his strengths and witnesses.
She asked her instructor to put Bobby back in her rotation. She didn’t want to beat Bobby. Denna knew that was probably impossible – she’d only been training for a month and a half. That wasn’t her goal.
Her new goal was to stay on her feet in a ten minute bout with Bobby Timms.
Denna wrapped tape around her hands and wrists, wondering if she was going crazy. After all, she’d ditched her condo, given or packed away all her belongings, moved to another city, and was now on the kind of personal quest that she was sure her therapists might have called “self- destructive”.
She didn’t feel that way, though. She felt better. She felt strong.
There were a few days the week before where she’d felt like someone was watching her everywhere she went, but that feeling had eased and she decided that it must have been her imagination. After what she’d been through, all things considered, it wasn’t so farfetched for her to have the occasional moment of paranoia.
A buzzer sounded out on the gym floor, giving her a five minute warning until the match started. She grabbed her mouthpiece and headed for the floor without looking at her reflection in the locker room mirror. She knew exactly what she’d see.
The instructor looked at her with a questioning lift of eyebrow, and she nodded and stepped on the mat, rolling her neck and shoulders. Bobby’s brief frown was indicative of his surprise to see her, but he shrugged it off, nodded at her and stepped on the mat. There was another buzzer, and the match began.
He tried to sweep her legs, but she danced out of the way. He landed a few solid punches to her torso, past her inexperienced defenses, but she grunted through them, bearing the brunt of his weight but didn’t topple. She saw the moment when he reassessed her and came hard.
His punches to her torso upset her balance but she didn’t fall. She managed to dance away from his fists to her head, which was good, since one good clock-cleaner would have knocked her unconscious. His kicks to her ribs knocked the air to her lungs, and she was sure a couple of them were probably bruised and would require taping afterwards.
She never landed one hit with her fists and only managed to plant one solid kick, though it hadn’t been enough to take him down. Still she’d accomplished what she wanted to, even though she wanted to puke and lie down for a week.
The buzzer sounded. She wobbled, and weaved a bit as if she might collapse until she managed to find her legs, but she was still on her feet.
Bobby nodded at her – just a minute tip of his head, but he made direct eye contact when he did it, and she knew what it meant. Even he was impressed. As far as she was concerned, it was the highest compliment she’d received since she started here.
She walked over to the bench, sat down, tipped her head back against the concrete wall, and closed her eyes. She felt something in her chest, something that felt like she wanted to cry but she sure as hell wasn’t going to do it now.
Maybe it was a small thing, but to her it felt like her entire world had shifted.
She was a different Denna Lopez now.
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