“You’re in earlier than usual.” Sage’s voice in the doorway was a welcome distraction—the only welcome distraction while Luzio was training.
The corners of Luzio’s mouth twitched upward, not quite a smile but getting there. “Good morning to you too,” he said, not pausing in the act of wrapping his hands.
“Sorry—good morning,” Sage said automatically, coming the rest of the way into the room. The door shushed closed behind him—how had Luzio not heard it open? “Rough night?”
Luzio’s hands slowed for a moment but did not stop; he stared at them to avoid having to look at Sage. He didn’t want to lie to him but also didn’t want to worry him, and half-assing an answer wouldn’t solve anything. “I’ve had better,” he admitted after a pause. Yeah, that wasn’t half-assed at all. “You sleep okay?”
“Not bad? But not great?” The way Sage said it, like a question, made Luzio’s expression tick back down. “Kept gettin’ worried Nellie got out again, had to check on her once or twice. Didn’t want her squashin’ the tomatoes ’fore they’ve even sprouted.” He looked at the wrappings around Luzio’s wrists and hands, and moved to press a panel on the wall next to the door.
A ceiling tile slid out of the way to let a heavy punching bag down, and Luzio smiled a little at Sage’s automatic thoughtfulness. “Now that she’s bigger, we’ll have to come up with a more permanent housing solution; can’t have her stomping on our food, or keeping you awake being worried about it.”
Sage shrugged. “It’s not a huge deal. Like I said, I slept okay. You wanna talk about what kept you up?”
Luzio frowned, making sure the wrappings on his hands were secure. “Not really. Hey, are you going to stay and train with me today? Or do you need to go work on the farm?” He was trying not to say please don’t go I don’t want to be alone and only barely succeeding.
Sage’s easy grin let Luzio exhale a breath he didn’t remember holding. “Well, Nellie hasn’t trampled anything, and I finally rigged up that automatic irrigation system, so I guess I can stay for a little while.” He moved to sit on one of the benches in the middle of the room, putting his leg up on it and bending to stretch. “Boxing today, huh?”
It was an innocent enough question, by itself; it was only off-putting in the way Sage looked at him when he said it, like he was testing the waters. Luzio knew he didn’t mean to pry, that he was just worried, but that still left an uneasy feeling in his stomach. If Sage was worried then he wasn’t handling this right.
“I woke up needing to punch something.” He took a deep breath and tried not to look at Sage. “It was that kind of night.”
Did this count as talking about it? Not if he left it at that.
“Do you want a sparring partner?” Sage brought his other leg up to stretch it.
Now Luzio did look at him, in disbelief. “You sure you want to do that?”
“Will it help?” He cocked his head, his brown eyes searching Luzio’s face. A moment passed where they just stared at each other, waiting for answers neither of them had yet.
Not if it hurts you. Luzio thought about it for a breath, two. “I don’t know,” he admitted. He rapped the heavy bag with his knuckles a couple of times, experimentally, before taking his other hand and throwing a punch with enough force to set the bag swinging. Almost satisfying. Not quite. He threw another one with the other hand, at a lower angle: a gut punch rather than a hook. The punches themselves were cathartic, as he knew they would be, but there was something disappointing about the stiff coated-canvas feel of the bag. But he didn’t want to take out his frustration on Sage . Maybe if he just hit it hard enough, fast enough—
Sage was not on the bench when Luzio turned back. Confused, Luzio whirled around, searching, and found Sage at the steel counter, one of the supply drawers open, already wrapping his hands.
“What are you—” Luzio started, cutting off when Sage turned to face him.
“I know that ‘I don’t know,’” he said, his eyebrows twitching upward. An amused smile was warring with the solemn look on his face. “That’s the ‘yes but I can’t ask you to do that’ one.” Sage finished wrapping his right hand and switched to his left. “I can take it, Luzio. Let me help you.”
It took Luzio a second to remember how to breathe. It hurt—a tightness in his chest at being known like this, at I can take it . “You shouldn’t have to,” he muttered, almost under his breath, and whirled around to hit the bag again, harder this time.
“Will you listen to yourself?” In Sage’s voice it couldn’t sound like scolding, but to Luzio’s already-strained nerves it might as well have. “Somethin’ is clearly going on with you, and it’s killing me that you won’t let me help. If you don’t want to talk about it, fine, but at least let me do this for you.”
A heat that was not quite anger burned in the back of Luzio’s throat; he wanted to say something, anything , to make it go away, but he couldn’t find words. He hit the bag twice in rapid succession with the same fist. Maybe he could just get all the frustration out before Sage was even ready.
Luzio’s back was to Sage though, and that helped a little. He didn’t want to bear the weight of Sage’s gaze on him at the moment—it wouldn’t be pity, that he knew, but the concern would be too much, and he might lose what little composure he had left. Lips curling, Luzio socked the bag with enough force to send it almost to the ceiling. It was going to come back down at him, he knew, but he was almost looking forward to stopping it with another hit.
Sage didn’t give him the chance: he reached over Luzio from behind and stopped the bag with an open hand. “If that was you trying to show me what you could do to me, it didn’t work. I ain’t scared of you.” His voice was soft when he said it, his head bent close to Luzio’s.
Luzio closed his eyes. He could feel Sage behind him, close enough to feel the warmth radiating off of him, to smell the crushed-leaves-and-sap smell of him that definitely wasn’t their detergent. He hadn’t meant the punch to be a demonstration, and that was what made it so much worse; it had purely been to vent his frustration, and if he accidentally did that to Sage …
It was Sage’s hand on his shoulder, turning him around, that broke Luzio out of that train of thought. Blinking, he looked up, thankful to find more calculation than concern in Sage’s expression, hoping that his own panic and despair weren’t naked on his face. “I can’t,” he managed to get out. “You remember what happened last time we sparred, I can’t do that to you again.”
“You gotta do something,” Sage said. “And I hate to break it to you, but I have improved in the last year. If you don’t want to, that’s fine, but I can’t just sit here and do nothing. What can I do to help?”
Well. Luzio didn’t know what he’d expected Sage to say, but it wasn’t that . It felt like the gears in his brain were turning too fast, overheating—impossible to think like this. It felt stupid, it felt reckless, but maybe…
“Hit me,” Luzio heard himself say. He didn’t remember telling his mouth to say it. “I think I need you to hit me.” Hands balling into fists, he took a deep breath and looked directly at Sage, chin set, eyes hard.
Apparently that look was all the confirmation Sage needed. He still wasn’t quite fast enough: the fist that was meant for Luzio’s face sailed over his right shoulder and into the heavy bag, but Luzio did have to admit that it was quicker than last time.
Sage chuckled, drawing his fist back. “You ask me to hit you and then don’t let me,” he said, shaking his head. “Don’t know why I’m surprised.”
“Too slow,” Luzio quipped, not quite lighthearted enough to be a taunt, and kept moving the direction he had dodged to move around Sage’s right side. On his way around, he lightly jabbed two fingers into Sage’s ribs; he didn’t want to hurt Sage, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t have at least a little fun. And who knew--maybe this would prove to be a sufficient distraction.
“Hey!” Sage’s exclamation brought a small, fierce smile to Luzio’s face, at least until Sage whirled to face him, swatting his hand away. “Alright, game on.”
Luzio feinted to his right and ducked left, reaching for another jab, but Sage knew enough about his style by now to sidestep it and throw another punch--this one missing Luzio’s face by mere inches. An inhaled breath caught in Luzio’s chest: that had been close .
The missed punch carried Sage farther than a landed hit would have; while he tried to correct that momentum, Luzio pivoted out of the way and shoved Sage to keep him barrelling forward. To his credit, Sage tucked and rolled rather than falling on his face, though he nearly collided with one of the benches as he sprang to his feet. He was laughing under his breath, and Luzio found that the sound of it relieved some of the tightness in his chest.
“If I’d wanted to dance with you, Luzio, I’d’ve turned on some music.” When he turned back to face Luzio, Sage was bouncing back and forth on the balls of his feet, beckoning teasingly with his fists. “Square up, pretty boy.”
Luzio rolled his eyes, but the corners of his mouth weren’t pulling down anymore. “I knew I shouldn’t have left you alone with the pirates,” he muttered. But he put his fists up, gamely, as Sage laughed. “I still think this won’t be a fair fight--you’re just still not fast enough.”
Something darkened behind Sage’s eyes, so briefly that Luzio thought he might have imagined it. He didn’t imagine, however, the way Sage’s feet shifted, the subtle roll of a shoulder; Luzio sidestepped a punch meant for his kidney.
Up until that point Sage had been a punch-then-pause kind of aggressor, so Luzio had to admit he was a little caught off guard when Sage followed the first punch with a second from the other side. Of course, that didn’t mean the punch landed: Luzio managed to jump back and away from Sage’s left hook. Sage advanced a couple steps, following him; Luzio saw him pull back his arm for another punch and moved to duck under his arm and around again.
But Sage had learned , since last time, that was becoming clear: instead of following through with the punch he spun in the other direction to intercept Luzio on his way around. Luzio had to throw his arm out for balance as he skidded to a stop to keep them from colliding with each other, and Sage’s hand flashed out and caught him firmly around the wrist.
Later, in retrospect, Luzio would be able to pinpoint that as the moment everything went to shit. At the moment, however, he was being hauled up by Sage, and didn’t exactly have the time to analyze.
Sage shouted triumphantly, something like “Gotcha!” or maybe it was “Caught ya!” with his accent, but Luzio didn’t really register it; the panic that had begun to subside flared again, his blood roaring in his ears. Instinct overwhelmed strategy: this needed to not be happening .
Luzio’s knee jerked up and caught Sage just under the ribs with enough force to knock the wind out of him. When Sage doubled over, his grip on Luzio’s wrist loosened just enough for Luzio to get his feet back on the floor, seize the arm that Sage had grabbed him with, and twist it behind Sage’s back, sending him to his knees. But Luzio kept pushing, hard , until Sage was face-down on the training room floor.
It had all happened in a matter of seconds; grab, jerk, twist, push. It took a bit longer for the panic to subside enough for Luzio to come to his senses, to realize what he’d done, to let go of Sage. He felt the blood drain from his face and hands, and he scrambled up, back, away. This was exactly what he had been afraid would happen.