Lyrical: Chapter 7

Pen

Keeping my shoulders back and my head held high I approach the table aware of the heated gaze of every single one of the Breakers, as well as Jeb. I don’t make eye contact with any of them, all my concentration is on placing one foot in front of the other and keeping myself upright. I need to eat. I need to sleep. But most of all, I need to cry in the privacy of my own room. I blink back my tears. Showing weakness here isn’t an option. I need to hold my shit together for a little while longer. Just a little longer.

Beside me, Grim folds her arms across her chest, looking directly at Dax. I’m grateful for her presence, even if I’m not sure whether I trust her yet. “You seem to enjoy being in the cage, don’t you?” she says.

Dax grunts, still too wound up to respond beyond that guttural, dismissive acknowledgement. It’s the wrong thing to do because Beast snarls, stepping into Dax’s space, chest to chest. Dax doesn’t flinch, his lip curls up in distaste.

“You’ve already pushed your fucking luck tonight. Answer Grim, right the fuck now!” Beast scowls, his thick finger pressing into Dax’s chest. They’re equally matched in size and fierceness, but there’s an edge to Beast that I wouldn’t want to test. The guy is named Beast for a reason, and I’m betting for Grim he’d go all out monster if the need arose. I bet he’d never walk away from her. “Are you listening, shithead?!”

Dax lifts his gaze slowly, nonchalantly, and I see his need to let it fucking rip because he doesn’t step back, and he sure as fuck doesn’t back down. Tonight, he has a death wish. My throat closes up as York and Xeno step forward, backing up their best friend even with the knowledge that they could all be shot. Even Zayn shifts in his seat, ready to jump in. Their loyalty to one another cuts me deeper than I’d ever care to admit. I feel their loss acutely at this moment. The past three years without them have been hell.

“Back off, dick,” Dax bites out.

“Dax,” I whisper on an exhale of breath. “Don’t.”

The only person who seems to hear me is Grim. I feel her fingers rest on my wrist. A gentle touch that belies the firm look on her face. There’s understanding in her touch, but also a warning. Don’t get involved, it says. I’m not stupid enough to ignore it.

“Beast, stand down. His actions will be settled in the ring at a later date,” Grim says to both men. A muscle in Beast’s jaw twitches, it’s the only sign he’s struggling with Grim’s demand. I half expect him to ignore her, but his nostrils flare as he takes in a sharp breath before stepping back.

“What do you have in mind?” Beast asks, a wicked smile curling up his lips as he looks at Grim with respect and very obvious love. It’s potent and unashamedly there. He loves Grim and he doesn’t give a fuck who knows it. There’s a strength in that I admire.

“Seeing as you’re intent on causing shit,” Grim says to Dax who has now focused on her, “And are stupid enough to face off with Beast, then I’m suggesting a fight between the two of you. Three weeks today, here at the club. Loser owes the other a debt that can be cashed in at any time. That’s if you’re up for it?” Grim challenges Dax.

“Fuck!” York mutters, his concern evident. Owing a debt is not something to be taken lightly, I should know.

“Think about this,” Xeno grinds out, his jaw tight as he places a hand on Dax’s shoulder.

Dax shakes Xeno’s hand off. “What’s there to think about? You know I never back out of a fight. This old man is mine,” Dax retorts, cocksure. My heart pounds in my throat at the thought of him fighting Beast. They might be evenly matched in size, but Beast doesn’t look like he’s ever been on the losing side of anything.

“With age comes wisdom, son, so I suggest you start training. I’m undefeated and I sure as fuck won’t let some little upstart like you take my record,” Beast counters with a smirk.

“That’s settled then. Three weeks today you will fight. Tonight we talk business. I have matters I’d like to discuss with Mr Bernard,” Grim says, motioning to Zayn who’s still sitting at the table watching everything unfold. He hasn’t lost his cool at the turn of events, but Jeb is practically salivating. I can see a slow smile spread beneath his mask as his calculating mind whirs with possibilities. Doing business with Grim must be something he’s wanted for a while and I can’t help but wonder what she has planned.

“I’m all ears,” Zayn says, standing.

He approaches Grim, still playing the part, not even acknowledging me. I shouldn’t be affected by his dismissiveness, but I am. My fingers curl into my palm as anger bubbles. I’m sure he expected Grim to chuck us all out, banning us from ever returning, but she hasn’t and now he’s taking the opportunity to do business. Beast looks at Grim, frowning, his confusion evident. Regardless, he makes his feelings known to Dax before losing the opportunity to do so.

“You disrespect Grim and her club rules one more time and I don’t give a fuck how good a fighter you are in the cage or what pretty little girl has your back, you’re dead. Understand?”

“Understood,” Dax bites out, flashing a look at me that has my heart lurching.

Beside him, Xeno is scowling and York is watching me closely, his icy-blue eyes cold and unflinching. I flick my gaze away, not ready, or willing, to try and decipher what’s going through their heads right now. I can’t even begin to navigate through this fucked-up mess of an evening.

“Now that’s settled, let’s get on with business… Mr Bernard,” Grim says tightly, indicating for Zayn to walk with her so they can discuss business elsewhere, away from prying eyes.

“One moment, if I may?” Zayn asks Grim respectfully, flicking his gaze to me.

Out of the corner of my eye I catch Grim watching me, waiting for me to give her a sign to intervene. I don’t.

“Of course.” Grim smiles tightly when I remain determined.

She steps away leaving me to face Zayn. It’s only then, as a look passes between them both, that I realise Grim is fully aware that Zayn is playing Jeb. That she knows there is more to this than meets the eye, but I don’t let myself think about what that means. Instead, I focus all my attention back on Zayn, zeroing in on just him and blocking everyone else out. I jerk my chin and straighten my spine, readying myself for the blow that I know is coming.

Zayn steps closer to me, his lips pressed into a tight line and his ebon eyes swimming with a thousand words left unspoken. I swallow hard, acutely aware that we’re being watched by the rest of the Breakers, by Jeb, by Grim and Beast. I’m certain that most occupants of the warehouse are interested to see how things unfold too and I hate that I’ve lost control of the situation. Regardless, I wait for him to make the first move because right now I’m hanging on by a thread, the sheer force of my will keeping me standing upright and not collapsing into an exhausted heap. I tip my head back to look up at him as he towers over me. Beneath the mask, Zayn tenses, the red light from the skull casting his face in a demonic glow.

I feel small.

When I’d danced I’d felt tall in every sense of the word. I wasn’t meek, I wasn’t intimidated. I was powerful, strong, untouchable. Right now I’m just a girl who has nothing left to fight with. My energy is depleted, my will to fight dwindling. My proverbial bucket is empty.

I’m quivering with everything, because now that I’ve let my emotions out, there’s no shoving them back in. There’s nothing I can do to stop him, to stop this.

“Don’t,” I whisper. I beg, actually. There’s no misinterpreting my plea. I don’t want to be raped. I don’t want him to hurt me that way, and I’m fully aware there’s still a chance that might happen. Maybe not here, not now, but later when Grim can’t step in to stop it, when I’m left alone with the Breakers and Jeb.

“You and I will take this up later.” Zayn guts me with his harsh words and my throat tightens on a sob that I force back down into my curdling stomach.

“Please. No—” I respond in a shaky voice, but he cuts me off, stepping into my space and grasping the back of my head roughly.

“Later!” he growls, then kisses me hard. Hard enough to bruise my lips, hard enough to make me quake with fear. His fingers dig into my scalp, tugging on my hair so tightly my scalp prickles with the sharp pain. I whimper, my hands automatically pushing against his chest, but it doesn’t stop him from wrapping a solid arm around my back. It doesn’t stop him from sliding his whisky-coated tongue into my mouth and it doesn’t stop him from pressing every inch of his body against mine, holding me close. He’s hard, turned on, and I hate him for it. I hate him because a part of me, the part I’ve buried for the past three years, longs for him.

I’ve longed for this kiss.

But not like this.

A sob rises up my throat. Another time I would’ve responded differently, passionately.

But it’s all I can do to stop the tears from falling and my heart from shattering into a million tiny pieces like a jewel bludgeoned with a hammer. The shards rip at my internal organs, cutting me up in a way I never knew was possible. I’m too weak to fight him off. Weak both physically and emotionally. So I let him kiss me. I stand stiff, unresponsive as he kisses me to prove some kind of point. His teeth clack against mine in anger. His tongue delves inside my mouth, stroking, searching, seeking out a response. God, I try so hard not to respond. I cling onto the hate because if I succumb, if I let him in, if I really lean into his touch like I’ve craved for so long, then I’m no better than him or any of these men and women who’ve allowed their weaknesses to take hold tonight.

Right here, right now. I’m making another point.

I don’t want to be that girl who crumbles because of one kiss, no matter how talented the kisser, or how much her heart has longed for this moment.

I don’t want to be that girl who forgives because the man she loves is kissing her with a passion that ignites all the things that are wrong between them, and burns them to the ground.

I never wanted our first kiss after all this time apart to be like this, to happen in a place like this. I’ve imagined every other possible scenario, but not this.

But just like Xeno did on the dancefloor in Rocks, Zayn takes, and I let him.

Just this once, I let him.

Eventually, he pulls back. Emotions rush beneath his gaze, too fast for me to decipher, to unravel in the moment. I’m drawn into his gaze, a dangerous vortex that spins with too much feeling. My breathing hitches, my eyes well with tears that I blink back fiercely because Zayn isn’t looking at me with emptiness, with hate or anger.

He looks at me with longing, with fucking hope.

That look is the final straw, and my knees buckle again. They fucking buckle and internally I’m cursing myself for my physical weakness. Like a newborn foal, my legs wobble with exertion. Zayn hoists me up, steadies me. Worry replaces the hope in his gaze and with infinite care, he brushes his lips against my cheek and rests them against my ear, his body curving over mine as he crowds me. To anyone else watching us, this is the move of a dominant man, someone who’s used to overpowering another. To everyone in this room bar the Breakers, this is one man taking ownership of someone deemed less powerful, weaker than he is. But I know better. The change is subtle, but unmistakable. When his fingers release their death grip on my hair, and he cups my head gently, his thumb rubbing over the spot that tingles still, I know that he’s trying to break down the wall between us even though it’s three years thick. I’m not certain I trust his motives, but I do feel the honesty in his actions and that gives me pause for thought. It gives me a little of my strength back.

“I’m sorry, Pen,” Zayn whispers against my ear, his voice croaking with emotion, with a truth that crushes me because I hear him. I hear Zayn, my best friend, my first love. That kid who’d stood in the playground and watched me dance. That kid who taught me to trust.

“I’m sorry, Pen,” he repeats.

Those three words are more than an apology, they’re a door opening a crack, a route back in, a rickety bridge crossing a deep river of our tumultuous past. I want to question him, to dig deeper, but like always, outside factors prevent me from doing so. My fingers flex against his chest then curl into his shirt, the only sign that I’ve acknowledged his apology. We’re balanced precariously. We’re one wrong word, one wrong move away from slamming that door, from ripping that rickety bridge down.

“Mr Bernard,” Grim prompts, her patience wearing thin.

My hands fall away and Zayn steps back, releasing me from his hold. “Take her home,” he barks at York and Dax before glaring at Jeb and Xeno. “You two. Come with me.”

“Yes, Boss,” Xeno snaps, his eyes meeting mine.

I don’t have the energy to shore up my defences. I let him see how tonight has ruined me and for the briefest of moments his gaze softens, he wobbles on his feet as though he wants to come to me, as though he wants to comfort me. But Jeb nudges his arm and the moment is gone, the walls stack back up.

With my feet rooted to the spot, my lips bruised and my heart thundering, I watch them walk away. Zayn is still pretending to be the leader of the Skins whilst the true leader gives me a look that tells me that this is far from over, that he’s still the one who holds all the cards.

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