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The Old-Fashioned Way
Posted on April 30th, 2008 by Ian Blackthorne

“The Old-Fashioned Way”
Douglas McKnight and Ian Blackthorne

The program suited the mood perfectly; as McKnight stood in his corner of the ring, lacing up his gloves, he took one last look over the setting with a subtle nod of approval. The fact that his gloves were of the slightly more heavily padded amateur variety blunted the implied savagery of the event, but there was little else to suggest that this was anything but the most serious of affairs. The scene taken from Doug’s imagination and given form within the holodeck walls was one of a no nonsense boxing gym hidden away from all but the real, dedicated athletes amidst the back streets in mid to late 20th century downtown Chicago. To be sure, the place had a certain class about it; grime held limited charm for the marine on his off hours, so the place was clean, but basic, and there was even the scent of old dried sweat on the air. Here, one could be sure, was a place where men might actually toil away their hours in training, where blood, sweat and tears might all have actually been spilled. The programmed audience maintained the illusion as well, a relatively small collection of grimly smiling men who knew that they were about to witness a great display of sportsmanship, and an equally great display of blunt force trauma. Standing just outside the ring, there was even a doctor standing by, his expression just as McKnight had programmed it years ago: the look of a man not especially fond of this chance to be useful.

His completely redundant and unnecessary appraisal complete, he allowed one of the men in his corner to finish up the last knot, and allowed his mind to wander back to the day before, and the conversation that had set the only two flesh and blood men in this room on their present course. The course that would soon terminate with him pounding Admiral Blackthorne’s face in, maybe with a smile on his own.

************

“You asked to see me, sir?” Doug asked without much emphasis on that question mark as the doors to Blackthorne’s newly ordained flag office swished shut behind him.

“Yes, Major.” Ian stood behind his monolithic desk, flanked by the flags of the Federation and Third Fleet, and regarded McKnight for a moment. Something had to give between them, and although he could never agree with the man’s perspective on certain things, maybe he could give him an out. If he gave Doug a way to let out the anger he felt toward his CO in a militarily acceptable fashion, things could possibly return to some sense or normalcy. “Doug, I need to make sure I still have my fighting edge. Of course I still run to keep in shape, but it’s been years since I’ve had any hand to hand combat training, sporting or otherwise. As the Marine Commandant, I figure you’d know something about that.” He walked out from behind the barrier of the desk and finished, “I used to enjoy boxing. Care to go a few rounds?”

At this, the marine’s posture visibly stiffened, and his right eyebrow reflexively performed an arch to which T’Kirr might have given her approval but for the fact that it was mirrored by his left eyebrow. Then, he allowed himself a long moment to digest what Blackthorne had just told him, and its implications. Yes, he’d casually passed it off as mere sparring, but it still amounted to an invitation to punch him in the face repeatedly. With everything that had passed between them of late, the man couldn’t seriously expect he’d enjoy the activity he’d just described. Clarification was called for, and after quietly clearing his throat, he sought out said clarification in what he hoped wasn’t an audibly strained tone.

“Define ‘fighting edge,’ sir. Are you looking to refresh yourself on how to win in the ring on points, or prepare yourself to face a hypothetical someone who seriously wants to hurt you?”

“A bit of both. I don’t expect you to go easy on me, but a set of rules to bring order to the chaos never hurt when the two combatants aren’t actually mortal enemies.” Ian sat on the edge of the desk and crossed his arms, hoping that last bit held some weight. “Just being in a fight gets the adrenaline going, even if it’s not an actual cutthroat street fight.”

“Oh, adrenaline won’t be a problem, sir.” A frown settled upon his face then; as much as he might find this sudden prospect appealing, McKnight certainly owed it to his CO to make sure he knew exactly what he was dealing with. With that in mind, he pressed on. “But sir…this really may not be a good idea. If you want to train, train, but this might be a job better suited to one of the men under me, like Montrose, or O’Grady. Because the thing is that yeah, I fight clean, I generally use the well-padded training gloves, and we could do this under whatever supervision you like, but none of that changes that you’re still talking about a fight. If we step into that ring, it will be to fight. And I know I may not take a lot of things seriously, but when I fight a man, I don’t kid around.”

Ian’s reply came without a hint of humor and with a direct look in the eyes. “I know. I wouldn’t have asked you if that wasn’t what I wanted, and it’s certainly what I expect. I’m talking about my fighting edge, not my training edge.”

Fair enough. He’d given warning, and with that duty discharged, the weight of a conscience somewhat troubled at the prospect of cutting loose on a man he knew damn well he held the advantage over seemed to wash off him like the daily grime in the sonic shower. Maybe later, there’d be a place for further guilt. But for now, he saw an opportunity to air his grievances in the most direct and eloquent way he knew, and damned if he wasn’t going to take it. Let Blackthorne worry about what he’d gotten himself into. Returning the look, his expression gradually shifted into a wide smile. A predatory smile. A smile that showed some canines, and expressed his sentiment clear as day. Happy to oblige, sir. Very happy. I am going to pound every trace of that smug sense of entitlement off your goddamn face. You are going to bleed, and God help me, I am going to smile at every drop of blood that hits the mat.

“My duty shift gets off tomorrow at 1600.”

************

The corner man cinched the laces one more time, and Ian firmly hit his gloves together three times, finding the fit perfect. Once he received his mouthpiece, he turned and sized up his opponent, something he’d been doing in his mind ever since the challenge was issued. He honestly held no delusions about being able to best the Marine, but he damn well intended to make it interesting. Bouncing on his heels to keep loose, he could definitely tell that the younger man was in peak condition, but he had expected that from his security chief. Ian was trim from his morning runs, necessary to withstand the G-forces that flying a fighter can bestow, and slightly taller, but McKnight was more muscular by a large margin. Yes, this was going to hurt, but despite the noble intentions of clearing the air between them, he did want to keep his fighting edge honed, and the best way to do that was to go against a superior opponent and give them hell. Ian Blackthorne stepped to the center of the ring.

He would be promptly joined in the center, by a Douglas McKnight who seemed much calmer around his CO than he had of late. Under the circumstances, however, whether or not that was a good thing could be doubted, for this change in demeanor was more a new development than a return to things past. If the look he gave Blackthorne now was calm, it was also somewhat cold and detached, ranging all about those areas the older man would know he’d have to seriously defend. Scientific, you could call it; as much as a man, he was looking at a collection of target zones. Very shortly now, emotion would have its place, but for now, it was all about logic, technique, and working out the most brutally efficient way of dismantling his opponent. Still, he did look the Admiral squarely in the eye as the holographic referee began to recite the familiar rules.

“Alright, gentlemen. It’s a good clean fight or nothing in here. Any low blows, rabbit punches, you name it, and you can be damn sure an imaging sensor or five will register it immediately, and you will be appropriately penalized. When that bell rings, you will return to your corners to await the start of the next round. Now then, the fighters will touch gloves and return to their corners to await the starting bell.”
Blackthorne’s eyes locked with McKnight’s as they followed the referee’s instructions. The bell sounded, heralding that something was about to be settled here, and Ian raised his gloves as he stepped forward to do just that.

It wasn’t angry time just yet. As the bell rang, his gloves flew up into the proper defensive position, but as he made his way forward, he made no immediate move to attack. After all, this was his first time fighting this particular opponent, and he wanted to learn more about him before he really commited himself. He meant to flatten the man. That wasn’t ultimately in question, but ostensibly, there was an issue of training involved here. It wouldn’t serve that end if he simply beat on a man out of shape, and besides, he suspected satisfaction here would prove elusive if there wasn’t some semblance of an honest to God fight. So, he simply waded forward, and let Blackthorne show him what he had to offer before he reciprocated.

He very quickly discovered he had nothing to worry about. Reacting without thought, falling back on training honed reflexes and good old muscle memory, he swiftly brought his arms down over his torso to cushion the blow as Blackthorne went to town on his gut. He was instantly grateful. Blackthorne may well have been out of training for this particular field of endeavor, but even softened as it was by the training gloves, there was some pretty respectable power behind those punches. So, the fighter jock really did plan to do this properly. That point was suddenly driven home in a much more pronounced fashion as, knowingly or unknowingly taking advantage of his momentary surprise, Blackthorne managed to tag him with a pretty decent left hook to the cheek. Well, damn. First blood as it were, even if the punch inflicted more in terms of shock than actual damage. Shock, and a bit of embarassment that he’d let one slip through his guard this early. Alright then, now was emotion time. Shaking it off with a snarl, he settled into a solid defense, awaiting his chance until…BAM! Moving abruptly with all the speed that decades of practice at this sport could furnish him with, he slipped around yet another hard punch aimed at the gut, and responded with a hard right that exploded across Blackthorne’s jaw. By no means content to stop there, he followed up with a hard left to the ribs. Time to clear the air properly.

There’s something about taking a solid punch that heightens a man’s senses, and Ian had certain just taken several. Doug certainly wasn’t pulling any of his punches, but Ian knew he wouldn’t. Blackthorne shook his head to clear it and steeled his defense, getting his hands into the way of several stiff jabs from McKnight. The old boxing senses coming back to him, Ian had the feeling he was being set up for something, and soon enough he saw Doug try a quick hard right to the gut, which he managed to take in the forearm by crouching a bit. He retaliated by exploding upward with the power from his legs, trying to drive another left into McKnight’s ribs.

Up to this point, whatever emotional shortcomings he was here to address, he’d felt physically the opposite. He’d done a light workout and some stretches before coming here, and his long festering anger actually only helped that, adding that extra bit of adrenaline to ensure he felt strong, limber, and energetic going in. That first left hook to the kisser hadn’t done much to dent that. Now, however, familiar but never welcome pain seemed to spread throughout his body from the point of impact on his ribs, like the stain from a spilled glass of red wine spreads to befoul a previously immaculate white tablecloth. An apt enough metaphor, even though the marine would never personally think to use it, as the back of his mind did consider the bruise that would leave. Of course, even that wouldn’t be thought much of until later. Pain wasn’t terribly conducive to the more ambitious uses of ones mind, but it sure was useful for spurring immediate action, especially if it pissed you off enough. Such was the case as, his body reflexively shifting to favor his wounded right side, McKnight growled and compensated with his left. Specifically, the left cross across Blackthorne’s jaw which began a fresh and vicious onslaught.

And so it went. Blackthorne hadn’t expected McKnight to go easy, and he didn’t. He sought or created openings with all his skill and physical prowess, and then exploited them ruthlessly. Shoving him into the ropes to set up a volley of punches to the gut here, overwhelming his blocks with a furious flurry of punches that attacked both head and body there, he got in plenty of punches, and he made every one of them count where his words had not. “That shit was on my watch! You made me a party to your arrogant disregard for law and decency, you son of a bitch!” he may as well have shouted with a full force uppercut to the underside of Blackthorne’s chin. “We went off the books! We went above and beyond for you when you needed help! You, Ian Blackthorne, not Starfleet! We deserved more than a bunch of half-assed platitudes!” he was effectively declaring as he hammered away at the admiral’s gut like there was no tomorrow. Here was the chance for catharsis…no, to hell with emotional wellness. This was revenge, pure and simple. In his mind, Blackthorne had wronged those who had served him faithfully, willfully spat on whatever friendship had developed between the two of them, and now he was paying for it. Paying for it with the ribs now being hammered again, and again, and AGAIN. But one thing was for sure; while he may have been winning this bout -and he was- the man in front of him was refusing to knuckle under. McKnight was paying in kind for all the pain he was now so driven to inflict, and he was not smiling.

The rounds dragged on, the brief rests in their corners doing little to combat the punishment their bodies endured. Blackthorne was losing, but kept coming out of that corner and attempting to remind McKnight that if he wanted the win, he’d have to earn it. It must have been in the sixth or seventh round, he wasn’t sure given how time seems to distort in a fight, when a hard right cross from Doug set up by a couple of jabs caught his temple, and Ian’s knees buckled from under him. He caught himself with with his hands, and stayed there on all fours for a moment, blinking and shaking his head, trying to get his vision to clear as he listened to the referee count upward. At seven, he managed to get to his feet and raise his gloves, his brow furrowed and determined.

By then, of course, even McKnight’s enthusiasm for more of this was waning fast. Practice was one thing, and one thing he did often, but to go against an opponent this experienced and this motivated, for this long? It had been years, and as much as he’d always enjoyed a good fight on a level basic enough to seem more appropriate for a citizen of the Klingon Empire than the Federation, the more rational part of him that always resurfaces afterwards had never relished the price of a contest like this. He knew damn well that he wouldn’t take the mass of bruises also known as his torso, or the cut above his right eye, or any of the other injuries he wouldn’t notice until later as glorious badges of honor. And truth be told, even the pain he was dishing out eventually lost its charm. Yes, Blackthorne’s arrogance had infuriated him, but he was pretty damn sure at least one of the man’s ribs had flat out cracked. Wasn’t that price enough for refusing to yield a philosophical point? The beat up mess that was Blackthorne’s face? He couldn’t now spot a sense of entitlement to anything grander than the chance to shut his eyes and benefit from a stay in sickbay. As such, his frustrated sigh as Ian climbed back to his feet was probably audible even to Blackthorne himself, as the marine realized there was only one way this was going to end, with one opponent crushed. But Blackthorne was not crushed yet.

From the brief chance he had to study the look on the man’s face, and more particularly the look of the man’s eyes, he wasn’t even positive Blackthorne’s next punches were anything more than the result of an educated guess where to swing. But it was at the least a good guess, and he went ahead with a full head of steam. A couple of fast jabs to the face segued into three strong swings down below. Those were blocked, but his energy and speed were by now sufficiently worn down that his hands could not come back up in time to prevent the masterfully landed right hook that sent him staggering back several steps in a daze, his mouth guard gone and forgotten in some corner of the ring. It really was a swell punch, he allowed as he fought to clear his vision. Well thrown, well connected…and as his vision cleared, it became clear it had taken almost as much out of the man who threw it as the man who took it. Blackthorne looked a bit staggered himself, by his own momentum, and completely exhausted. It came as something of a surprise to McKnight that the man could even get his gloves up, but put them up he did, and more. Perhaps spurred on by the knowledge that he was too far gone to put up much of a defense, he’d evidently decided he’d rather spend his last reserves on his own terms, on the attack. The career fighting man could certainly respect that, but no more. He summoned his own reserves to ready himself for this last desperate strike.

Again, the admiral let fly a right cross, but this one lacked the setup, and simply came in too slow to have any real chance of connecting. There was no point in dragging this on any more; Blackthorne had asked for McKnight’s best, so for one last time in this bout, he’d have it. He let the punch come as close as he felt he could and still dodge it, just so Blackthorne was fully commited, and then delivered his answer: a bob to the inside, and a dead on right to the solar plexus. The older man withered, but kept to his feet; that was before, frowning at the necessity of it, McKnight unleashed the right to the head that sent him crashing to the mat like a puppet whose strings had just been cut.

Ian knew it was over as he fell, and hitting the mat like a pile of steaks didn’t help any. He really didn’t even hear the ref counting as he tried to make his useless limbs work, but his strength was gone. Lifting his head, Ian spit out his mouthpiece, leaving a trail of blood, as the referee counted ten and declared the knockout. The ropes were nearby, and he weakly reached for one for some help standing. “Helluva right you have, Doug.”

The only response he’d get to that was an affirmative nod before McKnight went to work with his teeth, pulling free the knot holding his right glove in place, then using his unencumbered hand to rid himself of the glove’s left twin. Because presently, those hands were needed, taking a hold of Blackthorne by the thankfully un-bruised undersides of his arms, hoisting him gently off the ropes.

“On your feet, sir. There’s still a ship to command.”


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