Chris hefted the weights again in his hands, drawing the fifty pound dumbells to shoulder height before letting them drop again, an explosive sigh escaping his lips. Sweat poured down his brow as he made ready to make another curl, his fingers shaking slightly as he performed set after set. He had lost count of how many reps he had made and decided to go until he couldn't lift anymore. The weights felt far heavier than before and they threatened to drop to the floor, but he resisted the urge to let his fingers unclench, instead making one more steady ascent with the weights before letting them thump on the mat calmly.
He gasped in satisfaction, feeling an intense burning in his arms. He inspected his muscles and ran a hand over the curve on his bicep. Looking better. Far better than ever before. Every movement with his arms created the gnawing feeling of strained muscles. This would hurt in the morning, but for right now, it was a job well done. He reached over to the cup holder and grabbed the bottle of water than was waiting to sustain him.
He popped the cap off and downed half the bottle, sighing before looking over to see the only other occupant of the room, whom he knew very well.
Sally Acorn ran at a comfortable pace on the treadmill, her slender, but well built legs moving with good time on the moving surface. Her arms likewise swung in perfect balance at elbow height, hands clenched into loose fists. Her ears had small headphones in them, which was blasting a song that she loved. He could see her lips move with the lyrics. He couldn't guess which song it was; she had many favorites.
He took another sip and watched her as she ran. Her hair was pulled back into a ponytail, fastened with a blue hair tie. She wore a dull white top, and golden workout shorts that were loose enough around the legs to have some play as they moved. He could see a hint of blue straps underneath the top.
She saw him and smiled, and then winked at him as she set the speed higher. She started to run double time, maybe eight miles an hour. He saw her inhale and exhale as she quickly moved, her chest heaving as she did so. Chris was transfixed on her, amazed at the level of stamina for a frame like hers, standing at just over five feet. Her arm muscles were defined and her nostrils flared. The princess ran faster and faster before reaching her personal goal and slowing to a jog.
She was breathing harder too; her mouth was open.
"Needed to hit the mile mark under my target." She said with a smile. "I was taking it too easy."
Her breathing was deep and pushed her chest out. With every step she took, her body jumped ever so slightly. His eyes were on hers, but then he began to wander as his gaze was attracted to something else. As she jogged, Sally's chest bounced, and her breasts obeyed the motion. Though secured with the sports bra, they made slight movement like unhappy or restless passengers.
His mouth went dry as he watched, hands falling limp as he watched her move. His mouth fell open ever so slightly. She was amazingly sexy, especially in that outfit.
She saw the way he looked, took a brief glance down, and then her eyes half-closed with understanding, a sly smile growing across her face. She looked back to the display on the treadmill, and then back to him, still holding that expression on her face as she powered down and stepped off, slowly stepping towards him.
"What's the matter?" She asked. "You aren't hot and bothered now are you?"
The Marine just gazed up at her, his smile growing. He cocked an eyebrow, as if challenging her right there. "You know, you run that 5k like a champ."
"I am a champ." she said, her voice low, sultry, and with that hook in it that he recognized. Said hook snagged around his heart as if it were a bass. "Champs are winners you know." she said, as she bent over to head height, blinking slowly, fluttering her eyelashes.
"You don't say?" the Human responded, blood pumping in his ears.
Sally leaned in and spoke into his ear in a vaporous whisper, "Winners get prizes. You're mine, Human.". She licked him up the crest of his ear slowly and deliberately, lightly sighing.
That did it. Chris jerked at the touch and his body contracted. He was instantly at attention, even as Sally slowly placed one leg over his, and then the other, so that they were nose to nose. He didn't move. He couldn't - he was spellbound by that stare of hers, the twin gleaming azure pools that glared into his soul. He wanted her so badly right now. She was so close. He felt her breath on his lips, the velvety smoothness of her fur and slowly he reached for her, grasping her around the hips lightly, fiddling with the waistband of her running shorts before coming around the back, searching for her tail. He found it twitching ever so slightly, teasing him. As soon as a finger touched it, Sally inhaled sharply, closing her eyes, and biting her lip. She contracted towards him in a sudden movement that threatened to send him over the edge. She closed her eyes for a moment, and then opened them again, looking down between them, instantly understanding with a playful gasp.
"So you do want to play." she said in that voice. Oh God that voice.
The Marine's brows were locked, but a half smile jutted across his jaw. "What do I get if I win?"
"A prize." she said, gently moving her hips towards him, the friction making him lean his head back.
"Here?" he asked, suddenly looking around.
"It's a surprise." she said, kissing his ear. She didn't pull back right away, but was still close to him, still shifting her hips subtly. She breathed in and shuddered. "Don't disappoint me."
"I aim to please." he said, leaning forward to kiss her, head tilted to reach around her nose. The kiss was short, but was filled with energy but finality, like an agreement had been signed.
"Well what are we waiting for?" Sally asked, now a tinge in her voice that didn't sway the feeling of arousal in him. Perhaps it even magnified it. She swung one leg out and then the other, standing back up gracefully. Her ears twitched as she swept back her damp hair. "Bench press, Human.
Chris got up, not even moving to fetch his shirt, instead following her to the bench.
"Ten reps, highest weight you can manage." Sally said. "Ten reps, and you win."
Chris calculated quickly, and settled on three hundred pounds, and racked the plates onto the barbell. "Three hundred for you, baby."
She sat down on the bench opposite, legs slightly apart. "You're taking your time. Worried?"
"You'll need to spot me." he said, smile vanishing and his voice getting dead serious. "Game or no, I'm not lifting this without a second.
Sally nodded, understanding; that flirtatious look in her eye replaced by seriousness. "I won't let you get hurt." she said. "I'll never do anything to hurt you. I promise."
He slid the lock into the bar, slapped the weights, smiled, and said, "Let's begin."
He lay back, staring up at the ceiling of the gym. It was old, like most places in the castle, but many efforts were taken to bring it up to date. He saw the patterned stone in the ceiling, the lights, and the bar above him. Three hundred pounds. He hadn't benched this since his last deployment. How many months ago was that?
Suddenly Sally's head popped into view, just above his. "Good luck." she said, placing a quick inverted kiss on his lips, before giving him a second one on his nose. She rested both her hands on the bar and waited.
Chris was no fool. Sally couldn't arrest the fall of a six plate barbell at 300 pounds, but she could slow it down. It would be up to him.
He closed his eyes and breathed deep. Thought about her, her graceful form leading him on to where they would hold each other until the morning, and then with a sigh of conviction, reached up and pushed the weights up and off their restraining rack.
Instantly the weights fell down on him, lured by the irresistible call of gravity. For a split second the animal part of his subconscious fired up, and he panicked, but only for a split second, where he wrested control and pushed upwards, leveling the bar two inches off his chest. The weight was outstanding. He hadn't benched this much in a long time, certainly not since he left active duty.
"You got it?" Sally asked, hands around the bar in a gesture of support.
Chris nodded, a small vein appearing on his neck.
"You sure?" She asked, a bit more seriously, but with that smile on her face.
Again, wordlessly, he nodded, winking, despite the concentration.
Three hundred pounds just inches off him.
"Get going, hot stuff." Sally said, now edging back into her seductive tone. "Ten reps."
Chris breathed in rapidly through his nose, and with an effort, began to lift the bar, pushing it as far as his arms would extend, short of locking his elbows. He lessened the push, and let it lower. A groan escaped his throat, and he brought the weight to a halt, ready to push again. Nine to go.
He was already sweating, and a slight tremor passed his hands. He pushed again, the groan growing a bit louder as the three hundred pounds was forced up.
Sally whispered to him. "Come on, love. You can do it."
He didn't hear her though. Adrenaline pumped; an emergency response to give the body more strength. He didn't hear her. He didn't hear anything, not even his own breathing. The world had slowed to a crawl - an effect usually triggered in combat, but now it seemed it happened off the battlefield.
It was a kind of pain he wasn't ready for - a world slowed to quarter speed while burdened by an immense weight.
Again, it came down. Two reps.
A thought came into his mind. Was he a winner? He had been sitting on his ass for months. A damned civvie. He had gotten fatter, slower, dumber even; empty without a war to fight. As the weight went up a third time, he contemplated the horror of it.
No. This was for him now. He was still a winner. He was still a fighter.
His arms shook, but he raised the weight to its zenith. Though he couldn't hear the small roar that came from his throat, Sally could. Her smile had faded, and her ears began to tuck back.
"Hey, don't push yourself it you can't think you can do it."
He didn't hear her. She had no way of knowing he had slipped into Conditioned Awareness, but she saw the somewhat blank look on his face.
Chris planted his feet on the floor hard, and lowered the weight. His jugular throbbed and his nostrils flared wide.
The agonizing weight stretched for four times its duration in his mind.
"This is for me." he muttered, unaware he was speaking. He selfishly clung to this thought, desiring it more than her touch.
His body's strength though was rapidly burning away though, and for a second, he faltered. Three hundred pounds of plates began to plummet, but he pushed back, arcing his back, and somewhere he felt something shift in his body.
"You can stop now." Sally offered, suddenly becoming more distressed, understanding his perception. "Snap out of it!" she said, lightly tapping his jaw.
"Five!" he growled loudly. He wasn't going to waste away behind a desk or on a couch. He was angry now, teeth bared and gritted.
"Look, I was only playing around." Sally said, now trying to move the weight, but at one hundred and twenty five pounds, she was not capable of altering the course of the massive payload by much, and whatever she could move it by was brought back by the Marine. "Come on, you're going to hurt yourself!"
The weight struggled to peak, and Chris' arms vibrated. Sally was scared by how red his face had become.
He wasn't going to let discharge break him. He saw the band on his finger gleaming off the ceiling lamps, but even shifting his eyes took effort. His vision had tunneled. Civilians got fat and lazy. He was a Marine. He was not about to become... average.
He was not average. Nothing about his life was average, and he was amazed that these thoughts came to him now. He was also amazed by the burning pain coming from his shoulders.
Sally didn't deserve average. She didn't deserve a civilian. She deserved a real man; a superman.
Come hell or high water, he would give it to her. He couldn't bear not to.
"Six!" He cried out, arms locking.
The weak died on Talahan. He lived.
Unimaginable pain filled his being. Far more than any workout had ever given him. Part of his brain lit up, neurons firing rapidly. His amygdala shot warning flares from deep within his grey matter, urging him to stop before it was too late. So much adrenaline had coursed through his body that he didn't even feel his triceps start to tear.
"So much more." he breathed. He didn't need Sonic's speed. He didn't need a Spartan's armor. He didn't need any of that. He just needed to push himself until he broke.
"Seven!" he cried again. When he tried to push, pain spiked through his arm, so much it jerked him out of the stupor he was in.
Sally moved quickly, thinking irrationally, she grabbed the bar and yanked it as hard as she could to the side that was now dropping towards Chris' left arm. With her own strength, a feral sound escaped her lungs as she pulled the weight far away from him. His right arm parted, but three hundred pounds dropped, no longer supported by the Human's failing arms. The weight fell towards the ground, and the Captain was pulled with it, rolling off the bench.
Sally saw with horror that his arm was yanked downwards with the weight, pulling the man like a fish on a line.
He rolled onto the ground next to the bar, left hand still gripping the metal, jittering like he had a seizure. His eyes were wide for a split second before he inhaled and cried out in pain, unable to move.
Sally fell onto him, breathing quickly, muttering to herself, and frightened out of her mind. She realized what a horrible mistake she had made. She was stupid. She tried to wrestle control of weights from a lifter, a cardinal sin in a gym. She was crying, blaming herself as she tried to pull him away from the weights, begging him to let go.
"Talk to me, love!" she pleaded. "I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to do that!"
She shuddered as she saw his skin slowly begin to turn purple under his arm. She had never seen this before and it frightened her considerably.
"Why couldn't you hear me?"
He didn't answer. Instead, he tried to move his arm and cried out again, chest heaving as he took in a massive breath. His arm burned, and hung nearly useless.
She sat next to him, propping him up and to her breast, kissing his forehead; tears staining her fur.
Her lip quivered, her ears folded flat, and she kissed his head again. "Please talk to me!"
His eyes shifted slowly. First to her, and then to his arm. "I couldn't do it."
His voice, which had been so clear a few minutes before sounded like grating glass; like his vocal chords had been ravaged.
"I thought I could do it."
"Why?" she sniffed, and rubbed her nose. "We were only playing!"
"You are a winner. You deserve one too."
"No." she said, a sobbing gasp escaping her. "No, shut up."
He continued, "I don't have Sonic's speed, or Miles' brains. I don't have your family's fame or..."
"Stop..." she begged.
"I don't even have my folks like you. I only have me, but that's not enough."
He reached up with his good hand and rubbed her cheek. His thumb wiped a tear from her eye before she wrapped her hand around his and held it to her. She rubbed it against her, putting her scent on it. She kissed his hand several times.
"You will always have me." she said, new tears coming forth. "I will never leave you."
"This is a promise." she said, raising her left hand, the ring matching the one on the Human's. "This means I will love you forever."
He broke eye contact with her, looking at the weights, upset, ashamed, and afraid.
She hugged him and rocked him back and forth. "I'm so sorry I hurt you."
"It's not your fault." he said after ten seconds of silence. "It's mine." he said. Chris tried to move, but a sharp bark of pain filled the gym. Sally's ears perked in fright, unprepared for the noise. Every moment of pain made her feel even worse. "I did it to myself." he said in between the gasps, voice gravelly.
Doctor. He needed a doctor. It was late. Quinten may not be in.
These thoughts raced through Sally's mind in fragments. If the doctor was not present, she would care for him herself. She would go to any lengths to help him. She always had. Sally slowly helped the Marine to his feet, sadly realizing that her precious Human had fallen into the same trap as so many before him - so in love with a woman he was willing to sacrifice his own body as to impress her. It would never change how she felt.
She realized that his injury was more extensive than she thought as the bruise spread. She felt faint looking at it.
He got to his feet, knees trembling, but otherwise steady. His arm lay at his side. She never left him. She saw his entire back was damp with sweat - more than any Human ever should sweat in that length of time.
"I'm sorry." she heard him say as they began to walk. "I'm sorry, Sal."
They began to walk. Sally smelled the sweat that glistened off his body. Even his arms were damp, and his eyes were almost closed from the droplets falling into them, stinging him. When he tried to move his injured arm, he groaned.
She closed her eyes and stopped to let him recover, breathed in and out.
"I egged you on. I gave you the impression. If there's anyone to blame..."
"Sally, stop." he said with a sudden force that off.
"No." she shot back. "I'm going to apologize, and you're going to hear me out! I yanked those weights off balance!"
"And I lifted them in the first place." Chris said, now angry.
There he went again beating himself up. She wasn't going to change his mind. Sadly, she continued to walk, not making eye contact with her Human for a short while. They walked in silence until a guard crossed their paths. The man saw the Marine's bruised arm and started. He, like many Mobians, were not used to seeing such injuries.
"Go check to see if the doctor is in. If he's not, get a hold of him!" Sally ordered before the guard spoke. "Move!" she barked.
He jerked, plate making a small shifting noise before disappearing down the corridor.
She listened to his breathing. It was shallow and quick. She risked a sideward glance at him, but his face was impassive. She knew better though. He was trained to hide his feelings.
"Do you still love me?" she asked.
He swung his head, eyes open in surprise.
"I think you blame me. You're trying to spare my guilt, my love." she said.
He leaned his head over and kissed her on the cheek long, deep, and with a small nuzzle of his own nose; a habit he picked up from her.
She looked up at him, a tear streaking down her cheek. There was a minute of stasis, then she placed her lips to his. Their eyes were closed, and the silence of the hall enveloped them as if they were suspended in a void. When they broke, he brushed his lips against her muzzle softly, his breath hot on her nose. He spoke a single word into her ear.
He smiled at her. One that fought through the pain, but genuine.
"Come on. I've seen worse." he said, glancing at the torn muscle. "I've come back from worse."
"Yeah." he assured, thinking back on something, but presenting a smile. "This is nothing."
The modesty made her care for him even more. He was reserved and was never too prideful; something she adored about him. She adored so much about her Human.
"You know what, I do blame myself for something worse."
Sally's head turned again as they started walking once more, fear growing in her heart. "What? What's wrong?"
He looked at her, face straight, and said, "I didn't re-rack."
She blinked once, twice, and then snorted, and together they laughed loudly. She hugged him gingerly, head against his side and she wiped her eyes.
"Wow, look at those." she said, tracing her finger over his abdominals, his injury forgotten to them both. "You have been working out!"
"Marine Corps standard issue." he said, a grin on his face, as they continued to laugh and joke. They turned a corner, and walked out of sight, sweet words drifting behind them long after they were gone.