Noplace in D-town to escape the sound of The Dance, and I’m glad. The techno beat gives something to latch onto as the anarchist’s fist crashes into my stomach like it will tear through and shatter my spine.
Oomph. I double over.
Awareness narrows to brilliant agony and the boom of the bass. If only my meditations were half this focused. A timeless moment later, I can breathe again, but not for long, because—
Oomph. Another punch, followed by aching stillness.
Boom-boom-boom. The beat carries me, red flashes of pain pulsing in time, and I lose track of everything else until the blows stop. I am lying on the ground with my right eye swollen shut. I open my left a little and meet the glazed eye of the A who’s been beating me. I cower back before realizing he’s sprawled on his side too. Blood drools out of his mouth onto the broken concrete between us.
Tattooed fingers grab the A’s shirt, flipping him onto his back, and a knee clad in black denim thunks to the ground by my lips. The new guy’s fist smashes into the A’s round face, splitting the skin over the cheekbone. The knuckles land again, widening the gash.
Again—the nose this time, connecting with a crunch. The A’s head jerks to the side, and a warm spray of blood mists my face. Bile rises in my throat, and I close my eyes, turning away.
“You going to live?”
I’ve been counting my breaths, and it takes a second to realize the sounds of impact have stopped and the question is for me. I nod, then crack open my good eye. The new guy crouches in front of me, one hand extended, and his knuckles dominate my field of vision. Black letters tattoo the backs of his fingers.
A black anarchy symbol is inked at the base of his thumb, the A’s blood smeared over it. The same symbol marks the A’s shirt—spattered with my blood—and even though they’re not the same tribe, the similarity is too much, and I cringe away. The movement shoots through me, sharp and hot, and air hisses between my teeth.
The Real Dealer stands up. His fingers curl and uncurl in front of him, like they have somewhere else to be. He shifts his feet and drags his palms down the dirty thighs of his jeans. I force myself to look up, not so far as his eyes, but to a clean-shaven chin and clenched jaw. The ends of messy brown hair curl around cheeks lightly dusted with freckles. He’s looking down at me, I feel it, and my tongue sneaks out across my split lip.
He bends down, and again I flinch back. I managed to stay silent the whole time the A beat me, but now a whimper escapes. A tiny, broken sound like from a terrified animal. The Real Dealer freezes, then straightens one vertebra at a time. Brawny muscles shift under his t-shirt—the body of a guy, not an in-between like me—and before I can stop myself I’ve looked up, all the way to his eyes.
Light filters through the smog behind him, casting his face in shadow, and I can’t tell if I’ve hurt his feelings, or if he’s just disgusted with me, and I can’t decide how to feel about him, either.
He’s an atheist. An anarchist. A militant. And he probably just saved my life.
I lie there, curled in on myself, waiting for…something. To get used to the agony. For him to leave. For one of my tribe to find me.
“Idiot Bee,” he finally mutters. “Defend yourself, next time.”
I won’t, though. He has to know that as he dusts his hands on his jeans one more time and walks away, leaving me sprawled in the grit next to my unconscious attacker.
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