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“Stop!” Her cry reached his ears before her hand came to wrap around his thin arm. “James please, don’t do this.” There was a pant, a sob, in her voice and a tremble that ran through her down to her fingertips. She peered up at him with wide green eyes, her dark skin drenched in sweat and rain. Her hair sat in damp waves, ghosts of the curls that had been there hours before. He peered back and tried to keep his gaze intimidating, coming to a stop where the cheers and jeers from the crowd could barely reached their ears. The two burly men assigned to escort him out paused a little farther up and watched in silent amusement. It hurt his heart to see her and a sick pang ran through his chest to his feet when he took in her small, wet frame.
“What are you doing here, Liza? What do you want?” His question was met with a hard stare and even harder words.
“You know damn well why I’m here. You can’t do this. James, please.” Her voice took an edge to it before it broke, a crack in the middle of his name. Tears pooled behind her wide rimmed glasses but refused to fall. “You just can’t. Don’t give me that crap about duty or honor or- or pride. If you go out there you’ll die. You know it, so why? Why?” She pulled him to face her head on and clutched both of his arms in her hands, face falling as her shout echoed down the corridor. “No… No don’t say anything…” She released one of his arms and pressed a knuckle into his chest, eyes staring bullets into his ring shoes as she pressed into the space between where two breasts had sat the night before. “You think- You think this will make up for it. For not having the parts? For being who you are?” He watched her for a moment, eyes lit with despondency. Slowly, gently he reached out and took the arm of her glasses, pulling them carefully from her face. He leaned down and pressed a kiss to the bridge of her nose, then to her forehead, then slowly placed the glasses back on her face.
“Yes, I do.” With all the slowness of the world he dropped to his knees in front of her. “Liza. I do.” He moved in her loose grip and took both of her hands in his own, eyes peering up with a new unwavering emotion. “You don’t have to, I hardly expect you to, but if you stayed, if you watched, if you tried to understand, it’d mean a whole lot to me.” She silently named the look in his eyes as love and the stinging behind her eyes finally broke free, running down the length of her onyx cheeks. She felt a sick twist in her stomach and turned her head slightly, squeezing her eyes shut.
“I understand it, or at least I’m trying. I’m trying. I just-” Her shoulders shook and head turned back to him, eyes opening to reveal fear beyond expression. She fell into herself and pulled the small pale boy up, collapsing into his chest and sobbing as she felt the two bumps in his chest.  “Don’t die. Don’t you die you idiot. Don’t you dare die.”
“James, you’ve got to go.” A deep voice sounded behind him and he nodded, an answer for the both of them. He pressed another kiss to her forehead and squeezed her tight to him.
“Thank you Liza.” And with that he peeled himself from her and ran after his men, ready for the fight. She watched him through her tears and it felt as if she was watching her future disappear down that dark corridor. With a hiccup she turned slowly and walked back down that cool, musty walkway, going to find the seat he had left her. It didn’t take long and she was there before the fight really begun. She stared at his form as she took her seat, peeling off her jacket with fumbling fingers. The must and sweat in the air plugged her nose and she let out a soft cough, trying to clear her airway of the thick scents. However it only served to rush more into her lungs and she gave up quickly, focus turning back to her love down in the ring. The bell rang in her ears and her eyes were cast on the two men who almost looked as if they were dancing, but her mind was elsewhere. She imagined her skinny boy, before he was her’s or a boy, riding the train into the city, sitting alone in some dress with hair that draped onto his shoulders. She imagined the lights that crossed his cheeks. She imagined his heart beating with hope.
She then imagined his transition. She imagined him shearing his hair and wrapping fabric tight enough to suffocate anyone who wasn’t her skinny boy to conceal the breast that grew on his chest. She imagined the pains and the bruises. She tried to imagine the relief he had tried to explain to her and she grasped at it weakly, not understanding but trying with all her heart.
She the remembered the first time they had met. He had hired her, bought some time alone, and as they were in the thick of it she had unbuttoned his shirt to reveal that tattered fabric and the breasts that hid underneath. She remembered how she stuttered, how he retreated with sadness and resignation in his eyes. She remembered the confusion, the thrill, how she was the one to pull him back down.
She remembered loving him. She remembered every night they shared after. She remembered. The thought of losing that, the thought of losing him, it brought a fresh bout of tears to her eyes.
As she came to the dance was still going on but James was looking worse for wear. With no hesitation she stood and cupped her mouth, disregarding her belongings on the chair.
“Come on James! Come on! Hold in there!”
His eyes slipped up to her and a smile pressed his lips up, completely unaware of the fist that flew into the side of his head. He collapsed and her hands flew to her face. No. Oh no. The seconds as he tried to get back to his feet were the longest of her life; he stood and she swore she felt her heart stop. He was up. He was up and swinging. The sound of his gloves against the other’s body rang through the room and with every crash she could feel his power move through her. A million eyes were on the two there in the ring, but she knew only she could feel him. It was only her and only that feeling of him; his strength, his power, his meaning. With every strike he was cementing his name in every mind in the room. James, James, James, James.
She stayed on her feet for the rest of the match, eyes stinging from her earlier tears and staring after him. She stayed there until all the seats were empty; until his bruised and bandaged form appeared behind her. He silently took a seat next to her and both peered down into the ring, sighs and emptiness hanging in the air. It was a while before she pulled her eyes up to meet his, but when she did they could feel the millions of words that hung between them. Gently, as if her hands were butterflies, she cupped his battered face and shifted to face him.
“Your name is James,” She paused and felt her heart swell as a soft laugh tumbled from her lips. “and you are the bravest and stupidest man I’ve ever loved.”
His cheeks pulled up into a soft smile and he closed the gap between them, placing a chaste kiss upon her cracked lips.




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