The Fighter

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Chapter 4: First Day

“Miss Carver, it’s time to walk up,” a voice urged, hands shaking my shoulders.

I groaned, turning my face into the pillow. I was on my stomach, and wasn’t in any mood to wake wake up at the moment.

“Miss Carver—”

“It’s Madelyn,” I snapped at the voice when they continued to shake my shoulders. And finally, my mind was awake enough to process what was going on. Someone was in my apartment. I sat up abruptly, almost coming in contact with… Drew. I stared at him groggily, my heart racing as I refrained from beating his ass, knowing damn well I would fail.

He was grinning, so I glowered at him, hoping it would be the equivalent to throwing knives at him. “Rise and shine, sleeping beauty. I told you I’d be here at seven. It’s now seven fifteen.”

I wrapped my warm blankets around me, adamantly refusing to get out of bed. “I didn’t set an alarm. In case you don’t remember, I was hit in the head last night and was extremely exhausted.”

He shrugged. “Get used to it.” He flashed his dimples at me, his blue-grey eyes twinkling. “Now get up. We have somewhere to be.”

I rolled my eyes and sighed. I tasted the rancidness of my morning breath and flushed at it. I needed to clean myself up. “I can drive myself, thank you very much.”

Drew was texting on his phone and looked up at this. “One, you don’t know where you’re going. Two, if you have your car, it just gives you an opportunity to run away, which we figured out last night you like to do just that.”

“Fine,” I said, putting my nose in the air. I crawled out of bed, realizing I had kicked off my pants in the middle of the night and now stood in just my tank top and underwear. I blushed at his searing gaze. “Can you, um, turn around, please?” I asked, feeling flustered and embarrassed.

He chuckled. “Wow, blushing and manners? To what do I owe the honor?”

I narrowed my eyes at him until he smiled and turned away. I ran to the bathroom, shutting and locking the door behind me. How much time did I have? He told me to dress nice but to bring gym clothes. Do I bother showering? One glance in the mirror told me yes. My hair was matted on all sides from tossing and turning, my makeup smudged from not removing it the night before.

I pushed my hair out of my face as I turned on the shower. As I waited for the water to warm up, I peered closer at my reflection. Upon closer inspection, I found a faint bruise on my temple, receding into my hairline. I grimaced and shot the door a deadly glare, wishing Drew could see it.

I quickly brushed my teeth, stripped off my clothes, and jumped in the shower, washing myself, my hair, and shaving in record time. I stepped out, wrapping a towel around myself, only to hear Drew call through the door, “You almost done, blondie? The clock is ticking.”

I rubbed lotion into my skin and cast my amber eyes heavenward. Still wrapped in a towel, I threw the door open and brushed past him to go to my room. “I may have a temper, but you’re impatient. We’ll have to work on controlling that,” I retorted, shooting his words back at him.

He frowned and opened his mouth to say something when I shut the bedroom door in his face. I was feeling highly uncomfortable, exposed, and vulnerable being seen in such little clothing so early in the morning. No one except the women in the locker room saw me like that, and even then that wasn’t often. Not to mention the fact that a man I barely knew was in my apartment.

I pulled on some underwear, a black no-show thong, and a black bralette. May as well be comfortable, right? I yanked on a black long-sleeve shirt, heather-grey pants, and black pointy-toe pumps. I threw some gym clothes into an oversized black purse and then opened the door to see an annoyed Drew, pushing past him once more to go into the bathroom.

“How long does this take?” He demanded, leaning against the door frame.

I briefly met his eyes in the mirror as I towel-dried my short hair. “Have you never seen a woman get ready in the morning?” I wondered. “Or have you never gotten that far with one?”

He scoffed and smirked. “You’ve still got jokes, I see.”

“Well, this part isn’t a joke. This isn’t even half of getting ready. This is the lazy part.” I pulled my hair back into a ponytail, quickly applied some eyeliner and mascara, and then turned toward him. “Now we can go.”

Drew huffed. “It only took you a half-hour.”

“Will you please tell me what the job entails?” I demanded, stressing my manners.

Drew smiled, finally at ease now that we were on the road. “I work for the Intelligence Branch of the FBI. We’re the base of all major investigations performed by the FBI. We have surveillance posted anywhere we get a tip from, and most people don’t even know. Though, I suppose that’s the point,” he explained, smirking at the end. “Anyway, you’ll be joining my team in the D.C. office, assisting us in and out of the field.”

I bit my lip. “I thought all agents had to go through the academy. I don’t have any experience with a gun. All I know is contact fighting.”

“Don’t worry about all that. You will be professionally trained. You’re a natural at fighting, so you’ll pick up on that part right away. But you do have quite a bit to learn.”

“So… this training. Tell me about it,” I pried.

Drew looked at me sideways. “More in-depth contact fighting than you’re used to. We teach you how to handle different elements of surprise, how to overpower different types of individuals, how to disarm multiple weapons. We will also teach you how to talk to people in emotional distress so that way you know how to not take things personally while talking sense into others. You’ll be taught how to use firearms.”

I whistled. “That’s a lot to learn in… how long?”

He shrugged. “My unit is running an experiment where we try to do a crash-course training in about a month. At the end, you’ll be tested like every agent at Quantico. If you pass, we know we can use this training program in dire situations. If not, well, then we know all our agents will need to go through the five-month training program,” he explained.

I nibbled on my lip again. “My job isn’t guaranteed at the end of this, then?”

Drew’s eyes flashed with some unnamed emotion. “No, I suppose not. I have no doubts that you’ll do great. Besides,” he said, his pouty lips tipping up with amusement, “I fought hard to get through to you, so I know you won’t let me down.”

My heart sank, so I turned to look out the window. I was really, really good at letting people down. I guess I did it to push people away, but I couldn’t do that now. I knew that, as hard as it was for me to accept. “Okay, I’ll do my best to make you proud,” I said quietly.

I half-ran to keep up with Drew’s pace. He was strolling with an intense purpose toward the building. I had never been so annoyed with my lack of height. We were back at the same building we were at last night, except now the parking lot was full of identical SUVs and sedans, varying in black and silver shades.

“Wait, so if you’re with the Intelligence Branch, what exactly do you do?” I demanded, fighting my urge to pant. We had to park in the damn near back of the parking lot, and it was a long walk. “And where are your credentials? Aren’t you required to show them?”

Drew glanced sideways at me, mirth glittering in his eyes. “You’re full of questions, aren’t you?”

I smirked. “Answering a question with a question, I see. That could be a sign that your position may not be as valid as you say it is.” We finally reached the building. We stood in front of two large doors, tinted glass with gold handles looming tall and intimidating before us. With manners I was beginning to think he was raised with, he reached out and opened the door, stepping aside to let me in first.

“Your reasoning is exactly why you’re here. Other than your physical health, that is,” he responded, giving me a wink as I passed by him.

Once inside, I stopped and turned to face him. “So your position is in question. What happened?”

“I’m currently suspended from field duty. I’m halfway through my suspension, but have to show model behavior in order to get my privileges back. That means I can’t assist with any cases outside of this building.”

“What did you do?” I wondered as he began to ascend a flight of stairs.

“We’ll save that for another time,” he snapped, clearly getting annoyed as we started on the next flight.

I whistled through my teeth. “Sorr-y,” I mumbled, emphasizing the end of the word. “But one more question. What kind of assessments will I take in order to receive credentials to be a qualified agent? Who will be assessing this?”

He stopped at the top of the second flight, pausing by the door he was about to open. “First, that was two questions. Second, dear Lord, do you watch TV or something? You seem curious about all the right things.” He scrutinized me upon asking.

I bit my lip and, catching his gaze darkening like they frequently did at this action, lowered my eyes. “I may have a guilty pleasure of watching crime shows.”

Drew rolled his stark grey eyes. They were swirling with a variety of emotions, much like the dark sky when thunder clouds were brewing. They were intriguing, mesmerizing… captivating. Why did I feel this way? “There are other two recruits are doing crash course training. If, at the end of it, you pass the FBI requirements, you get your credentials and can work alongside us. If not,” he paused, frowning as he opened the door and followed me through it, “you return to your boring life, forget it ever happened, and we’re forced to recruit cadets from the academy.”

I froze, swallowing thickly. That was a lot of pressure to put on someone. In the few seconds I had stopped, Drew had gotten several steps ahead of me, which I had to race to catch up.

“Before you ask, we’re going to meet my supervisor, but we’re doing it quickly. The other recruits should already be here, so they’re probably waiting.”

I decided to keep my mouth shut at that and followed Drew through the office, passing several cubicles. Some were filled, some were empty, and no one looked up at us. Drew bounded up a short flight of stairs and came to a halt in front of a closed door, knocking on it before opening the door. This time, he didn’t let me pass first.

“Hey, Richard, I have the last recruit,” he said, standing just enough in the doorway that I couldn’t see into the office around him.

“It took you long enough to recruit her. We’ve had the other two on standby in the meantime. That may not settle well with the Bureau,” a man, presumably “Richard,” responded.

He called it the Bureau… so it really must be legitimate.

I gazed around me in awe. I counted the cubicles below me. Nine desks, four were occupied. When the people sitting at the desks caught me staring, they exchanged looks with one another and then glanced at me.

“I know, I know. She was stubborn. But I really think she’ll be worth it. Give her a chance.”

I heard a sigh. “Fine. Bring her in, and then get started on her training immediately. If she can’t keep up—”

“I know. I explained it to her.”

At that, Drew turned to me, giving me a blazing look, and stepped further into the office so I could enter. I briefly took in my surroundings before acknowledging the serious-looking man before me. There were windows overlooking the floor I had been previously looking at, but the blinds were closed. There were also windows on the opposite side of the room, letting in a copious amount of daylight. A couple large plants occupied the corners, and on the back side of the room was a large oak desk where the man stood behind, his eyebrows raised.

I stepped forward, smiled, and extended my hand. “Hello, sir, my name is Madelyn Carver,” I introduced.

“Pleased to meet you, Miss Carver. I’m Richard Letterman. I see you’ve met Drew. I’m sure he’s gone over everything,” he said.

Before I could respond, Drew spoke. “I’ve gone over the basics with her. The rest I’ll have to explain to her and the others as we go. We need to get started.”

Mr. Letterman nodded. “Of course. Miss Carver, good luck, and I’ll hopefully see you soon.” He sat back down at his desk, a clear indication it was time for us to go and that he wouldn’t be saying any more to either of us.

I decided to say, “I hope so too, Mr. Letterman.”

“Please, call me Richard.”

“I will.” I turned and left with Drew. “What else is there to explain?” I hissed at him as he shut the door behind us.

He pinched the bridge of his nose, and a few of his curls came loose from the hair he had pushed back earlier. “There is so much to explain.”

We had taken an elevator down to the lower levels of the building, which turned out to be underground, and where they would be training us. It was space that they reserved as a gym for the members, and included obstacles included in the FBI test runs to keep you in shape.

“Madelyn, this is Josh Parker and Carson Clay. These are the other two recruits,” Drew said indicating to two men. The first one, Josh, was tall and slender, with dark hair buzzed short, a square jaw, and pale blue eyes, while Carson was shorter, well-built, with spiky golden-colored hair and brown eyes. Both handsome, and not much older than me.

“Madelyn… as in Madelyn Carver?” The taller one, Josh, asked, blue eyes narrowing at me.

“Does my name ring a bell?” I said, a snarky undertone lacing the words.

“You go to that underground gym, Iron Clad, right?”

A small burst of panic lanced through me. Oh no. How does he know who I am? “Yes, why?” I questioned skeptically.

“I’ve heard a lot about you, and you looked a little familiar. I went there briefly right around the time you started going there, what, six years ago?” I nodded, and he continued. “Yeah, you were quite the little fury. How many fights did you almost start?”

I started to relax and chuckled at the memory, suddenly feeling nostalgic. “Oh, I don’t know. Probably close to a dozen in my first few months.”

He laughed too. “Well you seem to have mellowed out a bit. Still got the same fight in you?”

I smiled. “Of course I do!” I was honestly instantly warmed up to him, something that I don’t think ever happened in my life. And, even more surprisingly, I was flattered that he remembered me. But now that I thought about it, he was ringing a bell… but from where? Not the gym…

Drew had watched this whole exchange with confusion on his face. “Mellowed out? Are you kidding me? She almost took me out at the gym when I got in her way.”

Josh whistled. “Big mistake, bro.”

Drew smirked. “Clearly. Anyway, let’s get started. Who’s ready for some contact fighting?”

Carson smiled wickedly. “I’m ready to kick her ass,” he said, nodding at me.

I squinted at him. “You’re so on.”

Carson wasn’t kidding. He did kick my ass. As well as Josh. And Drew. I was doing my best to be a good sport about it, but the truth was, I never lost fights, so the fact that I had lost to Drew in a public setting, and then to two other men was a blow to my ego.

Now, I shouldn’t have been so hard on myself, given the fact that they were men and definitely stronger than me, but this was kind of the whole point in me training the way I did. I did it to protect myself if I was ever put in a position with a man that I didn’t want to be in… or if I ever saw him again.

We spent six hours going over different fighting techniques. Drew kept telling me it would take time, but Josh and Carson picked them up right away. At the end of the day, I was almost embarrassed at how physically exhausted I was. Apparently being able to run several miles or workout rigorously for an extended period of time didn’t compare too much to this.

“It’s good practice for you to do this with other people,” Drew encouraged as we wrapped up the physical aspect of our training for the day.

I glared at him as I put my hands on my knees to catch my breath. “Whatever,” I panted.

He raised his eyebrows. “Do you know how physically exhausting it is to actually fight with someone? Or against someone?”

Wrong choice of words, buddy, I thought. Fuck, here it comes.

I knew as soon as those words left his mouth that unpleasant thoughts would come unbidden. This time, it was a flashback of the first time he took advantage of me. I squeezed my eyes shut and held tight for the ride, praying it would be over quickly.

It was near the end of the summer, so the air was thick and stiflingly hot in Tucson, Arizona. All our windows were open because the air conditioner wasn’t to be fixed for the next few days. A light and welcome breeze blew through the windows, pushing my sweaty curls off my forehead.

I ran out into the living room, holding one of my few Barbie dolls up in the air. “Mommy!”I cried, pausing on the line that separated the linoleum of the kitchen and the carpet of the living room. I had wanted to show her Barbie’s hair, how I had put it in a ponytail with one of my clear rubber bands, but she was nowhere to be seen. “Mommy?”

“She went to get a fan for you,” he said from his seemingly-permanent spot in his reclining chair. “She didn’t want you overheating.”

I jutted out my lower lip in a fake pout. “Oh. Well, this can wait. Do you want to see Barbie’s hair? I did it myself!” I exclaimed proudly.

He smiled at me and put out his cigarette. “Sure, sweetie, why don’t you bring her over here?”

I giggled and galloped over to him, handing him my doll. “Do you like it?”

He grinned. “Of course I do! She’s beautiful. Just like you.”

I beamed and reached for Barbie, but instead he scooped me up and carried me to my room. “Time for bed, little one. Your mother won’t be back for a while.”

“Whyyyyyy? I don’t want to go to bed!” I whined as he lay me down on my bed. I wiggled, trying to get back up, but he had me pinned by my shoulders.

He pulled back and grinned, a sick, sadistic look on his face. “I’m going to teach you to listen to me, even though you don’t like to. You’ll learn to. I’m not a temporary fixture in this house.”

What happened next was the night my whole life changed.

“Madelyn? Hey, Madelyn, everything okay?” Drew asked, reaching out to touch my shoulder.

My flashback dissipated and I straightened abruptly before his fingertips could reach me. “I’m fine. Onto the next thing?” I snapped, trying to contain myself. I felt so… manhandled, like I was that night and the many that followed.

The three men standing before me all exchanged skeptical glances, to which I responded by narrowing my eyes.

“O-kay,” Drew said slowly. “Onto firearms.”

I cursed under my breath. “You trust me with a firearm?”

“No, but it’s protocol,” he responded, teasing, as we exited the workout area. “We have to drive to get to the shooting range.”

Josh fell back to talk to me, and I felt oddly comfortable with him doing so. “You’re doing well, you know,” he said quietly. “I can see that you’re feeling discouraged.”

I shrugged. “I’ve always fought people closer to my size, and it was never this physical I guess. It’s a different kind of training than I’m accustomed to, but I’ll learn.”

“I’m a little surprised by it, too. But, also remember, we’re men and we’ve all gotten into real fights before me. Don’t get too discouraged, you’ll catch on in no time.”

I smiled half-heartedly as we all exited the building, the breeze hitting my dewy skin and damp workout clothes. “I’ll try not to. I think I’m just disappointed in myself because I thought I had been training for stuff like this for years,” I admitted. I know I sounded repetitive with my reasoning, but I couldn’t shake what I was feeling.

“Stuff like what?” He wondered.

Shit. Lie.

“Fighting. You know, self-defense.”

Josh chortled and ran a hand through his short hair. “I think it’s different when the fight is real. You’ll have adrenaline. And you’re already in great shape, so I wouldn’t worry if I were you.” We reached the car at the back of the parking lot, and I pondered what Josh was saying as I climbed into the back with him. He had a point, and a good one, and I immediately felt better.

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