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Jack bolted upright, bathed in sweat, his heart racing. He gulped in breath after greedy breath as he slowly registered where he was. The pale grey light of early morning filtered in through the window of the small apartment as fear coursed through his veins. Wide-eyed and shaken, he collapsed back onto the sweat-soaked pillow and stared at the ceiling.
It had been a few months since he last had the nightmare, but the details remained razor sharp. Four years had passed and still he could recall every last detail. Closing his eyes, he tried to think about something else. In his waking moments, he had control for the most part, but when he slept it was a different story. Memories, grief and guilt soaked him like acid, eating away at the last vestiges of self that remained.
He ran a clammy hand down his face and opened his eyes, pushing the covers off and swinging his legs down onto the threadbare carpet. His entire body ached, as though it remembered that night and was just as confused as his mind. The trembling hand he ran through his short brown hair made it stand on end, the nightmare still nipping at the edges of his subconscious as Ally’s face flashed in front of his eyes. He squeezed them shut, trying to block her out as he fought to regain control.
In, one thousand. Out, one thousand. In, one thousand. Out, one thousand. Cautiously, he opened his eyes again, staring blearily at the stained carpet beneath his feet. The day hadn’t yet begun and already he was bone-tired. He stood up, rolling his shoulders to relieve the tension caused partly from the nightmare, and partly from the fight a week ago. His body still ached from the encounter and it seemed to him as if the recovery time was longer these days. He pushed the thought aside immediately. It didn’t matter. He needed somewhere to channel his frustrations and inside the ring was the perfect place. Taking a deep breath and trying to focus, he wished it was as easy as that. Somewhere along the line, things had become much more complicated. He was fighting again tonight, instructed to take a dive – being paid good money to do it, too. He would push his misgivings and his pride aside one more time. The fact that it had become easier to do these days sat like a lead weight across his aching shoulders.
He padded across the room in his boxers and grabbed his sweats, pulling them on. Jogging was a much less dubious crutch than punching the hell out of some poor bastard who was probably as lost and broken as he was. It would help to chase away the echoes of the nightmare that were still far too close to the surface. He took the stairs from his apartment down to the street two at a time, breathing through his nose. He ran through the deserted streets for several blocks, barely noticing anything around him as he tried to block out the world, searching desperately for some peace. Side-stepping around a couple of drunks still finding their way home after last night’s drinking session, he ignored the hookers who called out to him from their spot on the street corner. The sun had begun to rise by the time he ran back towards his apartment, having come full circle.
He showered quickly, unable to ignore his battered reflection as he shaved. The skin was still healing over the bridge of his nose and he had a dark bruise around the cut on his cheekbone, the result of last week’s fight.
“You’re a disgrace.” he mumbled to his scruffy self in the bathroom mirror.