A loud crash echoed through the empty gym.
Jack Rider stood with his fist held in front of him, staring in frustration at the punching bag he had embedded into the wall.
A voice came from the punching bag. “Oh come on, Jack!”
The bag slowly moved out of the wall and crashed on the floor in front of the tank. A short, pudgy man crawled out from the hole in the wall. “We can only afford to fix this shit so many times before someone starts wondering why an abandoned gym keeps being renovated.”
Jack glared at the man. “Well if you would hold onto the bag like you’re supposed to then we wouldn’t have this problem now would we, Phil?”
“I did hold onto it! That’s why I’m crawling out of the wall instead of kicking your teeth in!”
Jack grumbled and helped Phil get back on his feet. The short man tore his arm away from his grip and stalked over to the punching bag. “For gods’ sake kid, what the hell crawled up your ass today. You haven’t been this pissed since you started coming here.”
Jack muttered a few words and hefted the punching bag back onto its hook.
“What!? I can’t hear you kid!”
“I said it’s none of your business, old man.”
“Bullshit. You come in here, you ask for my help, you wreck my stuff. You’re either my responsibility or you’re family, and my family’s long gone. It’s sure as hell my business.”
Jack glared and Phil. “Just hold the bag.”
Phil glared back and crossed his arms. A few moments later, Phil sighed and rubbed the back of his head. “Look kid, I know you’ve been through some tough shit, even if you don’t wanna talk about it. And I know that that group or whatever you’ve been seeing has been making you think more than you have for the months I’ve known ya. But if you’re just gonna bottle up everything any way it ain’t doin’ shit. Now, are you gonna keep putting holes in my wall or are you gonna actually talk about it.”
Jack lightly tapped the bag, sending it swinging. “Hold the bag, then maybe we’ll talk.”
Phil grumbled and set himself behind the bag again. “Just go easy on me, I’m not 200 anymore.”
Half an hour and two punching bags later, Jack plopped onto a bench and drank heavily from his water bottle. Phil walked over rubbing his back.
“Okay kid, I held up my part, now tell me what the fuck’s going on.”
“He thinks I should quit.”
Phil raised an eyebrow. “He said that?”
“Might as well have.” Jack emptied the bottle and tossed it across the room into a trash can. “He said that people who become walkers because someone died never end well. He said I’d either go out for vengeance, and kill someone, or end up killing myself because I didn’t.”
“Well,” Phil thought about his words. “you’re definitely not the type to kill yourself.”
“So you think I’d go all prowler too? Thanks for the support, jackass.” Jack got up to leave.
“Sit you’re ass down, mopey. That’s not what I’m sayin’ and you know it. Look, I’ve been around a long time, and I’ve met more heroes than anyone alive today as far as I know. This Writer dude of yours, he might not be talkin’ about it the right way but he ain’t stupid. You need more than someone dyin’ on ya to be a hero. Ya gotta have conviction, and death ain’t no way to go about it. Now, answer me good and honest, is the only reason you’re doin’ this because that little girlfriend of yours kicked it? Or do ya have conviction?”
Jack scoffed. “Nice try Phil. I told you already, just like I told him, I missed being able to use my powers, so I put together a costume. She’s got nothing to do with it, and I’m not interested in finding some cause or philosophy. I fight because it’s what I know how to do, because it’s what I was raised to do. I may not have a sword anymore, but I’m still the Knight, and my armor sure as hell ain’t gonna shine. The only difference now is what I paint on my shield.” He held up his gloved hand with the spades patch facing Phil.
Phil shook his head. “That’s your problem kid, that’s why he’s buggin’ ya. You keep trying to play the dark hero thing, and anyone with half a brain can tell ya don’t believe it. I’ve seen if before, and I’ll see it again, people like you don’t last long because your playacting gets ya killed before you grow out of it. The way I see it, you need to take a look at yourself and figure out what makes you a hero. ‘Cause it sure as hell ain’t your muscles, and your head ain’t doin’ a good job of it either.”
“Whatever you say, Phil. But for now I’ll settle for another round at that old punching machine of yours. One of these day’s I’m gonna break it.”
Phil laughed. “Stronger men than you have tried, kid.”
Jack walked into his apartment and casually tossed his gym bag off to the side. “Dammit, Phil, you’re supposed to be on my side about these things.”
“Maybe if you listened we wouldn’t have to repeat everything.”
Jack groaned and grabbed his head in pain. “Not this again. Just leave me alone. I promised Phil I’d at least think about this shit.”
“Come on, we’re the good guys, stop worrying so much.”
Jack fell to his knees. “Get out of my head. I don’t need to remember this; I just want to be by myself.”
An image flashed across Jack’s mind, a red-head about his age held her hand out to him on the ground. “Jesus. I can’t leave you alone for a second can I, Knight?”
“Please. I’m not a kid anymore; I can take care of myself. Just let me rest.” Jack felt wetness on his cheeks.
In his mind, he was back in the club. Bullets were flying all around him. He watched as her shield failed and bullets tore through her.
There had been a break in the gunfire while the shooters waited for the smoke to clear; he had a moment to kneel by her.
“We did good, didn’t we Jack? We were worth it right? We made it better?”
He hadn’t been able to answer her.
“I don’t know Paige, I don’t know. But I’m trying.”
He stayed on the floor all night, but it was finally quiet.