Chapter 24

Enter the cage

"Silently pacing,
All fear erased here.
It's time to face it,
Cold sweats profusely,
Crowd chanting loudly.
One goal pursuing,
One thought consuming.

Now you're stepping inside
Where you can't be afraid.

No excuse will suffice.
Deadly, quick, and precise,
Trained for this moment;
No one else can own it.
Keep all eyes on me.
One goal pursuing,
One thought consuming.

Now you're stepping inside
Where you can't be afraid.
It's a matter of pride
When you enter the cage.
Put your heart on the line;
It determines your fate.
It's a matter of pride
When you enter the cage."
- Adema

Author's Note: Just a few things to note before you get on to this (incredibly short) chapter (that feels more like a lazy epilogue), if you'll humor me for a second.

This chapter came out a bit...sappier, maybe? than I intended. I'm not quite sure what word I mean, but that's close enough! Still, though, I like it.

Also, I'd really appreciate your thoughts on the story, if you're willing to offer them. What worked? What didn't work? Did you like the characters? Was the ending all right? Are you looking forward to a sequel? Does anyone actually like Skylar? No, really. Does anyone actually like Skylar?

If you suffered through that, thank you. And thank you for actually reading this entire story, even through all the parts where I started to slack off! Now, enjoy and farewell!

[Most of you will probably tune out after this and never return, but I thought I'd mention, in case you're interested, that the sequel - To Bleed for Him - has begun! Really, I just want to play with the characters some more and try to resolve this silly love triangle nonsense, but I would be flattered if some of you wanted to continue the story with me. :)]

Torryn stepped into the ring, her breathing surprisingly even for such an event. Her heart wasn't hammering in her chest, either, and she wasn't searching the crowd wildly for familiar faces. Two men stood across from her on this particular evening, two men who towered over her just as the men always did in the ring – broad shoulders, rippling muscles, arrogant determination all over their tanned faces. They were twins who shared short brown hair, dark blue eyes, and probably a strenuous gym routine.

And they were werewolves.

She was going to face two men, two werewolves, in the Arena tonight, and she hadn't even broken out in a cold sweat yet. Alone, she would barely live through the battle. Alone, she might not even live at all.

But she wasn't alone.

She felt Skylar's presence beside her, familiar and comforting. His arm bumped against hers as he shifted, and she turned to smile up at him. He smiled back – a charming smile, full of love and confidence; a smile that made her wish they could be together, that made her wish they'd never been apart.

The announcer began to introduce the fight, his voice booming through the old building, packed with chattering people, and Skylar turned his attention to his opponents, his face completely blanking of emotion. Her smile remained, however, and she didn't look away.

Why was he in this ring with her tonight? Why was he putting himself in harm's way when she could've easily fought alone? Why had he pushed for a two-on-two fight?

But she knew the answer to her questions. She knew all that she needed to know about Skylar's intentions. They'd never talked about it, and he'd never let anything slip, but she knew.

He was going to try to win her back. He was going to try to upstage Antony and make himself look like the stronger of the two, like the more protective, like the one who cared the most. And maybe he was all of those things. Maybe he would prove himself to her and make her fall so deeply in love with him all over again that she would leave Antony without a second thought.

But she didn't know, and she doubted it.

Her eyes drifted to where Antony sat in the stands, dutifully watching the brewing battle. He appeared to be a man alone, though a clique of vampires – both businessmen and fawning women – sat tightly clustered around him. He had eyes only for her; there was nothing else.

She felt her heart warm, a pleasant tingling that coursed through her entire body as if Cupid's arrow had just struck her anew, and she smiled. He smirked back at her, the raw seduction it held infused with everything from his face to his frame to his beautiful eyes. She shivered and turned back to the ring, though she could still feel his eyes on her, following her every move, probably taking off her clothes...

Skylar suddenly nudged her, hard, and she started upon seeing that the werewolf men were running right at them, still in their human forms. She gave Skylar a lopsided grin that softened the annoyed look on his face, then they rushed at their opponents in tandem, completely simpatico, just like the old days – only this wasn't just school or hanging out in his bedroom with the TV on; this was a fight for their lives.

She didn't know how her relationship with Antony would progress. She didn't know if Skylar's plan to amaze her would work. She didn't know what her future would hold, or if it would even hold either of them. But she did know one thing: She was going to win this fight, and she was going to be kicking ass and taking names for a long time to come.

She ducked beneath a punch and landed a hard blow to her opponent's stomach, something like a smirk creeping onto her lips. Beside her, Skylar blocked a knee with his forearm and lashed out with a nasty kick of his own. Both werewolves were sent sprawling on the blood-stained mats, and the transformation from man to wolf seemed almost instantaneous as they leaped to their feet.

She looked up at Skylar; he smirked down at her. She could feel Antony's eyes, still focused coolly on her back.

She could do this. They could do this. This fight, this fresh nightmare, this life – no matter what happened, they could never fail.

They could never fail.