Author’s Notes: Thanks to Ariaboo for the feedback; greatly appreciated as always, and thanks to Hubby for the edit.
Additional thanks for everyone’s patience and understanding while I took a brief break. A change in work, and meeting along-time friend for the first time left me with little time for much else, but I’m back now!
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Why does my body feel like it’s been hit by a freight train?
Where am I?
My senses slowly returned as I regained consciousness.
The air smelled weird; clean and chemical, and through my eyelids I could sense harsh, artificial light above. My mouth felt like it’d been stuffed with cotton wool, and my throat was dry and scratchy. I heard the mechanical hum of machinery, and a steady beep … beep … beep.
Then someone speaking in a soft voice. “All you see is the Kian you show to the media, the one you think always fucks up. But I see through that. I see the Kian who loves his family, and is going to be an excellent father to our little one. I see the Kian who is smart, ambitious and fights for what he wants. I see the Kian I think I’m falling for.”
I closed my fingers around hers, and forced my eyes open.
“You’re awake?” Her eyes were wide and her voice breathless.
“I’m awake,” I croaked out. “What happened?”
“Matthews knocked you out. You’re in hospital.”
I managed to sit up, and looked around. That explained the smell and the sounds.
“How long have I been out for?”
Megan wiped away the tears that were falling down her cheeks. “Not long. A couple of hours, maybe? Marie is outside. Let me go get her, and a doctor.”
Megan stood to leave, but I grabbed her hand and pulled her back down. “I heard what you said…”
Her cheeks flushed, and she looked at the floor. She slipped her hand from mine. “You need to get checked over by the doctor. We’ll talk later, okay?”
I didn’t have the strength to argue, and before I could say another word, Megan left the room. Less than a minute later, Marie was rushing to my bedside.
“Oh thank God. Mum and Dad are on their way.”
“Were you worried, Sis?” I managed a weak laugh.
“You were bloody unconscious! Of course I was worried. How are you feeling?”
“Like fucking shit.” I gingerly reached up to touch my eye, which was swollen shut, and felt a row of stitches.
“Leave that, you’ll make it worse.” Marie swatted my hand away, and then fetched me a cup of water.
I managed a few sips before the doctor entered.
He began checking my vitals, while Marie hovered around watching his every move. I tried to focus on what he was saying, but I couldn’t get my thoughts off Meg and what she’d said.
She was falling for me.
From the moment I’d found out about the baby, we’d both made things perfectly clear on where we stood. Neither of us wanted a relationship. That hadn’t changed for me, but apparently it had for her.
It wasn’t that I didn’t care about her, but I didn’t do relationships. Couldn’t do relationships.
But if I told her that, would she back off and cut my contact with the baby? I didn’t want that. I couldn’t bear the thought of losing my child now. But not just my child, I didn’t want to lose Megan.
I liked the bond we’d formed as we went to antenatal appointments or decorated the nursery, or just hung out. She was fun to be around. So much easier to get along with than any other woman I’d shagged. I wanted that to continue when the baby was born, and as they grew up. I didn’t want to be one of those dads who picked their kid up on a Saturday morning and dropped them off on Sunday evening, barely saying two words to the mother. I wanted the three of us to be able to do things together. I didn’t want my kid hating its parents because we forced them to choose who they spent Christmas with.
Could we still maintain the relationship we’d forged over the last few months if I told Megan I didn’t want more?
“Okay, Kian. I’d like to keep you in for a few more days just to be certain, but I think you’re out of the woods,” the doctor said.
“I’ll leave you in Marie’s capable hands, and check on you in the morning. Just ring your buzzer if you need anything.”
The doctor hung my notes on the end of my bed, gave Marie a curt nod, and left the room.
“Can I get you anything?” she asked.
“No, I’m good. Is Meg still around?”
“I think she went to find Emilia and her friend in the canteen.”
“Is she coming back?”
“I expect she’ll be back to visit tomorrow, after you’ve had some rest. She was really worried, too.”
“Yeah … Kian, has it occurred to you that perhaps her feelings for you run deeper than you being the father of her baby?”
“Did she say something to you?”
“She didn’t have to. I saw how you being in here affected her. She was broken, Kian.”
Shit. What have I done?
I knew the fight with Matthews was going to be a tough one, and I hadn’t factored in Megan’s feelings when I invited her along. I just wanted her to see me win.
And I couldn’t even accomplish that.
Even when I try to do the right thing, I still manage to fuck it all up. It’d be best for Megan if she stayed away…
“Yeah, I kind of picked up on that,” I said. “What should I do?”
“Do you feel the same?”
“Straight to the point, Sis!”
“Well there’s no use arsing around with small-talk, is there? You’re having a baby with her, so you obviously fancy her enough to sleep with her…”
“Yeah, but this isn’t just about sex.”
“Jesus. Matthews must have hit you harder than everyone thought. The Kian Murphy saying it isn’t just about sex?”
Marie grinned and perched on the end of my bed.
“Are you going to keep giving me a hard time, or are you going to listen?”
She kicked off her trainers, and pulled her legs up onto the bed, crossing them in her lap. She sat facing me, like we used to when we were kids and she’d come into my room to ask me dumb questions, like would you grow apple trees in your stomach if you swallowed an apple core, because that’s what Becky Jones at school had told her, and Becky knew everything.
I couldn’t help the smile that spread across my lips. Even after all this time, she was still my baby sister. If there was one person I could talk to about this, it was Marie.
“Remember the other week, when I came round for dinner, and told you about the interview with Johnson, and all the other shit going on in my head?”
“Yeah, it’s the first time you’ve opened up in years.”
“Well, it sort of got worse. Megan came round a few days later, and we talked about some stuff. She thinks I should go back to therapy.”
“She’s right. You’ve been under a lot of pressure recently, it’d really help.”
I rolled my eyes. “I’ve agreed, so you can quit the lecture.”
“I’m not lecturing you, Ki. I want to help.”
The vein in my temple throbbed, and I rubbed my hand across my head. “Yeah, sorry. My head is killing.”
“Want me to get some pain killers?”
“Nah, I’ll be okay. Just give me a minute, yeah?”
I laid my head back on the pillow and closed my eyes. I hadn’t lied when I’d said I had a headache, but I also needed a few minutes to think. In the last few weeks I’d talked about my feelings more than I had in years, but oddly, the more I spoke about what was going on in my mind, the harder it became. It’d been easy with Meg, and not just because I’d been half drunk at the time. She never looked at me like I was a mistake. I was afraid of seeing that pitying look in my sister’s eyes.
I took a deep breath and slowly let it out, as I prepared to explain things to Marie.
“I know Megan has feelings for me, she said as much when I was waking up. But I can’t go there. I’m not who she thinks I am. Eventually I’ll fuck things up with her, and then the baby will be left with parents who hate each other.”
Marie sighed and looked at me steadily. “You really don’t give yourself enough credit. Okay, so you’re far from perfect, but you’re trying to be a better person.”
“Trying isn’t good enough. She deserves better than I can give her.”
“Shit Kian, where’s all this coming from? I thought you reckoned you were God’s gift to women?”
I let out a hollow laugh. “Yeah, if they’re looking for a great shag, no question. But I’m no good at all that relationship stuff.”
“How do you know if you’ve never tried?”
“I did try, with the first few. But then I’d get bored, and start screwing around. After that, I figured there wasn’t much point pretending, and never committed to anything.”
“So what, you wanna be able to shag whoever you want, is that it?”
“I don’t know … I think I’m done with all that shit. I hooked up with Ruby from work the other-”
“You did what? Jesus Christ, Kian!”
“Calm down will you? If you hadn’t interrupted, I was going to say, after I left Ruby’s I felt like shit … like seriously, the worst I’d ever felt. I couldn’t stop thinking about Megan and what I was going to tell her. Hooking up with hotties used to give me such a buzz. I was invincible in the ring, and outside, I could make any woman drop her knickers for me.”
“Gross, you’re disgusting.”
“Exactly. It is disgusting. That’s how I felt afterwards. I don’t wanna keep doing that. But I can’t be in a relationship, either.”
I closed my eyes and laid back against the pillow, listening to the slow hum of the medical equipment.
“You’re going to have to tell her this you know?”
“I know, and I will. I’m just worried it’ll change things. I don’t wanna stop hanging out with her, and I want us to both be there for the baby as much as possible.”
“Megan won’t stop you seeing your child. She’s a nice girl.”
I laughed and sat up again. “How would you know? You only met her for five minutes.”
“You can tell a lot about a person in a short amount of time, especially when emotions are high. She really does care about you.”
“I know, probably more than I deserve.”
Marie opened her mouth to speak, but her reply was cut short when the door to my room swung open, and our parents entered.
“Oh Kian, thank God,” Mum said, rushing to my bedside. Marie jumped down so Mum could get in closer, as Dad stood behind, his arms protectively on her shoulders.”
I let my parents fuss over me, and assured them that apart from a headache, I felt no worse than I normally did after fights. Then Marie filled them in about what the doctor had said. I listened intently, having not really paid attention the first time round.
I had a concussion from damage to the frontal lobe, a laceration next to my left eye, severe facial bruising and a broken rib.
Matthews had put me in my place good and proper.
I’d intended to leave Ferrum in a blaze of glory, retaining my Welterweight Championship, and proving to the world I was indeed the best. Instead, with one cheap shot, that tosser had screwed me out of my final triumph and landed me in hospital.
With my days at Ferrum over, and nowhere else interested in signing me, I was lost what to do next. For the first time in years, I felt like my life was in freefall.
As Mum, Dad and Marie carried on talking, I closed my eyes and tried to block them out. Soon the sounds of their voices started to grate on me. I wanted to be alone to think over everything swirling around in my mind. I was still trying to figure out what I was going to say to Meg, and now I had to work out what I was going to do with my life since fighting was off the table.
I needed peace and quiet, and not having it was making me sweat. I opened my eyes, and scanned the room for an escape. But I was hooked up to an IV – there was no escape.
Marie looked down at me, and for a moment I was transported back to our childhood, when we’d share a look when talking to our parents, and by some sort of sibling telepathy, manage to tell them the same bullshit story to keep either of us from getting in trouble.
“Do you wanna get a coffee, and let Kian rest? He’s looking sort of tired.”
“Charming!” I said, faking a pout, while I subtly winked at Marie.
“Are you sure you’ll be okay, Love?” Mum asked.
“Yeah, I’ll be fine. I just need some more sleep.”
Mum rubbed my forehead like she used to when I was a kid and got sick. “Okay. We’ll let you get some rest. We’ll come back tomorrow.”
I forced myself to sit up and kissed her on the cheek. “Yeah, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“I love you.”
“Love you too, Mum.”
Dad bent down and patted me on the shoulder. “Feel better, boy.”
Hand in hand, Mum and Dad left my room, leaving me alone with Marie.
“I’m glad to see the brother-sister ESP is still working,” she said.
I laughed, which caused a spike of pain to shoot through my skull, and closed my eyes. “Thanks for saving me.”
“Anytime.” Marie ruffled my hair. “Want me to find Megan and send her up?”
“No, I really do need some sleep … plus I’ve got some stuff to think about. Tell her I’m okay, and ask her to come visit tomorrow?”
“Will do. Call me if you need anything, yeah?”
Marie dropped a light kiss on my cheek, and headed towards the door, dimming the light as she left.
With the light overhead not as harsh, my headache eased off a little, and I laid back in bed, resting my head on the pillows as I mulled things over.
First on the agenda: Fighting.
Fighting is all I’d ever wanted to do, and the only thing I was good at. Could I walk away from that? Did I have much choice? My sponsors had dropped me, and without directly saying it, Laoch had implied I was too much trouble to take on. Any other promotion in the UK would be a severe step down, not to mention drastic pay cut. The other option, like Megan had suggested a few weeks ago, was to take some time off, and sort my head out. I had enough savings to do that, but I knew within a few weeks I’d get bored. And a bored Kian wasn’t a good thing. I needed a release for all the pent up frustration, before I started getting twitchy.
I knew I needed to deal with the anger issues I had, but I didn’t know how to do that if I wasn’t training. No amount of therapy would help if I was cooped up in my flat the rest of the time, left alone with my own dark thoughts.
But lately fighting was causing more problems than it was solving, and had landed me in hospital. I’d been lucky this time, but who knew about the next fight or the one after that? Marie said Megan had been broken seeing me in here, and I’d seen for myself the look of relief that flooded her eyes when I woke up. Could I put her through that again? Could I risk doing that to my child when they were born?
Dad being a fighter had always been cool to me, until I was about twelve. Once I got to a certain age, Mum let me go to some of his matches, and when he was defending his championship in our hometown, me and some friends went along. In the first match, one of the competitors got knocked out and taken to hospital. A couple of days later, Dad came home and told us the guy from the fight had died. He’d only been twenty-five, newly married and had a kid on the way. After that, every fight Dad had, I worried the same thing was going to happen to him, and obviously it’d affected him too, as he retired a year later.
When I got into MMA the payoff had outweighed the risks, and I’d been lucky this far not to sustain a career ending injury. But the fight against Matthews was a close call, and not something I wanted to repeat.
But if I wasn’t fighting or training for a fight, what would I do?
It wasn’t something I’d ever had to consider before, and I had no clue where to look for an answer.
Trying to push the thoughts of my career out of my mind, instead I focused on what I was going to say to Megan. I knew honesty would be the best approach. After everything we’d been through over the last few months I hoped she’d understand my reasoning. But it still wouldn’t make the situation any easier, and I didn’t want to hurt her. Part of me wished I’d pretended I hadn’t heard anything, but there was every chance she’d bring it up again. Plus, after the misunderstanding over the paternity test, and her finding out about Ruby the way she had, I didn’t want to lie to her. Part of me getting my act together and sorting my shit out was to stop lying to people I cared about, and the mother of my child was the best place to start.
If ending up in hospital had taught me anything, it was that life was too short, and if I wanted to make real changes they had to start immediately. With that thought in mind, I vowed to speak to Megan the following day, and start making a plan about what I was going to do once out of hospital.
The doctor came to see me the next morning, and was pleased with my vitals, saying that if I continued recovering at the current rate, I should be allowed home the following day. It was a relief. I’d only spent one night in the place, and already I was restless. Now I’d made the decision to take control of my life, I wanted to do it as soon as possible, and being cooped up in bed was making me antsy. Thankfully the universe was on my side, when not long after the doctor left, my therapist entered.
“Hey Ollie, good to see you, mate.” I sat up in bed as Oliver Carter pulled up a chair beside me. “How did you know I was here?”
“Davi called this morning. He figured after what happened you’d need someone to talk to.”
For a moment, the hairs along my arms and the back of my neck prickled, and I was about to complain about Davi interfering.
That sort of thing has got to stop, a voice in the back of my head said. He’s only trying to help.
“Well, I’m glad you popped in. There’s a few things I wanted to talk about.”
Ollie raised an eyebrow. “Yeah?”
“Yeah. You know when I called the other week, and said I wanted to sort my shit out. Well this is the wake-up call I needed.”
“I take it you’re in high spirits despite everything, then?”
“More like determined I’d say. I wanna start fixing this mess.”
“That’s great Kian, and I’m glad to be here to help. Someone cancelled their appointment, so I have some time now, if you want to talk? Or would you prefer to wait until you’ve been discharged?”
“No time like the present.”
Ollie smiled, and crossed his legs so his left ankle was resting on his right knee. “Okay, what would you like to talk about first?”
“What’s your thoughts about the fight?”
“Matthews is a bastard, and he cheated,” I said without hesitation.
“Do you have any thoughts why Matthews took a cheap shot?”
I rolled my neck and closed my eyes against the throbbing in my head for a moment. “Because he’s a tosser?”
Ollie laughed. “I’ve never met the man, so I can’t say. But perhaps it’s worth looking at the other reasons, too? I take it Matthew has a reputation for cheating?”
I sighed. “Nah. He’s squeaky clean that one. Cheap shots are more my style.”
“What do you think would have made this usually ‘squeaky clean’ person act out of character?”
I fell silent, as I considered Ollie’s words, and thought about everything that’d happened in the lead up to the Matthews fight. The incident with Bagley. The interview with Johnson. My threat at the weigh-in to put Matthews in his place. If someone I was going up against had done all those things, I’d have taken a cheap shot just to wipe the smug smile of their face.
A dull ache settled in my chest as I realised the truth. “I brought this on myself, didn’t I?”
“It’s not about what we bring on ourselves. Do you remember the last time we spoke, we talked about cause and effect; sometimes we can avoid bad situations by carefully choosing what we do and how we act when presented with negative circumstances.”
“So what? I deserved to be smacked in the head, lose my title and end up in hospital?” I clenched my fists to my sides, and next to me, the heartrate monitor sped up.
Ollie looked across at it. “And why does this make you so angry?”
“Because that was my title, and Matthews stole it from me.”
“Let’s back this up a little. How did you find your training going into the fight?”
“Fine. I’m in the best shape of my life.”
“What was it last time? Five-days a week, 9-7?”
“Well I’ve cut back a bit. I’ve had some other stuff going on.”
“So you haven’t been training as much?”
I blew out a long breath, and tried to contain myself. “Erm. I guess not, no. I thought I had been…”
“Think of everything – everyday life – like cooking. If you’re frying a steak with a prime cut from the local butcher, that’s been matured and tenderized, you know the meal you’re going to get out of it will be excellent. If you use a cheap cut of meat that’s been hanging around in the fridge for a few days, and is probably past its best, you’re likely going to end up with something less impressive.
“What you put into life, you get back out. If you make the decision to belittle people - or even not put 100 percent into something - then people aren’t going to treat you how you want to be treated.”
“So I’m supposed to let people walk all over me?”
“No, not at all, but there’s a difference between being assertive and being aggressive. Saying ‘I am going to beat you’ has a different connotation to ‘I’m going to kill you.’ Do you see the difference?”
I slumped back against the pillow and stared up at the ceiling. What Ollie said wasn’t new to me. We’d been through this before. What I didn’t know was how to stop it. I didn’t intentionally set out to be a prick. It was an automatic defence mechanism. But a defence against what?
I sat up, opened my mouth to speak, and then flopped back down again, balling my fists into the hospital blanket, and letting out a low growl.
“How do I fix this? How do I stop ‘dickish’ being my default response?”
“The counting and breathing exercises I taught you in the past will help, so you give yourself time to think before reacting to a situation. But it will also help to get to the root of the issue, and find out why it’s your default response. CBT is always an option, too.”
I let out a dry laugh. “Yeah...”
“Don’t get disheartened, we’ve only just started. We’ll keep meeting regularly, and get to the bottom of this.”
“And until then?”
“Keep talking, keep being open with people. And I can prescribe you some medication in the short term, to take the edge of your negative emotions and help you get a handle on things.”
“Nah, I don’t wanna go there again. I wanna keep a clear head.”
“It’s early days, but we’ll go over this more next time we meet. Call me anytime if you change your mind.”
“Yeah, I will. And, you know, cheers for all this.” I waved my hand vaguely in the air to indicate what I meant.
“Anytime, Kian.” Ollie stood up, and moved his chair out of the way. “Call me when you’re discharged, and we’ll set up another appointment.”
“Okay will do.”
“Look after yourself, Kian.”
“Yeah, thanks mate. See ya.”
Ollie headed for the door, but paused as he reached the handle, and turned back to face me. “I think you have a visitor.”
I sat up and could see a figure through the window in the door. The dark hair and rounded stomach told me it was Megan.
She opened the door, and took a tentative step forward. “I’m not interrupting anything am I?”
Ollie smiled and shook his head. “No, I was just leaving. I’ll talk to you soon, Kian.”
Without another word, Ollie left the room and Megan approached the bed, her brow raised and her head titled to one side.
“Was that your doctor?”
“Nah that was Ollie, my therapist.”
“Oh,” she said, pulling up the chair he’d not long put back. “Everything okay?”
“Yeah. Davi told Ollie what happened with Matthews, so he came to check in on me.”
“That’s good of him.”
“Yeah, it is. I’m glad to get moving on stuff. Talking to him helped me figure some stuff out.”
Megan smiled and pulled off her jacket, hanging it over the back of the chair. “Well, if there’s anything else you want to talk about, you know I’m here.”
I sat up and adjusted my pillow, so I was looking directly at her. “There is, but first I want to know you’re okay. Marie said seeing me in here hit you hard.”
Colour spread across Megan’s cheeks. “Yeah, I might have freaked out a little.”
“I’m sorry. I never intended to lose to Matthews, and I definitely didn’t want you seeing me like this.”
“It’s fine. I’m just glad you’re okay. I was really worried.”
My heart race increased. God damn it. She was being so sweet, and supportive. How could I tell her I didn’t want a relationship? But saying nothing would do neither of us any good.
A tight sensation settled in my chest, and I sucked in a deep breath.
“Are you feeling okay? If you need to rest, I can go.”
“No, it’s all right. Just give me a minute, yeah?”
I lay back down, closed my eyes and brought my hand up to my head, raking my fingers through my hair.
“I know what you’re going to say,” Megan said softly, her voice cracking as she spoke. “And it’s okay. I sort of expected it … I mean, you’ve always been honest about your feelings, and I just dumped my confession on you while you were unconscious.”
I opened my eyes to see tears falling down her cheek.
“Please don’t cry.”
“Bloody baby hormones.” She wiped her eyes on her sleeves, and blinked a few times.
“I know this is going to sound like a cop out, but it’s not you, it’s me.”
Megan laughed. “Yeah, that is a total cop out!”
“I’m being serious, though. You’re great. You’re funny, and caring, and I love hanging out with you. And you’re hot. You get me like no woman ever has, and if I did want a relationship, it would be with you.”
“So what’s the problem?”
“Me. I’m the problem. I’m not who you think I am.”
“Kian, I know exactly who you are. I know that a lot of the time you let your anger get the better of you. I know that you act first and think later. I know you like to be in control, and get you own way. I know all this, and I don’t care, because you’re also passionate, and stand up for what you believe in. You’re determined, and always striving to do your best. You’re loyal, and considerate. You know you’ve got faults, but you’re getting help with your problems.”
“You might not care, but I do. You’re the only person who’s never looked at me like I’m shit. I don’t want you to end up hating me.”