No one wanted to be there; work there; live there. It was never their choice. But everyone ended up there, running away from something. They were offered protection. Safety. But it only lasted for as long as they did.

This was a dangerous business, after all.


2. Reese

A million thoughts pounded through my mind as I stumbled through the curtain, to safety, away from the crowd and their vicious taunts, away from the jeering commentators, and away from her. Away from Harley. Every breath stabbed my lungs; every step brought me closer to crashing down onto the floor and never moving again. I needed... I needed... I didn't know. I couldn't think. Reaching out, my shaking hands found a wall, and my body hit it, sliding down to the floor. The rest of the world darkened. Quiet. Peace. Finally.

I woke up on the doctor's table.

"Reese." I knew that voice. Bria. "Why?"

I would have replied, would have told her that it was mostly Harley's idea, that I was just going along and trying to get noticed. Would have, if an extremely painful coughing fit hadn't stopped me. Her arms were around me by the time I had finished, head buried in my neck: no more words. We didn't like words. Words were useless. Our hug was only interrupted by the arrival of the doctor - I couldn't remember his name. He had been working for this company for longer than we had, and everyone thought he must have been close to retirement by now. Some people thought he might be like us - bound to this job by blackmail, or promises of safety. I wasn't sure what to think of him.

"Young man, you are lucky, very lucky, that you woke up." His voice was stern, with a hard-to-notice worried undertone. "What were you thinking? That match was needlessly dangerous. You and Harley were both putting yourselves at far too much risk." He sighed, as Bria turned to face him.

"This was Harley." She looked back at me. "You shouldn't have agreed to it."

"Regardless of who is responsible, Reese is the one who is the most injured - Harley has escaped mostly unscathed, as usual - so I will be attending to him first. That is my job, after all." Darkness clouded the doctor's face as he spoke those last words, before he quickly shook his head and his expression became neutral again. "I'm going to need you to take off that shirt."

The doctor took forever. Bria had to keep helping me, helping him, just helping. I couldn't do anything. It hurt to even move, and I couldn't remember a thing from the match by the time he got around to asking me about it. Some other Renegades came over when Bria had to go for her match, against one of the S Trio - Sylvester, I think she said - and they took over the 'help Reese' position. Of course, they kept leaving in ones and twos, to go out for their matches, after Bria returned. Other people came in and were attended to at the same time as I was. When I was finally cleared to go, Mayhem was half-way through, and all the present Renegades had fought in their matches. Beat up, bruised and none of them victorious, no one was really in the best mood - we never were. Renegades never won.

Bria insisted on half-dragging me to our shared room, where Rascal, a little kid barely old enough to be employed, was already asleep on the floor. Management gave the Renegades one room in the arena, even though there was... how many of us was where? I can't remember. There was too many to fit in one room, anyway, so some slept outside in the corridor. If we were friends with some of the other guys, we might have been able to room with them, but we didn't make friends outside of the Renegades.

Harley... I didn't want to think about her, but she was the closest the Renegades had to a friend. We acknowledged her, she acknowledged us, we didn't go out of our way to ignore and/or spill coffee on her, and she didn't try to beat us up or constantly insult us. The S Trio also didn't attack us, but Seth liked making jokes about us and suicide, and so we weren't friends. But anyway, none of us could room with Harley because she was already sharing her room with Jey and they had one of the smaller rooms in the arena. So, we were stuck with the cupboard that Management gave us.

Collapsing onto the bed that Bria pulled me over to, I tried to roll over and close my eyes, only to be tapped on the shoulder and pulled back over. Bria. She didn't want me to sleep. Her eyes... they said it all. Sometimes, people who slept after bad matches didn't wake up. My entire body screamed for sleep, but, somehow, I sat up and, leaning on Bria's shoulder, waited. Some of the Renegades always went out on a late-night coffee run after big nights like Mayhem, and the coffee would keep me awake. I'd have company, too: the most common problem for Renegades was insomnia.

We were all hired around the same time, as unofficial jobbers. Losers. Our matches weren't predetermined, none of them were, but we'd always end up losing, no matter how much we tried. It got to the point where we were branded as the I-can-barely-be-bothered-to-do-this-anymore club by Harley, because we couldn't be bothered with our jobs anymore. Why didn't we leave? We couldn't. No one could. Our jobs were our safety. If we left, we'd be turned in to the police almost instantly. Renegades had two things in common: losing and being petty criminals. This job was better than prison. Anything was better than prison, after the government 'renovated' the legal system.

"Did she plan it with you?" Finally, Bria broke the silence, which had only been interrupted by Rascal's sleeping snuffles and whines beforehand. I nodded. "You're not meant to plan matches."

"It's not against the rules."

"It's an unspoken rule." She sighed, putting her arm around me, messing with my hair and moving my fringe out of my eyes. "You don't want to get fired, do you?"

"No. But Harley said it would make us both look good."

"You don't need to look good. We're all fine as we are. If you get noticed, you'll get put in more matches. More of this." She motioned to the bandages covering my chest and arms. "More extreme stipulations and excuses to put you through more pain. You remember Daryl, don't you?"

I nodded. Of course I did. Daryl had been the best fighter in the locker room, hands down. At one point, he held every single championship. He was put into more and more dangerous matches - him against two people, three people, four people. Him against the entire locker room. The crowd loved him. Management loved him. The Renegades had written him off as just another guy who was better than they'd ever be. But, in the end, Management went too far. They put him in three extreme matches on one night. By the third, he was dead on his feet. When morning came, he was dead. Internal bleeding, or something. Everyone else took it as a warning: being the best only lasted for so long.

But I'd never reach the heights that Daryl did. He was a much better fighter than I was, and he was built like a tank. I was more like a weed, spindly and thin. The crowd accepted him immediately - the crowd thought all Renegades were cowardly losers. There was no way I'd ever be like him. Still, I wouldn't be able to handle even half of the work that Management threw at him. Bria was right, in a way. I did need to be careful, just in case Management did notice me. But Harley wasn't worried about that. She always planned the 'best parts' of her matches beforehand, at least a little bit, to make her look as good as possible. The weapons she would stash under the ring and the moves she wanted to use, and even how she wanted to win; she thought about it all beforehand... and she was always so sure that she would win. Probably because she usually did, with minimal damage to herself and maximum damage to anyone she was up against. Like me, unfortunately.

Eventually, the Renegades with coffee arrived, and the caffeine woke me up a little more. My body ached, but it was a dull sort of pain. I could deal with it. Rascal woke up to get her coffee, then fell asleep again, curled up around it. The other Renegades sat around the room, either on the other bed - pushed against the opposite wall - or on the floor like Rascal. Wait... why was Rascal still here? She was booked to be in the match just before the main event, which was the last match, so hers should have been happening pretty soon, but she was knocked out on the floor and not even in her ring gear. Confused, I turned to Bria, but directed my question to everyone:

"Why isn't Rascal getting ready for her match?"

"Didn't we tell you?" I shook my head in response to Bria. "Rascal's leaving tomorrow. She doesn't care about her match anymore."

"They'll put her in prison!" Around the room, Renegades shrugged and mumbled. "If she leaves, Management will take away her safety, won't they?"

"We don't even know why she's here." Someone else, Jax, gulped down some of his coffee before continuing to speak. "Not everyone's a criminal. Some of the troublemakers are hiding from other people. Gangs. Mafia." He shrugged. "No one's ever asked Rascal. Maybe whatever's looking for her died. Or lost interest."

"Look, Reese, it's none of our business." Bria stroked my hair gently. "Don't worry so much. We've lost Renegades before."

"Sure." Sighing, I buried my head in Bria's chest and closed my eyes. "But she's just a kid..."

"She'll be fine." Rosa, who was sat next to Rascal, tossed her head to move her fringe out of her eyes and sipped her coffee. "They don't execute kids yet."


The word haunted me through the sudden darkness which fell over my mind.

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