“Come on, Dan, you know me,” Matt started to say, looking around to see if there was anyone there to help him. He started to get a sinking feeling that this was going to end very badly. “Danny, you know that Blair and you two were following me. You know that I didn’t know that and you had that planned out. How the hell would I have done anything to you guys?”
Danny acted as though he hadn’t heard a word Matt said. His dirty face was streaked with dirt, sweat and some blood, making him look like he was part animal. His eyes looked as crazed as the last Buck that Matt had seen and he wondered if maybe his old tormentor had started to turn too. If there was time, he might have tried to look into him to see. He felt the draw to do just that but he knew better. Danny wasn’t going to give him the chance to recover if he got the upper hand and from the look on his face, he meant to hurt him.
Matt didn’t want to engage him but he had taken the stance naturally. There was a bubbling sense in him that he should give in. He knew that Danny might be a Buck too but it didn’t matter. The inner voice was getting louder and Matt struggled to choke it down like he had in the room with the fireplace. A part of him didn’t want to. A part of him wanted very badly to give in. He knew that he could take this asshole on and Danny deserved it. He’d been all too happy to make people’s life miserable and brought out the worst parts of Blair. Matt was pretty sure that if Blair actually had nude pictures of Jake’s sister, it was Danny who was involved in the getting them. He had it coming and Matt could be the one to give it to him. Just like Blair had always done to him.
Matt clung to that last thought, forcing himself to remember all the times that his tormentor held it over his head that he was bigger than him. Blair used to be someone who played football until he got on the wrong side of someone else with that chip on his shoulder. It was his throwing his weight around that had landed him on that other guy’s shit list and ended with that fucked up knee. Matt had been there when it happened. He watched as Blair had gotten more and more convinced that the world owed him because he was a big fucking deal. He was going to prove it too. Everyone had to acknowledge how much of a great big deal he was and they would do it or they would pay. Matt had watched him grow bitter. And more angry and spiteful. And weaker and brittle. He didn’t even have to try now to see it in Danny too. How living in Blair’s vindictive shadow had made him weak in his cruelty. The heat in his stance died down as he watched his attacker come forward towards him. He had nothing to prove and no need to fear.
“You did this, you fucker,” Danny screamed at him as he lunged.
Both of the boys were surprised when Matt met his challenge and stopped him in his tracks with very little effort. With Danny so close to him, he could smell his sweat and blood but also his fear and disgust. There was something in the scent that wanted to reach him. Made him want to fight it out like this boy was clearly demanding of him. Instead, Matt shoved Danny back hard enough to make it known that he was strong enough to do more but not enough to throw him off balance. It took the other boy by surprise and though even Matt wasn’t expecting it, he didn’t let on that his strength was at all news to him as well. They both knew him to be the guy who couldn’t keep up. He couldn’t run for longer than a block without needing to catch his breath. He couldn’t play sports. He couldn’t lift anything heavier than the five pound weights and never did anything like that in front of the other guys because they all knew he couldn’t do it. Any attempts were just ammunition to let them mock him in private or, worse yet, put him on blast on the channel when they couldn’t find some other sucker to play the butt of their jokes. Danny’s eyes searched him, trying to figure out where this secret change had taken place. Matt was no bigger but he could feel the soreness of his body now, aching as it changed. He still looked like the nerd Danny had always delighted in tormenting but inside, his body was transforming into something neither of them understood.
He glowered at Matt, huffing at him and still trying to find out the secret of what had leveled their playing field. Now that he’d had a second to assess what was in front of him, Matt could fully sense what was going on with Danny. He could feel how angry he was at him for everything that had happened tonight. He hated him for the fact that he ruined the prank they had in store for Dolly and Stuart. He hated him even more for the fact that he’d thwarted their revenge prank. Matt couldn’t see what it was but he could feel the intent. He knew Danny wanted to see him come down to the level he preferred to see him at. He wanted to see Matt the weakling. Matt the coward whom he could step on whenever he felt like it. He wanted Matt to feel how much lower he was than the rest of them. Danny wanted him to feel the shame of who he thought that Matt was. And looking at him now, Matt couldn’t feel any of the things Danny wanted. The two of them had been stripped of their places in the Kingz without Blair there and as two boys, it was impossible to hold the same power structure and they both knew it. Matt wasn’t weaker than Danny. If anything, he’d grown strong enough to take revenge and even if a part of him truly wanted to, he didn’t need to. Danny had no power over him and couldn’t convince him he did anymore. Matt wasn’t the weak link of a group. He wasn’t an idiot. At that moment, he wasn’t even a member of the Kingz anymore. He didn’t need them.
“They’re going to get you back for this,” Danny screamed in a hoarse voice. “Blair knew you’d turn on us, you traitor. When they get up, they’re going to get you good, you fucking loser.”
“Those creatures are real, Danny,” Matt said, calmly. There was a resolve to him that he barely recognized in himself now. It felt better than anything that he’d felt before but it didn’t make what he had to say easier. “They took your noises as a challenge and if you try to face off with them again, they will kill you. Blair is gone. The Kingz are done.”
“He’s gonna find you, you ass,” Danny fired back, his voice cutting out as he hollered. “The world is going to see your scrawny ass get dragged so fucking far, you’ll have to bury yourself to hide from all the shit we’ve got planned for you. The Kingz are gonna fucking end you!”
“Blair was the only King in the group and you know it,” Matt sighed. “And he’s gone, Dan. There’s nothing more to do about that. I saw him and so did you. You know what happened. If you stick around here, you’re going to get it too. We both are. If you leave one way and I leave the other, this is over and we can find somewhere else to be where they can’t find either of us.”
Matt didn’t know this was the truth but a part of his growing instinct was that if he fought with Danny, he would win but it wouldn’t be the end of the fight. Something about this scenario was intensely attractive to him in a way that went totally against what he usually wanted. He never wanted to fight. He’d always been the peacemaker of their group. He’d always been the excuse maker too. But he knew that didn’t have to be the case now and even so, he knew better. It wasn’t that he wanted to let Danny get away with all the shit and abuse that he’d just loved to toss Matt’s way the second he got a chance. But he could feel it in the air. He knew that if he engaged with this kid, there would be more violence and he wasn’t sure he liked the idea of that. He didn’t want the challenge to end in blood. He wanted the glory just as much as anyone else but it would come with the ugliness that the violence always brought. It was part of the whole and Matt could see it clearly now. He could feel the way the challenge set the ground before him and Danny. Yes, there would be glory for him if he met this challenge. A part of him wanted it deeply. But the challenge was paved in blood and blame. In consequences and cruelty. The ugly afterbirth that wouldn’t be so easy to wipe off and even worse now that he could sense it so sharply. He squared his shoulders as Danny, still sputtering but getting bolder, faced him as if he were still trying to decide. Matt could see into him clearly now. He knew that Danny wanted this fight. He could also see he was scared and he didn’t know yet if that meant that he would run or not. As much as he wanted to believe that he could avoid this fight, he wasn’t sure that he was being given much of a choice.