Caleb grabbed his mask back from the receptionist after she had checked the mesh and bib, running his thumb along the new blue stamp on its side amidst the many other, older, ones.
"Are you all checked?" Delacruz asked him when he found the boy stretching in the men's locker room.
"Yep," The fencer replied, switching legs.
"Alright then get your stuff on. I'll help you warm up."
"m'kay." The brunette nodded, looking over at Delacruz knowingly, "Gonna show off for all the sponsors, eh?"
The Asian man smirked before leaving Caleb to suit up.
Alec sat up from where he'd been lying on the bed and stalked out of his room to get some food in his stomach. He hadn't eaten since yesterday, his head too clouded from constantly thinking about Caleb to worry about food.
As he walked out into the hallway, the sound of the TV in Danni's room made him freeze mid-step. Glancing over from where he stood, he saw the brunette that had been invading his mind waving to a crowd of cheering people, a wide smile on his face as he walked up to his first opponent. Alec stared, his lips parting as the longing swelled back up inside him.
"Alec?" Danni asked, noticing him in the doorway. "You wanna watch the tournament with me?"
"No," He scowled, urging his feet to move toward the kitchen. But on his way back to his bedroom with a bowl of cereal, he couldn't help but stop again to watch the prodigy as he conquered his first opponent with incredible ease. When they cut away for commercials, the spell was broken and he quickly went back to his room.
Caleb smiled as a referee announced yet another of his straight victories. So far everyone in his pool had been no competition and as he plunged into the direct elimination rounds his name rose in rank on the boards, winning almost every bout 15 to 0. He wasn't even tired! Sure he was sweating a lot but even the spectators were perspiring in the arena full of bodies, all radiating heat.
Somehow, the whole scene brought back the memory of the tournament where he'd met Alec. He shook the thought from his head as he sat down and took a swig of water, ignoring the cameras taking pictures and the video lens that had been focused on him all day.
Delacruz approached him with a nod, not having anything to comment on in front of the paparazzi. Caleb briefly wondered if somewhere Alec was watching him and he glanced at the news camera before he could help himself and chase his thoughts of the blonde away.
Alec paced back and forth in his room long after his bowl from breakfast had been emptied. The hazel-eyed boy stared at his shut door and bit his bottom lip, debating on whether he should watch the tournament. It was the only way he could see Caleb unless he actually drove to the stadium which was probably the worst idea ever. As his final decision, he stalked out of the bedroom and crossed the hall to Danni's room, joining his younger sister on the bed, clasping his hands together as he glanced at her.
"So you changed your mind?" She asked, raising an eyebrow at him.
"Yeah," He murmured, rolling his eyes before his heart skipped a beat when he saw Caleb again on the screen. "Just shut up and watch."
"You missed most of the tournament. Caleb just finished a match and whoever wins this next one will fence him for first place." Danni said as a commercial popped on.
"Oh..." Alec whispered and when the tournament came back on he saw a large, robust boy standing across from a smaller, weaker looking fencer. The camera focused in on Caleb while they were plugging themselves into the strip. The prodigy was chewing on his lower lip and his leg was bouncing up and down impatiently.
Alec felt Caleb's anxiety and shifted on the bed.
"Have you seen those guys fence at all? Are they good?" Alec asked, turning to Danni.
"Yeah, I've watched the bigger one. He's pretty good. Well... he's strong. But he isn't very clever. He's good at defending too."
"And the other one?"
"He's pretty smart. Good at dodging but moves a bit slow."
"Who do you think will win?"
"Probably the bigger one. The smaller guy looks exhausted."
"And... how about Caleb? How's he doing?"
"He's on a roll. He's energetic and not even out of breath. He could win this whole thing!" As she said it, Caleb hopped up from where he was sitting and jogged off to the bathroom, tripping over a bag of equipment and stumbling a bit, as he disappeared into the men's room. Alec covered his mouth and burst out laughing at Caleb's clumsiness, Danni giggling along with him.
Caleb struggled to pull all his equipment back on in the small bathroom stall, the toilet flushing automatically several times as he fumbled with straps and wires and zippers before he exploded out of the tight space and leaned against the counter looking at himself in the mirror.
He looked a lot better than he felt as he washed his hands and pulled his glove back on. Backing through the bathroom door, he made his way back to Delacruz and the match at a reasonable pace; circling around the equipment he'd tripped over on his way to the bathroom. He sat next to Delacruz for the last three points. The large, muscular fencer took them easily, crashing relentlessly against his opponent's defenses until he'd won.
"So I'm fighting that huge guy?" Caleb asked, staring blankly at his opponent.
"Ethan Bradford," Delacruz corrected him, warily. Caleb stood, plugging his Sabre into his jacket and grabbing his mask. He and Delacruz walked to the championship strip in the next room, followed by the referee and Caleb's next opponent, all riding on a wave of spectators. They were given ten minutes so Ethan could cool down and recover from the previous fight. Caleb watched silently as a reporter talked to him before a camera when someone came and interviewed the brunette, distracting him.
"So Caleb is fighting that Ethan guy?" Alec asked Danni, fiddling with his fingers nervously.
The dude was huge. His black hair was cut so short he looked almost bald and his skin was a light chocolate color. His muscles were difficult to make out under his layers of equipment but Alec doubted that Caleb would get out of this without some serious bruises. He towered about a foot over Caleb, who was already a good 6 and a half feet tall, and as he answered the interviewer's questions, Alec could see the arrogant confidence he held within as a result of his remarkable size and strength. It was also obvious that he hadn't seen any of Caleb's earlier bouts, the way he guessed at his weaknesses just from his physique.
"Ethan Bradford." Danni said, quietly. "He's won all his bouts, just like Caleb. He's injured all his opponents pretty badly too. Mostly bruises but a few others had to forfeit. I just hope Caleb will be alright."
"He'll be fine," Alec said, although he couldn't hide the apprehension in his voice. To avoid Ethan's swings, Caleb had to be extra careful and one step ahead of his opponent. In short, he had to step up his entire game.
Alec turned his attention back to the television, the camera zooming in on Caleb as a reporter began asking him questions.
"How are you feeling about this next match Caleb?" The woman asked, holding her microphone to his face. The brunette shrugged.
"I guess I'm fine... I don't know. After watching those last few touches, I can easily say that Mr. Bradford's style is quite different from mine. I'm a little nervous about his strength but I think I can out strategize him enough to make up for it and he may be surprised at what strengths I have that he may otherwise lack. I have very strong motivations for winning this tournament." The prodigy's face cut away to a view of the raised strip as both boys stepped up and plugged themselves in. Then the screen cut to a commercial.
"God damn commercials," Alec scowled at the television, leaning back on the bed.
Caleb waited on his end of the platform as the ref double-checked his and Ethan's equipment and then had them test their sword's electrical system. Now he was pacing back and forth, nervously bending his sabre as they waited until the commercial break was over. Finally someone nodded to the ref and they waited patiently as a reporter came onto the strip and announced the championship bout. When she had left the platform the ref signaled the boys to salute each other.
Caleb stared at his opponent and saluted him with his blade, ignoring the menacing smile the young man had, as if he were about to pounce on him and eat Caleb alive. The brunette looked at Delacruz and then the camera right behind the Asian man before slipping on his silver mask and facing his opponent, bending his knees into the comforting ready position.