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Duke: Chapter 10


We’ve got about thirty minutes before we need to leave for Bear’s fight, and I have a feeling he needs more support than he’s acknowledged. Why I’m taking this on by myself, though, is anyone’s guess. What it comes down to is the fact that Bear’s in real trouble whether he wants to admit it or not, and it’s been this gargantuan elephant in the room that no one wants to bring up again because he’s been fast to shoot us down, to tell us not to worry. He’s fine. He’ll figure it out on his own. He sees himself as the protector of this house, especially of his friends. And showing any sign of weakness? It’s not Bear’s fuckin’ thing. Never has been. He’s the one everyone else goes to and trusts to handle things. He’s borne that burden a long time. Far too long, honestly.

So, when it’s him in trouble, I think we’re going to have to step up and show him we can carry whatever load he needs us to … figuratively as well as literally.

The hiding of how bad his injury is and whatever he’s been taking to deal with it is only part of the problem, I feel it in my goddamn gut. His dad has something to do with it. I’m almost positive that assumption is correct. This is simply another of the sick OG Bastards’ games they like to play to taunt and test their progeny. Hold something over our heads and see how far we’ll bend before we break.

In this case, it’s my assumption that Derek’s dangling the lure of whatever prescription drugs he’s gotten his hands on in front of Bear so he can continue to play football as well as fight through fucking injury. And that alone pisses me off. It also makes me wonder if Bear hasn’t been down this road before with the prior shoulder injury. Unfortunately, Derek’s motives are never clear and he’s nearly impossible to read. Sneaky bastard.

Heading upstairs to check on Bear, I pause between Warren’s and Tucker’s doorways. I frown hard, all the hair on my body standing on end. I’m on full fucking alert from last night and very glad Lennon is safe downstairs with Mason, shooting pool in the basement rec room. I have no idea what the racket is, but if I’m right, it’s coming from up ahead of me. From my room. And I can see from here, my fucking door is standing wide open.

The sound of things being tossed around gets louder the closer I get. Who the hell is ransacking my room? The fuck. After a particularly loud noise, I hurry quietly forward and duck into the room, my eyes scanning before they dart to the closed door of the bathroom. I’m going to catch whoever it is in the fucking act and see what they’re after. I can’t believe there’s someone mucking around in my stuff, but I never would have dreamed anyone would have the fucking balls to enter our home and hold Lennon at knife point either. Apparently, we aren’t done with asshole fuckery. My body jerks as something strikes either the counter or the tile floor, can’t quite tell. Fuck. This is bullshit. I charge across my room, steam practically pouring from my ears. I whip open the door, an enraged grimace plastered across my lips.

At the sight before me, I stop in my tracks, blinking in shock and grasp either side of the doorframe to steady myself. My brow furrows as I watch Bear rifle through one thing after another in my medicine cabinet. He’s pulled out half the contents—from my shaving cream to pill bottles to sticks of deodorant. He’s clearly in the zone, urgently looking for something specific, because he isn’t yet aware I’m observing him. A heavy breath gusts from him, and he mumbles to himself, looking more carefully at a couple prescription bottles that had probably been hiding in the back of the cabinet for a while. If I remember correctly, what he’s looking at are the antibiotics from a nasty sinus infection I had over the summer. I don’t even know why I brought them with me. It’s not like they’re the shit that will knock you out or make you loopy … and they’re not the sort of painkillers that might help Bear make it through fight night. Because that’s what this is about. He’s looking for something to dull the pain.

Looking more carefully at my friend, he’s got his right arm pinned to his side, and is only using that hand to hold things. He’s not moving the arm itself at all from elbow to shoulder.

“Bear,” I murmur, “what the fuck.” I don’t even pose it as a question because I know. I definitely know what the fuck is going on here. And I fucking hate it for him that he’s resorted to going through my stuff.

He freezes in place, staring into my mirror at his reflection. “I—” But he doesn’t finish, shaking his head and fixing his gaze on the sink as if the answer to what he’s up to is hiding somewhere in the basin.

“What’s going on?” I ask as if I hadn’t already deduced that he’s been in a constant flux between being in pain, medicated and doped up, and in withdrawal—all depending on what he’s been able to get his hands on. Jesus Christ. I study his profile. His usual easygoing demeanor has been replaced by a drawn face and a jaw held so tight, he looks ready to snap at the slightest provocation. He’s shaky and spiraling fast. He didn’t seem that bad earlier, but fuck. Who knows if mine is the first room he’s gone through. Who knows if he found something to stave off the pain after he told us he was out last night.

Seeing him like this, irrationally digging through my cabinet makes me hurt for him. It’s an all-time low. This is worse than he was post-surgery. Then again … he probably had all the meds he needed. And I’m sure daddy dearest kept supplying him as long as he needed. My eyes narrow as I run a hand through my hair. I hate jumping to conclusions, but … is this worse than we thought?

Bear drops his head back on his shoulders, blindly staring at the ceiling without saying a word.

I give him a few seconds, then cross to him, stopping about a foot away. “It’s bad, huh?”


Studying the set of his jaw, I know what the answer to my next question will be, but I ask anyway. “What can I do?”

“Nothing. I don’t wanna talk about it,” he grits out, the words tearing unevenly from his throat. Each of his inhales are ragged, the exhales shaky as hell.

“Yeah well, I’m afraid the not-talking-about-it ship sailed the minute I found you in my bathroom going through my shit.” I raise my brows when he finally turns his head to look at me.

His eyes are orbs of hollowed-out pain and misery. “So fucking what?” he practically snarls.

I huff out a short, disturbed laugh, feeling for him, but not willing to let this go. Not this time. I hold my hands up in front of me, palms out. “This is the pain talking. And the lack of meds to deal with it because you haven’t allowed yourself a break. Haven’t told anyone.” I grit my teeth but lower my voice. “What you’re experiencing without the meds is withdrawal, Bear. I think you know that. We will be having a discussion—whether you like it or not doesn’t really matter to me. Not when it’s affecting all of us.”

“I fucking said I don’t want to talk about it!” he shouts, then whirls around, slamming his fist into the wall behind him, surprisingly using the injured arm. He stops and stares at the hole he’s made in the wall, chest heaving, before he braces the forearm of his uninjured arm over the hole. Steadily staring at it, his broad back expands with every great gust of air he drags in.

I spin on my heel, letting my feet carry me from my room. I’m about to head downstairs to find Mason, but I catch a flash of him through his open door. He’s out on his balcony. Lennon is also there. They must have come upstairs right after I did. Mason spots me through the glass panes in the door and beckons me to them with one hand, a frown forming on his face in response to the grim set of mine. I’m still a few paces from the door when he throws it open, running his hand through the dark hair that had fallen over one eye. “What fucking chaos is hitting the fan now?”

I exhale sharply through my nose. “It’s Bear.” I look from Mason to Lennon. “I know this is a fuckin’ long shot and wish there were another way handle this, but he’s in real trouble with the fight tonight. Do either of you have any pain killers he can take? You know, something more than Tylenol or Motrin?”

“Oh, fuck.” Mason’s eyes connect with mine and the quick tilt of his head is his way of asking what level of shitstorm we’re facing.

“I know. I don’t want to enable him, but I don’t know what else to do. He’s in pain. But he’s also in withdrawal from whatever he’s been using to get through. He has to fight tonight, but after this, we’re getting him the help he fucking needs.”

Mason blows out a hard breath and throws up his hands. “It’s enabling him to fight. That’s how we have to look at it. We’re stuck between a rock and a hard place.” He lifts his hands to his head, gripping his hair so tightly, I’m sure his scalp must sting. “We should have forced the conversation before. We knew he was in trouble. Fucking dammit!” His breath heaves from him, and he closes his eyes, jaw working from side to side.

Lennon’s face pales at Mason’s explosion of anger, and she jumps to her feet, her eyes wary. She shakes her head. “I don’t have anything for pain. All I have are sleeping pills, and that won’t help. Maybe he can take one later, though, to help him sleep tonight.” She bites her lip, then gives me an awkward smile as she sucks in air through her teeth.

“I might have something,” Mason hisses out, clearly unhappy about the situation. “It’s some pretty good shit they gave me after I had my wisdom teeth pulled.” He threads his hand through his hair again, tugging, while he points with the other in the general direction of his bathroom. “Without knowing what and how much he’s been taking, I don’t know if it’ll be what he needs, but he’s welcome to try them, I guess.”

“Fucking anything that might help at this point. Seriously,” I rasp, “you haven’t seen the state he’s in.”

Mason nods grimly, and I back up to let him and Lennon into the room. Mason heads straight to the bathroom, where he rummages around for a good thirty seconds. I send up a silent prayer to anyone who’s fucking listening that he has something that will stave off Bear’s pain and withdrawal symptoms for a little while.

Worry lacing her tone, Lennon whispers, “It’s bad, isn’t it?”

With my jaw tight, I nod. “Yeah. It’s really, really bad.”

“He won’t see a doctor?”

I exhale harshly. “I think the issue is probably that he knows they’ll put him on medical status. Bench him. He won’t play the rest of the year. It’d kill him. And his dad would also kill him. A fun coincidence, because we’re assuming his dad is the one supplying him. Keep that to yourself for now.”

Lennon opens her mouth, but before she can comment, Mason comes out of the bathroom, victorious with an orange prescription bottle held high. “Thank fuck. I found them.” He gives me a tight smile as he shakes the bottle, letting the pills rattle inside. “I knew this would come in fucking handy. Where is he?”

I take the bottle from him, glancing at it. It’s some good shit. I think it might do the trick. “My room. Come on.” I’m already jogging toward the door when I wave over my shoulder that they should follow me. We race across the hall, paying little heed to anything else but getting back to Bear.

If I had any thought that maybe I was overreacting, the state he’s in when we enter the bathroom wipes it away. His six-foot-six frame is huddled on the floor, his back against the wall, legs drawn up with his arm folded to his chest, his forehead touching his knees. He rocks himself rhythmically side to side, his breath coming fast. He’s in a bad, bad way. There’s little to no reaction from him when we make our appearance, even though Lennon lets out a gasp that she quickly tries to muffle with her hand.

I sink to my knees beside him, opening the child safety cap of the prescription bottle while catching Mason’s eye. “There’s a bottle of water on my night table. Can you grab it?”

At the same time Mase ducks out of the room, Lennon lowers to the cold tile floor on Bear’s other side. “Bear, look at me.”

To my surprise, he listens, lifting his head and tilting it so he can see her.

“We have some stuff for you if you want to take it.” Her eyes roam his face, and she carefully brings up a hand to glide the backs of her fingers over his forehead and down his jawline. “I hate this for you. Why didn’t you say something?”

He draws in a breath, his eyes casting back down as he shakes his head. He doesn’t say a fucking word … but he says so goddamn much without speaking. Distress and anguish are etched into his facial features.

Mason returns with a small bottle of water and hands it to me as he sits down with us, so we’re in a semi-circle surrounding a broken, devastated Bear. He outright flinches when I go to pass the meds to him, along with the water. My brows dart together, and I can’t help the way my lips curve into a frown, but I set them aside so we can get to the bottom of this.

“Gideon”—Lennon’s tongue peeks out, wetting her full bottom lip as her gaze bounces among the three of us—“do you not want to take the meds?”

Bear’s face flushes, and he’s sweating bullets. Eyes crashing shut, he slowly shakes his head. His words fall painfully from his lips, rough and unsure as his body twitches and jerks intermittently, almost as if he’s unable to remain still. “I don’t want to get addicted again. Don’t want to fucking go through that. Almost made it. But—” Clenching his teeth together, his eyes pinch closed even more tightly. The three of us wait in nervous silence for him to finish his thought. Finally, he lets out an agonized whisper into the quiet. “I don’t know how to fight tonight without something.”

Mason eyes the hole on the wall over the big guy’s head. “Well, obviously you can throw a punch if you have to.”

Bear glances irritably at him. “Hurt like hell.”

Rubbing her hands over her face, Lennon throws her hands up. “Why? Why put yourself through this, then?” She scoots closer, resting her hand on Bear’s knee. “Don’t do it. Don’t fucking go.”

Unfortunately, her plea is met with a swift shake of his head as he grips the back of his neck, his legs bouncing. “I have to.”

“What would happen if you didn’t?” Her concern for him reaches inside me and squeezes at my heart, but she doesn’t understand what she’s asking of him.

I jerk, and it grabs Lennon’s attention in a subtle way. Her eyes connect with mine, searching. She tips her head to the side, her brow pinched tight. It’s only making him feel like shit to continue this line of questioning.

“I know you want to help him, but—” Mason shakes his head.

“I have to.” Bear’s answer is blunt and to the point, but it won’t stop Lennon from asking more questions … because that’s who she is. She needs to know what’s ticking around inside his head right now, just like she’s dug around in mine once or twice. Mason’s too.

“But why?” Her lip trembles. “Why do this to yourself?”

“You don’t know my dad.” He lets out a frustrated puff of air. “And you don’t want to know what he’d do if I was a no-show.”

“No, I’m guessing I probably don’t. But I also don’t understand why you’d put yourself through this when you’re clearly in pain. You could stay home. Deny your father his ‘sure thing’ for once. Tell both him and your coach you have a violent stomach bug and just fucking stay home for a week. Forget the damn fight. Forget practice this week. Rest your arm. Give yourself a motherfucking break for once, Gid.”

“Lennon …” I grit out, urging her to stop her tirade. We don’t have time to explain this to her now, but if only she had a better understanding of the way our fathers work. What’s acceptable and what’s not to them … and what the consequences are when we don’t meet expectations. It’s paralyzing. It’s nerve-racking. And it’s our life. Because when we’re expected to live by a code that values blind loyalty, unconditional obedience, and dirty secrets, everything is … complicated. We were born into this. And at the moment, we’re stuck. Going against their wishes, flying in the face of what they expect … it’d be—and I hate to sound alarmist in my own head—one-hundred percent dangerous. My own father doesn’t hesitate to slap me around. Derek hasn’t physically harmed Bear in such a way that I know of. He knows his son has been capable of knocking him on his ass since the age of sixteen, so he’s become a master of manipulation. Devious and wicked.

I glance to my side, taking in Mason’s expression. I see it in his eyes, he’s having much the same thoughts. As for him, he hasn’t done more than talk to his father on the phone in years, but somehow Murdock maintains the tightest of tight leashes on both his sons. The damage he did to Mason during the time surrounding his wife’s death and the way it still affects Mason to this day is telling. I don’t remember Murdock that well because we were only eight when he got put away for Lily’s death, but I remember being intimidated. I almost wet my pants one time when he yelled at us for accidentally putting a football through a garage door window. Motherfucker is mean. I can only imagine what it’ll be like should they actually manage to spring him.

Bear scrubs his hand through his hair, making it stand on end. Then, with an air of false calm, he picks up the water and the pills. “I wish I had the luxury of being a no-show, but that’s not going to work.”

“Even though being involved in the fighting ring, if anyone found out, would end your career?” She chews on her lip as she studies him. Lennon’s concern is absolutely valid, and in an average situation, I’d be in full agreement with her. But nothing about our fathers or the life we live is normal. Not a goddamn thing. “I don’t think it’ll surprise you to know that I don’t have an ounce of respect for any of the people the three of you call father. They’re selfish old men who don’t care who they step on to get what they want. They’ll go to any lengths to have their way. And the thing is, you’d think, as their sons, they’d treat you better, that you’d have a leg up or something. But they don’t. They just don’t.” The strength and determination in her voice is impressive, her anger justified.

Mason reaches over and squeezes Lennon’s thigh. “You don’t have to respect them. But you do need to be aware of the trouble they could cause us. The hell they’ve already brought on us, just by being our fuckin’ sperm donors. They would stop at nothing to take everything we hold dear. Bear’s football career is just one example.”

I look up, my gaze boring into Bear’s hazel eyes. “Do what you need to do, man. It’s your call.”

“Wait, can I say one more thing?” Lennon catches the corner of her lip between her teeth and swipes a few fingers under one of her eyes. “I will support you, whatever you want to do, whether you tell your dad to fuck off or choose to step into that ring tonight. Please know that. Voicing my opinion has nothing to do with whether or not I’ll be here for you. I will be. We all will.”

Bear nods. “I get that. Appreciate it.” He takes a deep breath, looking between me and Mason, then throws back the pills in his hand, uncaps the bottle of water, and takes a swig, washing them down. “I’ve made it this far, I’ll finish it. I need to get through football season, then it’ll be easier.”

“Will your dad ever let you stop fighting?”

“I don’t have an answer to that. I really don’t.” He clears his throat and looks down at his watch. “We’d better get going and hope to fuck this stuff kicks in before I have to get in the damn ring with the guy from Sigma Iota Nu.”

Mason hisses through his teeth. “It would be that fucker tonight of all nights.”

Bear holds out the prescription bottle to Mason, who takes it from him as he stands. He flips it into the air, then catches it. “I’ll bring them. Just in case.”

“I don’t want to take any more than I have to. I really fucking don’t.”

I rub a hand over my face. “Bear …” There’s so much more we really should discuss with him.

He unfolds himself as he stands. “Nope. Don’t. I need to concentrate on the fight. Can we do that?” He flexes his fist, checking his hand. “Fuck.”

Mason presses his lips together. “We’ll ice it on the way over. You’re gonna be fine.” He nods his head, and I know he’s thinking the same thing I am. We’ll keep repeating that until it’s the truth and we’re all right back here together.

Lennon takes a deep breath. “I’ll round up a couple bags of ice.” She’s already turned on her heel and has started out of the room when Bear calls out to her.

“Little Gazelle, come here for a sec, w-would you?” His eyes and the catch in his voice betray the worry he feels.

Her brow furrows, but she comes back, standing before him, confusion marring her face.

With a huge sigh, he cups her cheek. “I’m sorry. I know you’d rather I didn’t. And for the record, I’d sure rather stay right the fuck here with you and these two assholes”—he pauses as a hint of a smirk lifts to lips—“than step one foot into the ring tonight, injured, healed, medicated, in withdrawal or otherwise. But this is something I have to do. This is how I keep my asshole father’s wrath from coming down on our heads. I just need to win this one, then I’ll figure out where I go from here.”

She gives him a hesitant smile, but a moment later, she’s pressing up on her tiptoes and brushing her lips over his before whispering, “You mean where we go from here.”

“We’ll get through it.” Mason steps into Lennon’s side and puts his hand on her back, tugging her close to him.

I complete the circle, wrapping an arm around Lennon and resting a hand on the bicep of Bear’s uninjured arm. “Yeah, we fuckin’ will. Together.”


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