They say when you're dying, things go dark and then you see a light appear at the end of that darkness; the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. For me, dying was simply surreal; a moment frozen in time that had no meaning or substance. As the burning sensation in my lungs escalated from an uncomfortable ache to insufferable agony, a tidal wave of emptiness washed over me. My mind cleared, my body numbed and there was nothing, except those cold dark eyes staring right back into mine. There was no flashback of memories; no final thought of loved ones; nothing. I simply shut down and began to calmly slip away.
I didn't hear the door open, and for the first minute or two, the voices were a distant, unintelligible echo, as though listening to a conversation while submerged under water. A rush of air hit my lungs with such force that it came with a sharp, stabbing pain. I doubled over into a foetal position, deafened by a sound like wind rushing by my ears. The sudden onset of pain made me regret leaving that state of euphoria I'd come from.
Unable to respond to anything except my own return from the edge, the conversation in the room was well advanced by the time I was conscious enough to tune in.
"…end now!" Silvano was yelling.
He seemed to be standing on the wall, but as my mind found focus I realised it was me, lying on my side. I raised my head to correct the view and instantly felt dizzy. The ground looked a long way off but even in my current condition, I could sense the storm brewing. With painstaking care, I lowered my feet over the edge and crawled under the desk.
"You wanna do this now?" Jacob threatened.
"If it stops you from making a bigger fool of yourself, yeah."
Jacob growled at the insinuation and stripped off his vest. Silvano looked down at his missing button but thought better of tearing his designer shirt more. He unbuttoned the rest of it and peeled it off, deliberately tossing it at my face.
I thought about tearing it to shreds but such an impulsive act of defiance diminished as Silvano flexed and rolled his rippling shoulders. Then I remembered what he'd done to me. Call it a delayed flashback if you want but there was Silvano laying into Josh back home; Sivano's eyes boring into me when I first saw him through the open door by the pit; Silvano's big rough hand suffocating the life out of me...
My thumb hooked into the fabric of his shirt and I ripped. I tore a long strip then turned it around and stripped it again. Silvano looked at me with surprise and Jacob suppressed a smirk as I mouthed "fuck you!" to Silvano and ripped again.
Silvano pointed a furious finger at me; a wordless warning that he wasn't finished with me yet, then turned back to Jacob.
"He's not worth it," Silvano said as he adopted a fighting stance. "He's nothing. A toy that'll turn them against you."
By 'them' I assumed he meant the other Houses.
"Then let them come." Jacob really was fearless.
Silvano stepped in and swung a leg up, easily deflected by Jacob. The Italian's arms flew in for attack like a pair of propellers and I was immediately thankful he hadn't flown at Josh that way all those weeks ago. To my surprise, Jacob blocked every blow and moved in closer, grabbing Silvano by the head and bringing up a knee faster than the speed of light.
As Silvano doubled over, Jacob threw him, sending him reeling into the desk. I cowered under it, thankful I'd had the foresight to move. Jacob pounced and suddenly they disappeared on top of the desk.
The table scrapped and shook to the sounds of grunts and punches, both hitting and missing. I covered my head, expecting the whole thing to come down on me any second, but arms and legs dropped over the side, only to disappear back up into the fight, keeping me trapped underneath. One moment it seemed Jacob was on top, then the next it was Silvano in control. Their fighting space wasn't great up there but somehow they were locking onto each other and reversing holds without ever falling off.
Then a sudden cry changed the landscape. The back of Jacob's head and shoulders appeared over the end of the desk. It took a moment to realize that Silvano was holding him down by the throat and his spasms and grunts told me Silvano was laying into Jacob's torso with the same viscousness I had witnessed in the past.
One of Jacob's arms dropped over his head, soon followed by the other. He convulsed from another blow but seemed unable to raise his arms. He lay there taking the assault as his arms reached out to the floor.
There was a sudden scrape of the desk and Silvano somersaulted over Jacob onto the ground. As he hit the hard cold floor, Jacob slid over the edge onto his hands and flipped down onto Silvano, straddling his chest. Jacob landed a devastating fist into Silvano's face, followed quickly by another. Already looking worse for wear, Slivano punched upwards. Jacob dodged the blow but it scrapped by his cheek, hitting hard enough for Silvano to kick him off.
As they rose to their knees, Silvano wasted no time swinging another punch. Jacob blocked it and landed another blow. Silvano fell to all fours and Jacob clasped his hands into a single ball, hammering it down on Silvano's back. The Italian collapsed. Jacob straddled him again and raised Silvano's head by his hair. I found myself staring down into Silvano's glazed eyes.
"Anything you want to add?" Jacob asked Silvano. I mistook it as an invitation to me and spat in Silvano's face. Jacob laughed and nodded. He was panting from the fight but looked remarkably unscathed. "Anything else?" he asked, this time to me, so I punched Silvano in the face, delivering the blow that sent him into la-la land.
Jacob smiled. The matter had been settled.