Santo’s Gym, an underground weight room for hunters, had seen its fair share of better days. The Shortage was taking its toll on most hunter-run businesses, and Santo hadn’t been swimming in clientele anyway. He’d even skipped out on doing his ‘Santo-Claus’ bit this year.
Hannibal Frost couldn’t help but to find that a little disheartening.
Pumping out the last few reps of hammer-curls for the day, Frost took the dumbbell back to the rack and gingerly stowed it back in place. Judging from the wear and tear on everything, this place didn’t have the budget to replace weights. Frost hadn’t been to Santo’s in almost a year. He was surprised to see the gym’s upkeep falling by the wayside. The dark green paint on the walls had chipped away to almost become the frame for a bare, grey canvas of concrete. The fake wood trim just below the ceiling was dangling precariously in places. The work-out machines and benches looked like they hadn’t seen a good lubing in weeks.
Frost would’ve found himself on the south side of ‘this sucks’, if it hadn’t of been for two things: running into someone he hadn’t seen in years, and the universe’s hilarious sense of humor.
I’ll have a blue… Christmas, without you.
Ashana Reynolds was one of the better hunters Frost had met over the years, and with her being a beautiful person inside and out, of course Frost had to fall in love with her at some point.
I’ll be so blue… just thinking, about you.
Across the sizeable room, Ashana was working over a punching bag like it owed her money. Her hair, dyed Christmas red and tied in a ponytail, bobbed each time she sent the bag swinging. She’d only gotten stronger since Frost last saw her. It showed in her form, her strikes… her body. Muscle didn’t dominate her frame, but she had it where it counted. Ashana had always trained for speed over power. Still, somewhere along the line, she found a nice marriage between the two. Even under purposefully tacky, Christmas workout clothes, you could see a fighter’s body. One that Frost had personal experience with.
Decorations of red… on a green Christmas tree…
Ashana had walked into the gym an hour after Hannibal, in the middle of his battle rope set. She didn’t say anything to him, or even acknowledge his presence. He didn’t break away from the ropes to say anything either, but they did catch each other’s eye line for a split second. She knew he was here. It was a small move, but she made it. The ball was in Frost’s court now.
Won’t be the same, dear…
If he didn’t say anything to her, that was probably going to be the end of it. They’d go on living their lives right next to each other as two people who just happen to be in the same room sometimes. Could he really let that happen?
If you’re not here with me.
???: Are you really gonna’ let that happen?
Frost jumped, startled by the noise. Santo clapped a hand on his shoulder to calm him down.
Hannibal Frost: Shit, man, don’t do that!
Santo: Do what? Read your mind or sneak up on you?
Hannibal Frost: Either.
Hannibal glanced over towards Ashana to make sure she hadn’t overheard his fear squeal. She was still taking it to that bag.
Hannibal Frost: You know that’s like, a major case of privacy invasion, right?
Santo: Well, I only do it to you. Lo siento gringo, but you need all the help you can get.
Frost sighed, letting his gaze drift over to Ashana once more. She was striking with a little more rhythm now, and bouncing on the balls of her feet to a beat that wasn’t the slow Elvis croon tune coming from the gym’s sound system. She was probably listening to Metal, or Hip Hop, or Soul, or Ska, or…
Frost suddenly remembered how much the girl loved music. Shit, so far she was still perfect. Strong as ever, still glued to those ear buds, and stubborn as all hell.
Hannibal Frost: So, you heard that, what do I do?
Santo: Just talk to her.
Hannibal Frost: Just… talk to her?
Santo: Unless you want to buy her roses and a Christmas card, then yes, just talk to her.
Hannibal looked himself over, now a little self conscious of his ratty workout gear. A pair of six-year-old black sweatpants and the matching tank top don’t exactly scream ‘I’ve got my shit together’. Neither did the twenty dollar shoes he’d picked up from Wal-Mart.
Santo: Go, before I kick you out of my gym. My business is hemorrhaging money, but you’re making me sad.
With a shove, Hannibal was forced to start his walk across the room, lest he look like a bumbling fool. Because of course, it was at that moment Ashana decided to turn and acknowledge his presence. Frost tried not to cower under her direct gaze, but without his shades to hide behind, the urge was strong.
It made all the difference in the world to see her trying to hide a smile.
The walk felt like it was taking forever, and Frost was sure he looked stupid weaving his way around the workout equipment. To kill time in his brain, he mentally chided himself for letting romantic comedies shape his situational expectations in these kinds of scenarios. Frost swore he could hear Santo laughing in the background as he stopped four feet away from Ashana. Four feet was good, right? Five was too far away, and three was way too close for what was a pretty uneasy reunion.
Santo’s laughing got louder.
Hannibal did his best to ignore the noise. It wasn’t hard, considering who was standing in front of him. She was a good foot shorter than Frost, but that didn’t stop him from feeling about seven inches tall. Ashana’s lips parted as she slipped her earbuds into her pocket.
Ashana: So, where did we leave off?
Hannibal’s knees almost buckled at the sound of her voice. He didn’t realize he’d missed it that much.
Hannibal Frost: I think I was running in the other direction… like a fucking coward. I’m sorry, Ash.
Ashana: You were always too hard on yourself, but I don’t disagree with you.
Frost let his gaze fall to the floor.
Hannibal Frost: Well, I’m back. I mean, I didn’t come back for you. Uh, just you. Look, I came back for a lot of reasons.
Ashana: I know why you came back. HOW is a worldwide, televised, highly commercial entity. Also, if you’d have focused on ‘us’ more, you’d remember me talking about High Octane quite a bit.
Ashana: You know, the original HOFC Invitational? The Rumble in the Rock where Jatt Starr and Mike Best first revealed themselves to be working together? Or how about Lindsay Troy’s entire amazing run there? If you’d listened a little more, you might’ve gotten around to this shit a lot sooner. You ran away though. I wish I could say that wasn’t your typical M.O., but I’m really not sure anymore. And now we’re both paying for your commitment issues.
Hannibal Frost: How are you-
Ashana: Oh, shut up. You’re not the only person who can love someone okay? You don’t have a trademark on tragic endings.
Hannibal Frost: I’m not really thinking about endings anymore. I’m in the ‘new beginnings’ phase of my life.
Ashana: It’s called a mid-life crisis. And I guess this ‘new beginning’ of yours involved losing to Darin Matthews for some reason? I get why you lost. I just don’t understand how the great and infamous Hannibal Frost found himself unprepared.
Her voice was so soft, she had to try really hard to make it sound threatening.
She was definitely putting in the work.
Ashana: You’ve brought shame to me, and shame to your spirit animals.
Frost smiled as he recognized the inside joke they used to rib each other with.
Hannibal Frost: I think Burt Gummer would be disappointed. Not mad, just disappointed…
Ashana: He doesn’t think anything anymore.
Frost clenched a fist.
Hannibal Frost: Those sons of bitches.
Ashana and Frost finally met each other’s gazes again. She smiled, with such a forlorn look in her eyes that Frost could physically feel the hurt it caused him.
Hannibal Frost: Can I please take you out for coffee, or-
Ashana: You hate coffee.
Hannibal Frost: Vegan?
Ashana: You hate vegan… Hanny, what’re you do-
Hannibal Frost: Just let me take you somewhere that makes you happy. Believe me, it’ll help when I’m trying to repair all the damage I’ve done.
Ashana stroked the rim of her ear in silence, letting the idea simmer in the air. She only did the ear thing when she was nervous. Frost had to tread lightly.
Ashana: I just want to know ‘why’. You left without a ‘why’ or a ‘bye’.
???: I wouldn’t mind hearing the answer to that.
Frost jumped, startled yet again by a voice he wasn’t expecting to hear.
Hannibal Frost: Would people quit fucking doing that to me?
Hannibal turned a quarter to the left and looked down to find a kind eyed elderly man staring up at him. Frost had to blink a few times before he realized it was Mr. Roy, the owner of a lounge up the street called The Inner Sanctum. It’d been at least two years, but Frost used to do alot for ole’ Mr. Roy. It wasn’t easy operating a neutral zone establishment that had eight hundred locations worldwide. Well, eight hundred doors worldwide, anyway. Every single one led back to the same building. Portal magic was ridiculous.
Mr. Roy: Well, stop being so easy to sneak up on. Where’s yo’ white ass been for the better part of three years?
Hannibal Frost: I was trying to figure some shit out.
The much shorter, much older, much weaker man lifted his wood-carved cane into the air and poked Hannibal in the chest with it, asserting his dominance.
Mr. Roy: And where’d it getcha’? Right back talking to the same people, and doing the same things. You like circles? Because it just took you three years to go in one.
Hannibal Frost: So, you here to work out, or…?
Mr. Roy: Don’t be silly. You got things to make up for, and I need some help. Or did that Matthews boy hurt ya’ so bad you can’t work anymore?
Hannibal Frost: Does everybody watch that damn show?
Mr. Roy and Ashana: Pretty much.
Mr. Roy: You put up a good one. I like what I saw. Showed me you might actually be trying again.
Hannibal looked quizzically between Ashana and Mr. Roy.
Hannibal Frost: You know I never stopped hunting, right? It’s not like I disappeared into another reality or something.
Mr. Roy gave Frost a reassuring pat on his arm.
Mr. Roy: I spoke with Marcus last week. We all know where your head’s at. You’re struggling with doing the right thing, versus just bein’ plain ole’ happy. Well, after you help me with my little problem, I have a feeling you’ll figure it out.
Hannibal let his gaze slip to Ash.
Hannibal Frost: I guess it does sound better than coffee.
Ashana put a hand on Mr. Roy’s shoulder, her smile warm and welcoming.
Ashana: Whatever you’ve got going on, we can handle it.
‘We’… She said ‘We’.
Hannibal took a deep breath to calm the sudden rapid beating of his heart.
Hannibal Frost: So, what’s your ‘little problem’?
Mr. Roy: Well, ya’ see, the Sanctum is in need of new ownership…
Hannibal Frost: Excuse me? I thought you said ‘little’?
Mr. Roy: Won’t be much trouble at all.
Ashana had a concerned look on her face.
Ashana: Are you okay? Why a change of ownership?
Mr. Roy: I’m afraid I ain’t gotta’ lotta’ time left.
Frost’s heart sank at hearing that.
Hannibal Frost: How long do you have?
Mr. Roy: Oh… I’d say about fifteen minutes.
Hannibal Frost: Um, excuse the shit outta’ me, but fifteen minutes?
Mr. Roy: I tried to bargain for more, but when your times up, it’s up.
Ashana had ahold of Mr. Roy by both shoulders now, her eyes razor focused on his.
Ashana: Then you need to tell us exactly what you need us to do.
Mr. Roy rooted around in his pockets for a moment, before producing a small brass key.
Mr. Roy: When ya’ get there, it’ll be packed like always. Be nice, be cordial, but make your way to my office as quick as you can. There, you’ll find the deed to the building. All you gotta’ do is sign it.
Hannibal was suddenly on the verge of having a panic attack.
Hannibal Frost: Wait, who’s gonna’ sign that thing?
Mr. Roy: I believe both of you should sign it. Hanny, you finally figured out who you are. And Ashana, all you did was keep improving on the person you already were. I ain’t got time to play that mysterious ole’ man shit. Did yall know, that at all times, there are an infinite amount of futures going on?
Both Frost and Ashana nodded their head. They were both familiar with the concept of an ever-changing future.
Mr. Roy: Did ya’ know I could watch ’em? I’ve seen over sixty three million different futures play out it my head. Barely a fraction of infinity, but ya’ know how many of ’em you two ended up running that lounge in? Every. Single. One.
Ash and Hannibal traded looks of bewilderment.
Mr. Roy: Not a lot of people my age that still believe in destiny. You two make a strong case for it.
Hannibal Frost: If I’m being honest, I think I’m fixing to freak out.
Mr. Roy adopted one of the sweetest looks an old man could ever have.
Mr. Roy: Hanny, my boy, to be one of the toughest people I know… you sure do have a pair of tender little balls.
A single bark of laughter escaped Ash so suddenly she turned away to hide her reaction. Frost would’ve found it funny, except…
Hannibal Frost: I have no idea who I am. I have no idea what’s going on. Why are you doing this to me?
Sitting on the precipice of a completely different life, Frost had no choice but to go full saboteur. This was too much. Why the fuck wouldn’t the universe let him go step-by-step for once in his god damn life? It didn’t help that even nothing felt like everything when the nights got dark enough.
Mr. Roy pulled him from the recesses of his mind with another poke from that wood carved cane.
Mr. Roy: This is literally the last promise I will ever make. By the time you sign that deed, you’ll know exactly who you are, and where you’re going. Now, I’ve got nine minutes left to live, and I’d like to spend that time walking in the snow.
Mr. Roy began to walk away.
Ashana: But it’s not-
Mr. Roy: It will be in about thirty five more seconds.
Mr. Roy was still walking away when he answered.
Mr. Roy: If ya’ head over there now, you should have it signed by the end of Part Two.
Hannibal’s face scrunched up in confusion.
Hannibal Frost: By when?
Mr. Roy: Merry Christmas, you two! Good luck at Iconic, Hanny. I tried to stick around long enough to see it in person, but when your time’s up…
And he was out the door.
Hannibal Frost: It’s up.
Hannibal let his head drop, a welling of emotion building inside him.
Hannibal Frost: Oh Mr. Roy, what have you done?
Ashana: Roy Johnson Jr. always has a reason, and it’s usually a good one. C’mon, we’ll talk about what all this means in Part Two.
Hannibal Frost: Wait, what?
Ashana pulled one knee up to her chest, stretching it out.
Ashana: I need your help with my knee technique in Kung Fu.
Hannibal Frost: Oh, yeah… sure.
Ashana: I’ve got three sets left. You ready?
Hannibal Frost: Ready as I’ll ever be.
Hannibal Frost will return…
…in Part 2