He'd always been big, no one in their right mind would refute that.
But now he was a wall. Nothing deterred him. There wasn't a trace of fatigue, weakness, pain in his eyes. Blood poured from cuts all over his body, bruises rising the longer this went on. And his brows remained deeply furrowed, lips twisted back into some sort of competitive grin. Determination, yes, but something worse-- something that might be enjoying this fight, something dangerous. And he never got tired. He was relentless.
The instant his blade sliced through Owen's flesh, Liam twisted his momentum around and leapt backwards, out of range. Distance was the only advantage he had, and even utilizing that as much as he could, he was a wreck; bloody, bruised, aching. Skilled he may be, talented even, and masterful in his art; and though his stamina was nothing to scoff at, he had nothing compared to Owen. Could he last much longer? Yes. He could. He had to.
When had he abandoned his flippant demeanor? Somewhere along the line it had faded. Putting his energy into staying alive rather than playing off the seriousness of the situation. He couldn't afford to do that, not here. It hadn't yet crossed his mind that he might lose, that he would have to give up-- but his thoughts weren't far from that realization. Confusion at his inability to retake the upper hand; irritation at Owen's intense but smiling expression; and frustration with himself for feeling so weak.
But he was exhausted. The next blow that caught him in the side threw him off his feet. Tumbling through the underbrush, he fetched up against a tree trunk and nearly lost his grip on his sword. Lungs spasming, chest heaving in a deep cough, he tried to suck in a breath of air, arm snaking around to clench at his shirt. Tugging insessently at it, mouth working pointlessly, he finally hitched in a breath, nearly throwing up on the exhale. Ribs throbbing-- bruised? cracked?-- he brought his other hand around, leveraging him up to his knees, head hanging as he struggled to catch his breath. Digging his fingers into the material of his coat, he grit his teeth, waiting for the haze of pain to dissipate. Arm shaking, trying to support his weight, he scraped his fingers through the dirt before trying to push himself into a kneeling position.
It sent a trill of agony up through his ribcage and he nearly crumpled, a frustrated cry of pain catching in his throat. Shaking his head, clearing it, he brought his sword-wielding arm around and-- against his training, grimacing at putting his blade into the ground-- stabbed the weapon into the earth, giving himself a support to push against. Standing slowly, ignoring the trembling in his legs, he turned and faced the lumbering man once again.
Gritting his teeth, narrowing his eyes, Liam glared furiously at seeing Owen watching. Not just watching; waiting. Letting him recover. I don't need your handicap.
Raising his arm arrested his shoulder at a shock of pain through his ribs, making his entire body freeze. Forcing through it, Liam ducked low and sprinted forward, swinging his sword upwards and bringing it down in a wide arc towards the other's bare abdomen. Owen's chest took blows like a damn brick wall; it was pointless to aim there. But disemboweling him might yield a much different result...
A hand shot out, catching his blade before it could connect. Jerking back, Liam moved to retreat. His blade sliced through Owen's hand momentarily, until the man's other hand came around and gripped the sword as well. Gripping the steel, he gave a heavy yank-- catching Liam completely off guard. With his balance already precarious, midway through changing his lean from forward to backward, the man was easy to topple; with his grip still tight on his sword's handle, he lurched forward at the pull, eyes widening.
Instinctively, his fingers remained locked around his handle. Turning his head up, he dug his feet into the ground the instant his momentum ended, barely managing not to fall against Owen's chest. A grapple was pointless with such a hulking man; but abandoning his sword...
Before he could make a decision-- head spinning slightly, thoughts becoming sluggish-- Owen twisted the blade in his grip, sending a cascade of blood down his arm but wrenching Liam's wrists awkwardly. He barely managed to release the handle before his wrist snapped, fingers spasming in shocked pain. Despite wanting to keep his weapon, he knew that once it was gone, there was no reason to stay within Owen's range. Stepping back--
Flinging the sword-- and it went far-- Owen lunged forward, forcing Liam to stumble farther away. Backing him up, keeping him off balance, the man only reached out after several feet; bloody palm flattening against Liam's neck (or, rather, the hand that Liam threw between his throat and Owen's hand, in a last-ditch bid to keep himself from being strangled) and shoving him backwards against the tree that loomed up behind him.
Digging his fingers into Owen's palm, Liam writhed furiously, his free (sword-free) hand shooting up to claw at the man's arm. The instant his feet left the ground he sucked in a breath, twisting and kicking out, aiming anywhere that would give him a moment's reprise, an instant to escape. A second was all he needed, but that was meaningless if he couldn't get one.
Not above playing dirty, Liam grit his teeth and planted his foot against the trunk behind him, ready to aim for a sure-fire weak point.
And clearly anticipating it, as soon as Liam pulled both legs back to get momentum, Owen stepped forward, bodies nearly touching. Choking, narrowing his eyes to slits, Liam lashed out, trying to kick out for the lumbering man's groin. No dice; they were too close now for him to get any power behind the blow.
What else? What now? Blinking a haze away from his eyes, Liam's mind raced, throat working desperately for air, body squirming violently as he sought a weak point in Owen's grip.
There was none.
Finally-- a combination of ebbing energy and conserving it-- he went limp in Owen's grasp, slumping back against the tree trunk. Gasping harshly, barely managing to suck in shallow breaths around the palm digging into his windpipe, Liam shut his eyes and tried to think. Owen wasn't doing anything (except maybe slowly suffocating him). A strategy, a plan, was what he needed now.
With one hand between his neck and Owen's grip, Liam flexed his fingers slowly, seeing how much space he had gotten himself. Not much. And, when Owen's hand tightened around his throat, Liam realized it didn't do much in the end; his own knuckles dug into the cartilage of his windpipe, making him jerk in surprise. A low sound came from deep in his throat, one he didn't want to spend time berating himself over. Pain? Fear? Steeling himself, Liam ignored it. This wasn't a time for pride.
A wave of dizziness crashed over him suddenly, immediately followed by a harsh turn of his stomach. Mouth falling open, gasping without getting in any air, Liam felt bile rising in his throat. No, this wasn't a time to throw up. He needed that space for breathing. What the fuck was Owen doing?
It wouldn't matter for much long. The drowsiness that was creeping up the back of his skull made him realize he was weakening; his grip on Owen's wrist, the tension in his muscles. Even his thoughts were slowing. How much time had passed? He realized he had no idea. Had he passed out? No. Not yet. But he was about to.
Would he plea? Should he? Owen would listen. He had to. He wasn't a sadist. (Not like Liam.) But he was a survivor. He would know better than to let go of such a dangerous creature.
Vision blurring, Liam lost the strength to keep his head up. Hair falling over his face, he felt his arm slip from Owen's, dropping to his side. Each breath was unsatisfying, like he was only filling a small fraction of his lungs with every laboured gasp he dragged in. Would Owen really strangle him? Maybe...
Black static ate away at his line of sight. With only tunnel vision left, Liam struggled to raise his head, lifting his gaze for one last look-- a gambit, hoping to see his own fate in Owen's eyes.
He didn't remember what he saw. But whatever it was, it didn't give him the strength to hold out any longer; blacking out, his head dropped again, body going limp.
And when he woke up, battered and bruised and bleeding, every inch of his body aching and throbbing, he was surprised. Exhausted, nauseated, but alive. And surprised at that fact.
Grimacing, bracing himself against the tree he was slumped against, Liam pushed himself up slowly. Legs trembling, body quivering from exertion, he waited for the urge to throw up faded before trying to stand on his own. Managing it, he considered looking down at himself, assessing the damage... but decided against it.
His sword. He had to find his sword. And then, maybe-- somewhere, someone who wouldn't take advantage of his vulnerable state-- he could find help.
There was no one.
No one close enough, no one he trusted enough. Legs shaking, Liam barely caught himself against the next tree, head dropping as he struggled to stay upright. Each breath was a chore, and they never seemed to completely clear his head. Swallowing against a curse that rose in his throat, he raised his head slowly, staring out past the curtains of his bangs. Clutching at the trunk, he pushed himself off and stumbled forward once again, shoulders hanging as he trudged through the forest.
When next his knees buckled, there was nothing to catch himself on. Collapsing to the ground, he fell forward and caught himself on his hands. His shoulders rose and fell with the labour of his breathing, brows furrowed over tightly-shut eyes. Pain thrummed like a tremor under his skin, branching out through his ribs, his stomach, his limbs. And his head throbbed, like cotton had been stuffed into his skull while he was unconscious. Working his mouth, he swallowed through a dry through.
A slow, deep breath wrenched a cough from his throat. Digging his fingers into the ground, he doubled over, forehead pressed against the ground as the world spun violently around him. Hunching his shoulders tightly and clenching his jaw, he ground his teeth together, tensing all over. Damn it.
Push it away. Push it all away. Dragging in a full breath, commanding his lungs to take it in, Liam pushed himself back to his hands and knees, raising his head once more. His arms shook as he forced himself into a crouch.
And one leg dropped, hitting the ground and making him jolt. "Damn it!" he swore under his breath, voice dripping with venom. Shucking off the self-reproach, he lifted his head-- and froze.
His expression was creased, so far from his usual demeanor. But there was something there, something that Liam couldn't have missed; he was upset. With himself, with Liam. But he was frustrated with it-- and unsure of what to do with any of it. But he knew Liam had caused the wounds under the bandages all over his body.
Liam didn't care about any of that; didn't see it, read it, notice it. Rage burned deep in his chest and he immediately cursed his weakness. Refusing, refusing to be on his knees in front of Owen, he forced himself back to one foot, the other, and stood, ignoring the way he swayed and almost fell, ignoring the agony screaming through his body. Standing, standing his ground, rooting himself there and clenching his fists, glaring fiercely at the wild man.
Neither spoke. The standoff was just that; no words, no actions. To Liam, it was proof of his resilience, his strenght, his refusal to concede even an inch to Owen. For Owen, it was reflection; time to think-- and decide.
Finally, lowering his hand slightly, he angled his wrist and revealed the sword held in his grasp. Eyes darting towards it, Liam's eyes flashed in wary suspicion. When Owen started towards him, he stiffened but remained in place. The tension humming through his body nearly had him shaking from the effort it took to stay in place-- and the alternative wasn't to back away. No, the alternative was to throw himself at Owen, seize his weapon back and retake victory from the wildling. But he didn't; made himself stay rigidly in place, biding his time, waiting for an opportunity.
As soon as Owen was within range, Liam nearly lurched forward. But the other's grip on his weapon was sure, and he knew there was no chance for him to take it unless the man wanted him to have it.
What a foolish idea...
Run. It was his only option. Why was Owen here? What did he want? To finish the job-- kill him? Why had he left Liam like that? Anger boiled under the surface, and Liam's fists were quaking.
A hand moved towards his face and he swatted it away furiously, nearly baring his teeth. Insistent, Owen reached out again, and Liam's arm shot out reflexively for his sword. Ignoring the gesture, Owen dropped his hand to Liam's arm and gripped him.
With his hand on the weapon, Liam twisted, trying to mimic the larger man's tactic from before. It had no effect, to his mounting frustration. Rage. Eyes unfocused, blazing, Liam lunged.
Owen caught him easily, hand still on his arm, and tightened his grip marginally. "Liam--"
"Bastard!" Give me my sword-- I won't lose again--
It pained him to see Liam so far from his usual aloof composure; agitated, perturbed. He'd done this. "Please." Loosening both hands, he let Liam wrench his arm away and steal his sword back.
Eyes flashing, Liam took advantage of the mistake (it wasn't a mistake) and twisted the blade around to aim its tip directly at Owen's abdomen. Up through the ribs-- he couldn't miss-- you bastard--
With all the force he could muster behind his arms, Liam thrust the blade forward-- and froze. Its tip sat embedded in the man's skin, ready to surge up beneath his ribcage and pierce his heart.
But his hands had stopped.
"Bastard--" His voice was hoarse, barely above a whisper, hands quaking. Why couldn't he do it?
Because Owen wasn't stopping him.
"What are you--" Panting, sweat pouring from his brow, Liam stared through wide eyes at the broad chest in front of him. "Why--"
Light fingers-- lighter than he would have imagined such large hands could be-- brushed his bangs away from his face and he flinched back. Going rigid, his mind wrapped around each breath that heaved in and out of his chest as Owen's hand pushed his hair back, moved around to the back of his head. "Stop." Again. Why?
Slowly the peak of his sword tipped downward, his arm sliding to his side, sword pointed towards the ground. Panting, heart hammering in his chest, he stared down at the earth at his feet. Why?
Lowering his hand, Owen reached out and gently took the sword from his hand. A moment later he was touching Liam again, gingerly drawing him nearer before lifting him from the ground. Immediately the ache left his bones, making them feel like liquid mercury; heavy, useless. With an arm around Liam's back and one supporting his legs, Owen turned towards the depths of the forest and left the standoff behind. Why?
His head dipped forward and he raised it again, vision swimming. And again his head bowed over, body slumping against Owen's as his consciousness gave in. Okay...
Even though it went against his nature-- his pride, his indignance-- ... ...
... This was okay...