Anger Management
by Moonslash

The house looks dark and unfriendly when he arrives. As he pulls into the driveway, the windows greet him with the silvery blind glow of the automatic garage light, and Wilson sighs with relief.

Julie's knitting parties usually run late, the quaint new fad of overpriced needles and imported yarn forgotten as the women laugh, gossip, share predictably droll anecdotes about their marriages, and have too many glasses of Chardonnay. Of course, they also take the cab to their hostess's place to avoid having to designate drivers. Julie is smart; she hangs out with the responsible crowd.

Once indoors, his footsteps sound foreign in the silence. He is greeted by the slightly bitter scent of the almond-and-oranges potpourri in the hallway, before maneuvering through the semi- darkness with determined steps, avoiding mirrors, not stopping as he leaves his coat on the armchair, then his suit jacket on the bedroom doorknob. He keeps climbing, feeling each step as a buildup in the already existing tension in his calves.

The attic door opens with a creak; he closes it carefully, as if the empty house shouldn't hear it. Once inside, he can feel himself relax for the first time in several days.

The naked light bulb is positioned too close to the door. He squints through the nearly painful brightness before he walks toward the back of the spacious room, remarkably uncluttered and almost spiderweb- free.

The punching bag is behind the screen, where the light fades to a yellowish gleam and casts sharp, long, unrecognizable shadows. He folds the screen carefully, then takes a deep breath and begins to loosen his tie.

The bag is the color of long-dried blood, dark leather stretched immaculately into the cylinder of sturdy mass; there's an ice-smooth stripe of light almost indecently reflected along its length on the side, where the curve meets the glare of the bulb.

Wilson bought it after his first divorce. His second wife finally discovered it in the basement of their brownstone about a year into their marriage; she proceeded to needle him about how sexy he must look while he's working out and how much she'd like to watch him sometime, until he snapped and told her that he never used it anymore. She backed off, and he didn't go near the bag until she moved out.

When he and Julie returned from their honeymoon to the new house, the bag was already set up and the screen was in place. Wilson gave her a tour, opening the door to the attic almost apologetically and introducing its contents with a sweep of his hand as random pastimes that he never really got around to, yet hadn't quite abandoned fully enough to warrant a yard sale. She stood in the doorway, smiled at his dismissive, slightly embarrassed tone, and showed a blessed lack of interest. Nowadays, she goes into the attic only when she needs to drop off another box of things set aside for her next trip to the Salvation Army.

Wilson only uses the bag when she isn't home. And he's glad she isn't home tonight.

The soreness in his shoulders flares up again as he shrugs out of his shirt and drops it atop his tie over the old dresser. Stretching, he winces at the strain in his torso, then pulls at the sides of his T- shirt until it's no longer carefully tucked into his pants. Next, he unclasps his watch and takes it off with almost reverent care. He places it into the folds of his shirt.

The gloves are in the dusty box by the foot of the dresser. They are thin, partly fingerless, made of leather bands and cushioning that have the same combined effect of the workout bandages and the bulky professional gloves; visually, they're black and slick and odd, a strange mix of orthopedic braces and fetish wear. He pulls them on with familiarity that makes him smile, and feels them tightening around his knuckles, grasping his palms in their firm yet flexible grip, clasping around his wrists in thick protective straps that won't let him get hurt.

His breath gets deeper, hungrier. He closes his eyes, emptying his mind for a few seconds. Then he looks at the expanse of brown, unreflective leather before him.

His body has been one giant tangle of nerves all week as he watched House stumble through his experiment in cold turkey. And the tight clutch of frustration in his neck turned into pain at their last exchange in his office.

He makes a fist with his left hand, then his right, effortlessly placing feet and elbows in the proper position. Boxing is like riding a bike, he thinks, which is good; you don't really have to think about it to do it.

The heavy form before him stands unmoving, silent.

He wanted to grab him by the lapels and shake him sane. Or smack him. Right upside his thick head, the stubborn idiot, going through hell and refusing to see it for what it was. Refusing to accept, to acknowledge, that he…

Wilson takes another deep breath, until the tension in the back of his neck screams at him in sheer head-splitting rage.

It was all for nothing.

The first punch crackles through him like lightning, releasing an arrow of air from his lungs. The impact almost numbs his fist, reverberating through his arm, shooting up to his shoulder, echoing through his entire body. The bag snaps and sways, its faceless surface coming alive in the shadows.

God, he forgot how good this felt.

The second punch connects as if plugging into a source of kinetic energy. He feels it in his joints, bones, flesh animated with the force coursing through him and ending in the traction of his soles against the floor. The bag moves lazily, shaken into temporary movement.

He won't let it stop.

One blow follows another, then another, in accelerating succession. They are textbook-precise bordering on self-consciousness, so he wills them into a blank, automatic series of motions, slamming into the solid mass in a well-learned rhythm one could almost dance to, hitting it relentlessly, methodically. The sound of his fists against the hard leather is not loud enough, so Wilson hits harder, the beat speeding up, whirling itself into a frenzy. His breath becomes labored, then turns into grunts as he gulps for air between punches.

The bag is now in a steady swing. The chain that keeps it fastened to the ceiling rattles with every hit into which he puts his whole body.

His muscles are beginning to hum with the exertion, his pulse is beating in his ears, and he feels the bitter tension in his flesh sweetening with the violence of his punches, mindless and freeing. He invites the sensation to fill him up, purge him of thought, narrow all reality down to the heated air between his fists and the unyielding weight before him.


The hit punctuating the thought thuds into the leather, making the bag groan.

Wilson slams into it over and over and over again, with eyes open but blind and stinging with sweat, blows landing savagely with the gratifying snap of knucklebones against the hard surface. The momentum carries him on and on, deeper into anger, further towards an impossible release, wild and fierce, unraveling something deep inside that's long forgotten the protective bondage on his hands.

Eventually, the bag becomes a blur, a dark shape swaying amidst monstrous shadows. His flesh is numb: he can only feel its existence in the buzz of the punches he keeps throwing. His T-shirt is sticking to him. The ragged breaths, which slip into moans with every particularly hard blow, are tearing at his throat.

Finally, his movements slow down, the wave of energy coursing through him subsides, and Wilson almost falls against the bag, holding onto its smooth shell, trembling violently and gasping for breath as his forehead slips against its surface. His body is in shock, stunned by the aggression and the relief. Vaguely, he notes that he's half- hard. He closes his eyes and licks the beads of sweat off his upper lip, hugging the bag more firmly and waiting until his breathing returns to something resembling normal. In time, his legs will feel strong enough to support him fully.

By the time he walks out of the attic, a bundle of clothes clutched under one arm, the sweat has cooled his skin and turned his shakes into shivers.

Wilson dumps the clothes into the week's laundry, places his coat and jacket in the closet, and takes the longest, hottest shower he can stand. His body feels broken and dimly content, electrified with sweet ache curdling in his muscles, and he barely needs to stroke himself to come.

Yet, the anger is still there. He can sense it like a lead pellet in his chest, cold and heavy. Unmoved.


Julie gets home when he's already in bed. She slips in beside him, humming with her tipsy good mood, and spends a minute listening to his breathing. When she senses movement – his back still occasionally spasms from the earlier exertion, and he follows each unpleasant twitch with a little shuffle into a more comfortable position – she snuggles closer until she's almost spooning him. He can hear her mouth opening around a whisper.


He doesn't open his eyes. Her breath forms a moist circle on his shoulder.

"Are you awake?"

He mutters something that hopefully sounds like "No, so leave me alone," but Julie is still there. Her arm snakes around his waist and across his chest, fingers spreading neatly over his heart. Her lips are at his neck, tickling him with warmth.

If he turns around now, he knows what will happen.

She'll look at his eyes and smile. Kiss him languidly with wine- thickened lips. Giggle about her drunkenness. Embrace him with familiar arms, then nudge him gently until he's exactly where she wants him, on top of her, straining between her legs as she moves her hips in smooth helpful circles, directing him, whispering "that's it, oh, right there" and coming with little gasps and fingers splayed over his back, possessive and sweet and comforting, then kissing his neck and moving against him cooperatively until he comes and rolls over. Then they'll fall asleep on their respective sides of the bed.

If he turns around now, he knows what could happen.

She'd look at his eyes and see that they're dark, unseeing, cold. The tipsy smile would crumble off her lips. She'd frown and ask what's wrong, and he'd slide his hand into her silky hair, close to the skull, and hold tight enough to make her wince. Maybe he'd say "shhhhh" as he pulled her head down toward his lap. Julie doesn't give head until properly implored with kisses, and she doesn't like it rough; she'd protest and laugh in disbelief. And then he'd grab her by the arms and force her face-down onto the bed, lift her hips enough to push himself inside her, one hand holding her hip in place and the other pinning her down, the base of his palm firmly pressed between her shoulder blades, and he'd make her cry out to stop, stop this, it hurts, you're hurting me, James… and that's when he'd come, anger thrumming under his skin, hot and feverish, aching for release that his body alone can't find.

Wilson doesn't turn around. Instead, he moves away from his wife's warm flesh, murmurs, "I'm tired, honey, had a really long day," and buries his semi-erection into the mattress.

He can hear Julie's little sigh, the shuffling of sheets as she moves away and settles on her side of the bed, her breath changing as she falls asleep. The house grows still and quiet.

Desire tastes bittersweet in his mouth, a sliver of lead refusing to melt away.

The shadows in the room look like they're swaying slightly, teasingly, their motion adjusting to the ache in his eyes.

He spends the night staring at the darkness.


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