Chapter Thirty Six

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Max turned around and looked back at Lizzie, still lying on the ground, but trying to pull herself up to watch what was about to unfold. He needed to win this and he needed to do it quickly; she wasn't looking good.

Max turned back to face Joey, and before he knew it he was on his back, slamming against the dirt. Joey had launched himself towards Max as he was distracted, and now had him pinned to the ground.

Max couldn't move; his arms were planted down by Joey's knees, and his old friend's entire weight was pressing down on him.

"Joey, please; the kid," Max wheezed.

"I'll take good care of her, don't you worry," Joey hissed.

Max squirmed and tensed as best he could, but he couldn't shift Joey, who retracted his right arm and threw a violent punch into Max's face.

Joey's hand connected with his jaw. Max could feel his lip cut open on his teeth as blood spurted out onto the dirt. Before Max could even turn his head back, Joey's left hand connected; then his right again, then left. Max's head snapped from side to side, blood flowing from his mouth and nose.

Joey was relentless, throwing punch after punch into the defenceless Max's face.

"Max!" Lizzie screamed in worry.

Joey looked up briefly to smile at the girl's distress, momentarily lifting his weight from Max's legs. Max propelled his knee up forcefully into Joey's crotch. The younger man rolled off to the side, clutching between his legs and groaning.

Max hauled himself to his knees before wearily finding his feet.

Joey spat into the dirt and found his own bearings.

"There's not a lot left down there now anyway, Maxie boy. A hundred clicker bites don't leave much loose flesh behind!" Joey yelled.

"Joey, it doesn't have to be like this!" Max roared over the crowd.

"Oh it does, Max. You took everything from me. I loved you like a brother!" Joey screamed. "Shame I'm going to have to kill you!" he added before running at Max like a charging bull.

Max sidestepped the attack, sweeping his leg round to send Joey falling to the ground once more.

Joey growled in anger, jumping up and running at Max again. Max stepped forward, meeting his old friend with a powerful right hook. The two exchanged punch after punch in a furious engagement. Neither of them were backing down; one fighting for vengeance and one for love.

Joey kicked dirt up into Max's face, blinding him for a moment, allowing him to step forward and land a gut-busting punch to his stomach. Max doubled over, completely winded and gasping for air. Joey didn't let up, bringing two fists down onto the back of Max's head, sending him flying face first into the ground.

Max shook off the pain and ignored the blood and dirt clouding his vision as he rolled out of the way of Joey's boot, which smashed into the dirt.

Max kicked out at Joey's ankle, connecting well, giving him time to get up as Joey recoiled in pain.

"You can't win, old man!" Joey shouted.

Max ignored the slur, instead stepping backwards and waiting for Joey's advance. He was too aggressive, his decision making clouded by revenge and with little thought put into defence. Max knew that if he was quick and timed it well, he could beat him one on one.

Predictably, Joey lunged towards Max, swinging a powerful right hand towards his head. Max ducked and bobbed out the way whilst winding up a left hook of his own, connecting sweetly on Joey's right cheek. His fist cracked against bone and Joey flew backwards, knocked to the ground in a daze.

Max took his chance and leapt upon him, pinning him down as Joey had done to him minutes before.

"What now Max?" Joey challenged.

Max didn't know. He didn't know if he could kill Joey. Not after everything. But if it was a choice between him or Lizzie, then he would have to.

"Max!" A voice wheezed from behind him.

Lizzie had stumbled her way over, clutching her arm tightly. She looked pale, her face completely white. Without some kind of treatment she wouldn't last long. Even if she was immune, the infection working its way into her wound would still kill her.

Lizzie's cradled arm stretched out towards Max, and as she uncurled her fist Max could see one of her throwing knives concealed within.

Keeping his weight down on Joey, he took the knife; held it; looked at it for a few seconds. He had to kill Joey now, didn't he? It somehow seemed easier when he was killing himself to save Lizzie. This was all suddenly so real.

Max cleared his mind. He couldn't think about it; it just made it harder.

He raised his right hand up into the air and paused for a second before driving it down.

Joey's eyes were full of surprise before they snapped shut as the knife came down.

The crowd gasped.

Then silence fell.

Joey opened his eyes, blinking a couple of times. He turned his head to the left, seeing the knife sticking out from the dirt mere millimetres from his face.

Max shifted himself off Joey's body, climbing to his feet and rushing to hold Lizzie up.

"You saw your champion here today!" Max screamed to the crowd. "I won the fight, fair and square! And I chose to spare him! If he has any honour, he will let me live!" he finished, staring Joey down.

The crowd cheered for Max's speech. Joey looked around full circle, panicked by the support.

"Oh I'll let you live, Max!" Joey said. "I wouldn't want you to miss what's going to happen to her next!" he taunted, looking towards Lizzie.

"Take her away!" Joey screamed to his guards.

"What? No! You can't! She has nothing to do with this!" Max pleaded as Lizzie was snatched from his grasp.

Max tried to fight back, but the guards were too strong, throwing his weakened body to the floor like a rag doll.

Lizzie was dragged down the main tunnel, followed by Joey, laughing all the way.

Max was left sprawled on the ground before two guards came to roughly escort him back to the cell. Alone. Without Lizzie for the first time since they had met on top of that lorry.

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