Every pulley cable in every machine in the gym was taut with anticipation. The chest press stood stoic and still, the mill dared not tread, the dumbbells stared from their racks in mute stupidity, and the elliptical machine, in its silence, could have been omitted from the gathering altogether to no noticeable effect.
All of them were waiting.
The only sound in the room came from two massive men, huffing and puffing on the rubber flooring, one cradling the other in his bulging arms, crooning encouragement to his companion. ‘You’re doing so good!’ the man – Trent – said, grinning, eyes brimming with joyous tears. ‘Come on, just a little bit more. Breath in – yes! Breath out – excellent! You’re perfect, bro. In! … out! … in! …out! Now push! Puuuush!’
Titus, the man in his arms, shook his head, looking wretched. ‘I can’t do it, bro. It’s too much. I’m not strong enough!’
‘It’s okay, bro!’ Trent replied, ‘I’m right here! I’m spotting you, bro. All you gotta do is push, and then push harder.’
‘I… I can’t.’
‘Bro. Look at me.’
Titus looked at him.
Trent gently ran his fingers along Titus’ brawny arm. It was an arm that had, once upon a time, picked up a heavy object and put it down – and then done so again several hundred thousand times more. The rolling hills of his musculature rippled as if with summer wheat, bronzed and glinting like a Grecian urn, surface resplendent with the figure of golden Herakles. The bulging veins that curlicued his flesh were like Hera’s coiling serpents, twisting in a fleshy crib; they were like the nine winding throats of the hydra.
‘You see these arms? These pecs? Those glorious glutes? Look at those and tell me you’re not strong enough. I believe in you, bro. All you gotta do is believe in yourself. Embrace your inner god, bro. Embrace him. Yeah?’
‘That’s what I’m talkin’ about. Now push, bro! Puuuush!’
‘Hnnnnnnnnnnnnng!’ Titus let out a thin wheeze of exertion. Every perfect muscle in his perfect body stood out like a juice vesicle in some humanoid grapefruit, and his scrunched-up visage reddened and shuddered dramatically, streams of sweat dribbling down the abyssal cleft in his chin. Trent grabbed Titus’ hand tightly, stroking and kissing his forehead, breathing with him and coaxing him to push, push, push. His thick fingers went white in Titus’ desperate, demigodly grasp.
‘HNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNG! HOOH-HOOH-HOOH-HOOH! HNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNG!’
Suddenly, the twin protrusions of Titus’ calves began to deflate, followed by his massive thighs, his glorious glutes, the bubble-wrap rack of his abdominals. His legs were left scrawny and twiggish, his belly as skinny as a teen’s.
Trent gasped, and then let loose a giggle of joy. ‘Bro! You’re doing it, bro! I can see it! It’s coming! It’s coming! You’re doin’ so good, bro, you’re doin’ so good! Just a little farther! Puuush!’
But Titus could go no further. He gagged in abject agony, and his body went limp. Immediately, the muscles of his legs and abdomen swelled up once again, restoring him to his former glory.
‘I can’t do it, bro,’ he moaned pitifully, heaving for air and shaking from exhaustion. The sweat-sodden exercise mat squelched under his burly back. ‘It’s too hard. I’m too weak, man. I’m too weak!’ He began to sob in pain and self-loathing. ‘I’m nothin’ but a… but a… nothin’ but a wimp.’
‘Bro. You’re a king, man. You’re a god. But most of all, you’re my bro, bro! And I know my bro. Let nobody say I don’t know my bro! I know you, and I know you can do this. It’s hard – I know it’s hard. I’ve been there. Hell, you’ve been there. And you’ve triumphed before! You know why? Because you’re a champion, bro! And being a champion is tough, but it’s worth it, because the pain you feel today is the pride and love that you’ll feel tomorrow.’
Titus bit his lower lip. ‘I love you, bro.’
‘Bro. I love you too.’
‘I can do this.’
‘You can do this.’
‘I can do this!’
‘You can do this!’
‘Yeah! Uh. What are you waitin’ for?’
Titus lifted a hand to Trent’s lips. ‘I’m waitin’ for you to tell me to ‘push’. I want your voice to be the first voice it hears.’
Trent grinned, and then lowered his lips to Titus’ and gave the love of his life a sweaty, salty kiss. His breath was made electrifying by energy drinks. ‘Alright, bro. Now push, bro! PUUUSH!’
‘PUUUUUU- Bro! BRO! I see it bro! Just a little more!’
Once again, the muscles on Titus’ legs sank in on themselves, gradually vanishing without a trace. His Heraklean body deflated by degrees, leaving in its wake the scrawny form of a man who had never lifted a kettle, much less a kettlebell. For a time he looked absurd, with each leg a bony spaghetto beneath a body of hulking bulk, thick veins throbbing with blood and testosterone and electrolytes. And then the rest of his sinew was sucked away as if through a funnel. His abs sizzled out of existence like pats of butter on a pan, his pectorals flattened, his arms were left as smooth and flat as ceramic.
Something was pushing its way out of his body.
Trent gingerly cradled the protuberance, gently teasing it out of his lover. The caul of plastic pre-packaging ruptured, spilling amniotic lubricants and mink oil over his fingers. And then the room filled with a metallic squealing. With a swift and delicate bite, Trent snapped off the umbilical cable.
Titus’ eyes fluttered open. ‘What is it? Can I see it?’ His voice was choked – choked in pain, but also choked in brimming ecstasy and yearning and love, love, love.
Trent lifted the massive child up with both hands and brought it over to his skinny lover, crooning at it, and occasionally darting Titus an overjoyed, tearful look. ‘It’s a bench press,’ he whispered proudly.
Titus’ eyes went wide. ‘A – a bench press?’ He reached out with trembling hands, and Trent eased the folded piece of equipment into his arms. Titus ran a gentle hand across its leather upholstery, across its cool steel legs. And then he began to sob: soft, gleeful, tired, loving, pained, demigodly, utterly enchanted sobs. Trent wrapped his arms around him, tickling the newborn’s little rubber ferrules. He, too, began to cry, and buried his head into his lover’s neck.
Every exercise machine in the gym made its grinding, wobbling way towards the miracle, wanting to behold their new sibling.
‘Hello, little bro,’ Titus said to his baby. ‘Welcome to the world.’