Brian wasn’t sure where this insane desire to workout had come from but he’d decided that if he was going to try and tone up and build his stamina then he was going to do it properly and hire a personal trainer to guide him. Blissfully one even came to mind immediately: Calvin Ripley, who had trained Brian’s Critical Role co-star Liam O’Brien, as well as a number of the male employees at Rooster Teeth, another online entertainment company. It had been Brian himself who had previously recommended Calvin’s services to Liam based on the stories he’d heard from the guys at Rooster Teeth and, although he hadn’t grown to Travis’ levels of muscularity, Liam looked happier and healthier for the time he had spent under Calvin’s tutelage. As such, it was pretty much a no-brainer for Brian to hire the trainer’s services.
Calvin himself was young, around his late twenties from what Brian could guess, and traditionally handsome with his perfectly clear skin, his well-groomed appearance and his muscular physique. He carried himself with confidence too and seemed to be in a perpetual state of calm and friendliness that put Brian at ease, just as it had with all of Calvin’s previous clients. Still, he was firm when he needed to be, such as in Brian’s very first training session when he was being encouraged to attempt exercises at higher weights than he normally would so that Calvin could work out his current limits. Brian had stared at the fifty pound weights on either end of the barbell and blanched, but the trainer insisted: “Failure’s part of the process, man. Go in believing that you’ll do it and even if you don’t, I’ll be there to help.” Brian, of course, had failed to push the bar back up from his chest but as he’d said Calvin had been right there to help re-rack the incredible weight. “Give it a few weeks and that’ll feel as smooth as butter,” the trainer promised with a disarming smile. Brian wasn’t sure why he believed him, be he did.
At the end of that first session Brian was drenched in sweat and seriously considering why he had thought getting his fitness levels up would be a good idea. Were the physical improvements really worth the suffering he was apparently going to be enduring five days a week, according to the schedule that Calvin rattled out: “We’ll do two hours every weekday - you can have weekends off for now. I’ll email you over a meal plan tonight, you’ve gotta go by it, meal by meal. I’ll know if you don’t!” The words were accompanied by a smile but Brian could almost sense a lingering threat underneath that friendly expression. “Let’s put you in for your sessions at eight every morning; make sure you get a good night of sleep beforehand, okay? I’d recommend lights out by ten.” Brian could hardly believe the other man was attempting to micro-manage and make decisions about his life without consulting him, and yet he also couldn’t bring himself to dispute anything that the trainer declared.
When he received a text message from Liam enquiring about his first session with Calvin, Brian expressed his bewilderment at the trainer’s intensity and, to be blunt about it, bossiness. “Yeah, I thought that too but trust me man, follow his advice and it’ll all be worth it. He’ll make you feel like a brand new man in no time,” came the response a few minutes later, followed by a second message: “You’re in safe hands, Brian. Just do whatever he says. There’s no point questioning it.” Brian wasn’t sure if he was supposed to be comforted by his friend’s words, indeed he was only left confused by Liam's uncharacteristically positive insistence that Brian do as he was told. His friend was usually something of a cynic, but there was none of that when Calvin was the topic of conversation, just an utter devotion to following the trainer’s word like it was law. Is this what it’s like to be in a cult? Brian wondered, Am I drinking the kool-aid right now? Still, it was coming up to ten o’clock and that meant it was time for him to get some sleep in preparation for what Calvin had described as “the real fun starting”.
Any anxieties Brian had about what he had signed up for with Calvin were gone by the time he rose the next morning. Despite the fact his alarm clock was ringing far earlier than it usually would, he felt refreshed and excited to tackle a whole different series of challenges from what he was used to. He carefully followed the recipe for the first high-carb breakfast on the meal plan he had received from his trainer and was out of the door and heading to the gym by seven o’clock, arriving a full fifteen minutes before their session was due to start. His mother had always taught him that punctuality was a trait people admired in others, and he certainly wanted to make a good impression for their first proper training session.
He used the extra time to stretch and spend a few minutes on the treadmill at a gentle jog to warm himself up. He didn’t have to wait long; Calvin arrived precisely as the hour hand on the clock settled on eight. The trainer regarded him with a proud smile and friendly nod of the head, before launching Brian straight into an intense training session: barbell curls, pectoral flys, bent over rows. By the end of the two hour session every part of Brian’s upper body had been worked harder than it ever had in his life previously and he was dripping in sweat, but none of that seemed to matter when Calvin slapped him on the back and announced that he’d done a “great job” and was “clearly a natural at this”. He’d never known himself to be such a sucker for praise before but he couldn’t stop himself from smiling throughout the whole journey home.
Towards the end of their third session together, Calvin once again took Brian by surprise by announcing that he’d watched some of Brian’s show, even though the Talks Machina host simply couldn’t imagine a guy like Calvin having any sort of interest in something as nerdy as Dungeons & Dragons. Then again, that was rather close-minded of him and there were definitely exceptions to the stereotype such as Travis himself and the actor Joe Manganiello, who had guest starred on Critical Role a number of times. “You’re a pretty good host, man,” the handsome trainer praised as Brian worked through a set of preacher curls that had his face flushed red and his biceps bulging into tiny peaks. “Have you thought of doing more podcasts or stuff? Maybe even a YouTube channel?”
Brian had to wait until he’d finished his twelfth rep to reply and as he returned the bar to its rack beads of sweat trickled down his arms. He wasn’t sure he’d ever sweat so much in such a short period of time, but strangely he didn’t mind it all that much. “Talks keeps me pretty busy,” he explained with a gentle shrug of his slender shoulders, “I don’t know what else I’d even create in terms of content. According to my friends I’m a pretty boring guy.” The remark was accompanied by a grin to make it clear that Brian felt no shame in the self-deprecation - in fact he was rather proud of being boring. A simpler life was a happier life in his experience.
“You could always do something about your fitness journey,” Calvin suggested, “Maybe have some bodybuilders on to give perspective on their professional careers. I’ll even guest for you.” It was all said with Calvin’s usual level of confidence making it sound like more of a direct order than a friendly suggestion, but Brian still had enough wits about him to be dubious. He wasn’t sure anybody would want to hear about his fitness journey (even among the Critical Role family and the small pond of the internet that they occupied he wasn’t exactly the biggest name), and besides, he didn’t know nearly enough about bodybuilding to host a show about it! As such he laughed the suggestion off as politely as he could, although he’d be lying if he said that the idea left his mind completely.
After his first week of training with Calvin the internet talk show host was stunned to discover that he had somehow managed to put on five kilos of pure muscle already, something that he hadn’t even thought was physically possible. As he looked at his reflection though Brian could see how his favourite shirt clung a little tighter around his arms, shoulders and pecs though, and he felt quite the thrill at that discovery. He even dared to risk a selfie that had him attempting to flex some of the muscles he gained and it wasn’t long after he’d sent it to his trainer that Calvin replied with another message of encouragement: Looking good, dude! You’re a fast learner. We’ll have you in the right shape for the job in no time! The strange wording of the message aside, Brian was happy that the beginnings of his fitness journey were impressing the other. It was hard to explain but he felt a compulsion to live up to the other’s expectations even though they’d only known each other for barely a week. It was strange, yes, but he didn’t see the need in over analyzing anything other than whether or not he was pushing himself hard enough during his workouts.
When a delivery of high-calorie foods and protein powders arrived at Brian’s door on his first rest day after starting up with Calvin, he was momentarily confused. He certainly hadn’t remembered ordering anything, let alone the sheer amount that had been delivered - there was enough for him to prep meals for at least two weeks, and have two shakes a day for the next month! The mystery didn’t take long to solve thankfully as the invoice provided him with the name of who had purchased the haul: Calvin Ripley. As if he had known what Brian was doing at that very moment, his cell phone chimed and it was a message from Calvin himself. That’s to help you get some more protein into your meals, the text read. You can thank me by pushing extra hard on Monday’s session!
The second week of training with Calvin was even better than the first. Brian had done exactly as his trainer had requested and pushed out extra reps on every set during their Monday session and that continued throughout the following four sessions that week. It didn’t matter what exercise he was doing, Brian just seemed to find an extra burst of energy just as he thought his strength was waning and was able to push out the remaining reps with little more than a couple of grunts of exertion. Calvin had even upped the weights he was working with on all of his exercises so Brian was pretty proud that he was managing to keep up!
Inspecting his reflection at the end of his second week, the changes to his physique were even easier to spot. He’d added another six kilos of pure muscle and every part of his body looked bigger: his shoulders broader and delts pronounced, his quads packed more power now they were thicker and firmer, and as he dared to lift his arms into a double bicep flex, Brian was delighted to see the peaks bearing closer resemblance to mountains than hills! Such extreme changes should have been impossible in the time frame he’d been working out, but everybody had assured him that Calvin was the very best trainer available and would get him results in no time… they evidently hadn’t been downplaying it at all!
During their third week together as trainer and client, Calvin began inviting Brian to hang out with him outside of their training hours and the talk show host saw no reason not to. The other guy was incredibly easy to talk to and always made Brian feel appreciated with his regular compliments. It was during these post-gym hours that Brian found himself getting swayed into getting a haircut and adopting a more fashionable style with the sides shaved and the top spiked, while also being encouraged to grow his beard out thicker rather than continuing to closely trim the facial hair as he did every few days. He had to admit that whenever he caught sight of his own reflection he was impressed: he was beginning to look like more and more of a whole new man!
By far the strangest thing that happened during that week though came after Brian complimented Calvin’s tattoos - not an hour later and they were in a tattoo parlour with Brian getting some ink of his very own on his right forearm. He could hardly even remember being talked into it, things had progressed so quickly and Calvin had even paid for the artwork to be completed! Brian had to admit that it looked pretty damn cool, even though he didn’t know how he was going to rationalise it to his co-workers who had always viewed him as the clean-cut type. Perhaps he’d just wear long sleeves to avoid their questions. What, and have them miss out on these gains? His mind countered as he tensed up his arms to watch the large muscles flex. He loved being complimented on his newfound size!
Brian had become so comfortable in Calvin’s presence that when he overheard his trainer on the phone shortly before one of their training sessions began he hadn’t anticipated it to be about anything shady. As he began to digest what was being said on his trainer’s end though, he couldn’t help but think that it was all rather strangely suspicious. “Yeah, I’ve got him right on track, he’ll be the perfect host for your show in another week or so,” the trainer said in his deep timbre, “As for O’Brien, replacing him was easy. These guys have some pretty hardcore fans who are willing to put up the cash and become them, just like the Rooster Teeth guys. All they have to do is say they needed a mental health getaway and nobody asks any questions. I’ve already got a few options to replace Foster when I’m done with him.” The conversation continued for a few more minutes after that but Brian hardly paid attention, he was still trying to process what he had heard. Calvin had been talking about him and Liam, there was no mistaking that, but what did he mean when he’d addressed replacing them? Brian couldn’t help but think back to those few weeks earlier in the year when Liam had disappeared, only to come back and explain that he’d needed a vacation to help deal with his stress. Had Calvin had something to do with that? Was it possible that the Liam that Brian regularly conversed with at the Critical Role offices wasn’t the real Liam after all?
Brian’s expression must have given away that he’d overheard the phone call because when Calvin noticed his presence, his own immediately darkened. “I’ve got to go,” he muttered into the phone before quickly ending the call and pocketing it. “Why don’t you go have another shake and forget everything you just heard?” he ordered, his voice much sharper and face much stiffer than Brian had ever seen it before. Despite his intense desire to question everything he had just heard, he couldn’t bring himself to say anything at all and instead mindlessly followed his trainer’s directions until his anxiety eased off and he couldn’t even remember what had sent that shiver of fear down his spine. Thankfully Calvin seemed to be in a better mood once Brian had finished his shake and the moment of weirdness was quickly forgotten about as their session began.
In the week that followed not only did Brian get more additions to the tattoo collection on his right arm, all paid for by his new best friend, but Calvin had also started to quiz him on the various exercises they were completing and the benefits of each one for the various muscles they were working. At first Brian had struggled with his responses but each time he felt a little more confident until he wasn’t just a passive presence within their training session but actively making suggestions himself for how best they could adapt exercises to be more beneficial for him. He was even passing judgment on others working out in the gym and thinking about how he could help them with their form and technique, just as Calvin did for him. When the other man saw him staring, he smirked and even encouraged Brian to go over and assist, giving him the courage to do so if only to receive a proud smile from his closest friend.
At the end of their fourth week of training together, Brian weighed in at two hundred and ten pounds of pure muscle and his regular morning inspections in front of the mirror confirmed that his body fat percentage was pretty damn low too - he was totally shredded! He ran a hand over his washboard abs and let out a sigh of contentment. Calvin had told him that if anybody was going to take his advice on fitness then he needed to look the part too and Brian thought it was pretty fair to say that he definitely looked like somebody worth listening to! From his thick beard to his tattoo sleeve and his mighty physique, everything about his image screamed alpha male and he consistently received lustful looks and envious stares wherever he went. Still in front of the mirror and a few selfies later, he ran through a series of poses that showed off his various muscles, poses that Calvin had advised him would be perfect for his next routine whenever Brian entered a bodybuilding contest which, given his size and look, he was almost certain would be soon.
Brian had been so caught up in learning a new career as a fitness trainer that he hadn’t even noticed that he’d stopped showing up at the office to host Talks Machina - Calvin had bought him a new cell phone to celebrate his incredibly progress and it came with a new number that Brian had failed to share with any of his fellow Critical Role cast members. In fact it had been weeks since he had spoken to anyone other than Calvin and the other guys at the gym, and he felt quite at home in those new social circles. Calvin had even introduced him to Kiernan, another bodybuilder who expressed interest in starting up a series about fitness on YouTube, and Calvin had suggested that Brock would make a good co-host for the show.
Brock hadn’t even thought twice about accepting, it sounded like the perfect gig for him! He had always felt at home in front of the camera and his extensive knowledge of physical training and the fitness community meant that he had never felt so confident in a project before. Plus, it would let him continue his own newly established personal training business and no doubt draw in more clients for him to train. Kiernan was a good guy too - they had a lot in common, including their love of tattoos and nights out which usually ended in drunken debauchery - and they got on so well that it seemed to Brock like they had actually been friends for years. Before long he could even remember meeting Kiernan at his first professional bodybuilding show and hitting it off with him. As such, it didn’t seem strange that Brock began spending more time with Kiernan and less with Calvin. After all, it didn’t make much sense that a trainer like Brock would need somebody else training him, did it?
The last time Brock saw Calvin, the other was deep in conversation with Kiernan. As he approached, Calvin had nodded politely in his direction before walking off, leaving Brock alone with his partner in crime. “What was that about?” he asked in his typical deep bass. Kiernan brushed it off by claiming they had been ‘wrapping up some business’ before changing the topic to the video they were about to film and whether or not Brock was camera-ready. The taller man raised his arms to hit an incredible flex, his biceps now larger than footballs, and grinned at his best friend: “I’m always camera-ready, bro. Let’s get this rolling!” He wore a wide grin on his face, quite content with how awesome his life had ended up becoming.
From afar Calvin watched as Brock Foster began filming the latest episode of his fitness series with his co-star (and the man who had funded his transformation), Kiernan. Although there had been a rough moment where Brian had almost discovered the truth about his operation, Calvin was confident that he had once again delivered another perfect specimen to fit the needs of his client, and they could all go home happy with their pockets full. Next up he had to whip Brian’s replacement into shape before anybody at the Critical Role offices got too suspicious about his absence, and then he’d move onto the next name on his endless list…