Unsurprisingly, Mitch didn’t sleep much that night.
He came close to telling Jodie about what happened with Avi, but refrained because she was so elated by how well everything went at Fighting Spirit. A compliment was even paid to Toby, and he couldn’t go and put a damper on her mood after that monumental feat. Instead, he stayed quiet while she lavished praise and laid out more ideas; eventually she got the hint that he wasn’t all there, and left him alone after planting a kiss on the forehead.
God, he appreciated her so much.
But once the light turned off and she stopped trying to engage him, Mitch was left alone with his thoughts.
There’d been no gratification earned from losing it at Avi. Even if the accusations stung, they weren’t unwarranted. Could they have been presented in a gentler, more tactful way? Sure. But in Mitch’s pursuit of ridding his feelings to preserve their friendship, he hadn’t been a good friend, and that irony wasn’t lost on him. All that Avi had ever done was offer his assistance, and Mitch effectively slapped him away. The guy had every right to be upset.
Maybe not having an outlet for his aggression impacted Mitch a lot more than he realized. He’d used wrestling as a way to express himself in the ugliest ways imaginable, the yelling and the violence and the general spectacle of it all. When asked about Zevon, Mitch always insisted that he was a character and nothing more, certainly not himself “turned up to 11”, not like how other wrestlers portrayed their characters. But then again, maybe that’s exactly who Zevon was, and Mitch just didn’t want to embrace this.
At least Zevon was loyal and devoted to his friends, even if he was crude and offputting and sadistic to everyone else around. Zevon understood something fundamental that Mitch didn’t, even though they shared the same body, and it drove him mad. He wanted to tap back into that, and maybe then he’d finally know what to do about Avi.
Maybe it really was time to be upfront. He could preface it with a few disclaimers, say that he didn’t expect anything in return and if Avi was uncomfortable, he could move out. Either the lakehouse or Louis’ couch were available for him to stay at, and wrestling wasn’t his career, so he had options to start everything over.
But putting Avi through this grief wasn’t one of them. Not anymore.
Outside was still pitch black when he decided to get out of bed, but he couldn’t stay still for another second. He threw on the first top that his hands landed on -an unfortunate gag crop top that Jodie bought for him years ago- and didn’t bother putting anything over his underwear when he couldn’t locate pants in the dark. Whatever, he was dressed enough.
He descended the stairs and strode towards the kitchen, but froze in its doorway when he saw Avi already in there and at the counter. Shirtless as well, because why wouldn’t he be? Why not make this more of a challenge than it already was? The only thing that could make this scene worse would be if Avi wore the hoodie that he stole from Mitch back at Graveyard Smash. He’d worn it nearly every day since, and stretched it out so much that it was unrecognizable at this point. Mitch’s brain always failed to register when he had it on until he was out of the room and long gone, but there wasn’t any point in asking for it back, he had enough hoodies to choose from that he didn’t need to hold onto a nondescript black one.
Avi turned his head towards him, then it ducked. “Oh, hey,” he spoke quietly.
“Hi,” Mitch acknowledged.
Holding up a mug, Avi offered some coffee that he just made, which Mitch accepted. They stood across the kitchen from one another, the awkwardness was so palpable that Mitch couldn’t stand it. These early hours of the morning were about to be the only witness to something that typically only the later parts of the night were privy to, because not once had a single soul spilled their guts at sunrise.
But if nothing else, sleep deprivation made him brave. Mitch cleared his throat. “Hey, can we talk?” he asked, and Avi’s face dropped.
“Wait, before that-” Avi countered. “Can I say something first?”
“Yeah,” Mitch nodded, and fought off the urge to put up a protest, considering that he just psyched himself up and feared losing the momentum.
“Mitch, I’m…” Avi trailed off, then found his footing again. “I’m really sorry.”
“Come again?” Mitch’s nose wrinkled in confusion. “About?”
“I thought about what you said earlier, and I’ve been really awful about listening to you, and being mindful. And then I…I accused you of, iunno, not being forthcoming when you already opened up about struggling with mental health? It was extremely fucked of me to come at you like that.”
“Avi, it’s- it’s fine,” Mitch’s head swam, completely caught off guard by whatever the hell was going on. The inertia was now at critical risk of dying, and he’d barely gotten out of the station.
“No, I wanna explain.” Taking a shuddery breath, Avi closed his eyes. “I’ve…I’ve lost friends over the years, due to various reasons. It’s usually a combination of awful stuff. But the worst was 8 years ago. Are you familiar with Damian León?”
“A little,” Mitch lifted his hand and rocked it back and forth. The name rang a bell, and he’d seen it printed somewhere in the school’s lobby, possibly on a match card or engraved under a photograph. “I think Victor trained him a long time ago. He passed away, right?”
“Right,” Avi nodded, and Mitch’s insides turned cold with recognition as to what direction this conversation had turned to. “Damian was my best friend and tag partner for 7 years. He’s actually the reason that I met Victor. We went everywhere together, got signed together. He was closer than family, which I don’t say lightly. But he had his demons, and Mitch, they were so much bigger than him.” Pressing the heel of his palm into his eye, Avi paused then sniffled. “They took him from me. Just locked himself in the hotel bathroom while I was out with Charlie one night. Sent me a text saying he loved me and that he was sorry, and he was…he was gone by the time I got back. The EMTs couldn’t revive him, he was declared brain dead as soon as he got to the hospital.”
“Jesus,” Mitch hissed.
“I took a month off after his funeral, then got right back into it because the grief made me spiral in a way that was unmanageable. It was like I also died, in a way. I didn’t do a great job processing it, still haven’t. But I felt like I had to carry on his legacy and that no one else was allowed to. Dropped out of med school. Hit the road harder than ever before. Gave my all to wrestling.” For several minutes, no words were exchanged. It was the most that Avi had ever opened up about himself; if this was the kind of stuff that he carried day-to-day, Mitch now understood why he was so reserved about his past and his personal life, preferring to live in the moment.
An eternity came and went before Avi continued, his tone so fragile that by daring to speak it may shatter. “It’s not your fault, and maybe I didn’t even know this was a thing until I sat down and thought about it, but I get scared. Terrified. Like I didn’t do enough to help Damian or anyone else pull through it?”
“I can see that. I’ve lost a few people in the music scene.” Mitch let out a small laugh. “I was almost one of them.” Avi’s head shot up with watery eyes, and Mitch flinched. “Shit. That was bad timing. Sorry.”
“No, it’s cool,” Avi smiled sadly. “But anyway, I think I panicked and tried to overcompensate, and I ended up being insufferable and smothering. Sometimes you just…don’t take this in a weird way, but you remind me of him a little. Not that I’m trying to use you to replace him, but-
“It’s fine, you’re fine,” Mitch assured.
“And I’m so sorry, man. I need to do better. I really want you to know that I care so much about you, and I am here. Always. Anytime. I mean that.”
At this point, Mitch resigned to the fact that there’d be no confession, and that this wasn’t about him anymore. Can’t very well tell a person that you’re in love with them after they just compared you to their deceased best friend. “Well, for starters, I’m incredibly touched that you’re so concerned about my well-being.” Avi’s shoulders dropped a little when Mitch said that, as though a weight had been taken from him. “And I’m sorry that I’ve been like this. For whatever it’s worth, I don’t care for it, either.”
“I can’t even imagine,” Avi lamented.
“And, you kept asking if you did something,” Mitch continued. Memories from Graveyard Smash resurfaced, the sensation of Avi’s hand on his thigh, the arm around his waist, the glazed look of admiration. Being pulled in close…
Mitch shoved that all away, because he couldn’t keep clutching like this. It meant nothing, and he needed to drop it for good. “You didn’t, OK? You’re a great friend. I’m sorry that I alluded to you being anything less than that, you’ve been nothing but a blessing.”
“It’s OK,” Avi wiped his eyes while Mitch took the first sip of his coffee, which had gone cold. “So, are we cool then?”
“Yeah, of course,” Mitch answered, then fully expected Avi to go about his business now that they air cleared. But he just stood there, almost as if he was waiting for something else. “Uh, you wanna shake on it?” Mitch tried to joke.
“I mean, that or,” Avi stretched his arms out slightly with a bashful grin. “Bring ‘er in?”
“Oh!” Mitch blinked. Of course he wanted a hug when Mitch was barely decent; sure, at least he was wearing a top, he was fairly certain it was the one with BLOWJOB QUEEN printed across the chest. Nevertheless, he obliged, meeting Avi in the halfway point and thinking about shit like corpse flowers and beached whale carcasses to not focus on the way their bare skin touched at the waist and hips. Unsure what to do with his hands since Avi was fixed firmly around his midsection, Mitch gingerly patted the top of his head and resisted sinking his fingers into the soft waves of his hair. Avi clung to him so tightly that Mitch swore his spine would be better aligned by the time he was eventually released.
So an agreement was forged: Avi would no longer harass Mitch about the state he was in, but Mitch assured that if he was in over his head and needed something -anything at all- he would let Avi know instead of going at it alone.
They parted, and though a small part of Mitch was relieved that his feelings stayed unearthed for another day, he had also been looking forward to no longer harboring this secret.