“Shouldn’t you be out there selling merch?” asked Mitch, half joking while Avi continued to look over his wounds and clean him up. It was just the two of them in a quiet corner of the locker room, finally alone after Louis dragged Sandy away and Jodie had come around to check up on him, her concern palpable until Avi assured her that he had it under control.
“Nah,” Avi lied; Mitch could tell, but he put up no argument. Everything was excruciating, and he wanted Avi there for some kind of support while the brain fuzz continued to amplify. He scratched at his neck then stared down at the dried blood under his fingernails, and thought about Nate doing the same elsewhere in the building. The mental image quickly dissipated when Avi’s thumb pad grazed a few tender spots. Despite Avi’s gentle touches, Mitch was too sore for this.
“Think I’ll need stitches?” asked Mitch, and Avi shook his head.
“No real lacerations, surprisingly,” Avi commented, his tone carrying both relief and annoyance. “I think you’ll be alright.” His hands cupped Mitch’s chin and tilted his face upward. Mitch assumed he was due for a kiss, only to be met with a rude snort when he closed his eyes and puckered his lips. “I’m gonna clean your face, goober. Just wanted to see if there were any bad cuts.”
“Oh,” Mitch deflated, keeping his eyes shut so that Avi could work. A wet napkin dragged across his face, and he kept his expression neutral while Avi scrubbed. Some spots were more stubborn than others, a familiar sting meant that clumps of coagulated blood were being disturbed.
Based on how his face went from tacky to damp, Avi’s thoroughness shone through and Mitch appreciated it. There’s a pause, and he wondered if Avi found a particularly nasty spot, but was pleasantly surprised when he’s at last the recipient of a kiss. He’s able to slip a little tongue as Avi’s fingertips pressed a little firmer under the hinge of his jaw. “You need a shower or you’ll get a staph infection,” Avi whispered into Mitch’s open mouth.
“Wanna join?” Mitch waggled his eyebrows. Being lightheaded made him more willing to entertain risks than normal.
“But no.” Avi pressed his lips to the tip of Mitch’s nose, and Mitch sighed in frustration. Shirt already long gone, he stood up and put his hands to his waistband, then began to push them down. Avi laughed. “Are you doing this right here?”
“Is that an issue?” Mitch teased.
“I’m gonna go like. Anywhere else. Yell if you need me.” He clamped his hand over Mitch’s mouth as it opened. “I’ll be right around the corner. Don’t be a smartass.”
“Alright,” Mitch conceded, but shoved his tights down regardless, drawing a shake of the head from Avi. Mitch finished undressing and dragged his carcass inside of the stall. He hadn’t gotten a good look at himself in the mirror. If he missed any spots, he had faith in Avi being able to handle it later. The water cascaded over his battered body, tracing all of the small cuts and making him shiver. Resting his forearms on the stall’s wall, he watched the fresh blood drip down his body and swirl into the drain below, until the water eventually ran clear.
He wasn’t too interested in meeting up with everyone at Fighting Spirit, but he needed to see if things would ever be cool between him and Nate again. Considering that this was the going away party, it may be the last opportunity. Though his entire body protested at the idea of leaving the hot water, he finished up, toweled off, and got dressed, not caring that Avi was present the entire time. He was so tired and only wanted to collapse onto a flat surface, but Avi crowded him against a locker and planted another kiss, and that gave him enough energy to be vertical for a little while longer.
Taking one last look in the mirror, Mitch was satisfied by the open wounds that no longer oozed. He accompanied Avi to Fighting Spirit, where the rest of the roster waited. When Mitch walked through the door, he was greeted by raucous applause from his peers. Zevon’s bravado vanished, and all that remained was Mitch, shy and withdrawn. But he loved them all from the bottom of his heart.
He made small talk when approached, though still disoriented from the match and unable to put himself out there too much. Avi grabbed seats for them at the bar, but before Mitch sat down with him, he spotted Nate across the room conversing with Jodie and Maya. “I’ll be right back,” he said to Avi, patting him on the back before weaving through the crowd. He lingered nearby within peripheral vision, and Nate’s eyes flicked up and they held one another’s gaze for a moment. Once the girls left, Nate cautiously approached.
“Hi,” Mitch greeted.
“Hi,” Nate parroted. Up close, he looked equally beat to hell and exhausted, the dark circles under his eyes like bruises to match the rest of his battered body.
“You said ‘sorry’ in the ring.” Mitch elected to cut to the chase.
“I did. I am.” Nate solemnly nodded. “I-I really should have told you everything from the get-go.”
A moment passed, and Jodie’s laugh rang out from over at the bar, making Mitch consider this, consider the surroundings. Consider all of it. Monument wasn’t so bad. Everything might be alright. “You’re right,” Mitch agreed. “But it’s done, and I’m ready to move on. So,” he stretched out his arms, because how could two people that nearly murdered one another not have some sort of bond after their shared ordeal. “Bygones be bygones?”
“Fuck yes.” Nate accepted the hug, clutching Mitch tightly for a few seconds before holding him at arm’s length. “I’m gonna miss you,” he admitted.
“Eh, you won’t have time to think about me when you’re in Florida,” Mitch chuckled. “But try to keep in touch. Visit sometimes.”
“Will do,” was all Nate said before Mitch slipped away for a final time. For a second time, he wound and wove through the throng until he returned to Avi’s side, grazing his fingers across those broad shoulders before sitting on the stool that’d been saved for him.
“Everything good?” Avi asked once Mitch was seated, his brow furrowed in concern. Propping an elbow up on the bar, Mitch rested his head on his hand. With his other, he reached under the bar and sought out Avi’s, then linked their fingers together. Avi smiled brightly, brilliant as always, the source of warmth and light that Mitch basked in.
“Yeah.” He gave a smile of his own, running his thumb along Avi’s knuckles. “Everything’s good.”