His hands are not shaking. It is a fact that inspires a spark of odd pride in him, as he remembers sitting in this same place 8 years ago, his bones rattling in his skin, waiting to live or die. People crowd the small cement room, loud and electric. Suits stand next to dirty tank tops and hooker skirts with ease. No two are the same, and yet they always manage to blur together in the calamity. The fight room, as Sebastian likes to say, is for everyone with a wallet.
The fluorescent buzzing of the huge lights dangling from the ceiling is drowned out by the sounds of the crowd and current match. The wrestling women have moved out of his view on the slightly raised platform in the center of the room, but the cheering and angry shouting as money passes between hands tells him what he needs to know: the fight is close to over. Charles grins at him encouragingly from across the room, and Erik dips his head instinctively in return.
Familiar, not too familiar.
They’d fucked a few weeks ago, when Erik had won against Creed. Out of his head with endorphins and still dropping out of his trademark suicidal fervor, he’d pressed himself up against the young doctor, fixated on smearing some of the great excess of red on his soul ((and also all over his face, his shirt, his knuckles, that was a bad, bad day,)) onto that white lab coat. At the moment, Charles is tending to another mercenary, deftly administering tiny stitches to an unfamiliar eyebrow.
Erik watches for a brief moment before a shout draws his attention to the girls in the circle, where one stands, victorious, visible above the heads of a shouting crowd. One will most likely never have that privilege again. She is dragged away, still screaming, and more men on the outside of the circle throw money around. A woman with long red hair beckons to him in a way reminiscent of a seductive lover, but poised like she’s ready to weigh his heart against the feather. Erik’s turn. The white plastic chair peels away from his bare back like wet Velcro. Someone pats him on the shoulder.
The floor in the ring where he stands a moment later is still slick with blood that isn’t his. He can hear his pulse in his ears and feels his muscles tensing and un tensing in anticipation. A big blonde boy is stepping forward across from him and there, there. It takes only a moment for the familiar blanket of single minded Focus to take hold. Nothing will bother him in here. Calm. He will be hurt. Breathe. He will kill this man, or he will be killed. Adjust stance. Both options hold equal favor for him, and he knows that that is his advantage. He no longer fights with the single minded rage he’d had when he was younger. It’d burnt itself out of him before anyone could teach it out, and although Sebastian is never happy about how close he seems to allow himself to get to death, he knows that this is why people love to watch Erik fight. It’s where the money comes from, and it’s an advantage without question. The whistle blows, and Erik remains where he is. The Other Man does not. He throws himself forward, and Erik darts sideways at the last second, using his elbow to drive the Man further forward into his own momentum. This forces him to pause to re establish balance and avoid crashing forwards onto the ground; the split second’s hesitation is what Erik needs to sweep his legs out from under him, then pounce on his waiting form. They exchange blows, an elbow catching Erik’s ear, setting his teeth rattling. He concedes a rib indifferently to the man's quick blows, a foot slightly less so. He would have preferred his foot remain undamaged, but this larger Man is swift. Calculated sacrifices. He breaks two ribs, he thinks, when they are next up again, a punch thrown in self defense landing well on the Other. The impact jars his bad shoulder, and he carefully shifts that side of his body away from the opponent when they are back in stance. A small voice in his head makes a note to be glad later that Logan is so good at taping his hands, or the force of his punches would surely have broken his fists. His next kick lands true, and the consecutive ones don’t matter because that one won him the fight, he can see it even as his body burns distantly. In four more utterly predictable moves, the Other Man is on the ground, and will not win. Erik knows the expression of defeat and fear, recognises it as his own knees hit the cold floor, as he curls his fist and continues punching. Hard, hard impacts. He’s won. He could stop, in the face of this realization. Could stop, as warm blood spatters familiarly onto his face. But he doesn’t, because when one packs no moral compass (has had it beaten out of them), there is just as much reason to keep going as there is not to. An inconsequential decision.
When finally the man is more open flesh than intact bone and Erik ceases, two familiar ring girls, one dark leather and one white diamonds, approach. He sits back on his heels before rethinking the action upon the crunching shift of a tarsal bone, and instead struggles to his undamaged foot. Angel and Emma, yin and yang, take up the body by the arms and legs with strength usually found surprising by onlookers. Their flexing, scantily clad forms lend a ludicrously sexual tone to the sight of a man with his face caved into his skull being carried away.
A man in the front row had spit on Erik as he’d fought, and a hand absentmindedly touches that place on his face as two lackeys come up to escort him to the med table. Charles has an air of well practiced blankness, even as his eyes flick back and forth over invisible calculations and logistics for the situation at hand. Not for the first time, Erik notes the tiny silver earring he wears and wonders if he will ever get around to asking about it.
After receiving adequate medical treatment, he’s free to either go or stay to watch the other fights, and chooses the former. Everyone dies the same- slowly, then all at once. That thought incites a few moments of absent pondering over the philosophical implications of such a thing as he pushes his way to the back room. Those who’d won money off of him pat him on the back or nod jovially as he passes. His shirtless torso still streaked with gore and drying sweat, cutting him a recognizable figure.
In the back, he takes a left into a narrow passage, passing several fighters on their way out, then a second left into a narrow room four doors down. He strips quickly and efficiently, dumping his boxers and loose mesh shorts onto the tattered floral armchair poised beneath a narrow window at the top of the ceiling. The room’s just big enough to fit the armchair, a battered folding side table, a makeshift towel-rug, and a dirty claw-foot bathtub, already filled with icy water. His skin is beginning to itch, and he's grateful for the prospect of cleanliness, if only the physical sort. He hisses as he lowers himself backwards into the tub, keeping his newly-splinted foot well out of it even as he finishes submerging his entire head and body from the knees up. Water this cold, even after years of experience, still pushes all the air out of his lungs and seems to shrink wrap his skin to his bones on first contact.
Charles had found him for the first time like this, four years ago, attempting to drown himself, actually, though Charles didn’t know it at the time. He’d felt a tug on his shoulders, then another, and had come up more out of confusion at any person who’d attempt to interact with him, bleeding and naked, after seeing what he’d just done to the human being in the ring, than out of any actual desire to interact with anyone. Dr. Xavier’s friendly and professional gaze was what greeted him, and never wavered from his face as he’d explained his presence, then finished setting and bandaging up Erik’s newly broken fingers, and advised him on better taping in the future. He’d been gently adamant in his decision to do this now, yes, right now, because the next fight would start in ten minutes and afterwards they would require his assistance. His deep accent and soft hands had been minorly entrancing to Erik, in the midst of an adrenaline crash and the tail end of a suicide attempt, and he’d only nodded and winced, then watched as the strange doctor swept quietly from the room murmuring something about expectations.
When next they’d encountered each other, Erik was crying and Charles was not, and although he offered no meaningless platitudes or physical advances, his firm admonishments about the future of Erik’s metacarpals was centering- serene. And when he’d calmed, and they were alone in the back room, and Charles’ soft hands found their way to his waistband, when Erik pushed them over his cock, and they ended up rutting together against the cheap plastic folding table until they came like teenagers gasping into each other’s mouths, he found that he did not feel unpleasant or violated or even slightly wrong afterwards. It was odd, but refreshing, and he dare not look any further into it lest he see something damning.
Funny, he muses, as he surfaces from the bath gasping and shaking, that of all the things he fears might damn him, this one has nothing at all to do with the scars on his body.