Chapter _; book i.
Working chapter title: devil's dance floor.
She could hardly keep herself still. Sitting in the breakfast nook, her knees up to her chest, she tapped her hand on the table impatiently. She'd been up since three thirty in the morning, and he wasn't home. Where the fuck had he gone in the middle of the night?
He'd been with her in bed when she fell asleep, she knew it. She remembered the sound of his heartbeat, the warmth of his arm around her shoulders. He'd been home, and now he was gone. Vanished into the night air, without a word or a note. She stood up, too tense and restless to be even remotely comfortable sitting down.
This was not the first time she'd woken to find his side of the bed empty. It was nowhere near the first time.
Fifteen times in the last forty days.
Where was he going? Who was he with?
She hated herself for thinking it, but was he cheating on her? What other reason could he have for sneaking out in the middle of the night? He didn't try to wake her from her artificial snoozing when he returned home, either, which was often at four or five in the morning. He got into the shower and tried to pretend he had been home all night. It frightened her a little that he was later than most any other time.
She wondered what time he snuck out. She'd thought about trying to stay up to see, but it never failed that the nights she stayed up, he stayed home. He never touched his phone, never sent any emails. It was as if he truly didn't have anywhere else to be. And for a while, she would brush off the disappearances. She felt insane brooding over them, unstable. Until he vanished again, and then her paranoia and fear and anger consumed her with a vengeance. Starved for her attention, her fears would eat her alive.
This time, she thought, she wouldn't just fake sleep. She wouldn't hide her discovery, she wouldn't wait and hope he would come clean on his own. Tonight, she thought, he was going to answer for his midnight mystery adventures.
She glanced at the clock. Quarter of six in the morning. The dawn was just starting to break over the horizon through the kitchen windows. Behind her, headlights crossed the windows on the front of the house, streaming through the thin curtains. Her heart stuttered in her chest, but she swallowed down the nervousness. She was going to do this. And even as the door swung open and the terrible coward in her rose up, she stood her ground.
He walked in the front door, tossing his leather jacket onto the couch and dropping his keys into the bowl beside the door. He was exhausted. Every part of him ached with the physical memory of his beating. He'd only gotten two hours of sleep, and the fight had gone on for so long he wouldn't get that extra hour he usually managed to squeeze in before work. He raised his right hand, knuckles cracked and bloody, to rub his sore neck and looked around the room for the first time. The lights were all off, but from the kitchen the pale, dusty blue of dawn was beginning to peek up. He stood in the shadowy corner by the door, dreading what he knew he would see in the mirror once he went into the bathroom.
At first, he only thought he saw her. When he did a double take, he froze. There she stood, arms crossed, all fire and fury and impatience. He could have handled that, he thought, were it not for the agony he could see so clearly on her face. She was devastated, beneath the rage and the suspicion, she felt betrayed.
She had assumed the worst.
He guessed his trip to the bathroom would have to wait. How was he going to explain this to her?
She stared at him, her shoulders tight and her lips pulled into a narrow line. She didn't have to ask, her posture said everything for her.
Where the fuck were you?
"Morning, Eden," he said, his mind still struggling to piece together a sentence that wouldn't further upset her. "I guess I should tell you where I was."
She rolled her eyes. "I've pretty well figured that out," she said, her tone biting.
"No," he said, trying to soften his own scratchy voice, shaking his head. "No, I am nearly a hundred percent sure that you haven't, actually."
She hated being contested that way. She hated being told what she thought, or how right it was or was not. She hated when someone guessed at what was in her head.
"And you know that how?"
"Because the look on your face says you just caught me with another woman," he snapped. He would have regretted it, but this battle was not what he felt like getting into just then. He had a wonderful ten hour work shift coming up in two hours, and he hadn't even gotten to blow the dried blood out of his nose yet.
"Just because she isn't in the room doesn't mean she doesn't exist," she growled back.
He stepped out of the shadows of the doorway, into the dim light of the living room for the first time since he got home. As she took in his appearance, her honey eyes grew wide and her hand went to her lips. "Oh, Pilot," she breathed, a gasp lingering in her throat.
"I'm fine," he lied. "I would just like to clean up, okay? Then we'll talk. I promise." He would have suggested they continue the conversation as he cleaned up, but he knew the more she saw of his injuries, the worse the argument would be. They weren't necessarily awful injuries, they just looked a lot worse than they were.
"I'll put on some coffee," she said, her voice already softened. The fury seemed to have gone from her eyes.
He must have looked worse than he thought.
He watched her turn away and head for the coffee machine. He wanted to reach out and stop her, to somehow explain that he couldn't possibly be with another woman. Not then, not after her. How could she have thought such a thing? Was she uncertain? Was the relationship somehow not to her what it was to him?
Did she think they were troubled? Maybe, in trouble?
He frowned and resisted, dutifully heading down the hallway to the master bathroom to attempt to fix his face. He could already tell it wasn't going to be an easy task. His opponent that night didn't seem to understand the rules of the club. It was common courtesy in most fight clubs, but especially at Devil's Dance Floor, to avoid the face, as most of the fighters had day jobs or wives to keep their underground habits from.
Fighters like Pilot.
Fight clubs weren't considered an honorable gig. Even "professional" wrestlers from the early twentieth century got more respect than underground fighters.
But it was money, and sometimes it was the easiest way to get it. Looking in the mirror at the damage, Pilot wondered how he would have covered the evening's activies up to Eden to begin with. His right eye was swollen, nearly doubled in size, and already a deep purple. His lip was split in three places, and his crooked nose signified just another broken nose; an educated guess that was backed up by the second, though less gruesome, black eye. One of the blood vessels in his left eye had popped and a wide spot of red showed clearly. Rivulets of blood trickled down from his nostrils, his lips, and his eyebrow. Luckily, none of his teeth were loose.
He pulled his shirt up over his head and winced. He was pretty sure he had at least one fractured rib. Scattered bruises and scrapes adorned his torso, some cuts deep and some jagged, some bruises dark and others yellowish.
He took a wet rag to his face, dabbing gingerly so as not to upset any of his wounds. Wiped clean of blood and grit, his face already looked better. His eyes were still puffy and dark, but the cuts in his lips had diminished to fine lines and his broken nose was mostly just bruised and crooked.
Eden knocked on the bathroom door and he let her in. In one hand she held his ice pack, in the other she carried two mugs of steaming coffee by the handles. She looked up at him and her eyes were almost apologetic.
"I'm sorry I didn't tell you where I went," he said, before she could apologize - as she always did. "I'm sorry I haven't told you at all." He stepped aside and she moved in, setting the mugs on the marble counter and putting the toilet seat down to sit on it.
"You still haven't," she pointed out, reaching for her mug.
"I have been going to fight clubs for the last two years," he started, diving into the confession before he could rationalize his way out of it. The shock on her face was instant, and she nearly dropped the mug. He raised his hand, silently asking her to keep from interrupting. "I've been involved in fight clubs since I was twelve," he continued, "and I fought all the way through military school." He leaned against the wall across from her, on the other end of the counter, and pressed the ice pack to his nose. Speaking a little louder to compensate for the muffling of his voice because of the pack, he went on. "I fought the entire time we traveled; it was how I paid for the whole trip. I stopped when we moved in together, Eden," he paused, setting the pack down so he could see her clearly. So he could meet her eyes and she could really see what he was saying. Not just hear it. "I stopped for a year. But then they raised the rent, and your car needed fixed, and money just got too tight. I could see you trying to hide the stress." He picked the pack up again, pressing the bitter cold to his aching nose. "I didn't want you to worry about things that are so unimportant. Not when I knew how to fix it."
"You think this is fixing it?" Her question was sharp, but her voice was gentle. He hated when she did that, mostly because he felt like an asshole when he threw a sarcastic remark at her. He bit his tongue, then, and sighed.
"I think it's paid the bills," he said. He understood her point, but he knew the reasons for his decisions. He didn't second guess himself often, and he wasn't about to then. "I think it's put some savings away, I think it's improved our lives. So, I would have to say yes, Eden. Yes, I think it has fixed it."
"Look at your face!" She rose from her seat and set the mug down. She gestured emphatically, her small hands twirling in the air.
He smiled at her, amused at her desperate worry and concern for him. "Eden," he said, stepping forward to take her wrists in his large hands. "Eden, listen to me: this is nothing to me. I am fine. You are fine. We have a wonderful house, good jobs. We aren't in debt, we own our own vehicles, we do what we want." He waited until her eyes met his, patient through her stubbornness. "Things are good, don't make this out to be worse than it is."
"When will you stop?" She always cut right to the point. "When are you going to throw in the towel? It's not safe for someone to fight all the time. You're only human."
He didn't feel only human, he wanted to say. He felt so much more than that. In the ring, he was so much more than that. He didn't tell her that, only leaned down and kissed her forehead. "I promise I will stop when I start feeling worn down."
She huffed, but seemed to understand that was as much as she would get out of him.
He didn't just fight for money. Sometimes he fought for his sanity. For his careful control throughout the rest of his day-to-day nonsense. Sometimes, he just fought for the freedom of fighting. For the power, for the fear. For the escape.
The money wasn't bad, though.