2309: Momentary Bliss

Posted: March 1, 2014 by Kelly in stories, the world

The razor clatters on the floor, bouncing off the sink on the way down. It leaves a smudge of blood on the white porcelain and splatters shaving cream on the tiles below. “Well fuck.” Ruiz mutters, staring down at his hand. The flow of blood is already slowing. It’s barely a cut, certainly nothing he would have flinched at before. He looks up at his face in the mirror and sees a thin rivulet of blood trickle down from his cheekbone, where he managed to cut himself shaving.

“Fuck this shit.” He grunts at his reflection and slams his fist into his reflection. The image ripples, but the screen doesn’t shatter. “New school bullshit.” He mutters, flexing his hand. His knuckles throb. He may have broken his hand again. Typical. He’s the only broken thing here.

The door opens behind him, revealing a pretty redheaded nurse. She’s dressed in nothing but her skin. Ruiz glances at her reflection and shakes the tension and ache out of his hand. “Everything ok?” Jillian asks, looking from his face to his hand to the razor on the floor. A look of sympathy crosses her face, and not for the first time since his arrival in the clinic he wishes he could wipe it away, smash it from every face he sees.

“Cut myself shaving.” He mutters, turning around to look at her. She walks towards him, unafraid. He hates it. Loves it. She bends down, picks up the razor from the ground and crowds into his personal space. Her fingers trace of the cut on his cheek. She tuts, and pushes his chin up, making him tilt his head back.

“Let me help with that.” She whispers, sliding the razor over his still lathered face. He wants to tell her he’s not a fucking invalid, but that would be a lie. He’s a cripple. Can’t even shave himself. Can’t even catch a razor when he drops it. He opens his mouth to comment on it, but Jillian presses a finger to his lips.

“It’ll come back.,” She tells him. “Just give it more time.”

“I’ve given it months,” he grouses, wrapping his hands around Jillians waist and pulling her tight against him.

“And look at how far you’ve come already. You’ll be fit as a fiddle in no time, and your body will remember what it’s good at.”

He smirks and lifts her up and sets her down on the towel closet, stepping in between her legs which wrap around him instantly. “I remember a few things it’s good at,” He jests, ignoring the way his arms tremble with the exertion of lifting her up. He’s a wreck, but he’s willing to forget about it for a while if she is.

~

Sweat drips down his back as he pulls himself up for the fifteenth time. His arms feel like they’re burning, but he’s not stopping. Last time he did this they had been forced to carry him out after he passed out, exhausted. It’ll come back, they had said. They never said when, or how, ir if he’s ever going to feel like himself again instead of like an old man.

“You are an old man.” Catherine had said. She had meant well, of course. Older than him by at least two decades, she had saved up for the procedure her whole life. She was getting a cure for M.S. Ruiz was being reconstructed after someone killed him. They have absolutely nothing in common, but with Walter gone she had been one of the few people left with the guts to talk to him. So he lets her talk and pretends he doesn’t want to break every single bone in her body.

“Old man my ass.” he grunts, pulling himself up again. He manages three more pull-ups before his fingers slip on the bar and he drops to the floor in a heap, pain shooting through his shoulders and back. Some days he swears he can feel exactly where the iron spike nicked his spine, rendering him crippled. The muscles, cartilage and nerves had all been regrown and replaced. Even the scars were hardly visible, but Ruiz can still feel it and remember the exact way Chang killed him.

“I will piss on your corpse.” He grunts out as he pulls himself upright.

“That’s not very nice,” the disembodied voice of Walter echoes through the training center. His face appears on the wall that Ruiz is using to pull himself upright.

“Fuck, you’re ugly up close,” Ruiz tells him, taking a step back to get a good look at Walter. He’s not looking too shabby. His eyes have a spark of life in them that Ruiz hadn’t seen while he was still in recovery.

“You’re no looker yourself, assface,” Walter says, grinning at him. “But it’s good to see you’re up, sorta.”

“Fuck you, runt. I’m beautiful.” He snarls at the camera, giving Walter a view of his prettiest angle. “Jillian patch you through?”

“You mean the ginger nurse? Yeah, she said you wouldn’t mind. I’m not interrupting anything, right?”

Ruiz shakes his head, flinching at the twinge of pain in his shoulders. “Nah… I’m done her for the day. Might as well save myself the humiliation of passing out and waking up in a puddle of my own drool again. What do you need, Walter?”

“What, a bro can’t call his bro to see how he’s doing these days?” Walter asks, his mouth curved in a half-smirk.

“Small talk isn’t your style, Lane.”

Walter shrugs, looking terribly pleased with himself. Fucking insane is how Ruiz would describe it, if he’d seen that look in the arena. “I’ve got some news, figured you should hear it from me and not from the media.” He pauses for effect. Ruiz hates pauses for effect.

“You’ve decided to finally embrace your true nature and will continue your life as Vanessa Humpalot, dragqueen extraordinaire?” Ruiz guesses. It earns him an amused snort from Walter. “Alright, I give up, spill the beans already.”

“I’ll be visiting your old stomping grounds soon,” Walter says, his eyes taking on the dangerous glint of madness that Ruiz had seen there once or twice before, usually when they were talking about the Corporation.

“What, Salvador?” He has to ask, even though he has a sneaking suspicion that’s not what Walter means.

“Southern League,” the other man confirms. “They’re giving me a free pass straight to the arena, none of that Fortress bullshit this time around. Apparently they think they owe me something.”

“Well fuck, that is the dumbest fucking thing I’ve ever heard. Congrats man.” He grins at Walter, “I heartily approve. Suicide by League, no one’s ever done that before. That is a novel fucking concept, bro.”

“Fuck you, I’m not suiciding. I just want to fuck shit up,” Walter frowns at him.

“And that I can relate to, but do you really think you’re going to be in fighting shape in seven months?” Ruiz can’t hide another wince when he straightens his shoulders. His arms really do feel like they’re on fire. A brief look of sympathy crosses Walter’s face, and Ruiz wants to stomp on it until it’s an unrecognisable bloody mess.

“I’ll be alright. My knee is better than it’s ever been, even before it was shot to shit. I’m working with Saxa to get fit. Luckily my upper body was fine, so I’m not dealing with loss of muscle memory there. The rest is easier to pick up.”

“Saxa, that chick who shot you in the Fortress? That Saxa? Man, you’ve got balls. I hope she doesn’t shoot you before the fun begins this time.”

“Well, there won’t be anyone fucking with her guns this time around…”

“Color me relieved, bro. I’m surprised they let you in though, your feelings about the League are well documented and creative.”

Walter smirks again, “Ah, but you forget, I have something they want.” Another fucking pause for effect. Ruiz glares at Walter, who takes the hint. “A good story. Former Fortress Victim goes back for seconds. Grief Stricken Underdog tries to go the way of the dodo. Think of the headlines, man. You know they are…”

“Cunts,” Ruiz mutters. “Not a bad idea though. Huh. Maybe I should give Young a call, see if he can set me up with the Southern League as well. Should be fun, right?”

Walter laughs at that. “In your current state? Talk about shit ideas.”

“I’ve got seven months, runt.” Ruiz growls.

“In seven months time you’ll still be recovering. I don’t think they’ll let you take a walker into the arena.”

“Fuck you, asshole. I’ll be dancing fucking circles around you seven months from now.”

“Not likely, mate.” Walter smiles sympathetically again, and for one bright, vivid moment Ruiz imagines choking the life out of him. “By all means, sign up, but you’re making it a cakewalk for anyone competing with you.”

“We’ll see about that. If you think I’m going to let some whiny runt take my title from me you’ve got another thing coming.”

“As if you’ve ever given a shit about the title,” Walter smirks. “Look, I get where you’ve coming from, but just give it more time. One year from now you’re going to be at your full strength and back to kicking ass and taking names and spinal cords. You’ll see.”

“I’ll see you in seven months, Lane.” Ruiz growls, “Keep me up to date in the meantime, alright? This place is boring as fuck and I could do with the entertainment.”

“I thought Jillian was keeping you entertained?”

“Fuck off, you know what I mean. Keep me up to date, Lane, or I will kick your pale ass into next week.”

“Bring it on, old man. I’m pretty sure I can take you.”

~

“It’s not going to happen.” Young’s voice is kind, cool and sympathetic and he’s telling Ruiz exactly what he doesn’t want to hear.

“Come on, it’ll be great. Thing of the headlines. Think of the ratings!” Ruiz tries for the fourth time. Young is a slut for ratings, but he just shakes his head.

“I’m thinking of the headlines alright, and you know what they tell me? Miraculously healed survivor of a world league that shouldn’t have been survivable is added back to the fortress roster. Do you have any idea what that’s going to look like?” He shakes his head. “We’ve worked our asses of for years to keep the league above board, above suspicion and free of corruption. Bringing you in now would open the floodgates for lawsuits and blackmail attempts, at the very least.”

“Come on, man… Surely you can work around that.”

Young shakes his head again. “I’m sorry, Ruiz. You know I’m a fan, but it’s just not the right moment for it. Just… give it some more time, alright? Heal up completely, get back to fighting shape, and then we’ll see about getting you back into the league next year. Or, here’s a thought, maybe you’ll be enjoying your retirement by that time. You’ve got nothing left to prove, why would you risk your new self for glory that’s already yours?”

“It’s not about the glory, fuckface.” Ruiz grunts. “It’s about feeling alive, alright? I fucking died out there when Chang killed me, and ever since I woke up in the fucking hospital people keep telling me I’m alive, I survived, but I don’t fucking feel it.” He hates the way his hands tremble around his glass when he says it. “I breathe and eat and talk and I fuck and I don’t feel anything! And I need you to just give me a fucking chance to find my way back…”

“I’m sorry.” Young repeats, and he looks it. “I can’t help you right now, Ruiz. Please just give it some time. You will be alright.”

Ruiz cuts the connection off and throws his glass against the wall where it splinters into a hundred pieces, amber liquid splattering the wall and the floor below. “Fuck him.” Ruiz spits out. “Fuck everything!” He punches the viewscreen. It cracks along the center, ruining the supposedly soothing nature display. Ruiz flexes his hand. His knuckles barely hurt.

~

The sun is warm on his face when he finally walks out of the clinic. It’s been months since he first arrived, but he’s finally recovered enough to continue his revalidation at home in Cidade. “Out of fucking purgatory…” he mutters, carefully making his way down the stairs. Jillian tells him his body is fully healed. She tells him his recovery is phenomenal, beyond anything they’ve ever seen with someone his age.

“My age,” He scoffs. “Didn’t matter much last night.” He mutters to himself as he makes his way down the stairs towards the stationary pods. The night before he’d fucked her against the wall. One last ride before his sentence was up. He doubts he’ll see her again. He doubts he’ll want to. The ache in his calves and lower back is almost pleasant now, reminding him of recent exercise instead of old injuries. It’s a relief after months and months of torture, trying to relearn how his body works.

“They’re letting you out?” An obnoxious voice reaches him. Tim Carpenter, also known as the cunt that had dared to call the Arena stale, the league repetitive. “Going to enjoy your retirement?” Carpenter continues, oblivious to the way Ruiz is ignoring his existence. “I’ve gotta say, buddy, I’m a little envious. I bet you never have to work another day in your life, with that you’ve earned in the Arena’s.”

“You mean those stale, boring things that nobody watches anymore?” Ruiz turns to look at him. Carpenter is standing upright, looking pale but healthy in the morning light. He vaguely remembers something about Carpenter being discharged this week as well.

“Hey, no offense buddy, everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, right? You had a great run though, so you should be proud.”

“Proud? of being gutted by someone who didn’t even win the fucking match?” He growls at Carpenter. “Have a free piece of advice, fuckface… if you don’t know what you’re talking about then shut the fuck up,” He turns away from the other man, taking another careful step down the stairs. Jillian had told him it would take him a while to regain his balance completely, but it would come back eventually. He just needs to give it time.

“What the fuck, Ruiz. That’s completely uncalled for. I don’t know what your problem is, man. I’m only trying to…”

Ruiz doesn’t realize that he’s punching Carpenter in the face until he feels a satisfying sting of pain bloom up in his knuckles. Carpenter drops down on the stairs with a cry, clutching at his broken cheekbone. Ruiz flexes his hand. It had been a good punch. Solid, meant to take a man down. He grins and stares down at Carpenter. “Stale, huh?”

It isn’t until after he’s kicked Carpenter down the stairs and busted his skull on the side door of one of the pods that Ruiz realizes he hasn’t felt this alive since before he died. The muscles in his arms and legs are burning, but they remember how violence is done. Ruiz remembers.

“Retirement, my ass.” He says to himself, whistling as he makes his way back to Cidade.

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