Knuckles : Boxer!Ashton (Part 1)
[Following anyone/everyone who leaves some form of thoughtful feedback x]
Talk about a third date.
If it were any other boy you’d probably be out at a restaurant or something on a night like this, flirting nervously across the dinner table while you try to decipher if he likes you enough to take your relationship to the next level. You’ve gone through the dating routine once or twice before, and had a pretty good idea of what to expect; if someone had told you a month ago you’d be standing right outside of a boxing ring while your date and another shirtless man beat each other to a pulp, you would’ve thought they were crazy.
The crowd around you gasps and your own stomach lurches, empathetically feeling the punch that Ashton just took to the cheek. Blood is already dripping down his face, the source of it located just over his left eyebrow. He looks like a mess yet he’s still on his feet somehow, determined to keep retaliating, apparently even if it kills him.
“Don’t worry,” Calum says next to you after noticing your concerned expression, “I’ve seen him win in worse conditions.“
You want to smile, appreciative of his effort to ease your mind, but every couple of seconds Ashton keeps getting hit, hard. It doesn’t matter to you whether he wins or loses, you just hope that your fourth date won’t have to take place beside a hospital bed.
"Is it almost over?” you ask Calum, too new to this sport to know the ins and outs of the rule book.
“One more round after th–Oh!"
You missed what happened, but look back at the ring to find the opponent, a man named Donovan Diaz, struggling to stand up. Given the cheers from the audience, it sounds like most of the people here have their money on Ashton, and he just brought them one step closer to profiting.
The round concludes and the fighters return to their separate corners, two teams quickly making their way into the ring to begin fixing up their boys. You wish you were allowed up there, yearning just to talk to Ashton, to treat him gently after witnessing the beating he’s taken for the last half an hour. Sitting on the short stool between rounds is the closest he’s been to you all night, each break like a minute-long tease that only makes you want to be near him more. You haven’t even said hi to him yet, not given the chance to do so before the match started.
He knows you’re here, though. He spotted you next to his friend Calum after walking away from the first round, and lost focus for a brief second to give you a smile and a flirty wink. Some crowd members noticed, chiming in with playful remarks and whistles, causing your cheeks to burn bashfully. Ashton seemed so confident and well put together then, but that spark isn’t as evident now that he can barely keep his swollen eyes open while his crew tidies up his blood-splattered face.
"How long has he been doing this?” you turn to Calum again.
He snorts. “Boxing or fighting?"
"Is there a difference?"
"Ashton only started boxing a little over two years ago,” Calum explains, “But he, uh, used to get in a lot of trouble before that."
"You mean he used to get in street fights.”
Calum pauses too long for it to go unnoticed. “Look, his childhood wasn’t the best, y'know? His old man used to come home from the bar every night and use the kid as a punching bag."
You glance at Ashton as he spits a mixture of water and blood into a bucket. His face is clean enough now to show the dark bruises rapidly blooming under his eyes. He’s nodding along to something one of his crew members is saying to him, his earlier enthusiasm overcome by exhaustion. It hurts your stomach to picture a younger version of him having to endure the same type of pain.
"Maybe don’t tell him I mentioned that,” Calum says. “I don’t think that’s what he meant when he asked me to put in a good word."
You almost laugh, reminded of Ashton’s charm. Of course he asked Calum to talk to you about him. Even when he’s busy in the ring, knocking the hell out of another man for the entertainment of hundreds of people, he still wants you to like him.
The next round begins sooner than you’re ready for it to, signaled by the chime of a bell. Ashton and Donovan force themselves to their feet, meeting each other and the referee in the center of the ring. The audience is much louder now that the end of the match is in sight, aggressively encouraging their favorite boxers to win for their own selfish reasons. You unintentionally hold your breath as the men begin circling each other; every movement sets you on edge, unsure of how many more times Ashton can get hit without collapsing. You’d like to think he’s as tough as Calum says he is, but that doesn’t defeat the fact that he’s human.
Ashton stealthily dodges a sudden punch swung at him, and doesn’t hesitate to backlash with a few of his own. If anyone in the stands wasn’t already ejected from their seat with adrenaline, they certainly aren’t sitting now. Ashton seems to have found a groove, delivering a number of rhythmic hits to one targeted area on Donovan, mercilessly backing him into the ropes. You bite your lip anxiously. Calum cheers beside you. For a moment it looks like Ashton might actually win this thing.
But Donovan refuses to go down that easily, and at the last second pulls a move that switches his and Ashton’s positions, forcing Ashton against the ropes instead. With his momentum Donovan makes up for the blow that missed before, striking Ashton’s exposed stomach directly, and sending him to his knees. He buckles over, extending one gloved hand to hold himself up while the other instinctively covers his newly found weak spot.
"Come on, Ashton,” you whisper under your breath, your words of encouragement getting lost under the roar of the relentless crowd.
It takes a second or two for him recover, but Ashton proves to have not run out of strength yet. He begins to sit up slowly, giving the audience the show they came for, but before he can get his second knee off the ground, Donovan returns with one last malicious strike to Ashton’s jaw, and then it’s over. Ashton limply drops to his side, and he doesn’t try to get back up.
Your eyes widen with fear. The crowd immediately starts to shout at Donovan, booing and cursing amongst derogatory names. It’s one thing to be upset over the results of a fight, but these people sound genuinely offended.
“Diaz better get disqualified for that,” Calum remarks angrily.
You look to him, hoping he’ll fill you in on what’s going on, but he’s too caught up in his own rage to be of any informant to you.
Ashton still hasn’t gotten up yet, and that worries you. This is the first time you’ve ever seen someone get knocked out; you don’t know how long it’s supposed to last. The referee and the man who cleaned Ashton’s cut earlier have surrounded him, trying to get him to respond. What’s probably less than 20 seconds feels like an eternity to you, but to your relief you finally catch a glimpse of Ashton’s hand moving, followed by the rest of his body. The two helpful men grab Ashton’s toned arms to lift him up while a third person joins the ring to contribute to leading Ashton down the steps. Once he’s on his way to the locker rooms, the ref exchanges hushed words with a few other officials on the side, then crosses the ring to talk to Donovan, who looks more angry than ever.
“Can we go see him?” you ask Calum, not completely expecting an answer.
“Hang on,” he brushes you off, keeping his focus on the referee. Your attempt to wait patiently fails miserably, the nerves in your stomach driving you insane.
Eventually the announcement is made that Donovan, as Calum predicted, has been disqualified from the fight. You’re not sure what he did wrong and quite frankly you don’t really care, as long as Ashton’s okay.
“Good,” Calum mutters his distaste, glaring at Donovan. “Alright, let’s go."
Nobody’s sitting in their chairs anymore so you have to keep your eye on Calum as he guides you through the sea of people, taking a turn down the wide hallway that Ashton disappeared through. The noise behind you begins to lose its volume the farther down the hall you go, and you’re grateful to be able to hear yourself think again. Crowded areas have never been your favorite. Calum takes a left turn and you follow suit, almost running into him when he stops in front of a door guarded by a tall man in all black attire.
"Go ahead,” he says to Calum, opening the door for him. Calum walks in without a hitch but you aren’t given such an easy privilege. “Who are you?” The guard holds out his arm to block your path.
Before you can try to reason with him, Calum speaks on your behalf.
“She’s his girlfriend."
You swallow, knowing that’s not entirely true.
But it’s enough. "Go on in,” the guard steps back, granting you access to the private area.
You thank him politely as you walk into the room, even more nervous now that you’re this much closer to being face-to-face with Ashton. He’d have every right to be in a bad mood after what just happened, so you hope you’re not intruding, that he still wants to see you.
The people from Ashton’s team come into view and Calum offers a passing greeting, turning right to walk into a second section of the room where the lockers are actually located.
“He asked to be alone,” one of the individuals warns, and you recognize him from the breaks in between rounds.
“Yeah, yeah,” Calum waves them off, walking into the area anyway one pace ahead of you.
Over Calum’s shoulder you see Ashton sitting on a bench, holding what looks to be an ice pack to his colorfully bruised face. His hands have been relieved of the boxing gloves but not the tape that’s still wrapped around his tattered fists. The sweat his body was sporting in the ring doesn’t shine over his skin as much, the air conditioning of the locker room cooling it down, but loose curls of hair that managed to escape his bun still stick damply to his forehead. He’s a proper mess, but a handsome one at that.
“You look like crap,” is the first thing Calum addresses.
Ashton opens his eyes, apparently unaware that the two of you walked in, and smirks. “You should see the other guy."
"Mess him up pretty good?"
"Him and his five friends."
"Right, mate, now you’re full of it."
They both chuckle, and you’re relieved to find that Ashton still has his sense of humor. He takes a deep breath, directing his attention to you.
You smile sympathetically. "How’re you feeling?"
"I’ve been worse."
"Not by much,” Calum interjects. “Quit letting people beat the shit out of you, would ya?"
"Good advice. I’ll try that next time.”
“Happy to help.” Calum lets his hand fall on Ashton’s shoulder, who grunts in pain. “Anyway, glad to see you’re still alive,” he takes a step back, glancing at you, “I’ll give you two a minute."
Calum strolls into the other part of the locker room, leaving you alone with Ashton. Over your last few dates you’ve grown used to having him all to yourself, and this is how you prefer it.
He turns to you again, his expression one that suggests he knows he’s in trouble.
"Ashton,” you sigh, closing the distance between the two of you by sitting next to him on the bench.
“You shouldn’t see me like this,” he says.
“A little late for that, isn’t it?” You reach for the ice pack pressed to his cheek. “Let me."
He allows you hold it there for him as your other arm snakes over his shoulders. He scoots closer, cuddling into your chest, accepting your affection like a sleepy child. He’s hurting more than he’s letting on, and you’re the only person he doesn’t feel obligated to put on a brave face for.
Your fingers tamper with the band holding his hair back, pulling it out and catching the short strands between your fingers. He lets out a content breath, relaxing into your touch.
"You scared me,” you confess.
“You weren’t getting up."
He smiles inappropriately, taking away from the seriousness of your concern. "You don’t have to worry about me, angel."
You beg to differ, but opt to delay that talk, unwilling to admit how much you’ve grown to care for Ashton over the short amount of time you’ve been seeing each other. The information Calum spilt earlier about Ashton’s childhood only added to the fire, and you can’t help but wring your heart over the thought of the unconditional nurturing little Ashton was denied as you run your nails soothingly along his scalp.
"You’re much better at this than Calum is,” he murmurs.
You laugh, still impressed by his lighthearted attitude. "He told me you asked him to put in a good word."
Ashton smiles, shifting to curl one arm behind your back to wrap around your waist, and lazily grazes your stomach with his other hand. "How’d he do?"
"I’m here, aren’t I?"
He gives your side a light squeeze. "You are,” he says appreciatively, then comes to a realization. “You are. Don’t take this the wrong way, but how’d you get in here?"
"Oh–Calum, uh, told the guy outside that I’m your girlfriend, and he bought it."
"My girlfriend,” Ashton echoes to himself. “I like the sound of that."
You’re about to vocalize your agreement when you’re cut off by a sudden commotion coming from the entrance. It sounds like someone forced their way inside, despite the many demands yelling for them to stop.
"Where is he?” an accented voice disrupts the otherwise calmed atmosphere. “Irwin!” is shouted before the man the voice is coming from storms around the corner, turning out to be none other than a fuming Donovan Diaz.
He comes to a halt when he sees the two of you cozied up on the bench, mockery already taking form in his eyes. “Aw, isn’t this a sweet picture.”
You’re not surprised that Ashton retracts his arms from you and sits up, internalizing the pain in the face of someone less forgiving. Recomposed and impenetrable, he addresses you softly. “Will you get me a water bottle?” His eyes flash to a cooler on the far side of the room, making the message clear. He’s not asking for the sake of a favor, just to send you away from this confrontation in case Donovan unpredictably tries anything.
Begrudgingly, you get up and leave Ashton’s side, trusting that he knows what he’s doing.
“Yeah, grab one for me, too,” Donovan taunts, clearly enjoying himself.
“What do you want?” Ashton cuts to the chase.
Donovan rolls his jaw, taking a threatening step closer. “I’m just making sure you know you didn’t win that fight.”
“Nah, I didn’t win. You were just disqualified,” Ashton retorts. “Thanks for that illegal hit, by the way."
"What can I say? You piss me off. I couldn’t help myself."
You open the lid of the cooler, shuffling the melting ice as you remove a plastic bottle from it.
"Hope it was worth it.” Ashton leans against the back of the bench, tilting his chin up to rest his head, a smug smirk plastered across his face.
“What the fuck is so funny, huh?” Donovan steps closer again, and you flinch despite not being in his path. Would he really start another fight right here?
You’re not willing to find out, knowing that even in his current condition Ashton would have too much pride to back down. With a full water bottle in hand, you begin to make your way back over to the bench, standing behind its corner cautiously.
“Get out,” you dryly demand, protective instincts kicking in.
Donovan raises his eyebrows, almost acting impressed. He glances you up and down, chuckling patronizingly. “That’s cute, princess. You think you’re bad?"
"I wouldn’t mess with her, Don,” Ashton warns from his seat. On the outside he looks unbothered, but there’s a new, intimidating edge to his voice, one that you hope you never find yourself on the receiving end of. “She’ll win."
Donovan must notice it as well, staring you both down one last time before rolling his jaw again and leisurely retreating, acting like it’s his choice to walk away.
Your shoulders slump after he’s gone, unaware of the tension you were holding until this point. Now that you can think clearly again you’re not sure where everyone in the other room went–surely they would have interfered if they had been around to see Donovan walk in.
"Well we’re even,” Ashton declares, “You sure just scared the hell out of me."
You refill the seat beside him, and he repositions himself to face you fully, placing his hand on your hip to slide you closer. In the process you cup his face, careful not to irritate his injuries, and connect your lips to his.
It’s a short kiss that Ashton wasn’t expecting, but craves more of as soon as you pull away.
"That was nice,” he says sweetly, feathering his fingers down your cheek and pouting your bottom lip with his thumb. “If the feeling in my face would just return I’m sure it’d be even better."
You laugh, defeatedly lowering your head to his shoulder and hiding your face in his neck.
"There’ll be plenty more for you to feel later.”