Xaxac sat on the table watching the fighters do pushups and thought of how much less oppressive the heat was. Fall was coming, and the last harvest would start soon. Life was seasonal, cyclical, for most people. Not for him. For him, much of his life was unpredictable. As far as he could tell it was mostly long periods of waiting, then brief spurts of action.
He was trying to figure out if he could trust Lee to take Alley a baby blanket if he knitted one. He seemed like a good person, but he always got mad when Xaxac talked about his family. He said that he was too old to go crying to his mommy every time he didn’t like something, and he was right. But… there was a difference. There was a difference between running to your mommy and wanting to go to your sister’s wedding.
But that would never happen. He knew he couldn’t ask for that. And… it was possible that Alley wouldn’t even want him there. He didn’t know how most people saw him anymore, but he knew that everyone seemed to know he was a shifter, a monster. If he went to the wedding, which would never happen and wasn’t really worth thinking about, he would probably be unwelcome. Or outright shunned. Whichever.
It occurred to him that other creatures that changed never seemed to change back. Butterflies never went back to being caterpillars, they just grew wings and flew away. Frogs never went back to being tadpoles, but they did go back to the water.
He didn’t really want to watch the fighters because he didn’t particularly like the way it made him feel. He didn’t understand it, but they made him stupid. Agalon had said that emotion was a form of happiness, and he seemed to like the result, so Xaxac thought that he should, on a surface level, just lean into it.
He didn’t understand why he couldn’t just lay drunk. People had a bad opinion of drunks, but they seemed to have the right idea, provided they didn’t have any real responsibilities. Xaxac didn’t have any real responsibilities. So why couldn’t he just lay drunk?
Xaxac thought he was thinking a lot more than he normally did, with thoughts flying in and out of his head more quickly than they normally did, and thought of how strange it was to think about thinking.
He wished they could go home, or that he had brought his knitting so he could work on his baby blanket, but he doubted Agalon would have let him do that. He didn’t realize that he had been thumping his leg until Agalon put a hand on it.
“Calm down, Honey Bunny,” he said.
“Sorry,” Xaxac said.
“That’s lunch, gentlemen!” Agalon shouted, and Xaxac hopped off the table. “Hurry up! We’re running out of time!”
Agalon walked swiftly to the area where his horse was staked outside of the enclosure to spread out the picnic he and Xaxac normally had, but Xac stalled, purposefully slowed his steps, because the last time he had been here, he had clung to Agalon’s arm, and he wondered if perhaps he shouldn’t be socializing.
All the fighters had food wrapped in little handkerchiefs made of green and white gingham that they produced from the little houses along the perimeter, and Xaxac remembered when he used to eat his lunch like that, that his father packed him. It was never really much unless his mother managed to score something particularly good from the big house; it was meant to just keep you alive until supper when you could really sit down and eat. But Xaxac had gotten used to forgoing lunch all together on days when Agalon didn’t come home; he never really did anything and therefore had no reason to get hungry.
He was shocked to see these men, each and every one, had meat packed in their lunches. They were eating chicken that looked very much like what he had been served in the city, and the display blew his mind. Meat was so rare on the fields that he had gone years before he had discovered he was allergic to it.
“What’s your problem, pretty boy?” Billy asked him, and Xaxac snapped to attention.
“Problem?” Xac asked in confusion.
“Hey,” One of the fighters said, “Don’t try to start shit with him again. Agalon don’t like that shit.” He smiled, turned to Xaxac and explained, “Kid, you can’t just be lookin at folks any kinda way, not out here. Folks don’t like it. I’m Wyatt. Billy’s bad to start shit.”
“I wouldn’t lookin at you,” Xaxac explained, choosing his words as carefully as he could, “I was lookin at your food. We didn’t never used to get meat, back when I worked on the fields. I mean, wouldn’t matter to me noways, I’m a vegetarian. ”
“What the hell kinda fancy house word is ‘vegetarian’?” Billy asked as if the concept insulted him, and Xaxac thought he was fairly easy to insult.
“It means I can’t eat meat,” Xaxac said.
“You need meat,” Billy argued, “Makes you strong. Gives you muscle.”
“That don’t make a lick of sense comin from somebody what calls himself ‘The bull’,” Xac thought aloud, “Bulls are strong as hell and don’t eat no meat.”
“You sayin I don’t make sense?” Billy asked as he stood.
Xaxac looked up at him and realized, not for the first time, that he had to crane his neck to do so. From his new position Billy was almost touching him, and Xaxac really hoped his new pants were going to fit because he was reminded, once again, that these got far too tight on occasion, and felt that he needed to make some kind of response in order to avoid seeming stupid in front of him, so he said the first thing that popped into his mind.
“Yeah,” he said as if it was obvious, because it was, “I was pretty up front about that, wouldn’t I?”
It occurred to him that this would not make him look more intelligent right after he had said it, and he instantly regretted it. He was dwelling on this regret so severely, berating himself for his own stupidity, that he didn’t notice Billy was going to hit him, and for a moment did not understand the pain he felt in the side of his face, or why he had stumbled, or what the hard thing was that was bouncing around in his mouth, but he did register that it was filling up with liquid, so he collected it and spit it onto the ground.
Oh that was blood.
That wasn’t ideal.
And the hard thing was a tooth.
Also not ideal.
“Hey now,” he began, but when he looked up he realized Billy was still swinging, so he hopped backwards, screamed, and thought about how he had spoken truthfully when he told Agalon that he had never been in a fight before.
Fights happened so quickly.
Billy tried to hit him again so he bounced on his feet and darted out of the way. Billy swung again, and seemed infuriated that the second punch hadn’t landed. Xaxac had no idea what to do in the situation, and it happened so much faster than it takes to tell it, and all his attention was on Billy as he bounced on his feet to avoid the blows, that he did not take in the world around him.
As he bobbed and weaved to avoid getting hit, he did not see the stunned faces of the other fighters who had completely forgotten their food. He did not see Agalon rush into the area with so much speed and determination he forgot to lock the gate behind him. He didn’t see Agalon’s look of concern morph into a smile.
All he saw was the flurry of fists, and his only concern was avoiding them as he danced backwards through the training grounds.
“I’m sorry!” Xaxac called as he darted.
“Hold still!” Billy demanded with far more anger than Xaxac thought the situation warranted.
“What?” Xaxac asked as he processed the ridiculousness of the request, “No! You’ll hit me!”
Agalon walked to the puddle of blood, picked up the tooth, and studied it intensely.
After a few seconds he stuck it into his pocket, raised his hand, and shouted.
Xaxac hopped back and watched Billy collapse to the ground as Agalon came marching over.
“Have you lost your goddamn mind?” he snarled, and the intensity of his anger frightened Xac- he had never seen it before, not on Agalon; Agalon was sweet, he was loving, he would let his own child backsass him without busting his ass. But he was angry now, and every jewel on him glowed, and Billy looked for all the world as if he was dead in a pile of limbs and nothingness; Xaxac couldn’t even see him breathing.
“Everybody be quiet!” Agalon said with a kind of calm that made him even more unsettling, “I’m tryin to figure out if it’s worth the cost of forfeiting the matches to kill this fucker where he lays.”
Xaxac stood silently, trying to catch his breath in the quietest way possible as he stuck his tongue in the hole where his tooth once was and lamented the loss. The socket was sharp, and he nearly cut his tongue on it. It had been a long time, a lifetime ago, the last time he had lost a tooth. And they always looked weird, compared to Alley’s. He wasn’t looking forward to growing a new one. It seemed like it hurt the last time.
“How are you feelin, Honey Bunny?” Agalon asked.
“I’m ok,” Xac said, “My face hurts and I lost a tooth.”
“Your jaw alright?” Agalon asked.
Xaxac moved his mouth up and down and side to side and didn’t feel any pain, so he nodded.
“You know how to ride a horse?” Agalon asked and Xaxac nodded again.
“Go home. Tell Lee what happened. Tell him everything.” Agalon demanded.
“Oh, um… okay,” Xac said sheepishly, “I… um… I’m sorry. I’m sorry, everybody.”
He hung his head as he walked past the table. He didn’t look at anyone any kind of way. He didn’t speak to anyone.
He walked through the gate, closed it, glanced at the horse-
Then took off running at a sprint toward the house.