Xac got so sleepy so fast.
He didn’t understand. He had been perfectly fine, wide awake one moment, and then he felt as if his entire body had become made of stone, too heavy to hold up in any meaningful way. He felt particularly bad about that, because Alex had been in the middle of a sentence, and he wasn’t exactly finished eating, but he was so tired his eyes were heavy, and he was afraid he would pass out, so he tried to stand and wobbled with the effort of it.
“Xac?” Alex asked.
“I gotta… gotta lay down a minute,” Xac said, stumbled to the couch, and threw himself onto it.
“Oh, un-uh, no,” Alex said, “Darlin, you can’t do that. They might need us.”
“Just a second,” Xac begged and curled to bury his face in the fabric of the back of the couch.
“Lord,” Alex said, as if he was exasperated, and walked out of the room.
Xaxac did not know that he had only slept a few minutes by the time Alex shook him awake and thrust a cigarette into his mouth. He heard the match strike, and heard Alex speak.
“Breath,” he demanded, “Breath and wake your ass up. You can’t sleep till your master does. You’re lookin all lazy and shit. You can’t do that, darlin.”
Xaxac inhaled, let the tobacco dance down his throat and into his lungs, and spoke as he exhaled.
“I don’t need a cigarette,” he said, “I need some more frost.”
“Well I ain’t got none, darlin, so you take what you can get,” Alex huffed, “Wish I had ‘I’m gettin a little bit sleepy, let’s just do some frost’ money. That shit comes from the water continent. They ain’t givin it away. God, last time you was up here you was scared to death, now you’re right spoilt. You hit the jackpot… Duke of the Agricultural District…”
“I don’t know what nothin costs,” Xac defended as he leaned forward to ash, “And thanks. It’s workin. I didn’t know smokes kept a body awake. I’ve smoked and fell right to sleep before.”
“It don’t work great but any port in a storm,” Alex admitted, “we’ll keep goin till they get up here. I know it’s a long drive. I know you’re tired.”
“The fighters had to walk,” Xac said.
“Yeah they do that,” Alex said, “They’re in real good shape though. They can do just about anything.”
“What was you tellin me before?” Xac asked, “About Billy and Kenny?”
“God love, honey, you just… you ask a lotta questions.”
“It’s just weird to me,” Xac said, “He hates pleasure slaves. It don’t make no sense.”
“Kenny didn’t make no sense, there at the end,” Alex said as he stared into the fire Xaxac did not remember having been lit, “I didn’t really trust nothin he said but I tried to let on like I did, you know, for him. He was… wouldn’t cut out for it, I don’t think. You can tell, pretty easy, once you know what you’re lookin for, who’s gonna make it and who ain’t.”
“You think I’m gonna make it?” Xac asked.
“Yeah,” Alex said with great seriousness, “I do. I reckon you’re alright, now. You was pretty rough a while back, but I reckon you’re alright now. If you can… you got problems I ain’t got no business speakin on. I don’t know about that whole shifter mess, but you got a good head on your shoulders. You figured out that none’a this matters. Kenny never could figure that out, really… and if you think it matters you start thinkin too much, and if you start thinkin too much you start believing shit and that’s what happened to him. He thought too much. He got attached.”
“Attached to what?” Xac asked as he blew out a cloud of smoke.
“Attached to anybody what would have him, I think,” Alex said, “he got… too lonesome. Too in his own head.”
“It’s easy to get lonesome,” Xac said.
“It’ll wean out the weak, for damn sure,” Alex said as if this statement was an agreement to what Xac had said, but Xaxac was fairly certain it was not, because he didn’t think it was a matter of strength or weakness at all. But he thought he understood what Alex was talking about. As a pleasure slave you had to be able to hold different and sometimes contradictory thoughts in your head at the same time, you had to play a part and become a person, without forgetting who you really were, and it was difficult to do. It was easy to believe things, all sorts of things, and Xaxac had to admit that he wasn’t particularly sure what was real anymore. That’s why it couldn’t matter. Alex was absolutely right, it didn’t matter; it couldn’t.
And Lorsan was right too, humans were weird. It was weird to be an animal and be smart enough to have thoughts of your own. It would make more sense, and be much easier, if he knew what to think instead of how to think. But… Xac suspected that maybe no animals were actually like that. He wondered if humans were actually smarter than most animals, just because they could talk. Maybe other animals had thoughts too, they just couldn’t tell anyone.
“Did he think Billy loved him?” Xac asked, “Is that what he thought?”
“Yeah, and I can’t imagine he did,” Alex said as if he thought Kenny was an absolute idiot, and maybe he was, but Xac didn’t like to speak ill of the dead. “He convinced Agalon not to enter Billy at the nationals, at Satra, and Billy never forgave him. I reckon they got in a big huge fight about it.”
Xac nodded. That made sense. That made a lot of sense.
It was so easy for things that weren’t important at all to seem important, things like a person missing a few days of work.
“My sister’s pregnant,” Xaxac said.
“Honey you ain’t got a sister,” Alex said as if he was imparting some kind of great knowledge.
“What was your brother’s name?” Xac asked, “The one Ky lost in a bet?”
Alex leaned back and took the last, long drag off his cigarette, and Xaxac thought for sure that he would say something like, I ain’t got a brother.
But he didn’t.
“Frankie,” Alex said as he leaned forward to snuff out his cigarette, “his name was Frankie.”
Xaxac jumped when a sound filled the room.
“What?” Alex asked.
“Did you hear that?” Xac asked.
“What?” Alex asked, tilted his head, and his eyes widened. “I don’t know what the hell that is. I know it ain’t my business.”
The door to the hall burst open and Agalon came racing past them and into the bedroom.
“Aggie?” Xac called, stood, and followed him.
Agalon knelt by the bed and seemed to be digging around for something, then stood, holding the tray of dirt, and sat on the bed.
“There you are!” He said happily, “I know you’ve been there over a day, Lorry, why didn’t you scry me?”
Xaxac stood in the doorway and smiled.
“No,” Agalon said as if in response to a question, “I been travelin. I think I’m just gonna crash real hard here in a minute. You settled in alright?”
Xaxac turned and walked back into the sitting room, stood behind the couch and stretched his arms as far as he could above his head, pulling from his core, in an attempt to wake himself up.
“Master Lorsan went back to school,” Xac said.
“Thank god,” Alex smiled.
“Aggie’s been waitin on him to scry,” Xac continued, “So I guess he finally did. I’m glad.”
“He aggravates me,” Alex said.
“He’s nice once you get to know him,” Xaxac defended as he stretched to the side.
“All that means is, ‘He’s a bitch but you get used to it’,” Alex huffed.
“Yeah,” Xac giggled, “Exactly. Kinda like you.”
“Bitch please,” Alex said in a tone that implied he was mocking insult, and probably had some sort of smartass quip to deliver in response, but Xac cut him off by bending over the couch to kiss him.
He remembered a time when he hadn’t been a very good kisser, but in the interim he had become something of an expert, and it did what he had meant for it to do, which was knock the smartassery out of Alex, and let him know how glad Xac was to see him. When he had to pull away to breath Alex laughed.
“Yeah, Xac you’re gonna make it.”
The next day Xac hopped into the carriage with Alex while Agalon and Kyrtarr stayed outside to talk to the soldiers, but Xac pulled back the curtain to watch the events take place. Kyrtarr had another carriage, about the same size as the one Agalon did, and all six fighters somehow managed to cram inside it. Xac thought that it would be cramped, but it had to be better than walking. They had traveled for hours the day before, and would travel for hours more.
Xac suddenly thought of the horses and wondered if horses liked pulling carriages full of people and equipment.
But it didn’t really matter. He did feel a kinship, though. He understood that most animals, it seemed, had to do things whether they liked it or not.
Bobby was driving the other carriage, and Aymar had taken his position on the back box again, but Omylia had climbed up and sat on top of the carriage, which was not something Xaxac had known someone could do, and something that didn’t look particularly safe.
“I absolutely detest travelin,” Alex huffed and spread out the cloak he was wearing, the same one he had worn last time. Xaxac wished he had his and hoped Lee had packed it- it looked comfortable and warm, and he was still in the thin, stretchy outfit he had been wearing, but it was nowhere near laundry day and there was no reason to get a new outfit dirty. If he got cold he would just snuggle up under Agalon’s cloak. Besides, it tended to warm up pretty fast in the carriage once it was full.
Agalon apparently finished saying whatever it was he felt needed saying, and he and Kyrtarr climbed into the carriage and took their place. Kyrtarr had no sooner sat down then Alex turned to him, grabbed his shirt in both hands, and buried his face in his chest. He crawled into his lap, and Kyrtarr wrapped him in his arms.
Xac thought it was a little much so early in the morning.
“He hates carriages,” Ky explained, apparently to Xac.
“I just don’t like travelin,” Alex said, “I’ll be fine once we get there.”
“Just try an’ rest, darlin,” Ky said sympathetically, and ran a hand over his head, but he couldn’t permeate the hair that had been neatly arranged in a braid winding around Alex’s head. The carriage jostled, and Xaxac noticed that Alex tensed when it did.
What was wrong with him? Why was he like that?
Kyrtarr rummaged around in his bag and eventually pulled out a small vile.
“Here, darlin,” he soothed, and Alex poked his head up just enough to see what he was offered and take it. He uncorked the vile and drank the entire thing in one gulp, then handed it back, empty, and snuggled more contentedly into Kyrtarr’s lap.
Xaxac watched as his eyelids drooped, and he fell into a sleep so deep he seemed dead to the world.
“So,” Agalon said pleasantly, “I’ve been reading over the rules and I think I’ve found a loophole.”
Krytarr held Alex close to his chest, as if he wanted to keep him safe while he slept, as if he loved him, treasured him.
Alex looked adorable.