Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Ch6: Plastic Surgery Hall Of Fame

In the morning, I wake up alone.  I wonder where Azzen went as I make my way downstairs for breakfast.  I don’t have to ponder the thought for long, as I see him asleep on my couch.  I let him sleep and begin to make a breakfast.
    As the pancakes are browning, Azzen rises and joins me in the kitchen.
    “Morning, Sunshine,” he greets me.
    I smile.  “Good Morning.”
    “Smells good,” he says.
    “I thought we could stay in today,” I say brightly.  Azzen being around always puts me in a good mood.  “Nothing exotic.”
    “Works for me,” he says.  “I’m glad you smile more these days.  Thinking about how you used to be so depressed all the time is kind of… depressing.”
    I flip the hotcakes onto a plate and walk it over to the dining table.
    “Yeah.  It kind of makes me wonder…” I trail off as I serve him up a plate.
    “Wonder what?” he asks.
    “About my clothes,” I say.  “You never mentioned it last night, and it’s still bugging me.”
    “Oh,” he replies, taking a bite.  “Mmmm…  Blueberry?”
    “Yeah,” I say.  “And no more avoiding the topic.”
    Azzen sighs.  “Do we have to do this first thing in the morning?”
    “Yes,” I insist.  “No more stalling.  I want to know.”
    “Alright,” he says.  “It’s your life…”
    He eats a few more bites before he begins.  I wait in silence.  When he speaks, I can tell by his cautious tone that this isn’t something he likes talking about.

    All I know about what you ask was one conversation at breakfast, about a month after the day I recovered from when the Master beat me.
    That morning, Azzen didn’t see Fel again.  It was weird, because she was usually around for breakfast, and Azzen liked sitting with her.  Instead, he sat with Morty and his friends.
    “Your girlfriend aint around today?” Morty asked.
    “I guess,” Azzen replied, craning his neck around, still looking for her.  He didn’t mind that the other kids referred to Fel as his girlfriend, but if the catgirl ever caught any of them saying it, they’d end up bleeding.
    Morty’s friends nodded to Azzen.  He had gained the respect of the Rats by how he did during group training.  His form on many attacks was flawless and he could do over 600 push-ups in a row.  An incredible amount, he knew; it seemed like the meals he ate were giving him unordinary strength.  When it was his day to chop wood, he found that he was now able to pull the massive logs and chop them up into bits with just a few swings.  Even as the newest “recruit,” he was already outperforming anybody else.  A fact that the Master took subtle interest in.
    And the more Fel beat him up, the faster he seemed to recover, each time becoming tougher for their next fight.  These days, Azzen could go back and forth with the catgirl, tagging her occasionally, but only about once for every ten hits she landed.  Although she hit him more, he seemed to take the hit’s a lot better, leveling out the playing field a bit.  But Fel still insisted that she could whoop his ass at any moment, and Azzen had the good sense not to disagree.
    “You’re stalling,” I say.
    “Am not.  I’m just setting the scene.  I’m skipping a lot, but it was mostly just training and stuff.  Nothing of consequence.  I mean, we became better friends.  If you could say you had any friends at that place.  You were always pretty defensive there.  You never really loosened up until we got out.”
    “Well there’s a spoiler,” I grumble.
    “Oh come on.  Did you really think we were gonna be captives forever?”
    “No, but…”
    “Hush.  Let me tell the story.”
    “So how do you feel about that, anyways, Azzen?” one of Morty’s friend’s asked.
    “Feel about what?” Azzen replied, eating his mush.
    “About how your girlfriend does that once a month?”
    “Does what?” Azzen asked, aggravated.  He knew how the other kids talked about Fel and didn’t usually like it when she was the topic of conversation.
    “He doesn’t know?!” a girl exclaimed.  Azzen didn’t know her name, he’d never cared to catch it.
    “You don’t know nothing neither, Sal,” said Morty dangerously.  He would stick up for Fel when Azzen as around because the two boys were friends.
    “I know plenty,” the girl said, but left it at that.
    Azzen didn’t want to know, but was curious.
    “What are you talking about?” he grumbled.
    “Why do you think she has such nice clothes?” a boy asked.
    “Yes,” said the Sal girl.  “How come she’s the only girl that gets to wear a skirt?  And she’s still a Rat.”
    “Because nobody wants to see anything you’ve got!” spat Morty.
    Sal wasn’t phased.  “My point exactly,” she said smugly.
    Azzen just ate his food, ignoring the girl.
    So she pressed on without him asking.  “The Master likes having her look pretty,” she said.  “And whenever the Merca tries to run away, she gets caught, but you don’t ever see any bruises on her,” she said.  “And every full moon, she disappears at night and doesn’t come back until sunset.”
    The girl stared at Azzen wickedly.  “What do you think goes on?” she asked with a shrill laugh.
    Azzen just ate his mush, while all the other kids chuckled maliciously.
    “She’s class leader too,” said one of the boys.  “Gets special privileges.  Gets those nice clothes.  Gets to read in the manor.  Nobody else gets to.  She’s a dirty little-”
    “She’s class leader because she’s the best,” Azzen cut him off angrily.
    “Oh.  Is that so?” said one of the boys.  “Says who?”
    “Says me,” Azzen stated.
    “And how did she convince you of that?” the boy challenged with a laugh.  “What’s she do when she takes you around to the side of the manor every day?”
    “We spar.”
    “I bet you do!” said another boy.
    “I bet you spar real hard,” said another.
    “I bet she likes it rough,” Sal chimed in.
    “Shut up.  You guys are idiots,” Azzen said, standing up to leave, even though he wasn’t finished.
    “You think so?  Then prove it,” one of the boys said.
    “Come watch,” Azzen replied.  “We’ve got nothing to hide.”
    “But you do,” said a boy.
    “Nobody wants to see that,” said another.
    “You do great at group training, but we’ve never seen you fight,” said Sal.  “Prove it.  Fight one of us.  If she’s really been training you, then you should be pretty good, right?”
    “After all, he’s learning from ‘the best,’” a boy chimed in.
    “Fine!” Azzen said, heated.  “I will.  Who wants some?!”
    The other Rats were suddenly quiet.  They all looked at Morty.
    Morty shrugged.  “This is between you guys,” he said.
    More silence.
    “That’s what I thought,” Azzen said.  “In that case, since you’re all cowards, I’ll call a challenge.”
    The other kids gasped.  Nobody had called a challenge since Azzen got here.  Morty chuckled.  “Guess I’m involved after all.”
    Azzen eyed him.  “I may not beat all of you, but if it’ll shut you up, I’m willing to crack a few skulls,” he said threateningly.
    Sal laughed.  “Look what he’s willing to do for her.  She’s got him wrapped around her little Merca finger.  It’s so obvious what the truth is.”
    Azzen stormed off and the rest of the Rats laughed.

The Rats were unusually energetic as they marched out to the field for group training.  Word had spread about Azzen’s challenge and everybody was ready to get in on the action.  They all lined up at attention before Fel even arrived.  The catgirl could smell the suspense in the air before she even asked.
    “Azzen called a challenge,” Morty informed her.
    The catgirl glared at Azzen for a moment, saying nothing.  Then her ear twitched and she blandly spoke one word.  “Why?”
    Azzen looked her dead in the eyes as he replied, “Because I wanted to.”   
    “You’re an idiot,” she said.
    Azzen didn’t reply.
    “Okay!” Fel shouted to the group of Rats.  “You know the drill.  Everyone grab sticks.  Azzen, you don’t get one.  You’ll have to take one.”
    “Fine with me,” the boy said.

    “They really said that stuff about me?” I say in disgust.
    “I’m paraphrasing a bit,” Azzen replies.  “It was probably a little worse.”
    “What assholes,” I exclaim.
    “Yah,” Azzen agrees.  “So do you remember now?  Was it true or not?”
    I stare at him icily. And let moments pass for him to think about what he just asked me.  Azzen just stares me right back, not budging.  I get a funny feeling for a moment.
    “What do you think?” I reply.
    “Doesn’t matter,” he says quickly.
    “Good answer,” I say.  “Get on with the story.”

    The first kids to come at Azzen were the ones that had been at the table.  Several boys charged forward with their sticks, ready to beat him senseless.  Azzen was just as anxious to beat them back.
    The first kid swung his stick down on Azzen like an ax.  Azzen reached up and caught it, at the same time, he raised a leg to plant a heavy front kick into the kid’s chest, knocking him back.  Azzen yanked the stick from him as the boy fell and immediately whipped it around to smash on the head of another boy coming from the side. 
    The weapon shattered and Azzen dropped it while he ducked under the swing of a third boy.  He came up and pounded two punches into the stomach of his attacker and then grabbed his arm at the elbow and armpit.  Azzen yanked and flipped the boy over himself, hurling him at a couple of nearby Rats.
    He dove for the stick the boy had dropped and rolled out of the way of two kids trying to hammer him.  He raised the stick with two hands, blocking second shots from both of them, then twisted and shoved the end of the stick into one boy’s gut and swung the wood around to crack the skull of the other boy.
    A couple of young Rats dove in and grabbed at Azzen’s legs.  The boy hesitated, not really wanting to hurt the little kids, but Sal and a couple of others took advantage of the opening.  Sal jutted her stick at Azzen’s face, but he leaned to the side and avoided it.
    The two young Rats pulled on the boy’s legs, causing him to fall over.  Azzen held his stick up to block the swinging blows of two boys, but Sal jabbed her stick at his ribs and scored the first hit.  She pulled back her stick and struck again, hitting Azzen in the chest.  The other boys, seeing that the jabbing technique was being more effective, began mimicking the girl’s performance.
    Azzen valiantly tried to block and roll away, but the two kids on his feet prevented him from getting up.  Finally, the boy got fed up and realized it was them or him.  He yanked one of the little kids off his leg with all his might and held him up as a shield against the older kids.  While defending himself, he smashed the other ankle biter in the face with his free foot, until the kid went limp and let go.  Azzen tossed the other kid aside and rolled away, scrambling to his feet.
    The Rats held off for a second. Eying the work they had done.  Azzen was covered in bruises and scrapes.
    “Had enough yet?” Sal goaded.  “You know, you can quit whenever you want.”
    Azzen spat, and there wasn’t even blood in his mouth, so he laughed.  “Are you kidding me?!” he shouted.  “I’ve taken worse beatings from just Fel!”
    This time it was Azzen that charged forward.  Fel had taught him well.  He hadn’t really understood how much better he was than all the other Rats.  They were all stiff and conscious of their efforts.  Azzen flowed through them like a raging flood, crashing and clashing and then moving on to the next obstacle while they crumbled under him.
    He dipped under a swing and yanked up the boy’s leg, flipping him to the floor.  He swerved around a kick and caught the leg in the air, then spun his body around and whipped the kid around into others.  He hopped over a couple smaller Rats that were diving at his feet, kicking Sal in the chest while he was airborn.
    “Make a hole!” a voice shouted.  Azzen recognized it as Morty.
    The crowd split and Morty blew through, swinging punches.
    One caught Azzen across the face and another pounded into his gut.  The boy rolled back but immediately popped up and blocked a hard punt that Morty was swinging at him.  Azzen hopped back, then lunged forward, catching Morty by surprise with a knock to the chin. 
    Morty retaliated with a front kick, but Azzen twisted to the side to slip around it and shoved an elbow into Morty’s nose.  Morty stumbled back and two kids filled in the slot, whipping sticks from opposite sides.  Azzen ducked and the boys overswung, hitting each other on accident. 
    Azzen was crouched down and dove between them, still aiming for Morty.  He tackled the large boy to the ground and began to pound on his face.  Morty wrapped his leg around Azzen and rolled over, pinning Azzen underneath him and served him the same treatment back.  Azzen swung up at Morty, but couldn’t do any damage. 
    The remaining kids began jabbing and whacking at Azzen with their sticks while he was pinned down.  Azzen was able to snatch one of the sticks from a Rat and immediately jutted the end into Morty’s chin and then smacked him in the nose with it.
    Morty let up a little and Azzen was able to slip out.  The boy lashed out at the first person in range.  His punch was wild and the person he was attacking easily caught it and fluidly twisted around him, bringing his arm up and quickly placing him in a headlock.  To his surprise, he realized it was Fel.
    “Why are you doing this?” she whispered in his ear.
    Fel’s hold was tight, but Azzen had been able to tuck his chin down, so it wasn’t entirely punishing.  But her arm was slowly slipping under his chin, against his will.
    “Why today?” she asked.
    She wasn’t going to trick him into talking, that would weaken his guard.  Several kids pounded on his chest and abs and legs while the catgirl held him.
    “Just give up,” Fel muttered.  “It’s not worth it.”
    Azzen reached up and grabbed Fel’s hair.  He yanked her left and right and then leaned back and lurched forward, flipping the catgirl over his shoulders and on top of several of the kids that had been attacking him.
    “From… now on…” he said, panting.  “You don’t get to decide that…”
    The kids swarmed around Azzen.  One punched at his face and he bobbed aside, striking back with devastation.
    Azzen blocked a stick with his forearm and then grabbed it, yanking back, then shoving it forward into the attacker’s face.
    The boy swept a Rat’s legs out flipping him in the air.
    He smashed the same stick against Morty’s head, breaking the wood in half and sending the big boy to the ground.
    Sal tried to jab her stick at Azzen’s face, but he twisted and lunged forward, catching her by the neck and tossing her across the field.
    The only two still standing were Azzen and Fel.  All the other Rats were unconscious or staying on the ground, nursing their wounds.
    “That’s not fair,” said Fel.
    “Shut up,” Azzen snapped at her.  He had never spoken to the catgirl in this tone before.
    “Life’s not fair,” he said.  “But I’m going to fight to make it better.”
    Fel considered him for a moment.  She reached down and picked up a stick.  “I can fight for myself,” she said.
    The catgirl pointed the stick at Azzen.  “What makes you think I need you?”
    “Maybe you don’t need it,” Azzen replied.  “But I want it.”
    “You want to fight for me?” Fel said flatly, staring at him with hard eyes.  Her ear twitched
    “I have a lot of problems.”
    “I’ll work with it.”
    “I get in a lot of fights.
    “I’ll always back you up.”
    “Why do you care?” Fel asked.
    “Because you’re strong and you make me want to be stronger,” Azzen replied without missing a beat.
    Fel muttered softly, “you really are an idiot, aren’t you…”
    “You got something to say, Punk?!” Azzen shouted at her with a bleeding smile.
    His grin was infectious and a smile crept up to Fel’s lips as well.  Azzen cherished it; the catgirl smiled so little here.
    “I said, if you’re gonna fight for me, you better be strong!”
    “I am!”
    “Prove it!”
    Fel tossed Azzen the stick and snatched up another one of her own, then she launched herself at the boy.  Azzen sturdied himself and didn’t raise a finger to block the blow.  He let it smash across his face and the wood shattered in slow motion.  He stepped forward and caught Fel’s cheeks in his hands, leading her forward and he bent pressing his lips up against hers.
    The boy’s moves surprised the girl so much that she couldn’t think of anything to do.  She usually didn’t think when she fought.  She usually let her body decide what to do for her.  But right now her body was deciding to…
    The catgirl snapped to her senses and recoiled back.  She slapped Azzen hard across the face.
    “YOU IDIOT!” she yelled.
    Every conscious Rat was either ooohing or laughing hysterically.
    The boy just grinned.  Fel slapped him again.  And again.  And again.  She was determined to wipe that stupid grin off his face.  Azzen just stood there and took it.
    Fel shouted curses and obscenities at him, some of which the boy didn’t understand.
    But Azzen couldn’t stop.  He thought her little tantrum was hilarious and cute.  Eventually, Fel just turned around and stormed away.  She disappeared for the rest of the day.  Azzen looked around at the other Rats, but didn’t see anything that interested him, so he went inside and ate some lunch.

~I don’t think I ever told Azzen what set me off so much.  Like he said, he just thought it was cute anyways.  But at the time, I was genuinely upset.  I remember being so confused.  Here was a guy, that I kinda liked.  And he was way sweet, but a lot of guys are sweet, just to get what they want.  And then he makes those promises, and I wonder if maybe he really is different.  Could he be somebody special?  But then right afterwards, he goes and pulls that kissing bullshit, and it’s like he’s just after the same thing as every other guy.  What an idiot.  I was mostly mad because I was confused.  And I felt stupid for letting myself hope he could be different.  At that point, I had no idea if he could be special or if he was just saying those things to get what he wanted.  It scared me that I even cared.~
    I laugh out loud.  “You really did that?!  What a moron!”
    “What??” Azzen exclaims.  “I thought it was romantic!”
    “Oh my god,” I gasp out between spastic laughter.  “What a completely inappropriate time for our first kiss.  You’re bullshitting me.  Did that really happen?”
    “It really did,” he says.  “And I don’t care if you think it was stupid.  I’m still glad I did it.”
    I calm down, because I’m snorting milk out of my nose.
    “You’re glad that our first kiss caused me to totally freak out and scream at you,” I say flatly.
    “Whatever,” Azzen replies.  “That’s how you always were back then.”
    “Uh huh.  I’m beginning to wonder if we’re really in love.  It doesn’t seem like I liked you very much,” I tease.
    “You still don’t like me very much,” Azzen shoots back.
    “Well that’s true,” I say.
    He sticks his tongue out at me, covered in pancakes.
    I roll my eyes.  “You’re so dumb.”
    “Iy gnow rieyt?” he says with a full mouth, then washes it down with some milk.  “I have no idea why you’re so desperately in love with me.”
    “Never claimed to be,” I reply tartly.
    Azzen grins wide at me.  There’s a blueberry caught in his teeth.  “Oh come on,” he says.  “Can you really refuse a smile like this?”
    “I’m gonna go throw up,” I say, heading to the bathroom to pee.
    “Now That’s sexy,” he calls after me.
    I sit to pee and make hacking noises while I’m in the bathroom.  When I come out, Azzen’s cleaning the dishes.
    “Have a nice puke?” he asks politely.
    “Twas lovely, thank you,” I reply.
    “Good.  You ready for more story?  We’re almost to the good part.”
    “Oh goody.  The good part.”
    “What’s so good about it?”
    Azzen grins at me.  “This is how we got away.”

    The next couple of nights, Fel didn’t let Azzen go out to the forest with her.  He asked if she was really that mad at him, but she said no.  She said she was going to practice a new technique and wanted to perfect it before she tested it out on him.  Azzen grumblingly agreed to give the girl her space.
    A couple days turned into a couple weeks, and Azzen patiently waited for the time when he could enjoy his nights with Fel again.  Her attitudes seemed to change randomly day by day.  Azzen supposed it depended on how she was progressing on her “secret technique.”  Some days, she was bright and happy, teasing Azzen playfully and toying with him in their training, and other days, she was brooding and snappish, screaming at Azzen and wildly whipping him when they sparred.
    Azzen didn’t mind her dynamic mood swings.  In fact, it made his experience in captivity interestingly random.  Three weeks into her nightly seclusions, Azzen woke up and wondered what kind of Fel he would encounter today.
    The catgirl met him at breakfast and waved him over.  She wasn’t smiling, but she wasn’t scowling either, so Azzen didn’t know what to expect.  He sat down beside her and she leaned over to whisper in his ear.  Azzen could barely hear it in the loud dining hall.
    “Six days,” she muttered.
    “We leave in six days,” she said, keeping her voice low.
    “Oh, why?” Azzen asked.
    The catgirl’s ear twitched, but she pretended not to hear him, eating her food.
    Azzen pondered her message all day, throughout training, but didn’t mention it again.  He was preoccupied, but still managed to outperform every other Rat.  Fel seemed completely normal, yelling at kids for poor form and subtly congratulating others who were getting it right.  Azzen tried to follow her lead of discretion.
    When it was time for personal sparring, Azzen and Fel left the group like they always did.
    “So you gonna tell me what that was about?” Azzen asked, being purposefully vague.
    “No.  And don’t not mention it,” Fel said.  “Never know where there are ears.  Just know.”
    And Azzen didn’t press it any further.  The two sparred casually.  Fel had picked out particularly long sticks for them to practice with, but she didn’t seem as into it as usual.  Azzen knew she could still whoop him if she tried.  She’d proven it on several of her more moody days.  But today, the boy was holding his own, blocking most of her shots and delivering blows back that sometimes landed.
    One time, he delivered a particularly hard kick to the girl’s midsection and she rolled backwards.  Azzen was sure she could have dodged it and wondered why she had allowed herself to get hit.  To further his confusion, the catgirl scrambled back several yards.  Azzen held his position, unsure of what she was up to.
    The catgirl fell back and then darted forward towards Azzen.  At a distance, she planted her stick into the ground and vaulted high into the air, spinning her staff flamboyantly and whirling it around to strike down on Azzen.  He didn’t know why she would use such an obvious move.  It would be easily blocked.
    But instead of swinging down, she whipped in the air just before she was within reach and launched the pole down at Azzen.  The boy swiped it away easily, but in that split second, he lost track of where the catgirl had landed.  It seemed as though she had disappeared.
    She was under him.  Under his vision, ducked down right at his groin.  He noticed her too late, just as the catgirl was shoving up off the ground.  She swung her leg up, fast and hard, planting a terrifyingly brutal kick in between Azzen’s legs and up into his crotch.
    Azzen’s world exploded into a fireworks of pain.  The boy was up lifted off the ground by his groin and when he came down, his legs gave out with no resistance, collapsing like twigs under boulders.  He dropped to his knees and then fell onto his face, tears welling in his eyes.  Not even the Master had been so cruel.
    Azzen was sure he would never have children.
    “Why…” he gasped out.  “Wh…  Why…?”
    His mind was so blurred and cluttered that he couldn’t even figure out any more of the sentence he was trying to say.
    Fel laughed hysterically, doubling over and rolling on the floor, along with Azzen.
    “It… it’s not… funny,” Azzen wept.
    Fel laughed harder and couldn’t catch her breath to respond.
    “You… are… such a…” Azzen clutched at his man-jewels and hoped to find that they were still intact.  He prayed to every god he knew.  “I hate you…  I seriously hate you…”
    Fel gasped in some air through her laughter.  Her eyes were watery with mirth.  “Oh come on!” she spouted.  “Quit being such a baby!”
    “No…  You don’t even know…  I thought we were friends…”
    “Oh shut up,” Fel retorted, climbing to her feet.  “Get up.  Quit whining.”
    “I can’t…” Azzen bemoaned.
    “GET UP!” Fel shouted.  She ran up and kicked Azzen hard, rolling him over.
    “You can’t… hurt me… any more… than you already did…”
    “Then cover your balls next time, Stupid,” Fel said.  “Honestly, they’re the most vulnerable point on a guy’s body.  You’d think you’d know how to protect them better.”
    “I didn’t expect…  People don’t do that,” Azzen stated, still groping at himself, searching desperately with little success.
    He had found one testicle.  ONE!
    “Oh no…” he groaned.
    “What?” Fel asked flatly, bored with his complaining.
    “I only…  There’s only…” Azzen searched higher and more frantically.  Then he touched something that made his stomach ache.  He’d found it!  It was lodged up into his pelvis, but he had found it.  The boy touched it gingerly, wincing at the intense discomfort of doing so.  Delicately he squished above it, prodding it down and slowly maneuvering it back into his scrotum.  Relieved, he gasped a final whimper and wiped the tears from his eyes.
    “Get up already,” Fel sighed.
    Azzen rolled onto his knees and heaved himself up with great effort.  He staggered back and forth, find it hard to catch his balance.
    “Both still there?” Fel asked cattily.
    “Don’t talk to me,” Azzen  groaned, stumbling away, back towards the manor.
    “Where you going?!” Fel called.
    Azzen gave her a dismissive wave and continued hobbling back towards the manor.
    “It’s not even dark yet!” she shouted.
    Azzen ignored her.  He desperately needed to eat some mush and fall asleep.
    “I was gonna let you stay out with me tonight,” Fel tempted.
    Azzen paused for a moment, but then continued walking.  She’d be there tomorrow.
    “Oh come on!” Fel whined.  “It can’t hurt that bad.”
    “Fel!” Azzen shouted back.  “Once I can stand up stright, I’m going to strangle you!”
    The catgirl laughed.  “That wasn’t even full power.  You should be thankful.  I gave you about… fifty percent.”
    “Yes!” Azzen yelled.  “I am SO THANKFUL you kicked my nuts halfway into my throat!  Next time, while you’re doing me favors, go ahead at chop my head halfway off, burn me half to death, and only poke out one of my eyes.”
    “Oh quit being such a baby.”
    “Do you ever wonder why you don’t have any friends??”
    Fel snorted and didn’t respond.  Azzen kept walking.  He only turned to look back once, and when he did, Fel was gone.
    “That was rude,” I say.
    “You kicked my balls out of my sack!” Azzen exclaims.
    “Only one of them.  Quit being so dramatic.”
    Azzen sighs.  “You haven’t changed at all.”
    “Good to hear!” I pipe in a girly tone.  “More story!”

    The next day when Azzen woke up, he discovered that the pain did not linger.  He felt better physically, but now felt worse about what he had said to Fel.  He got himself out of his bed and headed to breakfast.
    He saw the catgirl sitting alone at a table in the corner, like she always did, and shuffled over to her after picking up some food.  She eyed him with suspicious contempt as he sat down.
    Azzen just ate his mush.
    “Are you over your tantrum?” Fel asked.
    “Yes.  Are you gonna kick me in the balls again?” Azzen asked back defensively.
    “If you deserve it.”
    “I didn’t deserve it that time,” he said.
    “Oh well,” the catgirl said.  She ate some mush.
    Azzen waited for her to say more, but she didn’t.
    “You could at least say you’re sorry,” he said.
    “I’m not good at apologies,” she replied.
    “Well give it a try,” Azzen insisted.
    “I just did,” Fel informed him.  “That’s all you get.  Take it or leave it.”
    Azzen sighed and ate some more mush, deciding he would have to take it.  After a moment, he decided to say, “I’m sorry for what I said.”
    Fel replied with, “Why?  You were just telling the truth.”
    The catgirl stood up and left with her plate.
    Throughout the day, the girl seemed more recluse, even if her mannerisms were still the same.  There was just a cool air to her demeanor, Azzen thought.  Or maybe he was just imagining it.  The boy watched her during training and she really wasn‘t doing anything out of the ordinary.  As he watched her act normal, something occurred to the boy.
    She was an Actor.  Or an Actress.  None of the other Rats noticed anything wrong with her.  But Azzen did.  Or he thought he did.  As he tried to figure out what it was that was making him think she was upset, he wondered how much else she hid.
    Training passed and Azzen sat with Fel at lunch.
    “I’m sorry again,” he said as they sat down.
    “Quit apologizing.  Grow some balls,” Fel replied, then a moment later, snorted a laugh at her own unintentional pun.
    “That’s not funny,” Azzen said with a little chuckle of his own.  He was glad Fel was smiling again.  She seemed happy, but now he was never sure.  Was it just another part of the act?
    “You’re so sensitive,” Fel said, laughing again.
    “Haha, that‘s so funny,” Azzen responded.
    “No need to ‘bawl’ about it,” Fel chided.
    “You’re very clever,” Azzen said flatly
    “Some would say I’m on the ball.”
    “As in ‘berry’ funny?”
    “You’re getting on my nerves,” the boy grunted, looking over at her.
    “Am I driving you nuts?” the catgirl asked sweetly with a flutter of her eyes.
    Azzen covered his face.  That one had actually made him smile.  Fel was grinning at him and he decided to let her have her way.  He bantered back with her.
    “I’m going to punch you in the ovaries today,” he swore.
    “Pff.   You think you could catch me?  You’ve lost your marbles.”
    Azzen burst out laughing and Fel lost it too.  The other Rats in the room looked over to see the two chums chuckling.  Most of them had never heard Fel laugh.

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bleed by E.A. Skanchy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.