The Fight - Commission
Denn caught Baron around the gut and sent him crashing to the ground, forcing air out of his lungs in a painful woosh, his head bouncing as it hit the ground. He groaned weakly and she dropped to her knees on top of him, blade at his throat, panting as she looked down at him. She watched him blink a few times before he successfully focused his eyes, coughing a bit as he smiled up at her.
“That’s, what, fourteen times in a row today?” He asked.
“Again,” she replied, getting up.
Baron gave her a strange look as she went back to her starting point. She watched his ears droop as he stood up, rubbing his ribs, and heading back to his own starting position. They’d been at it since early morning and she was getting sloppier as time went on but she wasn’t ready to call it quits. They’d met up in a field near the facility, an area known among hunters as a good place to settle disputes they didn’t want their handlers to know about. The grass had died around in a circular shape, making the area a dry spot in the lush vegetation. The handlers didn’t seem to know about it and if they did, they didn’t care. This spot wasn’t for points or for the praise of the handlers. It was for serious disputes that only fists could settle.
The center of her chest felt acidic with anger, her throat dry as she braced herself for another run at him. While the sun above was burning hot, a heavy breeze would occasionally pick up around them and whip her ponytail around aggressively. She found herself hating it. It meant a storm was coming in, heavy thunder and lightning almost a guarantee, and it would put a end to their training.
Baron had come back wounded, again, from another hunt a few weeks ago. This one she hadn’t been on, she hadn’t been there to help, and neither he nor Orion had looked great. She’d given him time to heal before she’d approached him and asked him to spar with her, which he had agreed to without a second thought. He never hesitated and that was part of his problem. Somehow, he’d missed the lesson of ‘look before you leap’ and just charged forward without fear or discretion. How he’d ended up one of the top ranking hunters, she really wasn’t sure.
Dumb luck, maybe, or he had suddenly stopped caring in recent months. Perhaps before she’d even met him. He was supposed to be this phantom, someone she’d been afraid of but eager to meet, and yet she could pin him fourteen times in a row. Her muscles burned and begged her to stop as she charged Baron abruptly, her toenails digging into the soft earth around her and propelling her forward like cleats. Baron had braced himself like a linebacker, stance wide and arms spread out like he was going to catch her rather than try to pin her. Denn gritted her teeth hard and threw herself forward to slam into him, catching him with her shoulders like a bowling ball. There was no tact, no finesse. She just slammed him to the ground with her full weight and it was like he didn’t even try to stop her.
Instead, he caught her in his arms as they went to the ground, holding her tight to his chest. She struggled to get up but found his arms were actually stronger than she anticipated, no matter how much she struggled he was able to hold her down. Finally, she snapped her head around to look at him, snarling at him like a feral beast. Baron’s expression was confused, his ears pinned back as he just held her.
“Denn? What is going on?” He asked, still holding her.
“[i]Again[/i].” She hissed.
Denn felt him hesitate before he let her up and she quickly got to her feet. She took a few deep breaths as she watched him rise up and quickly went back to her spot, the wind whipping the trees furiously overhead. The clouds had rolled in, finally covering the hot sun. The storm would be here any minute but instead of calling it quits, she found herself wrapped up in what had just happened. If he was strong enough to hold her down with such ease, why was he losing? He could win, she knew he could, she’d felt it in how he’d held her down. Denn was positive it wasn’t exhaustion that had made that easy for him, but rather that he was simply stronger than he was letting on. Why, then, would he let her win? He didn’t seem the sexist type, he had sparred with her earnestly in the past, but today it seemed like a game to him.
She watched him, across the small field they were training in. His posture was off but she couldn’t put her finger on it, his ears back as he watched her. His face, usually a scowl, had an expression of concern that just made the acid in her chest burn hotter. Baron was a known workaholic, nonstop in how he pushed himself, and yet… It was like he’d given up.
“Be serious, Baron!” She yelled at him.
Then she charged again. She watched his face change from the concern to something more like when she’d first met him. The resting bitch-face that made most people fear or hate him. He charged to meet her half way and she dropped down to sweet his legs. He jumped at the same second, bringing his foot down on top of her head, sending her face down into the grass. Denn rolled and planted her shoulders firmly in the ground, swinging her feet up in a twisting motion like a freestyle dancer. She felt her foot catch fur and dug her nails in, pushing herself up with her arms. She curled her knees in and rolled herself backwards like a ball until her feet hit dirt again and she uncurled, one hand on the ground along with both feet. Baron stood only a few feet away, frozen as he pulled his hand away from his torso where she’d drawn blood.
She charged again and he sidestepped her with the ease of a matador, sticking his foot out so she’d trip over it. Denn jumped over it at the last second and turned, swinging her first and catching him hard on the side of the face. He stumbled away from her then and threw up a hand to catch her second punch, hitting her below the wrist and sending her arm into the air. She moved in closer, hitting the wound she’d left earlier with the palm of her hand, hearing him hiss in pain. A large, wet drop of rain fell from the sky and landed between her ears, icy cold.
Baron took two steps backwards, on the run again, and she followed. The sky opened up around them as she dropped down, sweeping at his feet. Baron managed to lift one leg clumsily but she caught the other, sending him hard onto his back again. He rolled as she jumped down on the ground at him, getting out of the way, and scrambled to get back to his feet. She lunged from a position of all fours, catching him from the side and throwing him hard onto the ground. For a split second, she felt something take over Baron. Every muscle she could feel tensed up and his prehensile tails uncurled, wrapping around her waist with sharp force, and then it stopped. He stopped squeezing, he didn’t unleash any stored power. She grabbed him about the neck and gave him a violent shake, straddling his torso.
The hood fell from his face and he looked up at her, the bone white fur of his face meeting her eyes. She tightened her grip, thumbs pressing into Baron’s voice box, squeezing hard. She watched him, watched his face go from the angry expression he’d been fighting with her back to the confused one he’d worn all day to an expression that terrified her. Instead of wanting to fight back, instead of trying to breath, he was accepting what she was doing. He was willing to accept her strangling him, in the rain, a few yards away from the work he loved so much. Tears welled up in her eyes and she leaned forward over him, letting go.
“What is wrong with you?” she whispered.
He didn’t answer, just looking up at her. He sat up slowly and she leaned back, sitting on his legs as he pulled himself up. Above them, the thunder boomed so loud it felt as if the earth shook around them, the dirt turning to mud rapidly around them. Baron looked into her eyes, his ears back, confusion back on his face.
“I don’t understand,” he started.
“YES, you do!” Denn bellowed back, “Don’t play dumb with me, Baron!”
She stood up and turned away from him, walking as fast as she could to escape. While she actively had no plan of where she wanted to go, her feet seemed to know. Though the rain was heavy and the clouds dark, it was still afternoon and she could see clearly despite everything being grey. Through the woods and brush, leaving Baron behind, leaving behind the cursed circle. Her muscles felt weak the further she walked and she realized, suddenly, how much she’d been forcing herself through.
The trees thinned out slowly until she found herself at a small park, benches around a bricked pathway, a water fountain at the central most point. The rain poured harder than ever and yet she still went to sit on the rim of the water fountain, head hung low, heart pounding. She felt shaky, as if her bones had turned to liquid, her stomach hot. The acid in her chest had finally dissipated, leaving a black hole where it had been.
Baron came up quietly beside her, sitting down slowly. He was like a shadow, really, she had to give him that much credit. If she’d had her eyes closed, she would have never known he was there. Not a single sound came from his footsteps or the way he sat, leaning forward so his elbows were on his knees, his eyes focused in front of him. His hood was still down and there was still mud on his fur, though the rain was taking care of that.
“How’d you know where I was going?” She asked after a bit.
He shrugged, “I followed you from a distance.. I’m not surprised though, you like this fountain.”
Denn turned to look at it, at the little cherub shaped grem2 spitting water out. It was, honestly, monstrous in shape, whoever had sculpted it had done a very poor job. It’s neck was craned back at a comical angle and its mouth was a wide O shape that would gather snow in the winter and made it look like it was choking. It’s proportions were small, fat, and ultimately uncomfortable to gaze upon.
“It’s the topper,” she said.
“Really? It gives me nightmares.”
They sat in silence for a bit, Denn looking up at the cherub and Baron looking off into the distance. She didn’t dare to look at him and she was certain he felt the same way.
“So… What is happening, Denn?” He finally asked.
“You really have no clue?” There was an edge to her voice, sharp and she knew it but didn’t retract it.
She stood up before she could stop herself. She felt a rush of heat at the base of her skull, painful and protesting, the muscles in her back tensing. Denn barely held herself together enough to keep from fainting, though she did have to readjust her feet. She hadn’t eaten enough, she knew, she’d pushed herself too hard, but she was not going to sit for this.
“You keep trying to die!”
Baron looked at her, eyes wide. He shook his head a little, looking away for a short second, before he returned his eyes to her. He opened his mouth, took in a short breath, probably to protest, and then shut it. She watched him wet his lips nervously and let out the breath he’d taken, shrugging helplessly.
It only made her angrier.
“WHY!?” She threw her arms up.
“I don’t know,” he replied and she knew it was honest. She let him think, even though she wanted to scream at him, wanted to shake him again by the neck. “I… I lost important people to me, Denn, a long time ago. And I stopped caring about myself around then. I just, I don’t know, it's how I’ve always been I guess.” He averted his gaze.
“No it isn’t, don’t lie,” Denn stared at him hard, “at some point, you had people to fight for. You had a reason to get up, groom, and win your daily struggles. I don’t get what is in your head that makes you realize you don’t still have that.”
Baron looked back at her, eyes wide. He bit his lip, wetting them again, and sighed, “You’re right.”
“Of course I’m right! No one just stops trying to survive. Orion cares about you, Baron, a lot! He is waiting for you, everytime we go out on a mission together, but it’s like you don’t care! I care about you, Baron, I worry every time you go out without me. This last time, I thought you were dead. You were burnt and bitten and I thought Orion saw you die..” A soft sob escaped her lips, “I thought I saw you die... Baron, if you can’t care for yourself, care for us... We don’t want to lose you and if you can’t do that, then you and I can’t be friends.”
Baron stood up in a swift, fluid motion. His hands reached out to cup her cheeks and she pulled away, but he was looking at the tips of his fingers, head tilted slightly. “You’re crying,” he whispered.
“Well, duh.” She wiped her eyes.
“I.. I want to be your friend,” he whispered, “I.. I forget. In the moment, I want to win so badly, I don’t care if I live or die. I just want to destroy the monsters… I..” he trailed off, thinking.
Denn took in a few sharp, snotty breaths until her nostrils were clear. She swallowed hard and watched him. He was the same height as her, almost the same build, and yet he looked small. He had reached across himself to hold one arm, his feet were awkwardly placed so his toes curled over themselves. His ears, exceptionally long and torn, were as far back as possible, his hood pooling sadly down his back. She sighed softly.
“I don’t need an explanation, Baron. I need to see.. I need to see you learn to care about yourself. Please, just.. Even small things.”
Baron hadn’t taken his eyes off of her, watching her with a palpable concern. “I’ll do my best, Denn.” He said earnestly. “I can give you that much.”
“I don’t forgive you, not yet,” she said. “I’m going to go back and take a hot shower.. Just, think about the things I said, Baron.”
He nodded and leaned a bit, rocking his weight to the side. He said something, a mumbled whisper lost beneath the pounding rain.
“What?” She asked.
He held his arms out, wide like he had when she’d charged him earlier. His focus was still on her and she could see then that he had his own tears welling up in his red eyes. “May I have a hug?” He asked.
He’d never asked for one before. She’d given them to him, she’d held him in dire situations, but he’d never asked her to one. There was a brief moment of hesitation and she watched his arms drop a fraction of an inch before she went forward, wrapping him up. He returned the gesture, squeezing her tight. Tension fell off of her shoulders, her muscles suddenly weak again as she leaned hard into him. She felt his face in her neck, felt hot tears as he trembled, the cold ran drenching both of them. He whispered something, thinking she couldn’t hear him above the rain still, but she was close enough.
“I’ll do better… Don’t go.”
Childlike words, desperate words. She held him tighter, fingers digging into his back, pushing mud out of the white wing markings on his back. The rain began to let up above them as they held each other, the sun peaking through the dark clouds in beautiful, yellow streams. She let herself sink further into his arms, let him hold her up and support her.
Denn realized she believed him.