In the dining hall, Bluster sat with Xela and Tiger. Tiger wasn’t saying much, because he was still sulking from the beating he’d gotten at Mac’s hands. Not that it had actually hurt him much, but his pride had taken a pretty heavy hit. He was seething from being made a fool in front of everyone, and Xela understood that feeling pretty well. When she’d noticed what was going on, she’d actually felt happy about it at first, because it meant that she wasn’t the one being embarrassed for once. She’d quickly changed her way of thinking, but she couldn’t help it. She’d felt like she’d had a little reprieve for once, and it felt good. She wanted to tell Bluster that, since she’d really been opening up to him, but with Tiger sitting there like a dirty white storm cloud, she decided that it was probably better to hold her tongue.
“Well, I invited him to come sit with us for dinner, but I’m not sure if he’s going to take me up on it. He seemed different to me, like there was something there that hadn’t been before. I just don’t know if it’s good or bad. It’ll take some time for me to find out for sure.” Bluster was picking away at his food, looking defeated with slumped shoulders and a frown on his face. What he had seen in Mac was something that had set him on edge. He hadn’t been trained to have a warrior’s instinct yet, but there was something that just made his senses scream at him that Mac wasn’t ok. He couldn’t quite put his paw on it, and that was what bothered him the most.
“I think that he’s been hammered into an archaic way of life from his clan, and he just doesn’t know how to deal with anything else. I don’t know if I put all the blame on him, since it’s all he’s ever known. I just frown on the fact that he’s not willing to open his eyes and learn a new way. He’s a little on the stubborn side, isn’t he?” Here Xela looked at Bluster for confirmation, but Bluster was too busy lost in his own thoughts to answer. She looked at Tiger and saw that she wouldn’t get anywhere there, either. Both bunnies were off in their own little world, and she was afraid of going there without breadcrumbs to lead her back out. She sighed heavily and went back to her plate, letting her eyes sneak over to the door every now and then, looking for Mac. She felt heat in her cheeks when she admitted to herself that she was hoping he would come and eat with them. Bluster had teased her a little about the budding feelings that she had, but he was only speculating from a few glances that he’d caught her tossing Mac’s way.
They bunnies ate in silence, each with their own thoughts, ignoring the rest of the room who ate with wild abandon and had conversations with each other that sounded like they were having a good time, and the one table in the middle of the room had darkness and grey storm clouds hanging over it.
Mac enjoyed his shower. The hot water soothed his aching muscles, and was like he washed off more than just the film of sweat from the workout he’d put his body through. He felt like he was a young bunny again, and the weight of the world had gotten washed off with the dirt. Everything seemed shiny and new to him, and the hunter slumbered deep inside his chest. He felt regenerated and rejuvenated, but he didn’t know what exactly had caused it. He could barely remember the battle in class, but he knew that he’d won. His stomach growled, reminding him of Bluster’s offer to sit with him at dinner. Mac toweled off quickly and got dressed, heading down to dinner.
When he walked in, he scanned the room for his friend, but when he saw him sitting with Xela and Tiger, he didn’t make any move to join them. As his gaze found the table, Xela’s eyes locked on his. The look on her face was blank, and Mac could feel himself bristling as he fell under her scrutiny. She offered him a shy smile, and it froze him in his tracks. When Xela smiled, her whole face lit up with a softness that he hadn’t noticed before. He felt sheepish as the thought crossed his mind, because he really hadn’t given her much of an occasion to be soft around him, or smile. He made a mental note to change that. There was something about her smile that punched into his chest and spread a warmth that had nothing to do with hate or anger, or even the warmth of blood and gore. It was strange for him to feel this way, but he wanted to try it out. Tiger shifted in his seat, subtly, just enough to catch Mac’s attention, and he glared daggers at Mac. The message here was clearly to go away. Mac went over to the tables laden with food, listening to snippets of the conversations around him as he went. Everyone was happy and jolly, eating their fill and making friends. One or two conversations were about him, and his ears pricked up in surprise. It was strange to hear the story from the view of others. If he had been hearing what they were saying about anyone else, he would think the person they were describing was a demigod or some such deity that could never be defeated. It boosted his confidence to hear things like that being said about him. He didn’t stop to dwell on them, however, he was intent on finding his way to the table to get a plate.
The conversation still hadn’t picked up by the time Mac joined them at the table with his plate, and Xela was a little worried that a fight would break out. Tiger was still glaring at him, and she was worried he might add a growl to it. Bluster was trying to make himself look like nothing had happened, that nothing had changed and that they were still the best of friends, but his smile was strained, and if she could pick up on it, so could Mac. He stopped at the corner of the table and looked around. There were empty seats next to all three bunnies, and Xela secretly found herself hoping that he would sit next to her. Unfortunately, she had to hide her disappointed smile by chomping down on a piece of broccoli as he settled on the bench next to Bluster.
“That was some class today, huh? Staves! I would have never tried to use a staff before. I’m looking forward to seeing what other weapons they’ll give us.” Tiger slammed his fists down on the table, then grabbed his plate and left. Mac watched him go, with no more emotion on his face than he would have for a bug that was crawling by him on the floor. It triggered a red flag for Bluster, because he had been pretty sure that Mac was the kind of bunny who would have never done anything to hurt anyone. Now he seemed like he could care less. Had his innate skills of being a good judge of character let him down? Or was there a demon living inside Mac that he pushed down so much it rarely got to see the light of day?
The hunter inside Mac relaxed and went to sleep, feeling safe and secure where he was. The silence stretched on at the table, and Xela focused her gaze on her food, thinking that maybe the boys needed a minute alone together. She was toying with the idea of getting up when Bluster excused himself instead. He told them that he had a headache and that he was going to go lay down. That left Xela alone with Mac, and she could feel her cheeks burning. She was secretly pleased that it was just the two of them, but she was also afraid that he might not want to stay here and eat now that the other males were gone.
“Yeah, the staves were ok. I didn’t think that we’d be doing something like that. I felt like I was a little girl again playing with my dad’s toys.” It was hard for Xela to force out the words, but if she at least gave him some conversation, he might stay. Mac smiled at her. It was a friendly smile, not one that said he was calculating something, and it gave her hope. She’d been trying to fight her feelings and the thoughts that had taken over her waking moments lately, but she’d been fighting a losing battle. She felt like a younger girl, giddy with her first love. It was hard for her to accept, because she’d never felt like that before, and she wasn’t the type that would.
“I hope that we have more action classes. That history lesson had me falling asleep.” Xela laughed, and she was surprised and pleased at the same time that he was treating her normally, rather than being mad at her for being there and being on equal footing as the males. The rest of the meal passed very pleasantly, and Xela found herself starting to open up a little to him, just as Mac was with her. He told her stories of his childhood, and they swapped accidents back and forth as children. Mac found that she was a lot like him, and he had to admit to himself that he was starting to like her. They might even be friends by the time they left. The hunter inside him cracked open an eye, saw the pretty bunny in front of him, then went back to sleep. He wasn’t needed.
The next day found the bunnies back in class, milling around and talking until Regis came walking in with a large box filled with something that didn’t look too heavy. A blanket lay over the top of it to conceal its contents, and it gave no clue as to what was inside of it. When Regis told them to pair up, Bluster instinctively started to move towards Xela, but as he made it around another pair of bunnies, he saw that she was shyly asking Mac if he’d like to partner with her. Bluster didn’t know if he was happy that she was starting to make some progress with Mac, or jealous because he enjoyed being around her, too. Part of him hoped that Mac would tell her to get lost, but he did no such thing. He nodded to her, accepting her as a partner.
“You like her, don’t you?” It was Tiger, now at Bluster’s elbow. He’d been moving towards Bluster from the beginning, because he refused to partner with Mac again. Bluster could feel himself blushing, but there was no use in denying the fact, because his pink cheeks betrayed him.
“I don’t know. She’s alright I guess. I mean, she made it here, so she can’t be all bad.” Tiger laughed at him, and Bluster could feel himself flushing even deeper.
“Guess you’re with me.” Tiger’s voice cut through his thoughts and with some effort, Bluster turned his back on the pair and decided it was time to pay attention to Regis. Regis, meanwhile, oblivious to the turf wars in his classroom, had put the box on top of his podium and was now surveying the bunnies around him.
“We’ve had the privilege of having some of our staff go into the garden of the Stone Giants and come back with pieces of things that you might encounter, should you have to go on outdoor raids. Today’s lesson will be about identifying different plants that could harm you.”