.. | absolution | chapter 3
The next morning, Ash woke up much earlier than usual. He went through his morning routine anxious to get to work. As he washed, he began to work on a plan of action concerning his new Subject; how exactly to go about beginning a training routine that would undoubtedly be much different from the paths he'd followed before.
Though his quarters were small they were comfortable enough, and more importantly, private enough that he could concentrate without interruption. With mechanical movements Ash tied his hair back in front of the small mirror hanging just outside the washroom door, lost in thoughts. Training was more a mental game than anything, and he had to be ready for what Panthera would throw at him. If he'd been drugged last night, he would likely show a different side today, perhaps one more like Ash had seen upon their first meeting.
He brushed behind his ears those strands too short to be gathered back with the rest and gave himself a nod. Ready.
Half of the Subjects were gone from the chambers below, already off with their respective trainers. The few that remained were sitting together near the back of the room, probably frightened by the comings and goings of so many people.
Except Panthera of course. But when Ash moved to open the holding chamber door he didn't know that yet.
The Subject jumped back as well, but recovered more quickly than his startled trainer. He'd found himself face to face with Panthera, who had undoubtedly been standing there waiting for the next person to walk through the door. Panthera cocked his head for a second, then smiled in easily readable recognition of the man he'd been with the night before, the man who had been gentle and quiet and had given him sweets.
Ash cleared his throat, reclaiming his dignity. While the Subject seemed to enjoy stunning him, it was quite unprofessional on his part.
"Come along, you," he said, clipping a small strap to the leather cuff buckled around Panthera's wrist, careful of his bandaged hands. He would have to lead him until the Subject learned to follow on his own. It would seem however that the leash was not needed as Panthera followed closely at his heels, sometimes nearly tripping him when his bare toes caught the back of his trainer's boots. Ash shrugged off his proximity several times, admittedly baffled by how little his Subject cared about personal space. Normally the Galilani were comfortable in keeping a certain amount of space around them like any person, but Panthera appeared to not only lack such boundaries, he enjoyed initiating the contact. He was batting at Ash's swinging hair as they walked.
To keep his composure Ash kept a brisk pace all the way to the infirmary where Panthera needed to get a true health check by one of the practicing medickers. Though it was customary and necessary to make sure that his Subject was healthy, inside and out, it was another part of the job Ash didn't enjoy. With all the poking and prodding, Galilani hated the infirmary like cats hated water.
"Hey Gerik," Ash said, gently elbowing Panthera off his back again.
"Ah, there you are." The medicker on duty greeted them at the door. "Aren't you an oddball," he said upon meeting the Subject's eyes, "but a pretty one, nonetheless." He motioned for Ash to settle Panthera upon the long wooden table, a task that usually took some forcible jostling.
However, Panthera hopped up onto it on his own and began intently picking at the little bottles and instruments kept on a shelf nearby.
"Well, that was easy," Gerik commented with a smile, moving to begin his examination.
Ash just scratched his head but accepted his Subject's acquiescence gratefully. Panthera put up with the poking and prodding remarkably well, though he kept his eyes on his trainer the entire time for support.Finally, Gerik had the Subject lean against the wall in order to measure his height and scrutinize the conformation of his body and posture. Against the white wash Panthera's flesh was a healthy sun-brown and his crystalline eyes a stark contrast. The rest of him, his legs in particular were well-toned with lean muscle, but Ash disapproved once again of how well he could see the play of his ribs as he breathed.
He himself stood with his arms crossed leaning back against the examination table, surprised again by the acquiescence with which Panthera moved to the medicker's bidding. He decided that he shouldn't take such acceptance of handling for granted; it would make his training easier. From under the fall of his bangs Panthera's blue eyes continued to stay on him while Gerik turned him about, checking his joints and reflexes, eyes and ears and whatever else they wanted to know. Finally, the medicker turned to Ash, scribbling into his listbook as he spoke.
"A bit underweight but seems otherwise very strong," he said. "Seriously, I don't remember the last time I saw one so healthy. Very solid."
Ash smiled in approval. Panthera smiled back.
"Anyhow, his records show that he needs a brew treatment. He had a half one last night, but that should be out of his system by now." Gerik handed Ash the listbook of notes he had on Panthera.
"Brew?" It was their sedating treatment, used in differing doses between calming a Subject down to knocking him out. Panthera may have appeared a little high strung but he was by no means hyperactive. Ash raised an eyebrow and looked at his Subject. "That doesn't make any sense." The Galilani cocked his head curiously and blinked.
Gerik pushed up his specs. "Apparently he's been on it since he was harvested, though with that amount it would just act more like a calmer. Seems he evidently had some problems that they dealt with."
"Did they give a reason?"
"Well, no, but-"
"I'll need to know why he needs that before he gets it," Ash said, handing the ledger back.
The physician pushed his pen behind his ear. "DeWinter, I can't know that if it doesn't expressly say. If it's something they've dealt with already then I strongly recommend-"
Ash shook his head stubbornly. "He stays clean," he said again. "If I find later that he needs sedatives then we'll deal with it then."
"Can't you do anything by the book?" Gerik asked, frustrated. Without waiting for the answer he knew wouldn't come, he just shook his head. "It's a risk you're taking, DeWinter," he warned, wagging a plump finger.
Ash glared at him. "Does he look like a threat to you?"
The medicker followed his gaze back to Panthera, who'd lazily leaned again the wall and shifted his weight to one foot, causing his hips to lift and curve out as a cause of his balance. His shoulders were tilted, hands behind his back. He had gotten bored with their conversation and let his attention wander, seeming to be lost in his own little world.
"Whatever you say," Gerik sighed.
Happy to be free of probing hands, Panthera jerked about on the length of his arm leash, not seeming to care that he had it on. Several times he tried to walk off in different directions, distracted by someone or something random that would catch his attention as they went along. A little frustrated with his pulling, Ash stopped walking so suddenly that the Subject ran right into him. Panthera stepped back, gave him an accusatory stare and rubbed his nose.
"Walk here, next to me," Ash said at length, pulling Panthera by his wrist into position. Understanding that he'd been admonished, his Subject settled into a lagging walk beside him, very obviously subdued. Ash even felt a little guilty for spoiling his happy mood. And such moods! So quick to change.
Outside in the training yards Ash picked a spot where they would be alone. By that time, Panthera had forgotten his correction and was pulling about again, yearning for the woods that were beyond his reach behind the tall fence that surrounded the yards. When Ash unclipped his arm leash Panthera wandered up to the fence and grasped it with both bandaged hands. As he gazed out into the brush it didn't take a mind reader to know what he was thinking.
"Hey," Ash called from where he'd sat down in the grass. Panthera looked over his shoulder back at him.
"Come back over here." He beckoned with his hand. After hesitating a moment his Subject did come back to kneel next to him, though he looked several times back again to where he really wanted to be.
"You'll be there soon enough," Ash said in a gentle tone. He fished out a choco treat. "I just have to teach you a few things if you'll let me."
Panthera took the sweet bit from him and sucked on it. When he'd finally chewed and swallowed, Ash reached out and brushed back his Subject's thick hair. Panthera visibly brightened at the contact and very soon forgot his sudden melancholy. He stood up again and began wandering about the training yard.
Ash watched him in silence, thinking about his Subject's manner. It was very easy to bring him into a better mood by mere physical contact; affection, it could be called. Panthera had shown more emotion in one day than he'd seen in weeks of observing previous Subjects. He displayed almost no concept of personal space but had a temper on him as well, as was shown by their first meeting. He was intelligent, that was evident enough in his eyes, which in themselves set him even more apart from the rest. Ash realized that if he complied all these observations and showed them to Sejan, Panthera would surely be taken away, unfit for induction. On this their second day together, he was already too errant, too moody and too sensitive for a Galilani.
Ash stood up and called Panthera over again. He fished a ball from his pocket and tossed it to his Subject without warning. Panthera caught it out of reflex, though he looked a little confused. For several moments, he did nothing. With a sigh, Ash took the ball back from him.
"Okay, let's try something different," he said.
Ash threw the ball out onto the grass. Again, for a moment Panthera did nothing but watch it bounce away from them, looking confused. Then he wandered over and picked it up. He tossed it up once, then twice. He looked back at Ash.
"Throw it," Ash said, making the gesture.
His Subject cocked his head. He repeated the gesture in slow motion without releasing the ball. But his motion was more lateral, predictably, as if he were throwing a hunting javelin.
Then unexpectedly, Panthera did throw it, though in the wrong direction. With surprising strength he launched the ball long and far away from the both of them, then stood motionless as he watched it bounce and roll to a stop.
Ash rubbed his face with one hand. This might be a little harder than he thought.
But then, without warning, Panthera took off after it at full speed across the yard, skidding to a stop and tackling himself to the ground on top of it.
For a moment, Ash could do nothing but star. Then he burst into laughter. The sheer comical aspect of chasing an unmoving object made the trainer laugh a little harder than he had in a long while.
Yards away from him Panthera sat up and looked back at him, shaking grass from his hair and snorting flower pollen from his nose. He watched his trainer laugh with a returning smile, seeming amused even with himself.
But then he slowly stood up, his demeanor having instantly changed. Ash wiped his moist eyes, just before he realized at he had just become the next sedentary object to chase.
The Subject's speed was incredible, as was the force he brought with him when he tackled his trainer to the ground. But not for a moment did Ash read anything more than play in his willful Subject's antics, whereas a lesser trainer would probably had some alarm and fear at such an 'attack'.
He rolled about on the ground trying to keep his limbs from being pinned and not caring what he certainly must look like to anyone passing by. Panthera grunted as he put all his effort into subduing his captive, not knowing that his trainer could easily have thrown him off by now with well-honed skill.
The play fight ended with Ash having flipped the Subject over onto his back and pinning him down instead by his arms above his head in the grass. They both heaved as they caught their breath, but Panthera's eyes still held a mischievous challenge. Ash gasped a laugh.
"Lesson one, I suppose, and it was mine," he said. "Never turn my back on you."
In the following days Ash began to understand why the previous facility had written what they had about Panthera. His personality came full force upon reaching the training yards, unlike other Subjects who tended to either cower or remain stoic and unresponsive out of fear or reticence.
In his traditional way of beginning training, Ash stood with arms crossed and watched him play about; letting his Subject run loose for a little while to watch what he did, study his habits and his general demeanor. His Subject encompassed a rather carefree, uninhibited attitude towards the few simple things Ash asked him to do. As a reward he was allowed to run about or rest at his own leisure.
A few months passed. Panthera came along well with his training with great enthusiasm and remained as trusting as ever, if not more. There was always a certain degree of bonding between Subject and trainer, though Ash had never felt one form so quickly. Panthera let him maneuver him every which way without the slightest hint of introversion, was never afraid of anything new, and basked in the glow of a job well done like an obedient hound.
But Ash also remembered his first lesson well; Panthera never caught him off-guard again. That didn't stop the Galilani from trying, of course. He was always keen on a wrestling match, like a frisky cat, and more than once Ash would look up from the flat of his back to see some of his fellow trainers watching curiously.
He didn't mind more fodder being added to his reputation of 'unorthodox' training techniques. Everything was just going too well.
part 4 | back to part 2 | back to main