Many of the more physically intimidating men in their grade are assembled across the school in the gym for physical education. The exception to their domineering physique residing in the annoying rabbit who excels exclusively in track and field events. The site of the boxing gloves arranged on the table breeds an air of competition among everyone as they start to stretch and size each other up. The teacher and coach for their district boxing club is a seven-foot tall red kangaroo with as much muscle as half the class combined. His straight jab stops close enough to each student’s face that it forms a slight breeze. Three weeks in a row he’s performed the same test, designed to test their nerves. Only one has failed to pass in any week, as he flinches at the last second once more. “I’m not gonna hit you, kid,” he testifies with an exasperated groan. The man brandishes his solid fist an inch from the rabbit’s face. “See?” The other students scoff and begin to chatter. “Today you guys are gonna get in the box.” He consults the list of names and checks off the first, disappointment obvious on his face as he speaks, “Aster, pick a partner.”
Admiring the dozen men arranged before him Charlie cocks his head to the side, ears flopping around lazily. “Quit eyeing us up homo,” one remarks. He stands around six-feet tall with a menacing grin plastered on his equine features.
Charlie directs his finger a bit to his left with a smile and snap of his fingers. “Tyler,” he says.
The scoffs and chatter resume, complaints even as their most competent challenger is plucked by the lowest on the physical totem-pole. Instead of stepping out of line to accept, Tyler simply shakes his head. “I’ll pass,” he replies.
Rather than move on the rabbit aligns himself directly with the blackened wolf, steps closer and whispers, “How many times?” Charlie backs away and finishes mouthing the sentence, ‘Has he done you’? His mouth cracks into a mischievous smirk when his opponent tenses up and begrudgingly walks forward.
Tyler’s fist is already bundled ready to lay into that buck-tooth grin before he puts the gloves on. Sporting a pair of silk black shorts that match his fur, the wolf climbs between the ropes and stands in the far corner. He’s physically stronger in every imaginable way than the rabbit, excelling all around though never quite first in any particular event. The holds the blue gloves towards his mouth, the slightest shaking of his head as he remarks under his breath, “You’re a dead man.”
Leaping from the ground onto the outside of the ring, then bouncing over the top rope Charlie makes his entrance. His grin has yet to disappear, keeping his bucked-teeth revealed. He tightens the straps on his red gloves, and throws two quick yet sloppy jabs. Banging the side of the ring the coach instructs, “Arms straight.” Turning his attention back to the remaining students he draws their gaze up to the participants.
“Shouldn’t you be refereeing?” a student asks, a fellow red kangaroo.
“This is almost what nature looked like,” the coach answers as the contenders step forward and touch gloves before breaking away. Charlie turns his back to head to the corner, receiving a punch straight in the kidney that sends him staggering into the ropes. Tyler immediately springs back up, his fists shielding his face in a standard boxer’s pose. Pushing off the ropes and imitating the same stance though clearly woozier, Charlie leads with his left foot, feinting a similar left jab before thrusting his right shoulder forth. Soaking the blow with his left shoulder Tyler quickly returns a sharp right punch to the rabbit’s gut, swats away his opponent’s right arm and plows into Charlie’s chest with his left.
“Get up,” the coach shouts. Doubled over and gasping for air, Charlie struggles to straighten himself up. Not even thirty seconds into their bout and already winded, the rabbit attempts signalling for time-out. “There’s no time-outs in boxing you wimp.”
“Maybe you should get in there and ref?” the same student remarks a second time.
This time he’s met with a degree of agreement by his peers. “If you do maybe Tyler won’t have to knock him out first and he can get a fair fight instead.”
Still standing in the defensive position Tyler watches intently, still shaking his head. His top lip quivers in a snarl as the earlier engagement plays out in his mind. The moment Charlie has resumed an upright position and moved another inch towards him, Tyler plants another jab square in his jaw. It’s considerably less powerful than the previous three as he pulls it at the last moment. Despite his own feelings towards the spotty rabbit, he restrains himself to avoid damaging his relationship. “Just get on the ground,” Tyler says, relaxing a small amount and bringing his right glove to his face, disinterested in brutalizing the boy further.
“Oh yeah I bet you love Sam doing that right?” Charlie sneers and jolts back, bouncing from foot to foot as if he had been playing all along. “Or does he make you do that?”
For a moment Tyler’s eyes turn black, his pupils dilating from a mixture of shock, horror, and burning hate. In those brief moments, he rushes down the smug rabbit, who deftly steps to the left. Tyler’s fangs are bared. No matter how much faster he is on the field, Charlie can’t outrun the wolf when he’s trapped in the corner. Throwing one straight right punch to break his guard, Tyler follows it with a left hook and sends the boy stumbling against the ropes.
“Oi oi oi,” the coach interrupts. He jumps into the ring a moment late to prevent Tyler launching another hay-maker with his right arm, square with the rabbit’s pink button nose and meeting it with a crack.
Charlie crumbles to the mat, blood pouring from his broken nose down his face and onto the once white fabric. He spasms a bit on the ground as he is manoeuvred onto his side into the recovery position. Still seething with rage but gathering himself enough to see straight, Tyler throws off the bloody glove and bares his raw fist. “Speak to me again and there won’t be a glove next time,” he threatens.
“Now, now. Calm yourself Reider.” The man shoves him back. “Give him some room to breathe.”
Tyler tosses off the other glove and hauls himself out of the ring. The look on his face acts as a wordless warning to the other guys to not bring a word up about what was said. As he starts walking toward the locker-room to change back into his proper uniform, the whispers begin to pick up. Their hushed tones are all indistinguishable leaving no room to accuse one without accusing the rest. Tyler strips down to his underwear and throws his black pants on along with his mahogany t-shirt. He sits contemplatively on the bench while outside the discussion is emboldened by his absence. “Sam’s gonna hate me. They’re going to mock me. My reputation’s dead. Dad’s dead. Bastian’s too busy. I should’ve called his bluff,” Tyler muses and holds his head in his paws. Only fifteen minutes into an hour-long class he reappears from the locker-room, eyes drawn to the floor. He crosses his arms and sits in the corner, monitoring the situation quietly as the next fight is due to start.
Lester Banks going up against his brother Glen, a set of horse twins. The pair square off at the centre of the ring, indistinguishable from one another if not for their manes being different shades of brown. Standing in the ring and actively monitoring the fight this time, the coach bounces around creating more action than the fighters. Neither wants to throw the first punch, focused on carefully guarding their upper body and face. Whenever one takes a slight step forward the other matches with a step back and the fight remains at a standstill for the entire three-minute bout.
“Good job boys, good job,” the referee congratulates each participant, patting them on the back. “Don’t need another trip over to the infirmary now.” He almost sounds disappointed in their performance. The kangaroo bounces between his feet and his tail, looking around the room. His gaze fixes on Tyler who straightens up on his seat and grinds his teeth. Not one person had dared look in his direction since he reappeared. Hopping out of the ring and approaching the wolf with caution the teacher extends an open hand. “If you uh… want to speak to someone I can arrange it,” he hesitates.
Craning his neck from side to side and rolling his shoulders, Tyler nods. “Yeah. I know,” the wolf replies and stands, shaking off the funk that had come over him. “Who wants to get their ass kicked next?” he laughs and points at the line, scratching his chin.
The eagerness to fight him has waned since the initial fight, some out of fear and others from lost respect. “Banksy, get in there and show us an actual fight this time you wuss,” one of them remarks, jabbing Glen in the side.
“I just did,” he replies and shrugs off the pressure, joining his twin at the wayside.
“Everyone pair up, winners fighting next week. Two rounds each, overall winner gets an easy 30% towards his final mark. Second gets 27%, third and fourth 25%. Everyone else, so long as you gave it a shot, you get a 20%,” he dictates and draws his finger over to the two horses who had danced around, directing them back to the rest. The participants begin to shift around as the physically stronger men target those whose strengths are in athletics.
Remaining silent on the sideline and watching the renewed eagerness in the gym, Tyler cracks a smile, then his knuckles. He had set the bar as the first one through via knockout. It takes a minute for everyone to settle into their pairs after some vocal complaints about the distinct unfairness between some groups. One feline stands glued to the side of a bear, while a hare is presented beside a lion. The rest of the groupings aren’t quite as one sided, another five to make eight winners in all. There are no upsets throughout the remainder of the class, as the most physically domineering of each pair wins out. And the following week holds the pairings of: Wolf vs Leopard, Horse vs Bear, Kangaroo vs Bull, and Lion vs Gorilla.
The end of class sound plays across a variety of frequencies, some more jarring than others depending on a student’s hearing, but none painful enough to cause damage. Tyler raps his fingers across his forehead as he exits, walking towards the main buildings built from bricks. Crossing the courtyard, he dances over the children’s chalk drawings before trudging up three flights of stairs to his history period.
Sam is positioned at the front of the classroom before their teacher has even arrived, notebook arranged neatly in the corner along with a black felt-tip pen. Tyler assumes his position at the centre of the class, scanning each person’s face for a smart mouth to hit. Eric, an almost six-foot lion taking the same physical education class, sits beside the wolf and elbows him in the side before he nods in Sam’s direction. “Don’t,” Tyler growls, bringing his fist onto the table not-so-subtly.
“I’m not saying anything,” he replies and raises his hands in mock surrender. “If someone spoke about me like that I’d have done the same thing.”
Relaxing from a fist Tyler extends his claws out of frustration, the scratches on his side of the desk fit the set of blades from his constant abuse. “He’s not going to see it like that,” he explains with a shake of his head.
No teacher has arrived so far after five minutes but the classroom is full. Eric provides another small shock to the side and points more candidly to the door. “I’d get ahead of it if, what if that faggot shows up crying to him first? Bitches never let you get a word in after that.”
Under the curious gaze of his peers Tyler slinks out of his seat and approaches the front of the class. Sam snaps his head when he feels a tug on the edge of his sleeve, noting the concerned look as his boyfriend continues out of the room. The clock shows nine minutes have passed without a peep from their teacher, the ten-minute mark being an accepted walk-out period. Immediately upon reaching the end of the time limit, Sam scrambles to pack his things and jolts out the door while inside the remainder of the students pack as well.
With a stern look Tyler leans forward and kisses the border collie’s wet nose, drawing his arms around his partner. Sam fidgets to try and break free, a confused expression on his face as the grip simply tightens. “I… beat Charlie unconscious,” Tyler states.
Trying harder to get out of the hug Sam begins to knee the taller boy in the thigh. “What?” He brings his arms up and pushes against the embrace until free. “He’s my best friend, Ty. I’m not your--”
“Don’t start that please.” Tyler cuts him off and slouches. “He was.”
A whistle breaks their awkward exchange as Lester approaches through the corridor. “Woohoo, trouble in paradise?” he asks in a mocking tone.
Before either can react, Tyler has a fist bundled and slammed against the horse’s elongated face, wiping away the sneer and replacing it with a stunned look. “Don’t start shit you can’t back up,” he warns.
Sam looks around bewildered as the remainder of the class shuffles on by, unaware that the truth has spread like wildfire. “Did he tell them?” His innocence wanes for a moment as he teeters on the edge of tears.
“He threatened to but I told him not to.” Sam wrenches his chest, furrowing his eyebrows and slowly starting to bare his teeth. “I’m going to kill him myself.”
Reaching across and taking his boyfriend’s backpack and drawing him into another hug, Tyler rests his head on the soft strap. “I’m probably getting suspended,” he replies, drumming fingers across his partner’s slightly pudgy belly. “Don’t need you getting in trouble too.” Tyler plants a small kiss against the barely exposed neck. “Keep out of trouble, I’m gonna get us some lunch then go home.”
“I love you, Ty,” Sam mumbles, lightly placing his paw on top of the one against his stomach as the grip tightens.
“I love you too, Sam,” Tyler responds after a second of his heart pounding in his ears. “If I knew beating someone to a pulp would get you to say that I’d have done that months ago.”
“I like the honest you.”