The bite of some bitter emotion at the back of Joxter's mind is an achingly familiar sensation.
"Can't you walk any faster?" Moomin calls back over his shoulder, his tone just this side of irritated.
Joxter hears the words and turns them over in his mind, thoughts curling around the familiar complaint as he contorts his body around the pain in his ankles and knees and hips. For a moment, he is so incensed that he thinks he could scream from it; bared teeth and unsheathed claws and words spat out in a throaty snarl.
Just as quickly, the heat of the emotion is gone, leaving nothing but pain and nausea in its wake.
"No," he says instead, only barely waspish. Without even looking up, he can tell that Moomin is gearing up to say something else, and Joxter stops moving entirely before he can get the chance. "In fact," he continues himself, glancing around the dirt for anything in his way, "I think I'll go even slower," and then he sits down.
It does very little for him, truthfully, but even the little bit helps. His bones still ache, but at least the sharp pain in his hind paws has eased slightly, the twist of his stomach is no longer so drastic, the energy exerted to keep him upright redirects to help make his thoughts clearer. Joxaren can tell that the others are annoyed by this decision, but he doesn't care.
He's too tired for it.
Laying in the dirt won't do him any favors, but the reality is that until they find their way back to the ship, there will be no other option. Even on the ship, the options are limited and unhelpful. Sometimes Joxter wonders why he bothered to tag along at all, debates whether the fun is actually worth the hassle.
But the reality is that he was going to be in pain no matter where he was, no matter what he did. He might as well enjoy some good adventure and company where he can.
Despite this, he has nothing left to offer on this stretch of the journey. At this point, he's not even entirely positive he'll be able to get back up on his feet again. Not only his legs, but his arms throb in time with the pain in his head, and the exhaustion is there just to help by weighing him down even heavier.
He can hear the others debating on what to do, but the Joxter cares very little for what they're saying. They could leave him here alone for all he cares right now. His focus is entirely on stretching his limbs out as carefully as possible and pressing his aching head into the grass, as if the thin blades could help anything at all.
He wakes up, uncertain of how much time has passed, tucked away neatly at the bottom of the Muddler's can, the unsteady drag of it against the terrain making his stomach roll.
Still, it's better than being on his feet.
One could say a great number of less-than-pleasant things about the Muddler, but one of the many things about him that can be appreciated is the fact that he'll keep the secret of the hurt noises he hears through the metal just as secure as he keeps all of his other belongings.
He's nothing if not dependable for that sort of thing.
Joxter is no stranger to other people's impatience. He's not quite old yet, but he's big enough, and he's been like this since he was awfully small. His own family members were the first in the long line of people who never seemed to be able to understand Joxter's health and nature, whether they thought of it like that or not.
Needless to say, he'd learned quite a long time ago to care for it all very little.
The fact of the matter is that if Joxter cared about everyone's impatience, he would be far worse off than he already is.
Of course, telling other people this very rarely goes over well. Their shrill voices and sharp irritation grate on his already overwhelmed senses, their words do very little to bring any ounce of comfort, and the rare occasions they choose to get physical very rarely end in any pleasant way.
But it's still better than the alternative.
The other side of the coin that has the Joxter apologizing at every breath he takes (sorry for taking so long, for making too much noise or too many unpleasant faces, for being uncomfortable to look at, for being too tired, too short with someone else, sorry for not eating enough, sorry for sleeping too much, sorry for existing too loudly, for daring to exist at all). That leaves him worn and frayed even worse than he already is, exhausted and pained by his failed attempts to keep up with other people, to ensure their happiness over his own. Laden with guilt and shame and burdened by "if only's" and "what if's".
No. The Joxter will take other people's irritation before he'd ever think to grovel before them for the right to exist.
His intention is never to make others suffer with him, but he refuses to let another person's discomfort stop him. He can't fathom why hearing him talk about his body is such a painful experience for others - it isn't as though they have to live in his skin - and he's never bothered to understand. Listen or don't, linger or leave, the Joxter doesn't care and never has.
But he has a right to his pain, and his bitterness about it too.
And if they take offense with it, then, well... Just because it hurts to unsheathe and use his claws doesn't mean that he never will.
"Why are you always sleeping?" Muddler asks one afternoon, peering out curiously from over the edge of his tin.
If anyone else had asked, it's unlikely that Joxter would have answered, but Muddler is prone to wandering around the ship in search of new objects to hoard, and as far as Joxter knows, has never once spent time gossiping about the states he's found the Joxter in.
"Have you ever been sick?" he asks, and if the Muddler is puzzled by this non-sequitur, he doesn't show it.
"Yes," he replies.
"Were you very tired during it?"
Joxter gestures vaguely at this response, "There you have it."
"You're sick?" Muddler asks, head tilted in what may be concern.
"Oh, quite," Joxter replies. "But I have been for so long that it hardly matters anymore."
"A whole season?" Which is roughly the amount of time that they have known each other by now.
Joxter smiles, but it isn't a very pleasant one. "Dozens and dozens of them."
"Oh my," Muddler says, seeming a strange equal parts saddened and awed by this information. "You must be very strong, then."
Joxter has never had another person phrase it this way, has never heard an opinion so kindly meant. It's strange.
He doesn't dislike it.
There is a key distinction when it comes to Joxter's relationship with other people's rules. It isn't that he doesn't notice or understand them, it's very specifically that he doesn't care for them at all.
He knows that others don't enjoy seeing or hearing about the realities of his illness and pain. He can tell by the way they avert their eyes from the way he walks and tries in vain to stretch out his paws, the way they seem to hold his breath as he passes by. Can tell by their tense silence and desperate attempts to change the topic when he tries to speak of it. Their constant suggestions of how it's his fault or how he could fix it all, their desperate attempts to separate them from him to prove to themselves that they won't ever wind up in his shoes.
But Joxter takes these discomforts and wrings ever last ounce of pleasure he can from them. Relishes in the discomfited expressions, in the awkward tones of voice, and the shifty uncertain glances - the ones that say that they know they have no desire to see but can't resist the horror of looking.
After all, it's not as if he inflicts this discomfort on them. They twist themselves into knots and circles entirely without his input or opinion, and if they want to blame it on Joxter, then they're sorely mistaken if they think that he'll simply take it.
The other choice is to be embarrassed, and the Joxter is quite through with that, thanks very much.
"Do you think you might stop that?" Hodgkins asks, face twisted in something like impatience.
Joxter almost laughs, but doesn't. It's hard to say if the impatience is truly because of him, if it's because he's been complaining freely for the past couple of hours or not. Perhaps it's less the complaints themselves, and more the noise of them - which wouldn't be out of character, Hodgkins can be as particular about sound as the Muddler can be. Maybe it's nothing at all but bad luck, the fact that Joxter is in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Moomin laughs. "Of course he can't," he says, not meanly. "Joxter never stops complaining!"
This earns a laugh from the Joxter, not quite as light as Moomin's. (He's well-acquainted with nuance and the difference between those who mock him on purpose and those who simply don't understand. If it bothered him, he would make his displeasure known, but he can joke about his apparent shortcomings as easily as they can - so long as they're willing to take whatever they deign appropriate to dish out, of course.)
"If I complained as much as I needed to," Joxter informs them, "you'd never get an ounce of silence."
"Not one break?" Moomin teases.
"Not one," Joxter says, steady as the day.
Neither of them have much of a reply to that.
Joxter knows that they usually only have good intentions. That they only really want what's best for him.
He just wishes that they'd consider him a little more when they tried.
Joxter is in the middle of a nap when he finds himself interrupted.
"Don't you think the sleeping may be doing you more harm than good?"
"Oh?" he yawns, stretching out his legs until his knees and ankles pop. "How so?"
Hodgkins seems to consider for a moment, Joxter wonders if it's for show or not. "Sometimes exhaustion becomes a spiral, where the excessive sleeping only serves to make you more tired instead of less. Not to mention that staying in one place all the time can't be good for your joints."
Joxter nods, as if considering. As if this is the first time he's heard this. It's always vaguely funny, in a not funny at all sort of way, the way everyone seems to think that Joxter is a stranger to his body, or worse, just too unintelligent to think critically about the way he copes with it.
"No, I don't think so," he says finally, grinning easily over his shoulder as he resettles into a more comfortable position. "I've lived long enough to tell the difference."
If Hodgkins makes a reply, Joxter is already too asleep to hear it.
Sometimes he watches them and wonders.
Watches them run and laugh and play with each other with the bright ease of people who are capable of much more than they realize.
Watches them eat without the worry that the floor will drop out from beneath them.
Watches them trust their bodies to catch them when they fall, and wonders to himself if he is jealous.
Is he? Is it fair to be? Does being jealous reveal a fallacy in his easy (hard-earned) acceptance of his own reality?
Can he have that emotion without conceding that he is as lacking as everyone else considers him to be?
He's never quite sure.
Mostly, he tries not to think about it.
To say that the Joxter is not having a good night would be, as they say, an understatement.
He's sitting with the others around the fire, but he's eaten hardly anything at all. He's not sure if he's willing to try, but he isn't sure if he wants to leave entirely either. A conundrum. Mostly he's trying very hard to keep from moving at all, lest anything or everything winds up hurting worse.
"Can I put something on your back?" Muddler asks, voice tinged with hesitance.
What a bewildering request. "Sure," Joxter replies, equal parts indulging his own curiosity and already preparing in case he needs to flee from whatever is about to be done to him. In speaking, he realizes that his breath is coming out in short pants, gasping through clenched teeth. He wonders if it pains them to listen to him.
He's tensing already tense muscles, ready to move if necessary, as he feels the Muddler getting closer.
He doesn't have to run.
Hot weight settles over his back, pressing close against the contort of his muscles and the curve of his spine. Joxter relaxes into it, not all at once, but in steady increments; it doesn't eliminate the pain, but soothes down the sharp edges of it digging into Joxter's nerves.
"What is that?" he asks, sighing in relief.
"A hot pack," Muddler replies. "I spilled rice into the dust the other day, and Moomin is the one who had the idea how to use it. Hodgkins helped us sew it. Is it working?"
"At the very least a little, which is already more than enough."
He's used things like this before, but rocks warmed in a fire and wrapped in a blanket aren't quite as efficient as the solution that the others have come up with.
"Thank you," he adds, because he can follow social conventions if he desires.
And sometimes other people are worth all of the effort.