Fencing and Fancying
She was light on her feet. Too light, I thought sourly, as I twisted to the side and parried her attack. She had no business being so quick, not when she was a hand-span taller than I was, and heavier, too. Heavier because she’d gone to more effort in building muscle than I had. Her sword flashed out again when my counterattack was too slow, and I nearly fell on my butt as I dodged clumsily. Here I was, thinking about her impressively developed musculature and lithe, catlike grace and she was going to take my head off with a practice blade.
“Distracted?” she asked, eyes sparkling with amusement. Grey eyes. Silver steel in the bony cage of her face, hemmed in by scars and freckles and stoicism. She didn’t smile, but her eyes laughed at me.
“No.” I made a quick lunge, missed her ribs by a couple inches, and felt my balance go as I overextended. Her sword flashed, rapped my outstretched arm, and I fell, fingers tingling from the blow.
“If you’re not going to take this seriously, maybe I should go see if Tam wants to spar.” Her tone was mildly bored, but there was that glint in her eyes as she looked at me - a challenge. I know you can do better. That’s what she was thinking. Swallowing the curses that sprang to my lips, I snatched up my blade and stood again.
“Breathe,” she instructed, and took up a defensive stance.
Anger makes you stupid. She didn’t say it out loud, and I was grateful for that, but the message was there. It was there and it was clear. I took a moment to inhale, count to 10, then exhale. It helped clear my mind, and there was a look of approval on her face when I finished.
We met again, the ringing vibration of metal on metal stinging my fingers and singing up the ones of my arms. She was too quick. Retreat, parry, casual thrust. She was testing me, and I wasn’t fast enough. Maybe I would never be.
But I wasn’t on this team because I was fast. I was on this team because I was smart.
I telegraphed my lunge half a second before it happened, and there was her parry, right where I knew it would be. My blade slapped her wrist, but then it wasn’t there. Her sword flashed in an arc of liquid silver, seeming to wrap around my weapon and yank it out of my hand. I was disarmed, but I still had one advantage. While she recovered for a backstroke, clearly intending to end the match, I lunged inside her defense.
Our chests touched. Our breath mingled. Our eyes locked. Silver-grey ringed with startled white, and in the deep black of her pupils I saw my reflection, grinning victoriously. She tried to step back, to make space between us. I caught her ankle with the curve of my foot and pulled, just as she’d taught me.
Time slowed. Her free hand grabbed my arm like a steel vice, her sword began to fall, and her mouth opened in a pink O of surprise. We spent a minute like that. An hour. A whole day, suspended in the air, slowly falling toward the sweat-stained sparring mat.
Then time resumed its normal pace and we slammed into the mat together. I had her body pinned, the sharp wings of her hip-bones digging into my legs as I pinched her waist between my knees. We grappled for a second, then I won. I had both her hands trapped against the mat, and she’d stopped fighting. I couldn’t stop grinning. I’d won. I’d beaten her. The Child Soldier, the Sun Warrior, the pilot that’d bested us all at everything.
“Not so high and mighty now, huh?” I couldn’t help the taunt, pride swelling in my chest.
I was still breathing hard. So was she. Her breath smelled like mint, and we were so close I could count the freckles on her nose. I’d never noticed before that there were so many of them, and so tiny. There was one on her left eyelid, a few more under the puffy pink scar on her temple, like a little constellation. She was smiling back at me. It softened her face in the most amazing way, and suddenly my heart was in my throat.
The rough mat made squeaky, scratchy sounds under us. I wanted to hop to my feet and pretend nothing had happened. Nothing had happened, except that I’d beat her. My face felt hot, and I looked away.
“Well done,” was all she said, and I felt her voice vibrate through her body between my knees. Something clenched in the pit of my stomach, and I rolled off her before she could feel me shiver. That was none of her business. It was no one’s business, really.
But the smell of mint seemed to cling to my hair, and I kept thinking about her myriad tiny freckles.