Teana Lanster had never been so mortified and disappointed with herself as she did in this moment.
... no, perhaps she had been, but in this moment she felt as if right here, right now, this was the absolute worst. The wide, white bulletin boards that towered above her were solid as a rock, but to Teana they seemed precarious, as if they (and the test results posted publically upon them) might come tumbling down upon the young, orange haired girl. She almost wished it did all come tumbling down, just to put her out of her misery.
How could she be in the bottom ten percent!? Yes, they were all cadets, so they all had pretty good VO2 Max results, and sure, she knew that 'lung capacity' wasn't something she'd specifically focused on improving in her training, and of course she didn't consider herself special or exceptional, but the bottom ten percent? Were man made wholly of will, Teana would have toppled over and imploded in an instant.
And to add insult to injury, that blue haired derp of a 'partner' scored number one! Teana could only take some solace in the fact that every other cadet at the academy should be similarly ashamed that their lungs were outdone by those of a small, twelve year old girl. A small, twelve year old girl who was putting those big lungs to maddeningly good use.
"Wooo~! I'm number one! Hehehe! I can't believe it! Wow!" Subaru was jumping up and down, energized by her triumph, for right now her name was the closest to the stars, surrounded by twinkling or awed eyes shocked that she of all of people had the biggest, strongest lungs of them all. "Tea, Tea!" She cried, scrambling over to her partner, brimming with uncharacteristic pride. "Isn't it great?" Teana was always so down on, well... on a lot of people, encouraging them to strive to be the best, and Subaru was so excited to have done something worth Teana's praise that one could almost hallucinate the wagging of a tail on Subaru's behind.
But Teana, stuck in the bottom rung, was so down she couldn't muster up anything that sounded sincere. Rubbing her temples somewhere half between face palming and nursing a growing headache, Teana just dimly said, "Congratulations, Subaru..."
Anyone could have picked up on the fact that Teana was upset. The sag of her shoulders, the stifled stiffness in expression (lips almost trembling as they tried to not bow down into a frown) ... but in her excitement Subaru hadn't checked where Teana was in the rankings. "Teana? What's wrong?"
What's wrong? What's wrong??? "Nothing..." Teana lied, because in her mind what was wrong was herself. She herself had explained to Subaru (who had asked) why lung capacity was important; when dealing with situations involving water, smoke, gas, or even chokeholds or sheer long term endurance, the ones with a stronger, longer lasting cardiovascular system had an advantage ... and Teana could only focus on her lack of that advantage.
"Um... OK ..." Subaru said, trying to tip toe around the proverbial eggshells Teana had scattered all over, but the blue haired girl stepped right onto, well... all of them with what could almost be an audible crunch (perhaps the cracking of Teana's clenched knuckles) as Subaru asked, "How'd you do?"
And at those words Teana froze, and found herself considering that all that extra lung capacity might have come from all the air in Subaru's head. But she didn't answer. How could she? She couldn't lie, but she hated to admit it either.
"Tea? Teaaaaaaaaaa?" Subaru asked a few times, looking up at her partner, before scanning her eyes over--oh, it was right here in front of them, just about at eye level for the short blue haired girl--oh. Eye level for a short girl... ... yeah, that was bad. Really really low. "Oh. Um. Hey, don't be so down about it. I know you'll do better next time! And, as a team we come out to being about average."
Not. Helping. Subaru. The ... thoughtfulness behind Subaru's words was only appreciated in the slightest by Teana. "... thanks." She said, closing her eyes to not see that look of concern on Subaru's face. "... I'm going to head off."
"I'll come with you."
Whatever. "If you really insist..."
Through the circles of yellow light cast down by the street lamps, Teana sprinted. For the extra challenge and work she'd chosen a hilly area; her thighs burned in objection as she ran and forced her way up those hills, but feeling the rush of the wind that sent her orange twintails and black ribbons fluttering behind her as she blurred down afterward was an exhilirating reward that kept Teana going.
It was the evening. Teana finally had managed to lose Subaru for a while. She really didn't know what to make of her friendly, blue haired room mate. The airhead had heart, Teana definitely had to give her that. In fact, she had to concede more positive points than she would admit. For one, Subaru was like a puppy: energetic, friendly, and just like a dog very loyal, and despite Teana's ice queen efforts to not get too involved with anyone else, she often found herself drawn into Subaru's rhythm ... and she was starting to like it. On some level, her resistance to truly acknowledging Subaru as a friend rather than a roommate was slipping, only holding on through Teana's sheer stubborness. She didn't want to be wrong about all the times she'd told Subaru they were 'roommates and partners, not friends,' and that they wouldn't ever be more than that. Though it was only in the back of her mind, a part of her did wonder how long her sheer stubborness could hold out.
But what she most didn't want to admit to Subaru was that, unlike Teana herself, Subaru was a natural talent ... even if she was of dubious competence. ... Competence ... that was one thing Teana was confident she embodied; not the only thing, but certainly one. After the dreadful and vexing results of the VO2 Max tests today, though, some part of her feared the formerly entirely outlandish idea that one day Subaru, her junior, might overtake her in many ways.
It wasn't about winning against Subaru. It wasn't about winning against anyone ... no, to Teana it was about losing. Her pride wasn't so important, what mattered was the heavy sense of shame that welled up inside of her. If only she could just cut herself open and rip out the feeling that was digging her hollow inside.
But it was from that very shame that Teana found her greatest strength. While others might have have been left paralyzed, the pragmatic girl knew that the only thing to be done about this was to tighten up, train hard and improve herself. Improving one's cardiovascular system and lung capacity wasn't a complicated matter, but it wasn't an easy one either: repitions of pushing one's cardio to the max for three to five minutes, followed by a breather, could improve her system at a dramatic pace, or so she'd read.
The work was hard, but no pain, no gain ... Teana pushed herself, certain that the strain only proved the effectiveness of the exercise and the pay offs it would bring in time. The young girl took shorter rests, jogging instead of walking as she half caught her breath before breaking out into another sprint. It was hard, but it wasn't insurmountable ... athletes, soldiers, anyone who strived to reach the pinnacle of ability, this was the kind of effort they must put forth. That's what Teana knew ... any notion that she might be pushing herself too hard was adamantly ignored.
Teana ran hot in spite of the cool, dim evening. She wiped the sweat off her brow. Her breath was heavy, but even. She was in the zone. She was in control of her hard working body, and an excited thrill pushed her forward as she started to crest another hill. She'd get to rush down it ... that incredible feeling of the wind in your face ... Subaru feels this all the time, doesn't she? She mused, thinking of Subaru riding those rollerblades.
She all but threw herself down that slope, and if she didn't need every bit of air to power her body, she might have cried out as if she were on a roller coaster; the world zoomed past her as she raced down the hill. And that's when it happened.
The world kicked forward and span. Instantly the concrete was in front of her face, then her forearms. Out of breath, she choked soundlessly, pavement scraping knees and arms as she crashed and slid. After a deep breath in, she swallowed a scream, and let her breath hiss out.
She didn't know how far she slid. Breath scraping between teeth, she slowly rolled over to look back up the hill behind her... behind her knees were two or three feet of gravelly red streaks... two or three feet? She fell so fast she could hardly beleive that she only slid that small a distance. Looking back behind her, she finally understood just what had happened. She'd tripped over, of all things, a long piece of dead wood that had somehow come down from one of the trees lining the street.
She closed her eyes and focused through the pain for a moment before it welled up inside of her and cried out through the empty streets, "Auuughh! Today is the worst ... !" She knew she needed to do something, and yet she was so angry with herself, and it would only have been worse if someone else saw her like this. She couldn't ask for help--no, she didn't need to. She could do it on her own. She took a quick swig of water from her bottle, then began pouring the burning clear liquid over her scrapes, red skin washing away to an uneven, raw pink.
Yes, she was doing it on her own. Except it was hard to walk. Nothing was broken, of that much she was sure, but she was definite than she'd twisted her ankle over that stupid stick. Seething, she limped over to it and picked it up. At least the piece of dead wood made a shabby walking stick.
Teana resolved she'd just take her time to get back. With any luck it would be late enough she'd sneak in unnoticed, Subaru would be out, she could put patch herself up and put on some long sleeved clothes... and in the morning no one would be the wiser.
The time stretched on through the late evening as she limped her way home. Her sports watch had broken in her tumble, leaving Teana to wonder how much time was passing. She was moving slow, no doubt, but in the stillness and quiet of these streets, Teana couldn't be certain whether a lot of time was passing, or whether she just felt like it was. Her ankle wasn't as bad as she initialy feared, but she still babied it with every step.
"... eaaa!?" A worried voice carried through the quiet hilly streets; Teana recognized the voice instantly as Subaru's.
Teana didn't respond. She almost felt as if the jig was up, that Subaru would find her and know, and even though she knew Subaru didn't have a mean bone in her body, she didn't want anyone to know the stupid accident she'd had tonight. And yet, she had to restrain a part of her that wanted to call back.
"Teaaaaaaaa!?" The voice was getting louder. Ugh, that loud mouth really does have a strong pair of lungs, doesn't she?
"Tea...!!" That was it. Teana was caught. Subaru's calling out didn't come with the up turning tone of a question. Teana could see the blue haired girl on her rollerblades, already blurring down the hill to Teana's rescue. "You're hurt...!"
Teana wasn't sure whether she was sighing in despair, exasperation or relief. Subaru was here now, whether Teana needed her or not, whether she wanted her or not.
"Tea, what happened? How bad is it? Why didn't you call?" Brows twisted in worry, Subaru ran off one question after another, putting herself under Teana's arm, taking on the weight her ankle was still straining under ... and that feeling certainly was some small, comforting relief.
"... I don't want to talk about it. I'll be okay, alright?" Teana closed her eyes. It hurt her to be seen like this, and to see Subaru worry over her. This wasn't how it was supposed to be ... she should have been taking care of her junior, not the other way around.
"O, okay, I, won't ask ..." Not now, anyway. Subaru looked up that hill though, seeing those four streaks of blood on the sidewalk, and knew it had to be a nasty fall. "Lemme carry you."
"No, that's--" Teana's weak protests were cut short as the small girl scooped Teana into her arms. It would have been a sight to behold, a little girl carrying another girl bigger than she was. Teana had to wonder just where Subaru got all that strength from. It was uncanny. Teana herself was out of strength, and just let her protests die down. "... fine."
Teana closed her eyes and clung to her partner, who moved smoothly up and down the hills at a calm and even pace. With Subaru uncertain of just what to say, there was an uncommon silence between the two girls, but right now that was just want Teana wanted.
Still, that silence made the thoughts in the back of Teana's mind sound a bit louder.
... Teana couldn't really say that Subaru was competent ... so Teana couldn't really say that Subaru was either reliable or dependable ...
... But, even if Teana lied and said she didn't need help, she realized she could count one thing: Subaru would be there for her, whether she wanted her to be or not ... and for someone like Teana who often neither asked for nor wanted help ... well, someone like Subaru was exactly the kind of person she needed to have in her life.
"... Subaru?" With that one quiet word, Teana broke the silence.
"... Thank you" Teana whispered faintly.
Subaru didn't miss a beat. She smiled (weakly, for though she was grateful to help, she couldn't forget her friend was hurting), and, without so much as a pause, answered, "You're welcome."