Weiss sized up her opponent, shifting her weight between the balls of her feet as she ran through her options. She'd fenced Coach Nikos before, and while the woman was a former Olympian, age had slowed her ... somewhat. Not nearly enough. To be honest, the red-haired woman didn't really need speed. She had timing, experience, and Weiss had seen her time and time again go up against the odd uppity student who thought they could challenge the older fencer. It always ended the same way: 5-0, with one ego bruised and an untouched redhead.
She should never have let herself get suckered into this.
Some freshman simply had to bring it up. Had to ask if the team's resident ace could handle their infamous coach. Pyrrha being Pyrrha, she'd been more than up for a 'friendly bout' ... with everyone watching.
At least she had agreed to go with épée. It was no secret that their coach preferred saber, but épée was Weiss' specialty. It evened the odds ... a little. Coach Nikos was taller, more experienced, more skilled, and honestly, a lot more devious.
Weiss didn't like her chances.
Granted, she could probably land a few hits on the older woman. It wouldn't be completely one-sided, and she would make Nikos work for it. Still ... she wanted to win. Wanted to show her coach that she could manage a victory, even in a thoroughly unbalanced fight.
"Let's make this fast. First to touch?" It was the best solution. It ended this little show as quickly as possible, and a single touch meant almost nothing. It could be put down to luck, or the timing, or any number of factors other than the fact that Pyrrha was simply better, and about to kick her ass. Plus it saved at least some of the loser's pride.
Maybe they'd tie. She could always hope.
Pyrrha nodded, fixing the zipper of her jacket before smiling at the assembled students. "That's fine with me."
Resigned, Weiss slid the mask down over her head. The two women saluted, then sank into the ready position, their guards up, both blades aimed at the other's chest.
Her body wanted to tense up, to coil, to spring forward the second the starting gate opened. She fought the urge, doing her best to relax, stay loose. Tensing up would just slow her down.
"Ready." The referee's hands came up.
She could do this. She could do this.
They darted forward, keeping just on the outside of each other's range. It was a fruitless dance, the two of them teasing each other's defense, their shoes squeaking on the metal plates set atop the hardwood floor. Everything faded but for the much taller woman in front of her, the two of them inching back and forth, making the occasional flick with their weapons, testing for reactions.
Pyrrha extended a little – another test, another tease – only this time, Weiss saw it coming. She moved, body singing as her feet pounded the step it took to get her within range. Her fingers twitched, the small movement flicking her blade around Pyrrha's, trapping the opposing weapon between her blade and guard, twisting to force the spring-loaded tip away from her body. She didn't flourish, didn't try to throw the blade away – those were the hallmarks of the black-and-white movies Blake watched when she felt like teasing Weiss. She didn't need flair, she just needed the tip out of her way.
She felt the point of her épée hit the edge of Pyrrha's chest protector, the molded plastic deflecting the blade away from her center of mass. A surge of pride swelled in her, only ruined a little when she felt Pyrrha's tip flick her side.
Weiss heard the buzzer, and allowed herself to breathe. She'd done it. Both red and green lights lit up the score counters. They'd tied.
"Good move, Schnee!" Pyrrha already had her mask off, clapping her on the shoulder as the other members clapped appreciatively.
"It was one hit."
"Sometimes, that's all you need. Better a tie than no point at all."
The other members had started to move, dragging themselves off the ground to pull weapons from oversized bags, running wires down arms and clipping themselves to the fencing strips. The spectacle was over; it was back to training as usual. Weiss nodded, happy to see them not wasting any more time. Everyone needed the practice, especially so soon after summer vacation. She was a second away from finding one of her teammates, asking for a round or two, before Pyrrha tapped her shoulder.
"I think someone's looking for you."
Just inside the gym door stood a short girl in a red-and-black hoodie over a tank top and yoga pants. She was gazing around the room with rapt attention, her face shining as she watched the other members pair up as practice started once again. Soon the room filled with the buzz of score machines, squeaking shoes, and the sharp notes of clashing blades. If anything, the girl grew more excited, her eyes widening as a pair of saberists began their bout, clashing into each other in the way that only they could.
"Why do you think she's here for me?"
"Because she wouldn't take her eyes off you until you looked over there." Another pat on her back and Pyrrha was whispering in her ear. "Good luck."
Resigned to her duty as the club captain, Weiss unclipped the wires from her weapon, tucking her mask under her arm as she went over to the newcomer. The girl stayed by the door, shifting awkwardly as Weiss got closer.
"Um, are you Weiss?" The girl asked before the fencer could even open her mouth, the wide-eyed wonder now replaced by nervous fidgets.
"... I am. Can I ask wh-"
"Oh, good. Blake just told me you had white hair, so I had no idea where to start and I was soo gonna get lost. I mean, you guys were all fighting and you had your masks on and I-"
Weiss could feel herself being driven back by the onslaught pouring out of the brunette's mouth. The girl must have seen it in her eyes, and stopped herself. Coughing to clear her throat, she took a breath and started over. "Sorry. I'm Ruby. Blake told me to say that she'd 'vouched for me.' Guess you're supposed to know what that means, 'cause she didn't explain."
Weiss scowled. Thanks Blake. She would send this girl now, when Weiss was sweaty, with mussed hair, still hopped up on adrenaline from her bout, and in absolutely no shape to deal with the bubbly girl staring at her with wide, excited eyes. Wide, excited, gray eyes.
She almost growled. She wanted to growl. It was the curse of having your best friend as your roommate – it didn't take long for them to figure out your type, even if you only grudgingly admitted you had one. Short was a plus. When you were as short as she was, it was a nice ego boost to have someone who looked up at you.
Weiss shook herself, trying to get those pesky thoughts out of her head.
"Are you looking to join the club?" Perfect. It was diplomatic. Professional. Totally and completely in control and not at all tempted to check out the new girl.
"Is it okay? I know it's a little late."
"We let anyone join during the first two weeks of a semester. Try-outs for the team are a ... whole different issue, which you're probably not interested in." Weiss turned back towards her coach, nodding her head at the newcomer and giving Pyrrha a look that said in no uncertain terms that this was supposed to be her job. Shaking her head, the redhead smiled before giving her a small thumbs-up. Great. Thanks so much, Coach.
"If you'd like," Weiss grumbled, fighting to keep her teeth from grinding, "I can give you the tour, maybe show you the basics. Apparently, I don't have anything else to do tonight."
"Actually, that sounds awesome!"
Weiss waved her over to the rack of practice weapons. Most of the members had their own, but they kept a small set aside for new students.
"Do you have any background in martial arts? Any sports at all?"
Ruby grinned and rocked on the balls of her feet. "I know kung fu."
The fencer twitched, the part of her brain that reacted to bad jokes already starting to throb. Especially overused bad jokes. And puns. God-awful puns. "Did you take a few classes, or-"
Of course. "Why come here? If you don't mind my asking. There has to be a dojo nearby."
"There's only two groups who practice within an hour's drive from of campus, and they're both bājíquán. Makes it a little hard to practice Wing Chun." Ruby grinned, pulling a glove from the basket Weiss handed her. "Plus, it's college. I'm supposed to try something new. Hitting people with a stick sounded fun."
"It's not just about hitting someone with a metal stick."
"Really? Those two seem pretty good at it."
Weiss spared a glance over her shoulder at the pair fencing behind them. They were doing saber, pounding down the strip with abandon as their weapons flicked towards each other. Wonderful.
"It's much more complicated than most people think."
"It looks awesome."
"... would you like to try?"
Weiss shrugged, grabbing a weapon off the rack, and holding it out.
"Fencing 101. This is a foil. It's the first weapon most people work with."
"Cool." Ruby swished it through the air like a pirate's hanger, ending in a particularly impressive pose, ruined a little by the girl's striped knee-socks. "Let me guess. The little springy end goes into the other woman."
Weiss rolled her eyes. She got more than enough of that from her roommate. "Come on. Heel-to-heel. Make a ninety-degree angle. Good. Now take two steps with the right foot. Now bend your knees."
Ruby followed her directions without complaint, slowly settling into the stance. A few minutes later, and the girl was making deliberate steps, advancing and retreating, pausing only when Weiss stopped to correct something. Then, Weiss brought up her arms, moving her into the basic closed six position, her weapon up and in front.
Oh god. She was finding excuses to touch the girl. Weiss moved back, fighting the urge to twine herself around Ruby's arms and guide her through the motions, holding her from behind while Unchained Melody played in the backgroun... Dang it, Blake! She'd known movie night was a bad idea. Her favorite nerd's overactive imagination was starting to rub off on her.
A half-hour later, and Ruby was watching as Weiss showed her the basic lunge, her foot whipping out as she pounced, tip spearing the practice target through the chest. Each thrust ended with her tip square in the center of the little padded target that hung on the wall, years of practice having burned the movement into her bones.
She spared a glance back at Ruby, making sure the girl was paying attention to the movement, ready to try it herself after Weiss finished the demonstration.
Good. She's watching the footwork, not my hands. Too many people ... Weiss stopped, and followed the line of the brunette's eyes.
She wasn't looking at her feet.
"Yes?" Ruby's head snapped up, eyes wide and guilty.
" ... would you like me to show you that again?"
The small girl's face went completely red, gray eyes snapping down to the floor before glancing nervously back up at Weiss. The fencer wanted to groan. Ruby was so obviously embarrassed about staring, and yet somehow Weiss was the one who felt guilty. She hadn't even snapped at her, hadn't done anything, and yet that vulnerable look left her feeling terrible.
"Yeah. If you don't mind."
Weiss forced a smile, then turned back to the target, the foil flicking back up into the guard position. Another lunge, another thrust, and the tip thudded into the padded square.
"Could you ... maybe ... I'm still not sure I ... One more time?"
"Sure. One more time."
Weiss had to hand it to her, Ruby was a fast learner. Having some martial arts experience helped. It would hinder her later, the old footwork movements interfering with the new ones, but the muscle was there, along with the sense of timing that only came with years of practice. Her lunges were hesitant and slow, the girl focusing on moving correctly, rather than quickly. By the end of practice, Ruby had definitely made progress, hitting the general area of the target more often than she missed.
Weiss took the foil back from Ruby, sliding it onto the rack before unzipping her jacket, feeling the colder air rush against her sweat-soaked skin.
"Why try fencing, anyway? Wouldn't something like karate or tae kwon do be more familiar?"
Ruby paused for a second, trying to pull off her glove as she looked over at Weiss.
"Not really. It's like learning Spanish when you already know French. You can do it, but it takes a while before you stop mixing up the verbs." She finally managed to her the glove off, tossing it back onto the pile. "This is ... Russian. Different sounds, different letters. Plus, I don't want familiar. My sister ... she made me promise I wouldn't fall back into the same habits from high school. Then Blake mentioned you, so ..." Ruby trailed off, fiddling with the foil before getting ready for another lunge.
"What did Blake tell you about me?"
"That you're the best the club has." Ruby grunted as she moved, the tip landing about an inch from the center. "That you can be kinda mean, but you demand more from yourself than you do from your teammates. And that you're ... well, I think her words were 'drop-dead gorgeous.'"
Weiss sighed. What the hell. She probably wasn't reading the signals wrong, and if she was, better to get it over with now. Taking a breath, she ran a hand through her hair, wishing it wasn't matted and messy. That she wasn't covered in sweat and smelling of practice gear.
"Normally, the club grabs bubble tea after practice. There's this Korean place ... anyway, they'd have you introduce yourself, give you a chance to meet everyone."
"Yeah! That sounds grea-"
"Or." Weiss cut her off. She had to say this now. It would be stupid to let herself develop feelings for someone who wouldn't or couldn't return them. Especially if the girl kept showing up to practice. She didn't need an unrequited crush sitting under her nose, distracting her during training. If Ruby felt the same way, wanted to give her a shot, great. If not, she'd get over it.
"You and I could grab something to eat. Just the two of us. Give us some time to talk."
" ... like a date?"
Weiss gave her a short nod, her bound hair bobbing against the back of her neck. "If you don't want to, it's fine. I just thought-"
"No, that ... that sounds really nice."
"Okay." Great. They'd gone from awkward to happy and awkward. Not that it made the soaring feeling in her chest any less gratifying. "I'd like to grab a shower, so ... twenty minutes?"
Ruby beamed before turning away, leaving Weiss to wait until her heart stopped hammering.
Oh, she was in soo much trouble.
Her phone buzzed when she went to grab her bag, vibrating inside the pockets of her jeans. She fished it out, trying to get as little of her sweat-soaked arm on the clean clothes as possible.
It was a message from Blake. So? You ask her out yet?
Weiss glared down at the little white slab of plastic, the lit screen flashing, mocking her.
Your timing sucks. ... and I 'm buying you lunch for a month.