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Not like I feint every time we touch

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Gallagher has just gotten the Maestro and Suba into (separate) ambulances, and the students are awkwardly crowding the sidewalk outside the salle, when Trebor finally says, “Uh, what just happened?” at the same time Clavelli says: “So did I win?”

Depending on which side of the room they’d been on the students have picked up different pieces of the puzzle. After a group consultation, the puzzle looks like this:

Suba stole the rapier with the fancy hilt from Villard’s dad as revenge for Villard’s dad slapping him in the face and also sleeping with Suba’s mom. Villard fought back by challenging Suba to a duel, but Suba won, thereby earning Villard’s eternal enmity. Also some dude killed Villard’s dad? No one is sure what that was about.

“The point is eternal enmity,” says Hobbs. “Villard has it for all mankind. Not that that shouldn’t have been obvious when he told Trebor to stab me or anything.”

“Hey,” says Trebor.

“Wow,” says Clavelli. “Suba must have broken him or something.”

“I can’t believe we were being taught by mortal enemies,” says Williams. “Dude!”

“Does this mean we can’t study with Suba now?” asks Tanos.

“Dude,” says Williams. “I like Suba. I asked him if we could do the epee dance to Milli Vanilli next, and he was like, totally.”

“You can still work with Suba,” says Trebor. “Villard’s already accepted him as an equal, right? So now you just gotta get him to get over his issues and accept him as a.... person he wants around.”

Voronin snorts. “Get used to being trained by the psychopath.”

“Whatever, Maestro just really needs to get laid,” says Johnson.

They turn and stare at him.

“What?” says Johnson. “I’m just saying the man is clearly repressed. Once after hours I saw him slowly driving a sword into a training dummy over and over and muttering about how good it felt.”

They keep staring.

“So you’re saying we should teach Maestro the power of love?” Tanos asks doubtfully.

“I’m saying we should teach Maestro the power of fucking,” Johnson replies.

"Okay, but I won, right?" says Clavelli. "Right?"

"Of course you did," Voronin says, patting her hand.

________

At the hospital, Gallagher is saying:

“No, Doctor, this man is clearly not well enough to be discharged.”

And: “Are you sure you can’t treat this as a psychotic break?”

And: “So you thought the best thing to do immediately after getting out of prison would be to stalk the son of the man you killed?”

And: “Didn’t you know the guy who killed your father was getting out of prison?”

And: “We have to do something about you killing students.”

And: “No, you can’t make Trebor and Clavelli fight a rematch!”

And also: "Oh, fine, are you going to write the parental letter explaining the incident where the two teaching-masters fought each other to the death?"

“Well, what about you?” Suba asks him. “You were his student, you worked under him— didn’t you notice Villard trying to dismember people before this?”

“I just thought they were a string of highly unfortunate coincidental accidents!” Gallagher insists.

“Oh, please,” Villard says from behind the curtain in the ER bed next to Suba’s, “You’re so overreacting right now.”

“You once tried to have me reenact the final scene from Hamlet before I could go to nationals!” Gallagher says.

“Ehhhhhhhh,” says Villard. “No one actually got killed.”

“Because we didn’t have any poison!” Gallagher exclaims. “You were disappointed!”

“All in the service of greatness!"

“You know by rights you should be banned from participating in the sport? You should lose your teaching certification. There should be an, an expose in Fencer!”

Horrified gasps come from both beds.

“Please, you can’t do that to one of the great fencing masters,” Suba says earnestly. “He just needs time. Time to get over his massive childhood trauma—”

“That you caused.”

“—that I caused,” Suba continues, “and learn to love again.”

From his bed, Villard hisses. It's less a hiss of pain, and more the sound of a cat being declawed, or neutered, or generally being forcibly made less evil. It's not a hiss of happiness.

“See?” Suba says. “Already he’s emotional. That’s good!”

Villard yanks open the curtain between their beds. “Stop mothering me,” he says. “I stabbed you so you wouldn’t mother me!” He pauses, then amends, “Well, at least partially. That was one of many reasons. The mothering.”

“Well, I stabbed you so you wouldn’t encourage students to evolve into homicidal maniacs,” Suba says. “Are you going to keep doing it?”

"Oh, blah blah blah," Villard says, looking at Suba with something between a glare and a pout. "God, I don't know, maybe? Are they going to keep being pathetic losers?"

Suba looks arch. “Then the mothering continues,” he says, smug. "We can work on the pathetic losers later."

“Maestro?”

There’s a commotion in the ER lobby, followed by a scuffle, and a “Fine! Geez, what is this, General Hospital?” from one of the doctors, and then Villard’s squad and Suba’s squad appear and form an awkward double row in front of their beds. Johnson is carrying the jam box.

“Maestro,” he says, sitting it on a nearby empty gurney. “We wanted to give you a message from all of us. A little something Mr. Suba—uh, Maestro Suba—had us practicing in honor of you.”

"What is this?" says Villard. "I forbid my squad to join an epee dance team."

"Too late," says Hobbs. "Maybe if you didn't have us stabbing each other we'd have better things to do."

"Ooh," says Williams. "Good burn."

“We need that gurney,” says a watching nurse. “Wait, are those swords?”

“We’ll just be a minute,” Johnson says. They raise their epees in the familiar Villard salute. Then Johnson presses play.

”Well, if we didn’t have him down as a psychotic break before,” says Villard’s doctor after the performance, “we do now.”

________

“Of course you’re welcome to teach here,” Gallagher says to Suba wearily a few days later. “But you’ve been outed as one of the great fencing masters! You should have your own studio.”

“That’s a nice idea and all,” says Suba, “but do you know what it costs to lease office space in lower Manhattan? Much less a whole gymnasium? I don’t exactly have capital to spare. Not to mention there aren’t a lot of landlords who are going to accept twenty years in prison in lieu of references.”

“I’m sure Villard can help you with collateral,” Gallagher says. “After all, it’s the least he can do considering his father brainwashed you both into being bloodthirsty murdering cavaliers.”

“Does that really sound like something Villard would do?” Suba asks.

“Er,” says Gallagher.

“Really, you can help me most by letting me teach here until I can get enough cash for my own studio,” says Suba. “Or until I murder Villard and take over this one.” He looks at Gallagher’s stricken face. “Kidding!” he says. “That was a joke.”

Gallagher’s office phone rings. “Hello?” he says, and then, “No, honey, you can’t come by the studio today. In fact, you can’t come by the studio ever again.”

“Was that the hospital?” Suba asks eagerly when he rings off. “Is Villard getting released today?”

“Why, do you miss him?” Gallagher asks.

“That’s funny, that’s very funny,” Suba says. He turns back to his squad.

“Okay, kids,” he says, “I think we’re going to try something a little slower and softer today. To help you work on your full-body strength and conditioning.” He holds up a cassette tape.

“Oh, god,” says Johnson. “Is that what I think it is?”

“Oh, this is so romantic,” says Tanos.

“I’m starting to think you’re right about the repression,” says Clavelli.

“This is for Villard, right?” says Johnson. “Sort of a homecoming welcome, right?” He sends Suba an encouraging smile.

Suba smiles back. “Yes, right, that’s it. Show the maestro your dedication. Your deep devotion to his manly deltoids. And fencing.”

“What?” says Trebor.

“Places, please,” says Suba.

_________

“You know therapy really is remarkable,” Villard says to Gallagher the following week. “I wasn’t actually neglected as a child, I just had deep-seeded performance anxiety because I saw my father routinely reward greatness with bodily injury.”

“I’m so happy your attempt at murder led you to this happy place,” says Gallagher.

“Where’s Suba?” Villard asks eagerly. “You know he sent me cards every day? The really nice ones, too. One of them had a pop-out heart with a sword running through it. It said, ‘You pierce my soul.’”

“Beautiful,” says Gallagher. “Can you get early retirement in this business?”

“You’re back!” says Suba, peering into the office. “Just in time, I want you to see the number the kids have been working up for you.”

“No, no, Maestro,” says Villard. “There’s something I want you to hear first. Come in, come in.”

“I’m going now,” says Gallagher. Villard waves him away, and Suba comes and sits hesitantly on the edge of the seat opposite Villard’s desk.

Villard smiles at him. Then he holds up a cassette tape.

“This will explain everything,” he says. He puts it in the jam box and presses play.

“Now do you understand?” Villard says breathlessly after Gloria has finished.

“I think...” says Suba, blinking guilelessly up at Villard. “I think I do. And now I really want you to see what the students have been working on. Unless...”

“Unless?” says Villard.

“Unless you’d rather I show you,” says Suba. “Personally.”

“Woah, okay, sessions canceled for the day,” says Gallagher upon opening, and then quickly shutting, the door to Villard’s office a few minutes later. “Actually for the week. Yes. Starting now.”

“But we have nationals!” Clavelli says. “You can’t cancel training now!”

“Yes, yes, I can,” says Gallagher. “Sessions are so, so canceled. Also I’m taking an immediate vacation. To the Wilderness. To Montana. Is there Wilderness in Montana? I’m going there.”

“But what will we do?” asks Clavelli.

“Yeah,” says Johnson. “I mean we’ve got this Bryan Adams routine down real good!”

“Just go practice among yourselves,” says Gallagher. “Go do interpretive fencing in Central Park.”

“Come on,” says Voronin, taking Clavelli’s hand. “I’ve got a few thrusts you can parry.”

“Speaking of which,” says Tanos, eyeing Johnson. “Did you really send all those cards to Villard in the hospital?”

“Worked like a charm,” says Johnson. “You just had to give Villard a nudge in the right direction. It’s all about prise de fer, baby.”

“Oh, baby,” says Tano, rolling her eyes. “Show me your counter-riposte.”

“I’ve got parries like you’ve never seen before,” Johnson says.

She scoffs. “Yeah, like parry nine.”

“Ha,” says Williams. “Dude, nice burn.”

“Ugh, I’m getting out of here,” says Clevelli. “I’ll see you on the mat, Trebor.”

She drags Voronin away, still holding her hand.

“Wait, what?” says Trebor.

From inside Villard’s office, the strains of Michael Bolton unfold over the sweaty sounds of rapidly evaporating lifelong rivalries.