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Equal Ground

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The forest was completely silent, and there was not a single soul in sight, save for Clare and Jean. There was no sign of human, beast, or youma as they trudged through the dense forest. It had only been a day since Rubel had given them the mission and to be honest Clare was wasting no time in making her way there. She could practically feel how close she was getting to Priscilla. She was in the north, she could feel it, Riful’s words had fueled her on. Whatever happened, her goals were within reach, she had a place to look for.

Even though her anticipation was high, Clare was honest with herself about what she was walking into. She already knew the organization was out to get her, and on a personal level Clare knew that she was still nowhere near able to battle an Abyssal one (or Priscilla) and live. Not that it really mattered, Clare didn’t see a future for her after her revenge anyways. There were only two fates that warriors were assured: death or awakening, and a part of her had to believe that she had enough strength to at the very least bring Priscilla down with her.

It was this thought that strangely reminded Clare that she was not alone on this mission to the North. She had been separated from Raki for quite a while now, and had gotten out of the habit of traveling with a companion. That said, traveling with Jean was a much different experience than traveling with Raki.

There was no need for frequent stops for food and rest for one thing and Clare didn’t need to keep her pace in check, as she could trust that Jean would be able to keep up.

And unlike some of her previous travels with fellow warriors, there was a comfort with Jean. Clare didn’t feel a need to prove herself or sense of owing the other anything. They were on equal ground, although Clare had an inkling that Jean might not see it that way. She stops and feels Jean behind her stop.

“You don’t have to come you know,” she said suddenly, “this mission is suicide.”

“I know,” Jean replied, “but you saved me, I am in your debt.”

Clare says nothing to this. Jean’s talk of putting her life in Clare’s hands made her just a bit uncomfortable. She hadn’t brought Jean back out of any sort of loyalty, it was just she realized she could and so she had. That and Jean had been essential to coming out of that last battle alive. Jean’s survival had assured Clare’s own survival. Clare didn’t understand why Jean had to hold the obligation any longer.

“Do as you wish,” Clare said, “I can’t stop you.”

“How did you know?” Jean asked, and Clare paused, “How did you know I could come back.”

Clare was quiet. To be honest it had been instinctual. She had known at some level that it could happen and so she had gambled anything. She didn’t say any of this rather just shrugged.

“I don’t know,” she said, and after a bit of thought she decided to continue, “if it helps, you aren’t the only one to cross their limits and come back.”

“There are others?” Jean asked, her voice tinged with a bit of surprise.

“Yes,” Clare said, “also there is something else you should know. You may still be partially awakened.”

There was nothing to say after that, and the silence grew just a bit colder after that.

 

 

They stopped and made camp next to a partially frozen lake. They had caught a couple of weasels, and that along with supplies that they had picked up in the last town they passed would be enough for them to keep going, particularly as the air had already begun to get a bit cooler, and they had to put just a bit more effort into maintaining their pace.

Jean was thankful for the rest, even though as a warrior it wasn’t quite as needed as it would were she a human. The stop did however give her time to think and brace herself for what came next. Clare’s confession to her in the forest had stunned her, but she didn’t question it. The truth was, she did feel a bit different from how she had felt before the experience. But the knowledge that there was still some part of her that was awakened sent a shiver down her spine. The weight of what happened and what still could was enough to give her pause about the fact that she was still alive. Would it be better for her to just end it now and assure that she could die as a human? No, she had to pay back Clare, she had promised herself that.

It wasn’t just for her sake though that she had followed Clare, but all of her comrades that had fallen on that day. Jean cared deeply about her companions, though she knew that parts of that were unusual. She had formed a bond with that party, and their deaths still stung. A part of her hated that she was alive and they weren’t, even though at number 9, she would have been the most likely to survive to anyways. Rank didn’t matter, Jean was as strong as she needed to be, and it was probably for this reason that she didn’t feel a bit of shame about trusting her life in the hands of the 47th ranked warrior. And all of the strength that Jean had felt for her former comrades, she now funneled into Clare. To think number 9 would be indebted to number 47. Most would find it preposterous if they knew.

Not that Jean really believed that Clare could be ranked 47. The weakest warrior should never have survived a meeting with an Abyssal One; the weakest warrior should not have been able to bring her out of awakening. Nothing about her companion seemed to make sense, the yoki that Jean sensed from Clare was much stronger than she expected it to be and Jean could tell that Clare’s right arm was not originally hers. There were questions, but Jean knew better than to ask. It was not her place. Though there was one question that Jean felt she had a right to know.

“Did you almost awaken?” Jean asked, staring straight into Clare across the flames.

“Once,” Clare said, “although I wasn’t as far gone as you, I did pass my limits.”

“What brought you back?” Jean asked.

“At the time I was traveling with a human boy,” she replied, “somehow I still heard him and was able to make it back. It happened subconsciously, I can’t really explain it.”

“Is it the boy that was mentioned earlier?”

“Yes,” Clare said, “I am hoping I can find him in the north, though that isn’t my only concern.”

Clare does not elaborate, just looks off into the distance.

There was a disquiet about her, Jean sensed, as well as a strong sense of purpose. Clare had a mission, though Jean couldn’t place it. There was something that was more important then finding her former companion, but Jean could tell that this was something that Clare would not tell her.

“The fact that both of us have partially awakened is probably why we were sent to the North,” Clare said, “You should be prepared.”

Jean nodded and then looks down. They fall into an uneasy silence, and Jean naturally tries to think of something to break it.

“Do you want to spar?”

Clare looked at her, questioningly.

“It couldn’t hurt?” Jean said, “I feel I should test my abilities before we arrive up North.”

Clare nodded and Jean noticed she glanced at her right arm, before getting up and grabbing her claymore. Jean follows and they make their way to just on the shoreline of the lake.

It was the perfect spot to practice, there was not a being within any discernible distance, though Jean was sure the organization was probably somewhere out there watching, not that that really mattered for sparring. But the set up meant that there was no need for either of them to hold back.

They both take their stances, legs apart, claymores pointed at each other. There is a long pause before Clare finally lunges forward. The block is easy to make and for the few minutes it is just repeated defenses by Jean as Clare keeps going and going. Jean takes note of Clare’s technique as she moved forward. There was an unspoken agreement that special abilities would not be used so Clare was not using the flash sword. This made it easier for Jean to read her movements and soon enough she made her move.

It was then that the differences in her body since awakening became evident. She was stronger, and the recovery time after each move was much shorter then it had been previously. Jean began to put more and more into it. It was just a friendly spar, but Jean soon realized that neither she nor Clare were trying to test the other. Rather they were testing themselves.

That said neither of them were really releasing any yoki. The fight was mostly physical in nature, however Jean now could really feel the weight of Clare’s strength, which did in fact seem much weaker than her yoki suggested. As long as Jean avoided the right arm, she was readily able to stay on top of the match though Clare never quite allowed her a victory.

This went on for hours, each of them trading various blows, each making slight adjustments trying to exploit the weaknesses of the other.

Jean could feel her body tiring just a bit, this was much heavier sparring then she was used to, but she didn’t back down. Clare may be strong for the supposed weakest warrior of the generation, but Jean realized that she wasn’t worth much if she let Clare beat her. When Clare exposed a bit of her side in order to prep for a blow, Jean took no time in taking the chance to level a sharp kick. It didn’t hurt Clare, but it did make her lose her footing for just a moment, allowing Jean to administer a blow hard enough that she quickly disarmed Clare.

Clare’s claymore fell away and Clare stumbled back, but did not fall to the ground. By all rights, Jean had won, but Clare had not yet given up for just as Jean lowered her own Claymore, Clare lunged at her. Soon Jean lost the grip of her own claymore and the two tumbled into the ground and wrestled, each trying to top the other.

Where Jean won by sword, Clare won on the ground, and with one finally lurch, she was able to roll Jean onto her back and straddled her legs.

Clare leaned forward and her breath was heavy and readily visible in the cold. But despite the cold air, Jean could feel a heat rise between them, and Clare didn't exactly hurry to move away. And Jean suddenly felt a hunger that wasn’t quite discernible, but it wasn’t exactly uncomfortable, and it didn’t feel like awakening. No, this reaction had nothing to do with the part of Jean that was youma. No this came entirely from her human side.

And just as instinctual as her movement came in battle, Jean tilted her head up and she felt Clare bring her mouth to hers. It wasn’t a gentle kiss though it wasn’t violent either. There was a roughness to it, but it was mixed with a bit of tenderness or at the very least solace. Jean reached up and grasped onto Clare’s back and pulled her closer, until Clare’s body was completely pressed against hers. And thus an entirely different affair began to happen.

When Clare broke the kiss, she lowered her lips to Jean’s neck who tilted her head back to allow her more access. When Clare’s lips touched the flesh of her collarbone, Jean let out a slight growl, and her hands began to make their way down to Clare’s lower back. Clare bucked her hips once into Jean and she made a slight grinding motion over her hips. They were going by feelings, as this wasn’t something that warriors usually did.

Clare found the bindings to Jean's robe and Jean lifted her back off the ground and allowed Clare to pull down her clothing. While the cold would have probably made this difficult for anyone else, neither Clare nor Jean registered the cold.

Most humans would find their bodies grotesque, but it was something that they lived with. Aesthetics didn’t matter, and to be frank as long as it didn’t hinder their ability to fight, most of them paid no mind to it. Clare ran her hands down Jean’s abdomen and into slipped her finger lightly between her labia. The pleasure was growing and it was stronger than anything Jean had ever felt.

And she soon realized that where she had won the match before, Jean would certainly lose this one. It was a form of payment really (she thought), a way to cement this strange bond that existed between them. And when Clare brought Jean to orgasm, the feelings of pleasure broke and soon, whether it was from exhaustion or a sense that what they did was complete, Clare collapsed onto Jean and they both began to rest a bit.

Clare was a strange warrior, but somehow, even if just a bit, Jean realized that in her own way she was more vulnerable than anyone she had ever met, and so with the weaker warrior wrapped in her arms, Jean soon followed her into sleep.

 

 

They awoke fairly early, Clare cradled in Jean’s arms. It had been weird, but it was reminiscent of those few days she had with Teresa all those years ago, though it was a bit different. Clare dressed while Jean packed up the few packs that they had.

Like earlier, they did not talk, though now there was no disquiet or unease lingering in the air. Clare didn’t really think on last night, but a part of her felt that it had been needed. Even if she was walking into her death, it felt a bit better to know that she wasn’t doing it alone.

Which was evidently clear, as no longer did Jean trail just behind her. Rather she walked right next to her, her own steps matching her own.

Their rank, their strength, their reasons for being there were no longer a wall separating them. They were just travelers, making their way to meet their fate. Two comrades walking on equal ground.