Roa could have gone back to the pool and swum there until her limbs grew heavy, but she longed for a run, to take herself somewhere that still evened out to nowhere at all besides an airy sense of movement in her head. The city way to do this: endless tracts of sidewalks so smooth under her feet, all the tower shadows, the rushing to catch after, but never quite hold her.
Or, the treadmill and a book, given some insinuation that Duclos wished to keep her on call for the afternoon.
She /would/ venture out another day.
With this determination in her stride, she marched to the workout room and kneed the door open.
Nene waved at her, upside down from the bars on the far side.
"Excuse me," said Roa, darting back to the doorknob she'd so ignored. "I'll come back later."
There was something pretty head-tilting about watching the other woman shrug so easily despite being heels over head.
"It's cool s'long as you don't wanna do pullups. I'm totally callin' the bar."
Well, Roa had gotten herself keyed up. Some of this had fizzled out given the unexpected other person in the workout room- nobody was ever in there at that hour! But, then again, nobody had a schedule that she'd been able to deduce! -but, best not to waste time over Nene dangling back there.
"Well, if you don't mind."
"Been waitin' since ya showed up, princess."
Roa smiled. She liked being Roa, but she accepted the consonant-glancing way Nene said 'princess'.
Nene had on bike shorts and a zippered top that showed off how solid she happened to be, or would have anyway, on someone who wasn't so inclined to go about without shirts otherwise. Roa was already quite familiar with the musculature of the other woman's arms and the pale lines that scattered over her biceps; the arc of such things above her shoulder blades.
Besides these marks, Nene's back had a sculptural tension to it. Nothing Hellenic, first second or third strike of such things, but rather Rodinesque. Almost too real. The skin said, to Roa anyway, touch me; how else do you learn? And she hadn't, because that wasn't what city people did with each other, but she looked when Nene had her hair out of the way.
Nene might not have minded. Perhaps she intended to draw in curious hands. Anyway, she wasn't hanging from the bars only because she had some interest in viewing the world upside-down. First of all, *someone* had attacked the weight machine. Whatever she'd done to it, the mechanism had obviously been conquered, and perhaps now wondered in its state of defeated dishabille since when there was a war on. Second, her bearings recovered, Nene went through the motions of a sit-up. This made the bar creak and that back of hers wind so tight.
That was one, but then came two and with two she started to whistle, uneven through the mutterings that passed besides, counting and goddamns.
Roa had started up the treadmill with automatic sureness and moved now on the too good traction it kept bringing back under her feet. Her sense of speed could have been off. Rubber verses pavement verses sand. Running on the beach with the other children, there had always been something to distract her; snatches of conversation and subtle points of difference over the clouds and the water; things washed ashore. For now, the other woman twiddled her attention the same sort of way.
She whistled back, bubbling and birdlike though her motions made it.
Nene laughed her way right out of her latest upside-down sit-up. "Geeze! Is there anything you don't do? I mean, /seriously/?"
"What you're doing. I've never done that," Roa answered. Then, she made the call of an orange dove, high in the trees.
"OK, that's *one* thing. One thing you never done and..." perhaps, she did half of one more situp, curling herself up to have a glance around the room. Assured that nothing besides Roa had changed (and her crushing victory over the weight machine had not been challenged) Nene wiggled sideways on the bar. "You wanna try?"
"Well..." She'd had so many other intentions for the exercise room. Upside-down ventures were for cousins up in the treetops, making fun of the orange doves who of course had no idea what fun might be.
"C'mon, there's plentya room. This sucker holds two Sebs and a Tian last time I checked."
"I'll be bad at it."
"Say that like I care, why dontcha."
"Maybe you..." Should. But, Roa pulled the stop cord. The treadmill squeaked to a halt and shortly informed her that, despite the racket, it could be restarted just as soon as someone replaced the cord. "If you don't care, then I don't care. You'll show me."
"And you'll never forget. Tomorrow, we move onto rifles."
"I'll need some convincing for that. But, don't give up on me yet."
"Noted," but, it seemed as if Nene had already taken to dry-firing in her head, hands on Roa's for guidance and lampposts half a mile away popping open onto hapless pedestrians. That afternoon was hardly the first. After all, she'd left a video of "BREAKING NEWS: Concerns Rise After Fourteenth Streetlight Explosion" parked on the recorder and locked out of potential deletions. Some culprits, Roa remembered, were only happy with their wrongdoings when they could share them with people who failed to care.
Talk about juvenile. Talk about that kind of /fun/ that only adults managed.
So, Roa swung herself onto the bar, pirouetting upwards, her legs beside Nene, who'd somewhat raised an eyebrow to this assent. By the time she'd let herself pendulum down, they smiled each other's ways, hanging a little off-center because of it.
"Huh." The other woman fumbled her chin after the words went on not happening. "Well, all things taken inta consideration, there's not s'much to it once ya get on the damn bar."
"Do a sit-up?"
"Yeah. Should work. Putcher ass inta it."
"My ass. Right."
She spread the thought into her midsection first: sit-up. She began to move. So did Nene. Moving took quite a bit more than her ass, than the muscles running her torso. Gravity against her, she felt herself tighten from her knees to chest, every inch of her between tensing to get her into that position. Her back reacted with a knotty violence and her hips quivered in a way she hoped would remain invisible to her company.
It was almost a surprise to find herself nose to knees with herself. "That *hurts*," said Roa.
"It's a good hurt, but... ow."
"Doa nother one. Kinda gets better."
Roa set her teeth and made herself. Feet aching from days dancing on stones was pain. This was nothing. This was just the same as any other time curling up with herself. But oh, it felt so good to swing out of that and come back momentary dizzy to the upside-down drift between the two of them.
"...but, also gets worse if ya keep at it. You'll be feelin' it tomorrow."
"I haven't..." now that her body knew the rhythm, what to pull through and when, she could chance another. "Gotten that far in a long time. I'll do it."
"Me, I wouldn't do more than like ten and then maybe switch..."
Roa let herself huff through the next one.
"Ok, seriously? Yer scarin' me."
"I am not." Even sticking her tongue out seemed to leave drag in her movements.
Nene shook her hair. Then, she had herself another sit-up or two. "Fine, fine. Keep in mind, you get good, you'll have this goin' on."
She let herself hang again and tugged her top away from her belly, which was firstly a bit sweaty and second defined right out of any curves it might have had to start out with; still though, not quite flat against the very bottom, that fleck of a happy trail peeping out of her shortd.
"I'm not so good," Nene added, sort of maybe yanking her shirt back into place. "Just stubborn. Ya should see Seb. He's freakin' unreal."
"Does he like company also?" Roa asked.
"Dunno. Doesn't always kick me out. Usually here in the mornin'. S'far as I got."
"I didn't mean to imply I don't enjoy your company."
"Who said ya did?" reversed in direction, the frown this got her was downright silly. "So, like, Zeph's usually the evenings. He's shy. Ambra's got some kinda club membership. Seine gets on that thing..." she elbowed towards the treadmill. "...whenever the piano's bein' a pain. I guess."
"I also wasn't going to ask you any of that," Roa added, having decided that she'd gotten herself quite enough ongoing ouches. Her fingers dangled towards the ground.
"Butcha wanted t'know. Ammirite? C'mon. You feel better yet?"
It took her a moment's consideration to assure herself of the answer, but it was as she had suspected. "I do."
"OK, cool. Wanna spar?"
"Go bare-knuckles with me on the mat," The question came with a carried away love tap to her shoulder.
"Why?" she asked, holding back on the urge to rub the spot where Nene had whacked her one.
"'cause barfights. 'cause I wanna see ya. 'cause it's fun?" One more silly wrongways shrug, and the other woman unlatched herself from the bar, landing by Roa's head.
"Like shooting out streetlights?"
"Just about. Cheaper 'en ammo too." With her hair all wisped out of her face, she really did look like a little kid hung up stars in her eyes over somebody else's toys, possibly poking her companion's nose. "Heh. Knew ya'd find that."
"Are you going to show me something this time?"
"Consider me yours, princess."
For her own way from the bar, Roa swayed back the way she'd come- gathering herself before she leapt down through what was almost to a twirl that caught posed between steps of a dance that had not happened.
It got a pause out of Nene, one small blink before she picked herself up and followed.
They could stand even in one thing at least, both of them still tight and winded. If anything, Nene would have the disadvantage, since she'd started long before anyone came to bother her. She had to know that. She wasn't much of what she claimed to be if she didn't.
Nobody with a back like that was all talk, besides her sweet nothings when it came to other people's kills.
Roa said, "I think I would be unhappy to live here if I was not a courtier. No one wants to teach each other anything. It's like they're afraid."
But, then again, she'd been willing to do without. She was almost in there again that instant.
"I'm not," Nene told her, blushed out in her confidence until she beckoned. "Come at me."
There passed no hesitation in Roa's body. Time slipped out slow around her and her mind plunged through the past, the access song of the kinesthetics she had to match in the present. She poured through images of all the fights she'd witnessed- real ones in people she'd known and real ones on these other streets and exhibitions for cameras elsewhere. What did work. What had sent others in her place sprawling into leaves, concrete, waves, other bodies. All those broken streetlights.
Nene dodged, but Roa had left her enough fragments of a second to see if she could. She landed in a sprawl, catching the first real blow on her forearm down to pushback, both of them sliding out of balance given any reliance on the weight of the other. But, it was that or fall, turning up vulnerable.
Perhaps, as a sniper, the muscles of her stomach were for show, but now, locked onto the mat with Roa, Nene's arms and beautiful back were not. She poured all they could do into her punches. She threw one, and she went down with it, arching and crashing and solid through to the last where she had to take that instant to gather herself. Her fists came off as singular weight. They hurt, landed or blocked. And her elbows. She certainly wasn't above using her elbows. Snatching when she got herself unwound from her strikes, she seemed to have to think so hard to do that. The rest was thunder and skidding.
Roa wasn't as strong, and she had only one night of real experience in these matters. But, she was fast enough to flash through her own wondering impressions of that slug or that seize for her wrist. She whirled around Nene, the other woman her still point instant by instant and drop from her lunges.
She could hear the other woman in the conscious part of her head, taunts and laughter. Nasty, but meaningless in the end.
/You're not playing, but you think I am./
Nene got her hard in one shoulder. The thing was, she was pretty sure she'd been meaning to give her a shiner and /missed/ only by virtue of a target that feinted at her heels and struck off to catch herself.
Roa let her come back to her. Just a few steps before she swung herself close to the floor and darted. Passed her, and got hands tangled up with the shoulders of her leotard, that bruise she'd had to offer.
Roa grabbed her right back. Not so much a tackle- more, she kicked her legs out from under her and got a little more involved than would have been called for in a straight move with someone who wasn't all elbows; come get me, princess.
Hands together, she knocked Nene good between the shoulder blades. That earned her an "Ouch! Holy *crap*!" before they went rolling over and over each other across the mat.
Roa's cheek swelled salty inside. Besides all of these not so little darkening spots aching over her figure.
One of Nene's palms was bloody. It had left roll marks on the ground behind them. Up close, the dash through her bottom lip glinted against her grin so much more than her shell casing burns, the freckles on her chest.
Both of them laughed now. In spite of, because of, the mess.
"What the hell, princess. What the /hell/?"
"I... I don't even know. Elbows!" Overcome with giggles, she'd slipped closer to Nene's potential bites than she would have an opponent of any seriousness.
Not that this one didn't take advantage of the situation regardless. Nene stretched up from the mat and sank her mouth against Roa's. Not only her lips with that fragment of a scar, but her tongue and her teeth nipping until the vibrato washed between them and was gone on a thread of spit.
Roa sat back and scrubbed herself with her hand. "Don't just kiss someone without asking!"
"Yeah... and don't mind me, ladies," Seine tipped his hat and with that hurried out of the entrance, however long he'd stood there.
Both of the occupants of the exercise room watched the door latch up behind him. Afterwards, only one of them got back to her laughter.
"Oh c'mon. I was just foolin' around," Nene insisted between.
Roa meanwhile hadn't been able to fight off her lip-bitten pout.
"Ohmigod, stop bein' so cute."
Certain other parties invested in the situation redoubled their amusement at 'cute' being shouted anywhere in Duclos's manor and that only turned things worse, fists banging on the mat worse. At least until the otherwise silence came to wearing on.
Nene very obviously forced herself to swallow the remains of her amusemnt. The strain made her wriggle, but she did get it and unwound her bloody palm, just to let it rest on her forehead, spreading the mess. A few deep breaths and got out a quick, "Sorry."
"You don't kiss very nice at all," snapped Roa.
"I... wait, what?"
"You kiss like a tahi who hasn't been allowed home in years. As if you're hunting, and not kissing at all."
That was probably an odd thing to get offended about. If Roa even was that. A kiss did not follow her anticipations, even if, thinking back over things, she had put herself in that place where her moment of victory could be snatched away from her that way on lips alone.
She pressed her own to Nene's and stroked her fingers against her cheeks, caress falling away before she ever broke her surface. Nene had been so rough with her, so she was tender right back, soothing and small to the way she fell through her. Inviting, and not taking. Though, she felt Nene gasp, as if this, which came so easily to her, moved strange through the other woman's senses.
But, of course she kissed like she fought. So did Roa, ending as she did with- "...is much better for catching girls."
"Ah... that so?"
As soon as she's started to laugh again, Roa grabbed her by the wrists and pinned her hands up over her head, knees in her sides. "Got you again."
"Now," said Siebenkas, dabbing another tweezers of bruise ointment onto Roa's shoulder. "In the future, when Nene asks you to 'go bare knuckles' or 'mess around Cajun style' or whatever other ungodly euphemism she's concocted for 'be beaten out of your wits'..."
Now, Roa found herself privileged in that choking back her laughter kind of way. Maybe, she hadn't known him that long, but something about /him/ verses exasperated in any mother hen with bandaids kind of way was really, honestly funny.
Nene and her beer thought so too. "Ya forgot 'do it like the guards usedta'."
"That's in very bad taste and Roa gets it at this point, I'm sure." She also got a bag of frozen succotash propped on top of her head, which would be about the only place she didn't need such a thing. "Next time, she'll know better, besides how to bandage her hands after slugging *you*."
Roa did mean to tell him- only just maybe -that knwoing better was not what she reached for. Only- knowing at all.
"Nene fights dirty. She has no technique and sometimes she /grabs/ people."
"All's fair in doin' it bare knuckles Cajun style like the guards usedta," said Nene.
Which was when Roa did chime in, "I don't know about that first part. Elbows seem to be quite useful."
Siebenkas glared at Nene. Then, he swiped her beer.