Nine Years Ago
A loud round of cheering greeted Jemma as she pulled off her helmet, orange visor glinting in the moonlight in which the Rebel Academy's training facilities were currently bathed. One plane away, Fitz dropped out of his cockpit and slammed the hatch closed, distance and his helmet muffling a vague stream of swears. Shaking out her hair, she strode across the concrete, politely accepting the cheers and congratulations of the few other students who had been brave enough to sneak into the hangar after hours. Although flying without supervision was permitted to some of the more advanced student pilots, it was forbidden to most of the Rebellion cadets – particularly ones such as her and Fitz, both of whom were years younger than the other freshmen.
Normally, Jemma didn’t break rules, enjoying their familiarity and structure, but she also couldn’t let a challenge to her flight skills go unanswered. Or miss the chance to challenge Fitz. She didn’t typically bother seeking out friendships where the other person clearly didn’t reciprocate, but, well... he was different. Mostly, she told herself she liked the competition - when he would give her the time of day, that is.
Hate her though he may, Fitz had begrudgingly acquiesced to compete, thanks to the strong urgings of a few older Rebel Academy cadets. Unfortunately for him, however, she was simply a better flyer, despite his theoretical advantage with his concentration in engineering. It wasn’t his fault that she’d first stepped into the cockpit of a plane at the tender age of ten and had been studying flight theory ever since.
“Not a bad effort,” she drawled, leaning against the X-Wing as he adjusted something on the T-85’s front shell's right-hand panel. “But you’re loose on your steering. You lean a bit too much to the left.”
Slamming the panel closed, he rounded on her, jaw working as his eyes met hers and then darted away again. Now, this might be interesting, she mused. Even though he was the only cadet who could match her in both youth and intelligence, Fitz usually preferred to ignore her at all costs. He hadn’t even accepted her fair-minded wish of good luck before they took off, instead returning a terse nod and striding to his chosen plane. But he was actually meeting her gaze now, his eyes’ deep navy flashing in the moonlight.
“Best two out of three.” His voice was quiet but sharp, natural accent clipped out of either anger or nerves.
A grin spread across her face. “Loser scrubs the winner’s flight locker for a week.”
He wrinkled his nose but nodded. “Deal.”
Before he could reach for his helmet, Jemma pulled the glove off her right hand and stuck her arm out in front of him, halting his movement. When he did nothing, she wiggled her fingers. Fitz stared down at her proffered hand for a few seconds too long, but at last he shook off his own glove and took her hand, giving it a firm shake.
With a pleased nod and grin, she spun around and strode back to her plane, giving their classmates a small wave. Their presence was more or less irrelevant to Jemma, anyway, except as witnesses. All of her focus was set on trouncing Fitz and proving once and for all that not only was she the youngest and smartest cadet at the Rebel Alliance’s training Academy, but also the best pilot in the galaxy.