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She won another match, just like she always did. It was no surprise since it was rare that she let her concentration slip. She was always focused. Fencing required a certain type of focus and precision. It also required patience. Joan had been taught to win all her life and she worked hard to be the victor. It was second nature to her. She shook the hand of her opponent and walked towards her bag, taking a sip of water.

As she turned her head, she saw a smaller fencer standing on the mat facing her. They wore a mask and held a foil in their hand. She could tell it was a woman but it was someone she'd never seen before in the fencing studio. At least no one of that height. Joan hardly ever fenced with anyone as petite as this fencer. She cocked her head, curious about the person watching her.

This fencer was holding a foil unlike the epee that Joan usually used. However, she did have a foil and she drew it out and grabbed her mask. She walked forward towards the woman and noticed her slim and narrow hips. There was a familiarity about her that Joan couldn't quite put her finger on.

The woman was silent as she held up her foil to her mask in a vertical point making a salute with the foil, and her head tilted forward a little almost in a bow. Joan furrowed her eyebrows as the smaller woman bent her knees in the en garde position. She had perfect form with her right foot pointing out and the other behind her and pointing out to the side. Her knees were bent just low enough to where it would give her enough flexibility in movement. Whoever this person was they were a little more than a beginner.

Joan was a bit unnerved at not seeing her face behind the mask but she supposed that wasn't important for a match. She smirked and lifted her mask and placed it over her head, taking her foil and bringing it up to her face in a salute.

They each held out their foil towards the other and neither moved for a minute. Joan studied her as the woman slowly lifted her foil and slid it against her own. It was slow and deliberate as she gently pushed against it. Joan could hear the scraping and she narrowed her eyes at this odd display. She had neither advanced nor retreated and Joan wondered who would make the first move. She was much taller and it would be easy to win this match with just a lunge alone. She wouldn't even have to do very much footwork.

Joan smiled and let her keep sliding her foil along hers and she slowly made an advance. Joan usually played music in her head as she fenced, thinking of classical music and opera to help her concentrate. This time however, all she could hear was the soft breathing and footsteps in the stillness of the room with the scraping of their foils and she tapped at her foil, making a retreat.

The younger woman quickly moved towards her and clashed her foil against hers and this was when the match began. Joan was surprised at the aggressive movements of her opponent, but each time she tried to make a lunge, Joan kept at a retreat in order to keep her at a distance.

The first hit was made when Joan quickly lunged forward, using her height to her advantage. They moved quickly and the sounds of their foils hitting was an odd rhythm and it was like a dance as both advanced and retreat.

Her opponent was surprisingly a good challenge despite her height but there was a moment where Joan slightly lost her balance and the smaller woman hesitated and Joan took that moment to strike her in the torso.

You must be ruthless!”

They both retreated to the same distance apart again and she watched as the woman started advancing towards her, flicking and hitting their foils until the woman was so close that Joan knew it would be hard to lunge at her. This was known as infighting and this was a skill that a shorter fencer might often be afraid to do against a taller opponent. Clearly this was not the case and Joan had underestimated her when she set about to try and only take lunges at her. She became a bit arrogant thinking that she could easily beat her with lunges alone because of her height.

She needed to retreat to gain the advantage again in order to keep that distance. The only way to win this match would be to retreat to make that final lunge. But the smaller woman wouldn't let her move away. Every time she backed away, the woman would move closer. Joan was impressed by this but she couldn't allow that to get in the way of her winning this match, especially against a new fencer in the studio. Her pride and ego set in and she slammed her foot as if to make a lunge, and she could tell the sound and force of her foot slamming onto the mat startled the other woman. Joan smirked as she circled her wrist, hitting the foil and the other woman parried keeping her from hitting her torso, but she was close.

Her opponent started to lunge and Joan knew this was when she could strike her. Joan quickly parried, and her eyes widened as the small woman suddenly did a feint and circled her foil, quickly moving in close and lunging as she slammed her foot down and hit Joan's chest.

Joan breathed heavily, looking down and she sighed in frustration but with new found respect against this fencer who had put up an equal fight against her. She retreated and lifted her foil, watching as the woman did the same in the salute and took off her mask.

She began to walk up to her and paused since the woman still had her mask on. This was odd since usually fencers took off their masks after a match. She shook her hand though, and peered into the mask trying to see the facial features.

Why is she so familiar? There is something about her... I don't know what. She reminds me of... but no she couldn't. She had never expressed any interest in this.

The woman started to pull away and Joan kept her hand around hers, pulling her in a little closer, trying to see.

“Aren't you going to show me your face? I'd love to know who beat me so we can spar again,” Joan said and smiled, but there was a challenge to her tone. Her eyes sparked with intensity at the woman who was still silent.

The smaller woman lifted her hands and slowly removed her mask, blinking and shaking her head gently.

“Vera,” Joan said softly, her eyes widening in shock.

She wore a similar braid to Joan's and soft tendrils framed her face. She smiled sheepishly and shrugged.

“I, um, didn't want you to know it was me,” Vera said and bit her lip.

Gone was the aggressive and confident fencer and in her place was the timid mouse of a woman who was her Deputy. Joan sighed and lifted her hand to slowly brush the hair from Vera's face.

“And why not?”

“Because... I-I wanted you to take me seriously,” she said quietly.

Joan blinked and lifted her brow, and moved her hand up to unbutton the collar of her jacket. Vera did the same and she took a deep breath.

“I do take you seriously. It's why I offered to mentor you. I see some of myself in you, and this proves that tonight. We're not so different,” Joan said.

“It's easier to not be me. Easier for others to think I'm someone else... easier for you to think I was someone else. Someone worthy to fight against. I wanted to hide behind a mask,” Vera said quietly.

Joan took a sip of water and her eyes slowly took in Vera's flushed appearance with her slightly messy hair and she saw the body she was always used to seeing at work. The soft slim curves of her Deputy and she wondered what made her not see it before.

“We all wear masks, Vera. Some of us more than others.”

Vera furrowed her eyebrows as Joan took off her fencing jacket.

“Do you wear a mask, Joan?”

Joan looked up at her and held her gaze, giving her a lopsided grin.

“What do you think?”

Vera looked a little taken aback. “I think you do at work, but... I think I see more of the real you outside of it.”

Joan smiled. “Well, there you have it. Shall we get a drink? I have some leftover wine and vodka at my house.”

Vera blushed and smiled. “I'd like that.”

They parted ways in the parking lot and Joan watched her leave, her eyes trailing over her figure. She moved into her car and looked at the fencing mask on her seat.

I wear a mask for every occasion but only one of them is my true self. You will never know which I'm showing you, but remember that each one is a glimpse into me. I will be ruthless when required. I will take the potential I see in you and I will mold you into the woman you need to be until we are each wearing the same mask. I will do this because it's necessary. I will do this because I care.

“For the greater good.”