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How Well Do You Burn?

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“I’m going to Greece.” Keith said.

The stars in the night sky winked down at them.

Katie set down her glass of lemonade. “What?”

~~~

Katie sighs from her seat overlooking the amphitheatre and taps the silver mask on her face impatiently. In three months of wearing the stifling thing she has yet to truly get used to it. She itches for the sensation of the cool breeze on her face as it teases the ends of her brown hair.

~~~

“I’ve been talking to Shiro about it for a while now. He talked to your dad and, well, that’s why he’s here.”

Katie threw a glance over her shoulder, eyeing their parents as they chatted by the firepit across the yard. “What do you mean?” Her dad never came home from Greece without a reason.

~~~

Of course, Katie is still getting used to not having her tech around too, not that she has time for it in the Sanctuary anyway. Her days are filled with apprentice training as of late; she is proficient enough even to participate in some of the practice matches now, like the one in the arena below her.

Directing her gaze to the floor of the amphitheatre, Katie watches with disinterest as two apprentices trade blows across the packed earth. A boring match, neither of the combatants have any sense of technique. She scoffs to herself.

“That bad, huh?” Footsteps scuff against the stone steps.

She turns to see Lance and his friend Hunk descending the stairs behind her. Both are training to become saints, as she is.

~~~

“Apparently it means I’d be a ‘promising student’,” Keith said, fingers curling into air quotes. “We’re leaving at the end of the week.”

“So he’s taking you away too,” Katie lay down in the grass and sighed. She was tired of people leaving.

Keith elbowed her shoulder, “Hey, this way I can make sure our brothers aren’t getting themselves killed.”

A small smile tugged at her lips., “Yeah.” Just don’t get yourself killed, she thought.

~~~

“Do you have a match today?” she asks.

Lance shakes his head with a smile as he sits down beside her, “Nope. We came to cheer you on, Pidge!” His voice carries the heavy lilt of his mother tongue.

Katie smiles at the nickname, something the lanky Cuban had bestowed upon her with soon after meeting her, and she’d quickly taken to introducing herself as such.

~~~

“Hey, um…” Katie pulled at a fistful of grass.

Behind them the sounds of their parents’ laughter mixed with the crackling of the fire.

“What is it?”

~~~

"Thanks, guys.”

“No problem,” Hunk smiles from her other side. “But apparently your opponent today is pretty tough.”

She turns to him and raises an eyebrow—but quickly remembers her mask and corrects herself, “Oh really? Who is it?”

Lance plants his hands on his knees and leans toward her excitably, “Dunno, but he’s been here for a year or so. Never met him, but I’ve seen him around. Dark hair, not quite as tall as me. I hear his cosmo’s super strong though.”

Hunk nods, “If it weren’t for that, you’d probably be evenly matched.”

Katie frowns to herself, “Why would they make a match with such a gap in power?”

Lance shrugs, “To simulate the real thing, I guess. You can’t get better if you fight the same people over and over.”

Around them a number of spectators, mostly fellow trainees, suddenly erupt into cheers, pulling the trio’s attention down to the arena. The silver saint directing the day’s matches, Cerberus Iverson, has called time on the match and declared a winner. The combatants shake hands and clear the arena as Iverson calls out for the next match to begin soon.

Lance leaps cheerfully from his seat and slaps Katie on the back, “Knock our socks off, Pidge!”

“Be careful! We’ll cheer for you!” Hunk adds, giving her a quick hug before she thanks them and starts down to the amphitheatre floor.

~~~

“Take care of yourself, you idiot.” She couldn’t stop her words from wavering and tightened her grip on the grass in her hand.

Keith sat up off his elbows and fixed his midnight eyes on her, gentleness in his resolute gaze.

~~~

Katie marches down the hall to the arena as she tightens her hair tie, fingers ghosting the edge of her mask to make sure it is secure as she focuses on her cosmo. It’s a strange thing, cosmo. Flaring with passion, spluttering with doubt, but always there, now that she’s learned how to find it. She dives inside of herself in search of that burning, glimmering essence of the stars. Its warmth envelopes her, growing as days and weeks pass and she hones her skill. It’s still small, her being early in her training, but any cosmo, in the right hands, is a force to be reckoned with.

But even her cosmo can’t prepare her for what this match has in store for her. Not that she knows that, yet.

Katie strides out into the arena and follows Iverson’s directions, moving to stand in her end of the field. Her opponent stands opposite her in silence until Iverson declares the start of the match, at which point he rushed across the arena in an attempt to catch her off guard. She expected an attack right at the start, however, and steps aside as he draws close. Pulling back her fist, she strikes quickly, but the blow glances off her opponent’s arm as he passes.

Katie finds herself almost stunned at how quickly he had moved, but she recovers and swiftly turns to face him again, fists raised in a fighting stance. Evidently she hadn’t turned fast enough, as she takes a blow to the stomach with a pained grunt. Her feet dig into the ground as the force pushes her back, but she holds her stance and springs forward with a yell. Katie lunges, aiming to strike her opponent’s shoulder, but her fist never makes it that far. Instead, her opponent catches the attack with his own hand, trapping her as he shifts his feet and delivers another punch to her now-exposed gut. His face is fully visible for a fraction of a second as he nears her and the blow lands, hardened midnight eyes watching her stumble backwards.

Those same midnight eyes that had left more than a year ago.

~~~

“We’ll see each other again, I promise.”

~~~

And in an instant, they’re gone. His fist impacts her jaw before she can blink, and Katie collapses in a heap at his feet.

***

When she comes to, the sight of Hunk’s big, friendly face leaning over her is surprising. Behind him the sky is a bold blue color, and a breeze passes over her bare arms, underneath which she can feel grit and pebbles. Katie realizes she is laying on the ground and stretches, wincing as the motion sends pain through her sore muscles.

“Oh good, you’re awake!” Hunk smiles. “How are you feeling?” he asks, offering a hand.

Katie takes his hand and pulls herself into an upright position, groaning at the throbbing in her jaw. It doesn’t feel broken, at least.

“Not great. What happened?” she asks. It hurts to talk.

Hunk’s smile falls, “You froze up and he punched you square in the jaw. Iverson called the match and Lance and I came to get you. You’ll probably have a headache soon.”

She nods and pulls her legs in, resting her arms on her knees, “Where’s Lance?”

“Over here!” Lance calls from behind her.

Katie cranes her neck to see him sitting atop a broken pillar. He swings his legs over the edge and jumps down to join them on the ground.

“What were you doing?” she asks.

Lance holds his hands to his eyes in big O shapes, “Watching.”

“What for?” Hunk asks.

Lance blinks, “Right, I didn’t tell you,” he pauses and plants his hands on his hips, “Keith.

Katie stares at him, unmoving.

“Your opponent?” Lance tries. She doesn’t respond, and he huffs in exasperation, “We heard Iverson call him Keith.”

Katie turns her gaze to her feet and draws them in closer. Keith…

Lance grins and makes a fist, “First chance I get I’m gonna fight him!”

Hunk’s eyes widen in alarm, “Woah, Lance, you know personal fights aren’t allowed.”

Lance lets his fist uncurl and drop to his side, “Well, yeah. I meant in training, or in a tournament.”

Hunk hums to himself and decides to let it go. He turns to Katie, “Pidge, why don’t we take you back to your cabin?”

Katie’s head snaps up, “What?”

Hunk shakes his head. “C’mon, let’s head back,” he says, pulling her to her feet with a strong hand.

“Oh, okay,” Katie brushes herself off and follows him down the steps with Lance in tow. She waves goodbye to them when they reach her cabin, but only after they’d left does she turn to go inside. Shuffling across the room, she falls back onto her bed with a sigh and stares at the ceiling. Her roommate, Ina, a quiet, blonde girl from somewhere in northern Europe (Iceland, if she remembers correctly), isn’t there, but she is thankful for the alone time in her absence.

So she’s found Keith. She's seen her father around the Sanctuary a few times, too. Matt and Shiro still elude her though, which seems odd. If anything, she had expected to find Keith last.

But certainly not in the manner that she has.

Katie sits up and slips out of her apprentice armor. She is proud of it, basic as it is. It signifies everything she's done to get to Greece in the first place. Knowing her parents would have tried to stop her from going to the Sanctuary, she'd convinced them that she was going to an overseas school after graduation. She couldn’t bear to be left behind by her brother and their childhood friends, and had traveled to Greece regardless.

She closes her eyes and lays back down. If only she could reconnect with them.

Sleep is a long time coming.