taste of danger

By llamajoy

but you like the taste of danger-- it shines like sugar on your lips
and you like to stand in the line of fire
just to show you can shoot straight from your hip
there must be a thousand things you would die for
i can hardly think of two
but not everything is better spoken aloud
not when i'm talking to you
-- indigo girls, "mystery"

Do not engage in battles beyond your ability.

She didn't mind rules. Rules were there for a reason; those who had gone before had made mistakes, and it was usually beneficial to learn from them. But today she was furious, and that particular rule sounded only-- condescending.

Do not engage in battles beyond your ability. Well, who was to judge?

Of course that rule had been drilled into her, from her very first days at Garden. She had always had to *earn* what little respect she got, a junior cadet, and small for her age. And quiet too, a sort of withdrawal that had nothing to do with shyness. An introversion too many people mistook for arrogance, a silence they mistook for rudeness. It wasn't that she minded being alone.

Normally, that is. But today, as she'd found herself in the Training Center and stumbled blind into one of those fabled "battles beyond her ability," she realized that it might not have been such a bad thing to have a companion.

Not that she thought she couldn't take down the T-Rexaur on her own.

Well, maybe she did have her doubts.

She'd never fought one before, only heard the horror stories. Realizing too late that she knew precious little of their weaknesses, the only strengths she could discern focused mostly on knocking the wind out of her and scaring her senseless with those teeth--

Oh, hell. Maybe she should have taken up her lab partner's offer of a training session. She made a face. He was so big, even though a year younger, and so *noisy*. And he would baby her; she knew it. He was always so-- so-- soft with her. Teasing. Thinking her size meant fragility. It must have been some Instructor's sick idea of a joke, pairing the two of them. As if she would simper and call him niisan, or look up to him. She shuddered. Not if she could help it. And why did it have to be so uncomfortably *obvious* that he cared for her?

She admitted that his tender treatment of her was one of the reasons she was so angry today, making her feel so small and lost and useless. She no sooner wanted to stay in the same room with him than with a--

She dodged a vicious swing of that tremendous tail, her knees weakening. All right, so there were worse things.

Maybe she should run.

The thought stung, the bitter savor of defeat. But if she *won*, wouldn't that be something? She hefted her shuriken, feeling the flat of it against her palm, sure, familiar. That would show him that she wasn't to be trifled with. That would show *all* of them. She could win. She had to.

So she stayed, and fought. It wasn't really a conscious decision.

The monster was simply huge, and soon she was panting with the exertion of staying out of the way of those ferocious lunging jaws. It fell into a rhythm, like a meditation exercise, but one that involved sharp teeth and potential death. She cleared her mind. Duck and roll, and fling your shuriken, and then spin and roll again. Avoid the teeth at all costs. Jump, up and over the heavy tail. Alert, always alert, dammit, girl, *focus*.

The monster was tiring, but so was she.

A well-aimed cast of her weapon sliced the beast's face, and it howled with muted rage. It was quicker than she was to respond--

And the rough sharp tail caught her across the face.

She fell to her knees, helpless before the crushing pain. She couldn't see, couldn't think--

"Watch it!" She heard the shout through the din in her skull, and stumbled obediently back to her feet in time to miss another tail-swing. The pain had an anchor now, it was only half her face, it wasn't bad. She winced. Like hell it wasn't.

"Don't turn your blind side to it," the voice came again, closer this time. "You've hurt it; it's only fighting on the defensive now."

Breathing raggedly, she came to herself, and realized there was someone fighting beside her. Her first realization was that she wouldn't die, that together they could win. Then, through the descending haze of red, she saw him.

He was golden-haired and tall-- so tall!-- but toned and slender, not like the muscled bulk of her lab partner. There was an arrogance to his movements, in his fierce determined expression. Dizzy with relief, she thought briefly that she was glad to be fighting *with* him, not against him. Though he couldn't have been training with that gunblade for more than three seasons, he wielded it like it had been born in his hand. He moved swift and dangerous, shining deadly with bright-honed hostility.

He was the most glorious thing she had ever seen.

But she was the one to kill it. Fighting at her side, he allowed her the final blow. She felt giddy when the T-Rexaur fell at last, keeling over and shaking the ground with the heavy crash of it. She couldn't tell if she was weeping blood or bleeding tears; the warmth of both mingled on her cheek.

Sitting down rather abruptly, she fought the ungraceful tide of shame, wanting to say something, anything, justify herself--

He fell to one knee next to her, such an old-fashioned gesture. "Hell," he said, "That was *some* fight. I've never seen anyone take on one of those by themself." He didn't say "*try* to take on," and, just like that, the victory was hers, singing sweet along her nerves. He measured her with his eyes. "You're brave or fucking crazy." But he was smiling as he said it, like there was no difference between the two and it didn't matter anyway.

And then, like an afterthought, he touched her shoulder. "Your *eye*," he breathed.

Unsteady with loss of blood, she shook her head and the room spun.

He held her face, tilting her chin upward so he could look at the wound. "Here--" his eyebrows drawing together, his voice became decisive, demanding as much attention in a murmur as in a battle-shout. "Let me." Her compliance was reflexive; she leaned into his hands. He cast a curaga on her, but quietly for such a potent spell, his voice barely a whisper as she felt the greenish-cool wash of magic on her face.

Still the world darkened, a little at a time, and she couldn't quite focus. His eyes narrowed resolutely, and she realized he was going to speak yet another cure-- as if healing her were another sort of battle. She shook her head, till her long silver bangs fell in her face, shielding her eye. When she lifted her hand to the wound, the blood was already drying beneath her fingers. "Stop," she said. Don't waste your magic; it will not save my eye. It is the price I will pay for my blindness. You have done more than enough.

He nodded reluctant understanding. As half her vision faded, the last thing she saw was the unspoken respect in his icepale eyes. Closely he examined the remaining damage, looking keenly at her. "You're going to be all right." His fingertips were not gentle against her cheek, they were firm. As if he knew she would not break. Although, feeling him wipe away her blood and her last tears, she felt sure that she *would* break.

"There," he said, releasing her. "You're still alive, and lucky."

She bit her lip. "True."

"And," he was smiling again, as if he had an idea. "I need someone like you." She blinked confusion, and he held out his hand to her. "A right-hand man, someone to watch my back. Balamb G. needs a... Disciplinary Committee. To enforce the rules-- so that students stumbling into a situation like this won't get hurt."

From any other lips it would have been a reprimand. But there was something about the way he said "students"-- as if they *weren't* students, as if they were already graduated and above the simple-minded Garden trainees. Or, as she thought about it, as if they were their own category-- not above, but beyond. She took his hand. "Yes," she said simply, while underneath (if she had allowed herself to realize it) she was thinking, I will follow you wherever you ask, though I do not even know your name.

Maybe he read it on her face, or maybe he was too damn smart for his own good. "I'm Seifer. Seifer Almasy." She recognized the name; everybody knew his name. He was an upper-level cadet, a star fighter and first-class problem student. Now, after the rumors, face to face with that self-assured pride, she could only admire him, his professional ruthlessness. And he had saved her life, and offered her one. She wondered if he knew it. "And you are...?"

She dipped her head, retracting her hand from his and crossing her arms tight across her chest. "Nobody." Nobody important.

He lifted an eyebrow. "After that fight? I don't *think* so. That T-Rexaur didn't know what hit it. You were so fast, so--" He fell silent, considering. "I'll call you Fuujin," he said, and a thrill shivered through her. Whatever name she had carried previously seemed irrelevant; she was Fuujin because he named her so. Wind-Spirit.

And here came-- of all people-- her lab partner, running through the slalom of hothouse trees with surprising agility, swinging his oar with a low rumbling growl. "I didn't make it in time, did I?" He stooped to catch his breath, eyeing her apologetically. "Aww, man. Just tryin' to back you up, ya know? Knew you were comin' here all upset and didn't want nothing to happen to you, neesama."

Neesama? She felt a weight lifted from her. Perhaps he knew better than she thought about the balance of power-- perhaps he knew better than she did. His attentions didn't feel so bitter anymore, and she lifted her hand to squeeze his. "Thanks."

To her surprise, he inclined his head sheepishly to Seifer. "Yeah, sorry, boss."

Question in her eyes, she turned to Seifer, who was laughing. He elbowed her, gesturing to the newcomer. "And this can be... Raijin." Thunder-Spirit. "I think it suits him, nee?"

Fuujin hid her smile behind her hand.


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