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They meet in fencing club.

Their styles could not be more different; she is all grace, poise, elegance, economy of movement, cautious; he is brash, eager, unrefined, swift, daring.

Their first bout, she almost kills him. If he’d been any slower, if she’d been just a centimeter to the right…he’d be dead.

As it is, he bleeds all over the floor, smiling, embarrassed as if it’s his fault.

She waits by the door to make sure he gets into the ambulance safely, but she couldn’t explain why if you asked her. She usually doesn’t care about people she’s just met. She usually doesn’t care about people at all. Learned early on that the best case scenario they’ll probably just leave without saying anything; the worst case – no, she’s not going to think about that now.

Their sixth, she removes his hand. He’s finished a swing, stance wide, body open; she sees an opening. He tries to twist out of the way, but her foil hits his wrist, sinks in, sticks on something. Inertia takes over as he continues his turn, and before she knows whats happening, her foil and his hand are on the ground.

The entire room freezes. After a moment, he moves to pick up his hand, grins and waves it awkwardly with the other. And that’s when she realizes: there’s no blood. Giddy with shock, she starts laughing. After a moment, he joins her.

Occasionally they see each other around campus.

They don’t really interact outside of fencing, though.

By their tenth bout they realize that neither one can win decisively. They duel just for the fun of it, push each other to improve. She becomes more flexible, more willing to take risks. His footwork becomes tighter, smooths as he learns patience.

Together, they dance.

They bond over, of all things, opera.

And then they declare the same major.

Despite what everyone else believes, they’re just friends – neither of them have any interest in anything physical, and both too busy for a relationship anyway.

Her grin terrifies everyone, a feral, dangerously smug baring of teeth. Everyone, that is, except him. He just smiles beatifically in response, unfazed.

The first time it happens, neither thinks too much of it. They’re in the library studying, holed up in one of the tiny group study rooms in a basement. He’s exhausted; she’s not much better. Ever since his accident, he doesn’t sleep very well. She’s carefully learned to recognize the signs of an especially bad night. For all his gregariousness, there are still shadows lurking behind his eyes. He makes friends easily, but trusts slowly (almost as slowly as her). So when she looks up from her computer to ask him a question and sees him slumped forward on the table, breathing easily, quietly, in…out…in…out… she just smiles a bit, closes his computer, and silences her phone.

But then, the next day, they’re sitting in his living room, watching a movie, taking a break before getting back to work, and she just drifts off. Wakes up an hour later, finds herself covered in a blanket, TV muted. He’s reading a book. They haven’t talked about it in so many words, not yet, but he knows that she can’t sleep with anyone else in the room, had to fight to get a single their first year, didn’t have a lot of stability while growing up. She curls into his side a bit more and drifts off again.

The third time, it’s spring. Warm, trees leafy green, grass soft, bees buzzing, light breeze. Her head droops; he says, “Just nap. I’ll be here.” She returns the favor an hour later.

After graduation, they don’t talk for about eighteen months. Life happens.

And then: he’s in his second semester of his first year of graduate school and everything is fine he’s just sprinting toward the coffee shop because he can’t miss the bus since his car broke down, but he was up until 3 the night before finishing the paper for his class that starts in 20 minutes and he’s definitely going to make it on time but he needs coffee

He’s only dimly aware of the space around him, enough to adjust for the curb he’s about to leap off but not enough to see the truck barreling down the street; the next few moments dissolve into flashes of sensation, glimpsed sequentially

red hair gleaming in the sunlight.

the roar of the engine.

a hand grasping his arm, not his prosthesis.

the rush of air as his momentum is arrested.

the wiry strength in the arm that wraps around his chest and pulls him back.

the mingled concern and exasperation in green eyes.

and time


Exhausted, giddy, delighted, he starts crying.

She gives him a moment, smirking, then offers a hand up.

He doesn’t go to class that day. They spend hours catching up, exchanging ideas, notes, theories.

After that, they check in at least every couple of weeks: a text, an email, a photo; something that says “I’m still here” or, quietly, “I care”

The next time they meet in person is about a year later. He’s in town for an academic conference. She appears from the crowd after his panel, and they spend the rest of the day getting lost in interesting papers and snarking about the other attendees.

Somewhere in the past couple years, she’s become friends with his sister.

They manage to find time go on a weeklong backpacking trip. Just the two of them.

His sister and her boyfriend give him significant looks when they stop by to drop off his dog and her cat, who to everyone’s surprise spend most of their time sleeping on top of each other.

He doesn’t stop long enough to question them about the look, just shrugs it away as something unimportant. Something that people who like sex get to worry about it. She’ll laugh about it when he tells her later, tucked into each other, eyes lambent in the half-light of dawn. Their voices ring out bright, clear, and joyous in the morning air.