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a burning bruise

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it’s a cloudy, wintery saturday, and the alarm clock howls at 5:30am. a hand reaches for it, shuts it off. muttered curses sting the air. a body is still for one moment, two, three. then portia gets up and gets ready. 

well, first she changes into a t-shirt and shorts, then splashes water on her face, then combs her hair with her fingers because it’s too short and it’s too early to actually bother brushing it, then does some stretching, then grabs her phone and earbuds, goes downstairs, makes coffee, sips coffee (milk, no sugar), and then she is ready for the day, Top 40 song blasting in her ears. 

she used to wear suits to work, and no single hair would be out of place. she used to look over paperwork and case files and lug her suitcase out the door when she was done rereading the material, smirking as she thought about her paycheck and promotion and seeing the defense-lawyer-of-the-week’s face crumple when she beat them.

now she laces up her running shoes and jogs to the gym. now she owns two suits: one she wore at her father’s funeral and one she bought when she quit her job at the firm. leaving wasn’t the smartest decision she’s ever made, but it’s not the worst one either. she works from her apartment as a consultant for a smaller, different firm. they thank her, every time, with unfailing politeness and gratitude, and she still feels guilty. 

by the time she gets to the gym, cold air stings at the back of her throat, her calves burn, her lungs fill with acid, and she coughs into her coat sleeve before entering. she needs to be prepared. she has to maintain some semblance of professionalism, after all, even if her own definition of professionalism has shifted. 

it’s been a year. 

portia thinks, as she breathes in the insulated air, and listens to the blaring whistles and sees the bodies hitting the mat and gloved fists connecting with faces, that she hasn’t changed all that much. she just fights a bit differently than she used to. it’s less about other people now. it’s more about looking at herself in a mirror and throwing a punch. 

she chugs her water bottle and starts her exercises. for a while, there’s nothing to think about except how many squats she’s done, that the number of pull-ups is one more than the week before, how a strand of hair keeps getting in her face.

then rosalind waves at her because she is, inexplicably, a morning person, and when they’re both taking a break from jump-roping she turns her head and whispers conspiratorially, “she’s not here yet, in case you were wondering.”

portia rolls her eyes, supremely unconcerned despite the tightening grip on her water bottle. “alright. doesn’t matter to me.”

rosalind glances at her with something like exasperated amusement. “c’mon, meg told me that she hasn’t missed coming here since she started, and you of all people have to be wondering--”

“i don’t know what you’re talking about,” portia interjects smoothly as she rests against the back of the cement wall. “she can do whatever she wants.”

“except beat you.”

portia feels a hard smile widen across her face. “except that.” 

rosalind laughs, perky and too perceptive for her own good. she boxes for fun, doesn’t really care if she loses, but damn if she isn’t a mean southpaw in the ring. 

“you wanna do crunches or something?” portia asks, not to change the topic but to re-focus on the task at hand. 

“sure,” rosalind grins, so they do crunches and squats and weight-lifting and chat some more ( “yeah, the whole female-boxer label is like the female-lawyer label; it is the exception instead of the norm,” “mhmmm. it’s like, who needs a gender? not me, that’s for sure,”) and portia still can’t entirely believe that she’s friends with a person who works part-time as a freelance writer and at the local Wendy’s, who goes here on a big discount because her boyfriend owns the gym. a year ago, all of portia’s friends were from the office, and none of them were really her friends. to be fair, portia isn’t particularly easy to get along with. she hadn’t exactly put much effort into getting to know her coworkers. 

except...well, there’s always nerissa. for a long time, since law school, really, portia didn’t think she’d need anyone else. 

then rosalind started going to gym around the same time she did, and she never lets portia duck out of a conversation, and she is insufferable sometimes, what with her knowing eyes and raised eyebrows and the pranks she pulls. portia still hasn’t forgiven her for hiding her gloves a few months ago.  

rosalind pokes her arm when they’re done stretching for what feels like the hundredth time that morning, and portia can’t find it in herself to be annoyed, not even when she says, “hey. hey, she’s here.”

portia resists the urge to freeze, and instead stands gracefully, not at all stumbling. 

sure enough, katherine minola has finally arrived. 

she’s got her usual baggy tank-top and shorts and messy braid and whatnot, nothing unusual at first glance, so portia goes back to fixing her hair, or something. and then minola announces to the whole gym in a loud, clear voice, “sorry i’m late today. i got divorced.” 

for one second, the entire gym freezes. even the current match stops, ref waving her arms, and it seems like everyone goes silent and still at her words, at the sight of her. portia can’t entirely blame them; minola’s been a regular for years, has never lost a match, and to local amateur boxers, she is nothing less than a living legend. 

after the appropriate moment of silence in the presence of greatness passes, emilia leans over the ropes in the ring and asks, “when’d you do it?”

minola shrugs, and a wide, sharp, almost-smile stretches across her face. “got it all settled last night. paperwork’s in, everything’s finally fucking official. split all of it fifty-fifty, was the best i could do. that bastard’s got nothing of mine.”

emilia whistles and raises her glove in the air. “that’s what i call a win.”

minola shrugs again, though portia notices, with forcible disinterest, that her shoulders drop a bit, and that she stiffens slightly, eyes darting from side to side. everyone keeps looking at her, hanging onto her every word. for a celebrity, minola’s awfully cagey, almost nervous. 

portia looks right at her, business as usual. “rematch. let’s go.”

minola meets her eyes, and something like relief passes over her face before portia’s smirk grows wider, because the fight’s still there in her gaze. “what, you seriously think you’re gonna beat me today?”

portia rolls her eyes, ignoring the others watching them like this is better than the movies. “you were late. i think you’re getting sloppy.” she brushes off rosalind’s shove to her shoulder. “i think you’re going soft.”

minola glares, and portia feels a vicious sting of satisfaction when she says in a low, cold, confident voice, “this is my day. no one’s going to take this away from me, least of all a silver-spoon rookie like you.” 

emilia whistles again, and slowly the gym works itself into a small frenzy, chanting minola’s name and calling for bets and prepping for the biggest fight this gym has had all morning. 

“what’re you thinking?” rosalind hisses an hour later in the locker room, helping portia tape her gloves tightly enough. “you know she’s going to beat you, same as always--”

“i’m a sore loser,” portia interrupts, adrenaline spiking as the chants roar louder. 

“ok, but she just got divorced, let her have this--”

“she owes me.”

rosalind frowns. “what?”

portia sighs. “i don’t have to explain anything, just--she just owes me. if you excuse me, i have a match to win.”

nerissa would let her be, but she’s at work right now. so rosalind throws her hands up, about to reply, and then her phone buzzes. muttering to herself about, “these idiots,” or something else portia politely ignores, she sighs as she types out a response to whomever just texted her. 

“orlando’s stopping by,” she explains. “he’s feeling better today, wants to congratulate minola and everything.”

“alright,” portia swallows. orlando’s not into boxing specifically; he’s more into wrestling. he’s buff, sure, but what really makes him a good wrestler and business owner is his showmanship, his ability to perform, and how he uses all of that to get concrete results. 

plus he’s an utter sap. him and rosalind are disgustingly in-sync together. according to her, he writes her poetry every day. portia’s caught her sending him what looks like hundreds of heart emojis more than once.

“alright,” she repeats, feeling better after reminding herself that the owner of the gym quotes Carly Rae Jepson lyrics as a romantic gesture. “so he’s coming. minola still owes me, this is still happening--”

rosalind’s already walking out of the locker room, throws over her shoulder, “you’re telling me all about this later, portia! you’re not off the hook!”

portia shakes her head, and focuses on the buzzing inside her head, the way her blood roars in her ears, and taps her gloves together. takes a breath. remembers what watching emilia and rosalind and imogen and miranda and even minola taught her. 

throws one, two, three punches against an invisible opponent, ducks, swerves, jabs downwards, throws a hit at the jaw, the chest, whatever is going to make her win, no matter the cost-- 

other attorneys called her the most successful gambler in the field. she took risks, she aimed high, she refused to back down, and she was rewarded for it. 

portia has been in the ring with katherine minola since her first week. she’s lost every match since. she knows that she’ll almost certainly lose this one. 

when does a gambler bet too high? what’s the price to pay? why is she even doing this? what if--portia swings wildly at the air, stumbling backwards--what if minola doesn’t owe her anything at all?

she sighs, and sits heavily on the locker room bench. nearly smiles. maybe she’s the one who’s going soft. 

still. she draws herself up, and margaret, the old, hawk-eyed ref, stalks into the locker room, squints, and immediately scoffs. “you fight until you’re down, i want this to be quick. i hope you get KO’d early; she’s not in the mood today. you should’ve known that.”

something inside portia sinks, just a little, before she snaps, “i don’t care what she does with her personal life. i’m going to fight until i win, no matter how long it takes.”

margaret shrugs her wiry shoulders. “get ready to pay for it.”

portia squares her shoulders. “i always am.”

she heads down the narrow hallway connecting the locker room to the ring, and the cheers and jeers get louder and louder, and the whole world shrinks to the confines of the ring, to the way portia makes sure to breathe even and steady, to the way minola leans against the ropes, casual and careless as anything. celia, rosalind’s best friend with occasional benefits who orlando is slowly developing a crush on--god, when did portia ever give a fuck about other people’s relationship statuses?--is in her corner, water and first aid at the ready. 

“you can be a real dumbass, you know that?”  

portia waves her hand, then adjusts her mouth guard and headgear, plastic molding to her teeth, headgear dulling the noise slightly. “look, i’m not going to stop just because of some petty lifestyle change--”

celia gets in her face, which catches portia off-guard; she usually hangs in the back of the gym, does solo exercises, refuses to fight with other people. 

her hazel eyes bore into her, and she says, very quietly so none of the yelling crowd can hear, “you could have just talked to her about all of this, for god’s sake.” 

“what are you on about?” portia hisses, because margaret is going to be ready to go as soon as she finishes taking care of a too-eager fan trying to climb in the ring. 

celia does not break eye contact. “other people have fought against kate before. they lose, they try again, they keep losing...eventually they give up. you haven’t. at some point--” she pauses, and makes sure that portia is listening. “at some point, you’re going to have to face the fact that you’re not fighting her to win, not really.” 

before portia can say anything back, margaret bellows, “ladies! let’s get this shitshow started!” which is hilarious, because this fight’s started ever since portia showed up to the gym.

minola swaggers towards her, portia keeps her head held high, and they meet in the middle of the ring. 

margaret goes over the rules, but they both have them memorized, so portia closes her eyes, nods at the right moments, and breathes. minola is close enough that their foreheads are nearly touching. portia pretends that she hasn’t wanted this, that she hasn’t been waiting for this all morning, that she isn’t already missing it when minola backs away to her corner, readying herself. 

portia becomes aware of the crowd again.

breathes. 

the whistle blows, and she opens her eyes. 

everything happens in an electrifying blur. 

portia doesn’t have time to really think when minola lands a hit square in the face, but celia’s words come back to her as portia finds herself grinning even when blood drips from her nose. 

why does she keep fighting minola? it’s not like--portia ducks, jabs at minola’s stomach, is rewarded with a briefly winded gasp--it’s not like they have some ancient rivalry, it all started when--portia bites down on her mouth guard as minola’s right hook smashes against her jaw, she stumbles backwards but gets her footing back almost immediately, swerves to avoid another punch--it all started when portia quit her job, saw an ad in the local paper for the gym, and thought about how her father would have hated it if she boxed. that was reason enough.

except that wasn’t the only reason--portia remembers showing up for the first time after going for runs and watching videos of matches at home for a month leading up to it, and she had seen minola fight, that first day, and challenged her immediately, went home sore and bloody, and fighting her--portia tastes the blood in her mouth, her left eye is swelling up--fighting her is like fighting herself. 

minola has the same violent glint in her eyes. portia’s sure that when minola looks at her, she sees the same arrogance. it’s only natural that their particular kind of friction translates into busted knuckles and cuts on the face. except--portia lands a hit on minola’s jaw, smile widening, fierce joy and anger and adrenaline surging through her-- except she’s never been able to figure out why minola turns down matches with other rookies, but never hers; they always fight, and if portia is ever honest with herself, it’s in the ring, and she-- she’s hit in the stomach, flinches, tries to find an opening--she admits that maybe what’s helped to keep her going all year is this connection, this fraught and fucked up whatever-it-is they keep doing to each other--

(“i’ve been fighting my whole life,” minola had said, right before their second match, and portia had spit back, “so have i,” and they’re not the same, they both think the other has had it easy, but maybe this is the root of it all--)

portia gets distracted, makes herself an easy target. minola backs her into the corner, leads with her chin, crowds her, keeps hitting her, portia tries to deflect, blocks one or two hits, but can’t stop the onslaught of fists, the pain makes her dizzy, she falls down, down, down on the mat, gasping for air--

the count is made. the whistle blows. portia’s head pounds. she gets her breath back slowly. her nose is clogged, she can barely see through her left eye, so many bruises--

celia helps her up. portia staggers, wipes her nose on her t-shirt sleeve, and looks up just in time to see minola looking back at her, something unreadable on her face before she turns around, glove raised in victory, cheers thunderous, before heading to the locker room.

it hits portia that maybe one of the reasons she keeps wanting to beat her is because she hates seeing her walk away. 

celia unceremoniously makes portia drink water, and she’s getting her first aid and washcloth ready when portia manages, “i’ve got it.”

“don’t be stupid, you need help--”

portia yanks the first aid kit away from her with her gloves. “i said i’ve got it. i can take care of myself.”

the fight’s not over. 

celia sighs. “i’ll be with ros and lando, let me know if you need anything.”

portia nods and heads to the locker room, stumbling once or twice, but steady enough. she doesn’t have a concussion, just the usual sorts of injuries; they hurt like hell, but it’s nothing that she can’t handle. 

she gets to the locker room, and breathes a sigh of relief: minola’s still there. she’s sitting hunched on the bench, unwrapping the tape on her gloves with her teeth. 

portia sits down on the other end, and starts to do the same. 

they don’t speak for a while, too busy getting their gloves off and managing the pain. they’re both stubborn that way; it was a short match, neither of them want help. 

there are knocks on the door to the locker room; local coaches and trainers wanting to talk to minola, other boxers desperate for tips, friends or family of other regulars ready to offer congratulations, but when kate finally gets her hands free and spits out her mouth guard, she marches over to the door, opens it, and says, “back off. i’ll talk tomorrow,” and that’s that. 

it takes portia longer to get her gloves off--there’s one strand of tape that refuses to peel off--but when she does, when she looks at her swollen, sweaty hands, and takes out her mouth guard and hears minola breathe, she realizes that they’re alone together. 

the last time they were alone--portia swallows, takes a swig of her water bottle she’d left in here--the last time--

“hey,” minola says, voice gruff but unusually quiet. “look, i--this isn’t--” she takes a deep breath, and looks portia in the face, bruise already forming on her jaw. “thank you. for before.”

normally, portia would start trading insults, or ignore her completely, but she thinks, again and again, that she’s been fighting her for an entirely different reason than winning. she stares at her shoes. “don’t mention it.”

minola doesn’t know when to shut her mouth, so she keeps talking. “no, really, i mean it--i kicked your ass in the ring, but--” she frowns; she’s never stuttered before, grinds the words out anyway-- “but what you did--no one’s done that for me before. well, i mean, bianca’s done her best to help, but you.” minola swallows, does not look away, and portia refuses to break eye contact. “he mentioned you, after we went home from one of the counseling meetings. that’s how i found out. kept going on about this woman who threatened to sue him, or charge him, or something like that, if he kept refusing to sign the papers. i guess he didn’t recognize you. ‘some crazy lawyer chick,’ he said, ‘with hair that’s too short and a grip that made me want to call the goddamn cops.’” minola huffs a laugh, broad shoulders shaking slightly at the memory. “he wasn’t--it’s not like you really forced him to do anything, i did that, but. he listened a bit more, sometimes, when i reminded him about the crazy lawyer chick who almost broke his hand.”

portia allows herself to smirk in satisfaction, then stops at what seems to be a look of genuine gratitude in minola’s glance. it’s odd; they’ve had short, clipped conversations after almost every match, and portia has learned a surprising amount about her, from the five minutes after fights or from other regulars or from completely casual and entirely objective observation. 

minola had been trying to get a divorce for the past three years or so, and over the course of the year that portia’s known her, it’s been glaringly obvious that going to the gym was a way to relieve stress from all of the filing and paperwork and whatnot, a way to get away from her husband, and a way for her to reclaim a part of herself that existed before him. she’s been boxing since she was ten. her father hadn’t wanter her to keep at it, but she did, and she has, and portia gets the impression that the gym is like her family. 

she used to scoff at such simplistic, naive notions, but now...now portia might want to believe in that, a little. 

portia remembers winning the big cases, watching people sob in court, collecting her paycheck, feeling supremely satisfied but also hollow, and numb, and like her father. 

she has spent the past year trying and failing and struggling to feel something.

fighting has made both of them come back to life. 

portia has met petruchio a number of times, mostly in the parking lot while her and minola kept arguing about a match. he’d insisted on driving his wife to and from the gym as often as possible. 

portia doesn’t regret any of it, but she still shrinks away when minola inches closer, unexpected gratitude still in her eyes. portia clears her throat, looks at her hands. “i’m not a good person. i’m not. just because i did you a favor, which anyone else could have done, doesn’t make me--we’re even. besides, i still have to beat you in the ring--”

“jesus fucking christ,” minola practically growls, and portia relaxes slightly, because this is what she’s used to. “i know that you’re still a complete asshole. accept a goddam thank you for what it is, and move the fuck on. what do you think i am, a bullshit hallmark card?”

“that’s exactly what i think--i still think you’re going soft--”

minola squeezes her eyes shut, shakes her head, and turns away. she winces as she reaches for the ice pack in her kit, and starts icing her jaw. 

portia remembers meeting petruchio for the first time in the parking lot. the sun had been burning her eyes. he’d pulled up in his car, snapped his fingers, and said, “get in,” and portia hadn’t stopped telling minola how weak her stance had been, because she’d expected minola to ignore him, or say, “wait a minute,” but instead she had walked to the car without another word, hands curling into fists, mouth shut. 

petruchio had casually perched his sunglasses onto his forehead, looked portia up and down, like one of the partners at the firm used to do, and drawled, “hey, katie, what time is it?”

minola had looked smaller than portia had ever seen her in the passenger seat. “it’s 11am.”

he had smiled warmly, indulgently, eye crinkling, like she was a child asking for one more piece of candy. “no it’s not, katie. it’s 11pm. it’s night time, babe.”

minola had sighed, like this was a normal thing to talk about. “you’re wearing your sunglasses at night, then? i have my watch right here, it says that it’s 11am--”

“back me up here,” petruchio had interrupted, still smiling as he looked at portia. “my wife can get a bit stubborn sometimes, you know how it is--”

portia had raised her eyebrows. she didn’t know how to play this game in particular, but she was nothing if not a fast learner. “it’s 11am. look around you. the sun is out, my phone says 11am. 11:03, now, actually.”

“aw, c’mon.” petruchio had shaken his head, and he took minola’s hand as if to reassure her, but portia had seen how she had flinched, just slightly, before contact. “katie. we all know what time it really is. i say it’s 11pm. what do you say?”

silence.  

portia had already been thinking of the all of the divorce lawyers and consultants she knew in the area before minola had finally said, in a blank, flat voice, “it’s 11pm.” 

it was almost funny. petruchio had laughed anyway, squeezed her hand, and minola sat rigid in the passenger seat. “katie, babe, did you get knocked around too hard in the gym? it’s 11am, it’s morning. you’re so crazy sometimes.” he had glanced at portia, grinning like he’d expected her to be in on his joke. “isn’t she crazy?”

portia had stared at him like he was one of those defense-lawyers-of-the-week, and had replied, “have a lovely evening, sir.”

it had been entirely innocuous, and petruchio had just smiled affably back, glad to know that someone was on his side of things, but minola had smirked, just for a second, because that was the voice portia used before throwing the first punch. 

she didn’t care what minola did outside of the gym, not at all, but when the impending divorce had clearly distracted her from the fight, when her husband continued to refuse to sign his papers, and minola would come to the gym cursing his name or apologizing incessantly to no one or just not speaking at all instead of getting into the ring, portia had to eliminate some of that distraction. she was always the first one to challenge her to a rematch. she had wanted to beat her on her own merit, to face the parts of herself that she despised and win. she had wanted minola to focus entirely on the match, on her--

it hadn’t been selfless. it hadn’t been nice. 

portia looks at minola icing her jaw, stubbornly turned away from her like always. 

the last time they had been alone together, they hadn’t said anything at all, just tried to fix themselves and get out of the gym before it closed for the night.

portia slowly rises, and sits on the opposite end of the bench. minola glances at her warily, says, “what’re you doing?” and portia takes the ice pack from her hand, and holds it in place. 

they don’t say anything for a long time. panic rises in portia’s throat, her nose and eye and right arm still hurt like hell, and she doesn’t know what she’s doing, not at all, but minola doesn’t move, she lets her hold the ice pack, and closes her eyes. breathes. 

portia is afraid, underneath everything else, so when enough time has passed, she places the ice pack back into the opened first aid kit, and mumbles, “sorry,” starts getting up again to get back to her own first aid, but minola grabs her hand and keeps her there. 

“shut up,” she says, voice low and hoarse, and she lets go of portia’s hand in order to soak the wash cloth with water from her Poland Spring. 

portia sits down, very nearly trembling, because she’s never been used to this sort of closeness, and--

minola looks at her, and carefully presses the wash cloth against a cut on portia’s cheek. portia freezes, instincts telling her to leave, to never look back, to go at it alone, to call nerissa later and tell her that no, the gym was the same as usual today, nothing to report--she isn’t worth this--

“you’re bleeding, you idiot,” minola murmurs, and portia has never heard her sound so soft. 

she can’t speak, just shakes her head, eyes wet for no fucking reason. she inhales sharply when the wash cloth leaves her face for a moment, preparing herself for the loss of contact, for the pain to get worse, but instead minola wipes the dried blood under her nose instead. she douses the wash cloth in more water, and keeps doing this until portia forces herself to sit still, to breathe right, to lean into the touch. 

minola smiles slightly, says, “you should be fine now,” and portia’s eye is less swollen, and even though it still hurts it’s better now, and that’s what counts.

she still hasn’t found the right words yet--her boss would’ve killed her for it, last year--but she takes her own wash cloth, soaks it, and wipes the sweat and grime and blood off of minola’s face. neither of them move, except for portia’s steady hands. 

they place bandaids on each other’s scrapes, they dab alcohol-soaked cotton balls onto their open wounds, and it smells and it stings and it’s not exactly pleasant, but then minola takes portia’s hands and wraps them methodically in bandages, so it’s not--portia swallows--it’s not all bad. 

she takes minola’s hands in hers, and wraps them in return, and pretends that her own hands aren’t shaking, just a little. 

it takes a while, but soon they’re finished patching up the parts they can. 

portia wipes her eyes, thinks of everything she should say, but all she manages is, “thank you,” voice quiet and solemn, like she’s in church. 

minola’s face reddens almost unnoticeably, and she coughs before cracking a faint smirk. “don’t mention it.”

portia snorts and gets up, wincing because she’s still sore and bruised, to get her gym bag and get out of here. 

she slings her bag over her shoulder after taking one last swig of water, and she is about to leave and never talk about this again when minola says, “wait.”

portia makes herself stand still and turn around. minola is suddenly very, very close. their breaths keep colliding, almost like they’re back in the ring. 

minola squeezes her eyes shut again, opens them, and she looks fiercely determined, like she is going to conquer mountains, or slay a dragon, or land a winning hit, and then she reaches up and tilts portia’s chin with her fingers so she can’t look away. 

“what’re you doing?” portia echoes, blood roaring in her ears, mouth dry. 

“checking for injuries,” minola replies, casual and matter-of-fact, except for the way her voice cracks. 

portia has the distinct feeling that examining her for further injuries is entirely unnecessary at this point, but minola doesn’t stop looking at her, eyes sharp and searching, and eventually she lets go. 

portia almost says, “i’ll see you tomorrow,” but apparently minola isn’t finished, because she asks, “can i--?” and portia blurts out, “yes,” without a second thought--maybe she’s the one going soft--

very slowly, minola takes portia’s hand, and kisses her bandaged knuckles. 

portia shudders slightly, and feels every point of contact, and after a long moment she manages, “you just--you just got divorced, i don’t--i’m not a good person, i’m not--are you sure--?”

minola looks up, and her thumb brushes over the top of portia’s hand, and portia stops talking. “i haven’t cared about him for a very long time,” she says, leaning closer, and her eyes are dark and lonely and angry and something else, something portia can’t name. 

“are you sure?” portia breathes, and their foreheads are touching. “i don’t want--i can’t fix--”

“i know,” minola whispers, voice tight. “i know, i’m sure, i can handle myself for fuck’s sake, just--please--”

portia kisses her, achingly soft. 

it’s a good thing neither of them have busted lips, portia thinks absently, and brushes some strands of hair out of minola’s face, and closes her eyes, and doesn’t think about anything at all. 

minola breaks away first, buries her face in portia’s shoulder, breathes, says, “i don’t want to be alone.”

portia is still for a long moment before gently pushing her away. for a second, minola looks utterly lost, and portia makes sure her voice is clear when she speaks. “if you think i’m going to settle for something that isn’t--that’s not--”

“you’re not settling for anything,” minola says, and the fight is back in her eyes. “if you were a rebound i’d have used you a long time ago. you--i’ve wanted--we’re meeting in the middle. i don’t do anything by halves. you should fucking know that by now.” 

“good,” portia responds, triumphant, “and for the record, i’m still going to kick your ass someday--”

“you wish,” minola scoffs, and they head out of the locker room and the gym, fingers brushing the whole way. 

much later, after coffee at Starbucks and stopping by Bianca and Lucentio’s apartment ( “i’m staying with them until i get my own place...i’ll see you around--?” “i’ll pick you up at 8.” “and you said i was getting soft--”) and getting dinner at a cheap but authentic italian place, it hits portia that this all feels oddly natural.

the moon glows through on of the windows. they’re watching a shitty movie on portia’s couch, and minola laughs and laughs at a barely-funny joke, almost wheezing, tears in her eyes, and when she’s done, portia pulls her close and kisses her again, smiling. 

minola’s hands tangle in her hair immediately, and portia sighs and says, “kate,” and katherine minola stills, and portia says, “kate, you’re such a dork,” and kate smiles, eyes crinkling and bright-- “portia, shut the fuck up,”-- and she’s beautiful and portia sleeps through her alarm clock the next morning. 

when she does wake up, kate is looking at her, exasperated and afraid and tender. “this isn’t going to be easy.”

portia nods, takes her hand. “it’s not.”

they aren’t good people. they’re not likable, they argue, they’re still going to fight in the ring, how much will rosalind and nerissa and celia and the whole goddamn gym brag about it--

kate kisses her, and it’s almost sweet, and portia decides that it’s been a year, that at least, maybe, they’re ready for this.