“So why fencing?” Kara asked from her trainer bed. Lena sat to her left, and ran an ultrasound therapy wand up her forearm. Kara had been in the training room every day this week after softball practice, rehabbing a flareup of tendonitis in her throwing elbow.
Metropolis State had a comprehensive pre-medical program that included practical courses in things like physiology and biomedical research, to introduce students to the different applications of their eventual medical degrees. Lena had pulled a physiology practical that semester, which landed her in the athletic training room assisting the medical staff there with taking care of the hundred and fifty or so student athletes in their charge.
It was convenient, since she was often around the training room anyway in the spring when the fencing season began. And if it also meant she got a little bit more time with certain blonde multi-sport prodigies? Well, that was just a perk.
“Suppose I just like being allowed to hit people with sticks,” she said. She dabbed a little more ultrasound gel onto Kara’s bicep so she could start therapy above her elbow. Kara chuckled.
“Well yeah but a lot of rich people sports would let you do that. Half the lacrosse team has cane bruises in weird places from getting hit in games. Why is fencing the one you stuck with?” she asked. Lena stopped the wand on her skin to shoot her an unimpressed look, flicking her eyes up to Kara’s in a glare that sent most people scrambling. Kara just smiled, perfectly at ease next to her. Lena breathed out through her nose and started her passes over Kara’s biceps tendon again.
“What I do is called épée,” she said. Kara cocked her head, looking remarkably like a big dog listening to her owner. Lena smiled a little at that, and continued, “It’s the slowest, time-wise, of the three types. I suppose I enjoy the strategy of it.”
“Are you any good?”
Lena laughed and pulled a face at Kara. “I am on the school team. You do know I go here, right?”
“Well, yeah but you know what I mean. Like, are you good?”
Lena shook her head, smiling. Only Kara could make a question like that earnest enough not to be insulting.
“Are you?” she countered instead of answering, and gave Kara a cheeky head bob and a quirked eyebrow.
“You’ll have to be more specific,” Kara said, grinning back. “I play three sports.”
“You keep thinking that’s going to impress me.”
“It does; I can tell,” Kara said. She was right, but Lena wasn’t about to tell her that.
“You could always come to the match this weekend and see if I’m any good for yourself,” Lena said, shaking her head again.
“Not sure I’d even know what I was looking at,” Kara admitted. She squirmed a bit on the table as Lena guided the ultrasound wand over a particularly sore spot of muscle. Lena squeezed her wrist in comfort and moved the tool a little slower.
“I could teach you,” Lena offered. “The rules aren’t complicated, and you’re not going anywhere for the next little while.”
“Lay it on me then, babe,” Kara said. She made a show of scooching down a few more inches on the table, as though settling in to watch a movie on the couch. Lena favored her with a laugh and began.
“Here’s something you’ll like,” she said. “Épée was invented because idiots thought learning foil made them real swordsmen and kept getting themselves maimed and killed.”
“See, this is the type of insider information I need,” Kara said. “Paint me a word picture.”
Lena snorted before continuing, “Well, they had all these foil fencers getting maimed in real sword fights, around the turn of the twentieth century, right? Before then, no one fenced épée in sport fencing. If you wanted to have a real duel, you had to take what they called the ‘widow’s lesson’ to learn how to do it for real.”
“Point to you, that’s badass,” Kara interjected. She gave Lena a finger gun shot with her unoccupied hand, making a clicking noise with her tongue.
“They figured out that the reason all these foil fencers were getting hurt was because they only learned to fight in a situation where right-of-way applied,” Lena continued, ignoring Kara’s display and returning her attention to Kara’s arm. “See, in foil and sabre, you can gain what’s called ‘priority’ by making an attack first, so all these fencers were going into real fights with live blades and just being as aggressive as possible.”
“And getting stabbed when their opponent didn’t stop after they poked ‘em,” Kara finished for her. And Lena, caught up in the story, lit up inside at that. She took her hand off Kara’s wrist and pointed at her for emphasis, broke into a grin.
“Exactly,” she said. “So épée started being taught in fencing clubs. There’s no right-of-way in épée. If you and your opponent both hit each other, you both get a point. So there are consequences for attacking recklessly.”
They continued like that, with Kara watching a little wider-eyed as Lena went on, until finally her ultrasound therapy was complete and Lena broke from her side to start cleaning up. She tossed Kara a towel to clean off her arm as she wiped down the ultrasound equipment with a damp rag.
“See, this is what I mean when I say rich people sports are weird,” Kara said. Lena rolled her eyes, her back turned to Kara as she attended to the machine. “I mean you call an attack a conversation? Come on, Lena.”
“An attack is called a phrase, actually,” Lena laughed. It was a bit pretentiously metaphorical, she had to admit. “The conversation is the entire exchange that ends in a point.”
“Making my point for me, Luthor.”
“You play one sport where twenty-two women chase a ball around a large grassy area, and another where you hit a ball with a stick and then run in a circle,” Lena said. She turned back to Kara and then leaned back in her chair. Crossed her arms and folded one knee over the other. “Do you really want to go there with this?”
Kara smiled a little wider as she wiped down her arm. Then she tossed the towel into the dirty laundry bin near the door, making a show of shooting it like a basketball. She even pumped her arm in victory when it flumped down with the other soiled rags in the container.
“Don’t forget the one where I run in circles faster than everyone else.”
“See?” Lena said, ignoring Kara’s sarcasm. “At least I get a sword.”
“Love a woman who could kick my ass,” Kara said. She made a show of swooning on the table, leaning back and throwing a forearm over her eyes. When Lena didn’t respond, Kara opened one eye at her and grinned wide enough that her nose scrunched up.
“Dork,” Lena said, voice warmed over with affection.
They weren’t exactly dating. Kara played three sports and was taking a full course load for her history degree, and Lena was taking even more classes than Kara, on top of fencing. So they’d decided not to start something neither of them could maintain. It worked for them.
“You want to come over tonight?” Kara asked, hopping off the bench and starting to gather her things.
Of course, not dating didn’t mean other things had to be off the table.
Lena fought for breath, chest heaving and hands fisted loosely in her own hair, her skin flushed and hot. She felt the air claw down her raw throat and whimpered at the gentle fingers on her inner thigh, swiping through the sweat and slick there. She trembled, closed her eyes.
“That’s it. I can’t anymore,” she begged weakly. Kara gripped at her thigh, used her as leverage to bring her face up to Lena’s.
“I think you can,” Kara told her. She swirled her fingers close to Lena’s center as she spoke, pressing into her sensitive flesh to pull another whine from Lena’s throat. “You’ve been so good, babygirl. So, so good.”
It was always like that with Kara: pet names and affection despite that they’d both sleep in separate beds and not see each other for a week afterwards. In a strange way it helped. The incongruence with their day-to-day relationship kept their nights together compartmentalized in Lena’s mind, far away from anything that would sully them, or connect them to her life at large. A cozy den to escape the sea of organized boxes in her head.
“Okay,” Lena took a swallow and panted again. She settled her hands on Kara’s shoulders and nodded. “Okay.”
“That’s my girl,” Kara said, smiling down at her.
Kara was an effusive sort of lover, Lena had learned during their trysts. Always talking, always urging. She was the most verbal partner Lena had ever tolerated in bed, certainly. Kara sunk two long fingers into her, the stretch of them just barely on the right side of painful, and issued the challenge.
“I want you to come again,” she whispered. She nuzzled into Lena’s cheek, pressed little kisses over her face. “Can you be good and give me one more, huh?”
She was gentler now than she had been for the last hour and a half, and Lena was grateful for that. She was far too sensitive now for anything but the slow, sure curling of Kara’s fingers inside her. When it became apparent that Kara would leave her previously hard thrusts aside in favor of those deep presses, Lena relaxed under her with a little huff of relief.
And she focused on being good.
Just one more turned into two before Lena finally pushed Kara physically off of her. Kara went willingly then, settling down on the bed and scootching her hip until it bumped with Lena’s. She was quiet long enough for Lena to regain her breath, at least.
“You want to stay for dinner? We’re getting pizza,” Kara asked after a moment. Lena turned her head to respond and found Kara already looking at her. Her face was backlit by her desk lamp, rendering her soft features a little sharper, her blue eyes a little darker. The swirl of endorphins in Lena’s brain found the picture a little too captivating.
“Sure,” she said. “But only if I can get pineapple.”
Kara groaned and rolled away from her, and thankfully the break in eye contact also settled the butterflies in Lena’s stomach. She let out a shaky breath to compose herself before Kara turned back to her.
“It’s fruit, Lena,” she said, as if the word spoken in a sufficiently derogatory tone would make her distaste make sense. “It doesn’t belong on pizza. Pizza is for meats and very occasionally for black olives. No fruit.”
“Guess I’ll run through the drive through somewhere on my way home, then,” Lena said, making a show of looking up at the ceiling and taking a deep breath as though steeling herself to get up. She didn’t even engage her core to sit up, but Kara thew a hand on her bare stomach anyway.
“Fine,” Kara gritted out, teeth clenched in authentic mental anguish. “We’ll get pineapple. On half a pie only! Four slices, that’s it, Lena.”
“More than I need, darling, thank you,” Lena said. She kissed Kara’s scrunched up nose and sat up for real, looking around on the floor. “Now where’d you throw my pants? I’ll treat tonight.”
Kara made her take the extra slices of pineapple pizza back to her apartment, refusing outright to let them anywhere near the fridge in D House. Lena made sure to send her a pineapple emoji in lieu of the standard ‘home safe’ text Kara always insisted on before she fell asleep that night.
Lena didn’t look for Kara in the training room on Saturday, as she had the wrist of her sword arm taped up. Her preference for a French grip épée and the massive amount of typing she had to do for school had combined that spring into a nasty bout of De Quervain’s. She obstinately refused to switch to a pistol grip, much to her coach’s chagrin, so the solution was a tape wrap that set the base of her thumb in place.
Lena didn’t look for Kara in the stadium during warm-ups, either. She draped her jacket over the back of her chair and went through her stretches in just her breeches and undershirt, making sure her legs were limber and spending a little more time than usual on her wrists, just to be sure of not aggravating her thumb.
Lena certainly didn’t look for Kara as she gathered her dark hair into a tight, high ponytail and traded out her flip flops for the pair of Ballestras she’d broken in that week. She shrugged into her jacket and turned her back to the crowd, baring the big LUTHOR on the back with the smaller, almost timid MSU underneath to them.
(She absolutely did, of course, look for Kara, and all three times at that, which is how she noticed her slip into the stands ten minutes before the first bout.)
Kara caught her eye as Lena was pulling on her gloves, giving a big wave and a smile that was probably visible from space. She had entered with a veritable cadre of friends, their little group taking up a couple of rows in the bleachers. Lena recognized Kara’s roommate Nia and her boyfriend, but the other three were new to her. Three men, two short and white and one tall and black. She returned a little nod to Kara, couldn’t help a little smile.
This was a team match, so there would be no individual competition that afternoon. Instead, the two schools faced off in the standard nine-round team format. Lena was one of MSU’s three épée fencers. Her job was to fence against each of the other school’s three fencers, hopefully winning five touches from each while giving up as few as possible. The bouts would continue until one team reached forty-five points, or until one team won five bouts outright, whichever came first.
“Welcome everyone to the Lionel J. Luthor Memorial Auditorium,” the master of ceremonies brought the crowd to heel to begin the festivities. Lena let her mouth twitch but kept her back ramrod straight in her seat at the name. It wasn’t the first time she’d heard it before a match – half the buildings on campus bore the Luthor name.
“This afternoon, we have a team fencing tournament for you between the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, and your own Metropolis State University Bulldogs,” he continued. “First up, we have épée. If I could have our competitors take their places for introductions, please.”
Notre Dame had won the national tournament the year before, beating MSU in the finals. The two programs had traded national championships back and forth for nearly a decade, and had been fencing rivals for far longer than that. Though this was an early-season match, the atmosphere was almost Olympic in intensity.
The pageantry of pre-match introductions was a little lost on Lena after all these years, though. She stood dutifully on the platform, saluted the director and the other team when her name was called. But when she turned the last time to salute the audience, instead of polite applause from the stands, she heard the combined cacophony of Kara and Nia hollering from their seats. Lena suppressed a smile as the MC moved onto her teammates.
She had the first bout, and would have the last two, should it come down to that. A quick salute to her opponent and she was putting on her mask. It sealed her off from the crowd noise a bit, narrowed her vision to her task. The director called them both to the line, and Lena felt that last bit of nerves diffuse over her skin.
Lena flexed into her starting position, knees bent and blade poised. Heartbeat steady, eyes wide, mind clear.
A moment’s pause, just one, as the director looked between Lena and her opponent. One last silent grip adjustment.
It was not a close bout.
Her opponent was aggressive, failing to account for her positioning, lunging too deeply in attacks and telegraphing her movements. Lena was patient with her, letting her back them up to the warning lines and waiting for a mistake, for an opening.
And then, there it was: a telegraphed coil of her opponent’s back leg for a flèche. She lunged wholly onto her front foot, and Lena bent under the obvious attack, lunging low and counterattacking. The side of her opponent’s blade hit her back arm, an invalid spot for a point, but Lena was inside her guard, and thrusted the point of her sword to the middle of her opponent’s chest.
“Halt!” the director stopped them. Lena was already moving back to the en garde line when he signaled the point for her.
As soon as the electronic scoreboard registered the point, Kara and Nia were out of their seats and hollering again. And this time Lena didn’t suppress her smile, letting it sit hidden behind her mask.
The rest of the bout went similarly, ending in a 5-1 rout and putting MSU up big going into the rest of the competition. And after the rest of the bouts had ended, Lena got a chance to seal the victory.
Fencing matches were somewhat subdued affairs, silent in general except for points in big moments. But Kara and Nia’s loud cheering started to seep through the rest of the crowd as the match went on. And by the time Lena was saluting her last opponent to try to secure a Bulldogs victory, her paramour and the cadre of friends she’d brought with her had the crowd chanting Lena’s name.
She felt it in her chest, her own name rumbling in the stadium and making the director shout to be heard above the cheering. Something gladiatorial in the air.
She won the last bout 5-3.
After her last touch, the crowd went off like a bomb. Lena tore off her helmet with a shout, and was mobbed by her cheering teammates almost too quickly for her to salute her opponent and the director.
And they weren’t dating, hadn’t even decided to be exclusive to each other. Lena had invited her to the match in a fit of defensiveness in the training room earlier that week. But she looked for Kara then, high on victory over a storied rival with her teammates actively mobbing her. She didn’t find Kara’s eyes in the crowd, but that didn’t mean she was easy to miss. Kara had lifted Nia bodily into the air, and she jumped around their bleacher section in so manic a fashion that Lena was half afraid she’d tumble them both into disaster on the steps.
There entire scene was absurd, of course: the madding crowd, the team celebrating winning the second match of the year as though they’d just secured a championship, the utter chaos that was so contrary to the staid pomp Lena was used to at regular season fencing matches. Kara leaving her indelible mark on another part of her life.
But Lena was willing to tolerate that, too.