My first Tamora Pierce-y fic. R&R, please. Thanks!

Judging Distances

They were sparring.

They did this often, Jonathan and George, in the privacy of George's rooms, with all the furniture cleared away to give them room for it. Jonathan had asked George at some forgotten point to teach him how to fight with knives and George had agreed and thus, they were sparring, without even rugs beneath their bared feet to trip them up.

It was like a dance, with thinly veiled aggression and the rhythm pounded out by their choppy breaths, ragged out, ragged in. Sometimes, knife met knife in a clash of metal; sometimes, knife tore into fabric, slashing at a lightweight tunic and creating a serious ripping sound.

They were the two of them very serious about this. Occasionally, George would suggest the next move, would cry something out between his own quick movements, in his familiar, heavy brogue. Sometimes -- but only rarely -- Jonathan listened to him.

The other times, George wondered if the Prince, so obviously royalty in such a fight as his stubborn nature revealed him under such circumstances to be something of a brat, actually wanted to learn rather than play at fighting. Somehow, it didn't seem as if skill was the objective here. Rather, there was something unspoken between them, something that only a fight like this could solve.

For some weeks, they fought like this daily. For others, only once or twice.

Jonathan was more willing to learn, however, than he was willing to listen; or perhaps it was simply that he was unwilling to listen to George. Not that George minded. Thinking of purple eyes, of hair like fire, of that spirit and that passion that drove always towards his opponent, it gave George pleasure to beat Jonathan each and every time.

Apparently, Jonathan was seeking that same sort of triumph.

"Gettin' tired?" George asked.

He should have known the answer.

Jonathan shook his head, blue eyes proud and determined.

And so they were sparring still.

The sounds of their breaths grew yet more ragged, Jonathan far more tired than George yet but something about the intensity in those blue eyes giving the more skilled of the two pause to pity his determination. If anything, Jonathan at least never quit, and yes, that was stubbornness, but it was admirable, as well. He would, one day, be a worthy opponent. Not yet; but one day.

So naturally it all came back to Alanna.

It was funny, as George had loved her since she hadn't been a she at all. It was those eyes, he told himself; those eyes that, stuck in their own determination, challenged anyone who looked into them and he'd be damned if he didn't love a good challenge.

And that full, slight puff of her lower lip, which made her look something of a scowling child, crossed, and dangerous.

If Alanna had really been Alan then George would have loved him, anyway. The fight here, between the two of them, was quite obviously -- obvious only because George had spent a tremendous time thinking about this -- over whose love was deeper, whose love was stronger, whose love forgot that initial lie, and whose love embraced it. Forgetting and accepting were two different things entirely.

"Gettin' tired?" George asked again.

Jonathan shook his head once more, and George felt impatience itching at his fingers. Time to end it.

He lunged forward, keeping Jonathan distracted with an offense he'd not yet shown him, while he caught one ankle with his own, and tugged. Jonathan's legs gave way beneath them; he dropped his knife, and it clattered aside as he fell. Not to be outdone, however, he reached up, grasping at the collar of George's shirt, and pulling the other down with him.

"I should remember never to trust you," Jonathan gasped out, making a breathless 'ooph' sort of sound, when his back hit the floor.

"Y'should," George said, knocking the breath again out of the form beneath him.

"Mithros," Jonathan swore, winded. George grinned, a cocky, selfsure grin.

"That's enough fer one day," he muttered, pulling himself up, shaking out his shoulder, which had suddenly decided to cramp up.

And so he heard the creaking of the floorboards behind him just in time to get his knife up, against Jonathan's throat, as the other pinned him back against the wall, slamming him into it as hard as he could.

"You should remember never to trust me," Jonathan said, lips curved up into a triumphant smirk. "After all, you've taught me everything I know, here." George lifted a brow.

"Fortunately fer me," George pointed out calmly, "we're at rather an impasse, wouldn't ya say?"

They stared at each other -- ice blue boring into solid hazel -- for a few breathless minutes, faces with barely a centimeter between them. The breathed ragged, rough breaths against each other's lips; could hear the other's heartbeat as well as they could hear their own, accelerated pace thumping in chests, struggling against their ribcages. Knife edges rested right against that vulnerable space on each neck, right below the pulse, so that both knew better than to try and swallow.

So close, now, they could see each other's lashes trembling with restraint, with anger and with restraint.

He doesn't love her like I do, George realized, and he knows it.

The jealousy, the tension, stretched between them like tensed muscles dropped, along with both knife blades, and hung limp at their sides. Jonathan smiled, a rueful, slight smile, and shrugged, lithe shoulders rising and falling in some slight but terribly important defeat.

Seeing the passion in George's eyes, it was impossible not to know which love was stronger: the one that took Alanna the woman, Alanna the man, Alanna the proud, defiant creature that was soft curves and hard edges all at once.

"Don't look so smug, George," Jonathan muttered, but it seemed George was incapable of following such an order. Not that George ever followed orders, anyway.

Because for just one moment, lips a hairsbreadth away from each other's, challenge and acceptance in George's eyes, sudden, pale panic in Jonathan's, the match had already been won. The simple truth was: George was willing to kiss a man. Jonathan, was not.