The list is starting to bother Sun.

He likes competition—specifically winning—but feels a strange sort of anxiety in the pit of his stomach as he stands with Arslan and the other students as one of the professors busies himself with hanging up the large sheet of paper.

"Are you gonna be on top?" Sun asks, genuinely curious, looking up at the older girl.

Arslan laughs. "Me? Not a chance." She folds her arms. "I mean, I may end up in the top twenty or so, but everyone knows who's going to get the number one spot."

Sun sets his jaw, annoyed. "I don't," he points out, probably a bit sharper than needed.

Arslan side-eyes him, amused. "You still bent out of shape about Neptune?" she asks. When he stubbornly looks away, she just chuckles. "That was weeks ago, Sun. You need to let it go."

He pouts and folds his arms across his chest. Arslan smirks to herself, shaking her head.

The list has been the talk of the school for the entire first week. Apparently Sanctum, in the spirit of healthy competition, liked to rank its entire student body based on their combat prowess.

Sun shifts his weight anxiously as the professor keeps working. He hates being judged.

"Hey." He flicks his gaze up to see Arslan staring down at him. "Relax, kid. Don't take it too seriously, okay? It's really just meant to inspire some harmless rivalry. It's not a big deal."

Sun tries to allow himself to be soothed, swallowing hard and standing as straight as he can. Arslan chuckles, cuffing him lightly on the shoulder. "Loosen up," she urges. "You've got plenty of time to show this school what you're capable of."

The professor steps aside then, and Sun grinds out a Vacuo curse as the students surge together, blocking his view. Arslan seizes him by the back of his shirt before he can try and force his way forward.

"Easy there," she says, holding him back. "No need to get trampled on."

He twists in her hold. "But I wanna see who's first!" he protests.

She scoffs, rolling her eyes as she hauls him back to stand beside her. "Let me save you a broken leg," she tells him. "It's Pyrrha Nikos."

The name hangs in the air for a moment, and Sun stops struggling, turning to peer at the platinum blond.

"Pyrrha Nikos?" he repeats.

Arslan nods. "First year. Hell of a fighter."

He cocks his head. "But she's only a first year."

The older girl glances down at him, arching an eyebrow. "Last time I checked, so were you, short stuff."

He pouts good-naturedly at the nickname, and she just reaches out to ruffle his hair before turning to go find someone. Probably Reese.

"Stay out of trouble," she calls, looking back over her shoulder to give him a pointed look.

He snaps her a salute that earns him a roll of her eyes before she vanishes into the crowd. Sun watches her go for a moment, before turning to look around the room.

Most everyone is gathered closely around the list—Sun spies a flash of turquoise hair and his lips curl with dislike—so he simply turns an ambles away, deciding to find something else to entertain himself with.

A little ways down the hall, he turns a corner and finds a girl with bright red hair sitting against the wall, toying with something in her gloved hands.

Curious, Sun watches as she holds her palm flat out before herself, three tiny jacks glittering in the sunlight filtering in from the window. He frowns, wondering why she's playing by herself, or how she plans to play without a ball to bounce, when she closes her eyes, curling the fingers of her free hand.

Sun watches—dumbstruck—as the jacks are encased in some kind of golden light and levitate out of the girl's hand, hovering in air. Her fingers twitch and the jacks go spinning away, cartwheeling through the air. The Faunus tracks their path through the air, mesmerized.

"That's so cool!" he exclaims.

The girl gasps and spins, and the jacks go tumbling away. She shoots to her feet, whirling to face him. Their gazes cross and whoa. Sun blinks. Those are some seriously green eyes.

"Hi," he greets her, lifting a hand. "Sorry, didn't mean to scare you. That was a neat trick."

She assess him carefully, expression drawn. Sun worries his lip, wondering if he startled her.

"I'm Sun," he goes on, extending a hand. "I was just trying to get away from the crowd." He gestures over his shoulder in the direction of the list. "What's your name?"

Something he said seems to have thrown her off guard, because she blinks a few times in confusion, staring at him strangely.

"You…don't care about the list?" she asks.

Sun shrugs. "Not really. My friend told me it's just to make people want to work harder. Besides, she already told me who's on top, so I guess that's all I really cared about."

The girl looks askance at him, wary. Sun wonders what he did to make her so uneasy.

"Why do you care who's on the top of the list?" she asks hesitantly.

Sun shrugs, idly scratching at the back of his neck. "I don't know," he admits. "I guess I would want to meet them and ask them how they got to be so strong." He grins at her. "Then maybe ask to spar with them."

Her expression clears at his words, and she actually laughs. He beams at the noise.

"But everyone else is busy with the list, so…" he trails off, rocking back on his heels. "You wanna spar?"

It seems a pretty safe question—this is a Hunter's Academy. Besides, he's bored out of his mind, and Arslan had told him she wasn't going to spar with him every day, meaning he had to find some new partners.

She blinks at him, looking very caught off guard.

"Oh!" she sounds surprised, but not in a way that would offend him. More like she's somehow very unrehearsed for act of human conversation. Sun lifts an eyebrow as she stammers, trying to get herself together.

Eventually, she clears her throat, starting over. "I'd love to," she begins, and Sun picks up on the formal undercurrent to her speech, marking her as solidly hailing from any Kingdom that isn't Vacuo. Not that he'd thought she was from his home. Nobody in Vacuo has eyes that green. He wonders vaguely who she is.

"Unfortunately, they collected my weapons for inspection, so I'm not sure I can participate." She sounds genuinely upset.

Sun shrugs. They'd taken his staff for the same reason a few days ago, and though it has since been returned to him, initially he'd had a fit. It does make him happy to know they do it to everyone, and he hadn't been singled out.

"I mean…" Sun trails off, tail curling and uncurling behind him as he mulls it over. "We could always just do it the old-fashioned way."

She tilts her head, and the headpiece she wears catches the light. Her eyebrows pull together in delicate confusion. "Old…fashioned?" she repeats.

Sun nods, shrugging. "Sure. You know. Like…fists, and stuff." He lifts his own fists for demonstration. Jinni had made damn sure he and the others could defend themselves even if they'd had their weapons stripped.

Her expression clears. "Ah. Hand-to-hand combat." She rises from her seat gracefully, gifting him with a bright smile. "It would be an honor."

Sun's expression wavers, unsure in what world going a few rounds with a Vacuo street rat qualifies as an honor, but he keeps these thoughts to himself.

"Okay…" he trails off, shifting his stance and watching as she does the same. She's so pale, he muses, watching as she bends to adjust one of her knee guards. In Vacuo, being pale was a privilege. It meant you didn't have to spend your days out working under the scorching sun.

Sun knocks his own golden-brown fists together as she finally straightens. She stands only a few inches taller than Sun, and her high red ponytail swings in the light as she assumes a proper stance, expression set and serious.

He throws a casual punch, wanting to feel her out, not wanting to hurt or embarrass her. Maybe she hadn't been trained like he had, and is useless without her weapons. Arlsan told him a lot of people were like that.

She sidesteps it calmly, looking delightedly puzzled at his lazy punch before striking out with her leg in a roundhouse kick so abrupt, Sun actually drops to the ground to avoid getting his head knocked off his shoulders.

Grinning at the turns of events—so the redhead could play, could she?—he swipes out with his leg to try and take her out at her ankles. She dodges his sweeping kick nimbly, but his momentum spins him around and his hand shoots out like lighting to wrap around her leg and forcibly pull her to the ground.

She falls gracefully, but a fall is still a fall, and Sun has her pinned in a flash.

"Mercy?" he taunts, cocking an eyebrow. If he were back in the desert, and this was Nadav, he'd be weighing the other fighter down with everything he had. But this isn't Vacuo, and this girl certainly isn't the rough-and-tumble nomad Sun had sparred with in his youth, so he cautiously holds himself over her form, not wanting to hurt her.

She stares back at him, and a smirk curves her lips.

"Not likely," she returns, and all of a sudden she's twisting beneath him, throwing back an elbow that strikes Sun square in the jaw and knocks him backwards. She rises fluidly, whipping her leg around to catch him in the chest, but Sun's a second too quick, throwing himself into backwards summersault and rising into a crouch a few feet away, watching her carefully.

"You're quite good," she compliments with a smile.

He flashes her a roguish grin. "We're just getting started."

A small crowd seems have formed as they continue to trade blows. She's faster than he'd expected, and manages to knock him off his feet a few times, though he always gets away before she can pin him. Her gauntlet-guarded fists pack a punch, but he notices she doesn't pull back, and for that he's strangely glad. Even Arslan had gone easy on him in their spar, but this girl isn't giving him any slack.

Who is she? She doesn't seem to be that much older than him, if at all. And most upperclassmen don't give the new students the time of day.

He's about to duck her next punch and go for an uppercut counter, when a voice calls from the crowd: "Why're you wasting your time with him, Pyrrha?"

Sun immediately stops his movements, turning to glare at the source of the voice. Pyrrha? he thinks wildly.That Pyrrha?

His opponent, however, continues her previous action—punching Sun square in the face.

"Ow!" he hisses, rearing away and clapping a hand to his face, growling a few choice Vacuo curses.

The redhead gasps, eyes going wide. "Oh, I'm so sorry!" she says, checking him over anxiously before turning to scowl at whoever had spoken. Sun just wipes the blood away with the back of his hand. If Vacuo had taught him anything, it's that a fight's not over until someone calls mercy.

He immediately swings into an arcing kick, determined to capitalize on her distraction, but she senses the attack and bends backwards at the waist, her spine becoming parallel to the floor.

Her opponent's foot sweeps across the space she'd been a heartbeat before, and Pyrrha leans back further, arching herself into a handstand and twisting her legs around the attacking limb.

Locked awkwardly in mid-roundhouse kick, Sun can only watch helplessly as Pyrrha grins smugly at him. Even upside-down, it's playful and bright.

"I could dislocate your hip right now," she tells him conversationally.

He barks a laugh at this. "Do it, and I'll send my friend after you. And she's a lot scarier than me."

"Mercy?" she asks teasingly.

They stare at each other for a moment before he finally relents.

"Mercy," he agrees. "Now let me go, or I'm gonna fall over."

With a small grin, she releases the Faunus, bending her elbows to get enough leverage to propel herself into a back handspring, which he notes she pulls off with grace that leaves him fairly breathless.

"Well fought," she tells him earnestly. Her expression darkens as she lifts a hand to pass over the busted lip her right-hook had left him with, and she turns to scowl at the crowd.

"Who spoke earlier?" she demands, and Sun is slightly surprised at her anger on his behalf.

He really can't find it within himself to be surprised when Neptune steps forward, scowling fiercely at the other boy.

"You," he growls, moving to stalk towards the other boy, but Pyrrha beats him to it.

"Neptune?" she asks, frowning. "Why would you say such things?"

Sun glowers at the other boy. "Because he thinks he's better than everyone else."

Neptune smirks, lifting his chin. "Better than you, at least," he taunts.

"Neptune!" Pyrrha protests.

Sun's pulling his staff off his back before he knows what he's doing, and murmurs go up from the crowd. A weaponless spar is one thing. An armed conflict is quite another.

Neptune cocks an eyebrow, reaching for his own weapon.

"We doing this, goat boy?" Neptune asks, lifting an eyebrow. "I won't go easy on you like she did."

Sun makes to surge forward, but Pyrrha seizes his arm, staring darkly at Neptune.

"That's quite enough, Neptune," she tells him firmly. She glances sideways at the Faunus. "Just go, Sun," she insists quietly. "I'll take care of this. Don't get into trouble for something like this."

Sun sees a flash of platinum blonde hair force its way to the front of the crowd as Arslan tries to get to him.

If he asked, he knows the older girl would take care of everything. She'd saunter up, take a stand behind him, crack her knuckles, and loudly demand if anyone has a problem.

Instead he turns away, throwing his staff back on his back and storming out of the hall.

-0-

Hours later, Sun still hasn't returned.

Part of him knows he's being petulant and stupid, but his ears still burn with embarrassment. It doesn't matter that Pyrrha had defended him—Neptune had still decided to step in and ruin his day.

He grips one of the rafters tightly, swinging himself up and over to land smoothly on it. He'd milled around outside until the cafeteria had emptied from the dinner crowd, and now he contents himself with trapezing around the rafters in the deserted lunchroom. He wonders what he did to deserve Neptune's continued harassment. Had he really "stolen his thunder" that day in the market? Sun's gifted eye always seemed to agitate when he was around, But Sun himself is always too agitated to care.

He makes another jump, grunt of effort echoing around the empty lunchroom. He'd ditched his shirt and his staff, and it almost felt like he was back in Vacuo, flipping through the sparse trees in the desert.

His encounter with Neptune won't leave him alone, and makes him more daring than he ought to be. He calculates distances with hardly a glance, throwing himself across the room to seize another bar, and just hangs there for a moment, scanning the room for his next goal, storm-grey eyes spying a series of jumps too tempting to pass up. He grins as he gathers his momentum and leaps.

His anger makes him sloppy, as Jinni had lectured him countless times that it would.

He grabs the bar and twists to throw himself into another leap to reach the next set of rafters. But he mistimes his jump, and twists too early, resulting in a nasty pull to his shoulder that draws a low bark of pain from Sun. He instinctively releases his hold on the bar to slap a hand over his wrenched arm, and goes tumbling from the rafters.

Sun crashes into the ground, wincing as his shoulder flares with pain. He rolls a little bit, gritting his teeth as he waits for the aching to subside enough for him to rise shakily to his feet.

Stupid, stupid, stupid he berates himself as he collects his shirt and staff. Sun steps outside into the cool evening, releasing a heavy sigh as he stares up at the moon, clutching is thrown shoulder tightly. Jinni would berate him endlessly if she ever found out about this.

"Do you ever sleep?"

Sun looks up in surprise to see a tall boy staring at him from the doorway of the main hall, arching an eyebrow. Sun vaguely recognizes him from around the school, but he's never spoken too him. He recalls seeing an enormous broadsword across his back, and is slightly disappointed when he is without it. When Sun doesn't answer he draws closer.

"You never came back after your little spat with Neptune," the boy goes on. "People are saying you ran away."

Shame burns in Sun's cheeks as he stares determinedly out at the river that winds around the school grounds.

"I don't run away," he insists with a snap.

The boy raises his eyebrows. "Really?"

Sun just throws him a dirty look as he sinks down, resting his head back against the outer wall of the lunchroom. He just wants this day to end.

"You're hurt." The tall boy ambles over, standing over him. Sun's dully impressed at his height.

Sun lifts his chin. "I'm fine," he insists.

The boy just levels a disbelieving look at him. "You're hurt and a liar," he replies.

Sun's expression drops, his mouth falling open to defend himself, when the boy takes a seat beside him.

"Wanna talk about it?" he offers.

Sun frowns stubbornly. "Talk about what?" He's practically pouting.

The boy just chuckles, shaking his head. "Anybody ever tell you you've got an attitude?" he asks, looking askance at Sun and raising a questioning brow.

Sun snorts. Have they ever. Just about every person he's ever crossed paths with has seen fit to comment on the hardness of his head.

"What do you want?" Sun asks gruffly, crossing his arms and staring out at the river, ignoring the flare of pain in his bad shoulder.

The boy eyes him—Sun can feel his heavy, golden gaze—but doesn't comment. Eventually, he just sighs.

"Look. We can dance around it all you want, but the fact is you've got a wrenched shoulder and I'm not going to be able to sleep until I've done something about it. So please just let me shove your arm back into place so I can get my five hours in."

Sun blinks. It's the longest sentence he's heard the boy say, even if his words don't make any sense.

"Why do you care about my arm?" Sun asks, nose wrinkled in confusion. His words hold no heat—not even that petty accusation he'd clung to earlier. Now he's just confused. And curious.

The boy just sighs again, and Sun bites his lip to hide a grin. The way he sighs reminds him of Jinni—the way she'd stand, hand on her hip, staring at the others with one eyebrow raised—looking not like the battle-hardened nomad she is, but rather an old woman who has raised countless children all on her own, and nothing they do surprises her anymore, so she just lives in a constant state of mild annoyance and deep resignation.

The memory draws a smile at first, but his foul mood quickly squashes it, and he sits back roughly against the wall, ignoring the pain that flares as the movement jostles his shoulder.

He feels the boy's gaze again and resolutely ignores it.

"I'm Sage," he introduces himself after a moment. He doesn't extend a hand, and Sun is thankful for it. "Sage Ayana. I'm a healer, so obsessing over injures is kind of my thing."

Sun pulls a face. "You're a healer?" He thinks of the enormous broadsword he'd seen the boy carrying some time earlier and quirks a skeptical brow.

Sage snorts at his shameless disbelief. "Yeah," he answers casually, crossing his arms as he stares out at the dark water. "All Ayanas are. It's a family Semblance."

This catches the Faunus' curiosity. "A family Semblance?" he asks. "How does that work?"

Sage tosses him a look. "Ever heard of the Schnees?" he inquires, and something in the boy's tone tells Sun he should know.

But he doesn't. So he shrugs.

Sage nods to himself, like Sun is confirming something he'd been thinking. "Probably for the best, since you're a Faunus and all. But whatever. Family Semblances are as straight-forward as they sound: it's a Semblance that gets passed down." He shrugs. "Any Ayana worth a damn's been a healer."

Sun cocks his head. "What about the ones not worth a damn?" he asks, distantly realizing that probably sounds rude. But decorum has never been his in his skill set, and he's fairly positive if he says something particularly uncouth, Sage is perfectly capable of just picking him up and tossing him in the river.

A smirk curves Sage's lips, no offense apparently taken. "That's the secret. We're all worth a damn."

It takes him a moment, but eventually the proverbial light bulb goes off and Sun smirks back.

They just exchange wry grins in the dark for a moment, before Sun absentmindedly shifts position and can't stop a hiss of pain at the resulting twinge in his bad arm. He glances up to see Sage zeroed in on the injury, expression hard.

"So," the blond remarks, temper somewhat soothed. Sage has an easygoing presence, he notices distractedly. "What's a guy gotta do to get his arm put back into place?"

"Ask nicely." But Sage is already shifting, moving from his spot against the wall to kneel at Sun's side, eyes riveted to his shoulder. "It looks clean, which leads me to believe you did it yourself, and didn't lose a fight." He arches an eyebrow, glancing up to give the Faunus a knowing look.

Sun's expression sours. "I don't lose fights."

Sage snorts, lowering his eyes back to his arm. "Everybody loses fights. And it's a good thing they do, or I'd be out of a job." He flexes the fingers of his left hand, and Sun watches with interest as gold sparks sizzle and snap at his fingertips.

"Pyrrha Nikos doesn't lose fights," Sun finds himself saying. He thinks of the girl he'd met that day. The untouchable, unbeatable, gladiator who doubled as a kind and graceful redhead.

"Not all fights are physical," Sage murmurs, and Sun wonders if he had been intended to hear it. Faunus have better hearing than most people think.

Nothing is said for a moment, and Sun just listens to the running water of the river and watches as Sage looks over his shoulder, awash in a pale, golden glow from his hand, which he holds aloft, lighting his observations.

"Well, lucky for you, it's not that bad," Sage eventually remarks. He lowers his hand, extinguishing the light.

Sun tilts his head. "Do you always turn your hand into a flashlight?" he asks, genuinely curious.

Sage levels a flat look at him. "I want you to remember that adorable little comment when I have to heal you for real. Because real healing—like, using my actual Semblance? Hurts like a bitch."

Sun smirks at his attitude, but can't help but ask, "What do you mean, when you heal me for real?"

It's Sage's turn to smirk. "You strike me as the kinda guy that invites disaster," he explains. Sun tenses as Sage lays his broad hands over his wounded shoulder. "Which means I have this funny feeling that someday—"

Sun barks out a nasty Vacuo swear that would have earned him a month on cleanup duty if Jinni had heard him use it when Sage suddenly gives a hearty twist, snapping his arm back into place. He stares absolute daggers at the healer, whose smirk has gained a smug edge.

"You were saying?" Sun prompts icily, even as he shifts away from the other boy.

Sage chuckles, not a glimmer of remorse in his eyes. "I was saying, I have a feeling I'm gonna see you again, and you're gonna have worse than a dislocated shoulder."

Sun opens his mouth to retort back, when the boy catches his jaw with one broad hand and a fierce heat burns his skin for the briefest of seconds.

"Ow!" Sun shouts, tugging his jaw out of the other boy's grip and scowling. "What was that for?"

"You had a pretty ugly bruise," Sage explains casually. "It was bothering me, but it's gone now." He rises to his feet, and Sun is struck again by his height. "See you around. Try to stay in one piece." He lifts a dark hand in farewell before turning and making his way back inside to the main hall.

Sun watches him go, rolling his shoulder experimentally, smiling to himself when the joints move smoothly and painlessly. He turns then, making his way back to Sanctum's cafeteria. He's determined to make that jump. Not that he's focused, he's sure that he can.

He tugs off his shirt as he reenters the abandoned lunchroom, quickly climbing back to the rafters. He balances easily on the beam, scanning the room for the spot where he'd fallen, when his eyes catch on something that had absolutely not been there before.

"Hello?" Sun calls uncertainly, frowning. He climbs higher and takes a few jumps, drawing nearer. "Hello?"

A boy with a shock of red hair twisted into a short braid looks up with alarm, and Sun smiles welcomingly.

The boy frowns back at him. "What'chu lookin' at?" he asks, and Sun blinks at his accent.

"Um, you, I guess," Sun replies, rubbing the back of his neck. "Hi."


Good gracious this is getting out of hand and I'm not even sorry.

Sun's scene in the rafters was a little hard to write, but I'm pretty happy with everything else. Don't get too bent out of shape about Neptune's bad attitude, it'll be explained eventually.

I hope you all liked tiny Pyrrha. She was a treat to write.

Have a good week, team!