A/N: This is my first foray into any of Tamora Pierce's works, and I hope any readers will enjoy this bouncing plot bunny. x).

Summary: AU. Verene made it out of Beltane, but not without her battle scars. Now she must choose if she wants to follow the path of a Dog, even though it was her previous partners that almost got her killed.


Boxer
Prologue


It splits her from shoulder to hip.

She doesn't remember seeing the blade, nor the person wielding it. Beltane had packed the streets from corner to corner, and it had not been long before the rushing, excited masses had pushed the three apart. Verene only remembers turning around one moment, remembers the flash of panic when she couldn't find her Dogs. Now there is a whistle blowing in the distance, or mayhap near about – she can't tell. Can't tell because the voices are too loud, too disorienting, and she is running, battling through the crowd, eventually dragging out her baton to persuade the people from her path.

Her own whistle is at her lips, and she forces her breath into it, responding to the signal of a Dog in distress with one that said help was on the way. It must be Rollo or Otelia – must be, because they are the only Dogs patrolling this road. Off the beaten track where the Lower City folk go to drink, tucked away behind the markets, where not even the Rogue and his followers roam. Nobody recognises you here, mayhap other places, but not here, that was the code. Rollo has never been one to deny his partner anything, and it has been a long time since Otelia has walked an Evening Watch without the fire of hotblood wine burning in her veins. Not right, Verene knew, not right at all. But she keeps her gob shut just the same.

The whistle sounds – sharper, stronger, nearer. Mots and coves alike curse the mother that bore her as she shoves passed, knocking them out of the way as kind as she can for a Dog needing to be somewhere else. She is pushing through onlookers now, a great, big circle of howling, shouting people so caught up in the festivities that there is no longer sense. Coming to blows with a Dog is a serious thing. This gathering should not be so loud, or so unhelpful to the Provost's Guard trying to aide their comrade. If ever a face she recalled from here needed the help of the law, Verene vowed to offer it with as much courtesy as she was receiving now.

With the noise of a full-fledged fight ringing in her ears, she bursts through the inner ring of bystanders. There is metal-on-metal, flesh-on-flesh, cussing, shouting, whistle-blowing, and too many brightly coloured tunics swarming the single black of her training Dog. It is Rollo, swinging his baton about like a madman with the one good arm he has left – somebody has cut his other, blood welling out of a deep gash and ripped clothing. Verene doesn't have time to feel fear, for herself or for Rollo. Doesn't have time to wonder where Otelia is, the curst useless woman. Barely has time to take a steadying breath, and then she is launching into the thick of it with a hoarse battle cry, trying desperately to draw attention from her struggling training Dog. Rollo is momentarily driven to his knees, sweat trickling from his face into the dirt, before he forces himself back onto his feet.

Verene has four on her now – a mot and three coves, each with a sword or mace or dagger, and she begins to realise that these are no common brawlers. There is a slight inkling of fear, now, but she is too busy blocking the blade trying to slice her belly open to pay it much mind. Another attack on her left, while she is defending her right, and she thrusts up an arm to catch the weapon on her armguard. It glances off, albeit painfully, and she staggers back a step. There is no time to take up an offensive, and she switches to full blown defence, hoping that help will make it before these rushers get through her guard. Hopes beyond hope, and then catches a brief glimpse of Rollo through the oncoming bodies. His eyes are wide – scared, and Verene absently registers that it is her he is looking at.

The blade slices in from her right shoulder, cutting through skin, muscle, tendons, and ligaments. She isn't sure if the blade itself was sharp, or if the cove behind it was simply quite strong, but it tears through her as though she is naught but cloth. Warmth blossoms across her chest, wet, and a coppery tang fills her nose. The blade comes out at her left hip, and she doesn't want to look down, doesn't want to because she was never that good with blood, and her innards are no doubt all about the place.

Her world goes eerily quiet, but outside Verene is screaming.