AN~ Lesson for you all, guys: if you have people waiting on you, DO NOT go out of your way to find a new webcomic and read the entire archive when you ought to be writing to make a deadline. (Sorry 'bout that. It was a good webcomic, though.)


QotU: What's the best excuse you can think up for not cleaning your bedroom?

Old QotU Winner: Gifted Shadows. No eyeshadow under your eye girls and no saggy pants boys.

Sabrina began her teaching with stretches. None of the people who had come liked this, but she insisted, telling them that they were here to learn to fight, and unless they wanted leg cramps taking them out before the enemy could, they'd better stretch.

There were a number of groans, but eventually her students began sitting down, and she started showing them her normal routine of stretches.

It almost physically hurt her to do the next thing, but she'd seen Snow do it, and as Snow was one of the best teachers she'd ever had, she figured she might as well follow her model- it was the same subject and everything, conveniently enough- so she set them to stretching and went around to each person in the group, learning their names and showing them how they could improve, pushing them just the tiniest bit further into the stretch.

Jonas was there, she noticed. She smiled at him, and he smiled back. Puck was also there, as were Mustardseed and a few other soldiers from the progress. The others were strangers to her, though some of them looked like they'd been with her the previous night. None looked to be older than thirty, or younger than thirteen.

"This is a bigger turnout than I was expecting," she told Mustardseed softly as she guided his sternum closer to his knee.

"It would seem you've made an impression," Mustardseed told her with a smile. "Am I doing this right?"

Sabrina felt his lower back, searching for tension. "You can go farther," she told him.

He leaned down with a grunt and said, "But it's uncomfortable."

"It's supposed to be," she said with a small smile. "That's how you know you're doing it right. Your muscles should feel tight, maybe even hurt a bit."

"Why?" he asked.

She shrugged. "I don't really know. They explained it in school, something about the muscles reforming. All I paid attention to was the fact that when I didn't do it, it hurt like you wouldn't believe."

He chuckled, then looked at her with wide eyes. "You mean you didn't just believe them?"

She laughed. "You kidding? I didn't pay attention to theory at all in school until last year. All I wanted was the action. It got me in trouble, but my teachers said that sometimes the best way to learn is to make the mistakes yourself. Then you'll have the consequences to remind you not to make them again."

"Well," Mustardseed said, and he sounded surprised.

"What?" she asked. "What's so shocking?"

"Well... I just thought you were less... more..."

As he was obviously struggling, she filled in, "More like you? Less thoughtless?" She smiled. "I fake it pretty well. I was at my worst when I was eleven. I almost ran off to look for my parents by myself, if you can believe it."

"At eleven?" Mustardseed spluttered.

She nodded. "Multiple times. Broke my arm doing it once."

He shook his head, chuckling to himself.

"Now what?" she asked irritably.

"It's nothing," he assured her. "It's just... you may have more in common with my brother than we thought."

Sabrina didn't deign that with a reply. Instead, she asked, "What you said earlier... about me making an impression? What did you mean?"

"They've seen what you can do and they want to be able to do some of it too," Mustardseed said, again sounding like this ought to be obvious. "And I must say, the fact that you've convinced not just one but more than twenty Tricksters to do work is quite a point in my esteem."

Sabrina hid her blush with a laugh and stood up quickly, saying as nonchalantly as possible, "I'd better move on. Don't want people thinking I'm giving you an unfair amount of help."

Mustardseed smiled up at her and said, "Go on. I understand."

Sabrina refrained from pointing out that she hadn't exactly been asking for permission to go, and moved on down the ragtag line of her students. Goodness, that sounded odd. Who'd have ever thought Sabrina Grimm could be a teacher?

After they'd finished stretching, Sabrina moved to the front of the crowd and shouted, "All right! Who here thinks they know how to punch?"

There were a bunch of affirmative shouts and whoops.

"I'll bet you ten silvers you're wrong," she told them all. She kept inside her amusement that a country that considered physical violence pathetic and the easy way out had so many boys who were excited about fighting.

The crowd muttered, and she heard some arguments.

She smiled slightly and said, "All right, then prove it." She pulled a piece of padding out of a back pocket on her dress, which got somewhat less enormous, and held it up. "Line up and punch this."

The Tricksters formed a long cluster winding between the rose bushes that could loosely be defined as a line, and began punching her target as she watched them, directing each person who had punched back to the end of the line. Only two of the soldiers had satisfactory punches.

"Well," Sabrina said, once they'd finished. "You, and you," she pointed to the two soldiers who'd been good. "I owe you both ten silvers. See me when we're finished. Your other reward is that you two get to be my assistants today!"

There were more groans and muttered complaints.

Sabrina looked at them irritably. "You want to learn to fight, you have to be able to punch well. Be grateful I didn't start you with blocks." She raised her voice. "Everybody form two lines, one in front of each of these two fine gentlemen." She hoped they didn't notice the sarcasm as she handed both men half of her target.

The boys muttered and complained, but did what she said, and she smiled, then started going around showing people how to improve.

"Never," she told one particularly energetic boy firmly, "ever put your thumb on the inside of your fist. You hit anything harder than a pillow and you'll break your fingers as well as whatever you hit." She showed him how to do it. "See, you put your thumb outside, tucked down so it doesn't touch your target at all- it's just there to keep your other fingers together." She patted him on the shoulder and moved on.

For one soldier she stuck her rose into the target so he'd have something to aim at, because all his punches landed on the padding, but in different spots, pushing it to the side instead of shoving the person holding it backwards.

"You need to twist more," she told another boy. "You need more torque. That way you'll-"

"Torque?" he interrupted, looking at her, confused.

"Spinning power," she told him. "See, if you stick your weak hand out before-" she put her hand on his shoulder, then pulled it back sharply, twisting her shoulders as her other hand shot out in a fist towards his stomach. "- you have a lot more power." She smiled at him as he gaped at her.

"Start from your waist," she told a man who'd overheard her talking to the boy who needed torque. "Fist palm up next to your hip. Then turn it as you shoot it out. It increases the torque even more."

She stood back and watched them punch for a minute, smiling slightly. They'd actually improved.

One boy, about her age, though, wasn't showing much improvement, and he knew it. "I don't see why we have to spend so much time on one thing," she heard him mutter, "I'm fine like this."

"What was that?" Sabrina asked, rounding on the boy.

"I said I don't need to learn any more," he said stubbornly, glaring at her.

"You think you're good enough now?" Sabrina asked, raising one eyebrow at him.

He nodded, his face set.

"How many of you think you're done learning to punch?" Sabrina asked the group.

Several hands were raised. Sabrina shook her head sadly. She shouldn't be surprised, really.

"All right, then," she said. "Do you think you can take me?"

The number of raised hands dropped significantly.

"All right then," she said to the few with their hands up. "Let's go at it. Punches only- unless you throw in something else." She smiled at them. It was not a nice smile.

"What- all of us?" one young man asked.

"Why not?" Sabrina said with a shrug. "It'll be interesting."

She knew she shouldn't be doing this. She hadn't sparred with anyone in over six months. She was setting herself up for failure. But she couldn't help feeling excited as a circle cleared around her and the six boys and men who thought they could outfight her came forward. She loved fights. Even back when she was ten and eleven and couldn't fight her way out of a gunnysack, she's always been exhilarated by throwing punches, dodging them, kicking people, and running the heck away. And now that Snow had gotten her somewhat passable, she loved them even more. She just hoped that she wasn't out of practice enough that these Tricksters would outdo her.

She waited, fists up, eyes shifting from one opponent to another as she bounced on her toes and breathed deeply. A bird sang in the background. She noted that Puck was one of the six surrounding her. She smiled.

One of the ones behind her ran forward. She heard his footfalls and spun, knocking his fist out of the way- it was the first boy, the one who'd complained. His punch was erratic, heading for what would have been her shoulder blade, which would have damaged him as much as her. He threw another punch, towards her head. She slid to the side and sent him at another of the boys who'd run at her. There was a crunch as fist met cheekbone- that wasn't a good sign.

The fight picked up speed then, and she was dodging and blocking punches right and left- she didn't throw any, partly because she didn't have time to without leaving herself open for a hit, and partly because it was much more fun to slide to the side and let them destroy each other. She didn't want any of them to come calling later because the queen of their future allies had beaten them up. But still. It would be incredibly satisfactory to just land one good hit on one of them- preferably Puck. Right in the gut, maybe.

She waited, dodging and blocking, and then it happened- the first boy got frustrated and sent his foot into her stomach. She flew backwards into Puck- she'd been waiting, but hadn't been watching closely enough, and hadn't had time to block the kick. She pushed herself off of her fiance, ignoring the warmth and comfort of his chest against her back, and looked around. Everyone was staring at her.

She smiled the tiniest bit and said, "Finally."

The boy came at her again, and she shifted her weight onto the balls of her feet as he barreled down on her. Once he got close enough, she spun, whipping herself around as her foot shot straight out and upwards from her side, slamming into his chin and sending him just as far back. He staggered backwards as his neck snapped loudly, and the others ran forward.

It was an all-out brawl now, and she was allowed to do whatever she wanted. She took advantage of this, spinning and jumping and kicking and punching to her heart's content. The five remaining Tricksters got in a few good hits, but at the end she won, and she stood in the center, alone and panting.

She pushed some hair of of her eyes, brushing away some sweat that had gathered on her forehead at the same time, and smiled. It had been a long time since she'd had that much fun. Then she was hit with a wave of sadness and her smile dropped off her face. She wanted to go home, where it was acceptable to get in a fight with someone in public without everyone thinking you were lazy. Where she could sneak without people getting nervous. Where she fit in.

She looked at the others, who were still standing on the other side of a row of rose bushes, staring at her, awed. "I think we're done for today," she said. "I hope I've showed you why you're never done practicing."

Several people nodded nervously, and the group began trickling away. Sabrina turned to the six boys who were still on the field, looking very much worse for the wear. She was tempted to leave them there, but she had a feeling that would give her a bad reputation, and she couldn't afford one right now.

"Umm... excuse me?" someone asked.

She turned- it was Jonas. She realized she'd never heard him speak before. "Yes?"

"I just wanted to say that that was fantastic," Jonas said in a rush, "And I was wondering if you could show me more- I- I- I want to be able to do what you do."

Guessing why he'd stumbled over that last bit, Sabrina smiled the tiniest bit, then warned him, "It's a lot of work."

"I don't care," he said.

"And I won't be able to teach you everything. We're only here for two weeks- maybe less. There's no way I can get you up to par that fast."

"I know," Jonas said, "But I don't care. You can show me stuff to do after you leave, ways to practice and get better."

Sabrina looked him up and down. He was smallish, with a good build for sneaking. His face was unfortunately pale, but his hair was dark and would blend well even without a hood. He didn't look very strong, but that could be fixed. And his face was extremely determined, those so-brown-they're-black eyes set.

She nodded and said, "All right. But not now. I need to get these six to Cobweb, and then I need food- I haven't eaten since last night."

"Why?" Jonas asked. "Why not just leave them there?"

Sabrina shook her head and said, "Because one of them's my fiance and the others were just stupid. I can't afford the bad reputation I would get for beating six young men and leaving them in the dirt." She smiled slightly and said, "Besides, it was fun."

"So... after lunch you'll show me more?" Jonas asked, going over to one of the six groaning boys and lifting him by the armpits.

"After dinner," Sabrina corrected. "I'm supposed to be given a tour after lunch."

"Dinner?" Jonas asked, his face falling. "But... dinner will be another party."

Sabrina shrugged, lifting her own former opponent. "Then we'll leave early. I'm sure we can sneak out."

"All right," Jonas agreed.

They dragged their two charges to Cobweb's room- Jonas showed her where it was, thankfully, because she'd have had to wander around looking for it for a bit, and went out for another two, leaving Cobweb tutting over the first two. While they'd been away, one of the other boys had gotten up. Sabrina directed him to follow them as they took two more, leaving Puck on the dirt path alone (she'd beaten him rather badly) to return to Cobweb.

"Do you have a doctor of your own here?" Sabrina asked Jonas as they went.

"Not in the palace," Jonas said, "but there's one in the town."

"Good," Sabrina said, satisfied. "Then I won't have offended anybody else."

"Why do you care about offending people?" Jonas asked. "I thought Sneaks hated Tricksters. Shouldn't you just want to get out of here?"

"Oh, I do," Sabrina agreed. "But I have to get along with you all, otherwise the treaty falls through and we all die or become Magicians- unless my eleven year old sister can save us all. Which she may be able to do, I suppose."

"Is that the only reason you're talking to me?" Jonas asked. "Because you have to?"

Sabrina shook her head with a smile and said, "I'm talking to you because you're having a civil conversation with me and you have yet to do anything disgusting, immature, or infuriating. I think I might enjoy your company, Jonas. And there have been very few people whose company I've enjoyed lately."

"Oh," Jonas said, brightening.

They'd reached Cobweb's room again. Sabrina deposited her cargo and sent Jonas off, telling him that she could get Puck on her own. And she could. He might be taller than she was, and he might eat like a starving pig, but he was very thin, and she was stronger than she looked. In fact, she decided to be nice to him, and instead of dragging him by the armpits as she'd been doing the others, she picked him up entirely, cradling him with her arms under his knees and back.

She staggered a bit under his weight- she could manage, but it wasn't as easy as she'd thought it would be, as she was already tired- then walked towards Cobweb's room for the third time that day.

She studied him as she walked. When she'd first met him, she'd thought that his face was quite nice, even if his personality wasn't, and she still thought as much. And now that he wasn't being obnoxious, she could enjoy his somewhat damaged features. She felt a small twinge of guilt for hurting him, and shoved it aside, telling herself that he'd deserved it.

But still...

She shook that thought out of her head before it could be finished.

Puck stirred and groaned. She made a face, staggering again. Moving bodies were harder to carry than nonmoving ones. She ought have tied him to her back or something.

She continued walking, beginning to feel her own bruises. There were a few more than she'd originally thought there were. Perhaps she ought to go see Cobweb herself. But then her stomach growled, and she decided against it. She could live with bruises. She had before. And goodness, she was hungry.

Puck stirred again. Sabrina glared down at him, willing him to stop moving.

Goodness gracious, he was fine looking.

His arms found their way around her neck as they walked, somehow, and even stranger than this- Daphne had done the same thing, so Sabrina wasn't very surprised when Puck did- was that she enjoyed their feeling, the touch of his skin on hers.

She shook her head again, deciding that the lack of food, along with her hormone-addled body, must be causing her to think differently than usual. She wouldn't normally be thinking this.

Although, now that she thought about it, it had been over two months since she'd thought mournfully of Bradley and hated Puck more for indirectly being the reason she couldn't have him.

She couldn't- she couldn't fancy Puck, could she?

Well, she could. She'd fancied worse people in her time- like Robin Hood. That had been a mistake. He'd turned out to be very controlling. And married. But this was Puck. And the idea of fancying him was just ludicrous.

No, it was most definitely the monthlies. They could make her find a rock attractive, if the mood struck them.

She ignored the difference between attraction and admiration, shoving it to the side of her brain where she wouldn't have to consider it.

And of course, when she leaned down right outside of Cobweb's door and kissed Puck lightly on the forehead, that was entirely her hormones as well. Entirely. And she felt absolutely nothing afterward, or during, other than guilt, and not very much of that.

Until she felt a strong gust of air on her face and heard the distinct sound of someone forcibly blowing something away from their mouth.

She started upwards, surprised, and saw that Puck's eyes were open, and not open in the way that meant he'd just awoken, but bright, amused, and entirely too aware.

"You're awake," she said, realizing. Any feelings she might have but most likely hadn't had disappeared, replaced by anger. "How long have you been awake?" she demanded.

"A while," Puck said, grinning at her.

Infuriated, Sabrina dropped him, forgetting that his arms were around her neck. It destroyed her intention to be dramatic when he dragged her down towards the ground with him, but she untangled herself and glared at him furiously for a few seconds, saying nothing. She stalked away, leaving him on the floor outside of Cobweb's room, face bright red.

No, she decided, she most certainly did not fancy Puck.

AN~ Well, was it worth the extra day-to-two-days wait?

Feature: "The Princess and the Trickster" by Lumiere Nordiques
A twoshot, this time. Fairly well written. It's a dream sequence, but still fits the bill. The opening bit, where Sabrina's like, 'I'm a princess? What?' is a bit awkward and cliche, but after that it gets good, if a bit fast-moving (what? It's a dream!). The second chapter is set on the Titanic. It's a bit messier and not quite as good, but still quite cute and worth a look.

A Review Reply:

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