Heather W. Petty
To my sweet friend Sophie, who loves all the ones I name James the best.
I stared down an overconfident Sherlock Holmes, begging him to so much as twitch. He held his weapon in one hand high over his head, the shaft end pointed at the floor between us.
“Ready?” he asked.
I tilted my chin up in a half nod and made a noncommittal noise. “Mhm.”
I held my weapon up as well, one hand at each end, just high enough to glare at him from under it. The perfect height to shield the overhead blow that had been his opening gambit all afternoon. He was sweaty, and his cheeks were rosy, partially from his efforts, but mostly out of pure joy.
“Don’t forget you’re trying to keep me off balance. Use my strength to bolster yours.” He offered me perhaps the most arrogant smile he was capable of delivering and added, “Not that you’ll get the opportunity.”
He was the happiest I’d seen him in weeks, which probably should’ve concerned me a bit. Was it normal that he seemed to enjoy nothing more than our attacking each other with sticks? Not that I expected much normality from Sherlock Holmes. But when we’d sneaked out of school before my last class, I hadn’t expected him to bring me to a sparring gym.
He’d caught me clumsily practicing my aikido katas in my attic space the week prior and decided that I needed to learn Bartitsu, which he claimed was “the ultimate self-defense art.” Evidently, Lock liked to use the word “ultimate” when what he really meant was “antiquated.”
True to form, Lock swished his cane in a semicircle through the air above his head and then sliced down toward me with as much power as he could. I released the crook end of my cane just before the crack of the canes’ collision echoed through the room. He actually grinned at the sound, the arrogant ass, watching the released end fall down toward the ground, thinking he’d already won. His amusement faded quickly, however, when he realized what was about to happen next.
I used the power of his hit to boost mine as I flipped the cane around, smashing it against his hand so that he dropped his weapon with a satisfying grimace of pain. I kicked my foot out as the cane clattered against the floor, sliding his weapon out of reach, then brought the crook of my cane up under his chin, pushing just high enough to make him uncomfortable.
“You’re a quick study,” he said, shaking out his hand. His grin had returned, perhaps in response to my own, perhaps in a vain attempt to seem unaffected by the awkward angle of his neck. I pushed my cane slightly higher, forcing him up on his toes.
“You’re predictable.” I twirled my cane down and used the crook to snag his knee, but I must have moved too slowly. He somehow kept his balance as he hopped toward me. I tried to spin away, but he grasped both of my shoulders, so that my efforts only knocked us off balance, sending us both down into a heap on the practice mats. I should have gotten the worst of it, as he fell on top, but at the last minute, he wrapped his arms around my head to keep me from concussion. Always the gentleman, my Lock—right up until he started shaking with laughter instead of rolling off me apologetically.
I allowed his fun to last exactly ten seconds before I warned, “The very minute you release me, I will kill you.”
“That doesn’t seem like incentive to move.” He pushed up onto his elbows and smiled down at me, so that his cheeks bunched up under his eyes. “Want to go again?”
I focused on his smile rather than the weight of him on me, which set off blaring alarms in my brain. Memories threatened to surface despite my focus, memories of a night two weeks prior, of my father, of me not being able to move, of his cruel eyes staring down. His warm blood on my cheek.
“Must we?” I blurted out with a little too much force. I recovered with a wink.
I saw something like concern flash in Lock’s eyes, but obviously not enough to make him move. Or maybe he was testing me again. We hadn’t spoken about that night or my father—not since it happened. My choice. He said he’d never ask, that he’d wait until I brought it up, if I brought it up. Still, every now and then, it felt like he was deliberately prodding at my brain to see what might spill out.
But I hadn’t only trained to fight with sticks since the night my father almost killed me. I’d sneaked into the back of the gym on the weekend in the middle of a self-defense class—just to observe, or at least that had been my intention. But when the woman running the training saw the bruises on my face, she’d talked me into staying after class. She’d run scenarios with me until after midnight, one of which was almost exactly like my current Sherlock predicament.