It was the day after his father told him he had to stay in school in England, no matter how sick his mother was, that Lex refused to wear a mask during a bout with him in the high-ceilinged, dusty ballroom.
"You're not getting out of this that way," Lionel told him, giving him a sharp look. "I want to see your progress. If you're going to be a child about it--"
But Lex wasn't being a child. That was the point. He'd spent a lot of time reading about the history of fencing the lonely first year at Eton. He knew about the collenferth nature the Anglo-Saxons admired, about the Mensur the German students practiced. A bold spirit didn't need to hide behind protection. He shook his head and scowled up at his father, trying to look stern.
Lionel raised an eyebrow and took up his sabre. "If you insist, Lex."
Lex knew he was better than he'd been last year. Not only he had practiced almost every day, but he'd grown a lot, too. It was hard to see sometimes--his face still seemed like a little kid's--but he'd found new muscles in his arms and thighs, as if his whole body was shifting and hardening. He was faster and stronger and more agile than he used to be.
His father used to best him easily, every time. This time was going to be different. And it was, right from the first few exchanges. Lex parried his father's attacks without trying too hard and pressed his own ripostes well. They were both breathing hard after five minutes, and Lionel--
Lionel was smiling at him. Pleased. Lex was so flushed with the feeling of satisfaction that he almost didn't parry the next move in time.
"You've...improved, son," Lionel said, "but don't get overconfident." Then he was attacking more forcefully, moving faster, his hair tumbling about his face. His lunges were powerful, too powerful. Lex kept getting scored on.
He could also see, though, that his father didn't quite know what to expect from him. That he was accepting his feints a little too easily. He didn't think Lex really had a strategy. He wasn't taking him seriously. That meant that Lex could get his own back, slowly but steadily.
After ten minutes, his dad was ahead by only two touches, and the sweat was pouring down Lex's face. It kept dripping into his eyes and blinding him, but he wouldn't wipe it away.
"I think that's enough for now, Lex," Lionel said, relaxing his guard. "You're showing reasonable progress for a child your age."
A child his age. Lex knew that bouts weren't supposed to last this long, but...It wasn't fair that they should stop, just when his father was having to respect his ability to shift his attack, his capacity to think ahead. So that he would be able to go on thinking of Lex as a "child his age." "In training, I always fence to twenty points," he said, and thrust.
Lionel managed to parry. "Is that supposed to impress me, Lex?"
"In a real duel, they wouldn't stop for points," Lex panted.
"In a real duel," his father said dryly, "you'd already be dead."
"What's the matter? Can't you keep up with your own kid?" The words were out of his mouth before he knew what he was saying. Lionel frowned. For a minute, Lex was terrified that his father would simply turn away. He didn't think he could keep pressing the attack if Lionel just disengaged. But Lionel's eyes darkened; he growled softly and returned to the fray.
Now Lionel's attacks were full-out, nothing held back. Lex simultaneously got scared of what he'd done and gloried in it. The shock of each impact of his father's sabre on his own resounded through his tiring arm. Being hit, like being kissed--the same feeling of being connected with. His father's eyes fierce on him. Being carefully watched, anticipated, caged in by his father's strength even while he fought with all his own strength against it, and...
The move he'd been waiting for. His father's sabre cutting down towards his chest, just high enough that he could jerk his head forward and take the edge on his face. He wanted the left cheek and deep, but at the last instant Lionel tried to pull away, and the blade only cut shallowly above the lip.
He felt the slice, and drew in a breath. Two, three, four, with the dazed feeling of accomplishment, and only then did the pain follow. He bit back a whimper and looked up at his father.
Lionel was staring at him with an expression Lex'd never seen before in his eyes. "Lex, that shouldn't have hit you. What were you--" He reached forward, touched Lex's lip. "The schmiss," he said slowly, his fingers still against Lex's mouth. "You wanted to be a man."
"Let me stay here," Lex whispered, tasting the sweet blood, using a low, coaxing tone that he didn't know the meaning of but somehow seemed right.
Lionel stared at the blood on his fingers. Put his hand back, like he wanted more. "Oh, Lex..."
Lex leaned into the touch. He could have all the blood he wanted. It was supposed to bleed a lot. It was supposed to hurt. It would make him see. "Please, Dad--"
Lionel froze, and then jerked his hand away, his eyes going blank in an instant. "This is going to upset your mother a great deal. A man wouldn't indulge his whims at her expense."
Lex wanted to grab at his hand. "But..."
Lionel crossed the room to where his clothes were piled and extracted a handkerchief from his pocket. He wiped his hands clean, calmly and methodically. "You'll go back on Thursday, as planned. Now go change and call Dr. de los Santos."
Lex gulped. The blood still in his mouth, but now it tasted bitter. He'd have his scar, but not what it was supposed to mean.
"Lex." His father's tone was sharpening. "I won't have you standing around here. Go call the doctor." He obeyed numbly.As he reached the doorway, however, his father said, "Lex?"
He turned, hopeful. "Yes?"
Lionel was perfectly composed. "If you're going to indulge in such ridiculous displays, I think it will be best that from now on you train with a coach while you're here, instead of me. Heike Skarpsdottir will be waiting for you tomorrow at ten."
Lex nodded and walked out, wondering if the strange, hardly bearable feeling of disappointment welling up in his throat was what it meant to be a man. Maybe that was why it was a scar.
"Second Intention: a false action used to draw a response from the opponent, which will open the opportunity for the intended action that follows, typically a counter-riposte."