"It's not as nice as the one at the Academy-"

"It's beautiful," Taz grinned, "as beautiful as something that smells like sweat and dirty socks could be." Up smirked, patting her on the back, and pointed to a cluster of shabby, wooden benches for her to sit on.

Taz sat there for hours on end for around a week, studying. She quickly picked up on individuals' quirks, mentally strategizing how she could use it against them in the future. Little things, easily overlooked by the average eye. 'Chunky Ginger', she had named him, had a stronger right arm than left. 'Creepily Muscular' was (obviously) strong, very strong, but a bit slow; key to that would be the elements of speed and surprise. 'Freakishly Thin' was very fast but all over the place, unable to control his flailing limbs as an attempt to ward off his opponent.

She absolutely did not to watch Up in his white tank-top, shiny with sweat and flooring every and any opponent who dared to fight him. She did not see the fierce glint in his eyes, she did not notice how is muscles bulged when he was doing bench presses, she did not see how he scrunched his brow in concentration when flipping nun-chucks. Well, that's what she would tell anyone who asked her.

But what she did notice was his slightly relayed reflexes, most likely from a blow to the head a while back. She made a mental memo to use the element of surprise against him, catch him off guard at all costs; think outside the box, she noted. She also noticed how nobody ever wanted to fight with him, for good reason; how he stared longingly at the ring wringing his hands whenever he wasn't training. It was her sixth day on board when someone had noticed her, the little girl sitting on a bench with her hair pulled back in a white tank-top and a pair of shorts. 'Douchy', freshly defeated from a carefully observed spar with Up, had limped over to a bench, sitting down a few feet away from her.

"Hey," he mumbled without looking at her.

"Hi," she grinned. He did a double take.

"Who the hell are you?" Taz scowled, jutting out her jaw.


"Lieutenant Up's girl?"

"I'm not anyone's chica. Who da hell are jou?" she crossed her arms, glaring pure fire at him.

"Ensign Barron Williams," Williams stuck out a calloused hand, which Taz unsuccessfully tried to crush. He laughed. "You're a tough little girl, aren't ya?"

"I'm fifteen, I'm not a little girl," she spat. He held up his hands in mock defeat.

"So, did Lieutenant Up really bring you onto the ship?"


"And you're really gonna be the first girl to go to the Academy in 200 years?"


"And are you really a Daughter of Eve from Neptune's moon Triton?"

"S-qué? Where da hell did jou hear dat?"

"The conversation between Up and the Admiral to get you into the Academy was a complete secret. So naturally, the whole ship knows."

"Well, da whole ship knows wrong, idiota." Crossing her arms, Taz turned back to watch the others fight. She felt a playful punch on the shoulder and shot a death glare that would someday be infamous.

"You know, sitting here and watching us fight won't do you much good. Go to the gym, nobody's really used it since the combat deck was put in." No duh! How could she be so estúpida? She had the layout of the ship and the Academy memorized within the first hour of getting the maps, why didn't she think of putting it to use?Without a word, Taz rose and left, headed to the abandoned gym.

Everyone else had already left for dinner, but Up was determined to get to 500 chin-ups. Sweat was interfering with his grip and as soon as he achieved said goal, and he fell to the floor in a heap. Thankful no one had seen that, he got up and made his way to the benches. He sat for a moment, wiping sweat from his forehead with a towel when it hit him. Where was Taz? He glanced around the deck, in the hallway, even under the benches as if she'd be hiding there, becoming increasingly alarmed as he realized she wasn't there. Where could she have gone off to? The doors opened; he swung his head around, expecting to see the tiny Mexican face. His shoulders sagged.

"Lieutenant." Ensign Barron Williams saluted, which Up returned sloppily.


"Looking for Taz?" Up sat up straight. Was it obvious?

"You know T- why would ya say that?" Williams chuckled.

"Lucky guess. I thought you would have realized she was missing ages ago, sir." Up shot an eyebrow into his sweaty hair-line.

"Ages? What the hell are you talking about?" he growled.

"She left a few hours ago, sir."

"Where is she?"

"I don't know if she's still there, but she headed off to the gym when I spoke to her earlier. Feisty one, she is, you have your work cut out for you." But Up was out the door before the ensign could finish his sentence, leaving him with his own words resonating through the silence and a knowing smile playing at his lips.

She couldn't help but let out a laugh as she soared through the air. After uncovering every single piece of deserted equipment in the gym, she had discovered a large, extremely bouncy trampoline. Still drenched with sweat, she flew through the air doing ariels, backhandsprings, butterflies and backflips, a smile plastered on her face. Something having to do with being installed in space must've fucked with the trampoline's bounce-factor, she noted as her feet reached somewhere between four and five feet from the ground on each bounce. Shaking her bangs out of her face, Taz ran, preparing to do another complex series of twists. She launched and was in mid-spin when,

"Taz?" she landed on her ankle with a painful 'oof!' Planning to curse whoever had interrupted her into oblivion, Taz turned to the door where a familiar bulky silhouette was standing. Light from the hall flooded the strategically dimly lit gym. She knew that voice.

"Up?" she called, rubbing an aching, recently-healed ankle.

"Taz, why the hell didn't you tell me you were leaving?" he said, grabbing a roll of bandage from a box and making his way over to the floor trampoline.

"Sorry, dad." Up sat next to her on the trampoline. She made a grab for the roll, but he raised it out of reach. Her shoulders sagged in defeat; he took this as an 'ok' and took her ankle in his hands and began wrapping it.

"Damn it Taz, how are your feet so small?" Unsure if she should be complimented or insulted, she settled for the latter and shot him a glare so furious that almost made him wince. Almost.

"Maybe jou just have pies de grasa." Up grinned. They sat in silence, Taz breathing heavily, Up wrapping her impossibly tiny ankle with gauze. Taz studied Up's hands. They were littered with scars ranging in size. Calluses sat on the tips of each finger. A tattoo, a small red star, was almost hidden on the outside corner of his left wrist.

Finished, he set her foot down gently, as if it was going to break into a million different pieces if he didn't treat it like a piece of glass. "What did jou do to Williams' leg today?" Up shot her a questioning glance. "He was limping when he came to talk to me after lunch. You were the last one to fight him, so what did jou do?" Up chuckled lightly.

"You noticed?" she nodded. "You're brilliant."

"No, I'm just exceptionally perceptive." Taz shoved him lightly.

"I'll teach you one day."

"Teach me how to take a knife from someone's pocket and not have dem notice?" Up's hand shot to his pocket where sure enough, his trusty switchblade was missing. He turned back to Taz, who was flipping it shut, a malicious glint in her eye and a smile playing at her lips. She held it out for him to take, but he pressed it back into her hand. She stared at him incredulously, her mouth in a round 'o'. He nodded with a glint of self-confusion in his eye. This knife was his personal symbol of strength, his reason for fighting. Was he really going to give it to her? She was almost a complete stranger, beside the fact that she really wasn't. Did she really need the strength more than he did? Could he find something else to drive him to fight as hard as he did? His eyes raked her face; he nodded. She stared at the switchblade, tracing the old carvings with her thumb.

She launched at him, wrapping her skinny arms around his neck. Up, unprepared and caught off-balance, wrapped his arms back around her instinctively, leaning back. She squeezed him tightly, breathing in his scent of spearmint toothpaste and sweat, murmuring "Gracias, Up," into the crook of his neck. Up grinned childishly, slightly dazed. She untangled herself from him and he found himself missing the extra body heat. Because it was cold in the gym, of course. He glanced at Taz, who was playing with the hem of her shirt. She glanced up, and he suddenly became very interested with the gym equipment. That reminded him…

"To fight."


"That's what I'm going to teach you. To fight." Her eyes lit up, causing a smile to play on Up's lips.

"¿En serio? Cuando?"

"They say there is no better time than the present, so I guess we're behind schedule." He stood, pulling Taz up with him.

"Jou're going down." He laughed.

"Don't get cocky; I could beat you any time, any place." She raised an eyebrow smirking; he had walked straight into her trap.

"Oh really?" she rolled her 'r', bouncing lightly on the trampoline. Realizing his mistake, he started spluttering.

"No, I didn't mean-"

"Jou said any time, any place. Time, now. Place, aqui," she sassed; Up struggled to find a way out of it, but under her smirking stare could find none. Sighing, he reluctantly got onto a battle pose; hands like a boxer, legs apart, knees bent. Taz jumped once happily, making Up wobble on the unsteady terrain, and slipped the knife into a pocket. Being 'exceptionally perceptive', she noticed his balance wavering. "Just don't break me," she warned, mimicking his pose.

They circled, bouncing slightly, never once breaking eye contact. Finally, Up lunged; Taz leaned back into a speedy, violent backbend kickover. Up, who had been expecting her to duck, got a face full of foot. A loud slapping sound echoed through the hollow gym. Up recovered quickly enough to see Taz running at him top speed. Already knowing he was going down, he grabbed her elbows and brought her with him. She was on top of him, he was on top of her, she was on top, he was- they were rolling around on the trampoline. They came to a halt as Taz rolled on top of him, straddled his torso, and slammed her hands on his chest. Her hair had escaped from its hair-tie and was framing her face in soft curls, both breathing slightly heavily. Taz counted to three before slowing rolling off him.

"Told jou," she smiled coyly. Up didn't know whether to laugh or not.

"Eight months." Taz turned to look at him as he sat up. "It's been eight months since I've been floored. And I just got floored by a freaken' butterfly!" Up was shot a curious face. Taz and butterfly were two words that didn't go together often.

"I guess I had a home ventaja," Taz shrugged, getting to her feet. "Back in Mexico, Myria and I-" she broke off her sentence, shook her head and continued in a slightly smaller voice. "We had to do something to keep ourselves busy so we saved up enough for a trampoline. Took two years but we did it."

"It's a good thing to have in your back pocket," Up added as they made their way to the door.

"Up?" she called, standing a few feet behind him as he stood in the doorway, sheepishly rubbing her arm and looking at her feet, not something she did often. "That fight wasn't fair."

"Of course it was, Taz."

"No, it wasn't. It was on a gran trampolín, and I tricked you into it." Up shrugged. "That wasn't even fighting, that was, yo no se, bouncing with violence! If I want to learn how to fight correctamente, I can't rely on having a trampoline."


"So, jou are going to come here at 2100 hours and teach me to actually fight."

"Don't kill me, but go your hardest."

"Are you sure, Taz?"

"Oh, just do it."

She was fast, light on her feet. She could flit around you like no one's business. But she was choppy, wild, surprising. Jabs, uppercuts, roundhouses, hooks; she blocked them all with increasing difficulty until finally he got one in. Up landed a punch, knocking the wind out of her and sending her to the ground. Up swallowed his guilt as she gasped for breathe, climbing to her feet. "Bueno."

"Alright, Taz, now you try and hit me."

It took another week of late night training sessions and a lot of sweating for Taz to get a hit in. It was stronger than he thought it would be, leaving a small bruise for the next few days; a perfect roundhouse to his thigh. "Good, now do it again." As she improved during the next few weeks, never missing a session, he went harder on her. Albeit that, she was progressing immensely, getting in more jabs and kicks every night. Maybe it was the fact that she was almost always in the deserted gym, climbing the MtEverClimb, pumping iron, hundreds of situps a week, or flipping on the trampoline that gave her such strength and drive. She only left for meals, though she usually never showed for lunch, preferring to keep training rather than lounge about with a crew of smelly, slightly perverted Rangers.

Up was fascinated by her. So much strength and anger bottled up into such a tiny person. She glared pure fire, fought with a rage he had hardly ever seen before, and knew most of his tricks already. She anticipated his combos, dodging them with ease, and used his bulk against him. And one fateful Tuesday night, she did it again.

They stood there for a moment, leaning against each other's hands raised over their heads, breathing heavily, eyes locked. Something sparked behind Taz's eyes and she moved with astounding fluidity. She jumped, propelling herself over his head and using his hands as a balance. She released him, planted her feet on the ground, and shoved his back as hard as she could. Before he knew it, he was face down on the mat. Taz placed her foot on the small of his back, smiling triumphantly. He tapped out and she released him, holding out her hand to pull him up. He took her hand and yanked her to the mat beside him.

She looked at him and giggled; Up chuckled. The laughs came over like an epidemic, a wave of release from all the stress that had been building for that last few weeks. They sat there, laughing for no reason, laughing at nothing, laughing just because they could. He'll always remember her laugh, the way it sounded like little bells chiming on Christmas morning, the way that when she laughed, she couldn't stop until she was nearly crying. How when she laughed, her entire tiny body shook. How tears leaked out of the corners of her big, brown eyes. Not that he was watching her, of course.

"It's time, isn't it?" Up said emotionlessly, sitting on the edge of her bed that terribly grey morning, half an hour before she was to leave for the Academy. Before she was to leave him. Taz smiled sadly.

"I'm never going to see jou again, am I?" It was more of a statement than a question; she refused to meet his eyes.

"Hey, you never know. We'll be here for a long time, we might see each other." Taz nodded slowly, biting her lip. "Come 'ere." He held out his arms, which she dove into, wrapping hers around his neck. He held her there, squeezing her tightly as if that meant she'd never have to leave him. He hated to admit it, but was really going to miss her presence. She muttered something Spanish into his neck.

"Voy a echar de menos, Up." Up, only knowing twenty simple Spanish phrases, didn't understand. But he didn't care. He pressed his slightly chapped lips to the top of her head.

"Promise me you'll keep yer grades up. Fight hard, I want you to be the best damn cadet that Academy has ever seen. When you're not on the combat deck, I want you to be studying. When you're not studying I want you to be in the gym. When you're not in the gym, I want you to be on the combat deck. Understand?" She nodded against him.

"Starship 11C-4 docking at Galactic League of Extraterrestrial Explorations Academy Base 3," a monotone voice informed. Taz pulled back, smiling sadly.

"Don't worry about me at all; just keep being the tough son-of-a-bitch jou are." And with that, she left. Up put his head in his hands, remembering why he always put on a dead goddamned brave face. He remembered why he tried not to make friends with anyone. He remembered why he kept everyone at arm's length. He remembered why he hadn't shared any laughs with anyone.

So he never had to feel like this.