The room is split into three distinct areas, each obnoxiously large to support the typical crowds. Thankfully, it’s mostly empty since I’m here before most finish their breakfast. The first space is the gym. A variety of machines and weights are available to use. Dumbbells, barbells, and kettlebells are arranged neatly in their respective racks. Five pull-up bars sit on the right wall. Beside them are electronic bars that twist and shake to further test grip strength under pressure. Varied weight lifting machines rest next to the bars, and on the opposing wall sit bench presses. There’s also an open space in the middle to allow room for personal strength routines. The next area is separated by a glass wall to my right. Beyond the glass wall’s metal door sits a line of treadmills and cycles with all the latest features for cardio. Once again, there’s an open space for personal routines. There’s yet another glass wall and metal door in the back of this area. I walk through it for my desired training space, the gymnastics room.
Calling the gymnastics space a “room” is quite the euphemism. It feels like a lair. Climbing walls are spread out in the back, while above my head is an aerial obstacle course to practice balance, speed, and grace. Mats, hurdles, bars, and more gymnastic gear occupy the vast space to my left. To my right are the sparring mats. Typically this is where I would refine my technique and occasionally switch things up. Alone. But that’s not happening this morning, thanks to the overwhelmingly smug presence I sense the moment I step through the door.
I internally sigh with dread. “17,” I say through clenched teeth.
He pretends to be surprised as he turns around. “04! I didn’t see you there!”
I only glare at him, steaming. For anyone else, the look I’m pulling would promptly send them out. 17, however, is enjoying it. He gestures a hand towards the sparring mat. “Care to spar?”
“I’d rather not.”
He runs a hand through his shiny black hair with a shark-like grin. “What? You scared I’ll beat you?”
I fight to contain my silent fury. 17 was ever the annoyance. When Mme. Anaconda took me in as a child, I was the youngest to start training. Spikes, as I used to call 17 before he got his Agent number, was Ananaconda’s favorite. He was only two years older than me, but would always take the opportunity to make snide comments about my age and skill level. It wasn’t long before I began to prove him wrong. I persevered through the training and eventually rose to be one of the best in the class. As a result, I’d become Anaconda’s new favorite. He hated that I was beginning to surpass him, so we’d become rivals. Then it came time for the tournament to determine who was top of the class through a series of sparring battles. Inevitably, the competition came down to 17 and me. The fight was so intense it nearly ended in a draw, but a last-second leg sweep from me settled the match. He’s been bitter ever since.
“Is that what you think?”
He crosses his arms, his grin only widening. “Yep. Since you dodged the question.”
I know that I have nothing to prove to him. But I really want to punch him. He’s asking for it, so why don’t I deliver? With a huff, I crack my knuckles and take my place on the mat.
“Attagirl,” he replies as he follows suit. I’m more than ready to wipe that smirk off his face as I settle into a fighting stance. He does the same on the other side of the mat. “Ready?” he asks. I answer with a stiff nod. We wait for a breath before launching into action.
Knowing that 17 loves to open with a momentum-charged roundhouse, I slide on my knees to avoid the blow. Unfortunately, 17 accounted for that. He instead leaps into the air for a lethal kick-back flip. I roll to my right at the last minute. I don’t miss his insufferable smirk mocking my near blunder. As a nemesis would, he knows how I think. He would take every opportunity to make a big deal out of it.
I don’t give him the pleasure of seeing me down for long. I launch back onto my feet and throw a punch toward his shoulder, following up quickly with a left hook. He dodges the jab with a side shift and ducks away from my hook. Predictable. I use superior speed to throw a roundhouse kick to his side. He stumbles from the impact, losing his balance. I press my advantage and chance a flip-kick on my other foot. He catches my foot in mid-air and tosses me down. I land hard on my back. Ow.
“You done yet?” he asks. He’s still on guard, but he thinks he’s won. No. Way.
In reply, I launch myself onto my hands. I take advantage of the momentary confusion to advance my position. I walk my hands towards him until I can feel my feet nearing his head. He tries a kick to my side when he figures out what I’m about to do, but he’s too late. My feet have already found purchase on his shoulders. It takes immense strength to push off my hands and force my body upright with my core. I exclaim in victory when I find myself sitting on his shoulders.
“Really?!” he cries in frustration. 17 tries to buck me off to no avail. I interlock my ankles to secure myself onto his shoulders. Then I toss all my body weight forward, bringing him down with me. Throwing myself to the side at the last second, I land hard on my knee and shoulder. Meanwhile, 17’s unstoppable momentum lands him with his back half off the mat and a loud “oof”. I rise and dust myself off in satisfaction.
It’s my turn to smirk as I stand over his wincing figure. His face sours at my expression. He groans as he extends a hand. The cruel part of me would walk away and leave him there. But any respectable assassin knows sportsmanship. I grab his hand and help him up.
He moans, rising back to his feet. “Oww, where did you even get that move from?”
I shrug. “Had to get creative. And that flip?”
He returns the gesture. “Had to get creative.”
We maintain eye contact for a beat in a knowing silence. A ghost of a smile appears on his lips. Fearing that I look similar, I turn away. Despite the fact 17 is beyond annoying and has been my competition for most of my life, it’s in these moments that I find it extremely hard to hate him. I respect his ability. And sometimes there’s a likable human being underneath his hard smug exterior. It’s moments like these when I realize that he’s the closest thing I have to a… friend. Which is absolutely nauseating.
Before 17 can say anything infuriating, someone else enters the room. It’s one of Anaconda’s beefy bodyguards.
“Agents 17 and 04, Mme. Anaconda requests your presence,” he tells us in an impossibly deep voice. 17 and I exchange confused glances, but we nod in compliance. He gestures a hand to the door, and we follow.
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