In fact, Grace tries to make a quick nanosecond calculation on if she should help Faye and establish an alliance or let the two titans do her dirty work.  “Kammy would have me believe that she’s got the brains, I have the raw power and Faye’s got…whatever nightmare Kam seems to think she’s hiding from us.  It can’t be that simple though.  Both of those girls are terrifying these days.  I’m honestly wondering now if I even stand a chance.  Have I really slacked that much?  How?  We all train the same, I have the best trainer in the worlds as my brother.  So, what’s got me so thrown off today?  Is it really Paul?  But why does that bother me now?  What does me trying to be nice to somebody have to do with me being so pathetic of a fighter that the Tactician doesn’t even need to check me for weaknesses?”  At this thought, Grace begins to conclude Kammy was playing mind games, and so the obvious answer is to ignore the girl and join the dance in the sky, but if Grace’s evaluation of her opponents is correct, then she needs to let them exert all the strength they’re willing to spend before she is ready to make her move.

    As we go back to the boys, we see Paul struggling to handle the unashamed double-team, and he’s very annoyed.  In contrast, a year ago, he wouldn’t be struggling this badly, and he would be using his greater speed to his advantage.  Now, his second-guessing is getting ridiculous, enraging him.  His attacks become focused and unrestrained as he’s had enough, but his irritation makes his aim and timing sporadic.  Sometimes, he lands important blows and with greater force than usual, while at other times, he makes one mistake and his concentration shreds as he tries to catch up for the miss.  This back-and-forth episode of being able to feel his inferiority greatly increase by the second turns into an embarrassing rage of him just trying whatever he can to hit something before he gets nailed with the obvious final shot he knows is right around the corner.

    Elf backs up, and trying to keep his cool, scolds his friend.  “Are you really doing this?  You’re in front of the entire universe and you’re going to kick and scream like a toddler?  What girl won’t be watching that and know you as ‘That boy that cried like a baby on universal television?’  I want to punch you into dreamland right now, but you get your head together and go down like a warrior, unless you’re ready to prove me wrong about why I chose you first.”  This is all Paul gets as Elf continues his assault.

    “I wasn’t kicking and screaming like a baby,” Paul says to himself, “at least not yet, I guess.  Whatever.  This is stupid and hopeless, but hey, I guess that’s my life.  Just pretend to try and get an A for trying to—”

    Owan’s elbow interrupts the muttering session.  “You can concentrate better if your breathing doesn’t go to you muttering the whole time.”

    As the boys fight, Elf finds himself torn.  Paul is definitely not in the right mindset for this kind of exam, but it’s not exactly the time for the boys to baby the guy.  If they go after him based on pure battle data and not hold back because of his Gigi problem, he’ll continue to embarrass himself in a manner Elf deems unnecessary to allow his friend to do to himself.  However, if they just keep letting him depend on them because of his own reserves, then when will he learn to let go?  Besides, they’re very much too far into the fight to randomly change tactics without it being an obvious act of mercy for the struggling straggler, and it might affect his grade if he pretends to get hit.  “Hmm, Mom is gauging me for doing my best.  That doesn’t necessarily apply solely to my fighting ability.  If I take a few hits so Paul can get his thoughts together, I don’t think she’d mind giving him a second chance.  It’s not like he had any warning that his social anxieties would be torn apart before all creation by his best friends.  Wow, I’m a jerk when I put it that way, ha ha!  Oh well, I guess things can only get better from here if I admit it now.”

    So, Elf goes with his new strategy of sneaking open windows for Paul to catch back up.  Catching on quickly, Owan tries to do the same but is careful not to mimic Elf all at once.  Of course, Paul knows the routine and so he can easily deduce what his friends are doing.

    “No, don’t do that to me, guys.  Not here.  I have to be able to do this on my own.  I never said you were wrong for your strategy.  I should be able to hold my ground.”

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