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“Tell me, what was the thought process behind coming back? Battle’s done, fighting’s over, for the most part. What exactly are you looking for? Because, in case you haven’t noticed, there is literally nothing left. And if you’re waiting for me to go weak in the knees and thank my lucky stars that you decided to come back, all I got is, ‘Fuck you, Finn.’ Fuck you, and the nag you rode in on.”

“I deserved that.”

“Oh, you deserve a hell of a lot more,” she grated.

“Go ahead.” Finn opened his arms in invitation. “Lay it on me.”

Don’t mind if I do. Laura hauled off and punched him as hard as she could across the jaw.

Finn staggered. “Someone taught you how to fight.” Was he laughing at her? “I’m glad. Show me some more.”

Furious as she was, Laura didn’t think to hold back. She launched at him with a quick combination of punches and kicks, and he let her land them without putting up any kind of resistance.

Someone had, indeed, taught Laura how to fight—several someones, who’d known trouble was brewing before any of the rest of them had caught on. Three had given their lives to protect her students when the Shadows had first fallen on Anamtaigh. Four more had risked everything evacuating many of the youngest and most vulnerable to safety off world. A great many had fought, bled, and died so that she and hers could live, and Laura wasn’t about to shame them by pulling a single punch.

But Finn wasn’t fighting back. All he did was move enough here and there to protect himself from serious damage. Laura became single-mindedly absorbed with hitting him, to somehow avenge all the lives the Shadows had taken and destroyed—as if it would do any good at all. She put all of her rage and hurt into every strike, and somehow, it just made everything worse because he didn’t fight back.

She didn’t notice when Finn stopped taking a beating. But at some point, she brought her knee up toward his groin, and he caught it. When she followed up with a punch to his throat, he twisted out of the way, then blocked her next elbow strike with his forearm.

All of a sudden, they weren’t fighting anymore. They were dancing, with Laura setting the pace and Finn flowing with her movements like so much water streaming over rocks. He didn’t avoid her touch completely. The opposite—he seemed to be going out of his way to maintain contact. His hold lingered. When he shifted to avoid or deflect, he did it so she would brush across him. With Finn sticking so close she felt his body heat against her, launching any kind of effective assault was next to impossible.

And then he started giving her pointers.

“Twist your hips into the punch,” he said and, though she couldn’t see him behind her, she felt the hum of his intent against her entire being like static electricity. It purred a need to keep going, to transfer his knowledge onto her and make it stick.

The momentary distraction cost her. Her bare foot slipped on a leaf, but she didn’t fall—Finn’s hold on her was too tight to let her.

“Make sure your foot is secure before you kick,” he instructed.

Laura paused long enough to strengthen her shields. They kept fading and slipping, letting more of his intentions seep into her mind. It made her clumsy and gave him the upper hand. And instead of responding with anger, Laura found herself accepting his notes and making the adjustments he suggested.

“No, don’t bend. It throws off your center of gravity. If you can’t twist, move.”

She twisted, and he moved with her, staying at her back, his left hand around the arm she’d poised to punch with her next turn. He corrected the angle of her elbow without slowing her pace one iota, and turned with her, matching her move, kicking her foot into a position that felt much more stable. “There you go. Beautiful.”

Laura pulled her next punch.

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