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I shake my head again.

He laughs. “Your training with Kenji is good,” he says, “but this is just as important. You need to learn how to fight. You have to be able to defend yourself.”

“But I can defend myself,” I say to him. “I’m strong enough.”

“Strength is excellent,” he says, “but it’s worth nothing without technique. If you can be overpowered, you are not strong enough.”

“I don’t think I could be overpowered,” I say to him. “Not really.”

“I admire your confidence.”

“Well, it’s true.”

“When you met my father for the first time,” he says, “were you not initially overpowered?”

My blood runs cold.

“And when you set out to fight after I left Omega Point,” he says to me, “were you not overpowered again?”

I clench my fists.

“And even after you were captured,” he says quietly, “was my father not able to overpower you once more?”

I drop my head.

“I want you to be able to defend yourself,” Warner says, his voice gentle now. “I want you to learn how to fight. Kenji was right the other day, when he said you can’t just throw your energy around. You have to be able to project with precision. Your moves must always be deliberate. You have to be able to anticipate your opponent in every possible way, both mentally and physically. Strength is only the first step.”

I look up, meet his eyes.

“Now punch me,” he says.

“I don’t know how,” I finally admit, embarrassed.

He’s trying so hard not to smile.

“Are you looking for volunteers?” I hear Kenji ask. He steps closer. “Because I’ll gladly kick your ass if Juliette isn’t interested.”

“Kenji,” I snap, spinning around. I narrow my eyes.

“What?”

“Come on, love,” Warner says to me. He’s unfazed by Kenji’s comment, looking at me as if no one else in this room exists. “I want you to try. Use your strength. Tap into every bit of power you have. And then punch me.”

“I’m afraid I’m going to hurt you.”

Warner laughs again. Looks away. Bites his lip as he stifles another smile. “You’re not going to hurt me,” he says. “Trust me.”

“Because you’ll absorb the power?”

“No,” he says. “Because you won’t be able to hurt me. You don’t know how.”

I frown, annoyed. “Fine.”

I swing my fist in what I assume a punch is supposed to look like. But my motion is limp and wobbly and so humiliatingly bad I almost give up halfway.

Warner catches my arm. He meets my eyes. “Focus,” he says to me. “Imagine you are terrified. You are cornered. You are fighting for your life. Defend yourself,” he demands.

I pull my arm back with more intensity, ready to try harder this time, when Warner stops me. He grabs my elbow. Shakes it a little. “You are not playing baseball,” he says. “You do not wind up for a punch, and you do not need to lift your elbow up to your ear. Do not give your opponent advance notice of what you’re about to do,” he says. “The impact should be unexpected.”

I try again.

“My face is in the center, love, right here,” he says, tapping a finger against his chin. “Why are you trying to hit my shoulder?”

I try again.

“Better—control your arm—keep your left fist up—protect your face—”

I punch hard, a cheap shot, an unexpected hit even though I know he isn’t ready.

His reflexes are too fast.

His fist is clenched around my forearm in an instant. He yanks, hard, pulling my arm forward and down until I’m off-balance and toppling toward him. Our faces are an inch apart.

I look up, embarrassed.

“That was cute,” he says, unamused as he releases me. “Try again.”

I do.

He blocks my punch with the back of his hand, slamming into the space just inside my wrist, knocking my arm sideways.

I try again.

He uses the same hand to grab my arm in midair and pull me close again. He leans in. “Do not allow anyone to catch your arms like this,” he says. “Because once they do, they’ll be able to control you.” And, as if to prove it, he uses his hold on my arm to pull me in and then shove me backward, hard.

Not too hard.

But still.

I’m starting to get irritated, and he can tell.

He smiles.

“You really want me to hurt you?” I ask him, eyes narrowing.

“I don’t think you can,” he says.

“I think you’re pretty cocky about that.”

“Prove me wrong, love.” He raises an eyebrow at me. “Please.”

I swing.

He blocks.

I strike again.

He blocks.

His forearms are made of steel.

“I thought this was about punching,” I say to him, rubbing at my arms. “Why do you keep hitting my forearms?”

“Your fist does not carry your strength,” he says. “It’s just a tool.”

I swing again, faltering at the last minute, my confidence failing me.

He catches my arm. Drops it.

“If you’re going to hesitate,” he says, “do it on purpose. If you’re going to hurt someone, do it on purpose. If you’re going to lose a fight,” he says, “do it on purpose.”

“I just—I can’t do this right,” I tell him. “My hands are shaking and my arms are starting to hurt—”

“Watch what I do,” he says. “Watch my form.”

His feet are planted about shoulder-width apart, his legs slightly bent at the knees. His left fist is up and held back, protecting the side of his face, and his right fist is leading, sitting higher and slightly diagonal from his left. Both elbows are tucked in, hovering close to his chest.

He swings at me, slowly, so I can study the movement.

His body is tensed, his aim focused, every movement controlled. The power comes from somewhere deep inside of him; it’s the kind of strength that is a consequence of years of careful training. His muscles know how to move. Know how to fight. His power is not a gimmick of supernatural coincidence.

His knuckles gently graze the edge of my chin.

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