"Before we get goin', I know it's been near nine years since the DA, so don't be thinkin' that I'll hold it against ya if you're a touch rusty. We'll start slow." Seamus tried his best not to sound patronizing, but Susan barely nodded, as if she had scarcely heard him at all. She continued stretching, and he looked away, not wanting to notice how the loose yoga pants still did so little to hide the lines of her legs as she slid smoothly down into the splits and bent forward over her knee. "Still limber enough though, ya are. Good thing, that."
"Mmm hmm." She switched legs, then swiveled from the hips so that the splits were a straddle now, her chest fully on the floor as she reached her arms forward. "I've not been sitting around knitting, you know."
Seamus cleared his throat, trying to think of the reason they were doing this. He'd be up for his first hearing for proper parole in a few months, and if they were going to ever leave the Loch together, there were a lot of people who didn't like them. True, they were supposedly mostly in Ireland, but it was a small world; too small to take chances with big and well-earned grudges. He closed his eyes, forcing a parade of hardened and ugly faces through his memory to replace the all too lovely and all too unattainable jailer currently bending her... "Oh, Jesus."
"What was that?" There was a glitter in her eyes that suggested she'd not only heard, but understood completely, but he did his best to feign innocence over the traitorous flush he felt rising in his cheeks.
"Nothin'. Just tryin' to think o' where to start." He reached down, taking the hand she'd reached out to help her to her feet. "Ya ready?"
"More than you are."
There wasn't so much as an instant to wonder what she'd meant. He'd been intending to start more or less from scratch on the basics of hand to hand combat, refreshing her through the old blocks and defensive moves, but now it was he who was on the defensive, and desperately so. Seamus prided himself on his speed - it had saved his life more than once - but her foot had come out of nowhere, the heel catching him perfectly on the temple and sending the world reeling in so many ways at once.
Hard-won instinct unceremoniously chucked planning out the window, and he completely forgot that he was supposed to be taking it slowly. He evaded her second attack, spinning under the slashing chop to the throat and grabbing her wrist to pull hard and take her off balance with her own momentum. It worked, but she tucked into the flip, rolling lightly and back on her feet to face him now, eyes shining, lips pulled back in a feral grin that sent its own kind of shock up his spine as she crooked a finger at him. "Come on...or did you get too used to being armed?"
Seamus grinned back, circling her on the balls of his feet as he eyed for an opening, refusing to be goaded into an ill-considered attack. "Ah, love, I'm always armed."
As he'd expected, the casual remark cast a flicker of doubt across her face, and he took the opportunity. He went for her arms, ready to lock them behind her back, but at the last minute he switched, dropping the feint to slide low on his knees below her guard and sweep her feet from beneath her. She was ready for it - how the hell! - leaping easily over and up around to lock her forearm hard over his throat, cutting off his air.
All bets were off. He bucked back, using the strength of his legs to augment his weight and slam her into the ground beneath him. The air was driven ruthlessly from her lungs, he felt it against the back of his neck, and the choking grip loosed just enough. Seamus rolled, grabbed her wrists, pinned them over her head with both hands, but her legs slammed up around his waist, her heels driving down hard into his kidneys and now he was the one breathless again, gasping between clenched teeth as he willed himself to not let go.
Instead, he kicked off, somersaulting over their clamped hands to refuse her a second shot at his back. A twist, a growl, and she was on her feet, arms twisted behind her back and pinned against him. He leaned into her hair, his lips brushing her ear. "Enough?"
The answer came as she bent forward, pulling him over her shoulder and they were face to face again. This time, she was the one to break the stalemate, but this time he was the one who was ready, and he caught her foot, yanking hard to jerk her off balance. But he'd underestimated her flexibility. Susan didn't go down, she came forward, her foot effortlessly gripped almost over his head as she grabbed his head in both hands and brought her forehead crashing against the bridge of his nose.
Stars exploded in the taste of copper salt, but she'd underestimated him as well. The burst of pain was ignored, and he turned out from under her leg, catching the thick rope of her braid and wrapping it around his fist. What almost was a scream as her head snapped back turned into something far more dangerous, but this time, when her elbow drove into what should have been a blow to the solar plexus, his automatic evasion was his own undoing.
A decade, even five years ago it would have left nothing but a bruise in solid, resilient muscle, but another enemy had beaten her to this spot with a knife, and he felt the world spin away as he sank to his knees, struggling only now to cling to consciousness. For a moment, somewhere far away, she leaped free, whirling to attack again, but then she saw, and her hands lowered instantly from the fighter's poise.
"Shit! Oh, shit, did I hurt you?" Air was a lovely thing, really unappreciated until you couldn't get it, and he could only shoot her a glare that felt frustratingly childish as she knelt beside him, prying his hands away from his chest.
"It's ok, you're just being an infant." Her words were derisive, but he could see a genuine relief in her eyes that stunned him with how much it mattered. "Your nose is worse, really. I might have broken that, I think."
"You...think." Seamus managed thickly, carefully probing his face and trying not to wince too much or notice exactly how much blood there really was. "True seemed be sure enough o' what ya were doin' from my end o' things."
She was rummaging in her bag now at the edge of the mat, but there was no remorse in her tone. "While you were out redecorating the alleys of Ireland, I was out in the middle of nowhere in the Highlands with a lot of dubious gentlemen who often consider consent to be if she doesn't fight you off hard enough, particularly when it's regarding a wealthy and if I do say so myself rather beautiful young widow whose weight hasn't broken triple digits since I was pregnant with Cecily."
A sudden crawling chill through the pit of his stomach shoved away all thoughts of his chest or nose, and Seamus heard himself gasp. "Ya weren't -"
"No, I wasn't," she corrected quickly. "No one ever tried. But I didn't want to be helpless if they did. Or Merlin forbid if anyone ever tried to lay a hand on my daughter."
"Why didn't ya tell me, then, that you'd been keepin' it up?" He allowed the offense that was returning now in hot, red, throbbing waves to show clearly, but she didn't even look up from whatever she was searching for.
"Because although you're a far better man than most people give you credit for -" Now she stood, and it was her wand she'd retrieved, bouncing it against the palm of her hand as she returned to him. "-you're also a cocky, pigheaded, sexist ass."
"And this is how ya thought I'd listen that ya can take care o' yourself."
Susan smiled, kneeling to line up the tip of her wand with his still-gushing nose. "You're listening, aren't you? Episkey."
The pain eased instantly, and he pulled his shirt off, snorting hard into the already-sodden fabric to clear his sinuses. He felt a bit dizzy, but it was nothing serious, he hadn't lost that much, and he wiped his face with the only clear bit he could find. "A bit for the drama, isn't it? Did ya really think kickin' my arse were the only way?"
"Ok, maybe that wasn't the only way." She shrugged, then winced, and he felt entirely more satisfied than he should have as she rubbed gingerly at her shoulder, her smile granting him fair acknowledgement that it had not been a wholly one-sided victory. "But it was more fun than a talk, don't you think?"
He gaped, incredulous, but there was something in her smile that brought his own, almost against his will, and Seamus found himself not just smiling back, but laughing. "Aye, that it was. You're a hell o' a woman, Mrs. Macmillan." He fought the urge to hold his breath, telling himself that it was just the exertion that was racing his pulse when his hand brushed hers. "But I'll be ready next time, I will. Don't think ya can take me again so easy."
"Oh, I have no doubts about that." The eye contact was an almost palpable thing, weighted, heated, aching. "Nothing with you is ever easy."
Seamus didn't dare read anything into her face, her words, her tone, her look, keeping his own tightly neutral. "It could be easier. If you'd rather."
The pause was long, very long, and the tips of her fingers seemed to trace the very line of the nerve in a single, fleeting pass up the inside of his arm, but then it was over and she was standing, tucking back the strands of hair that had come loose in their struggle. Whatever had been strung between them just seconds ago was broken as quickly as his nose had healed, and it was the businesswoman, the jailer who looked back at him. "Cut me slack, Finnigan, and I'll hang you with it. You're wrong about me."
Now it was his turn for the edge of the shadow he had once lived by to find his words and the turn of his smile. "And ah, but you're wrong about me." He stood, cracking his neck and testing his balance as he took his stance in the center of the room again, beckoning to her. "Care to learn a bit more?"
His blood was still on her hands, a bruise starting to bloom dark across one fine cheekbone, but she tossed the wand aside and turned back without hesitation. "We've a long way to go, don't we?"
"Oh, Seamus, my lamb," her voice was a razor through a rose, "so am I."