"Kal, I swear to gods, leave your front open one more time, and I will make sure you don't forget it again."
In spite of the abrasive tone coating the threat, I only smiled in response to Diana's words. "I'd like to see you try," I challenged teasingly, but I corrected my position before her all the same, angling my chest and shoulders oblique to where she stood before me.
"Better," she responded, eyeing my stance critically as she stepped closer, "But where's your weight?" And to prove that it was in the wrong place, she turned and shoved me on the side with enough force stumbling sideways. "Distribute your weight like you're supposed to, and I won't be able to do that as easily."
"I hope you're not letting this coaching thing go to your head," I said, righting myself and sliding into the defensive stance like she had taught me, trying to get all the focus points right. Back foot out, shoulders angled, weight even across both feet, front arm high…
"How could I? You haven't gotten it right yet," she responded dryly, approaching me again and tapping my back arm impatiently, "Where's that supposed to be?"
I moved my arm perpendicular below the other hand- the pose was designed to be a natural shield while still allowing a wide range of mobility. One hand was always up in defense, the other always back and ready to load a punch, the feet ready to push in any direction to evade or advance. It was one of several stances Diana had been drilling with me for the past two hours.
"Good," she said, when my stance was finally acceptable. "Now what if I moved here?" She sprang suddenly to my other side, and I rotated from the waist and switched my hands like she'd taught me. "Good," she responded, then moved again to my other side. "How about here?"
The jump-turn I did to change quickly into the correct position was apparently less than satisfactory, because as soon as my feet hit the ground again she struck me squarely in the chest with enough force to send me flying back into the wall.
"I told you if you did it again, I'd make sure it was the last time you forgot," she reminded me from where she stood in the middle of the room, now twenty feet away from me. "It won't do you any good to get your hands right if you leave your front exposed like that when you turn. Keep those shoulders angled."
She didn't sound very upset at me, but I couldn't help feeling more than a little frustrated. "It's not natural for me to angle away from someone when I'm facing them," I responded as I picked myself up and crossed the training room back towards her. "Especially not you." My stomach swooped as soon as I heard the accidental admission in those words, and I looked up quickly to gage her reaction.
She hadn't reacted whatsoever though, and instead of putting me on the spot for that response, she simply returned an equally ambiguous question. "If it was natural, you and I wouldn't be here, would we?"
It was certainly true, any way she meant it. This whole training session wouldn't have happened if Diana hadn't been so aghast when she discovered that I had little to no formal training in hand-to-hand combat, a fact that was always obvious any time an encounter with Kryptonite or red suns left me flightless and weaker than normal. Embarrassed by my inefficiency as a League member in any of those times, I had finally asked her one day if she would be willing to teach me at least a little of what she knew so that I would be more useful in those situations. Though she had seemed amused by the request but had graciously agreed, and though we were only in the early stages of training-just learning fundamentals like footwork and stances- I could tell I had made the right choice in asking her.
If she had meant her words in a more personal way though, they were still true. She was perhaps the only person I trusted enough to ask something like this from, or to willingly put myself in such an embarrassing situation with. And a trust like that never grows when two people hold back from each other.
She finally moved, dropping her own defensive posture and crossing to meet me in the middle of the training room. "One last drill, and then we're done for today," she said in the formal tone she slipped easily into when she went from the role of friend to instructor. "I'll change positions quickly around you while you try to change to the right position in response. Remember, it's a dance, Kal. Every action needs an equal and opposite reaction."
Her body slipped into an attack position, a move that seemed for her as natural as blinking, and I mirrored it by gracelessly sliding back into a defensive stance. "Good," she said, and then didn't bother asking if I was ready.
She circled me for a few moves, leaping from side to side almost too fast for me to follow but I did my best to shift appropriately and keep her in front of me, adjusting my pose based on the one she showed me. I must have surprised her by getting them all right, because she suddenly dropped her attack pose as I landed in the correct stance in front of her after a few minutes of that. "Not bad," she said with a smile. "Now what are you going to do if I move here?" She jumped into the air…and didn't come down.
"Okay, that's not fair, the whole point of this is to prepare for the times when I suddenly can't fly," I said, dropping my stance and putting my hands on my hips.
"Doesn't mean your enemies won't be able to," she said in a serious tone as she zoomed teasingly around me, but I saw the subtle smile on her lips and knew that formal training was over.
"Well in that case…"
She didn't rise high enough when I jumped after her, and I was able to pull her from the air. She maneuvered around my body lightly though and was tucked behind my back with an arm around my neck before my feet hit the ground again.
"Cheater," she said in my ear matter-of-factly as she wrenched one of my arms up behind me, "I know exactly how high you can jump when you're depowered, and that was two feet too high."
"Was it now?" I said as I tried to reach behind me and grab her with my free hand, but she evaded my reach easily. I gave up and grabbed the arm that was around my neck, and, holding her in place, threw myself backwards onto the ground in an attempt to catch her beneath me.
She'd obviously seen this coming though and twisted easily free of my grip at the last second, landing lightly on her feet while I crashed heavily to the ground.
"Next time we meet for this, I'm going to teach you how to conceal your intentions when you're fighting," she said casually, sauntering coolly to where I was lying, trying to catch my breath. "That's why I always beat you- I can read everything you're thinking."
"Really?" I asked with genuine surprise, but when she opened her mouth to respond I swung my leg around with superspeed and kicked her feet out from under her. "See that coming?" I couldn't help asking smugly as she tumbled down next to me.
She turned her head sharply and glared at me, and at first I thought I'd just earned myself another pounding for that little stunt. But then her glare abruptly turned to laughter and she dug an elbow painlessly into my ribs, tipping her face back up at the ceiling as her body relaxed completely against the floor. Her head rested on my outstretched arm, one of her calves haphazardly crossing mine, and I felt a distracting warmth seeping into me in those two finite areas as I watched her face, enchanted as always by what it did when she laughed.
She turned slightly into me and reached out to tangle a hand in my hair, fisting the curls and giving them a gentle tug as she smiled down at me. "You really are something else, Kal," she muttered, close enough that I felt the air currents that carried her words. Simple, familiar words, but words that I never understood. I only knew my expected reply as I reached out, wishing I could caress her face and pull her into a kiss. But I steered my hand instead to the end of her braid, the most remote part of her indeed, but a place I knew was safe. I gave her hair a gentle tug in return and forced my hand to fall back onto my side.
"So are you, Diana," was all I allowed myself to say. "So are you."