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Sunrise

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Jack leaves the Wasabi dojo quickly and angrily. He can't believe Kim cheated on him; and he can't believe that his best friend would betray him like that. He goes across the mall to Phil's and sits on one of the booths by himself. His anger slowly subsides to a lump he feels in his throat, but he refuses to break down in front of anyone in a restaurant. He can't let anyone see him like this.

He just found out that his now ex-girlfriend Kim was cheating on him with his ex-best friend Jerry. He should've known, especially when Jerry and Kim would stare at each other suggestively inside the dojo. No one inside the dojo was in his side. They just watched as Kim cheated on him for weeks and weeks. When he also found out that Milton and Rudy knew this whole time without telling him, he just gives up and leaves the dojo, quitting the dojo altogether.

He wants to get back at them. There's a tournament coming up in a month or so with different dojos in the state competing against each other and since he quit the Wasabi dojo, he couldn't think of another nearby dojo...except for one. The Black Dragons.

Jack hasn't really forgave sensei Ty for purchasing the dojo last summer, which caused all of the very few students to quit (including his once good friend Eddie, permanently), but he'll be damned to just sit here and wallow in self-pity all day. He gets up, and makes his way to the Black Dragons dojo, which is still located at the same place he remembers. After entering the memorable dojo, he stops in his tracks. The dojo may be the same, but the style is different. "Hm..." He grunts.

Carson shuts the locker behind him, and ties his long hair into a sports bun on top of his head. He's been practicing lately for the tournament in a month, and he wants to make sure that he will beat those Wasabi jerks now that he's stronger and wiser. He leaves the locker room and goes to the main ring, where most of his fellow students and friends are already practicing.

He looks at the entrance where the door opens and closes, and is surprised to see Jack walk in. Hiding his surprise with a cold sneer, he walks over there and faces Jack. "What the hell are you doing here? You came here to steal our strategy or something?"

Jack laughs in Carson's face. "Oh please, I'm not you." He sidesteps Carson entirely and ventures further inside the dojo. "I am joining the dojo. And before you say this is a ploy to get back at you or this place, it's not. I quit my previous dojo, and I want to beat them at their own game."

"Right." Carson rolls his eyes and follows Jack, standing right next to him once again. "And what if I think you're lying?" He asks. "What if you're just saying that and then when the going gets tough, you'll deflect over to their side again?"

"Because, I'm serious," Jack growls.

"Vindictive, are we?" Carson smirks. This seemed a little out of character for Jack, because Carson knows he has a good heart and lifetime kindness. Something must have happened for Jack to come here and ask to join the rival dojo of the place they both attended at one point. "Who hurt you?"

"I don't think you need to know that," Jack says. Just because he was joining the Black Dragons, he doesn't have to form a friendship with Carson. As far as he knows, Carson is still a low-down dirty cheater, and Jack hates cheaters. "So, can I join or not?"

"Yeah, whatever," Carson rolls his eyes. "Sensei's in his office. You can go in and negotiate about joining the dojo."

"What, you're not gonna escort me there or anything?" Jack asks, with a smirk.

Carson raises an eyebrow. "Why would I do that when his door is literally right there?"

"Oh," Jack relents. He walks across the room, and ignores his cousin Kai staring at him in hopes he makes it without being attacked by a Black Dragon. He enters the sensei's office without any warning.

Angrily, Kai storms across the room and stops in front of Carson. "Why the fuck is my cousin here?"

"That's your cousin?" Carson says in surprise. "The cousin?"

"Yes, the cousin you fool!" Kai slaps Carson's arm with a towel. "What is he doing here?" He repeats. He glances at his sensei's door for a couple seconds, and turns around to face Carson again.

"He wants to get back at his old dojo for some reason," Carson replies. "I asked what the reason was, but he brushed me off."

"Why would he want to fight a dojo he cares about too much?" Kai questions to himself. That was peculiar.

Carson wonders that too. Despite only knowing Jack for a short time, it seems peculiar that he wants to do something so out of character. For one thing, using karate, or any martial arts, for vengeance was a bad thing (but most of the Black Dragons are known to do something like that) and Jack was trying to prove to his friends that Carson was a cheat...which worked, but still. "Well, at least we have one more black belt in the dojo," he says, positively. Most of the Black Dragons are either black belts or really strong competitors who actually use their strength and knowledge (since they swore to not cheat again under their new assistant sensei's orders), but Jack was strong enough to be a sensei at sixteen, which made him different than everyone else in this dojo.

We're gonna have to talk, Kai thinks. "Yeah, whatever," he waves off, and walks inside sensei's office. He barges inside, and stares at his cousin. "Long time no see, cuz."

Jack's grin falls. "Same to you. I was having a private conversation. Would you excuse me?"

"You're part of the dojo, yadda yadda yadda," Kai rambles on, and then pulls Jack out of the office. "Explain to me why the fuck are you here!"

"That's none of your business," Jack argues. "I'm here. Get used to it."

Kai fights hard, really hard, not to fight his cousin again. "You were always a piece of work."

"And you were always a cheater," Jack growls, quickly walking away from Kai.

Carson watches the scene in front of him. Once Jack storms away, he approaches Kai once again. "Chill out, dude."

"Whatever," Kai growls. He walks over to the punching bag and punches it a couple times.

Jack puts on the gi from last time, locks up his regular clothes, and steps out once again. All eyes are now on him (except for Kai who is using a punching bag) and he suddenly feels self-conscious. Can they stop staring at him?

Carson rolls his eyes. "Alright, we have a new student. You can stop staring at him now." The students stop looking at Jack and turn around to finish sparring. Carson walks up to Jack with a tight grimace. "Since you're gonna be here, you're gonna be practicing...a lot. None of that five minute break crap from the Wasabi dojo, especially since we're trying to beat them. Unless you want to partner up with your cousin, who completely hates you, I will oblige to be your sparring partner...for now."

Carson is right. Jack isn't friends with any of these people, and Carson is the only person who offered...and is familiar with. "Fine. I just hope you don't have something up your sleeve this time. Literally."

"I'm actually good at karate and that's something that Rudy definitely did not teach me," Carson replies with confidence. "I don't need to cheat. So if you want to spar with me, get into position. If not, find someone else." He stands straight and bows once to show respect, then he gets into fighting position.

Jack sighs, and follows suit. "Alright."


 

After a long, brutal fight, Jack is the winner. Slowly, Carson gets up from the floor and bows once more. "You're really good, Jack. And I mean it." He isn't mad that Jack beat him anyway. Jack is a second degree black belt, while Carson is still working on his own second belt.

Jack smirks in triumph. "You're just saying that because you lost."

"Or maybe you're actually good?" Carson says back, furrowing his eyebrows.

"Okay," Jack shrugs. He can take a compliment, but he didn't trust Carson yet...if at all. "So, do you have a plan on how to beat the Wasabi Warriors or were you all trying to boost your skills to try to beat me?"

"Both," Carson says back. "Before you came here, Kai was the best fighter amongst us. I was the second, and Brody's third. We also have Jake, and even though he's a good black belt he's lazy as hell. We also got Heather, who is a brown belt but she kind of doubts herself. Ryan's our assistant sensei but he acts like he's one of us...he's not."

"What happened to Frank, your supposed best fighter?" Jack inquires, mockingly.

"He hasn't been here in months, and well, it should stay that way," Carson replies. "Also we were trying to figure out who would be strong enough to beat you. Kai backed down, which now we understand because you two are related, I was unsure because I was still bitter, and Brody backed down because he really didn't want to fight a second degree black belt. Now that you are here, we don't have to worry about fighting you."

"Hold up, my cheating, almost-killed-me-at-China cousin doesn't wanna fight me?" Jack asks. "At least you didn't try to kill me."

Kai overhears that sentence and walks over to his cousin. "I did not try to kill you."

"You got your dojo mates to break my arm and then almost threw me off a cliff," Jack argues.

Kai scoffs. "But did you actually die?"

Carson snorts a little. "Seriously, Kai? Did you hate him so much that you just had to almost kill him?"

"We have a lot of issues," Jack frowns. "He was the one who made me quit karate at one time."

"Whatever," Kai rolls his eyes. This is another reason why he hates Jack. He's so dramatic. "It's not like you are still affected by whatever happened in the past."

"That's where you're wrong," Jack sneers, clenching his fists. "I'm still affected by what you did to me. You made me hate the one thing I enjoyed for so long until Rudy awakened it once again - and as much as I hate my old dojo, they actually did something right: they picked up the pieces of what was left of my shattered self-confidence."

"Alright," Carson pushes both of them away from each other. "You two don't need to fight now that you're on the same team."

Jack huffs, and straightens his gi. "Whatever." Kai growls, and walks back to the punching bag.

Careon wants to say something, but he feels as if Jack would ignore him. He also wants to ask what exactly happened in Jack's perspective, but he remembers what happened earlier when he first came with a determination to defeat the Wasabi dojo.

It's going to be a long, agonizing first day for him.


 

Jack packs up his stuff after practicing all day and trying to ignore his bitter cousin. It's easy, because everyone agrees that they shouldn't fight each other, with the history they have. Despite that, it isn't too bad. Most of the students are kind of scared to fight him, except for Carson and a girl named Heather, who is slightly taller than Jack. While having a baby face, she has a very strong stamina. She beat Jack, best two out of three, but he never complains. He needs someone like Heather to challenge him. It's just weird that the girl can easily beat Jack, when she's a brown belt. Heather is the first person Jack has grown to like on his first day, and for as long as he stays here, he wants to help Heather get her black belt, or at least convince her to get her black belt.

"Can you believe he's only a second degree black belt?" He shakes his head once he hears her voice again after exiting the locker room.

"Still surprised?" He inquires.

Heather shrugs. "Yeah, man. I'm not a black belt and I still beat you. You sure you didn't let me win?"

"I'm sure," Jack replies. He learned his lesson last year with Kim. "Maybe you're selling yourself short and you should probably register to become a black belt."

"I think I will, once I learn that epic dragon kick move you did on Carson," Heather snorts, adjusting her wrist watch a little. "I swear, Jake. He's a natural on the mats."

The boy named Jake, shrugs. Jack's never seen him at all yet his face makes him look weirdly familiar. However he doesn't comment on it. "I'm gonna be back tomorrow."

"You gotta tell me all about your vacation in Japan," Heather says excitedly, and heads for the door. "See you tomorrow Jack Brewer." She turns around and leaves the dojo, with Jake following right behind her.

Jack waves back, and leaves the dojo a few seconds after. He slowly realizes that the Black Dragons dojo is further away from his house than his old dojo, but a walk never hurt anyone. He's about two stores down when he hears a loud honk and a bright tail light behind him. Jack turns around to see Carson sitting in the driver's seat. With hesitation, Jack sighs and walks over to the passenger's side, and enters the car wordlessly.

"Where am I going?"

Jack replies with his street intersections only. Carson doesn't say another word and drives over there.

After a few minutes of silence, Jack looks at Carson, wondering why the same guy who cheated his way to become the representative student a year ago would be nice to Jack all of a sudden. Ever since he walked inside the dojo this afternoon, Carson hasn't been mean (intentionally at least) and instead breaks up an impending fight between him and his cousin as well as comment in his martial arts skills. He still doesn't believe he could ever be friends with Carson, but time will tell.

Carson turns on the exact street and only passes three houses before Jack says, "Right here." He stops the car and doesn't even acknowledge Jack any further. Jack, expecting nothing but silence, mumbles a quick 'thank you' and exits the car. Carson turns around and watches as Jack enters his home, and then he drives away.

Since his house is at least three blocks away, he continues onto the street, with the sole thought of getting home and going to bed. School is restarting after the weekend and the last thing he needed was a fucked up circadian rhythm.

Chapter Text

Realizing that he hasn't really cleared out his locker at his old dojo, Jack leaves his house with his Black Dragons gi on (intentionally of course) and makes his way to the Wasabi dojo. He still wants to visit the mall, but he wants nothing to do with his old friends or this dojo. He means it.

The dojo's open bright and early, and he can see his ex-girlfriend Kim practicing on a dummy. He assumes that since he left the dojo that Kim's the next runner up for the tournament. It doesn't matter; if he can beat Kim before they started their relationship and during their relationship, he can definitely beat her now.

With a sharp inhale, he enters his old dojo and intends to ignore Kim on his way to his locker. However, that's not an easy task. She turns around and gawks at him. "So, is this your way of telling everyone that you went over to the dark side?"

"You were a part of them," Jack states. "Plus, why do you care? We're not friends." He opens his locker, and finds his black belt. He also finds other stuff that he left in there, like his junior sensei gi that he forgot to give back. He grabs the important stuff and leaves the locker slightly open so that no one would break the lock again to get inside.

Kim looks at him, getting past the initial shock. "I don't even understand why you left. Just because we fell out it doesn't mean you can leave."

"That's not the only reason why I left but ok," Jack says in a deep monotone voice, indicating that he's bored. "Plus, I think I can make my own decisions. Now would you excuse me, I gotta go train." Without hearing another sentence, Jack rolls his eyes and exits the dojo one last time.


 

As soon as Jack enters his new dojo, only a few eyes land on him, but not for long. However, the boy from yesterday (Jake?) walks up to him with a smirk on his face. "Has the initiation happened yet?"

"Initiation?"

Jake's grin falls a little. "Yeah, initiation. You need to tell me that you spent 24 hours without being initiated?" Without getting mad, Jake sighs deeply. "Alright Brewer. At six, come with Heather and me. You're going to be initiated...and no, it's not embarrassing if you're wondering."

"Are you sure?" Jack questions, hoping he doesn't get hazed or something.

"I swear it's innocent," Jake replies, with an honest smile on his face. "It's been tradition for about three years, and we always do this to any newcomer, on their first day." He glares at his fellow students, and some of them shrug, looking completely uninterested. "In order to feel 100 percent welcome, you come with us."

"Ok," Jack shrugs. Something about Jake seems like he isn't lying, so he immediately put his trust on the darker black belt.

"Good, now...Heather says you got good moves," Jake says, raising an eyebrow. He's not the best black belt but he's on the top five...or ten, maybe. "We're sparring today. Put your stuff away and meet me on the mat."

Jake's skills are phenomenal, however Jack ends up winning. Jack gets up and helps Jake up, who is more impressed than disappointed from losing. "My girl didn't exaggerate at all."

Jack raises both of his eyebrows. "Wait, you and Heather are—"

"God, no," Jake replies, chuckling a little. "She's my best friend, and I call her that from time to time. Anyway, you're good, Brewer. Seriously."

"Would I ever lie to you?" Heather inquires, punching Jake on the arm. "I told you he's good."

"He's damned good," Jake replies, with a smirk.

Jack smiles a little. "Thanks." He goes over to the punching bag, however his cousin is on the way there and he looks less than happy to be here. Before he touches the punching bag, Kai wordlessly holds it in place, which surprises Jack, to say the least. Instead of saying something, he punches it a couple times. "So, are we still gonna be bitter enemies, even on the same team?"

"I don't like you," Kai spits. "I never liked you. What makes you think I would suddenly start liking you now that you're a Black Dragon? No one asked you to be here."

"I just thought that we could call a truce," Jack says. He punches the bag one last time and holds it for his cousin, who wastes no time to use his frustration to almost knock the bag away from Jack's grip.

"Fine," Kai replies, and punches the bag once more. "Although I don't see why would you do such a thing..."

Jack doesn't fully understand either. His cousin has caused more injuries on his body than anyone else, and caused him to quit karate at one time. "Listen. We're both here and even though we hate each other, I'm not going to spend my experiences here fighting with you."

"I see your point," Kai agrees. "But...I still don't like you."

"Me neither," Jack replies. After an awkward few seconds, they decide to fist bump instead and walk in different directions. Kai goes to his teammate Carson, while Jack goes the other way, hoping to acquaint himself with other Black Dragons that don't completely hate him.

"Are we going to the initiation ceremony?" Carson asks, once Kai leans against the wall next to him.

Kai rolls his eyes. "Do I have a choice? Jake's been trying to make people do these types of childish things for years now, and i've only been attending this dojo since the end of last year."

"If it makes you feel better, it's always the same thing," Carson replies, with a knowing smirk. Jack may try to hesitate this time around, but when Carson was initiated, he wasted no time getting initiated. "I heard before that, they used to haze people at the mall."

"I would rather haze someone," Kai frowns, watching his cousin talk to other students. "At least, you're humiliating someone, not defacing property."

"I think Jake may make Jack do something worse, especially knowing that Jack used to be part of our rival dojo," Carson reasons, trying his best not to smirk at that. Carson did tell people of his affiliation with their rival dojo, and made him throw gallons of sour milk, several rolls of toilet paper and two dozen of rotten eggs all over his old sensei's car. The job was done unscathed, of course. "I can't wait for it."

"I can," Kai drawls.

"You're so negative," Carson frowns. "Lighten up a little. We now have an advantage to finally beat those idiots at the tournament."

"We were always good before Jack came," Kai points out. He knows they were better.


 

It's around 6:15 when Jack and the rest of the Black Dragons reach their destination. "Um...why am I at the front of my old dojo?" Jack inquires, feeling annoyed that he has to come back here.

"Get your revenge on those Wasabi traitors," Jake replies, giving Jack a pack of stale eggs. "Plus, this is your initiation. If you happen to hit one of the students or the sensei when they're leaving, you get more points. We'll be right here." With that, the Black Dragons disappear to the other side of the mall, where they can see Jack and the dojo.

Jack looks at the packet of stale eggs, and then at his old dojo. His ex-best friends were training, with Rudy coaching their every move. Despite him leaving, they were still training their asses off, which is something Jack felt proud of for a second. However, looking at his ex girlfriend's face makes him remember yesterday, when she shamelessly admitted to cheating on him. At that moment, he couldn't control the anger he's worked on controlling. Angrily, and impulsively, Jack opens the pack of eggs and throws several on the window, which gets their attention quickly.

Kim is the first to storm outside, her fists clenching. "What the hell are you doing?"

Jack throws another egg, getting shell, yolk, and white all over Kim's face and hair. The Black Dragons laugh as soon as it hits her face, while Jack stands there, fuming.

"Never thought you would resort to petty crime," Kim mumbles, and removes the egg shells from her hair.

"It's not like you don't deserve it," Jack spits, and throws another egg at her. "That's for cheating on me." He throws another and another, landing straight at Jerry's face. "And that's for being with my girlfriend, and this," he throws one at Milton's face, causing the redhead to make a disgruntled grunt. "Is for taking your best friend's side, knowing he's wrong."

"I didn't take his side," Milton argues. "I just knew it before you did."

"Oh yeah, like that makes it so much better," Jack growls.

"I think that's enough—" Jack throws another egg, straight at his old sensei's face.

"No, I don't think it's enough," Jack replies. "You see this? This is not enough. No amount of prank eggs would ever replace the betrayal I went through. Nothing would ever replace my girlfriend cheating on me with my best friend. However, I am going to make sure you pay. That, I can definitely guarantee."

He throws one last stale egg and walks away. Most of the Black Dragons look amongst themselves and shrug before dissipating. Carson tries to find Jack, hoping that the teen won't do anything destructive, but he couldn't find him anymore. Giving up, the martial artist decides to go home.


 

The weekend is over, and Carson knows that Jack won't show up at the dojo. He doesn't know about school because he goes to Swathmore with Heather as juniors. There are a few others who attend Swathmore but for the most part, they either go to Seaford or they are in college (like Jake). It's mostly a quiet Monday since he hasn't made any friends outside the dojo, so when he goes to the dojo with Heather, he's less than surprised to see everyone but Jack in attendance.

"I'm not surprised that he isn't here," Heather says, and goes to find her friend.

"Me neither," Carson replies, but he doesn't go any further inside the dojo. He turns around and leaves with the determination to find the black belt.

There were only a few places he could've gone to Carson's knowledge. There's the falafel restaurant that he doesn't really like (especially after finding several goat hairs in his falafel balls one day) and also his house. However, Carson knows that the resident hangout space would be inhabited with Jack's ex-friends.

So he goes with the second.

After a few minutes, he reaches Jack's house. He exits out of his car. Locking all of his doors, he goes to the front of Jack's front door, and he knocks. "Brewer! Are you in there?"

He only gets silence for a minute until the door opens in a small fraction so that Carson couldn't really see anything. "What are you doing here?"

"Why aren't you at the dojo?" Carson inquires.

Jack sighs, smoothing out his disheveled hair. "I wasn't at school either so…"

"I would know if I go to Seaford," Carson deadpans. "Listen...if this is about yesterday...you know Jake didn't mean much harm."

"That isn't my concern," Jack replies, rolling his eyes.

"Then what is?"

Jack opens the door completely and faces Carson. Carson tries to ignore Jack's disheveled hair and obvious signs of crying, but he couldn't. "How could my ex get away with cheating on me? What did I ever do to deserve that? She knows how much I hate cheaters yet she cheats on me with my best friend, and no one even cared."

"If it helps, I thought it was pretty wicked of you to throw that egg in her face," Carson tries to lighten the mood, but Jack's death stare makes him frown again. "Ok, I don't know how to deal with situations like that. For one, I had only one real girlfriend and she broke up with me before I moved back here." He ignores telling Jack about his other encounters with other people (especially his messy make out session with a boy). "But what I do know is that you can't allow this to set you back...especially when you know it isn't your fault."

Jack raises an eyebrow. "Why do you care?"

"Because you're our only chance to beat our old dojo, and I know you want to wipe that smug smirk off of Kimberly's face," Carson replies.

Jack chuckles. "Now you're starting to sound like her."

"Not my intention," Carson chuckles back. "Now, please go get ready. We have a lot of practicing to do."

Chapter Text

It's an agonizing few hours. However, it makes Jack forget about yesterday with his ex-friends. It's peculiar how Carson and the rest of the Black Dragons could make him forget about his ex-girlfriend woes by just practicing for a tournament that's by the end of the month. He really did not expect to make friends with anyone but now he does see a friend in both Heather and Jake...and maybe Carson. Their talk earlier changed his perception on Carson...just a little. He still didn't really like Carson since he's still a cheater, in his eyes at least.

He has more than enough time to decide on whether he should forgive Carson or not. Even if forgiving his cousin before some kid, even when his cousin broke his arm and has caused psychological harm to Jack, seems disproportionate.

Most of the students are already congratulating Jack on what he did yesterday by the end of the day, including Kai, who gave his cousin a more meaningful fist bump.

"You gonna be alright?" Heather asks as soon as Jack exits the men's locker room.

"Yeah," Jack replies. Heather smiles, and grabs Jake's arm, leaving the dojo in a hurry. Jack follows right after, his duffel bag on his shoulder.

Carson's right behind him. "Brewer, wait up."

Jack turns around, hearing Carson's voice. "I have a first name, you know."

"Brewer sounds better," Carson shrugs. He adjusts the strap on his duffel bag and leads the way. "Plus, it annoys you, so I'm doing something right."

"Joke's on you," Jack replies. "I don't care what you call me, but I still have a first name."

Carson rolls his eyes half heartedly. "Okay, Brewer." They walk to his car, with Carson taking the driver's seat and Jack semi-hesitantly taking the passenger's seat. Since Carson did drive him over to the dojo, it almost seems fitting that he would take Jack home as well.

Jack watches as Carson pulls out of the parking spot and drives all the way to Jack's house. The trip is silent again, much like the other ones, but this time, Carson breaks the little silence by turning on the radio and an 80s rock song plays. It makes the silence less awkward...for the most part. Jack looks out the window, and for a minute, Carson passes by the mall that Jack used to frequent for the dojo.

It sucks that his friends are now part of the Black Dragons and his enemies are the one dojo that made him love karate again, but things change. He wants to do this to get back at his ex-friends, but now he doesn't even want to quit. He still doesn't trust his new sensei, or his cousin, or the person offering him rides almost every night, but now doing this for petty revenge doesn't make sense anymore.

Carson makes the turn and stops right in front of Jack's house. "Your stop. Now get the hell out of my car."

"Rude," Jack scoffs. After Carson flips him off, Jack exits out of the car, chuckling lightheartedly as he walks to the front door.


 

When Jack goes back to school, he expected his old friends to give him death stares (except for Milton). It's not like he didn't ignore them anyway, but it's even worse when he realizes that his lockers are near his ex-friends. "Great," he whispers to himself after closing his locker shut. He also starts to realize that he shares a lot of classes with at least one of them, especially when he realizes that Kim is following him because they have history together...and science...and physical education.

All in all, it's hella awkward.

Lunch is the only other place where he can get a break from his old friends glaring at him. Since he can't sit at his usual table, he goes across the room to sit at the Black Dragons table, fist-bumping almost everyone at the table and sitting between Brody and a girl named Sabrina, who's an orange belt and is significantly younger than the rest of the group.

"The major perks of being a Black Dragon is sitting at our table, and you also get to wear this," Brody gives Jack a bomber jacket, with red, black, and white in letterman style, the Black Dragons emblem in the front and the logo in the back. Jack reluctantly takes the jacket away from the brunette, who seems enthusiastic. "What are you waiting for? Put it on!"

Jack chuckles a little, and puts the jacket on. It's the perfect fit. "I feel official."

"You should," Brody replies, clapping Jack on the back. "You're now one of us. We would've given it to you yesterday but you were a no-show."

"Sorry about that," Jack frowns.

"It's ok man," Elliott, a black haired green belt with freckles on his face, waves off. "Sometimes you need a break from this place. We sure need another break."

Brody laughs. "School just started again, dude."

"Yeah but I don't wanna see those washed-up Wasabi has-beens," Elliott snarls. "No offense, Jack."

"None taken," Jack replies, laughing at Elliot's joke.

"You know who are the lucky ones? Carson and Heather," Sabrina adds in. "They get to go to a better school with more academic activities and way more AP classes while we get to suffer with subpar common core teaching."

Jack laughs, "You sound like Milton." He had enough of that from Milton, but the difference is that Sabrina had a lot of confidence in herself, something that Milton definitely does not have.

"Whatever," Sabrina replies, pointing her hummus-covered carrot at Jack. "Listen...I value my education, ok? I'm thirteen and I'm in high school. I might as well keep up the good work while I'm here. No slacking off for me."

"Nerd," Elliott says, sticking his tongue out at Sabrina.

Sabrina sneers at Elliott. "You want me to take that tongue out your mouth and make you lick your own ass with it?"

Elliott cowers, while the rest of the table laughs. Yeah, Jack's going to enjoy his time here.


 

"Oh, hello Mr. Brewer," his science teacher Mrs. Hayes waves Jack over. Only one teacher so far has spoken with him because of the new girl issue, so he assumes that this will be the case this time around. He walks over there and gives Mrs. Hayes his full undivided attention. "Since we have a new student and an even amount of students, I am assigning you to work with Ms. Brownstein, which means you can no longer work with Ms. Crawford and Mr. Krupnick."

Jack suppresses a satisfied smile. "Ok, that's fine."

Mrs. Hayes raises an eyebrow, but doesn't say anything. "Alright, she's right over there and we're going to be working on the fifth lab on page sixty."

Jack nods once for confirmation. He turns around and walks to the other side of the room, where the blond haired, brown eyed new girl is located, skimming through the clearly used lab book. She looks up momentarily to stare at Jack. She stops herself, realizing that her partner is not only the same guy from her history class, but that he's really attractive. "Hi. Y-You must be my new lab partner."

"Yeah," Jack replies, with a friendly smile. "I'm Jack."

"Taylor Brownstein," the blond replies, biting her lip. "I transferred here from Swathmore."

"Oh, ok," Jack says back. He has had his arguments against Swathmore, but he isn't going to allow that to ruin his perception of the new girl. She seems nice, and she's also pretty. "Well...welcome to Seaford."

"Thanks," Taylor smiles. "Ever since I got here, no one's really been nice to me...except for the teachers."

"They're usually the nicest people in the school," Jack jokes. Taylor starts laughing, while Jack gives her a stern look, implying that he isn't lying. Taylor looks at him, and subsides her laugher.

She starts to frown a little, realizing that the school she enrolled to is really unfriendly. "Yikes."

Jack opens his lab book to the fifth lab, grimacing upon seeing the words 'metals'. "Anyways, let's get started. We're learning about metals."


 

Carson leaves the locker room to see everyone practicing. It's a rare sight, but with the tournament in a month, they have to practice hard in order to win this time. The tournament makes everyone fight, despite focusing on the darker belt students. Carson is strong enough to beat a good chunk of people; yesterday he beat Jack in a practice round, but then again Jack wasn't giving his 100 percent until the very last hour, when he practiced on Jake and beat the college freshman once again.

Speaking of Jack, he sees the black belt walk in, with the recognizable Black Dragon brand bomber jacket (he thought Ty ran out of those!) which makes him look even more relaxed than his usual persona. "I see you got the official Black Dragons letterman jacket," Carson says as soon as he reaches Jack.

"Oh, this ol' thing?" Jack queries, and gestures to his torso. "I gotta admit, this is so much better than the Wasabi merchandise...or lack thereof."

Carson snorts. "You know full well that Rudy couldn't afford us jackets even if he tried. His first gi's were a t-shirt and white sweatpants...with belts colored with cheap ass marker. I would know; it was me and Eddie who had to color them after practice!"

Jack starts laughing. "Oh man, that's hilarious."

"But nothing could top the time when he tried to pass off a large branch that he got from his tree as a bow staff," Carson replies, doubling over in laughter. Jack also couldn't keep his composure, and starts laughing. "Yeah, I may hate the guy, but he was too animated."

"Same,"Jack agrees. Their laughing subsides, until they are just looking at each other. "I'm gonna go get ready," Jack announces, and disappears inside the locker room.

Carson hears a snort behind him. "Seems like you two are getting acquainted really fast."

"Yeah...seems like we aren't so different," Carson replies.

Kai raises both eyebrows in curiosity. "You still hate him, right?"

Carson isn't so sure if he hates Jack anymore. There's no real reason to. They are going to be in the same dojo, and Jack only exposed him of being a cheater (which he was) so...is there a reason to hate Jack anymore? He hasn't even realized that he hasn't answered the question, or tear his eyes away from the pathway to the locker room until Kai waves a hand in his face. "What?" he hisses, glaring at Kai.

"Jeez, I didn't know you getting a new friend will make you ignore my questions," Kai frowns. "I'm gonna go train someone."

Carson groans. "He isn't my new friend."

"Ok dude, keep telling yourself that," Kai replies, with his hands up in defeat.

Carson sighs. Of course he would expect something dramatic from Kai. Both him and his cousin are dramatic. It must be a Brewer thing.. "I'm not acting weird...am I?" he asks himself.

"Yes you are," Jack replies jokingly. "Then again, you're always weird so it doesn't count."

Carson sneers. "Fuck you."

"Tempting, but no," Jack teases, with a smirk that Carson couldn't figure out. "Everyone else is partnered up, so you wanna stretch?"

Carson, a little thrown off by the comment, nods a little. "Yeah. Sure. Whatever."


 

When Carson leaves the locker room at the end of the day, he sees Jack talking with both Jake and Heather. He overhears their conversation, particularly because Heather is enthusiastically talking about some party. "We're gonna have a welcome back party for Jake on Friday. You should totally come."

"I agree," Jake shrugs. "I'm gonna invite almost everyone here, including you."

"Although it would be weird inviting Sabrina," Heather comments. "I like her, but she's young."

"So are you," Jake replies. He throws his arm around Heather's shoulders, and rubs his knuckles on her head with his free hand.

"Fuck, Jason, can you stop?" Heather complains. Carson and Jack start laughing simultaneously, watching as Heather grows even more annoyed with Jake messing up her sweaty hair. "Alright! Alright! Uncle!"

"I thought you'd never surrender." Jake lets go of Heather. She lets out a grunt, and tries to fix her hair. "Anyways. I'm gonna send out a mass text so that everyone knows where it is and if you wanna come, you can come."

"We'll see," Jack says, vaguely.

"You're coming, Brewer," Jake says back, pointing at him. "I'll see y'all tomorrow." He grabs his duffel bag and throws his arm around Heather's shoulder again before leaving the dojo.

Jack finally looks next to him, where Carson is practically yawning. "Don't fall asleep now. You gotta take me home first."

"Ha ha," Carson rolls his eyes. "Come on." Carson leaves the dojo, with Jack following right behind him.

Chapter Text

Before anyone knows it, it is already Friday. Carson received the mass text that Tuesday night, and since his parents are more lenient on the weekends, he decides to go. It's not like there's anything important this weekend. After coming straight home from school, he drops his bag on the floor of his room, and takes off his school clothes in replacement for sweatpants. He relaxes on his bed, since the part doesn't start until eight (or really around nine or ten because no one comes early to shindigs).

He hears a knock by his window. "Ugh, what now?" He knows exactly who it is. He doesn't have to guess. So he opens the window and turns around to sit back on his bed. "I'm guessing you got over me being weird?"

"Sure, let's go with that," Kai smirks. He climbs in and sits on the desk chair. "Also...I'm not going tonight."

"Why not?" Carson asks. "Come on. You're my right hand. You're my go-to." He sings, hoping to convince his friend to go to something he didn't want to go to, but knows he will be bored just staying home.

"I can always count on you to sing Drake lyrics," Kai rolls his eyes amusedly. "No, seriously. I'm doing a double tonight so I can't go. I'm here to tell you before you try to find me at my apartment."

"Ah," Carson nods, understanding. Kai works at a karaoke bar that opened last year, and he's there for hours at a time washing dishes, yet has enough stamina to come to the dojo and train extensively. Carson could never understand that, but he never questioned his friend on such matters. "I gotta find a temporary right hand."

"My nuisance of a cousin is available," Kai suggests.

Carson sneers at Kai. "Seriously? I'm not going to Jake's party with him. That's weird, especially when we're not friends."

Kai scoffs disbelievingly. "You might as well. Besides me, you talk to him like you two are friends. You both enjoy karate, and you're both weird as fuck. The only thing standing in your way is that stupid beef between you two about cheating and shit."

Carson sighs relentlessly. "I feel like the only reason you're doing a double tonight is because you suddenly and suspiciously want me to be friends with Jack."

"Or maybe I'm trying to avoid the party," Kai replies.

"You are one asocial dude," Carson shakes his head.

"I know," Kai replies. He pulls out his phone, and widens his eyes. "Shit, I gotta go! Have fun at the party!" In a rush, he exits out of the window.

Carson doesn't even bother closing it.


 

Jack leaves his house, and sees Carson's car right in front of him. He hears a honk, which probably signifies something, so he enters the car without hesitation, putting on his seatbelt immediately. "So, care to tell me why you're taking me instead?" He expected it, but he asks simply for conversational banter.

"Kai bailed on me, so I told Heather I was taking you," Carson replies, and drives off. "Plus, you prefer my driving."

"I never said that," Jack scoffs, rolling his eyes.

"You know you do," Carson replies. He shifts in his seat a little once he reaches a red light. "When I drive, I allow you to touch my radio."

"That's because you have a...wide selection," Jack points out. "And it kills the awkward silence."

"You got a point there, Brewer," Carson agrees. However, right when they talk about awkward silences, an awkward silence takes over. It's inevitable, since both of them aren't friends...they're just not fighting, which is better than fighting.

We're associates, Jack says to himself. It has a better ring to it than just friends. Friends would imply that they like each other, and Jack knows for a fact that he doesn't like Carson, and Carson returns that dislike.

Carson could only think about what Kai told him about his peculiar relationship with Jack; how they get along and they have a lot in common but bitterness over a match is the only thing standing in their way. Carson, at this point, has every right to be disliked, or hated, especially after learning his lesson on cheating in tournaments. He's just glad that he found a dojo that accepted him...at that time of justifiable hatred. Now he has people he can call friends so that's good.

He didn't need Jack as a friend, right?

Once the light turns green, Carson starts driving again. However, that doesn't kill the awkward silence. Rolling his eyes, Jack turns on the radio. Awfully enough, all he can find is static. He sighs, relaxes against the chair again, and just pulls out his phone to ignore the awkward silence until they got there. Carson barely focuses on Jack anyway.

After a few minutes, Carson reaches to the front of Jake's apartment. He finds a parking spot right in front of the apartment. He parks his car there. "We're here."

Jack removes his seatbelt. "Well, this seems boring."

"It's an apartment, idiot," Carson replies, and gets out of the car.

"Again, rude," Jack frowns. He follows suit, slamming the car door harshly to make a point. Carson turns around and raises an eyebrow. "Yeah, I slammed your car door."

"I always thought Kai was dramatic, but you are even worse," Carson tries not to laugh, but Jack's affronted stare breaks him.

"I am not dramatic!"

Carson wipes an imaginary tear from the corner of his eye, and subdues his laughter. "Sure you aren't." He turns around and heads to the apartment. The door is already open and it takes them a few minutes to reach Jake's apartment, which is on the second floor. They could already hear the music from standing at the very end of the hallway, which either means the music is loud or the walls are paper thin.

Heather is standing by the door, with a toothpick between her lips. "Took y'all long enough," Heather says to the duo. "For a minute there, we thought you were making out."

"Ha ha, very funny," Carson mocks. "Were you on the lookout for us?"

"Yeah, everyone but you two are in there," Heather replies. She pulls out a silver key from under the fern plant, and opens the door. The party's already in full swing, with red cups on almost every fixture and the smell of drugs in the air. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna go find Jake. You're welcome to join me."

Carson and Jack look at each other, shrug, and follow Heather to find Jake. It takes them a while because most of the people around them are already pretty fucked up, but in the middle of Jake's living room, he's already there, watching Brody lick salt off a college student's stomach. Heather smacks Jake on his shoulder, and nods towards Carson and Jack.

"You're here!" Jake cheers, and raises both of his arms to hug the bewildered black belts. Carson rolls his eyes, and Jack can literally smell the alcohol on Jake. "At least I can count on a Brewer to show up."

"Kai had to work tonight," Carson replies.

"He probably did it on purpose," Jake chuckles. "I'm not mad anyway. So, since you two are here…" he looks at Heather and back at Carson. "I wanna play a game."

"You're not gonna test us, are you?" Carson jokes. He snatches the red cup from Ryan before he could take his first sip, and takes a sip for himself. "Mmm, good."

"That was mine," Ryan snarls.

"Yeah? And you're at a college party while being on the verge of thirty," Carson spits back. Ryan just glares at him in response.

"I would never put you up for that," Jake says back. "No. Instead, this was Heather's idea before she took the job to go find you guys. She says it gives us a chance to get to know Jack better...other than his name."

Jack snorts. "Or, maybe you could talk to me?"

"No," Jake says flatly. He grabs a half-full tequila bottle, and heads over to the sofa, where it isn't too noisy or crazy. "We're the Black Dragons. We're like Slytherins, but redder."

"Good analogy," Carson points out. "So...what are we doing?"

"Truth or drink," Heather answers, sitting right next to Jake on the sofa. "I spin this bottle, and whoever it lands on i ask them a question. It can be anything. The person can either choose to answer the question truthfully….or, they take a drink of this strong ass tequila here." She waves the bottle, with a smirk.

"And if you drink, you lose your turn to spin," Jake adds. "And this is the strongest bottle of tequila i own so after a couple sips, you'll be fucked up, so yeah...exercise caution my friends and designated drivers. We still have practice tomorrow." He takes back the bottle from Heather. "I go first."

Carson and Jack decide to kneel, while everyone forms a circle. Jake spins the tequila bottle really hard, to the point where it spins for over a minute. It lands on Carson. "My lucky day." With a smirk, Jake tries to think of a question. "Do you prefer guys or girls?"

Carson blinks a couple times, and blushes a little. "I don't have a preference, Jake. You know that."

Jack widens his eyes in surprise. He didn't know that Carson likes both boys and girls. Well, in retrospect, he never talks to Carson, so he shouldn't be so surprised. "I didn't know that!" Heather smirks. She ignores a few murmurs and shoves the bottle in Carson's direction. "Your turn."

Carson spins the bottle a little lazily, and it goes around a couple of times until stopping on Elliott. "When are you gonna stop dyeing your hair?"

Carson ignores the boos and bored chants, while Elliott chuckles, smoothing out his black hair with newly done red tips. "Never." Elliott grabs the bottle and spins it around, landing on Jack. "Yes!" He cheers. "Did you ever have sex with Kim?"

Jack shifts uncomfortably. He has never done anything with Kim other than the occasional make-out sesh, and he isn't sure if he wants to say that. They might chastise him or something. Instead, he grabs the bottle and takes a swig.

"The boy drinks," Jake laughs, while Jack gags a little while closing the cap shut. "We will never know. You may spin again, Elliott."

Elliott spins again, and the bottle lands on Brody. "Ever been caught having sex with someone?"

"If you count getting caught by my cat while I was having sex with that guy last year, then sure," Brody replies. Jake snorts, while everyone else bursts out laughing.

"It doesn't count, but at least you told the truth," Jake shrugs. "Your turn, spiky hair."

Brody grabs the bottle and spins it, and it lands on Heather. "Alright Heathen. Out of all the people in this circle, who would you rather make out with? Jake doesn't count."

"Hahahahaha, cute," Heather snarls. "Hm...Jack."

"Same," Jake replies. Everyone stares at him weirdly. "What? I would never actually do it! Y'all know I have standards!"

"I'm right here," Jack says, feeling a little weirded out that two people want to make out with him...even if it is a game. The shot of tequila is making him a little woozy, but it isn't anything he cannot handle. "Anyway, it's Heather's turn."

"Please land on Jack," Heather whispers, causing everyone around them to chuckle, and spins the bottle. Luckily, it lands on Jack, who groans a little. "It's my lucky day too. Ok...hm...why aren't you and Carson friends?"

"Heather," Carson warns.

"Shhhh, let the boy answer," Heather replies.

"I would assume Carson told you already," Jack replies, looking at Carson suspiciously. "Remember that battle of the dojos tournament a year ago? Before he went to you guys, he was a total cheat and basically turned everyone at my dojo against me. I still haven't forgiven him for it, so there you go. Plus...he's an asshole."

"I'm an asshole that offers to give you rides from the dojo every night," Carson retorts, getting collective 'oooh's' from everyone in the circle. "And even if I was a total cheat, you're in a group of known cheaters."

"Which means you ain't shit, Brewer," Jake coughs, making everyone laugh.

"Yeah yeah yeah." Jack eaves everyone off and grabs the bottle away from Heather to spin. He spins the bottle until it lands on Carson. "Just my luck...have you ever had a boyfriend?"

Several people widen their eyes. Carson clears his threat, after a moment of initial shock and shrugs. "Not really, if you count a guy I made out with a few months ago." Without a beat, Carson spins the bottle. It lands on Jake, who points at himself, and looks amused. "Yeah you!"

"Lay it on me, babe," Jake smirks deviously.

"Explain a dirty wet dream that you had before."

Jake nods his head approvingly. "I like that question. Hm...it involved some girl riding on top of me, a guy wearing an angel halloween costume making out with said girl, and lots of cheese balls…"

"Were you high when you had that dream?" Carson inquires, trying not to laugh.

"I probably was…" Jake replies. "It was also a good halloween...anyway, moving on." The laughter doesn't subside when Jake spins the bottle, and it lands on Brody. "Have you ever yelled out the wrong name during sex? If so, tell us what happened."

"No i have not," Brody rolls his eyes. He grabs the bottle and spins it until it lands on Jack. "Alright Brewer...are you a virgin?"

Jack groans again, and grabs the bottle to drink from it. "The boy drinks again. I told y'all to exercise caution," Jake says, slightly scared of the outcome of having someone taking multiple shots, but extremely intrigued. "But, that just gives Brody another chance to spin."

Brody spins again, and it lands on Carson. Tell us the furthest you've ever been with a boy."

"A haphazard handjob," Carson answers. "So in theory, between second and third base."

Jack blinks a couple times. The alcohol kicks in and is making him buzzed and extremely hot. "Is it me or is it hot in here?" He inquires. He doesn't wait for an answer and takes off the first layer of his shirt, revealing a ribbed undershirt underneath.

"He's white girl wasted," Jake comments. "Carson, you may spin."

"Well...he might be able to answer the questions without second guessing." Heather notes, while Carson spins. It lands on Heather, who shrugs. "Alright buster, what you got for me?"

"Spit or swallow?" Carson inquires. Everyone makes a collective ooh sound while Heather widens her eyes a little.

"Spit," She says, getting past her initial shock. She grabs the bottle and spins it, and it lands on Elliott. "Alright emo boy. What happened during spring break that made you stay at the jailhouse all night?"

"Good question," Jake speaks up.

"My buddies and me were caught smoking weed," Elliott admits. "It was a wild night from start to finish, and sadly, I barely remember most of it."

"Yikes my dude," she replies.

Elliott rolls his eyes and spins the bottle. It spins for half a minute until it lands on Jack, who is a minute away from removing his undershirt. "Have you ever made out with a boy?"

"Mmm, yes," Jack answers honestly. "Before anyone asks, yes, it was Jerry, and yes, it was fun. He's a surprisingly good kisser, but a crappy friend."

"See?" Heather points out to Jake, who seems surprised that Jack opened up without second guessing anything.

"My turn!" Jack takes the bottle, and spins it so sloppily that the bottle barely makes a full circle and it starts to roll over. Jake grabs it before it falls on the floor, and chuckles at Jack. "It counts. Tell us the most embarrassing thing you've ever done in front of a crush."

Jake nods his head, liking the new side of Jack. All he needed was some alcohol, Jake notes. "Alright...so I asked this girl I had a crush on to accompany me to the dance when I was at Seaford High, and my bully at the time...which was Frank, pantsed me in front of everyone. Now, the catch was, I wasn't wearing underwear because I forgot to do laundry so everyone saw my junk...and she said no."

Jack starts laughing, and so does everyone else. "Oh man...I'm sorry for laughing but that was hilarious."

"Eh, I've looked back on it many times and laugh at it too," Jake states, with a shrug.

The game goes for another hour, with one person taking at least one drink from the bottle after Jack's questions got even more dirty. Carson was the only person who is unaffected by the effects of alcohol, since he basically only drank a drop to deceive people into thinking he drank. However, Jack is almost completely wasted and both of his shirts are off after complaining that it was hot. Everyone disperses after the game, while Jack leans on Carson, giggling.

"Alright, time for you to go home," Carson announces.

"No," Jack says adamantly.

Carson ignores him, picks up both shirts, and gets up. Jack stumbles, but Carson is quick to catch him. Jack barely stands upright but Carson doesn't remove his arms from around Jack's hips to keep him stabilized. "Why couldn't you just answer the questions?" He mutters.

"Going so soon?" Heather inquires.

Carson nods. "Well, before he drinks himself to pass-out drunk and wake up naked, phoneless, and dick caricatures on his forehead, I might as well take him home."

"Lame, it's only one in the morning," Heather frowns. "But...you're right. You coming to the dojo later?"

"I'll let you know," Carson answers. He fist bumps Heather and leaves the apartment with Jack. The black belt stumbles and trips on the way to the stairs, but Carson decides that's a bad idea so he takes the elevator. The elevator ride is awkward because Jack is not only shirtless, but mumbles a lot and twirls Carson's hair, and the other person inside the elevator calls them a cute couple. He practically drags Jack to his car, puts him in the backseat, and drives away, feeling slightly frustrated.

Chapter Text

"Mmmmm," Jack mumbles. Opening his eyes, Jack is immediately blinded by a sharp light near the window. "Fuck!" he hisses, closing his eyes once again. His head is now throbbing and his mouth is dry with a gross mixture of morning aftertaste, bile, and cheap tequila. This is the moment where he would say 'I will never drink again' but knowing himself, that will not be the last time.

"Good afternoon sunshine, had a good sleep?" Carson inquires, with an amused smirk. He's gonna have fun with this. Even after Jake warned the both of them about how much to drink, Jack still drinks and gets drunk after three huge sips.

Carson's voice surprises and slightly irritates Jack, mostly because Carson sounds like he's using a loud megaphone to talk to him. The last thing he remembered was getting into Carson's car so why is he here? And...is he even home? He looks around the room, and is unfamiliar with the atmosphere. There are posters of other martial artists and not Bobby Wasabi (which reminds Jack, he has to remove those from his room very soon), an oddly colored flag inside the closet, and satin sheets… "Um…where am I?"

Carson ignores Jack's irritated expression. "Oh, you're at Casa del Hunter because I'm pretty sure that your parents would kill you if you're drunk, and I have a conscience so I wasn't gonna leave you to fend for yourself during your first hangover. Plus...you probably don't remember last night and I want to be the one recanting the idiotic things you did."

"I didn't black out, asshole," Jack growls. He massages his temple hoping that his headache would soothe, but it doesn't work.

"So you do remember telling us about making out with Jerry," Carson says.

"Yes, and I remember telling you that I had a Disclosure vinyl in my room and also that my oldest celebrity crush was Carrie Fisher," Jack replies. "I may be a lightweight, but I didn't black out."

"Yeah, I'm stealing that album," Carson points out. He gives Jack a pain reliever pill and a bottle of water. "It's almost two in the afternoon and I spent the whole morning cleaning vomit from my car while you slept...and also your shirt got caught in some vomit. I also told the Black Dragons I wasn't gonna come because you were still sleeping and I didn't want to leave you here. Something tells me you might go through my shit."

"I'm not nosy." Jack begrudgingly takes the pill and drinks the water. "Should I sleep some more?"

"That's up to you, but for the most part you gotta eat something and stay hydrated to alleviate the symptoms," Carson responds. "If you need anything else, I'm here...until you're ready to leave."

Jack contemplates on leaving. He has to keep remembering that Carson is a cheater - a dirty cheater at that - and that they aren't friends. There is nothing they have in common...except for music taste and hobbies. However, he couldn't stop thinking that if Carson wasn't a cheater and didn't deter him away from his friends, would they be friends? Would they get along? Carson doesn't seem like a bad person at all. He offers rides and even converses with Jack even when he doesn't want to. Plus, he took Jack to his house instead of Jack having to endure a three hour lecture from his parents as to why underage drinking is bad for your health.

His head still hurts and he still generally feels like crap but he isn't going to explain to his parents that he spent the night at a party and at an enemy's house. As far as they are concerned. Jack hasn't told them much about the past week. All they know is that Jack is now at a new dojo. He could still be friends with those assholes to them and they wouldn't suspect a single thing. He probably has to tell them soon.

"I'll stay here."


 

Carson realizes right when Jack was falling asleep (while eating greasy food of course) that the pain reliever is a drowsy one, so he allowed Jack to sleep again while he works on some homework. Right when he finishes his history homework for the day, he hears a knock on the window. He turns around, snorts to himself, and opens the window for his friend. "So...we missed you—"

"Shhhh," Carson hisses, gesturing over to Jack's sleeping figure. He takes Kai outside of his room, closing the door softly.

"What…" Kai tries to wrap his head around the idea of his cousin on his friend's bed. "What happened last night?"

"Tequila happened," Carson says simply. "I didn't want to leave him with his parents, so I took him here. Right now, he's trying to sleep off the pain."

"...this will not cease to be weird for me," Kai shakes his head. It's one thing to see Carson and Jack get along so quickly, but now Jack is sleeping on Carson's bed like their feud never happened. "What else happened last night...besides drinking?"

"You should've been there instead of doing a double," Carson says sarcastically. It really is a shame that Kai wasn't there last night. He would've known a lot of what went down last night, especially the part where he shamelessly came out to everyone (even though Heather and Jake already knew). "Now, you're going to be out of the loop," he teases.

Kai groans. "Come on. Tell me what happened."

"Nothing else, really," Carson replies. "Jake made us play some game so that he can get to know Jack better but Jack opted to drink instead until the Mexican veritaserum settled in his system."

"Did he tell you about his crush on Carrie Fisher?"

Carson nods. "Yeah...he did…"

Kai tries not to laugh. "Good, so now you can tease him about it."

"No, I'm not," Carson says back. Why would he do that? "Also, if you're gonna be here, be silent."

Kai groans, but after seeing Carson's stern look, he sighs. "Alright, fine. Whatever you say." He opens the door, and Jack is already up, wiping his eyes after a nap. "Well, he's already up so…"

"Had a good sleep?" Carson inquires.

Jack shrugs. "Yeah, and I feel a little better. Now, can I have my shirt?"

Carson laughs. "Alright. I'm gonna go get your shirt." He smacks Kai lightly. "Behave." He shuts the door behind him and heads to the laundry room.

Jack suddenly feels awkward, with no shirt on in front of his cousin, who is already staring at him with a mixture of amusement and disbelief. "What?" He asks.

"You and Carson are getting along faster than I expected," Kai says honestly.

"Don't get the wrong idea," Jack sneers. "As far as I'm concerned, Carson and I are not friends. And neither are us."

"Like I want to be friends with you," Kai snorts, and sits on the desk chair. "I'm just saying. You've always been able to make friends easily, unless they, of course, betray your trust or something similar. And just because we don't have a relationship anymore it doesn't mean I don't know you." Jack doesn't say anything, so Kai continues. "If we can squash our beef, you can definitely get over what Carson did to you. I've done way worse and you forgave me."

"You got me there." Jack smoothes his hair from his face, ignoring the knots he's developed in the past 24 hours. "I guess I can…"

Carson comes back with both of Jack's clean shirts. Jack takes them and puts them back on. They were still warm, so it immediately warms his exposed skin. "Thanks."

"No problem," Carson replies.

Kai looks at his watch, and pretends he has somewhere to go. "Oh, damn. I gotta go. Got a thing at a place." Jack smiles humorously because he knows that Kai lied to give them alone time again. Kai ignores Carson's complaints about just getting here and leaves through the window. Once the window is shut, there's an awkward silence.

Jack thinks about what Kai told him earlier once again. "I think we need to talk."

"About what?"

"Listen," Jack sighs, putting his hands on his knees. "I know that you kinda hate me, and I'm not fond of you either, but I don't want to be mad at you anymore. Especially when I decided to come to a truce with my sociopathic cousin, who tried to kill me at one point." Carson doesn't say anything, which gives Jack more room to continue. "I'm not saying we have to be friends."

It would be nice though, Carson muses to himself. "Ok. We can agree on a compromise."

"Good," Jack smiles. "However, if you do something even worse than cheating last year, I won't speak to you ever again."

"I'm not a cheater anymore," Carson defends. After that issue with his old dojo last year, he swore to never cheat again, even when he joined a dojo that is notorious for cheating. He just hated how he lost all of his friends and barely made new ones until Kai joined and Heather felt comfortable to talk to a new student that also went to her school. "However, you are gonna teach me some of your moves, right?"

"Sure...tomorrow though." Jack chuckles, and does a quick fist bump with Carson. "I think I need to get home. My parents are probably worried sick."

"Your phone hasn't been going off the hook," Carson replies.

"Still, I gotta go," Jack prods on. "Seems like you're three blocks away. I can just show myself out and walk home."

Carson wants to stop him - mostly because he has absolutely no one else to hang out with for now...and also because it gives him time to get outside of the empty house - but before he opens his mouth, Jack is already out of his room.


 

"Did you do the homework?"

Jack breaks out of his reverie to look at Taylor once again. "Wait, what?"

"The science homework, silly," she repeats. "I had a problem with question six and I was wondering if you did it."

"You're smarter than me though," Jack states.

Taylor sighs deeply. She knows Jack didn't do it. "Even the smartest of geniuses struggle with their work."

Jack rolls his eyes. That sounds like something Sabrina Tate would say. "Ok, you caught me. I didn't get to do it. I was at a party on Friday, slept my hangover off on Saturday, and made up for lost time at my dojo on Sunday. I was kind of busy."

"So was I," Taylor replies snippily. "I had to spend the weekend looking for a job, since my dad lost his business and I have to resort to being middle class...yet, I still had time to do my homework."

Jack is seconds close to replying with even more snark, but he watches his mouth after looking at Taylor's warning stare. "I'm not about to argue with you about who was busy. Point is, I did not do my homework, and you did."

"Listen Jack," Taylor folds her arms on her chest and glares at Jack. "I like you and I think you're cool, but I'm not going to allow you to sit here and be lazy while I do the work. Our teacher said you would always do that when you partnered with Milton, and I'm not that type of person." Jack glares at his teacher for a moment, and then looks at Taylor again. "The reason why we're supposed to have the homework today is because we have a lab pertaining to the homework. Instead you were not paying attention in class so you wouldn't know about that."

"You're right," Jack sighs. He already feels guilty for contributing to nothing in his science class, but after being with a borderline genius for his whole academic career to help him with his homework, he figures it would work in his favor again. Now, he doesn't even like Milton to look at him and he has a great lab partner who takes pride in doing partner work...and isn't scared of Jack. "I'll do more work next time."

"That's all I ask," Taylor smirks.

"So, since you did the homework…" Jack pulls out his notebook and pencil. "That means you can let me copy off you until the end of the period."

Taylor chuckles. "Fine. Go ahead. If you can answer question six let me know." She watches as Jack copies her homework, and her stomach flutters.

Chapter Text

Despite what they agreed on, Carson and Jack have been getting along even more since Saturday. None of them notice, of course, but it's not like anyone is complaining. However, what Jack notices is that his ex-friends have been glaring at him even more...but he doesn't care anymore. He's slowly getting over what they did, and that matters to him.

He also notices that Taylor's been acting weird. He's gonna talk to her later, but it's lunch time and he notices that she has made some friends (also known as the cheer squad) and goes to his own friends.

"Who were you staring at?" Sabrina inquires, loud enough for everyone at the table to hear and turn their heads.

"No one," Jack lies. "Make some space, jeez."

Elliott moves over and pulls a chair from an empty table, placing it on the empty space. "There you go, your majesty."

"I can do without the nicknames, Lennox," Jack jokes, and sits down next to Elliott.

"So, who were you staring at?" Sabrina repeats herself, a smirk reaching at the corner of her lips. Jack always suspects that Sabrina gets the truth out of people, but he is not going to let her do such a thing. As much as he loves his new friends, they are still embarrassing...even without Jake, Heather, and Carson. "Come on, Jack. It's just easier to admit it now than to keep it locked in."

"Jack was staring at someone? I bet it's the new girl," Brody chimes in. Jack sighs, and puts his hand over his face. "Yup, it totally was."

"You mean Taylor?" Elliott asks, pointing at the blond sitting next to a cheerleader. "She's out of our leagues."

"Yeah, but Jack's been talking to her recently," Brody points out. "Isn't that right, Jack?"

"I hate all of you," Jack groans, and opens his bag of chips.

"That means you like her," Brody teases, his smirk growing wider. "I think you should ask her out."

Jack shakes his head. "I don't think so."

"Listen, if a former Swathmore rich girl can talk to you, you have more of a chance than any of us," Elliott says, running his fingers through his hair. "And I know you're over Kim...right?"

"Of course I'm over her," Jack replies, trying not to sneer. He hasn't even thought about Kim for several days, which is good considering that he felt like crying whenever he saw her making out with Jerry all last week. "Now, can we stop talking about this?"

"Not until you ask her out on a date," Sabrina teases. "Go ahead, Jack. She's right there."

"You heard the lady," Elliott says, gesturing to the table. "Ask her out."

"Ask her out!" Everyone chants, making Jack turn a crimson red in embarrassment. Why are they like this, he thinks.

Realizing that he cannot get away from this, Jack gets up and slowly approaches the cheer squad table. The only ones who sit there nowadays are Grace, Donna, and Erica, who's a new student from Alabama and has a brother that attends his dojo - Ryan. He knows next to nothing about her but he does know that she lives with her brother and his girlfriend. There's also Katie, who sits next to Lindsay (ugh) and a few other girls Jack doesn't know about.

He looks back momentarily, sneering once everyone else makes a 'go ahead' gesture, and turns back around. He clears his throat, and walks closer to the table. Taylor is already on her way to getting up when she turns around to see Jack standing there. "Hey Jack." She ignores the knowing giggles from Erica, Grace and Donna.

"Hey," Jack replies, scratching the back of his neck in nervousness. "So, I came here to ask you—"

"Would you like to go on a date with me on Saturday?" Taylor finishes, completely interrupting and perplexing Jack. The cheer squad giggles once again, much to the annoyance of Taylor.

Jack stammers, "Uh…yes, I would like to. Actually…"

"You were gonna ask me," Taylor guesses, blushing a little.

"Yes, but now that you asked me, the hard part is over," Jack replies. "So, I'll see you on Saturday?"

"I'll pick you up at six," Taylor answers, and awkwardly sidesteps around Jack to leave the cafeteria.

Jack turns back around and goes back to his table. "So, how did it go?" Sabrina questions.

"I hate all of you," Jack replies, grabbing his trash and his backpack. "And I have a date on Saturday." Ignoring everyone's cheers, he leaves the cafeteria, successfully evading anyone looking at his completely red face.


 

Once Carson enters the dojo after school, he notices no one practicing. Jack is rolling his eyes because Elliott and Brody are giving him tips for his date on Saturday, while Sabrina tries not to laugh at Jack's pain. "What's going on?" He inquires.

Elliott and Brody stop talking, long enough to see Carson standing there with Heather and Jake behind him. "Oh, Jack has a date on Saturday with Taylor."

"Taylor Brownstein?" Heather repeats. "How did you even…"

"She goes to our school and Jack's been talking to her a lot," Brody explains. Jack slaps him on the arm, prompting him to stop.

"Finally! Jack's moving on," Jake says, going over to pat Jack on the back, almost in a 'well done' fashion. "I think that's an accomplishment."

"Yeah, but I'm still perplexed that it's Taylor," Heather says honestly. Jack furrows his eyebrows, but it doesn't deter her general opinion. "What? The girl played hard to get. A lot of boys...and some girls, always would ask her out but she always says no."

"Were you one of them?" Jack inquires.

"Maybe," Heather blushes.

Carson stands there; he couldn't feel anything but contempt. Why was he feeling contempt anyway? He knows that Jack and him aren't necessarily friends (they're friendly, Carson once explained) but this doesn't sit right with him. He's met Taylor a few times and he thinks she's a nice girl, but that's not the case. Jack broke up with his ex two weeks ago and came here to get back at them by beating them in the tournament that is in three weeks, and even if someone is insensitive, it would take a little while to get over your ex, depending on the nature of the relationship. Maybe this is just a friendly date, Carson says to himself. Dates aren't always romantic. His 'date' with that one guy ended in something messy and never talked about, and his dates with anyone else never lasted long. He only had one girlfriend and they only lasted a year before his dad transferred back here, and that's the only romantic thing he's ever had in his life. Of course, he did love her.

He puts on a fake smile (that he's perfected way before he came back to town and sabotaged Jack at their old dojo) and claps Jack on the shoulder. "Good for you. Maybe you'll finally stop crying on the phone because you saw Kim make out with Jerry again."

Jack sneers at Carson. "I hate you."

"Good to know," Carson deadpans. He honestly wants to punch something to distract him. "So, are we gonna train or not?"


 

It's already Saturday and Jack waits inside his house for the date. He's feeling incredibly nervous, even more nervous than his first date with Kim where he had to climb up a mountain to bury a 'bird'. It was one of the most interesting moments of his life, but also the worst. However, he appreciated his friends for understanding.

Or, he used to appreciate what they did. Now, he hates them and wants nothing to do with them.

Brody and Elliott give him some advice, but it's Heather's advice that gets to him more, because not only is he getting advice from an experienced girl, it's also something he still needed even after having one girlfriend in his life. Since it's the first date, he almost doesn't bring anything, but then his mom received yellow flowers from a friend on her birthday yesterday and he grabs one from the vase, just because.

He's checking his phone again when the doorbell rings. "Mom, I'm going," he yells.

"Alright honey, have fun!" His mother shouts back.

Jack opens the door, and stares at Taylor for a few seconds. "Wow."

"Is it too much? Grace told me what to do the whole time," Taylor replies. She has her hair up in a bun, her face is covered with a practically natural look, and she has on a casual gray dress. It's as casual as it can get.

"It isn't too much," Jack honestly replies. He had on a collared shirt, a pair of black jeans, and a vest, so he shouldn't say much. "Don't worry about it."

"Ok, good," she smiles.

Jack closes the door behind him. He pulls out the yellow flower and gives it to her. "For you."

"A yellow flower, the color of joy and friendship," Taylor smirks. "Thank you."

Jack grimaces a little; so that's what it means… "Yeah, I didn't want to show up empty handed."

"I don't necessarily care about that, but it's still nice," she says honestly. They walk over to her car, which is the only thing they can keep ever since her parents lost most of their money. Jack opens the driver door for Taylor, which makes her giggle. "Why, thank you."

"You're welcome," he replies. He goes over to the passenger's seat. As soon as he puts on his seatbelt, Taylor drives away. "It seems like everyone knows how to drive but me."

"It's not that great, but you do get a sense of autonomy," Taylor explains. "I must warn you though, road rage is real."

Jack hasn't seen that happen with anyone he knows that drive; his parents drive smoothly, and the only other person that gives him rides, Carson, barely drives far enough for things to happen on the road. "Yeah, but, taking the bus is lame."

"You got me there," Taylor laughs. She's never taken the bus, thanks to her learning early and keeping the only commercial car in their garage, but she has heard that the bus is disgusting. "So, if you asked me out and I said yes, which was gonna happen, where would you take me?"

Jack chuckles. "I would tell you to be here by midnight and we can go stargazing at the highest point at Mount Seaford."

"You hopeless romantic," she coos. "That should be like...a second date."

"Done," Jack replies.

Taylor rolls her eyes, but the blush on her cheeks say a different story.


Jack chuckles once he sees the flashing lights of the pier carnival. "A carnival for a first date?"

"It was either this or bowling," Taylor argues. "However, the only bowling alley is gross when I went inside to see if it was doable. And before you ask, yes I do my research before going on dates. It's been weeks since I had to assimilate to a life of not being rich and besides soireés and private showings of movies that don't even have previews yet, I haven't experienced much of teenage life."

"Reasonable," Jack nods. Plus, who ever said that this was a bad idea for a date? He gets out of the car and quickly walks to the driver's side to open the door for Taylor.

"Once again," Taylor smirks, grabbing Jack's hand and climbing out of her car. "Are you trying to woo me, Brewer?"

"Maybe," Jack answers, with a flirty smirk. "Come on." Jack doesn't let go of her hand as they walk towards the open carnival. There were some couples, but most of the attendees were families at most. At least none of the couples were making out or anything.

Both Taylor and Jack are still giggling by the time they get to Taylor's car. They play games for what feels like hours and get on almost every ride that their stomachs can handle. Their last pit stop is at a small circus show, however one of the performers catch on fire and another performer gets a feather and glue pie on their face as a cruel joke. The fire causes the performance to shut down early. It's already almost midnight anyway, so they just decide to go home.

"That feather trick is still hilarious!" Jack doubles over, his sides starting to hurt from excessive laughter.

"I'm still trying how he mistook it for banana cream pie," Taylor explains. She tries to stop laughing long enough to start the car and leave the parking lot. "It was clearly glue and feathers."

"That was fun anyway," Jack sighs, finally feeling like he has his breathing under control. "Thanks for taking me."

"I should thank you for approaching me on Thursday," Taylor replies. "I was gonna seriously chicken out. Like...both Donna and Grace were enabling me to go and ask you out."

Jack hasn't heard those names in a while. However, they both stopped being friends with Kim way before he started dating the blonde so she figures that is the reason. "Funny, because everyone at my table pushed me to ask you."

"We got some good friends then," Taylor points out.

"Yeah, we do," Jack replies. If Milton and Jerry were his friends again, they'd probably do the same thing...if Kim wasn't his girlfriend of course. He wonders if he'll ever forgive them for betraying him, but Jack keeps thinking of them glaring at him at school and that's enough confirmation: it's not going to happen anytime soon.

The car ride is silent, but it isn't an awkward silence, like his car rides with Carson (well, before they agreed on being friendly). Taylor sighs annoyingly when there's traffic on the street, and Jack ignores his texts from the black dragons group chat, asking how his date went. They will find out tomorrow.

Taylor stops at Jack's house. She gets out of the car and goes to the other side, where she opens the door for Jack. "Why, thank you," he says with a smile, grabbing Taylor's hand and getting out of the car.

"Who said reverse chivalry was dead?" She quips. Jack snorts, and they walk to Jack's front door. "So, second date?"

"You willing to be up by midnight and going stargazing?" Jack inquires.

"I'll sacrifice one night," she replies. "Good night Jack."

"Goodnight." Jack leans over and kisses Taylor for a few seconds. It's only a few seconds, but he already feels the familiar sparks inside him, like when he kissed Kim for the first time. As soon as he pulls away, they both look in different directions, with their faces redder than Taylor's lipstick.

"That was interesting," she says finally, and looks at Jack again. "Do it again."

Jack doesn't even say anything, and he kisses Taylor again.

Chapter Text

Jack enters the dojo, and everyone turns their heads excitedly. “So, how was the date?” Elliott asks, not even missing a beat.

“Settle down children,” Jack teases. “It was great.” It truly was. After the date, she takes Jack home and they spend a good few minutes kissing on his front porch. Once he enters the house, his mother is grinning from ear to ear, hoping Jack would at least mention the girl’s name because she knows it is not Kim. Jack finds it slightly embarrassing but he talks to his mom nonetheless.

“Details?” Heather prods, hoping that her friend would at least not skip out on anything.

Jack rolls his eyes. “Can I at least get ready to practice?” Without hearing an answer to his hypothetical question, Jack goes to the locker room to get dressed.

Carson exhales in relief. He doesn’t want to hear about Jack’s date. He wraps his hands with a bandage, because his knuckles are still raw when he punched that bag so hard he starts to bleed on Thursday (whether that was because Jack had a date or not is still his business) and starts to practice with Kai.

“So, what’s got you punching things until you bleed?” He asks.

Carson punches the blockers on Kai’s hands a few times. “Nothing.”

“Seriously, Hunter, you’ve been like this since Jack announced that he had a date - hold on.” Kai drops his hands, and stares at Carson precariously. “Are you jealous that Jack had a date and you didn’t?”

“Get the fuck out of here,” Carson scoffs. “Why would I be jealous of that?”

“Well, the girl he’s dating is kinda cute,” Kai points out.

Carson silently agrees; Taylor is cute. However, that is not the reason. “Whatever. I’m not saying anything anymore. Now, can we practice?”

“Listen, I say this because I genuinely think you’re my friend,” Kai starts, and puts his hands up for defense. “If you are feeling lonely, go and get yourself a girlfriend. It’s that simple.”

It saddens Carson that his close friend doesn’t know of his bisexuality, but he’s not going to say anything...especially now. “It really isn’t that simple, but whatever you say.”

“Seriously,” Kai replies. He blocks every punch Carson throws at him, and once he tries to hit Carson, he ducks out of the way. “Aren’t there any girls at your school that intrigue you?”

No, Carson thinks. He’s dated the only few cute girls in his school that aren’t snotty or bitchy, and if he wanted to date any other girl, he would have to go to Jack’s school to find girls. He could also start dating boys for real again, but he’s the only bisexual guy at Swathmore, to his knowledge. (The rest of the male population are either straight or ‘experimenting’, which was the case for the boy he made out with a few months ago.) “I’ll think about it.”

The conversation leaves at that, because Jack comes back, with his gi on. The first person who approaches him is Heather (of course) along with the rest of the dojo, except for Carson and Kai. Now that Jack is comfortable, he can tell all about his date with Taylor, which fuels Carson’s uneasiness even more. He punches the bag with so much force that it sends Kai flying back on the floor. Luckily, it doesn’t hit him in the face.

“Shit,” Carson hisses.

“What the hell?” Kai cries, feeling sharp, brunt pain in his abdominal area.

Carson tries to say something, but couldn’t. He stares at Kai for a few seconds before realizing that everyone else stops talking and are now staring, wondering what’s going on. Carson decides to hide his uneasiness; “Get up.”

Kai raises an eyebrow, confused at his friend’s sudden mood swing. Despite this, he gets up. At this point, the rest of the students go back to their respective conversation, while Carson holds the punching bag this time. Kai wants to address the issue, but the look on Carson’s face tells him not to talk any further.


 

School the next day is interesting for Jack. Now that his relationship with Taylor is a little more steady than what it used to be, most of the student body just assumed that Jack has finally moved on from Kim, or is getting revenge on her by dating a more attractive, a little more rich, and a lot more friendly blond girl. Well, the first part is true, and the part where Taylor is the more attractive and friendly part is also true. However, he’s not dating Taylor for revenge. He has his own way of getting revenge on his former girlfriend.

The tournament is in about two weeks, but tomorrow is KarateCon. At first, the black dragons weren’t going to go, but Jack happened, and sensei Ty has enough tickets for his best students to attend, so now he’s going along with Carson, Kai, and Heather.

What also makes Jack interested in going, which he already knew months before, was that the sixteen year old fitness guru and product endorser Sloane Jennings will make an appearance, and she will pick a dojo to sponsor while she’s in town. A few months ago, Jack couldn’t figure out if Rudy or Kim was her biggest fan, but now he’s convinced that Heather is the hugest fan.

She couldn’t stop going on a fangirl tirade once she received her pass to KarateCon, with a picture of a beaming Sloane Jennings laminated on the pass. They are already activated, and tomorrow, everyone meets up in the front of the dojo to attend.

“I still cannot believe that Jack and Heather get to meet Sloane Jennings tomorrow!” Sabrina complains. “I wanted to go!”

“Sorry, orange belts aren’t allowed to go,” Elliott teases. The whole table starts laughing but Sabrina narrows her eyes on Elliott. “I’m not lying though. Plus, call us when your mom tells you that you can stay past six on a weekday.”

“Fuck you,” Sabrina growls.

“Don’t worry,” Jack assures, and puts a hand on Sabrina’s shoulder. “If she picks our dojo tomorrow, everyone will meet her.”

“Yeah, if,” Sabrina scoffs. “Until you came along, we were known as cheaters. No one liked us, and who contributed to the rumors the most was your old stupid dojo. Sloane’s not gonna pick us just because you’re there.”

“Dang, she’s right,” Brody agrees. “We suck.”

“That’s why the best of the best are going to prove them wrong,” Jack replies. “We’re gonna show them wrong, that our dojo takes pride in hard work, consistency, and looking good. Plus, knowing my former sensei, he’ll embarrass himself enough to drive Sloane Jennings away.”

Everyone laughs, making Jack feel even more inclusive. The old him would’ve frowned upon saying something so mean but now that he has his A-game, he regrets not a single thing.


 

KarateCon is bigger than expected. On the way there, it’s a very quiet trip, but as soon as they reach the civic center, everyone is talking amongst themselves again. What really gets them talking is that their panel is right next to Jack and Carson’s old dojo.

“As if I didn’t get enough of them at school,” Jack mutters.

Carson notices Jack’s sudden mood change, knowing that it is about their old dojo. “Don’t worry about those losers. Let’s make sure we look better than them.”

“That’s the spirit,” Sensei Ty smirks.

That doesn’t lift Jack’s spirit. Instead, he decides to just smile through the bullshit. His false smile doesn’t even falter when the members of Jack’s former dojo make their way over here.

“‘Sup losers?” Jerry greets, in a mocking fashion that makes the black dragons sneer at him.

“Are you lost?” Kai inquires, sauntering over to the rival group. “Were you looking for the loser panel?”

“Yeah, the security guard told me it was right here,” Kim spits back.

Jack moves from behind the table and stands in front of his ex-friends. “What the fuck do you people want? Either you want a picture, or you can leave. I prefer you do the latter.”

“That’s no way to talk to your once good friends, don’t you think?” Jerry says condescendingly.

Jack rolls his eyes. “Oh please. I don’t care about how I speak to you, especially because we’re not friends. Now, you’re in our spot. Go to your panel before I personally show you there.”

“We should leave the sparring for the tournament,” Heather speaks up, pulling Jack away from Jerry. When no one budges, she sighs. “You heard me! Leave!” Kim glares at her former dojo mates, while Jerry drags her away. Heather fake smiles and waves at her, wishing she could flip the bird without angry parents berating her. “Ugh. I hate her!”

“We’re only here for a few hours and then we can go,” Jack says. He wants to keep his energy to recruit Sloane Jennings to their dojo, but seeing his ex-girlfriend physically and mentally drains him, even after admitting to Elliott that he’s over her. “Let’s just show everyone what we’re made of.”

“Cheaters?” Carson says, jokingly.

Jack turns his head to sneer at Carson. “No. We’re better than them!” He gestures towards their former dojo, already setting their panel up for the day.

“Ok, whatever makes you sleep at night.” Carson playfully winks at Jack, and helps his fellow partners fix the panel. Jack rolls his eyes, and helps out.


 

The convention is already swarming with potential customers, and the black dragons get more than several signatures. They might be able to get more students than what they currently have, which is around fifteen. Jack tries to ignore his old sensei making a bigger fool of himself and failing to get any signatures, while Kim tries not to let her temper make the situation worse. Heather convinces a group of cute girls to join the dojo for a free class, and Kai convinces some ten year olds that they can become black belts like him in a few years (which isn’t exactly untrue, but he leaves out the hard work and perseverance that comes with getting a higher rank). Jack and Carson do several moves to attract students.

It’s safe to say that the Black Dragons were doing significantly better.

Their high almost washes off once Sloane Jennings and her agent show up during a fake sparring match between Jack and Heather. “Is that….”

“Yup,” Kai replies, not allowing Carson to finish his question.

Heather flips Jack on the floor once she notices the fitness guru. “Why, hello Miss Jennings.”

“Hi,” Sloane giggles.

Jack raises an eyebrow, and uses the small distraction to knock Heather on the padded floor. “Would you look at that. I win.”

Heather glares at Jack. “Thanks for embarrassing me.”

“Miss Jennings!” Sense Ty pushes Jack over to the side and extends his hand. Jack glares at his sensei, while Sloane reluctantly shakes hands with him. “My name is Tyler and I am the sensei and owner of the black dragons dojo, located a few miles from here.”

“His name is Tyler?” Jack inquires, laughing nervously.

“He only refers to himself as Ty unless he meets someone famous,” Heather replies. “Other than that, we should never call him Tyler.”

Jack nods. “Oh, well, that makes sense.” Both Jack and Heather walk back to their panel, where Kai is sitting down on his phone and Carson is practically doing the same. “So, you’re just gonna sit there and do nothing?”

“Pretty much,” Kai shrugs.

“Sloane Jennings is right over there,” Heather argues, pointing over to the brunette who turns her head quickly once she notices Heather looking back at her. “Something tells me she likes girls.”

“Something tells me you’re reaching,” Jack chuckles.

Heather glares at Jack. “How can it be a reach if I’m sapphic myself?” She turns to Sloane again. “Ever since she became famous, she hasn’t had a boyfriend...whether as a genuine relationship or as a publicity stunt. That says a lot.”

“Or maybe she doesn’t like all that attention?” Carson suggests.

“Ugh, I rest my case,” Heather groans. “But still. We need to impress her.”

“Kinda hard to not impress her when the other dojos embarrassed themselves,” Jack mentions, directing his hand towards his former dojo. “I mean seriously.”

“Shit, you right,” Kai snorts.

“So let me guess, Heather wants to woo Sloane Jennings,” Carson smirks. “Doesn’t surprise me at all. She is good looking.”

“I don’t want to woo her,” Heather sneers. “I just want genuine girl friendship, is all. Kim destroyed that when she went over to the dark side and Sabrina is still at an inappropriate age to go farther than ten miles from Seaford.”

“Jennings at twelve o’clock,” Carson teases, once he sees Sloane coming this way.

Heather turns around, and cusses. “God damn it! How do I look?”

“Oh, and you want girl friendship?” Jack laughs.

Heather shakes her head, and sneers at Jack. “Whatever. I’m still trying to impress her.”

“Hey guys!” Sloane greets.

“Hi there,” Heather greets back, in a suspiciously flirtatious tone. “My name’s Heather Davis, and this is Jack Brewer, Carson Hunter, and the one sitting down is Kai, who’s also Jack’s cousin.”

“Hey everyone,” Sloane waves at the rest of the dojo. “From what I’ve seen, this is the only dojo that not only has talented students but a sensei that doesn’t embarrass both his students and himself...I think I’m gonna pick this dojo.”

“You made a good decision,” Jack says, feeling triumphant.

“Yeah, you did,” Heather agrees, smirking. “So, now that you’re a black dragon…”

“We are not doing another initiation,” Kai interjects disapprovingly. “This stops now. Tell Jake he can stuff it if he doesn’t agree.”

Jack snorts. “That’s my cousin. The Debbie Downer.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, did you or did you not stay home crying your eyes out all day after your initiation?” Kai argues. “Oh, yeah, you did. No one else, and that’s it.”

Jack glares at his cousin, however he knows that he has a point. Jack was a mess and he wouldn’t wish that on anyone who’ve been in his situation. “Fine.”

“I was suggesting something else, but thanks for jumping to conclusions, blonde Brewer,” Heather sneers. She turns to Sloane, ignoring that she’s looking at Heather suggestively once again. “So, do you have time to hang with us after the convention?”

“Yeah, I do,” Sloane answers. “Thank god my agent is a resident here, and he isn’t a total asshat like my last agent. He tried to set me up in publicity stunt relationships and almost made me want to quit karate for a while.”

“Well, we’re not like that,” Carson says honestly. He starts to clean up the panel, helping his fellow teammates. The convention is about to end, so there's no reason to stay here anyway. “So, besides martial arts, what do you like to do for fun?”

“I like to sing,” Sloane replies, with a nonchalant shrug. She hasn’t done it in several years, but she really does enjoy it. “It’s a hobby though. I really do enjoy martial arts. I still want to be a sensei one of these days.”

“You and me both,” Jack grins.

The only thing left to do is to load everything else inside the large van that Sensei Ty rented for the day, and go back to the dojo where the rest of the students are waiting for them with Ryan supervising and coaching the students. Knowing Ryan however, no one is practicing. He’s lazier than sensei Ty, if that was possible. Not that Jack argued - their anticipation to meet Sloane and their confidence that Jack and Carson is going to defeat everyone in the tournament is enough. Of course, practice makes perfect, which is what the students don’t understand.

 

Chapter Text

Sabrina is the first person to notice the famed martial artist on her way to the dojo, talking to both Jack and Heather. "Oh my god, they recruited her! They actually recruited her!"

"What?" Elliott gets up from the place mat and looks out the window. There she is, getting closer to the dojo. "What did they do?"

"It could be because we're awesome?" Brody inquires.

"Or maybe Sloane's totally making googly eyes at Heather," Jake says, with a wild smirk on his face. "I always got sapphic vibes from her, but I didn't think it was this obvious."

Brody grunts. "What makes you think that?"

"I have bisexual powers," Jake replies sarcastically. "Now move out the way. You're blocking the door."

Brody moves away, which allows the rest of the students to enter the dojo, including Sloane, who tears her eyes away from Heather momentarily to look around the dojo. "Wow. It's really clean in here."

Sabrina stops punching the sparring dummy and turns around to see Sloane Jennings inside the dojo. "This cannot be real."

"The little one is Sabrina Tate," Carson introduces the orange belt. "The green belt is Elliott Lennox, the black belt with spiky hair is Brody Carmichael, and the slightly taller, and more annoying guy over here is—"

"Jason West," Jake interrupts Carson, refraining from glaring at the boy. "But, you can call me Jake."

"Hi everyone, it's nice to meet you all," Sloane smiles genuinely. Meeting so much people makes her feel a little nervous, but they seem like a nice bunch. She's already met half of them at the convention, but meeting the rest of the dojo reinstates that the dojo has more kids than anticipated. Most independent dojos had around twenty kids, but the dojos in Seaford only have around 5-10 students. The Wasabi dojo, Jack's former dojo, now has eight when they previously had ten; while the Black Dragon dojo always had around fifteen to twenty students. Jack only knows of ten because they stay together like a wolf pack, even if they go to different schools. "I'm hoping to learn a lot from this dojo."

"You can also learn a lot about us while you're at it," Jake says back.

"That too," Sloane replies.

"So, are you ready to show us what you got?" Jake inquires. "We usually spar with the new students to see what they got."

"Yeah, you can spar with me," Heather continues.

Sloane shrugs. "Sure. Let's do it."


 

After ten minutes of battling it out, Sloane reigns victorious. Heather is impressed, mostly because Sloane's talent isn't a fabrication. She gets up from the floor and congratulates Sloane. "Well...you're as talented as you claim to be."

"You're also good," Sloane replies.

"That was fun to watch," Jack announces. He gets up, and throws an arm around Sloane. "You'll fit right in."

"Hold up," Jake blurts out, interrupting Jack. "First, she has to—"

"No," Kai states firmly. "No more initiations. This ends now, West."

Jake rolls his eyes. "And why not?"

"Your last initiation triggered my cousin, you idiot," Kai argues. Jack widens his eyes, surprised that his cousin that hates every fiber of Jack is defending him instead. "Plus, I'm not ok with scaring her away just because you want new people to feel welcome. That's it. No more initiations."

"Yeah, he has a point," Jack agrees. He hates to see his friend and sparring partner feel shitty for what he did to Jack unintentionally, but he doesn't like it. Plus, he's pretty sure Milton, Jerry, and Kim had to remove the egg from their storefront; the last time this happened, Rudy made him and the rest of his ex-friends clean his car. "Let's just welcome her here instead. She is temporary, after all."

"Fine," Jake sighs. "Welcome to the family, Jennings."

"Thanks," Sloane laughs. She is starting to like everyone inside the dojo, something she hoped for since the start of her career. She's glad her new agent is allowing her to stay in her hometown for a few months until July since her last agent would make her do nothing fun. "So where do you guys go when you don't practice...or go to school?"

"We...really don't go anywhere," Jack replies. "That needs to change."

"Well, we do have to practice for—"

"Shut up, Hunter," Jack interrupts through gritted teeth. He starts to think - his old hangout place, Falafel Phil's, reminds him too much of his ex-friends, so that's off limits. He doesn't like Circus Burger that much, after some incident that made him and his ex-friends banned from the place for a year (that has been lifted but Jack still refused to go since he's still freaked out by clowns). There's only one other place that they can chill, and it also has a—"I got it."

"What?"

"There's a place by the mall that is not only a restaurant but also a karaoke bar," Jack explains. "Sloane likes singing, so…"

"Ugh, I work there," Kai groans. "In fact, I have a double. I gotta go." Without saying goodbye, Kai rushes over to the locker rooms.

Jack chortles. "At least we'll have someone to bother while we're there."


 

Everyone agrees to go instead of staying at the dojo, since they are pooped out from the convention and practically sparring all day. Sabrina actually goes with them after asking her parents, which surprises everyone because they don't let Sabrina out much (Jack doesn't understand, but everyone else does) but she has to be home by nine, which is a very decent time for everyone to leave.

Jack steps out of the locker room and unlocks his phone. Without hesitation, he texts Taylor to see if she wants to come. Carson watches Jack from the corner of his eye, feeling the same uneasiness he felt when he found out about Jack's date with Taylor.

He doesn't want this to affect his — friendship? frenemyship? is that a word? — friendship with Jack, but he knows that they haven't talked since Jack told the whole dojo about his date with Taylor. At least, a conversation between the two.

"Stop being jealous and get yourself a girlfriend," Kai snorts. "I would tell you to go with Sloane, but I think Heather is right about her being gay."

"Shut up," Carson rolls his eyes. "Come on Brewer, let's go. Unless you're getting a ride with your girlfriend."

"Uh…" Jack checks his phone, and he looks at the confirming text. "No, she'll meet us there."

"I'm gonna go with Jake and Heather," Sloane speaks up. Looks like Sabrina is joining them too, since she stands right next to Heather. "Let's group up there."

"Yeah but as soon as I get there, I gotta start my shift," Kai points out. "If we don't leave soon enough, I'mma be late, so floor it Hunter."

"Come on," Carson waves the rest of the group over. He hopes it won't feel too cramped inside his car because not only does he have Jack and Kai, he also has to take Brody and Elliott, who for some reason, opted to ride with them, even though Jake has the bigger vehicle. He doesn't mind much because he likes them, but space is still an issue.

"I call shotgun!" Jack declares, and makes a run for it.

"When did I retire my life to hanging out with children?" Kai sneers, but it is more half hearted.

Carson laughs. "Come on. You know you love him."

"If you call, 'I don't like you but we're only being civil because we attend the same dojo' love, then sure, I love my cousin Jack," Kai replies sarcastically.

"I love you too!" Jack shouts,

"Aw, you two really do love each other," Elliott coos, but stops once Kai slaps him across the head. "Ok, jeez. No need to get violent."

Carson auto-unlocks the door, prompting Jack to take the passenger seat. Kai, Elliott, and Brody take the back seat, which squeezes them so tight it reminds Jack of his time in China where Jerry, Eddie, and Milton tried to take a van to his match but ended up in a Chinese wedding (which, by the way, they're still legally married to) which is still funny, even when he doesn't talk to any of them anymore.

Carson drives off, and the ride is silent with Kai occasionally picking up the phone because of his boss, and Jack texting Taylor back and forth, and unfortunately he has a loud vibrating sound. Carson tries really hard not to get angry at seeing Jack text his girlfriend, but his white knuckles say otherwise. He doesn't even know he's gripping the steering wheel for dear life until they reach the closest stop sign from the place. Sighing, he unclenches the steering wheel.

Jake reaches to the restaurant quicker than Carson, which doesn't surprise him because Jake always goes above the speed limit. Jack notices Taylor's car, realizing that she reached the place before he did as well. As soon as Carson parks his car, Kai opens the door and quickly runs to the back door, which everyone presumes is the employee entrance. "It never surprises me that Jake gets to a place faster than us."

"Same," Elliott agrees. Without another word, the four walk inside, where both Sabrina and Heather wave them over as a signal. Taylor's already there, sitting between Jake and an empty chair, presumably for Jack.

"We're here," Carson announces.

"Took you long enough," Jake says in partial relief. "Sit, anywhere you want."

Carson sits on the empty seat next to Sabrina, which is directly across from Taylor. Brody and Elliott grab extra chairs and sit between Heather and Sloane, and Jack sits next to Taylor. "Hey, Taylor," Jack greets, and kisses Taylor on the lips.

"Hi there," Taylor greets back, blushing a little.

"Taylor, these guys are my teammates...and mostly friends," Jack introduces, earning a glare from Jake and Sabrina.

"Shut up Brewer, we're friends," Jake says, sounding offended.

"I love you too," Jack says jokingly. "That's Jake, Sabrina, Carson, Heather, Elliott, Brody, and Sloane. My cousin Kai works here, but we're not gonna see him unless he's on break or gathering dishes from other tables."

"Well, it is nice to meet...most of you," Taylor smirks. "I already met Heather years ago."

"This feels like a reunion," Heather replies, with a smirk on her face. She tries to hide the contempt, now that Brody and Elliott are sitting between her and Sloane, and from the looks of it, Sloane isn't thrilled either.

No one says anything because they're already ordering. Sloane watches as the first act of the night is a blond girl she saw earlier at the convention, with that annoying sensei. Sloane has to admit - the girl is cute as hell. But that was before she saw Heather. A familiar tune starts playing, which annoys Sloane already and she focuses back on the group.

"Hey Brewer, ain't that your ex?" Jake points out.

Jack turns around, and that is indeed Kim on stage. He growls inwardly, hoping to not make any eye contact. "Can we not focus on her please?"

"Hard to do that when she's a talented singer," Taylor says, her face turning into a regretful grimace.

"She's singing a Justin Bieber song, trust me it's easy to ignore her," Heather points out, which makes everyone else agree. "Although, this singing discourse is making me a little competitive. I may just go up there."

"Maybe I can join you," Sloane suggests.

"Dude," Heather smirks. "That's a great idea."

"Maybe we might get some real talent tonight," Sabrina mutters.

"Let's go decide on a song and come back," Heather suggests, pulling Sloane out of her seat. They are gone within seconds.

"Did you catch the moment when the two boys sat between them, they immediately frowned?" Taylor inquires lowly.

"Trust me, everyone did," Jack answers. Taylor laughs a little while Jack realizes that his hand is still holding her hand. Not that anyone complained - well, everyone but Carson, who is glaring at them. After catching himself glaring, he sighs and looks at his old friend performing, where she ends and everyone claps. After she sits back down, Heather and Sloane get up there.

Both Heather and Sloane get a standing ovation as they step off the stage. Heather ignores Kim's death glare and goes back to her seat, where the rest of the gang already are eating their food. "So, how we do?" Heather inquires.

"Not bad girls, not bad," Jack comments.

"Yeah, almost no one noticed the gender changes in your song," Brody says in a snarky tone. Heather glares at him, whacks him on his head, and sits down in her previous seat. "Do you have to be violent?"

"Yes," Heather replies.

"What I can't believe is that Sloane Jennings is actually a talented singer," Carson says, in an impressed tone. "That was awesome right there."

Sloane chuckles. "Thanks."

After that, the group goes into a conversation, not only getting to know each other but also to entertain each other. The Black Dragons get to know more about Sloane, and they also get to know Taylor since they're gonna be seeing each other more. Carson even momentarily forgets his troubles to listen in on the conversation to get to know Taylor more, and he doesn't even regret it.

Chapter Text

It's around eleven when everyone leaves. Sabrina's parents already picked her up instead of trusting her to come straight home (which relieves her anxiety) and it also gives Kai a reason to get a ride home.

Once everyone goes outside, Brody opts to walk home (since he's not too far from home) and Elliott opts to ride with Heather, Sloane, and Jake. "Um, Carson? I'm gonna go ride with Taylor today," Jack tells Carson, once everyone kind of disappears.

Carson blinks, not letting his jealousy show. "Uh, ok, go ahead and ride with your girlfriend."

"Aww, don't get all jealous on me," Jack fake pouts. "I know you and Kai will miss me for one night."

"Again, I don't care," Carson lies, with a blank face. "I'll see you tomorrow." Without acknowledging Jack or anyone else for that matter, Carson speed walks to his car and enters it, taking a shaky breath.

Why is he so jealous of their relationship? He would never understand that, and maybe it's for the best, but he doesn't want to ruin his friendship with Jack by being jealous over something stupid. Maybe Kai was right - maybe he needs to get a girlfriend...or a boyfriend, whichever works. Even though Kai doesn't know about his sexuality, that doesn't mean he can't look out there. It may be harder, but he has hope...maybe...it's there….

"Ok, um, Jack looks kinda hurt, and the last person I know he was with was you," Kai says as soon as he enters the car. "What's going on?"

"Nothing," Carson replies. "He's riding with his girlfriend. I don't know why he's sad." He quickly pulls out of the parking lot and gets to the street.

"Did you kick him out?" Kai accuses.

"No! He just willingly agreed to ride with Taylor," Carson replies. "I was like, ok, and then left. I'm not gonna stop him from riding with her." He grips the steering wheel tighter as he speaks. "I mean, why shouldn't he ride with her? That shouldn't be a crime, right? If I had a girlfriend, I would let her inside this car and we could leave the state for all I care!"

"Carson…"

"Shit, I don't even know why everyone's up my ass about this! It's not like he's going to stop talking to me or stop asking me to take him home after practice or anything like that!"

"Carson," Kai speaks up, louder than before.

"What?"

"Are you ok now? Because you almost missed my stop," he answers.

"Oh, god damn it," Carson whispers.

"It's ok," Kai assures him. "You can let me go here, and I'll walk the rest of the way home. It's only a block away. In the meantime, you can take several chill pills, because you've been clenching the steering wheel since I got inside the car." He removes his seatbelt, and doesn't allow Carson to say any protests. "Tomorrow, yeah?"

"I can still—"

"No, no," Kai smiles falsely. "You need some time for yourself. Also, I'm a block away." He quickly exits the car, closing the door behind him, and sprints across the street.

Carson unclenches the steering wheel, and sighs exasperatedly. "Fucking great." He keeps on driving to his house, ignoring the familiar intersection.


 

Jack's inside his physical education class when he feels a tap on his shoulder. A little annoyed, he turns around. "What?" He questions.

"That's no way to speak to an old date, now is it?" Lindsay fake gasps, throwing her long brunette hair over her shoulders. "I saw you at the karaoke bar yesterday."

"Your point?" Jack snarls. He may have dated Lindsay, but he still did not like her. "Listen, I'm not gonna listen to you judging me for—"

"No, that's not what I meant," she rolls her eyes. "I could care less what you do with your little girlfriend. What I want to know is if that guy that was sitting at your table is single."

"Which one?" Jack inquires.

"The one with the long hair," she replies. "He's cute."

Jack couldn't help but laugh. While he's still confused about Carson's behavior last night, he would never allow a girl he despises for good reason to date his - friend? frenemy? acquaintance? - friend. Lindsay is not only boring, but she's also annoying and extremely bitchy. "What makes you think I would hook my friend up with the likes of you?"

"Either way, I'm gonna talk to him," Lindsay replies, her smirk turning to a sneer.

"Not exactly sure you're his type," Jack says, sarcastically. "But if you wanna try, go ahead."

Lindsay narrows her eyes. "You're not gonna tell me his name?"

"No," Jack answers. He ignores her affronted expression, and walks away from her., hoping for some reason that Carson actually doesn't go for the likes of her. It's not jealousy, he thinks to himself.

Carson doesn't go straight to the dojo after school. He barely thinks he could face any of his friends after yesterday. He knows Jack is mad at him and that Kai is probably weirded out by his behavior. He expects that, because if he were Jack or Kai, he would feel the same.

Instead he drives to the mall, and stops by the courtyard. He doesn't care that his old dojo is right next to him or that the faint smell of stale falafel balls are ruining his moment to think to himself. Otherwise, he would have left and went home instead of making himself sick.

The eggs from Jack's initiation are completely washed off - probably because Rudy made his students wash it off - and it's cleaner than he remembered (well, before he moved of course). Not that he cares - he hasn't gave a shit about his old dojo since his old sensei kicked him out for cheating. Before, he was bitter but now, he would kick himself out for doing the same thing.

Before he knows it, an attractive girl sits right next to Carson, "Sorry, is this seat taken?"

You already took the seat, Carson wants to say. However, he stops himself. This is an attractive girl, and she's willing to sit next to Carson. How many times has that happened? Rarely. "Sure. You can sit there," Carson laughs.

"Good, because I wasn't gonna get up," the girl replies, smirking wildly. "Have I seen you before?"

"I don't know," Carson raises an eyebrow.

"Regardless," she waves off. "You're cute."

Carson's face immediately turns red. "Thanks."

The girl smirks wildly, then playfully scoffs. "I forgot to introduce myself. I'm Lindsay."

"Uh, I'm Carson," Carson replies. He's starting to notice how attractive Lindsay is. Rest assured, she kind of looks bitchy, but Carson doesn't care. He's dated bitchier in his lifetime. He decides to up his game, forgetting about his dilemma with Jack. "So, what's a pretty girl like you doing here?"

Lindsay giggles. "I was gonna window shop with my friend but she's late, and then I saw you."

"So, my face is better than window shopping? Most girls wouldn't say that," Carson says, raising an eyebrow again amusingly.

"The boy has jokes," Lindsay notes out loud. "I like that." She feels her phone vibrating signifying that her friend is looking for her, which doesn't surprise her. "I gotta go but I definitely want to talk more."

"So let's exchange numbers," Carson replies.

Lindsay gives him her phone the same minute Carson takes out his own phone to unlock it. He grabs the phone and put his phone number and she does the same. Carson takes his phone and gives her phone back. "Call me," she says, gets up, and leaves the courtyard.

Carson chuckles to himself. "I still got it."


 

"You're late," Heather says as soon as Carson walks inside the dojo minutes after his conversation with Lindsay. "Why are you late?"

"None of your business, mom," Carson frowns. The last thing Carson needs is an interview by his friends on why he's late showing up to the dojo. He was barely late - school ends at two and it's now three, and it isn't much of a loss. "What'd I miss anyway?"

"Sloane and I were making out," Heather lies, smirking wildly when Carson widens his eyes at that. "Yeah man, you missed it."

"They were going at it like dogs," Jake adds, his lie more smooth than Heather's. "Right, Sloane?"

Sloane snorts loudly. "Yeah, man. Her lips were soft."

"Mmm, how long are you gonna keep up this lie?" Carson inquires. "Because I gotta get dressed."

"Dang, we were just playing with you." Heather steps to the side, while Carson makes his way to the locker room swiftly.

Jack watches him, wondering what was that all about. He decides to hold his practice session with Elliott to check on Carson instead. When he walks inside the locker room, Carson is rummaging through his bag, shirtless. Despite the fact that they've dressed in front of each other and have seen everything from head to toe, Jack couldn't help but stare. It always fascinates him how Carson has a lot of muscle definition despite being skinnier than Jack (well, Jack had bigger muscles while Carson didn't, but he is still as strong as Jack) but he was almost like that when he was fourteen.

"If you're gonna stand there, you might as well talk," Carson finally says, sighing a little. He already knows who's behind him; who else other than Jack would stand there and not say anything while Carson gets dressed?

"You seemed a little mad," Jack explains.

"I did?" Carson asks sarcastically.

"No need for sarcasm," Jack frowns. "Seriously though. You're always early. What's up?"

"Why do you care?"

"Because one, again, you're never late," Jack raises an eyebrow and does a hand gesture. "And two, you're my friend, even if you were acting uncharacteristically weird yesterday."

Carson rolls his eyes. "I stayed out after school," he lies. He's not actually gonna tell Jack upfront how he really felt. "The good thing that came out of it is that I met a girl and we exchanged numbers."

"Well would you look at that," Jack smirks. "The bisexual black belt got himself a girlfriend."

"You gotta be more specific my friend," Carson says snarkily. "Which one of us in the group is the bisexual black belt? There's Jake, me, and Brody. Heather is practically a black belt, so she's kinda included too. It wouldn't surprise me if you were bisexual either."

"I meant you, idiot," Jack chuckles. "Come on, let's practice."

"Can I put my shirt on first?" Carson raises an eyebrow. It's now that he realizes that Carson is still shirtless. He tries not to blush, still admiring his friend's torso. Carson notices this, and smirks while putting on a black shirt and his shoes. "Come on, unless you're not finished staring at me?"

Jack cusses inwardly, and turns around to hide the blush on his cheeks. "Let's go." He walks out of the locker room without Carson following. Carson just smirks, closes his locker, and walks out.


 

Carson enters the car along with Jack in the passenger's seat. "Are you ever gonna learn how to drive?" Carson inquires. "You know, so that you don't have to keep getting rides from me or your girlfriend?"

"The summer's coming, I have time," Jack responds. It's also the transition from junior year to senior year for Jack, so that's also good. He's gonna take his permit test some time in July, attend driving classes once school starts again, and by the end of the year, he'll have his license...hopefully. "Oh, and here you go." He gives Carson the promised vinyl album that he mentioned at the party. "There better not be a scratch on it when you're done."

"Like I would ever do that to a vinyl," Carson rolls his eyes. "I'll keep it clean."

"Thanks," Jack smiles. "So when will I meet this new friend of yours?"

"Soon," Carson replies. "Why? You're not gonna suggest double dates now, are you?"

"Ew, we're not that close," Jack recoils.

Carson gives Jack an affronted glare. "Gee, thanks. And here I thought we were gonna be besties now."

"I'm kidding, christ," Jack chortles. "Before you overreact again, at least know that double dates are awkward and weird. The last time I had one, I only agreed just because my ex-friend wanted to date this girl, but she came as a package deal so I had to go on a date with her other friend. It wasn't fun."

Carson understands Jack's reasoning. "No double dates for you then. I'll go with Heather and Sloane instead...that is, if they will lawyer up and ask each other out already."

"Who says they'll agree to a double date with you….or me really?" Jack questions. "They like each other too much to do shit like that."

"Shit, you're right," Carson agrees. He reaches Jack's house already, which surprises him. Maybe talking for the whole ride makes it go faster, he thinks. "Your stop."

"Again, keep it scratch free," Jack says before exiting the car and going inside his house. Carson doesn't move until Jack goes inside.


 

It's around midnight when Jack leaves his house to go on his official second date with Taylor. He did promise that they would go stargazing for the hell of it, so now that's a thing and Jack's excited for it. He's never been, so it's definitely a game changer, but he's not complaining.

"I still can't believe you suggested stargazing as our second date," Taylor says, after setting up the sheet on the grassy floor.

Jack shrugs. "I don't know. Seems better than dinner and a movie."

Taylor chuckles, sitting on the sheet. "What you got against dinner-and-a-movie dates, Brewer?"

"It's typical," Jack reasons. "This time, I want to be spontaneous, not boring. But, since you insist on going on a typical date, our third date can be a dinner and a movie, just for you."

"Who says I want a third date?" Taylor shrugs nonchalantly, 100 percent not meaning it but only using it to get to Jack.

"You want a third date, it's not gonna work on me sweetie," Jack smirks.

"Ugh," Taylor groans. "At least I tried."

"I give you an A for effort," Jack chuckles, and throws his arm around Taylor's shoulders. Taylor wraps her arms around Jack, feeling comfortable under his half hug/cuddling session. Despite the city lights, there are a lot of stars out there which makes the experience a lot better. The park is supposedly closed for the night but Taylor got around that (whether by jumping the fence or something else is their business) but it's not like they would get caught.

Hopefully, they don't get caught. "You did your homework before we decided to do this, right?"

"Yeah," Jack rolls his eyes. He really did, since it's a school night they are doing this. "Why, you ask? Still can't trust me to do my homework?"

"Sometimes," Taylor shrugs, even though she doesn't mean it. She trusts Jack, and that's important. "Just checking." She lets go of Jack and suddenly touches his hair. "Your hair is literally softer than mine. How is that possible?"

"I wash it?" Jack raises an eyebrow, looking at Taylor weirdly.

"You know what I mean, Brewer," Taylor groans. "It feels softer than mine, and I do everything to it to make sure it's just as soft as this."

Jack smiles. "If you must know, I don't use gendered shampoo for men." His smile drops a little and he looks at the sky again. "Those are kinda harmful, and the smell is gross. Plus, there's something about women's shampoo that makes me feel clean."

"Maybe it's the sulfates getting to your brain," Taylor jokes.

"Yeah, that's it," Jack deadpans. "I also use coconut oil, but not everyday because it would make me look like a grease pot."

Taylor rolls her eyes. "I wonder how you would look with shorter hair," she says, making Jack widen his eyes and almost pull away. "Not buzz cut short! Jeez. I would never."

Jack quirks an eyebrow. "Sure."

"Ok, I'm officially dropping that subject," Taylor sighs, raising both hands up in defeat. She puts them down after a few seconds, and looks at Jack again. "But, my thought still stands."

"I know it is," Jack replies. "Now, how about you with short hair?"

"Hell no, not again," Taylor shivers. "I had those ugly bob cuts with the bangs when I was fourteen and it was all downhill from there. I had to wear extensions for months!"

"I wanna see pictures!" Jack smirks. "Are they on your phone?"

"No," Taylor lies, pushing her phone deep inside her pocket.

Jack doesn't believe her. "Let me see!" He exclaims, and suddenly jumps on Taylor's lap. Taylor puts up a good fight, grabbing both of Jack's wrists, preventing him from finding the phone in her pocket. They wrestle and giggle for about a minute until Jack grabs Taylor's own wrists from her letting go momentarily and actually pins Taylor's arms parallel to her head. They're both panting, and the pictures are long forgotten as Jack stares at Taylor and she stares directly at Jack's lips. Taking that initiative, she leans forward, capturing his lips by surprise. However, Jack quickly recovers and reciprocates the kiss.

He lets go of Taylor's wrists, and she suddenly grabs his neck while Jack's hands settle on the ground to keep him leveled. Jack pulls away only to kiss down Taylor's neck, and slightly bites her neck, causing her to whisper his name under her breath. Jack continues, making her breathing get more labored and her soft moans to increase in volume, but not loud enough to alert any patrolling officers nearby. Upon making a small mark on her neck, Jack kisses Taylor again and reaches towards her pocket to retrieve her phone with one hand.

He pulls away and sits up, waving Taylor's phone in her face. "You little…"

"Shhhhh," Jack hisses, putting a finger over Taylor's swollen lips. "It was gonna happen anyway. I'm a ninja."

Taylor sits up, and suddenly grabs the phone from Jack's grip. "If you're gonna take my phone, at least let me unlock it before you make me lose all my stuff, which will lose the purpose of stealing my phone." She unlocks it her phone and immediately goes to her photo gallery, where her album of ugly haircuts were right below the rest of the albums. "Here."

Jack looks at the photo, and laughs, which knocks him over to the grassy side. "Oh my god! I have to send this to myself! That's my new screensaver!"

"You better not!" Taylor argues, and tries to make a grab for the phone. Jack quickly moves away. "Jack, seriously. Don't do that."

"I'm kidding," Jack says. "But seriously, it's not that bad. You look adorable."

"No, I don't," Taylor frowns. She remembers getting the haircut from one of her ex-friends, and it was so bad that she had to borrow her mom's extensions just so it wouldn't look bad. It still did though, because she couldn't blend her hair extensions with her actual hair for a while. "I look so bad. I couldn't even talk to the person who gave me that hairstyle ever again, because I still feel like she set me up for ridicule."

"I'm sorry," Jack sighs. Now, this is making him feel awful.

"No, don't be sorry. It was two whole years ago," Taylor shrugs, laughing nervously. "You were gonna see them anyway because somewhere down the line I would finally accept that the moment happened and I was ready to share a laugh about it. In fact, I do feel better showing that to you. It makes me feel like I could trust you."

Jack blushes a little. "Well, thank you for learning to trust me with this. But, can I at least send it to myself so I can look—"

"No means no," Taylor says sternly. Her frown doesn't last for long because she smiles again, and pulls Jack in for a hug. Jack makes an accepting grunt and hugs Taylor back.

"So," Jack lets go of Taylor and stares at her. "Around this time, when two dates go well...sometimes it means that it's official."

"Sure," Taylor smirks.

"So, what do you say?"

Taylor stares at Jack for a few seconds. "Fine, Brewer, I'll be your little girlfriend or whatever." They both start giggling again and lean their foreheads together. They don't say anything for the remainder of the date, instead just laughing and kissing and enjoying each other's company. Jack finally feels like he's over what Kim did to him a few weeks back, and even if he isn't, he knows that he likes Taylor a lot and he doesn't want to lose her.

Chapter Text

It's been a few days since Carson met Lindsay, and even though they text each other here and there, they haven't had a conversation. Carson only really knows that Lindsay goes to Seaford and that she's a cheerleader. She knows that he's a black belt and that he goes to Swathmore. It's kind of pathetic to say the least.

So, Carson decides to change that. It's Friday afternoon, and the dojo is closed for maintenance so most of the students decide to take a break. Jack went to go spend time with his girlfriend, Kai calls in so that he won't be bored, and the rest of the gang (except for Sabrina, who went home) decide to go to the beach. He meets Lindsay by the pier, where she has her hair in a half ponytail which shows her face a lot more than before. "Hey you."

"Hey," Carson greets back. Lindsay sits right next to Carson with some personal space for the both of them. "Since our encounter a few days before, we haven't had much conversations."

"I know," Lindsay agrees. "Well, we're both busy. You told me that you're a martial arts student, and i'm a cheerleader...and we go to different schools. However, I gotta say. I'm happy you called me."

Carson's eyebrows furrow. "Why?"

Lindsay shrugs. She moves her gaze towards the beach in front of them. "I wasn't doing anything other than cheerleading, really. I was getting kinda bored, and the co-captains cut the practice short. What about you?"

"Dojo's closed for maintenance, so most of us decided to go our separate ways and hang out," Carson replies. "Most of them are at the beach right now."

"Hmm," Lindsay replies. Her friends, if she could call them that, don't really talk to her much. When they do, it's always either one sided or there's an awkward silence in between that. "Have you ever went to my school? Something's telling me that you did once in life."

"I did," Carson answers. "My parents wanted to put me in Swathmore the minute they moved back here, because I did live here before moving, but I couldn't go for two weeks because there was a problem with the programming, so I did go to your school. Since I already lost my old friends and I hated that school, the school switch wasn't hard at all." It was a few days after the incident with Jack when Carson left, and he couldn't feel more happy about it. Up until Jack moved dojos, he hasn't heard from anyone and he wanted to keep it that way, but Jack came and that ruined it. He was initially a little pissed, but now it's content since he's friends with Jack and they both hate the same dojo that trained them.

"Trust me, if I could switch, I'd do it too," Lindsay agrees. "My dad can't make the costs, so that's a loss, but if it wasn't expensive, I would've transferred during my freshman year."

"So, not only are we both attractive, we both hate Seaford High," Carson points out, which makes Lindsay blush, and he only chuckles at his own joke. "We have some things in common."

"It's a start," she says.

For the next hour, they decide to have a conversation, getting to know each other. There are more things that Carson learns about Lindsay; such as her shopping addiction and her love of sports, and in return Lindsay learns about his music taste and what he eventually wants to do in life: being a martial arts sensei. He'll settle for physical education teacher if it doesn't work out, since he loves staying in shape. She wants to be a newscaster, but if that doesn't work out she'll settle for something in marketing.

The conversation doesn't fall onto an awkward silence. "So, uh...do you want to go on a date with me tomorrow?"

Lindsay stares at him for a few seconds, then smiles, which basically confirms that answer.


 

"I have a date tonight," Carson starts to say the next day, after sitting down to stretch with his friends Jack and Kai. Everyone else is already practicing without a second thought, so that's new. Jack widens his eyes and Kai splutters on the spot. "What, is it that shocking?"

"Yes," Jack and Kai say in unison.

Carson scowls. "I hate the both of you."

"Wait a minute," Kai raises an eyebrow in wonderment. "Is it that girl you've been texting recently?"

"Yeah," Carson replies. "We talked yesterday, and I asked her out. She said yes. So now i'm taking her out tonight."

Jack couldn't wonder what girl they're talking about. He hopes it isn't the girl he's thinking about, especially after that day in the week where she confronted him about it. Jack actually likes Carson enough to not let him go through that. If it does happen to be the girl he's thinking about, he hopes they don't run into each other, because tonight is his dinner-and-a-movie date with Taylor. "So, where are you taking her?" He inquires.

"I don't wanna say anything, you might jinx it," Carson replies.

Jack rolls his eyes and scoffs. "I don't know how in the fuck that's possible, but whatever you say."

Carson smirks. "Come on, you know you're special."

Jack doesn't stop frowning. "That doesn't make it better, you know."

"Besides that, I hope the both of you have dates at a place I don't work at," Kai speaks up, half heartedly. He generally doesn't care, since the last time they were at his workplace they didn't bother him much.

"Don't worry cuz," Jack smiles, putting a hand on Kai's shoulder. To Carson's surprise, Kai doesn't flinch or glare at Jack, or even looks uncomfortable. He just looks at Jack, with an unreadable expression, completely different from the day Jack walked inside the dojo a few weeks ago. "We'll stay far away from your job. I personally think Taylor has something up her sleeve anyway."

The corner of Carson's mouth twitches in disgust at the mention of Taylor. He still cannot believe that they are official. He knows that Jack has a date tonight (when do they not have a date?) and he hopes that he doesn't run into Jack and Taylor at the place he's planning to take Lindsay. "Yeah, I'm not taking her to a karaoke restaurant on the first date. I'm better than that."

"Exactly," Jack agrees. "Anyway, I'm gonna go practice." He gets up, and heads over to the other side of the room."

Kai watches Jack leave, and as soon as he is out of earshot, he turns to Carson. "Now that my nuisance of a family member is gone, you have no reason to not tell me where you're taking her."

"There's this place on the other side of town," Carson replies.

Kai shrugs. "Make sure you carry extra condoms."

"I don't move that fast!" Carson exclaims, clearly affronted.

Kai chuckles. "I'm just playing with you. Have fun on your date, weirdo."

Carson rolls his eyes, and the both of them get ready to practice for the day.


 

Jack puts the finishing touches on his outfit for the night just as he hears a loud honk. They are going to a restaurant on the other side of town and after that, they'll catch a late showing of a recent action movie that Taylor was more excited to see. He leaves without another word since his parents are out as well, and finds Taylor leaning against her car. "Are you ready or what?" she yells, clearly amused.

"I didn't take that long," Jack frowns, and walks over to her.

Taylor giggles, "I know, I was just joking with you." She throws her arms around Jack's shoulders and kisses him shortly. "Come on, before we're late." She removes her arms from Jack, and opens the passenger door.

"I thought I was supposed to be the boyfriend," Jack says, getting inside the car regardless.

"Reverse chivalry is a thing," Taylor says back before closing the door shut. She quickly walks to the driver's side, entering the car without another word. The ride is a long one, but it isn't awkward. It's silent for the second half but the first part, Taylor spends it cracking jokes, and Jack couldn't help but laugh at his girlfriend's humor. At least he's with someone who isn't just humorous but also knows how to keep the conversation going and their silences aren't awkward at all. His last relationship with Kim had him watching his mouth because of her aggressiveness; for example, she almost beat up Milton because he gave an excellent portrayal of Jerry when they were coming up with a scheme to get the latter out of detention. Plus, she hated any girl who took an interest in Jack (like Lori, Lindsay, or even Donna, who isn't even straight).

Once Taylor parks her car at the restaurant's parking lot, there is already some guests standing outside, which means that the place is already packed. Not to worry; she sent in her reservation hours ago. Taylor gets out the car and just as Jack opens the door to exit the car as well, Taylor fully opens the door, smirking. "Opening the door for me again?" Jack says, smirking.

"Of course I am, now let's go," Taylor replies, gesturing her hands in a 'come hither' motion. Jack exits the car, grabs Taylor's extended hand, and walk towards the entrance. Once they enter the packed restaurant, Jack ignores the rush of familiarity when he sees long hair and a pair of recognizable shoes.

"Brownstein, party of two," Taylor says to the host.

"Oh, yes, right here," the host smiles, upon seeing Taylor's reservation on the list. He grabs a couple menus and waves the couple over. "Right this way."

Jack feels a sudden rush of excitement as Taylor guides him towards their table. The place is full of people and it's hard to find a table that isn't occupied, but there is one booth that is unoccupied that Taylor requested hours before. The host places their menus on the table and they sit down across from each other. "A waiter will be with you shortly," he says, and disappears to help the other customers.

"Are you kidding me," Carson whispers to himself. A couple just came inside, and got their table within a few seconds, while he has to wait a total of ten minutes for a table. It's been over ten minutes (thirteen to be exact) and he still hasn't been assisted.

Lindsay sits there, feeling a bit impatient. She sweeps her curled hair over to the side and checks her fingernails. Carson could sense her irritation, but he doesn't know what to do.

"Hunter party of two," the host announces. Carson breathes a sigh of relief, and taps Lindsay on the shoulder. She gets up along with Carson, and they follow the host almost in the same trek that Taylor and Jack went to. Ironically, their table is across from them.

The host tell them about the waiter arriving shortly and leaves them to settle at their new table. "That didn't take too long," Carson says, even though he's still irritated about that couple coming in and getting a table immediately. Lindsay just grunts in response.

Jack recognizes that voice. He turns around, and immediately sees Carson, with his date who covers her face with the menu. He laughs to himself and turns back around. "What's so funny?" Taylor inquires.

Jack nods his head towards the couple. Taylor turns her head, and laughs a little as well. What a coincidence. "Should we let 'em know?"

"I'll do it," Jack replies. "Psst!" He hisses a couple times until Carson turns his head towards him. "'Sup stranger?"

"Oh come on," Carson groans. "What are you two doing here?" He's especially mad at seeing Taylor, but also mad that she's having her date with Jack at the same restaurant.

"She took me here," Jack defends.

Lindsay drops her menu with the intention to order, but she turns around to see Jack talking to Carson. "Are you fucking kidding me?" She's even more annoyed to see Jack than Carson, who doesn't even look annoyed.

"Wow Hunter, you really know how to pick 'em," Jack says sarcastically, upon seeing Lindsay remove the menu on her face.

Lindsay sneers at Jack. "What the hell is that supposed to mean, Brewer?"

"Nothing," Jack replies, rolling his eyes. He really did not like Carson dating Lindsay, especially knowing firsthand on how dating her is like. "Enjoy your date."

Taylor grimaces and raises an eyebrow at Jack's sudden sour expression. It seemed off to her but she doesn't say anything. She didn't like how Lindsay would act around people either and often kept her distance. In this case, she would like to keep her distance as long as Jack behaves.

Lindsay glares at Carson, hoping he would get the hint and take her to another restaurant or something. Carson feels holes burning on his face after looking at the menu. He looks up to see Lindsay glaring at him. "What's wrong?"

"Can we leave?" Lindsay asks, watching his old date and his girlfriend talking to each other at the corner of her eye.

"Um...where would you rather go?" She shrugs, which doesn't help. "Ok, I know of another place." With that, both of them get up and exit the restaurant, heading to Carson's car. As soon as he drives off, he asks the question again: "So, what happened over there?"

"I didn't seem fond of being on a date where my classmates are in the same room," Lindsay half-lies. Well, it is partially the truth, she did not feel comfortable being in the same venue as Jack while on a date with Taylor, who she also didn't like.

"Ok…" Carson drags on, knowing exactly that isn't the full truth. "Now tell me the full reason."

"I'm not sure if I would consider Jack my ex, but—"

"You dated Jack?" Carson interrupts, incredulously.

"It was one date," Lindsay shrugs. "It was a twofer kind of thing. My best friend got asked out on a date by this guy named Jerry, who never called her back by the way, and since we were a package deal, I arranged with him to go on a date with my best friend if I could go on a date with Jack. Needless to say, he kind of ditched me after for a blond bitch."

Carson prevents himself from cringing. That situation sounded really awkward. He assumes the blond bitch in question was Kim, who Carson did not like either (but so did a lot of people). "So that means no double dates."

"Definitely no double dates, ever," Lindsay replies.

Since they were dressed so nicely, they decided to go to another fancy place, and they immediately got their table within minutes.

Jack doesn't even notice that Carson left with Lindsay because Taylor is telling him a story about her old best friend and the last time they got into some scheme before she moved to Seaford a couple years ago. He also doesn't notice a new couple moving to the same table, and that's great anyway because Jack would've suggested leaving.

"And that's why I get weird dreams when I smell coconut," Taylor finishes, chuckling.

Jack couldn't stop laughing. "So, no coconut water for you?"

"I can have it, but it still gives me weird dreams," Taylor replies. She takes a sip of her water, both of her and her boyfriend's plates empty. The story was brought on by a dessert suggestion from the waiter, which they decided on not having and instead just sitting there. The movie starts in almost an hour so they have time to kill.

"If it helps, i'm glad you're ok," Jack says, watching as Taylor's face turns red.

"Shut up," she rolls her eyes and kicks his leg under the table, and reaches over to hold his hand. Jack responds by rubbing her knuckles affectionately. "We have less than two hours until the movie. What should we do?"

"I don't know, I wonder what newly acclaimed boyfriends and girlfriends do to kill time," Jack replies, sarcastically.

Taylor retracts her hands, giving him a cold glare. "You don't have to be sarcastic about it."

"Yet you agree," he says, smirking suggestively.

"Check," Taylor shouts, causing Jack to start laughing again. It doesn't take long for Taylor to use the rest of her money (not including her life savings) to pay for dinner, and they're heading out.


 

It's Monday once again when everyone meets at the dojo. However, no one has time to speak about their dates. The tournament is this coming Saturday, and even if everyone is ready, sensei Ty is working them extra hard to make sure they're way more than ready. It results in some sore bodies even before people hit the showers. Most of the black belts are ok, but it's Elliott, who spent the whole weekend eating food from his family reunion, who can barely get up from the smelly mats at the end of the day.

"Get up!" Kai commands, when it is his turn to put away the mats for the night.

Elliott rolls over to the left, his whole body still sore from practice. "Just leave me here to die," he whines.

"Get your dramatic ass up, Lennox," Kai argues, getting even more annoyed at his teammate's dramatic antics. "We close soon."

"I've fallen and I can't get up," Elliott groans, in the similar fashion of an elderly man who really cannot get up.

Jack leaves the locker room, but upon seeing Elliott still in his gear and clearly sore, he rolls his eyes and drops his bags. "Come on," Jack beckons to Elliott, grabbing his armpits. "Get up."

Elliott groans disapprovingly, but with a bit of a struggle, he eventually gets up. "Thank you, Jack. At least I can count on a nice Brewer when the other Brewer is disappointing me."

"Yeah yeah, go take a shower," Kai rolls his eyes, and pushes the mats to the corner. Once Elliott disappears, Jack picks up his bag.

"So how was your date?" The blond inquires.

Jack shrugs a little. "It was ok." He actually really enjoyed his date. Upon leaving the restaurant, they went to the park to walk around, but then they lost track of time and they were still late for the movie. Not that Jack complained - he enjoys marking Taylor's neck with hickeys. It's almost satisfying to see her neck covered with a suspicious scarf today. "We just went to dinner and to see that corny action movie."

"That action film with the fast cars and the bald dudes?" Kai guesses.

"Yup," Jack nods. "I hated the movie, but the dinner was good."

Carson exits out of the locker room. "Well well, my two favorite people getting along," he says, almost accidentally. He means it, but was it too soon is the real question.

"Blah blah blah, how was your date?" Kai questions, ignoring his statement about him getting along with Jack. They still hated each other, to his knowledge.

"Well, at first, I went to the restaurant where Jack and Taylor were in, but then we left and went to go to another one," Carson replies. His date went ok, but it didn't end with any kissing or hugging. In fact, Carson sensed that Lindsay was still pissed off from seeing Jack. He just dropped her off and left.

"Yeah, I still can't believe you're dating Lindsay," Jack replies. His distaste over his friend dating an ex-date of his leaves a funny taste in his mouth, and he isn't sure why. Of course, that would mean he would have to get along with Lindsay (which is never going to happen) but he knows that isn't the reason why he did not like the situation. "Out of all the people in Seaford, you go for her?"

"She's cute," Carson shrugs.

"Ok, but personality wise? Do you even know her?" Jack questions.

Carson raises an eyebrow. He doesn't like where this is going, but he couldn't control what he says next: "Do you know your girlfriend?"

Jack chuckles bitterly. "Of course the fuck I do. At least I make time to know the people I like before I date them. From my knowledge you've only known her for three days. You don't know shit about her, now do you?"

"Ok then enlighten me," Carson retorts. "Tell me all about her since you care so much about who I date."

"I don't give a fuck who you date," Jack argues flippantly. He has no idea where this is coming from, but there's no stopping now. "But I'm just saying for your benefit that she isn't a good person."

Carson scoffs, "I think I can figure that out for myself, but thanks for your unnecessary input!" He doesn't want to have this conversation anymore, especially when he realizes now that he barely knows Lindsay enough. He has enough time to get to know her, but now it's imperative. If he really wants to get himself off the market, he has to know the person first. Probably not now because of the tournament, but still. He sidesteps Jack entirely and walks away going to his car.

Jack sighs shakingly, trying to control himself after a very weird argument. "And I though my parents were bad," Kai speaks up, with enough snark.

Jack glares at his cousin. "Fuck off."

Kai shrugs, and disappears to the locker room. Jack growls, exiting the dojo. What he expects, especially after that argument, was Carson and his car already gone.

Chapter Text

It doesn't get any better. Carson completely ignores Jack, forcing the second degree black belt to spar with other students. Not that he minded much, but Carson always gave him a challenge. Fighting with Brody and Elliott seemed watered down, and Jake is getting better which means Jack is always losing after thirty second scrimmages. No one really notices the tension until Tuesday night; normally Carson would wait for Jack to exit (or they exit out the same time) so he can take Jack home, but as soon as Carson steps out of the locker room, he says his goodbyes and heads out.

When Jack shows up, Heather grimaces, knowing that his ride actually disappeared without telling him. Jack, again, expected it, which is why he asked Taylor to pick him up. "I'm not mad," he says, laughing falsely. He's actually really upset, which worries him a lot because a few weeks ago he could care less about Carson but...now...what's so different?

"You can ride with me tonight," Jake offers.

Jack shakes his head no. "No...that's fine. I have a girlfriend who can drive."

"What even happened to you two?" Sloane inquires, even though she heard a bit of the screaming match yesterday.

"We had an argument," Jack sighs, scratching the back of his neck.

"I thought you two were finally mending things," Heather frowns, deeply concerned for her friends. She does sense something more, but she doesn't want to address that, especially now that Jack's happy with his girlfriend Taylor and Carson is supposedly happy with some girl he keeps mentioning. "It sucks to see you two not talking again."

"Whatever it is, I'm sure they'll overcome it," Jake says, with a hopeful look towards Jack. "Come on, you two. Also, no making out in the backseat."

"Well damn, there goes my master plan," Sloane says sarcastically.

Jack chuckles. He could always count on both Heather and Jake to enlighten his mood. He feels his phone vibrating, so he waves goodbye to his friends and leaves the dojo. As expected, Taylor's car is right there, parked perfectly on the curb. "I'm here."

Taylor watches as Jack quickly gets inside his car, and puts his seatbelt on automatically. "So, how was practice?"

"Slow," Jack admits, regretting nothing. "I had a partner but he's mad at me."

"Aw," Taylor replies, putting a hand on Jack's shoulder. She suspects that the 'partner' is Carson, and Jack seems deeply affected by it, which she expects. Losing some of her rich friends after her father's bankruptcy made her feel the same way. "I'm sorry."

"You have nothing to be sorry for," Jack replies, even though he feels appreciated for the sentiment.

"I know, but...force of human habit," Taylor says, drops her hand from Jack's shoulder and heads towards Jack's house. It's not far at all, but the ride is still silent. She's pretty sure that the silence is what he needed to get his mind off his friend being mad at him.

She pulls up in front of Jack's house. "I'm here," she announces to no one in articular. Jack is already taking off his seatbelt. "You're gonna be alright?" Taylor inquires.

Jack nods, with a smile so fake that Taylor already knew that he was lying. Nonetheless she doesn't confront him about it. That's for another day, hopefully. After a goodbye kiss, Jack steps out of the car silently and enters his home, with Taylor watching before she drives off.


 

The next few days aren't any better. It's already Friday and neither one of them has attempted to talk to each other. Jack tries to appear happy but he knows he can't keep up that façade, especially when his friends are more observant than he lets on. Carson doesn't say anything, but he's growing bored by the minute because his partners are too weak for him. Jack also grows bored, once his partner Brody flips him on his back, which is probably his first win against Jack.

"Dude, seriously," Brody frowns. "Go talk to him and settle this once and for all."

Jack scowls, but he knows Brody is right. Being right isn't really worth losing a friend/sparring partner over, especially if it's about Lindsay. He sighs, and walks over to where Carson was training, with the sparring dummy almost bruised up due to the brunt of his attacks. "Uh, hey Carson," he says. "Can we talk?"

Carson rolls his eyes and stops punching momentarily. Without thought, he turns around to face Jack, and notices how really hurt the black belt looks. He wants to say no and just continue on to pretend that their friendship never happened, but he knows that Jack is the closest friend he has anymore in his age group, and plus, he couldn't find the courage to actually say no. "Ok, but not here."

Jack silently agrees, and leads the way towards the locker room. Carson follows suit, ignoring some of the students staring at them. As soon as Carson enters the locker room, he sits on the bench near his locker, refusing to look at Jack. "You were right."

Jack stares at Carson blankly. "What?"

"About me not knowing Lindsay first before asking her out on a date," Carson clarifies. He knows it was out of jealousy - asking her out impulsively of course - but he'll never reveal that to Jack. He isn't even sure if he's jealous over being single or jealous that Jack's attention would only focus on this girl, who Carson doesn't really know or like. "You were right. I didn't know who she was, really. I just wanted a date, I guess."

Jack doesn't know what to say. He only wanted to come in here and apologize for the way he's been acting but this happens. "Well, to be honest, I only knew Taylor for a week and a half before she asked me out, so it isn't any different. I just wanted to say sorry, because not only was I a hypocrite, I shouldn't dictate who you should date, even if I don't like the person you're dating."

"So if things get serious would you still hate her," Carson jokes around, getting an amused grin from Jack.

"Probably, but that's on her part. I'll let things go but if she doesn't meet me halfway, well then, you gotta find yourself a new girlfriend," he says back.

Carson furrows his eyebrows, but still has a playful smirk on his face. "What if I want to find a new friend instead?"

"I will not be replaced by Lindsay," Jack scowls.

Carson smirks at Jack's blatant jealousy at being replaced. "I would never replace you. Partially because you won't let me live if I actually did replace you."

"Or you've grown to love me," Jack says back. He now feels relieved since they're friends again...or talking again; they never said they weren't friends anymore. "Let's go back out before Heather or Jake suspects we were making out."

"Who says we weren't?" Carson replies, half jokingly and half flirtatiously, and leads the way out of the locker room, noticing Jack blushing to a deep red. It makes his smirk even wider.

"We were making up!" The black belt almost shouts, and follows Carson out of the locker room.


 

It's safe to say that no one is truly ready for today's event. The tournament had more than several dojos in one place, with people practicing in every corner and the entire place already starting to have a sweaty aroma. Despite having the utmost confidence in himself, Jack is still nervous, feeling his hands, that are covered in bandages to protect his knuckles (which are still sore from a really brutal session with a punching bag), getting sweaty. His leg starts to bounce, much to the annoyance of Heather who is sitting right next to him.

"Can you not?" Heather snaps.

Jack sighs and stops bouncing his leg. "Sorry, I'm nervous."

Heather starts to feel bad. She throws an arm around Jack's shoulders and smiles reassuringly. "You'll do fine. We're gonna win against these dojos. Trust me."

"Yeah well...fighting against my old dojo isn't exactly fun," Jack replies. He knows he can beat them, but flashbacks from when he turned to the Black Dragons when he couldn't prove to his friends that Carson was a cheater doesn't make it better.

Heather doesn't say anything. She pats him on the back and removes her arm to watch everyone else training. How the tournament works is that everyone gets thirty seconds to a minute to beat their opponent in three rounds. Best two out of three. If there is a draw for two rounds, the third round is solely trying to beat the other opponent until someone wins. There have been other occasions where there is a draw in all three, but rare. Jack hopes it doesn't come to that.

He ignores most of the other fights unless it involves his dojo and his old one. It takes a few fights for any one in his dojo to fight, but he does enjoy watching his ex-friends Milton and Jerry lose terribly against some opponents. The first one from his dojo to fight is Heather who fights another girl with a brown belt. People usually play to their rankings so Heather, a brown belt, can only fight another brown belt. She can fight a black belt if she wants to, but it's rare for any brown belts to fight black belts, even first degree black belts.

It takes almost ten seconds for her to drop kick her opponent the first time, and beat them in the second round. Feeling triumphant, she walks back to her group, where everyone is clapping her on the back for a job well done. Next is Sabrina, who gets two draws until she steps her game up and beats another fourteen year old student who is an orange belt like her. Brody goes against someone, and beats them easily, and so does Jake and Kai. Elliott loses, but no one holds it against him. He's strong, but his opponent is immensely stronger. Jack goes up there and beats an opponent, and when it came to Carson, he has to fight Kim, much to Jack's relief.

He goes up to Carson and gives him some tips. He's been sparring Kim for years and knows her weak spots and faults. "Alright, I think I got this," Carson says confidently.

"Good," Jack replies, and pushes Carson a little into the padded ring. Jack stays back and joins Heather at being Carson's personal cheerleader, while everyone sits down and watches intently.

Kim gives Carson a particularly nasty snarl. "What's wrong? Would you rather fight against your ex?"

"I'm gonna beat your ass so hard he's gonna have to kiss it for you," Kim retorts.

"I give that a...four?" Carson says, smirking.

For the first round, Carson dodges each and every one of Kim's punches and jabs until around the last second, where he flips her by surprise. The second round, he's distracted a little and loses the round, which means he has to win the third round to win against his former dojo. Growling, he delivers an array of punches, Kim blocking each and every one of them. Kim tries to deliver a high kick, but Carson blocks it and then kicks her other leg, causing her to fall on her back. He wins the third round, and his dojo is cheering for him. Everyone claps him on the back, except for Jack, who hugs him closely.

It's the first time they've ever hugged, and as surprising as it is, it's not even awkward, right until Carson starts to feel butterflies in his stomach. Jack's smile drops, getting that familiar feeling from when he hugged Kim at a nationwide Wasabi chain tournament, and he lets go immediately, averting Carson's gaze. "Good work out there."

"Yeah, thanks," Carson replies, and goes to the opposite side. He tries to ignore some of the stares from his friends, and takes off his headgear to breathe properly. What does this mean, he starts to think.

It ends with the Black Dragons taking most of the wins, and Kai pulling his sensei away from gloating at an angry Rudy. Jack is surprised when Taylor shows up and hugs him. "You were so good out there!" She says, and he relaxes under her sweet smell. Carson watches them with a deep frown, and tries to walk away until Jake announces a victory party at his apartment, and everyone's on board. Even Kai, who doesn't like parties much. Some of the dojos even join them in their victory.


 

Carson sighs, with a red solo cup full of jungle juice, watching Jack and Taylor making out in the far corner. He knows what he felt earlier today, and while it was weird, it was the most meaningful few seconds of the whole day. What it means though, is that he should ignore it and hope it passes within the next few days. They got carried away, is all.

Trying to tear his gaze away from the couple, he finds Lindsay coming his way with a smirk and a similar red solo cup. "So, I heard you won," she starts, speaking over the loud music with ease.

"Yeah, I did," Carson says back.

Lindsay could barely hear him, but she can read lips. Sighing, she pulls him away from the party and inside a bedroom that hasn't been occupied. She takes a sip of the potent mixed drink (it's more booze than mixer...but she likes it nonetheless) and watches as Carson does the same thing. They sit on the bed quietly, with Lindsay sitting against the headboard and Carson sitting on the edge of the bed. "Sorry I couldn't be there," she says finally. She only received the text from her friend that there was going to be a victory party thrown by the Black Dragons, and she heard of that dojo because of Carson so she makes her way here. "I'm sure you were doing great."

Carson smiles weakly. He likes Lindsay, but he couldn't stop thinking about what happened earlier with Jack. "Yeah, I had to fight Kim."

Lindsay scowls. "Ugh…"

"Hey, I beat her," Carson clarifies, not really appreciating Lindsay suddenly scowling at some girl's name. He doesn't like Kim either, but in some ways, he respected her for being a strong girl. They went into three rounds for fuck's sake.

"Let's not talk about her, ok?" Lindsay inquires. She inches closer to Carson and straddles his legs, looking at him intently. She ignores his dazed expression and closes the gap between them. Carson makes a sound of surprise, but has no time to protest as Lindsay pushes him against the bed mattress. He closes his eyes and kisses back instead of fighting it. He doesn't feel anything but a pair of lips on his, but he keeps kissing back in hopes the other girl won't get mad.

Suddenly the door opens, and Lindsay pulls away to look to the side. Carson does the same, and is surprised to see Taylor and Jack staring back at them. His shirt is almost off and lipstick is smeared on his lip, and he looks almost as drunk as the last party they attended while Carson is sober enough to push Lindsay off his lap. He feels his stomach flutter upon looking at Jack's disheveled self, which he doesn't understand because he's seen Jack shirtless many times. "Um," he clears his threat, and scratches the back of his neck.

"Do you mind?" Lindsay snarls.

"Oh, we do," Jack snarls back, glaring at both his friend and Lindsay. His voice is slurred, which indicates his blatant inebriation. "Don't want my friend over here to catch whatever you got."

"Fuck you!" Lindsay spits, and almost pounces on Jack before Carson snaps out of it and grabs Lindsay by the arm, pulling her close to his chest. She doesn't struggle too much.

Carson sighs, letting go of Lindsay to grab her hand and walk out of the room. He knows that Jack isn't exactly sober, but he knows that alcohol does allow the truth to come out one way or another, depending on who's drinking what. He isn't going to get mad at Jack again for this, even though it might piss Lindsay off, but she's already pissed. He's just going to separate the both of them from now on. He knows they don't like each other; Lindsay isn't ok with Jack 'dumping' her for Kim and while it is heartbreaking, Carson didn't feel that she should keep a grudge for that long. It's been a while, right? It wasn't recent.

Once outside, Lindsay pulls Carson inside the extra bathroom and pushes Carson against the wooden door. Carson doesn't make a pained sound; instead he grimaces, and looks at Lindsay's angry expression. "I don't want you to be his friend anymore."

"What?" Carson questions, his eyebrows furrowing.

"You heard me," Lindsay replies, letting go of Carson and stepping back.

Carson stands upright, and glares at Lindsay. "So, in order to be with you, I can't be Jack's friend."

"That's exactly what I'm saying," Lindsay confirms, feeling right about her statement.

Carson laughs bitterly. That is one thing he is not going to do, for anyone, unless the person was actually an asshole. "I'm not going to stop being someone's friend just because you don't like them."

"You heard what he said about me!" Lindsay argues.

"I know what he said!" Carson defends, his own anger rising. "That doesn't mean you have to get mad and tell me that I have to end a friendship just so I can be with you! I get it, he hurt you, but he's still my friend. That's not exactly a healthy move in a relationship to suggest I drop a friendship just so I continue seeing you!" Lindsay keeps glaring at him, while he pauses for a moment. "Either you realize that or lose my number." He turns around, and leaves the bathroom.

Chapter Text

Sunday is mostly quiet. Only a few people came in since most of the students were hungover after Jake's party. Jack walks in hoping that his half drunk comment about Lindsay doesn't ruin his friendship with Carson. They just made up on Friday so it would be a bust if he stopped talking to Jack entirely. However, Carson smiles at him so maybe he isn't mad?

Or was that a grimace? He did get drunk yesterday so maybe he has a slight hangover or something...

Carson approaches him while he is in the locker room, packing up his duffel bag inside the locker. He doesn't say anything up until Jack turns around. "She wanted me to stop being your friend."

Jack frowns, "What?"

"She said that in order for me to date her, I had to stop being your friend," Carson repeats. "She didn't like your comment I guess, but I defended you. I knew you were drunk and that you didn't mean it. I told her to lose my number if she really felt that way, and even though it hasn't been 24 hours, I haven't gotten anything."

Jack blinks a couple times. Carson took his side, even though he wasn't too drunk to forget what he said. He just didn't like the way Lindsay was on Carson, neither did he like the way Carson was enjoying making out with her. It's not jealousy, he tells himself. "I'm sure she'll call you."

"I don't think so," he shrugs. "If she does, that's fine but if she doesn't I can always move on. I'm not exactly gonna give up just yet."

Jack tries to hide his contempt over Carson getting back with Lindsay. He could have anyone other than her, he thinks. "Are you sure you wanna date her again if the chance comes? Because there are other cute girls out there. And uh...you can date boys too…" he stammers a little and then curses himself for stammering. He doesn't know what's happening but all of these weird feelings have been there since yesterday after Carson's fight with his ex-girlfriend.

"True," Carson smirks, watching as Jack's cheeks become red. "I'll keep looking...maybe the one for me is already here and I don't even know it." With that, Carson exits the locker room, leaving Jack a completely flustered mess.


 

When Monday comes, it's a very interesting day. Since the black dragons won instead, everyone gets bragging rights, much to the chagrin of Jack's former dojo. What also happened was that Lindsay kept glaring at Jack up until their physical education class, where she confronts him before the teacher shows up. "I don't like you," she growls.

"Tell me something I don't know," Jack says sardonically, and rolls his eyes.

"But...I like Carson," Lindsay continues, ignoring Jack's sardonic comment. "And...if that means getting along with you, then fuck it, we should get over this stupid thing we used to have and at least ignore each other. Although i'm not sure why I would still forgive you after you implied that I had an STI."

Jack grimaces. "Yeah, well, that was very unlike me to say and i'm sorry. I'm willing to forget what happened in the past and move on."

Lindsay doesn't believe him. There's something deeper going on and she doesn't like it. "Fine then."

"I still don't think you dating Carson is a good idea," Jack points out. He will never like Lindsay dating Carson. He just couldn't trust her. "But...who am I to impose? Just let it be known that i don't want you hurting him."

Lindsay furrows her eyebrows as she watches Jack open his mouth but then close it, as if he wants to say more. "I'm not gonna hurt anyone."

Jack can barely believe her, but decides against saying that. "Good."

Lindsay smiles falsely, and turns around only to curl her lip in disgust and roll her eyes as she walks away from Jack. He watches her disappear, and shakes his head. If he didn't regret keeping Lindsay away from Carson then, he regrets it now.


 

Carson is on his way to his car when he receives a text from Lindsay. He has half a mind to ignore the text considering that she wants to separate him from Jack but he's already opening it. It only says she'll be available by the mall so he drives over there, stopping when he sees her in front of the door. He waves her over instead of texting her and she enters the passenger seat.

"I talked to Jack today," she says after a moment of uncomfortable silence. "We've settled our differences. And i'm sorry for trying to sabotage another important relationship of yours."

Carson nods a couple of times, with his hands on the steering wheel. "Ok."

"I know it sounds like i'm not genuine, but I am," she continues. "I like you, and it's not just because you look good. I like you because you care, and you listen to me, and you're not just a brick wall. I actually want to get to know you better."

Carson smiles a little. "That's genuine enough for me." It makes the both of them laugh. "How about we start over and go on another date? Maybe on Saturday?"

"Sure," Lindsay answers, blushing a little. She really did miss that effect Carson has on her. "But this time, a place where no one from school would be at."

"I'll make an effort," Carson replies, chuckling as he starts the car. He decides to take her home before going to the dojo. She lived further from the dojo, but he didn't mind much; his mind is focused on where to take Lindsay out on their redo date. Not even the upcoming snarky comments from Kai could ruin his mood.

Maybe this time he can stop thinking about his feelings for someone else, and maybe actually develop feelings for a person who likes him and isn't taken.

After dropping Lindsay off, he turns the car around and goes towards the dojo. However, the whole front of the dojo is crashed, with all of the students standing at the parking lot, shocked and a little angry. Carson steps out of the car and runs over to Jack and Kai. "What happened?"

"Those Wasabi idiots ran a monster truck to our front door," Heather answers instead. "Ugh, that means we have to train at their dojo for now!"

Carson frowns deeply. He did not want to go back to the Wasabi dojo for any reason, not even for a competition. "Out of all the places we can find here?"

"No other dojo is within five miles," Jack speaks up. "Plus, it was Rudy who offered...albeit reluctantly, just so he can stop Sensei Ty from suing."

"I'd rather sue," Carson grumbles. "So, should we start heading there already or what?"

"Indeed," Jake replies. "Our sensei isn't gonna stop us from training, especially now when Heather's training for a black belt and Sabrina's trying to get a green belt."

"Oh, yeah." Heather decided after the tournament to take Jack's advice and start training for a black belt, which will happen because she's strong and she definitely has moves. Same for Sabrina getting training for her green belt, but only on everyone else's insistence. Jack is training Heather on certain techniques when neither sensei Ty nor Ryan can help her, while Sabrina is getting help from Jake and Sloane, getting the same technique help. It might take years for them to get their belts (minimum was a year for a black belt and four months for a green belt; anything below the minimum is considered cheating) but Jack is excited and kind of proud to hear that his friends are taking initiative. "Still, I thought I would have to die first than to ever set foot in that place ever again."

"Alright guys, we should get going," Sloane speaks up, after approaching her fellow students.

Carson waves both Jack and Kai over to his car, while Jake takes Heather, Sloane, and Sabrina. Ryan willingly takes both Brody and Elliott, since no one else's cars were big enough. Sadly, Carson just came from the mall not too long ago so he has to waste even more gas to go to the mall, where his old dojo is at.

It's a short ride, and it's also quiet, but that's because everyone is either shocked or disgruntled over the accident. Carson had to keep in his excitement and gratitude to himself until later, which may be hard to do. Everyone gets to the mall at the same time and goes to the dojo as a group, with their sensei standing right behind them. It's even more quiet than the ride here.

It seems like Rudy was already preparing his students for their impending arrival, because once they walk in, two of his students sigh angrily. "Yeah, we're not happy to be here either," Heather snaps, dropping her duffel bag on the bench.

"Are you sure they can't train in their parking lot?" Kim inquires, gesturing towards the black dragons for emphasis. "It's big enough."

"The real question is, what the fuck were you losers doing on our turf at the time?" Sabrina inquires back, crossing her arms and glaring at Kim. Despite being only thirteen, she towers slightly over the blond. "We could instead kick you out and we can train here, because I got a green belt waiting on me."

Kim snarls at the younger orange belt. "You got a lot of mouth for an orange belt."

"Yeah but I can pack a punch, you wanna test that theory?" Sabrina retorts, and almost lunges for Kim until Jake pulls her away.

"Where are we supposed to put our stuff?" Kai questions, growing impatient.

"You can leave it outside where you came from," Milton suggests, but he cowers once Kai glares at him harshly.

Jack rolls his eyes. "Follow me," he demands. Everyone follows Jack to the locker room area. He points to the other side for the girls' locker room, and he goes to the boys' locker room. Nothing changed about this place, not even the mold, or the questionable stain in the corner of the locker room. "I see nothing has changed."

"Yeah," Carson agrees, clearly disgusted. "That mold's been there since the place opened."

Once everyone has their things packed away, they go back to the mats where the small amount of Wasabi students move to the other side of the dojo. "There's so much space you can use to practice," Sloane points out, raising an eyebrow.

"Yeah but we're not gonna share the same space with any of you," Kim spits back.

"Why so bitter, Kimberly?" Heather inquires, her voice laced with sarcasm and taunt. "You used to be one of us, remember? We used to be tight, remember? We shared the same fucking sparring space, remember?"

"Like she wants to be associated with cheaters," Jerry replies, stretching his arm towards Kim's side to protect her.

"Go fuck yourself," Heather growls at Jerry and Kim.

"Alright," Kai groans, interrupting an impending argument. "It was your fatal decision to play with a monster truck on our parking lot, and now you have to deal with it."

"Yeah, i'm pretty sure we'd do the same—"

"No, we wouldn't," Kai interjects, stopping Elliott from finishing that sentence. "Come on, we got to practice for belt upgrades. Jack, keep training Heather, and Jake, help Sabrina. Everyone else...stay out of trouble."

Heather takes Jack's wrist and pulls him towards a worn out sparring dummy. She's still pissed off about earlier, and is certainly more pissed off about sharing a dojo with someone she despised. "I hate her," she mutters, and punches the dummy so hard that the head comes off.

Jack backs up before the head flies towards his face, and then softly glares at Heather. "Seriously?" He questions, gesturing towards the broken dummy.

"I don't know how you dated her," Heather argues. She turns around and grabs the sparring gloves, and tosses them to Jack. "She's a total bitch. She thinks she's better than us now that she isn't with the 'cheating side' like….ok? I get it, we cheated a couple times but now we aren't? At least when Kai started showing up! And like...she used to be with us so we aren't that different?"

Jack allows her to rant while he blocks her punches. He understands where Heather is coming from; being in this place is making him remember the day that his friends took his cheating ex-girlfriend's side (well in retrospect, Jerry was already gonna take Kim's side since they're together, it was only Milton and Rudy and well...look what happened). He wanted this to be over so that he can go back to the black dragons dojo and train there, and never have to worry about his ex-friends, even in school.

"What makes me even more upset is that we used to be friends, you know?" Heather says, suddenly feeling out of breath. "She always pushed me to go further with my training, and I did. I wasn't ok with her deflecting, but i'd still be her friend if she didn't villainize us. Despite our seedy reputation, we still treated her with respect and we made her feel home. It wasn't until you showed up that she started to think we were the ultimate evil."

Jack frowns a little. "Did you hate me?"

"No," Heather replies. "Part of it was because you were cute. I didn't blame Kim at first to be honest. Another part of it was because I knew it was wrong. I was probably the only person who thought that way."

"Well, luckily, we're not cheaters anymore," Jack points out, making Heather crack a smile.

"You're right." The conversation is dropped immediately after, and they start practicing again.


 

Practice takes the rest of the day. Everyone keeps their distance, but that's ok with Jack because he wanted nothing to do with his old dojo. Neither did Carson, either. Once they both exit the locker room, they notice they are the last of the black dragons to be here, especially since no person wants to be here in a dirty, moldy martial arts dojo.

"Well, if it isn't the traitors," Jerry calls out to them, causing both Jack and Carson to whip their heads around and glare at him. Jack doesn't want to say anything and hopes Carson would turn back around and pull him out of the dojo, but he knows that isn't the case. Carson fully turns around and glares at Jerry.

"Traitor? I was kicked out, remember?" Carson laughs. "And you're the one to talk, when you decided to go behind your best friend's back and engage in a secret relationship with his girlfriend."

"Carson, let's go," Jack frowns, but Carson ignores him.

"Don't you think you're wrong for that? Pretending that you give a shit about Jack when you don't?" Carson argues, his anger rising after remembering how broken and distraught Jack was after the initiation ceremony. "Don't you ever assume that we're traitors, when you're a bigger one."

"Oh please," Jerry scoffs. "You cheated just because you wanted to beat Jack. He was better than you, and you couldn't handle it. That's why you cheated, right?"

"Shut up," Carson growls.

"Why are you even defending him anyway?" Jerry inquires. "He hates you."

"Because he's my friend," Carson argues back. "Something you're clearly not. You betrayed him, and you don't even feel sorry for yourself. You're making out with Kim at every corner of this goddamned dojo to make your point across...for what? He moved on from her, and he definitely doesn't need you to be a friend for him anymore.

"Oh?" Jerry smirks, and looks at Jack, who is still facing the other way. "Is that right, Brewer? He's your friend now? Heh, never thought you would be friends with this asshole."

"He's a better friend than you'll ever be," Jack growls.

"Oh yeah?" Jerry cackles, and steps closer to Jack. Carson stretches a hand over Jack, protecting him innately. "Takes a traitor to know a traitor. You probably cheated on Saturday too, didn't you? You're clearly with the black dragons, and you know they're disgusting cheats. You could've been with us, and you decided to deflect just because your girlfriend liked me better than you. How pathetic."

Jack clenches his fist and feels the tears stinging his eyes, and immediately leaves the dojo. Carson glares at the latinx teen once again before leaving the dojo and chasing after Jack.

"Hey, Jack…"

Jack doesn't stop. Instead, he leaves the mall entirely and keeps going, passing Carson's car and goes towards the path to his house. Carson sighs, getting inside his car and decides to follow Jack. He rolls down his windows. "Jack!"

"I just need to be left alone," Jack replies, with his teeth grinding in anger and once again holding back tears.

"Yeah, I don't think that's such a good idea," Carson replies, scratching the back of his neck with one hand and the other steadily holding his steering wheel. "Don't listen to him, ok? He's an asshole."

"But what if he's right? I mean...how long did it take me to find out that my ex was cheating and for me to leave one dojo for another?" He argues. He stops in the middle of the sidewalk, gives up his fight on holding back tears and faces Carson. "I joined another dojo, barely two hours after finding out about my ex having another relationship behind my back and freaking the hell out about it, when all I could've done was get over it and beat your ass?"

Carson frowns deeply, but doesn't reply just yet. He knows Jack has a point, but if that was him, he would feel uncomfortable being in the same room as his ex-girlfriend and his ex-best friends training their lives away. After swiftly killing the engine, he gets out of the car and storms towards Jack, fighting the urge to wipe Jack's tears with his thumbs. "Yeah, but...would you feel comfortable being around a cheater and an asshole?"

"It's better than being on a team who cheats all the fucking time," Jack argues, his anger rising. "I would've gotten over it, trust me. I've been in bigger fights and i'm sure we would've been friends again."

"Really," Carson replies, with a cold sneer. "You would rather yourself to be depressed looking at your ex-girlfriend be with someone you thought was your best friend. I don't get you, Jack Brewer. You push away your own feelings over being angry just because you want to prove to the world that your dojo is better. No, there's a fucking reason why I hate that place, and Rudy kicking me out doesn't even scratch the surface!"

"You don't know shit!" Jack yells, and pushes Carson harshly. Carson stumbles, and resists the urge to deck Jack in the face. He knows that Jack is just angry and he surely isn't over his ex dating his best friend, so he isn't allowing this to truly get angry at him. In other circumstances though…

"I don't know shit? I was a fucking Wasabi warrior before you even existed in this fucking town," Carson spits back, his voice higher than Jack's. "Yeah, they might be great people, but they're not. They have a holier than thou attitude that's no better than the black dragons and a sensei who is a selfish prick. You, of all people should know that he puts himself first before the safety of anyone. That mold in the bathroom is the reason why i'm still wary to go inside the locker rooms. There's still a bunch of disgusting shit in there that should be illegal, and it's only gonna get worse. The dojo is named after a washed out, obese, white martial arts star who appropriates the Japanese culture. Yeah, I may have gotten my black belt there, but that doesn't mean I'm proud of it, and I only got better by getting the hell out of Seaford for a while."

Jack huffs, staring at Carson incredulously, but having nothing to say.

"You may not notice it, but you don't need them, not now and probably not ever," Carson continues, his voice leveled. "I've watched you slowly get over what happened and become friends with all of us, even repairing things with your cousin. You may not be completely over what Kim did to you, but you still kicked their asses on Saturday. If you're gonna allow that prick to dictate your decisions like that without knowing your motives, or blaming yourself or us for whatever happened between you and Kim, then you are not the person I thought you were...and trust me, even before our rivalry a year ago, I've always admired you."

Jack still doesn't say anything, which makes it even more unsettling.

"Do you still want your space or—"

"Can you take me home? Please?"

Carson nods immediately. "Sure." He leads Jack to his car, and as soon as Carson enters the driver's seat, Jack starts crying. Carson frowns even deeper and pulls Jack in his embrace.

Chapter Text

"I've had it!" Heather exclaims. She slams her chemistry textbook on the bench next to Carson and Kai, who are actively avoiding their temporary dojo just because they hated the people inside. Carson wants to punch Jerry's face in, and for some reason Kai had beef with Milton. Heather wants to rub Kim's face in sandpaper, but who didn't? Sabrina wanted to as well. "When is our dojo going to be repaired?"

"Sensei Ty said a few more days," Kai replies, much to his chagrin.

Heather groans angrily. "Can we hold off on my training until our dojo is repaired? I rather just train over there."

"We can't do that," Carson replies. He understands Heather's pain indefinitely. It's been a year since his stunt and while he does regret it, he hates how no one seems to get over it. Jack sure did, otherwise they wouldn't be friends. However, even so he wouldn't want to be friends with anyone over there. After hearing what his friends did to Jack, he would rather not. "It sucks, but if you want to be a black belt, you gotta train."

"That means you two gotta come with me," Heather retorts.

Carson scowls. "No, that means you can go to the dojo. I'm sure Jack is there waiting for you."

"Come on," Heather whines. "If I'm gonna have to deal with the blond menace and her lackeys, I gotta have my whole crew with me too."

Kai snickers, clearly amused. "Alright, let's go then." He, along with Carson, gets up from the bench and make their way towards the dojo. When they go inside, they stop dead in their tracks when they see Jake and Jack holding Sabrina back, while Jerry holds Kim back, her hair in disarray. "What the hell happened here?"

"The wildest almost-fight I've ever seen," Sloane replies. "Sabrina was leaving the locker room when Kim bumped into her purposefully and then Sabrina just almost knocked her into the next dimension."

"Why didn't she do it?" Heather whispers, hoping that Jake and Jack would let go of Sabrina to see Kim get beaten at her own game. There's a part of her that disagrees, but she ignores it.

"Beats me," Sloane answers, running a hand through her ponytail.

"You two can let go," Sabrina says finally. "I told you, I'm good. I won't do anything."

Jake glances at Jack, and they wordlessly let go of Sabrina. She huffs, straightens her workout gear, and storms to the other part of the dojo to steer clear from the blond. Jake follows her, while everyone else goes back to training. Jack glares at his former friends once again. "That wasn't necessary."

"You being here is unnecessary," Kim growls back.

"You're right, but at least I'm willing to keep my distance, unlike you," Jack argues. "We're all willing to keep our distance but you three are so hellbent on picking fights with us, which is a mistake when you're outnumbered. Now, leave us alone so that we can train for as long as our dojo is fixed, for your fucking mistake might I add." With that, he storms away to the same route Sabrina and Jake went.

"He's right," Milton shrugs, getting glares from both Kim and Jerry. "What?"

"Shut up," Kim growls harshly. She flinches away from Jerry and fixes her hair to a ponytail. "What would it take for these cheating traitors to go away?"

"Same," Jerry agrees, leaning against the front lockers. "They've overstayed their welcome."

"And they took Jack," She points out.

"Well, to be honest, you two did betray him and it would be uncomfortable to train with two people he doesn't really like," Milton tries to reason, getting another glare from his friends. "Listen, I know we're supposed to hate him for leaving us, but there weren't many options for him in the first place. He's just doing what he has to do, no matter how much he hates us."

"Once again, shut up," Kim repeats, in the same threatening voice she used the last time.

However, the redhead doesn't flinch. He's tired of pretending to hate a friend. "You can tell me to shut up all you want but it isn't going to change what I think about it. I'm just tired of arguing and pretending to not care."

Unbeknownst to Milton, Jack heard the whole thing, and the corners of his lips twitch, but a harsh kick on his side breaks him out of his distraction. He grimaces in pain momentarily and then glares at Sabrina. "What the fuck, Tate?"

"Pay attention, Brewer," she says, smiling innocently.

He snarls at her, however he relents, with the redhead's words buzzing in his head.


 

"I forgot to tell you yesterday," Carson speaks up after leaving the dojo, with Jack by his side.

"What?" Jack inquires.

"I have a date this weekend with Lindsay," he says, with a grin on his face.

Jack forces a grin, knowing that he still doesn't like his friend dating someone he disliked. "Oh, that's great," he replies, hoping his voice doesn't sound forced. "Where are you taking her?"

"Not sure yet," Carson says back, with an unsure expression. He promised her that they wouldn't go somewhere that everyone goes to, but he has no idea on how that would work. "You got any ideas?"

No, Jack says in his head. He's already been on three dates with Taylor and their fourth date will be around this weekend at the pier, so he can't say that. While he ignored seeing Lindsay at the restaurant last weekend, he doesn't wanna see her resting bitch face glaring at him again if both couples do find each other. "I don't know, man. Take her somewhere that you think she would like."

"That's a good start," Carson ponders out loud. He knows certain things that most girls like, like shopping and movies. She did mention that she likes baseball, so… "I got an idea."

Jack rolls his eyes as Carson unlocks the doors on his car. He enters the car and waits a couple minutes until Carson is settled. "So what's the idea?"

"No, you might jinx it," he argues jokingly, and drives off to the direction of Jack's home.

"The last time you said that, you showed up at the same restaurant Taylor and I had our date," Jack retorts.

Carson chuckles, and keeps on driving without a word. Jack huffs a little, and looks out the window. His phone vibrates and he has half a mind to ignore it (maybe it's Taylor or someone messaging via the group chat) but then he checks the notification. He didn't expect to see that number again. He pockets his phone and continues to look out the window while Carson pulls up to Jack's house. A comfortable silence passes before Jack opens his mouth to break it: "Did you really mean what you said yesterday?"

Carson furrows both of his eyebrows. "What do you mean?"

"You know what I mean," Jack replies. He doesn't want to repeat it, in fear of the situation getting even more awkward.

"About you being my friend? Well, of course I meant it, I thought we settled this—"

"About you admiring me," Jack blurts, getting a little annoyed.

"Oh, that," Carson casts his head to the side, and starts to blush. "Well, yeah...I mean, your grandfather trained one of the most famous martial arts actors of the 70s, even though I don't like him, and you became a second degree black belt before you turned sixteen. I think that's worth admiring someone...to me at least."

"How much research did you do on me?" Jack chuckles, hoping a joke would settle the awkwardness.

"Enough," Carson replies, with a smirk of his own. He turns around again and looks at Jack. "But not to stalk you or anything, just to make sure I knew what I was getting into when I moved back here."

"Good," Jack nods, mostly to himself. "So before this gets more awkward, I'm gonna go."

Carson chuckles lowly. "Good night, Jack."

Jack smiles a little, and nods before exiting the car and quickly enters his home. Once Carson's car disappears, Jack drops his bag inside his room and opens the text he received a few minutes ago. He isn't sure if he wants to respond to it, but then there is another message. Sighing, Jack opens both messages, scans them, and then decides to call the number instead.

It rings for a few times until he hears a cautious "Hello?"

"Why are you texting me?" He inquires, in a controlled voice. "After all this time?"

"I knew you heard me at the dojo today," Milton replies, almost dodging the question for later. "I meant every word. Ever since you left, it's been awkward for all three of us and I can't stand it anymore."

"That's not my fault," Jack states.

"I know that, and I'm not gonna blame you for anything that transcended months ago. Surely you've moved on and I see you happy with your new girlfriend and best friend...I never expected you to be that close with Carson but—"

"Is there a point to this?" Jack interjects, already feeling impatient at his former friend's stalling.

"—Life's surprising," Milton continues, ignoring the fact that he was interrupted. "And I'm sorry for not being able to see how wrong this was. I should've been a better friend, and I should've spoken up. And yeah, I'm risking losing two friends but i'm risking it to get my other best friend back."

Jack let's out a deep sigh. He really wants to hang up the phone, or at least, go off about his frustrations from the last few months, but he knows that won't really serve a purpose. However, Jack is very sure that he isn't ready to be friends with anyone from his old dojo...yet. He was hurt about this for so long, and he still isn't over it from what happened yesterday. Other times, it would take a few days but this shook him, and weirdly enough, he just can't forgive, or forget. "I can't…I don't think I can just forget about it and be your friend again."

"And I get that, which is why I'm willing to wait," the redhead replies. "I didn't even expect you to forgive me automatically anyway, but I just wanted you to know that I meant everything I said today."

Jack takes a deep breath, and hangs up the phone after a few seconds of silence.


 

Friday comes quick, and Jack is ready for his fourth date with Taylor. They haven't been talking much except for the occasional conversation about their science class and cuddling for a few hours before one of their parents get home, however nothing is awkward on the way towards the pier. In fact, everything seems to be going normal. Jack talks about how he's training Heather to get her black belt in a year, and how Sabrina's also on her way to getting her green belt, and Taylor talks about how she had to reveal to another old friend that she isn't rich anymore during her afternoon at a country club. It was saddening because she lost that friend, but she doesn't care. Including some girls from the cheerleading squad, Taylor is easygoing enough to make friends with a lot of people at school, and acquaint herself with Jack's recent friends.

She hasn't been able to make friends with Carson however, and she kind of knows why. Besides Carson appearing jealous whenever she appears with Jack, she feels as if there is something that Carson isn't telling Jack...or himself. However, she isn't going to let that ruin her relationship. After she parks her car, they take a short walk to the sandy beach, where the sun is minutes away from setting. It's practically empty, with the exception of a couple yards away, but neither one of them minded.

"I'm hoping for my sake that sand doesn't reach in uncomfortable places," Taylor says, after sitting on the blanket she set up for the both of them.

"Same here," Jack agrees. Sand getting in places that they couldn't wash off until they get home is never great. The water won't make it better because the water has sand particles. Jack removes his shirt, revealing his chiseled chest, and flexes some of his muscles subtly before relaxing.

Taylor watches the whole thing, biting her lip a little. Jack turns around, smirking. "Like what you see?"

Taylor shakes out of it, and sneers at him. "Shut up." She still has her shorts and muscle tee on, not really feeling compelled to remove them unless they're going in the water. "Is it still really bad being in your old dojo?" She asks, after a bout of silence.

"For the most part they've backed off," Jack replies. After his phone call with Milton a few days back, everyone has backed off, mostly because Rudy successfully evades Kim away from Sabrina, and also because none of them wanted to do anything with Jack. It is definitely easier now that both senseis have settled their differences for the sake of the Black Dragons having a temporary sparring and training space until the front was finished. "Which is easy knowing that we would probably destroy them."

Taylor only knew parts of the tension going on between her boyfriend's dojo and the Wasabi dojo, but apparently everyone in the city knew. It's even more fueled because Jack, who used to be the latter's star student, moved to the rival dojo. She didn't like it, but it couldn't be ignored. "Would you ever get along?"

"I don't know," Jack shrugs. His beef with his former dojo is different than everyone else's. He can forgive and forget if he wants to but after the Black Dragons' name is literally dragged around for slander, there's no going back. "I can't forgive them for what they did to me, and my situation with them is different than, let's say, Carson's beef with them."

"Oh," Taylor nods a little. The mention of Carson's name brings uneasiness around her, considering that she almost figured out the reason why he doesn't like her. She also knows the whole thing with Jack and his ex girlfriend that almost had her confront Kim, but she fought against it. "Well...I'm sure if you guys would speak about it maybe things would change?"

"Not a chance," Jack shakes his head, chuckling. "One time, I had to pull Sabrina away from Kim because they almost fought each other and I fear that Sabrina was going to knock her into a new realm."

"Yikes," Taylor hisses. "So, what? Are you just gonna ignore them until your dojo is fixed?"

"That's the plan," Jack answers, with uncertainty. "Enough about that…" he smirks, and reaches down to the hem of Taylor's muscle shirt. Taylor giggles a little, and closes the gap between them. She immediately climbs on top of Jack, not breaking the kiss, knocking off her flip flops and sun hat in the process. She makes a guttural sound while Jack reaches lower to Taylor's lower back.

She breaks the kiss, and removes her muscle tee, revealing a black bikini top. She chuckles and blushes a little upon noticing that Jack is staring at her…like he wants to rip it off with his teeth or something. "Like what you see?"

"Shut up," Jack mutters.

"I'm gonna take that as a yes," Taylor replies, before going down again and closing the gap between them. She keeps her hands leveled on the slightly sandy blanket, until Jack suddenly flips her on her back. She whimpers, and looks at Jack with half lidded eyes. "So, we gonna make out for the whole date?"

"We don't have to," Jack suggests, with a teasing smirk on his lips while he rolls over to the side and gets up.

Taylor gets up as well, looking straight at Jack with curiosity. "What are you suggesting?"

Jack shrugs cheekily. Before she knows it, Jack picks her up and throws her in the ocean water, with her screaming half hearted protests. Taylor hits the water back first, feeling some sand particles tickle her skin before she gets up to see Jack grinning wildly. "Fuck you!" She splutters.

"Yeah yeah," he waves off, and starts splashing her.

"Stop!" She chuckles, blocking herself with her hands while the salty water touches her already slightly cool skin. When he stops, she charges after him and tries to sink him in the water but it doesn't work. She ends up face first in the ocean again. "I hate you!"

"Sure you do!" Jack replies. She climbs on top of him and easily weighs him down to go deeper in the water, effectively getting him wet. She's laughing and getting off him when he spits some of the salty water from his mouth. She already gets a head start on running away when Jack finally is able to see. "Don't you run away from me!" He shouts, and chases after her.


 

Lindsay picks out a wooden bat, and swings it around to test it. She's not too excited for her first date being at the batting cages in the pier (honestly she can go with her father any time), but she at least is giving Carson room for effort. That also means she won't be going easy the next time around.

The cages were relatively empty with some scatterings of middle aged dads with younger children, but she doesn't care about that. She puts on her helmet and waits for the first ball to shoot.

"Something tells me you probably played softball as a kid," Carson starts, noticing her determined stance.

Lindsay shrugs a little. "It was more than that," she says, in a slacked tone before the ball hurls towards her. She smacks it hard enough for it to go over the automated baseball machine. "I was in little league for three years."

Carson makes a small grunt. He can see a smaller version of Lindsay making constant home runs with her strong grip and swing. "What happened? I know you still like it, but why did you stop playing?"

"I was too old for little league," Lindsay replies, chuckling. "Plus, my parents separated and I was basically living full time with my mother...and she thought playing softball was for boys and lesbians." She smacks another on hurling towards her, and it gets far, but not as far as the first one. "It didn't really break my spirit, but I did become more girly after her constant need to bond with me at the mall, at nail salons, and the like. Not that I don't enjoy those things. I always did, but I love sports too, you know?"

"I get it," Carson replies. He had other interests that weren't martial arts, but since he became more full time with martial arts and school, he hasn't done half of it in years...like rock climbing. "Sometimes we just gotta allow ourselves to enjoy other things."

Lindsay doesn't say anything else; she almost hits the next ball, but it hurls past her and hits the metal gate. She doesn't flinch. "These things are dangerous."

Carson drops his bat, feeling underwhelmed. "I can tell them to slow it down for you."

"Nah, I'm not a wuss," Lindsay replies reassuringly, and hits the next ball hurling towards her. Carson shakes his head, and smirks a little. He doesn't like this sport, but it's fascinating to watch Lindsay hit a couple balls, making several legal pop ups. He continues to watch her and make conversation for an hour until she grows hungry. After leaving the cages, they agree on getting pizza at the nearby shop, and so far, Carson seems to be enjoying this date. At first, he thought something was going to happen, like his friends showing up, but he's glad it hasn't happened. The last thing he needed is either Heather or Jake embarrassing him, or Jack making snide comments at Lindsay, or worse, Brody making kissy faces.

However, he isn't sure if he's enjoying it as a platonic or a romantic date. This can easily be platonic, but he knows that Lindsay likes him. He likes her, but it doesn't seem genuine. When he's had his crushes, they were pretty strong and when he would go on dates with those few people that he had the chance of dating, it never dwindled. (Given that some of them never called back, but he's over that.)

Relaxing in his chair, he looks at his half eaten slice. "I've never seen another guy eat a half of a pizza slice and call it quits," Lindsay chuckles lightheartedly.

"Not a big fan of carbs," Carson replies. It's not a lie, but even he can enjoy a full slice of pizza occasionally. No, that wasn't the case. "Luckily you can finish off the rest for me."

Lindsay looks at the piece, and shrugs. "Don't mind if I do," she mutters, and snatches the half eaten pizza from the greasy paper plate.

Carson smirks, and takes a sip of his water. It's silent again, and for some reason, it's not as comfortable as usual. His earlier thoughts now plague him once again, and he's wondering if he should continue seeing Lindsay to see if it would ever develop or if it should be platonic only. The second date usually cements things, right? "So, you wanna do anything else or are you ready to go?" He inquires.

"Let's go," Lindsay replies, finishing off her cola. There was only ice left, which she hated because they filled the cup with nothing but ice. She drops her napkin on the table and gets up, fixing her outfit a little. Carson gets up and starts walking towards his car, with Lindsay standing right next to him.

Lindsay looks at Carson's hand, and grabs if. She interlaces her fingers through his finger gaps, and relaxes a little. Carson feels a hand holding his, and has the urge to remove it. He grips her hand softly, realizing that would seem suspicious.

They take the long way to Carson's car, and when they reach his car, the ride is somewhat silent. Lindsay feels content, but Carson is having a mental war with himself. It's only one date, he's sure he will develop some feelings eventually. But what if he doesn't? That's also what he's worried about. The last thing Carson wants is to hurt someone's feelings just because he might have feelings for someone else. He doesn't want to hurt Lindsay by dumping her for a straight boy, who she completely hates. It would make her bitter, knowing that someone she likes, likes someone else.

Carson has no idea what to do, and it's almost making his anxiety skyrocket. His hands are getting sweaty around the steering wheel, leaving sweat marks when he moved his hands around. He can feel his heart rate increasing a little. He just hopes he gets to Lindsay's house before having an anxiety attack in front of her.

Luckily, he does, and Lindsay only kisses him on the cheek before disappearing. Once he sees her enter the house, he places his forehead on top of the steering wheel, hoping to level his breathing again. After a few minutes, he drives off to his house, hoping the peace and quiet can allow him to think clearly.

Chapter Text

Sloane holds the punching bag while Heather makes a couple hard punches. Today she is training the black belt in training since Jack is still with Sabrina and no one knows where any of their senseis are. Also, Carson’s on his date. She watches as sweat trickles down Heather’s face, but the girl is completely unfazed by it. For the past few weeks that she’s been here, she’s been close to everyone but especially Heather. They both like to joke around and sneak inside lesbian bars together, as well as train extensively now that Heather is going to get her black belt next year.

She’s been meaning to ask Heather out on a date, but hasn't done it yet, and isn't sure when she will do so. She knows that her stay in Seaford won't be long, and she doesn't know how Heather feels about long distance relationships while she’s touring the world. She’s pulled out of her reverie when Heather calls her name, with her gloves now off and a water bottle replaces it. “Huh?”

“You were staring off into space, girl,” Heather says, a smile creeping up her lips.

“Sorry,” Sloane says nervously, blushing a little. “I was thinking about touring.” Which wasn’t a full lie, but that's not as important as her crush on Heather. “You know i'm not gonna stay here for long.”

“I know, which fucking sucks,” Heather frowns. Sloane is the only girl in the dojo she can call a friend, because even if Sabrina is likeable, she’s abrasive and way too young to do certain things. She’s only sixteen, going on seventeen in the beginning of September while Sabrina will be fourteen in October. It’s a huge age gap. She can be friends with Taylor, but she’s still a little bitter about the girl turning her down a couple years ago. “What am I gonna do when you're gone?”

“You can hang out with me again,” Jake offers, after walking up to Heather.

Heather raises an eyebrow. “No, you’re a whore. And i'm saying that nicely.”

Sloane chuckles, watching as her crush banter with her best friend. She definitely wants to go on a date with her before she goes back to touring, if they’re not gonna pursue a relationship. Maybe she can ask her later today or something.

Heather gets fed up and leaves, whispering about how she would rather talk to Elliott than to argue with Jake. Sloane shakes her head, and watches Heather walks over to the curly haired green belt, who is doing stretch exercises with Sabrina (or pretending to).

“Wipe the drool from your chin,” Jake teases.

Sloane turns around and sneers at Jake. She wasn't staring for that long, was she? “Shut up.”

“You’ve been stalling for way too long, Jennings,” Jake states, leaning a little against the wall.

“I don't want to ask her out and then it gets so weird that I probably have to leave town,” Sloane replies, sighing deeply.

“She likes you too,” Jake says matter of factly, almost like he’s known for many years but he’s known since KarateCon. “Trust me, i’ve been her friend for many years, back when she was a white belt. When she likes someone, she really likes them, and she clearly likes you. The last thing she will say is no, especially when you two go out almost every Saturday night to that butchy lesbian bar.”

Sloane giggles a little. The last time they went to the bar, some butch girls approached them both and wondered if they were dating. It was kind of embarrassing, but they revealed that they were dating each other too and that they are also around eighteen, sneaking inside the bar. Heather told Jake almost after it happened. “Ok, fine, but if she says no, I'll blame you.”

“Don't blame little ol’ me,” Jake says innocently, and laughs along with Sloane.

Once Heather approaches Elliott and Sabrina, she sits across from them with a sigh. She looks back a little and stares at Sloane, hoping the other girl won't stare back. Sabrina looks at Elliott, and they both have knowing looks. “Hey, Davis, when you’re done staring, you can turn back around,” Sabrina speaks up.

Heather turns back around and glares at Sabrina. “Shut up, Tate.”

“Ok, but i'm not the one who’s staring at Sloane like a lost puppy,” Sabrina retorts. “I don't get it. You like her, she likes you, why do you two torture yourselves by not dating each other?”

“I don't know,” Heather exclaims. “What do you know about crushes?”

“I've had my fair share of crushes,” Sabrina replies. “I've asked only one of them out. But, this isn't about me, this is about you. Ask her out, for fuck’s sake.”

“Yeah, you’ve been crushing on her since forever,” Elliott adds in.

Heather rolls her eyes. “Ok, but not now...I still gotta train.” She gets up, and glances at Jack, who is still stretching with Kai, and they seem to be having a civil conversation. “Brewer, let’s spar.”

“Which one?” Kai inquires, gesturing towards him and his cousin.

“Jack, obviously,” Heather answers, exasperatedly.

Jack smirks at his cousin, who sneers at him halfheartedly. He gets up and walks over to Heather, who is ready to spar.


 

“So, I tried talking to Jack,” Milton speaks up after a bout of silence between the three of them at Falafel Phil’s. They are actively avoiding the dojo so that they won't be in the same room as the black dragons, which was mostly Kim’s idea, but Jerry was on board and Milton was dragged as the obvious third wheel. Their sensei was discussing something about rebranding the dojo name, so he isn't going to be here for a couple hours.

“Why would you do that?” Kim inquires, looking at Milton dumbfounded. “You know he’s just gonna ignore you.”

“Actually, he responded,” the redhead says matter of factly.

“Anyways, that’s not important,” Jerry rolls his eyes, and pushes the baba ghanoush poppers on his basket. “I have an idea to get the Black Dragons out of the dojo. We take Rudy’s keys and lock the doors so they won't have a chance to come in the next day.”

“Jerry, that’s a terrible idea,” Milton scowls. “Remember, this is our fault that the front of their dojo is in shambles, and it’s going to take a few days to repair it.”

“Actually, that’s a good idea,” Kim replies. “Lock them out so they don't come in. I like that.”

“Of course you would,” Milton mutters, restraining himself to roll his eyes.

“What was that?” Kim asks.

“Nothing,” Milton answers, dejectedly.

“No, I believe you said something,” Jerry speaks up, glaring accusingly at his friend. “Come on, you can say it.”

Milton rolls his eyes, already fed up with both Kim and Jerry. He hated third wheeling and he hated how his friends have been acting since the truth came out. “I just don't think kicking the Black Dragons out is a good idea. They’ve been here for about a week and their dojo is almost finished. I say we just leave them alone and before you know it, they’ll be out of our hair.”

“Oh please, you’re probably still determined to win Jack back for some reason,” Jerry scoffs. “He’s not coming back and quite frankly, let's keep it that way. He clearly has new friends, who are cheaters.”

“Maybe they’re not cheaters if they beat us at the tournament?” Milton argues, his anger starting to rise due to his friends’ ignorance.

“Clearly they had Jack to help them,” Kim retorts back.

Milton sighs angrily. “Or maybe they utilized Jack to help them win against us, and treated him as a friend along the way? Something we haven't been doing because you two betrayed him in the ugliest way possible? I’m sorry, but if you’re gonna talk shit about someone who has been kind to you and has saved you from imminent death, then at least try to come up with some facts instead of being bitter and saying he betrayed you, when, it was you two who twisted the knife behind his back.”

Milton gets up, and exits the restaurant, with both Jerry and Kim looking at the empty seat, flabbergasted. Instead of avoiding the dojo, he decides to go over there anyway. A couple of the Black Dragons look at him, but he ignores the stares and heads to the locker room. Jack looks at the angry redhead, and doesn't say a word while he spars with Heather once again.


 

It’s around seven in the evening when everyone stops training. Once Heather exits the locker room, she decides to wait inside instead of outside. She hated the dojo, but she wants to ask Sloane out before the day ends. Maybe they can go somewhere that isn't a bar. Maybe that place Jack went on his third date with Taylor? No...he mentioned they have a wait list and if it weren't for Taylor’s connections that she hasn't lost after going bankrupt, they would've been on the waiting list forever.

Well, before she decides on where to take Sloane, she has to at least ask the brunette out first. Sighing, she ignores Kim’s death stare and looks at the locker room passageway until Sloane steps out, with her duffel bag on one shoulder. “Hey Jennings,” Heather greets more nervously than ever.

“Heather,” Sloane responds, with a small smile. “I thought you were outside already.”

“Uh, yeah, I wanted to wait inside this time,” Heather replies, mentally slapping herself in the face. Who says that?

“Ok, so let’s go wait for Jake by his car,” Sloane prods, taking Heather’s hand in hers and slightly pulling her outside. She hopes to ask Heather out on the way to Jake’s car, since the nineteen year old takes forever to get dressed. Heather relents, and follows Sloane out of the dojo.

There’s a bit of silence while they walk towards the parking lot, unknowingly hand in hand. Once they reach Jake’s car, Sloane stops and turns to face Heather, her hand still holding Heather’s. “So, I was thinking…”

“About us?” Heather guesses.

Sloane nods for confirmation. “Yeah, and this is going to either go really well or really bad, but, would you like to go on a date with me?” Sloane suddenly looks away, avoiding eye contact. Her face is red and her heart is pounding, waiting for a rejection.

Heather giggles a little, and grabs Sloane’s chin so the girl is looking at her. “It’s about time one of us asked each other out. And yes, I will go out with you.”

Sloane rolls her eyes and laughs along with Heather, but it slowly dwindles when they realize how close they are to each other's face. Heather catches Sloane glancing at her lips, and then back at her eyes, making immediate eye contact. She moves her free hand to cup Sloane’s face, and is about to lean closer until she hears Jake’s voice.

“There you two are!” Jake calls out. Heather rolls her eyes and drops her hand from Sloane’s face. She lets go of Sloane’s hand as well and turns around to face Jake. “We might be able to move back to the dojo next week, which is practically tomorrow.”

“Ugh, finally!” Heather sighs contentedly. Sloane feigns happiness, feeling off after Jake interrupted them. “I can finally go back to a place that doesn't give me athlete’s foot.”

“I have an antifungal cream if you want it,” Jake offers, while the three of them enter the car. Heather wordlessly takes shotgun while Sloane takes the back, saying nothing.

“I have one already, but thanks,” Heather replies. She received a nasty case after going barefoot on the first day training at the Wasabi dojo, and since then, she's been wearing socks. She never received that when she walked around with no shoes at the black dragons. It proves that the place isn't very clean, but she already knew that from the suspicious ceiling fixtures.

The ride back is silent, but no one minded much anyway.

 

Chapter Text

Taylor pushes Jack against his bed, allowing him to fall on it gracefully. She giggles, and immediately straddles him, capturing his lips again. Jack puts his hands on Taylor's hips as she grinds on top of him lightly, deepening the kiss. Taylor lets out low moans, her fingers going through Jack's hair and feeling him harden under her.

Jack growls and flips Taylor so that her back is on his mattress and he is towering over her. He kisses her for a few seconds and pulls away, staring at her with lust. He unbuttons his shirt and throws it off to the side and then kisses Taylor again.

The sound of an alarm sounds off, prompting Jack to wake up on his bed. Annoyed, he turns off his phone and ignores the urge to throw it across the room. He turns his body around and is about to close his eyes when he sees a shirtless Carson laying right next to him, literally on the process of waking up. He stares at Carson with the same amount of lust he stared at Taylor during his dream sequence, which startles Carson a bit.

"What?" He inquires.

Jack doesn't say anything. Instead, he leans over and kisses Carson, catching the other black belt by surprise. He instantly pulls away, staring at Jack with shock, and a bit of indignation. "Don't you have a girlfriend?"

"Shut up and kiss me," Jack replies aggressively. Carson grabs Jack by the shirt and kisses Jack again, while he makes a sound of satisfaction.

The sound of a phone going off shakes Carson awake. He groans, and looks at his phone to see missed calls from Heather and Jack. He growls, and turns off his phone, feeling angry and unsatisfied from his dream sequence ending on such a sour note.

Then it occurs to him: why the hell was he dreaming about kissing his best friend, who's straight as a pole and definitely taken? Sighing, he pulls the sheets off him and sits up, ignoring the particularly large tent in his pants and his sweaty stance. It's already midday, which means the dojo is open, which means Carson is extremely late for training, but he doesn't care. As if his issue last night wasn't bad already, he's already having idiosyncratic dream sequences about kissing Jack while he has a girlfriend.

Deciding on just staying home, he goes to his bathroom and takes a cold shower. Yesterday after going home, he went straight to his room, effectively skipping dinner. His parents were concerned, but he isn't going to allow them to interfere. There were things that his parents didn't need to know, like his sexuality for instance, but they also didn't need to know why their son is trying not to overthink under the covers of his own bed.

This is futile. Carson couldn't believe that he's like this over something that shouldn't matter. He's sure that he will eventually like Lindsay back if he actually takes the time to know her. However, he knows damn well that they don't have much in common and he still can't get over the fact that she didn't want him to be friends with Jack at one point. Who does that? Even if Jack was an asshole, Carson was sure he didn't mean it completely.

He knows that yesterday wasn't very great. He can tell by the look on her face that she was unimpressed until they left the cages to get pizza. The look on her face made him lose his appetite. He wanted to impress her, but instead, it seemed like another attempt to piss Lindsay off. Their dates have never really been successful. When they went to that restaurant out of town, Lindsay only liked it until she saw Jack, and she immediately wanted to leave from the look on her face. They went somewhere else, but Lindsay was already too pissed to fully enjoy the date. He really didn't know what to do at the time.

Maybe he can go on a second (third in theory) date with Lindsay to try this out again? That seems like a good idea, but not now. He turns off the shower, and dries himself before wrapping the towel around his hips. He goes back to his room and puts on some cleaner clothes before going back to bed. Hoping to not have another implicitly wet dream, he goes back to sleep.

Carson wakes up again when he hears knocking on his window. He immediately assumes it's Kai so he gets up and opens the window. However, a different set of shoes decide to step inside his house.

"Did you really think it was my cousin?" Jack inquires, an amused smirk teasing his lips.

Carson rolls his eyes, and shuts the window. "He's the only one who comes in through the window."

Jack shrugs, and claims the desk chair across from Carson's bed. "So, where were you today? Everyone missed you."

"Yeah, I received the phone calls and texts before I decided to shut it off completely," Carson replies sardonically. He rakes a hand through his hair. "No offense, and I'm trying not to be rude, but what exactly are you doing here?"

"I left the dojo early to check up on my friend, who's been MIA for the whole day," Jack answers.

"What time is it?" Carson asks, mostly to himself, as he powers his phone on again.

"Ten minutes to three," Jack responds, before Carson's phone can load the lock page. He sighs, and places the phone on the nightstand. "Anyways...unless you're feeling like crap and want no human interaction for the whole day, I'm staying here so get ready."

"Well, I am feeling like crap," Carson admits; the shower only helped with his midday wood but it did nothing to solve his internal tension, and while he did sleep ok, he still feels kind of crappy from last night. Seeing Jack with the dream fresh in his mind isn't helping either, but he knows he can't act like things are weird before things get weird.

"But you don't want me to go away," Jack finalizes. "Good, because I wasn't really gonna leave." He walks over to the smart TV and turns it on. "You got Netflix?"


 

A couple of shitty movies later, Carson gets up, asking if Jack wants anything. "Get me some water," he answers, looking for anything interesting to watch. Carson goes downstairs and gets several bottles of water while leaving a bag of popcorn inside the microwave to cook. He exhales, and takes a swig of water. For the first few minutes of watching some foreign Netflix movie (which is the third move they've watched for the day), Jack was sitting on the chair, then moved to the bed where he was so close to Carson that it might be considered cuddling. Carson started to blush, hoping Jack would move closer. It makes the situation a whole lot worse than it should be. It's a good thing he decided to just get up and go away for a few minutes because Jack was starting to fall asleep during the movie and his head started to lull over Carson's shoulder.

When the microwave beeps, Carson pulls out a large bowl and pours the popcorn in, save for the unpopped kernels. He goes back to his room and throws Jack a bottle of water. Jack is in the process of looking for something to watch when something cold hits his chest. He turns around to glare at Carson. "Gee, thanks."

"Did you find anything?" Carson asks, ignoring Jack's last comment.

Jack gapes for a few seconds, and then shakes his head to look at the television screen. "Uh, I found more foreign films. I think you have more luck than me to find something interesting."

Carson grabs the remote. He sits on the bed, with the bowl of popcorn on his lap, and looks for something to watch. He can always binge watch one of the shows that Netflix always recommend him to watch, but nothing seemed interesting. Plus he already watched his share of that racist sausage fest orange is the new black, upon seeing the title pop up.

"Let's just watch this one," Jack says, pointing towards the movie with a couple of cast members they didn't really know. Carson has already watched it, and he enjoyed it, but not as much as some other titles. He relents though, already feeling annoyed from finding nothing. His next choice, if none of them fall asleep, would probably be that show he's been meaning to watch but has no time to.

The movie plays after a couple seconds of buffering. Carson reaches for the bowl to get some popcorn but he accidentally touches Jack's hand, which makes him recoil his hand away. It's not because he wants Jack to get his share first, rather like, he felt a sudden rush of electricity within those seconds of touching each other. He resists the urge to roll his eyes and waits for Jack to get a handful.

Jack on the other hand, is slightly confused. He normally doesn't mind Carson's weird, socially awkward behavior, but today it's been amped up to eleven. They can't hold a conversation as long as they used to, and whenever they are close, Jack could literally feel Carson tense up. Ok, they haven't touched each other before so maybe that's it? Aside from a couple of hugs and handshakes, and the occasional sparring...either way, it,,s weird, and he wants to confront Carson about it but not now. He wants to spend time with his friend, and he intends to.

The movie drags on to about three hours, and within the last hour, Jack starts to fall asleep. The bowl is set aside, completely empty, and the sheets are slightly kicked off. Jack's head starts to lull towards the right, where Carson's shoulder is located. Carson doesn't notice up until the last thirty minutes, where his shoulder starts to feel warm. He casts his head towards his left shoulder, and sees Jack sleeping on him. His brown hair tickles Carson's neck and parts of his shoulder. If he were close enough, he could probably feel Carson's racing heartbeat.

Carson sighs, realizing that pushing Jack off would just be plain mean. Instead, he stops the movie and starts watching the show he wanted to watch.

What Carson didn't realize was that the episodes are an hour long and it was already midnight, so he turns off the smart TV. He starts to wake up Jack, who starts groaning slightly and positions himself to a laying position. Carson shakes his head and smiles fondly. "I guess this is a sleepover," he says to himself. He lays down and covers the both of them with his blanket, and falls asleep to the sound of crickets and Jack's light snoring.


 

When Carson wakes up, he notices that the other side is cold where his arm used to be. Sighing deeply, he gets up and starts to get ready for school, with his change of clothes inside his duffel bag. Luckily, he didn't sleep through the designated time for him to go to school and he has time to actually get ready, which brings up a question: what time did Jack leave? Was it at six in the morning? Did he leave through the window?

He looks around the room for any indication that Jack was still here, but there was nothing. He leaves his room and heads towards his car, and goes to school without a word.

The day drags on, which motivates Carson to get through it so that he can go practice. He missed two days and he knows that he has to work twice as hard in order to get back on track. One day is always fine, but more than that can cause people to get stagnant.

During his last period, Heather approaches him, her eyebrow cocked in indignation. "Where were you yesterday?" She inquires accusingly.

"Home?" Carson replies.

Heather narrows her eyes. "We were worried sick when you didn't answer or return our calls. It isn't like you to miss two days of training unless you have a really bad flu."

"I'm fine," Carson assures her, but he isn't sure if he's assuring himself. "I just needed another day."

"Alright, but at least tell us first," Heather replies. She sits at the seat right next to Carson while the professor walks in, demanding that they clear their desks for a quiz. Carson sighs, feeling unprepared for it, and pulls out a pencil.

After class ends, Carson goes straight to the dojo with Heather right next to him. Heather mentions that their dojo will be finished by this week, which makes Carson rejoice. He really wants to go back to their dojo, especially now that at least half of the Black Dragons have received some really bad athlete's foot. Luckily for him, he doesn't walk barefoot anywhere inside that disgusting place.

Before he reaches the place however, Taylor approaches him. "We need to talk."

Heather looks between Taylor and Carson, a little concerned. She suspected that Carson doesn't like Taylor much so it would be interesting to see and hear what they are talking about. However, she knows she cannot interfere with other people's conversations. "I'll be inside the dojo," she announces to Carson, and goes inside.

Carson wanted Heather to stay, but once the doors to the dojo close, he sighs and then glares at Taylor. "What do you want?"

Taylor pretends not to be taken aback, chuckling bitterly under her breath. "Drop it, Carson. I know you don't like me. I wasn't born yesterday."

"Then why are we even having a conversation?" Carson inquires, and is about to go inside the dojo when Taylor blocks his path.

She continues, with a harsh, accusing glare. "Because you keep putting up a front for everyone to see, and honestly...I'm sick of it. You can't even convince yourself that you like Jack, more than a friend."

Carson laughs bitterly. "You're funny, you know that?"

"I know exactly what i'm talking about," Taylor growls, clenching her fists. "I'm not trying to say stay away from him or anything like that. I'm not that type of girlfriend. Trust me, if I wanted him to stay away from you, I would've done it ages ago. I'm just telling you, it's better to admit it to yourself than to keep ignoring it."

"I don't like him," Carson replies, but he has no idea if it's a lie or the truth. For as long as Jack's been dating Taylor, Carson's been acting really weird. He barely enjoys the conversations that Jack has with him about Taylor, he doesn't like it when she shows up, he finds himself glaring at her very presence, and if this weekend is any indication, he may actually have a crush on his friend. No. of course he doesn't like Jack. He just got over hating him for so long. How could he like him?

"There it is," Taylor points out, sighing in frustration. "You're lying to me, and you're lying to yourself. I guess there is a reason why we're not friends. You know, aside of you giving me the bitch face."

"I don't have time for this," Carson mutters, and tries to step away from Taylor.

She puts her hands up and drops them, with a defeated expression. "Fine. At least I got whatever I wanted to say to you out of my chest." She walks away without another word. Carson turns back around and heads to the dojo, ignoring some of the stares and going right to Heather, who signals him to go to her.

"What happened?" She asks.

Carson shrugs. "Nothing." It isn't nothing, because despite brushing Taylor off the whole time, what she said has him thinking.

"It didn't seem like anything," Heather retorts, raising an eyebrow. To this day, Carson has never crossed paths with Taylor, not even when they attended the same school. They've never talked, or even looked at each other whenever Taylor made an appearance. She genuinely cared about her friends, including Carson, so it was peculiar to see something like that. "Are you sure?"

"Yeah, she was just concerned for her boyfriend," Carson lies. Taylor was more concerned for Carson than for Jack, which is weird because they don't really like each other.

Heather doesn't believe him, but doesn't ponder on it any further. She'll probably ask on a later date. "Ok then. You want to train me today?"

Carson smiles a little. "Yeah." He heads to the locker room and gets dressed, the conversation still fresh in his mind.

Chapter Text

It's Wednesday and practice was starting when Sensei Ty enters the dojo with a huge smile on his face. "Great news! We can finally go back to our dojo!"

Everyone breathes a sigh of relief, including Carson, who is more than happy to get out of his old dojo. Without any time to recover, the Black Dragons go to the locker rooms and get their stuff out the lockers so they can go back to their dojo.

"Finally," Kim speaks up, watching some of the Black Dragons exit the locker rooms. "You can leave now."

"Thanks for the welcoming stay," Heather says sardonically, and follows her sensei out of the dojo, along with a good chunk of the Black Dragons.

Jack stares at his ex-friends once again, and slowly realizes that things will never be the same between them. Even if they apologized now, Jack wouldn't forgive them so quickly and when he does, he knows that being close with them again would never happen. He waves at them, and turns around, expecting none of them to say goodbye back, and heads over to Carson's car. "What took you so long?" Carson calls out.

Jack stares at his friend blankly. "Nothing, I'm here now."

Carson enters his car without another word, with Kai already in the back seat. Jack takes shotgun. Literally all three of them are brimming with excitement over going back to their old dojo, especially after getting a nasty case of athlete's foot during their stay. Carson all but speeds to their dojo, the car ride silent. Once they get there, the front looks incredibly different. It looks slightly larger, and the lettering of their brand name is now black instead of white. "There's some glamor changes," Carson says once he stops the car.

"I don't care," Kai says back. "As long as i'm back where I belong, I don't care if the name was switched to dragon black."

"Same," Carson agrees.

Jack rolls his eyes and exits the car. "Let's go," he commands. Carson and Kai follow suit, and the three of them walk inside the dojo. What is different, indeed, is that the walls are now off-white instead of tan, and there's a lot more decor, as if the old place didn't have decorations. There's more new equipment with their colors on it, ad the mats are definitely cleaner (even though the mats weren't dirty; they were always washed and steamed every night). A collective gasp comes from all three of them, and they notice they are the first ones here.

"Jesus, Carson, you drove here so fast that sensei isn't even here yet," Jack comments.

"No, his beat up car is here," Carson replies. "And we were all anticipating to get here. The faster I get here, the less time we would have to spend at the Wasabi dojo, which is full of fungus."

"Luckily for you, you didn't get infected." Jack feels an itch on his left foot, but he doesn't scratch it. Now, he just wants to practice. He goes inside the locker room and puts his stuff away before going back, where everyone else is already starting to pile in.

"I thought he was just fixing the area where it was crashed but he ended fixing up the whole place," Heather speaks up, looking around the whole dojo.

"It's better than being at that old place," Elliott remarks, with everyone agreeing.

Once the rest of the group goes inside the locker room, Jack goes straight to the equipment. Wordlessly, Kai joins him. Jack notices his cousin next to him, feeling a little nervous. He hasn't had a decent conversation with Kai in a very long time and when they would talk, Carson would be there for mediator. They don't spar, due to their history, and only for a few minutes they practice with each other, with again, Carson being there to mediate. They're already civil, but what if they actually became...friends?

"You can stop staring at me now," Kai speaks up, breaking Jack from his reverie. He didn't even know that he was staring at his cousin.

"Uh, sorry, I was just thinking," Jack replies.

Kai raises an eyebrow, a little intrigued. "About what?"

"How we used to hate each other," Jack answers, which isn't a lie but isn't the full truth.

"Well, to be honest, we still don't really like each other so," Kai shrugs. "I don't know if 'used to' even applies."

"Yeah but...we would sneer at each other for like, the first few days," Jack replies. "If I hadn't spoken up about being civil instead of ignoring each other, we would still be hostile towards each other."

"I guess you're right," Kai replies. "Maybe there was a plus in this whole thing we decided to do." Jack finds himself grinning, which makes Kai roll his eyes with a smirk on his face. "Hey don't get the wrong idea. We're not friends."

"We're still family," Jack points out.

"Yeah, but that doesn't mean I have to like you," Kai says back halfheartedly, and moves the dummy over to where Carson is. Jack shakes his head and follows him.

"You know you like me a little," Jack teases. Kai turns around, with a smirk that indicates that Jack isn't lying. Jack chuckles, and prepares to practice from the day.


Jack initially thought things were weird between him and Carson when he found himself on Sunday night with Carson's arms wrapped around him. He had to escape before Carson woke up and it would get more awkward. They still acted normally, but Jack knows that there is still some awkwardness between them that neither him nor Carson wanted to address at the moment.

Nonetheless, he isn't going to stop talking to Carson just because things are awkward. However, the car ride back home is completely silent. It usually is, but this time, it's so awkward that Carson had to turn on the radio to kill the awkwardness between them. It doesn't work, because it's full of ambient white noise, so Carson turns it off.

Once Carson drops Jack off, he drives back home and gets ready for his date with Lindsay. They were going to see a late showing of a movie that Lindsay wanted to see before anyone else, and Carson just agreed to it to get out of the house. After taking a quick shower, Carson puts on some clean clothes and leaves his hair down. It's only rare if he puts his hair up for anything other than practice.

He leaves his house and drives towards the way Lindsay's home is, which is kind of far away. It's weird how she lives at the other side of the town. How does she go to school and back? Carson would've went to a closer school, even if he does have a car. Once he,s there, Lindsay is already waiting on the front porch, with an anticipated look on her face. She walks towards the car and takes shotgun. "Let's go," she says, excitedly.

Carson smiles back, albeit falsely, and drives off to the theater. It takes them only a few minutes so that they won't miss the previews. Lindsay hated them but Carson liked them, especially for any upcoming movies that piqued his interest (like superhero movies and their sequels). The movie they were watching today is a thriller film, that Carson probably won't like since he doesn't like scary movies that much. When he watched that zompyre movie, he walked out thirty minutes after the title credits and sneaked in to watch a chick flick that was much better.

He hopes it wouldn't come to that. They enter the movie theater, after purchasing their tickets from the cashier. "You want some snacks?" Carson offers.

"Get me some popcorn," Lindsay answers. Carson gets two large buckets, a box of candy, and two large drinks. They head to their assigned theater, and sit in the far back where they can see the screen better. The theater isn't very clean, but it's cleaner than usual, which Carson notices. They sit down and watch the previews together, noticing that they came just in time where it recently started.

Throughout the movie, if Carson wasn't eating the extremely salty popcorn (that he gave up eating after finishing his drink), he would feel Lindsay either touch his thigh or hold his hand. Carson pretended that it isn't there and hope that she would stop touching him, but it doesn't happen. Plus, the movie they were watching was lame and he grew bored very quickly.

He glances at Lindsay, and she looks bored with the movie as well, so instead of offering to leave or anything, he decides to give her what she wants. He grabs Lindsay's chin and kisses her. She reciprocates immediately, removing her hand from Carson's hand and wrapping both arms around his shoulders. He moves his hand from under her chin and guides it to her waist, playing with the hem of her cropped top. He can feel Lindsay playing with his hair a little, but he doesn't like it. He doesn't even like kissing her that much. It's making him even more confused because he's trying to go on more dates with her and hoping that his feelings for someone else would just go away, but even if he moves on, he would still think about that other person.

Growling to mostly himself, Carson pulls away, and claims her neck. Lindsay gasps rather sharply, causing some of the attendees a few chairs down to glance around. Lindsay ignores that, and rolls her eyes at the top of her head, making soft moans as Carson nips and sucks the skin of her neck. Carson makes a prominent mark on her neck, then kisses up her chin back to her lips. He pretends to like the kiss, hoping it's convincing enough, even if he doesn't like it. Sighing inwardly, he bites Lindsay's lip, causing her to open her mouth slightly. He momentarily clashes his teeth against hers before sloppily entering her mouth with his tongue. Lindsay makes a noise of approval as she battles for dominance. She couldn't tell that Carson isn't really feeling it, but she knows she is. This is the first time he's initiated any contact, so it's definitely a change. Often. She would have to kiss first or she would have to reach over to hold his hand, but today, something changed.

To say that she likes it is an understatement.

She pulls away slightly panting from lack of proper breathing. Carson's lips are west and swollen, and he feels inadequate, while Lindsay felt that the air conditioning isn't working all of a sudden. There are now fifty minutes left of the minute, and now Carson suddenly feels like he wants to know how the movie ends. He turns around and tries to watch the movie, while Lindsay raises an eyebrow, a little confused. Just a couple minutes ago, Carson was making out with her, since they were both bored with the movie, and now he's acting like nothing happened and that the movie is now interesting (when it isn't). She always suspected something off with Carson since the conversation at the car, but she never said anything because she was sure that it was just his way of getting comfortable with her. Since she did tell Carson that she didn't like his friendship with Jack, it probably made him feel like he couldn't trust her.

He can trust her. Lindsay doesn't want to lose Carson as a potential boyfriend, and she surely didn't want anyone, especially Jack, getting in the way of that. She has to find a way to make him trust her again.

She turns around, pretending to watch the movie until he feels her eyes droop. Giving up after a few seconds, she falls asleep.

When the movie finally finishes, the lights come on, and Carson is ready to leave until he realizes that Lindsay fell asleep. He turns around and shakes her awake. "Huh?" She breathes, her voice extremely groggy.

"Movie's over," Carson replies. It's almost midnight, and he wants to get home so he can sleep and go to school tomorrow. It's still a school night, believe it or not.

Lindsay gets up and stretches her body to release any cricks from sitting on a chair for almost three hours. Sighing deeply, she follows Carson out of the movie theater and to his car, silently. Lindsay tries to hold Carson's hand on the way there, but she feels him stiffen upon the touch so she lets go. Maybe it's consent? No, if it were consent, Carson would asked before kissing earlier. She really wants to find a way to make Carson see that she's a potential girlfriend, but what is making him not reciprocate as much as some other guy who has the hots for her?

She enters the car and puts her head against the window, feeling a little sleepy. She's awoken by the ignition sounding a bit loud, and gives up in sleep momentarily. Carson drives off, taking the route they took to get to the movie theater. She fights sleep while Carson drives a little faster to her house. He gets there, parking his car at the available parking spot in front of her house. There's a short, awkward silence before Lindsay opens her mouth, and what she says next surprises her more than it surprises him.

"Do you want to come inside?"

Carson looks at her, surprised. He wants to go home, but now that the option is brought up, he isn't sure if home would be ideal. What would they do anyway...talk? Make out? Sleep over? He has to shake his head inwardly for that. That could happen though. Does it seem interesting? Maybe…

"Sure," he answers, no hesitance in his voice.

Lindsay pulls him inside the house and closes the door. Everything is quiet and Carson is about to ask if anyone is home when Lindsay literally jumps on him and kisses him. Carson makes a small 'oof' but then kisses back, keeping up with Lindsay's speed. After a few seconds, she pulls away and pulls Carson upstairs to her room.

Chapter Text

Carson tries to catch his breath, while Lindsay slides off him and wraps her arm around him. He wants to escape from her house, quickly, so that he can wallow in his own shame but her grip tightens as she kisses his bare chest lazily. He hisses a little, his nipples still sore and raw from her biting them earlier. Rolling his eyes, he tries to relax, and hopes that Lindsay will fall asleep so that he can make his escape.

It takes only a few minutes for Lindsay to fully fall asleep, with her arms still around Carson. He removes them and climbs out of bed. He finds his clothes strewn all over the floor and picks them up, putting them on one by one. It may be disheveled, but it's almost two in the morning so it doesn't matter. He finds his keys in his pocket, leaving the house quickly and entering his car. He takes a deep breath, hoping to get home so that he can get some sleep in. He already decided that he won't go to school, instead opting to just stay in to prevent sleeping in class.

He drives slowly to his house, with his radio on a news station that is more white noise to him. Once he gets to his house, he decides to go through the window, since his parents would ask questions if he goes through the front door. Luckily it wasn't locked so he had easy access. Once inside, he takes a shower and gets ready for bed, and falling to a fitful sleep.

It's almost ten in the morning when Carson wakes up, and he immediately texts Heather that he didn't show up at school but not without seeing a message from Lindsay. Rolling his eyes, he opens it, reading it to himself. She sounded mad, but Carson couldn't really bring himself to care. He should care, considering that they're dating, but he hasn't. Why doesn't he care?

Oh, because, he's been thinking too much about Jack.

God, why didn't he see it sooner? Taylor even called him out on it, but he didn't want to listen, only because he thought he could really get over Jack, but no matter how much he tries, it won't happen. And if he just accepts that he likes a straight guy as opposed to a straight girl who actually likes him back, it would just be torture.

So what to do now? Maybe he could still try to get over Jack and maybe date someone else who he actually likes. From the likes of it, he didn't really like Lindsay that much as a potential girlfriend. Or, he could forget about dating altogether and stay single until college. He's only a junior, so it can work out. He had a few months until the summer, and after that will be senior year.

The second one only seemed realistic. That means he has to dump Lindsay in order for that to happen. It seems bad, considering what happened last night, but he did not want a one sided relationship to happen so that she'll be more heartbroken. Well, either way he's going to dump her. Great, this is great.

Since it's gonna be a particularly long morning waiting for an appropriate time to go to the dojo, Carson sits up and turns on the smart TV, hoping to find something interesting to watch.


 

Jack is a few steps from his table when Taylor approaches him. "Can we talk for a few minutes?"

"Uh, sure," Jack answers, and follows Taylor to a secluded table away from both of their friends...and the student body. Taylor looks a little pissed, which concerns Jack because they haven't done anything to make her pissed off...or have they? Either way, he's concerned. "What's going on?"

"Everyone at my table is talking about how your best friend left Lindsay all alone this morning as if she's a one night stand, and as of yet he hasn't texted her yet," Taylor explains. "Did he tell you anything yesterday?"

What? What did they do last night? Jack finds himself a little bitter that Carson didn't tell him that he was going on a date with Lindsay. He shouldn't be, but it doesn't make him feel ok knowing that they had a date on a school night. "He didn't tell me anything. I didn't even know that he was going on a date."

Taylor raises an eyebrow. "Seriously? I thought he would've...anyway—"

"What did they do?" Jack blurts out, his patience running a little thin.

"I don't think I need to answer that question for you to know what they did," Taylor replies, staring right at Jack to tell him something. Jack blinks a couple times, and then finally gets it. Upon realizing what they did, it leaves a very sour taste in Jack's mouth enough for him to take a sip of water. "Seriously, the girl's been checking her phone every minute to see if Carson would text back, and so far...nothing."

Jack is starting to feel bad for Lindsay. He might not like her, but it still sucks. "I'll talk to Carson when I see him."

"Good because...as much as I, and the rest of the table, don't like her, it's painful to watch her stare at her phone hoping for a text back that she's probably not gonna get," Taylor replies. She hugs Jack momentarily and goes back to her table, while he goes to his table, knowing full well that people are going to ask what just happened.

"What happened?"

Jack inwardly snorts, and sits down between Elliott and Sabrina. "Uh, nothing."

"Mhmm," Sabrina hums, in a sarcastic fashion. "It didn't seem like nothing."

"Does everything that my girlfriend and I discuss in private have to be disclosed to everyone?" Jack asks, a little more defensively and a lot less joking than he intended. "Can we just drop it and talk about something else?"

Everyone looks amongst each other, feeling awkward. It's partially because they haven't seen Jack seem so defensive but also because it might be really serious and that it shouldn't be disclosed. "You heard the man," Brody speaks up after that awkward silence. "Aside from that, I heard that Lindsay and Carson did it last night and now he's ignoring her."

"Can we definitely not talk about that?" Jack inquires, putting emphasis on the 'definitely'.

"What's wrong? You and Taylor hadn't done anything yet?" Elliott sniggers. Jack gives a very cold sneer towards Elliott, which scares the green belt into shutting up. "Ok, new topic."

Jack ignores everyone while they talk about the new decorations, and pulls out his phone. He composes a text to Carson, asking him about last night and why he hasn't told him anything. Expecting to hear from him, Jack sets his phone on the table. However, as the minutes for lunch ticked by, Carson has not even seen the message. The bell rings, signaling the end of lunch, so Jack throws away his tray which was still full of food (he lost his appetite upon hearing what Carson did last night) and goes to class.


 

Carson is an hour early when he goes to the dojo. Jake and Kai look at him weirdly, which makes Carson feel self-conscious. "What?" Carson asks.

"You're early," Jake answers. "School isn't let out for another hour…"

"Why are you here?" Kai stops stalling, cutting right to the chase.

Carson stares at the both of them, wanting to avoid that question, but he knows he's going to be asked a lot of questions anyway. "I didn't go to school today so I decided to come here to start on training before everyone gets here." It isn't a lie, but there is a lot more to it.

"Uh, alright then," Jake replies. He decides to leave it at that because Carson didn't look comfortable talking about it. He turns around and keeps sparring with Kai, while Carson goes inside the locker room to put his stuff away. Since he didn't go to school, he didn't have to change - since he got dressed at his house. He steps out of the locker room, and now Jake is practicing with a dummy while Kai is by the punching bag.

Carson goes to the punching bag, and sits on the stack of mats. "So, is there more to the reason why you decided to play hooky?" Kai asks accusingly after a couple rounds. He suspected there is more to it, and unlike Jake, he likes to dig deep into it. Since he and Carson are friends, this shouldn't be much of a problem.

"Maybe I wanted to skip school for a change," Carson replies.

Kai scoffs amusingly. "Right. You need to tell me a straight A student like you just decided in the middle of the week to skip school?"

"Yeah," Carson replies nonchalantly, with the intention to give away nothing.

"Okay, Hunter," Kai says condescendingly. "Even for you, that sounds ridiculous."

"I just wanna practice," Carson sighs deeply, already feeling drained from this conversation. Even though he spent the whole day watching television, he still felt conflicted. Not only that, Jack texted him and the text in question is concerning. Apparently Lindsay is hoping he would call her, but Carson doesn't want to call her. Not right now. He has no idea how, in between last night and now, did things become awkward. Even if he did acknowledge his crush on Jack, it shouldn't change a thing. He should be able to contact Lindsay, because he's with her...or, she thinks he's with her.

"Alright," Kai gives up, feeling completely defeated, and decides to spar with Carson instead of interrogating him.

For an hour, the three of them practice until Brody, Elliott, Sabrina, and Jack walk in, along with Sloane and Heather. Carson feels his heart skip the minute Jack walks in, but also feels a sense of dread. He still hasn't replied to Jack. Maybe he isn't mad at Carson and things could be normal. However, as Jack ignores him, he knows things might get catastrophic.

Brody approaches him, with a douchebag grin spread across his face. "When were you gonna tell us that you fu—" suddenly, Elliott covers Brody's mouth, and glares at the black belt.

Carson glares at Brody, and tries to figure out how the hell did that surface in their school. Public school, he says inwardly. "That should be none of your business."

"Affirmative," Elliott agrees, and drags Brody to the locker room.

Carson turns around, and keeps practicing with Jake until Jack exits the locker room. Carson stares at him, silently and subtly checking him out. Carson notices that even when he's angry or stoic, he still looks incredibly good. His shirt was a sleeveless muscle shirt, so Carson can see his upper arms more than usual. He seriously couldn't understand how Jack managed to develop that much muscles at sixteen while people can probably look at Carson in comparison and snap him in half. Jack can effectively overpower Carson even if he's taller, and Carson couldn't help but think it would be hot. Carson bites his lip and looks away in shame, hoping he could turn back time and pray it would go back to the time when he never met Jack in the first place.

Jake clears his threat, which surprises Carson. "So, did you enjoy ogling your best friend?"

Shit. "So, you saw that."

"I'm surprised he didn't see it," Jake replies, chuckling. "I don't blame you, he's good looking. But, you two have girlfriends."

"She's not really my girlfriend," Carson replies, almost immediately regretting that.

Jake feigns surprise. "Oh? So from what I heard, what happened last night doesn't solidify the relationship?"

"It seems like everyone knows about last night," Carson frowns. He really didn't want anyone other than himself and Lindsay to know, but it seems like everyone from his school and his old school already knew. "Who even said anything?"

"I heard from a source, but is it true?"

"Yeah, sure." Carson is still not very proud of it, but he couldn't deny it now.

Jake grimaces. "You know perfectly that it kind of solidifies the relationship. But, from the looks of it, you don't even like her."

Carson sighs a little. He couldn't deny that at all. "I don't exactly think it's a good idea to dump her right now."

"But if you don't do it, you're gonna lead her on," Jake advises. "Trust me, it's better to do it now than to waste your time being with someone you don't like. And on top of that, probably have a crush on someone else."

"I don't have a crush on him," Carson lies.

"The devil's a liar," Jake rolls his eyes. "You know how you feel, Carson. Don't try to deny it, or beat yourself up for it. We all have had feelings for our best friends, even if it's a straight crush or a reciprocated crush."

"Have you had feelings for your straight friend?"

"Probably not like this," Jake replies. "I certainly wasn't in a relationship when I had crushes on my straight guy friends."

"You could've just said yes," Carson frowns. He hated his situation even more now. "That would've been more simple and sufficient."

Jake laughs. "Whatever junior. You want to keep practicing or not?"

Carson, still feeling conflicted, nods a couple times. That is, until Jack approaches him and gives Jake an appointed glare. Jake raise both of his hands in defeat and saunters away, but not without giving Carson a knowing glance. Carson has half a mind to go away and keep avoiding Jack, because he knows Jack is mad about not telling him anything for the past few days. "So, what should I address first, your date, or how you completely ignored my texts, even after Heather told me you weren't in school today."

"The second one?" Carson offers.

Jack gives him a stare that Carson couldn't decipher. "Try again, Hunter."

"I don't know why you're mad at me," Carson defends, with his hands up. "I'm not always available to contact. Sometimes i'm sleeping."

"Uh huh," Jack replies, definitely not impressed with that answer. "Maybe it's because friends don't keep things from their friends? Or are we still not friends?"

"Clearly we're friends," Carson rolls his eyes. He realizes what Jack said earlier about keeping things, and right now, he's keeping something from him. In retrospect though, no guy wants to tell their straight guy friend that he's fallen for them. "And that was my fault. Everything that happened last night was not premeditated."

Jack thinks about it for a moment, and sighs. "Ok fine, you're forgiven."

Carson scoffs in mock annoyance. "I wasn't aware that I had to apologize to you."

"Well, you should've," Jack replies. "I'm special."

"Oh you're special alright," Carson mutters, and instantly regrets it because Jack stares at him weirdly.

"What was that?"

Carson shakes his head. "Nothing."

Jack raises an eyebrow, but decides not to prod any further. He might do that on a later date. "Ok, let's practice then."


 

Carson checks his phone again after dropping Jack off to his house. There are several new texts that sound both angry and worried. It's a tough decision and Carson really didn't want to do it, but he knows that if he doesn't do it, things would go immensely wrong. He knows what he must do. With a heavy, shaky sigh, he drives off to the direction of Lindsay's residence.

He gets there in thirty minutes, but it feels like hours. He just wants to get this over with, and hopefully move on. And if he doesn't move on, that's fine too, but he doesn't want to date someone he doesn't like romantically.

He parks right in front of her house, and tells her that he is outside. Lindsay exits her house and enters the passenger side of the car, with an angry expression. "Thanks for leaving me last night."

"I had to go to school in the morning," Carson lies. He didn't go to school, and he surely did not want to be there, next to Lindsay. He immediately regrets saying that, because he has to do this without lying...at all.

Lindsay doesn't believe him anyway. "Yeah, right," she scoffs. "So what, were you just going to pretend it never happened, like a one night stand? Was it that bad?"

"No, and no," Carson responds firmly. "I just...I thought I could do this again and to be honest, I can't."

Lindsay laughs bitterly. "You can't what, be with me? Because i'm not getting much from you so i'm not sure if I want to be with you either."

Carson stares at her, surprised. "I should have never called you. If I would've known that there was something more between you and your supposed best friend, I would've left you alone. But for some reason, I thought you liked me. Turns out it was one big fat lie." Carson still stays silent. He couldn't say anything. It seems like everyone figured him out before he did. "Anyways, you can do whatever with your life. I'm tired of the same shit over and over again." Lindsay finally exits the car and goes back inside her house. Carson restarts his car and drives off, and despite not feeling that great about a breakup, he feels a weight being lifted off his shoulder.

Chapter Text

Carson is surprised when he sees Taylor approaching him when he is on the way to practice. It's been almost 24 hours since Lindsay dumped him, and while he feels relieved that he didn't have to do it, he knows that will bring even more issues, like his crush on Jack for instance. Plus, Taylor already read him like a book and is pretty sure that she heard the news. He braces himself for what is to come and tells Heather he will be right back before Taylor gets close to him and punches Carson in the face, hard. Carson stumbles back, puts a hand over his reddening eye, and gives Taylor an incredulous look. "What the fuck was that for?"

"You know exactly what that was for!" Taylor growls. "Wow, never pegged you for a fucking bastard. You dump girls a day after you fuck them, huh?"

"What...she dumped me!" Carson exclaims, his anger rising. "Before you go smacking people, how's about you get both sides of the story. Or better yet, fuck off."

Taylor narrows her eyes, then laughs bitterly. "You can't be serious, Hunter. You lead some girl on, and as much as I don't like her, it still isn't ok. She actually liked you!"

"You and I both know I didn't like her back, so drop it Brownstein," Carson argues back. "The relationship is over, and it's done with. As terrible as I feel, because I didn't want this to go as far as it did only for her to realize the sentiment wasn't returned, I would much rather do what every guy does after a breakup: punch something. And I'm not gonna punch you because I don't hit girls, nor do I attack people because that's against the martial arts code."

Carson is on his way inside the dojo when he feels a hand grab his wrist. "Did you at least thought about what I said before? About your feelings?"

"Yeah, and turns out I'm into a straight guy, so once again, I'm gonna go inside and pretend you didn't just punch me in the face." Carson snatches his arm away from Taylor's grip and heads inside. He really doesn't need this.

Taylor sighs deeply. The conversation she had before with Carson probably made him think this whole time, but now this is a new challenge. Someone likes her boyfriend. Carson, to be exact. She definitely did not want to be like 'stay away from my boyfriend' but she didn't want Carson to get the idea that it's ok to hit on Jack...well, yet. She always had a feeling that Jack's friendship with Carson was a very close one (probably closer than her friendships with her girls - especially after visualizing firsthand the wrenching heartbreak written on Jack's face when they were fighting), so close that if Taylor wasn't in a relationship with Jack, they would've dated. She also always felt that Jack may reciprocate those feelings, what with the way he dislikes Lindsay and argued with Carson about him dating her.

But, she knows she can't just dump Jack and things would fall into place. First, he has to realize it before she does something like that. She turns around and leaves, but not before glancing at Carson one more time.

When Carson exits the locker room to practice, Jack approaches him immediately, worry written all over his face. "You ok? Your eye's getting black and blue."

"Uh, I fell," Carson lies. He isn't sure who saw him get sucker punched by Taylor, but he hopes it was just Heather.

Jack stares at Carson for a second, and then laughs. "You clumsy piece of shit." Carson snarls at him, which doesn't waiver Jack's laughter. "I was just gonna ask you about having a guys night at my house tonight, with the rest of the guys."

"They already agreed to this?" Carson wonders out loud.

"Yeah," Jack replies, scratching the back of his neck. "It's Friday, and I haven't had a group sleepover in a long time. So, are you on board?" Jack looks at Carson with an adorable, yet hopeful expression, and Carson definitely couldn't say no.

"Alright, Brewer."

Jack smiles cheekily. "Good. We should be doing this after practice so if you need to bring a change of clothes…"

"I'm a few blocks away, Jack," Carson deadpans.

Jack frowns halfheartedly. "No need to be sarcastic with me, Hunter."

Carson rolls his eyes. Jeez, he still can't believe he has a crush on this melodramatic loser. "Don't say anything else about my sarcasm or i'm gonna change my mind." Carson wouldn't actually change his mind - he's always willing to hang out with Jack, even if that means others will be around. He kind of wishes that it was just him and Jack like on Sunday, but that might have made things so awkward that Jack must invite the other boys to spend some time with Carson.

"I'mma shut up now," Jack says, gesturing a zipper over his mouth and a lock motion, then pulls Carson over to the punching bag and they start practicing.


 

It's around six thirty when Heather hears the buzzer to her apartment. She smoothies out her pink dress, and touches up her makeup. She grabs her green satin bomber jacket, grabs her keys, and heads downstairs to the front of her apartment. She opens the door to see Sloane standing there, immediately putting her hair up in a bun and adjusting her sweater. Heather chuckles a little. "Are you ready?"

Sloane is a little startled, and gives Heather a once over before biting her lip. "Yeah, let's go."

Heather chuckles again when she feels Sloane take her hand and pull her towards the limousine. Sloane rented it for the night thanks to her agent. Heather enters the roomy limo, looking around in awe. It looks standard as hell on the outside, but it had a lot of different lights and decorations inside, almost like a prom limo, but toned down. Sloane sits right next to her, closing the door next to her, and that's the queue for the driver to drive to their destination.

Sloane planned for the both of them to go to a musical in LA, and after that they will go to dinner. She really wants to impress Heather tonight so that their relationship could potentially go to the next level. She's been waiting way too long to ask Heather out and now that it's happening, she isn't going to let anything bad happen.

Sloane realizes that they haven't let go of each other's hand, and she removes it. After a sound of disapproval from Heather, Sloane wraps her arm around Heather's shoulders, and Heather immediately nests her head against Sloane's shoulder. "Can you believe we waited this long to go on a date?"

"We waited this long to ask," Heather shoots back, amusingly.

"True," Sloane replies, chuckling. "I just thought you were interested in a girl companion."

"I am, but I wouldn't mind dating my companion along the way," Heather admits, with a shrug. She really likes Sloane, regardless of their close friendship, and she wouldn't mind dating her, like what's happening now.

"Ok," Sloane emphasizes. She relaxes against the chair and hopes they get to the theater in time. The showing starts at eight, and the commute is between sixty to ninety minutes, so she should be good.

There's a comfortable silence on the way there. None of them move until the limo stops right in front of the theater. Sloane taps Heather on the shoulder. "We're here," she says simply.

Heather drops her arms from around Sloane's waist, and watches as Sloane exits the limo. She follows suit; Sloane extends her hand and helps Heather out the car, and they walk towards the theater entrance. Sloane gives the worker her tickets to check, and the person gives them back immediately. Sloane takes them back and pulls Heather inside the theater. "What are we watching?" Heather inquires.

"Chicago," Sloane answers.

Heather squeals a little. She didn't think Sloane would remember that far when she told the brunette she liked musical theatre, and that her ultimate favorite was Chicago. Today's already going great. "I can't believe you took me here."

"Believe it, Davis," Sloane replies, chuckling. "Come on, we have front row seats."

"Wh-what?" Heather stammers, and instead of an answer, Sloane pulls Heather to the front of the theater, up to the stage. They are in the perfect seat, and Heather couldn't be more thankful. "Oh, my god," Heather breathes, and feels herself shaking with anticipation as Sloane sits down and pats the seat next to her. "I can't believe you did this."

"Anything for you, Heather," Sloane grins.

Heather couldn't stop smiling and shaking. She sits right next to Sloane and tries to calm herself down as the theater quickly fills up with other watchers. "Thank you so much, Sloane," Heather says, feeling as if she didn't say it before.

Sloane takes Heather's hand in hers again, and kisses Heather's knuckles. "You're welcome."

Heather feels her stomach flutter when Sloane's lips touch her knuckles, and she loves the feeling so much.


 

Jack drops his game controller after losing a round of NBA 2K15 against Jake. "Shit, man," he sighs, a little frustrated. Whenever he used to play with Jerry, Milton, or Eddie, he always won. Then again, they fucking sucked at the game. He should've known that Jake would be great at it.

"Not used to losing, Brewer?" Jake teases.

"Fuck off, West," Jake snarls halfheartedly, and passes the controller to Brody, who asked for a game earlier. He gets up from the floor, dusting himself off. "You guys need anything?"

Jake is about to answer when he hears the doorbell ring. "You got any more snacks?"

"Got it," Jack notes, and goes upstairs to the front door. He opens it, revealing Kai who had two six packs of beer, and Carson, who has a large paper bag full of snacks.

"I bought the drinks," Kai announces, raising his six packs in the air.

"And I got snacks," Carson replies.

"I can clearly see that," Jack deadpans, and steps aside to allow his cousin and his friend enter his house. Kai already knew Jack's house from visiting it many times during holidays but Carson is surprised to see Jack's house. Jack takes the paper bag away from Carson and fishes through it, finding a large bag of potato chips. "So, are you gonna stand there or are you gonna go to my basement?"

"Oh, like i'm supposed to know where your basement is," Carson says sarcastically.

"You could've followed my cousin, dumbass," Jack retorts, chuckling. "Whatever, follow me." Carson sneers playfully as Jack walks over to the open door. Carson follows suit, walking down the stairs to Jack's roomy basement. Everyone is already there. Jake is relaxing with a beer in his hand while Elliott and Brody play around of NBA 2K15, and Kai watches them play. Jack gives Jake the bowl of chips and then sits on the floor next to Kai's feet, picking up a beer. Carson drops his bag and joins Jack, while watching Brody lose horribly.

"You don't know how to play," Jake laughs. "You're embarrassing."

"Go fuck yourself," Brody sneers, and drops the controller on the coffee table. "Is there a bathroom down here?"

"Yeah, over there," Jack says, pointing over to the door on his left. Brody nods once and walks to the bathroom. "I also got Madden, Street Fighter—"

"Please put in street fighter," Jake interrupts, already bored with watching people lose.

"Your wish is my command," Jack smirks. He gets up and sets the game console up for his most recent copy of street fighter. It loads up pretty quickly so that people can automatically play, and since Elliott had the player one controller, he was setting up the game. Jake grabs the other controller and picks his fighter, and both boys play a couple rounds. Brody exits the bathroom and is excited to see another game being played.

"Finally, some real games!" Brody exclaims.

"Oh, so NBA wasn't a real game because you kept losing?" Jack asks sardonically.

Brody sneers at Jack, and sits on the floor next to Jake. Carson attempts to get comfortable, ignoring Jack sitting next to him, and eats a couple of potato chips. He still hasn't told anyone but Taylor that he was dumped yesterday, and he is very sure that the gang would probably stop what they're doing and listen intently. He couldn't tell them why, but he can only tell them that Lindsay wasn't happy with his lack of communication after their night on Wednesday night.

They play for a couple more hours until they grow bored. Only a couple beers remain and they ate through two bags of chips. Carson hasn't drank anything, especially because he hated beer, but also because he doesn't want a repeat of what happened at Jake's party, but he does eat most of the chips that he brought from the corner store. A large bag of white cheddar popcorn remains and Jack's been eyeing it for a little while.

"You can take it if you want," Carson tells Jack, chuckling.

Jack sighs in relief and takes the large bag of popcorn. Carson rolls his eyes and is about to say something when he hears the doorbell again. "That must be the pizza," Carson announces, and goes upstairs to get the boxes from the delivery guy. Carson ignores the subtle flirting and pays the guy the couple of dollars that everyone pitched in to get pizza, and takes it downstairs. "We got food!"

"Ugh, finally," Elliott sighs and waits for Carson to put the box down so he can take a slice of pizza. They got a variety of toppings: extra cheese, veggie, supreme, and hawaiian (mostly for Jack). "So Carson, what's going on between you and Lindsay? She seemed pissed at school today."

Everyone else looks at Carson, anticipating on an answer. Jake gives him a knowing look while everyone else had hopeful looks. Carson sighs, and puts his slice of pizza down. "Uh, she dumped me last night."

"Ah, bummer," Brody replies, giving Carson a sympathetic look.

"Guess it wasn't meant to be," Jake speaks up, despite giving Carson the motive to dump her yesterday. Things may have gone differently but now he knows Carson can move on.

Meanwhile, Jack is biting his lip to prevent himself from smiling. He wants to rub it in Lindsay's face so bad, but he knows that would be suspicious. "You're too good for her anyway," he finally says, hoping that didn't sound too weird.

"Aw, thanks friend," Carson says, his stomach fluttering ridiculously.

Jake raises both of his eyebrows in curiosity. He knows that Carson likes Jack but he has no idea if the sentiment is returned. "Anyways, you got the best of both worlds so you have other fish in the sea."

"That is the lamest bisexual joke in the history of bisexual jokes," Kai speaks up, rolling his eyes.

"You're just mad because you're straight," Elliott retorts.

"So it's only Jack and me who are straight," Kai replies. Jack smirks and throws an arm around his cousin. Kai doesn't try to remove it.

Jake holds back a snort while Carson looks to the side. "Yeah, basically," Brody replies.

"Sabrina is straight too," Jack points out.

"We meant in this circle," Jake says back. "We all know she's straight. She once had a crush on Elliott."

"Oh god," Elliott frowns. He takes another slice of pizza from the extra cheese box and shovels it in his mouth.

Jack rolls his eyes and opens the box that contains his hawaiian pizza. "I'm not even gonna question why you like pineapples on pizza," Jake says, cringing as he finishes his veggie pizza.

"Oh, but you like squash and extra tomatoes on yours?" Jack fires back. "Don't knock it until you try it."

"It's sweet pineapple on savory pizza!" Jake exclaims.

"What did you expect from a weirdo like Jack?" Kai says, picking the sausage off his supreme pizza and eating it. "Just accept it and move on."

"Thank you," Jack agrees, ignoring the 'weird" part.

"Jake has a point though," Brody says calmly. "Who puts fruit on pizza?"

"Tomato's a fruit," Carson backs up Jack. "Remember that when you're eating pizza with a tomato base, smart asses."

"Plus, it's not that bad," Elliott speaks up. "It's really ingenious. The pizza is initially salty so you got a sweet pizza on a salty ass slice to balance and neutralize some of the salt and it's pretty awesome."

Jack smiles, feeling good that Carson, Elliott, and Kai are backing him up. "Thanks for backing me up. At least I can count on some people to have my back."

"Yeah, love you too weirdo," Kai replies. He ignores everyone staring at him. He knows what he said and he doesn't regret it.

"Did you mean that?" Jack inquires.

"Yes, I did," Kai confirms. "Just don't get all weird on me and shit—" it's too late because Jack is already hugging his cousin tightly. "I told you, no weird shit!" It's very clear he didn't mean it though, because he's hugging back.

"This is adorable," Jake says, looking at them with a beaming smile.

"You guys are saps," Elliott jokes, earning a glare from Jake.

After a few minutes, Jack lets go. "Oh, and I love you."

Carson smiles to himself, finally feeling at peace that his friends finally reconciled despite their bitter past. It was going to happen, but he didn't think it was soon though.


 

Once the musical is over, Heather and Sloane head over to a restaurant a few blocks away. They immediately get a seat after entering the restaurant. Sloane pulls out the chair for Heather, prompting the girl to sit down after tying her bomber jacket around her waist. Sloane sits right across from her. She watches as Heather opens the menu and gets excited over the choices they have. The restaurant is mostly American, but they have such a wonderful selection of desserts and milkshakes that it's a wonder why they haven't conjured lines after a year of being open.

"Aren't you getting something?" Heather questions.

"I am," Sloane replies. She opens the menu and sees what she's already going to get. "You should try their s'mores milkshake."

"I wanna try them all," Heather says honestly. "I'll get the white chocolate matcha and you'll get the s'mores and we could share and see which one is better."

"Sounds like a plan," Sloane agrees. The waiter gets there immediately after and takes their orders, telling them it will be ready in a few minutes. Once the waiter disappears, taking their menus, Sloane relaxes on the chair a little more. "So, what did you think of the musical?"

"It was so great," Heather beams. "I still can't believe you took me here. I didn't think you'd remember that I liked Chicago. I think Jake forgot that I liked the musical."

"It's easy to remember a fact about someone you like," Sloane says honestly, blushing lightly.

Heather giggles, noticing how cute Sloane looks when she's blushing. "You're so cute when you blush."

"Oh, thanks, never heard that one before," Sloane replies sarcastically, making both girls laugh.

They talk for a few more minutes until their food gets here, and they're eating silently up until Heather takes a careful sip of her white chocolate matcha milkshake. "Oh my god."

"It's good?" Sloane questions.

"It's great," Heather replies, licking her finger clean from touching the glass rim. They rim their glass with green matcha frosting and white chocolate morsels and shavings, so it was bound to get on her hand some moment in the night. "You should taste it."

"Alright," Sloane reaches over and takes a careful sip. "Oh, my god, that is good."

"See?" Heather chuckles. She takes the cookie from the display and starts eating it, while Sloane eats part of her s'more sandwich.

Once they finish their food, it's a quarter to one, so Sloane pays for the whole thing and they go back to the limo parked in front of the restaurant. The trip back home is silent, even though Heather is brimming with excitement after seeing her favorite musical and Sloane is more than content after impressing the girl she likes.

They reach to Heather's apartment in an hour, thirty minutes less than getting there because there was barely any traffic. Sloane gets out of the limo and helps Heather out of the car, and they walk to the front of the apartment, slowly. "Thanks a lot for this date. I really enjoyed it."

"I enjoyed it too," Sloane responds, biting her lip. "We should do this again."

Heather nods in agreement. "Good night, Sloane." She steps closer to Sloane's face and bites her lip, contemplating on asking Sloane or just going in for the kill.

As if Sloane is reading her mind, Sloane chuckles and rolls her eyes. "Yes, you can kiss me."

Heather giggles, and kisses Sloane for a couple seconds. Within those short seconds, Heather feels as if things are right in the world. After pulling away, she bites her lip again, and turns around to open her door.

"Good night Heather," Sloane says quietly, watching Heather enter her apartment. Before Heather closes the door, she looks back, and Sloane waves shortly. She turns around, closes the door, and squeals happily.


 

"Draw four," Carson says to Jack, after putting down a wild card. "The color is green."

Jack raises an eyebrow. "Not today, bitch." He puts down a green draw two. "Draw six."

"Oh my god," Jake widens his eyes, looking at his stack of UNO cards. He finds another green draw two and puts it down. They are playing an elimination round and both Kai and Elliott are eliminated for losing. "Draw eight, Brody."

"Yikes," Brody already puts down a yellow draw two. "Draw ten Hunter."

"Eat shit. Carmichael," Carson groans. He has two cards and was ready to win up until they kept it going. He sighs and picks up ten cards, shuffling them by color and draw/wild cards. He only has two wilds and one draw two in a green. After contemplating, he puts down a yellow number.

Jack smirks, putting down his second to last card, a regular wild card. "Alright, the color is red…" he puts down a red number and yells "Uno!"

"Getting real tired of your shit, Brewer," Jake frowns playfully, and puts down a red number.

"Ooh, a six!" Brody smiles, and puts down a green six.

"Bad move, Carmichael," Carson hisses, and sucks his teeth a little. He puts down a green draw two. "Sorry Brewer."

"I blame you," Jack frowns, and picks up two cards.

Jake sighs, and picks up a card from the deck. "Shit! Ok, it's your go, Brody."

Brody puts down a green number, his second to last card. Carson puts down a wild draw four card - "Ok losers, the color is blue."

"Oh my god, I hate you so much," Jack groans, and picks up four cards.

Carson smirks evilly, and looks at his row of cards. He only has ten, and they are now boring after playing all of the draw cards he owned. Jake really shuffled these cards right so that every few cards there is a wild/draw card. He loves this game, regardless of how much fights people get into after playing many draw fours/twos until someone is drawing ten, or twelve, or even twenty, which has happened when Kai was getting eliminated.

The game goes on for a few more hours until Jake starts yawning. Jack checks the time on his phone, and it's nearing two in the morning. "Damn, we've been playing for hours. It's almost two."

"Yeah, and Jake's ready to pass out," Brody says, pointing towards Jake, who has his head propped on his hand and his eyes drooping, threatening to close.

"Alright, the couch is also a pull out bed so either two people share it or someone claims it for themselves," Jack announces. Everyone looks like they want to sleep on the floor, so he shrugs and pulls out the mattress for himself. Jake removes his sleeping bag and sets it up; so does Elliott and Brody. The pull out mattress has sheets on it so all Jack needs are pillows. He goes to the closet to retrieve a couple, giving everyone one before putting three on the mattress.

Kai sets up a couple sheets he found inside the closet, and sets himself further from the couch.

Carson watches Jack get his makeshift bed ready, having half a mind to join Jack, but he gets flashbacks to that night, and just decides to sleep on the floor. He already hears snoring from Jake, which makes Carson chuckle a little.

"You gonna sleep on the floor?" Jack asks Carson.

Carson raises an eyebrow. "Why are you asking me that?"

"Because the mattress is big enough for two people," Jack replies. "I'm pretty sure it's ok for us to sleep on the same mattress."

Carson wants to ask about the last time, but that might ruin it. Before, he wasn't aware on his crush on Jack but now that he's aware, he isn't sure if that's a good idea. But the floor doesn't really look comfortable either. "Fine." He gets up and takes the other side, while Jack lays down on the mattress, almost immediately falling asleep.

Carson smiles a little, watching as Jack's face relaxes as he falls into a deep sleep. "Good night," he says quietly, and finally falls asleep to the sound of breathing.

Chapter Text

Carson is the first to wake up. He notices that his arms are wrapped around Jack's waist (again) and that his legs are also tangled with Jack's. He sighs and detangles himself away from his sleeping friend and turns to his back, staring at the ceiling. Despite it being a basement, there's still a couple of windows which brings some light inside the basement to indicate that it is now morning.

He looks around for his phone, located on the arm of the chair and checks the time: 8:02AM. It's too early, but Carson knows he won't be able to go back to sleep now. It wouldn't make much sense.

"You're up." The sudden voice startles Carson, and he looks around for the source. "Right next to you."

"Good morning to you too," Carson deadpans, upon looking at Jack who looks like he just woke up.

Jack smiles lazily, wiping his eyes to fully wake up. "I wish I can go back to sleep, but I know it's gonna be hard to."

"Same," Carson agrees. "Plus, i'm sure our friends will be waking up anytime soon."

Jack shrugs. He still feels awkward around Carson, which is partially why he invited all of the guys while Heather went on a date with Sloane. He has no idea what brought this up, because whenever he had awkward moments with his ex-friends, they can easily get over it...and they were worse than finding Carson cuddling you after an impromptu sleepover. "Yeah. I guess."

Carson sits up, and watches as Jack smoothies out the knots in his hair. It's been getting longer to the point where he will start looking like a beach bum, which is weirdly a good look for Jack, Carson thinks. "Maybe you should cut your hair," he says, earning a sharp glare from Jack. "What?"

"I've had one too many people suggest that idea," Jack replies, but then he gets a nasty knot. He tries to comb it out but it's nearly impossible without pulling out a few stray hairs. "Ok, maybe I need a trim."

Carson raises an eyebrow. He starts to notice that Jack would really look good with shorter hair - he would be able to see Jack's facial structure better than when he puts it in a bun. "Maybe you can cut it, short in the back and a little long in the front. Like...ear length."

"Now you're offering haircut ideas?" Jack says jokingly.

"It's ideas in progress," Carson answers.

Jack smiles a little, looking at Carson like he's truly contemplating the idea. "I'll think about it. Maybe during the summer I'll get fed up with the beach bum hair and cut it off."

"That's all we're asking for," Carson says back. "Speaking of the summer...we got a few weeks until."

"Huh, yeah," Jack chuckles. His seventeenth birthday is getting closer as June progresses, and normally he would've hung out with the crew but over a month ago they proved their 'loyalty' so now Jack needs a new plan. "I'm gonna hopefully get the driving lesson I need."

Carson nods, scratching the back of his neck nervously. "Well...I can help you, if you want of course."

At first, Jack didn't know what to say because he always had Taylor, but Carson offered first and he couldn't say no to that offer. "I would like that."

Carson doesn't show his excitement by smiling back. Of course he's excited - he's gonna teach the guy he likes how to drive.

"Jeez, can you two stop flirting for like five seconds?" Jake inquires sleepily, startling both boys. "I'm trying to get all the sleep I can get before ten, and you two are over here talking about the summer."

Carson clenches his fist and glares at Jake. He wants nothing more than to strangle Jake for ruining their moment. "Fuck you, West."

"I don't touch minors, Hunter. You know this," Jake says back, winking at a blushing Carson. He gets up, and stretches the kinks out of his body. "Alright, now that I'm up...what's for breakfast, Brewer?"

"Uh...l-leftover pizza…" Jack stammers, still not over what Jake said earlier about them flirting. Were they? "They're over there…"

"I'm sorry, but that's a shitty breakfast," Carson tells Jack. "I'm pretty sure we can conjure a couple bucks and actually have a decent breakfast at a place."

"I'm always on board for some pancakes!" Jake beams. "Is it only us boys or you wanna invite the girls too? I may be able to convince Sabrina's parents to let her come through."

"The more the merrier," Carson answers.

"That's enough of an answer for me. I'm gonna go call them.." He grabs his bag and goes inside the bathroom to get ready.

Carson turns around, noticing that Jack hasn't said anything. "You ok?"

"Uh, yeah," Jack grimaces. "I should get ready then." He gets up and walks up the stairs to the first level of his house, suddenly feeling less...hot.


 

"So how was you guys' date last night?" Jake inquires, as soon as the nine of them get a table at the pancake house. Jack invites Taylor, while Jake didn't have to convince Sabrina's parents to join them for breakfast. Apparently they are in a good mood, which is good enough.

"She took me to go see Chicago!" Heather replies excitedly, while Sloane squeezes Heather's hand under the table. "It was so great! I didn't want it to end at all."

"Aw," Taylor coos, while Jack throws an arm around her shoulders. "I can see it's your favorite musical."

"Try her life," Jake interjects.

Heather glares at Jake. "Shut up, West."

Carson feels like he's on square one once again. He finds himself glaring at Jack and Taylor again, and now that he's aware of his crush, it's a glare times ten. Jake catches on and slaps Carson's arm, which stops Carson from glaring and looking down at the menu. Right when he's trying not to hate the girl anymore does he fall into old habits, and he really doesn't want to do this anymore. He gets up from the chair and walks quickly to the public bathroom, getting some stares for a quick second until he turns around towards the mirrors.

"Fuck," he whispers, feeling stupid for letting a crush get the better of him.

"Carson, you in here?" The voice startles Carson, and before he has time to hide inside a stall, he sees Jake catching up to him. "You ok?"

"Peachy," Carson replies sardonically.

Jake grimaces a little, watching as Carson splashes water on his face. "Now that you know how you feel, you can't just keep running away from 'em."

"It's not as easy as you make it seem," Carson spits out. He wipes his face with the napkin, which drags against his sensitive skin and exposes his faint black eye. Shit. He decides to own up to it instead, mostly because he left his mother's foundation at his car.

"I don't know what to tell you, Hunter," Jake frowns.

"Well, don't say anything, Jason. Let me deal with this." Carson gets out of the bathroom, not caring if Jake is following him, and goes right back to the table, hoping no one will ask him about his black eye, or why he stormed off in the middle of a conversation.

Luckily, no one does. However, both Taylor and Jake glance at him every few minutes. It makes Carson forget about breakfast, declaring that he has lost his appetite for the day.

After breakfast, everyone decides to go home before heading to practice today. Carson didn't feel like practicing, but Sabrina asked him if he could train her today, and he says yes without thinking much about it. He figured he could help Sabrina with her training, since everyone else looks distracted. Now that Sloane and Heather are together and Jack has another date tonight, Carson is the only one to assist with training.

He heads home and grabs his workout clothes before going to the dojo. He gets dressed in his workout gear and sets up a sparring dummy for Sabrina to practice on. He watches as Sabrina exits the locker room and walks straight to Carson and the sparring dummy. "You ready?"

"Yeah," Sabrina replies.

"Alright so. Since you still need work on sparring we're going to work on that." Sabrina nods, and watches as Carson throws a couple of perfect kicks and punches that weren't too hard for Sabrina to do. He keeps it at a low/intermediate level, hoping that some of his skills could give him confidence to be a sensei one day. Not for this dojo chain of course - he hopes he can create a new chain where the facilities are clean and the students are comfortable, as well as advancing at a required amount of time. His training was rocky when he was at his first dojo, and up until he moved, he never ranked up, which is why the Wasabi dojo was marked for closing years before.

Sabrina copies those moves, but is still a little shaky on the kicks. He notices that Sabrina's stance isn't balanced, so he guides her. "Make sure you have a balance on gravity before you kick."

Sabrina listens to Carson's advice intently. She balances herself with her two feet, and delivers a sharp kick that knocks the sparring dummy back a few inches.

"Good," Carson reinforces. Watching Sabrina with her training and teaching her new things made it possible for Carson to be confident about his future. He should register for his second degree, considering most teachers aren't any lower than second degree black belts. Maybe Jack can help him…

After practice, Carson isn't sure to wait for Jack since he's going to be with Taylor tonight, but he does anyway. He watches Sloane and Heather leave the locker room hand in hand, and they both wave at him before leaving the dojo. Would him and Jack look like that? Would they hold hands like that and pretend they can't keep their hands off each other or would they act normally when people are around and when they're in private, that's when they are being gross?

From observing Jack's relationship with Taylor, he notices that Jack isn't too big on public displays of affection, but is it because of who Taylor is? Maybe.

Jack leaves the locker room with Kai next to him. "Oh, i'm gonna go straight to Taylor's house so you can probably take Kai home."

"Oh, ok," Carson replies, thrown off by that. "Come on, Kai."

Kai grimaces, and if it wasn't for Jack pushing him, he wouldn't have moved at all. Carson remembers the last time he took Kai home, and he hopes it wouldn't happen again in fear of losing his good friend. As soon as Carson enters his car and starts the car, Kai claims shotgun and relaxes against the cushion.

The ride is silent, up until Carson makes it to Kai's house and drops him off. Carson heads back to his home, hoping he can get some quiet time on his own, trying hard not to think about Jack and what's going to happen with Taylor.


 

On Monday, the discussion about summer plans are already in the air. There is only one week until school is over and everyone is ready for spending their time outside of school for about two months. Jack sits by his friends just when Elliott mentions his trip to San Francisco for a week, which doesn't really faze anyone.

"Face it Lennox, no one cares," Sabrina states. She ignores the harsh glare Elliott gives her and pays more attention to her turkey sandwich. "Most of us are going to be here, am I right?"

"I'll be here all summer, unfortunately," Brody answers. "I thought I was going to go overseas but my parents cancelled the trip after they saw my 'progress report', even though I did well this semester."

"That sucks for you," Sabrina replies sarcastically.

Jack glances at Sabrina weirdly. "Are you ok? You're never sarcastic two times in a row."

"I'm fine, I just hate summer," Sabrina says quietly.

Jack decides to leave it at that. It would be fruitless to interrogate it out of her. "Anyways, i'm going to learn how to drive this summer."

"I should probably do that too," Brody says, mostly to himself.

Jack thinks of the offer Carson gave him on Saturday. He would actually like the idea of Carson teaching him aside from the driving school lesson he's going to receive for a while. As Jack is about to say something, he hears a distinct yell not too far from his table. "What—" he turns around and watches as Jerry is flipped onto the table harshly.

"Oh, that's gotta hurt," Sabrina grimaces.

"Don't ever talk to me again, you piece of shit," Kim spits out, and storms out of the cafeteria.

Jack looks back at his friends, furrowing his eyebrows in piqued curiosity. "What just happened?" No one answers, and the whole lunch period is silent until everyone gets up to go to their next class. Jack isn't sure whether he should ask what happened to any neighboring students (like Taylor) or to leave it alone. He can leave it alone, after all, no one at that table is his friend anymore, or he can ask, because despite hating them all, seeing Kim flip anyone for no reason at all is a weird sight.

He gets his answer once he goes to his next class. It's another class he shares with Milton and he's already sitting next to him anyway.

"I know what you're gonna ask me," Milton starts saying, right before Jack opens his mouth.

Jack raises an eyebrow. "How?"

"When was the last time you sat next to me in class?"

Jack rolls his eyes, realizing how right Milton is. The last time he sat there was at their last exam, the weekend before he found out about Kim. "Ok, fine. You caught me."

"She's going to Japan," he says, ignoring Jack's last sentence. "She got an opportunity to go to the Otai Academy...you know, the school you were once considered to go to."

"That doesn't really explain—"

"I'm getting to that, sheesh," Milton counters. "I want her to go, being her friend that obviously supports her, but Jerry doesn't want her to go. They've been arguing for the whole weekend and then, being the misogynistic idiot that he is, he accused that Kim will go there and cheat on him just like how she cheated on you, and she flipped him on the table. Basically they broke up and i'm kind of stuck in the middle because they are both my best friends."

Jack wants to say a lot of things, especially considering loyalty, but he holds his tongue. Maybe it was time for all of them to go their separate ways. After his breakup with Kim, it was only a matter of time before everyone tests out their loyalties and then things go sour. "Maybe this is a sign."

"A sign that I should get better friends? Maybe," Milton replies. "The issue is, I've known Jerry for a very long time, longer than you or Kim. Yeah, he's an asshole, but…"

"...that's it, he's an asshole," Jack states, not even surprised at Milton's surprisingly colorful language. He hypothesizes that hanging out with Jerry caused this. "And, personally, I don't care anymore. He's not my friend anymore, and he shouldn't be yours if he doesn't even respect you or his girlfriend."

Milton grimaces, and Jack leaves the conversation at that. It's clear to Jack that Milton wouldn't end a friendship with a shitty person, especially considering that Milton barely has any friends outside of the stereotypical nerdy circle. Jack certainly isn't going to make amends just yet, at least until he feels like he can trust the redhead again.

Chapter Text

School is immediately over before the week of finals, however everyone still feels like they're going to school. Studying, panic attacks, and sleep deprivation are the three things none of the students are looking forward to, but it happens anyway. After finals week, only a few students go to the dojo, Carson included. His finals were relatively easy and didn't require him studying all night to make sure he knows everything from the last few months from his last test to now. When Jack told him that his tests were cumulative and now they have to study ten months worth of notes, it makes Carson grateful that his parents pulled him out of public school when they had the chance.

Heather goes to the same school as him so she's there, getting her training with sensei. Jake had his finals weeks ago, so he's here sparring with Sloane, who graduated online school many months before. Carson practices with Kai instead, who graduated community college last year, so he's done with school as well. Everyone else is still trying to catch up on sleep, at least, that's what Jack told Carson last night.

It gives Carson a little more focus, knowing that Jack isn't here. It's a little wrong to say that, but Carson knows full well that having Jack here, whether he has a crush on the second degree black belt or not, would be hella distracting. He's never complained before, and he isn't complaining now, but finals are a stressor so he needs to de-stress for a little bit, and having a crush certainly does not de-stress anyone.

All in all, everyone is content.


After weeks of studying and finals being finished with a guarantee of moving into senior year, Jack is playing Halo on his game console when he hears the doorbell go off. Sighing, he gets up, walks upstairs and opens the door to see Carson standing in front of him. "I thought you were practicing," Jack ponders out loud, a little confused.

"Hello to you too bestie," Carson replies sarcastically, and waltzes inside the house. "I was practicing...until I got bored. Plus, you showed up at my house the last time and i'm returning the favor."

Jack rolls his eyes, smirking fondly. "Ok, sure."

Carson immediately goes downstairs, with Jack following right after. "Ooh, you got Halo."

"What person doesn't have Halo?" Jack asks, scoffing.

"You'd be surprised," Carson replies. "Was i interrupting your gameplay or were you hoping someone showed up?"

"Both," Jack affirms, scratching the back of his neck. "It's kind of boring so despite surprising the hell out of me, i'm glad you're here."

Carson smiles back, his heart lurching. "Thanks."

Jack bites his lip, and looks down. "Ok, before this gets too weird, should I put in a different game? I got Super Smash—"

"Yes," Carson replies, not allowing Jack to finish his sentence. "Even though i'm confident I can kick your ass."

Jack looks straight at Carson, raising both his eyebrows. "Is that a challenge, Hunter?"

"More like a truth, but whatever makes you feel good," Carson says back in confidence.

"Put your money where your mouth is, Hunter." He quickly replaces the game CD's and then gives Carson his other wireless controller. He picks up his controller and sits right next to Carson in front of the sofa.

After picking out their characters, they start to play a round. Jack is confident that he will beat Carson, up until the last few minutes where Carson catches up and beats Jack in a couple swift moves. "You were saying?" Carson asks triumphantly.

Jack narrows his eyes at Carson, not convinced yet. "Best two out of three."

"Alright," Carson replies, with a shrug.

Jack starts a new game, and almost immediately, Carson beats Jack without looking at the controls as much as the last game. Carson's health bar is unmoved throughout the entire game and he used almost every block move imaginable, which annoys Jack. When he used to play this game with his old friends, it would take a good share of punches and kicks and special moves to declare either one of them winner, but Carson completely beats him as quickly as the last.

"Seriously?" Jack sighs, frustratingly.

Carson sniggers, smirking in triumph. "I told you I can kick your ass, but you didn't believe me."

"Three out of five," Jack growls. "Let's go, Hunter."

Carson laughs even harder, but decides to play along. Despite both of them playfully shoving each other to distract the other, Carson once again beats Jack, just as quickly as the last. "You were saying, Brewer?"

Jack glares at Carson, who is still laughing from his victory. He prevents himself from smiling fondly, especially after realizing how Carson looks so alive for the first time in weeks, without any prior awkwardness between them to ruin the moment. "You are the worst," he mumbles.

Carson rolls his eyes. "You're just mad because i'm the king of super smash bros, and you're not used to losing against people who don't suck at video games."

Jack rolls his eyes. "Alright, no more games for you." He tries to grab the controller from Carson, but Carson moves it away from Jack's reach. "Give me that controller!"

"Or what?" Carson challenges.

Jack doesn't say anything else. He places his controller next to him and then tackles Carson by surprise. Carson makes a small 'oof' sound and his back hits the floor, surprised by Jack trying to pry the controller from his hand. He wrestles back, ignoring Jack practically grinding on top of him, only for Jack to finally grab Carson's wrists and pin him to the ground. Panting slightly, Carson drops the controller and hopes Jack would notice the controller on the floor. "Well, you beat me in something," Carson whispers, biting his lip.

Jack chuckles a little, staring at Carson for the longest few seconds in his life. Theoretically they feel like minutes. He forgets all about the controller, wherever the fuck it is - he casts his eyes down to Carson's lips, noticing the lip bite. Slowly, Jack inches closer and closer, almost unnoticed by Carson until they are inches away. Carson lowers his eyes and allows for their lips to meet.

Carson makes a small satisfied sound, and feels Jack almost smirking against his lips. Jack bites Carson's lip, which enables him to deepen the kiss and let go of Carson's wrists. Their kisses are sloppy, but satisfying, neither of them wanting to stop. However, knowing they have to because Jack would be cheating and Carson is enabling the idea of cheating, Jack immediately pulls away, staring at his friend in regret and horror.

"Shit," he whispers in shock, and gets off Carson's lap while grabbing the wireless controller from the floor. "I can't believe I did that."

Carson rolls his eyes, sitting up from the floor while watching Jack pace. There is a part of him that wishes that it didn't happen, but the other part, which is slightly more dominant, is more than excited that Jack was the one who leaned in and initiated the kiss. "But you did."

Jack stops pacing, and stares at Carson. "And you didn't even stop me, knowing that I had a girlfriend."

"Oh, yeah, because that's the biggest problem," Carson retorts, sardonically. "If you really cared for Taylor, you wouldn't have kissed me in the first place, so don't go turning this around and making it my fault."

"I'm not," Jack argues back. "Because we both did it and we're both to blame. I'm just saying you could've stopped me."

"And you could've stopped yourself," Carson spits out. "Why did you even do it?"

"I don't know! You really think I would automatically know the reason why I would make out with you for a split second?" Jack exclaims.

"That's a shitty answer, Jack," Carson spits back. "You didn't realize that you were cheating on Taylor or that you're kissing a dude. Does that even remotely sound right to you?"

"And you didn't push me away, realizing that what we're doing is wrong," Jack growls, already getting fed up with this conversation.

Carson laughs bitterly. "Yeah, it's ironic right? I could've stopped you this whole time, while you could've never done it in the first place! Or maybe, we can forget about it and keep avoiding each other, much like what we've been doing ever since the tournament!"

"You think i'm avoiding you?" Jack asks, incredulously. "I've been trying to get close to you, because you're the only person ever since I dropped my old friends that remotely gives a shit about me, and you're not family. I consider you a best friend, and I care a lot about you, but you've been avoiding me and it kind of makes me feel hurt, you know? Like maybe you're just not as interested anymore. I've always enjoyed your social awkwardness, I allowed you to take a vinyl record of mine...hell, I even showed you a move I've been working on ever since Rudy even announced the tournament. I just thought that…"

Carson prevents himself from feeling bad, especially when the only reason why he's been avoiding Jack is because he likes Jack more than a friend, but he sighs, realizing that what Jack just said is right and it makes him feel horrible for being a crappy friend. "Alright, i'm sorry for avoiding you. But, that still doesn't explain why you wanted to kiss me."

"I told you already, I don't know," Jack replies honestly.

"And I said that was a shitty answer because I know you know," Carson shakes his head. "You kiss Taylor because she's your girlfriend and you like her, alot. When you were dating Kim, you kissed her because she was your girlfriend and you liked her. You cannot obviously tell me that you don't know why you decided to pucker up and make out with me."

"Ok, then why did you kiss me back?" Jack inquires back. Carson doesn't answer, because the real and full reason would probably ruin their friendship forever. Jack notices this, and even when he wants to feel triumphant, it's masked with anger and hurt. "If you don't have a reason, then why should I even explain myself?"

"Wow, you are so blind," Carson blurts, almost regretting it right after, but there's no turning back. "The real reason why I didn't stop was because I didn't want to, ok? I didn't fucking want to. In fact, I have a fucking crush on you, and no not that platonic bullshit - I have a huge, fucking crush on you, and I hate it so much because it's torture, and you're oblivious and i'm tired." Carson's voice starts to crack, and his face is already wet with tears, but he doesn't stop. "I was tired of pretending to like a girl who wanted me to stop being your goddamned friend after you insulted her, and i'm tired of hearing the same bullshit from straight boys who think it's ok to kiss their not-straight friends just because they were caught in the moment, or they don't know, or they want to see how it is. I'm not a guinea pig, i'm not a fucking test dummy, and i'm not a fucking fool. So, sorry if I didn't want to answer the question, and sorry that i'm a socially awkward turtle, but...fuck you, like seriously, fuck you."

Carson turns around and storms upstairs and out of Jack's house, with Jack standing there, stunned in disbelief.


"Guys…" Sabrina points over to the door after seeing Carson approaching the dojo after two days of being missing in action.

Carson enters the dojo, hoping his haggard appearance doesn't raise any questions. Ever since he left Jack's basement two days ago, he's been crying nonstop and the only time he stopped was when he realized that missing too many days of practice isn't going to help at all. Plus he can take out his frustrations on a sparring dummy.

Heather, noticing Carson's puffy eyes and flushed face, approaches the black belt. "Hey, what's wrong?"

"Nothing," Carson forces out, his voice dry and coarse.

Heather doesn't believe him. She pulls him away from the public, closer to the locker rooms. "Ok, now tell me what's wrong."

"I really don't want to talk about it," Carson frowns.

Heather's about to reply with more prodding, but she really stares at her friend, noticing the heartbreak strewn all over his face. Sighing, she pulls Carson in for a hug. "It's ok, I won't ask anymore."

Carson rests his head on Heather's shoulder, ignoring the drying sweat on her neck. "Thank you."

Heather lets go and puts her hands on Carson's shoulders. "You sure you're up for practice?"

"I've missed two days and I wanna punch something," Carson replies. He can't punch someone, a specific someone, because not only is he not here, Carson doesn't have the heart to, despite what happened. "I probably don't wanna train, but…"

"That's fine, sensei's been training us for the past few days, and that's all I can ask for," Heather replies. "I'll see you out there?"

Carson nods for confirmation. "I'll be out in a few minutes." He goes inside the boys' locker room and only stuffs his duffel bag and shoes in there, while tying his hair back before going out, however, on the way to the door, he almost bumps into Jack, who looks less than a mess but still looks like he replaced sleeping for crying.

Jack finally looks at Carson, hoping the other boy would acknowledge him, but he knows it's not going to happen. Instead, Carson walks around him and leaves the locker room, leaving Jack to himself.

Jake watches as Carson makes his way towards the sparring dummy and immediately start practicing on it, his hits harder than the last. He glances towards Heather. "Did you find out what's going on?"

"No, he didn't want to talk about it and I didn't wanna prod," Heather answers, hoping Jake wouldn't do the same. Whatever Carson is going through, Heather is sure he will get over it. Hopefully long enough.

"Alright," Jake sighs, and decides to focus on something else, despite the horrible tension circling around the dojo as soon as Carson and Jack showed up.

Carson stops punching the sparring dummy once he sees redness in his knuckles. He sighs angrily, realizing that punching things aren't making things better. He really just wants to go back home now, maybe hide under the covers and sleep all day, hoping that his dreams aren't plagued by a painful straight crush, but he knows he can't. It's too late for that, and hiding from your problems isn't something Carson likes to do. It's even worse now that Jack is here, and he surely does not want anything to do with him. It's just the worst.

Jack leaves the locker room finally. He wants to talk to Carson and get some things sorted out, mostly because he truly missed being Carson's friend, but he knows Carson is angry with him. It isn't the first time they've been angry with each other, but this time, he is very sure Carson wants nothing to do with him.

He has to fix this. Sooner or later.

"What happened?" Kai inquires, making Jack jump before turning around.

"Nothing," Jack replies, hoping his cousin won't ask again. He really doesn't want to talk about it, especially now that Carson is within hearing range. "Don't worry about it."

"Kinda hard to do that when there's a bunch of tension around you and Carson," Kai points out. "Not only that, the both of you look like you've been through hell and back."

Jack sighs. "I didn't get any sleep in the last 48 hours."

"And why is that?"

"Because I couldn't sleep?" Jack replies, the sentence sounding more like a rhetorical question.

"Fine," Kai sighs dejectedly, dropping the issue altogether. He just opts to spar with Jack instead of asking any more questions.


It's been mostly quiet the whole day, and once practice is over, Carson is the first one to go to the locker room and the first one to leave. He says goodbye to Elliott while he puts away the mats, and immediately goes to his car. Once entering the car, a couple tears escape his eyes and he releases a shaky sigh.

He had only a few successful hours of not even glancing once at Jack and now it seems like things are already falling apart. He's tired of missing days but he surely isn't strong enough to stay in a dojo where Jack is, at least for now. He checks his phone and sees a missed call and a message from his mom, saying that she needs to talk with him. Hoping it isn't about school (even though he's getting straight A's) he drives off.

Jack leaves the locker room with Jake and he doesn't even see Carson anymore. Sighing, he says goodbye to Jake and decides to walk home instead of calling Taylor.

Jake turns around, watching Heather leave the locker room with Sloane, hand in hand. Jack is already crossing the street when the three of them are on their way out. "I think something happened to the both of them," Jake tells them.

"Another argument?" Sloane raises an eyebrow, glancing at Jack's retreating figure. "Why is it when they fight, they act like they just broke up?"

"Good question," Heather chimes in.

"Because they like each other," Jake concludes. It's been on his mind for days, weeks even, especially after their last fight during the week of the tournament. He already knows about Carson, but after seeing Jack so sad just now confirms that he returns the feelings, and he doesn't even know it yet.

"You think so?" Heather inquires.

"Remember the day Carson missed school?" Jake says. Heather nods, goading Jake to continue. "I caught him staring at Jack, practically drooling at him, and when I confronted him about it, he tried to deny it. How I figured Jack out was basically just now. Carson left without a word and Jack looked like he was about to break down and cry."

"Well, that confirms my suspicions," Sloane grimaces. "It seems like everyone can see something more going on between Jack and Carson, but Jack and Carson themselves. It's amazing."

"It is," Jake agrees.

"Guys seriously, think for a moment," Heather speaks up. "Jack has a girlfriend, and they like each other very much. What makes you think he likes Carson too?"

"He can like Taylor, but he can like Carson a lot more," Jake replies.

"But...dang, I hope if Taylor finds out about this she isn't going to get mad," Heather says.

"I don't think she would get mad," Jake replies. "She doesn't look like the type to get mad at someone for realizing their feelings. But, there's something that neither of them are telling us, and I feel like investigating it further."

Heather silently agrees. There's nothing more unsettling than finding your friends in complete distress and neither of them are saying anything.

Chapter Text

Carson enters the car to go to the dojo for the day. It's going to be his last few days anyway, since last night his parents arranged for them to go out of state for a few weeks. School's already done and he received his grades last night so he should be happy for that.

However, the conversation he had with them was uncomfortable. The biggest reason why they're leaving is because they feel like a trip will allow Carson to open up more. They kept prodding on about school and his social life, and apparently something he's not telling them. So maybe, apparently, getting out of Seaford will allow him to say something. It wouldn't really work, but Carson is still thankful because it would give him time to move on from Jack and breathe in different air. If, for some miraculous reason he becomes friends with Jack again, he has to know that he can't fall for Jack again.

He enters the dojo with his duffel bag and goes inside the locker room to get dressed. Upon opening his bag he sees the vinyl. He knows he has to face Jack again to give it back, although he was really hoping otherwise like slipping it into Jack's locker or something.

He's only giving it back because he wants to get over his crush on Jack by eliminating the things that remind him of Jack, and ending a friendship isn't the only way to do it. Plus, burning it would just be evil.

To his luck, Jack shows up with his duffel bag in hand. They look at each other, looking for the right words to say but nothing coming out, up until Carson remembers what he wanted to do. He sighs deeply and thrusts it in front of Jack. "Here."

Jack furrows his eyebrows together. "What…"

"It's yours, isn't it?" Carson points out.

"Yeah, but…"

"I'm giving it back," Carson states. "I'm surely not gonna keep it any longer."

Jack stays in place fearing that if he takes it he might cry again. "You don't have to do this...we don't have to let this ruin our friendship…"

"I'm done, Jack," Carson replies, his voice laced with bitterness. "I'm done with you, and i'm done with this. I don't care what you do with it, i'm not keeping it."

Jack shakily takes the record away, and waits for Carson to fully leave the locker room to finally release the tears he's been holding back for those last few minutes. He really hoped their friendship wouldn't end, but once he saw the record in Carson's hand, it proved otherwise. He truly doesn't know how to fix this.


"Um, i'm going away for two weeks starting on Friday," Carson tells Heather during practice.

"What? Where?" Heather asks.

"My parents and I are going to New York," he answers. "Apparently they think this trip may help me open up to them, since I was more social before moving back here."

Jake overhears them and raises an eyebrow. "Not sure if another place is going to help you talk to them more, but it seems like a thoughtful sentiment. If my parents decided to take a trip to one of the most gorgeous cities in the world, I'd love them forever."

"Same," Heather agrees. "It's NYC for fuck's sake. I could go to any Broadway musical I want!"

"So not the point," Carson rolls his eyes. "I'm just...what do they want to know?"

"Maybe they know you're bi and they're waiting on you to confirm it," Jake replies.

"Like my parents are knowledgeable on anything other than being gay or lesbian," Carson says, sardonically.

"You never know," Jake shrugs. "When I came out to my parents, they asked minimal questions. In fact, all they asked is if I was using protection and if i'm getting tested. It was uncomfortable, but it was better than explaining what my sexuality meant."

"Speak for yourself," Heather frowns. "When I came out, my parents asked me all sorts of questions. First one was, what does being bisexual mean. It was like I was being interviewed."

Carson casts his eyes down, trying to imagine his parents taking it well. It doesn't seem far fetched because every decision his parents made were based on his choice only (with some meddling). "Maybe it's time to tell them."

"That's up to you," Heather reassures, placing a hand on Carson's shoulder. "Doesn't make you any less bi if you decide to never come out, and it doesn't make you any more bi if you do come out."

"I'll think about it," Carson replies. "I have two weeks to tell them anyway, right?"

"Exactly!" Heather smiles. "Now, come on, let's finish sparring."


Jack waits in front of his old dojo, hoping that Milton leaves before anyone else. He was watching most of the students train, and it seems like everyone is getting better by the minute. They were improving either way, so Jack doesn't care anyway. He's only here because Milton told him to wait outside when he was done practicing at his dojo. In all honestly, he just left early after overhearing that Carson was leaving for his trip to New York on Friday. He didn't even practice much - he just hoped that he didn't seem too sad in front of Sabrina today, and that surely worked because no one asked questions.

Just his luck - Milton exits the dojo and waves at Jack for a split second until he sees the sadness on Jack's face. "You ok?"

"Never better," Jack lies, grimacing to prove a point. "Let's go somewhere else."

Milton already knows that's a lie, but he won't prod...yet. At least until they go somewhere else. "Wanna go to circus burger?"

"Alright," Jack relents. He doesn't even know why he's hanging out with Milton. Is it to get his mind off Carson for a while or is it because he wants to get close to someone who is trying to patch things up? Maybe it's to get some more intel on his ex-girlfriend. Who really knows. He follows Milton over to the fast food restaurant, and they both get a deluxe meal. Jack actively tries to avoid the clown mascot as they find a table, his conditioned fear of clowns still prevalent after all these years.

"Now you can tell me what's wrong," Milton says, as soon as they sit down.

Jack sighs heavily; he should've known Milton would see past his blatant lying. "I lost my best friend."

"Oh damn," Milton replies sympathetically. It's no secret that Jack found a friend in Carson recently, much like how everyone used to see him before he cheated at the tournament last year. He knows that Jack and Carson are immensely close...or at least, they used to. "What happened...if you feel comfortable answering."

"You asked for a reason," Jack replies, rolling his eyes. "What happened was we got into a huge argument and today was basically the confirmation I apparently needed to indicate the friendship, over."

"Ok…" Milton feels like something is missing from the story, like why. "Why did you two fight? Is it uncomfortable to mention, like something embarrassing? Did he put blue cheese in your duffel bag?"

"No!" Jack exclaims in indignation. Carson would never do that, especially knowing that blue cheese makes Jack vomit. As much as Carson hates him right now, Jack is sure he would never do that. "Ikissedhim."

Milton raises both eyebrows, shocked by what Jack just said. He may have said it really fast, but he definitely caught that. "Holy Christmas nuts...you kissed him?" Milton hisses.

"Yeah, and I kinda blamed him because he didn't stop me?" Jack replies, grimacing as he gets closer to the truth. "Oh, and, he's in love with me."

"Wow," The redhead grimaces, kind of at a loss for words.

"The thing is, I didn't want to lose him as a friend, but also, I don't know how I feel about this new information," Jack confesses.

"Ok, let's start with a question of many questions...how did you feel kissing him? Like...did you feel...good?"

"I didn't want to stop," Jack replies. "The reason why I did was because I thought of Taylor for one split second."

Milton nods, processing the information. "Ok...i'm still surprised you even kissed a boy. The only other boy you kissed was Jerry and you said you didn't like it."

"No, I actually did like it," Jack clarifies. "I just told you that because I didn't want you guys to draw conclusions."

"I can't believe…" Milton stops, upon realizing that everyone else but himself would draw to conclusions. "Ok, yeah, I can see everyone else drawing to conclusions. But why would it matter? You've never cared what anyone thinks of you. I mean, you surely didn't give a fuck about Jerry or Kim for the past month and they've been talking a lot about you."

"You've been hanging around Jerry too much," Jack replies, referring to Milton's colorful language.

"Moving on," Milton says loudly. "I'm not sure what it is between you and Carson, but I think you need to understand that he needs some space, especially now that he knows you don't like him back."

"Wait, I never said that," Jack says, immediately regretting it right after when Milton's eyes widen.

"So...you do like him."

"I didn't say that either," Jack answers.

Milton furrows his eyebrows together, in confusion. "What are you saying, because you're confusing the hell outta me."

"I don't know," Jack sighs, truly confused. Maybe he needs to talk to someone else...someone who isn't straight...then again, Milton isn't straight either. "I care about Carson, a lot, especially since he's been looking out for me when you guys dumped me, and he's not a bad person at all. He's awkward as hell but...he's also a good listener. Sometimes I feel like I don't have to say anything and I know he's there...almost like how I feel with Taylor when we're alone. When I kissed him, it was in the moment at first but I didn't stop, and just like him, I didn't want it to stop. Sometimes...no, most of the time, I feel like I can be...me, when i'm with him. And it sounds romantic as fuck, but that's just how I feel, I guess."

"I'm sorry to say this, but, sounds like you're in love with him," Milton declares, shrugging.

Jack chuckles, shaking his head. "It sounds like that, right?"

"Yeah, it does," Milton replies. "The only other person you talked about like that was Kim, and even that wasn't as sincere. But...you have time to figure it out. I'm sure he won't get over you that quickly. And, if it's just that you're not into him, that's ok too, but just remember to give him some space. That's important if you really want to patch things up with Carson."

"Thanks, Milton," Jack smiles sincerely, feeling like he can think straighter after having this conversation.

"You're welcome."

Chapter Text

"Seriously, do you have to go?" Sloane questions, frowning. It's Carson's last hour at the dojo because his parents are going to pick him up at around four. No one is practicing (except for Jack, who is still a little pissed about Carson ending their friendship and also leaving for two weeks). Everyone else agrees with Sloane, hoping that Carson wouldn't leave, but they know he probably needs the vacation. Still, no one knows what happened between him and Jack, but they are well-aware that they aren't friends anymore. It probably is for the best right now, because Jack's fixing things with Milton and Carson still has everyone else at the dojo to be friends with.

"I'm sorry," Carson replies. "I'll be back in two weeks. It will go by quicker than you know it."

"Yeah, but that doesn't mean we won't miss you," Heather pouts, throwing his arms around Carson to prevent him from leaving.

"I have a few more minutes, Heather," Carson playfully groans. "You can say your goodbyes then."

Heather still doesn't let go, which prompts everyone else to join in for a group hug. Jack continues to keep his distance, punching the dummy so hard that it almost makes everyone jump. Carson chuckles either way as some of his friends let go. "Seriously guys, I'll be fine."

"Don't hesitate to call, even if it's late over there and early over here," Kai suggests.

"Noted," Carson replies.

"Also, I heard it's pride week over there so if you're gonna—"

"Jake," Heather warns, clearing her throat.

"Sorry," Jake sighs. "But you know what i'm talking about."

"Yeah, sure…" Carson is very sure he isn't going to do what Jake implies might happen. He still isn't very sure about telling his parents yet. When he hears a honk, it signals for him to go. "Alright, I gotta go. Bye guys." He waves at everyone else and heads towards the door.

"We'll miss you," Heather yells out.

Carson chuckles a little, and leaves the dojo. He notices that Jack still hasn't turned around to notice that he's gone, but he doesn't care. He just hopes that this trip will help him move on. That's important to him right now. As soon as he enters his parents' car, they drive off.

Once Carson leaves the dojo, everyone decides to practice, while Jack slows it down long enough for Heather to approach him. "Why didn't you say bye?" She asks, even though she knows the reason why.

"I'm pretty sure you're aware that Carson and I are no longer friends," Jack replies, bitterly.

"Yes, I am, for reasons still unknown to all of us," Heather points out, gesturing to the rest of the students who are practicing. "And he hasn't told me either, which is peculiar because despite not being as close as how you two used to be, he still considers me a friend. And I thought we were friends. I thought all of us were your friends."

"You are," Jack defends, sounding more sincere than he lets on. "I'm just...it's complicated."

"Is it?"

Jack sighs, getting annoyed by Heather's persistence. "Yes, it is."

"Ok." Heather purses her lips together to prevent herself from saying something else. "If you really think that after the shit you went through that we would just stop supporting you? We're just concerned about you because, i'm sure you've noticed, you haven't been yourself at all. Everyday, besides today, you look like you haven't slept. Sometimes you don't even want to spar. You even left early, which is something you rarely, if ever, do. It may be complicated to you, but we might understand if you would just talk to us for a change."

"She's right," Jake agrees, blocking Sabrina's high kick.

"How long have you been listening?" Heather asks.

"Quite a while," Jake answers. Sabrina takes the hint and stops practicing, grabbing a dry towel and wiping her face with it. "We've always knew that there was trouble in paradise but we didn't think it was that bad. The last fight you two had, you didn't talk for a week. This time, you both look like you've seen hell. We tried asking him but he dodged the question so now it's your turn, and you can't escape from us."

"I'm just here to eavesdrop," Sabrina says honestly, getting a glare from Jake. "What? I'm sure everyone else is doing the same."

"Look, there's some boards!" Jake gestures over to the practice boards. "Go see if you can break two!" Sabrina frowns, but she goes over there nonetheless. "Alright, now you can tell us."

Jack tells them everything, starting with the minute Carson showed up at his house to the moment he stormed off, not missing any information. There were some shocked expressions, but he ignores them. He expected it, considering Milton was just as shocked when he told him.

Once Jack finishes, Jake and Heather look at each other, nod, and look back at Jack, only to slap him across the head. "Ow, what the hell was that for?"

"For being an idiot," Jake replies.

"Oh, and this," Heather punches Jack on the arm. "Is for playing with Carson's emotions."

"I had no prior knowledge—"

"I don't care!" Heather exclaims angrily. "I can't believe you did that and then basically turned it around to make it seem like it was his fault! That's playing the victim!"

"Don't you think I regret it?" Jack rhetorically asks, his voice dripping with sarcasm.

"And you cheated on Taylor, you idiot," Heather points out, punching Jack again at the same spot. She ignores Jack's unintelligible complaints. "I swear, it's amazing that neither Taylor nor Carson hasn't killed you yet."

"Yeah, well, we're not friends so—"

"Rightfully so," Jake defends.

"Guys…" Jack frowns. He thought telling them wouldn't cause them to get mad and stop being his friend. He lost one, he isn't emotionally ready to lose more.

Heather sighs, her demeanor changing a little after seeing sadness and guilt written all over Jack's face. "Listen...you were an idiot, but we still love you."

"Yeah," Jake agrees. "But...you have to tell Taylor what happened."

"I know I have to tell her," Jack replies. He even feels like a bad boyfriend for not talking to her in the past week, but that was because he was an emotional wreck, not because he was avoiding her. Now, he's probably avoiding her. "And it sucks because she may not forgive me for it."

"Why would she, considering you made out with a dude!" Heather hisses, hoping her voice isn't loud enough for anyone to hear.

"And you enjoyed the hell out of it!" Jake adds on.

Jack rolls his eyes. He should've never said that part. "I get it."

"I don't think you do," Jake replies, trying to control his anger long enough to look Jack in the eye and give him a menacing stare. "Things like that...it makes us resentful around straight people."

"Exactly," Heather chimes in. "And you knew Carson had a thing for you and you still didn't give a fuck. You used him."

"He didn't tell me that until he yelled at me and then he left," Jack defends. He really doesn't want to get into an argument but he's not gonna get accused of something he did not even know until it was too late. "And don't tell me it's because i'm blind. He hasn't even hinted that he liked me, at all."

"He hasn't hinted? I was literally waiting for you to even notice it!" Jake snaps. "You two flirt way more than anyone else. You two are immensely close, which is surprising because we were the ones who were nice to you. You haven't clicked with anyone else like Carson, so don't give us that bullshit, Brewer. Heather and me? We're both gay. We know about shit like this. We've seen it throughout our own lives, and it's a no brainer that you two have something that goes way beyond friendship. You're just too fucking blind and i'm so tired of it! Up until now, I had to watch my friend heartbroken over a straight crush but it's pretty fucking obvious what's going on. You need to open your eyes and realize that there is someone that actually likes you for you. Yeah, I guess Taylor's nice, but she's more like your friend. Carson isn't. I hope you understand how much you actually fucked up, because i'm not sure if you can come back from it."

Jack says nothing else as Jake storms away. He stares at Heather, who is a little surprised at Jake's outburst, even though she should've seen it coming.

"Do you like him?" Heather inquires.

"What?"

"You heard me," Heather says, not in the mood to repeat herself.

Jack shrugs. Despite his talk with Milton he's still confused if he even likes Carson or not. "I don't know. I'm still trying to figure it out."

Heather gives Jack a sympathetic look. She recognizes that look of confusion. She's seen it on herself, and several others at the dojo, especially Carson. She doesn't want to jump conclusions to make him even more confused. "Ok." She throws an arm around Jack's shoulders. "You know I'll be by your side while you figure this out, and when Jake finally cools down, he'll help you too. But, you have to tell Taylor about this. She cannot be out of the loop if you do end up figuring it out."

"I know," Jack replies. "If you see me tomorrow morning, I either cheated death or she forgave me."

"That's the spirit," Heather says overenthusiastically. She removes her arm and gestures over to the lockers. "I gotta go check up on…"

"Go ahead." Heather smiles warmly, and heads towards the lockers. Jack smoothes out his hair and thinks for a while. He knows what he has to do.


 

"Wow, you finally remembered me," Taylor says as soon as Jack enters the car. "I was thinking the whole time...do I even have a boyfriend? Luckily for you, I was busy looking for jobs so I didn't have much time to chill with you either."

Jack sighs dejectedly. "Let's just go."

"Uh, alright," Taylor replies, a little off that Jack hasn't even said much to her. When she received a cryptic text telling her to pick her up and that they needed to talk, she almost feared the worst, but she surely didn't show it. Now, maybe something is terribly wrong and she hopes she is ready for it.

It takes them a few minutes to get to Jack's house, but none of them leave the car. "What's going on?" Taylor inquires, tired of the quietness.

"I did something horrible, and you're not gonna forgive me for it," Jack starts off, hoping he doesn't start crying again mid-confession.

"Define horrible," Taylor says, raising an eyebrow. She hopes it isn't what she thinks it is. "Whatever it is, I swear I won't get too angry. I rather hear the truth than to hear you lie to me."

Jack sighs, and tells her what happened with Carson. He doesn't leave anything out again, since he wants to be honest with her. He turns his head right after, bracing for impact, but it doesn't come.

Taylor clenches the steering wheel; she isn't sure if she's mad at Jack for cheating or mad at Carson for allowing it to go this far. Of course, it's both their fault and they should both take responsibility for it. She already had a feeling this was coming but it doesn't mean it wouldn't hurt any less. "I can't believe this."

Jack shakes his head, his hand on the door handle. "I know, and i'm sorry."

"You should be," Taylor replies harshly. "Not only did you cheat on me, you probably lead him on, which is not a good feeling." She figures at this point she should tell Jack that she always knew about Carson at this point, so she continues. "I always knew he liked you. I confronted him about it one day and as much as he denied it, I always could detect bullshit, as you may know. I swear, I never seen someone so into you like that, and hell, I've seen the same look on you when you're with him, or even talking about him."

"I don't know how I feel yet," Jack admits, hoping Taylor would just understand that this is still complicated.

"Ok," Taylor replies. She knows that coming out isn't exactly an easy process, even though she can clearly see that both Carson and Jack like each other. "I still don't like that you cheated on me."

"I understand that," Jack chuckles, scratching the back of his neck. "I also understand if you don't want to be with me anymore."

"I understand that as well," Taylor replies, giving Jack a small smile. "Now that that's over, have you at least tried to talk to him?"

Jack shakes his head. "He ended the friendship days ago and now he's on vacation so I won't be talking to him until he comes back, or at least until this whole thing blows over."

"I think that's fine. He's miles away so he can have some space after having his heart shattered to a million pieces - you're lucky i'm not kicking your ass for that - and also when you 'figure out things'." She puts the last few words in air quotes, to mock Jack, but also to imply that she isn't stupid.

Jack sneers playfully. "You don't have to put it in air quotes."

Taylor gives Jack a stern look, and argues, "Yes I do, because even if you say you don't know how you feel, it always means you do have it figured out, but you're trying not to feel that way because you're blinded by your own insecurity. You like him, Jack. I know you do."

"Jake told me the same thing this morning," Jack says, groaning a little.

"That's because it's fucking true," she scoffs. "When you finally realize it, it won't be a surprise to anyone but rest assured, I'll still be by your side."

"I don't deserve you at all," Jack says, meaning it wholly. He truly didn't deserve Taylor. "You still support me, even after breaking up with me...which, by the way, doesn't feel like a breakup."

"Yeah well, no one truly deserves me," Taylor flips her hair and gives Jack a particularly sassy glare. "Now, get out my car."

"Goodnight, Brownstein," Jack grins, and finally exits the car, feeling better after talking to Taylor.


 

The past few weeks are stress-free for the most part. Jack is almost to his regular self by the end of the first week, and teaches Sabrina how to channel her energy into breaking two boards. She's been improving day by day and is very close to getting her green belt in the next few months. Jack also notices that his seventeenth birthday falls on the same week Sloane is leaving to go on a year long tour, which sucks because despite renewing his friendship with Milton, he's also been getting close to Sloane as well as the rest of his teammates.

There's also that sensei-student competition happening in a few days and after Jack decided not to go (mostly because it would bring a lot of memories he doesn't want to remember), Kai is the next best black belt to be considered and to be honest, it couldn't be any more great. He's been complaining about not getting any vacation time anyway.

He's practicing with Kai and Sabrina when the door opens, revealing Carson and his duffel bag. Before he opens his mouth however, Heather literally jumps the surprised black belt. Carson stumbles, losing his footing for a split second, and then sturdies himself. "Ok, Heather."

"I missed you!" She exclaims.

"Missed you too, now can you let go?" Carson inquires, chuckling. Heather let's him go, only for him to get some bro-hugs from Kai, Brody, Elliott, and Jake, and then a hug from Sabrina. "I see most of you missed me."

"Yeah we did," Sabrina replies. "Guess what, I can break two boards now."

"Really?" Carson asks, raising an eyebrow in curiosity.

Sabrina simply pulls him towards a corner, where Jack moves out the way and watches as Sabrina sets up two boards on a stand. She gets in position, exhales deeply, and punches the boards effortlessly. Surprised, Jake throws his arm around Sabrina's shoulders and gives her a side hug, congratulating her. "See?"

"You are one step away from getting your green belt," Carson says honestly, making Sabrina grin widely.

Jack hasn't said anything since Carson showed up, and for some reason, hopes that Carson doesn't notice him. He isn't sure if he's still angry with Carson for leaving or for not talking to him for the past two weeks, but he's also angry with himself because now he's just staring at Carson like he's seen the boy for the first time. Is it possible for someone to change a lot in two weeks, or is that the crush talking?

Whatever it is, he keeps his distance long enough.

"So how was it?" Sloane asks Carson, referring to the trip.

"Oh, it was great," Carson replies. "I spent it mostly with my parents, since i'm still too young to do certain things...but i'm not complaining. It seems like I needed the time away from Seaford after all." He really did, after boarding the plane two nights ago. After he told his parents exactly what they suspected, his relationship with them has gotten better, to the point where it used to be before a year ago. He also hasn't thought of Jack for two weeks, mostly because he was busy, but also because he actually tried not to.

"Did you tell them…" Heather asks, trailing off on purpose.

"Yeah, I did," Carson answers. "Turns out they kind of knew after seeing the bisexual flag in my room a year ago...also, thanks Jake for putting that in my room."

"You never removed it," Jake shrugs.

"Yeah because I wanted it," Carson responds, laughing. "You have about like...sixteen in your apartment."

Jack starts to feel out of place, realizing that Carson will not even try to look in his direction. He truly wanted to leave, but that might look suspicious. Even when he already figured things out, he still cannot bring himself to even try to talk to Carson. Well, of course he wouldn't, but still…

"That's only because my friend planned a bisexual themed birthday party for my seventeenth and I didn't want to throw them away," Jake defends himself. "Trust me, there were more but I gave one to you, Elliott, and Heather."

"How do you even have a bisexual themed birthday party?" Jack inquires, the topic peaking his interest all of a sudden.

"To be honest, I have no idea, but it worked," Jake answers.

Carson stares at Jack, who makes a satisfied face upon hearing the answer. He literally almost forgot he was still here until he really looks at Jack - "Did you get a haircut?" Carson inquires.

"Uh, yeah," Jack replies, a little thrown off at Carson suddenly talking to him. "I took your advice and decided to cut it. It was too much."

Just as Carson predicted, he can finally see Jack's actual facial structure, and holy shit. Is it possible to go back to New York? "Well, it looks good."

"Thanks," Jack replies, a smile appearing on his lips.

"I hate it," Jake speaks up, causing Jack to glare at Jake. "What? I'm not into it."

"Nobody asked you, West," Jack spits out.

Some of the students let out a collective 'ooooh', even though the argument is halfhearted. Jake looks around and then looks at Heather, tapping her on her shoulder. "Is Jack getting smart with me?"

Jack rolls his eyes. "Yeah yeah. So are we gonna practice or not?"

Everyone except for Carson, Jake, and Heather continue practicing. Carson is dragged over to the side literally by the both of them, which he kind of expected. "What's going on?"

"How are you with the whole…" Heather gestures around Jack, who keeps practicing with Sabrina.

Carson shrugs, because he hasn't even thought about that until now. He's been way too busy with being with his parents and the bright lights of the city to even think about a straight crush. "To be honest? I actually tried not to think about him but now…"

"So...are you not into him anymore?" Jake inquires.

"Oh, no, I still am," Carson replies, unabashedly. "Unfortunately...or maybe not. I'm not sure."

"Why don't you go talk to him? I'm sure you two miss each other," Heather suggests. "You have your bag and you look ready to practice...unless you just came here to see us and then go back home to sleep off your jet lag?"

"I came back yesterday," Carson admits, scratching the back of his neck. "I just didn't tell you that because I wanted to surprise you guys...you think I should talk to him?"

"Yes!" Heather and Jake say in unison. Jake turns Carson around and pushes him towards Jack. Carson underestimates Jake's strength, because he's pushed so far that he actually does bump into Jack.

"Shit," Carson says apologetically, and helps Jack gain his balance. He glares at Jake momentarily, and then looks at Jack again. "Can we talk?"

"After three weeks of ignoring me?" Jack responds.

Carson ignores that, and grabs Jack's wrist, pulling him towards the locker room. He ignores Heather and Jake giving him thumbs up and ignores Jack's casual protests, and enters the empty locker room. After the door closes behind Jack, he lets go of Jack's wrist and drops his duffel bag on the bench in front of his locker. "Yeah, after three weeks of ignoring you. I don't know if you're aware, but you did hurt me."

"I didn't even know I hurt you," Jack responds.

"I wasn't exactly subtle with anything, Jack," Carson admits. "I told you that I was open to dating boys as much as I am open to dating girls, and up until a month ago I wasn't even sure if I liked you more than a friend or I was actually fucking glad we pushed aside our shitty animosity aside for the sake of becoming friends, but when I realized what it actually was, I also realized I wasn't hiding anything. I despised every minute I heard of you talking about Taylor and i'm not sure if you were aware, but we flirted every time we talked." It's silent, so Carson keeps talking. "Maybe you won't understand this because you're straight or i'm wrong about that, but i'm not really fond of straight guys using me for a sexuality experiment. It could be a stepping stone for who you really are but communication is always good, you know? You can always tell me if you're confused, cause I've been there. And I really like you, so it hurt the way you put all of that on me, as if you weren't gonna take any responsibility for it."

Jack starts to feel bad all over again. "I...I didn't even know that. I'm sorry."

"Ok," Carson replies, and gets ready in front of Jack, not caring about any type of modesty. "Anyways, I haven't had much to think about it when I was away, but it would totally fucking suck if we hated each other again, so I accept your apology. I really missed you, you know?" As Carson continues, Jack continues to watch Carson try to find a shirt while being shirtless, making him widen his eyes. Even though he has seen Carson shirtless many times and he has looked many times, it's even more prevalent, ever since he realized how much he really likes the other black belt. thanks to his friends for helping him, but now it's just torture because even though Carson already said he still likes Jack it still doesn't mean they would be together or that Carson would ever wait that long for Jack to admit anything. He may have already moved on.

"Jack?" Carson waves a hand in Jack's face, a little confused.

"Huh?" Jack snaps out of it, and his face turns red in embarrassment. Did Carson catch him staring?

Carson tries not to smirk, because he caught Jack staring the whole time. "You just totally blanked out the entire time I was talking?"

"Sorry, what were you saying?"

Carson couldn't help but laugh. "I spent the whole two weeks relaxing and now that i'm back, I was hoping I can get my best friend back? Or are you completely mad at me and want nothing to do with me?"

Jack grins widely. "You should be the one still mad at me but yeah, i'd like that."

Carson rolls his eyes, instantly melting at Jack's wide grin, and throws an arm around Jack's shoulders. "Come on, you can kick my ass free of charge."

Jack chuckles, throwing both arms around Carson's waist to hug him. Carson just puts his chin on Jack's temple, getting a whiff of coconut and sweat. Things may be back to normal, and Carson's slightly ok with that.

Chapter Text

The dojo is closed for the holiday weekend after Kai goes to the sensei-student meet, so everyone decides to go their different directions. Sloane and Heather spend the day together for their second date, Jake goes to an event with his roommates, and Elliott is packing his stuff to go to San Francisco for the week. Jack originally was planning on going to the arcade with Milton but then his father needed help at his lab, which gives Jack an opportunity to hang out with Carson.

The mall is also closed since they're still expanding it, so Carson just invites Jack to his house. "Did you two really end things?" He asks Jack, right after he tells Carson that Jack isn't with Taylor anymore.

"Yeah, but we're still cool so it's not a complete loss," Jack replies, smoothing out his short hair. He isn't going to tell Carson the real reason, though, because that would be awkward. Maybe in due time. "I wasn't surprised."

"Well, despite everything that happened, you two were actually compatible," Carson admits. He doesn't even grimace or make a sour face. Even if he was immensely jealous of their relationship, there was no denying that fact.

Jack smirks. "You were jealous the whole time, weren't you?"

"Are you kidding," Carson replies. "I was surprised you didn't see it."

Jack shrugs; of course he noticed, but it was for a different reason. "I ignored it for the most part, mostly because I thought it was because you didn't have a girlfriend...but then Lindsay happened and you still didn't like it."

"I guess," Carson says back. Now that he's looking back at it, yeah, he really was jealous and it's kind of embarrassing to admit. "I heard that Kim was going to Japan for her senior year."

"I told you that already, dumbass," Jack deadpans, making Carson laugh. "I still can't believe it though. She's going to the same school I was considered for at one point…"

"Yeah well, you don't have to worry about her and Jerry making out anymore," Carson suggests, knowing that Jack isn't really over that.

"They broke up," Jack reveals. "I didn't have to worry about them making out for a while."

Carson snorts. It's surprising how karma bites people real hard. "So...hold up, our old dojo only has two students?"

"Well, no," Jack replies. "I guess I never told you about how I recruited new students when I was dojo-sitting for Rudy before he adopted a kid named Sam."

"No, you didn't." Carson raises an eyebrow, intrigued with this information. For as long as he can remember, his old sensei was never really that great with others, let alone kids.

"Well, he did, and around that time, I was kind of in a duel with Jerry so I recruited a bunch of students along the way," Jack explains. He still refused to believe the ordeal was real, but there's still a dent from his old locker from when their students "fought". "They stayed, which is good for the dojo. Plus, I heard that Rudy's making the dojo bigger and also making it to a gym so that he can get even more customers. And lastly, Bobby retired the chain so they're also changing the name."

"Interesting," Carson nods, rubbing his chin. "Maybe he will remove the mold from the bathroom."

"I hope so for the sake of the dojo's future," Jack agrees. He may not like Rudy right now, but he's actually really proud of how bigger and better the dojo is going to get and that he's going to gain more students. He may not be a warrior anymore, but he does appreciate what the older man has done. He decides to change the subject - thinking of his old dojo and sensei will probably make him emotional. "So, did you meet anyone new?"

"I met some people," Carson answers, a little thrown off at the topic change. He met some other people at the pride parade, and they told him their stories on how they came out and how they found their soulmates, which inspired him a little bit. "Don't worry, I would never replace my best friend."

Jack isn't worried about that. He's more worried that Carson moved on and he would never get the chance to tell Carson how he feels. "Good."

Carson laughs, and throws an arm around Jack's shoulders. He starts to mess up Jack's hair, mostly the middle part but it stays intact. Jack, however, starts to protest. "Dude, hands off the hair!" Jack playfully protests, shoving Carson away from him.

Carson gets the hint and gets off Jack. "Seriously though, I didn't think you getting a haircut would make you look so good."

Jack blushes, raking his fingers through his hair. "You really like it?"

"Yeah," Carson replies, giving Jack a sheepish smile.

"Thanks," Jack smiles back, biting his lip. "Um...Carson I need to—"

The sound of Carson's cell phone stops Jack from continuing. Carson holds a hand up to signal Jack to hold his thought, and looks at the message for a quick second. "It's my mom...i'll probably talk to her later." Carson puts his phone in his pocket, and looks at Jack again. "So, what were you going to tell me?"

Jack sighs shakily, not feeling confident anymore. "You know what? I was gonna tell you that I still have my record if you want it."

Carson is a hundred percent sure that Jack wasn't going to say that, but he plays along. "Uh, it's ok. I'm sure we can find something else to signify our friendship...maybe a graphic shirt with Leia Organa from Star Wars?"

"I forgot I told you that," Jack grumbles, still embarrassed about his first celebrity crush. Maybe this was how Kim felt when she gave him that bracelet two years ago...like their relationship was never gonna progress. Shit, he has to really hand it to her. She has had feelings for Jack for years, and even though it's only been a couple weeks since Jack realized he likes Carson, it surely feels like he's been into him for longer than that, and it sure is as painful. A chime interrupts the silence. Jack picks up his phone and sees a message from Taylor. "Oh, it's Taylor."

Carson notices the guilty look on Jack's face, almost as if he doesn't want to say anything else. "You can go talk to her if you want. I probably need to—"

"You want to join us?" Jack blurts out.

Carson scrunched his face, confused. "I don't think that's a good idea."

"Come on," Jack implores. "I'm sure it wouldn't be weird. You don't still hate her...do you?"

"I never did." Carson just didn't think it was appropriate for him to hang out with his crush and his ex, is all. How many of his exes does Carson talk to? He doesn't talk to that guy from months ago, if he counts...and he surely hasn't been thinking of Lindsay since she dumped him. "You know what, forget it. Let's go."

Jack grins widely, and calls Taylor to tell her that Carson's joining them. "She's meeting us by the pier."

"Come on." Carson gets up, heading towards the door when Jack gets up and giddily follows Carson out of his house and on the way to his car. Once Jack enters the car, it's almost as if he missed it. "It's been too long."

"Yeah well, she missed you too," Carson drawls, once he sits down. He starts driving to the pier, with a little bit of silence until he asks Jack when will he start his driving lessons. Jack explains that he's getting his permit in a week, so he's been studying via the driver's manual and also allowing Milton to give him some tips since the redhead has not only a license but a car.

"Whenever you're ready to take the driver's seat," Carson concludes, which gives both of them anxiety. When Carson was learning how to drive, he crashed his dad's car several times just so he can pull out of parking. It was disastrous, but his dad wasn't too angry about it. Jack on the other hand...he hopes when he starts getting into small practice accidents that Carson won't get too mad.

"We shall start after I get my permit then," Jack replies.

"Or before," Carson mumbles. Luckily, Jack doesn't hear it.

They immediately find Taylor sitting on the hood of her car, waving at them. Carson parks right next to Taylor's car. "Hey guys!"

Carson and Jack both wave at the happy girl. She hugs them both, and tugs Jack's hair playfully in the process. Jack glares at her, but she shrugs.

"How was your trip?" Taylor asks, as they walk towards the pier.

"I enjoyed the hell out of it," Carson replies. Taylor listens as Carson explains his time in the city during pride week, how he went sightseeing, and also talking to his parents more than usual. Jack also listens, standing right next to Carson.

"Jack?" Carson taps Jack on the arm, snapping Jack out of his own thoughts. "You ok?"

"Yeah," Jack answers. "Uh...I was thinking about what I should do for my seventeenth birthday." Which is a lie, because he could care less about his birthday as much as how awkward he feels.

"Oh, yeah, it's on the thirteenth," Carson ponders out loud. "For one thing, we are definitely gonna do something for you. If not the dojo, then just Taylor and me."

"You don't have to—"

"Shut up, Brewer, we're doing something," Taylor interjects fiercely. "You deserve it."

"I think Sloane leaves on that day too," Carson says, not entirely sure when she's leaving.

"She does," Jack confirms. "I wonder what Heather's gonna do knowing Sloane's leaving so soon."

"She's probably trying to get in the girl's pants as we speak," Carson jokes, and Taylor punches him on the arm. "What?"

"Don't be an asshole," Taylor frowns deeply.

Jack starts laughing, ignoring Carson's death stare. Taylor joins in on the laughter, and shortly after, all three of them are laughing. Jack thought it was going to be weird hanging out with his crush and his ex-girlfriend in one vicinity since he's always been aware that Carson didn't like Taylor at first, but this proves otherwise. It's almost as if what happened weeks before never happened, and neither of them could be any happier.


Kai comes back from the meet, happy that they got the highest score, beating the legendary, and significantly less bitter, Trent Darby. He received the martial arts superstar's autograph after. Throughout the whole weekend Kai claims that both him and sensei maxed out the bill (which reminded Jack of his time with Rudy, and if it wasn't for Milton they would've been dead) but sensei convinced the manager to let them go. That surely didn't work so Kai deleted every piece of information they had next to both their names and escaped through the garbage chute.

All in all, it was an adventure Kai doesn't want to forget.

"I see you and Carson are friends again," Kai says to Jack as he practices on a sparring dummy.

"Yeah, we're friends again," Jack replies, hoping Kai won't ask him what happened. However, knowing his cousin, it's gonna happen.

"So, are you ready to tell me what happened to cause you two to not be friends?"

Carson hears this, and suddenly comes to the defense of Jack. "We had a huge fight, but we have water under the bridge. It's no biggie now."

Jack gives Carson a thankful look, which Carson ignores for a moment. "Uh, ok? As long as you two are back to being the weirdos I don't entirely hate."

"I love you too," Jack replies sarcastically as Kai goes away. Carson turns to Jack, who is wiping away imaginary sweat to avoid bringing the situation up again. "Thanks for saving my ass."

"Yeah, well, I owe you that one," Carson replies, and turns back around hoping to practice. "Plus it was a mistake, right? You regretted it. Let's practice."

"Carson you know that I didn't regret—" Jack suddenly stops himself, realizing what he was going to say, and starts stammering as well as blushing deeply.

Carson turns around, staring at Jack partially with hope and partially in indignation. "You didn't regret what?"

"I didn't regret...making up! You know I missed you!" Jack lies...or at least, dodges what he truly wanted to say.

Carson isn't falling for it, however. He takes Jack's hand and drags him to the locker room, ignoring the 'oooh's' from the rest of the dojo. He closes the door and leans against it, just in case Jack wants to escape. "Now...tell me what you were gonna say, for real. And don't lie to me."

"I just told you," Jack lies again, hoping Carson wouldn't push on it so much.

"Jack," Carson warns.

"Fine," Jack relents, frowning. "I didn't regret it, ok? I thought you knew that."

"No, I didn't," Carson admits, and walks close to Jack, his eyebrow raised. "What the hell are you saying?"

"I didn't want to say anything because I wanted to give you space, but since you're already asking…" Jack takes a deep breath, feeling his heart thumping excessively hard. "...I feel the same way about you. I've known for a while but I wasn't ready to accept it yet. I didn't even want to say anything because I know you're still—"

Carson doesn't even allow Jack to finish. He cups Jack's face and kisses him mid-sentence. Jack lets out a soft moan as Carson's lips touch his, while he places his hands on Carson's hips, eagerly kissing back. Carson stops and pulls away, their slightly sweaty foreheads touching. "Fuck," Carson whispers.

"I wasn't expecting that to happen anytime soon," Jack amusedly whispers back.

"You're an idiot," Carson laughs.

"I know," Jack shrugs, with very little care in the world. He wants to stay like this for a really long time, but he knows they have to go back there. It was already suspicious when Carson pulled him inside the locker room while holding hands. "You know we have to go back out there, right?"

"Let them think we're making out," Carson replies. "They're not lying anyway." Jack rolls his eyes and pulls Carson closer to kiss him again.

Chapter Text

Jake raises an eyebrow, getting a little worried. It's been quite a while since Carson dragged Jack to the locker room, and they haven't come out yet. "Um...what the hell is going on?"

"They're probably making out," Brody suggests, getting a slap on the arm by Sabrina.

"Don't be ridiculous, Brody," Sabrina scoffs. "Jack's straight."

Several snorts are heard around the dojo. "Oh Sabrina, so young and so naive," Heather sighs deeply.

"I'm thirteen you dipshit," Sabrina sneers. Some of the students back up a little bit, knowing how feisty Sabrina can get. "And if he weren't straight, he would've said so, much like the rest of you did."

"But he did," Jake argues, chuckling a bit. "He said it, right here, just now. It's called subtext." Sabrina sneers at Jake, but her angry look doesn't stop Jake from appearing amused.

"To settle this, I will check on them," Kai speaks up, and walks towards the locker room. Once he opens the door, his eyes widen, but he doesn't move.

Carson pulls away quickly and stares at Kai, surprised. "Uh…" he stammers, pushing Jack away from him. Jack, heavily annoyed at both Carson and Kai, folds his arms across his chest angrily glancing at the both of them. "This is exactly what it looks like."

"Clearly, Hunter," Kai replies, a smirk creeping up his lips. "Jeez...I knew something was up between you two. I just didn't want to believe it at first but holy shit…"

Jack rolls his eyes. "Join the club," he says sarcastically.

"I'm just slightly offended that you didn't trust me enough to tell me," he says, ignoring Jack's sarcastic comment. "I understand Jack, because our relationship was rocky, but Carson, I expected better from you."

"I'm sorry," Carson frowns, feeling bad for keeping stuff from his first best friend. Before Jack appeared, Kai was his closest friend, followed by Heather. He didn't even tell Kai of his sexuality, which sucks because he was comfortable enough to just say it in front of people...well, other bisexuals at least. "I should've said something. I was so caught up in so much things that I forgot about you."

"More like someone," Kai replies. "You know I don't give a shit if you like guys, otherwise I would've made a big deal about it a long time ago. But, you do know that you hurt my cousin i'm gonna kick your ass, personally."

"Well, I hurt him first so technically it would be karma," Jack admits.

"Shut up!" Carson and Kai shout in unison.

Jack gasps, putting a hand on his chest. "Well!"

Kai turns around to stare at Carson. "Are you sure you wanna date my dramatic weirdo of a cousin?"

"I've been sure for weeks now," Carson replies.

"Aw," Jack coos, and gets closer to wrap his arms around Carson's waist. Carson's face gets immensely red as he relaxes against Jack's touch.

Kai fake gags and sneers halfheartedly. "Honestly? I thought Sloane and Heather were bad." Carson suddenly frowns, and gives Kai a particularly deathly stare. Kai puts his hands up in defeat. "Alright alright, before you kill me, I should let you know that you two have been in here for long."

"We'll be out in a few seconds," Jack replies, his arms not moving from Carson's waist.

"Yeah, right," Kai snorts. He knows full well that it will take more than a few seconds for them to finally leave the locker room. "I'll tell them that Carson's cleaning the evidence after killing you."

"That works," Carson sniggers.

Once Kai leaves the locker room, Jack reclaims Carson's lips again. "So, a few weeks, huh?"

"You knew this already," Carson replies. He kisses Jack one more time, and they both leave the locker room. Jake looks at him weirdly, wondering what happened, but Carson just shrugs and decides to practice.


 

Carson walks out of the locker room after practice, with Jack right next to him. Jake approaches them, and looks at the both of them intently, before grinning widely. "Jeez, about fucking time."

"About time what?" Carson asks, wondering if Jake is talking about their relationship or about something completely unrelated.

"Don't play stupid with me, Hunter," Jake deadpans. "I know you two are together."

"Oh," Carson sighs in relief. "Well, yeah. I guess we are."

Jake nods, understanding that there are still things that needed to be addressed. "Seems like you two have things to talk about, but nonetheless, I am proud of both of you."

"Thanks," Jack smiles, and fist bumps Jake. "We should get going."

"See you two tomorrow," Jake says back, and waves at them as they leave the dojo.

Jack allows Carson to hold his hand as they walk closer to Carson's car. It's a slower walk than usual, but they get there and they only let go so that they can enter the car...and get home. As soon as Carson enters the car, they let out a big sigh. This new situation, while it is relatively new to the both of them, requires a talk between them and they're very sure it might just take longer than a standard phone call. Carson starts to drive, hoping that there isn't any silence on his way home. "So, today was productive."

"Were you planning on telling me that you liked me?" Carson inquires. "Or...were you just gonna suffer silent pining after me until you get over it?"

"I wasn't planning on doing it at that exact moment but something slipped out. I actually wanted to tell you the day before, before we spent the day with my ex."

Carson raises an eyebrow. "Why didn't you?"

"I couldn't find the words," Jack says back. He doesn't even know when he would ever find the words if he didn't admit it today. "I wanted it to be special, kind of, because you deserve better than a locker room confession. I still feel bad for hurting you, even though I didn't really know I was hurting you, but I should've been more knowledgeable about your feelings and actually notice social cues before doing something stupid. And lastly, I thought you would never forgive me...even if I was pining after you for the past few days."

Carson sighs. "For weeks, I felt like I should've gotten over this whole thing and realize that being friends should be satisfactory for me, which is why I forgave you. I knew you wouldn't like me. But...I still couldn't stop thinking about you. God, from that moment on, I knew I wouldn't get over this, especially after you kissed me for three minutes."

Jack chuckles. "Was it really three minutes?"

"Yeah, I counted," Carson replies, laughing. "You'd be amazed at how I can multitask."

"Yeah, no kidding," Jack scoffs playfully. "So...if you would have gotten over me at the same time I gained the courage to ask you out...what would you do?"

"I would've kicked your ass, that's one," Carson says back, still laughing. "And...like I said, I don't get rid of crushes that easily unless I know for a fact they aren't interested. This whole time I casually flirted with you, even before I realized my feelings for you, you still would get flustered."

"I'm sorry, but i'm usually the flirter, not the one who gets flirted at," Jack explains. He did like the casual flirting nonetheless. "Plus, you would flirt like it's part of our casual conversation. I would understand it, but still, i'm caught off guard."

"Oh, am I supposed to warn you?" Carson inquires jokingly, with a flirty smirk.

"Well, you surely don't have to do it now," Jack replies, blushing wildly.

"Alright Brewer," Carson nods, mostly to himself. "Now, since we have certain things settled…would you like to go on a date with me?"

"Depends on where we're going, Hunter," Jack says back, his cheeks reddening even more. "I don't know if you know, but i'm not a dinner and move type of guy."

Carson rolls his eyes. "Seriously….you're such a…."

"But I'm yours so you have to deal with me," Jack finishes, not allowing Carson to finish his sentence.

"Shit, you're right," Carson says sarcastically. "How about tomorrow morning? Wake up early and I'll pick you up and we'll go somewhere."

"Fine," Jack smirks, satisfied. He grabs Carson's shirt and kisses him passionately for a few seconds before pulling away and smirking maliciously. "Good night…babe."

"I hate you," Carson replies.

"Sure you do," Jack says jokingly, and finally exits the car. He couldn't stop grinning, not even when he goes inside his house.


 

What Jack doesn't expect is to wake up a half hour before sunrise. "Seriously?" He mumbles, once he hears his phone ringing. He got away with it after the first try, but the phone rings again. He picks up before it goes to voicemail, his voice frustrated and groggy. "It's still night time over here in the sunny state, you know."

"Come on, be spontaneous," Carson replies back. "Put on something comfortable. I'm already parked outside."

"This better be good," Jack growls.

"What, have you never been out watching the sun rise on top of a tall hill with your wonderful boyfriend and after that be promised with a tall cup of coffee?"

"You're my first boyfriend, so no," Jack answers, knowing it's a rhetorical question but still answers it.

"Good, so get your ass ready. I'll be waiting patiently...babe." Before Jack can get a word in, Carson hangs up the phone. Grumbling under his breath, Jack gets up and gets ready carefully so that his parents won't wake up at the sight of his son leaving the house extra early for whatever reason. That would be an awkward conversation.

He tiptoes downstairs after putting on some comfortable clothes on, and exits through the front door to go to Carson's parked car across the street. Even though the shower woke him up a little bit, Jack is still a little tired so he glares lazily at Carson, who laughs before turning the engine back on. "I still can't believe you woke me up at five in the morning to do something like this."

"You'll enjoy it," Carson replies. He really hopes Jack would at least enjoy something that hasn't been done with any of their exes. Plus...who ever said that watching the sun rise was boring, especially on a summer day? They have until 10 to do anything and the sun starts rising at around six, so after the date they might be able to go back to sleep...even though Carson isn't tired in the slightest.

"Well, I did take Taylor stargazing," Jack mentions, remembering the second date that set everything into gear with his last relationship. "That was fun."

"This is a different type of stargazing," Carson replies.

It doesn't take them long to get to the top of a cliff, showing the scenery of Seaford, but on the way there, Jack falls asleep so the silence is because of that. When Carson stops the car, he jerks Jack awake. Jack almost jumps high enough to hit his head on the roof, causing Carson to double over in laughter. Jack glares at Carson again, hoping he would stop laughing. "Very funny."

"I'm sorry, that was just comical as hell," Carson replies, wiping his bottom eyelids from any stray tears. "Did you hit your head hard?"

"No, i'm fine," Jack answers. "But...you should kiss it to make me feel better."

"Ew," Carson recoils playfully, causing Jack to frown and move away from Carson. "Oh come on, I was joking with you." Carson makes a 'come hither' gesture, making Jack roll his eyes. He relents, and leans against Carson, feeling his lips on the top of his head. He doesn't move though. "Don't lean on me if you're gonna fall asleep."

Jack makes a disapproved sound and gets off Carson. "You suck."

"Come on," Carson commands, exiting the car. Jack raises an eyebrow but follows suit, only for Carson to sit on top of the hood and stretch his arms out so that Jack can lean against him and they could cuddle. Not that Jack was complaining...at all. "My offer is only for a limited time."

Jack sighs, and leans against Carson's chest, feeling his arms wrap around him. As if he wasn't warm before, Jack feels even warmer being around Carson, even if it isn't very cold outside. He feels Carson's chin on top of his head, and he feels even more content. He fights sleep and keeps looking, seeing a bit of the sun peeking among some of the clouds. "Here it comes," he hears Carson whisper."

Jack doesn't say anything. If it isn't for Carson occasionally rocking him every few minutes, he would have honestly fell asleep against Carson with no care in the world. There is only a few occurrences where he has fell asleep against Carson but those were coincidences. Now, he realizes how comfortable his new boyfriend is. It could be for the surprise awakening as well.

"You're not falling asleep, are you?"

Jack grins, closing his eyes for a split second. "No, of course not. I'm resting my eyes, is all."

"Asshole," Carson quips. Jack elbows Carson on the stomach, which doesn't make the other black belt budge at all.

The sun starts rising, and it immediately shines on their city, and it looks so beautiful. It's something like this that makes Jack really appreciate that Carson woke him up so early to watch, even if it did sound lame. "I thought this was lame as fuck at first, but now…."

"Now what?" Carson asks.

Jack raises his head up, just to see Carson's reaction. "I'm glad you brought me here," Jack continues. Carson grins harder, making Jack uncharacteristically giggle.


 

Carson sets down a warm mug of hot chocolate in front of Jack before sitting down. "Weirdly enough i'm not a big coffee person," Jack admits, before taking a sip of the hot chocolate.

Carson shrugs, and keeps stirring his coffee to dissolve the sugar. "I got into it when I went to New York. Naturally...of course, since they only really consume coffee, bagels, and pizza."

Jack snorts. "Is that an exaggeration?"

"Yes," Carson replies, smirking. "I love that place too much to actually tear it down like that. If you weren't my boyfriend, I would've moved over there...probably tell my dad to transfer over there and become a full time New Yorker."

Jack would honestly not live with himself if Carson stayed at another state without them solving anything. It would hurt way too much. "But...you wouldn't move, right?"

"Now I wouldn't, but in the future, probably," Carson replies honestly.

"Well then, i'm joining you," Jack grins. Carson rolls his eyes and raises the cup to his lips to taste his coffee. It's the ideal amount of bitter, so he makes a satisfied sound. "We're a package deal."

"You're cute," Carson chuckles.

"I know," Jack smirks boastfully, even though he's thriving inside. "But I'm serious. When you decide to leave, and hopefully we're still together when you're ready, just say the word and I'll be by your side. We can definitely start our own dojo, be the power couple in the martial arts business…"

"Actually, that sounds like a great idea," Carson agrees. "We haven't even been dating for a day and you already have plans to spend all eternity with me."

"Even if we were friends, I would tell you this," Jack replies. "We wouldn't be a power couple though...we would be amicable co-owners."

"You sure you'll be able to stick with me and not fall for me if we were friends and owning a dojo?" Carson Inquires.

"I should ask you the same question, considering you fell in love with me first," Jack retorts.

Carson scoffs, staring at Jack with mock indignation. "I did not exactly fall for you, I just developed…feelings...which is different."

"Sure you did." Carson narrows his eyes, and kicks Jack under the booth table.

"Have we reduced ourselves to playing footsies?" Jack says in a taunting voice, hoping to annoy Carson. However, Carson just smirks wider. He doesn't even care, because seeing Carson amused makes him happy.

Carson's about to reply, when he hears a familiar voice that sends an uncomfortable crawling/prickling sensation on his skin. "Jack?"

Jack notices Carson stiffening, but he turns around to the source of the sound. He almost gasps, and holds back a particularly nasty scowl. "Kim?"

"What are you doing here? You hate coffee," Kim inquires, suspicious. She didn't even notice Carson sitting on the other end of the booth.

"Luckily they have other options," Jack replies, hoping his ex would disappear already. "And I never said that…"

"It probably doesn't even matter, because…" she stops herself, and finally notices Carson on the other side of the booth. "Um...what's going on?"

"You see...we're—

"—we're on a date," Carson interjects. Jack kicks Carson under the table, but Carson doesn't even budge. He just keeps glaring at Kim, hoping this revelation would make her finally go away. "That you're interrupting, by the way."

"A...a date," Kim makes a guffaw, surprised by the twist of events. Just a few weeks ago, he was interested in that blond girl who was apparently rich and now…"So...you two are…?"

"He's my boyfriend, Kim," Jack confirms. "And yes, I'm gay if you're wondering."

Carson smirks behind his coffee mug, not even caring about Kim's surprised face. He simply just drinks his still warm coffee, looking over to the side. "Wow...out of all things I didn't expect…"

"Yeah well...it happened," Carson replies flippantly.

Kim glares at Carson for a split second, and turns back to her ex. "Well...it's not everyday when you hear your ex is now dating a guy...who he used to hate nonetheless...but, that doesn't mean anything. As long as you're finally happy, especially after what I did to you, that's more important."

Jack blinks, almost at a loss for words. He expected way worse than what he received. "Uh...thanks?"

Kim just gives Jack a grimaced smile. "Um...so i'm gonna be leaving tomorrow afternoon and we were having a going away party tonight so if you want to come…"

"I'll think about it," Jack says, not really thinking about it too much. "Uh, congrats on getting a scholarship by the way."

"Thanks." Kim purses her lips and rocks on her heels for a minute. "Uh...I probably interrupted this date too long so i'm gonna go."

"Yeah, you should," Carson says under his breath. Jack kicks him hard enough to knock the coffee mug, making a small amount of coffee slosh on the table. "Seriously?"

"Bye," Jack says to Kim, ignoring Carson's intense glare until Kim finally leaves the store. Jack glares back at his boyfriend. "Seriously? Are you gonna act like that around my exes now?"

"I'm only doing that to Kim," Carson answers, feeling no regret for being rude to her. "She cheated on you and made it seem like it was your fault, and then treated us like shit when we were at their dojo so I deserve a right to be petty."

Jack grimaces, realizing that Carson is right. As much as he wants to mend things with Kim, he still can't forget that she's been shittty. "You're right. I just...sometimes I miss her, you know? Before we started dating, we were good friends."

"And I was also good friends with her," Carson responds. "I'm not gonna stop you from mending things with your ex-friends, because i'm definitely not the type to keep you from your friends….but no chances if they hurt you again. I hate to see you sad." He reaches over to hold Jack's hands, and he doesn't pull away.

"They're not gonna hurt me again, because there's nothing they can do to hurt me, really," Jack assures, even if it is a half lie. They could tear down his confidence...which was really hard to do at one point. "But...I'll keep that in mind."

Carson couldn't believe that, but for the sake of it, he doesn't say anything. The last thing he wants to do is trust anyone from their old dojo. Before he heard what they did to Jack, he wanted nothing to do with them simply because he was kicked out and he was still bitter, but now he actually has a good reason to hate that place. "We should go."

Jack gets up at the same time Carson does, and Carson just takes Jack's hand and they walk out of the coffee shop. "Thanks for the date. I really enjoyed it."

"That's all I wanted to hear." Jack cups Carson's face and kisses him on the cheek, causing Carson to blush furiously. "What was that for?"

"Nothing, I just really like you," Jack replies. Carson rolls his eyes, and they continue walking to his car.

Chapter Text

Jack enters the dojo two hours late with Carson, but no one says anything. It's mainly Jack's fault since he overslept and Carson refused to wake him up, so he decided to let him sleep until 11 in the morning. It's not like they can't get their training later anyway. What does happen, for a split second, is that they are holding hands and they don't let go until Kai gives them a warning stare.

"I think we should tell them," Jack immediately starts saying, once they enter the locker room.

"I think we should wait until they figure it out." Carson says back jokingly. Jack gives him an appointed glare. "I'm kidding, of course we'll tell them. Not now, of course. Only two of them really know about us...and we've only been dating for one day."

"Really, haven't noticed," Jack retorts sarcastically.

Carson rolls his eyes, putting his duffel bag inside his locker. "I really didn't need your sarcasm."

Jack doesn't reply. He follows suit, putting his bag inside his locker, and appears by Carson's side. "Come on, let's go out there." He doesn't wait for Carson to move; he starts leaving the locker room, hoping Carson would follow him. Now that he's here, Jack really didn't feel like practicing, especially after a lazy date with Carson this morning. Despite it being interrupted by his ex, he enjoyed every minute of it. It seemed more intimate than his dates with Taylor, and surely a little more romantic. Just thinking of it makes Jack's face flush a deep red, which doesn't go unnoticed by Heather.

"You alright over there?" She asks.

"Uh," Jack stutters; he's barely thinking straight enough to form a coherent sentence. He was just thinking of his date, and now he can barely speak.

"He's fine," Carson chimes in, unintentionally saving Jack from further embarrassment. Heather just raises an eyebrow and disappears, leaving Carson and Jack alone. He leans close to Jack's ear, smirking when he feels Jack tense up a little. "You're welcome, by the way."

"I...don't need your help," Jack forces himself to say; he can still feel Carson's breath tickling the back of his ear, which isn't helping. In fact, it's making his embarrassment grow.

"I never said you did," Carson responds, and moves away only to put his arm around Jack's shoulders. "I say we already failed step one," He laughs, making Jack crack a smile.

Jack sighs a little, upon realizing that he's already hid enough information from the black dragons before. They've helped him get over his heartbreak and they surely helped him come out (well, it was only Jake, Sloane, and Heather but it counts). "This isn't gonna work, is it?"

"You think?" Carson replies, sarcastically. "But, we should wait until later. Now, I wanna work out, and I owe you a spar."

"Oh yeah, I was supposed to kick your ass, free of charge!" Jack exclaims, sounding even more sarcastic than Carson. "I'm not sure if you're ready for this ass whooping. I'm not gonna allow you to cry about it later."

"Ha ha," Carson mocks, and gets into defense mode. Jack makes the first move, aiming for a straight jab but Carson swerves it in time. "I'm guessing you're not gonna go easy on me."

"You may be my boyfriend, but it doesn't mean i'm gonna go soft on you," Jack replies. He makes the first move, which definitely strikes Carson on his shoulder. "I surely didn't go soft on Kim, and i'm not gonna go soft on you."

Carson is more than impressed. "Smart thinking."


 

Right after the spar, both of them are pretty beat. Jack wins the fight, mostly because Carson didn't really give his all, but also because they still weren't feeling it after their date. So for most of the day, they just watched people spar and practice. Jake and Kai approached them a couple times, but that was it.

Once practice was over, Kai picks up the mats and puts them away, and Jack is simply way too lazy to get off Carson. "Don't you have that going away party to go to?" Carson asks. Not that he's complaining - he wishes more than anything that Jack will stay in his arms - but Jack had this forgiving hero complex and he expressed wanting to go earlier.

"Now I don't feel like it," Jack groans.

"I'll go with you to ease the tension," Carson suggests.

"No offense, and trust me, I would love for you to go, but i'm sure no one really likes you over there," Jack says, with a grimace. "You did act like a jealous boyfriend when Kim ambushed us this morning, and apparently you're still a cheater in their eyes."

"That will never change, huh." Carson frowns deeply, knowing his appearance at a going away party for a girl he despised would look suspicious...even if Kim knows of their relationship. "You're still going. I'm sure you're friends with Milton so you have someone to talk to."

"Yeah." Jack is about to get up when both Heather and Sloane get out of the locker room and sees the other couple leaning against each other.

"I told you something was going on," Sloane accuses, pointing to the both of them. "See? You thought I was exaggerating when Jack called Carson his boyfriend during their spar?"

"Shit, I thought no one heard that," Jack hisses, finally getting up and standing straight. He wasn't even speaking loud enough, was he?

"I have good hearing," Sloane explains. She walks over to Jack and hugs him, not really caring that Jack is slow to reciprocate. "I'm proud of you."

"Thanks," Jack replies, almost shedding a tear once Sloane pulls away.

"Yeah, and i'm gonna break your face if you break Carson's heart again, you hear me Brewer?" Heather threatens.

Jack immediately stiffens, hoping Heather wouldn't do such a thing. She was hella strong for her height, weight, and age...even stronger than himself. "Yeah, I hear you,"

"Heather, you're scaring him," Carson scolds.

"I don't care," Heather replies. "Like I said, I will hurt you if you pull that shit again."

"Goodbye Heather," Carson almost yells, and pushes both girls out of the dojo. Once they were out, Jack breathes a sigh of relief. "Well, we took care of that."

"Yeah, we did," Jack agrees. "I'm gonna get ready for this...thing. I still don't understand why they want me there anyway."

"Maybe because you're a great and forgiving person and also because you're adorable?" Carson replies jokingly.

Jack can't help but smile fondly. Compliments like that are usually given to other girls but Carson just says it without any shame, and it's comforting...almost. "You shouldn't be complimenting me so often. It may boost my ego."

"Yeah, well, you deserve all the compliments." Carson gives a simple shrug, but he means what he says.

Jack reaches over and kisses Carson, surprising him. It doesn't last long though, because they hear a throaty being cleared. They separate to see both Brody and Sabrina looking at them with raised eyebrows. Jack only gets redder as he pulls Carson towards the locker room, ignoring the sniggers from Brody and Sabrina.


 

Despite having the confidence to show up, Jack still feels uneasy approaching his old dojo. Technically the mall isn't finished and they haven't started migrating the equipment, but apparently it's all safe to have a get-together featuring the dojo and some of Kim's friends that didn't hate her. Of course, that was a small circle because she never really hangs out with other girls, but it must've meant a lot because Jack can see her talking to them with a gratuitous expression.

With another sigh, Jack opens the door and walks in.

"Jack, you made it!" Kim is the first to speak, and opts to just give him a low five instead of a hug. "For a second there, I thought Carson was gonna keep you hostage or something."

"You know he wouldn't actually do that," Jack replies. It's almost amazing how they can hold a civil conversation after what happened months ago.

"Hey Jack!" Milton greets him, and they both fist bump. "I was gonna invite you, but…"

"It's ok, Milton, i probably would've fought against it," Jack says, interrupting the redhead from saying any more. "Anyways, this isn't really about me. This is about Kim and her scholarship to one of the most prestigious schools in the world."

"I still can't believe I got in," Kim admits, scratching the back of her neck in nervousness.

Jack makes a surprised guffaw. "Are you kidding? You are the most talented martial artists in the city. You've won against even the strongest of competitors, including me."

"Thanks," Kim replies, a little surprised. "Uh...can we talk? In private?"

"Oh, those nachos look good! I better go get some before Jerry eats them all." He quickly goes over to the snack table, while Kim pulls Jack away from earshot, presumably near the locker rooms.

"What's going on?" Jack questions.

Kim fiddles with her fingers and looks to the side, hoping she can say what she's been meaning to say for about a week. "Ok...I know we haven't been on good terms after the break up, and you had every right to be mad at me, considering I was a jerk. I'm really sorry for hurting you. I was just…I guess I was just tired of us still acting all friendly and barely having time to ourselves that I just got frustrated. And I know that sounds shallow, you don't need to say it. I'm just...i guess I don't want to leave the country with us still having bad blood."

"I get that, and I surely don't want you to leave and we haven't resolved anything," Jack responds. "I wanted to know for so long why did my best friends hurt me. I was literally depressed about it and probably would've still been if I hadn't escaped and allianced myself with the black dragons. i hope you understood I needed to get away…"

"Yeah, I do."

"Good," Jack affirms. "And...you know this could've been avoided if you would've talked to me about your frustrations."

"Yeah, I do," she repeats.

"But...I guess it worked out," Jack says, with a shrug. "You're going overseas, the dojo is getting bigger…"

"You having a boyfriend," Kim points out, with one of the biggest smirks Jack's ever seen, which makes him a little uneasy. "I gotta say...I kinda expected that, but wasn't expecting you to date Carson. I mean, you two weren't fond of each other from the get go, but there was that time you kissed Jerry…"

"I told you to never speak of it," Jack replies, jokingly.

"—and Milton did mention the time he smacked your ass and you looked disturbingly pleased—"

"That was false, I was not pleased," Jack interjects again.

"—and there was that time you brought Jerry a hospital bear meant for couples—"

"Ok we get it," Jack frowns. Jeez, was he that obvious for years? He thought it was for several weeks...months even. "Despite everything that has happened, i'm glad we had this talk."

"Me too," Kim agrees. She fiddles with her thumbs again, and points towards the going away party. "We should go back there."

"Already ahead of you." Kim is the first to leave, with Jack following a few steps behind. Jack decides to just hang out with the only person who doesn't hate him anymore, especially now that Jerry isn't giving him friendly looks (which he definitely doesn't care about).

"What did you guys talk about?" Milton asks, as soon as Jack approaches him.

"Uh...she just apologized," Jack replies. He shrugs, since the conversation wasn't really much to begin with. He's sure his relationship with Kim will not be the same, but at least they aren't at each other's throats or ignoring each other anymore...which is good. "Did I tell you she saw me this morning?"

"No, you did not, but she told me," Milton says back, smirking. "She was surprised, but there were no ill feelings so that's a good sign. I even thought you were gonna invite him."

Jack sighs a little, and sits on the bench. "I would, if you guys didn't hate him."

Milton grimaces, feeling somewhat guilty for hating Carson for a while, considering that he was a better friend to Jack than any of them. "I don't, but I can't say for everyone else. He did cheat during the battle of the dojos and caused us to be disqualified. Also he had us believe that you were the bad guy and that he was good. Kinda fucked up, don't you think?"

"Yeah, but that was a year ago," Jack reasons. He knows that his old friends are gonna say bad things about Carson and he's ready to argue against it, but they do make valid points. Carson did really do some dirty things before he reformed and relocated to a different dojo. "I'm not saying you have to like him because he's my boyfriend, but...if he were to come here when you guys invite me to...I don't know, Rudy's dojo grand re-opening…"

"If you want to invite him, go ahead," Milton replies, reassuringly. "Who's gonna stop you? Jerry? I'm sure you can kick his ass if he tries anything."

Jack chuckles. He really did miss talking to Milton, especially now that he needed someone when Carson temporarily stopped talking to Jack and he was still in the transparent closet, as Taylor would like to call it. "You're right. Enough about me though. Did you move on from Julie yet or—"

"I did," Milton replies. "Too bad it didn't last long...but i'm not too bothered. I'm probably gonna take a break from relationships. We've been together for two whole years and I still hadn't been kissed...except for that one time with Kim...and that...yeah, I need to relax on my own and embrace being single."

"Good for you, and one day, you'll find the one."

"Fuck off," Milton groans. Jack laughs, deeply unaffected when Milton tries to push him. "You're just saying that because you found the one."

"Is he really?" Jack inquires, furrowing both of his eyebrows. "I barely started dating him a day."

"Yeah, but when I first saw Julie I thought she was the one." Milton pushes the chip around in his bowl. "Sometimes it takes a lifetime, sometimes it takes a few days, and sometimes it's immediately. You may be testing the waters a little bit but you automatically...know if they're the one."

Jack nods, smiling fondly as his thoughts are consumed by Carson.

"Yup, he's the one." Now it's Jack's turn to push Milton, and the redhead actually stumbles. He doesn't fall, but he does lose his balance a little. "Don't attack me for saying the truth. Come on, Jack. Your face literally lit up like a Christmas tree."

"Shut up."

Their talk is interrupted when Rudy approaches the both of them. "Uh, Jack? Can we talk?"

"Uh...sure," Jack replies, a little uneasy. He looks at Milton, who's already waving him off. Jack gets up and follows Rudy away from the party.

Once Jack disappears, Kim finally approaches Milton, giving him a red solo cup. "Is it poisoned?"

"It's cranberry juice and vodka, idiot," Kim answers, snarling.

"I'm not gonna ask how you smuggled in liquor," Milton mumbles. He grabs the cup and takes a cautious sip, "Are you really sure you wanna go to this school? You're gonna have to assimilate in an environment you're not familiar with."

Kim nods slowly. She's never been more sure than ever. This may be an opportunity that may never come back, so she might as well take it. When Jack received the opportunity last year, he stayed after thinking it over, but she's been doing the same and is content with leaving. It's a single year over there and after she graduates, she can come back here and get started on her higher education. "Yeah. I'm sure." She then looks at Milton, raising an eyebrow and smirking lightheartedly. "What, you're gonna miss me or something?"

"Of course, you're my best friend," Milton replies, matter of factly. "After you leave, I only really have Jack, and he isn't always gonna be there. He has other friends, and a boyfriend. Who will I have?"

Kim hasn't really thought of that. She always suspected that Milton still had his A/V friends but they haven't really talked to him in a long time. Around the time she received the news, she was still dating Jerry and there wasn't much tension, except with the knowledge that Milton still kept in contact with Jack. Now that it's only the two of them…"Shit. I didn't think of that."

"It's fine, I'll try to make some new friends, that is, if Jerry's still a jerkass. Plus, it isn't the first time I've been truly alone."

"What happened to contacting Eddie?" Kim inquires. She hasn't talked to him since he left without a word, but she knows Milton is the only one who knows where he is and how he's doing.

Milton shrugs. He truly hasn't heard much from his old friend in weeks, which sucks because no one else talks to him, to Milton's knowledge. "I've been trying since his grandparents died a few weeks ago, but nothing. I'll try again later, but he really hasn't been returning my calls. Plus, it isn't as intimate, per se, as face to face contact. We'll be talking on the phone, but it won't be the same as what we're doing now."

"Yikes." There's a small silence up until Jack returns. He seems the same as he walks in, which means nothing has changed since. "Hey, what's up?"

"Uh, nothing, we just apologized and discussed the future of the dojo," Jack replies. There was really nothing much to report. He still didn't trust his old sensei, but he surely does have some respect for him, and that matters.

The going away party goes on for a few more hours, and Jack is amongst the last ones to leave. He walks with both Milton and Kim the rest of the way home, and since Milton is in a different street, he leaves after saying goodbye, leaving Jack and Kim alone. They try not to stay quiet but when ack reaches the front of his house, it gets a little silent. "So, uh…"

"This is it, huh?" she says.

"Well, you do have my number so it won't be a complete goodbye," Jack says back.

"Yeah, and I graduate before you guys since I'm starting school in late July so I'll be here for graduation," Kim replies. "It won't really be a long time before you have to see this face again."

Jack chuckles. "Well...it was nice that we settled things before you left."

"Same." Kim hesitates, then offers a high five at the end. Jack rolls his eyes and hugs her instead. Kim reluctantly hugs back, and they stay like that for a few seconds before pulling away. "Bye Jack."

Jack simply waves back before turning around and entering his house.

Chapter Text

Jack really doesn’t feel comfortable doing driving lessons, now that he’s thinking about it. He wakes up this morning having a sense of dread and regret, right when Carson told him yesterday they are gonna start their lessons. It’s not that he didn't want to learn, but he didn't want to cause an accident on his street just because Carson trusted him way too much behind the wheel.

Despite studying and studying for his permit test scheduled a few days after his seventeenth birthday, he still feels underprepared, no matter how much pep messages he gets from Carson.

“Come on!” Carson yells. Jack sighs, exiting his house and watches as Carson jingles his car keys in front of him, expecting Jack to take them. “My offer is only for a limited time,” he recalls.

“Yeah, no it isn't,” Jack grumbles. He snatches the keys away from Carson, and futilely ignores the anxiety induced knots in his stomach as he makes his way towards the driver’s seat.

Carson isn't an idiot. He knows perfectly well that Jack is nervous as hell. Carson felt the same way when he received lessons from his father. “I know you’re nervous, but this is not a test. It’s a practice round.”

“If we get into an accident—”

“We’re not,” Carson replies. He enters the car without another word, but simply patting the driver’s seat with a beckoning look.

Jack sighs, opens the door, and sits down. He still feels the knots in his stomach as he wordlessly puts his seatbelt on. “Make sure the seat is adjusted. Your chest should be at least three feet away from the steering wheel.”

“This is fine,” Jack mumbles.

“Check your mirror,” Carson instructs, pointing toward the front mirror. “Make sure you can see behind you while you’re driving...like a police car or an oncoming bus or truck.”

Jack only slightly moves it. He can clearly see the car behind him, which is his neighbor’s car. He hopes he doesn't destroy it in the process of driving.

“Sit up straighter, you’re slouching.” Jack glares at Carson, who only gestures his hands to tell him again. Sighing, he moves so that his back is leaning against the seat. “Now that you’re ready, you can turn on the engine. Don't worry, you’re doing great.”

“I don't feel great,” Jack replies. He turns the key, and jumps a little when the engine turns on. He feels like he’s gonna have an anxiety attack. “What should I do now?”

“In order to start driving, you need to pull out of parking. Move the center console to either reverse or drive - reverse to back up, drive to….well, drive. When you’re reversing, the mirror isn't going to be enough - turn around and back up a few inches, up until you have enough room to drive.”

Jack eyes the center console, mentally thanking Carson that he doesn't operate a stick shift, and moves it to reverse. “Do I use the steering wheel?”

“Only when you need to turn or maneuver the car, which in this case...no.” Jack nods, and turns around, keeping at least one hand on the steering wheel while he presses the gas pedal with his toe and not his whole foot. It’s a slow steady process up until he feels the car jerk.

“Shit...I think I hit the car behind me.”

“You did,” Carson points out. “But, you didn't break anything.”

“I already failed the test,” Jack says jokingly, but he isn't smiling at all. He’s grimacing, hoping to god that his neighbor won’t yell at him for any glamour damage done to their car. He moves the console to drive, and turns his steering wheel a couple times to the left with both hands with his foot on the pedal, and once the car is a couple inches away from the parking, he turns it the other way and drives several hundred feet away from his house. He checks his mirrors to see any cars behind him but there’s no one behind him, so he looks in front of him. “This isn't too bad...I think…”

“Yeah but you can go a little faster—”

“Listen, I’m driving, and I don't care if i’m benching two miles per hour,” Jack argues, and keeps driving at the slowest pace until he reaches the intersection. “This is a practice run. Your words, not mine.”

“I hope you don't do this when you’re actually driving,” Carson argues back. “Now, make a right turn and i’ll take it from here.”

Jack makes a very slow right turn and goes only fifteen feet before stopping. He gets out of the car the same time as Carson, and they switch places. Jack immediately exhales in relief when he takes the passenger seat. “I'm not taking the passenger side for granted ever again.”

“It wasn't even that bad!” Carson exclaims, as he drives off. “You were doing better than me when I first started driving. I got into five accidents when you only got into one very small accident that barely scratched the front of your neighbor’s car.”

“That doesn't make it better you know,” Jack deadpans.

“It doesn't matter, because you’re gonna do this again tomorrow.” Carson just smirks, while Jack sinks lower into the seat. “Don’t be scared. The anxiety wears off when you start getting better.”

“Again, not helping!”

Carson laughs even harder. He can understand Jack’s anxiety, indefinitely, and he won’t keep pestering Jack over it, but he has to admit - Jack appearing anything other than overconfident is surprising as hell, even after the tournament weeks before. “Ok. I’m done.”

Jack sighs in relief, and comes up with an idea on where they should go. “Good, now can we go get ice cream?”

“Sure, whatever you want.” Carson laughs, and heads on over to the nearest ice cream shop.


 

“Dude, I can totally use you as a reference!” Taylor exclaims, once she completes her application for the juice bar, which is a proposed idea for the new mall dojo. “You already know the sensei and i'm sure you two are still on speaking terms—”

“Not really,” Jack interjects. He leans against the city bench, fiddling with his thumbs. “Remember when I told you about how my ex-girlfriend cheated on me with my ex-best friend and how it pained me to see my other friends just passively let it go? Yeah, well, he’s one of them.” He hasn't exactly been ignoring Rudy’s calls, but they aren't as close as they used to be. “If you want to put me as a reference, go ahead, but not because I know the owner.”

“I'm still doing it.” Taylor enters Jack’s information and sighs deeply, hoping this would be the job she will get to finally get her own money and start being independent without her parents. “So...now that that’s over...how are you and Carson?”

“He’s been teaching me how to drive,” Jack answers. He initially was nervous as hell during his first lesson, but Carson manages to assure him that he’s doing good, and it effectively tones down his anxiety. “And...a few days ago, he took me out on a date to see the sun rise. It was pretty cheesy, but I liked it.”

“I still can't believe you two got together as soon as you two patched things,” Taylor laughs. “I thought it was gonna take longer, since you know…”

“So did I,” Jack replies. “I wanted to tell him for a while, but I wanted to wait, you know? He had the impression that I didn't like him back, which isn't true of course, but he was still hurt and telling him that I liked him would make the situation worse. Apparently it didn't.”

“Well, as long as you two are happy,” Taylor offers. Both her and the black dragons have been planning a surprise party for the past few days, and Jack knows next to nothing about it. It, of course, isn't the only reason why she invited Jack out for the day. They haven't talked in a little while and Taylor kind of missed him. She’s still looking actively for jobs and planning a party, while he’s been exploring his relationship with Carson and also studying for his permit test. So, they’ve been busy. “So, where do I submit my application? The mall’s still closed for renovation.”

“I think he said mail it,” Jack answers.

“So, I gotta get a really big mail envelope and use snail mail for an application.” Taylor’s been assimilating perfectly to living a non-wealthy lifestyle, but she can never understand snail mail. It’s so slow and it takes days to send a couple pieces of paper.

“I could probably drop it in his mailbox,” Jack offers instead. “I know where he lives.”

“That’s better.” With that, they got up from the bench and start walking.

All of a sudden, before they get even further from the mall, Taylor hears her name being called. “Taylor? Is that you?”

Taylor turns around, seeing a very familiar redhead making her way towards her with a surprised look. “Clare! How have you been?”

“You haven't been calling me,” Clare responds with a frown, which is surprising for Jack because it isn't superficial at all.

“I've been looking for jobs and so far...nothing,” Taylor replies, honestly. She really feels bad for not contacting any friends, including Jack and Clare, because she’s been job hunting. This whole thing with her parents has been really bad for her social life. “I was on my way to submit an application with my friend, Jack.”

“Jack Brewer,” Clare replies, with a smirk. “We’ve met but not like this at least.”

“Most of the time we’ve seen each other, you’re feuding with Kim.” Jack never really liked the rich girl, but most of it was because of his ex girlfriend’s influence. The other half was because she’s generally unpleasant and elitist. However, she seems to keep a close friendship with Taylor, even after Taylor lost her status as a rich girl.

“Ah, yes, my apparently bitter rival Kimmy,” she says, her voice dripping with sarcasm. She never hated Kim, actually, but of course, the other blond seemed determined to beat Clare at everything. She never gave Kim the time of day, but it was always fun to see her freak out over trivial things. “How is she, by the way? I heard you two are dating.”

“She’s in Japan,” Jack answers. “And we were dating.”

“Oh?” Clare raises both her eyebrows. She was very sure that the whole town of Seaford knew about Kim’s crush on Jack, and that the sentiment was definitely reciprocated. She generally didn't care, because if that means Kim can stop being a bitch around other girls, she would move on with her life but now…

“Yeah, he’s now dating your partner from physics lab,” Taylor chimes in. Jack whips his head towards Taylor, glaring at her.

“Carson Hunter?” Clare splutters.

“Yes,” Jack sighs, blushing a little. “Surprise?”

Clare gives Jack a surprised, but impressed look. “Oh my god, I had no idea you even liked boys.”

“Me neither,” Jack replies.

“Well, at least, you have good taste,” Clare compliments.

Jack raises an eyebrow. “Uh, thanks?”

“Uh, can we talk later? I gotta go,” Taylor speaks up. “We were on our way to drop off an application.”

“Definitely,” Clare affirms. “Don't tell me you’re gonna call me later and then you don't. You know I don't like that.”

Taylor grins, and gives Clare a warm hug. “You know I wouldn’t do that to you.”

“Uh huh,” Clare rolls her eyes. She smirks at Jack again, waves at him, and then walks the other way.

Jack glares at Taylor once Clare is out of earshot. “Did you have to out me like that?”

“I was unaware you two knew each other!” Taylor explains.

“Yeah, but that doesn't mean we’re friends!” Jack argues back. “She’s always feuding with Kim whenever she shows up so it’s kind of hard to make friends with her, if you know what I mean.” That, and Jack never liked her. He’s very sure the feeling is mutual. “Also, she looks down on “poor” people, and that’s not a top quality of a good person.”

“She’s never been rude to me,” Taylor shrugs. “We’ve been friends for ten years, and even after my dad lost his business, she still talks to me like nothing changed. Maybe she just doesn't like you?”

“Yeah, that’s it,” Jack rolls his eyes. “Also...she never talks about Kim when you do talk to her? Or even mentions anyone from Seaford High?”

Taylor gives him a short thoughtful look, and then shakes her head no. “There was this one time she told me about Jerry when she found out I was transferring to public school. She said if I ever see him, I should turn the other way, rightfully so since she had a one night stand with him. Other than that, she doesn't talk about you at all. Either she had a soft spot for you guys or she just thought you guys weren't worth her energy, which happens more often than you think.”

“It’s the second one,” Jack concludes. They continue their trek to Rudy’s apartment, and as soon as they get there, they drop the application inside the mailbox and leave without another word about it. After that, they decided to go see a movie after contemplating on how to spend the rest the day. Taylor left her car at a family friend’s shop to get it fixed, since she’s been having engine problems recently.

“Having a car is a lotta work,” Jack says, sighing.

“It’s worth it, because you don't have to use me or your boyfriend for rides,” Taylor replies, smirking. She grabs the bucket of popcorn, while Jack takes the box of chocolate covered raisins, and leads the way inside the theater room.

“You don’t mind driving me around, and neither does Carson,” Jack defends. “If you do, you would’ve said something a long time ago.”

“Mmmm, you’re right,” Taylor shrugs. “But...it’s always nice to be independent. When I received my car for my sixteenth, I took care of it like it was my child. I’m surprised the bank didn't repossess it, because it seemed to take my house and anything pertaining to my dad’s old business.”

“It’s a Mercury, they probably didn't want it,” Jack says, jokingly. Taylor glares at him, and snatches the box of chocolate covered raisins from his hands.

“We had nicer, older cars,” Taylor mentions. “Once car companies like Mercury and Pontiac became defunct, we took many lengths to keep them. Those cars were always perfect and I always saw myself driving one of them. I got the chance, but we lost all of them, except the current one I have.”

“So if we were still dating and if you were rich, would you give me one of your cars?” Jack ponders out loud.

Taylor makes an amused face. “No. I wouldn’t even trust my closest friend with it, and neither would my parents. You would have to get a car on your own...which isn't that bad, if it’s a new model. Old models are hard to work on because the tools are drastically different.”

Jack nods, understanding what she means. His parents are more than ready to help him pick out a car, so he’s not that concerned. It would be nice to own a vintage car, though. He doesn't say anything else, and the movie starts moments after.

 

Chapter Text

Jack suddenly wakes up after hearing his phone ring. It's minutes after midnight, which only means one thing: it's his birthday and who else would be calling him mere minutes into his birthday?

"You could've waited until seven," he says right into the phone, without looking at the contact number.

"Well, I could, but it's five in the evening in Japan," a feminine voice replies to him, sounding amused.

"Kim?" Jack shakes his head and chuckles. He truly thought it was Carson...or his cousin, calling him at this hour. At least she has a reason. "Ugh, i'm sorry. I thought it was—"

"It's alright hun, I probably would think it's my boyfriend too," she replies. "But, this call is costing me since we're seventeen hours apart so happy birthday and i'll call you in the next month."

"Thanks," Jack says, and hangs up the phone. Before he puts his phone away, he gets another call. "There he is," he mutters to himself with a huge grin on his face, pressing the accept button. "You're late, and Kim already beat you."

"Fuck you," Carson retorts back.

"Is that my birthday present?"

"No!" Jack can practically tell that Carson's face is turning red, and his grin grows wider at the thought. "But I will see you later for our date?"

"The second date already? I thought we already agreed to be boyfriends," Jack replies jokingly.

"Cute," Carson says sarcastically. "I'll pick you up at around four so if you're spending time with your friend…"

"I'll let you know," Jack assures. Carson didn't really need that assurance because once he gets the ok, he will be there. "Now, can I go back to sleep?"

Carson rolls his eyes. "I know, Jackie needs his beauty sleep."

Jack can feel his face getting hot over the stupid nickname. "Don't call me that."

Carson only laughs. "Whatever you want, babe. I'll see you later."

Jack hangs up the phone and tries to go back to sleep, but he gives up at three in the morning. Sighing deeply, he kicks the blanket off his legs and decides to spend the rest of the time watching old martial arts movies to pass the time.

By nine, the third movie finishes and Jack pauses mid-credits to hear a knock on his door. "When have you ever knocked?"

Kai rolls his eyes and walks in his cousin's room. "Because I have decency." He sits right next to Jack and wraps an arm around Jack's shoulders, rubbing his knuckles on top of Jack's head.

"Can you not?" Jack protests half heartedly, giggling like they were five again.

"Happy birthday weirdo," Kai replies and releases Jack. "You're finally seventeen so you know what that means."

"You are not punching me," Jack protests firmly, moving away from Kai. "For my sixth birthday you punched me so hard I had bruises for months."

"And for my eighth, you tripped me, saying whoops like you did it on accident," Kai argues back. "Might I remind you I landed on a good part of my cake, that had royal blue buttercream icing so blue that I had to walk around with blue face for almost a week?"

"I remember that," Jack says, laughing at the memory. "That's why you hate blue."

"I swear I would never look at blue the same again," Kai mutters, shuddering, "Nonetheless, your mom told me it was ok to come up...she was kind of surprised to hear that we reconciled."

"For one thing, we never got along," Jack defends. "You were the family disappointment."

"I was, wasn't I?" Kai shrugs. He didn't like the title, which is why he worked hard to replacing it. It worked for his aunt, uncle, and cousin Jack, but he has others to convince.

"Happy birthday!" Both Jack's parents walk in, with a tray of breakfast in front of them.

"Perfect timing," Kai compliments, checking his watch and smirking a little bit.

"Thanks guys," Jack replies taking the tray away from them. He sets it aside, and hugs them tightly. They may it know a lot of things, but they are his parents and they try to make Jack happy at every turn, which is why he appreciates them. He lets them go, and sits back on his bed to eat his breakfast.

"We would have your intended birthday present but you don't even have your permit," Jack's father announces. Jack stops himself from rolling his eyes. He's getting his permit in a few days, once he passes that test of course.

"But, we can't just allow you to have a birthday empty handed, so we settled on getting you this." His mother leaves the room momentarily and comes back with a brand new acoustic guitar, with a bow in the front. "That doesn't mean you get to play it all the time, you know."

Jack is too shocked to touch it. "Go ahead weirdo, take it!" He glares at Kai momentarily, then takes it from his parents' grip. He hasn't played guitar since his run-in with Kung Fu Lightning, and it feels so good to hold one again, even if it isn't an electric guitar.

"This is better than a car," Jack finally comments, making both of his parents laugh. He picks up his guitar pick at the nearby nightstand, and plays a tune. "Oh yeah, so much better than a car."

"Don't play that when you're supposed to be doing homework," his father reprimands, then smiles and claps Jack on the back.

"I would never." He puts his new guitar to the side. "Now...I need to get ready. I'm spending the day with friends."

"We'll stay out of your way." Both of his parents give Jack one last hug, and leave the room, leaving Jack and Kai alone. Kai starts to get up, talking about how he has to go to work since the dojo's gonna be closed for the day. They both say their goodbyes and Kai leaves the room, leaving Jack alone in his room. He looks at his guitar one last time before heading to his bathroom to take a shower.


 

"I can't believe you decided to take me to an arcade," Jack frowns as soon as Milton drags him inside. He could be anywhere...like, getting lunch with his parents or having a nap date with Carson...virtually anything other than going to the arcade. "I'm seventeen!"

"Would you rather the space station?" Milton asks.

"Maybe?" Jack retorts halfheartedly.

Milton rolls his eyes. "No, I have to kick your ass at a couple games, especially street fighter."

"I have the highest score, you can't beat me," Jack scoffs, but he drags Milton over to the console anyway. "Trust me, I've been having the highest score since—" He looks at the screen closely, to see his name knocked down to number three highest score. "—what the hell is this?"

"Back when Jerry and I were bitter about you leaving, we decided to try and beat your high score," Milton explains, feeling a little smug. "Jerry has the high score, and I have the second highest."

"Two months of not being here and I've been demoted!" Jack exclaims. He pulls out a couple quarters and enters it into the machine. "It's time to take my title back," he says, almost sounding like a growl.

They play for about an hour, with Jack giving up because he keeps losing so much. It's equivalent to when Carson kept beating him in super smash bros, but much more embarrassing since Milton isn't a big gamer like him, and Jerry. He's still number three, while Milton takes the number one title.

"I hate you," Jack mutters as they move onto another game. They still have the thrasher game from when Kim beat his high score simply because he let her win. He learned a very valuable lesson that time, and it is to not go easy on anyone, even if they are girls...or your boyfriend. He walks past that and they move on, passing the childish games and moving to the back, where a couple of pool tables are around and only a few older kids are hanging out. "I've never been to this part of the arcade."

"That's because we were boys then," Milton replies. "Now, we're men."

"You turned seventeen in January," Jack states.

"We're men!" Milton repeats, with more emphasis. He picks an empty table with the pool balls placed nicely in the middle of the table with the triangle holder intact. The cue ball is also at the middle, but more closer to the table than the pool balls. Milton picks up two cue sticks and gives one to Jack. He removes the triangle holder. "Birthday man goes first."

"Oldest goes first," Jack retorts.

"You don't want me to go first," Milton shoots back.

Jack looks taken aback for a split second, but he sighs. He aligns the cue stick with the cue ball, and pushes it hard enough to hit all fifteen balls, some moving slowly and some moving faster than expected. However, he doesn't get one single point. "Well, shit."

"Let me show you how a real man does it, Jack." Jack rolls his eyes and moves to the side while Milton positions himself to hit a striped ball at a weird angle. Jack doesn't say anything, even though he thinks Milton's just gonna hit the wall. However, he does hit the wall and it goes inside one of the pockets. "And that's how you play pool."

"Are you…..how did you…"

"It's simple geometry, Jack," Milton explains. "That, and I was practicing with Zane almost everyday."

"You still talk to him?" Jack inquires.

"He was my boyfriend for a while," Milton shrugs, hoping he doesn't appear too heartbroken in front of Jack. He really didn't want to talk about how he had his firsts with the boy and then end up crying when they broke up, especially on a friend's birthday - a friend he just reconciled with. He purposely misses his next shot. "Enough about me. It's your turn...you get solids."

Jack aims for a yellow solid, and narrowly misses the shot. "What happened?"

Milton purses his lips together. "Well, he was the one who showed me this place...he told me he had a crush on me for about a year and I thought he would be a perfect distraction from Julie. He was, but we got into a really bad argument. I haven't seen him since we broke up. I'm not sure whether to move on or be worried." He gets the next shot, and moves on to two striped balls right next to each other.

Jack frowns, not really liking what Milton implied in his last sentence. "Is that why you told me you wanted to stay single?"

"Yeah." Milton perfectly sends both striped balls to the corner pocket. "But hey...maybe it wasn't meant to be. Julie left me because she thought I wasn't mature enough, and Zane left me because I was too deep inside the closet to do what he wanted to do." Milton makes another shot towards a striped ball near the left corner. "Well...it's over now, and I'm gonna lay low until college. I already have my graduation and college application checklist ready, and I already have essay ideas brewing in my head for any college that requires it. I'm gonna go to Yale, or maybe Harvard, and do what I want to do."

"That's the spirit," Jack smirks. "Even when the conversation turned sad for a moment, you still manage to whoop my ass."

"Yeah, I finally beat you in something," Milton replies, laughing. "Well, almost. I gotta make that eight ball shot and then I can gloat."

"You know you're gonna beat me. I don't play pool." Jack watches as Milton easily shoots the eight ball to the corner pocket with ease, which means he wins the game. "What did I tell you?"

Milton rolls his eyes. "Now are you gonna at least try?"

"Maybe." Jack polishes the end of his cue stick while Milton sorts the pool balls in the triangle holder.


 

It's around a quarter to four when Jack waves at Milton, entering his eerily empty home. He receives a message from Carson, telling him to get ready and that he will pick him up in the next few minutes. Jack just changes his clothes to some better clothes fitting for a second date, but not any less casual. He waits patiently until he hears the doorbell go off. He opens the door to see Carson with a grin on his face. "Happy birthday."

"Thank you," Jack says back, wrapping his arms around Carson's shoulders and kissing him shortly. "Where are we going?"

"That, is a surprise." Carson pulls out a blindfold, and wiggles his eyebrows, silently asking for Jack's consent.

"Dork." Carson takes that as a yes, and wraps the satin cloth over Jack's eyes. He grabs Jack's hand, and guides him towards his car. "Wouldn't this be smart if you told me to put it on when we were in the car?"

"Just go with it!" Carson argues.

Jack sighs, and enters the car with some difficulty. Once Carson closes the door behind him, he tries to find the seatbelt. When he does, he crosses it over his torso and fumbles around to find the other end of the seatbelt. Carson enters the car and quickly puts on his seatbelt, and then giggles when he sees Jack still trying to put on his seatbelt. "I got it," Carson offers, and easily clips Jack's seatbelt together.

"Thanks," Jack replies, pouting.

Carson is still laughing as he pulls out of Jack's street and heads over to the dojo. He hopes everyone is ready so that they can surprise him. He doesn't know how he convinced Jack's parents, but with help from a couple people, they are already there. The only issue is that they don't know that Jack is now dating a boy, which may be a problem because everyone else knows.

He gets there within minutes, and sees Heather waving her hand to signal that everyone's ready. "Good," he mutters to himself.

"Are we here?" Jack questions.

"Yeah, we're here." Jack reaches to take the blindfold off, but Carson swats his hand away. "Keep your hands to yourself. I'm not above tying them behind your back."

"Mmmm, need me a freak like that," Jack replies, biting his lip seductively. Carson rolls his eyes and exits the car. He goes to the other side and helps Jack out of the car, and he guides Jack to the dojo. Luckily it doesn't smell like the dojo when they both enter the place. "Where are we?"

"Take off the blindfold." Jack does what he is told but all he sees is darkness.

"So you took me to a—"

"Surprise!" Jack is startled by the lights turning on and literally everyone jumping at him. Everyone was standing there, including Milton, weirdly enough, and his parents.

Jack looks at the group of people, and then looks back at Carson, with a thankful look, and back at his friends and family. "How…"

"I told you we were gonna plan something for your birthday," Taylor speaks up confidently.

Jack points at his former sensei. "I'm more concerned on how you convinced Rudy to come to a dojo he hates."

"Oh, yeah, that was hella complicated," Milton replies.

Rudy scoffs, rightfully affronted. "It was not! You know I would come out to support Jack on his seventeenth birthday...even if I have to be here."

"What's wrong with being here? We were at your dojo for several weeks," Heather inquires, glaring at Rudy. "And might I remind you, my feet have been healthy until I developed athlete's foot...from your mouldy mats!"

"She's right, you know," Jake agrees.

"It took weeks for my feet to feel like it wasn't gonna fall off," Elliott speaks up, suddenly feeling an itch on his foot. "You have a serious fungal problem."

"Don't worry, he's rebuilding the dojo and we're gonna personally steam the new mats we're getting," Milton reveals, with an eye roll.

Jack rolls his eyes, and walks over to the group to embrace them individually. Jack pulls Carson away from the crowd, and kisses Carson. "Thank you, for all of this."

"Anything for you," Carson replies, and allows Jack to kiss him again.


 

The party lasts for several hours, up until everyone that wasn't a black dragon (or Taylor) to leave after eight. Jack is mostly partied out and he's leaning against Carson, who's playing with his hair. Elliott's dancing with Sabrina to a techno beat, and Brody's cleaning up some of the mess.

"Stop pulling me!" The sentence is loud enough for everyone to stop what they're doing and look towards the door. Heather is sweaty from dragging Sloane inside the dojo, while the other girl looks incredibly tired from...well, whatever she was doing. "I told you, I didn't want to come today!"

"Why not?" Heather inquires, a little hurt.

"Being in here would make it hurt more," Sloane replies, her voice slightly cracking. "I'm leaving tomorrow morning, and I figured if you guys focused more on Jack's birthday you would forget about me."

"Yeah, well, you forgot that we're best friends," Heather argues. "Hell, we're more than best friends. You're my soulmate, Sloane. You're the only girl i've had the closest connection to since my last friend ditched me and then moved to Japan. I know that you're gonna go on a tour, but I don't want these last few weeks to not mean something to either of us."

Sloane bites her lip to keep herself from crying. It's bad enough that she has to go back to a tour that she sort of doesn't want to do anymore, but now she's going to be leaving her first girlfriend tomorrow and that hurts more than being sucked back to the reality of being a famed martial artist. "How are we gonna keep this up when i'm overseas? There are times where I can't be able to have a Skype date with you, or when I can't call you. I'm gonna be really busy and the reason why I even stayed longer than I should was because of my agent...again."

"It's ok, I understand," Heather replies. "I'm gonna be busy with school, college applications, and continuing my training for my first black belt. But I assure you, we can make this work. You just gotta meet me halfway."

Sloane nods thoughtfully. "I can do that."

"And don't forget about the rest of us," Jake says, referring to the rest of the dojo. Heather takes Sloane's hands and rubs Sloane's particularly soft knuckles with her thumbs. "We expect Christmas cards at the end of the year."

"I'm Jewish," Jack points out.

Jake rolls his eyes and gestures around Jack. "Send a Hanukkah one for Jack."

"My family celebrates K—"

"Just send us secular holiday cards!" Jake exclaims, already fed up.

Sloane can't stop laughing. "I'm really gonna miss you. All of you."

"We'll miss you too," Jack says back. Everyone gathers around to give Sloane a group hug for a few seconds, and then lets go. Heather still holds onto Sloane's hands, her cheeks wet with tears.

"I gotta go finish my packing," Sloane points out. Heather reluctantly lets go of Sloane's faces everyone, and waves at them before facing Heather. She cups Heather's neck and kisses her passionately, lasting for only a few seconds before pulling away and exiting the dojo.

Jake immediately embraces a crying Heather, while everyone else watches Sloane disappear.

Chapter Text

A month later

“Mail for you!” Jack’s father yells just as he is finished with putting on his clothes. He runs downstairs and sees the envelope in his face for his learning permit, that took way longer than expected.

“Thanks,” Jack tells his dad, who says nothing but awaits to see his son’s first learning permit. He’s going to be taking some driver’s ed classes at his high school, so he has that covered already. Jack opens it with little effort, and the laminated permit shows up right before his eyes. It’s now he realizes that his dad is still standing there. “Dad, it’s just a permit.”

“Let me see, for god’s sake,” he snatches it away from Jack, and looks at it. “You’re so close to getting your license! And then maybe you can drive us around instead of us driving you around.”

“You haven't driven me anywhere in the past several months,” Jack points out.

“Yeah, thanks to your boyfriend,” his dad retorts back, with a snicker. Jack sneers at his dad, accompanied with a blush on his cheeks. He also snatches the license away from his dad, who is still laughing as he goes upstairs. Jack sighs, and puts on his shoes before heading out to the dojo.

He hears a loud honk, to see Carson’s car parked right in front of his house. With an affectionate eye roll, he walks straight to Carson’s car and enters it without another word. They share a kiss before Jack puts on his seatbelt. “Did you get it yet?”

“Right here,” Jack replies, and gives Carson his license. “It took a month to get here...a month! My temporary permit expired last week, which is the estimated time it should've got here.”

“It took me a month and a half to get my license,” Carson replies, and starts driving. “It was the longest wait of my life because I couldn't start driving until I had my license, just in case I get pulled over.”

“So, it’s going to take longer to get my license,” Jack sighs. He isn't too peeved but the wait was agonizing. He starts school next week and his instructor asks for either a valid permit or a temporary permit that hasn't expired. He wishes for another instructor but they are the only person working for the entire school year and the last thing Jack wants to do is to graduate high school without a license. “I'm not looking forward to this.”

“You can always try driving my car again,” Carson offers, remembering the two times Jack’s been behind the wheel. The second time was better than the first, but Jack still has driver anxiety.

“I could, or I can have an actual instructor teaching me,” Jack replies, with a wry smirk. Carson scoffs a little, but he knows Jack is right.

They reach the new dojo, which hasn't opened yet but today is supposingly the grand opening. The whole mall is renovated, making it look more like a mall on the wharf than what it used to look like. Since Bobby retired the chain, the dojo is renamed and it’s a fusion between a dojo and a gym, with martial arts classes and an upcoming juice bar (that Taylor would be working part time when she isn't in school). Jack barely understands how Rudy was able to even afford the new changes but he doesn't want to question anyone.

The grand re-opening gathers a bunch of current and former students, so there’s a large crowd. However Carson and Jack are able to get through the crowd of people to meet Milton standing right next to the podium. “Are we ready?” Jack asks him.

“Rudy said something about getting large scissors to cut through the police tape,” Milton answers. “He can use regular scissors, but you know how dramatic he is.”

“That certainly hasn't changed,” Carson points out, laughing slightly when he sees Rudy approach the police tape with a large set of lawn choppers.

A collection of snickers can be heard as Rudy struggles to cut the tape, mostly because the choppers are dull, so he drops them on the floor in frustration and rips the tape off. “The dojo is now open for service!”

Everyone takes their turn walking in, and it’s a brand new place. New gear, higher ceilings, more than one floor, a rock climbing wall, and cleaner restrooms that Jack can smell from here. No sign of mold anywhere. “Oh my god,” Jack whispers.

“Would Sensei Ty say anything if we switch dojos again?” Carson whispers back. Jack gives him a look, which makes Carson laugh. “You know i'm kidding. But seriously...it’s beautiful. A fucking rock climbing station?”

“Mmm,” Jack shrugs. He likes it in here, but he wouldn't leave the Black Dragon just because of some extra amenities. They were there for him when he needed it, even if they are notoriously bad. “It is nice in here.”

Carson places his hands around Jack’s waist, not caring at some of the pairs of eyes staring at them. Jack allows himself to relax, his head resting on Carson’s shoulder. “We can leave if you want to. I know it’s not the same place but if you’re uncomfortable…”

“I'm fine, especially now,” Jack reassures, with a smile.

“God, get a room!” Milton says to them. Jack snorts, and looks at the redhead with a raised eyebrow. “What?”

“Are you jealous?”

“Get out,” Milton replies, causing the both of them to laugh.

They don't actually leave though. They spend almost the whole day inside the new dojo, congratulating Rudy and drinking so many sample smoothies thanks to Taylor calling them their test subjects. Jack barely even feels uncomfortable anymore, and he doesn't notice it until he leaves. It doesn't matter, because it’s what he wanted for a while.