XXVI. Love

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Luke hurried out of the dugout and caught up with Dai as the taller boy was walking towards the carts.
"Hey, Dai, what's up?" he asked.
"What's up?" Dai asked back, "What's up is what just happened, Luke. Some guy almost hurt Kai just so he could win against me!"
"Yeah, but, you won, right?" Luke said, trying to reassure him, "The guy was a jerk, yeah, but Ms. Danford is taking care of it-"
"It's not just about him being a jerk!" Dai exclaimed, "It's the fact that some guy I never met before wanted to win against me specifically so badly that he threatened my family! My own brother! Just so he could have his claim to fame as the one who bested a Fray."

Dai shoved his hands in his hoodie pocket, an unhappy frown on his face.
"I swear, my last name has brought me more bad than good..." he uttered, "We just happened to win a few more youth Gifted Battling games than normal and suddenly you're a state-wide celebrity. And when your father is on the Gifted Council..."
Luke said nothing, and just wrapped an arm around Dai comfortingly.
"I just didn't think people would hate my family that much..." Dai sighed.
"Have you talked to Raina or Kai about this?" Luke asked.
"Yes," Dai uttered, "I mean, we've gotten rude comments before... but they both would always say to 'just ignore it' but it's so hard to ignore it sometimes... Not to mention when someone goes and almost kills someone, I mean, you can't just ignore that!?"
Luke paused, considering his words.

"All I can tell you is that people are gonna not like you, dude," Luke said, "What that Peter guy did was totally uncalled for and... kinda scary, and you shouldn't ignore something like that."
He then gripped Dai's shoulders and looked him right in the eyes, before sighing.
"Trust me, you shouldn't give people who don't like you the time of day, and if they do something like what happened today, then you deal with it, but maybe don't dwell on it," he suggested, "Besides, there are people who love you, and don't they matter more?"
Dai sniffled, "I suppose."
"I hope you know I'm one of those people," Luke smiled, "I love you... in a platonic way."
Dai blinked, and then started busting a gut, laughing.
Luke blushed, embarrassed, "What?! I mean it!"
"I'm sure... you do," Dai said between laughing fits, "The way you said it, though."
Luke crossed his arms indignantly, "Look, I'm not usually good at talking about this stuff, okay?"
Dai hugged Luke tightly, still chuckling.
"I love you platonically, too," he giggled, "Thanks, Luke. You're... a really good friend."
Luke felt a smile come on, touched.
"I mean, I think it's safe to say you're the bestest friend I've had," Luke muttered, "So... y'know."
Dai pulled away, smiling, and both boys turned to see Kai flying over using his fire.

"Hey! Is everything okay? Dai?" Kai asked.
"I'm fine," Dai said, "What about you? That guy didn't hurt you too badly, did he?"
"No," Kai replied, chuckling, "The jerk is being escorted off Elfen Island."
"Good riddance," Dai huffed, "What about everyone else?"
"They're watching the last fight of the day," Kai said, "No one was seriously hurt, so, the faculty and Council thought it was okay to continue."
"Sweet," Luke smiled, "Though... Dai, you wanna go back to campus and get something to eat?"
"Sure," Dai smiled back, "I'm a bit tired of tournament stuff for today, anyway."
He turned to Kai, "You wanna come, or do you wanna stay and watch?"
Kai paused, considering, "I'll come along. I could do without a crowd of people surrounding me for a bit."
Dai and Luke chuckled, and the trio headed over towards the parked carts.

🌊

After the last fight of the day had concluded, people started to make their way to the pier to board the ferries home. The competitors and faculty who stayed to watch the final battle were also now heading towards the carts to go back to campus.

Lena, Aria, and Raina had given Jace their goodbyes, and the brown haired boy left on a different cart, for he wanted to go back to the dorms, while the girls had something else in mind.

"I don't understand why we can't do more training," Lena said.
"You wiped out basically a whole army and you still wanna keep at it??" Aria asked incredulously, "Gotta admire commitment."
"Lena, you'll burn yourself out, trust me," Raina said, "Besides, I could go for a walk on the beach."
"A walk on the beach?" Aria asked, chuckling, "I never took you for that type of girl, Raina."
"Excuse me?" Raina huffed indignantly, "Walks on the beach are soothing."
"Agreed," Lena smiled.
Aria held her hands behind her back and looked at Lena with a teasing expression.

"What?" Lena asked upon noticing her.
"Why's that, Lena?" Aria asked, "You wanna walk along the beach with a... special someone? Jace, maybe?"
Lena blushed, embarrassed, "Shut up."
"Come onnnn," Aria whined, "I know you think he's cute at least."
"Yeah," Raina agreed.
Both girls looked at the taller blonde, surprised.
"What?" Raina asked, "It's kinda obvious."
"Whatever," Lena huffed, "Like I need to worry about a crush right now. Jace is just... nice."

The other girls looked at her teasingly.
"You hesitated," Aria grinned.
Lena grunted in annoyance and had a pouty look on her face, "I don't like him... at least, not in that way."
"Mhm," Aria teased, "And I'm princess of Atlantis."
"I do agree with you, Lena," Raina said, "Crushes are too much to worry about."
"As if you never had a crush, Raina," Aria said.
"Not really, no," Raina said plainly.
Aria blinked, surprised.
"Wait, really?" she asked.
Raina shrugged, "Just never met the right guy, I guess... or girl, 'cause you never know."
"Too true," Aria smiled, "There's plenty of cute girls out there, though, I kinda have my sights on a guy right now..."
"Oh?" Lena asked, interested.
"I don't know, but he's attractive, and overall great," Aria grinned.
"Who?" Lena pressed.
"Not saying," Aria said, with a mischievous grin.
"What?!" Lena exclaimed, "Why not?"
"Because," Aria sneered.
"But-" Lena started.
"Leave it," Raina huffed, "She doesn't have to say if she doesn't want to. Besides, I wanna get back."

As Raina began to drive them back to New Haven and Lena and Aria continued conversing, she noticed a boy in a conical hat at the top of one of the arena's towers. She braked upon seeing him, and peered at him. He was quite far, but she tried to make out as much of him as she could.

"Raina?" Aria asked, "What's wrong?"
"Up there," Raina said, "There's... a guy."
Aria and Lena both looked, their expressions turning confused.
"Who is that?" Lena asked.
"No idea," Raina said, "But... he seems familiar."

The boy then noticed that they had seen him, and he engulfed himself in flames, teleporting away.
The three girls blinked, surprised.
"Well, that was strange," Aria commented.
"I swear I've seen that guy before," Raina said, "The hat, it just... feels like I've seen it before."
"How so?" Lena asked.
"Not sure," Raina said, "I'll check tomorrow, though, I'm tired."

As the three continued back to New Haven, the confusion surrounding the mysterious boy plagued their minds. Lena looked back at the tower where he once stood, and her eyes narrowed, suspicion taking hold.

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