I step into the gym in sweatpants and a t-shirt, and get mad at Darren all over again for demanding his sweatshirt back, because goddamnit, it’s cold in here. I hop from foot to foot to try to get my blood to stop running so sluggishly, I swear my entire insides are made of slush right now, like, I know it’s hard to heat a room this size, but fuck. I move into warmups while I wonder whether I’m early or Sensei Domino is late, and try not to panic that I’ve somehow wrecked the timeline.

“Teke,” he says as he, I don’t know, saunters, bounces, does a jig, something way too fucking happy for a Monday, anyway, his way over to me.

“Sensei,” I say, doing the bow he taught me and managing not to feel ridiculous at all.

“Look what I’ve got!” he says, and, god, I can just see little exclamation points and like hearts and fucking flowers all around him, what the fuck is he so excited about, anyway.

I look.

He pulls a stack of boards out of his bag. I stared at them for a minute.

“Are those for the kids?” I ask.

“Nah,” he says, shaking his head and holding one up. “Just for fun, right?”

I look at it, trying to figure out what the fuck everyone wants from me this week.

He lowers it slightly, frowning at me, “you said you’d never kicked a board in half. I thought you could try it. If you want. You don’t have to.”

I stare at my socked feet, then back at the board.

“It’s not going to hurt or anything,” he says, holding up the board again, “give it a shot.”

I kick out at the board, way too lightly, I can tell from the beginning of the kick there won’t be any followthrough, and I shift my center of gravity so I don’t fall when I bring my leg back down. My foot makes a soft sort of thunk against the board. I sort of frown in apology.

“Maybe a little harder than that,” Sensei Domino suggests, with a shrug.

It’s a little easier to aim, this time, knowing how far I am from the board, and I kick out, and at least that’s a movement that I’m used to, compensating the angle reflexively, even though I shouldn’t out of the suit, and my knee is probably going to hurt later. There’s a satisfying crack accompanying the short pressure against my foot.

Of course, I kicked too hard and managed to aim straight into Domino, because that’s just how my day is going, and we both fall over.

“Sorry, you okay?” I ask, shoving myself off the ground and offering him a hand.

“Yeah.” He takes it, and, once he’s up, he presses both halves of the board into my arms. “There, see? I told you you could do it.”

I look at the neatly split wood. Huh.

“If you promise to go a little easier, I’ll let you punch one in half, too,” he says.

“Will you let me karate chop one?” I ask.

He waves a hand. “Honestly, you might not be able to do that, and if you can’t, or you do it wrong, you could really hurt yourself, and, uh, medical kind of has a problem with me. So.”

I raise an eyebrow. “What kind of problem?”

“They think I intentionally injure my students,” he grumbles. “Whatever. If you’re an adult I’m going to trust you know your own limits even though, apparently, it’s my fault you don’t.”

“Oh,” I say. “They just think I’m faking unless I’m actively bleeding.”

He laughs slightly. “Yeah, there’s that.”

“But punching is fine?” I ask.

“Oh, absolutely.” He holds up another board. “I’m going to trust you’ve had enough practice punching things I don’t have to give you safety tips.”

I cock my arm back, this time careful to remember I’m not in the suit, then drive it forward hard enough to go past the piece of wood, but not directly into Sensei Domino’s stomach. He arches back away from me, anyway, just in case. This board splits cleanly, too, though, and he hands it to me.

“See? Good job, Teke,” he says, with a grin.

I grin back. “Alright, that’s not bad at all.”

“I even gave you the medium boards to work with,” he says. “Kind of figured you’d knock me over if I gave you the kiddie boards. Oops. Live and learn.”

“Sorry,” I say again.

“Well, now you have something to frame and hang on the wall,” he says.

I hold up my board halves. “How exactly do you frame one of these?”

He shrugs and grimaces. “I don’t know, nail both halves to the wall, then nail up a frame? Glue them both to a bigger board? Get a display case?”

“How do you keep yours?” I ask.

“I never kept any of mine,” he says, “they would’ve filled up my entire room. I think my parents have the first one I ever broke in a keepsake box somewhere, but I was tiny, so I don’t know.”

I look dubiously at my wood scraps. “Should I keep these at all, then?”

“I don’t know, man, you seemed sad you’d never done it,” he tells me, “maybe you should build a birdhouse out of them or something.”

Oh. Now there’s an idea. I look at the wood – yeah, it’s about four equal pieces. Give it a top and a bottom, drill a hole in one side, should work. I should find my drill.

“Is it cold in here?” he asks, rolling out a mat, “it feels colder than usual.”

“I guess winter’s just setting in a little early,” I say, but I do step onto the mat, and my feet thank me for it.

“Guess so,” he says, and starts into the usual warmup, practicing a set of blocks I’m starting to get the hang of. “Are you going to see the new movie about Sunspot?”

“Why, is it good?” I ask, “I’ve heard mixed reviews.”

He shrugs, correcting my form slightly. “I haven’t heard any particularly strong opinions either way, but it’s always fun to make fun of a colleague, right?”

I laugh. “Trying to organize an agency-wide event?”

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