Break of Dawn
A/N: Why am I starting all these new stories? DX Welll in my defense, this one has been on my mind for a LONG while and I was playing RotG in the background trying to get crap done...this was born. Although it did occur me at what felt like the break of dawn one morning, hence the title. I don't really know what time it was.
It was Aster's favorite kind of day.
Nearly spring, a touch of summer in the air, a kiss of winter lingering with every cool breeze. The wind ruffled the pages of his paperback novel, and the young man stretched a bit, smiling as he read the words he had already read one time too many. Everyone had a favorite book, and this one was Aster's.
His afternoon would have continued in this relaxed fashion if not for Ms. Bennett.
The quiet, single mother across the street had once been almost like the parent that the orphaned boy had never had. Sympathy for many ran thick in her veins, and Aster remembered now why her visits were more often brought over to his house. He cut his gaze to the house across the street, inwardly seething upon seeing that boy, her adoptive child.
And the question that remained in his mind was why? Why would anybody choose to adopt somebody as irksome as Jack Frost, somebody as immature, somebody as irresponsible? When Aster was that kid's age, he wouldn't have gotten away with half the stuff that Jack had gotten away with in the orphanage. The boy was leaning against the porch railing, a faraway look in his eyes as he stared out at the neighborhood, but Aster knew that there was no way that boy's thoughts ran any deeper than the puddles of rainwater on the ground.
He heard Ms. Bennett clear her throat, and he turned his attention to the beautiful woman. She was playing with her hands, smoothing out a wrinkle in her purple shirt, looking uncertain as to whether or not she ought to even say anything. "Aster…I need to ask you a favor."
Aster raised an eyebrow, tearing his gaze away from Jack. "A favor, huh?" He forced a smile for her. Although he didn't understand exactly why she'd chosen to adopt somebody like Jack, she was still close to him. "Sure, I'll do you a favor." The twenty-year-old ran a hand through his ashy blonde hair, tilting his head questioningly at her.
"Well…you know about my business trip in a few days up to Chicago?"
Aster nodded, his hand freezing where it was within his blonde strands. Of course he knew about the business trip.
"Well, the problem is…Jack will be here alone for three weeks." Ms. Bennett explained carefully, her hand sliding down to her skirt, smoothing it out nervously. "And I really have no doubt that he can take care of himself, but…if you wouldn't mind…"
"You want me to babysit the kid?" Aster asked flatly, all trace of a smile gone.
"If you wouldn't mind looking after him for a little while we're gone, that would be great."
Aster ran a hand over his face and sighed softly.
"I mean, he's used to being alone." Ms. Bennett added softly, her eyes turning a bit darker and softer as her gaze traveled over to her adoptive child. "And he can certainly take care of himself, I know that, but…I only adopted him last month. I don't want…I don't want anything bad to happen. He doesn't care about being alone, but it's the little things." she sighed and closed her eyes, and for a second Aster could see every tired line on her face and he suddenly understood how hard things had been for her in the past year. He could still see little Jamie and Sophie in his mind's eye. He still remembered the nights that the candles had burned in the windows of the house across the street all night long, for days on end. Aster had thought his own pain for the two would never cease either.
Aster ran his hand through his hair again, his signature gesture whenever he was distressed or frustrated. "Alright."
Ms. Bennett opened her eyes. Despite how much she sometimes felt like she could count on Aster, there were other times when it felt like everything was falling through. "Alright?"
"I'll look after the kid." Aster conceded quietly. "I'll make sure he's, you know. Alright. I'll make sure he's doing okay. I'll make sure he's not alone."
"Thank you, Aster." Ms. Bennett smiled, enveloping him in a warm embrace.
As usual whenever somebody hugged him, Aster hesitated for a split second before hugging them back. He couldn't remember the last time a person besides Ms. Bennett – or even Ms. Bennett – had hugged him. He didn't receive physical affection very often, especially when you considered that he lived alone. He put his arms slowly around the woman, patting her soothingly on the back. "No need to thank me, Sheila. After all you've done for me, it's something I owe to you."
She pulled away and smiled at him, her hair tangling in her long brown curls. "It's only for three weeks."
"I'm only making sure you know."
"You mentioned it three times in that sentence."
Aster was technically awake. It was just that he was dozing a bit over his morning coffee when the doorbell rang and it startled him so much that he was instantly startled awake again. Letting out a string of profanities and jumping up from the table, he raced for the door, latched onto the knob and yanked. There was no worse way to start his morning, he decided, than to open up the door and find Jack Frost staring at him, one hand clutching his backpack. The fingers on the other hand were nervously drumming on the doorframe and he was staring around at the house with an open, bright curiosity. The sparkle in his bright blue eyes made him look both younger and, at the same time, older than he really was.
"Ms. Bennett told me to come here after school instead of to our house." he explained, brushing the hair out of his eyes. It was so bright it was almost white, Aster noted. And somehow this made the teenager seem even more annoying. "I'm hoping I'm welcome." the boy added, with a shadow of a smirk beginning to cross his face.
"Come in." Aster's tone could easily have been used for the sentence, 'go eat nails'. He tried to sound more hospitable. Clearing his throat, he repeated, "Come in. It's…uh…it's just for three weeks, right?"
"Yep." Jack nodded slowly, stepping in the door as Aster edged out of the way.
The twenty-year-old reached over and closed the door behind the boy, who was now looking around at the inside with that same curiosity that made him seem almost tolerable. "This is a nice place." Jack told him, but he was clutching his backpack like he expected the shadows to jump out at him and grab him.
"Thank you." Aster found it slightly easier than he expected to carry on a conversation with the boy. "I've got several rooms upstairs that I don't use, so…whichever one you like, you can pick that one." Had he ever spoken to the boy before? he wondered to himself, but quickly shook off the question.
"Um…" Jack hesitated, looking awkwardly about himself at the living room. "Thank you…?" The question mark at the end of his words was both amusing and a bit unsettling. Aster had half-expected the teenager to stroll in here and make himself at home, but the white-haired boy seemed so awkward and out-of-place that he felt a sudden urge to make him feel welcome. The problem was, Aster had no idea how to do that. He had never had to deal with children, even teenagers, before. Not when he was older than them, or had to look after them anyway. "You're welcome," he said gruffly. "Why don't you go ahead and pick one out?"
"Oh! Alright." Jack seemed glad of an excuse to get away, because he walked up the stairs fairly quickly, but his eyes were still wide. He was still taking it all in. Aster watched the white-haired boy walk slowly up the staircase, out of sight, onto the landing.
When Jack arrived at the top of the stairs and peeked into the first room, what he saw took his breath away. Even though he had lived in this neighborhood for a month, he still wasn't used to nice houses with two stories and caring people. But it wasn't that that caused him to stop. It was the mural painted on the wall, the beautiful spring day, with the grass shining from early morning dew, the sky a brilliant cerulean color.
"Aster!" he dashed back out to landing, feeling a wide grin breaking out over his face. "Aster, come here!"
And this sent the twenty-year-old into something of a fright. For God's sake, the kid had only been in his house for two minutes and he'd gotten hurt? He knew he shouldn't have left him alone…
Trying to imagine the look on Ms. Bennett's face, he arrived, panting, at the top of the stairs, looking around for the boy concernedly. But the boy was nowhere to be found, his voice still issuing from one of the rooms.
"Aster, come look!"
Aster peeked into the nearest room and felt an unfamiliar smile tugging at his lips, a kind of smile he hadn't given in a long time. "What's up, kid?"
"Did you paint this?" Jack was running his fingers along the wall, his blue eyes wide with wonder. "This is so cool!"
Aster nodded uncertainly, coming to stand by Jack. "You like it?"
Jack couldn't stop the grin spreading over his face. "This is really cool!"
"You like spring, then?" Aster gestured to the blue sky and the bright green grass.
Jack shrugged. "Prefer winter, really. But this…" and he took to touching the mural carefully again, as if thinking the paint was still wet, but after a few minutes, his fingers relaxed, his smile growing wider. "This is so…" he trailed off, his eyes sparkling.
Aster smiled a little, silently touched by the boy's enthusiasm. "Thank you."
Jack finally tore his eyes away from the mural, but the smile on his face didn't fade.