Break of Dawn

A/N: This chapter isn't really my best work, but it's angsty as heck, and I think a certain friend of mine is going to like it xD sorry for my long absence, guys. I've been sorta busy (blowing this off...)

Aster carefully maneuvered his car into the nearest free parking space, looking around as the students spilled out of the building. He had been let off his shift surprisingly early and there could be no harm in saving Jack from a ride on the school bus. He was willing to bet that those vehicles hadn't gotten any more hygienic than when he was in school. When he spotted the white head of hair in the crowd, he reached over to kill the engine, but something stopped him.

Jack wasn't alone. He was standing, kind of awkwardly, with three other boys, all bigger and taller than he was. Aster prepared to wait until he was finished discussing things with his friends, but then he realized the way they were standing: the biggest boy in front, the smaller, shorter ones on the sides, all three of them towering threateningly over Jack. To his credit, the smallest boy didn't appear afraid; he was glaring at all of them, and his pale lips moved, forming words that Aster couldn't read from the distance.

The boy in front of him reached for his arm, yanking his backpack off and holding it in a death grip. Jack appeared very disinterested in this; he scowled and said one more thing before stalking off, not even bothering to try and get his backpack. The boy holding it seemed put out by either this, or the final thing Jack had said, because he curled his left hand into a fist and swung out, catching the retreating, blue-hoodied back.

Aster barely registered the look of pain and surprise on Jack's face as his blue eyes went wide; his blood began to pound in his ears, and he did cut the engine then, opening his car door, slipping out, slamming it. He practically ran across the schoolyard to reach the place where they stood, crowding around the crumpled form. Jack rose to his hands and knees, trying to swallow.

"Get away from him," Aster's voice sounded low to his own ears, but by the way the first two boys flinched back, he didn't think it was.

"You ain't the boss of me, sir," the boy in front stood his ground, sneering, placing an emphasis of disrespect on the title.

"Stop." Jack rose to his feet, coming in between the two, putting a hand on his back. "Just stop. What are you doing here, Aster?"

Aster sent the three boys a murderous glare and picked Jack up by his hood, causing his feet to break contact with the ground. "I was coming to pick you up, c'mon."

"Put me down!" Jack commanded, with surprising vehemence. He kicked at thin air, trying to maintain a bit of dignity. "Put me down!"

Surprised by the sudden anger in the boy's tone, Aster complied, dropping him onto the asphalt. Jack glared at him for a second or two before stalking to the gray car.

Aster remembered the backpack, and dashed back across the schoolyard. The boys had fled the scene, apparently not as gutsy as they looked, and the backpack lay abandoned. He picked it up, examining the fraying straps with an unimpressed air. Jack really needed a new one, didn't he? And his back… Aster would definitely be checking that when they got home.

He walked back to the car, opened the door and climbed into the driver's side. He tossed the backpack at the boy without making eye contact. "I'm going to do something about those kids," he muttered, turning the key in the ignition. The engine roared to life.

"No!" Jack's voice came out loud, quick, and forceful, which was unexpected. As Aster eased out of the lot, he saw, out of the corner of his eye, that the boy was glaring at him again.

"Why not?" he demanded as he drove away from the school, adjusting the rearview mirror. His turn signal flared to life as he waited for a break in the stream of cars.

"Nobody listens to me in that place." Jack sent the building a dark look before his gaze flitted back outside the window. "It's no use trying to make them see my side of things."

"What do you mean, nobody listens to you?" Aster frowned.

Jack dropped his eyes to his lap, his hands clenching involuntarily into fists. "Leave me alone."

"I just helped you," Aster snapped, finding that his anger with the boys was quickly turning into anger towards Jack. "You could stand to let me in on what you're saying."

"Helped me?" A pink flush spread from Jack's ears down to his cheeks. "I didn't need help! I was dealing with it on my own!"

Aster's hands tightened on the steering wheel. "You were lying in the grass moaning! That's not dealing with it!"

"Leave me alone!" Jack's yell was so loud that Aster felt certain that other people could hear it.

"Put on your seatbelt," Aster bit out.

"No thank you," Jack seethed.

"It's not an option," Aster glowered. "Put it on."

"You're not my guardian, or my parent, or anything. You have no say in what I do."

"You're going to get thrown out of the car if you don't put it on!"

Jack did something surprising then; he flinched. For a moment, he shrank down just slightly, as if waiting for something. His hand hovered dangerously near the door handle, as if he was thinking of trying to escape.

Aster stared at him for a second, trying to think of what the boy's guarded expression reminded him of. It made him think…it made him think…his stomach clenched. He looked like the kids in Aster's orphanage, the ones who'd come from the worse homes. The ones who jumped at loud noises, and cowered before angry adults. The quiet, obedient ones who never stirred up trouble, but who acted like cornered animals when adults caused them trouble.

"Jack…" His voice was very quiet, but he couldn't find any words of comfort. "I'm not…I'm…"

The white-haired boy lowered his head even further, a few strands of hair breaking loose from the rest and dangling in front of his eyes, shielding his face from view so Aster couldn't read his expression.

"Look, Jack, I…" Aster had never been good with apologies. "I…I didn't mean to yell, I'm sorry…"

"Aren't you going to throw me out of the car?" Jack's voice was not his regular one; he sounded mean and angry, like he was trying to force himself to be tough. Aster could hear the truth; just beneath the surface, his voice was shaking horribly. His tough act was only skin deep.

But the man's green eyes widened, and, as odd as it was, he almost laughed. Was that why Jack was so scared? Because he thought that Aster was literally going to throw him out of the car?

He pulled up onto the roadside, taking his hands off the wheel and focusing entirely on the boy in front of him. "I'm not throwing you out of the car, mate."

"Then what are you doing?" Jack tentatively peeked up at Aster, but then he dropped his gaze again, unable to look at the man in front of him. He pretended to have found something very interesting outside the window. "Are you going to hit me?"

"No." Aster's voice was barely above a whisper. "No, of course not. I…I was telling you to put on your seatbelt because I don't want you getting hurt, not because I was going to hurt you if you didn't comply. I'm…I'm sorry, I didn't think…I shouldn't have lost my temper like that. When I said you'll get thrown out of the car, I meant that if you get hit, you'd get thrown out into the street from the impact."

"Oh." Jack withdrew his gaze from the window, choosing to study his pale hands instead. "Right."

Aster watched the boy for a few more seconds and then reluctantly pulled back into traffic. Jack didn't put on his seatbelt.