Songs:

She is the Sunlight – Trading Yesterday

Monsters – Sick Puppies

Untitled – Simple Plan


"And I'm so used to being a coward
It's all I've ever been
I quit before I win.
"

-Mr. Owl Ate My Metal Worm – D.R.U.G.S.


Part Two: Coward


The car stopped in front of the old house, and a young man stepped out of it, followed by a young woman.

He blinked, shocked when he saw a few policemen hanging around by the door.

"Excuse me," he started hesitantly. "What's going on here?"

One of them blinked at him. "Are you part of the family, sir?"

"I—" he stumbled over his words. "Yes. I—I went off awhile back. What's happening?"

The police glanced at each other. "Rumors gonna go around anyway, us telling this guy what happened won't change anything."

The other nodded, turning to him to explain. "There was some abuse going on in this family."

He stiffened in horror.

"Seemed the father of the family had started drinking after an accident involving his oldest son. One of the kids – young one, he was, I think he mentioned his name was James or something – he came down, in some sort of state of shock." The policeman made a face of disgust. "He had seen his father rape his sister and he just… snapped. He came into the police station, eyes unfocused, stumbling – almost seemed drunk himself. He just blurted out everything that had happened. He, his sister and his mother got hit; the mother ran off a few months ago, leaving the kids to fend for themselves; father kept beating them, then got really drunk, thought his daughter was his wife, and he raped her. Kid didn't cry or anything. It was pretty creepy."

There was a choked sobbing noise beside him and a tug on his sleeve. "Jared. Oh my God, Jared."

He sucked in a deep breath to hold back any sobs. "Where are they? Jamie and Jade – where are they?"

The policeman glanced down at a notepad. "They went to Alice Academy, a school for gifted people just yesterday. The other kid went to a nearby adoption center."

"The other kid?" Jared echoed blankly. "What other kid?"

He glanced at the notepad again. "Jaylen Swift. About a year old." He clicked his tongue. "The boy put a pretty big list of demands up with her. We couldn't say no, really. Not to someone who went through that."

Jared nodded dumbly. "Can… can I go into the house, please?"

The policeman eyed him. "Son, I don't think by the look in your eyes that you're going to accept no as an answer." He moved aside, giving a look at the other one until he moved too.

"Do you want me to come?" Melissa asked quietly beside him.

"I—no. Just wait in the car please," he stuttered.

She nodded understandingly and walked quickly back to the car while he turned and walked stiffly into the house.

It looked the almost exactly the same, except there was a few things missing – naturally. His mother had ditched them, and the twins were gone.

They were gone.

Tears blurred his vision. He hadn't come quick enough, and now his brother and sister were gone.

Numbly, he started towards Jade's room. He peeked in.

Empty, besides for dusty furniture.

He breathed in sharply and turned toward Jamie's room, practically running to it.

Empty.

No, no, no

He backed away from it, eyes burning with tears, and started towards his old room. When he opened the door to it, he cried out in horror, almost turning and running from it.

Written across the wall in sharpie were the lyrics to Backfire, the song he had played for Jamie. Eyes flickering across the room quickly, he read, "Backfire, they backfire…" in one spot, and in another, "AndI can't find a cure. Would it fix me anymore?"

"Get me out of this God forsaken city, let me start over somewhere new…"

"If I could leave this town forever, it seems like no one's on my side."

Across the ceiling was written, "Ask myself to please forgive me, all my innocence is gone."

The wallpaper had rips through it, and it must have been ripped through with fingernails, because there was small splotches of blood in the rips; his mattress had slashes through it; the things that had been sitting on his dresser, bedside table and wardrobe had all been pushed to the ground.

He stepped further into the room and blinked at the crunch under his shoe, glancing down.

A picture frame.

He blinked again, picking it up and turning it over to see the picture inside.

It was one of him, Jamie, Jade and their parents, all looking happy, like there was nothing wrong with the world.

His father's arm was wrapped around his mother's waist and she was smiling widely.

Jade was standing at their feet, in a sundress, flashing the camera a peace sign.

He was standing beside his parents, Jamie balanced on his shoulders, laughing joyously.

Jared choked out a sob and ran from the room, but not before seeing written on the back of his old door in blood,

'Take good care of my guitar, lil' bro. I'll find some way to get you when me and Mel have settled down somewhere.
Wait for me.'


Jamie stepped out of the limo, squinting at the sudden bright light in his eyes – the limo had had tinted windows.

Jade hopped out after him, making a face at the sudden sun in her face. "Ugh. It's way too bright out."

Jamie nodded in agreement, scowling at the limo driver as he went to grab his suitcases.

"How come you have three suitcases and a guitar, but I only have two suitcases?" Jade complained.

"You only packed two, you twit," Jamie growled.

Jade pulled a face at him, grabbing her two bags as Jamie struggled with two and the guitar.

"At least I can carry all of mine," she taunted, sticking her tongue out.

Jamie ignored her, glancing around curiously. "Well, take a good look around, Jade. This is out new home for the next eight years." Jamie himself was awestruck by the huge academy.

There was four buildings. Jamie had been told that one would be for elementary students, one for middle school students, one for high school students and the main buildings, where they would teach classes and such. They would each be separated into different parts; one-star, two-star, three-star, special-star and no-star. He and Jade were going to be two stars.

"Come on," the limo driver grunted, grabbing Jamie's extra suitcase. "The principal is expecting you."

Jade stuck her tongue out at the back of the drivers head as he started ahead of them, then scrambled to keep up with him.

Jamie, rolling his eyes, followed.

Students that were loitering around stared at them as they walked past, eyes either curious or hostile.

One boy, a blond, bounced over to them, smiling. "You new students?" he asked curiously.

"No, we're just taking a tour," Jamie snapped sarcastically.

"Hmm," the boy hummed. "You seem quite moody about this. Were you forced to come here?"

"No," he hissed. "Anywhere's better than the place I came from."

The boy nodded, not asking any questions. "S'not a bad place. Here, that is. You get fed and money and uniforms. The teachers and principals are all nice, as are most of the students. My name's Arden, by the way. Arden Taylor."

Jamie was silent for a moment before finally saying, "Jamie Swift."

Arden looked amused. "Great pair we'll make. Our last names make Taylor Swift."

Jamie's lip twitched. "Gross."

"I agree." He looked ahead at Jade. "That your sister?"

Jamie nodded. "Twin sister - Jade."

He nodded thoughtfully. "She's pretty," he commented.

"Touch her and I'll kill you in your sleep."

Arden laughed, thinking he was joking, which, in fact, he was not. If anyone laid a finger on Jade without his consent, they would be brutally murdered.

"I'm not kidding. If you as much as lay a finger on her, I'll pummel you."

Now Arden looked slightly worried. "Okay. I can keep my hands to myself. Damien, however, you should keep an eye on. He likes the ladies."

"If anyone touches her, they'll die."

"You know, I'm starting to think you have a sister complex," Arden joked lightly.

"I don't want her to get hurt again," Jamie said simply. "Don't touch her. If you touch her, she could get hurt. And if she gets hurt, you get hurt."

Arden nodded as if this conversation made perfect sense. "Alright. I can keep my hands to myself," he repeated. He glanced at the guitar Jamie was still carrying. "You play?"

"Not really."

He looked confused. "Then why do you have a guitar?"

"It was my brothers. He told me if something happened to him, I could have it. Now he's dead, so it's mine."

"Oh… I'm sorry for your loss."

"I don't want your fake sympathy," Jamie snapped.

He blinked, looking shocked. "No. I'm really sorry – my older brother died when I was five. I understand how it is."

Well, that was one way to make Jamie feel like a complete bastard. Here he was, knowing his brother was still alive and just saying he wasn't, when this guy had actually lost his brother.

"I understand the fake sympathy thing too. I remember some guy telling me he was sorry, but he said it in a tone that implied he was happy about it. I punched him in the face," he added proudly. "My brother was a drummer. I learned to play in his honor." As if to prove this, he pulled drumsticks out of his back pocket, twirling one of them skillfully through his fingers. "He taught me how to do this. It's not as hard as it looks."

"It doesn't look very hard."

"Oh." He paused. "Then it's harder than it looks."

Jamie snorted in amusement, and at this precise moment, there was a shriek of fury behind them.

"Arden! You bastard! I know you're the one that spilled soda on my backpack!"

Ahead of them, the driver and Jade stopped, turning around curiously.

Arden just smiled pleasantly, turning around at the same time Jamie did.

A blond, this time a girl, was standing there, holding a damp looking backpack, an infuriated scowl planted on her face.

Arden casually slung an arm around her. "This is my best friend, Fairy! Say hi, Fairy!"

"My name is Claire, you goddamn jackass!" she screamed. "My homework is ruined, as well as my school books and one of my uniforms!"

"Meet our new students," Arden continued as if she hadn't spoken. "This handsome young man is Jamie Swift, and that over there is his lovely sister, Jade, whom I have yet to speak to. Did I mention Jamie really likes blondes? I'm sure you two will get along great!"

Jamie blinked. "I didn't say anything about blon—"

Arden shoved him into Claire, then turned and bolted away from them, calling over his shoulder, "See you later!"

"Arden!" Claire shrieked after him. She glared at Jamie, as if he was responsible for this. "I apologize for him. He wasn't disciplined as a child." She brushed her hair behind her ear before pushing her hand in front of him. "My name's Claire – not Fairy. Arden's just… ugh."

"Um…" Jamie shook her hand awkwardly. "I'm Jamie Swift. Nice to meet you."

Her lip twitched with slight amusement. "Not exactly nice, under the circumstances." She glanced distastefully at her backpack. "Um, I'll see you later, I suppose." She paused, frowning at his hand. "What happened to your hand?"

He blinked and looked at his damaged hand and ruined fingernails. "Nothing."

She made a face before she waved awkwardly and took off in the direction Arden had disappeared.

Jamie blinked, walking up to Jade and the ever-nameless limo driver. "Well, that was different."

Jade nodded and Nameless, as Jamie would now refer to him as, continued into the building.


"You two know each other?" Jamie's new homeroom-slash-music-slash-Japanese teacher, Ms. Utau (or, since she was Japanese, Utau-sensei) asked, raising an eyebrow, glancing between Arden and Jamie. When Arden nodded, she beamed. "Great! You can be Jamie's partner then, Arden."

Arden made a bowing motion. "I'll take good care of him."

"I don't need taking care of," Jamie growled.

Arden just smiled goofily. "Course not. Let me show you around."

Jamie scowled. "No. And I'm not going anywhere without Jade."

"She can come," Arden added. "The more the merrier! We can bring Fairy, too."

"Why do you call her fairy?"

He shrugged. "Cause it sounds like Clary, which sounds like Claire. And it annoys her. Have I mentioned I like to annoy people?"

"I gathered as much."

He nodded with a mock-serious expression. "You catch on quick."

"Not really," Jamie replied. "It's obvious."

"Really? Huh. Well, let's go." Without waiting for a reply, he grabbed Jamie's arm and yanked him over to Claire. "We – yes, we mean's you as well, Fairy – are going to show the new students around!"

Claire eyed them sourly. "I don't think so."

"Aw, c'mon!" Arden instantly whined. "You two will get along great! You're both sourpusses… and Jamie likes blondes!"

Claire glared at Jamie.

"I never said anything about blondes," Jamie snapped irritably. "Stop spreading rumors, you idiot."

"So you don't like blondes?" Arden asked.

Claire continued to glare.

"I don't care," Jamie snapped. "It's a hair color. There's more important things in life than what girls look like."

Arden stared at him. "What kind of guy are you? Have you hit puberty? Are you gay?"

"No, I am not gay!" Jamie spat. "I'm straight. And I prefer who a person is over what they look like. I don't plan on dating, anyway. All I care about is getting out of here with Jade."

"Ah, you're playing hard to get…" Arden mused.

Jamie sighed. "I'm not playing hard to get. I just don't care. The only girl in my life is going to be Jade."

"Sister complex," Arden said in a singsong-y voice.

He sighed again. "Just let go of me. I don't want you to show me around, I don't want to date anyone, and I don't want friends. Let me go."

Arden blinked twice, looking morbidly shocked, letting go of Jamie's arm. "Why wouldn't you want friends? That's all you'll have at this school. There's no family, unless you're lucky enough to have a sibling with an alice – as it seems you have."

"I don't need anyone in my family except my sister. I've never needed any of them, and I've never needed friends. Why should I need them now? I'm not going to change. I'm better off being alone." Somehow he had managed to quote Egypt Central again.

He didn't wait for a reply, just turned and walked out of the room, putting the headphones back over his ears.

He headed straight for the door, kicking it open angrily and stalking outside, scowling at the sunlight.

He started in a random direction when the headphones were pulled off of his head.

He turned, more than ready to lash out at Arden, but blinked when he saw Claire. "Can't you people take a hint? I don't want to talk to you."

"I just wanted to know what you meant back in the classroom," she said simply.

He scowled. "I meant that I don't want, nor do I need anybody."

She snorted. "I know that. What's the hidden meaning?"

His scowl deepened. "There isn't one. I need no one. It's that simple."

She stared at him silently for a long moment, before saying, "You made Arden sad. Maybe you're not friends with him, but I am. I don't like it when Arden's sad."

"Then go crawling back to comfort him," he sneered.

Her eyes flashed angrily. "When Arden was younger, his older brother died. You're not the only one with problems."

"My older brother died when I was young, too. Care to try again?"

"It was Arden's fault."

"It was my fault that my older brother died." Which wasn't a lie – if Jamie had spoken up, Jared would still be with him and their father wouldn't have done all those things. "Give up. That's not even the reason I'm like this. You wouldn't understand."

She was silent again, and he reached for his headphones, but she pulled them away from his outstretched hand. "My mother abused me."

He hoped she was disappointed that he didn't react. "And my father abused me. Give me my headphones and let me leave. I'm usually not low enough to hit a girl, but if you don't piss off, I will hit you."

She smirked, eyes flickering with pain, handing him the headphones. "You're abused and I'm abused, yet you're threatening to hit me." She turned and started away, tossing over her shoulder, "I guess we know what kind of person you are."


Alexandria spun her finger through her hair, smiling at him. "How are you today, Jamie?"

Somehow he had gained a group of fan-girls over the last week. Arden had briefly explained that they liked his badass attitude and charming good looks, before he had turned away, and acted like he hadn't even spoken.

It appeared Jamie's 'badass attitude' had scared him away.

Yet these damn girls kept coming up to him.

"I'm fine. Leave me alone."

When she leaned closer to him, he shoved her away from him, and she stumbled backwards, bumping into one of their classmates, David, who scowled at her darkly.

"Watch it, you moron!" he spat, stalking down the aisle and flopping into his seat with a resigned sigh.

Rumors had been spreading about him. Apparently his parents had disowned him the day after Jamie and Jade had arrived, which explained the mood he always seemed to be in.

"Why'd you push me?" Alexandria cried, looking distressed. "I'm blonde! I heard you liked blondes!"

In the seat to Jamie's left, Arden snorted.

"You could be a brunette and I still would have pushed you. I have no interest in you, or any other girl. Leave me alone."

But this, of course, only made the group of girls squeal in delight.


Jamie sat on the rooftop of the elementary building, strumming his—Jared's—guitar.

He had been getting secret lessons for guitar and singing from Utau for two of the three weeks he had been living at the academy.

He felt a pang in his chest.

Three weeks, and not a single letter had arrived about Jaylen.

Every day he was left to wonder about her.

It wasn't just him, though.

There was some sort of problem with getting the mail, and no one in the academy was getting any.

It was just his luck that this would happen when he arrived.

He took a deep breath, staring at the gray sky, before he glanced behind him to make sure no one was listening, and starting to strum again.

"And if all the flowers faded away
And if all the storm clouds decided to stay
Then you would find me
Each hour the same
She is tomorrow
And I am today

"'Cause if right is leaving
I'd rather be wrong
She is the sunlight
The sun is gone…

"And if loving her is
Is heartache for me
And if holding her means
I have to bleed
Then I am the martyr
Love is to blame
She is the healing
And I am the pain

"She lives in a daydream
Where I don't belong
She is the sunlight
The sun is gone…

"And it will take
This life of regret
For my heart
To learn to forget
Tomorrow will be
As it always has been
And I will fall
To her again
For I know
I've come to close

"Cause if right is leaving
I'd rather be wrong
Cause she is the sunlight
And the sun is gone…

"Ladadadadada
Ladadada
Ladadadadadada
Ladadadadada
Ladadada

"Cause she is the sunlight
And the sun is gone…
"

He scowled when he finished, annoyed because he knew someone was behind him.

"Arden told me you didn't know how to play your guitar," a feminine voice said quietly.

"It's not my guitar," he replied automatically. "It's my brothers guitar. I didn't know how to play when I got here. I do now. What do you want, Claire?"

"The mail finally arrived."

His head jerked up to finally look at her.

Her eyes were carefully blank as she held three letters out to him. "These were for you. I thought it'd be safer if I took them over someone else – they'd peek."

Jamie eyed her, taking them. "You didn't peek at them?"

"No. I figure that it's none of my business."

He looked down at the letters distractedly. All of them were from the same address, and the envelope had a small mark on it from a stamp that signaled it was from an adoption center.

"Though I did look at the envelopes, because I had to know they were yours. Why is an adoption center sending you letters?"

He pretended to not hear her, even though the roof was quiet, so she'd know he had, and ripped into the first letter, pulling out the paper so fast it almost ripped.

It was simple.

Jaylen was fine, there was no need to worry.

She occasionally called for Jamie or Jade, sometimes even for their mother, but was otherwise quiet (with the exception of a soiled diaper or her being hungry).

A couple of people had looked at her with interest, but upon hearing Jamie's demands, had turned away.

In addition to the practically useless information, there was three pictures, which Jamie promptly snatched out of the envelope and stared at obsessively.

He blinked at Claire when he was done scanning them over. "Thanks for bringing me my mail. You can go now."

Claire's eyes narrowed. "That's it?"

Jamie nodded, putting the paper and photos back into the envelope. "I have nothing else to say." He started opening the second letter.

She sighed, and he heard her footsteps leading her away from him as he pulled the next letter from its envelope.


Six months.

It was hard for him to believe he had been at the academy for so long.

He had managed to somehow resist Arden and Claire's attempts at becoming friends.

He had managed to keep his fan-girls at a distance.

He had managed to become very good at his – Jared's, he reminded himself – guitar.

He had managed to complete five missions for the school, getting him ranked up into a special-star, along with Jade, because he refused to have her room away from his.

And now it was hard for him to believe that Jade's memories were resurfacing, all because Arden had said, "Jamie mentioned you guys had an older brother."

Jade blinked, looking confused, and echoed, "Older brother?"

Arden also blinked in confusion. "Yeah – an older brother. That's where his guitar came from, right? You're older brother died…?"

Jade frowned, putting pieces together in her head.

Jamie rushed toward them, snapping, "You don't know what you're talking," at Arden.

Jade's face was blank.

And it remained that way for several seconds, until the horror set in, and she whispered under her breath, "Jared."

Arden looked at Jamie helplessly, not knowing what he had done.

Claire, who had been watching the exchange silently, looked around worriedly.

Jamie waited for the connections to be made.

This had only happened one other time, a few hours after she had repressed the memories, when Jamie, not knowing what exactly had happened to her, had mentioned Jaylen. Jade had screamed in terror and locked herself in the bathroom. The shower had run for two hours before Jade finally emerged, looking happy, having repressed everything again.

And just like the first time, Jade opened her mouth to scream.

But Jamie lunged toward her, pressing his hand tightly over her mouth and shoving her backwards into the wall.

A muffled cry escaped her lips, and she slid to the floor, Jamie still pinning her to the wall.

Behind him he could hear Arden and Claire demanding to know what was going on, but he ignored them, waiting as Jade's sobs stopped, and her face blanked again.

After a moment, he let her go, and she sat up, looking confused. "Why am I on the floor?"

He stood back up, helping her to her feet. "You were talking to these two when you tripped and hit your head. You should probably go sit down for a while."

She nodded blankly. "Sorry for worrying you. I'll go lie down." She frowned, looking slightly embarrassed and still very confused, and walked down the hallway, toward the door.

"What the hell was that?" Arden snapped when she was gone.

Jamie gave him an icy look, and he flinched, sudden courage dissipated. "My life doesn't concern you, and neither does Jade's – never bring up our past with her again." He shoved past them without waiting for a reply, heading for the door.

He heard them whispering behind him, wondering if they should follow him and continue to question him, but when the door shut behind him, he ran towards the special-star rooms, which were their own buildings so the special students could have more privacy. Fortunately, Damien was the only other special-star, so it was usually peaceful.

Jade must have gotten to her room quickly or decided not to lie down, because he never passed her when he got to his room.

At once, he grabbed the mp3 player off of his bedside table, jamming the earbuds in his ears and turning the volume up all the way. Out of natural reaction, he slid under his bed and pushed himself over to the side as far as he could, so he was pressed against the wall tightly.

He cursed the earbuds – which he had gotten when his headphones had broke – for not being louder, because he could hear his fathers screams, his mothers pleas, and Jade's sobs in his mind, and he could feel his own tears forming.

He could remember his father, eyes blazing with fury and pain, lashing out at their mother, screaming that it was her fault something like this would happen, because she let Jared date Melissa.

Melissa wasn't good enough, not for Jared.

Nobody deserved to be with Jared, and even though they had two other kids and a third on the way, they were all worthless unless Jared was there.

It was like something in him had snapped, and he didn't care about his family anymore. He hadn't even acknowledged Jaylen.

He wasn't sure how long he hid under there, probably a couple of hours, before his door opened, and two pairs of feet were in his doorway.

"Somewhere inside this closet
Your whole life exists
An evil secret
That keeps you so nervous

"You're boarding up your windows
In fetal on the floor
But what you're keeping out
Is on the wrong side of the door

"I know the reason you're running scared
I met the monster inside you head
You'll never know the feeling of being alive
It's not enough, it never stops coming
It's not enough, so take a breath say goodbye.
"

The feet moved around his room, searching for something. Him, maybe?

Over the music, he was able to hear Arden's voice. "He has to be in here. He isn't anywhere else."

"He's an idiot," Claire replied.

"He has problems," Arden corrected. "Do you even remember how you were when you came to the academy? You broke my nose because I said I liked your backpack."

"You said you liked my backpack right after you spilled apple juice on it." She paused and laughed lightly. "That was the fourth time that week you had done that."

Jamie pressed himself closer to the wall, if that was even possible. Why were they here? They weren't friends. He needed them to leave before he did something stupid.

"Your skin is crawling on you
There's shadows on the ground
And now the room is spinning
Oh God, what was that sound?

"The fear is paralyzing
Trapped here inside yourself
Your will to live is dying
Is dying, you're dying

"I know the reason you're running scared
I met the monster inside your head
You'll never know the feeling of being yourself
It's not enough, it never stops coming
It's not enough, so take a breath say goodbye.
"

He clutched the wire mesh that held his bed up tightly, breathing heavily but quietly.

They needed to leave.

"Have you found him yet?" Claire asked.

"No. Have you checked in the closet or under his bed?"

"Why would he be—never mind. I'll check the closet and the bed, you check his bathroom." she sighed, "It must be nice to have your own bathroom."

Arden chuckled. "I bet."

"Say goodbye
You're dying now, dying now
."

Get out, get out, get out! They needed to leave.

His fathers face flashed before his eyes.

He gasped for air, and Claire's feet, which had been leading to his closet, paused.

No!

Ice started forming on the floor, up the walls.

Claire made a sound of shock.

The windows shattered from the sudden cold.

Claire yelped, "Arden!"

He let go of the mesh, glancing blankly at his hands. Blood seeped between his fingers, reminding him of when he had ripped Jared's room apart. Had Jared ever come to find them? Had he come too late and seen what Jamie had done to his room? He hoped he had. He hoped Jared felt at least a bit of the pain they had went through when he left.

He curled his legs closer to his body so he was in the fetal position, listening to another thing made of glass burst apart. He pressed his palms against his closed eyes at the noise, remembering when he had accidentally knocked over one of his father's bottles of beer, sending it to the floor, where it shattered apart and alcohol had spread across the floor.

His father had beat him bloody and he had hid under Jared's bed.

"I know the reason you're running scared
I met the monster inside your head
You'll never know the feeling of being alive
It's not enough, it never stops coming
It's not enough, so take a breath say goodbye.
"

His bed levitated into the air and he could feel two pairs of eyes staring at him, but he didn't move out of the position he was in, just breathed hard between clenched teeth.

"What should we do?" one of them asked quietly.

He felt a hand touch his shoulder and jerked back violently.

"Don't touch me," he managed to hiss.

His hands were suddenly pulled away from his eyes, and he blinked them open to glare into Claire's familiar brown eyes.

"You're going to tell us whatever the hell you're problem is now," she demanded.

He yanked away from her. "I don't need to tell you anything!"

"Maybe you don't think you do," Arden started. "But if you don't, Jade could end up getting hurt. We can try to prevent that."

Jamie faltered slightly. He was right. Jade could end up getting hurt, and next time, Jamie might not be there to prevent anything from happening.

He sighed quietly, pretending not to notice the triumphant look on Arden's face. "I'll tell you what happened to Jade – not what happened to me, okay?"

The triumphant look fell slightly, but he grinned anyway. "Okay, sweet. Can you get rid of this ice, though? It's cold in here."

Baby, Jamie scoffed inwardly, but the ice melted into water, which floated in the air in a huge ball for a moment, before being flung out the window.

He glanced up at his still-floating bed and moved away from where it was supposed to be resting, motioning for Claire to set it back down, which she did quickly.

He sighed again. "Where do you want me to start with this?"

Arden plopped himself down on Jamie's bed casually. "How about when you think whatever-Jade's-problem-is started?"

Jamie's lip twitched, and he sat on the floor as Claire sat hesitantly on his bed beside Arden. "It started when my older brother, Jared, died. My father started drinking."

Arden nodded thoughtfully but Claire was silent.

"He got really bad, and after a few months he hit my mom. It progressed to me, then to Jade… after a few months, our mother disappeared, along with her things. She had left us with our dad…" He clenched his fists with fury and took in a deep breath.

"It continued like that for a long time – him drinking and me and Jade avoiding him. He—" Jamie choked on his words momentarily. "He'd bring girls home with him and—" he cut himself off again and cleared his throat awkwardly. "Well, you know. Then after a month or so, he came home without a girl and saw Jade…

"By then, Jade had… um… she had started… developing," he coughed embarrassedly. "She looked a lot like our mom, so when my dad saw her, he thought… that she was Mom…" A note of hysteria made it's way into his voice. "He hit her, over and over and over again, and when I tried to help her, he hit me so hard I couldn't move." A choked noise escaped his throat as he remembered Jade's blue, identical to his own eyes pleading for him to help.

"I couldn't help her. I could just sit there and watched as he—" he couldn't say it. No words escaped his lips.

Then Claire whispered, "He raped her." She was shaking badly, biting her lip.

Arden's hand was clamped over his mouth, his eyes misted over with tears. He and Jade were suspiciously close, so of course he would be very affected by the new information.

Jamie nodded quietly. "She repressed everything. I told the police." He laughed humorlessly. "I like to think that me having to remember everything is my punishment for not helping her."

"You couldn't help her," Claire said quietly. "It's not your fault."

"Don't act like you know everything," Jamie spat. "That was only what she went through – you don't know what I've went through."

Claire stared at him expressionlessly for a moment before looking away.

"You know what you wanted to know – leave me alone now."

Arden opened his mouth to say something, coughed, and bolted out of the room quickly.

Claire looked at him blankly again before following Arden out the door, shutting it quietly behind her.

Jamie sighed, getting up and falling back down onto his bed, throwing his arm over his face tiredly.


The next day, on his way to the classroom, Arden flung his arm casually around Jamie's shoulders. "Good morning, Jamie," he said simply.

Jamie scowled at him. "Don't act all buddy-buddy with me. We're not friends."

Arden clicked his tongue. "Don't pretend we're not anymore. We've been friends since you moved here. Face it."

Jamie sighed, but didn't deny it.

Because as much as he hated to admit it, Arden was right.

Yesterday, he had let his barrier fall.

Today, he had friends.


Arden stood in front of him, arms across his chest defiantly, though the smallest flicker of fear was in his eyes.

"Jamie, I am going to ask Jade to be my girlfriend, even if you kill me in my sleep."

Jamie glanced up from his book uncaringly. "Hurt her and die." Was all he said.

Arden grinned in relief and zoomed across the classroom to Jade, wrapping his arms around her waist, whispering something into her ear.

Jade promptly turned red, grinned, nodded excitedly, and a second later, Arden was spinning her through the air.


His heart pounded violently in his chest.

Jaylen had been adopted.

Someone had finally adopted her, despite all of the conditions he put with her.

There was no name given with the letter, but the fact that someone had adopted her was enough to make him smile goofily.

He grabbed the second letter that had been addressed to him. He had at first ignored it, to busy with the adoption center letter to care, but this would be from who adopted her.

His eyes scanned over it, devouring every word.

Nothing useful. He sighed inwardly.

A husband and wife, no children – until now.

They had been thinking about adopting her for quite awhile.

They accepted the conditions and would send a letter every week and would include pictures as often as they could.

No name signed it.


"Today we'll be making a cake!" the cooking teacher declared loudly. "Everyone, grab a partner and what you'll need and get to work. Recipe is up on the board. Don't"—he glared at the students—"crack eggs over each others heads this time."

The students were instantly darting towards their wanted partners. Friends, buddies, and the few cooking alices were the first to get sought out among the crowd.

Jamie glanced around awkwardly. The only person he would even consider having as a partner was Claire, but she had the cooking alice and would probably have people pleading for her partnership.

She was the only person in his cooking class that he considered himself on relatively good terms with, so he settled on just standing there blankly while he waited for someone else that didn't have a partner to come up to him.

Instead, however, he blinked in surprise when Claire came up to him, head tilted curiously as she asked, "Want to be partners?"

He blinked at her, brain not really comprehending what she had asked. "But everyone wants to be your partner."

"They just want a good grade. Besides, according to Arden, we're friends now, so we mine as well get to know each other, right?"

Damn Arden. For helping with my no partner issue? On second thought, good job, Arden. "I . . . guess so."

Claire nodded and walked off, leaving him there, confused, until she came back with two aprons, and a mixing bowl filled with the ingredients they'd be using. She passed him an apron silently, putting her own on, then started to take the things out of the bowl, organizing them to her liking.

"I'm assuming you've made chocolate cake before?" she asked, looking at him out of the corner of her eye.

He nodded.
"Good," she said, then started telling him what parts of the assignment he'd be doing. He made many mental notes, hoping he'd be able to remember everything, then they both set to work.

"So," Claire started, glancing at him quickly, "what's your favorite color?"

He looked at her stupidly and she shrugged. "We have to start somewhere with this 'friendship.'"

"Beige," he answered, cracking an egg.

"Beige?" She sounded surprised. "That's . . . simple." For lack of a better word.

He nodded and shrugged. "It doesn't hurt to have a little simplicity in my life." Everything else was far too complicated for his liking. "What about you?"

"Purple," she answered quietly. Purple was pretty much the complete opposite of simple beige. "I like it cause it seems unique among the other colors." She sent him an awkward look. "The opposite of your reasoning about beige, I suppose."

He nodded curtly. Wonderful start to this so called friendship.

"Favorite season?"

"Winter." His ice alice made his body temperature lower than most, so he preferred cold over heat.

"Fall," she said, looking faintly relieved that summer wasn't her favorite. "Favorite book?"

"The Perks of Being a Wallflower." If she answered with Twilight, he was going to find a new partner.

Instead, she sent him a rather surprised look. "Mine too." She smiled faintly but turned away so he couldn't see it.

"Really?" he asked, surprised himself. "The way it was written made most of my classmates in my hometown not like it."

"Seriously? I thought it was cool reading a story formatted like that. Have you read Go Ask Alice?"

"The one about the drug addict?"

She looked rather pleased to have found a common interest with him. "Yeah. I think books written like that are amazing. Like letters and diaries. It makes them seem more . . . personal."

"Have you read Thirteen Reasons Why?" he asked, glad that the awkwardness had diminished.

She scoffed like he was an idiot for asking. Maybe he was. "Of course. That was an emotional roller coaster."

He fought back a smile. "Jade cried when I made her read it. Then told me I was a life ruiner."

She nodded, looking amused but still hiding her smile. "What's your favorite band? Or song?" She suddenly looked a lot more interested in him than she had at first. She had made it seem like a chore at first, but now she seemed genuinely interested in knowing him.

"Sooner or Later by Breaking Benjamin is my favorite song right now. I don't think I have a favorite band – too many to choose from. You?"

She still seemed happy, so he assumed he had said something right. "My favorite song is Louder Than Thunder by The Devil Wears Prada. As for band . . . well, it's not really a band, but I've always liked Beethoven."

"Can you play Louder Than Thunder on the piano?" he asked. Claire was practically a prodigy when it came to the piano, and if she liked the song, chances were she would know how to play it.

She continued to hide her smile and he struggled not to ask why. He knew why, it was the same reason he did it; distance. "Yes," she answered. "I'm surprised you know that that song can be played on the piano."

"Well duh."

She started mixing the cake batter and he was surprised they had already gotten that far. He had stopped paying attention to it when the conversation had picked up. "What I mean is that I'm surprised you know the song."

He shrugged. "Favorite food?" he asked, using his finger to scrape loose flour into a small pile on their table.

She tilted her head thoughtfully, her long hair nearly touching the dirty table in the process. "I'm not picky. I could eat sandwiches forever."

He wiped the pile of flour into his hand. "Me too." He flicked the flour at her, but she seemed to have been expecting it, and by simply pointing her finger at it, she sent out a small gust of wind, and the flour flew into his face.

He scowled at her and she didn't bother hiding her smile this time.

"Excuse me," he said sourly and turned to walk towards the classrooms sink.

"That's what happens," Claire said behind him.

He rinsed his face off, dried it, and scowled as he walked back towards Claire, grabbing a fistful of flour out of someone's open bag on his way.

"That was mean," he said to Claire, and, without waiting, pulled the back of her shirt out and dropped the flour down it.

She squealed quietly, whipping around to face him. "You-you just—"

He shrugged and opened his mouth, but at that precise moment, someone else yelled "FOOD FIGHT!" and then him and Claire were both ducking under their table.

Claire pressed herself into the side opposite of his, giving him a nasty look, then a confused one. "You felt the need to save our cake batter?"

"Defense," he said, looking at the bowl. "Also a snack." He dipped his finger into it and licked off the chocolate goo. "Want some?"

She rolled her eyes so he decided she didn't.

"Your loss, not mine." He shrugged and continued to eat their homework. Waste not, want not, and all of that.

Claire was giving him an odd look, as of she hadn't expected him to like raw cake batter. Who the hell doesn't like cake batter?

"What, you don't like cake batter?" he asked, rather annoyed by the look.

She flushed, looking embarrassed at being caught, and she fiddled with the hem of her shirt nervously. "No, it's not that... I just—haven't seen you, um..."

"Do normal people stuff?" he offered.

She winced. "No—I mean—"

"It's okay, Claire," he said, faintly amused. "I'm more than aware that I don't, well, do people things. This is something you'd probably expect to see Arden doing, not me."

She nodded awkwardly.

"Well, when it comes to cake batter, I'm like anyone else."

A bowl of batter splattered beside the table and they both winced before Claire started glaring at him.

"You dropped flour down my shirt," she hissed.

"Oh right."

She glared at him dangerously, probably waiting for some sort of apology or a hint of regret, but he gave none.

So she tipped the cake batter all over the front of his shirt.

He felt his jaw drop. "You just poured batter all over me!" he said incredulously.

"Yep," she agreed, arms crossing her chest defiantly.

The part of him that knew he was insanely popular wanted to say "Do you know who I am?!" and he probably would've said that if he could've managed to stop gaping at her stupidly.

Without another word, she slipped out from under the table and headed towards the classroom door, managing to not get hit by any of the flying ingredients.

As she stepped out, one of the principals stepped in, red in the face. "Stop!" he shouted.

Students were instantly dropping their weapons and looking to the floor in shame.

Jamie rolled his eyes, sliding himself out from under the table. The principal, Mr.

Calen, barely glanced at him.

"Which one of you started this?" he demanded.

Everyone pointed immediately to the person who had first called "FOOD FIGHT!" and the boy cowered under the principals glare.

"Bradley, what do you have to say?" Mr. Calen growled. The look in his eyes implied he was already of thinking of a punishment.

Bradley, a ghostly white color, murmured, "W-well, I saw Jamie and Claire throwing flour at each other and I just…"

The students, principal, and the cringing cooking teacher all looked at him.

"Don't be ridiculous," Jamie said, keeping his gaze steady on Mr. Calen. "How immature."

It wasn't that he particularly wanted to be an asshole. It was that he had a reputation of being someone who didn't care, or play, or have friends. And with Claire, he had let his whole guard slip down and had started acting like who he remembered being before any of this had begun. And that scared him endlessly.

"I see." Mr. Calen looked back to Bradley, who looked mortified. "I saw Ms. Blackwell leaving when I stepped in. She didn't have a spot on her." He turned, saying over his shoulder, "Bradley, clean this room. When you're done, I'd like to see you in my office."

"Don't you think you're being a little harsh?" Jamie asked before he could stop himself.

"Are you saying you did do something, Mr. Swift?"

"I did nothing to encourage a food fight," he said calmly. That was true as far as he was concerned. Bradley didn't need to start something; he had chosen to. Just like Jamie was deciding to save his skinny arse. "But I didn't do anything to stop it either. None of us did. It seems unfair to blame one person when everyone's at fault."

"If you have a problem with my rules," Mr. Calen said slowly, "you can clean too."

Apparently he was the only one to have problems with the rules, because everyone except him and Bradley left.

"You lied," Bradley accused furiously. "I saw you and Claire!"

Jamie sent him a cold glare. "Me and Claire fooling around wouldn't have anything to do with you regardless," he said coolly, starting to pick up scattered utensils. "You had a chance to ignore it, but instead you made a scene. If you had kept quiet, you wouldn't be in this situation." He held up his hand, shaking his head when Bradley looked like he was going to argue. "Look, I'm staying here to help you. So instead of putting yourself on my bad side, just clean before I ditch you to do it yourself."

His jaw clenched but he started to pick up utensils with Jamie.

The teacher put a bucket of water by him, muttering a "thanks for staying to clean" before scurrying out of the room to do who-knows-what.

When she was gone, Jamie turned and turned the tap on full blast, using his water alice to collect it into a huge ball. He swept the water through the class, collecting the dust and batter that had been carelessly tossed around.

"That's convenient," Bradley said sorrowfully, watching the water clean the room effortlessly.

"I suppose," he replied tiredly.

"When I heard there was a food fight, I was expecting a bigger mess than this."

"Go away, Arden."

Arden held his hands up innocently. "I just came to help, yeesh. Doesn't look like you need it though."

"Nope, so you can leave."

Instead, Arden eyed the large, brown stain on the front of his shirt. "Ouch. Who got you so bad?"

"Claire," he answered after a moments pause.

Arden laughed loudly. "And she tells me off when I spill juice on her backpack!" Jamie sent him a warning of a glare and Arden held his hands up again. "Hey, I'm just saying. I think you'll be good friends with her."

"Because she poured cake batter on me?" He raised his eyebrow.

"I became friends with her because I spilled juice on her bag, and look at us now! Friendly friends of friendliness."

"That's a stupid logic to go by."

"Hey, I didn't even get mad at her for having her bag where I was walking."

"How kind of you."

"I know right? It's part of my charm."


Jamie watched his classmates wearily.

A small group had formed, and they were trying to create an explosion. So far, none of their attempts had worked. Most of the class was ignoring them, but a small semi-circle had formed around the group, and were suggesting things.

"Hey," Arden murmured, standing beside him. "Me and Jade are gonna get out of here, you know, just in case they actually figure out how to explode something."

"I doubt they will," he replied dryly. He could've caused three explosions in the time they were trying to make one. He just wasn't as stupid as them.

"Alright, well, safety first."

Jamie sighed. "Yeah, I guess."

"See you later," Arden mumbled, stepping away from him, grabbing Jade's hand, and walking out of the classroom with her.

Jamie leaned back against the wall, closing his eyes and half-listening to his classmates, when his eyes popped open again. Their new plan made sense.

Which would mean they would try it.

Which would mean the classroom would explode.

He jerked and started for the door before pausing. All of his other classmates would get hurt by this because they weren't paying attention to what was happening.

Claire.

He turned around quickly, eyes widening.

She was standing at the other side of the room, a book in her hand, oblivious to what was about to happen.

"All right everybody," one of them said. "Get ready…"

Thinking quick, he lunged at Claire, pushing her tightly against the wall and shielding her body with his own, and forming a water barrier around the two of them.

At the same time, he put up ice walls around the rest of the students; they'd most likely break, but at least they would have a little protection.

"Jamie," Claire squeaked, blushing. "What are you—?"

He clamped his hands over her ears just as there was a loud banging from behind him, and pain erupted in his back and his ears rang.

He heard Claire cry out in shock, along with some of the other students, and as bits of charred wood and broken glass stopped flying against his back, he let the water barrier fall, sliding to the ground in pain.

"Jamie!" Claire yelped, leaning down on her knees. "Are you okay? Why did you do that, you idiot! You didn't need to protect me!"

"Are you okay?" he rasped, ignoring her fretting. "Did anything hit you?"

She looked stunned, and just as she opened her mouth to reply, she was shoved away.

"Jamie!" one of his female classmates was now leaning in front of him. He was pretty sure her name was Samantha, but he couldn't be positive. But he did know she was a fan-girl. "Are you alright? The nurses are already coming! Thank you so much for protecting us," she gushed. "Almost everybody got away with just a few scratches—you came out the worst of the injuries."

"Everyone's alright?"

She nodded frantically.

"What about Claire?"

She tossed an annoyed look at where Claire was. "Yes, yes, she's fine. Perfect—not one injury. You saved her," she said bitterly.

He ignored her annoyance. "You shouldn't have pushed her away from me," he grumbled, sitting up straight.

Samantha paled. "Oh my God, Jamie, your back! It's… it's shredded!" Before he could respond, she whipped around to Claire. "You! This is all your fault! Just look what you've done to Jamie's back!"

When Claire didn't move, Sam pushed her forward and Claire winced when she saw his back.

When tears started filling her eyes, Jamie glared at Sam. "Claire didn't do anything! I chose to protect her and I knew what would happen and I'd go through it all again if it meant she came out injury free!"

Sam turned away as the nurses arrived, and Claire sat beside him, biting her lip. "Jamie, you shouldn't have done that for me," she whispered.

"Is my back really that bad?" he asked dazedly.

She gnawed on her lower lip. "It's pretty bad."

He looked up as a nurse approached.

"Oh, Jamie," the nurse sighed. "What have you done now?"

He sniffed, insulted. "I just protected Claire," he told her. "And the rest of the class…" He glanced away from her awkwardly.

Charlotte was his personal nurse that took care of him after missions, so they knew each other pretty well.

"You're very stupid," she scolded, pulling him to his feet. She gazed behind him. "And that's your Claire, I suppose? Well, if she isn't horribly hurt, then she can help me get you to my office."

He didn't correct her "your Claire" because Clare hadn't seemed to notice it and he didn't want to draw attention to it.

Claire got to her feet immediately.

"I can walk myself," Jamie excused, but they both ignored him.

Charlotte started asking questions about what had happened, and Jamie answered them as they left the classroom.

About halfway to her office, he felt a wave of nausea. "I don't feel good," he moaned in hopes they would stop.

"Of course you don't," Charlotte snapped. "You've went and used up all your energy and strength protecting everyone."

He slumped down, eyes closing as sleepiness washed over him.

"Jamie?" Claire squeaked, sounding terrified.

"Relax, dear," Charlotte soothed. "He's just overworked. We'll just get him to my office and we'll heal him right up!"

He tried to open his eyes, his mouth, anything to reassure Claire he was indeed fine, but his body wouldn't cooperate with him.

"So," Charlotte started, "You must be pretty special if Jamie took all of that damage for you."

"N-no, I'm no one important. I was probably just the first he could reach or something…"

"No, no, no," Charlotte snapped. "He wouldn't take this injury for just anyone. Are you his girlfriend? He hasn't mentioned one to me, but…"

"No! We're… we're not even really friends."

"Nonsense," she continued, completely ignoring her. "Didn't you see that way he was looking at you in the classroom? He's completely head-over-heels for you!"

He heard a door open.

"Jamie doesn't care about me," Claire denied again.

"Okay, just help me set him down here…" Charlotte murmured, and he felt his body tilt onto a small cot. "You can keep on denying it, girly, but that won't change what happened. What do you think of him?"

"Huh?"

"What do you think of Jamie? Do you like him?"

"What?" Claire spit out in a high-pitched voice. "Me like him?"

"Yes, that's what I said."

"N-no! I mean, he's a good person, and I guess maybe a friend, so I like him like that, but—he's not—we're not—I don't…" Claire broke off into sputtering nonsense and Charlotte laughed.

"Oh my, you do like him!"

"What? No-no-no, I just—"

"Don't even try, deary," Charlotte crowed.

"But I—"

"Will be quiet now?" Charlotte offered. "That would be lovely. Do you want to stay here with him? I have to head back to take care of some others."

Claire hesitated. "I… I guess. I never got to thank him properly. Will he be okay? I mean, his back…"

"He'll be fine," Charlotte reassured. "When I get back, I'll fix him up. For now, he used up all of his energy using his alices like that, and should rest."

"Alright," Claire whispered. "What should I do if he wakes up?"

"There's some painkillers over on the desk over there. Just give him two." A door shut and he heard Claire sigh, then a chair squeak.

"Idiot," Claire muttered, and he felt her grab his hand.

If he could control any of himself, he would've grinned.


Her fingers glided across the piano keys gracefully.

"I open my eyes
I try to see but I'm blinded by the white light
I can't remember how
I can't remember why
I'm lying here tonight…
"

He bit his lip at her voice, hating how much pain it held.

"And I can't stand the pain
And I can't make it go away
No, I can't stand the pain…
"

Beside him, Jade shifted, looking melancholy.

It pained him to know it was partially his fault the two girls were hurting.

"How could this happen to me?
I've made my mistakes
I've got no where to run
The night goes on
As I'm fading away
I'm sick of this life
I just wanna scream
How could this happen to me?
"

For a second, her eyes flicked away from the keys and connected with his own.

Helplessness, anguish, fear.

He blinked, surprised at the emotions she never showed.

Until now.

Her eyes went back to the piano.

"Everybody's screaming
I try to make a sound but no one hears me
I'm slipping off the edge
I'm hanging by a thread
I wanna start this over again…
"

Why now, though? He wondered, eyes following her fingers every move. Why not when she had arrived? Why wait to show emotions?

Of course, he could have asked himself the same thing.

"So I try to hold onto a time when nothing mattered
And I can't explain what happened
And I can't erase the things that I've done
No, I can't…
"

Her hand flicked a strand of brunette hair behind her ear, before flying back down to hit the keys in time.

"How could this happen to me?
I've made my mistakes
I've got no where to run
The night goes on
As I'm fading away
I'm sick of this life
I just wanna scream
How could this happen to me?

"I've made my mistakes
I've got no where to run
The night goes on
As I'm fading away
I'm sick of this life
I just wanna scream
How could this happen to me?
"

There was a long silence before Jamie finally cleared his throat. "Simple Plan's a little… fifth grade, don't you think?" he asked lightly.

"No. They're one of the few bands that actually sing about what matters."

He bit his lip again. "I know."

Her brown eyes pierced him. "Do you?"

Oh God, had he been this intimidating to Arden and Claire?

"Um… yeah…" He paused and she didn't say anything, so he continued, "Why are you… talking?"

She raised an eyebrow. "Because I am capable of it."

"Err… right. But you've never talked to me before."

"You started this conversation."

This was incredibly awkward.

"Yeah, but I've tried lots of times to talk to you – but you've only replied this time."

She shrugged. "Do I require a reason?"

"…No. I guess not." But it's weird that you ignored me for five months, then started to talk to me… I guess. "You have an amazing voice."

She nodded slowly, uncaringly.

Jade tugged on his shirt. "I need to get ready for my date with Arden."

He blinked. "Right I forgot about that…" He glanced once more at the girl. "I'll talk to you later… Mikan."


"We should hang out later."

Mikan glanced at him distastefully. "No we shouldn't."

His lip twitched in amusement. He could ask any other girl to hang out, and they'd jump at the chance, and Mikan had just turned him down, flat-out. Well, maybe Claire would too, but that wasn't really the point.

"We should," he said again.

"We shouldn't."

"C'mon," he whined. "We're friends now, right? So you have to hang out with me. Broaden your horizons or whatever. Make friends!"

She narrowed her eyes at him.

He wiggled his fingers at her. "You know you want to. Besides, Arden and Claire like making new friends, and they love music, too. You'd get along with them… and Mitsuki, too. But she's sick today…"

She rolled her eyes. "Um, no. Thanks anyway."

"Um, yes. You're welcome anyway," he mocked, draping an arm across her shoulders.

The first time he had done that, she had jerked away violently, but now she didn't notice any more.

She scowled at him darkly.

"I'll take that as agreement!" he chirped. "Come on, I know where they are."

He pulled her along with him to the special-star dorms. Because of its lack of people, it was usually a good place to hang around.

Jade grinned when they approached.

Arden and Claire both looked at the arm that was slung around Mikan's shoulders, Arden smirking slyly and Claire frowning slightly.

"Well, well, well," Arden drawled. "Did you make a friend, Jamie?" He put meaningful emphasis on the word friend, but Jamie ignored it.

"Yes. Aren't you proud of me? Going out and making friends instead of slapping people when they try to get close to me?"

Arden scowled, clearly remembering when Jamie had literally slapped him – not hard – in attempt to get Arden away from him. "Quiet you." He grinned at Mikan. "I didn't know you two were friends."

Mikan shifted slightly. "Um… we haven't been friends for a long time…"

Jamie nodded. "Couple of weeks. We found out that our sarcasm and meanness connect well."

Arden smiled wider and shook his head. "You aren't mean, Jamie. And I doubt Mikan is either."

"Well, our sarcasm and humor at least. Very similar. Suspiciously similar. We were made to be best friends, I swear."

Arden eyed Jamie's arm again. "Friends, huh? That's a little couple-y for 'friends'."

Jamie rolled his eyes. "It's an arm, Arden."

He nodded. "An arm across her shoulders. Do you know what that means?"

"…It means I put my arm over her shoulders."

Arden wriggled his eyebrows suggestively and Claire pushed him over.

"They said that they're friends, doofus! Let it go."

Arden smirked at her. "Are you jealous because you missed your chance, Claire? I told you to snap him up before some other lovely lady came along."

She pushed him again, blushing.

Mikan looked amused, but Jamie rolled his eyes.

"You guys are such weirdo's."


He leaned back against Mikan's bed, twisting the cold metal between his fingers carefully, waiting.

He probably wasn't supposed to be in Mikan's room while she wasn't there, but he couldn't care less at the moment.

Snooping through her stuff was also something he probably shouldn't have done.

But he couldn't care less.

His eyes flickered up and away from what he was holding as her door opened and she stepped in, freezing at the sight of him.

"Jamie, what are you doing here?" she snapped, looking slightly nervous.

"Am I not allowed in here?" he asked, noticing how harsh his voice came out. He was mad at her, mad at himself for not noticing, mad at Kuonji for doing this to her.

But most of all, he was scared.

"What do you want?" she muttered, stepping into the room. Her eyes landed on his hand, which had curled into a fist around the item. "What are you holding?"

He narrowed his eyes at her. "Funny," he hissed, "I was going to ask you the same thing." He opened his hand, revealing a small razor blade.

She paled slightly, which didn't go unnoticed by him. "It's a blade."

He sat up straight and she hovered anxiously by her door, closing it softly. "Why do you have it, Mikan?"

She shrugged, apparently not knowing how to answer the question.

He got to his feet and stalked over to stand in front of her.

She stepped away from him slightly, moving towards her bed.

"Pull up your sleeves, Mikan," he said, taking a step closer to her, arms folded across his chest.

She backed away from him another step, arms folding behind her back protectively. "I have no reason to. Get out of here, Jamie."

"No," he snapped defiantly. He lurched forward, grabbing her arms and pushing her back against her bed.

She let out a cry of shock and fear, struggling violently against him as he pinned her down, reaching over her awkwardly to pull her sleeve up. A wave of despair swept through him at the sight, and he let go of her, standing up again, staring at her.

She tugged her sleeve back down, sniffing and trembling with fear.

Right.

Her fear of being touched.

He had probably almost given her a heart attack.

"Are you happy now?" she spat, moving back to lean against her wall, quivering.

"No." Not at all.

She glared at him pathetically. "Just… just get out, Jamie."

"No." He stepped back toward her, plopping next to her on her bed. She scooted away from him slightly, and he stared at the ceiling thoughtfully. "Here, give me your arm," he commanded, reaching his hand out expectantly.

She glared at him, mentally debating whether or not she should, before obediently pushing her arm in front of him.

He pushed the blade in his pocket, taking out a pen in replacement, and scribbling quickly on her arm, before capping the pen and putting it back in his pocket, next to the razor.

She retracted her arm, frowning at it. "It's… your face… your face is on my arm."

He nodded. "Now if you cut yourself, you're also cutting me."

"That doesn't make sense."

"Sure it does. It's like the butterfly project – you draw a butterfly on you so you don't cut, and if you do, you're killing it. If you don't, and the butterfly fades, it lived and flew away."

"So your face is going to fly away?" she asked dryly.

"Now that doesn't make sense. Don't worry," he waved off. "I have a plan. Meet me at Central Town tomorrow, okay?"


"Good, you came," Jamie greeted, pulling Mikan over to him and starting to walk with her in tow.

"I told you I would," she mumbled.

"Right. What's your favorite animal?"

She blinked. "What?"

"What is your favorite animal? Real or mythical."

She stared at him, dumbfounded, before finally answering, "Um. Dragons, I guess."

"Okay, cool. Dragons are pretty awesome," he replied, weaving through people absentmindedly.

"Yeah. Where are you taking me?"

"You'll see," he murmured, steering her to the left slightly. "We're almost there." After a few silent minutes, he stopped abruptly in front of a building.

Mikan bumped into him, then glanced at the building, eyes widening. "You want me to get a tattoo?"

He nodded, pulling her into the parlor. "A dragon one. You like dragons – they're your favorite. And it's not just any tattoo – it's an alice tattoo. Do you know what they are?"

She shook her head blankly.

"Well, alice tattoos are… tattoos that can come alive, as it may." At her curious look, he continued. "They can move, feel—it's like they're alive. Thus, if you cut again, you're hurting yourself, me, and your soon-to-be pet dragon. See?"

She stared ahead blankly for a long moment. "Okay." She turned to him. "And what are you getting?"

He blinked. "Wait, what?"

"If I'm getting something, you are too."

"Um… how about when I'm eighteen?" he offered.

She glared at him. "Fine. But I'm holding you to it. And I get to pick what you get…" He opened his mouth to protest, but she quickly cut him off. "I know! You can get a tattoo of your choice, and snakebites!"

He stared at her, wide-eyed. "Both?!"

She nodded.

"That's not fair!"

"You're waiting until you're eighteen – it's completely fair."

"But—but I…!"

"You will get them," she finished for him. "Alright then, let's get me a dragon tattoo!"

"This is unfair!"

"Too bad."

"But—"

"It's either both of those, or a huge butterfly tattoo across your chest. Your choice."

He shut up.


She woke up with a start.

"You were screaming in your sleep," Jamie whispered. Again.

She glanced around as if confused – she probably was, given that he had snuck into her room in the middle of the night.

She blinked twice. "Sorry for disturbing you."

"I wasn't asleep anyway," he brushed off. She said nothing, just sniffed. "Are you going to tell me what happened now?"

"I should, shouldn't I?" she choked. "But I can't find words to ever explain what I went through. There isn't any words that can describe the horror."

A chill ran down his spine. Even he had found words to describe what happened to him. What else had happened to her, besides rape?

She stared at the floor for a long moment. "I can show you."

That sounded a little creepy.

"What do you mean?"

"Time traveling alice…" she whispered.

He swallowed hard. If he agreed to this, he'd see her get raped. He didn't want that. He doubted he could handle it.

But if he said no, he would lose his chance, and maybe Mikan's friendship.

And he knew he couldn't live without her.

"Okay," he choked.


"That's what happened to you?" The words burst out of his mouth before he could stop them.

"Yes." She glanced at him, then snapped, "Don't look at me like that! It's pity that got me here in the first place!"

He looked away from her. "Your past is worse than mine." Or maybe equally bad.

"What happened to you and Jade anyway?"

He frowned darkly. "I think we've had enough tragedy for one night."

"But you will tell me one day, right?" she asked. "I told… er, showed you mine."

He nodded dumbly. "But not tonight. When I'm ready, I'll tell you."

She nodded slowly. "I'm almost convinced that I'm dreaming, and that I'll wake up, and you won't know a thing…"

He pinched her arm automatically, and she squeaked in protest.

"No, you and me are both awake." But he wished this was a dream.

"Gee, thank you so much."

"You're welcome."

"I hate you."

"Love you too. Now… what?"

She shrugged.

"Well," he continued. "I don't feel safe with you sleeping by yourself." And he didn't.

At all.

"I haven't felt safe for a year and a half. Period."

He bit his lip nervously. "I'm spending the night with you. Is that okay?"

"Try anything and die."

His lip twitched slightly. "I wasn't planning on it. But now that you mention it…" he trailed off suggestively.

"Please stay with me," she whispered, looking down. "I don't think I can handle being alone anymore…"

"You got it." He glanced around. "Where can I sleep?"

"On the floor."

Seriously? The floor? She couldn't do any better than that? "…Is that all you've got?"

"No, I have this bed." What was she suggesting here? "But it's mine."

Oh.

"Well, move over. Like hell I'm sleeping on the floor," he grumbled.

She moved over slightly, and he crawled under the blanket with her, giving her a reassuring look.

"What, no glow-in-the-dark T-rex toys?" he joked lightly.

"You're so immature. Lay off the internet for awhile."

He had been on it a lot lately… "'Kay."

There was a moment of silence.

"…What happens if I scream in your ear in the middle of the night?"

"I'll scream back."

"Seriously."

"I'll wake you up, then scream back."

"Better." Not really. "But not exactly what I was looking for."

"I'll comfort you," he sighed. "Better?"

"Very…" she trailed off uncertainly.

"What?"

"I wish we could leave," she whispered. "Just run away from all of our troubles, forget all of the bad things… be free."

A small smile spread across his face, and she blinked in surprise, having never seen him smile before. "One day," he started quietly. "I'll take you away from here. Away from all of the troubles that we've both faced." He looked at her, heart pounding. "I'll take you away from everything, and we can be happy together."

She smiled widely, and it was his turn to blink in shock. "I'm glad you're here with me… remember that even though I'm a jerk, I do love you."

The words made his head spin.

I do love you.

He knew she didn't mean it in that way, but he couldn't even remember the last time someone had said the words to him.

He bit his lip hard, realizing something.

He loved her too.


"Jamie, Claire and I would like to express our concern for you," Arden started, flopping onto Jamie's bed lazily.

Claire rolled her eyes, muttering, "You always drag me into things."

Jamie fell onto his couch. "Okay, what now?" he asked, folding his arms over his face tiredly.

"Why did you have a razor blade in your trash?" Arden asked quietly.

He felt his shoulders tense, but he coolly retorted, "Why did you search through my trash?"

He shrugged.

Right.

He was Arden.

This was normal behavior.

"Why does it matter? It's just a blade."

He shifted uncomfortably. "Well… why did you have it?"

So now he had a choice:

Tell them that he took it from Mikan, and have them worry about her, and invade her privacy.

Or have them think he was hurting himself.

"…Why didn't you have it?" he responded stupidly.

"Jamie, I'm serious."

"Yeah, I am too. Why the hell were you going through my trash?"

"Jamie," Arden sighed exasperatedly. "Just answer the question."

He removed his arm from his face, sitting up and blinking at Arden. "Why does it matter?"

"Tell me."

Jamie opened his mouth, ready to let out some stupid story that made absolutely no sense, but his door burst open. "Jamie!" A singsong-y voice called.

He turned towards Mikan, masking his irritation. "Don't you know how to knock?"

She shook her head, smiling, and tackled him into an affectionate hug.

He blinked. "Um…?" he murmured questioningly, wrapping his arms around her.

"I just wanted to thank you," she explained, letting go of him. "For…" She glanced at Arden and Claire. "You know. Everything."

He nodded. "It's no problem. Happy to have helped."

"Just remember that when you turn eighteen—"

"Don't remind me," he groaned.

She laughed lightly. "It won't be that bad! You'll look totally awesome. Besides, it'll fit your badass image, right?"

"Just shut up."

Arden cleared his throat. "Sorry, Mikan, but I am trying to deal with Jamie right now, so if you could…" he trailed off awkwardly.

She raised a curious eyebrow. "Oh, and what did Jamie do this time?"

"Nothing," he answered quickly. "Just leave, Mikan." He had a feeling she wouldn't want them to know about her problem, and if she stayed, she would defend him.

"Uh, no," she replied, looking at Arden. "What's happening?"

He lifted up Mikan's old blade, and Mikan visibly paled. "I found this in his trash."

Recovering, Mikan quickly grabbed it out of Arden's hand, examining it, then turned to Jamie, raising her eyebrows. "Isn't this mine?"

Arden's eyes widened and understanding passed through Claire's face.

"Yes," he answered simply. "I was wondering if you noticed."

She scowled at him, throwing the blade across the room, where it landed in his trash again. "You're lucky you convinced me to stop before you took it, otherwise I would have stabbed you."

He grinned. "But you wouldn't have had it to stab me with."

"Be quiet," she snapped. She turned to Arden. "It was mine – don't concern yourself about Jamie."

Arden floundered for words helplessly. "Oh—um—I wasn't—uh…"

Claire slapped her hand across his mouth, effectively shutting him up. "We'll go now."

Arden nodded, Claire's hand still over his mouth, and they left the room, leaving Mikan to sit next to him.

"Let's watch a movie."


"Yuuki and Kaori," Mikan introduced, pointing to the two small cribs beside her bed.

Jamie blinked, peering into them. "Damn they are cute."

Mikan nodded. "I know. It's crazy."

They aren't as cute as Jaylen, he decided. "Are they going to live in here? Cause if they are, we'll have to find a different place to hang out."

Mikan shook her head. "Only for awhile. Then Kuonji's going to be getting some of the doctors to take care of them. Then they'll go to the small nursery."

Jamie blinked. "Nursery?"

"All of the academies have them," she told him. "But they aren't exactly a big hangout place. It's tucked away in the main building, usually. Of course, I'll be raising them. But I can't have them here. You know what people would say…"

He nodded. "Like there isn't enough rumors already."

"Exactly."


"Sixx:A.M.."

"One Direction."

"Sixx:A.M.."

"One Direction."

"Sixx:A.M.!"

"One Direction!"

"SIXX:A.M.!"

"ONE DIRECTION!"

Mikan glanced at Jamie. "What are they doing?"

He looked at Arden and Jade, who were having their weekly 'which band is better?' argument. "Fighting over which band is better."

Mikan blinked. "Sixx:A.M., obviously. How can you even begin to compare them?"

Jade whipped around to glare at her. "ONE DIRECTION, ONE DIRECTION, ONE DIRECTION!"

Jamie rolled his eyes. "Can't you just agree to disagree?"

"No!" Arden and Jade shouted at the same time.

Mitsuki sighed. "I'm going to go steal some of your food, Mikan."

Mikan nodded, motioning to the small kitchen in her huge room.

Jamie stared at the kitchen momentarily. "Spoiled brat. Why don't I get my own kitchen?"

Mikan ignored him.

Damien, who had decided he was going to hang out with them randomly one day, followed Mitsuki into Mikan's kitchen.

Mikan watched him with narrowed eyes. "I'm just going to pretend he doesn't have an obvious crush on Mitsuki."

"What happened to that other girl? Ann, or whatever?"

Mikan shrugged. "Just another flavor of the week, I suppose."

"They never actually got together, though."

Another shrug.

"That reminds me," Claire suddenly said, blinking. "Some guy in the grade above us asked me out earlier."

Arden and Jade stopped fighting, looking over at her.

An unexpected wave of anger swept over him and red blurred his vision. He clenched his fists.

Mikan leaned forward, casting a small glance at him, then looking at Claire. "Who?"

Claire shrugged. "I don't actually know his name. It was really embarrassing."

"You said no then?" Jade asked.

"Of course I said no." Claire scowled. "I wouldn't agree to go on a date with someone if I didn't know their name."

"You wouldn't say yes anyway," Arden pointed out. "I mean, what with your huge crush on Jamie and all. Not to mention his huge crush on you. Did you see his face when you said that? Mortification."

"Shut up!" Claire snapped at the same time he spat, "You're being ridiculous!"

Arden smirked. "You're kidding me, right? It's so obvious it's disgusting. I mean, Jamie, grow some balls and ask her out already. I asked Jade out."

"I don't want to ask Claire out," he said stiffly.

"Then ask Mikan out."

Jamie blinked. "Excuse me?"

"Well, it's one of the two of them, isn't it?"

Claire's ever-confident expression faltered slightly, and she looked at him.

Mikan laughed. "Me and Jamie? Come on, like that would happen."

Arden looked at him. "Jamie?"

He raised an eyebrow. "Me and Mikan? No. I mean, we're close – really close, and I love her a lot… but it's a brotherly love. Me and her would be like… incestuous. Besides," he added, grinning. "I think Mikan has another guy occupying her thoughts."

Mikan turned red.

Jamie clicked his tongue. "Bingo! Yup, she's still into that guy from Japan. I'm not going to waste my time lusting over someone who wants someone else."

"So if there wasn't another guy…?"

He shrugged. "It'd still feel wrong. Mikan's a lot of things to me, but a love interest is not one of them."

"You've never even considered it?" Arden frowned.

"Well, of course I've thought about it," he scoffed. "It's hard not to when there's rumors about us sleeping together."

"That's not exactly an untrue rumor," Mikan pointed out and everyone looked at her with shocked eyes. "What? We sleep together nearly every night. Sleep together. You know, in the same room, we sleep. You pervert's."

Jamie laughed. "It's true. You can tell by their facial expressions. You pervert's," he scolded.

Jade scowled. "You two sleep in the same room? Since when?"

Mikan shrugged. "Since forever. This started like, a year ago."

Claire glared at him and Arden burst out laughing. "Oh man, no wonder rumors spread about you two!"

Mikan shrugged. "It's worth it."

Arden gave them a suggestive look.

"Not like that, pervert," she added. "When Jamie's there, the nightmares go away."

"Mine too," Jamie piped in. "It's a lot easier to sleep when someone's near you."

Arden clutched at his chest as though heartbroken. "You could've asked me to sleep with you, Jamie!" He grinned, winking. "I would've."

Everyone stared at him before bursting into laughter.


"I think… I'm ready."

Mikan looked at him curiously. "Ready…? To admit you like Claire?"

He scowled. "No. I mean my past. I'm ready to share it."

She jumped to her feet excitedly. "Really? Finally!" She pushed him over to her bed, where he flopped ungracefully onto it, and Mikan sat beside him.

He looked around awkwardly. More than anything, he wanted to tell her everything that had happened. Even how Jared had faked his death.

But instead, he told the same version he had told Arden and Claire.

No mention of a fake-death, no mention of Jaylen.

When he finished, he waited patiently for her to think it over.

"But… Jade's so happy-go-lucky…" she murmured.

Oh right, repression. "Jade repressed her memories," he explained. "Sometimes if someone says a certain word, it triggers her memory, but soon after she forgets again. But when she does remember… it's pretty bad."

"So what words should I avoid?"

"…Dad, Mom, parents, rape, abuse… those kind of things."

She nodded. "No problem there, those are painful words for me too."

He nodded as well. "You can't tell anyone. The only people that know are Arden and Claire because they've seen her break down." And they forced it out of me.

She was silent.

"I'll let you mull this over for awhile." He headed for her door, turning back to see if she'd reply.

She blinked up at him. "Jamie, I'm sorry that happened to you."

"No pity, Mikan. "That's your rule."

She looked down, cursing quietly. "But thank you," she added, looking back up. "For sharing, I mean. It takes a lot of guts to do it, and I'm really happy you did." She smiled hugely and he blushed awkwardly. Stop blushing, he scolded himself inwardly. That silly crush on Mikan is gone. It was barely even there, so stop it.

"W-whatever," he scoffed. "Go so sleep, idiot." He shut her door quickly and went to his room.

He grabbed his mp3 player and hid under his bed, hating the coward he had become.


"I'm worried about Jade."

Jamie blinked. "Why?"

Mikan crossed her arms, glancing around. "The last time I saw her was in Utau-sensei's class. Remember, she said she was going to tie Jade to train tracks… and then she threw a rubber duck at her when she laughed?"

Oh right. That had been an interesting class indeed.

"Yeah, so? There isn't any train tracks anywhere."

"This is Utau we're talking about. She's an exception to the rules."

Jamie shrugged. "You want to go look for her?"

Mikan nodded.

Jamie sighed. "Alright, let's go."

Two hours later, they both collapsed in laughter when they found Jade tied to handmade train-tracks in the forest.


If there was a book called How to Stop a Wailing Girl, Jamie would buy it.

Mikan was in front of him, shrieking her head off, and he could only sit there and hold her, trying to make out her words between sobs, hiccups and howls of anguish.

"It'll be okay," he whispered comfortingly, arms wrapped around her protectively. He was quite aware that Kaori's name had been the word to pop up more than any other, so he could only assume the worst—that Kuonji had gotten her.

If that was the case, then nothing would be okay, despite his words.

Not that anything was ever okay in his life.

Or Mikan's for that matter.

He ran his fingers through her hair nervously. He was not allowed to think things like that. He had told himself a long time ago that he was going to try and let go of the past and keep moving forward.

Yet his memories and dark thoughts always resurfaced.

Mikan's cries cut down to small whimpers of fear and pain. "Jamie," she hiccupped. "She's g-gone…"

He bit his lip hard, tightening his hold on her intensely. "Who's gone, Mikan? Kaori?"

She nodded frantically against his chest, sniffling pathetically. "He k-k-k—" she broke off into sobs, pressing herself into his body.

He stared up at the light bulb on the ceiling, breathing deeply. When you stared at a light bulb it was supposed to help you not cry, right? Or was that sneeze…?

Deciding that those thoughts were completely inappropriate in the situation, he turned his gaze back to Mikan, who was trembling violently against his body. "We'll get through this, Mikan. I promise."

She remained still besides for the trembling, and he looked back up at the ceiling, eyes carefully avoiding the light bulb, lest he get distracted again.

Kaori was dead.

A beautiful, intelligent, brilliant six month old baby, gone. Just like that.

He sucked in a deep breath and let it out slowly.

He hated to admit it, but Kaori and Yuuki were one of the biggest highlights in his life. And now on of them was gone.

Just like that.

He practically considered them his own.

It was like abandoning Jaylen all over again.

His chest ached at the loss, but he continued to look up, refusing to let tears fall.

Not in front of Mikan.

Not while she was in this state.

It would only panic her more, and that was the exact opposite of what needed doing.

"It'll be okay," he murmured again, bowing his head into her hair. He pulled her closer to him, and she curled up on his lap, arms around his waist tightly and head buried in the crook of his neck. "You'll be okay, Mikan."

He kept one arm locked around her waist, using his other hand to run his fingers through Mikan's hair calmingly.

She made a choked sobbing noise. "I sh-should h-have hel-lped h-her…"

"Just explain to me what happened," he whispered, pressing his lips against the top of her head.

She sniffed loudly, choked another sob out, and finally started. "K-Kuonji came and told me th-that if I didn't do what he said, this time I'd regret-t it." She sniffed again, breathing hard to try and calm herself slightly so she could talk properly. "I thought that it would just be like usual… hitting, yelling, things like th-that… but he took me to a r-room and Kaori was—she—" she coughed violently, blood flying out of her mouth in the process, and he stroked her back lightly.

"He had her tied up-p. I tried to go and help her, but he p-pulled me back and…" She paused to cough again. "He had people with h-him, and they tied me up and held me back. I tried to yell for y-you, but they gag-ged m-me." He squeezed her again lightly when she started to stutter harder, and she breathed hard a few times. "He told me that he was going to kill her," suddenly her voice was blank, "If I didn't do as he said, he would kill her. And I let him…" Her grip tightened on the back of his shirt. "Oh God, I let him!"

She broke again and wail after wail started ripping out of her throat once more.

When they lowered back into whimpers, he pulled her tighter against him. "This—Everything will be okay, Mikan. I'm here for you."

She continued to use his shoulder as a tissue.

"Everything always works out in the end for those who deserve it," he murmured into her own shoulder. "Life's going to be perfect for you one day—nothing will ever be wrong again. And I'll be there with you every step of the way, okay?"

She whimpered lightly and he took that as an agreement.

He opened his mouth to say something more, but his door opened, revealing Arden, Claire, Mitsuki, Damien and Jade.

Jade and Mitsuki both blinked in surprise at the sight of Mikan on top of Jamie; Claire flinched and glanced around awkwardly; Damien cocked his head, smirking.

Arden raised a questioning eyebrow. "Uh, should we come back when you two aren't being so… intimate?"

Mikan promptly burst into another fit of sobs and Arden flinched, eyes widening.

"I-I just…" Arden's voice trailed off into mumbles that Jamie couldn't make out.

Mitsuki bolted forward, wrapping her arms around Mikan. "What happened, Mikan-chan?"

Mikan didn't move out of his grip at all, instead leaning further into him.

"Can you guys come back later?" Jamie asked quietly.

Arden nodded quickly, apparently not liking the idea of Mikan crying, and backed out of the room, tugging Jade with him; Damien grabbed Mitsuki's hand and pulled her away from Mikan, guiding her out; Claire slipped an envelope onto his bedside table, nodded at him silently, glanced worriedly at Mikan, then followed them out.

So they had come to drop off Jamie's mail and walked in on Jamie and Mikan entangled with each other.

He could see how that would be awkward and shocking.

He blinked, realizing Mikan had stopped crying, and glanced down at her.

He let out a small laugh.

She had fallen asleep.


"Jamie…?"

He opened his eyes, looking up into Claire's face. "Hey."

She sat beside him, looking around, looking slightly confused. "Why on earth are you sitting way out here?"

He looked around him tiredly. He had skipped most of his classes today, escaping out behind one of the small forests in the school grounds, onto a small hill that was usually empty. "It's Valentines day," he said simply. "I came out here to get away from the crazy girls." He smiled, raising an eyebrow at her. "Looks like one found me anyway."

She sent him a mock-angry glare, but was smiling. "You know, lots of girls are claiming to have gotten chocolate from you."

He rolled his eyes. "I gave chocolate to Jade, Mikan and Mitsuki." He paused. "And then Arden and Damien because they were staring at me."

She laughed slightly, leaning back beside him on the hill.

"Did anyone give you chocolate?" he asked curiously.

Her smile faltered slightly as she shook her head. " I got some flowers, though. You know, the ones that get delivered anonymously."

He nodded, reaching into his pocket and taking out a small container. "Here," he said, holding it out to her.

She blinked twice. "Almond Roca?"

"I know you love it, Claire," he muttered, rolling his eyes. "And I don't blame you. It's good stuff."

She took it from him hesitantly. "Thanks."

He shrugged. "It isn't any trouble. Where are the flowers you got?"

She reached into her backpack, which had been tucked beside her, and produced a small bouquet and a single white rose. "Someone sent me a bouquet with random flowers," she said, sounding puzzled. "Someone else sent me a rose."

He smiled slightly. "Do you know what any of these flowers mean?"

She frowned, blinking. "Mean?"

He nodded, taking the bouquet. "Amaranth," he started, pointing to a simple purple flower, "Means immortal love."

He grinned when she blushed, then pointed to the next flower. "Arbutus means 'You're the only one I love.'"

She flushed deeper.

"Morning glory means love in vain." He paused, moving his finger along. "Moonflower means dreaming of love."

Claire stared at the flowers with a renewed interest. Before, she probably hadn't thought they had any meaning. Just a bunch of flowers. "Primrose means eternal love. Red roses, naturally, mean true love. Purple roses mean love at first sight. Daisies mean innocence, loyal love, purity, faith… and a couple of other things.

"Gorse means love in all seasons. Red tulips are a declaration of love. Yellow tulips mean hopeless love. Blue violets mean faithfulness. Creeping willow means forsaken love. Mallow is consumed by love." He paused, looking at the last flower. "Red carnations mean passion and deep, romantic love."

She continued to stare at the bouquet in shock. "Someone… sent that to me?"

He nodded, smiling faintly. "Do you want to know what a white rose means?"

She blinked, snapping out of her thoughts, looking at him again, nodding.

"Humility, silence, innocence, wistfulness, virtue, purity, secrecy, reverence." He paused, smiling in amusement. "And false love."

She frowned.

"The guy that sent this probably didn't know anything about flowers," he explained.

She nodded. "Someone else certainly did, though." She blinked, eyes narrowing suspiciously. "And so do you," she added, frowning at him curiously.

He shrugged. "I was bored." And I also needed to know what kinds I should send to you.

"Right," she said hesitantly. "So you looked up flowers?"

He shrugged again. "I also might have sent someone some."

She winced slightly. "R-really? Who?"

"Well," he drawled. "I sent Mikan an asphodel—it means 'my regrets follow you to the grave.'" She frowned at this. "I sent Mitsuki a white lily—it means purity. Marigold means pain and grief, and I sent one of them to Jade. I sent Arden a red rose, just to freak him out when he finds out it's not from Jade." He grinned maniacally.

She shook her head, smiling slightly.

"I also made sure that every girl that wasn't going to get a flower, got at least one."

She blinked. "That's really nice of you."

He shrugged, looking down. "I didn't want anyone to feel bad about themselves. If I can make at least one person happy, then I'll be happy too."

She nodded, looking down at her feet as she stretched her legs.

"Oh, but don't feel left out, Claire," he said grinning. He pulled two flowers out of a small bag he had hidden under his arm. "Ta-dah!"

She blinked, looking surprised and almost relieved. "You… got me flowers?"

"Of course I did," he said, shaking his head, grinning. "An oxeye daisy and an acacia."

"What do they mean?" she asked curiously.

"Well…" He sat up and tucked the daisy behind her ear, causing her to blush madly and swat at him. "The oxeye means patience."

She sent him a dry look. "So, your patient about me? You put up with me?"

He grinned. "No, I'm willing to wait for you."

Confusion swept across her face. "Wait for me? What does that mean?"

He stood up, twisting the acacia in his fingers, looking down at Claire's confused expression. "The acacia," he said slowly, dropping it on her chest and backing away from her with a shy, embarrassed smile. "Means secret love."

Quickly, he turned on his heel, grinning to himself, terrified to have actually just said that, and faintly amused as he recalled the expression on Claire's face.

"Oh, by the way," he called over his shoulder, picking up speed as he heard her scramble to her feet. "That bouquet is from me!"

Without waiting for a reply—mostly because he was scared of what it would be—he turned into the forest, winding through the trees and ignoring Claire's calls behind him.

And then he bumped into someone.

They fell back with an Oof! then scrambled back up, looking murderous. Mikan blinked. "I found you!" she cheered, seeming to forget about falling. "Come with me!"

Without waiting, she grabbed his arm and transported them to her room, where there was flowers stacked around and the rest of the gang—minus Claire.

"We're sorting through all the flowers we got!" Mikan said happily. She pointed to where the biggest pile of flowers was. "Those are mine. The ones near Mitsuki are hers, the ones hear Arden are his, et cetera. We're going through the smallest pile first—Arden's!"

Arden frowned at her. "Did you have to say it out loud?" Four flowers lay on his lap.

Mikan laughed. "Well, whaddaya have, Arden?"

He showed two red roses, a begonia and a mallow. "This. That's it."

Jamie plopped beside him. "Red roses mean true love," he mentioned casually. "Did Jade send you those?"

Jade frowned suspiciously. "I only sent one."

Arden's look was hilariously mortified. "But there's two!"

Mikan and Mitsuki laughed.

"Mallow means consumed by love," he added, smirking.

Absolute terror.

"Begonia means beware." He grinned wickedly. "Do you have a stalker?"

"I-I-I…" Nothing.

"Onto Jade's pile!" Mikan shouted, interrupting the entertainment.

Jade looked down at her dozen and one flowers. "What do they mean, Jamie?"

He picked up the one red rose. "True love," he said again. "Three buttercups… they mean riches. Coreopsis means always cheerful—appropriate for you. Sunflower means pure and lofty thoughts. Marigold means pain and grief. I guess people just sent them at random."

"Mitsuki!" Mikan declared.

The bedroom door opened and Claire stepped in. "Hey, have you guys—" She stopped as her eyes landed on him, and awkwardly, he turned to Mitsuki's pile.

"Hey, Claire," Arden greeted. "We're just sorting through our flowers. Come join us!"

It was clear that she wanted to talk to just him, but she stepped in anyway. "Alright," she relented quietly.

"We're just looking at mine now," Mitsuki chirped. Eighteen flowers sat with her. "What do they mean, Flower Lord?"

Jamie raised his eyebrows. "Flower Lord?" She nodded. "Way to make me sound unmanly." He examined them as the others laughed. "Two elderflowers—they mean compassion. White lilies mean purity. Three daisies—innocence, purity, loyal love, cheer…" He raised his eyebrows. Three acacia's were tied together with a small bow. He whistled lowly. "Three acacias, huh?"

"What?" Mitsuki fired off instantly, while Claire blushed, looking down. "What do they mean?"

"They mean secret love," he explained, smirking. "Gee, wonder who sent them—Damien."

Damien promptly sent a lamp flying over Jamie's head, saying something that sounded suspiciously like, "Bitch."

"Anyway. Four baby's breath—innocence, pure of heart. Five red roses, true love."

They looked towards Damien's pile—the second biggest. "Don't touch mine," Damien snapped. "I don't care to know."

After a couple of comments about Damien negativity, they moved onto Mikan's. She promptly grabbed all of the flowers they had seen in the previous piles and moved them to the side. "Alright, Flower Slave, do your job."

"Flower Slave? Really?" He grabbed the first type he saw. "Arbutus—'you're the only one I love." Mikan collected all of the arbutuses out of the pile, adding them to the second one.

"Amaryllis—pride." Taken, removed, onto the next type. "Angrec—royalty." Repeat process. "Lichen—solitude. Lavender—devotion, distrust. Laurel—ambition, success. Jonquil—'return my affection.' Iris—good news. Arborvitae—everlasting friendship." He swallowed roughly. "Asphodel," he choked, "'My regrets follow you to the grave.'"

Mikan promptly removed it, not aware that it was the flower he had sent.

"White lilac—memories. Lobelia—malevolence. Lotus—chastity, eloquence. Magnolia—love of nature. Lily of the Valley—sweetness, trustworthy, humility." He paused as he looked at the next flower, then burst out laughing, earning him some weird looks. "Lime blossom—tilia, if you will—means fornication."

Mitsuki, who had been holding the said flower, stared at it for about four milliseconds before squeaking in disgust and tossing it away from her.

"Forget-me-not," he finished, "Means true love."

Mikan hummed slightly. "Impressive loot. What did you get, Jamie?"

He shrugged. "I hid from everyone. I got a few roses, but other than that, no one forced anything on me." Tiredly, he laid his head on the armrest, closing his eyes.

"Lucky you," Mikan commented dryly, looking at all of the flowers piled on her floor. "Well, what about you, Claire?" Mikan asked.

Claire blushed darkly. "U-uh, well, I got a few…"

Jade squealed. "Let's see, let's see!"

After a second of hesitation, Claire handed her backpack over, and immediately Mitsuki and Jade were pulling them out. Mitsuki looked at Claire. "What about that one behind your ear?"

Claire blinked and flushed. "O-oh, yeah, that one too," she mumbled, handing it to them.

Arden got up and walked over to look at the flowers, and Jamie stretched across the couch.

"Hey, Flower Slave, we need you over here," Mikan snapped.

"Mnehffgh," he replied intelligently.

Mikan snorted. "Get up, now is no time to sleep."

"That's what she said," he retorted.

He heard Mikan walking toward him, and then suddenly he was no longer on the couch, but on the floor.

He let out a small wail, throwing his arms over his face. "Why?"

"We need you to tell us the flowers," Mikan said, kicking his side lightly.

"Mmmfghljrp," he once again responded intelligently. "I've probably named all of them by now though!"

"Jamie these are the last flowers, then you can relax. We're stupid people who can't remember all of that shit."

He sat up, rubbing his face with his hands, and Mitsuki handed him the bouquet, which had the acacia added to it. "Immortal love from the amaranth. Arbutus—'you're the only one I love.' Red carnation is passion and deep romantic love. Daisy is loyal love. Gorse is love in all seasons. Red tulip, declaration of love; yellow is hopeless love. Blue violet is faithfulness. Creeping willow equals forsaken love. Mallow—consumed by love. Moonflower means dreaming of love. Primrose means eternal love. Red rose, true love; purple is love at first sight." He sighed deeply. "Morning glory means love in vain. Acacia is secret love." He pointed to the oxeye daisy. "Oxeye daisy means patience. Sleepy-by now?"

Mikan mouthed 'sleepy-by?' to herself before shaking her head and pointing to the white rose.

"White roses generally mean false love."

Arden, who had been staring at Claire's flowers in shock, laughed lightly. "Well, it certainly wasn't with the other ones."

"Someone is kinda of insanely in love with you," Jade added.

"Jamie," Damien said.

"Bitch," he replied, leaning backwards on the floor.

Arden snapped his fingers. "Jeez, Jamie, you better make your move before someone else gets Claire."

"Bitch," he said again.

Mikan ignored him. "Who's to say Jamie wasn't the one that sent them in the first place?"

He felt the eyes of everyone turn to him.

"Bitch," he said.


"Hola," Arden greeted him breezily. "Jamie, my best friend, my bro-from-another-mo, my—"

"Get on with it, Arden," he sighed.

Arden sniffed. "Um, yeah…" He paused. "Um… I was going to ask Jade to, uh—"

"Marry you?" he suggested, rolling his eyes. He knew where the conversation was headed, but mocking Arden was always fun.

He turned bright red. "No! Uh—I mean—I would love to marry her—just when we're older—um—I—"

"Wanted to ask her to dance the last dance with you?" he supplied, smirking.

"Yes!" Arden all but shouted. "Yes—that!"

"Then here's an idea: go and ask her, not me."

He beamed. "You mean I can? You won't rip my arm off?"

"No, I already gave you permission to date her. Why the hell would I stop you from dancing with her?"

"Well…I dunno. You're you."

"Thanks."

"You're welcome." He paused. "So?"

Jamie waited for a second, but Arden didn't continue. "So what? I said you could go with her."

"Ask my permission."

"Ask your permission for what? You don't have a sister."

This received an exasperated look in return. "Think, genius. Who's my best female friend?"

"Claire," he answered automatically then blinked. "Wait, you think I…" He stopped for a moment. "Alright, first, I don't intend to ask Claire."

"Wuss."

"Second," he continued, "I don't need your permission to ask Claire out."

"Well you always have it anyway."

"Third, even if I did ask, she would probably just tell me off."

Reason three may or may not have been a plea for romantic help.

There was a small creaking noise from where the door was, but neither of them paid attention to it.

Arden snorted. "My God, man, are you kidding me? Any girl here would give their leg to dance with you!"

"Mikan wouldn't. Jade wouldn't. Mitsuki wouldn't. Claire—"

"Would."

"Not."

They glared at each other.

"You are so fucking stupid Jamie, you don't even know," Arden finally said, breaking the silence. "Claire has had this huge ass crush on you forever!"

He span around in the spinny chair of Arden's that he was sitting in, catching sight of Claire peering through the door curiously. "Really now?" he asked, trying not to smile in amusement. "Well then, are you sure?"

"Yes! Holy fuck, grow a pair and ask the poor girl out!"

"Why?"

"I just told you! Oh my God why are you acting so ridiculously stupid? It's so obvious you two are interested in each other it's painful!"

"Really? How so?"

Ardens eye twitched. "Are you playing with me, man?" He paused but Jamie said nothing. "Dude, she looks at you when you aren't looking at her! Which isn't much admittedly, but never mind that! I remember staring at Jade like that!" Jamie continued to say nothing. "Wow. Okay. This is stupid. You obviously sent her those flowers at Valentines too, because no other guy would have the money unless they didn't eat." Pause. Nothing. "Okay, you want proof? Alright. You won't believe this because you suck, but I walked in on her and Jade talking about you."

"Wow. Talking."

"I walked in just in time to hear Claire say that she wouldn't mind dating you." He paused for dramatic effect. "In Claire language, that means interest. You know that." He paused again. "I told them I wouldn't say anything, but I'm kind of desperate here."

He tried to keep a straight face, but a large, highly amused grin finally broke out across his face.

"See, now you're happy because she likes you, right! So go!"

He started laughing, and jerked his thumb towards the door. "Arden," he sputtered between laughs, "Claire has been standing at the door since you made the leg comment!"

The look of absolute terror on Ardens face made him laugh harder.

Claire stepped in stiffly. "I didn't say that, Arden," she snarled, but was blushing madly.

Arden stepped back. "I-I…" He glanced to the side and his arm whipped out suddenly. "Ha!" he shouted as a huge cloud of smoke appeared.

When it cleared, he was gone.

"What the shit?" he said stupidly after a moment.

"Windows open," Claire muttered.

And indeed the window was open.

"Well that was entertaining," he said after a small pause.

She glared at the window silently.

"But I feel a little bad for what you'll do to him when you find him," he continued conversationally.

"You owe me, you shit!" Ardens voice called from outside the window.

He stood up and walked over to the window, leaning out it slightly. "Just because you're stupid doesn't mean I owe you!" he called simply.

"You owe me because I give you and Claire my blessings!" There was a pause. "And because I think I fucked up my ankle." There was a pause as he moved his right foot then shouted in pain. "Yeah, alright! Okay! Now I can't dance with Jade, you penis!"

"Did Arden really just call me a penis?" he asked Claire.

She nodded.

He scowled then glared down at Arden. "I didn't force you to jump out a two-story window you jackass!"

There was a pause. "I don't care!" Arden replied. "You owe me!"

"And what, may I ask, do I owe you?" he asked sarcastically.

"Ask Claire for the last dance!"

"No."

"Do it!"

"No thanks."

"DO IT OR I WILL CRY!"

"Well shit, hope you have tissues."

Arden let out a noise that made Jamie think of a dying leprechaun. And continued to make that noise for about five minutes.

"Alright!" he relented angrily. He turned to Claire, who looked slightly scared. "Claire, will you dance with me on the last dance?" Well, that sounded horribly awkward.

"Wow, Jamie, can you say that any more awkwardly?" she asked sarcastically, rolling her eyes.

"Hey, Claire, wanna suck my dick to the last dance? I'm down if you are," he said, smirking slightly at the expression on her face. When anger started to settle over her face, he tried again. "Claire, will you please dance with me next week for the last dance?"

It came out in a serious, maybe even hopeful tone, and her eyes widened slightly.

"Because I want to be with you forever and ever and ever," he added in a high-pitched voice so the situation was less awkward.

Immediately her eyes narrowed. "No," she answered curtly.

Arden must have heard, because the wailing started again.

"Okay fine!" she snapped loudly. "I'll go to the stupid dance with you, okay?"

"Excellent!" Arden called.

He and Claire shared an awkward glance before looking away from each other quickly.


Girls ogling him while he was wearing a shirt was annoying.

Girls ogling him while he was shirtless was disturbingly creepy.

But it was bloody hot and he was at the gym in Central Town, so he would suffer through it. Fangirls were just a part of life, he supposed.

But the fact that they were watching him workout was just plain stalkerish. Thankfully, he was on a treadmill that faced a wall, so he could just try and pretend they weren't there.

"Hey, Jamie."

He flinched slightly at the sudden, heart-achingly familiar voice, flipping the treadmill off quickly and turning around to face Claire. "Hi, Claire. What are you doing here?"

"The proper thing to say is actually, 'Come here often?' but I'll let it go this time."

His lips quirked into an amused smile.

"Arden and Jade wanted me to come and see if you wanted to get ice-cream with us," she explained, folding her arms over her chest and looking away from him slightly, blushing. "Why aren't you wearing a shirt?"

"I could ask you the same question."

"I am wearing a shirt," she snapped in annoyance, looking down at her shirt. The neckline was a little too low for his liking and her shorts were far too… short. "That doesn't answer anything."

He shrugged. "It's hot. I'm a guy, it isn't required I wear one. Not that I would complain if you took yours off." He laughed when she slapped his arm. "Enjoy the view, Claire. All the other girls are."

She glanced over to where the flock was standing. "They're kinda creepy just standing over there."

He nodded. "That's why I was looking at the wall." He picked up his sweat towel. "Here, watch this." He tied the towel in a knot and threw it toward them.

Instantly, it was like a rabid dogfight.

Claire watched with a look between amusement and shock. "I didn't realize you were that desired around the school."

He shrugged. "I think half of them just want to fit in. We should leave while they're distracted."

She scowled slightly. "You're not going to shower?"

"And risk one of them creeping in? No. Besides, there isn't any point—we're going outside, where it is hot, where I will sweat."

She rolled her eyes. "What about your shirt?"

"Oh, they got that earlier."

"Of course they did," she mumbled, voice beyond annoyed. "Well, let's go then."

He walked after her quickly. "Why are you so annoyed? It's not my fault they take my stuff."

She sighed. "It's not you I'm annoyed at. It's them. They act like you're a celebrity but you're just another student here."

He blinked. "Claire… are you jealous?" he asked, half confused, half thrilled.

Her eyes widened, her face reddened, and her quick steps faltered slightly. "What? No! I don't have anything to be jealous of!"

He sniffed as she ran ahead of him slightly, then quickened his step until he was beside her again. "No need to act so harsh about it, I was just asking a simple question."

"It was a stupid question," she grumbled.

He opened his mouth to retort when he heard someone call his name.

Turning around, already scowling, he came face-to-face with Scott, a high-schooler that seemed to get like picking on everyone that was in a grade lower than his.

"What?" Jamie hissed, trying to keep his voice even and failing.

"That's a pretty girl you're with," he said simply, smiling weirdly.

In a flash, Jamie was in front of Claire. "Leave her out of this, Scott. What do you want?"

Scott punched him hard in the chest then shoved him aside.

Grunting and bending slightly at the unexpected attack, he gritted his teeth angrily. Normally he would be able to defend himself easily—but not if the attack came for no reason.

He looked back up, nostrils flaring, and glowered at Scott as he towered over Claire.

"Well, well, well, you are quite pretty," Scott mused. "A lot better looking when that idiot isn't standing in front of you."

Claire was giving him a dangerous glare. "I would appreciate it if you backed away from me."

"Ooh, and feisty too." He smirked, looking at Jamie briefly. "You know how to pick 'em, huh?" He moved a step closer to Claire, and just as she moved to step back, he grabbed her legs, way, way too high up for Jamie's mental stability.

Acting upon instinct (which, admittedly, was probably stupid of him), he lurched forward, fist shooting into Scott's jaw. Instantly aware of what he had just done, he grabbed Claire's wrist it and started running, Scott cursing behind him.

He could hear Scott yell something rude, and then was aware of his footsteps sounding not too far behind them. Stopping abruptly, Jamie pulled Claire into the nearest shop. Scott was probably smart enough to not start a fight in one.

The clerk behind the front desk raised an eyebrow at them. "Ever heard of 'No shoes, no shirt, no service?'"

Jamie glanced around the shop. A clothing shop. He reached for a plain black t-shirt and held it up. "I'll just try this on."

The clerks' lips twitched, but she didn't smile.

Scott was standing outside the door, glaring at him through the window.

"Where are the changing rooms?" he asked politely.

She pointed to where he assumed they were, and he started towards them, still gripping Claire's wrist.

"You can let go now," she murmured.

Hesitantly, he did.

"Why did you punch him?" she asked after a moment as they stopped in front of the changing rooms.

He fiddled with the shirt awkwardly. "He touched you."

"I can handle myself," she said simply, but didn't sound terribly bothered.

He shrugged. "I dunno. He just… he touched you," he said again, biting his thumbnail.

"He just touched my legs, Jamie. It isn't a big deal," she murmured.

That was probably meant to make him feel better, but he just became angrier. "It isn't, huh?" he hissed. She blinked in confusion, but before she could question his anger, he had her shoved up against the changing room door. "Then it wouldn't bug you at all if I touched you?"

She pushed his shoulders lightly. "Jamie, what are you…?"

Without saying anything, he wrapped his hands around the back of her knees, trailing them up slowly.

"Jamie," she squeaked, face bright red when his fingers reached the ends of her shorts.

"I thought it wasn't a big deal," he snapped, breathing out hard with an irritated noise.

She looked down, biting her lip anxiously as he stepped away from her. "Sorry—I didn't mean… it did bug me when he touched me like that," she finally admitted.

"Then you should have said that," he huffed in annoyance, trying to ignore the fact that she hadn't said it had bothered her when he did it. "Now, if you don't mind, I should probably put this shirt on before we get kicked out."

She nodded quickly, still looking morbidly embarrassed, and went to look at some of the clothes on display.

He turned around quickly and shut himself in the changing room, pulling the shirt over his head, then leaning against the wall and trying to get his emotions in check. Then he curled his hand into a fist and smashed it hard against his forehead, mad at himself for attacking Claire like that. Kicking the wall hard to try and let out a bit more of his frustration, he walked back out, heading back to the front desk.

"I guess I'll be getting this," he said simply, lifting up the price tag. Twenty rabbits. Not bad.

The clerk stared at him momentarily. "Your girlfriend was looking at some jewelry. You might want to see if she wants anything too."

"She's not my girlfriend," he muttered, but turned to go and find her. It took about eight seconds, as the rest of the store was empty.

Claire was admiring an emerald necklace that cost one thousand rabbits. Even Jamie had to admit that it was quite pretty – and Claire looked amazing in anything green.

"Do you want that?" he asked, stepping towards her.

She jumped slightly, fumbling to put the necklace back. "No," she denied quickly. "It's too expensive."

He refrained from reminding her that her father was rich.

"Have you paid for that yet?" she asked, changing the subject.

He shook his head.

"Well, let's go then," she said irritably, walking past him.

While she wasn't looking, he grabbed the necklace and started after her.

"This shirt"—He motioned to the shirt he was wearing—"and this necklace, please," he said simply, dangling the necklace on the end of his finger.

Claire stepped forward instantly, trying to grab the necklace from him, but he held it away from her. "Jamie, I told you I don't want it!"

He handed it to the clerk. "Then give it to Jade or Mitsuki."

"You shouldn't spend so much money on me," she grumbled.

The clerk handed the necklace back to him after scanning it. "Dear, you should be thanking him, not scolding him."

"Yeah, Claire," he agreed, grinning mockingly. "So rude. Jeez."

She smacked his arm.

"That'll be one thousand twenty five rabbits."

He handed her a wad of bills. "You can keep the change as a tip. I have absolutely no need for it."

She nodded excitedly, thanking him over and over.

"It isn't any trouble," he excused, looking out the stores window. "And would you look at that, Scott's gone! What do you think the chances are of Jade and Arden still waiting for us and ice-cream?"

"No chance at all," Claire said dryly as they walked out the door.

He pulled the tag off his shirt and stuffed it into his pocket. "Oh, wait, hang on a sec."

She paused, turning around in confusion, and he waved the necklace in her face, grinning.

"Want me to help you put this on?"

"I can put it on myself," she snapped, but turned and moved her hair to the side. He hooked the necklace around her neck, clipping it and letting it go so it dangled around her neck.

She turned around, looking slightly embarrassed again. "Thanks," she said, looking down at the necklace. After a moment, she looked back up at him. "I don't get you."

He blinked.

"You go and do these things out of nowhere," she said, frowning. "Buying me a necklace, giving the cashier a huge tip, giving all the girls flowers on Valentines Day… I don't get it. Why?"

He tilted his head. "I like making people happy. Don't you?"

"Yes," she answered quietly. "But I don't do these… random acts of kindness like you do."

He shrugged as they started away again. "I think that everybody should get something on Valentines. I think that the clerk was nice and didn't kick us out even though I was shirtless. I felt bad for harassing you, you look amazing in green, and I like making you happy."

She opened her mouth, shut it again, and scowled.

"Jamie!" A voice called, and for a moment he thought Scott had found him again, but when he turned around, Mikan tackled him. "Hi!" she chirped.

He raised an eyebrow at her. "Hello. This is a rather compromising position you've put us in."

Her arms were wrapped around his neck, legs around his waist, face awkwardly close to his. She shrugged. "I've been in worse."

"Oh, well, that's just lovely."

She ran one of her hands through his hair. "Are you and Claire on a date?" she asked, grinning and letting go of him. "Am I ruining it by getting into compromising positions with you?"

"We aren't on a date. But I would appreciate it if you stopped getting me into compromising positions."

"COMPROMISING POSITION!" Mikan yelled, then, before he even knew what was happening, had tackled him to the ground and was straddling him, face buried in his neck.

"You are just hell-bent on killing me, aren't you?" he groaned, shoving her away and rubbing his neck.

She shrugged, getting up as though nothing had just happened. She turned to Claire, who was looking a little awkward as Jamie clambered back to his feet. "Ooh, that's a pretty necklace," Mikan instantly gushed.

Jamie grinned wickedly as Claire flashed him a glare.

"Thanks," she mumbled.

Mikan hummed. "Well, I'll leave you two whatever-you-ares to do whatever-you-do, 'kay?"

He rolled his eyes. "Yeah, you do that."

"I will!" she said loudly, walking off.

"You know how you said you don't get me?" he asked Claire as Mikan disappeared into a building.

"Yeah?"

"I don't get her," he said, motioning to where Mikan disappeared.

"I don't think anyone does."

"And at that, I don't get you either."

"How so?"

"Well," he started dramatically, "Usually when I spend half as much time as I've spent with you with another girl, they've tried to get into my pants at least twice." He eyed her. "You haven't! Tell me, Claire, how have you resisted my charms for this long?"

She rolled her eyes at him. "I just must not be attracted to morons."

"I find that offensive. I am plenty smart."

"Really?"

"Yes. I believe I have proved that to you with my big words and knowledge of… flowers."

The word 'flowers' immediately made her blush, and she looked away from him.

"And, I'll have you know, I have the second highest grade in our class."

"Teachers pet."

"I'm smart, not a—oh crap."

Claire raised her eyebrows at him.

"Scott's coming towards us," he explained, then grabbed her wrist and took off.

"I'll kill you, Swift!" Scott called from somewhere behind him.

He grinned faintly, veering off into a forest. "I know somewhere we can go for awhile," he said to Claire over his shoulder, slowing down slightly so he wouldn't get lost in the trees.

"Or you'll just get us lost," Claire said dryly.

He clicked his tongue. "I know where I'm going – Scott does not."

"We'll see."

"What, don't trust me, Claire?" He asked, maneuvering them through the forest.

"I trust you," she said after a moment. "Just not your sense of direction."

"Well, maybe you will now," he replied, turning left.

"Wow, congrats, more trees. I'm impressed."

He smiled, pulling her past the trees and watching her mouth form an 'o' of surprise as she stared, wide-eyed, at a field full of flowers.

"The students with flower related alices had too many flowers, so they planted them in the field here. They come check every couple of days to make sure the flowers are fine, and eventually…" He shrugged. "They just all kept growing, and the seeds spread. And this was the result."

She stared incredulously, and he pulled her into the field, grinning widely and reaching down to grab some flowers, using the stem of a forget-me-not to tie them together and handing them to Claire.

She blinked at them, stunned, before taking them slowly. "What do they mean?"

"Dahlia," he started, smirking and pointing to one of the flowers, "Means elegance and dignity. Fitting for you."

She sniffed, looking down at her shoes.

He pointed to the next flower. "Do you remember what arbutus means?"

"It means 'you're the only one I love,'" she whispered, blushing.

"Forget-me-nots mean true love. Red chrysanthemums mean 'I love.'" He paused, then took it out of the knot and, as Claire flashed him a confused look, tucked it behind her ear. "You look good in red, too," he said breezily, smirking.

"You're stupid," she snapped.

"Hey, it's good you blush a lot," he chirped, earning him a slap on the shoulder. "Okay, okay. Primrose is eternal love, if you remember. Coriander means lust. Stop glaring at me. Acacia, as I'm sure you remember, is secret love."

Her glare faltered slightly and her eyes went back to the ground.

He stretched his arms, plopping down onto the grass, careful to avoid the flowers. Claire remained standing, twisting the flowers between her fingers thoughtfully. Rolling his eyes, he grabbed her hand and pulled her down.

"Well, this wasn't exactly what I was trying to do, but I'm not complaining," he said smiling widely when Claire landed on his lap, eyes wide.

She turned to look at him, probably going to tell him off, but froze at how close their faces suddenly were. They sat like that for a minute, both staring at each other with wide eyes, but not moving away from each other. He could feel her heart beating rapidly against his own, her chest moving unevenly with her breaths.

"Jamie," she finally whispered, "if you actually do like me, why haven't you kissed me yet?"

He let out a weak, strained laugh. "Claire, if I kissed you now, I doubt I'd be able to stop," he answered shakily.

She hesitated, staring at him, before moving forward, destroying the couple of inches that separated each other, pressing her lips against his. He froze momentarily then closed his eyes, moving his lips against hers slowly, testing the waters.

When neither of them moved away, he wrapped his arms around her waist, pressing his mouth against hers firmly. Not breaking the kiss, he pushed her back into the grass, straddling her, nipping her bottom lip when her arms wound around his neck.

"Swift, as soon as I find you, you're dead!" Scott's voice called from somewhere in the forest, and as abruptly as the kiss had begun, it ended.

He pulled away from Claire, eyes flicking to the forest for barely a second before returning to Claire. He could feel his face flush as he scrambled off of her, sitting in the grass dazedly. He covered his mouth with his hand as she sat up, looking just about as shocked as he felt. "I—I'm sorry," he sputtered, "I didn't mean—I shouldn't have—I just—went too far—sorry—I'm sorry," he choked out, fumbling for words, looking at the ground.

"It—it's fine," Claire stuttered. "My fault, really—um…"

Scott's voice rang out again, closer this time.

"You should go," Jamie blurted.

She blinked. "What?"

He got to his feet. "Scott is coming. You should go before he gets here."

"What about you?" she asked, frowning.

He shrugged. "He's looking for me, not you." He pulled her up. "I'll catch up with you later. Just let me deal with him for now, okay?"

Slowly, still looking stunned, she nodded. "Okay…"

She took a few small steps back, away from him, but he grabbed her hand and yanked her back, kissing her once more, before pushing her away.

"Sorry. I just had to do that," he said in a fake casual voice.

She made a weird sound, stumbling back.

"The bus-stop should be just past those trees over there. Scott's voice came from the opposite direction, so you should be fine," he explained simply.

"Um… alright," she muttered, hand over her mouth, turning and jogging away with shaking legs.

"I see you, Swift!" Scott's voice called, and he pounced out of the trees just as Claire disappeared into them. "You'll pay for doing that!"


"…and if you give this to someone you like between now and the night of the dance and they accept it, it's said that you'll be together forever!" Utau chirped, waving a ribbon around wildly. "So, do what you will with your ribbons." She winked suggestively then walked out of the classroom, leaving the homeroom class without a teacher, as usual.

"Have I ever mentioned how responsible Utau is?" Mikan asked, rolling her eyes.

"Nope," he answered the rhetorical question.

She hummed under her breath before getting to her feet. "Well, I'm out of here. I don't need any idiots to try and give me their ribbon because of 'fate.'"

He flashed her the peace sign, resting his chin on his other arm tiredly.

Already his classmates were looking at one another deciding just who would be special enough to get their ribbon.

Jamie looked down at the ribbon he had tied around his wrist then back around the classroom. Naturally Arden and Jade were already swapping theirs, Damien was walking out of the classroom, Mitsuki was staring thoughtfully at her own ribbon, and just about everyone else was looking at the person they had a crush on.

"So, Claire…"

Jamie looked up, towards where Claire was sitting, one seat in front of him. A few girls were standing in front of her, eyes all narrowed. Claire had cleverly tied her ribbon into her hair, making a ponytail.

"Who are you giving your ribbon to?" Sam, the leader of the trio behind her, asked.

Claire's tone was impassive. "I don't plan on giving it to anyone."

Sam nodded slowly. "Then… you wouldn't mind if I did this"—she ripped the ribbon out of Claire's hair, tearing it in two—"right?"

Claire looked down at the two pieces before shrugging and stuffing them into her pocket.

Sam moved past her until she was beside his desk. "Hey, Jamie," she greeted, smiling. "Do you have anyone in mind for giving your ribbon to?" Her face was tilted to the floor, but her eyes were clearly looking at him as she bit her lower lip.

"You know," he started slowly, eyes not leaving hers, "I wasn't planning on it, but now that I think about it harder, I think I will."

Her face lifted so she was smiling straight at him as he got to his feet.

But he just brushed past her to stand in front of Claire's desk. Claire barely glanced at him before looking down, face red. He untied his ribbon and held it in front of her. "Here, Claire, you can use my ribbon to tie your hair back."

She looked up at him, looking morbidly embarrassed. They hadn't exactly talked about what had happened the other day, and he wasn't sure he wanted to. "No, it's fine Jamie. You should keep it."

His lip twitched faintly with amusement. "Claire, it's a ribbon, not an engagement ring."

"I know that!" she spat at him.

"Then what's the problem?"

She faltered. "There… isn't one…" She sighed, defeated, and took the ribbon from him. "Thanks," she mumbled, tying her hair back.

One of the girls reached towards the ribbon and Jamie swatted her hand away from Claire, narrowing his eyes dangerously. "Did I give it to you?" he spat at the girl. "You guys already ripped one, but if you rip this one too, I'll get mad."

The girls scattered.

"Threatening girls isn't… alluring, Jamie," Claire said after a moment.

He grinned. "Really? But I've always been just so attracted to people that make others miserable or scared. Guess I've been living my life all wrong, huh?"

She rolled her eyes, looking faintly amused.

"Wait," he said after a moment, "Does that mean I'm alluring when I'm not being a meany-face?"

"Considering you just said 'meany-face,'" Claire started dryly. "No, not really."

He sniffed. "You just can't handle my swag, Claire."

"Your swag, Jamie? Really?"

"Yeah, you're right. Swag means to hang heavily and let's face it, I'm not overweight."

"You would be if you didn't work out," Claire grumbled.

"I need to work out. I mean, how else would I have abs?"

"Abs my ass," Claire said under her breath.

"What's that? You have abs on your ass?" he asked, smirking. "That's impressive, Claire. Maybe you'll let me check them out sometime?"

Claire pushed him violently and he laughed.

"You brought it up, Claire," he teased sticking his tongue out at her. He noticed Sam reaching for the ribbon and narrowed his eyes angrily. "Sam, is there something you want?" he hissed, blocking her hand from Claire.

She retracted her hand quickly, blushing. "Oh, um, no…"

He sighed irritably. "Well, doesn't seem like class is going anywhere. Wanna skip, Claire?"

She hesitated before nodding, and he grabbed his bag, then hers. When she opened her mouth to protest, he held up his hand, shaking his head, and she shut it again, looking annoyed.

"The proper response is to thank me for being such a gentleman, Claire." He grinned as she stood up, scowling. "It's okay, though," he sighed, "I'll get over it."

She ignored him, starting toward the door, and he followed her obediently.

"So where are we heading?" Jamie asked after a few moments of somewhat awkward silence.

She shrugged. "I don't care."

He shuffled slightly. "Well, first we should drop our bags off. My rooms closer, so we can just leave them there," he offered quietly.

"Okay." She continued to walk a few steps ahead of him.

"Why are you walking so fast?" he complained after a moment, quickening his step as they walked out of the school building. "You know, the proper thing to do is walk next to me."

"Don't get your hopes up," she responded breezily, and he was pretty sure she had started walking quicker.

He huffed and quickened his steps, but she started going quicker again, making it futile. "Fairy," he whined, giving up.

"Because calling me that ridiculous nickname is really going to make me slow down," she snapped, opening the door to the special-star building and stepping in, then paused outside his bedroom door.

"Of course it will," he agreed easily, reaching past her and opening his door. He walked in, dropping his and Claire's bag next to the door, then turned to Claire. "So, what do you propose we do?"

She shrugged.

He walked back out, closing his door behind him and looking at her thoughtfully. "Well, we could—" He broke off as the ground started shaking violently beneath their feet, grabbing the doorknob quickly to keep his balance.

Claire gasped, stumbling at the sudden quake, and he grabbed her and pulled her against him as she started to fall. Unfortunately, his sudden movement made his grip loosen on the doorknob, and he fell to the floor, Claire landing on top of him with a yelp.

After about a minute more, the ground stilled and he breathed a sigh of relief. "So, do you think that was a real earthquake or an alice made one?" he asked, voice shaking slightly.

Snapping out of her daze, Claire, who had been clutching at his shirt in fear, jolted away and off of him quickly, blushing. "Uh—uh…"

He stood up, legs shaking slightly, and looked back down at Claire. "Are you alright?" he asked, choosing to ignore her stuttering.

She bit her lip slightly but nodded, looking down.

He groaned. "No you're not. What happened, where are you hurt?"

She glared up at him. "I'm fine."

He raised his eyebrows. "Really then? Get up."

She looked back down for a millisecond before getting to her feet. "See? Fine."

He scowled. "Walk down the hall then."

She scowled back at him and started down the hall, him matching her step for step, until finally she winced and her step faltered. When her body tilted towards the floor, his arm shot out around her waist, catching her.

"You should have said you were hurt," he growled, setting her back on her feet but not removing his arm from her. "It would have saved you the pain, Claire."

She squirmed slightly, putting her most of her weight on her left, uninjured foot. "Just—" She seemed to realize that he was still holding her. "…Let go."

He rolled his eyes. "No."

She jerked her arm violently in attempt to move away from him, but this only made her topple over, into his chest.

"Jeez, Claire, you're the last girl I would expect to throw themselves at me," he joked lightly.

She pushed away from him, but she was still leaning on him slightly. She looked up at his face, her own bright red. "I—I didn't mean to—" she broke off into unintelligible stammers.

He rolled his eyes again. "Claire, it's okay. I was just joking around."

She swallowed roughly.

"Look, let's get you to my room, okay? I want to look at your ankle."

She nodded in defeated. "S…sorry for lying about it…"

"Sorry for making you walk when I knew you were injured." He shifted them slightly. "Do you think you can make it?"

"We aren't that far away," she said defensively.

"What the hell?" An infuriated voice yelled.

Jamie blinked and turned to look at Sam, who was standing in the doorway of the special star dorm. Claire seemed to shrink into him.

"I knew you were interested in him!" Sam spat at Claire.

Jamie gritted his teeth. "Calm down, Samantha, the earthquake made her hurt her ankle."

Sam scoffed, walking forwards until she was standing beside them. "I doubt she's injured at all." She glowered at Claire. "I thought I made it clear to stay away from him!" she yelled as if he wasn't there. She pulled Claire violently away from him, pushing her.

Claire stumbled back, barely managing to get her footing.

Sam stalked towards her, Jamie staring uncomprehendingly after her. "I know you aren't really hurt!" she spat at Claire. Without waiting for a response from either of them, she kicked Claire's ankle, hard.

As Claire shrieked in pain and fell to the floor, his mind finally snapped into gear, and he jolted forward, tackling Sam into the wall, elbow pressed tightly against her throat.

She squeaked in surprise and pain, but he only pushed his arm tighter against her. "If you ever touch Claire again," he snarled viciously, "I'll kill you. I swear I'll kill you."

Tears of fear were brimming in her eyes, but any compassion he might have had for her was gone. She made a choked sobbing noise that sounded like "Please."

She can't breathe, he realized somewhere in the back of his mind. He didn't find himself caring much, but common sense told him to end this. "You're lucky I don't beat you bloody," he spit. Not quite finished with his anger, he brought his hand up and whipped it fast and hard against her cheek, causing her head to reel to the side and her to yelp loudly.

He let her go and she went flying out of dorms, hiccupping.

Immediately forgetting about her, he bolted over to Claire, kneeling beside her worriedly. "Oh God, Claire, are you okay?" Of course she isn't okay, dipshit.

She opened her mouth, looking like she was going to say she was fine, but tears filled her eyes suddenly and she shook her head.

He reached under her and scooped her up, and instead of complaining, she held his shirt tightly, pressing her face into his shoulder.

How hard did Sam kick her? He wondered, horrified. Even when she had injured it earlier she wasn't letting him help, but now she was shaking with restrained cries. He twisted his doorknob awkwardly and pushed it open with his foot. He walked in, kicked the door shut behind him, and walked over to his bed before putting her down gently. "Claire, I'm going to take your shoe off so I can get a look at your foot, alright?"

"It'll hurt," she whispered, shaking her head violently.

"I know," he replied quietly, grabbing her hand lightly. "But I need to see, okay?" She stared at him helplessly. "When it hurts, just squeeze my hand."

She seemed to finally take notice of his hand in hers, and immediately she blushed. "No—this will hurt."

He sighed lightly. "Claire, you're hurt."

"Then take me to the nurse," she snapped, pulling her leg closer to her body. "It hurts, Jamie."

"I know, which is why I need to take your shoe off. And either way, it will be coming off, so you mine as well just cooperate."

Her jaw clenched and she seemed to finally give up. "Fine," she spat, turning and looking at the wall.

"Good girl," he said with a small smirk, moving to the end of the bed but not removing his hand from Claire's. "Okay," he said, grabbing her shoe lightly. "Remember, squeeze my hand." As soon as he started pulling it off, Claire's grip tightened painfully around his fingers, but he didn't flinch, just removed the shoe and placed it to the side.

When it was off, Claire's grip slackened and she turned back and looked at her foot. "Oh no…" It was already red and swollen.

He frowned at it. "That's not good."

"I know that."

He placed his hand on it and she made a small sound of pain and protest, but he ignored her and activated his ice alice. She gasped. He grinned in amusement. "The ice alice is unbelievably helpful when it comes to injuries." After a few moments he removed it. "Does that feel better?"

She nodded slowly, looking dazed. "Who knew you'd actually be useful for something?" she breathed with a light laugh.

He sniffed. "Oh, be quiet." He got to his feet again, slipping his hand away from Claire's. She stared at him with blank confusion. "I'll be right back," he promised, heading towards his door.

"What?" she fired instantly, sounding panicked. "Where are you going?"

"I'll be right back," he repeated, walking out and shutting the door quietly behind him. He walked across this hall to Mikan's room, unlocking it with the key she had given him. He scowled at the scene in front of him. Her bookshelf had collapsed and books were all over the floor, CDs were scattered, and her drawer had spilled her clothes in a messy pile. He stepped over things until he reached her bedside table, pulling open the top drawer, which had amazingly managed to stay put through the earthquake.

In it was labeled baggies full of alice stones. He rummaged through them until he came across the one he was looking for—healing.

He pulled it out and opened it, dropping three alice stones into his hand. Now to see which is compatible. With three there, at least one of them should have been.

After a moment, one of them started to glow faintly, and he dropped the other two back in the baggie, dropping it into the drawer and bolting to the door again, not bothering to shut the drawer. He did take the time to relock Mikan's door, however.

As soon as he reopened his door, Claire glared at him icily. "You just leave injured girls alone without explanation?" she snapped, scowling darkly.

He rolled his eyes, walking in and absorbing the alice stone through his hand using the insertion alice Mikan had given him. "I wouldn't be complaining if I was you."

She folded her arms over her chest.

He lifted his hand up, showing her a faint green glow. "Healing alice, Claire."

She stared uncomprehendingly at him as he walked forward, placing his hand over her foot again. When the green glow started again, she blinked. "But doesn't using an alice that isn't yours weaken you or lower your lifespan?" He didn't reply and her eyes widened suddenly. "And doesn't the healing alice hurt you if you don't transfer the pain to something else?"

He took his hand off her foot just as she jolted away from him.

"Jamie!" she yelled, looking mortified.

Pain shot through him but he acted normal. "You should be able to walk again."

"You—you jerk," she cried, smacking his arm hard. "How could… how could you hurt yourself for something so stupid!"

"It isn't stupid!" he snapped, catching her wrist as she swatted at him again. "Claire, Sam attacked you because of me!"

She went quiet.

He tightened his grip on her wrist. "Claire, answer me truthfully," he breathed quietly. "Have you been getting bullied because you hang out with me?"

She stared down at her lap.

He clenched his jaw, letting go of her. "How could you let that happen?" he snapped at her. "You should have told me, or even stopped spending time with me, not let it continue to this point!"

She scowled back at him. "I didn't tell you because I knew you'd react like this!"

"Oh, I'm so sorry for caring about you," he sneered.

"You think I could just stop hanging out with you?" she spat. "You think I want to see you worry about me? I was trying to avoid this!"

"Well you shouldn't have been!" he shouted furiously. "You shouldn't be taking this so easily, Claire, bullying is serious!"

She gritted her teeth, looking at her lap angrily.

"Why and how have they been bullying you, Claire?"

"What do you mean?"

"Why are they bullying you because of me? In what way—verbal, physical, emotional? And I know it wasn't just Sam, so don't even try."

She picked at a loose thread on her shirt. "I don't know why exactly," she murmured. "Just because of all the girls you hang out with, you…" She paused, blushing. "You show the most… interest in me."

A muscle in his jaw twitched as he waited for her to continue.

She pulled the thread violently. "They verbally and physically bully me."

I knew I should have beat her bloody…

They sat in silence before Claire cleared her throat awkwardly. "Jamie, you…" she trailed off momentarily before trying again. "You hit Sam."

"I know."

She pulled the thread again. "Why?"

He blinked. "She hurt you."

"But you didn't have to attack her. It's just like when Scott—" She broke off, blushing madly and pulling the string awkwardly as she got to her feet, still favoring one of them despite them both working. "I—I should go."

He blinked and jumped to his feet as she started towards the door. "I hate it," he blurted loudly, grabbing her wrist and pulling her towards him slightly.

She bumped into him, eyes wide with embarrassment.

"I hate it when you're hurt," he continued quickly. "I hate to think you're getting bullied because of me."

She opened her mouth slightly, but he swept on, apparently not even controlling his own mouth.

"I hate when other guys talk to you," he breathed. "I hate when they flirt with you, I hate it when they touch you. I hated it when Scott grabbed you." He gasped for breath. "I hate thinking that someone else could be touching you, holding you, kissing you—thoughts like that drive me crazy!"

Without waiting for her response, he lurched forward, twisting her around so she was facing him fully, pressing his lips over hers hastily. She froze as he wrapped his arms around her, pulling her into him, urging her to respond. After a few moments, she leaned into him, moving her lips in sync with his. One hand rested on his cheek, the other clutching his shirt with a desperate need.

He pulled away slightly, resting his forehead against hers, eyes growing wide with the sudden realization of what he had just done. Claire opened her eyes slowly, letting her hand fall from his cheek to the collar of his shirt. Her eyes darkened with worry when she saw his expression.

He pulled away from her, looking away. Stupid, he spat inwardly. He was getting way too close to Claire for comfort. Actually, he was very comfortable being this close to Claire—even closer. Which was the problem.

He moved further away from her, clenching his jaw, and his hands into fists. "You—you should go."

Surprise flitted across her face, but she must have noticed his desperation, because she nodded slowly and walked out, leaving him feeling worse than before.


A letter slid under his door.

Briefly he wondered if it was the delivery robot or Claire that had slid it through to him. Him and Claire had been playing the avoiding game, which was extremely hard and awkward.

He stared at the letter, not quite sure he was in the mood to know how Jaylen was, when he remembered that he had gotten a letter about her just two days ago. Unless something was wrong, he shouldn't have gotten another letter.

He was on his feet instantly, tripping over himself to get to the letter. It was only when he was already tearing it open when he saw that it wasn't from the same address as normal. He stopped, pausing to look at it, pressing his lips together unsurely. His eyes widened numbly when he read the name on the back.

Then, as quick as he had desperately scooped it up, he crumpled it into a ball and hurled it at the wall, watching it fall to the floor and roll towards his trash can furiously, the name on the back burned in his mind.

The name of his father.


Arden hopped from foot to foot, glancing around nervously.

"Stop it," Jamie snapped at him. "You look stupider than usual."

Arden stopped and made a face at him. "As if you aren't nervous at all."

"It's a dance, Arden. No, I am not nervous. I don't know why you are, it's not as if this is going to be the first date you go on with Jade or anything."

He scowled, looking towards Jade's door. "But you get to dance with Claire," he whined. "Don't you have any feelings about that?"

He shrugged. Of course he did, but it wasn't really Arden's business, no matter how much he interfered. "I'm a little irritated that you forced it on us."

He rolled his eyes. "You are damn happy you get to. Can't you imagine it, Jamie?" Oh Jesus. "You and Claire," he started in a weird tone. "Your hands around her waist, hers on your shoulders… your bodies so close that your hips tou—"

"Arden," he interrupted, feeling heat race to his cheeks. "I know what happens when people dance. I've done it before."

Arden waved his hand at him dismissingly. "Yes, yes. But imagine it with Claire!"

He didn't really want to. "No."

"You're blushing."

Before he could retort, the door opened, and both him and Arden turned their attention to it.

He had been hoping for Jade so Arden wouldn't have the chance to mock him anymore, but instead, it was indeed Claire who stepped out. She blushed when she saw him, looking down at her feet.

Arden elbowed him, hissing, "Tell her how she looks, idiot."

He looked down at his own feet. "Like I would do that while you're here."

Arden gave him an evil look. "So, Claire," he started, "How about you and Jamie go ahead?"

She blinked. "But I thought we were all going to—"

Without waiting, he pushed him into her, causing them both to stumble and glare at Arden evilly.

Before any of them could start an argument, the door opened and Jade stepped out, hands on her hips as she looked between the three of them. "Can you guys not argue for once?"

Arden, immediately distracted by Jade, turned and beamed at her, then blushed madly when he saw her.

Saving Arden from not being able to form actual words, Jamie jumped in. "Blue is definitely your color."

An icy blue dress clung to her snugly, and she smiled faintly. "We're twins. It's your color too." She eyed him. "Though you've seemed to take on the typical bad-boy look instead."

He looked down at himself. He was wearing a white collared shirt, black dress pants, but he had switched it up a bit by wearing a leather jacket. He shrugged, shoving his hands into the jackets pockets.

"You look good too, I guess," she supplied, not sounding all that impressed.

He rolled his eyes.

"So?" she asked, shuffling her feet impatiently. "Let's blow this popsicle stand."

Arden jolted slightly. "Right—yeah!" he cheered happily, and they started toward the door. He opened it for Jade, then stopped and turned towards him and Claire. "Yeah, but you two have to stay here for awhile."

"Arden…" he hissed, impatience lacing his voice. "Stop with the bull already."

He shook his head. "Oh, it isn't bull, Jamie." He reached into his pocket and pulled a small cube out of it, placing it a few feet in front of the door. "If you walk past this, it'll automatically set off and explosion… of paint, but an explosion none the less." He smiled. "Don't want Claire's pretty dress to get ruined, do you?"

Automatically, he and Claire both stepped away from the cube, him moving in front of her slightly. "Arden you're such an asshole."

He didn't seem to care. "Anyway, it'll deactivate in five minutes. Until then, ta-ta you stupid fuckers… and I mean that in the literal sense, of course."

He felt his mouth drop open, but before he could even begin to yell at Arden, he was out the door, laughing along with Jade.

Him and Claire remained silent for a long while, before finally they glanced at each other. Their eyes connected and they both looked opposite ways quickly. He looked at the cube, noticing that there was a small glowing red dot. It would probably stop glowing when the five minutes was up.

He turned towards Claire again, opening his mouth to say something, but he found his mouth extremely dry when he looked at her. So he looked at the floor and swallowed. "Arden's a freak," he muttered, voice trembling lightly.

"He and Jade suit each other," she replied quietly. He smiled in amusement. "She made me put on loads of make-up, a dress, high-heels… I look ridiculous."

"No," he blurted before he could stop himself. "You look…" He looked up at her and his breath caught again.

A light green strapless dress hugged her body, clearly showing every curve of her, reaching just past her knees. She wore matching green high-heels and, he was assuming, make-up that Jade had forced on her. It brought out her eyes, making them seem brighter than before.

"…breathtaking," he whispered, his eyes meeting hers again.

She blushed insanely and looked down at herself, breaking eye contact. "N-no, I…" She trailed off into embarrassed mumbles.

They didn't have any more time to be embarrassed, because the doorknob to the special star building started turning. Their reaction was immediate, both him and Claire darting into his room without a second thought.

A moment later, there was a loud popping noise, and a shout of fury. He and Claire shared a wide-eyed look when they recognized Damien's voice.

"Whichever one of you did that, you're dead!" he shouted. The sound of a door slamming open from across the hall echoed loudly.

"We're screwed," Jamie muttered.

Claire raised her eyebrows. "You're seriously going to give up so easily?"

"Well we certainly can't go out there!" he snapped, motioning to his door.

"You must have somewhere we can hide, your room is huge!"

He bit the inside of his mouth. "Well, my bathroom maybe, but he'd probably—"

"If there's a chance we can hide, I'll take it," she said quickly, dragging him toward the small room.

"Well yeah, but then he'll catch us hiding and know we know what happened!"

"Have you seen Damien when he's mad?" she asked, whipping around to face him. "He doesn't pay attention to details. He could very well miss us."

He opened his mouth to respond then closed it again. Damien was unobservant when angry. "Fine," he agreed reluctantly. "We might be able to hide in the bathtub or something."

She nodded and continued towards the bathroom as Damien let out another rage filled howl.

She stopped in front of his bathtub, examining it with a frown. "Even if we shut the curtain, he'd see our shadows. We'd have to lie down, but there wouldn't be enough room for—"

The sound of his doorknob being jiggled sent both of them into the tub without hesitation, and they managed to squeeze themselves both into a laying down position, that probably would've made them feel awkward or embarrassed if they hadn't been terrified out of their minds.

"If I find you, you're dead!" Damien called.

He pulled Claire closer to him as if that would protect her and the bathroom light flicked on.

Damien's ragged breathing reached them as he stalked forward, nothing more than a shadow to them. His hand shot forward and swatted around, trying to hit someone that wasn't there. He let out another yowl when he connected with only the shower curtain, and there was the sound of him knocking things over in anger.

Jamie splashed toilet water in his face, annoyed that his stuff was getting tossed around, this eliciting more fury and Damien storming out of the room, spitting curses. He bit his lip to stop himself from laughing and Claire started trembling with restrained giggles.

His door slammed, shaking his whole dorm-room violently. After a moment, they both sat up wearily, not quite sure whether to trust the room or not.

Jamie pushed the curtain aside, looking down at the paint footprints left on his floor regretfully before stepping out of the tub, automatically offering his hand to Claire to help her out.

They walked out of his room, both staring at the paint left behind from Damien's rampage. They stopped in the middle of his room, both quietly examining the stains as if not sure how to react.

Finally, he opened his mouth to comment, but a small choked noise came out instead, and that seemed to be the last straw between him and Claire. They both exploded into laughter until they had to sit on his bed to stop themselves from falling over, and even then they were on the verge of tears.

When they were finally near done with their laughing at Damien's expense, he finally wheezed, "I wish we could have seen his face."

The thought of it sent them both into another fit of giggles.

"We wouldn't have been able to see it through all the paint," Claire said, breathing roughly after the episode had passed.

They lay there silently, both of them trying to regain their wits, before Jamie realized the semi-awkward position they were in. Claire was pressed firmly into his side, and one of his arms was tucked under her, wrapped around her waist.

Claire seemed to notice it at the same time he did and she bolted upright quickly, a blush appearing quickly. "U-um…" She looked at the paint on his floor. "What are you going to do about that?"

He sat up, shrugging. "Leave them there to remember this wonderful occasion?"

She rolled her eyes at him, shaking her head exasperatedly. "I don't think you need them to remember this by."

"You're right, I wouldn't forget this if I had Alzheimer's."

"You probably would, actually," she replied, her normal guarded demeanor coming back.

"Trust me, I wouldn't."

"How could you possibly know anyway?" she snapped quickly, looking annoyed at his defiance.

"Because I don't forget time that I spend with you," he said calmly, opening his door and looking out cautiously. She didn't reply so he figured she was too busy being embarrassed to do anything. "Looks like Damien disappeared again. We can head out safely now, if you don't mind walking through some paint."

"Uh, r-right," she squeaked, coming up behind him.

He stepped out slowly, eyeing the colorful, wet walls. "I'd love to know how Damien looks."

"Like a rainbow," she drawled behind him impatiently. "Are we going or not? He could come back anytime you know."

"Be careful you don't slip," Jamie warned as she pushed past him. It was at the exact moment that he finished the sentence that she slipped. He caught her smoothly, raising an eyebrow at her when she squeaked in fear. "Really now?" He helped steady her, keeping one hand on the small of her back. "Did you forget that you're wearing heels?"

She started forward again, him keeping step with her. "No," she hissed between her teeth, looking mortified beyond belief. "Shut up."

He didn't reply, looking awkwardly at the paint drenched doorknob. Distaste dripped off his words, "Not even the doorknob was spared Arden's machinery."

"Scared to get your hands dirty, Swift?" Claire challenged.

He sent her a dry look. "I've got enough blood on my hands to know that this paint won't make a difference." He reached past her and opened the door and walked out without waiting for a response.

He paused a few meters out the door, turning back to look at Claire's still body. "Are you coming or not?"

She stumbled after him, quiet.

"Look, I'm sorry," he sighed. "I shouldn't have said that."

"It's hardly a secret that you go on missions, Jamie," she said calmly. "I just… try not to think about it."

"Sorry," he repeated.

"Let's not talk about it."

"Yeah, let's talk about how Damien's going to be very accusing tomorrow."

She laughed and the tension left the air. "He might not bring it up to save his rep."

"Maybe." He paused, sending her a small glance out of the corner of his eye. "How long do you think it'll take him to get all the paint off?"

She laughed again and this time he joined her.

"You two look quite happy together," a voice mused above them. Jamie looked up just as Mikan slid out of a tree. "I thought you were coming with Arden and Jade?"

"Eh, long story," he said, shrugging. "Avoid the special dorms."

She didn't ask. "You look a lot less formal than most of the other guys." She eyed him rather approvingly. "Typical bad-boy look."

"Tuxes are for weddings," he said. "This is a lot more comfortable. What about you, Sakura? In a tree instead of the dance?"

She waved her hand at him. "I went there for a bit." She motioned to the bright orange dress she was wearing. "Didn't care to stick around." She twirled. "So, Swift, how do I look?"

"As gorgeous as always," he complimented.

"What, not better than usual?"

He rolled his eyes. "Sorry, trick of the light. You're right—you look way better."

"That's what I thought," she said smugly. "And you know who looks almost as good as me?"

She was giving him an obvious opening to flatter Claire – so obvious that Claire probably knew what Mikan was doing too. "Me?" he suggested.

Mikan gave him an infuriated look and even Claire looked rather surprised at the missed opportunity. "I was going to say Claire," Mikan practically hissed.

"Claire looks better than you," he said.

Mikan's lip twitched, and the anger turned into amused understanding. Claire flushed and said nothing.

"I see," Mikan said slowly. "Well, I guess I should let you two go ahead. Sorry to have interrupted your, ah, flirting."

"That isn—"

Mikan shook her head, not wanting his excuses, then walked past them, waving over her shoulder.

"Let's go," Claire said quickly, not looking at him.

"Er, yeah."

They walked the rest of the way in silence. When they arrived, Arden looked at them oddly and Claire quickly excused herself with a "Thanks for escorting me."

Arden sauntered up, the weird look still evident. "I thought you two set off the bomb – you should be splattered in paint."

Jamie stared at him, letting his face betray how unimpressed he was with Arden. "You didn't think that maybe Mikan or Damien would walk in?"

He paled considerably and Jamie felt better.

"Damien set it off—we hid."

"Oh shit," Arden cursed, actually shuddering.

"Yeah, have fun with that. I'll bill you for the paint stains in my room." He clapped Arden's shoulder with his paint-covered hand as he walked past him, feeling better. He looked for a dark, empty spot he could hide in, and upon finding none, slipped as far away from the crowd he could get while still keeping an eye on Claire.

Any time a boy looked at her and started to walk over to ask her to dance, he would spontaneously slip and fall, and then be to embarrassed to talk to her. Which he, of course, had absolutely nothing to do with. At all.

Claire didn't seem to notice them anyway, caught up in a conversation with Mitsuki.

He shifted his eyes away from her when a familiar approached him. "Jade." He blinked in confusion because generally she would be taking the opportunity to cling obsessively to Arden.

"Hey," she greeted. "You've been standing here like a loner so I thought I'd come and offer you a dance."

He wasn't sure how to respond. Jade repressing her memories had put a wedge between them that she never understood and he understood too well. He couldn't remember the last time they had even just talked, only the two of them. He'd been so busy trying to protect everyone that he'd neglected just doing normal brother-sister things with her.

"Sure," he agreed with awkward hesitance.

They got into a simple position, hands clasped together on one side, her other hand on his shoulder and his other on her waist. They danced, silent for the first third of the song before finally Jade piped up.

"You know, we don't spend much time together anymore," she said, echoing his earlier thoughts.

He shrugged. "You're busy with Arden and I'm busy ignoring everyone."

Her lip jerked slightly upwards. "Yeah, but… I don't get why you do that to us. I'm your twin, for God's sake!"

He avoided her searching eyes. "Just… I'm just a stupid, insecure, depressed teenager. A lot of people are. Just… forget about it."

"But why?" she persisted ignorantly. "Why are you depressed?"

He felt a hundred razors shoot through his heart. He wanted to tell her what happened to them, to shake her senses back, make her remember how she had been depressed too, but he couldn't because he couldn't handle her knowing or losing her to the darkness again. So he locked his jaw and shook her off of him. "Go—go dance with Arden, I have to leave."

She faltered unhappily. "Jamie—"

"Fuck off!" he spit, her hurt look sending another knife through him as he turned and hurried away from her. He was almost gone when he remembered that he had promised Claire—and Arden—that he would dance with her for the last song. A long list of curses shot through his head and he turned to look for Claire.

When his eyes landed on her, he felt his scowl deepen furiously. Scott was with her, holding her wrist despite that she was trying to get away from him. He stalked towards them, trying to control his anger, but when he was about two meters away, Scott started leaning towards Claire like he was going to kiss her. He shot forward the last few steps, standing between them and letting his fist connect with Scott's nose.

Scott let out a shriek, hands flying to his now bloody and possibly broken nose. He backed a few steps away from them and glared furiously at Jamie, letting out a muffled, mocking sound. "Jealous, Swift?"

He ignored the jab, turning to a rather startled Claire. "I'm leaving early. Sorry," he said, turning away again, not wanting to stick around long enough to start feeling guilty.

"Jamie—?" Claire started behind him, but he kept going, pushing passed people to get out of the suffocating room.

"Jamie, wait," Claire called as he opened the door. He slipped through it and shut it without looking back.

It opened behind him moments later, and he quickened his steps towards the special star dorms.

"Jamie," Claire said, annoyance clear in her voice.

"Go away," he replied.

"No." He heard her steps quicken until she was right behind him. "Why are you leaving? The dance won't be going on much longer anyway…"

"I don't care, it's stupid anyway," he spat. "Leave me alone."

"Fat chance," she snapped back. "Jamie, talk to me."

"As if I have a reason to," he said harshly.

For a moment she didn't reply. When she finally settled on her words, they were "I'm not leaving you."

The words were practically a slap to the face after he was such a dick, but he couldn't bring himself to apologize. Or say anything else on the matter.

When he was silent, she stepped up beside him, grabbing his hand—well, fist—and holding it as they continued towards the dorm.

Finally, when it was in sight and he had cooled down enough to not be a complete asshole and was feeling a lot like one, he let his hand relax and grabbed Claire's hand back, pulling her into him and pressing his face into her hair. "Sorry," he murmured, wrapping his unoccupied hand around her shoulders. "I'm an asshole."

"You make it sound like I don't know that already," she replied, trying to seem unaffected, but she was leaning into his hug.

"Yeah, well," he said, pulling away from her, blushing. "You know what the teachers say: if you're good at something, do it."

She smiled faintly, looking down at their hands but not pulling hers away. "Why were you so upset?" she asked, flicking her eyes back up to his face.

He had no intention to answer, but she squeezed his hand, and because she seemed to hold some sort of power over him, he ended up blurting, "Jade was asking questions."

She raised her eyebrows. "Questions?"

"About me and why I separate myself from other people and why I'm so unhappy," he answered automatically. "And I got annoyed because she should know but she doesn't and—" He broke off, shaking his head.

She rocked on her heels, looking thoughtful. "It must be hard," she said faintly, "having a twin sister who went through things like that with you, then forgot them."

He swallowed the lump in his throat painfully. "Yes," he said, voice quivering, "it's very hard."

"Why don't you just tell her?" she whispered as Jamie started walking towards the rooms again, dragging her with him. "It's not right for you to have to go through this alone, and it's not right for her to not know herself."

"I don't—I can't…" He paused, clenching his jaw. "When it happened, I was there and I could've helped but I didn't and if she remembers, she could blame me and—" He paused again. "It hurt her so bad and she hated herself and wanted to die, and that was even before the rape, and I cant handle seeing her like that again, not—not again, because she was so hopeless and I was always trying to convince her that we would be fine, because I thought we would be, but I was wrong and I was giving her false hope and she would hate me if she remembered what I did to her."

Claire stared at him, probably not expecting the sudden sob story he had bubbled out. "She wouldn't hate you," she said, sounding surprised. "Jamie, you try your best to protect everyone, especially her, she can't be mad about you caring too much."

He shook his head. "Claire, you don't—you don't know the whole story. I've been keeping such big secrets, things that—that shouldn't be forgiven, that can't be forgiven." He opened the door and blinked, having forgotten about the paint.

"Just because you can't forgive yourself doesn't mean that others can't forgive you," Claire argued.

"I don't want to talk about it anymore." He pushed open his door and walked inside, stepping aside to let Claire in before shutting his door.

She glanced around his room, looking embarrassed, and he remembered that the last time she had been in there, he had kissed her.

"Sorry about not dancing with you," he apologized quickly, not wanting the memory to be brought into the conversation.

"It's fine," she said simply. "I don't like dancing in front of crowds anyway. Especially with you, where Sam can clearly see me."

"Has she been bothering you? I'll push her off the roof, I swear."

She looked faintly amused, shaking her head and sitting on his bed. "No, she's been leaving me alone. I think you scared her off."

"Good," he said, relieved. He would've actually pushed Sam off the roof, but he didn't really want to get in trouble. "Sorry about her."

"Stop apologizing," she said, rolling her eyes. They landed by his trashcan. "That paper is really out of place, considering the rest of your room is clean."

"What?" He turned and blinked at the paper, just as Claire reached down and picked it up. He pulled it away from her quickly, crumpling it into a tighter ball and throwing it onto his desk.

She looked at him oddly.

"It's—I—nothing," he said intelligently, shuffling his feet and looking away from her. "Just—nothing."

She blinked at him, looking hurt. "You can talk to me, you know," she said quietly, rocking on her heels.

"I—it's not—" He stopped, the hurt expression getting to him. "It's a letter from my dad."

She jolted. "Jamie, I'm so sorry, I didn't—"

"It's fine," he interrupted. "If I didn't want anyone to see it, I should've thrown in out properly."

She pressed her lips together, holding his hand again, though he couldn't recall her grabbing it. "What," she started slowly, "what did it say?"

He shook his head as he said, "I didn't read it. I didn't want to hear his excuses."

"What if it isn't excuses?" she asked, looking at the letter worriedly. "What if he's getting released, or dying, or something?"

"Read it then," he said dryly. "I don't really care."

"That isn't—" She stopped, looking at him, seeming to realize that he wanted her to read it, because he wanted to know what it said, but he couldn't bring himself to. She looked at the letter hesitantly, then back at him. "If I read it," she said slowly, "then you have to dance with me."

He looked at her stupidly, taking in her determined eyes and flushed cheeks. "But the dance will be over by the time we get there again."

She rolled her eyes at him. "If you paid attention, you'd realize you can hear the music from here."

He blinked, realizing that she was right, and he could hear the faint sound of music. "Okay," he agreed, because knowing what the letter said and dancing with Claire was a win-win situation. Kind of.

Looking relieved, she turned to the letter, smoothing it out, slower than she had to, probably because she was nervous to read it. When it was finally as smooth as she could get it, she pressed her lips together, trailing her eyes over the words.

It was less than a minute before she pulled her eyes away, and he blinked, having expected the letter to be long and full of bullshit.

"Um," she said awkwardly. "You should probably read it for yourself."

"Claire, I don't…"

"Do it or I won't dance with you."

He felt his mouth fall open, because he hadn't expected Claire to use herself against him. "That wasn't the deal," he protested.

"Too bad."

He scowled at her, because he wanted to know what the letter said, but didn't want to read it, and he really wanted to dance with her.

After a small glaring contest, he sighed and she looked triumphant. "You're manipulative," he growled, moving to stand beside her so he could read the letter.

She didn't reply and he let his eyes slide over it, shocked at how short it was.

Only seven words stained the page.

I'm so sorry. But don't forgive me.

That was it. He wasn't even sure how he was supposed to feel.

"Oh," he said because Claire was waiting for a reaction.

She snorted.

Then, before he could continue to stare stupidly at the letter or think of a better reaction, Claire pulled him away from it. He stared at her, surprised at the fact that she had been the first one to do something, because normally she would wait for him to make a move, then react by blushing and squeaking.

"I owe you a dance, Swift," she said. "And the DJ just declared that the last dance is starting." She moved the hand that she was holding to her waist, then grabbed his other one, her free hand going around his neck.

"Where'd this boost of confidence come from?" he asked, voice tight with desire. He moved the hand she was holding to the other side of her waist, pulling her closer.

She shrugged, simply saying, "Start dancing, Swift."

He obeyed, not really sure what else he could do. Except kiss her, but he wasn't really planning on doing that.

"Arden's going to kill me when he finds out I left early," he said, trying to start up a conversation before he did something stupid.

"He might realize I'm gone too and jump to conclusions."

Okay, that was exactly what he didn't want to think about, because at the rate things were going and the way he was feeling, those conclusions would be right.

"He's good at that," he said when he noticed that Claire was waiting for a response.

"He's good at jumping to the wrong conclusions," she corrected. "I can't remember the last time he was right about something."

"I can think of plenty of times," he said, thinking of all the times that Arden had insisted that he had feelings for Claire.

She opened her mouth, probably about to ask "When?" before realization flushed her face, and she looked away from his eyes. "Oh. There's been a few times, I guess," she mumbled.

The comment made the conversation awkward, and it disappeared for the rest of the dance. When it ended, Claire cleared her throat. "I… I should probably go." All the former bravery seemed to have faded as she took her hands away from him, rubbing her arm awkwardly.

"No," he said, catching her wrist when she started walking passed him. "No—stay."

She flushed darkly, but didn't move her wrist out of his grip. "The dance is over – it'll be curfew soon."

"Stay here," he blurted, not really thinking before speaking. "Stay with me tonight."

She stared at him, looking so embarrassed she could've exploded. "Th-that's…"

"You said you wouldn't leave me," he said, pulling her closer to him. "So you have to stay."

"O-okay," she squeaked.

"Really?" he asked, surprised and overjoyed. "Oh, but…"

She stared at him, too dazed to question his sudden hesitance.

He twisted the fabric of her dress between his fingers. "If you sleep in your dress, it'll get ruined, won't it?"

Some of the color left her cheeks as she finally snapped out of her daze. "U-um, probably."

He pursed his lips before heading over to his dresser, dragging Claire with him. He pulled the bottom drawer open with his foot and was relieved to see some girl clothes.

Claire looked at them stupidly, then him oddly.

He blushed. "Uh—they're for Mikan or Jade in emergencies," he explained so she didn't think he liked to cross-dress.

She nodded, the odd look fading slower than he would've liked.

"You're just a bit smaller than Mikan, right?" he asked, reaching into the drawer and pulling out a t-shirt and sweat pants.

She took them, fingers trembling. "Y-yes."

"Um," he started, blushing, "you can change in my bathroom."

She nodded, looking extremely confused, like she couldn't believe that she had actually agreed to stay—That makes two of us—before walking into his bathroom and shutting the door quietly behind her.

When he heard the lock click, he waited two seconds before smacking himself hard in the face. You idiot! His inner voice howled. You perverted asshole, how dare you do something like this?! Have you no shame?

Well, it wasn't like he had any ill intentions. He just wanted Claire with him. And somehow that had ended up with him inviting her to stay with him.

He kicked the drawer shut and opened the second-to-top one, pulling out his own t-shirt and pair of sweat pants. It would take Claire a minute or two to get the dress and make-up off, so he had time to change into his own sleepwear.

Of course, that didn't stop him from rushing so much he nearly put the pants on backwards.

He tossed his dirty clothes into the hamper in the corner of his room, fidgeting, before his eyes turned back to his fathers letter.

He was highly unsure of what he was supposed to think of the seven words.

Of course his father was sorry—anybody would be if they had realized they had raped their own daughter. Unless they were bat shit insane. Which his father wasn't – he was just a drunken asshole.

And obviously Jamie had no intention to of forgiving him – ever.

He would've been worried about Jade getting a similar letter, but he had made it clear that he was to get her mail, go through it, and then give it to her himself.

And she hadn't gotten one, their father probably too mortified to even try communicating with her.

"Jamie?"

He blinked, head whipping up to look at Claire, who was standing in his bathroom doorway, dress and make-up replaced with the other clothes. "Sorry," he apologized, not exactly what he was apologizing for. "I was, um…"

"It's fine," she excused, fidgeting with the shirt nervously. "I—um…"

"Is something wrong?" He stepped towards her hesitantly. "Do you—want to leave?" he asked, embarrassed beyond belief. "You can, sorry, I was being stupid and…sorry."

"No, that's not…" she trailed off.

"What's wrong?" She didn't respond. "You said earlier that I could talk to you. You can talk to me, too, you know."

She blushed. "It's nothing, really, um, I was letting my mind wander and just thought—was wondering…nothing."

"Claire…" He hesitated. "You can ask me anything, you know. So don't… don't hesitate to."

She blushed deeper, avoiding his gaze. "I was just wondering…" She stopped again, glancing at him unsurely. "I, um…"

"If you don't tell me willingly, I'll force it out of you," he mentioned casually. She still didn't spit it out. "Okay, how about I ask you something embarrassing that I want to know the answer to so you don't feel so awkward?"

She glanced at him, looking humiliated.

It didn't take him more than five seconds to think of a question that he actually was curious to know the answer to. "How many boys have you kissed?"

She looked at him, expression shocked. "That's what I was going to ask you," she admitted.

"I haven't kissed any boys, thank you very much."

She scowled at him and he blinked at her innocently. "I meant with girls, jerk."

"I would hope so," he said, feigning offence. He blushed when he realized he had to answer that. "I—um…one." He looked at her awkwardly. She looked at her feet, blushing but smiling faintly.

"What about you?" he persisted, feeling jealousy wash through him when she didn't answer the question right away.

"I haven't kissed any girls," she said, sticking her tongue out at him. He scowled and she continued. "…Or boys, other than you."

They both paused, processing that they had both been worried about nothing.

"Scott tried to kiss you," he said, trying to not appear as happy as he was about him having taken her lip-virginity.

"Sam's tried to kiss you," Claire retorted. "And you probably broke Scott's nose."

He inched towards her slowly. "You didn't want him to kiss you. He shouldn't have been trying to."

"You could've just told him to stop," she said as he stopped in front of her, biting her lip to stop herself from smiling.

"I could've," he agreed easily. "Can I ask you another question?"

She nodded, her eyes flicking to his lips.

"If I tried to kiss you, would you stop me?"

Her expression was answer enough, and he tilted her chin up, leaning to brush his lips across hers gently. She leaned into him, cupping his face with her hands, responding to the light kiss, trembling.

Our first kiss probably should've been more like this, he thought, his body molding into Claire's. And less hard and hungry. Not that he minded their first kiss. It was just that they had both let their emotions take over their actions.

He pulled away from her slightly, leaning his forehead against hers and trying to make his heart beat normally. He moved his hands from Claire's face to her hips and her eyes opened, staring into his.

"I didn't answer the question," she said quietly, blushing.

He snorted, rolling his eyes, then kissed her again, quickly, before pulling away completely—and realizing they weren't alone.

"Damien, what the fuck!" he yelled, moving in front of Claire and glaring at the smug boy in his doorway.

"I was going to say something," he drawled, "but I think I walked in on something rather interesting. Care to explain that?"

Instead of answering the question, he looked at Damien and said, "Why aren't you covered in paint?"

Claire coughed to smother a laugh behind him.

Murderous rage flashed over Damien's face. "It was you," he hissed, instantly distracted.

"Actually, it wasn't. It was my fault that thing was put there, but it wasn't me who put it there."

"It was Taylor, wasn't it?" he spat. "You better tell me, or I won't waste a minute before going to tell him what I just walked in on."

Jamie raised his eyebrows. "You make it sound like I haven't seen you and Mitsuki before," he said casually.

Damien's face fell. Gotcha. "What did you see?" Damien asked testily.

"Well, definitely not you and Mitsuki in the northern hallway." He paused as Damien's face darkened. "And you were most certainly not kissing the shit out of her neck. And she was definitely not moaning and begging for—"

"This never happened!" Damien said loudly, and then was gone.

He turned back to Claire, who was gaping at him. "You saw what?" she choked.

He laughed. "I knew that would come in handy at some point."

"You saw what?!"

He cocked his head. "What, you didn't know about them and their, uh… romance doesn't really seem like the right word, does it?"

She stared at him, mouth hanging open. He shut it with his finger, grinning in amusement.

"Mitsuki's too good for him," she finally said.

He cocked his head. "Well, you're too good for me, but here you are."

She shook her head. "No, I—"

"Shut up."

She obeyed, so he decided she was still baffled by the whole Damien/Mitsuki thing. Or remembering once more that she had agreed to spend the night with him.

"Are you sure you want to stay here?" he asked, pulling a strand of her hair to get her attention.

She blinked, eyes focusing on him. "I told you I would. Besides, there's no class tomorrow, so it should be fine."

"Right," he said, feeling relieved that she was staying despite his concerns. "Um, well, um… you can take my bed, because I made you stay here and all."

She blinked again. "We can both sleep in your bed, Jamie," she said exasperatedly, rolling her eyes. "Just as long as you don't feel me up or something."

He sighed dramatically, trying to not show his happiness. "I'll try."

Even in the darkness settling over his room, he could see Claire roll her eyes once more at his antics as she settled on his bed.

He sat on the other side of it, glancing at her shyly. "Thanks for, um, you know, staying with me."

"Shut up." She trailed her fingers over his bed, looking irritated. "Why is your bed so much comfier than mine—I'm only one star below you!"

He jumped on his knees, making the bed wave. "Cause it's a waterbed," he said pleasantly, shaking it more and more.

"I get it!" she snapped when the waves nearly made her fall off the bed. "I just think it's unfair how the students get treated differently."

He fell on his side, tucking his arm under his pillow. "Guess you'll just have to sleep in here more, huh?"

"Shut up." She turned away from him and lied down. "Just go to sleep."

And yet, with Claire there, he had a feeling he would be too self-conscious to sleep. What if he snored, or drooled, or had a nightmare and kicked her out of the bed by mistake?

The mere thought made him shudder with humiliation, and the bed rippled underneath him.

"Stop shaking the bed."

"It's a waterbed! I move, it moves," he said, trying not to spontaneously throw up on her. He'd probably get let off the hook for that if he explained it was because she made him feel all weird and nervous, but still. He mentally shuddered in embarrassment to humor her, though she wouldn't know about it.

He settled down properly, watching Claire as the minutes ticked by. She didn't turn back around, but her muscles slowly relaxed until he knew she was asleep.

And yet, with Claire there…

He wasn't really bothered by the fact that he wasn't falling asleep. He was more than content to watch Claire's sleeping figure all night. Is that creepy? That's totally creepy, I need to stop doing that thing where I think.

Claire's body shook suddenly and violently, and he jerked to attention. "Claire…?" She rolled over, still asleep, face creased in what appeared to be pain. Her once relaxed shoulders were tense and there was sweat on her forehead.

A nightmare? He didn't know why, but he hadn't pinned Claire as the kind to have nightmares. Which was stupid of him – even Mikan suffered from nightmares and she was the strongest person he knew.

He shuffled forward until he was in front of Claire, then brushed the hair out of her face. "Claire," he said again. "Claire, wake up."

She jolted awake, not used to having people wake her up, then leaned away from him. "Jamie…" she trailed off, looking startled and confused.

"You were having a nightmare," he explained quietly.

She turned away from him, looking embarrassed. "So what?" she snapped, going back to refusing to look at him. "I always have nightmares. Don't wake me up."

He bit the inside of his cheek and reached for Claire, hooking his arm over her stomach and pulling her back into his chest.

"Jamie," she protested, "it's fine. I'm fine."

"Don't lie to me," he growled, pressing his face into her hair. "I have nightmares too. It's not fine. It's scary and sickening and awful. So don't complain."

It took her a few minutes to relax, but when she did, all she said was "I thought I told you not to feel me up."


Claire sat on his bed silently, glancing around the empty room. "You're going to Japan."

Jamie bit his lip lightly. "Yup."

Awkward silence.

"I'm sorry you're not coming…"

Claire stared at the floor. "Yeah…"

He cleared his throat. "Um, why did you come here…?"

She shrugged. "You're leaving. You don't want me to say goodbye?"

"No!" he said almost too quickly. "Um, I mean… yeah, of course I wanted to say bye to you. Why wouldn't I?"

She shrugged, and there was another moment of silence.

"Has Arden said goodbye to you yet?" she asked at last.

He nodded. "Now he's saying bye to Jade. And by saying bye I mean they're probably making out."

"Possibly."

He clicked his suitcase shut and sat beside her on the bed. "Seems like just yesterday I was moving in here, huh?"

She said nothing.

"Are you going to be sad I'm gone?" he asked, genuinely curious. He had absolutely no idea what terms him and Claire were on.

Sometimes they were flirting and the next moment they'd being wishing death on each other. Sometimes they were making out in a field of flowers, and then they would both be acting like it had never happened.

Complicated relationship indeed.

She blinked, giving him a confused look. "Are you serious? Of course I'll miss you, you idiot! We're… friends."

Yes, that's why you hesitated on the word friends, he thought, inwardly rolling his eyes. "Yeah, I suppose we've gotten close in the last few years." After a moment he added, "I mean, considering you hated me when we met…"

"I didn't hate you when we met," she corrected. "I hated you when you hurt Arden's feelings. And then mocked me, and threatened to hit me."

"Sorry," he muttered. "I really hate it when people butt into my personal life, y'know."

"Yeah, I tend to feel the same way."

More silence.

"I don't know why Jade's coming," Jamie said. "I think she'd much rather stay here with Arden than go with me and Mikan."

She shrugged. "You're her brother."

"She's just going to end up guilting me about it half the time we're there…"

Claire smiled slightly. "Probably."

"So, uh…" He paused awkwardly, glancing around. "This is… goodbye."

"For now," Claire added.

"Of course," he agreed with ease. "Don't think you can escape me that easily. I'll come back to America one day… and I'll stalk you. So just remember, if you suddenly notice someone following you around like a creep, it's me."

"You already do that."

He narrowed his eyes, but played along. "Damn, you saw me?"

They fell into silence once more.

"Well, uh… this is it, then," Jamie said, getting back to his feet.

Claire stood up after a moment's hesitation. "I guess it is."

They walked towards the door, Jamie watching Claire out of the corner of his eye.

She looked like she was mentally arguing with herself over something, her mouth was curved downward, and she was biting her lip anxiously.

He glanced away from her, opening his door awkwardly.

She hesitated in his doorway, turning back to look at him.

He avoided her eyes awkwardly, staring at the doorknob across the hall.

"Jamie," Claire whispered after a moment.

His eyes flicked to her own, and he blinked at the determined look in her eye. "Wh—"

He was cut off abruptly as her lips pressed hard against his.

His arms wrapped around her waist, pulling her into him, and she had one hand tangled in his hair, the other holding the front of his shirt possessively. He thought he could hear her murmur "Don't go," but his ears were filled with the sound of his rushing blood.

Then the sound of Ardens door opening.

And once again, they went from making out, to acting like it never happened.

Arden eyed the two of them and Jamie tried to not notice that his sisters hair was a hell of a lot messier than it had been before Arden had walked in. I don't want to know.

"Well," Arden cleared his throat, "I suppose it's, uh, time…"

He felt his jaw tighten when Claire's eyes met his again. "Yeah. It's time."


Mikan pulled at the end of her dress nervously.

"Calm down," he whispered to her. "Everything will be fine. You look sexy," he added for her benefit.

Her lip twitched into a smile that disappeared as soon as it had arrived. "I can see so many people I used to know," she murmured. "Hotaru, Ruka, Anna, Yuu, Nonoko… Natsume…"

He rolled his eyes good-naturedly at her naivety. "I can't believe you still love him."

She bit her lip. "I don't. It's just hard to let go of the time before my life fell apart."

He hooked an arm around her waist. "But look at the benefits—we have each other, and that's all we need, right?"

She nodded slowly. "It's just—I don't know—what I want…" she trailed off.

"You want to go back," he said. "To the way things were. You're scared now that you're back—you're afraid that everyone's moved on from you while you're still partially clinging to them desperately."

She trembled. "God, Jamie, what if Natsume has a girlfriend?"

He smiled to himself. "His loss. I'll just have to keep you all to myself."

She smiled and nodded slightly, sucking in a deep breath. "Wish me luck up there, Jame."

He smirked. "I don't need to. You'll do great anyway."

"Stop flirting," Jade groaned.

Apparently she could make out with Arden in front of them, but they couldn't harmlessly flirt.

Yup.

Mikan rolled her eyes, clearly thinking the same thing, and walked onto the stage, emotionless mask back on behind the real one she wore to hide her face.

The crowd fell into confused silence.

Kuonji walked onto the stage a second after her to introduce her as much as he dared.

Jamie motioned to Jade, and they climbed onto the stage, heading over to their instruments without gaining attention.

Kuonji walked off a moment later, sending them a look of warning that they ignored with ease.

Mikan started her own little introduction, first telling Kuonji she hated him, then mentioning that they were doing Paramore songs that her mp3 player had chosen. Someone in the crowd made a snide remark that he didn't hear, which Mikan quickly replied to rudely.

After a moment, she glanced behind her at them to signal that they were starting.

After the song, Jade rushed to bathe Mikan in compliments, to which Mikan tried to act excited, and failed miserably, which didn't seem to go noticed by Jade, as she kept blabbing on about nonsense.

After a few minutes of useless chatter, it was time for their next three songs. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he reminded himself that the songs were Born for This, My Heart and Let the Flames Begin.

They passed in a blur, Jamie allowing his eyes to stray across the crowd.

From the pictures he had seen and the descriptions he had been told, he could name some of the people, and he made a small game of it.

Black hair and purple eyes would be Hotaru Imai, Mikan's former best friend. The word former sent a small wave of satisfaction through him. They were best friends now, and nothing would ever change that.

Blond with blue eyes would probably by Ruka Nogi.

Blue hair and matching blue eyes dancing with pink hair and blue eyes would be Nonoko and Anna.

Way at the back was a crowd of girls, all begging for a dance with who he knew instantly was Natsume Hyuuga. Black hair, red eyes.

Why did Japanese people have weird colored hair and eyes?

Maybe Damien was from Japan…

Natsume was paying no mind to any of the girls, his eyes trained on Mikan shamelessly.

Jamie inwardly sighed. It looked like neither of them had moved on, and he was going to have to deal with Mikan getting a boyfriend. Or fiancé, as it may.

Kuonji walked back onto the stage long enough to hand Mikan a note.

She read it over quickly, scowled darkly, and leaned back towards the microphone. "We would like to send our thanks to Hotaru Imai for donating money into this dance. Please come up here to receive applause."

Jamie gave Kuonji an infuriated look. He would make Mikan do something like this.

Hotaru – his guess at who she was had been correct – walked onto the stage calmly, not giving Mikan a second glance as she started a small speech about money.

Jamie watched Mikan worriedly.

She was tensed nervously, staring into the crowd with a carefully blank expression, avoiding looking at Hotaru as though if she did, she'd get some sort of disease.

Finally, Hotaru leapt back off the stage and Mikan loosened up slightly, turning to Jade and him. "Let's go walk around."

He blinked. Was she insane? "We're not supposed to mingle."

"We're not mingling, I just want some freaking punch." Without waiting for a response, she hopped off the stage. "Just remember not to say each others names. Just call me Em, and Jamie can be Jay, and Jade, you can be Dee."

They arrived at the snack table, Mikan instantly reaching for a plastic cup.

"I can't believe we're doing all Paramore songs," he grumbled after a moment. "Can't you do anything else?"

She rolled her eyes. "You know I can. You've known for the three and a half years I've known you."

"I've known you for four years," he corrected. "We just didn't talk until halfway through the first one." He glanced around lazily, taking note that Hotaru, who was seated nearby, was watching Mikan with a bemused expression.

Further away, Natsume was still watching Mikan as well.

Jamie stared at him for a moment before mentally shrugging. Mine as well have some fun with this, he thought, casually draping his arm across Mikan's shoulders, eyes still on Natsume, smirking.

Mikan didn't react, apparently not even noticing.

Natsume blinked, snapping out of his thoughts, and narrowed his eyes, before turning his gaze to Jamie angrily, looking momentarily surprised that Jamie was watching him.

He just smirked, tightening his grip slightly around Mikan.

Natsume scowled darkly, apparently not liking this.

Jamie tried not to laugh, turning his attention back to the conversation at hand.

"Paramore's cool, Jamie. You like them, so why are you complaining?" Jade was saying through a mouth full of cupcake.

He made a mental note to grab one of them when they left.

"He wanted to do Determinate, Lemonade Mouth. Cause he likes rapping," Mikan explained.

Actually he generally hated rap. Just not in Determinate.

Jade looked thoughtful. "I wouldn't have minded that one either," she admitted after a moment.

"I chose the songs, not you."

"No you didn't," Jamie pointed out. "Your mp3 player did."

"I chose the last one!" Mikan snapped defensively.

Jamie snorted. "Brick by Boring Brick, another Paramore song."

Mikan glowered at him, grabbing a cupcake. "I really don't like you," she growled, turning and starting back to the stage.

Jamie sighed, grabbing a cupcake and following her.

They sat silently on the stage until it was finally time for the last song.

Mikan hesitated slightly and stepped up to the mike. "The last song I will be singing tonight is the one I picked. It's also a Paramore song." She paused to let people laugh, then continued, "But I can relate to this one. Maybe a but too much." She paused again, biting her lip. "I used to believe in fairytales, used to think I lived in one," she said quietly. "But now… well, now I'm ripping wings off of butterflies, so to speak."

He rolled his eyes slightly as they started to play, eyes trailing over the crowd again.

He frowned.

Whereas most people had partnered up to dance with someone for the last dance, Natsume was standing off to the side, eyes glazed over, still on Mikan.

He glanced at Mikan, and frowned at the look of concentration on her face.

What the hell was she doing now?

He had a feeling he didn't want to know.


Part Two: End


Okay, yup, this needs three parts. This here is 70 pages and… well, I love Jamie endlessly, but I also know that if a story gets updated like twelve times in a row, I get tired of reading the huge update at some point.

So now is the end for part two.

Part Three: Scars will hopefully not take that bloody long but who am I even kidding.

Either way, I plan on getting The Aftermath up before it.

And yeah, subtle lack of Mikan and Jamie moments. I'll go into that in my last authors note. (Or if you're curious, just ask.)

And maybe some of you now are like "Oh, Claire isn't actually that much of a bitch and she's good together with Jamie."

but probably not.

Anyway. Reviews—I really appreciate them. And didn't get many for the last chapter. I'm not trying to sound like I'm nagging, it's just that most of my regular reviewers also didn't review and I was just like. Oh.

Also, real quick: any of you want to make a cover for this story? No? Oh. Okay.

So many line breaks asdfgh

Right. Well. Kay. Bye.