Here we go with chapter four! In this chapter, we formally introduce two new characters (well, one of which we've already seen in a short appearance), who are personally one of my favorites in this AU. Enjoy!

English Residence, Gold Fortune District
Friday, May 25—5:32 PM

John groggily rubbed his eyes with one hand as he stretched his other limbs out across the bed he laid on. He blinked a few times to try to clear out his vision and get a bearing of his surroundings; even though things looked a little blurry since he wasn't wearing his glasses, as soon as he was able to see well enough, he remembered that he was in Jake's room.

In addition to picking him up from school and allowing him to hang out at his place and feed him, Jake let the boy take naps on his bed while the elder brunet did his grocery shopping or whatever business he needed to attend to. Sometimes John felt like he was taking advantage of Jake's kindness, but Jake being Jake wouldn't have any of that. Ever since they met, Jake took it upon himself to take care of him; he knew otherwise John would be home alone since Jane moved out and their father was always out on business.

He rolled over to look at the alarm clock on Jake's nightstand and grabbed his glasses to put them on. Also on the nightstand was a small digital clock that was fashioned to look like it was made of bronze and shaped like an old gramophone player. The time on the LED face read 5:34 PM.

John slowly sat up and looked down at his torso; he was still in his school uniform, save for his sweater vest and blazer which hung over the back of Jake's desk chair. His tie was loosened, and deep wrinkles and creases littered his white dress shirt and gray slacks. He pushed himself off the bed and walked over to the door to go into the living room. He hoped Jake prepared something to eat while he was knocked out.

As he approached the closed door, he heard two voices outside in the living room. One was Jake's, and the other was a woman's… Was that Jane? It got quiet for a second after Jake said something, then the woman yelled as if she was scolding him, and Jake's deep voice just laughed in response.

Yeah, that was definitely his sister.

He opened the door and poked his head into the living room. Sure enough, Jake and Jane were sitting on the sofa, both of them turned around to look at him as they heard the door creak.

"Look who's awake," Jane chimed in a sing-song tone.

John just waved a hand as he stepped out of the bedroom. Jake chuckled as he leaned forward to get a better look at the boy.

"Sleep well?" He asked with a lopsided half-smile after exhaling the puff of smoke he held in, twirling his cigarette between his fingers. John nodded slightly in reply as he scratched the back of his head, his medium length hair entangling between his fingers, and Jake laughed at bit at his response. "Well I cooked some soup earlier if you're hungry. It's still hot on the stove so help yourself, little buddy."

John looked over to the kitchen area where a pot sat on the stove on the nook. "Thanks," he nodded again as he walked through the open archway into the kitchen. He shook his head a few times, trying to wake himself up as he still felt half asleep as he talked to the older two. "What are you doing here by the way, sis?"

Jane looked up from the papers scattered across the coffee table that she and Jake had been perusing over to John. She watched him grab a bowl from the cupboard and take the lid off the pot, and she giggled as he immediately jerked away when the steam poured out in round puffs and fogged up his glasses.

"Looking over the intel I collected on those drug dealers from that contract Jake got a few days ago," she replied.

John's face lit up at that as he took a soup spoon out of a drawer. "Oh, finally we get to get started on that! I knew Jake was waiting until I got out of school for the week."

It had been three days since he and Jake met with their lady client on chasing down the five members of the small drug cartel that claimed the life of her son and many other young teens. John had found it odd that he hadn't mentioned it since that meeting; and every time John would ask him about it, he'd just casually dodge the topic with something like "We'll see to it eventually, ol' bean!" or "One step at a time, lad!" He remembered that when he was still training and Jake would get contracts, he was rather speedy about getting the job done as soon as the paperwork was signed.

Jane just looked at him with a rather puzzled look as he ate his soup at the counter. "What do you mean?"

John blew softly at the hot liquid in his spoon before slurping it down. "You were out gathering the info on where to get them like my first hit, right? 'Cause I was wondering why it took so long for Jake to get started on it till now."

His sister furrowed her brow in confusion. "Wha…" Right then, it clicked in her head, and she rolled her eyes to Jake. "You didn't tell him?"

Jake sheepishly rubbed the back of his neck with one hand as he extinguished his finished cigarette into his ash tray. "I-I mean I was going to tell him—"

Before he could finish, Jane just groaned loudly as she slouched back into the sofa. "Oh my God."

John cocked an eyebrow at the two, shifting his weight as he leaned against the counter and continued eating. "What?"

Jake cleared his throat slightly and leaned forward. He rested his chin against the backs of his hands with his elbows propped up on his knees. "Actually, John… I already took out two of those rogues over the past few days… And your ol' sister here's been helping me out."

The teen stared at him at that, his expression a mix of surprise and a bit of hurt. He was in the middle of raising his spoon filled with soup to his mouth, but he lowered it back into the bowl, trying to process what he had just heard. "…Wait, what?"

"I mean… Jane and I—"

"No, no," John shook his head as he walked out of the kitchen and towards them so that he stood in front of the pair across the coffee table. Jake and Jane could tell by his tone that he was quite upset, and they understood fully well why. "I know what you meant! But why? I thought I was your partner!"

"You are!" Jake quickly added, holding his hands out to motion for the boy to calm down. "Y-you are, my lad. But given how dangerous these boys are… I felt that maybe you should sit this one out and wait for the next one! The next contract, I promise! …Gentleman's promise!"

John just stared Jake down, who was looking up at him with an apologetic smile, his white teeth showing slightly. Jake could clearly see the suppressed anger in the teen's eyes, but it was evident that the boy was far more disappointed than angry.

"How will I gain experience if you won't even let me go out on the field with you!?" John snapped at him. Jake tried to maintain eye contact, though his smile just weakened even more until he had to look down at the carpet, unable to look at his young charge any further. John turned to Jane, who had been watching the two boys the whole time, and his shoulders fell as he made eye contact with his older sister. "…Sis?"

"I honestly have to agree with Jake on this one," Jane admitted, trying to sound as politely as she could. Being the boy's big sister, she knew how disappointed John always got as a kid when he asked if he could join her whenever she went out and she had to say no. Though they spent so much time together as kids, as she got older—and especially once she got involved in the hitman business—the time she spent with John became increasingly few and far between. She felt particularly guilty since she knew he didn't have very many friends growing up, and without her and their father always away on business, he was usually all alone in the house. She could only imagine what feelings of loneliness and exclusion this must have brought back for him.

"…Do you guys not trust me?" John quietly asked after a tense silence.

"Of course we trust you!" Jane quickly exclaimed as she shot up from her seat and hugged the teen. John just stood there without returning the gesture, though he didn't pull away from her either. "We just… We just want you to be safe is all."

"…Remember at the café during the meeting," Jake spoke slowly. Jane and John turned to him at that. "When I said that I've had experience with these kinds of characters?"

John nodded slightly in reply.

"I just know how dangerous these types can be," the older male shrugged. "I, uh… I grew up surrounded by baddies like them. And you remember how the dame's son was even younger than you? …I just don't want you ending up like that on my watch."

John's eyes fell to the ground as Jake spoke. Despite his feelings, he knew where Jane and Jake were coming from. Even then, they should have at least told him sooner! Maybe that way he'd at least be less hurt… He even felt a bit betrayed.

"…Fine," John breathed, gently wriggling out of Jane's arms. He walked back towards Jake's room; he felt their eyes watching him as he did so. "Thanks again for the food."

Without another word, he stepped into the bedroom and softly closed the door behind him.

As soon as the teen was gone, Jane turned back to Jake with a disapproving glare, who was silently giving her another apologetic smile in response. She just rolled her eyes and unfolded her arms, walking towards the sliding door to the balcony with an exasperated sigh.

Vantas Catholic Children's Orphanage and Sanctuary, Gold Fortune District
Friday, May 25—4:38 PM

Twenty-three year old Kanaya Maryam tip-toed as silently as she could down the hallway that connected the kitchen with the dining hall of the orphanage she spent much of her free afternoons and evenings volunteering. Behind her crept a group of five of the orphans, each trying to stifle their giggles and wearing excited grins on their face. Occasionally, one of the resident priests or nuns would walk past them, and they would just exchange knowing smirks with Kanaya and shake their heads in amusement. They all knew Kanaya too well to know that what she and the children were up to could only end in a hilarious mess.

Kanaya eventually reached the edge of the large open archway that led to the kitchen. She felt the kids behind her bump into the back of her legs, and she whirled around to silently shush them with her index finger pressed to her glossed red lips.

"Shh!" She fought off a laugh as she bent over. Two of the kids just mimicked the action, holding their own fingers to their lips as they staved off their laughter.

Kanaya smiled warmly at the kids in reply, then turned around to peer over the wall as surreptitiously as she could. In the kitchen, some of the nuns were preparing dinner for the orphanage. Helping them out with the cooking was an eighteen year old Karkat Vantas.

"Karkat," Kanaya heard one of the nuns speak. She watched her adjust the rolled up sleeves of her black dress and hand Karkat a small plate with a stick of butter. "Can you start spreading butter on the bread there? I'm going to toast it into garlic rolls for the spaghetti."

"Yes, ma'am," Karkat nodded and set the butter on the counter. He quickly adjusted the knot on the back of his apron and reached for a butter knife on the rack of clean dishes. Kanaya couldn't help but giggle to herself watching him. Karkat was always so unbelievably polite and calm sounding when he talked to authority figures, especially the nuns and priests in the orphanage. But when it came to kids his age…

Without turning away from Karkat, Kanaya held out three fingers to the children behind her, preparing to silently count down for them to do their job. Three… Two… One… Go!

"GET HIIIM!" The kids all cried out at once.

Karkat and the nuns whirled around to see the children dashing from behind the wall towards the teen. He just froze, knife in hand and just about to reach for a slice of the baguette in front of him, unable to react quickly enough to defend himself from the kids' bum rush.

"W-what the—!?"

The words were barely out of his mouth when they all tackled his legs, their collective weight knocking down his small frame. He ungracefully staggered back onto his behind with a grunt, and the butter knife he was holding flew out of his grasp and onto the linoleum tiles. The resulting clattering sound echoing throughout the room, though the noise paled in comparison to the high pitched laughter of the children. The nuns just watched the scene with amusement and laughed, not even bothering to help the poor boy because they all knew fully well who was responsible for the attack.

"Karkat, come play wit' us!"

"Hey Karkat, why're ya wearin' such a girly apron!?"

"When's dinner ready, huh!? Huh!?"

Karkat helplessly tried to push the toddlers off him as they latched onto his upper legs and hugged his waist, tugging at his apron. "Ow! Hey, get off me! How many times did I tell you to quit doing that!? I was holding a knife; I could have—Ow! I could've hurt myself or one of you! Sisters, can you please help me!? KANAYA!"

Kanaya, who was still hiding behind the wall the whole time and trying to laugh as silently as she could, hurriedly gathered herself so that she looked as normal as possible and ran into the kitchen towards the tangled mess on the floor.

"Hey, hey!" Kanaya snapped as sternly as she could as she pulled the kids off of the teen one by one. "That's enough, get off your big brother!"

The nuns finally jumped in to help her—though not before shooting her quick knowing smirks—and dusted the kids off while Kanaya pulled Karkat up to his feet and brushed off his clothes. Karkat just scowled at the giggling children, glaring each of them down.

"What even possessed you all to attack me again!?" He snapped at them. "I take care of you all, don't I!? You shouldn't even be allowed to eat tonight just because of that!"

"I got it," Kanaya patted him on the shoulder before pushing him back to the counter. He just huffed angrily, snatched his discarded knife off the floor, and walked over to the sink to wash it off. Kanaya turned back to the kids and used her disciplinary voice, making sure Karkat heard her without actually seeing.

"You all know better than to sneak up on your brother like that!" She reprimanded them, though she tried as hard as she could to not smile. "Apologize to him now!"

"Sorry big brother," they all spoke in unison in a remorseful sing-song voice, all of them trying to sound as sincere as they could. Karkat just barely looked over his shoulder from where he stood at the sink, not saying a word, before sharply turning back to washing his knife.

"Good. Now go back outside and wait for dinner!" Kanaya finished. She made sure he wasn't looking, and turned back to the kids with a proud grin, silently high fiving each of them as they ran out of the kitchen one by one.

"Thanks, sisters," she smiled at the women, and they all nodded and returned the expression before Kanaya walked back over to Karkat. She quickly regained her composure before standing next to him. "Are you upset?"

Almost immediately he opened his mouth to reply to curse, but he stopped himself once he remembered he was in the presence of the sisters. "Of course I'm upset! They always do that! And I was holding a knife this time!"

Kanaya just raised her eyebrow slightly at him, her lips curling into a smirk. "Karkat, please. It's a butter knife."

"A knife's a knife!" He slapped the faucet off and dried the knife off with his apron as he stormed back to the butter and bread, running a hand through his platinum blond locks in agitation.

Kanaya had been volunteering at the orphanage since she was 12, and she had just turned 23 a few months earlier. She met Karkat when she first started volunteering—he was just seven years old, and even then he was what she liked to call a little ball of albino fury: since he was quite short for his age; he was only five feet and three inches tall, and had been that height since at least his first year of high school (he was graduating in just a few weeks). Karkat always had a fuse shorter than most, and he always spoke with quite the abrasive tone and a few harsh words even when slightly irritated, but she knew behind his rough exterior he was a good kid.

When it came to helping around the orphanage, Karkat was the harsher disciplinary figure compared to Kanaya—who was much more lenient and calm in her handling with the kids—but his genuine well-meaning, concern and love for the orphans were here. Even though he was already eighteen and no longer legally bound to the orphanage's custody, he opted to stay and live with the kids so he could help the priests and nuns take care of them. She had even heard talks among the resident clergy of having Karkat inherit the orphanage if he wanted, since he was by far the oldest of the kids and had been living there the longest.

"…Kanaya, are you busy tonight?" He asked after a brief silence, his voice much more calm than it had been moments before.

She turned around to look at him and blinked for a second before walking over to where he stood. "No, why?"

"Do you think you can take over for me?" The blond asked again, though he pushed the knife he was holding into Kanaya's hand without waiting for an answer. "All you have to do is just butter the baguette slices 'cause the sisters are gonna make garlic bread."

"Y-yes, of course," she looked down at the utensil before turning back to Karkat, who was untying the apron and hanging it back on the wall with the others. "Are you okay, Karkat? You're not still upset about the kids—"

"I'm not mad anymore," he cut her off as he headed for the exit without looking back at her, his tone more nonchalant than she was used to.

Kanaya silently watched him leave the kitchen, her brow furrowing in confusion. What was that all about? She turned to the nuns to ask them what was wrong with him all of a sudden, but she withheld her question when she saw that they were just as confused as they were.

Karkat stared at his reflection in the mirror, studying his appearance. His albino complexion and nearly white-blond hair were in stark contrast with his vibrantly red pupils. His eye bags were also natural; he remembered when he was a kid that the other kids in the orphanage he grew up with and his classmates in school would make fun of his albinism and eye bags, but over the years he learned to grow a thick skin to such comments. His black necktie and pants and dark gray dress shirt muted his otherwise loud crimson, checkered waistcoat, which had long coattails trailing down to his mid-calves.

It was his usual outfit when he was carrying out his hit contracts. Unlike most hitmen, who usually had their outfits made with little meaning behind them other than for professionalism's sake, Karkat's was special: he had the waistcoat custom made to replicate a similar outfit he wore to a Christmas Eve mass his adoptive father—the head of the orphanage back then—gave in the orphanage's chapel when he was five.

Tonight, though, he wasn't wearing it for that kind of occasion; it was for something so much more important than that. There was just one more accessory left to complete the look.

Karkat reached for a small box on his dresser and opened the wooden lid. Inside was a golden pocket watch. Engraved on the cover was the zodiac symbol for cancer; both Karkat and his father were born as cancers. His father gave it to him as a birthday gift when he was a child.

He attached the clip to the hem of his waistcoat and tucked the watch into his left pants pocket. The blond looked over himself in the mirror once more before turning around to walk out of his room, softly closing the door behind him.

Karkat made his way down the stairs towards the front door, walking past the dining hall on his way. Inside the hall were all the priests and nuns eating with the orphanage's twenty children, all ranging in ages between five and sixteen. Joining them, as usual, was Kanaya.

"Karkat!" Kanaya called out as she saw him walk past the archway leading into the room. Karkat stopped in his tracks as soon as he heard his name and stepped into the hall. He nodded to the kids, and his lips curled into a slight smile as he acknowledged the priests and nuns.

"Where are you going, it's dinner time! We can't start praying without you!" She smiled, gesturing to the empty chair next to her where he usually sat during meals. Her smile quickly faded, though, when she took notice of his attire. Kanaya knew of his hitman dealings; she was, after all, a hitman herself—and they were both each other's partners for a time. None of the children or the clergy knew of their occupations, though; should they find out that both their oldest child and one of the orphanage's longest serving volunteers violated one of God's Ten Commandments by killing, much less for money… Well, it would be devastating to say the least.

"Oh…" She nodded slowly. "Do you have…"

"No," he shook his head, knowing fully well what she was trying to ask without actually saying the words. "I just have somewhere to be right now. I'll be back before dark."

Without another word, he walked out of the dining hall. Before long, everyone head the front door open, then close shortly thereafter. Kanaya just knit her brow as she stared at where Karkat had stood moments before. Karkat could be distant sometimes, but it wasn't like him to be so secretive about things. Just what had gotten into him tonight?

"Auntie Ka-nya-nya," one of the five year olds that had taken part in mauling Karkat earlier looked at her from across the table with a remorseful frown. "Is he still mad at us?"

Kanaya quickly regained her composure and giggled at how he struggled to correctly pronounce her name. "No, he's not mad anymore! You didn't do anything wrong, okay?"

As one of the nuns set the last serving platter of garlic bread on the table, Kanaya turned to her and motioned for her to come closer. "Sister… Do you know what's gotten into Karkat this evening?"

The elderly woman just smiled weakly as she wiped her hands on her apron. "…What is the date today, love?"

Kanaya looked up the ceiling in thought for a second, trying to remember. "…The 25th…" It was then that she remembered, and her eyes widened, horribly surprised at herself. Oh Lord, how could she have possibly forgotten!?

"Today's—" She started, but stopped herself when she remembered that the kids were at the table as well. Some of the older orphans, though, nodded silently when they overheard her; they were old enough to remember, after all.

"I'm sorry," Kanaya bowed her head deeply to the head priest, the current owner of the orphanage. "It's just… No one said anything all day."

"Karkat specifically requested that we don't," he replied, his deep baritone voice rumbling as he spoke. Deciding that it was better that the topic end there, he looked up to everyone and nodded. "Alright, everyone! Time to pray so we can all eat now."

Kanaya silently gestured the sign of the cross and folded her hands in her lap, bowing her head as the head priest said grace, though she wasn't paying any attention to his words; all she could think of then and throughout the dinner was Karkat.

Terranos Cathedral and Cemetery of the Immaculate Conception, Gold Fortune District
Friday, May 25—6:13 PM

Karkat inserted the bouquet of flowers he had picked from the orphanage's garden into the flower pot that was built into the plaque before him. He squatted down on the grass into a ball, wrapping an arm around his legs while his other hand stroked the stone surface, tracing his fingers along the engraved letters.

The letters that spelled out the name of his father.

It had been ten years since his father died. Ten years since he was murdered. Ten years since the raid on his orphanage and the massacre of half of who, for as long as he could remember, had been his only family. Karkat remembered that day so vividly. How when he got home from school, he saw some of his brothers and sisters lying in the halls, bloodied, maimed and lifeless. How when he ran into the kitchen looking for his father, the monks and priests had already been shot and slashed, struggling in vain to cling to life. How in the chapel, as he hid in the confessional, his father was slowly tortured to death on the altar. He could still smell the freshly splattered blood. He could still hear his murderers slandering his faith and mocking his father's teachings and homilies.

Things like that people just didn't forget so easily, he supposed.

He reached into his pocket for his watch, and opened it to check the time. It was 6:24 PM.

12 Years Ago

"I want you to have this pocket watch," his father knelt down before him, holding in his hand his golden pocket watch with some strange symbol on the cover.

A newly-turned six year old Karkat stared at it quietly before looking back up at his father, who was just beaming happily at him. "But that's yours."

His father just chuckled before taking the boy's hand and gently placing the watch in his small grasp and pushing his fingers closed around it. "And now, my son, it's yours."

Karkat just ran his small thumb along the gilded surface, while his free hand played with the gleaming chain.

"I use it to check the time," his father added. "And every time I do, I think of you."

Karkat looked up at him at that, and the older man pushed his son's unruly platinum fringes out of his red eyes. "And I hope that when you use it to check the time, you'll think of me."

His father took the chain's clip and attached it to the hem of Karkat's shirt and put the watch in his pocket. The weight sagged his pants down some, and his father just laughed at the sight. "It appears to be too big for you now, unfortunately! But I bet when you grow up to be a handsome young man, you'll wear it proudly. And I hope that you'll honor my request."

The boy cracked the slightest smile at that. He reached back into his pocket and pulled the watch out and opened the lid. He was still too young to tell the time, but already he was honoring his father's request.

"Thank you, Dad." Karkat nodded. His dad smiled as warmly as he could and wrapped his arms around him in a gentle embrace.

"You're welcome, Karkat. Happy birthday, my son."

"I thought you'd be here."

Karkat looked over his shoulder from his watch to face the source of the familiar, soft and feminine voice. Kanaya.

He looked at her for a second, not speaking a word, before turning forward to the plaque and stuffing his watch back into his pocket. Kanaya just watched him from where she stood a few yards away behind him. She tentatively walked over to her, looking for any signs that he wanted to be left alone. When she found none, she pooled her long, flowing skirt to her legs and knelt down so that she was sitting on her shins, right next to Karkat.

She watched him silently, trying to make eye contact with him. He just stared down at the grave marker before them, not even further acknowledging her presence.

"…I'm sorry I forgot about today," she finally spoke in a soft voice, tucking a few of her short dirty blonde tresses behind her ears. She felt genuinely terrible about how she forgot; she had been at the orphanage during the massacre. In fact, she had helped a few children survive by hiding out in the chapel confessional… including Karkat.

He stayed quiet for a few seconds. The nearby plum blossom tree rustled in the whistling breeze. A petal landed on top of Karkat's head, and Kanaya gingerly plucked it off without a word.

"It's okay," he murmured with a shrug. He adjusted himself as he got his wallet out of his back pocket and opened it. He reached into one of the pockets and pulled out an aged photograph. The surface of the film was slightly dirty and it was stained with a little bit of blood. It was the picture of him with his father after Christmas Eve mass when he was five years old. He was in a gray dress shirt with a black necktie and slacks. Together they muted his red checkered waistcoat with long coattails that reached the back of his shins. It was the photograph he showed the tailor when he had his hitman outfit created.

Kanaya leaned to the side to get a better look at the small photo in the teen's hand, and she couldn't help but smile sadly at it. She remembered how Karkat would always wear that waistcoat to every Christmas mass, even when, as he got older, it was clearly starting to become too small for him to wear properly.

"Are you…" She started, twiddling her thumbs in her lap. "Are you mad I forgot?"

He just stroked his thumb along the now worn surface of the film. It was a bit scratchy where the small splatters of dried blood covered parts of the picture. "No."

She scratched a bit at the polish on her nails. For as long as she's known him, Karkat wasn't typically the quiet type. She wasn't so used to him being so silent… so somber.

"…Do you want to talk about it?" She asked again. Karkat just shook his head ever so slightly. She studied him closely: he was starting to blink more frequently, like he was trying to keep from crying. Karkat was always a proud kid. He hated showing weakness in front of other people, especially in front of the children at the orphanage since he was the oldest of them. And especially in front of Kanaya.

"No," he whispered again.

Kanaya breathed softly at that. Out of everyone who survived the massacre, Karkat seemed the most deeply affected. It came as no surprise to her, though; he was within earshot of his father's torturing and death. She remembered she even tried to cover his eyes so he wouldn't be able to watch through the cracks in the door. She learned from the nuns when she began volunteering as a teenager that out of all the children, Father Vantas favored him the most. He was the only one out of all the orphans, after all, whom he formally adopted himself.

"Do you want me to leave?" She tilted her head to side so she could look at his face more properly. Suddenly she felt like she shouldn't have come and waited for him to just come home instead, like he didn't say where he was going because he didn't want her to follow.

Kanaya was just about to get up without waiting for his answer, but Karkat immediately grabbed her forearm. She turned to him, her eyes wide in surprise, only to make contact with his deep red pupils. His brow was knit tightly and she could see tears starting to pool at the edges of his eyes. The dark circles around his eyes seemed to be more irritated than usual, as if he had been crying before she came. She knew that his classmates in school would make fun of them when he was kid, but she always found them quite endearing.

"No," he spoke, his tone firm and commanding, though she could hear his voice shaking as he fought back his tears. Kanaya, as much of a mother figure as she had been to him for as long as they've known each other, was one of the people he hated crying in front of the most. She'd always been the nurturing, maternal figure to him and the orphans. He considered her more motherly than even the nuns who reared him when he was a baby.

Without hesitation, Kanaya pulled the blond forward and wrapped his arms around his neck. It was right then that Karkat's hard front fully cracked and weakened, and sobbing squeaks escaped him. She felt his tears wet her white blouse, but she didn't care. She just embraced him even tighter and pressed his cheek against her chest, but that only seemed to make him cry more. His body shook in her arms as he sniffled loudly, nuzzling the fabric of her sleeve to wipe the tears off his cheeks.

"Shhh…" She rubbed her hand up and down on his back, a silent tear running down her olive skin. "It's okay… You can cry."

Karkat grunted through his weeping at that and gently pounded his fist against her arm as if in protest. "I… I'm—I'm not crying."

She paid his contempt no attention. Instead, she hugged him even closely as he sobbed openly, his incoherent whining echoing through the whistling breeze and rustling of the nearby plum blossom tree.

Egbert Residence, Gold Fortune District
Friday, May 25—9:46 PM

Later that evening, Jake drove Jane and John back to their penthouse. After he found out that he wouldn't be participating in the hit with Jake like he originally thought, John remained silent throughout the rest of the afternoon and car ride back. The older brunets understood his disappointment; it had been their—well, mostly Jake's—fault for not telling him sooner and getting his hopes up too high, and John understood their concern for his safety. Or at least, he just kept telling himself that he did.

The three walked through the front door; Jake and Jane decided to see the boy back to the house just to make sure he was all right. They watched him take his shoes off, Jane in particular eyeing him with curiosity.

"Are you sure you'll be okay?" She asked John. He took his uniform loafers in his hand and looked up at her with just the slightest smile.

"Yeah, I'm okay," he nodded, shrugging his shoulders with a bit of indifference.

Jake stepped forward some, nervously rubbing the back of his neck. "Ah, John, my boy… You're not still mad, are you?" Ever since John went back into Jake's room earlier that afternoon, the boy hadn't said a single word to him.

John turned to him, and shook his head. "…No, I'm not. Sorry I got so upset earlier."

Jake just chuckled and ruffled the teen's black locks. "No, you had every reason to. I should have manned up and told you sooner." He pulled John closer to him and pressed the side of his head to his chest, rubbing his shoulder comfortingly. "We'll get the next one, okay? Together, I promise."

John eyed the green fabric of his waistcoat from the corner of his eye and nodded slightly. "I know." He pat the back of the hand Jake used to rub his shoulder and slowly withdrew. "…Well, better head out soon, you know."

Jake nodded silently in agreement and opened the door for Jane. She just glanced to her former hit partner as he moved, and turned back John. Her brother was already halfway up the stairs on his way to his room. "We'll be back before midnight! Dad's out in the office and he won't be home until after one, he said."

"All right," John called from up the stairs, not turning back to face her. Jane frowned a bit at his response and watched him disappear down the hall, hearing his door open then close softly without another word from the boy. She just sighed sadly and was about to chase after him, but she felt Jake's hand stop her by gently squeezing her shoulder. She turned around to face him, and he was just giving her one of his winning smiles of encouragement.

"He'll be fine," he said with a nod. Jane returned the gesture, though she did so with not nearly as much confidence. Her eyes darted across the carpet with some hesitation before quietly walking out the door, getting her keys out to lock it as Jake closed it behind himself.

Upstairs, John hastily stripped himself of his school uniform and pushed through all his clothes neatly hanging in his closet for his hitman attire. He already had the gym duffle bag with his hammer inside, the head and the two-piece handle disassembled from each other so that it was more easily mobile and concealed in public. Padding the inside of the bag so that the hammer pieces didn't jostle too loudly were towels and blankets.

He quickly buttoned up his black dress shirt as he walked over to his desk for his phone and checked the photos he had taken that afternoon. While Jane and Jake were talking outside on the balcony back at Jake's apartment, John quickly snuck through their documents and took pictures of as many of the pages as he could get with his phone, intending on using the information to stalk the remaining drug dealers down himself.

John understood why Jake and Jane didn't want him to participate in the hit. At least, that's what he just kept telling himself.

Either way, just because he understood didn't mean he agreed.

I intended for this chapter to include John's attempt to take out those three thugs on his own, but I didn't anticipate the scenes with Karkat and Kanaya taking so long so I shortened it right before then for pacing reasons aurklghaervlnaeroar BUT IT WILL SHOW UP FOR SURE IN CHAPTER FIVE. I'VE BEEN PUTTING IT OFF LONG ENOUGH.

As always feedback and constructive comments are always welcome. Thank you so much for sticking around with me thus far!

Enjoy Life and Smile.