A/N: First off, I want to thank you for clicking on this story! I hope you'll enjoy it.

I started working on this monster after watching the first season of Darker Than Black and falling in love with the characters. [I like to pretend the second season never happened. Suou, who?] So I'll start by saying I've tried to stay true to the Darker Than Black universe and characters. That said, I've changed a few things for the sake of this story. For one, and most importantly, it's [mostly] told from the point of view of an original character named Charlotte. She's made of awesome [and sarcasm], so I hope she provides an interesting viewpoint.

Now, I know that I'm one of those people who has trouble getting invested in fan fiction that centers around an original character, but I hope you'll find that Charlotte reads like a native of the Darker Than Black world and draws you in.

Timeline: This story starts between episodes 5 and 6 during the Havoc arc, and progresses from there.

Disclaimer: I own nothing.

I'm going to go stand in a corner now. Read on.

Darker Than Black: A New Color to Paint the World

Chapter 1: Above the Rain

Getting off the plane was the hardest part. Watching the Tokyo skyline appear out of the clouds had finally made me realize just how drastic a change traveling to the opposite side of the world really was. Supposed business trip or not, I didn't know when I'd be returning stateside. The permanence of the situation I'd been dropped into, illusion or not, was overwhelming.

I'd never minded flying much—my dad being a pilot meant an affinity for hurtling through the sky in a giant tin can was in my blood. But I couldn't say I was disappointed the flight was over. Fifteen hours on a plane could drain anyone, no matter how comfortable the seats or delicious the food. I'd managed to get a few hours of sleep, but if the faces of my fellow passengers were anything to go by, I imagined I still looked like I'd just walked out of the zombie apocalypse. Complete with zombie dog.

If you've never had to explain to a gaggle of flight attendants that your obnoxious canine companion needs to take a walk up the aisle for a bathroom break—don't feel like you're missing anything. It's not as funny as it sounds.

I'd been lucky my employer had the connections to get Bard on the plane at all, though I was sure my harried dog would have argued otherwise had he been able to talk. He'd been excited about going for a ride in the car to get to the airport; flattered by the pat-downs at the security checkpoints; absolutely ecstatic about boarding the plane and getting the window seat; but not so sure about the whole hurtling-down-the-runway-for-takeoff thing. He'd stopped howling after the first ten minutes, but he'd sustained a high-pitched keening noise for the remainder of the flight.

We didn't make many friends.

I hoisted my carryon bag higher up on my shoulder and pulled on Bard's leash, doing my best to ignore the baffled stares we were getting from the people waiting to board at the gate. Bard was veering off towards a large potted plant, the only piece of vegetation in sight.

Tug-of-war with an Irish Wolfhound was a game I was used to losing, which was why I immediately resorted to begging: "No, Bard… Wait just a little longer. We're almost outside."

He whined, but relented and returned to my side. Figuring I only had a few minutes before he exploded, I half-ran, half-walked up the concourse, following the signs that promised to lead me to Customs. After stamping my passport, the customs agent pointed me towards baggage claim.

I led Bard into the bustling gathering area and scanned the crowd, my ears full of languages I didn't understand. I'd been told to look for someone who'd been sent to meet me, so I wasn't all that surprised to see a man holding a sign with my name on it.

"Charlotte Sterne," I said, out of breath, as Bard hauled me right past the man and toward the exit. I didn't even want to think about the sight we made; the surprise on the chauffeur's face told me enough. He watched with wide blue eyes as Bard dragged me through the crowd of gawking people towards the outside world. "Would you grab my bags, please?" I managed. "He's got to, uh… you know."

"Ah… Sure."

"Thanks! I'll just be right out—" The sliding glass doors closed behind me, cutting me off with a solid thunk. "Right outside…"

I looked down in time to see Bard squatting on the nearest patch of grass. Naturally, I turned my back and pretended to have no idea whose dog he was. Never mind that his leash was in my hand. Nothing to see here.

He was still going strong when the chauffeur walked through the doors pushing a trolley piled high with gray suitcases. He stopped to stare, his eyes shifting from me to the dog.

"That… is a dog, right?"

"He's actually part camel. Retains water when he's nervous," I said, laughing in embarrassment.

He raised his eyebrows in what I hoped was amusement, making them nearly disappear behind his sweep of black hair. "I don't think I've ever seen one so big."

"Dog or camel?"

He snorted a laugh. "Dog. I didn't know you'd have one with you. What's his name?"

"Oh, sorry. He's Bard. I'm Charlotte—or Charlie," I added quickly. "I'll answer to both."

"Nice to meet you. I'm Li."

I switched my bag to my other arm so I could shake his outstretched hand. The moment our fingers touched, a prickling sensation netted up my forearm, making my hair stand on end. I barely had time to think anything of it before Bard finished his business and realized unfamiliar people were everywhere and he was extremely uncomfortable. He let out a low, rumbling growl when he noticed how close Li was standing, before completely nullifying the threat by cowering behind my legs.

"Don't take it personally," I said to Li's alarmed expression. "He's all talk."

"I see!" He laughed and rubbed the back of his head uneasily. "I imagine you've both had a long day. Should we get going? Your apartment is ready."

"Apartment? I thought I'd be staying in a hotel?"

He shook his head. "The address I got is for an apartment building in Shinjuku."

"Shinjuku?" I swallowed hard and followed Li and the luggage trolley to a sedan parked on the curb. He opened one of the rear doors for me. "That's close to the Gate, isn't it?" I asked as he began lifting my suitcases into the trunk.

"Yes. I think you'll be able to see the wall from your balcony."

"Well…" I gave Bard a gentle push towards the open door, and he leaped into the backseat. "That'll be nice to wake up to every morning."

"It's not so bad," Li said. He paused and pointed at the bag slung over my shoulder. "That'll fit back here, if you want."

"That's all right. I'd rather keep this one with me."

He smiled, but not before I caught the slight downward pull at the left corner of his mouth. I slid into the car behind Bard, shoved him aside so he took up less than two-thirds of the seat, and closed the door. A few seconds later, Li sat down in the driver's seat and turned the key in the ignition. The engine grumbled to life.

Li glanced back, his eyes creased at the corners in a cheerful, slightly apologetic smile. "It's an hour's drive to Shinjuku. Is there anything you need? We can stop on the way."

"I can't think of anything right now. But I'll probably come up with a list as long as the Nile the moment I start unpacking." I gave Bard's ears a scratch when he stuck his nose in my face. The car pulled away from the curb into traffic, prompting him to crawl over me to stare out the window. "Well," I said louder, unsuccessfully trying to peer around him. His wiry, ash-colored fur tickled my nose. "I guess I'll need dog food. An entire cow, maybe."

"I don't know about a cow, but there's a pet store near your apartment."


"Uh, are you—?"

"No, I'm fine." I gave Bard's rump a few hearty pats. "He's not as heavy as he looks."


I sighed heavily, letting my breath gather in my chest, stretching my lungs to capacity, before letting it out. My eyes scanned the upholstered ceiling as I tilted my head back. I'd never felt so stiff before; my body was practically vibrating with the competing urges to sleep and to exercise the kinks out of my muscles. Both felt equally impossible.

When he'd had his fill of staring out the window, Bard turned himself around, vacating my lap in favor of the significantly less-bony seat cushion.

When I glanced up, Li's eyes met mine in the rearview mirror. "What brings you to Tokyo?" he asked.

"Business. Sort of." I shrugged and looked out the window, seeing and not-seeing the highway traffic. "I've travelled before, but this is my first time in Japan. It seems…" I shook my head, waiting for my jetlagged mind to provide the right word.

"Busy?" Li supplied.

I nodded, though he probably wasn't looking anymore. "Yeah. Busy."

"It can take some getting used to."

"There are so many people. How does anyone move? It just seems like everywhere you turn, a body's already there. And I haven't even really walked around yet."

"If you keep your dog with you, I don't think you'll have much of a problem getting around."

I laughed, surprised at how easily it came. "Come on, he's not that scary."

"He's the size of a small horse."

"Are there horses here?"

"Not in Tokyo."

"But, somewhere in Japan, there are horses."

He spared me a sidelong look, his mouth upturned in an amused grin. "Yes?"

I laughed again. "You sound unsure."

"Well, I've never actually seen a horse here, but I haven't travelled outside Tokyo much, either. Why the interest? Do you ride?"

"When I can." The rhythmic tap of the turn signal measured out the seconds as I took a cleansing breath. "It was more of a childhood hobby, but I miss it sometimes. I guess that's why I got Bard. He's like a step down from a pony."

Bard perked up at his name, his floppy ears twitching to attention. I tried to ignore his obvious disappointment when all I had to offer was a scratch under the chin. The brat.

"Have you ever ridden?" I asked, glancing up at the mirror again.

"Not really. It wasn't a very popular sport where I grew up."

"Where was that?"

"China. I'm a student."

"Ah, well this is lucky—the first person I meet is another foreigner. What are you studying?"

A short pause preceded his answer, almost like he didn't get the question often. "Astronomy."

I felt my eyebrows shoot towards my hairline. Suddenly hyperaware of fidgeting, I pressed my hands together between my knees. Bard looked up at me and whined. "But… aren't the original stars covered up now?"

Li nodded once, his mouth set in a grim line. He glanced back at me from the corner of his eye, only briefly meeting my gaze. When his attention had shifted back to the road, he said, "We can't see them, but that doesn't mean they aren't there."

"I guess that's true." I pressed my tongue to the roof of my mouth and reminded myself to breathe. "So I guess you know all about the rumors? About the new stars."

"Which rumors might those be?"

"Some people think they represent the lives of—" I cut myself off and cleared my throat, "—the lives of certain people. And when a star falls, it means one of them has died."

"Mm. That's a popular one."

"So?" I hedged, leaning forward. I tried to work some levity into my voice. "Is it true, Mr. Astronomer?"

"I couldn't tell you," Li said, matching my tone. "But they say anything is possible with the Gate. The stars could represent anything."

I reclined against the seat, my lungs aching. I felt winded, as if I'd been holding my breath. Ha. Probably had been. Only just arrived in Tokyo, and already worrying about the stars. I hadn't even seen them yet.

My brain was still wrapping itself around my trip through time. I hadn't time travelled, exactly, but hey, same concept. My plane had taken off at six in the morning, I'd been up in the air for twelve hours, and then arrived in Tokyo at ten that same morning. I'd only lost four hours—granted, it still felt like twelve. I had lots of time to pass before I'd get my first look at the stars over Tokyo.

I spent the rest of the ride staring out the eastern window, hoping to catch a glimpse of the wall surrounding the Gate while I tried not to doze off. When it did finally appear on the horizon, I only caught intermittent glimpses of it between the skyscrapers rising out of Tokyo's metropolitan center.

"That's it, huh?" I murmured.

"That's it," Li said.

The wall blended in with the clouds behind it, disguising itself as part of the horizon. Taken at a glance, the wall camouflaged itself so well that the space beyond the Tokyo skyline looked empty. Who could have guessed at the ruin and desolation it concealed?

"Does your work involve the Gate?"

"Not directly," I said, glued to the window. "Honestly, I'll be just fine if I never have to get any closer than this."

"True for all of us."

Something in his voice made me look up, eyes probing the rearview mirror for some clue hidden in his expression. But he'd focused on the road, and we didn't speak again until we'd reached the pet shop.

Li waited in the car. I took Bard in with me and told him to pick something. The shop seemed to be geared towards smaller pets—birds, rabbits, cats, and the like. The dog food they did have only came in bags no larger than ten pounds. I bought five, figuring I'd have time to go out and buy more before five days were up.

The apartment building was thankfully nearby. It was tall, like a tower, and looked new. The way it gleamed in the sun… it almost looked as if it were made of the same reflective metal as the wall. My stomach clenched at the similarity, but I tried not to let myself dwell on it. Instead, I focused on climbing out of the car and wondered how much money my employer had sunk into a place like this.

Li, mostly silent now, helped me get my bags inside. The woman sitting behind the front desk handed me a room key and, in broken English, said, "Top floor."

I laughed in disbelief, prompting a congratulatory smile from Li.

"Swanky," he said.

I shook my head. "Something."

The elevator was one of those fancy ones with a security box over the illuminated panel of buttons. I had to swipe my card before the doors closed and began their ascent to the twentieth floor.

"Maybe I should be trying to land a job working for your boss," Li said, grinning.

"I don't know about that—he's a little unconventional."

"Oh, well, in that case…"

I laughed and shook my head. "Joking aside, I'd be happy to introduce you. Whenever he makes an appearance."

"Really?" A smile affected by surprise lightened his expression. "That'd be great, thanks!"

The doors dinged open and, a few minutes later, I was standing in the middle of the marble-tiled foyer of the fanciest apartment I'd ever seen. Although I'd paused underneath the ridiculously large chandelier suspended from the ceiling, Bard, considerably less impressed, headed straight for the kitchen. Once he'd reached counter height—for the record, about six months—it hadn't taken him long to figure out he could work the sink faucet like a water fountain. Not the most hygienic method of hydration, but it saved me the trouble of constantly refilling a bucket-sized water bowl.

"Thanks for your help, Li."

"It's no problem." When we clasped hands for the final time, the fine hair along my arm stood up as if I'd just swiped a balloon across my skin. "We'll probably be seeing more of each other. I've been hired to drive you around. Wherever, whenever."

"Good! Maybe you can tell me more about these new stars."

"Mm." He bent at the waist in a slight bow and moved for the door. "Happily. Goodbye, Miss Sterne."

I waved as the door closed after him.

Alone, I set my duffle bag down on the plush carpet and walked off in the same direction as Bard. I walked into the granite-countered kitchen fully expecting to see Bard drowning himself in the sink, but the room was empty.

"Bard?" How did almost two hundred pounds of dog disappear in the space of a few seconds? "Bard, come here!"

A bark sounded from the end of the hallway branching off the opposite side of the foyer. Assuming he'd found a bed I'd promptly need to reclaim, I took a suitcase in each hand and lugged them down the hallway.

Halfway there, the smell hit me. "The hell…?" I dropped my bags, ignoring that I'd probably broken something, and ran to the doorway. The sight that greeted me stopped me in my tracks.

Bard was stretched out across the end of a king-sized bed with his head resting in a blonde man's lap. Smoke curled towards the ceiling from the cigarette perched between the fingers of the man's right hand. Bright blue eyes twinkling, he looked up as if surprised to see me and smiled.

"Ah. Hello, lovely. Where's your bag of horrors?"

For two painfully long seconds, my jaw hung open in silence. "November?"

He laughed and batted a hand at me. "Jack will do."

"Put that out!"

"What, this?" He lifted the cigarette and took a long drag. After holding it in for a few seconds, he tilted his head towards the ceiling and exhaled a gray cloud. "Wish I could, darling. You know how it goes."

"Then open a window, you ass!" I held my breath and crossed to the other side of the room. The curtains were already open to let in the morning sunlight; with the smoke hanging in the air, the room looked as if it were bathed in a golden fog. "I have to sleep in here, you know," I grumbled, throwing the latch on one of the windows and pushing it open.

When I turned around, Jack was staring at me like I'd grown a second head. He frowned and raised an eyebrow, though he didn't bother concealing the levity in his voice. "I'm sensing some hostility here."

I crossed my arms. "Is that all you're sensing?"

"Someone needs a nap."

"Put that out, or leave."

"All right, all right." He made a show of taking one more exaggeratedly long pull before propelling himself off the bed and into the adjoining bathroom. He dropped the cigarette into the toilet, looked at me, and used his foot to flush. "There. All gone. Now stop with the glare of death, please."

"How'd you even get in here?"

"Sneakily." Smirking, he stuck his hands in his pockets and strode towards me. I refused to uncross my arms, even when he came to a stop so close we were almost touching. Likewise, he kept his hands confined to his pockets. At nearly a head taller than me, I had to crane my neck back just to meet his eyes. "Relax, Charlie. It's safe here. Chose it myself."

"Where are you staying?"

"One floor down. I can be here in an instant if anything happens. All you have to do is call. Or stomp around—the floors don't cancel out sound very well. I'll hear when you sneeze." A smug grin curled the corners of his mouth. "And when you shower. And when your robe hits the floor."

I delivered a swift punch to his shoulder.

He absorbed it without batting an eye. "I have a good ear for nudity."


"Really, I do."


"I didn't ask a question, did I? Unless you're telepathic now." He waggled his eyebrows.

"Bard." I looked around Jack so I could see my dog. He was still sprawled across the bed, but he alerted to his name. "Bard, heel."

"Stay," Jack said.



Bard put his head down on his paws and whined.

Huffing in annoyance, I punched Jack again, this time connecting with both shoulders at once. It was enough to make him stumble back a step, but he recovered his balance quickly.

"Not a very good attack dog, is he?" Jack chuckled. "Should've gone with a Shepherd instead."

Rather than agree—which, really, was the only thing I could do—I changed the subject. "Has there been any news?"

He frowned, his eyes going soft before he shook his head. "No. Nothing since that one blip on the radar."

Hoping he wouldn't see my disappointment, I looked down and sighed. "Well. I still want to prepare a few—"

I cut myself off when he wrapped his arms around me. I held my breath, but not for the smell of smoke; with the fresh air from the window, it was beginning to dissipate.

"You're okay," he murmured, his breath ghosting across my ear. I nodded against his shoulder and forced myself to relax. As the tension leeched from my aching muscles, I freed my arms from where they were pressed between us and encircled his waist. Jack was warm and solid, just as he always had been.

"I'm glad you're here."

He laughed quietly. "I know. I told you you wouldn't have to do this alone."

I didn't realize how hard I was clinging to him until I felt him try to take a breath. Immediately, I loosened the circle of my arms. He must have noticed, but he let the moment pass and didn't speak again until I took a step back several seconds later.

"This boss of yours… I've met him. He's quite the gentleman."

"Is he, now?" I drawled. "A gentleman? With an ear for nudity?"

"Perhaps. I couldn't say. Though it does seem to be a skill exclusive to MI-6."

"I see. And I suppose he talks like, Oh, ahoy there, mate. Bloody hell and jolly bollocks."

Jack looked horrified. "Heaven's, no."

I pointed up at him, unable to stop my burst of laughter. "Your face right now."

"Such strong language from a lady."

"Bloody hell and jolly—?"

"No." He leapt forward and clapped a hand over my mouth before I could finish. "You're a travesty."

I wrenched his hand away. "Oh, come off it and bring my luggage in here."

"That's better. But might I suggest waiting a while for the room to air out? Smells like some inconsiderate ass was smoking in here."

I feigned a shocked expression. "My boss was here?"

Jack smiled and put an arm around my shoulders, steering me into the hallway. "I thought I told you? He's a sneaky bastard."

"Where've you been, anyway? I couldn't get ahold of you the last couple days."

"In Romania, transporting some very valuable cargo. Speaking of which, I'm afraid I have to run soon. Not back to Romania, but—"

"More super secret foreign minister stuff?"

"You could say that." He sighed and raised his eyes to the ceiling. "I need to go recover said valuable cargo. Again. And would you believe the Japanese police are actually having me followed?"

"How's that going?"

"For them? Darling," he said, pulling me more tightly to his side and leaning in close, "do you see any police hanging around?"

My bag of horrors. Jack had started calling it that back when we were both still at Cambridge. I'd hated it at first, but the name stuck. Now, even when I was alone, I found myself thinking of it that way.

An alcove off of the main living area had proven the best place to unpack my little bag. It was out of sight until you were practically standing in it, and I could close it off with a pair of shutter-doors to keep Bard out of danger. I'd pulled a tall, stand-alone shelf out of the pantry to set my supplies and instruments on, along with a waist-high table from the library—yes, the apartment had a library—to use as a workstation.

I'd divided the shelf space in two, with the upper-half occupied by an array of flasks and vials all carefully labeled and arranged by function: reagents; concentrator, corrupter, and distillation agents; various herbs, toxins, and extracts; beakers and test tubes; and several boxes of litmus paper. Glass vials of poisons and antidotes I'd already created occupied the lower shelves.

I bypassed all of them and unzipped the only compartment of my bag of horrors I hadn't unpacked yet. First-aid kit in hand, I closed the alcove's doors and walked into the kitchen to face Jack. Behind me, Bard's toenails clicked on the hardwood flooring.

I'd been up on the roof when Jack called. Stargazing. Over the phone, I hadn't taken his help-me-I-almost-died-in-an-extremely-unpleasant-way spiel seriously. It was impossible to tell when he was joking anymore. Honestly, I still didn't know if he was joking or not. Granted, he had a sizable stab wound to his right forearm, but it wasn't life threatening. Far from it. It wasn't even bleeding that much anymore.

I peered over his shoulder into the sink to make sure the water was running clear before handing him a clean towel. "How'd you get stabbed?"

"Man with a knife," he said. Gingerly, he laid the towel over his forearm and pressed.

I watched his expression for signs of pain. I knew how badly wounds like that hurt, but he was either concealing it, or it just wasn't registering. "Man with a knife," I repeated. "That tells me absolutely nothing."

"False. It tells you I was stabbed by a man and not a woman. It also tells you I was stabbed by a knife and not a pair of scissors."

"Right. Sorry." I motioned for him to follow me to the dining table. Since he was still applying pressure to the wound, I pulled out a chair for him and placed mine directly across from it. Our knees were touching to start with, but, by the time I'd pulled his arm towards me and gotten the angle right, our legs were pressed together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

"Your pants are damp," I said when I felt the cool moisture against my knees. "Did you get rained on?"

"A little."

I narrowed my eyes, but didn't point out that the night sky had been clear. "Why didn't you go to a hospital?" I asked. "Better yet, doesn't MI-6 have its own doctor on call?"

"Neither option was very attractive."

I could hear the potential for a joke there, but I didn't look up to encourage him. Instead, I focused on gathering the tools I would need: cotton swabs, antibiotic cream, sutures, and a clean dressing. Blood, diluted to a dull pink, was beginning to stain through the towel. I carefully peeled the towel off and set it aside.

"You're lucky this is just soft tissue."

"Oh, yes, very lucky."

I stole a glance up at him as I put on a pair of sanitary gloves. Even after everything that had happened, he still spoke with the same familiar effortlessness that had always made him so easy to talk to. "You know…" I began, taking his wrist in my hand and pulling it towards me. He leaned forward, resting the elbow of his other arm on his knees. "I wasn't expecting our reunion to happen like this."


"No." I smiled, but couldn't sustain it for more than a second. "I guess I didn't really expect it to happen at all."

He sighed. "If only everyone could have such low expectations of me."

"Low expectations and no expectations are a little different." I squeezed a glob of the antibiotic ointment onto my fingers and dabbed it between the layers of separated tissue. Air hissed through Jack's teeth. "A lot like sending the odd letter is different from talking face to face."


"Oh, you have feelings now?"

"No, I mean that hurts."

Startled, I paused in my ministrations to peer up at his face. Appropriately icy blue eyes stared back at me. A hint of a smile played around his mouth, helping to temper my sudden embarrassment.

"Sorry. That just slipped out."

He laughed, but it tapered off when I picked up the sutures. "You haven't changed at all, you know."

"You have."

Before I realized how those two words would sound, Jack's shoulders stiffened and he sat back as if I'd just taken a swing at him.

"That's not what I meant," I said quickly. "It's a good thing. The last time I saw you, you were so… cold. I see more of your old self in you now."

He looked skeptical. "How so?"

"Well, for starters, you've got a sense of humor again."

"Hm. Well, I suppose with all the people I've killed, it was either laugh or go mad."

My hands froze, going rigid halfway through tying off a suture. I looked up and stared at him.

"Relax. That was a joke." He lifted one shoulder in a half-shrug. "Sort of."

Unable to decide if I should believe him or not, I simply shook my head and went back to patching him up. Just one of those Contractor things, I decided. I'd never harbored much hope for being able to read him like I used to, though I had to admit he was more expressive than I'd anticipated. Maybe our years apart had mollified him.

"Did you get your cargo back?" I asked.

"Yes and no."

"I saw a star fall earlier." I eyeballed him, but he was watching my hands as I closed his wound, and his face gave nothing away. "Wasn't your doing, was it?"

He exhaled loudly—not quite a sigh. "And here I thought you could distract me."

My eyes widened at the uncharacteristic melancholy in his tone. "You feel guilty about it?"

"No, of course not. I made the rational decision and eliminated the threat."

"The rational decision," I repeated. "Was it your cargo who stabbed you?"

"Unfortunately, no. It wasn't."

"So your cargo was a Contractor, and you had to kill this Contractor to eliminate a threat. And sometime before or after that, you were stabbed. By a man with a knife."

He stared at me with a vaguely surprised expression. "I'm going to stop telling you things."

"You make it so easy to guess at what happened," I said, smug smile firmly in place. "It's your own fault."

He looked thoroughly unimpressed as I set the needle and sutures aside. I applied a dressing, making sure not to wrap it so tightly that his fingers would go numb, and sat back to admire my handiwork.

"Thanks," he said.

As if on cue, a knock sounded at the door. In a belated warning, Bard leapt to his feet and let out a low, groaning howl.

Jack stood and patted Bard on the head on his way to the door. "Easy, Lassie."

"You my butler now?" I called after him.

He swatted a hand at me over his shoulder. "It's probably April and July."

"Who?" I followed him out of the kitchen and stood behind him in the foyer when he opened the door. On the other side, a dark-skinned woman with amber eyes and blue hair was holding the hand of a small, blonde child.

"He said you were here," said the woman, lifting the child's hand. "Decade wants to see us."

"Right." Jack turned back to me, patting his pockets. "I have something for you."

Seeming to notice me for the first time, the woman leaned around him and smiled. "Who is this?"

"An old friend."

"Friend?" the child monotoned.

"Yes. A novel concept, I know. This is Charlie. Charlie, meet April and July."

I waved awkwardly. "Hello."

"Here." Jack put a folded slip of paper in my hands and closed my fingers around it. "It's hers. Use it to find out whatever you can," he said earnestly, holding my eyes in his icy gaze. "And, Charlie, if you ever come across messier code BK-201, just run. All right?"

Startled and unsure what he was talking about, I gave a quick nod. "All right."

"Good." Then, like a highlight from an old movie reel of our lives, he took my face in his hands, placed a delicate kiss on my forehead, and said, "Be safe."

I stood there in shock for a long time after the door had closed behind him.

A/N: Congratulations, you made it to the finish line! Thanks for reading this far, guys.

Okay, I'm going to assume we all know how November's story arc ends, so for those of you who weren't expecting this Hei/OC fic to feature SO MUCH NOVEMBER right off the bat... Worry not! Next chapter, Charlie meets Hei. Sort of.

Also, not all the chapters are going to be this ridiculously long. I just wanted to give you guys something to sink your teeth into to kick the story off.

Again, thanks for reading! Love it? Hate it? See a typo? Share your thoughts and leave a review, please!

BONUS: Metal Airplanes – Matthew Good