New Years Eve the St. North's held a party for their new friends and coworkers. Sandy and Melody had their coworkers, friends, acquaintances, everyone-Melody had even invited the bank teller and mailman- over and the adults held their party downstairs while Aster, Nick, Jack, Cupcake, Sophie, and Jamie held their party in the third floor with Luna prancing between them begging for attention. The third floor was more of a ballroom than an attic but they had comfortable couches, television, snacks, and their own bathroom. In a corner of the room was a pile of pillows, blankets, and overnight bags since Sandy and Melody had insisted that everyone spend the night rather than drive home and run the risk of the kids getting hit by one of the numerous drunk drivers bound to be on the streets.
"It's getting closer to midnight," stated Cupcake who was in her favorite pair of jet black pants, bright pink oversized shirt that draped like a dress, and charcoal boots.
All night, she had been watching how Aster interacted with Jack now that he was living with them for good. In a lot of ways, she had been waiting for the other shoe to drop, thinking some part of this handsome boy with his rugged good looks and gorgeous hair had to be flawed. He was smart, honest, attractive, kind, and protective. There had to be a fatal flaw hidden somewhere amongst those pillow soft locks. Then she saw it. Aster looked at Jack sitting next to him on the couch. The two were not even close enough to be touching, Cupcake knew Jack was uncomfortable with most physical contact having never experienced much other than abuse, and Jack was having a conversation with Nick who was sitting on an armchair diagonal from him. Jack was not even looking at Aster but Cupcake saw Aster look at Jack and found, at last, his fatal flaw.
Aster genuinely cared the world for Jack.
The look Aster gave Jack was one of simple adoration, protection, love, respect, caring, hope, tenderness, and restraint that clearly conveyed how he would fall to bits if Jack were not in his life, as if Jack. It was the look every person wanted to be given, a look that only came out when the other was not paying attention, and a look that was most often seen between siblings or family. Cupcake secretly wished someone would look at her like that someday. But Aster had the misfortune of deciding to adopt a surrogate younger brother who would always have a hard time caring for him back.
"Aster," said Cupcake softly. "Can I speak with you for a minute?"
"Sure," said Aster, tearing his gaze from his best friend and walking over to the more hostile force.
Cupcake wasn't sure who she was trying to help. She would tell herself later she was trying to help Jack because she didn't like Aster but in her heart she knew she was quite fond of Aster and didn't want either one to get hurt.
"What's up?" asked Aster, taking a seat across from Cupcake a bit away from the others.
"Look, about Jack," said Cupcake dropping her usual harsh tone and adopting the more supple tone she used only when dealing with Jack.
"If you're about to protest us making the adoption official-" began Aster defensively.
"No!" hurried Cupcake. "I think you are good for him and I know your entire family really care about her. I just wanted to remind you that you have to be patient with him and try not to get mad. He scares easily, for obvious reasons, even though most of the time he will hide it behind a smirk or joke. You have to make sure to always make him feel safe otherwise he will be impossible to talk with. And please, please, remember that he is not always the best at expressing himself but that doesn't mean he doesn't care."
"Cupcake," said Aster with his annoyingly cocky grin. "Are you going soft?"
"I could say the same about you. But I think we both just have the same weakness."
Aster nodded, casting a glance at Jack - still chatting with his brother- and conceding the point.
"You know I would never hurt him," said Aster.
"I know," sighed Cupcake. "It's just difficult for me to trust anyone with him after all I've watched him go through. And I blame myself for letting it get so bad."
"Don't," said Aster gruffly. "Don't play that game, it has no end. Every person in his life should have done something before but no one did. People can blame you and me, the two people he is closest to, for knowing and not doing anything but we are probably the most and least to blame. We are most at fault for letting it go but we are least at fault for not shutting our eyes and trying to help in the only ways we knew how. We both tried but it took his father snapping big time for anything to get done and we cannot be blamed for that."
"It's almost midnight!" cheered Sophie, bouncing and pointing at the big screen television that showed a scene from the city streets full of people.
"10!" yelled the entire house.
Cupcake and Aster moved to join their friends.
Aster slipped into his spot next to Jack, placing the smaller boy between Nick and himself.
Jack shot a glance at Aster standing next to him and smiled a real smile of happiness.
As the old year ticked away and the new year chomped at the bit to get going, Jack realized it was the first time he would bring in the new year surrounded by people who cared for him.
Jack inspected the group of people around him, some he had known for years but never let in, others he'd met just months before and had somehow grown to become the family he never had.
Aster smiled down at his neighbor, friend, and brother and realized how thankful he was that his dad decided a move was for the best, how his mother chose that particular house, and how Jack had managed to hold on long enough for Aster to help.
Aster turned his gaze back up and locked eyes with Cupcake.
Aster felt a grin any fool would be proud of dance across his face and Cupcake seemed to understand.
Jack began trembling with excitement, the trembling a habit he doubted he would ever shake from his old life.
Aster and Nick simultaneously put their arms around Jack's shoulders.
"Happy New Year!"
Jack didn't pull away so they brothers gave him a quick hug. To their surprise, Jack threw his arms around them both and hugged them back. Everyone else was screaming and yelling, Sophie was banging pots and pans with wooden spoons, Jamie was throwing those ridiculous year glasses in the air, and even Cupcake was cheering. The three neighbors who were in the process of becoming a family stood together as the new year greeted the world and thought the same thing.
This year is going to be the best year yet.
*Well, there you have it folks, the conclusion to this tale, the last chapter, the end. I must say, it has been an absolute joy writing for you all, I am so grateful for all of your comments because they help me improve as a writer. Thank you for the support throughout this entire thing. I really appreciate it. You all are the best and the reason I write and share.
The winner of the "suggest the next chapter fic" is...WULRUSvsUSA. So, if you so desire, you may either comment of pm me with your suggestion.
Everyone, if you have an idea for a oneshot, I do have a oneshot series so you can request for that as well as requesting chapter stories.
Thank you so much for sticking with this and reading it. Always-Ari